Saturday, August 24, 2013, 7:30 p.m. $5 donation suggested.
Part of a summer-long, outdoor concert series at the Folly Bowl, the hand-made amphitheater in Altadena, California, created by artists Sue Dadd and James Griffith.
This just might be the night you’ll never forget from summer 2013: tucked in against the foothills under balmy, starlit skies for outdoor movies.
Come a few minutes early to choose your seat and get your picnic things arranged.
And to have a peek at the garden.
all photos by MB Maher
If you’ve ever visited Lotusland, you’ll instantly know why I was drawn to these clamshells.
Set up temporarily on a bird bath stand. I was hoping they’d hold a lot more water than they do.
Sitting on the stand at these awkward angles, the only stable arrangement, leaves just a very shallow pool. Possibly enough to slake a bird’s thirst, if not enough for a Botticelli bath.
The real deal at Lotusland.
When one of my high school buddies called to ask if I knew of someone who would be interested in sorting and pricing the contents of his father’s garage, I immediately grasped the enormity he faced. This garage was mythic. I had visited it once, maybe twice as a teenager, and the endless drawers of rocks and gemstones, the shelves filled with the corruscated shapes of geodes, had left an indelible impression. There was also a hazy impression of a typical, post-WWII suburban garage divided into cramped rooms stuffed to the gunwhales with whatever had aroused his dad’s magpie tendencies, which were epic by any magpie standards. As a teenager, I couldn’t help but compare it to the garage at my parents’ home, which most disappointingly housed a car and tidy laundry facilities. I had to see it again, if only to test the soundness of adolescent memories that had burnished that garage into a cave of wonders. Was it just a junk pile? I needed an impartial third eye to soberly assess this storehouse of dreams. Marty agreed to come along.
Clams just aren’t growing them like this anymore.
My buddy figured two years would be needed to get the job done, the contents sorted and priced, destined for collectors or sold as scrap. Two years now seems an optimistic number to me. Inching sideways through the packed shelves, a new question pops up with each step: How long does Kodachrome film last? Why all the boxes of pencils? Is this Life magazine with Paul and Linda on the cover worth anything? And then there’s the big question that looms over everything: How could he leave all this stuff for his family to sort through? It is an overwhelming, Herculean task. My buddy will be living with what is essentially a physical manifestation of the dusty nooks and crannies of his father’s imagination for years to come….oh, wait a minute. Is that really such a bad thing? Looking at my buddy’s haggard face, I wasn’t sure.
I grabbed my Lotsuland clamshells, a set of cocktail glasses sporting the pirate ship logo of the old Tasman Sea, now closed, and made a clean getaway. Marty fully corroborated my impressions, that this man had collected his way into something extraordinary. Bizarre and of dubious value, but extraordinary.
I can’t wait to go back.
(writing this somehow dredged up this haunting song by Robbie Robertson. Listen here
— “this is sure stirring up some ghosts for me”
Seen at the 2013 Inter-City Cactus & Succulent Show held at the Los Angeles County Arboretum over the weekend.
Once again, on the show table, not the sales table. Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony,’ intensely desirable and chronically unavailable. Is it going to take a Kickstarter campaign to get this propagated and into general circulation?
Another arresting sight at the show was Boophone disticha.
A South African bulb with a spectacular bloom that I covet more for those seductively twisted leaves. I brought a small one home from the sales tables.
The sea squill, Urginea maritima. Being a mile from the ocean, I doubt I could go far wrong in making a garden just with plants that included the descriptor “maritima” or “maritimum.” Sturdy plants like Crithmum maritimum and the sea kale that filled Derek Jarman’s garden, Crambe maritima. I’d love to try the sea squill in the gravel garden, but it’s really not large enough an area to hold sufficient numbers of these massive bulbs for a good effect. Anyway, the bulbs are pricey. None for sale that I saw at the show.
The sea squill with adjacent boophone leaves. By the time the sea squill blooms late summer, its leaves have died down.
The arboretum’s unofficial mascot, its image found on coffee cups for sale in the gift shop. He hung out with me while I admired a hedge of Grevillea ‘Moonlight.’
The national bird of India seems to feel right at home in the intense summer heat of the San Gabriel Valley.
I’ve decided that Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ has to be my next big shrub purchase. Tolerates pruning? Check. Attracts wildlife? Check. Low water needs? And check.
Stunningly beautiful? Double check.
I miss when Sundays were neatly divided by the sections of a thick Sunday newspaper that sprawled across tables, beds, and couches. The travel section might include articles like this one on the Buenos Aires home of Mercedes Hernáez and Alejandro Sticotti, which they describe as “a garden with a roof.”
