a Mission Revival garden

I wasn’t exactly lost in Beverly Hills today, but traffic was terrible enough that I left the main arteries like San Vicente and dove into surrounding neighborhood streets, looking for a less congested way home. Around Sweetzer I found this small Mission Revival home with what looked to be a fairly new front landscape.

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Although it may sometimes seem so, I’m really not stalking Mission Revival homes, but this architectural style does seem to inspire its share of spare, elegant gardens.
This one is dominated by the lacy shade of a mature California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle (from the Peruvian Andes).

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A blue jar, possibly Bauer, pennisetum grasses and agaves surrounding a central area of decomposed granite
(formerly place of honor for lawns but not anymore, now that it’s drought o’clock)

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The agaves are mainly the common americana and attenuata, with salmon-colored Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii.
The blue flowers might be the Ground Morning Glory, Convolvulus sabatius.

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A form of Opuntia erinacea possibly?
Those look to be young bougainvilleas struggling up stakes against the low wall, a wall which I personally would hate to see smothered in vine. The cactus itself is presence enough.

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A sweet house, with its thick walls and deep-set casement windows.
The surrounding mansions in various architectural guises, and their gardens, could learn a lot about stylishly coping with heat and drought from this modest little beauty.

Bloom Day November 2014

I’ve really had a come-to-jaysus moment, as far as my little garden. No more ambitious planning for seasonal blooms, emphasis on summer. No more planning for strictly blooms at all.
Now I’m viewing my little space as more of an outdoor conservatory, with all the freedom from seasonal concerns that concept implies. It’s getting very sharp and pointy out there, is all I’m saying for the moment. But wouldn’t you know it, what I have to show for blooms this November is that bastion of summer and fall-flowering gardens, the echinacea, a couple ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ I brought home in early summer that tucked in their horns until the heat abated somewhat.

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And what’s becoming a November tradition, the big trusses of bloom on the tetrapanax. So many of the leaves burnt in summer, it’s comically mostly stems and flowers this year.
Tragicomic, that about sums up gardens in a nutshell. Carol collects all our tragicomedy the 15th of every month on her blog May Dreams Gardens.

agaves take Los Angeles

About a year ago I was told by a nurseryman that aloes have replaced agaves in popularity, because people have gotten wise to the approximate 8-year death spiral of agaves, the bloom-and-doom cycle, which isn’t the case with aloes, reliably flowering as they do year after year. That may be true of private plant-buying habits, but no doubt as a consequence of the drought, agaves are proliferating across commercial landscapes like rabbits.

Here’s just one example of the many I see driving around town, this one found in West Los Angeles last week, near Sawtelle and Olympic.

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mass planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’

The Victorians would be proud of the carpet-bedding effects we’re achieving with this king of succulents.
(Remember William Robinson’s naturalism rebellion against the gawdy, tic-tac-toe patterns of the Victorian bedding-out era, floral clocks and such? Of course you do.)

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But William Robinson never had to contend with the dreary, narrow, commercial planting spaces fronting buildings all over town, and in a drought no less.
In these contexts, the strong personality, pattern, and clean symmetry of agaves animates the planes of buildings and walkways.

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And ‘Cornelius’ adds his own unique twist of variegated sparkle. Seen here with Senecio mandraliscae.

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Agaves own this town.

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What a great time to be an agave grower.
Kidding, of course. These are slow-growing plants, and tissue culture is expensive.
My ‘Cornelius’ at home needs maybe another year to look this good.

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This unidentified beauty was found at The Jungle nursery on Sawtelle, which is having a moving sale, everything 20-40 percent off.
That pink tag sadly indicates “sold,” and there were none other available. Alas, even with the sale, the prices were out of my budget.
(Lots of big succulent specimens and bamboo still left for sale.)
More and more, nursery prices rightfully reflect increases in the cost of living, unlike my pay rate, which has been stagnant for over 10 years.

