Categories

the spell of the present

Though we may occasionally argue about what a garden is, I think we can all agree that what a garden does is cast a “spell of the present.”

I loved this eminently quotable piece from Diane Ackerman a couple days ago in The New York Times entitled “Are We Living in Sensory Overload or Sensory Poverty?”


The further we distance ourselves from the spell of the present, explored by our senses, the harder it will be to understand and protect nature’s precarious balance, let alone the balance of our own human nature.”

Photobucket

One solution is to spend a few minutes every day just paying close attention to some facet of nature….for whole moments one may see nothing but the flaky trunk of a paper-birch tree with its papyrus-like bark. Or, indoors, watch how a vase full of tulips, whose genes have traveled eons and silk roads, arch their spumoni-colored ruffles and nod gently by an open window.”

Photobucket

And the killer opening to the last paragraph:

On the periodic table of the heart, somewhere between wonderon and unattainium, lies presence…”

Photobucket

Ms. Ackerman’s book, “A Natural History of the Senses,” sounds like it’s right up my alley.

CSSA Plant Sale at the Huntington Botanical Gardens

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America’s plant sale at the Huntington June 29 through July 1, 2012, is one I hope not to miss this year.

I’ve moved my little Agave parrasana ‘Fireball’ from last year’s plant sales into a prominent location as a reminder.


Photobucket

A big succulent plant show and sale is the strongest mind-altering, mood-enhancing, sensory-overloading drug there is. Mark your calendars!

Huntington Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA.
Sale: Friday – Sunday.
Show: Saturday & Sunday 10.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

the learning garden at Venice High School

I’m late posting about the Learning Garden, a garden stop on the May 2012 Venice Garden & Home Tour, and today the LG offers a class open to the public on vermiculture/composting, a deadline I had been hoping to beat. Late notice is better than none, I suppose, and there will always be more classes taking place at the LG. This interesting horticultural laboratory/seed bank/open-air high school botany class was our first stop on the garden tour.


Photobucket

Truthfully, stepping through the gates, I immediately began to mentally calculate how many minutes I’d have to stay for courtesy’s sake before I could beat feet to other, less vegetable-intensive gardens on the tour. I’ve got my own disheveled vegetable garden, thank you very much, and don’t feel a burning need to tour another. Circling around with an eye fixed on the exit, trying to look intensely absorbed in the raised beds, I wandered into an area of the garden growing the unmistakeably glorious compound foliage of Aralia cordata. What the hell? By this time, I was grabbing the docent’s elbow to help me identify some stunning plants that would have been at home in an old Heronswood catalogue. But she couldn’t ID them, she said, because they were rare Chinese medicinals. The elbow I had grabbed belonged to one of the garden’s founders, Julie Mann, who has a strong interest in homeopathic medicine, but this herbal garden with the tantalizingly nameless plants was the province of another docent, who had some mysterious pipeline to plants new to the West. I’m guessing this treasure trove of plants is looked after by students of Yo San University and Emperor’s College of Traditional Oriental Medicine affiliated with LG.

The topic of medicinal plants whiplashed from boring to sexy in less than three minutes. From LG’s website:

The Medicinal Herb Garden includes an amazing variety of Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native American, and homeopathic medicinal plants. Some of these plants are being grown for the first time in Southern California; we are literally writing the book on how to grow these healing herbs in our Mediterranean climate. Students of the various healing modalities are provided the opportunity to see these herbs up close and live and can learn how to grow and prepare them for use, while learning their healing attributes. As students propagate these necessary herbs, The Learning Garden becomes a plant and seed depository to assist other gardens in their development.”

Now I was intrigued. What started out as a perfunctory visit turned into a fascinating 30-minute tour.


Photobucket

Part of the allure of the garden was the contrast between briskly efficient hydroponics and other cutting-edge practices against a backdrop evidencing the years of heart-breaking neglect the garden has obviously suffered. It was in a Grey Gardensesque abandoned state that this 100-year-old educational resource was reclaimed by Julie Mann and others in 2001, and much still needs to be done. Horticulture classes on high school curricula have long since gone the way of shop classes like carpentry, photography, ceramics, upholstery, mechanics, i.e. dodo-land.


Photobucket

From their website: “The Learning Garden blossoms from what once was an underutilized, weedy portion of Venice High School into an outdoor learning center with hands-on education in horticulture, permaculture, herbology, botany, nutrition, art, photography and environmental science.”

Photobucket

A garden shed and office held shelves full of carefully marked seeds. At some primal level, I find this a very comforting sight.

Photobucket

Part of the Seed Library of Los Angeles/SLOLA

Photobucket

Gardenmaster David King: “As seeds grow out repeatedly in our soil and microclimates, they adapt.”
“Far more quickly than one could achieve at home, a variation of Waltham broccoli specific to Los Angeles or even specific to Venice can be developed, better suited to local conditions.” (latimesblog)

The paneless, 1920’s-era greenhouse awaits a patron with deep pockets to help with reglassing.

