Claire Basler’s flowers

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In an office yesterday was a Japanese four-panel painting on wood of chrysanthemums, goldenrod and wisps of flowering miscanthus.
The stark white of the mums popped against the tawny background, but the panels’ overall effect was of a soothing, subtle glow with quiet movement etched onto its surface.
Any business to be conducted in that office would not be disrupted by this lovely but soft-spoken art.
Which got me thinking about the current state of flowers pictorially.

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Are artists still interested in glorious, full-throated renderings of flowers?
Or have we been done in by the sentimental, genteel approach, like chintz wallpaper, or overly stylized graphic design musings?

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By providing those twin stark contrasts, you can tell I’m not really au courant with the subject.
But I do know when I first came across French artist Claire Basler’s large scale flower paintings they held that proverbial shock of the new for me.
See for yourself.

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Claire Basler

Wednesday poppies

Through the dancing poppies stole a breeze most softly lulling to my soul. — John Keats

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this is my brain on spring (April 2014 repost)

It’s so balmy and chirpy outdoors that, once again, it’s getting hard to stay focused on anything but plants and gardens.
I’ve updated the Dates to Remember so I don’t kick myself for letting something slip by unnoticed, even if I can’t attend. Let me know if there’s an event you think I need to know about.
(FYI: It looks like Nancy Goslee Power’s garden is on the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour for Los Angeles this year…)
May you find some beautiful distractions this weekend. I’m leaning towards the Long Beach flea market this 3rd Sunday of the month.
Below is a repost from April 2014:

Spring is such a massive distraction, and that’s coming from just my own little garden, which apart from work I rarely want to leave. For the first time in my adult life, I drove by a multiplex theater on Sunday and wasn’t familiar with a single movie title on the marquee. I can’t keep plant show dates straight and nearly missed attending the Spring Garden Show over the weekend, which always has great vendors like B&D Lilies and Franchi Seeds of Italy, though if they were at the show this year, I didn’t find them. I had no idea there were speakers or who they would be (Dan Hinkley). Spring, I give up. You win. I know by summer the infatuation will have cooled.

At the show I speed-walked past the display gardens and headed straight for the plant vendors. My overall impression was that a neo-19th century orchid mania has gripped this show. But since these plants are born scene-stealers, it’s hard to tell if the show has a creeping orchid bias or not. High-dollar orchids bobbed out of shopping bags, rode up and down escalators in the arms of their new, terribly excited owners. Masses of orchids in exquisitely perfect bloom added a concentrated and disorienting “In The Realm of The Senses” mood to the show.

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Every color of epiphyllum, the orchid cactus, was on offer.

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Every color of epidendrum, the reed orchids

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The techno-hobbyists also had plenty to admire, like a bonsai’d boug

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As usual, the bromeliads were my biggest temptation. I’ve really wanted an alcantarea, but this lovely thing had just won some award and so carried a trophy price.

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One of my favorite vendors at the show carried exotic bulbs and gorgeous tropical seed pods, like this entada species.

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Cerbera odollam, the Pong-pong tree, also know as the “Suicide Tree,” once used in Madagascar in the ritual “trial by ordeal” to prove guilt or innocence.
Justice was irrelevant because, guilty or innocent, the tree is invariably lethal (related to the oleander).

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The succulent tables are always worth a browse.

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I wrote about this succulent not long ago, Graptopetalum superbum. This one has slight variegation to the leaf and has been named ‘Cotton Candy.’ $50 for a one-rosette plant.

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I spent a lot of time with the tillandsias and hanging plants, trussed with fishing line, performing delicate aerial ballets.

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What did I buy? More rhipsalis, of course, that shaggy, mop-headed epiphytic cacti. Andy’s Orchids had a nice selection.

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And being on a hanging plant binge, you know there was some experimenting yesterday on some old topiary forms.

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After the show I had a craving for simplicity and found these ‘Yellow Garden’ cosmos at a local nursery.

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I don’t know how those orchid people stand the excitement.

Bloom Day March 2016

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No flowers open yet, but the long-awaited beschorneria bloom stalk itself is stare-worthy. Parrot colors of vivid red with buds tipped in green.
Improbably taller every day, with new subtle twists and angles to admire

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It passed by the Euphorbia ammak a few days ago.

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The bricks in the photo above lead to the Chinese fringe tree that bisects the narrow east side of the house.
Does Chionanthus retusus leaf out and burst into bloom simultaneously everywhere or just zone 10?

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Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is finished flowering, leaving some pretty cool seedpods

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In the past, I’ve often wondered about the bocconia’s will to live. This winter’s rains have brought out its latent, robust side. I’ve even found a seedling.

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Different kinds of echeverias continue to flower in their charming crookneck style. With Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’

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Surprising color match on the blooms of Echeveria pulvinata and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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a gift aloe, no ID

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Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ is still looking very promising. Healthy, clean leaves with an airy, open habit of growth.
This will be its first summer, a true test. High on my to-do list is to start a glossary of all the plants I trial in the garden, with a thumb’s up or down.

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No blooms, just enjoying the view of wet pavement. We are becoming such rain fetishists here.

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Wet Agave ‘Dragon Toes’ with a flash of orange deep in the background from Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’

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I’ve pulled a lot of the poppies, but there’s still a few in bloom every day.

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I’d love it if Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ stopped growing now. And bloomed like this, at this size, until November.
We don’t ask much from plants, do we?

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Lastly, Agave vilmoriniana, lord of all he surveys. He’s made good size over the winter too. Blooms from poppies, salvia, kangaroo paws.
Oh, and believe it or don’t, but that euphorbia is in bloom too. Subtle bordering on pointless. Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl.’
Now, imagine if the blooms were chartreuse up against that salvia. Taking note for next year.
Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects our Bloom Day stories the 15th of every month.

Senecio glastifolius

I posted this photo Mitch took back in April 2010 under the title “Unidentified Giant Composite.”


Garden designer Kelly Kilpatrick (Floradora Garden Design) helpfully provided its true name.
Annie’s Annuals & Perennials has been an off-and-on source for this giant South African daisy rarely offered elsewhere in the trade.

San Francisco Botanical Garden discusses this daisy’s provenance:

“At the tip of South Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, lies the floral kingdom of the Cape Province, a tiny area of land with a dazzling assortment of endemic plants (plants found nowhere else), twice as many as are found in California! The Cape’s Mediterranean climate, mild and wet winters, dry and hot summers, helps promote this marvelous diversity, together with the Province’s isolated position at the end of the continent.

Senecio glastifolius grows in a narrow stretch along the south coast, and also appears in the fynbos, areas of evergreen shrubs of varying sizes and varieties in company with proteas, heather and restios. It is a tall, semi-woody perennial with a single layer of brilliant lavender petaled ray florets surrounding a central disk of golden florets. Its leaves are lance-shaped and coarsely toothed. It grows densely to three feet or higher. In Afrikaans, it is called, “Waterdissel” (water thistle) for its water-loving habits and thistly leaves.”

Usually a display of daisies this tall and wide comes only in fall, from other members in the asteraceae family, like the New England asters. {I won’t mention any species names because they will have changed again by the time I post this.) So a sight like this in April is quite extraordinary. Plus, I like the fact that those of us in zone 9 and 10 have a big daisy to call our own. SF Botanical Garden does reference the unwanted spread of this daisy in Australia and New Zealand “if it finds water.” So just in case, I’d be careful about planting it where it might spread into native plant communities. But if you are one of the lucky ones with a garden of a size to accommodate a shrubby daisy big enough to hide a Buick, Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is offering it right now.
I’d love to try it in one of my stock tanks and pinch it back mercilessly.

Occasional Daily Weather report 3/7/16 (palms on fire!)

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from The Los Angeles Times

Marty, both parakeets, and I were jolted awake a little after 6 a.m., when the predicted storm slammed into town, escorted by raucous thunder, lightning, and high winds.
(Nothing wakes increasingly deaf Ein.) In a quintessentially LA touch, the lightning struck and fired up several palm trees across the county, some of which could be seen from that major player in all our lives, the sclerotic 405 freeway (pronounced in the local dialect as “four-oh-five.”)

I can’t leave you with that end-of-the world, palm-on-fire photo, so how about some soothing photos from the garden in the last week or so?

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My beloved ballota. I think mine is Ballota acetabulosa. I always thought the name was interchangeable with B. pseudodictamnus.
Apparently that’s not the case, and one kind is slightly superior to the other. It’s not an easy plant to track down by any name, so I’ll probably never know the distinction.
Whatever this one is, I love it. Reseeds for me. Buy it under any name if you’re in zone 7 and above and want some knobby, woolly texture for a dry garden.
And be patient, for it doesn’t look like much the first six months to a year after planting.

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This maroon osteospermum just might keep me from throwing money away at chocolate cosmos this year.
Thank goodness for the osteospermum’s unflagging, robust nature. If only it had Cosmos atrosanguineus’ extra long stems too.

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Bulbine ‘Athena Compact Orange’

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First bloom on rat-tail cactus.

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Echeveria agavoides are in bloom all over the garden. Offsets quickly make new, thick colonies of this echeveria, one of my faovorites.

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Glistening from the previous rainstorm a couple weeks back, my potted Leucadendron galpinii is going to love life in this container all summer.
Right? Are we agreed? I’ll take that as a yes.

N.B. Read here on how to check your citrus for signs of the Asian citrus psyllid.

Flora & Bee

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In Sunset magazine this March 2016 is a profile of the home of garden designer Manda Galbraith, principal of Flora & Bee, located in Burien, Washington.
(“How to design a vibrantly colorful garden.“) I’ll be looking again and again at these luscious photos by David Perry all month. Enjoy.

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slow but steady Agave ‘Mateo’

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What a difference almost a year makes. Photo above taken May 2015. Agave ‘Mateo’ is directly in front of the varigateted agave, swamped in grass, leaf tips just visible.
Not a a nice way to treat a prize agave, but I do get impatient with bare ground. As ‘Mateo’ has been gradually bulking up, I’ve been thinning his compadres.
Gone: The variegated Agave sisalana. A small pup was potted up. This agave is a traveler.
Gone: Adenanthos sericeus, Coastal Woolybush. Perished from natural causes. I planted another one elsewhere this fall because it’s too lovable to live without.
Gone: The variegated St. Augustine grass — well, most of it anyway. We’ll see what turns up later in the year.

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Remained: Agave ‘Mateo,’ a suspected cross of bracteosa/squid agave and lophantha. When young, this agave is not much to look at.
And I’ve only seen one mature specimen before, but it was magnificent. Beautiful, airy architecture with those stacked curving leaves.
Probably from lophantha it gets that subtle coloring on the leaves, a faint central band.
I wish I’d noted when I planted it, but I’d say it’s doubled in size in the ground.

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Now that he’s finally making good size, I’m giving him some room. I think this is going to be ‘Mateo’s’ leap year.

end of month February 2016

Since it’s the last day of February, I suppose it’s time to admit defeat and clear out all the drafts that never made it to proper posts.
There’s the draft post tying in to last night’s Oscars, where I muse about how each spring in the garden seems like a new production, with brand-new plot lines and star turns.
It’s possible that’s due to my background. Like one-half of all Angelenos, I’ve taken screenwriting courses and once worked for an Academy-Award winning screenwriter (Abby Mann, Judgment at Nuremberg). So my brain might be wired to see even gardens in a dramatic framework. To me even the smallest garden expresses themes about shelter, sanctuary, earth, sky and water, friendship, risk, yearning, fecundity, what it means to live a good life and really how minimal are the resources that actually requires. Light and space are big garden themes for me. Some garden productions are hardscape heavy, mine tend to be plant intensive. For me it’s always the most exciting production in town. All on an indie budget, of course

That draft was never developed, and now that the awards are over it’s a bit stale. (I did love Spotlight, so hooray for its best picture award. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was an awesome spectacle, deserving of all its technical awards. Marty saw The Revenant and loved it. I can’t take that kind of punshiment from a movie but admire the effort. Loved DiCaprio’s acceptance speech on the urgency of climate change.)

I had a draft post on how the back garden is getting heavy with aloe & anigozanthos. Aloe for winter bloom, kangaroo paws for summer.

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Little Aloe conifera’s bloom continues to reveal more luscious, custardy color.

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No, my garden kangaroo paws aren’t showing bloom stalks yet.
Feeling a little anigozanthos-starved, I promised myself if I saw any in bloom at a nursery, I’d bring it home.
Meet ‘Bush Tango,’ medium in height, in comparison to a tall variety like ‘Big Red’ just a few feet away.

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At least I think this is ‘Big Red,’ hopefully correctly labeled. I can’t remember if I saw blooms on it last year.
The dark green, strappy leaves of ‘Big Red’ are in the foreground to the left of Leucadendron ‘Ebony’

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With a little bit of cheating, I can have a view with both anigozanthos and aloes in bloom. Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ in the distance.

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I wanted to write also on how well the santolina orbs are coming along. This summer they should really be…I don’t know. Profoundly orbful maybe.

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In that same mood of If I See It, I’m Buying It, I sprang for a big container of Phormium ‘Black Adder.’
Fooling around with this phormium in small sizes was getting nowhere.
Phormiums either become huge, unmanageable monsters or melt away after five leaves. No middle ground here.

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The phormium was planted into the spot held by a potted Agave ‘Ivory Curls.’

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I absent-mindedly left the hose trickling all day on this melianthus last week. First irrigation crime of the new year.
Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ slurped up every drop. This variety does appreciate more moisture than the species, in my experience.

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Then there was the post over the huge excitement of my first beschorneria coming into bloom.
I so rarely see them locally, I wasn’t sure if they liked Los Angeles enough to bloom. And then I found these one day, here

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It’s a little taller than this today. From Annie’s Annuals ‘Martin Grantham Hybrids.’

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This old table base got a new salvage top I had stashed away. Its previous top was succulents (see here and here.)

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I took this photo of the rhipsalis, but you can see more of the table in the background.
If I read myself right, I planted the table summer of 2013. Amazing how the succulents held on, with the table pushed out of the way between two cypresses at the fence.
I moved the table out to clear the area for…

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A stock tank I purchased last fall. It holds a couple salvias, an astelia and other things in pots as they show new growth.
Like lilies, a dahlia. A catch-all this year. Maybe next year there’ll be more of a plan. Another tank waits to be drilled.

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Poppy time continues into March.

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Gerberas too.

Onward into March!

trialing Rudbeckia maxima

Overnight rain had me up early to check out one of my favorite sights (leaves soaked in rain).

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After lots of trial and error, most of the plants in the back garden have earned my confidence in their ability to survive on once-a-month irrgation during our dry summer, and sometimes I neglect to provide even that much. But there’s always new plants to try, and some that are not renowned for tolerating dryish conditions can surprise you. I saw this Rudbeckia maxima at Fullerton Arboretum last spring, its big, silvery, paddle-like leaves growing amongst summer dry-tolerant California natives. (It’s native to southeast U.S.) I’d never seen this rudbeckia before but knew it from books, so recognized it immediately. They had a couple for sale in their shop, which are the two in the photo above. I reasoned if the smart folks at Fullerton Arb. were growing it, maybe they knew something I didn’t. It’s a giant of a plant for low-lying, wettish areas with heavy soil. But you never know what the configuration of a plant’s roots and your own soil’s chemistry and composition will say to each other until you introduce them. Many years ago I grew Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ well enough in this heavy clay, another rudbeckia with very un-rudbeckia-like leaves. The biennial Rudbeckia triloba, one of my favorites in the genus, was unhappy with the watering regimen here. But even if Rudbeckia maxima is too stressed to flower, that’s fine with me. It’s all about those leaves, the silverier the better.

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This year I seem to have loaded the back garden with big, silver leaves (verbascum in the foreground).

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I don’t mind the no-flowers thing and only ask for more of those big, luscious leaves all summer, preferably without bug damage.
Full sun might have been overoptimistic. We’ll see how it goes.