I was determined to get to the UC Irvine Arboretum plant sale this weekend, having had to miss the Huntington Botanical Garden’s big sale last weekend. But before I could browse UCI’s small sale, there were some minor roadblocks. (Just get me to a plant sale, please!) A faltering car had to be traded in and a new one purchased, zillions of forms needed filling out. But with steely, unswayable resolve the goal was finally achieved, and sometime around 1 o’clock I was pulling into a driveway marked by a hand-lettered sign that said simply “PLANT SALE.” (which I always read as BLISS.) Once at the arboretum, it didn’t take long at all to scan the half dozen tables set up with plants for sale. Aloes marlothii, distans, the hybrid ‘Hercules,’ nothing terribly rare but good prices for large plants. In the nearby botanical garden, banks of frothy blue flowers caught my eye and drew me away from the sale tables. Masses of Aristea ecklonii were in bloom, a South African iris relative. I have an aristea growing in my gravel garden, but it hasn’t bloomed yet, and I’m not sure if it’s ecklonii. Judging by the vigor and scads of sparkling bloom on display at the arboretum, it would seem A. ecklonii is the one to have. Yes, the blooms are tiny, but the 3-foot tall sprays are voluminous, and the mass effect of deep, piercing blue against the bright green leaves summed up why I find blue flowers so irresistible.
I hadn’t seen it for sale on the tables, which seemed odd since it was taking over quite a bit of their botanical garden.
One more lap around the sale tables and I found a couple pots of it and bagged one to take home, along with an Aeonium urbicum.
Near the exit, Beaumontia grandiflora, the Easter Lily vine was in bloom.
Also known as the Nepal Trumpet Flower, a native from India to Java, for zone 10 or conservatory, but I think it needs to attain size before it will bloom.
The huge tropical vine was littered with old, browning, pulpy flowers draped among pristine new blooms. The scent, the mixture of beauty and decay…
staring up into its fleshy trumpets, I couldn’t shake Werner Herzog’s solemn, German-inflected voice intoning, The jungle is obscene…
(From the documentary Burden of Dreams)
I then headed to Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach a couple miles from the arboretum. Had to give the new car a thorough road test.
I check up on this nursery regularly in summer since they have an unerring knack for anticipating what the gardening public wants to grow, e.g., much prime nursery real estate is now given over to vegetables, but Roger’s also nudges the public in the direction of suitable plants for our low-rainfall climate by some inspiring planting. The perimeter of the nursery was landscaped a few years ago with succulents, aloes, agaves, grasses, and has grown in beautifully. Debra Lee Baldwin gave a talk here earlier in the day on succulent containers, which I would have attended if my car hadn’t been on its last legs. (My post on Debra’s talk at Roger’s last year can be found here.)
The big display as you enter the nursery is a frequently changing, show-stopping set piece of bromeliads, succulents, agaves, unusual mediterranean shrubs, a sight I always look forward to with shivery anticipation. Imagine my astonishment when I found these planted in that entry display garden today:
And more nostalgia:
I foolishly expected this centerpiece to keep offering gorgeous ideas for our low-rainfall region.
I have nothing against zinnias, delphiniums, or foxgloves, but was taken aback to find this premier showcase planting opportunity so insistently…retro.
And I even saw a few peonies in bloom for sale. (Can’t we once and for all lay to rest the bizarro notion that peonies grow and thrive in Southern California?) There was overall a noticeable shift from the former emphasis on forward-thinking, exciting, sculptural, and tough drought-adaptive plants and succulents to the familiar and comforting plants of yesterday’s gardens. What can this possibly mean? Is this savvy, recessionary marketing in these shell-shocked, subprime economic times, appealing to the cozy and snug visions of gardens past? Am I overreacting as usual?
On the face of it, it could be argued that both the old and this new display are examples of bedding out, expertly executed, so they’re certainly equivalent in that regard. However, the old displays could sail into summer/fall/winter without skipping a beat. Regionally appropriate design. The same cannot be said of delphiniums, which, though beautiful, require far more attention and resources and will leave big gaps in zone 10 summer gardens, as will the foxgloves. Perhaps today’s display was an example of bravura gardening and signified nothing more. But it did leave me wondering if Roger’s has landed another solid bull’s eye into the garden fantasy du jour or totally missed the mark.