Photobucket

Photobucket


From their DVD, a highly recommended resource for educators:

JULIE MANN: “The high school students that first came into the garden that first year would never dare eat anything out of the garden. It was dirty. It was yuck. They would never take the food that they grew and eat it. It was too strange for them. By the next year, I saw the kids climbing the loquat tree and eating things right off the tree.”

Contact The Learning Garden here to request a copy of their DVD and for information on volunteering. I’d be happy to mail my DVD to anyone interested.

glads

Gladioli love Southern California. My grandmother always grew lots of them to cut and take to church, which is possibly why most gladiolus hybrids will always have an air of the sanctimonious for me. I am the furthest thing from a plant snob and would never write off entirely any genera, especially a summer-blooming bulb, but modern gladiolus hybrids for the most part are simply not worthwhile garden plants. Ungainly, tipsy, the hybridizer’s hand a little too heavy in laying on the ruffles. I admit I’m an incorrigible picture-straightener, and a stiffly leaning glad bloom can give someone like me fits. But every overhybridized hellion has a genetic precursor, and a few bulb houses like Old House Gardens are starting to pay attention to species gladioli and less ostentatious heirloom varieties. Annie’s Annuals & Perennials offers a good selection of species glads. I’ve given many of these a trial run in recent years, and the garden soil is riddled like fruitcake with bulb offsets of mostly kinds I don’t want to perpetuate in the garden. The weedy Gladiolus byzantinus impostor was a huge nuisance for a while, something I wish Gladiolus papilio, the Butterfly Gladiolus, would become. Both of these would be great meadow candidates. The smaller heirloom glads are lovely, like ‘Atom’ and ‘Boone,’ but I’ve found them difficult to place. My pursuit of a couple good summer border glads has to be scored as inconclusive so far. But a bulb’s greatest asset is the element of surprise. Once you fall under the spell of that neat little energy storage system, then all bulbs are truly purveyors of astonishment, like this forgotten, speckled gladiolus. It must have come in a mixed collection, since I have no memory of selecting it. This first bloom emerged today from the long, braided inflorescence. 3-feet tall and ram-rod straight, no need for staking. But its identity? I haven’t a clue now.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

Occasional Daily Photo 6/5/12

The spent, dried, bleached-out bloom of Allium schubertii embellishing a mossed basket of succulents and bromeliads.*
Might be a ho-hum occurrence for many gardeners, but I never thought I’d see the day I’d get this allium to bloom, much less be able to play around with the dried remains, which resemble fossilized fireworks.

Photobucket



*The basket is hung on a tall tripod, which gives it the general outline of H.G. Wells’ Martian Walker. Height is key for lots of reasons; to thwart snails, for close-up, eye-level viewing, and to grow vines up the tripod legs, like the Thunbergia alata. Compulsive multi-tasking was bound to spill over into the garden.

summer notes

Though I’ve been practicing lots of garden math — some addition but mostly subtraction and a little light division — the garden still seems almost unchanged and very familiar this summer, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s necessarily a good thing. The Amicia zygomeris is back, still robust and healthy. Evergreen in a zone 10 winter. Its purple-stained “pouches” helpfully draw Teucrium hyrcanicum into the conversation. Purple, yellow and soon a few spears of orange crocosmia chattering away in this corner of the garden. Listening in as these conversations develop is the best part of summer. As usual, I want intense, boisterous summer conversation from a very small garden that is expected to have something to say in other seasons too. Easy on supplemental irrigation a must. (That’s not too much to ask, right?) Amicia, from Mexico, is named for Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Battista Amici. I first learned of amicia from one of British gardener/writer Christopher Lloyd’s books. Plant Delights thinks it’s hardy to zone 7. Grew to over 6 feet tall last summer. A unique outline that reads well, a tropical effect without all the “weight” associated with tropical plants. (One of the subtractions this spring was a banana. Even the supposed dwarf varieties grow into giants here.)


