Garden Conservancy Open Days/Mendocino/Moss Garden

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cooler on Sunday, June 24, Mendocino Bot. Garden, a plant mix like nowhere else of conifers, maples, perennials, redwoods. Island beds designed by Gary Ratway.

The buzz started spreading at the Austin Garden Bloggers Fling in May, at least among the Northern California bloggers, Kathy and Gerhard: Wouldn’t it be great to meet up in Mendocino for the Garden Conservancy Open Days in late June? Even though it’s roughly a 10-hour road trip for us from Los Angeles, both Marty and I need little encouragement to visit foggy Mendo in the dog days of summer and camp again in the great coastal state parks. (This year MacKerricher State Park. The Surfwood section has the campsites closest to the ocean and is highly recommended.) The big attraction of the Open Days program this year as far as I was concerned was a tour of the private garden at Digging Dog Nursery. I’ve been a mail-order patron and occasional visitor to Digging Dog since before the display gardens and rammed-earth house were built and wasn’t aware that a private garden had also been added. (As Deborah reminded us on the day of the tour, the nursery pre-existed the house and gardens.) Of the three GC gardens open on Saturday, June 23, it seemed logistically possible to see two of them, Digging Dog and another garden also designed by Digging Dog co-founder Gary Ratway, the Moss garden. On the drive north Friday we stopped at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, made another stop in Petaluma at Lagunitas’ Tap Room where we bumped into live music by LA band Arms Akimbo, overnighted in Willits, then made the trip west to the coast on Highway 20 early Saturday morning, arriving at the Moss after 10, with a firm deadline to be at Digging Dog by 1 p.m. Our car’s AC gave up Friday afternoon on Interstate 5 near the Altamount Pass, in 100-degree, stop-and-go traffic, which made the prospect of Mendo’s foggy embrace even more tantalizing.

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Mendocino Bot. Garden

And because life can’t resist throwing a curveball, instead of the anticipated cool, overcast skies, we found ourselves Saturday in a heat wave, Mendo style, which felt like maybe the mid 80’sF to me.* The Moss garden situated on bluffs overlooking the Pacific was cooler than Digging Dog Nursery, which is a few miles inland, but still get a load of this hot glare:

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And those colorful magenta and orange shrubs massed under the redwoods? Those would be heaths and heathers, which love full sun in cool, acidic soil. The heath and heather collection at nearby Mendocino Botanic Gardens has been recognized as a Collection of National Significance, so clearly this part of the Pacific Coast provides the niche conditions to their liking.

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The Mendocino coast is wild and windswept, with ferocious winter storms, so it’d be a guess as to distinguishing style from necessity in opting to deploy closely cropped orbs of box and teucrium among the hummocks of heath and heather at the Moss garden.

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But the overall effect is as though the house and garden have been bundled in warm, brightly colored clothing against the cold blasts of the ocean.

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The majestic trees towering over the sinuous shapes of the hedges and topiaries brings vertical design elements to a whole other level of scale.

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The entrance to the 3-acre property.

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The grass appeared to be the Slender Veldt Grass, Pennisetum spathiolatum.

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These teucrium topiaries bring to mind the grey whales that migrate south along the coast November through April. (Though I also see submarines and even bombs in their forms.)

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Covered porches and decks at the back of the house looking out over the meadow to the ocean.

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Marty wonders which path to take.

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Close in to the house are formal design elements such as gravel paths, gates, low walls and hedging.

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Moving away from the house, the landscape tosses in waves of swaying grasses, storm-proof mounds and hummocks, anchored by summer-bleached mown meadows. Such is the pragmatic design response to an exposed site on a coast infamous for shipwrecks. But then Mr. Ratway sets up a surprise — a secret sunken garden to indulge a bit of formal romance organized on an axis to be enjoyed through windows from the main house.

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As at his own garden at Digging Dog, the columns are constructed using the rammed-earth technique. Temporary wooden forms are filled with a mix of soil and concrete, a practical method for utilizing the excavated soil.

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On its own, this sunken garden with pool and rill could be a template for a small, stand-alone garden.

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But then that sense of discovery and arrival, of stumbling out of the storm into a world in perfect order, would be missing. Large gardens do have the advantage of generating layered, complex emotional responses.

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Moving through a large garden of many moods is like — what? A complex piece of music? A delicious multi-course meal?

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The little sunken garden clearly displays Gary Ratway’s understanding and appreciation for European estate gardens. To me it is strongly reminiscent of the work of Lutyens and Jekyll at Hestercombe.

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We almost missed visiting the orchard garden entirely, which doesn’t flow from the main house but is set apart and fenced to keep out wildlife.

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We entered through this gate.

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Looking at another entrance, this view showing how the orchard garden relates to the house, with the ocean in the distance. The large expanses of mown grass appear to forego irrigation for summer.

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The interior lawn of the orchard garden is much greener than the outer mown areas.

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The orchard garden is planted with summer perennials and roses, including salvia, geraniums, nepeta, alstroemeria, kniphofia, bergenia and stachys.

More soon on the tour of Digging Dog’s gardens.

*(Thinking back, I estimated maybe mid 80’s and then asked Marty his opinion. He estimated 90 degrees. Checking Accuweather, they’re copping to 71 degrees for the 23rd of June whether I plug in Fort Bragg or Mendocino, which seems a crazy underestimation, yet Accuweather is usually spot on for our local temps. I can’t explain the difference between our perception of being surprisingly warm, which the locals confirmed by apologizing for the unusually high temperatures, vs. the actual temp. BBC reporting of the recent heat wave in Scotland that melted roads cites temperatures of 32C, which converts to just 89F, and even 22C was considered hot in Glasgow, which converts to 71F. The heat waves in northern cities unaccustomed to such high temperatures is the latest installment in our headlong descent into AGW/climate change.)

Posted in climate, design, garden travel, garden visit, journal | 7 Comments

sunday clippings 7/1/18 (it’s a small world after all)

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I bought this Echinopsis ‘Arizona Sunset’ at a San Diego garden visit a couple weeks ago sponsored by the San Diego Horticultural Society. The echinopsis was among plants for sale at the entrance to the private home and garden, all of which I quickly checked out without finding anything pulse quickening before heading out to explore the generous-sized garden. It was only after hearing the garden talk later that day by Brent Wigand that I raced back to the sales area to grab one of his echinopsis, which opened a bloom in my garden today.

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I knew there was a speaker scheduled for 11 a.m. to talk about propagation, but I was having such a great time strolling the grounds that I let the appointed hour come and go. I could hear the talk commence in the distance, but I was in no hurry to leave the garden.

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The drive south from Los Angeles to San Diego, even on a Saturday, is awful — but the properties are invariably spacious and the plants fabulous, heavy on succulents.

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After a 2-hour drive, much of it stop-and-go, I needed to move, not stand still listening to a lecture on propagation, which I assumed would be fairly basic. I tend to assume way too much.

An extra-added treat for the gathering will be a visit by Mr. Brent Weigand [sic] from Wildomar! He is an avid hybridizer of succulents and will be discussing (at 11 AM) some of his methods and techniques. He will also bring some of his fabulous plants to sell!

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I eventually drifted over to the crowd gathered around the speaker, where all the chairs were taken. Brent looked to be in his late 30s at most and was already well past introductory remarks, immersed in tracing his background in horticulture. A childhood surrounded by entrepreneurial plants people, exemplified by his mother who ran a nursery out of their home and garden — suddenly this young man was of enormous interest to me, possibly a long missing puzzle piece. And was it Weigand or Wigand? Could this be Judy Wigand’s son, Judy of Judy’s Perennials fame?

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In the ’80s I also made the drive to San Diego to visit gardens and nurseries, Judy’s Perennials being one of the top lures. I’m sure I learned about it via an article by the excellent garden writer (and also one of my horticulture instructors) Robert Smaus for the Los Angeles Times (“On Cultivating a Taste for the Back-Yard Nursery”). Watsonias, Fred Meyer’s alstroemerias, penstemons, Judy was growing all of the sexy plants before they became household names and were still difficult to source, and then she simply fell off my radar. (Not a reader of San Diego newspapers, I did not know that after her 15-year-old nursery closed she continued to write articles like this one.) And strangely enough, while I was having my own nostalgic reverie, Brent began to talk of one of his mentors in plant propagation, Bill Teague, and surprised everyone, including himself, by having to fight back tears in speaking of his old friend, who passed away in 2010. (Mr. Teague was a commercial protea grower for many years and a horticulturalist at the formerly named Quail Botanical Gardens, now San Diego Botanic Garden. Read more about him here.) We’re such a tender bunch, plants people, and just possibly overly sensitized to the passage of time and seasons.

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Brent’s early enthusiasm was cycads, and he had access to the great collectors, including Loran Whitelock’s collection, which recently was donated to the Huntington. At one point Brent’s home garden had over 200 specimens. As his botanical interests diversified, and as requests to buy some of his collection increased, Brent figured why not? There were plenty of other plants he wanted to grow. He began to sell off his cycad collection and now has possibly 15 remaining. Astonishingly, the craigslist offerings drew the attention of buyers from all over the world, including some buyers who tried to entice Brent into making illegal transactions where shipping plants would be prohibited. He cited Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, and — wait for it — Saddam Hussein as enthusiastic collectors of cycads. Brent’s youthful enthusiasm for collecting these prized gymnospermums, along with selling other plants out of his home garden, has netted him the whopping sum of $500,000. He says his goal is to make a million out of his backyard. Nice to see the backyard nursery tradition stayed in the family.

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So not only did he now have my undivided attention because of a possible connection to a nursery I loved and seemed to know all the big names in SoCal plants, the propagation discussion turned out to center on aloe hybridizing. Now I was riveted. He contrasted his intuitive method to the rigorously scientific method of Kelly Griffin, whose results might likely end up in tissue culture so the stakes were that much higher. And unlike aloe breeders like Karen Zimmerman at the Huntington who are interested in the bumpiest, most corrugated leaves possible, Brent wants to see spinier aloes and experiments with species like marlothii and erinacea. I’m completely on board with this direction and immediately wondered about a cross between marlothii and peglerae I recently brought home.

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During the question-and-answer session, I asked what could one expect when a stemless aloe like peglerae is crossed with a trunking aloe like marlothii. Brent wasn’t sure which trait would be dominant but added that my plant was in fact his very own handiwork.

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I also confirmed that he is indeed the son of Judy Wigand of Judy’s Perennials. Of course he is. Small-world day.

You can contact Brent Wigand and his Aloe Gardens Nursery at aloegardens@gmail.com. Nine months out of the year he is a special eduction teacher for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, so catching him at home during summer is a good bet. One of his latest enthusiasms is echinopsis, and he has some stunning hybrids on offer.

Posted in clippings, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

new entry gardens at the Huntington; form, color, texture & time

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On the 14th of this month I attended a lecture by Huntington Botanical Gardens head gardener Seth Baker entitled “The 4D Garden; Landscape Design Using Form, Color, Texture, and Time.” If I understood correctly, it was his first such public lecture after 13 years with the Huntington, so it may have been more than slightly daunting to face all of us filling every last seat in the Ahmanson auditorium, eager to access his thoughts on the making of the new entry garden which debuted in 2015. It’s a rare plantsperson that is able to transition from the state of rapturous, solitary absorption in plants that makes up most of a day to enthusiastic communicator of design intentions and ideas. Mr. Baker did just fine. It was fascinating to learn of the sausage-making decisions that went into a result that looks perfectly scaled, serene and inevitable. It was too dark in the auditorium for much note-taking, and a copy of the outline of the lecture was not available. I’m adding photos I’ve taken over several visits,* which are unfortunately mostly close-ups of the plantings and not the overall design, and don’t have photos of other areas he addressed, like the Stroll Garden where the Calder sculpture is located, and the entrance on Oxford Road, which is having the planting redone to minimize/hide utilitarian functions like the loading dock (what Mr. Baker characterizes as looking like the “back of a Costco.”) Mexican Fence Post cactus is part of the new planting being added along Oxford Road.

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Even now minor controversies and differing opinions continue over the Central Garden. Mr. Baker feels that mirror-image planting on either side of the rill may inadvertently deter visitors from walking both sides, so he’d love to bring in some asymmetry to the planting to encourage further exploration.

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A Persian carpet has been the general inspiration for the planting along the rill, and he’d like to take the concept even further, producing several slides of various designs abstracting out that concept. Mr. Baker also referenced the ad-hoc barriers erected at intervals down the length of the rill to keep guests from walking down the center. He’s not a fan of the barriers, and finally encouraged security to take them down for a day. Now that the planting has filled in, he reasoned, surely people would understand that it’s a design feature only. On the contrary, surely not! Eager feet flooded the rill and chaos ensued, which made security staff very unhappy, and the barriers are back in place as stern visual guides.

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It’s astonishing how in just three years the strongly linear bones of the Central Garden are now fully animated by the lush growth of plants. An early concept that was abandoned involved organizing the Central Garden by grouping plants according to the five mediterranean zones: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia. Now plants freely intermingle, regardless of origin, as long as they can claim mediterranean, relatively summer-dry bonafides.

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As we’ve all discovered, the varying tolerances to summer irrigation by some California natives makes their inclusion tricky, while other mediterranean plants suffer under too infrequent irrigation. Watching many plant treasures fail to thrive, Mr. Baker says he’s come to appreciate the steadiness and reliability of classics like rosemary. An audience member asked about the health of Phyllica pubescens, the featherhead shrub from South Africa, and Mr. Baker said it was probably time to turn off the drip irrigation to it. Collapse of mediterranean shrubs in summer from water mold issues is an ongoing consideration. (I checked out the phyllica later in the afternoon, and it looked fine to me.)

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Big drifts of California sages seem to be flourishing, seen here with verbascum.

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Off the central axis/allée, the “hedged rooms,” as Mr. Baker refers to them, framed in rich green myrtle, look mature beyond their three years of age. The curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, sprawls in the foreground of this hedged room.

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Acacias, leucadendrons, aloes, bunch grasses, euphorbias and potted shrubs like this senna are also thriving.

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The Munger Research Center, just visible in the distance, is closed to the general public, but its important, courthouse-like appearance draws many curious visitors up its steps, only to be turned away at the door. Even though such an experience is arguably a minor disappointment at most, various landscape design schemes are being contemplated to clarify the building’s use to the public without seeming exclusionary.

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Another potentially confusing feature was this narrow lawn off the Munger, ending in a dead-end wall.

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The Huntington’s deep-pocket storehouse of antiquarian urns comes to the rescue as a focal point, lending purpose to the closed-off space.

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The same urn in the distance. I believe this area will eventually be reworked with paths communicating into the Central Garden. Getting the pedestrian flow just right has been an all-consuming process.

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One of Mr. Baker’s favorite bits of planting is this simple meadow at the end of the Central Garden leading into entry to the rest of the estate, with the library in the distance.

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Agaves, bunch grasses and Aloe ferox, with silvery shrub Leucadendron argenteum interspersed.

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Mr. Baker is a graduate of the ArtCenter in Pasadena, with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Design, but he also credited his childhood in Bishop, California, at the base of the Eastern Sierras, as critically formative in developing his sense of monumental scale, tension and release in the landscape. For further reading, he suggested “Form & Fabric in Landscape Architecture,” by Catherine Dee, as especially useful.

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A short interview with Mr. Baker can be found on the Huntington’s blog Verso here.

*I’ve pulled in photos from several visits, in all seasons and all weather, to illustrate components of the design.

Posted in design | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

bloom day june 2018, an abridged report

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Looking out from the back porch this morning through the pergola which frames this view, my eye easily cut through the congestion like a laser to zero in on my June crush. Do you see it? No? I know it’s crowded, so let me help. Just over to the distant right, near the orach seed heads. In fact, not counting the almost-black phormium (‘Black Rage’), there’s a trifecta of deep, saturated reds here; the orach, which will eventually fade to the color of wheat, the castor bean/ricinus just hoisting up its big, burgundy parasol leaves, and this little gem.

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Let me see if I can get in a little closer. Of course it has to be shyly facing away from the porch, toward the back hedge wall and not in any convenient direction for the camera.

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Here we go. With my back against the hedge wall, I can get a full-throated view of Gladiolus ‘Ruby,’ a papilio hybrid ever so slowly increasing. Fabulous and fleeting, I’d love to see a dozen in bloom instead of just two stems, but that won’t be any time soon. It’s still pricy and plain hard to find in the U.S., no doubt because of that slowness to bulk up.

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This is about as close as I can get without stomping on other plants. The access path behind the phormium stops several feet short of the glad.

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In fact the access path stops just about here. Adding further to the general congestion, I planted a new salvia just this morning under the wings of that ferox hybrid aloe that’s forming a trunk, the sage Salvia hierosolymitana, found at Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena, grown by Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. Also unexpectedly found at Lincoln Avenue Nursery was Persicaria ‘Blackfield’ — I mean that’s just unheard of, to find such a plant in Los Angeles. Also on their sales bench was a mail-ordered, variegated calamint I grew a long time ago. (I would love to shake the buyer’s hand!) I usually combine a trip to this very fine nursery with a visit to the Huntington, where I was headed yesterday to hear head gardener Seth Baker give a talk on the new gardens. The auditorium was surprisingly packed for the 2:30 lecture with plant sale afterwards.

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Apologies if this post seems as rambling and incoherent as today’s presidential news conference. I recently wrote about a lot of what’s in bloom, so I’m skipping through all that. Here’s Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ edging closer to bloom. (At the Huntington plant sale, out of the propagation greenhouse I inadvertently picked out a couple plants expressly not for sale — Mangave ‘Inkblot’ and a dusky aloe hybrid. In my defense, they were in close proximity to the plants that were for sale. I was told both would be added to the ISI sale list next week. It was an amazing sight to see some of these new mangave hybrids lined up in a narrow bed outside the greenhouse, many of them sporting fat, promising bloom spikes.)

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Calamints are getting started, which pleases the bees and me no end. Tough and tidy, they’ll be looking good and holding it together until cut back around November. (Cat stares off into mid distance, no doubt thinking on obscure, cat-related matters, like where to nap today.)

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He loves the summer jungle.

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Tropicals are picking up speed, Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger,’ Solanum valerianum. Lime, purple — yum.

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And orange. Gotta have orange. Leonotis leonurus.

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I’ve carved out a little bit of ground on the former compost site for a couple dahlias, both returning from last summer. This is ‘Twyning’s after 8.’

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Dahlia ‘Dark Side of the Sun,’ leaves starting to mildew. Which is why I like dahlias waaay in the back.

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Near the dahlias is also where the Alstroemeria ‘Third Harmonics’ resides, and where the new persicaria was planted this morning. A small water hog zone, if you will.

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I think these yellow kangaroo paws are most likely ‘Yellow Gem.’ The deep reds paws are thrillingly mass planted along the rill at the Huntington, but they do fade terribly in the strong sun.

I need to go over those lecture notes, but for now just a quick and friendly wave — have a great weekend! Catch more Bloom Day reports at Carol’s blog May Dreams Garden.

Posted in Bloom Day, Bulbs | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

prepare yourself for summer plant sales


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Dyckia ‘Uncle Ray,’ Exhibitor Bryan Chan, (San Fernando Valley Bromeliad Society) won best in its class at the recent World Bromeliad Conference in San Diego, or so I was told by a docent at the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society Annual Drought Tolerant Plant Festival this past weekend. It seems like there’s a show and sale every weekend now, and you can keep current by checking this link here. The huge Intercity Show & Sale August 11 and 12th at the Los Angeles Arboretum is one I don’t want to miss. Wagon, camera, cash — I’ll be ready next time.

On Saturday, shopping started out very promising at a table loaded with bromeliad pups, where I was reeled in by a good-sized offset of Neoregelia ‘Apollo’s Poetry’ (which name puts me in mind of a favorite Bjork song “Pagan Poetry.”) Unfortunately, the bromeliad table is also where shopping for me ended, as this entire sale ran on cash only, and I was as usual cash poor, reliant as I always am on plastic. Pathetic, right? In fact, so pathetic a gentleman offered $5 to make up the difference on a Bilbergia ‘Pink Champagne’ I was loath to give up on, frantically emptying out my pockets for a few stray dollars. (And I am chagrined to admit I accepted the $5! Bless you, sir!) Still it was a great time, with so many beautiful plants to ogle at the sale and indoor show, so I figured I’d switch my energies to photos…but left my camera at home. Sans camera or cash, I wandered the sales tables for quite a while, thinking that if I found an Aloe broomii or nice specimen of Euphorbia cooperi I’d run out to find an ATM. Neither of those surfaced, but I’m glad I stuck around because a very nice person named Heather recognized me somehow from the blog and introduced herself.

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Unlike me, Heather was a boss and came fully prepared, including bringing a wagon to fill with gorgeous plants. (Heather, if you’re reading, I think Los Angeles needs a garden blogger with your organizational skills!)

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I did grab a dozen or so photos with the camera phone, like this hechtia with a tart mix of colors reminiscent of limes and salsa.

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Loved this variegated Agave stricta, which was in bloom.

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And this is what my Agave ocahui aspires to be — pristine, no leaf tip burning.

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Chunky Agave pumila

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Copiapoa columna alba. This Thursday, on June 14, Kelly Griffin will be giving a presentation on these Chilean cacti entitled “Copiapoa Land” at the next meeting of the San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society, LA County Arboretum, 7:30 p.m., Ayres Hall.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, plant sales, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

small taste of summer

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For summer, valerian and nicotiana light up what’s mainly a planting of shrubs and succulents the remaining seasons. As much as I love intoxicating displays of summer abundance, this little garden has to remain sober and on duty all 12 months of the year; otherwise, I’d be impossible to live with. Sadly true.

Summer does not make an overwhelming seasonal presence here in my little back garden but comes in quietly after the early poppies are over. Summer must make do, getting tucked in here and there, dotted throughout among the year-round plantings. And it’s not that I’m indifferent to a big summer display — if I had an acre in maybe a maritime zone 8, oh, about 30 inches of rain a year, I’d have a proper summer garden unto itself. What constitutes a summer garden is such a subjective state of mind anyway, isn’t it, dependent on climate, taste and temperament? For a zone 10 summer there’s lots of ways to go: serenely evergreen and austere; desert sculptural; chaparral shrubby; splashy subtropical, with curtains of vibrant bougainvillea and trumpet vines, or taking bits from each approach in varying combinations. I could happily go with desert sculptural and may get there eventually. And even though I find them loads of fun to plan, the big, complex, meadowy displays reliant on mature perennials, however, are the least likely to succeed. Most perennials give their best performance after three years, an age they never attain in warm winter climates without the requisite period of dormancy. Squeezed into the dry environs among agaves and aloes, my modest summery celebration for this year is going to look something like the following, which is very similar to past summers. Maybe some of the newly planted stuff like native buckwheats/eriogonums will surprise me and kick in later in the season.

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I don’t need masses of blooms, but the shapes of flowers interest me as much as the shapes of leaves and the outline of the entire plant itself, such as how Cenolophium denudatum hoists its sublime floral architecture high above a fluffy, bright green base of parsley-like leaves (aka the Baltic Parsley).

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Commanding attention along the same lines is Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea,’ taking it further with purple stems and leaves. I’ve yet to see any progeny from this biennial and have always had to bring in fresh plants.

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In zone 10 there’s an irresistible variety of evergreen shrubs and succulents to fill a garden, which means summer has to be light on its feet and find unobtrusive ways to make it work. Here the angelica is working it with bocconia, yucca and beschorneria, (with the angelica closest to the drip hose).

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Cenolophium and the first blooms of Berkheya purpurea. If the cenolophium and Salvia ‘Waverly’ weren’t newly planted this year, they might be further along, but there’s a lot of summer ahead. And the salvias of course will outlast them all, blooming into fall.

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Berkheya purpurea has expanded into three or four clumps now.

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Giving the berkheya room to grow necessitates cutting back quite a bit on Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ and Senecio medley-woodii. The senecio is improved, becoming more dense and silvery the harder it is cut back, and who needs those raggedy yellow daisies anyway? The leucadendron cuttings go into vases.

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Another senecio but new to me this year, CA native Senecio palmeri, is fighting for ground, pushing up around aloes. It’d be awesome to see this recently introduced senecio grown unimpeded into a big silvery dome. The yellow daisies are supposedly a positive feature on this one.

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Out of a multitude of self-sown seedlings, the garden can comfortably fit only a couple wide-body castor bean plants, ‘New Zealand Purple.’ Furry, lance-shaped leaves in the foreground belong to CA native Lepechinia fragrans ‘El Tigre,’ also in its first year, with blooms like the South African foxglove ceratotheca but dangling sideways like an oregano. I hope it gets going before summer’s end.

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And some heavily planted areas just have no room for any summer incidents at all. There’s no getting around it. Agaves take precedence! (Agave filifera ssp. schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’)

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Purple Awn Grass and Spanish poppies will sow themselves into the nearby bricks for summer, but I am determined to keep the walkways clear and have weeded out most of them, as well as some fine specimens of Verbena bonariensis which love such tight quarters.

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The single carnations fit in nicely among the succulents. No need to stoop over to catch their scent either, it’s that strong.

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Variegated Aloe arborescens will ultimately grow too large here but seems reassuringly slow growing for now.

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And there’s plenty of heat coming from the ruddy coloring of Agave geminiflora, aloes, Cordyline ‘Red Planet’ and omni-blooming grevilleas. The arching sprays on the left are Puya laxa coming into bloom (which I just noticed coincidentally mimic the winter bloom sprays of the silver Kalanchoe bracteata).

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And if Leucadendron ‘Jester’ continues to thrive, lookout cookout!

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Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ showing a flower bud and some seriously reddened leaves.

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We’ve had near-constant overcast morning skies this spring, yet the succulents have achieved the most intense coloring.

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In contrast, this photo from last July shows Aloe cameronii on the right almost completely green. Can’t wait for the grasses to return — maybe just slightly less exuberantly. Some of the growing agaves need the breathing room.

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Similar view from February, with the grasses cut down, some of them moved further in the back near the acacia.

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Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ is always the earliest. Jagged leaves belong to Eryngium pandanifolium.

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Alstromeria ‘Third Harmonic’ is about 4 feet high now, planted at the canopy line of the purple-leaved acacia where some of the bigger grasses have also been moved. The recently planted flannel bush is nearby. Both of these vigorous plants have to contend with a lot of competition for resources, which should keep them in check but hopefully not kill them outright. And that’s the balancing act in a nutshell.

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And since they’ve been photobombing nearly every image, I might as well talk up the irrepressible nicotianas.

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They’re everywhere. Squeezed in between Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’ and Aloe cameronii.

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For years nicotianas were a puzzle, and I assumed they were unsuited, maybe too delicate for zone 10. Once a few plants survived long enough to throw seed around, the hard part was over. After that it’s pure magic. Mine self-sow in white, lime, and brick red, the latter from Nancy Ondra’s seed strain. Now I can’t imagine summer without them. However, I still haven’t been able to crack the code of Nicotiana mutabilis yet.

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The old standby, the bog sage, with Amicia zygomeris.

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Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad Jalisco’ is in bloom again, romping through the Monterey cypresses on the eastern boundary.

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Salvia curviflora is still managing to bloom as the shade under the tetrapanax increases.

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I’ve been cutting back the Plectranthus argentatus to keep it upright but expect it to tumble earthward any day now.

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So for summer, I guess this puts me in the desert sculptural, chaparral shrubby, splashy subtropical camps(?)

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Maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m in the “whatever I can get away with” camp…

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

revisiting Nancy Goslee Power’s private garden

The Los Angeles Times ran a profile on Ms. Power this weekend (“She spent decades transforming Southern California landmarks. Go inside Nancy Goslee Power’s private garden,” so I’m grabbing the opportunity to repost a visit I made to her garden in May 2016. There’s some additional photos in my post on details mentioned in the article, such as the “river stones set in a chevron pattern.” Enjoy!

Since the 5/7/16 tour, Gov. Jerry Brown surprised us all by announcing that mandatory water restrictions are now suspended except for agriculture. Water use policies will revert back to the local level. So pat yourself on the back for enduring those spartan showers, ditching the lawn, adding in more permeability to your garden, and overall diligent water use reduction efforts.
(But you still can’t hose down your driveway, so get over that.) Even so, this might be a good moment to emphasize the big picture. From The California Weather Blog:

Nearly all of California is still ‘missing’ at least 1 year’s worth of precipitation over the past 4 years, and in Southern California the numbers suggest closer to 2-3 years’ worth of ‘missing’ rain and snow. These numbers, of course, don’t even begin to account for the effect of consecutive years of record-high temperatures, which have dramatically increased evaporation in our already drought-stressed region.”

And the bigger, possibly more sobering picture is that even in non-drought years, Los Angeles averages only 15 inches of rainfall. So the problem of too little water for too many people is not going away. Ever. And it was a problem long before the governor hit the red alert button. But you know what? Other cultures have already figured this out, this business of crowding ourselves into hot, dry lands. And there’s great examples all around town. Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power’s garden on the recent GC Open Days tour is a case study of these principles. And while we all obsess over what to do with the lawn, her almost 20-year-old garden suggests we might also think about where outdoors to eat, nap, cook, read, chat with friends, daydream, warm by a fire, take shelter from the sun, catch an ocean breeze, inhale clouds of jasmine — the scope of possibilities extends far beyond the boundaries of that poster child for this drought, the lawn, and what replaces it.

I liked this line from that keen observer of all things Southern Californian, Joan Didion, in the 5/26/16 New York Review of Books. It easily applies to our attitudes about water in Los Angeles:

I have lived most of my life under misapprehensions of one kind or another.” Boy howdy, you said it, Ms. Didion. Don’t we all? (“California Notes” NYRB 5/26/16)

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This little table and chairs is at the front of Ms. Power’s small Santa Monica house, just off the street, entirely screened by plantings. A short staircase zig-zags up from the sidewalk through retaining-wall beds filled with agaves and matilija poppies, depositing visitors in this shady “foyer.” A potted cussonia at the entrance to a garden is always an auspicious sign of good things to come.

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Also in the front courtyard is the first of many small fountains and pools. Implicit is the strong affirmative that, yes, water is precious stuff. Watch it glisten and sparkle in the sun, ripple in the wind, draw in birds. Just don’t ever take it for granted.

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Narrow passage to the back of the house, a jasmine-scented journey this time of year.

The forgotten spaces in most people’s houses — the side yards and setbacks — I look at as opportunities.” (All quoted material from “Power of Gardens” by Nancy Goslee Power.)

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Already you can sense the strong interplay between indoors and outdoors, the feeling of shelter extending beyond the house, eager to envelope and claim the outdoors as well.

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Up those distant steps leads to the banquette in the photo below.

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Ms. Power’s “napatorium.”

Walled gardens offer so many solutions still relevant in the modern world. They give privacy and safety from the outside environment, often perceived as hostile. The living spaces of the house open onto exterior spaces, and outdoor dining is possible in courtyards in good weather most of the year.”

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[T]he more you define a space, the larger it becomes.”

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The view from the kitchen door.

I designed the water to be seen all the way through the house and make a strong central axis that pulls you outside.”

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A small apartment/cottage shares the wall with the rill.

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Dining area off the kitchen, where the colors warm up.

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The kitchen, windows open to the narrow, pebbled side passageway, a nook in the wall for a potted plant just visible through the window.

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More shaded seating just off the kitchen.

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Everywhere were the tell-tale signs that the outdoors were as lived in as the indoors, if not more so.

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From the street, you’d have no idea what lay up that small flight of steps off the sidewalk, so tours like this are much appreciated.
I wanted Casa Nancina to reveal herself slowly…I didn’t want my landscape to stand out. It needed to be discreet and feel as if it belonged to the neighborhood.”

Posted in design, garden visit | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

friday clippings 6/1/18

I’ve been in somewhat of a torpor since cracking a rib earlier in the week. Planting, digging, relocating potted plants, shoving heavy things around, in other words, my favorite pursuits — very little of this is possible at the moment. Trying to ignore the situation and just work through the pain does not seem to be the quickest road to healing. So a drive down to San Diego tomorrow for the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society sale and show will be positively therapeutic. If the flat tire on my car is fixed in time. It’s been that kind of a week, hasn’t it?

Garden Rant had a piece this week on the limited release of Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. I’d already had the date of June 29 calendared, which is when the film will be shown at the Royal in Santa Monica, with a Q&A with the filmmaker Tom Piper opening night. Upon reading in Garden Rant that “Oudolf and his evocative garden designs have been drawing international attention since he designed the Royal Horticultural Society’s Glasshouse Borders in Wisley, England,” I went over my photos again taken at Wisley last October. How did I miss these borders?

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Maybe this snippet is from one of the glasshouse borders?

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Judging from my photos, my attention was elsewhere. In the glasshouses, it seems. These were the smaller glasshouses near the rock garden.

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(Sign admonishes: “Nobody wants to look at crushed flowers”)

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My own Aeonium nobile has sent up a bloom stalk the past week. Something this fabulous just has to be monocarpic, of course.

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The ginormous glasshouse which the Oudolfian borders reference was shuttered for renovations but still able to muster a cake to celebrate its 10th birthday.

And speaking of mortality and aging of plants, I loved this quote from National Geographic’s “Oldest European Tree Found—And It’s Having a Growth Spurt“: “aging isn’t programmed into trees, so they are effectively immortal.” What a cheerful thought!
““Old trees usually eventually die because of external disturbances, such as a strong wind…

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A cluster of old or dead Heldreich’s pine trees sits on a ridge in Italy’s Pollino National Park, where researchers discovered the oldest tree in Europe.” – National Geographic

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And checking out the photos again from my trip to England in fall 2017, I found the inspiration for a recent plant order to Annie’s Annuals.

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This is Salvia bullulata on the growing bench at Derry Watkins’ nursery Special Plants last October. Blue is not an unusual color in the protean genus salvia, but the limpid blue of S. bullulata is very unusual for a salvia and reminds me of the turquoise shades possible with corydalis. I pounced when Annie’s offered it this spring. Currently out of stock, you can add it to your wishlist.

Another salvia first seen at Special Plants, ‘Jean’s Jewel,’ was tracked down state-side to Flowers By The Sea, which has an incredible list of salvias. ‘Jean’s Jewel’ is a guaranitica hybrid with atypical violet-pink flowers and somewhat more compact habit of growth.

Even with a sore rib, walking is still an available pleasure, and I can still get lost in thought on city walks. And because I have always loved city walks, this observation from “Why Walking Helps Us Think” was surprising: “A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete. Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource that continually drains throughout the day. A crowded intersection—rife with pedestrians, cars, and billboards—bats our attention around. In contrast, walking past a pond in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another, from wrinkling water to rustling reeds.”

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And one of my latest design blog crushes, This Is Colossal, has a great idea for Father’s Day, “vintage camper birdhouse kits that are the perfect backyard outpost for a family of birds. The design was inspired by a 1974 Serro Scotty Hilander that once belonged to Williams, complete with decorative window shades and accessories such as flowers, a grill, and a few lawn flamingos.”

Have a great weekend!

Posted in Cinema Botanica, clippings, garden travel, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Hawaii on my mind

Because my oldest brother on the Big Island, near Hilo, has been waffling over staying, going, staying, going — what to do with the dogs? — for most of May, that’s why Hawaii is on my mind these days. I just heard from him this morning with some scary news (“The lava took out the cell tower so I don’t have phone reception so tell mom that I can’t phone her. Hope you are okay.”) But then the news via email improved somewhat after some incisive questions on my part:

Me: “What the heck is happening with that lava flow? How are those noxious gases?”
Brother: “The gases were very bad in the beginning. Right now the winds are blowing strong so the air quality is good this morning. The lava has gone into the ocean about three miles from here.”

So we’re all going to take a deep breath and hope the strong winds continue. Even though more fissures of lava have erupted from the Kilauea volcano since yesterday, mandatory evacuation is still not in place for my brother. I’m trying my hardest to imagine Hilo and Pahoa covered not in lava, but bromeliads. (I’ve yet to visit our 50th state, so I’m reposting scenes from a 2015 visit to Lotusland.)

Have a great weekend.

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Posted in journal | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Dustin Gimbel’s garden in May

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I’ve talked about Dustin’s ceramics a lot lately, but how’s his garden growing this very grey-skied May? Last week Shirley Watts was in town for talks on the next installment of Natural Discourse’s installation at the LA Arboretum in spring 2019 — flush with the exciting news of having received an NEA grant this time around! — and she wanted to fit in some ceramic shopping at Dustin’s home/workshop/garden. Shirley brought with her another avid ceramics fan, Dr. Marie Csete (who I first met when she gave an intriguing lecture entitled “Structure and Function in Stem Cell Biology” at the first Natural Discourse way back in 2013.)

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With the two of them absorbed in Dustin’s ceramics, I had a good, long look at his garden, without Dustin chattering away and distracting me as he always does (kidding! That’s just me projecting…) — the three clipped box balls that punctuate the front planting have really grown in thick and lush, as have the essential privacy hedges growing along the front sidewalk, now thoroughly sheltering the front garden from the busy street. (And we’re talking 24/7 Long Beach busy.) It is a world apart here in Dustin’s garden on the other side of those hedges, the atmosphere thick with plant lust and design schemes to show the many botanical wonders off to best advantage. Outside the hedges, the world may as well be in black and white. Like all stunning gardens, it’s all about that fierce concentration of intention, staking a claim on the sheer gorgeousness of the natural world like your life depends on it (and in my case, it pretty much does), curated through a unique, sensorily restless sensibility.

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High noon but overcast, I did my best with the camera. At the foot of the boundary hedge seen in the first photo runs a lush planting of Bilbergia ‘Hallelujah’ alongside a small footpath, looking in the direction of the driveway past a lemon tree and a large water tank feature with bobbing glass fishing floats. The complex, multi-layered front garden planting has many such footpaths and footholds to tend to the plants. Strategic changes in elevations were sculpted into place when ground was first broken on the front garden, with broken concrete used for retaining walls where needed. For example, the leucospermum is planted on a well-draining berm, although the low urbanite walls are barely visible now.

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Looking from the boundary hedge back at the house, infamous concretion totems on the right. Tree in the distance is Acacia podalyrifolia (which I believe is from seed of mine). Orlaya grandiflora, the Minoan Lace, is in bloom — both Shirley and Marie went home with seed of this annual — and the golden-flowered leucospermum on the left is just about finished bloom. Spires of hesperaloe in the mid distance.

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Dustin carrying just one of the many boxes of his ceramics to Shirley’s rental car, boxes also bulging with plants and cuttings. This is the transverse path running the length of his front garden, starting at the driveway. If I remember correctly, the wood was salvaged from work on a local pier.

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There’s my car on the driveway just seen through the curtain of weeping Acacia pendula trained on a large rebar arbor. Dustin thinks this aloe is A. camperi, and it’s a personal favorite of his, bridging the bloom period in spring between winter and summer-flowering aloes. The tips of pale Agave mitis var. albidior in a small meadow of sesleria are just visible beyond the aloes.

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View from the driveway of Acacia pendula, box, verbascum species, orlaya, with the delicate and lovely but seldom-seen Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata’ in the foreground. A peachy Russelia equisetiformis adds to the wash of soft orange provided by the pincushion shrub and aloes in bloom.

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The transverse path deposits you at an intersectional walkway that leads to the front porch or, further on, to the back garden, or a side path back out to the sidewalk and street.

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An outsized collection of potted succulents and shrubs flanks the porch.

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Through the side gate into the back garden/workshop area (potted farfugium, blooming honeysuckle on fence, newly planted Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish just visible in left foreground), leaving the serene front garden and entering what I consider the engine room that keeps Dustin’s ship afloat, including outdoor dining area, ceramics studio, propagation areas, and garden design workshop. It is a mesmerizing place full of experiments, ideas unfolding in leaf and clay, all packed in among the nursery stock he grows for clients’ gardens.

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Along the path to the back garden/ceramics studio, papaya at the end of the frame next to the variegated Italian Buckthorn Rhamnus alaternus (or possibly Pittosporum crassifolium). This side fence is made of water-proof HardieBacker cement board, painted pale mauve-grey.

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That heavily curled Kalanchoe beharensis is some dwarf/compact variant that is intensely sculptural. I covet it. A table with a smoker (?) has been placed smack dab over a big clump of Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’

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Turning the corner of the screen surrounding the outdoor dining area, which I neglected to photograph. I’m assuming that’s an orchid cactus/epiphyllum clambering up the screen, but with Dustin it’s probably best not to assume. The table was stacked with ceramics and some killer species of stapelia in bloom. The multi-variegated Japanese Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Ogon Nishiki,’ is used as a ground cover along the base of the screen.

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On the garden side of the screen, the concrete-formed trough/water garden pierces through, making it a clever feature of the dining area as well as the garden outside the screen. Hesperaloe ‘Pink Parade’ throwing its first bloom, and apparently having been very slow to do so.

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More flow is created by the viewing “windows” cut into the screen enclosure, literally framing views, as seen in this photo Mitch took last year. I wish I could keep Mitch in my back pocket for all impromptu photo duties.

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Euphorbia cotinifolia is cut back hard to keep it small, multi-trunked and dense with those luscious dark leaves.

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I didn’t get a photo this visit of the fence he built to screen the propagation area so am including one from a visit in December ’16, a much better day for photos than this gloomy day in May. The Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ on the far left is maybe 5 feet tall now.

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Looking back from the blue-washed fence with geometric frames at the HardieBacker board fence. The workshop/studio is out of frame to the right.

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That’s the wall of the workshop/studio, festooned with swags of Aristolochia gigantea now coming into bloom. When the garden was photographed last year for Sunset magazine, it was immaculately styled, not a plastic nursery pot in sight, tables carefully vignetted, Fermob furniture brought in. It looked fantastic, but I think I’ll always prefer this, which is how a busy designer’s garden looks on a day-to-day basis as he workshops ideas for designs and uses every available inch for ceramics and to propagate more plants.

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Here’s a photo Mitch took of the garden styled for the Sunset photo shoot last year, same space as the previous photo.

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A small portion of the nursery stock he grows for clients — nice Aloe marlothii!

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And when he’s not designing gardens or throwing clay, he’s painting. I mean…c’mon!

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I think this is the painting that Dustin said he completed just the day before, when he took a “mental health day” off from work.

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I bet I’ll hear from Dustin after sharing this photo! But it gives a sense of how much fun a space this is to explore. The view is toward the end of the property, workshop and ceramic studio on the left, looking over nursery stock, various projects, and a few raised beds for vegetables and flowers, like the apricot-colored helichrysum/strawflowers coming along nicely for summer. The corrugated fencing separates bee hives from the main space, though the hives are not currently active.

If some gardens can be said to soothe like a pleasant cup of herbal tea, Dustin’s is a triple espresso. I always leave feeling fully caffeinated. If I had to sum it all up in one word, it would be fecund.

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You can set up an appointment to shop Dustin’s ceramics by contacting him via his website here. (And of course check out his garden while you do!)

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, artists, design, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments