We all have our favorite months in the garden. Our sentiments aside, the November garden continues sending out dispatches, oblivious to any seasonal bias.
dispatches from plectranthus
urgent communications from Echeveria gigantea
Candy-corn-colored Morse code from Mina lobata, Spanish flag
Smoky signals from Verbena bonariensis
Subtle messages from pelargoniums and aeoniums
And then there’s evergreens like Corokia virgata ‘Sunplash’ that couldn’t care less what time of year it is
And November is always a good month to talk up agaves. Ever-gorgeous Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’
Favorite season? Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ shrugs those enormous shoulders with exquisite indifference.
It’s when things quiet down in November that I notice how the patio off the kitchen is book-ended with Agave ‘Blue Flame,’ and marvel at how I managed to pull off a bit of symmetry
Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak,’ still pristine in November before mollusk season starts in earnest. I’m hoping the five pups I potted up will be of good size in time for the December flea market.
Potted dwarf pomegranate
Southern California Horticultural Society sent out a “Coffee in the Garden” invitation to its members for a late October visit to Donivee Nash’s garden in Arcadia, redesigned by Judy Horton in 2009. Participation in hort. society events in the past always seemed to founder on the anticipated sludge of freeway traffic, but this one was 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a cool, foggy Sunday. Most of LA would still be gently snoring under the covers, I reasoned. That I ended up being an hour and a half late as a consequence of the 710 freeway shutting down when two semis caught fire just stiffened my resolve to attend as many such events as possible, whenever and wherever, because there’s really no grace period on the freeways anyway. Arriving late and rattled, I fell in with a group following the designer Judy Horton around the garden, trying to gauge what topics had been covered so I wouldn’t annoyingly repeat the same questions. If I did, Ms. Horton was gracious enough not to let on.
The Garden Conservancy provides some illuminating background on the Nash Garden in their Open Days Program from April 2013:
“Donivee Taylor Nash was brought up in Delaware surrounded by the rich culture of nineteenth-century estate gardens—Winterthur and Longwood included. She brought these gardening roots to this 1938 New England-style saltbox thirty years ago. Although the house and landscape have grown and changed, its park-like graciousness is still very much in evidence. Donivee is a collector of beautiful specimen plants; over the years she added roses and perennials to the existing English-style gardens. She added a poolside pavilion (a miniature version of a Beatrix Farrand design at Dumbarton Oaks) to the west end of the pool, which is a cool oasis in hot summers. In 2009, when the couple wanted to unify the backyard and reduce water consumption, they called upon well-known garden designer Judy Horton who accomplished the transformation of their landscape. Out went much of the lawn, in came eighteen trees, including a sycamore grove to screen the tennis court, a birch grove underplanted with hundreds of Japanese anemones, and a mixed grove surrounding an antique Japanese lantern. A fig tree garden was added east of the tennis court, and an olive terrace south of the house. Mediterranean plants are now artfully planted near the living and dining rooms. The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) still shades the patio as it has for decades, but now is accompanied by a fresh palette of lavender, silver, white, and chartreuse.”
In its current form, this is a mediterranean-inspired garden that celebrates the light that pours in and bathes the earth 33 degrees north of the equator.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this brilliant light all my life.
(When I was young and wanted nothing but to leave, it was intrusive, unforgiving, a relentless glare. Now love has the upper hand. Just keep a lime green umbrella handy.)
The estate-like spaciousness is emphasized by broad, low hedges of westringia, teucrium and rosemary, which are also sometimes clipped into balls or left to run in long bands along the lawn that has been greatly reduced and reproportioned by Ms. Horton. These tough shrubs require little supplemental irrigation. It’s interesting to view this garden’s recent transition to a more water thrifty profile in light of November being the 100-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct
. The aqueduct’s chief designer William Mulholland envisioned semi-arid Los Angeles would “blossom like a rose,” a prophecy many of us have come to realize became fulfilled at much too high a cost.
I love the trick of breaking free from the belt of trees at the perimeter and planting new trees forward into the lawn, adding more depth and interplay with shapes and planes.
The remaining lawn seems to become less assertive a feature in its own right and is integrated into the overall landscape as just another choice of ground cover.
The golden light of the foothills sets the fine-leaved mediterranean plantings shimmering.
Strong, smooth blades of iris pierce the gravel, which the Santa Barbara daisy Erigeron karvinskianus freely seeds into, as does Verbena bonariensis.
Ms. Horton said this supposed non-fruiting olive tree fruited this year.
The sweep of a glittering landscape is everywhere emphasized as with this choice of underplanting with Cerastium tomentosum.
Near the house the garden was full of salvias in bloom. Japanese anemones too.
Detail of the Dumbarton Oaks-inspired pool pavilion
The planting of roses fronting the property along the street speaks to the evolution of the garden from English-inspired rose garden to its sleek and lean lines today.
Having arrived late, I stayed until the coffee things had been cleared away. Some gardens are just hard to leave.
I’ve been checking out local flea markets to get a sense of how this whole thing works from a seller’s perspective, which is totally foreign to me. I still have stuff from flea markets I bought when I was in my teens but have never been a seller. All that will change on December 15, 2013, when Dustin and I will have our own stall at the Long Beach Antique Market, a combined AGO/non-secateur pop-up shop. Dustin wants to change his garden, so expect lots of his concrete orbs and buddha heads, plus new crete work. And plants, of course. Meanwhile, the flea market research is getting expensive, because I can’t stop bringing home more stuff, which is why I needed to sell at flea markets in the first place. I found these pots at the Downtown Flea, which meets every fourth Sunday, from a vendor whose card I’ve since lost, a very nice invertebrate biologist who apparently has an amazing garden that he’s promised I can visit. (I bought only one, the green with the rosette design.) I’m hoping he might stumble onto this post and leave his name and address.
This Sunday, November 10, 2013, I’ll be checking out one of the biggest in Los Angeles, if not the country, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and hoping to draw upon previously untapped reserves of self-control.
The first bloom of the common Queen’s Tears bromeliad, Bilbergia nutans, is just so very startling when it arrives, especially if you’ve only seen it in photos before. Like drop-your-coffee-cup startling. As though David Hockney was in the garden overnight manically touching up the blooms. This bilbergia’s constituent colors are impressively shocking on a small scale, but seeing them together made me realize I’ve been actively pursuing these colors elsewhere in the garden.
The deep pink on the bilbergia just about matches the last of the nerines to bloom
The lime green of the bilbergia can be found in Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold.’ Planted again this fall at a pathway’s edge, it’s growing well. Better air circulation and a little more moisture might be the answer. I won’t know if it gets thin and patchy again until next summer. Everything seems so much more promising in fall.
The bilbergia’s deep blue can be found in salvias like Salvia guaranitica or ‘Indigo Spires,’ or this fern-leaf lavender, Lavandula pinnata var. buchii
I found a couple fern-leaf lavender locally, when I was out searching for some more blue agastache to plant this fall. This lavender was once a really big deal, big enough to drive all the way up to Western Hills (written about here) to fetch when it arrived on U.S. shores in the ’80s. Tender and lacking the eponymous scent, but with those amazingly deep navy blue blooms and finely cut, jade green-grey foliage. Not very long-lived, it grows woody at the base and has to be renewed frequently with cuttings, which is possibly why I stopped growing it. And then it became easily available and I moved on to other plants less easily available, as is my way. I remembered it as Lavandula multifida, but the tag indicated Lavandula pinnata var. buchii. Whatever. Somewhere along the way, its name changed, or so I thought.
After watching it fill out and increase in bloom for a week or so, and realizing this was just the small, shrubby, blue-flowering answer I was looking for, I went back to the nurseries to find more. This time the label said Lavandula multifida. Now I was confused. At the hort.net site I found this remarkably pertinent discussion from 2002 by John MacGregor:
“Not surprising that you are confused. You are not the only one. The
nursery industry in California doesn’t have a clue on this one.
First, Lavandula multifida, L. pinnata, and L. buchii are three different
species. In recent years, I have bought about everything offered in the
trade in this state under these names, trying to sort it out, and have
received the same species from the same nursery under different names as
well as different species under the same name.
Twenty-five years ago we had all three species at the Huntington Botanical
Gardens (at the time, L. buchii was classified as a variety of L. pinnata).
