April don’t go

Bathed in soft light and 70ish temps, April, you’re so dreamy. But can you slow down and linger just a bit longer?

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Open gardens, plant shows. April in Southern California gets the heart of the plant obsessed beating fast. Last weekend included a visit to the superb Mallen/Vincent dry garden in Fallbrook through the San Diego Horticultural Society. Some of Debra Lee Baldwin’s book photos were taken in this garden.

Above is a specimen in the climate-controlled euphorbia greenhouse. Because Fallbrook’s average low temp is 45 degrees in January, I’m guessing the motors I heard whirring into action in the euphorbia greenhouse were for ventilation purposes, not heating. Container after container framing perfectly manicured, exquisitely grown plants fill several greenhouses and are scattered throughout the 2-acre garden as well. This was my second visit (maybe third?), and it was as disorienting as the last. Perfection is hard for me to process. In my own garden, good enough is always the enemy of perfection.

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Out in the garden, some plants are ID tagged but not all. If you ask Wanda Mallen, she knows every name, including previous superceded names and contested names. I didn’t always ask because there were lots of other visitors asking what’s this or that.

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But I so wish I had asked the name of this spectacular euphorb.

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The gorgeous variegated ponytail palm is an easy ID.
(Immutable Law of Horticulture: If you kill a plant, you never forget it.)

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Years of careful study and observation are the only way to uncover how to display plants to their best advantage, e.g., elevating the caput-medusae type euphorbias so their sinuous dreadlocks drape down the pot. This might be my favorite planter in the garden.

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There’s a greenhouse devoted to rhipsalis. I’m not lying. But this one was hanging from the patio. (More photos of this patio from my previous visit here.)

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Bromeliads and Elephant Food/Portulacaria afra, a container to plant then do nothing much else with but admire all summer.

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Another favorite planter, a trio of young Euphorbia ammak.

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More caput-medusae euphorbia.

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Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’

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There were several strawberry jars filled with gasteria.

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Gasteria is a succulent that stands a lot of neglect, which is what it gets from me. I just haven’t really bonded with gasteria yet like I have aloes and agaves.

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Cool, stomach-shaped flowers on elegant racemes, sturdy leaves, tolerant of low light. I should treat mine with a little more respect.

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“Squid” pot (from Tentacle Arts) with Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’

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At first glance the garden seems to favor palms, agaves, and aloes, but the owners have wide-ranging interests, like conifers, callistemon, acacia, bamboo, maples, cycads.

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Another gorgeous April day in this Fallbrook plant collectors’ garden.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, garden travel, garden visit, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

catching up with Dustin Gimbel

This has really been Dustin’s year, and I think a recap is in order.

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Dustin Gimbel, Second Nature Garden Design

In early 2017 Dustin and Potted launched his Point Pot.

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Long Beach’s own “communal dining space,” Steelcraft, let us play around with some Point Pots at their shiny new outdoor venue, which cleverly repurposes multiple shipping containers to house food vendors. (Thank you, Kimberly!)

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After all, Long Beach is one of the biggest ports in the world, and containers stacked and stretching seemingly to the horizon is a familiar sight now. (But it wasn’t always so. I vividly remember my dad’s “On The Waterfront” cargo hook in the back of our VW bug before the harbor was fully containerized and goods still came in burlap sacks or loose piles in ships’ holds that had to be stevedored by big muscles. Malcom McLean forever changed all that.)

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The Point Pot at Steelcraft seemed like a good fit. I’m a fan of the potential of empty vessels of all kinds, whether filled with tillandsias or ramen shops. It’s all a matter of scale.

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Love the name of this microbrewery. (Los Angeles aka Smog City — might as well own it.)

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Dustin’s pace this year makes me feel like I’m moving at the speed of an old Galapagos tortoise. He’s a one-man artists’ colony. Luckily, there will be a couple opportunities for you to catch up with Dustin this spring.

The first opportunity will be April 27-30 at the Southern California Spring Garden Show, where he’s been a frequent contributor. I have no idea what he’s whipping up this year so I’ll be as surprised as you.

The second opportunity will be a tour of his private garden May 6-7 via the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. It was at Mary Lou’s legendary, much-loved nursery many years ago that I first met teen-aged Dustin, before he apprenticed at Great Dixter, Heronswood, Greenlee’s nursery, etc, etc.

