Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’

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I just don’t know what to think about this vine. First of all, let me be clear that I love the opulence of this solanum’s pendulous, grape-cluster-like performance. With its ropy swags of purply bloom, it is truly like living drapery against the east wall of lemon cypresses. But this vine obviously doesn’t subscribe to the maxim “good things in moderation.”

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A 2015 introduction from Annie’s Annuals via Suncrest Nurseries, this vine is something of a mystery. There wasn’t much information available at the time of purchase, which of course only increased its allure. Annie’s is still one of the best nurseries for imparting the feeling that you’re not just buying a plant but embarking on a thrilling expedition in plant exploration.

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I’m guessing the vine was planted between 2-3 years ago and slowly built up size, throwing occasional flower clusters. Then this year, bam. The base of the vine is now deeply shaded by the cypresses, which doesn’t seem to inhibit vigor or flower production at all. I run the drip hose at the base of the cypresses and vine about once a week to keep them from fighting for that resource. The fight for light and air circulation up the length of the cypresses, however, will require ongoing investigation.

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And conventional wisdom has gardens as safe havens of dozy repose! Not at all. They’re incredibly vital and exciting places, full of experimentation, battles for resources, thrilling successes and heartbreaking failures. Just like life outside the garden, as a matter of fact (but much more beautiful).

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The cypresses are the perfect scaffold for this vine which lacks tendrils, but if the vine is allowed to smother the cypresses, it will have lost its scaffold, and we will have lost the vine, the cypresses, and our privacy. So you see the dilemma. The stakes are high. Vigilance is needed. Which is why I always keep pruners out where I can see them.

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If you think you have a spot for some vigorous living drapery, and possess a strong sense of botanical adventure, I noted over the weekend that International Garden Center is carrying a few in gallons, in the last rows way in the back of the nursery. And Annie’s is currently offering this vine in 4-inch pots.

Posted in plant nurseries, Plant Portraits | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

clippings 6/14/17

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Some quick odds and ends. This is an old photo from the Theodore Payne tour a couple months back, of Artemisia ‘David’s Choice’ and clarkia, one of those fleeting moments in spring that indelibly sears the visual cortex.

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Last weekend this silky, cobalt blue iroid at the Sherman Gardens in Newport Beach, California, got the rods and cones firing. A floaty, winged performance entirely new to me.

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I’m guessing *Neomarica caerulea, which I’ve always associated with Roger Raiche, extraordinary plantsman and former horticulturalist at the Berkeley Botanic Garden, who has grown neomarica for many years. I suppose I just assumed that even though neomarica is from Brazil, it must be partial to Northern California/Bay Area’s cloud forest-like conditions, not Los Angeles. Coastal Newport Beach seems to suit it fine, so maybe Long Beach will too. The entire plant had great elegance and body, unlike the stiff spring performance of, say, Dutch iris. Annie’s Annuals occasionally carries it, and I need to keep track of when it’s next on offer. Making first-time, in-person acquaintance of desirable plants never gets old, especially ones as legendary as this.

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Another uncommon plant, this **lobelia looked as at home as any Jerusalem sage. It’s so exciting to see a rare plant that didn’t get the memo on how rare things are supposed to behave, i.e., struggling, weak growth, sunburnt leaves, suffering from mysterious soil ailments. I’m guessing that this is **Lobelia aguana. (Edited 7/1/17: It’s Lobelia excelsa.) Judging from this healthy, happy, floriferous performance, it looks like a sure bet for coastal SoCal. In my own garden at home I’m growing a lush, big-leaved lobelia new to me, L. fistulosa, and although yet to bloom, it’s also seemingly enjoying life and not agonizing over whether to live or die (talking about you, Lobelia tupa).

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Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’ is undeniably thrilling. I had one good summer with it a few years back, but it didn’t return and didn’t reseed. Finis.

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The Sherman Gardens also has one of the best specimens of Leucadendron ‘Jester” I’ve seen, big and bushy, without the usual awkward or patchy growth.

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No visit to the Sherman Gardens is complete without paying homage to the spiral aloes in the succulent garden designed by Matt Maggio.

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Since visiting Denver Botanic Gardens, I’ve developed a new appreciation for crevice gardens. I confess when I first saw this work by Matt Maggio, I thought it was mostly stylistic, not necessarily intended as a recreation of habitat. The Third International Rock Garden Conference was held this past May in the Czech Republic, the birthplace of crevice gardens. (You can read Kenton J. Seth’s impressions of the conference on his blog, I Need A Cup of Tea.)

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My use of rocks in the garden thus far has been limited to placing them to protect small plants from wayward paws and feet. But there’s no denying the strong affinity of rock and plant.

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Blue stones for blue echeverias. Fun for a public garden, but not something I’d want to do at home.

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I found this pup of Aechmea bromeliifolia var. rubra at the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society show and sale in Encino last weekend, along with a small pot of the long-sought Aloe tomentosa, a summer-blooming aloe with white flowers. The event was really well attended, another indication that succulents are still having their moment, with cactus in particular catching everyone’s fancy. (See “Looking sharp! How the cactus became the world’s most-wanted plant,” The Guardian, May 31, 2017.)

*Edited 6/19/17 Reader Rachel Dunn says she has bought neomarica from a seller on eBay, and I did find a source for a large 3-gallon neomarica at International Garden Center here in Los Angeles. The IGC is also currently carrying Lobelia aguana under Annie’s Annuals & Perennials label, and the leaves appear to be too slim for a match.

**Edited 7/1/17 This lobelia has been identified as L. excelsa.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

a May visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens

If you want to have an easy life as a weather forecaster, you should get a job in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Los Angeles. Predict that it won’t rain in one of those cities, and you’ll be right about 90 percent of the time.” Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, “Which City Has the Most Unpredictable Weather?

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Overcast, rainy skies at DBG 5/10/17

Along with a host of other defining factors, climate and weather are inextricably linked with making gardens, so of course plant people are understandably obsessive about both. How climate mediates garden aesthetics could fill a book or two. I’ve been spoiled by the relative simplicity of Southern California’s mediterranean climate and weather patterns: Will it rain in winter or won’t it? How hot will summer be? There are some frost pockets in the canyons and foothills of Los Angeles County, but here near the coast isn’t one of them, so the growing season seemingly extends into a blurry, bountiful horizon.

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Slightly battered but recovering Oriental poppies at DBG

After some early trial and error steeped in wishful denial, I long ago came to terms with having to forego growing some gorgeous plants, pretty much anything requiring specific hours of winter chill for sustained dormancy. Oriental poppies were an early, particularly die-hard fetish.

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Climate, geology, and altitude of origin are some indicators as to whether a plant stands a chance in our gardens, but sometimes you just have to grow it to be certain. It’s uncertain if Acanthus syriacus, seen here at DBG, will grow in my garden. I’ve killed it just once so far, and we all know we get three tries before being labeled plant sadists.

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Crevice garden at DBG

When I was an apartment dweller, compact alpine and rock garden plants seemed the perfect fit for a small deck, so I fired off dense purchase orders to Russell Graham, Purveyor of Plants, and Siskiyou Rare Plants Nursery.

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Erodium castellanum at DBG

Growing high-altitude alpines in Los Angeles was, not surprisingly, a long, frustrating learning curve. The baking sun I could provide; the glacial melt trickling near the root zone I could not. Erodiums are one of the few successes I remember. Colder gardens can employ the trick of bringing potted, tender things indoors for the winter, but there’s no equivalent trick for making cold-requiring plants happy throughout a mild winter, no pushing zones the other way. Which is why traveling to see gardens in vastly different climates is such a pleasure.

