Occasional Daily Weather Report: Hailstorm damage

There’s really nothing else I can think of that could cause this mysterious pitting:


Last week a very local weather system kicked up, causing a tremendous downpour and hail. The rainfall was that rare, torrential, deafening kind that always makes me laugh in amazement. The thunder and lightning soon put a stop to the frivolity, and all of us, cats and dog in the lead, skidded and sloshed in frantic search for shelter. I thought I sensed maybe some hail mixed in as I ran for cover but wasn’t sure, until my neighbor Holly told us she made a little snowman from the hail she found on her back deck. Since then, I’ve been finding this kind of damage everywhere in the garden. On echeverias, aeoniums, and some of the softer-leaved agaves, like the attenuatas and desmettianas.

Agave ‘Kara’s Stripes’ and Agave celsii ‘Multicolor’


What’s even more surprising to me than this hail damage, if that’s what it is (and what else could it be?) is the fact that this has never happened before. From Wikipedia: “Hail formation requires environments of strong, upward motion of air with the parent thunderstorm (similar to tornadoes) and lowered heights of the freezing level. Hail is most frequently formed in the interior of continents within the mid-latitudes of Earth, with hail generally confined to higher elevations within the tropics.”

This video taken at a local high school, and which — WARNING — contains very “strong” language, offers an inside look at Southern Californians’ response to a hailstorm.

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Growing Dragon Fruit

Yesterday, 12/20/11, The Los Angeles Times ran a well-informed piece on the cultivation and propagation of pitahaya, or dragon fruit, written by Jeff Spurrier of the The Global Garden, which you can read here. I wrote about my neighbor’s dragon fruit here.
(As far as what to call the dragon fruit, I guess it’s one of those tomato/tomahto, pitaya/pitahaya situations. Mr. Spurrier opts for pitahaya.) I vividly remember being confronted with the possibility that I might not be the adventurous epicure I thought I was, upon being offered my first slice of dragon fruit. Certain textures can be intimidating, but I managed to swallow. Amazingly nutritious, I’m told. I really need to try it again, calmly, possibly in private, where I won’t be worried about making offensive facial expressions.

Wonderful photo from the LA Times article of the epiphyte engulfing a wall:
Dragon fruit covers a wall at Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, the botanical garden in Oaxaca, Mexico.”


Running out to check on the progress of my neighbor’s dragon fruit, I find I hadn’t even noticed that he’s removed it completely, giving its space over solely to bananas. In the dragon fruit’s place, an enormous hand of bananas now dangles like the sword of Damocles over the fence, just a few feet above the windshield of our Eurovan. I’d assumed the pitahaya was still threading itself through the jungle canopy. Mr. Li still has plants elsewhere in the garden, like the massive one trellised over the front walkway gate, kept neatly manicured and not wildly cascading like the photo above from the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. The mailman wouldn’t be able to deliver the mail otherwise.


But none will be as daily visible to me. Glad I took a few photos.


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holiday cheer

the garden has started a holiday party of its own, in a very traditional palette


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fountain with fishnet and text


The matted, black material at the base of this fountain merited closer inspection. Was it trash? Or perhaps something had gone terribly wrong with the water chemistry.


Not at all, just fishing net. A wonderful touch which brought a smile of recognition. This is Manhattan Beach, California, after all. Apart from utilitarian use made of this netting by the commercial fishing industry, it was a big part of the surf culture decor and once hung from the ceiling of many a shabby beach apartment, including the one I lived in not far from this plaza in the early ’80s. In this town’s determined evolution from funky to upscale, my old apartment building, where I made my first and only rooftop garden, was torn down. All vestiges of this beach town’s former fishnet decor seem to have been successfully obliterated — except for fugitive memories of shag carpet and macramed glass fishing floats snared by this fountain, which anchors a large, new plaza, sharing a wall with the parking structure built on the site of the old Metlox Potteries and bounded on another side by the new Shade Hotel. The shopping complex down the street is the work of Tolkin & Associates and Wade Graham Landscape Studio. I’m not sure if the fishnet fountain is their work as well.