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And his private garden is currently looking exceptionally fine, having been primped and and tricked out for a photo shoot that will grace the pages sometime next year of one of the West Coast’s premiere garden/lifestyle magazines. Ferrying Mitch to the airport a couple days ago, I took a detour to Dustin’s and pushed Mitch out the door to grab some quick photos. Because everything was just so perfect.

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Fermob with matching California poppies. Perfect, right?
Dustin was hoping the Aristolochia gigantea would be in full bloom for the shoot, but alas gardens don’t always cooperate with such human timetables. But I bet it’s in bloom for the upcoming tour.

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Orange planter in back is vintage, the low white bowls in foreground are Dustin’s.

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This might be my favorite out of his new Robby the Robot/Forbidden Planet series.

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The shelving was newly built to accommodate the burgeoning number of pieces coming out of his studio just behind that wall.
The center, legged piece has been dubbed, if I remember correctly, “lambypants.” (Or maybe I just made that up.)

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Ripe lemons snuggle up to the totems now.

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The aristolochia vine just coming into bloom.

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The front garden this year is predominantly white, silver and green, with touches of orange from aloes, leucospermum, and leonotis.
Linen-white Minoan lace, the umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, is just coming into bloom among agaves, weeping acacias, and lots of other treasures.
See for yourself this May. Check out the maps and other info on the self-guided tour here.

All photos by MB Maher

Posted in artists, design, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

notes on spring

I’ve taken some time off work while the family regroups from assorted medical issues, and since they seem to be more or less on the mend I’m sopping up spare time with plant sales and garden tours. Some nurse, huh? Living without back-to-back work deadlines is a heady, liberating experience, kind of a mini-preview of retiring from the day job, and I confess I’ve been running just a bit amok. Imagine a hummingbird’s interests and metabolism in a 5’8″ woman with a car and a smart phone making up for the lack of wings.

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There will be plenty of time for the mundane tasks indoors of cleaning out junk rooms, attending to the paint-starved main room, but right now I’m as mad about spring as any bird or six-legged creature, and hopping around gardens just as furiously. And then there’s this new camera to get the hang of, not to mention a blood-red poppy that’s greeted me the past few mornings, new to my garden, Papaver commutatum, aka ladybird poppy. Devilishly tricky to capture in portrait due to its intense color saturation.

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The morning sun effects an astonishing transformation when it touches those translucent petals, igniting them into molten chalices, and that’s the full-throated portrait of a ladybird poppy that eludes me.

Please, please reseed.

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My old standby, the Poppy of Troy, is much less shy around a camera.

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I still love everything about poppies. Crinkly buds on reedy stems carefully unpack their wrinkled folds to unfurl full-sail, silky blooms. A springtime performance that never gets old.

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More intense red is coming from the scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum. The cool spring weather has been exceptionally kind to this annual from Algeria.

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I’ve never known Yucca pallida to be recommended for its blooms, and in fact it may be somewhat shy and unreliable in flowering, but the winter rains seem to be convincing a couple of mine to throw bloom spikes. Now we’ll see firsthand what the pale yucca in flower is all about. I think Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ may be intending to bloom as well.

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The milky white ‘Jade Frost’ eryngium bloom trusses are now bluing up. This dry garden perennial has been challenging to establish in spring. It was nursery grown in nearly pure sand, so it readily wilts if overlooked for a few days. Major planting in Southern California gardens, because of our long dry summer/wet winter mediterranean climate, is strongly advised for fall. But then the drought made timing for planting a moot point, and we switched gears to survival mode. And I’ve always tended to flout the planting rules anyway, with occasional failures but some successes too.

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I did get this Leucadendron meridianum ‘More Silver’ planted late fall, so it had a wonderful time settling in throughout the drought-breaking, rainy winter.

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Leucadendron galpinii was also a candidate for the spot but didn’t make the cut, so will spend a second year in a pot, part of my ongoing Shrubs in Pots experiment.

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The acanthus hybrid ‘Morning Candle’ had most of the rainy winter to settle in too.

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For some plants, the epic winter rain was a challenge. I opted to remove a large octopus agave from the back garden when its leaves began to disfigure with black spots from the soggy ground. And I can finally stop worrying about this verbascum planted in a low-lying area.

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The Theodore Payne native plants garden tour a couple weeks ago made me realize that the lack of a flannel bush in the garden was a serious oversight. Spring is definitely not the time to plant California natives, so I made a mental note to order the compact Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ for fall planting. But you know how it goes. At my neighborhood nursery last week I noticed a couple of beautifully grown flannel bushes. No name, in 3- gallons. The difference in eventual size between ‘Ken Taylor’ and ‘California Glory’ is substantial, at least 10 feet in girth and height. A small garden needs ‘Ken Taylor.’ But California natives planted in spring risk succumbing to warm-weather soil pathogens as water is poured on hoping to revive wilting, summer-stressed plants. Still, I had to ask, so I pestered an employee: Any chance you can source the ID of that flannel bush through your database?

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The one Echium simplex was perfect this year. Last time they bloomed the spikes were deformed by fasciation, an affliction where parts of a plant fuse together and take on bizarre, unnatural shapes. I say affliction, but some people adore fasciation. I admit in some cactus it’s kind of cool.

But, yes, I did plant the flannel bush. After asking for help with the ID, a lengthy line of customers began to queue up, so I told the clerk never mind and continued wandering. What was I thinking, buying a large flannel bush in spring anyway? But who should come running up maybe 10 minutes later to tell me both were ‘Ken Taylor’ — I hadn’t even mentioned which variety I was after. I think I may have hugged him at that point. So of course I bought it and planted it in spring, which is ill-advised. But that’s how these ill-advised things happen.

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Morning glories are scary invasive plants in Southern California, but this relative, Calystegia macrostegia, is a non-invasive native of our Channel Islands off Ventura County. It outlined some impressive arabesques against a dark fence. I had never heard of it, which I mentioned to a nearby Theodore Payne tour-goer, to which she replied, “I’ve got four at home.” I clearly have some catching up to do with our native plants community.

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Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue,’ also from the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.

Cheers to spring!

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Friday clippings 4/7/17

The two young leucospermums in my garden have each thrown a couple blooms, which only made me greedy for a mass display. But where to find such a display outside of South Africa?

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Leucospermum ‘Blanche Ito’ in the east patio.

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Leucospermum ‘High Gold’ outside my office.

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My mileage points aren’t where they need to be yet for international travel, so I opted for a 2-hour drive up the coast to the Taft Garden. The mid-day sun was intense, so I took very few photos.

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The garden closes at 4:30, so no chance for a kinder, gentler light for photos.

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And, yes, the garden is as deserted and eerie as ever. Once again, I was the only visitor.

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Many aloes were in bloom as well, along with all the Cape daisies and bulbs. I even saw some pale pink dierama in bloom, wafting in the breeze just as their namesake implies, the Angel’s Fishing Rods.

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It was a near-blinding display.

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And many Australian plants were representing too, like isopogon.

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And the waxflowers, chamelaucium, beloved of florists.

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This weekend will be busy, with the San Diego Horticultural Society Spring Garden tour on Saturday, April 8, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Second Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour on Sunday, April 9, 2017. These are both self-guided tours, which means you can dip in and out of the tour for local tasty food or other diversions.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Have a great weekend.

Posted in clippings, garden travel, garden visit | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

dates to remember

I’m just now sorting out the Dates to Remember for spring plant tours and sales, so keep an eye on it because the activities are piling up fast. This weekend alone poses some tough choices to make.

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Like the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour

And be sure to let me know what dates/events I’m missing. Have a great weekend doing whatever suits your fancy.

Posted in garden travel, garden visit, plant nurseries, plant sales | 2 Comments

anyone seen Persephone?

Mrs. Lazarus, the blog is back from the dead, from whence malevolent forces dragged it deep into the underworld lo these past few weeks, to emerge again battered but triumphant, like Persephone in time for spring. Apologies to Sylvia Plath and Bullfinch’s mythology for the theatrics, but it was a pitched battle to which I brought a dull trowel, while my unseen, cowardly enemies wielded the unfathomable powers of their dark arts, hurling code of deadly viruses. More apologies to all visitors who were greeted by the malware warning instead of pleasant photos of plants.

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So let’s get back to talking about plants, shall we? In the back garden, which is increasingly given over to succulents and dry garden shrubs, with little to bloom for summer except grasses, I carved out maybe a 4X4 patch for some spring ephemerals. The bearded iris is a rebloomer from Schreiner’s called ‘Final Episode,’ a bicolor, unlike the last bearded irises I grew, which were solid orange (see here). If the summer tattiness of the leaves doesn’t get too annoying, and they rebloom as promised, I might continue the experiment next year.