PhotobucketPhotobucket

Oenothera is a big jolt of yellow. With Bouteloua, the filmy eyebrow grass, and variegated sisyrinchium.
Smattering of sky blue notes from tweedia. Potted Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’

PhotobucketPhotobucket


Chartreuse shrub leycesteria seems to have survived a move last fall, leafing out here with self-sown purple orach, Atriplex hortensis. Hoping the leycesteria doesn’t burn here in afternoon sun. Growing in an 8-inch pot, the lily ‘Lankon’ is almost done with its one bloom, so now’s the time for a photo, even a bad one which doesn’t do justice to the speckled, tie-dye petals. This lily made a big splash at Chelsea last year, a hybrid between Lilium longiflorum, which grows well here in Southern California and is the reason I took a chance on it, and Lilium lankongense, which comes from Yunnan in China. Getting it to rebloom next year will be the real trick. Summer dormant bulbs are so much easier in pots, unlike the lily which never truly goes dormant and will need to be kept watered. The garden just isn’t kept moist enough to suit lilies, so they’re grown in pots only — just a few. More and more, by August I balk at caring for containers. I was told by a lily grower at a plant show this spring that these down-turned, martagon-like lilies will never be grown commercially for cut flowers because of the difficulty in shipping them without breakage. That one bloom scented the whole back garden.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

The tropicals are gaining size, all plants that have seen quite a few summers in the garden. These two are Colocasia ‘Mojito’ and ‘Diamond Head.’ They are kept dry in their pots outdoors over winter.

Photobucket

Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger.’ For an experiment, I kept a small clump watered over winter, not allowing it to go dormant. This large pot was kept dry. Growth in both pots seems about the same. A very tough plant, highly recommended. Will grow enormous when fattened with feeding and lots of water, though does fine treated on the leaner side.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

Not much new this year for potted summer plants other than the Tibouchina ‘Gibraltar,’ which I like quite a lot. Very refined for a variegated plant, even without the purple princess flowers.

Photobucket

When euphorbias are good, they are very, very good. Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’ hasn’t missed a beat since last autumn, now becoming engulfed by summer growers — which just might be the end of it. Good air circulation at the base is paramount in my experience. I’ve been thinking about putting the path back in through this big border, which will necessarily scale plants down to about knee-high level again. Planting pathway edges is some of the most satisfying, (grasses, dianthus, Crambe maritima! succulents) but then I’ll lose the depth and space for the really big plants. Maybe this fall I’ll make the change.

Photobucket

Grasses proliferate. There’s probably more grasses than perennials now. Stipa arundinacea/Anemanthele lessoniana grows tawnier by the day.

Photobucket

While getting photos of the euphorb and stipa, I caught the crew heading for the office this morning.

Photobucket


Looking forward to some garden blog reading this Saturday, the LA Kings’ second game in the Stanley Cup tonight, and maybe a cactus show if I make it down to San Diego tomorrow. Feeling a little lazy for a two-hour drive tomorrow, but we’ll see.

“Natural Discourse” July 2012

On July 13, 2012, Natural Discourse, the “collaborative project between the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG) and a multidisciplinary group of artists,” will introduce the artists’ installations to the public. MB Maher has been up to some mysterious photo work in conjunction with this project involving a photographic technique known as “light painting.” A rarely seen technique, Maher tells me it involves nothing more complex than going out after dark with a flashlight and your camera. Light painting first came to his notice via the legendary photographer (and Maher’s personal hero) Paolo Roversi, who used the technique to create studio effects such as this:

It is like using a pencil in a way. A writer or a painter or a composer of music is filling a white canvas. But, for me, photography is a black canvas. And on this black page, I use the Mag-Lite to write with the light.”

Photobucket


When asked how he arrived at this technique, sometimes called “Roversi lighting,” Roversi explained: “Everything in photography is very old. Perhaps this technique had not yet been adapted for fashion photography because the model cannot move too much because of the very long exposure. It is not so simple, but it is easy for me because I work with Polaroid Film. I can see the result immediately. The most difficult thing is establishing the exposure time, how long you keep the light on the subject. Sometimes it is difficult to judge, and with the Mag-Lite it is a matter of a second. So you have to move the flashlight very quickly. But I like this light because it is completely irregular. You never know what will happen.” – from “Paolo Roversi on the Mysteries of Light

Even the monumental agave takes on an ethereal cast with light painting, setting the thorn imprints aglow. Unlike Roversi’s models, the agave is motionless and therefore gives a crisper result.

Photobucket

Maher tells me he’s light-painted a gunnera too, so hopefully he’ll kick loose some more of these stunning “light paintings.”
I can’t wait to find out how this all ties in with the upcoming July 2012 opening of “Natural Discourse” at UCBG.



Previous posts on Natural Discourse can be found here and here.

summer camp for locavores

From the Wikipedia entry: “A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market.”

I’ve been hinting without going into too many gory details that my new little community vegetable garden plot is languishing for uncertain reasons. While I’ve been mildly obsessing over soil and vegetable gardens, photographer MB Maher and friends were vacationing for a few days last week at the idyllic Mar Vista Cottages and Edible Gardens in Mendocino, California, a former fishing camp turned into a locavore’s paradise.

Photobucket

Photobucket

All of which happened on the weekend of the eclipse. (Wes Anderson could’ve directed this vacation.)

Photobucket


I’d never heard of Mar Vista Cottages before, nor any hotel like it for that matter, but for over ten years owners Renata and Tom have offered guests literally a taste of country life, centered around the 4,000 square foot organic vegetable garden they maintain from which guests select and then cook their own meals. The garden anchors and is the heart of the compound which holds 12 cottages. Whatever tools necessary to gather your dinner can be found hanging on pegs at the entrance to the screened-in garden. Screens keep the gardens secure from marauding raids by local wildlife.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Dine indoors

Photobucket

or outdoors in the grass-bottomed conservatory, kept warm by the adjacent greenhouses.

Photobucket

Ceramic heaters also warm the Northern Californian nights.

Photobucket

No TV. No rules — add your own ingredients too.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Cut fresh flowers from the gardens.

Photobucket

Or bring your own.

Photobucket

A kaleidoscope of eggs delivered every morning to your door.

Photobucket

Participate as much or as little as you like. Help feed the chickens if you’re so inclined.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Or just generally goof off, summer camp style.

Photobucket

And make new friends, summer camp style.

Photobucket

Friends who can’t bear to part, like Lola (the goat). Gives a whole new meaning to the cliche of blurring the line between indoors and outdoors.

Photobucket

And there’s always the beach at Anchor Bay beckoning.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Sleep on line-dried sheets.

Photobucket

Photobucket

A big part of Renata and Tom’s vision was saving this land from development, electing to retain and rehab the circa 1920 fishing cottages.

Photobucket

But what incidental magic they’ve created as Mar Vista’s caretakers.
(Pygmy goat “Pygmalion”)

Photobucket


For more on Mendocino, California, here’s my post on a vacation there last August.

Teucrium hircanicum ‘Paradise Delight’

Summer-blooming spiky flowering plants under 3 feet. In garden design parlance, the verticals. We all need some, right? Herbaceous varieties of salvias and veronicas include lots of contenders. Although I’ve had some success with veronica, herbaceous salvias often melt away after a zone 10 winter. In addition to trying out Lysimachia ephemerum (again) and some penstemons, this summer I’m filling the spike void with a teucrium hardy to zone 6, maybe even 5, Teucrium hircanicum ‘Paradise Delight.’ The Iranian Wood sage is shrubby in character, crinkly rugose leaves, red-violet spikes. More drought tolerant than herbaceous spiky stuff and better suited to a summer-dryish garden, or so I’m hoping. The pale green inflorescences started deepening to violet this week.


Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket


I can already see that it won’t have that upright, regimental discipline that is characteristic of the herbaceous salvias. This teucrium wants to dip and twist. Admitting to a mad crush on a plant its first summer in the garden is not at all sensible or prudent, so I’ll just say the Iranian Wood Sage is looking very promising.

Mine are from Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino, California.

raise the red lantern

More photos from MB Maher as he meanders north of San Francisco, these from Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, California, a collection of outdoor gardens inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire, curated by owner Teresa Raffo.

I haven’t been back yet to Cornerstone to see Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot’s “Red Lantern,” the second of their chicken-wire-and-crystal installations at Cornerstone, a companion piece to “Bai Yun” (“White Cloud”), so I was excited to see what Mitch’s photos would reveal. Andy Cao says “Red Lantern,” installed summer 2011, was probably inspired by his empathy for the experiences of Chinese railroad laborers in 19th Century America, in which he found an echo for his own sense of displacement as a Vietnamese refugee. (For me a red lantern will forever be associated with the 1991 Chinese film by Zhang Yimou, “Raise the Red Lantern,” on the queue for repeat viewing tonight.) Railroad tracks lead to a giant lantern glittering with red crystals, which may or may not allude to traditional Chinese wedding headdresses. While I’m strongly attracted to the seductive, sparkling details of “Red Lantern,” overall I prefer “White Cloud” in a landscape — less specific, more dreamy.

This photo from the Cornerstone website conveys the general outlines of “Red Lantern.”


Photobucket

But as these photos from MB Maher illustrate, Cao and Perrot’s intention is to create a work where the viewer can “Step inside a painting and experience it themselves.” Lauren Reed-Guy for San Francisco Chronicle.

Photobucket

In the end, the only thing I need is my intuition and how I see and that’s it. The rest? I just make things,’ says Cao, who draws his inspiration from art, poetry, music, fashion and photography.” (Meg McConahey for the Press Democrat)

Photobucket

Photobucket

I don’t find sculptural art essential to a garden, but appreciate how a garden — the horizon, earth, water, wind, sunlight and shadow — can be essential to the expression of some artists, and I love how Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot play with these elements.

“White Cloud”

Photobucket

When you see these two materials, crystals and chicken wire, they have nothing in common, he says. But when you put them together, something happens. By taking things out of their context, you give them a whole new application and association.
(Meg McConahey for the Press Democrat)

Photobucket


Cao and Perrot work out of Cao Perrot Studio.