Standing close enough to identify the fishnet in the fountain, I could now see the text running parallel in the paving along the front of the fountain, like the opening to a childhood story told by an old-timer like me:


All of us kids would walk barefoot through the wild areas covered with wildflowers, buttercups, daisies, lupines, brush, statice and other flowers

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Foliage Followup December 2011

400 South Hope Street, Los Angeles
Mellon Bank Center

An enormous agave (A. weberi?) in a sea of Senecio mandraliscae, ribboning out into massed plantings of dwarf phormium, then masses of a smaller agave, replaced by blocks of feather grass. The hedge to the left is bamboo.


Foliage Followup courtesy of Pam at Digging, the 16th of every month.

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Bloom Day December 2011

An unexpected afternoon cloudburst visited the garden this Bloom Day.


In five minutes it was over, leaving enough time to collect some photos before sunset.
Self-sown Orlaya grandiflora, the Minoan Lace.


Rose ‘Bouquet d’Or still in a flush of blooms.


Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ and Thunbergia alata, one of the lighter, peachy shades.


Salvia wagneriana


Russellia equisetiformis


Begonia ‘Paul Hernandez,’ Pedilanthus bracteatus


Tulbaghia simmleri, Salvia madrensis


Helleborus argutifolius


Merry Bloom Day!

Bloom Day arrives unfailingly the 15th of every month courtesy of Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

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Rolling Greens Nursery

I had a job just down the street from Rolling Greens Nursery yesterday, but the sun was already set by the time I paid them a visit. The store is a big, roomy, open air space (formerly a tire shop) that’s a pleasure to visit, but too dim for photos after sunset. This location is quite a change from their Culver City nursery, which was a meandering, hilly, multi-level site devoted to mostly very cool plants and containers. The Hollywood location is a gorgeous, luxe, over-the-top design mecca for house and garden. More Paris flea market than Mid Century Modern but still appealing to a range of tastes.


And damned if they didn’t carry a couple plants of Lepismium cruciforme, one of which rode home shotgun with me.

Nancy Silverton, local celebrity chef, will be at Rolling Greens tonight to celebrate her new book, The Mozza Cookbook. It is a rare occasion when I buy a cookbook, but I made an exception for this one, and it now sits on my reading bench. Ms. Silverton will forever be honored in our house for her wondrous hand-made breads made at the flagship artisanal bread-making shop, the La Brea Bakery. Although the bakery is under new ownership, the breads still rise and are still consumed weekly by us. Ms. Silverton now devotes her energies to her Mozza restaurants. (As a gossipy aside, the hard-earned proceeds from the sale of La Brea Bakery were invested with, and looted by, Bernard Madoff.)

Nancy Silverton at Rolling Greens Nursery
December 15, 2011
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
7505 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
refreshments will be served!

Disclosure: This is where I live, so this is what I write about. No remuneration is involved.

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We’ve been pushing ourselves to take long walks, sometimes early morning, sometimes early evening, as much as 4 miles, mostly through Long Beach’s old downtown, which has seen many of its older buildings become frozen mid loft conversion. (Probably too many.) I never need encouragement to take a long walk, but I do need strong motivation as far as where to walk. The rules are no car can be involved, and the walk must begin straight out the front door, which necessitates passing through some mundane neighborhood streets I know all too well. In the evening, the carrot can be a movie (Hugo was wonderful! Who knew Scorcese was such a softie?!) or in the early morning, a cup of coffee.

Once the neighborhood is a mile or so behind, the sidewalks widen, and the view gets increasingly more interesting. The East Village has some beautiful old buildings, like The Broadlind Hotel, photo found here.


I did some holiday shopping on 4th Street’s “Retro Row,” which was a painful exercise in self-denial. A couple shops have exquisite mid century modern pieces. Image found here.


