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driveby gardens; sundown on the Miracle Mile

I worked in the “Miracle Mile” stretch of Wilshire Boulevard on Thursday, approximately the 5600 block. In the surrounding neighborhoods, the houses had gardens that looked promising and full of interest, so during a 20-minute lunch I dashed out to have a look. There have been discrete garden design phases in Southern California, and this neighborhood seemed to have examples of quite a few of them. There was a phase for a while where ‘Iceberg’ roses and ‘Silver Sheen’ pittosporum seemed to be in every garden, and then things got very serious and monochromatic and shrubby, with myoporum, westringia, and helichyrsum. (I happen to love serious, shrubby gardens too.) There were quite a few excellent, succulents-only front gardens. But most exciting for me, I encountered my first blooming beschorneria in Los Angeles, so I know there’s hope for mine, but definitely not this year and possibly not even next year. I forget how massive the rosette is at blooming size, and mine has quite a ways to go still. I couldn’t wait for work to end so I could head back out again, this time with the camera I try to always bring along. But work stretched past 6 o’clock, and it was nearly sundown by the time I set out in search of the beschorneria on the way to catching a bus then a train home.

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En route to the beschorneria, I found this leucospermum in full backlit glory, rivaling the sunset in brilliant peachy gold.
Genius or accidental, the siting was spectacular, and in a hellstrip no less.

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Of all the South African plants in wide use in Los Angeles, a mature leucospermum is still something of a rare sight.

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The spoor of a plant nut was evident in the hellstrip. That looks to be a Senecio decaryi jutting out on the left of the leucospermum.
Including a phormium, euphorbias, aeoniums, underplanted with Senecio mandraliscae.

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It was almost too dark for photos by the time I found the beschorneria again.

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These were right at the property line, overhanging the sidewalk. Beschorneria are frost-tender succulents from Mexico and Central America.
A lengthier revisit to the neighborhoods around the Miracle Mile is definitely in order, judging by the treasures on just two of its streets.
I’ve always found that interesting gardens are infectious, and where’s there’s one or two, there’s bound to be more.

CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

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agave at South Coast Botanic Garden, a former open pit mine for diatomite extraction, then landfill, now botanic garden

I should probably split this glut of information into several posts, but if I don’t sit down right now and do it, the churning river of obligations that is my life at the moment will whisk me away again.
And there I’ll be, bobbing out of sight, heading for tumbling rapids and waterfalls unknown, while important, time-sensitive information goes unmentioned.

So here’s the really important news, conveniently placed at the top of what may turn into a very long post:

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America/CSSA is holding its 2015 biennial convention in Claremont, California, at Pitzer College, June 14-19.
There hasn’t been a convention in my hometown Los Angeles since 2001, so I’m looking at this as basically a gift from the CSSA to me. (Thank you so much!)
Since 2000, the grounds of Pitzer College have been in the capable hands of Joe Clements, who formerly headed the desert garden at the Huntington.
So, needless to say, the surroundings for the convention will be extraordinary. (You can read Nan Sterman’s article on Pitzer for Pacific Horticulture here.)

Continue reading CSSA 2015 Biennial Convention, June 14-19, 2015

a Shirley Watts’ garden

Monday features two long-time friends (and family) of AGO. Oldest son Mitch took these photos of a Shirley Watts-designed garden a few years back and kindly agreed to let me share them here.

The garden had a lot of formal, established features and furniture to incorporate into the new design, but nonetheless, to those who know her work, Watt’s artistic eye and hand can easily be seen throughout. Like all Watts’ gardens I’ve seen, there’s a uniquely timeless, modern/classical fusion that always lends an air of tranquility and simplicity — but with plenty of startling details, beautifully sensual plants, and bravura flourishes to discover.

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Continue reading a Shirley Watts’ garden

streetside; rainy day house & gardens

alluding to Joni Mitchell’s Rainy Night House
I recently read that Taylor Swift wanted the part in a movie on Mitchell.
I see Swift’s photo all over the Internet, but it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally heard one of her songs on the car radio.
Yes, I do live in a pop culture-free bubble, not always by choice. All I’m going to say is, thank god Mitchell refused. (Oh, the travesty!)

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Rainy day house’s front garden in Venice; dymondia, agaves, sticks on fire, with a hedge of Acacia iteaphylla on the chimney side

I just had one of those Sunday afternoons where an absurd number of destinations are optimistically crammed into a 4-hour window.
The forecast was, again, possible showers.

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The clouds did open at Big Daddy’s

The itinerary:

1. Check out International Garden Center near LAX (done)
2. On to Culver City and Big Daddy’s (I became lost for quite some time but eventually found that weird intersection near National)
3. Cruise the streets of Mar Vista, which has an excellent garden tour coming up this spring.
(I got tired of driving aimlessly and gave up. I’ll have to wait for the tour map. See Dates to Remember for upcoming tour April 25.)
4. Stop by Big Red Sun in Venice (too much traffic on Lincoln Blvd., gave up.)

And did I mention it was raining? Los Angeles drivers, whenever challenged by the smallest drops of moisture from the sky…oh, never mind.

International Nursery had a $30 protea in a one-gallon in bloom, simply labeled “Orange Protea.” Tempting.
And not a bad price for the plant, seeing that 7 stems of proteas go for $100 as cutflowers

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Merwilla plumbea nee Scilla natalensis.
I always plant new stuff out within a couple days. I hate waking up to the rebuke of homeless plants in nursery gallons.

I eventually dropped the protea for this South African bulb, Scilla natalensis. San Marcos Growers says it’s rarely dormant. The leaves are wide, almost eucomis-like.
My problem with Scilla peruviana has been placement that allows for its dormancy needs, which means having a big gap in summer.
The peruviana have ended up against the fence under the lemon cypress, not optimal conditions for a sun-loving bulb. It’ll be exciting to watch this one’s performance.

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International’s Annie’s Annuals section is by far the best I’ve seen at SoCal nurseries.
I grabbed a couple Asphodeline luteas again, though I think I’ve established beyond doubt the asphodels will only curl up their toes for me.
I can’t remember if I’ve tried spring planting before though.
The asphodel is now rivaling dierama for number of kills in my garden.
But memory is still fresh of Asphodeline lutea in Portland, Oregon last summer, photo above.

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Pots on spiral staircase at Big Daddy’s

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Though there’s plenty of the ornate, BD has a nice selection of unadorned but aged-looking planters.

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I’ll take all three of these metal tubs, please.

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Giving up on fighting traffic enroute to Big Red Sun, I drove through a couple streets in Venice.
Thundery skies and bright orange, thunbergia-covered walls.

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And fabulous streetside succulent gardens like this one.

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Big clump of the slipper plant, Pedilanthus bracteatus

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The long parkway was dotted with multiples of the Mexican Blue Palm, Brahea armata

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I once came very close to painting my house these colors, an agave grey-blue and mossy green.

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Aloe marlothii

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The coral aloe, A. striata

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I may not have made it to every stop on the itinerary, but it was still a fine rainy day in LA.

san francisco door project

Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” — Emma, Jane Austen


I can be a bit of a homebody and go days without leaving the house. The best thing about some days is coming home to the sight of our old, slightly beat-up oak door. The solidity and comfort of doors has been a lifelong preoccupation. And then there’s the built-in mystery and fascination of Other People’s Doors. Encircle a door in plants or line its entrance with pots, and I might stop and stare at your door for a length of time bordering on rudeness. Fortunately, there’s other obsessives out there doing some good door reconnaissance. I learned of Carole Isaacs’ San Francisco door project through this post on the Huffington Post, to which she left a comment referencing her door project. What admirable single-mindedness! I thought, as I scribbled off an email, to which Carole immediately and kindly responded:

“I am glad you like my doors. It is amazing to me that driving down the street doors can all look the same, but walking, what looks the same is not. There are variations large and small. Humans have a need to personalize the entrance to their homes and of course the inside too. It is ok to use some of the doors. Please mention I tweet a door a day @sfdoorproject . I have been too busy to post all of my neighborhood slide shows on FB. They are on youtube.com/sfdoorproject, a work in progress. I photograph the doors for fun, and rationalize the incredible amount of time I have spent on this as marketing for my real estate business.”

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Restios and aeoniums in faux lead containers in Pacific Heights. How could you not put containers on those stairs?

Continue reading san francisco door project

a February visit to the Huntington desert garden

I got caught in a rainstorm at the Huntington’s desert garden yesterday, which was magical.

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Storm warning

Continue reading a February visit to the Huntington desert garden

2015 Dates to Remember

I’ve been working on 2015 plants sales and plant show dates under the heading Dates to Remember, top of the page.
Please feel free to send along info on anything I’ve missed or something worthy that must not go unmentioned.
And in the spirit of anticipating 2015 road trips, I’m reprising a 2013 visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, which is having their spring sale March 20-22, 2015.

It’s pushing the concept of a day trip to its limit when it takes five hours each way, there and back, but the DBG was having their spring plant sale and, dammit, I needed to go. So the math worked out neatly in multiples of five, including five hours spent at the garden, making it a 15-hour day trip. More math: Phoenix’s average rainfall is about 8 inches a year, while Los Angeles nearly doubles that at 15 or 16 inches, though current LA rainfall totals are below average. Phoenix like Los Angeles was in the middle of a warm spell this past week, and temperatures in the garden were over 90. For whatever reason, the plant sale, the weather, the early spring season, it was a mob scene, and lots of appreciatively awestruck comments were overheard like, “Can you believe this place?!”

Believe it.

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So what five plants did I bring home? There the math broke down, and we traveled light. Most of the smaller plants had been bought, and I can’t in all conscience rip up the headliner in yet another car. Mark your calendars and do the math for a day trip/road trip to Phoenix’s DBG for their next plant sale in October. Oh, and you might want to borrow a friend’s truck.

high style, close quarters

The Australian/Canadian hybrid blog Desire to Inspire is one of my favorite sources for dependable, daily inspiration.
(Jo and Kim do take Sundays off.) DTI celebrates design front and center, sometimes minimal, sometimes maximal. I can never make up my mind on minimal/maximal either.
Except where plants are concerned; more is definitely more. But I fully understand not everyone shares that plant-centric point of view. And sometimes space just won’t permit.
Earlier in the week Jo posted just such a case study from the portfolio of Australian garden design firm Adam Robinson Design.

A serenely austere, monochromatic treatment for a Sydney balcony, with lots of good ideas to crib for small gardens. That wood block as anchor for a large umbrella, for example.
And the built-in planter/privacy wall planted with bromeliads and succulents. Alternating wooden slats and cutouts balance privacy with claustrophobia.


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I’ve never seen a plumeria displayed to greater advantage than in that large conical planter, which makes a virtue of its open, gawky structure.
Just imagine how the balcony walls trap and hold that scent on a warm summer evening. At least it looks like a plumeria to me..

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More from Adam Robinson Design’s portfolio can be found here.


Bloom Day February 2015

Bloom Day — you know the drill.
(And if you don’t and somehow stumbled here unwittingly, just calm down and see May Dreams Gardens for some helpful background by Carol.)

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I bought this Banksia ericifolia from a newish nursery in Hollywood several months ago with one bloom already fully open and several promising if smallish buds.
I ain’t superstitious, but taking photos of rare, newly acquired plants in bloom just seems an invitation for a jinx on their health and longevity.
So I’ve waited a few months before posting photos of these stunning bronze candles that seem made of chenille.

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I bumped into the nursery while in search of some craigslist planters and failed to record its name, but it’s fairly close to Sunset Boulevard and Gardner.
I should be able to find it again, since those are my old stomping grounds. I used to live basically on top of the intersection of Sunset and Gardner, about a half block away.
(The best way to get into Hollywood? Follow Bette Davis’ advice, “Take Fountain!” A little local, show-biz humor…)
The banksia is in a large wooden container that is in the semi-rapid process of falling apart, so it will have to be moved at some point. Gulp…beauty in peril!

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Old faithful, Pelargonium echinatum. Scalloped and felty grey-green leaves with firework bursts of flowers suspended mid-air.
Looks a lot like the cultivar ‘Miss Stapleton’ which is a suspected cross of two species. Summer dormant.

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The related Erodium pelargoniflorum, a spring annual here, isn’t reseeding as extravagantly in the drought, which is fine with me.

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The unnamed aloe along the driveway is looking more and more like Aloe ‘Moonglow’ — which I recently bought again for the back garden, label intact.
There was more peachy color to it in previous years, when it wasn’t smothered under the Acacia podalyrifolia.
I limbed up the offending acacia last week and promise to try harder for a less blurry photo next time.

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Abutilon venosum, found at Tropico in West Hollywood, crazy in bloom this February

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Veltheimia bracteata, a South African summer-dormant bulb. Really the easiest thing to grow, if a bit slow to bulk up and get going.
The emergence of the leaves in fall are a reminder to start watering again.

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The flower today, a bit more filled out.

I find some of the summer-dormant stuff easier to deal with in containers, which is where the veltheimia has been growing for over five years.
Unless I failed to record an earlier bloom, this would be its first year to flower.

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Aloe ‘Always Red.’ Seeing its first bloom, I did a photo search to double-check possible mislabeling. You call that red?
Yes, apparently they do. Supposedly a ferociously long-blooming aloe.

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Sometimes a succulent’s flowers can be an annoyance (hello, Senecio mandraliscae), but not with Sedum nussbaumerianum, which are nice complement to the overall plant.

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Only one plant was allowed to mature this spring from the hundreds of self-sown Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix’

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Ah, those fleeting moments when everything is in balance, before one thing outgrows its spot and stifles another. Balance usually lasts about six months in my garden.

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Still waiting for the deep red color to form on the leaves of Aloe cameronii. A continued regimen of full sun, dryish soil should do the trick.

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A species canna from Tropico in West Hollywood

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Buds forming on Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’

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The ‘Little Jean’ kangaroo paws again, with phlomis, cistus, and euphorbias, self-sown poppies filling in. Maybe there’ll be poppies for March.

Saturday clippings 2/14/15

Valentine’s Day would seem to demand a quote on love, and this one by Rilke sums it up well:

Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.

No, I didn’t grab a book off the shelf and flip to exactly the right page, but noncommittally typed in a search string query, fairly confident that Rilke must have weighed in on the matter. I honestly don’t think I own a single book of poetry, though a dusty copy of Letters to a Young Poet might be around here somewhere. No Val Day plans, but weekend plans tentatively include the Long Beach Veterans flea market on Sunday (every third Sunday), which would be a firm plan if it wasn’t so god-awful hot. (Too sunny here, too snowy there — what a winter!)


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The dew will be burning off the bocconia fast this morning, with temps expected near 90 F, then hopefully cooling for Sunday.


For a blast of pure romance, check out this post on Thread & Bones, where Mitch and Jessica announce their new photo venture and launch of their site, Ritual Photo Work. I really like the idea of reinvigorating important rituals. When we were married, I couldn’t envision a ceremony that didn’t make my skin crawl, so Marty and I were married in a courtroom, me in green silk pants I had sewn myself and copper-colored sandals. And then a day trip south to Puerto Nuevo for lobster and tortillas. No regrets, no diamonds, but there’s also no photos, no tangible remains of that day. There is only the very vivid memory, one that I hope never fades, of a troop of kindergarteners on a field trip to the courtroom bursting into spontaneous applause as the judge pronounced us legally married.

And speaking of Mitch, my oldest son, perusing Gardenista today I see that this week they reprised Mitch’s photos of The French Laundry in Napa, California. You can have a look here.

I’ve had my appetite for browsing the fleas whetted by all the chair porn I’ve been consuming lately in between deadlines on the computer.


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Russell Woodard Sculptura lounge chairs at 1stdibs.

In an increasingly incomprehensible world, chairs possess an uncanny ability to soothe. Even just photos of chairs.
If a mind is consumed with building the perfect chair, what trouble can it possibly get into? Sites like 1stdibs are a design education in themselves.
And among all the Hans Wegner Papa Bear chairs, Saarinen Tulip chairs, and Jacobsen Egg chairs can be found some interesting choices for the garden, though prices are usually higher than flea market.

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I see a lot of original Russell Woodard’s spun fiberglass table and chair sets at my mom’s retirement community.
Really amazing, decades-long durability, but so far I’ve yet to warm up to it.

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Thank goodness agaves are still one of the most affordable design bargains around.
I snapped this quick photo of a Pasadena house landscaped almost exclusively with agaves, mainly medio-picta and parryi, earlier in the week.

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I love drawing the eye with the big rosettes, too, but they don’t necessarily have to be the same species or even the same genus.
One of my favorite views, with two agaves, one yucca, three big rosettes stepping up in height, yellow, green, blue.

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The mystery mangave is throwing not just one bloom spike, but in a first, the pups are spiking too.

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The giant ‘Cyclops’ aeonium feels like joining in.

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Tiny starry flowers have also erupted in the foaming nebula that is the South African Climbing Onion, Bowiea volubilis.
Dormant in fall, it stirs into life in January, and is now tumbling down 4 feet, tracing and exploring every curlicue of the old iron plant stand.
That’s the unvarnished description, a far cry from the tangled garden monologues these plants and objects unleash, which go something like:
Dustin’s bowiea is going crazy on that plant stand.
And where the heck is Dustin going to travel next? Doesn’t he stay home anymore?
And Jerry, where did he go? I really miss Jerry, but at least I have his plant stand to remember him by.
Was it $30 I gave him for it? What a wickedly fast associative mind he has, one of those ebullient, fizzy champagne people.
Incredibly supple, effervescent, improvisational mind, a lot like that bowiaea finding tendril holds,
etc, etc.
Lots of time for more garden monologues this weekend. Enjoy yours!