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Some Eryngium ‘Jade Frost’ were found locally last week, irresistibly sporting precocious bloom spikes, along with some ‘Ascot Rainbow’ euphorbia in bloom as well.

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The gauzy, pale purple linaria was planted maybe a month ago, a selection from Annie’s Annuals called Linaria marocanna ‘Licilia Azure.’ The linaria and eryngium possess those desirable small garden attributes of slim and tall. Silvery shrub is a native buckwheat, Eriogonum crocatum.

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One clump of iris out of three planted is in bloom at the moment.

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In other blooming news, cocoa-colored nicotiana have self-sown around the tank of the variegated octopus agave.

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Grevilleas continue to bloom into spring. ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

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Long-time blog denizen, the Corsican hellebore, just the one clump now. A ferocious reseeder.

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Another blog old-timer, winter blooming Pelargonium echinatum.

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Aeoniums bloom in trusses holding galaxies of thousands of tiny yellow stars

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And my newly potted Euphorbia bravoana surprised me by blooming this year.

Missed you!

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Modernism Week, Palm Springs, Calif.

Feel like drying out before the next storm blows into town?
Well, we’re in luck. It’s Modernism Week in Palm Springs, ongoing since February 16 and ending this Sunday, February 26, 2017.


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“Mid-Century Makeover” by Lisa Gimmy, Landscape Architecture


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the sun king redux

With cabinet selection still underway, previous hiring decisions during the president’s business career can provide some illumination into his selection criteria.
And if a 24-year-old kid with no horticultural experience can end up working as Trump’s landscape architect, you might want to start polishing up your resume. Truly, anything is possible.
Judging by his well-known, gold-plated desires, it’s no surprise that Trump’s taste in garden design leans toward the opulently formal.
At his Trump National Golf Club, where “members pay an initiation fee of $350,000,” a $7.50-an-hour summer employee named Andy Sick was tapped to perform landscape architect duties.

“A few days after the boss was fired, one of Trump’s golf-course architects, Tom Fazio, Jr., spotted Sick planting petunias.
‘He asked me if I was the landscape architect,’ Sick said. ‘I told him yeah. My only gardening experience was mowing my parents’ lawn.’
Fazio told Sick to get to work, so he went home that night and Googled ‘French formal gardens.'”

Trump’s fans are thrilled by his low-information, shoot-from-the-hip management style, which seems to have worked out fairly well so far as one of his eponymous golf courses is concerned.
Andy Sick turned out to be a natural at intuiting his employer’s taste in landscape design:

“I knew Trump liked ostentatious stuff, so the gardens of Versailles were a perfect fit. I wasn’t even looking at other golf courses. I was just looking at grandiosity.”


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“Early on in Sick’s planting, Trump paid a surprise visit. He loved what he saw. ‘Once that happened, I was given an unlimited budget,’ Sick said.

After spending between two and three hundred thousand dollars of Trump’s money, Sick got nervous.
‘I was worried the plants were going to die,’ he said, so he e-mailed a high-school friend who had studied landscape architecture for guidance.”

Sick turned out to be a quick study in economics as well:

“A few months went by, and Sick, who was still earning $7.50 an hour, decided to ask for a raise.
‘The new boss asked me how much I was making. I told him it didn’t matter — I wanted $75 to $100 an hour.
He agreed to $100.’ At the end of the summer, Sick had to quit to start his first year of law school, at Syracuse.”

“Trump ended up liking the golf club so much that, in 2007, he filed plans with Somerset County to build a family mausoleum there…”


From The New Yorker 10/24/16 “Where Trump Wants To Be Buried – How an untrained gardener created a Versailles-inspired landscape at the Trump National Golf Club.

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a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.

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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes. And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.

Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question? Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore. The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways. Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street. I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check. A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood. A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection. I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left. (Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side. Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space. A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times. Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii. Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks. Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ. But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure. What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, creatures, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

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That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden.
Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

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Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.)
Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

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Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

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I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell.
The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk.
With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

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After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller.
Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

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I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged.
This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer.
Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

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A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

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Posted in agaves, woody lilies, climate, design, driveby gardens, succulents | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments