Have I mentioned how hot it’s been lately?
It’s the kind of heat that gives a boho plant nut a deeper appreciation of the cool, austere lines of a formal garden.
A garden built not on the scaffolding of flowers but leaves, eschewing lush variety for lean repetition.
It’s the kind of heat that makes the formal garden, that ancient response to dry climates, seem fresh and innovative again.
Katherine Spitz’s garden, Mar Vista, California, 2012 (Katherine Spitz Associates)
That’s how hot it’s been.
Every September I’m startled by the heat this month brings.
A heat that, if you’re not careful, can wick away inspiration.
But then that’s what photos like this are for.
Image found here
At least two more months to go before the winter rains.
Right now, if I had a backhoe, I’d dig up the garden and make it a place for the worship of water.
more on photographer Philip Dixon’s house in Venice, California can be found here.
I’ve brought a couple home under the name Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea,’ but I’ve recently been seeing it tagged as Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy,’ as it was here at Cornerstone Sonoma, in the Transcendence garden designed by Delmar McComb and Peter Hanson. This yucca’s soft, recurved leaves are very unlike the typically stiff leaves of Yucca aloifolia, so we seem to be shuttling between various names until the nomenclature is definitively settled. Mine haven’t colored up like these yet, which is a big part of the allure of this mysterious yucca.
Background shrubs are phlomis, rosemary and leucadendron.
No, I haven’t done a recent tally. But, boy, do they ever count when the days heat up and stay hot. Nothing looks as composed under the sun as an agave.
Hard to say if their numbers are increasing, since I’ve been giving away the large americanas and seeking out smaller, slower-growing kinds.
New to the garden this summer, found at a recent succulent show, Agave ‘Snow Glow,’ kin to ‘Blue Glow,’ both Kelly Griffin’s hybrids.
Not new but one of the few agaves I own that still looks like it just came off a grower’s bench.
Three offsets of this dwarf butterfly agave ‘Kissho Kan’ are making good size in the front gravel garden. Good size for a dwarf, slow-growing agave.
The mother plant has grown so snug in its small pot that dunking it in a basin is how it gets very occasionally watered now.
Keeps the leaves bright and shiny too. Looks like a mean water lily, doesn’t it?
Sweeping jacaranda leaflets off the bricks at the front of the house this morning, I noticed that Agave desmettiana is beginning its monocarpic death dance and will be throwing a bloom stalk very soon, after which it will expire in that dramatic, Madame Butterfly flourish that ends the life of every agave. So subtract one desmettiana.
For once it’s an occasion I’ve actually been looking forward to since the Acacia podalyriifolia is getting tree-like fast and needs a lower-growing understory.
Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’ finally showed up at nurseries this summer in less pricy sizes, another small agave that can remain in its pot for some time.
The big agaves are undoubtedly an awe-inspiring sight, but a small garden can support only so much awe. Thank goodness for the little ones.
All the essentials for late summer on a small table.
It looks like the heat is fairly evenly distributed across the U.S. this Labor Day weekend. In between dipping into a steaming hot garden to cut back agastache, anthemis and senecio, I’m catching up on work and going through summer photos, a much cooler occupation than tangling with rampant summer growth. How different were the mild days of late June when a group of us toured Long Island, New York, which has a vibrant garden culture. I had expected Long Island’s weather to be pretty much what I’m experiencing now, hot and muggy, but it was the mildest, most deliciously cool touring weather one could hope for.
A charmer in a container, Aruncus aethusifolius. Longhouse Reserve
gesneriad in the greenhouse at Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens
Immaculately kept greenhouse at Old Westbury Gardens
Tender exotics like Solandra maxima, the cup of gold vine, at Old Westbury Gardens.
Tropical vireya rhododendrons
If begonias are the next big thing in plants, Long Island definitely got the memo. Old Westbury Gardens.
Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens
Possibly Alcantarea imperialis, a giant among bromeliads and a favorite of Roberto Burle Marx, at Old Westbury Gardens
Long Island nurseries were bursting with tropicals which will flourish in the heat and humidity
A jubilant celebration of the arrival of summer permeated the island
Preparations for a midsummer’s eve party
Rex begonia vine, Cissus discolor
Garden of the owners of Landcraft Environments, growers who specialize in tender perennials and unusual annuals.
Curving dry-stacked wall backed by a meadow blooming Knautia macedonia in June, Landcraft Environments
Clematis integrifolia as ground cover, Landcraft Environments
The entryway parterre at Landcraft Environments planted in color blocks of berberis
The meadow in June at Landcraft Environments, with lysimachia and knautia in flower
Landcraft Environments, greenhouses in the distance
Ricinus communis, the castor bean/oil plant, is the freshest sight in this late-summer garden. Unlike the rest of us, the swampy heat of late August only improves its looks. The tree-like mother plant, a ‘New Zealand Purple,’ lived through our typically frostless winter, just as ricinus infamously naturalizes all over Southern California. By early summer it’s 6-foot presence had become woody and gawky, and to add to its aura of unwholesomeness, it had become beloved as a perch by evil-eyed grasshoppers. It was kept mainly as a support for some tweedia vining up its trunk. I finally pulled it out in July, when its sparsely leaved hideousness was too much to ignore, but of course seedlings keep popping up, just as they have been doing since early spring.
In early August I let a few seedlings remain, and I’m very glad I did. The new growth is fresh and lush and everything the year-old mother plant was not. Like other tropicals, they’ve grown fast in the heat of August, several feet in a few weeks, especially those seedlings left to grow in situ. I’ve transplanted a few around the garden that are much slower to throw those big palmate leaves.
Watching these castor bean plants grow lush and beet red this August nevertheless prompts a string of ambivalent musings. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also a local pest that’s escaped cultivation. In my small, walled garden, the large seeds aren’t going anywhere, but then there’s always its sinister, non-garden applications to seize the imagination. It gets a chapter of its own in Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants, and by now we all know (or should know!) of the highly toxic and potentially lethal properties of its seeds. But processed correctly, the oil has long had many uses, both industrial and, however misguided, medicinal. In fact, it was castor oil that I mistakenly believed I had been given as a child. With vague memories stirred by these plants, I was all set to harangue my mom, who’s out of town for a couple weeks, on the still sensitive topic of childhood nutritional supplements in the form of castor oil, when I realized with a little research, and confirmed by a quick phone call, that it was tablespoons of cod liver oil she was giving us as kids, always accompanied by a couple saltine crackers to soak up the goo. Eventually, mercifully, we were given the cod fish oil in chewable tablets.
Cod liver oil was yucky enough, but castor oil would have been an entirely different level of “taking your medicine.” Castor oil, too, had its heyday as a folk remedy and alleged nutritional supplement for children. As far as any real nutritional value, castor oil, unlike cod liver oil, offers none, but its infamous laxative properties made it an effective threat of punishment. And apart from its many industrial uses, it’s also been used as a form of torture: Wikipedia: “In Fascist Italy under the regime of Benito Mussolini…political dissidents were force-fed large quantities of castor oil by Fascist squads.”
That’s a lot of baggage for any plant to carry.
Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant, a member of the euphorbiaceae. If you didn’t make late summer seem as fresh as spring again, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
I’m linking this post to Loree’s blog Danger Garden, where other favorite plants are discussed weekly.
I’ve been trying to scale the garden down, which means there will be no shed-sized, fall-blooming salvias this year like…
Salvia involucrata, Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, the rosebud sage. Some of the salvias like a bit more moisture than I’m doling out lately, and this one would fall into that group.
The bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, at Cornerstone Sonoma. As its name suggests, it doesn’t mind moist soil but can manage in surprisingly dry conditions too.
Bog sage leaning into frame with potted Eucomis and Scotch moss, sedum, Japanese anenomes, Cornerstone Sonoma
Size or water constraints won’t stop me from having a look at salvia offerings at the fall plant sales. Out of an estimated 700 to 900 species, there’s one for every situation. Colors are always intense, stems always squared. Since hummingbirds are helpless before the tubular siren call of salvias, be sure to include a seat nearby to enjoy the air show.
Here’s a gallery of salvias from gardens past, fall bloomers and otherwise. My garden unless otherwise indicated.
Salvia africana-lutea, 2/26/13 (removed because it was crowding Phylica pubescens, which has since died. And so it goes…)
Salvia reptans ‘West Texas Form,’ slim and upright. September 2012
Salvia sclarea ‘Piemont.’ The biennial clary sage is famous for reseeding (in every garden but mine. And so it goes…) July 2012
Salvia canariensis var. candissima, June 2012. Outsized, shrub-like. Very drought tolerant.
Salvia macrophylla, September 2010. Large, sprawling, always presentable, with leaves clothing stems down to the ground. Not the heaviest bloomer for me though.
Salvia littae, November 2011.
Salvia madrensis, November 2011
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ September 2011. Constant and dependable bloomer. We took this year off from each other so I could make room for something touchy and undependable. And so it goes…
Salvia ‘Waverly,’ July 2011. Utterly dependable. One of the best for Southern California.
Salvia cacaliifolia, June 2011. The agave now resides in my neighbor’s garden.
Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ at the Huntington June 2011
Salvia wagneriana, April 2011. If you have the space, this salvia is known for blooming during Southern California’s winter
Salvia leucantha, Longwood Gardens, November 2010
Salvia van houttei, Longwood Gardens, November 2010
Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ Longwood Gardens, November 2010
Salvia ‘Limelight,’ October 2010
Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain,’ June 2010, blooms most of the summer
Salvia clevelandii, June 2013, a California native, in a local hellstrip
In Southern California, a good place to find salvias is at Fullerton Arboretum’s salvia sale
, September 21 and 22, 2013.
Those of us who chase gardens and plants seem to divide into two camps: Those who enjoy art works in the garden and those who don’t. Oftentimes, leaving out ostentatious decorative pieces is as bold a statement as their inclusion.
No need for any distractions from the muscular trunks of this tree in Connie Cross’ garden on Long Island.
But because they are intended specifically as outdoor settings where artists can develop work in response to the site, places like Longhouse on Long Island, New York, and Cornerstone, Sonoma, California, can give the viewer an experience impossible for indoor museums to duplicate. Another example would be what the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is doing with its ongoing exhibit “Natural Discourse.”
Being a simple creature, always ready to be dazzled by anything that sparkles, what I unreservedly admire is the work at Cornerstone Sonoma of Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot. Whatever the theme, such as the harsh life of Chinese migrants working on railroads in 19th century America, these two never underestimate the seduction of glittering surfaces. I love the gleam, the reflectivity, the shimmer, the swirl, the sensual results achieved with simple industrial materials — heck, I love everything I’ve seen by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot.
“Red Lantern,” Cornerstone, Sonoma, California
But not all artists choose the glittery approach. At Longhouse
, a sculpture garden on Long Island, New York, Yue Minjun’s “Chinese Contemporary Warriors” stayed with me long after the visit. I don’t keep up with contemporary art, so hadn’t heard of this Chinese artist famous for his “laughing man” series. From what I’ve read since the visit, laughing maniacally seems to be the only response left for this artist after the heartbreak of Tiananmen Square
. All I sensed at the time from the figures was a forced and disjointed communal gathering that resulted in an eerie isolation, which the enclosed setting of hedges on an austere groundwork of gravel reinforced. Very spooky and very sad.
Yue Minjun’s ‘Chinese Contemporary Warriors,’ a cynical riff on the terracotta warriors
Two very different approaches, one that attracts and one that repels, yet both had me wanting to know more about these artists and their work.
The last week temperatures have hovered mostly around 90 degrees, by far the warmest days we’ve seen all summer.
Even though I’m none too pleased with the change, tomatoes, zucchini, tithonia and zinnias obviously are thrilled.
I’m linking this post to the Seasonal Bouquet Project, where the house rules are: “All the ingredients in the bouquet must be sourced within 25 miles of your home, ideally including flowers you grew yourself.”
gaillardia, zinnias, tithonia, senecio, eryngium, chasmanthium
Is there a tinge of desperation in the road trips of late summer? By the end of summer are we stuffing itineraries with an absurd number of places to see in the dwindling opportunities to experience daylight until 8 p.m.? Guilty here. I’ll give a recent example from just this last weekend. And for the similarly desperate, there will be a trail of bread crumbs to follow for potential future road trips for the fall season. By fall I’ll be reconciled to the inevitability of autumn’s shortened days, and any road trips then will undoubtedly be washed in a golden haze of acquiescence to the rhythms of the seasons.
image courtesy of Thread and Bones
It all began with a 63-foot-long hall in an apartment in the Mission district of San Francisco that could use the services of our 9-foot-long Turkish rug. The one we can’t use at home because of the prodigious shedding capabilities of the corgi. (Even the thinnest pretense for a late-summer road trip will do.) Los Angeles to San Francisco, roughly six hours. I’ve made this trip many, many times and have lived in a couple of the trip’s stops, like Petaluma and San Francisco. Familiarity increases the speed factor, another important consideration for late-summer road trips. My workload was fairly light, so Thursday to Monday were clear. Marty has been working all summer weekends, so it would just be me and my smart phone, a formidable traveling companion that can read to me How The Irish Saved Civilization in between navigating duties. The only question left was:
Before delivering the rug, where would I like to go?
Continue reading anatomy of a late-summer road trip