I’ve gone through a couple online plant catalogues this morning and checked out the online index to John Greenlee’s Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses. Nada. Still no ID. I brought this grass home from Western Hills long ago, when Maggie Wych was running the Northern Californian nursery after the original owners bequeathed it to her. The grass has been an afterthought since then, not much more than a memento from Western Hills straggling along in too much shade, placed too close to pathways where it gets a good stomping, never watered. Blades are dark green. I usually forget about it until a few of these sparkly, tassel-like flowers appear.
Like the nursery Western Hills, this grass is a survivor. Last fall I moved it into a full-sun position, just to test its mettle even further. I also wanted to get it away from my clumsy feet trodding on it, breaking those beautiful tassels. It handled with aplomb temps that precipitously climbed into the 90s the past two days. I think it’s proven itself. It deserves a name. Any grassophiles out there, help would be appreciated. About a foot high, topping 2 feet when in bloom. Evergreen here. A small division this fall is offered in exchange for a name. Email me if you don’t want to guess in public.
unknown grass with Orlaya grandiflora and Ursinia sericea
Edited 5/17/13: Thanks to Stacie at Western Hills for contacting Maggie Wych (former owner of Western Hills). The grass is Chloris virgata, the feather windmill grass.
There’s an attention grabber. No, that’s not a recent tabloid headline and, yes, I am being facetious, but I find it amazing that the High Line (and switchgrass!) is casually slipped into a bit of puffery about the current goings-on of Ethan Hawke.
From the May 13, 2013, issue of The New Yorker: “Ethan Hawke traipsed the High Line with his hands in his pockets, his blue-gray eyes wide in the strong morning light…Knifing through a bed of switchgrass, he observed…”
No further explanation of what the High Line is, or what switchgrass is for that matter (panicum). It’s just assumed we’ll know — or should know.
In the land of public opinion, the High Line has been an idea in transit, moving relatively swiftly from an impossible feat to a controversial instigator of gentrification, now coasting and settling into a beloved space mentioned in articles about film stars. I’ve been a fan every step of the way. Will the High Line be the impetus for plants and landscapes to begin to share a little space in the collective cultural mind, alongside film stars and cat videos? Wouldn’t that be something? Can headlines like “Autumn crocus now in bloom at the High Line!” be far off?
I’ll always read any piece on Ethan Hawke, because of all the Chekhov plays he’s been doing, because of the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies and Gattaca, and because of the film version he made of Jack London’s White Fang, in which at 21 he costarred with the incomparable Klaus Maria Brandauer and that equally incomparable actor Jed, the wolf mix that played White Fang. The scene where Jed rescues Ethan from a mine collapse is especially riveting, as is the scene when Jed dispatches the bad guys.
But I had no idea Ethan Hawke had narrated a history of the High Line. I suppose his movie Chelsea Walls was a tipoff to his involvement in the neighborhood.
There is something so emotionally satisfying about moving through a landscape — which is why I think there’s something uniquely American about the High Line and its contribution to landscape design. Footfall after footfall expectation builds, scent and sound are stirred, memories too. Memories like walking to and from school on paths through empty fields, an interlude of intense freedom bracketed by responsibility at both departure and arrival. Even in a tiny garden like mine, moving through a landscape is embarking on a journey of discovery. Cutting a little path through the main border and scaling the plants down to knee-high at the path’s edge has been an interesting and rewarding experiment this year.
Where the bricks end is where the new path begins, maybe 8 feet in curved length. It’s really just a dog track in width now that summer growth is spilling onto it, fit for corgi-sized adventures.
Summer gardens and parks, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
Lawns are vanishing all over town. The chief ringleader and instigator is the Long Beach Water Department, with their irresistible Lawn-to-Garden Turf Replacement Program. Quite a few of my neighbors have already taken advantage of this program the past couple years, and more applications for the $3K rebate are being accepted now. There will be an upcoming tour May 18 to showcase some of the gardens that have taken up LBWD’s offer. Last evening I snuck a driveby look at one of the houses on the tour.
Close to the house, behind the potted orange tree is a tall, diaphonous Pittosporum tenuifolium. In back of the Tibouchina urvilleana, center, is an olive tree.
Blue Chalk Fingers, Senecio vitalis, Festuca glauca, lavender, and a glimpse of Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’
There were Iceberg roses, gaillardia, aeonium, daylilies — lots of blooms to come for summer.
Lots to interest people, birds, insects.
The parkway has been deturfed too.
And losing the lawn seems to be going viral in this neighborhood. Dark green ceanothus swirls around an aloe and Salvia chamaedryoides
A fountain of the firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis
Cylindropuntia and echeverias
When lawn is removed the fun begins, and these garden makers really seem to be enjoying themselves.
I’m guessing this little bulb is a babiana. (Dustin Gimbel confirmed in a comment Triteleia ‘Ruby’)
This lawn is being nibbled away at the margins, but I’m predicting it won’t be long before it vanishes completely too.
Agave potatorum nestled up against verbena.
I noticed this intriguing beauty growing in the parkway a couple houses away.
Not the sago palm, but that foaming, pencil-stemmed wonder with the wax flower-like blooms. The Baja spurge, Euphorbia xanti
Try to imagine it not squished against a telephone pole.
There were three of these euphorbias in the parkway, one around the corner.
Everyone’s love affair with Calandrinia spectabilis continues. A couple blocks away, an entire lawn was replaced with this plant.
The landscape cloth used around the crowns of the young plants was too hideous for a photo
An interesting contrast to these personal gardens lies diagonal across the street from them.
Just four months ago, architects Abramson Teiger finished a major renovation of the Temple Israel, including the landscape.
Long sweeps of feather grass, a problematic self-sower, and nepeta anchor the front of the temple.
With the prominence succulents continue to enjoy for their evergreen, year-round good looks, it’s unusual for new landscaping projects to include perennials, even evergreen shrubby ones like Verbena lilacina, a California native. I love the needlepoint detail against the concrete work and their billowing effect. Despite their many attractions, billow is one verb that can’t be used with succulents.
Though succulents are included here too: Senecio mandraliscae, aloes, aeonium. Meyer’s asparagus fern in the back.
What looks like red-dyed mulch are fallen petals from the callistemon bottlebrush trees overhead in the parkway.
Anigozanthos, the kangaroo paws, in the foreground.
I couldn’t get close enough to these trees for an ID, but they had an Australian look to them.
In the fading light, against the building can just be seen the slim outline of more anigozanthos, the shrubby Teucrium azureum to the left.
Feather grass, phlomis, with Teucrium azureum in the rear. All these plants are as drought tolerant as succulents, though their upkeep and cutback needs differ.
A few streets away, a front lawn has been usurped by Achillea ‘Moonshine.’
All over town, whether commercial projects or residential, the hissing of summer lawns during the hot, dry days of summer is becoming a relic of the past.
And another lawn vanishes under succulents, pennisetum, and a cloud of Gomphrena decumbens.
Any garden/home tour that incites me to clean out the office is money well spent. Cleaning for me has never been a daily spritz here, a light bit of dusting there, but a long-delayed, ferocious, all-out assault when conditions become unbearable, when the work surfaces disappear under piles of magazines. The house keeps itself going fairly well, but the office, where we spend most of our time, becomes a sty in no time at all. The judgments are always excruciating. Keep the stacks of unread New Yorkers? Look, here’s a piece by Adam Gopnik I missed. They stay.
But cleaning has its rewards. A 20-year-old photo of Pamela Toby,* probably watching my boys playing in the shallow pools on an Oregon beach.
(Every Newf is Nana in Peter Pan.)
Garden magazines are just as hard to toss. And I have to put myself in the mindset of the self that last cleaned the office and gave all this stuff a pass. Why was this Garden Design spared, the September/October 2009 issue? Was it oversight or deliberate choice to keep it? Flipping through I find an interview with landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck and this question: What has inspired you? And her answer: “Brimming bowls, as in Moorish gardens, inspire me by using the least amount of water for the most effect. They suggest that water is abundant, which of course it isn’t in an arid climate.”
As if commanded by unseen forces, I immediately drop the magazine, rise up and head for the copper fire pot that was used a few summers ago as a brimming bowl. It was collecting algae by the hose spigot in the front garden. A quick rinse and it was back in place. Evie and I love a good brimming bowl. I just needed a cleaning day to remind me.
*I was corrected by both boys, on Mother’s Day in fact, that this is not a photo of Pamela after all, but her puppy Toby, who was half-Newf.
Today in Los Angeles temperatures downtown hit the 90s, with red-flag fires burning in nearby Ventura and Riverside Counties. Fire season has arrived, hot, heavy, and early, after a disappointing rainfall only 40 percent of average this past winter.
The landscaping at the Lewis Brisbois building, 221 North Figueroa, where I worked today, was ready for anything the weather gods had up their sleeves.
May days are also hot and heavy with garden tours, two this weekend, the Venice Home & Garden Tour on Saturday, May 4, and the Garden Conservancy Open Days for Los Angeles on Sunday, May 5. Both days are well worth ditching any previous plans for, and my ambition is to do both, especially since “A Potted Garden,” will be on the Sunday GC Open Days tour. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to visit the home of one of the co-owners of Los Angeles’ best-curated outdoor living shop Potted. You can read Annette’s blog post on preparing for the tour here.
And who better to give some perspective on Venice, California, than Jay Griffith, landscape architect and one of the original founders of the Venice Garden and Home Tour. I still maintain he’s Derek Jacobi’s lost twin brother. Video by KCET.
If you get blasted by a bike bell in Venice on Saturday, it’s probably me navigating the crowds on wheels instead of feet, a new strategy I’m trying this year so I don’t miss a single garden. The temperatures forecast for the weekend will be much cooler, perfect garden touring weather.
A garden book among the many I’ve read that I’m reminded of almost daily is Pamela Harper’s “Color Echoes.” My synopsis goes like this:
The eye is lonely and craves relationships, and will wander around restlessly to seek them out, but is easily satisfied even if you provide only the barest of excuses for associations, like echoes in form and color. I can’t remember whether Ms. Harper intended to offer comfort to plant collectors, but to my way of thinking she did.
Often — okay, almost always in plant collectors’ gardens the associations are not planned outright, like this variegated anthericum echoing the variegated pampas grass in the tank, a stripey echo that only became apparent when some tall nicotiana were pulled out. But the restless eye picked it up in a heartbeat.
I love this little Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata,’ aka, per Tony Avent of Plant Delights, Chlorophytum saundersiae ‘Agristripes.’ (Pausing for breath.)
And it loves the dry shade under the tetrapanax/rice paper plant.
Wonderfully subtle, nubby texture when in flower, as it is now.
And then this figwort (Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’) I stuck in the corner of the tank because it wants constant moisture did me the amazing favor of actually enjoying the spot I selected for it. Another unplanned echo, this time with a twist on leaf shape. I think it qualifies.
The eye seems to like a narration, a good story, a punchline, as much as the brain does, but there’s so many competing interests to consider. Within minutes after pulling out the flowering tobacco, an irate hummingbird skidded into the now empty air space and hovered there emphatically, cycling through a half minute’s worth of blurry, angry beats of his wings.
Just calm down, pal. There’s plenty more where that came from.
I needed the space for my new mangave from Dustin.
Apart from hurting a hummingbird’s feelings, it’s incredibly painful to pull out a gorgeous, flourishing plant, especially one performing without complaint in dry soil. (Shockingly dry soil, I found out when I slipped the shovel into it, which is probably best. I hate to imagine what a well-watered tetrapanax might be capable of.)
But when I saw that beautiful mangave snug in its new home, I got over it.
The Yucca recurvifolia, planted years ago, now echoes the ‘Golden Chain’ Arundo donax, a young plant just beginning to hit its stride.
My eye predictably ricochets from one to the other and sighs happily.
And the plant collector in me sighs happily too, because I didn’t have to resort to using the same plant over and over to strengthen intention and association.
(Hummingbirds visited the green nicotiana last evening after the photo was taken. They seem to prefer the dark red strain but will settle for green in a pinch.)
I’m also counting the Eryngium pandanifolium as an echo for the shape of the yucca. A photo from March.
It’s twice as high now, with lots of offshoots from the base. Reputed to be the biggest eryngo.
The Princess Caroline pennisetum moved to this spot last fall now echoes the burgundy phormium just about equidistant on the other side of the footpath.*
This pennisetum was over 6 feet tall by the end of last summer, which well passes the phormium in height.
But we’re not talking mirror image in the plant collector’s garden.
Plant collectors feel the eye is easily led and becomes satisfied with the smallest gesture, quickly making the connection.
Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’
Vavavvoom, what a leaf. (I’m warning you not to google-check my spelling on that. There will be silicone implants involved.)
Bought last fall, the albizia in its pot on the small patio near the fence echoes the full-grown Euphorbia cotinifolia tree, a self-sown seedling on the opposite side of the garden closer to the office. It’s been warm enough the past week to trigger that familiar sound of euphorbia seed explosions as they hurl themselves into space like little astronauts, hopefully to land on suitable ground. With the onset of mid-summer heat in a couple months, it’ll sound like I’m making Jiffy Pop in the garden. Euphorbia rigida does this too. I can’t remember if E. characias does it or not. The Euphorbia cotinifolia, like the other tropicals, is late to leaf out, so no photo.
I think shape echoes work on the same principle. That I subscribe to this principle has nothing to do with my insatiable appetite for agaves.
Big green rosettes, little green rosettes. The eye sighs.
This one didn’t last long, since the kniphofia’s blooms were finished in a few weeks, but it was a twofer, hitting both shape and color.
Kniphofia with Isoplexis canariensis in the background.
A handy trick for plant collectors. Just stuff I’ve been thinking about during this dangerous season of spring plant sales.
*(The footpath was added last fall too, just about slicing through the exact spot where a gigantic 7X7 Salvia canariensis grew. I added a couple of its cuttings to the verge area at the community garden, where I just learned last night that, yes! there is a pipe leak under my garden plot. All last summer I was Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, pointing out that never having to water a garden during a Los Angeles summer is unusual, and it being assumed these were the rantings of a novice with a compulsion to surreptitiously overwater. If anything, I’m incredibly lazy about watering.)
I was living large with orange marmalade on my bagel this morning, after trying it on some excellent shortbread Sunday afternoon. I first tasted then bought the marmalade from the Arlington Garden in Pasadena yesterday, where it’s made from their Washington Navel orange trees. (The shortbread was said to be Ina Garten’s recipe.) The Arlington Garden was on the Pasadena Open Days Garden Conservancy Tour, the same day as the Huntington Botanical Gardens plant sale, where I spent a very warm morning. (Does Pasadena do any other temperature?) When plant sales and garden tours collide on the same day, tough choices must be made. I skipped the Pasadena Open Days. The tour of the Arlington was free, so I stopped in briefly on the way out of town to make the first of what I know will be many visits. It’s very close to the south 110 freeway onramp on the Arroyo Seco Parkway, California’s first freeway, always an exciting ride when drivers insist on taking its narrow, lazy curves at 85 mph. Like the Arroyo Seco, the Arlington is also a first, “Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden.” The wildflowers were mostly finished, but the air was heavy and pungent with all the mediterranean scrubby stuff I love so much. Three acres is enough to build up a heady concentration of layered scent that envelopes you from the moment you step off the sidewalk onto the garden’s meandering paths.
Just behind the stone labyrinth, plein air painters set up their easels at the Arlington Garden under the shade of a California pepper tree
Although the California poppies were over, there were stands of red corn poppies, Papaver rhoes.
Some details from earlier in the day at the Huntington’s desert garden. Echeveria aff. potosina, Mexico (San Luis Potosi)
So many small relevations in the desert garden, like the mass effect of Haworthia cuspidata in bloom
Bromeliads in the cloud forest conservatory
The Huntington still gets me as overexcited as a kid at Disneyland, though my brain continually sheds plant names like my corgi sheds fur. I didn’t forget the name of this conehead in the rain forest conservatory. It was tagless. The leaves reminded me of hedychium.
Oh, before I forget, from the plant sale I brought home a manfreda and a small Yucca rostrata.
I pulled the fava bean plants out yesterday and tossed them on the compost pile, after picking and filling another shopping bag full of beans that will ultimately be shelled, blanched, inner membrane peeled again, and thus be whittled down into modest-sized servings. One Saturday a couple weeks ago, at least three people took their turn in the kitchen over an afternoon shucking beans. If you haven’t already done so, get some music into the kitchen specifically for this chore. Surprisingly, after all the unexpected labor involved with eating fresh fava beans, I can truly admit to loving them. I’m glad their season is over, and we’re moving on to summer’s green beans, but being able to grow a bean this substantial during the cool months of late winter/spring is a luxury I want to repeat next year. Here in Los Angeles the seeds are sown in fall.
At home what ground isn’t needed for shelter and related pursuits gets filled with my latest plant enthusiams, almost alway nonedible. All this fava bean action is taking place in my community garden plot, where I’m surrounded by seasoned vegetable growers, none of whom, from what I could tell, chose to grow fava beans over winter. Lots of them stopped to admire mine, though, which grew into husky plants 5 feet high. Is it fear of favism, a rare syndrome triggered by eating fava beans which affects mostly men of mediterranean ancestry? (Pythagoras wouldn’t go near them.) For one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops, uber nutritious and a great source of protein, the community garden this winter had very few takers. I grew them mainly for the soil-improving qualities and their ability to put up with my crap soil, which is why I’ve grown them in the past. But this time it seemed exceedingly foolish not to even give them a try. So I did. And that’s when I discovered all the prep that’s involved.
They are an undeniably beautiful bean.
Once the beans are unzipped from their fuzzy sleeping bags, the work has just begun. The beans must be blanched briefly, 30 seconds to a minute, then plunged in an ice bath. And after all this, the outer membrane of each bean still has to be removed, a tricky and slippery business. And because I’ve had fava beans on the brain this spring, wouldn’t you know that one of the Saturday public radio cooking shows delivered a bombshell while I was driving out to Riverside for a plant sale: adding baking soda to the boiling water, say a tablespoon, on its own will slip the membrane off. Except not really. I’ve tried this twice, and maybe a small percentage of the beans voluntarily shed their skins after this alkaline bath, but it’s by no means the answer we’ve all been waiting for. It helps, but there’s still plenty of work left to do.
I found this little video that describes the prep process.
We’ve added the beans mostly to pasta, but here’s nine recipes to try, including the classic Italian version with pancetta.
Fava, it’s a complicated bean, with a nutty flavor all its own, undeservedly reduced to the object of punchlines having to do with chianti. Is it worthwhile? I say yes. Just don’t forget that essential ingredient, something to listen to while you’re getting them ready.
I’ve been accumulating photos of the ever-present succulent arrangements I see all over town. All over town might be an exaggeration. It’s just possible that I tend to gravitate to places where there will be succulents.
But there’s no denying that they are still the Edie Sedgwick of the horticultural world, the It plant of the moment.
And from a glass-half-full perspective, they dovetail so nicely with the warmer, drier summers we’ve been having.
Aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, graptoverias, and the trailing Senecio radicans, the fish-hook senecio. Rolling Greens, Culver City
This seemed to be a staging area for presold arrangements.
I’m seeing lots of wood and natural-looking containers this spring.
Dark red aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, Aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ Senecio radicans, Euphorbia tirucalli.
These have more in common with floral arrangements, packed for maximum impact, but will have to be broken apart fairly soon.
Portulacaria afra and Euphorbia tirucalli each have potential to become shrublike in Los Angeles. .
No ID aloe, crassulas, Senecio radicans
Furcraea macdougalii at Inner Gardens, also on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City
I finally got my F. macdougalii out of its pot and into the garden, not an easy thing to do with a 5-footer brandishing leaves studded with hooked barbs.
To give a sense of the length that Senecio radicans will grow, this is my old lamp stand, which has lost quite a bit of detail since this post. It had to be replanted a few months ago when Marty bumped it and sent it flying, rolling and bouncing, which it withstood amazingly well, considering. I patched it back together and added the trailing fish-hook senecio. Once it reaches the ground and I start trimming the ends, it loses that lovely, loose draping effect and thickens up, just like any plant that’s pinched back. Yes, for a change, I did try to style the photo a bit, which is incredibly hard to get right. Kudos to the pros for making it look effortless. After dragging benches and teapots out of the house, shifting things micromillimeters to the left then right again, I was exhausted. The “turk’s head” was a gift, brought home from the souks in Morocco, and the reason I’m asking Marty to teach me traditional seaman’s knot work. He’s always made “monkey fists” and these “turk’s heads,” but never ones this big. I want to make lots of them but in slightly smaller sizes, to hold down the canvas canopy over the pergola this summer, clip on tablecloths to keep from blowing in the wind, etc. We’ll see how many I make. Plans are always the easy part.
These two, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Echeveria prolifica, fill in incredibly fast.
Echeveria cante at the Spring Garden Show at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
This show will be open through the weekend.
I found this opalescent beauty in a 4-inch pot.
An unnamed dyckia hybrid going for $75. I left it at the show, waiting for the dyckiaphiles.
Echeveria agavoides at the show
Echeveria subsessilis ‘Variegata’ (synonymous with E. peacockii). Beautiful but pricey.