I shared cuttings of all three with various wholesale nurseries and
collectors, and authentic plants of each were sold at Huntington plant
sales. Apparently, along the way some of the cuttings must have been lost
or the name tags of some of the survivors were mixed up (L. pinnata and L.
buchii–both from the Canary Islands–are much more frost-tender than L.
multifida–which is from southern Europe and North Africa). Lately,
everything I have seen labeled “L. pinnata var. buchii” in nurseries
is L. multifida. L. multifida is also sold occasionally as “Lavandula
‘California’” or “California Lavender” as well as under its own name. For
instance, the lavender offered by Monterey Bay Nursery as “Lavandula pinnata
buchii” and illustrated on their web site is actually Lavandula multifida…” and so on.
I wish I could get the fern-leaf lavender closer to Euphorbia rigida, but without some demolition, there’s just no room. Photo from last spring.
The lavender would be equally wonderful with Euphorbia mauritanica in the front gravel garden, which is building up good structure for spring bloom. But no room at the inn there either.
Until I saw the bilbergia bloom, I wasn’t aware that I’d been orchestrating these colors elsewhere: deep pink, chartreuse and dark blue.
Gomprehna ‘Fireworks,’ fern-leaf lavender, Pelargonium crispum.
(This gomphrena has almost cured me of my allium envy.)
After some fall planting, for a brief moment the garden has taken on the colors of Bilbergia nutans. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these colors next spring too.
“California is defined by its Mediterranean climate. It is the smallest floristic province in North America, but has the greatest diversity of plants north of Mexico. It includes such characteristic vegetation as chaparral, coastal sage scrub, oak woodland and grassland. These plants exhibit classic adaptations to California’s hot dry summers and cool wet winters: leaves that are small and leathery, light-colored or drought-deciduous.” – Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
Tomorrow, November 2, 2013, is a special day indeed. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden will host the Fall Planting Festival, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Think you have other plans? Check out the extensive ceanothus and arctostaphylos offerings on their plant list here. I stopped counting the salvias at 25.
“An event at which gardeners can purchase from a dazzling range of California native plants, at the perfect time of year for planting. There will be experts on hand to help people make selections, and to offer planting and care advice. There are a number of cultivars that are unique to RSABG, and some of these will be available at the event.”
Argyroxiphium sandwicense (Silversword), photo from RSABG
Maybe you can squeeze in another oak; RSABG has 10 from which to choose. The California fuchsia, aka the hummingbird’s BFF, will be represented by 15 selections from their list of epilobium/zauschneria.
Here is where you’ll find that priceless gift for your garden from California’s exquisite botanical legacy.
Zadie Smith’s essay “Love in the Gardens,” describing complicated family relations against the backdrop of visits to two gardens, the Boboli in Florence accompanied by her father, and the Borghese garden in Rome after her father had died, gave me quite a few shivers of recognition. Not that I traveled much with my father after leaving home except for a mediterranean cruise two years before he died, and a cruise admittedly allows families ample opportunity for timely and strategic retreat. But Ms. Smith and her father had an experience similar to the one Marty and I had when navigating Florence on foot, enroute to the Boboli garden. At least they actually found the garden.
The Boboli Gardens in Florence, 2002; photograph by Chris Steele-Perkins
“In the morning, we set out. We had the idea of reaching the Boboli Gardens. But many people set out from a Florence hotel with the hope of getting to a particular place—few ever get there. You step into a narrow alleyway, carta di città in hand, walk confidently past the gelato place, struggle through the crowd at the mouth of the Ponte Vecchio, take a left, and find yourself in some godforsaken shady vicolo near a children’s hospital, where the temperature is in the 100s and someone keeps trying to sell you a rip-off Prada handbag. You look up pleadingly at the little putty babies. You take a right, a left, another right—here is the Duomo again. But you have already seen the Duomo. In Florence, wherever you try to get to, you end up at the Duomo, which seems to be constantly changing its location.” – Zadie Smith, “Love in the Gardens,” The New York Review of Books, November 7, 2013
image found here
But then Ms. Smith and her father managed to break free from the gravity pull of the Duomo
and find the Boboli, something Marty and I, to my eternal chagrin, weren’t able to accomplish.
“Through formal gardens we passed, each one more manicured and overdesigned than the next, our cameras hanging dumbly from our necks, for Boboli is a place that defeats framing. As an aesthetic experience it arrives preframed, and there’s little joy to be had taking a picture of a series of diametric hedges…In Boboli you don’t really escape the city for the country, nor are you allowed to forget for a moment the hours of labor required to shape a hedge into a shape that in no way resembles a hedge. No, not like an English garden at all…though perhaps more honest in its intentions. It speaks of wealth and power without disguise. Boboli is Florence, echoed in nature. As a consequence of this, it is the only garden of which I can remember feeling a little shy. I would not have thought it possible to feel underdressed in a garden, but I did—we both did. Clumsy tourists dragging ourselves around a private fantasia. For though Boboli may be open to the public, it is still somehow the Medicis’ park, and the feeling of trespassing never quite leaves you. It was a relief to find ourselves for a moment on an avenue of curved yew trees, shaded and discreet, where we were offered the possibility of respite, not only from the awful sun, but from the gleaming of monuments and the turrets of villas
- Zadie Smith, “Love in the Gardens
,” The New York Review of Books, November 7, 2013
image from Wikipedia
I did manage to pull off one complicated transaction in Florence. Well, two, if successfully waiting in line several hours to see the Uffizi counts, and I still think it does. (Long waits to get into the Uffizi
were a security consequence of the car bomb that ripped through the gallery in ’93.) Right before we left Florence and our second-story room in the former mansion of a forgotten dignitary’s mistress, with its balcony overlooking the weir of the Arno where we drank our Peronis, with as much guidebook English as I could muster, I purchased a bottle of bath salts from a local farmacia.
And that, along with an art book from the Uffizi, is what I brought home from Florence. Traveling pre-blog, I never took photos (more chagrin), because that’s what tourists did, and of course we blended right in, circling endlessly around the Duomo…
image of The Duomo found here.
A startling sight at a local nursery this week was Dalea frutescens in roaring, five-alarm bloom, a Texas native that endures extreme heat and drought, then explodes with flowers in fall. Imagine this Black Dalea with muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, and the shocking band of red violet they would paint on a landscape in fall. I’d probably have to include some agaves, too, silvery-blue ones like Agave ‘Silver Surfer.’
Very similar in color to the muhly grass I photographed earlier in the week, another Texas native.
Maybe I could sneak in a couple dalea with the muhly grass in the wild flower garden downtown, guerilla style, for an experiment.
(How’s that for a “borrowed landscape?”)
I’ve always had a soft spot for members of the pea family.
We’re always warned by designers not to do all our plant shopping in spring, or risk ending up with a spring-loaded garden that stalls out by late June, but I could easily get in as much trouble shopping in fall.
“America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
Unlike Dickens’ tale of London and Paris, the two cities under consideration here are yours and Paris. Because by now it’s probably safe to assume that your city, like mine, has been overrun with kale. I’m talking Tuscan kale, lacinato, dinosaur kale, black kale, cavolo nero. Brassica oleracea. In U.S. cities such as Brooklyn and San Francisco, kale is king. But the kale revolution has been having an uphill battle in Paris. Possibly because of kale’s inclusion in the cabbage family, Paris wants nothing to do with a vegetable that they associate with the malodorous boiled dinners of occupied France during WWII.
Tuscan kale brought home from the community garden in my spiffy collapsible bucket. Sporting good stores sell fishermen a wide selection of these buckets.
Many credit the River Cafe in London for popularizing this ancient Italian green in the mid ’90s. Elizabeth Schneider’s 1986 book “Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide,” also gets credit. Since the end of the 20th century, cities have rapidly fallen under the spell of Tuscan kale, except for Paris.
I would just like to interject my theory behind kale’s stateside popularity, which has become so rampant locally that there’s even stirrings of a backlash against what some consider the tiresome ubiquity of kale on Californian menus. Apart from its undisputed nutritional bonafides, wonderful texture, taste, and versatility ranging from soup, pasta, and salads, as a home grower I have to testify that this vegetable is coming up on its winter anniversary in a couple months. It didn’t bolt, as all brassicas are well known to do, in the heat of August and September. We haven’t stopped picking leaves all spring and summer, and the flavor will only improve as the days grow colder. The return value is phenomenal, since one planting results in a year or more of greens. This amazingly prolific vegetable grows like a short-lived perennial, at least here in Southern California. So my theory is, because it’s constantly available in the garden, it’s constantly on the menu. The only ones not interested in kale in our house are the parakeets, and I haven’t given up on them yet either.
Back to kale’s progress in Paris. Revolutions do move fast these digitally enhanced days. The charge now to bring kale to Parisian markets and restaurants is being energetically led by an expat from Brooklyn, Kristen Beddard, who blogs at the kale project
. I read the article on Ms. Beddard in The New York Times
when it appeared September 21, 2013, and four days later received an email from Jessica, a San Franciscan currently in Paris who blogs at Thread and Bones
, recounting her adventures in the market stalls of Paris as she hunted for kale to serve dinner guests. Jessica had read the NYT article, too, so was reasonably certain that the American she was standing behind in line at the open market, the one buying up all the kale, had to be Kristen. In fact, our intrepid Jessica had already corresponded with Kristen, soliciting advice on the most likely markets to find kale, so she was able to follow up a tentative email acquaintance with a tap on the shoulder then a hearty handshake, whereupon Kristen thrust two bunches of kale in Jessica’s hands, and a gingery kale salad was back on the menu.
C’mon, don’t be so French, Peewee. Eat your kale.
We are all kale-eaters now, or soon will be, with Americans in Paris doing their de Tocqueville-inspiring best to bring kale to the markets and tables of Paris.
As far as seasons go, to me summer is rich, pungent, dense, where autumn is quicksilver, vaporous, light on its feet, with a tartness that is the perfect apertif to summer’s gluttony of sensation. The eaves are now dripping morning dew as the dry season comes to an end, with hopefully the return soon of prodigal rains, and the light arrives in glittering beveled sheaves. Summer and winter can each grow tiresome in their own ways, but I challenge anyone to find fault with those seasons that seem to gently swing in on quiet hinges, spring and fall. Purple muhly grass pretty much sums up how I feel about fall with its transformational buoyancy and crepuscular coloring, but it was a little trickier to find some this year. The big stands of it at the Long Beach airport were “tidied” at some point mid-summer, so no blooms this year. There are similar tidying impulses in my family, though in my case they seem to have skipped a generation. I planted one clump of muhly grass at my mom’s, in a long narrow border with agaves and other succulents, and she was surreptitiously taking scissors to the grass blades throughout summer to keep them neat. Again, the blooms were sacrificed. These big stands of muhly grass pictured below are in a hard-to-reach spot at the entrance to a freeway, safely removed from compulsive tidiers. I biked there a couple nights ago on the way to picking up some gyros for dinner. Muhly grass, pennisetum, sesleria and aloes are what I found, but at the link can be seen what will be back again in spring.
More updates from the Bay Area, this one from occasional AGO photographer and contributor MB Maher. I’ll let him tell this adventure in his own words:
“Shirley Watts messaged me to keep my Wednesday evening open. And per her instructions,
I found myself on the 4.09 caltrain to Palo Alto, getting off at Stanford, and
walking Palm Drive to the Oval. (University campuses are pretty astonishing.
Everyone is fit, on bicycles, speaking in Latin, and quoting Ayn Rand.)
Shirley revealed once we were in her pickup truck dodging freshmen that
Professor Harrison (a speaker at Watts’ own Natural Discourse symposium in
Berkeley last week) had taken her on a walk through the Stanford campus in
August, ending at the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, which she was now, months
later, still dreaming and obsessing over, which was where we were headed.”
“According to Harrison, the University had flown in New Guinean tribesmen to make site-specific
work on campus — the tribesmen stayed for a whole year to build a thick, rambling
installation of woodwork.”
“What I will say about my poor photo-craftsmanship is that
these pieces snake and wobble and sway in a difficult fashion to describe with a
3×2 frame, despite their complete unmoving rigidity. Their curves and meandering
arcs are so pervasive and all-consuming, that if someone were to take a draftsman’s
t-square from their pocket and produce a right-angle in the garden, it would take
your breath away.”
“So by way of excusing myself and speaking to the sinuous unmoored
beauty of these wood carvings, I must explain that all horizon lines in the coming
photographs are level and that the movement of the pieces is not a result of any
lens distortion. They’re really doing it themselves.”