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Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

By now it’s fairly obvious that visiting plant nurseries and gardens are two of my favorite pursuits.
The ultimate in garden touring is possible when occasionally, though all too rarely, both pursuits can be accomplished at one location.
The list of West Coast nurseries with attached gardens include the fabled Western Hills and Heronswood, (both now undergoing a renaissance under new ownership), Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and quite a few nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, including Cistus, Joy Creek Nursery, Far Reaches Farm, Dragonfly Farms, Dancing Oaks.
I’m sure there are local favorites near you, such as Plant Delights in North Carolina and White Flower Farms in Connecticut.
And now many botanical gardens keep a good selection of plants on sale year-round.

I spent a couple intensely enjoyable, moodily overcast days last week visiting nurseries and gardens in and around Santa Barbara, including Seaside Gardens near Carpinteria, which is one of those rare nurseries with excellent display gardens that is fast becoming a well-blogged nursery/garden destination. It has the kind of garden you dash in and out of to check stock at the nursery of a particular plant just seen in full, dazzling growth in the garden. In my case, it was Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic.’ I grew it once, panicked at its gigantic ways, eradicated every tuber, and have missed it ever since.
And it’s not been easy to find again. But there it was in bloom in a garden at Seaside.

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The following photos of the growing grounds are a result of asking a nice gentleman to check if he had this alstroemeria after spotting it in the garden.
None were for sale in the retail section, so we took a stroll through the growing grounds to find if any were ready for sale.
During our walk through row after row of the seductive building blocks of future gardens, I bemoaned my experience with TTH, its enormous size and sprawling ways.
My guide said I had given it too much water, that it never tops 4 feet at the nursery and is in fact a good candidate for dry gardens.
Discussing problem plants with nursery people is the best kind of talk therapy.

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He said he began to grow these plants because nobody else would, gesturing to the many proteaceae family members.
Seeing this incredible inventory of mediterranean, dry garden plants, I mentioned that the nursery was in the catbird seat now with the advent of the recent water restrictions.
My guide shook his head and said he’s seen it all before. People begin to adapt to drier conditions, and then the rains return, causing the best water-wise intentions to wither away.

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I remember the drought in the late ’70s, and this one just feels different, like a true tipping point.

Continue reading Seaside Gardens, Carpinteria, Calif.

Bloom Day June 2015

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I documented the extent of the back garden earlier in the month. It’s pretty clear it’s a battle for inches here.
Relatively cool, overcast June means I’m still shifting plants around and planting some new stuff too.

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I’ve been playing around with the idea of a small patch of dry summer meadow the past few years, on a frustratingly small scale of course.
Threaded around all the big evergreen stuff is what’s become a rainbow sherbert meadow this year in raspberry, orange, lemon, lime.
Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ on the left, Lomandra ‘Breeze,’ euphorbias, Arctotis ‘Flame.’ Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ is perennial here, in its third year at least.

Continue reading Bloom Day June 2015

terraced Spanish Colonial Revival house & garden

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For those of you who enjoy gawking at houses and their gardens as much as I do, here’s a look at the house that belongs with this post from September 2014.
I don’t think I looked up much from the ground level in that 2014 post.

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I do have a tendency to neglect to step back and get the big picture.

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Nice to see the anigozanthos in bloom. Imagine those kangaroo paws red or orange. I think the straw yellow is perfect.
Because of this garden, I’ve been planting every sesleria I can get my hands on, including Sesleria ‘ Greenlee’ and S. autumnalis ‘Campo Verde.’

There might be a short road trip in the works for my weekend. Enjoy yours!

P.S. The Huntington Botanical Garden’s International Succulent Introductions 2015 catalogue is now available.
Just save one of the Cuban agaves for me!

traditional with a twist

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Here’s another house nearby that warrants a second look and always brings a smile.

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It’s the traditional front lawn setup with a bit of a twist. All the supporting plants are exclusively dry garden plants, some rare like the cycads.

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Every plant in the landscape is a “specimen,” like the dasylirion, cycads, potted ponytail palms.
There’s definitely a collector at work here, but a restrained collector with a conservative streak.
That’s my Sherlockian take, anyway, to explain leaving the lawn in place.
(And I mean conservative in temperament, not in a political sense.)
The front porch is given that bristly moustache from horsetail reeds grown in an unseen container.

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Potted tree aloe, palm, and more cycads. I have no idea which cycads they are.
I haven’t been bitten by that bug yet, thankfully, since cycad collecting can be an expensive habit.
And/or a habit that requires great patience while these Jurassic-era plants slowly make size.

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Foundation planting on the wild side.
Overcast skies courtesy of our “June gloom,” one of my favorite times of year.
I feel cheated when June doesn’t gloom up but instead marches straight into bright and sunny.

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I love this bungalow, but sorting and choosing these photos, with the pea-green color of the house, green roof, and the lawn, is making me a bit queasy.

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This house in the same neighborhood makes an interesting exercise in compare-and-contrast.
Do you prefer the green lawn or the buff-colored decomposed granite with dry garden plants?

Pepper Tree courtyard

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Spotted locally around dusk, a front-house courtyard with Pepper Tree (Schinus molle), stone paving “grouted” with Dymondia margaretae.

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Planting includes euphorbias, agaves, phormiums (or dianella) a small Cercis ‘Forest Pansy,’ and purple irises in bloom near the side gate.
There may possibly be bauhinias as well (pink flowers at roof height).

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Plantings are repeated the length of the entrance garden, including a cercis on either side of the front walkway, another pepper tree at the far end.
Aeonium-filled black urns flank the arched entranceway.

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It struck me as such a vibrant example of reimagining the space from the front door to the sidewalk.
Imagine how dreary and perfunctory the same images would be if replaced with lawn.
Private yet still inviting, full of interest but mindful of an overall quiet balance, showcase and shady retreat in one stroke. Nailed it!


more on the east fence

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I might as well continue with the east fence, the dark blue/black of which can be seen in the distance looking under the pergola.
The pots shown yesterday are on the brick patio to the left of the cypresses, and the fence continues on to the right, hidden behind the cypresses.
I need to decide whether that yucca stays or goes now that it’s become such a shaggy beast after blooming last year.
Oh, and it was raining this morning (!) Well, the pavement was slightly damp around 6:30 a.m.

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The back garden wraps around the pergola like a horseshoe. Tetrapanax on the left. Yes, that is yet another collection of pots at the base of the cypresses.
The cypresses are Calif. natives Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora.’ The bricks on the right once formed a terrace.
Some years back and dozens of plants later, the terrace was scaled down into this narrow walkway against the south fence.

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A couple months ago Marty was standing on a scaffold of an old door and sawhorses on that narrow walkway to clip the creeping fig that covers the south masonry fence.
The creeping fig, Ficus pumila, gives the 5-foot fence an extra 3 feet of height, which completely screens us from the south.

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Looking at the creeping fig-covered south wall through the pergola last November.
Table was much less cluttered, the potted Agave ‘Boutin’s Blue’ was still plunged in the garden for something to look at in winter.
I liked the interplay of those two attenuata agaves staggered in height but removed the pot recently as summer growth enveloped it.
The variegated attenuata is planted in the ground.

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The coprosma has grown considerably since November.
I love what this line of evergreen shrubs and trees is doing: the dark red coprosma in the foreground, grey, thin-leaved olearia, then the blue acacia.
(Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy,’ willow-like Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea.’)

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The famous shine on the coprosma’s leaves really leaps out against the matte quality of its neighbors.

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This is the scale I usually cover, what’s happening at ground level, like this Aloe scobinifolia about to bloom.
This summer/fall-blooming aloe also bloomed last November, not long after I acquired it.
Carex testacea reseeds, variegated St. Augustine grass spreads by runners and needs a watchful eye. Dry soil keeps it in check.

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Looking from the west at the east fence last November, which shows how the garden wraps around the pergola.
The tetrapanax blooms had yet to be cut down. The potted cussonia has been repotted and moved to afternoon shade.
The bare branches of my neighbor’s peach tree are now leafed out, filling that gap to the left of the cypresses.
Is my obsession with privacy in the back garden showing much yet?
(I can probably date that obsession to when, at 13, I discovered the neighbor boy had been spying on me through my bedroom window…
and then started inviting friends over for the show. It didn’t help that I already had a crush on him…loser!)

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Potted Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ holds the cussonia’s corner now, luminous at sunset.
Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ gets a nice glow too.

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The neighbors are, intentionally or not, working well with us on the plantings along the east boundary, which has now achieved almost total privacy.
There are some questionable choices, though.
A California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle, was planted by a neighbor just outside my southeast corner, which will eventually screen out that powder-blue building.
It’ll be nice to lose the Rear Window vibe, but when the Pepper Tree fully matures, I just might have a shade garden until mid-day.
Seeing these photos, I urgently need to decide if that yucca has become incredibly overbearing or if it’s holding it all together.
It would definitely open up the garden if we parted ways, and rather than a solitary verbascum I could plant three in its place, or a leucospermum, etc, etc.


the east fence

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In case I’ve left the impression my only collection of pots resides on that little table under the pergola, there are more. Lots more.
This group of pots lines the east fence. Morning shade, afternoon sun.

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The topmost plant in the iron stand is a ponytail palm, Beaucarnia recurvata, entangled in a climbing onion, Bowiea volubilis.
This photo was taken on a dewy February morning last winter. Both of these plants are incredibly easy in pots and take neglect in stride.

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Conserving water and keeping plants in containers might seem to be mutually exclusive aims, but I can vouch that it can be done without spiking the water meter.
These pots of mostly different kinds of succulents are doing very well on the “bucket” water from the shower.

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Rather than created especially for summer, most of these pots contain plants I rotate in and out of the garden.
For example, the aeoniums were a big part of the winter garden, dug up and potted in spring to make room as summer plants fill in.
If summer temperatures consistently top the 90s, I’ll probably move the aeoniums again to more shade.

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Last year I dug all the eucomis/pineapple lilies out of the garden and dumped them in this pot on the right, which is watered on the succulents’ schedule.
As much as I love eucomis in gardens, mine is planted too tight to allow the pineapple lilies to comfortably unfurl in summer.
Bright green Asparagus retrofractus just above the eucomis contributes that wonderful foamy texture on a miserly amount of water.

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Eucomis in bloom July 2013.

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Agave attenuata ‘Boutin’s Blue’ with Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise.’ I love using this carex in pots just for this effect. Both plants are fine in part shade, dry conditions.
I dug up the entire pot out of the garden last week, which you can tell by the darkish color to the pot about 6 inches up from the base.
The potted agave was prominent all winter but slowly became engulfed by early summer. (I wrote about parachuting potted agaves into the garden here.)
I’ve been wanting to try the Korean Feather Reed grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha, so when found locally I pounced and slipped one into that spot.

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The wrought iron stand holds a neoregelia still in pretty good shape. Other bromeliads are getting leaf burn as I figure out shifting sun/shade patterns for summer.
There’s another look at that fabulous Asparagus retrofractus again.

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Not the best photo, but it shows what a bromeliad nursery Reuben’s wrought iron orb has turned into. The light conditions under the fringe tree are ideal in summer.
Small bromeliad pups and tillandsias all seem to find their way here. Makes it easier to remember to mist them all a couple times a week.
(I’d love to find something similar at Reuben’s upcoming Open Garden on June 20.)

Yes, I do have a lot of pots, but May’s water bill nevertheless brought good news. The three of us used 97 gallons of water a day, and that includes occasional overnight guests.
The average use per person per day is estimated at 80-100 gallons, so we’re way under average.*
Yesterday I visited a couple nurseries, just to check if I felt cheated to be counting gallons, to see if I’d experience a massive horticultural FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
No, I think I’m good.

*Meaning for the entire household, indoors and outdoors, our water usage was 97 gallons a day.
If average usage is 80 gallons per person a day, the average for our household would be 240 gallons a day.

friday clippings 6/5/15

Late spring conversation at our house sums up living in a “mixed” household (gardeners/nongardeners):

Duncan, from the back porch: Whatcha doin’ out there?
Me, from deep in the garden: Sitting in a field of poppies.
Duncan (scanning for alleged field of poppies): Okay.

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Disembodied voice from deep in garden continues: It’s just one plant really, but I’m pretending.
And it’s not a poppy exactly, but in the poppy family.
Glaucium grandiflorum from Iran, a country we don’t get much good news about, and yet there grows this poppy that is so…so…

Duncan: Pretty?

Voice from deep in garden: Yes! So very pretty.

Duncan: Okaaay.

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Voice from deep in garden continues talking to now-empty back porch:

Botanists should be the ones in charge of things, politics, treaties, border disputes…What’s good for the plant world will necessarily be good for everything else…

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(plant-drunk words and theorizing continute to drift over poppies)

In other news…

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Cyrtanthus elatus x montanus is in bloom, a hybrid of a South African bulb.
I haven’t noticed any real dormancy requirements with this one, where watering needs to be withheld to let it rest. Makes it easy.

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And in still other news (real news), if you’re not on Facebook, you may have missed the announcement that Sunset is moving its offices to Oakland.
Its test gardens and kitchen will be moved to Cornerstone, Sonoma, Calif. (read here).
Cornerstone is a collection of outdoor gardens, shops and restaurants inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire, curated by owner Teresa Raffo.
It was the site of possibly my favorite garden show ever, “The Late Show,” in 2009.
Sunset at Cornerstone makes perfect sense.

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There are permanent installations by artists, designers, and landscape architects to visit year-round, like the “Garden of Contrast” by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady

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“White Cloud” by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot

And yet another change for a major garden publication, Better Homes and Gardens announced recently that Stephen Orr will be the new Editor-in-Chief.
I loved Orr’s book Tomorrow’s Garden, fresh and forward-looking, all which bodes well for BHG.

And this weekend Toronto hosts the Garden Bloggers Fling, so there should be lots of good reading from attendees in the weeks ahead.

The first week of June, and it’s still mild and overcast (glorious!) here in Los Angeles. Enjoy your weekend!

just a few more plants

In living, we accumulate. We admire. We desire. We love. We collect. We display.” — “Let’s Celebrate the Art of Clutter,” Dominique Browning

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More recent acquisitions cluttering up the table under the pergola. There’s still room for a couple pair of elbows and coffee cups, but just barely.

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This one, Echeveria subsessilis ‘Variegata,’ turned up at the Drought Tolerant Festival on Saturday.
I’d completely forgotten about this echeveria, even though I mentioned it here a couple years ago.
(Much better price at the show at $12, but how much was that one leaf worth I knocked off when repotting?)

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Seeing Echeveria secunda ‘Compton Carousel’ in the show building sent me outdoors to scour the sales tables, but there wasn’t a variegated echeveria to be had.
Defeated, I went back inside and mooned over ‘Compton Carousel’ some more.

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I checked out other stuff too, like a pristine Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’

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Mammillaria sphacelata ssp. viperina

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Mammillaria duwei

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Mammillaria gracilis

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Euphorbia esculenta

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Agave chazaroi

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But I invariably returned to the echeveria exhibit. There was literally a wheelbarrow full of echeveria perfection, so unlike my raggedy bunch at home.
The very, very nice echeveria lady saw me hanging around her exhibit and said she sympathized with my frustration over not finding a variegated echeveria for sale.
She said it was ‘Compton Carousel’ that started her obsession with echeverias, and that I should check Matt Maggio’s Rain Shadow Succulents table, which I already had.

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But on her advice I checked again and, sure enough, there it was. It’s not ‘Compton Carousel,’ but it’s still thrilling to find this little one.
(Please don’t tell me you’ve found dozens at the big box stores.)

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This cross of Aeonium simsii and ‘Zwartkop’ was found at a table of aeonium species and hybrids.
Kita’s Kactus & Succulents filled bowls with aeonium cuttings sitting in perlite. You picked what you wanted, and she carefully wrapped them for the journey home.

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This Aeonium mascaense was from the same source.

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And it’s still two weeks from the first day of summer! Thank goodness there’s still plenty of table left.

favorite plants and an end-of-week nursery browse 5/29/15


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All the new and interesting dry garden shrubs on the smallish side seem to be coming from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.
Gnidia polystacha from South Africa is a light-limbed shrub with needle-like leaves that readily give away its Thymelaeaceae family heritage.
It’s new in my garden this year and just building size. To see more fawned-over favorites, plant-luster Loree collects them the last Friday of the month.

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I love having favorite nurseries stashed all over town, available for a quick liaison if I’m in the area.
One such regular stop is Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Pasadena, which was in fine form this morning.
Their retail plant display chops are crisp and clear, and there’s always new plants to discover, like Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Greenlee’
aka the Thick-Leaved Wandering Jew (a “compact perennial” 10 inches X 2 feet, full sun/bright shade, hardy 20-25 F, from San Marcos Growers).
Those dark, swarthy leaves might suck in light like a foliar black hole unless paired with something bright. The nursery chose a variegated Silene uniflora.

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Coincidentally, this nursery also carries Annie’s Annuals & Perennials stock, and I was able to nab some lime green and orange zinnias to grow for vases in the veg garden.
And I found more Emilia javanica, seen above from July 2014.
Don’t let this little annual’s delicate looks fool you. It was the longest-blooming plant bar none last year. The butterflies and I are completely smitten.
There were so many volunteer seedlings this spring, I thought I’d never be without it again. But, oops, I did manage to weed them all out.

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Hot color for sun/light shade from a California native, the monkey flower.

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I’d grow it in a container to concentrate that molten color, but I’ve cut back on anything new but succulents for containers this year.

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No name tag on this volcanic mimulus variety, but Yerba Buena Nursery has a mimulus ID page here.

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Plectranthus always get my attention for their great leaves and good looks that go on and on, and these tight grey leaves drew me in for a name check.
The hummingbird-attracting blue flowers last for months, sometimes year-round in frost-free climates. Perfect for dryish gardens.
This one, the Ethiopian Spur Flower, Plectranthus coerulescens, is described as a compact subshrub.
Don’t ask me why I left it on the bench this time, because there is no rational answer.

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The best thing ever, a lipstick red “monopot” of multiple young ponytail palms, Beaucarnia recurvata.

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I don’t know — what do you think? If price makes a difference, leave a comment and I’ll tell you how much.

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The mature cacti and euphorbia selection is one of the best in town.

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I love the soft-leaved Beschorneria yuccoides. That multiples-in-rows thing nurseries do gets me every time.

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All the familiar bad boys are here

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I remember when it used to be so hard to find Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’

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This beauty was labeled ‘Moonshine.’ I wonder who the proud parents are. The white markings remind me of Agave impressa.

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Whole lotta trunking going on. I think this is the Spanish Bayonet, a variegated Yucca aloifolia

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I just stripped the lower leaves from my Dasylirion wheeleri at home, but it’s nowhere as clean as this trunk yet. Lots more work to do.
After blooming last year it became shaggier, more disheleved, and some grooming seemed in order. The clean trunk does help.

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Well, hello, sexy. Don’t be shy.

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Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio Picta.’ This was available in a gallon, but where am I going to put another potential 5-footer?

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You can have complete faith in any nursery that trains a Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ over an office doorway.

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Did you see Debra Lee Baldwin’s piece on echeverias for Pacific Horticulture?
One of the photos shows a mass planting of Echeveria pallida, in that light shade of green I find irresistible.
I found an unlabeled echeveria with that similar light green to the leaf but with a red edge, so I’m not sure if it’s E. pallida. Maybe it’s E. subrigida?
The color can be off when they’re brand-new out of the greenhouse.
The small-sized succulent selection at Lincoln is like a living plant encyclopedia. It’s that good.
A nearby shopper kept muttering to herself over and over, “It’s overwhelming…”

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The leaf color seemed a bit pale on Aloe deltoideodonta ‘Sparkler’ too, but they had my favorite size, a 4-inch pot. Available in gallons too.

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For some light weekend reading, how about a comprehensive list of plants for Mediterranean gardens?
Great for planning a new garden and just fun to go through and see how many you’ve grown (and killed).
And The New Yorker wrote a really smart review of The New York Botanical Garden’s new exhibit on Frida Kahlo’s garden “Art Garden Life.”
I could read all weekend, but this one will be the last opportunity to get the wheels out to celebrate National Bike Month.
I haven’t been on mine in ages.
This weekend is also the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society Annual Drought Tolerant Plant Festival.