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I had an occasion this May to visit Denver, which to me is synonymous with the world-class Denver Botanic Gardens. And though I know the DBG is the success it is due to its many valued employees and volunteers, the DBG has become synonymous in my mind with Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach. When this rock garden hero and living horticultural legend was invited to speak at South Coast Botanic Garden this past February, I was determined to approach him about my upcoming trip to Denver and ask about any other sights I shouldn’t miss.

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photo from The Denver Post

I probably first became aware of Panayoti through garden writer and designer Lauren Springer-Ogden, who has this to say about him in “A Rare Plantsman“:

The rock garden, as Panayoti proposes it, defines it, and creates it, is much more than a collection of small-scale oddities from high mountain regions. It is an opportunity to grow plants that require the widest range of microclimates. Changes in soil, watering regime, and aspect, as well as the effects of the rocks themselves, are taken to unprecedented complexity with the help of the sunny, dry Colorado conditions that exaggerate such microclimates. Towering perennials, scruffy native shrubs, cacti, succulents, sheets of bulbs, tufts of grasses and sedges—all are allowed to consort with the typical well-behaved buns, cushions, and dwarf conifers one expects in a rockery. Once again, Panayoti sees both the big and little pictures. ‘Civilization depends on and occurs at the mercy of the plant kingdom,’ he says. ‘Biodiversity has always been one of the main touchstones for me. I am a nerd—I have spent years poring over the floras of the cold temperate regions of the world. I visualize the plants, and then go out to find them and bring them back. It is the imagining, the inquiry, the search, and the satisfaction of finally finding the right spot for the right plant—that whole process inspires me.’”

I must have circled the orbit of fans chatting with him before that talk in February a half dozen times before drumming up the courage to introduce myself, but any sense of him being imposing or formidable was all in my timid mind. He is a friendly, gregarious, Nabokov-loving hoarder of languages and botanical knowledge attained through a lifetime sustained by boundless curiosity. He asked what month I’d be visiting Denver, and I answered that, luckily, it was in May, when all gardens have safely embarked on the business of a burgeoning spring, and he cautioned don’t count on it, that Denver sometimes has snow as late as May. So I began diligently tracking Denver’s weather for May, and forecasts were consistently predicting 60s and 70s.

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A relatively hail-proof grouping at the DBG

We arrived on a Wednesday, May 10, grabbed a rental car, and because our schedule was tight, headed straight for the DBG, where I found a garden that looked to have been tuning up for a brilliant performance that was abruptly and mysteriously cancelled. Smashed flowers and torn leaves were everywhere in evidence. I immediately suspected hail, but because we were attending a nephew’s graduation, with family pouring in from several states, a news blackout descended on the visit as socializing became the priority. So it wasn’t until the end of the trip that I was able to confirm Denver had been struck by a severe hailstorm two days before my visit that was in contention for one of its top ten worst such events. Returning the rental car four days later, the agent apologized for the delay in processing because they were still recovering from computer problems and down time brought on by the hailstorm.

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Because our visit Wednesday turned rainy, I didn’t get many photos. But what I’d seen at the DBG stayed with me throughout the visit. I asked relatives from nearby Wyoming how reliable local weather forecasts were for planning out the week, and my sister-in-law replied not at all; they can unexpectedly get four seasons in a week. The Rocky Mountains stir up weather events precipitously and apparently beyond the predictive abilities of forecasters. Indeed, the graduation on Saturday enjoyed temps in the mid 80s, and after I left on Sunday a snowstorm descended, piling up 3-foot drifts in Denver.

Here’s what Nate Silver has to say about unpredictable weather, referring here to Denver in particular:

Denver, being a long way from moisture sources such as the Pacific Ocean, is among the drier major cities in the United States. Most storms travel west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, and most of their moisture is soaked up by the Rocky Mountains before they reach Denver. But spring and summer can bring warm, moist air from the south, sometimes producing violent storms. By May and June, most of that precipitation will fall as rain, but it can come as snow — sometimes blizzards — early in Colorado’s spring. — “When April Snow Showers Blanket Spring Flowers.”