“Alejandro: It is wonderful to arrive here and see the garden, the trees, the birds. This place seems even greener than the neighbourhood actually is, and since the house has a lot of windows in the ground floor, the garden almost gets inside. We like plants very much and work a lot in the garden during weekends. We don’t have a gardener so we do all the work ourselves. We’ve both always had a lot of potted plants in the places we’ve lived in, and over the years we took them with us when we moved.
Mercedes: Books and plants are always the first things we pack.”
Found at Miluccia, via Freunde von Freunden, which has the full interview.
“The first five months of this year were the driest on record in California, with reservoirs in the state at 20 percent below normal levels.” – Arid Southwest Cities’ Plea: Lose the Lawn, The New York Times, August 11, 2013
I stumbled onto another forward-looking example of civic landscaping in Downtown Los Angeles this week. Little did I know that in attempting to communicate my simple admiration for this landscape, I was also stumbling into an LA Confidential-style quagmire. The more I read, the more complicated this landscape became. Briefly, for reasons explained in depth in links* at the end of this post, the plantings at the Los Angeles Police Department’s new headquarters have been beset by controversy over maintenance failures since unveiling in 2009. This side of the building seems to be either a later or revised planting that appears to be in beautiful shape. So putting all that aside for now, here’s what’s visible today on the Spring Street side of LAPD’s new HQ.
I know architects love sweeps of lawn to show off the lines of their work (and thereby obstruct views of it as little as possible), but if you want that shiny LEED certification for your new building, the lawn has to go. I find it ironic that it took restrictive water supply issues to finally shake up staid and predictable plant choices. There’s no way this landscape would be as visually arresting had the new LAPD HQ’s clean lines and alabaster, horizontal planes been complemented by the standard repertoire of plants in use even ten years ago. Which means a glass-half-empty problem has been transmuted into an exciting landscape brimming with form and color.
It was these colors, deep burgundy and icy blue, that prompted the detour from my intended destination, the Metro Rail station, heading home yesterday.
Dark red aeoniums dotted through the blue chalk sticks, Senecio mandraliscae. I swung around quick for a closer look.
The aeonium will need some help getting established, to gain some height, or the senecio will handily win the space-invader competition. But it’s doable if anyone pays the slightest bit of attention.*
Bees were all over the senecio’s modest blooms. In this case, modest blooms are a good thing. Nothing to interrupt the strong shapes and colors, and much less upkeep too.
Decomposed granite walkways weave in and out of a repeating grid of low-walled planters that also serve as benches, each punctuated with a dark-leaved Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
Which pick up the aeoniums’ deep color and send it skyward to contrast with and warm the building’s creamy facade
The cercis are planted in a double row, seen when standing at the back of one of the low walls/benches.
The pork and beans plant, Sedum rubrotinctum, fills the back of the planters. Blue Dianella tasmanica are massed behind the chalk sticks.
Some of the trees may have been the straight species, since they don’t have the deep coloration of ‘Forest Pansy’
Beyond the planters, what I first thought were Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo’ turned out to be furcraeas massed amongst silvery Cerastium tomentosum.
Dianella tasmanica in the foreground
Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ or Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo,’ either one is a great choice here, though the beschorneria’s exotic bloom spikes would require more upkeep.
Sedum rubrotinctum can be seen behind the furcraea, a warm-colored ground cover anchoring the building.
The sedum is filling in slowly.
While the cerastium romps and will need to be regularly kept in check.
*As I mentioned above, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. All human interventions in ecosystems, be it a potted plant or a civic landscape, have to be looked after and maintained. And please don’t roll your eyes at this absurdly obvious fact, because it seems to escape some reasonably intelligent folks and therefore needs repeating. It’s obvious to us, the garden makers, but apparently maintenance wasn’t budgeted and appropriate funding allocated when this landscape was installed in 2009. I think my photos may depict a more recent installation or possibly a revision. Not long after the 2009 install, trees were collapsing, literally caving in because the soil mix was all wrong. More on the LAPD HQ’s landscape controversy can be read here
Reuben at Rancho Reubidoux
has posted on the LAPD HQ several times, not including the above planting, which has me wondering if it’s possibly a revision of an earlier problem area.
Not too much of a change since July’s Bloom Day post, when I predicted the Persicaria amplexicaulis would own the garden in August, and the vibrant crimson spikes have done just that. This knotweed is the legacy of foolishly trialing just about every reasonably drought tolerant, classic border perennial in the early years of making the garden. A very quixotic notion in this dry-summer climate that would prefer plants just go dormant, like many of our natives do. Still, there are always surprises to be found, like the persicaria.