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Maybe it’s a good time to invest in agave stock…

memorable Aloe scobinifolia

I’m terrible with aloe names. So many unnamed and/or forgotten hybrids brought home from plant shows.
But there’s one aloe I’ve recently acquired whose identity I’m betting will be unforgettable. And it happens to be in bloom, so let’s have a look, shall we?

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Easy to remember because, first of all, it’s not a hybrid, so there’s just two words to its name.
Elegantly simple binomial nomenclature at work. Aloe scobinifolia, a stemless aloe from Somalia (aka Somalian Aloe)

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Inflorescence in a capitate arrangement
(“capitate: of an inflorescence, with the flowers unstalked and aggregated into a dense cluster..”)

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Memorable also for the pale, almost albino quality to the leaves. Doubly so because the leaves are smooth, spineless.

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I love this blonde-on-blonde look with the variegated St. Augustine grass. In rainier times, I wouldn’t presume to keeping this rambunctious spreader under control.

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Long-legged in bloom, about 2 and half feet

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the Somalian Aloe, I have just two more words for you: simply unforgettable.

autumn sun

I tell you, since sunlight has once again become transformed from merciless enemy into the most charming and distracting friend, I can’t sit at my desk for more than five minutes without jumping up to watch it play on leaves, spines or thorns. And then I have to play, too, digging up this, moving that, any excuse to bathe in autumn sun.

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And just when I think I’ve seen everything autumn light has to offer and can finally end this protracted truancy from the indoors, we get a lovely rainstorm, nearly a whole day’s worth.
And you know what havoc raindrops and light can play with one’s attention span.

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The ‘Cyclops’ aeonium, shaggy in the recent rain.
Potted aeoniums are being pulled out of the shade. They also love to bask in autumn sun.

I had a Halloween post planned on one of my favorite movies from 2014. Maybe I’ll get to it later today.
I have to admit I was a little shocked at the intense Halloween celebrations this year, with many fellow Metro riders decked out in costume and makeup.
(Halloween is a holiday that really suits LA’s Metro, the one day when all the craziness actually seems appropriate.)
In contrast, our tepid festivities at home included an X-Files rerun marathon, house dark, gates locked, not even a pumpkin on the porch — yes, we’re that house on the block.
Hope by now you’ve scrubbed off the makeup, cleared up the candy wrappers, and are having a wonderful Sunday under this splendid autumn sun.

blue fence

Double-sided, dog-eared redwood fence, you win. Smug, aren’t you? You know I can’t afford to replace you.
Over the years I’ve stained you blue (twice), stenciled you in scrolls, but to no avail.
There you stand, a blue, stenciled, dog-eared redwood reminder of the stark boundaries of my garden.

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Granted, you make a dramatic backdrop for chartreuse, a theme I work pretty hard.

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And sturdy support for Potted’s City Planter too.

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In some light you’re almost black.

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I’m not sure I’d want to replace your insistent vertical lines with horizontal lines though.
Last year I was certain that the answer was to affix smooth Hardiebacker cement board to you and paint that an exciting color.
I’m sure I had that plan in fall, which is when the energy for projects usually arrives — in a narrow sliver of a window before the holidays devour all that excess energy.
But the weight of the cement board might cause sag, which would only be exchanging one irritation for another.

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This eastern boundary is all hardscape until we get to the row of lemon cypresses.
Which is why I’m always on the lookout for some huge Euphorbia ammak or fence post cactus to grow in large pots along your exposed fenceline.

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Ghostly remnants of the stenciling project. I didn’t exactly stencil your whole length but kinda ran out of steam after 5 feet or so.
I’ll blame that on the holidays too.
(Pots hold two newish members of my ever-expanding cussonia collection.)

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I will say that your homespun rusticity doesn’t mind sharing space with a little industrial chic.
A sleek new fence might strenuously object.

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Blue fence, you win fair and square. (Until I nail some Hardiebacker board on your ass, that is.)

Natural Discourse: Light & Image 2014, an epilogue

Ever wonder when our buildings are going to have the photosensitivity and photoreactivity of plants? Dale Clifford, with his focus on biomimetics applied to architecture, is on the case, investigating the possibility of designing a photoreactive brick inspired by the quadrangular, shade-modulating shape of a cactus. Looking for a tidy description of life on earth? Plant biologist Roger Hangarter has one for you: excited electrons powered by the sun. I’m totally borrowing that, Roger.

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Christian Thornton, Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio

Questions, questions. Can modern glass kilns reduce their energy footprint?
Certainly, by as much as 30 percent, if recycled glass is used and the kilns are run on vegetable oil discarded by local Oaxacan restaurants.

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Cobaea scandens in the Ware Collection of Glass Plants

And what did 19th century university botany departments do when dried specimens were insufficiently detailed for the rigorous study of plant architecture? Find the finest glass artists in the world, of course, German glass blowers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, to create glass models with precise, scientific accuracy. Harvard’s Ware Collection of Glass Plants transcends its scientific origins and is now regarded as a prized art collection visited by millions every year.

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Shirley Watts readies the book table sponsored by Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore.
Clarissa Dalloway may have bought the flowers for her party herself, but the large vase on the book table was, I think, provided by Silverlake Farms.

All these questions and more could only have been answered by another installment of Natural Discourse, the peripatetic series of lectures curated by artist and garden designer Shirley Watts that allows artists and scientists to share their unique perspectives and fields of inquiry into our beloved plant world, which was held Saturday, October 18, 2014, at the LA County Arboretum.

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The auditorium at the LA County Arboretum was the biggest space yet of the three iterations of Natural Discourse, and for that reason I thought it perhaps the most challenging venue thus far.

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But wherever Natural Discourse is located, whether perched in a conservatory-like glass hall atop the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden, or in a historic landmark hotel designed by Julia Morgan, or at your local arboretum, the effect is consistently hypnotic. The lights go down, the chattering eventually subsides, and Marion Brenner begins to articulate her relationship to light and its role in obtaining her exquisitely timeless landscape photographs seen on the projection screen. And then you begin to scribble furiously as she explains how she now shoots wirelessly to an iPad to live-proof her work.

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Photo found here

Possibly only at Natural Discourse will you meet an artist concerned with how long it will take an agave bloom to grow and thereby destroy the glass necklace he’s designed and placed on its flowering shoot.
(Christian Thornton of Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio has recorded 8 inches of growth a day.)

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The welcome being given by Richard Schulhof, Director of the LA Arboretum.

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Jenny Brown, Collection Manager of the Ware Collection of Glass Plants, playfully engages with the interactive programming wizardry of John Carpenter.

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Mr. Carpenter’s work asks questions like: Why can’t the fleeting thrill of blowing on a dandelion be prolonged?
(You can view the results of his dandelion inquiry at the link.)
Carpenter’s work may bring to mind the digitally interactive sequences in the movie Minority Report, which he designed.

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I want to personally thank Sue Dadd and James Griffith for providing both food and lodging Friday night.
And thanks also to their charming cat Kabuki, who slept at my feet all night.

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Very early Saturday morning I crept out in jammies and socks to have a private natural discourse with their stunning garden, this time a ravine adjacent to the Folly Bowl.
Talk about excited electrons!

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Photos of Natural Discourse at the LA County Arboretum by MB Maher.

Pedilanthus bracteatus, planted

One of the best things about fall is being able to dig again. Since it’s cooled down, I’ve been digging in the vegetable garden plot and can’t resist moving things around at home too, such as this tall, lanky succulent that I’ve finally planted in the back garden. It had tripled in size from when I brought it home in 2011 and plopped it, still in its nursery can, into a large pot by the east gate. It seemed to love the morning sun, afternoon shade there, so I left well enough alone. But always I’ve been tempted to try this assertively vertical succulent in the back garden, where I’d be able to see it more often. I finally got up the nerve to do it over the weekend. I knew the large pot’s tall sides were providing support for the long, 6-foot stems but didn’t realize to what extent until I had lifted the 5-gallon pot clear of the rim, and the top-heavy plant immediately fell sideways, nearly catapulting out of my arms. Amazingly, no stems were broken in getting it into the ground, and once the hole was backfilled it stopped rocking and listing. With the big container no longer providing support, the stems initially splayed out in all directions but then ultimately found their balance, arranging themselves in a vase-shaped equilibrium.

