Categories

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
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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.

Agave xylonacantha near 6th & Fig

I have a lot of affection for Downtown LA, our underdog of a city center that lay fallow and forgotten for so many decades, its opulent old movie palaces abandoned or turned into dollar stores. It’s a boom town now, with brands like Urban Outfitters moving into those old movie palaces. I worked in DTLA in the decades pre-boom town, when there wasn’t a single grocery store for miles, when it emptied out at 5 p.m. like the zombies were coming with nightfall, and when the city and it’s beautiful but empty buildings (the Bradbury Building!) seemed to belong to me alone. I still work there quite often, now taking the Metro Blue Line from Long Beach to LA. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, we do have public transportation here in Los Angeles — just not enough yet. The trains to Santa Monica are slated to go online in spring 2016, and I can’t wait. Santa Monica and the west side of town are the worst commutes of all for me. Sitting in freeway traffic just seems like a crazily regressive way to start the 21st century, and I avoid it whenever possible.

But back to DTLA, where on Figueroa near 6th Street there’s this large planting of succulents that showcases some less frequently seen agaves, as far as public plantings go.

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Like Agave xylonacantha, with its high contrast, zig-zaggy leaf margins

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Backing Agave parryi var. truncata are enormous Kalanchoe beharensis, the size of small buffalos.
Nice touch to include some bromeliads. LA hasn’t really woken up to the potential of bromeliads yet in public landscapes.

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And as common as Agave parryi var. truncata is in private gardens, it too is rarely seen in commercial plantings around town. Mine at home send offsets several feet away.

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Aloe striata is widely planted.

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Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee’ is one of those agaves that can be hit or miss. If one of those big, asymmetric leaves becomes damaged, the effect is pretty much ruined.
These look to be in fairly good shape. With aeoniums in the foreground.

Bloom Day February 2016

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This warm weather (90 again today!) is pushing an early spring. The first bloom of the many reseeded Papaver setigerum obligingly opened this morning for Bloom Day.

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Meanwhile, the winter-blooming aloes aren’t ready to yield the spotlight yet. Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is building up into its ladder-rung bloom formation.

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Aloe cameronii just this week started opening lower buds on its bloom truss, immediately setting off territorial hummingbird disputes.
You can make out the rosettes of reseeding poppies threading their way around a leucadendron.
I’ve been thinning poppies like mad. Editing the spring garden, leaving in poppies for punctuation, pulling out excess for clarity, is becoming a welcome recurring spring ritual.
The umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora resows, too, and is always at least a month later than this poppy. Tragically, I haven’t seen any orlaya seedlings at all this year.

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This year’s salvia will be Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara,’ a dwarfish variety with all-purple flowers and bracts.
It’s a widely grown salvia here. Left to its own devices, it quickly becomes overgrown and bare-legged. Pruning it down to the base late winter keeps it manageable.
It blooms so well here that it’s worth growing as an annual and restarting woody, overgrown plants frequently from cuttings.
An experiment this year with grass Leymus ‘Canyon Prince,’ to see how they match in size and vigor.
More poppies visible to the left, with white flowers of Melampodium leucanthum.

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Lots of yellow this February, from acacias, from the pyramidal-shaped blooms of aeoniums.

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More yellow from the Feathery Cassia, Senna artemisioides

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from Sedum dendroideum and other succulents

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Little golden trumpets from Eremophila glabra ‘Kalgoorlie,’ its first year in the garden.
I really, really admire this little shrub so far and can’t wait to see it bulk up into an even bigger, silvery, gold-flecked presence.

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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There’s been pink, too, from this anisodontea from Annie’s Annuals, ‘Strybing Beauty.’
It’s been blooming lightly all winter, despite being planted a couple feet from the back wall, in the band of shade that is now rapidly disappearing from the garden.
Each day sunlight spreads over more and more of the garden like an incoming tide.

That disappearing band of shade is my cue to get the Dates to Remember back up and running. (The Venice Home & Garden Tour is back this year!)

Happy Val Day

Interesting, isn’t it, that one of America’s most notorious authors of books banned under then-existing obscenity laws had the middle name Valentine? All true. Henry Valentine Miller.
“The publication of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in the United States in 1961 by Grove Press led to a series of obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein, citing Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day in 1964), overruled the state court findings of obscenity and declared the book a work of literature…Following the trial, in 1964–65, other books of Miller’s which had also been banned in the US were published by Grove Press: Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn, Quiet Days in Clichy, Sexus, Plexus and Nexus.” from the Wiki on Henry Miller

In my teens I loved Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
I don’t think I made it through all the Tropics. But as a teenager, I generally read everything my brothers read.
Then in my early twenties, living on my own I unconsciously switched to reading books written almost solely by or about women, Woolf and Wharton, Austen and DeBeauvoir.
This Val Day, not necessarily in this order, I’m thinking of the power of love, of books, sons and brothers, a good breakfast, foggy mornings, and the power of SCOTUS too.
And I’m bringing a bouquet of sunflowers to you to celebrate the day. They arrived early this morning, all the way from Tanzania.
Mitch is traveling through East Africa with IPFRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) and in Tanzania they stopped at a sunflower oil factory. The photos are fairly self-explanatory. Enjoy!

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Occasional Daily Weather Report 2/11/16

While it seems everyone else is diligently topping off their water table with generous rainfall and/or snowfall, there’s no use denying it’s already chair cushion season here.
Los Angeles in February decided to go high 80s, tipping into the 90s. It feels like a Peanuts/Charles Schultz setup, with Charlie Brown (me) trusting Lucy (weather people) not to pull the football (El Nino) away again as he winds up for a mighty kick of faith, only to fall on his ass for the umpteenth time. But it’s hard to be grumpy about the lack of rainfall when it’s so gosh-darn beautiful outside. When the drought-driven apocalypse comes to Southern California, we will all be wearing flip-flops and T-shirts and sipping the latest artisinal cocktail. Like the last days of Pompeii, we won’t know what hit us.


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Aloe ‘Safari Sunrise’

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Aloe conifera

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Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’

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Euphorbia atropurpurea

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Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’

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Glaucium grandiflorum

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Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Bocconia frutescens

N.B. This seems like such a sensible idea. Maybe it’s been around for a while and I just haven’t noticed.
It goes like this: We get the special-order plants we want while avoiding the heavy shipping costs that mail order often entails, sometimes costing more than the plants themselves.
I just noticed that Monrovia is accepting online orders of their plants, which are delivered to a nursery near you for pickup.
However, since I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m not sure if there is a handling charge involved.
Now, if other wholesale growers like San Marcos Growers, Annie’s Annuals, and Native Sons jumped on this train, my plant budget would grow by leaps and bounds.

N.B.B. For spring plant orders, Chanticleer’s gravel garden plant list 2015.

growing a planet

Have you noticed how plants really seem to be having their moment on design blogs? Seems like there’s not a photoshoot now without a potted plant lurking somewhere in the frame.
Well, plants are getting their due from mainstream science, too, as the carbon dioxide-chugging, oxygen-giving cornerstone of life on earth.
In between binge-watching reruns of The West Wing, (which I never saw in its first run — btw, a great antidote to today’s poisonous political climate), a Scottish BBC documentary we really liked is “How To Grow a Planet.” Geologist Iain Stewart rapels down sheer cliff faces to show us fossil evidence of one of the earliest forests, visits a nameless California garden filled with cycads (Lotusland? The Huntington?), explains why the oceans didn’t stay purple, how angiosperms outcompeted gymnosperms, and offers scientific evidence in stunning locales as to why plants are the foundation and salvation of the planet. All wrapped up in a voice reminiscent of a cheerfully brilliant, outdoorsy Simon Pegg.


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An enormous shaft of sunlight plunges into the cave like a waterfall. The hole in the ceiling through which the light cascades is unbelievably large, at least 300 feet across. The light, penetrating deep into the cave, reveals for the first time the mind-blowing proportions of Hang Son Doong. The passage is perhaps 300 feet wide, the ceiling nearly 800 feet tall: room enough for an entire New York City block of 40-story buildings. There are actually wispy clouds up near the ceiling.” – “Vietnam Cave,” National Geographic

The documentary opens with a visit to Hang Sơn Đoòng cave in Viet Nam. Just discovered in 1991, it is the largest cave in the world. What especially excites Stewart is the rain forest that sprang up from the cave floor when light pierced through following a ceiling collapse. Trekking through darkness to come upon a blinding explosion of light and life is the visual metaphor for Stewart’s three-part documentary on the primacy of plants, which has to be one of the greatest stories never told. As a geologist, Dr. Stewart admits he always thought it was all about tectonic plates and rocks. Part of the show’s appeal is his enthusiastic conversion to a deeper appreciation of the central role of plants. Trust me, you’ll never look at a potted plant in the same way again.

the junk I keep




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I’m starting to see my old friend, the pipestand, in decidedly more upscale places than the louche environs of my backyard. (e.g. West Elm here)

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I still find a pipestand endlessly useful for framing pots and hanging essential stuff that has temporarily lost its purpose.
A girl’s gotta have a place to hang her tractor lights, right?

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It’s like having a dusty barn full of block and tackle, chains, come-alongs, all manner of potentially useful stuff…without the barn or the spiderwebs.

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The only rule for inclusion is that the object be of a simple, basic shape. These make the best shadows.
The shadows all this junk casts are a big part of the attraction. I wish I had a photograph to demonstrate but I don’t.
Some days the shadows can remind me of the work of Olivia Parker.

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These tongs we found at a flea market in Oregon seem to be the only permanent member of the piperack, which changes up frequently.
They are simply the most expressive tongs I have ever seen. Almost insect-like.

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And the pipestand holds assorted eye hooks and S hooks for hanging planters that I’d never be able to find in Marty’s garage when I need them.

I mean those tractor lights could come in handy some day as … well, I have no idea at the moment.
But if I move them into deep storage, there’s not much chance that I’ll ever figure it out, is there?

Just a testimonial to the humble pipestand. It’s on my mind this time of year as I contemplate building shelving for — what else? — a few more plants.