It still amazes me that this persicaria thrives in my zone 10 garden, in full sun. A fabulous bee plant too.
These kinds of perennials are as rare a sight here as desert plants in a wet, zone 5 garden. It’s always about the challenge, isn’t it?
Where the common red persicaria loves the dry, heavy clay of August, the other varieties always struggle. I’m trying the white-flowered persicaria again, so this is a new clump, and it’s just managing to squeeze out a few blooms against a backdrop of the unstoppable ‘Limelight’ Mirabilis jalapa which self-sows.
Even though I long ago gave up on the concept of a summer garden of strictly perennials, I usually include a few stalwarts for late summer.
The ‘Monch’ aster is another surprisingly reliable perennial in zone 10. Finding perennials that can tolerate such a long, dry growing season with very little winter chill is a continual puzzle that still absorbs me. I like the seasonal “movement” they give the garden.
But like everyone else, I have been trialing agastaches. I brought in a few kinds in spring and early summer. Planting agastaches in fall has always been problematic (they disappear by spring).
This one is the stalwart ‘Blue Fortune’ I grabbed at a local nursery.
Agastache ‘Summer Glow’
Other good daisies for summer here are the gaillardias, and ‘Oranges & Lemons’ citrusy colors makes it one of my favorites.
The simple buttery goodness of anthemis is another continual favorite. This one is ‘Susanna Mitchell.’ If ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ is at all different, I haven’t noticed. I have read that ‘Cally Cream’ is considered to be more reliably perennial where this anthemis tends to disappear after a season. Not a problem here. Incredibly easy from cuttings in any case, and bulks up fast in one season.
The anthemis with Salvia greggii
A nice feast for insect pollinators and hummingbirds
Speaking of summer feasts, I am in stone-fruit love with my neighbor’s peach tree. Or maybe it’s an apricot tree. (This is its first crop.) I’ve never experienced fruit-tree lust before, but now I’ve got it bad. Having to duck under its branches to sit at the table is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Is this not the best of all possible worlds: A fruit tree taking up no space in my garden, within picking distance? Oh, hell, yes. The fruit is just starting to color up. Will they be edible? The suspense is almost unbearable. The branches were wall-to-wall with fruit, just inches apart, and some quick Internet research brought up the importance of thinning the fruits. I may have thinned my side too late. Common wisdom says to thin as soon as fruit has set after bloom to lessen the nutrient burden on the tree. Also saves the tree from weighty branches prone to wind damage. Some diehards even thin out the blooms before fruit set. The little tree was given a buzz cut, topped within an inch of its life last year, which was fairly alarming, but I’ve since read this is a technique some recommend for better fruit bearing. Possibly by next Bloom Day we’ll have sampled some fruit. My neighbor didn’t thin his side, so the fruit might turn out bland and insipid. Offering advice just seems a little too pushy for now.
Self-sown Verbena bonariensis. The dwarf kinds actually seem like that rare good idea where dwarfism in plants is concerned, but so far they’ve been disappointing and weak growers. ‘Little One,’ ‘Lollipop,’ whatever the name, they dwindle and limp along, never very many blooms at one time. The self-sown species is robust and reliable.
Cuphea viscosissima attracts lots of pollinators, has a lovely rich color, but some seriously ratty leaves. If it seeds around I’ll let some stay, but I won’t go out of my way to grow it again.
Tall, knobby gomphrena in deep orange. Yes, please.
Nicotiana are back, progeny from Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix.’ These are new plants that seeded into the bricks. The ones that bloomed all winter were pulled out in June to make room for early summer plants.
Russelia is incredibly tough, long blooming, and beloved by hummingbirds.
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is having a strong rebloom after being cut back hard in June. Eucomis were shaken out of their pots and grown in the ground this year. Much more upright in full sun and dry conditions, if just a tad singed on the leaf tips.
The prairie clover, Dalea purpurea, just planted in July, lightly blooming.
Lotus jacobaeus beginning to bloom again after a deep soaking in early August. I know what’s attracting flies to the garden this year.
That would be Eryngium pandanifolium, whose blooms carry the light scent of old socks, noticeable mainly on still mornings. Possibly its one failing.
The weight of the blooms is sending some of the stalks earthward. This stalk remains upright by leaning on a hanging caged tillandsia.
The tillandsia has the scent of grape Sweet Tarts.
Salvia chiapensis is rarely out of bloom.
This little cutie was found at a local nursery this summer, the South African Crassula exilis subsp. cooperi. Very thyme-like in appearance, growing to just 2-3 inches high. To zone 8.
A California native new to me this summer, Lessingia filaginifolia. I’ll probably move it to the gravel garden in fall.
The garlic passionflower is blooming lightly in August and appreciates occasional deep watering.
After wondering every summer how to prune this crazy tropical, whose new leaves push out like a mop atop a 6-foot trunk, the matter was taken out of my hands.
Here it is throwing new growth after having its trunk snapped off at the base in a garden mishap. (A tree fell on it).
Carol at May Dreams Gardens graciously hosts Bloom Days and gathers links of participating blogs there, 92 when I last checked.
A person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.
narrator – storyteller
Way back in January I breezily announced “ambitious plans to produce transcripts of the lectures” given by the illustrious group of artists and scientists who participated in the “Natural Discourse” symposium hosted by the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, curated by artists Shirley Watts and Mary Ann Friel. In the interim I’ve learned that verbatim transcripts are lifeless things, so I’ve been trying to carve off small segments of the lectures that can most clearly be supported by whatever photos I have or can easily find. (The first in this contemplated series was “cochineal.”)
To set the stage for an excerpt from the lecture by Ronald Rael, of Rael San Fratello Architects, first a few photos of the source of inspiration and instigator of this natural discourse, the botanical garden itself.
The yuccas dotted throughout the botanical garden are major characters in our story.
As I wrote here, much to the surprise of all involved, the work that Rael San Fratello Architects created for Natural Discourse, (using discarded photovoltaic tubes engineered by the bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra), was the unlikely fuel for a media firestorm that was enthusiastically fanned into partisan flames by local and national media.
Mr. Rael addresses the Solyndra controversy later in the lecture. For now, the following is an excerpt on Prada Marfa from the presentation by Mr. Rael on January 11, 2013, entitled “Material Provenance.” Just as with the Solyndra/Sol House project, Prada Marfa took a series of unforeseen and bizarre twists and turns.
“My name is Ronald Rael. My partner’s name is Virginia San Fratello. I teach at Berkeley and she teaches at San Jose.
And one thing that we discovered when working here is that one of the fundamental ideas behind the garden itself is that all of the plants have this kind of provenance as well. Each of these little name tags tells where the plant came from and what date. So as you walk around the garden, you realize that these plants, they just don’t exist here. They have a story behind them. And that story is what we think is incredibly meaningful. And it’s the story today that I want to tell you about in a handful of projects.
Image found here
“The first project I want to talk to you about is called Prada Marfa. It’s a project that we did in 2004. When we started this project, I actually didn’t know what Prada was. I knew what Prada was, but I didn’t really know what Prada was. And I don’t know if all of you know about Marfa, but Marfa is a small town in the West Texas desert that was made famous partly by artist Donald Judd, a minimalist artist.
“When we began working on this project, another thing that I discovered about the region is that there was a traditional shoe made out of the yucca plant. And the yucca thrives in this environment, in the West Texas desert, but that tradition of making these kinds of shoes doesn’t really exist anymore. But what exists is a kind of culture of people moving across the desert, traveling north in search of a better life. And we built this project about 20 miles from the U.S./Mexico border. And so during construction, we often saw helicopters pick up people traveling in the desert. And one thing that we learned is that, people traveling in the desert, shoes wear out after traveling hundreds of miles, and they stuff their shoes with yucca plants. And so there was this strange juxtaposition between the wealth that existed in the region, the poverty that existed in the region, the disappearing traditions, and they all came together at this weird border between these two worlds.
“And so the project is partly based on a very famous photograph by Andreas Gursky called “Prada.”
“So when we constructed this Prada, we said, well, the traditional building material in the region is mud, and so let’s construct this version of Prada out of mud to kind of heighten this kind of juxtaposition between these two worlds. So we fashioned this installation of a fake Prada store in the middle of the desert, which is one of the most expensive clothiers in the world, out of one of the most inexpensive and humble materials.
“And the construction of the mud, we didn’t put it in a mud mortar, but we actually based it in a cement mortar. And this was something that Donald Judd used. And, again, it’s a juxtaposition between the industrial and the non-industrial worlds, conflating it at this very moment, with the idea that in time the building would erode and expose these kinds of juxtapositions even in its decay.
“So this is the building, and it holds a 2005 line of purses and shoes. And even in its construction, these kinds of dichotomies were present in the workers that would come from Ojinaga, Mexico, to build the project and then in the photo shoots of the professional photographers that chose this particular person in Boyd Elder, who is a fifth-generation rancher, who lives closer than anybody else to the Prada Marfa store.
“But even Boyd had an amazing provenance. What we learned about Boyd is that in the 1960s he left his family ranch to go to LA to be an artist and hang out with the Eagles, and he’s the painter for the original Eagles’ covers. And so it’s the provenance of stories that makes projects interesting.
“So the New York Times wrote a quote from one of the funders of the project, Yvonne Force: ‘We loved this proposal for many reasons. We loved the idea of the piece being born on Oct. 1 and that it will never again be maintained. If someone spray-paints graffiti or a cowboy decides to use it as target practice or maybe a mouse or a muskrat makes a home in it, 50 years from now it will be a ruin that is a reflection of the time it was made.’
“And so there was this idea that we just let it go. We had this grand party in the middle of the desert. A band came and played. There was wine, cheese. Even members of Prada Foundation flew in to see this.
image found here
“And the next morning we all woke up, and someone had tied a chain to the front of the facade, pulled off the facade, and spray-painted “dumb” and all these things on it. It immediately went into preservation mode. And people now today peel-out on it and shoot it and do all sorts of strange things, but immediately it’s been fixed again in kind of this perfect state. So, again, there’s this irony between the intentions of the work and what actually happens to the work.
image found here
“Another amazing thing that’s happened to the work is it’s become a shrine for left-over shoes. And it’s so far away from anything, but when people are driving out there they decide to leave their shoes as some sort of effigy on the project. And so they are also cleaning up hundreds of shoes constantly on the project. Boyd Elder, the cowboy, he’s the official caretaker of the project. And so today it’s perfectly preserved
“This is the most recent photo, with Beyonce jumping in front of it, and it’s become kind of an icon in the middle of the desert, whose image we can’t let go of
Mr. Ripple and friends cordially invite you to that holy of holies in the world of desert plants, The InterCity Show and Sale next weekend, August 17 and 18, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.
Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’
Agave potatorum in the loveliest shade of powder blue, found at a plant show unlabeled
the white whale of agaves, A. celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’
Now that succulents are as ubiquitous as petunias and can be found on racks outside grocery stores, there’s no need for proselytizing about their sculptural attractions and water-wise virtues. This sale is for the already converted who are looking for rarities in affordably small sizes. The discerning eye and encyclopedic knowledge of members of Southern California succulent societies have already done the heavy lifting for us in seeking out the best of the best, and these plants offered for sale are the fruit of their lifelong passion for desert plants. But if you’re still not convinced, drop your magazine, possibly turned to a regionally inappropriate article on the top 10 plants for perennial borders in August (though there’s nothing wrong with a little garden porn!) and come see why Southern California is the envy of savvy plant people all over the world. Like the bodies on Venice’s Muscle Beach, these are some seriously well-toned plants, each one an evolutionary warrior able to survive with minimal irrigation. I’m hoping to find more of my latest enthusiasm, hanging epiphytic cactus like rhipsalis.
Plant Delight’s 2013 fall catalogue has just been released and offers this gold-leaved jasmine, Jasminum officinalis ‘Frojas’ (Fiona Sunrise Jasmine) that I’ve been tormenting for a couple years.
Mr. Avent suggests pairing it with colorful shrubs like loropetalum or smoke bush/cotinus. Plant fanatics are always on the lookout for a two-fer. Got a shrub? Grow a vine through it! Or two or three!
My bright idea was to make its tendrils twine under and through the purply-blue flounces of Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’ The jasmine valiantly struggled to realize my vision but finally gave up exhausted. Right before its last gasp is when I remembered where I planted it and found it diminished, nearly dead in dry, dry soil, reduced to just a few leaves. I dug up what little there was and potted it up.
I really did happen to have an empty blue pot available at the time.
I’m just amazed it held on as long as it did, and that it had the reserves to come roaring back to life. Maybe in the wet and humid South they can play fast and loose, combining vines with shrubs. But in gardens with no summer rain, whose caretakers are not always the most observant and/or liberal with supplemental irrigation (clearing throat)…I say this beautiful vine can stand on its own considerable merits. The golden jasmine doesn’t need any more gilding by partnering it up with shrubs, though if your garden can support that, some wonderfully colorful friendships are definitely possible.
After such abuse, it’s no surprise that I’ve yet to see any flowers. The new growth has a lovely peachy cast to it.
The torment is over, and I’m making nice now, giving it a container all by its lonesome. Some arrangement of less than full-day sun seems preferable here. Zones 7 to 9.
On the Xericworld forum you can expect to find some of the most technical discussions around on desert plants, but photos of a fashion shoot among aloes and agaves? That was a surprise.
From the March 2012 issue of You Inspire. Photographer Zoltan Tombor, model Nicole Trunfio
(In other photography-related news, Gardenista ran a post today on garden designer Beth Mullins of Growsgreen Landscape Design which featured photos by occasional AGO photographer MB Maher.)