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Nearly leafless, it gives a similar silhouette as an ocotillo but without the potential for injury. It’s completely smooth, thornless.

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A clump of the New Zealand evergreen grass Harpochloa falx was getting overwhelmed by other plants, and after moving it I realized there might be space enough for the pedilanthus if some aeoniums and sedums were moved too. With everything cleared out, the lanky brute was able to be squeezed in among the remaining agaves, dry conditions perfectly to its liking. The pedilanthus had more than proven its drought-tolerant chops by residing in that 5-gallon nursery can for three years on a semi-forgetful watering regimen and still managing to grow over the top of the gate.
The only question is how it will manage now in full sun rather than half-day sun. I’d hate to have to move it again. I’ll revisit that question next summer.

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Because of it’s height, I rarely got a glimpse of the ruddy bracts.
Now that the big pot no longer girdles the stems and they’ve relaxed downward a bit, I can enjoy the bracts in all their bizarre, shrimpy-green coloration.

Natural Discourse at Los Angeles Co. Arboretum 10/18/14

The drive will be considerably shorter for me to this year’s Natural Discourse, which will be held close to home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden:
A symposium presented by the Garden Conservancy and the Arboretum that will explore the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of the botanical garden.”

Natural Discourse: Light & Image
Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
301 North Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007

Wahoo! Garden designer/Natural Discourse curator Shirley Watts assembles a mesmerizing group of storytellers in a day-long event that has no equal in the botanical world.

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Coincidentally, and perfectly in keeping with this year’s theme of Light & Image, Shirley’s lanterns inscribed with excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein made the cover of Pacific Horticulture this month, with photos by MB Maher, and an interview by Lorene Edwards Forkner: “Artful Gardens; A conversation with Shirley Alexandra Watts.” 19-year-old Mary Shelley famously conceived of the idea for her novel Frankenstein while vacationing with friends in Geneva, Switzerland. The weather was miserable, so they passed the time indoors in an impromptu game of Can You Top This Scary Story. (I think it’s safe to say that Mary probably won that game hands down when she recounted the germ for the story that grew into her book: “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”)

All of which proves that sparks fly when like-minded people gather to entertain each other. See for yourself at Natural Discourse tomorrow, Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can search the blog for the many posts I’ve written about previous Natural Discourse symposia, such as this one here.

Bloom Day October 2014

Guest-hosted by Evie the Cat.

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Not another Bloom Day…and you’ve got nuthin’

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Wait, I got it! Why don’t you show them your nerines?*

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Let’s see what else we’ve got…

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Evie, those aren’t blooms!

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I better take over. Bloom on the snaky succulent Senecio anteuphorbium

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Oh, that was exciting…except not really. At least the variegated manihot has some personality.

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A self-sown Solanum pyracanthum, long-standing member of the summer 2014 Bloom Day Hit Parade

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Salvia ‘Love & Wishes’ was planted mid-summer.

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Wow, now you’re really reaching. Might as well show the nerines again.

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I know…those orange bobbles!

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The annual Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet’ still looking as fresh as summer.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects monthly Bloom Day posts year-round.

*Note to Grace: Remember when finding new plant blogs was almost as exciting as receiving plants in the mail? Well, that’s how I felt when I discovered Matt Mathus’ blog Growing With Plants. In one of his many erudite posts, about five paragraphs deep into a dissertation on his gorgeous nerines, he mentioned that he had lots of extra bulbs, and if anyone wanted any, to let him know. That was probably my first experience of the interwebs made real, when it ceased being an abstraction and became peopled with like-minded sorts full of curiosity and generosity, like Nan Ondra who gave me the emilia seeds, and you too, for instance. And that’s the little story I promised you about how I came to have a pot of nerines.