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So the spectacular rush of spring growth I had been excitedly anticipating was set back some weeks, but the allure of the DBG is much bigger than that. The rock gardens and crevice gardens were mesmerizing, showing little damage from the hail.

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And when we drove up to Fort Collins on Friday for the graduation, through Rocky Mountain National Park, it was awesomely clear that the genus loci of the DBG resides in and celebrates the unique climate and geology of our majestic Rockies. I can’t wait to go back.

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Beautiful specimen of the cold-hardy Sea Urchin Cactus, Coryphantha echinus.

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“Six Dots Over a Mountain” by Alexander Calder

I loved the urban setting of the DBG too, nestled amongst high-rises, available for a lunch-time jaunt.

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Along with unpredictable hailstorms, my trip was full of other surprises as well. I was asked by docents if I’d be attending their spring plant sale on Friday, two days away. (Say what?!) We were planning to leave Denver on Friday for the drive to Fort Collins, but Marty insisted — insisted, I tell you — that we stop at the DBG plant sale on the way out of town first. Friday was a balmy, sunny day (the above photo is from Wednesday), and the plant sale turned out to be an amazing treat, one of the biggest and best-run sales I’ve ever attended, where I was able to find some of the erodiums I’d been admiring in the rock gardens.

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Marty and his brother drove the plants home packed in amongst my nephew’s dorm furniture, and I flew home Sunday, powered by mountain tailwinds, with a newfound respect for the unpredictable weather generated by the climate system of the Rockies and a botanic garden that successfully captures such extreme beauty.

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Posted in climate, garden travel, garden visit, journal | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rancho Reubidoux up close

Continuing the documentation of Rancho Reubidoux now that Reuben and Paul are moving on from their widely loved home and garden, as promised, here’s a companion piece to the previous post, a parting look at how Reuben styles the sitting areas closer to the house. Wishing them all the best in their new digs.

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Posted in artists, climate, design, garden ornament, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , | 7 Comments

the light is left on at Rancho Reubidoux

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I’ve been dreading completing this post, but since Reuben and Paul have officially decamped from their house and garden at Rancho Reubidoux as of last week and moved into their new home, it’s time to unpack these last images and move on as well. Continue reading

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

Bloom Day May 2017 (and assorted garden projects)

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Photo taken last night, when I still hoped I could squeak this post in under the Bloom Day deadline, the 15th of every month, and be righteously on time, but it was not to be. Flash of red is from the ladybird poppies, P. commutatum, mostly over but left in situ for reseeding.

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Never loads of flowers but always plenty of rosettes.

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Still, if you look closely, the plants are procreating. Like the little echeverias that began to bloom while I was away.

Continue reading

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Bloom Day, climate, creatures, cut flowers, design, MB Maher, pots and containers, shop talk, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

a Hollywood Hills garden in three acts

(This Sunday, May 7th, you have another opportunity to visit this extraordinary garden. Details here.)

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The recent APLD watershed garden tour was exemplary in every way that such tours should be; lots of interesting and pertinent design solutions for SoCal dry gardens that illustrated ways to channel and marshall water and plant according to optimal conservation principles without sacrificing design. And there was one garden on the tour which was the home of designers, which is an entirely different animal than a designer-client collaboration. In their own gardens, designers constantly edit and replant, sharpen the focus, ruthlessly remove weak performers.

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This garden is a personal laboratory, a freewheeling, unfettered deployment of adventurous planting and design ideas nestled snugly into the Hollywood Hills. During a subsequent late afternoon visit, over glasses of prosecco, I learned a bit of the garden’s story as it evolved over the three major phases of its existence.

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The garden in its current iteration is between three to four years old. The terracing is believed to have been started back in 1947, just a few years after the house was built. The first owners unleashed ivy on the terraces and turfed what level areas they could, what you might call defensive landscaping. When Eugene McCarthy and Carla Fry moved in, the ivy and turf became short-timers. Eugene, a property master for many films, is instinctively attracted to the strong, sculptural outlines of plants such as tree aloes, and began clearing and planting as he collected specimens from farmers markets and even the big box stores. A trio of Aloe marlothii he planted are now ten years old and were in spectacularly synchronous bloom for the first time earlier this year.

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Sadly, Carla died in 2002, and it wasn’t until Eugene and Johanna Woollcott found each other that the garden’s current form began to take shape maybe three to four years ago. Needless to say, it was their mutual love of plants that brought them together, and the garden vividly celebrates every bit of that bond.

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Checking the blog after the visit, I realized I had already seen some of Johanna Woollcott’s design work (Wild Gardens LA) via the Venice Home & Garden Tour some years ago. Johanna brought clarity and coherence to the terraces and planting. Some terraces were knocked down and leveled for larger planting areas, new paths and retaining walls poured. Unless I miscounted, there are now three main terraces holding back the hillside.

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In the new framework, with all ivy and turf now banished, only the best of nonthirsty plants were allowed admittance to the garden.

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There’s more detailed photos of the stair plantings in a previous post here.

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The sitting area at the topmost terrace. Unfortunately, none of us thought to straighten the rug.

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Looking down on the big patio on what I’m calling the second or mid-level terrace.

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Detail of the original retaining wall, which I’m told is holding up amazingly well decades later. Eugene said a nearby Wallace Neff house gave them the idea of pairing the retaining walls with big saucers of aeoniums.

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Serpentine, sinuous, sexy. I love terracing. And so do these deliriously happy plants.

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A new retaining wall/bench/flight of stairs starts at ground level at the street-level entrance to the garden and runs up the hillside alongside the house, meeting up with the first terrace. I’ve seen some incredible concrete projects this spring, and this two-tiered retaining wall, done in one pour, ranks up there with the most impressive.

The young trees to the left of the wall are a trio of gingkos planted to shade the house. Other trees include acacias, including the Pearl Acacia, P. podalyrifolia, Palo Verde trees, a cork oak, and an impressively august specimen of the ‘Dr. Hurd’ manzanita.

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Upon asking, Johanna said Eugene simply came home one day with the horse, as if that was the most ordinary of occurrences. And for them, I’m sure it is.

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Underfoot is alternatively gravel and decomposed concrete, and on the terraces broken concrete is used for paths. Johanna says that, despite appearances, the boundary metal fence is not CorTen.

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Many of the objects are collected from their travels.

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Like this ornate urn from Morocco, holding back a vast sea of foaming peppermint pelargoniums.

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View of the house rising out of the lush planting, with the gingkos mentioned above.

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A gabion bench in the lower garden is filled with more treasures and mementos.

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The garden unfolds in discovery after discovery of myriad details and autobiographical incidents.

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The fireplace on the large patio at the back of the house holds many such trophies from travels.

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The large patio seen from overhead. Those are four potted smoke trees against the house. Lots of entertaining/partying happens here. I’m told celebratory prosecco is freely poured on Friday nights, just as it was on this one.

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Ruby, the current canine mistress of the garden, is a ringer for this garden statue.

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And everywhere, fabulous planting.

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If you go (details here), let me know what else you find out about this remarkable hillside garden.

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Johanna and Eugene are the nicest garden hosts and historians and will tirelessly answer any questions.

photos by MB Maher.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, artists, design, garden visit, MB Maher, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

weekend clippings 4/29/17

Feel like talking yourself into more plants this weekend? There’s lots of opportunities, whether at the Huntington Spring Plant Sale, the South Coast Plaza Garden Show, and/or even the Long Beach flea market on Sunday at Veterans Stadium.

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Some motherly advice: If you go to the Huntington (or the flea market), bring a hat. It’s going to be hot and you’ll be walking long distances to your car in reflected heat carrying your treasures. Even the members sale at the Huntington on Friday packed the parking lot. So many decisions to make on the fly, like finally grabbing that long-sought Agave pumila (I didn’t). The sale continues through Sunday. Their own hybrid aloe ‘Kujo’ is on sale, and mine at home has agreeably burst into bloom to model for you. The leaves in the foreground belong to cameronii. ‘Kujo’s’ are basal and spotted, which to me speaks of harlana blood, but I’m not sure of the cross parentage.

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There’s a table of kangaroo paws for sale too. In my garden ‘Tequila Sunrise’ is gaining some height but is upstaged at the moment by the crazy melianthus blooms of ‘Purple Haze.’

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The ID from my Huntington haul: In the purply foreground, on the left, Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (From the tag: “Hans Hansen hybrid of Agave attenuata and Mangave ‘Bloodspot.’ Grows to 1′ diameter. Soft, rubbery grey-green leaves w/lavender spots.”) On the right, Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’ (“Brian Kemble hybrid, a. pearsonii (red) X A. distans. Erect, columnar rosettes blush red in sun. Hardy to the 20s.”)

Silver leaves is Salvia argentea. Chartreuse leaves is Crassula perfoliata v. minor ‘Lime Green’ (“Jack Catlin 12/6/91 form with vivid, lime-green foliage. Same red-orange, clove-scented flowers.”)

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I’ve been on a tear with pelargoniums, first at Robin Parer’s booth at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene and yesterday again at the Huntington, where I found this fascinating, succulent-leaved P. acetosum ‘Peach.’ They love a hot, dry summer like ours, whether in the ground or in pots, and make clouds of bloom, giving the plants a frothy halo I find irresistible.

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And sometimes richly scented too. The leaves of the scented pelargoniums carry oils that mimic famous scents, like the Rich Littles of the plant world. ‘Atomic Snowflake’ above, from Robin Parer at the Cal State Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene last weekend, has a lemon-rose scent. (Robin Parer will also be at South Coast Plaza this weekend selling her geraniums and pelargoniums.) And before I forget, I have to belatedly put in a good word for last weekend’s Green Scene sale. It’s big, well run, with some nice plants at good prices. I found the pure silver bromeliad Alcantarea odorata for an incredibly good price. The alcantareas attain great size before blooming, which is fine by me. At the South Coast show I didn’t buy a single plant, but I like how some of the vendors sell unrooted bromeliad pups for cheap, a great way to get ahold of these expensive plants.

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Instead of chasing plants, maybe you’d prefer to stay home and read. The New York Times did a wonderful piece on our native cactus: “As Rains Ease in the West, Cactuses Shine Brigher Than Ever,” by the great science/naturalist writer Natalie Angier. I loved her book The Beauty of the Beastly.

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However, the wild place I took these latter photos was not the desert but Pitzer College at Claremont last weekend. Maybe the graffiti clued you in.

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More interesting science writing in the NYT can be found at this link, where several articles are aggregated, including a piece on Joshua Trees by Ferris Jabr and water under the Mojave Desert by Emma Marris, who also wrote Rambunctious Garden; Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, on my list of books to read.

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What else is exciting? In a couple weeks I’ll be visiting the Denver Botanic Garden. The itinerary is already packed to the gills, but if you have any must-see suggestions, I’m all ears.

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Nice melocactus. I discovered mine was a rotting mess just yesterday.

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The Washington Post did a nice job covering the March For Science, even if t.v. news mostly opted out of in-depth coverage.

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Last week I paid a bittersweet visit to Reuben Munoz’s garden at Rancho Reubidoux, which I first visited more than five years ago (here). He’s been an enduring source of inspiration ever since. Reuben, Paul and Inky will be leaving the garden in the hands of like-minded buyers and are excited about the new co-op they’ve found nearby. I hope to have some photos up next week.