Rating right up there with garden travel has always been an irresistible desire to walk some of the world’s great cities, and I have hiked through a few but not nearly as many as I ‘d like. The pace of incoming stimuli, details, the places a car can’t go, the unraveling of mental knots, the swing and rhythm, the layers of history read in a building’s facade, a good walk can be as sublime an experience as any.

On foot the eye can hone in on details, like the inflorescence topping a 5-foot-plus bloom stalk of Agave desmettiana, a row of them in bloom in front of the architects’ studio next to Lyon Art Supply.



But day in, day out, you can only walk the neighborhood you’ve got. And this is Los Angeles County after all, not known for well-designed, walkable spaces. I don’t mind scruffy, recessionary cities with a few teeth (windows) missing, just boring lengths of asphalt and concrete and vast intersections designed for cars, so Long Beach’s older downtown, though small, is usually our destination, where the scale feels just right.

Brugmansia engulfing a porch. Agave victoriae-reginae from the Museum of Latin American Art.


The mosaics of St. Anthony’s Church, the oldest church in Long Beach. This version was rebuilt after the 1933 earthquake. Mosaics imported from Italy.


Always an adventure, as easy as one foot in front of the other.

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bowl of succulents

Hoping to do some holiday shopping for the hikers in the family, I drove out to Patagonia’s store at The Camp in Costa Mesa. Also at The Camp is the little shop Organic Designs by Aggelige, where I studied this tangy confection for a good long while. (You can’t miss Aggelige Spanos’ shop. It’s the one located in the Airstream trailer. Phone (714) 662-7996.)

Plum-colored stems and pale celadon green leaves of Portulacaria afra spill around an echeveria, which might be ‘Afterglow.’ The trailing cactus might be Lepismium cruciforme, which attains that brilliant coloring in full sun. Tart, zig-zaggy, energetic bowl of succulents. Just when you think you’ve seen every possible combination of succulents, a fresh take like this comes along.


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Covent Garden’s LEGO Greenhouse

The LEGO greenhouse from London Design Week 2011 got lots of coverage from design blogs last fall.

Image found here.

But since LEGO at one time was practically synonymous with winter holidays in our house, it seems appropriate for a post now, too, because for me Christmas and LEGO will forever be inextricably linked. Up until the age of, oh, maybe 12 or so, the LEGO brick is a mighty adjunct to a child’s imagination. There was a time when boxes of new LEGO in some form or other always sat wrapped and waiting under the fronds of our tree the morning of December 25th. And the tradition apparently continues: Still in the strong grip of the recession, the year 2008 saw sales of LEGO climb a record 38% (Los Angeles Times).

Industrial designer Sebastian Bergne was commissioned by LEGO to build the 100,000 brick greenhouse, which was displayed last September in the Northeast Piazza of Covent Garden during London Design Week 2011. Filled with vegetables and flowers, no doubt growing in pots but mulched by brown LEGO bricks, the greenhouse is a plasticine nod to the age-old farmers’ markets of Covent Garden of London, dating back to the 17th Century. The square that housed the original Covent Garden was designed by architect Inigo Jones.

I had a minor fling with market gardening in my late twenties, growing cut flowers for local restaurants, which is when I became acquainted with packets of seed with names like Gypsophila elegans ‘Covent Garden,’ the annual baby’s breath.

Image found here

My personal Covent Garden was actually a tiny plot in a public allotment overlooking the harbor and fishing fleet docks in San Pedro, California. It wasn’t long before I was augmenting failed or dwindling yields of my flowers with cut flowers from the commercial growers. Market gardening is definitely not for the faint of heart (or twitchy lower back).

The LEGO greenhouse elicited quite a few snarky comments on the design blogs. Where’s the door? (There is a small door not pictured.) Why celebrate mass-produced corporatism? Won’t the clear blocks yellow in the sun? How many gazillions of dollars did this cost? If you’ve never had the living room rug buried in a mulch of LEGO on Christmas morning or can’t fathom the appeal of a modular-built greenhouse, I suppose sensible questions like these might be a concern. My only question is, What’s the actual size of those bricks?

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