And this Sunday, the 30th, Pasadena gardens will be available to tour via Garden Conservancy Open Days. Have a great weekend.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, garden travel, plant nurseries, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

APLD steps up

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers 2nd Annual Watershed Approach Garden Tour this past April 9th was a solid, smoothly run success and a great addition to Los Angeles garden culture. I hope they do it again next year. Most of the gardens on the tour were interesting case studies in the delicate collaboration between client and designer, with sustainable practices beautifully incorporated into residential landscapes. The after-party was held at the home of garden designer Johanna Woollcott (Wild Gardens LA) and film industry Property Master Eugene McCarthy. I’ll be getting more photos up of this garden on the blog soon. There’s just too much creative expression packed into this Hollywood Hills terraced garden for one post. Here’s a teaser of some of the exquisite planting details:

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I miss Ruby the garden dog already. More on this amazing garden to come.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, artists, design, garden visit, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Salvia ‘Desperado’

There’s an irresistible momentum that sweeps me up every time I see a great-looking but unfamiliar plant. If at all possible, it must be tracked down and brought home. And then the game begins: Where to plant it?

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Garden designer Sue Dadd recently brought this sage to my attention, a hybrid of two California native sages, Salvia apiana and Salvia leucophylla, introduced in 1999 by the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is where I bought my gallon plant over the weekend at their Grow Native Nursery. I had just seen it planted en masse in a garden of Sue’s design and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was one of those horticultural epiphanies, an absolutely thrilling sight, all shimmer and soft reflective shine with wands of pale lilac bloom spikes swaying around a large variegated agave.

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You can image search all day long, but there’s very few photos available and not much information either on this gorgeous plant. And that lack of anecdotal documentation is undoubtedly due to its size. It’s huge. Easily to 6 feet with some reports of 9 feet tall and maybe half that in width. How many gardens can accommodate such a bruiser? And it’s not like I’m afraid of big plants. I love how they anchor the garden and draw the eye away from the busy, busy planting underfoot.

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I didn’t even know at the time that this was a Rancho Santa Ana introduction. I was visiting to catch their wildflower show and stopped in briefly at the nursery. There were some nice Agave utahensis for sale, one of which I grabbed. As serendipity would have it, an elegant white sage sat amongst other native salvias on their benches, and the tag said ‘Desperado.’ Delicious ripples of recognition ran down my spine. Knowing its fated size from Sue (“It gets big“), I picked it up, put it back, picked it up again, carried it to the checkout kiosk, abandoned it midway, then finally resolved to buy it, if only to honor the plant scientists who dreamed up such a beautiful vision and made it real and available in a one-gallon pot. Or maybe the hybrid occurred naturally, but still a human had to recognize the potential and propagate it. Science!

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Back home in my garden I played a pretend game of “dress up” with ‘Desperado,’ trying out various sites and associations, knowing full well that, ultimately, there just isn’t room to accommodate it here. With Beschorneria albiflora, the light and water requirements would be a match. I was told at Rancho Santa Ana that this sage, unlike some natives, tolerates garden conditions and doesn’t need to be kept absolutely dry during summer.

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Nice with lime green nicotianas.

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It could easily handle some of the driest spots, too, with Yucca rostrata and euphorbias. And the hummingbird show would be epic.

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Or stir up some drama and high contrast with burgundy phormiums.

The Grow Native Nursery has demonstration gardens that are abloom with all sorts of interesting natives right now. In a border alongside the growing greenhouse was a compact version of another beautiful giant, the native buckwheat St. Catherine’s Lace, appropriately named Eriogonum giganteum. Identical in all respects except size, it was the designer plant of my dreams: Eriogonum giganteum var. compactum. I immediately inquired as to how I could get my hands on one and was told, for now, there are none to be had. That display bed was for propagation only. I’m certain I could fit that buckwheat somewhere in my garden.

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I do have someone in mind for a gift of ‘Desperado.’ This big, bodacious sage will have to be strictly catch and release for me. For zones 8-10 but can be grown as an annual too.

edited for veracity 4/25/17:

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P.S. Changed my mind again. It’s in the ground, very close to the back south wall. An Echium simplex I was letting develop seeds kindly gave up its seat on the bus.

Posted in Plant Portraits | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments