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mother’s day 2012

And my mom is on a bus heading north on the Atlantic seaboard to join up with a cruise off the coast of Canada. But there were birthdays to shop for yesterday, so naturally (selfishly?) I headed for a destination that included plants as well as possible gifts, Roger’s Gardens in Orange County, California. I always find a little plant shopping helpful before diving into the murky waters of gift shopping.

Harpochloa falx ‘Compact Black,’ Black Caterpillar Grass, in small 4-inch pots, was too interesting to pass up.
Photo and description from High Country Gardens.

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Aloes and agaves planted in the display beds

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Some of the agaves, like this A. potatorum, are underplanted with a variegated ceanothus (possibly this one).
Self-sown Geranium maderense getting a little too chummy.

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And possibly because the jacarandas in the hell strip are treating us to a couple months of purple rain, I’m finding myself suddenly attracted to brooms and lingered to check these out at Roger’s. I’ve made a vow to sweep every day, and sometimes twice a day, lest the dreaded buildup of sticky petals is carried underfoot into every nook and cranny of our lives.


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Brooms and women go waaay back, to the antecedent besom broom, simple twigs tied to a handle.

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Some simple ideas that caught my eye. Possible display for tillandsias.

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And the very clever florists at Roger’s hung glass lanterns filled with water and leaves.

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and mossed a beat-up chair, turning it into a fernery

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Happy Sunday to moms and kids everywhere, a greeting which leaves out absolutely no one and means everyone is entitled to a nice brunch today.


saturday’s clippings 5/12/12

Quote of the week: “I can’t believe I burned down a tree older than Jesus,” philosophized a 26-year-old woman who torched a 3,500-year-old bald cypress known as The Senator last January, one of the 10 oldest trees on earth, while smoking a meth pipe in the tree’s hollow trunk. Orlando Sentinel story here.

Update on car jack stand planters written about here in Succulent Experiments. The repurposed window screen may cause the soil to dry out too quickly even for succulents. Growth seems to be in reverse gear rather than forward, so time to try something else. The pale green Crassula expansa never regained that lovely fluffiness. Full disclosure is in order because that post still gets an amazing number of hits. (Almost as many as The Tree Collard. Who knew?)

Artichokes were everywhere on garden tours this year. These chokes were growing in a hell strip devoted solely to artichokes.
(Doesn’t that make it a heaven strip?)

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Is it me, or does the subject of gardens and landscapes seem overly weighted down with polemics? Fashion, music, cooking, design — there’s controversy and sustainability subtext in some of these areas as well, and rightly so, but with gardens it seems to get especially overwrought. Be prepared to stand your ground among the welter of categories used like accusations: design-driven, plant-driven, natives, non-natives, edible, ornamental. Granted, with a garden comes responsibility for the health of the soil, creatures, finite resources — but after that’s been reasonably sorted out, I say let it rip. How to describe this approach? Maybe a good analogy to this unapologetically flashy kind of gardening I love is pop music — changeable, not meant to last, absorbing influences from all over the globe, interested in color and rhythm, no purpose other than to get your toe tapping and your eye dancing. Not monumental but fleeting. Riffing on the seasons. Pop gardening? Maybe I just need a break from garden tours for a while.

At home, summer’s jungle quickens. This castor bean plant which lives over frost-free year to frost-free year is already a small tree in May, about 8 feet high. With the trunk growing thick and woody, this will be its last summer then I’ll start over with some of the progeny that sprout around its base. The deep color of the castor bean seedlings has been true to its namesake ‘New Zealand Purple.’ Barely room enough for two in the back garden.

I love to see it with the amber grass Stipa arundinacea* More thinning on the to-do list this weekend. Tender Salvia wagneriana is an iffy bloomer, very sensitive to temperature and day length, and hasn’t had more than a dozen blooms at any time. Its saving grace up to now is its ability to throw sporadic blooms throughout a zone 10 winter, but that hardly earns it space for summer. Its fate will be decided this weekend. In fact, looking at these photos has me convinced it’s gotta go. (A few hours later, and Salvia wagneriana is gone, destined for compost, its absence barely causing a ripple in the jungle. A few nicotianas from the seeds Nan Ondra shared last winter, ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ will be a much better fit here.) Another nicotiana, N. mutabilis, lived over the winter and is sending up bloom trusses to the left of the stipa/New Zealand Wind Grass. (Edited to explain that description was left even though photos are inexplicably no longer available.)


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Strappy leaves are eucomis, and the little daisy is Argyranthemum haouarytheum.

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Salvia canariensis was very nearly pulled out a few weeks ago for its sprawling, ungainly ways, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this huge salvia.
As an interim solution, lower branches have been thinned out, with lots more taken out today, pruning it into a vase-like shape as for a buddleia.
In a couple weeks it will lose that surprised “What a bad haircut I got” look. This is generally a short-lived shrub. Always grow it dry and lean.

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The pale yellow hesperaloe is blooming this year, kind of a photographic moot point against all those golden kangaroo paws.

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Longest-lasting bulb for pots has been Ornithogalum dubium, in bloom on the front porch over a month. More, please, for next year.

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An easy nasturium species for summer containers, Tropolaeolum peregrinum, the Canary Creeper.

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I know, I know, what a lot of plants. You’d think I just moved out of an apartment and finally got my own garden. But that happened over 20 years ago, and I’ve been gardening this way ever since.

*This grass is now known as Anemanthele lessoniana, but I’m just slow to adapt to the new name

No. 24 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

Beautifully restored craftsman set in low maintenance and low water ‘Sonoma’ style gardens. Garden design by owner Craig Boelson

This bungalow, which the owner described as slated for demolition when he took over the property, had lots of things to say to fellow bungalow owners like me. Chiefly what it exemplified was the power of restraint joined with simple, sure-handed taste. No lawn at all, neither in the front garden nor back, the ground surfaced in gravel or dry-laid repurposed bricks that came with the property when the owner acquired it. The house’s dark chocolate-colored paint and white trim set the basic tones used throughout the house and garden, building up a sustained mood both rich and light. The deep, wraparound front porch is rimmed in the front garden with succulents and Agave attenuata, with small trees and gravel deployed where traditionally lawn would be maintained. This was the definitive anti-compulsory maintenance house and garden.

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Continue reading No. 24 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

No. 9 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

Design gem by artist/architect homeowners; live, work, home studio & gardens. Architect: Molly Reid Studio. Garden Dry Design & Cliff Garten Studio.”

Blurbs like these on a one-page map were the only guides to selecting which homes and gardens to tour among the 32 on offer. Any gardens described as “minimalist,” “simple” or “zen,” or worse yet, “simple and zen” were scratched off the list. And who knows? Maybe we missed some simple, zen gems. Because the garden at No. 9 on the tour was both simple and minimalist, a tidy space for entertaining and relaxation nestled between the house and studio.

Corrugated steel-clad studio, wisteria arbor, decks, raised beds for vegetables, lawn.


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I’d have taken it all in with one appreciative glance, pivoted, and headed for the next stop on the tour, if not for the interior of the house.

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Continue reading No. 9 on the Venice Garden & Home Tour

Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012 (street view)

A little prelude to upcoming posts on this tour held last Saturday in Venice, California. None of these homes were on the tour. They just happened to be located in the neighborhoods we toured through. Venice oozes a love of plants and gardens. This is the third year I’ve posted on this tour for the blog, and previous posts can be found here and here. The few photos not bearing photographer MB Maher’s watermark were taken by me.

The weighty symmetry of two large agaves flanking the walkway to this front door we passed slowed me down. Agaves look a lot like A. salmiana, possibly ‘Green Giant’ or ‘Mr. Ripple.’ Dark red leaves from Euphorbia cotinifolia. Also with Euphorbia characias and coral aloes.


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Euphorbia cotinifolia at another house, cut back hard or “stooled.” In my back garden a 15-foot Euphorbia cotinifolia is given the space to grow as a tree and is just now leafing out. With Agave attentuata and Mexican feather grass, Stipa tenuissima.

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Same house. Chartreuse shrub is the common tender bedding plant Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight.’ Silvery succulents probably dudleyas.

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Concrete pavers outlined in Dymondia margaretae. A front-yard lawn in Venice is a rare sight.

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Graveled-over front garden. Pirate foot locker for seating on the porch.

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More dymondia, which tolerates light foot traffic.

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Some of the sidewalks almost required a machete to navigate. Orange blur at the end is Thunbergia gregorii.
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Echiums in the parkway/hell strip.
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Agaves underplanted with succulents and gazanias.

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Must be an acacia.

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Lots of Euphorbia characias on the tour. This one in a hell strip looked like it might be the selection ‘Portugese Velvet’

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More posts later this week on houses and gardens on the tour. Out of 32 houses on the tour, we saw maybe a half dozen. Some we just couldn’t bear to leave. Like Molly Reid and Cliff Garten’s home and studio, up next.


fine weather for garden tours


The overcast skies burned off late morning but temperatures stayed moderate with light breezes. Nice garden touring weather. More will be forthcoming from the Venice Garden & Home Tour later this week, but Sunday’s tour deserves a quick post because it is a very special event to us locals, the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. To learn why this tour is so special, you must read Dustin’s heart-tugging tribute to Mary Lou on his blog here. It may come as a surprise — it has always surprised me — that with few exceptions Southern California has been largely bereft of great local plant nurseries. One such beloved exception was the wonderfully curated plant nursery Mary Lou Heard created in the drive-by city of Westminster, on the border of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, that drew in believers from cities in both counties. The tour reflects this spillover, with tour gardens weighted probably more toward Orange County. It was at Mary Lou’s nursery many years ago that I first met a teen-aged, plant-crazed Dustin Gimbel. (As a customer of the nursery when Dustin worked there, I distinctly remember having a discussion bordering on argument about erodium with him.)

To have his own garden included on her namesake tour this year is a very special, full-circle moment for Dustin and Mary Lou and their friendship that began with a love of beautiful plants.

Grevillea strutting on the tour
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These are all photos of Dustin’s garden, the only garden on the tour I attended Sunday. The back garden has been the focus of Dustin’s attentions recently and has undergone a dramatic transformation. It now includes large vegetable beds, an outdoor dining area, and the newly completed water garden built from concrete blocks. (All the materials in Dustin’s garden come from the humblest of origins.) That simple wooden screen affords the most amazing framing opportunities of multiple shifting views through the cut-outs from either side of the screen, plants billowing on one side, glasses clinking on the other. The new water garden is ingeniously sited under a cut-out, straddling both the dining area and outer garden. Watching the breeze-driven meanderings of those glass floats would be a fine summer evening’s entertainment.

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Acacia pendula gaining size on the rebar arbor in the front garden.

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For a look at Dustin’s front garden in soft evening light instead of mid-day glare, check out this post from fall 2010.


friday’s clippings 5/4/12

Spring is such a great whoosh of a season, isn’t it? A spring weekend really needs to be four days to accommodate all the incredible stuff there is to do. Let’s get those bright minds in Congress on that right away. Here in Southern California, tomorrow, May 5, is the Venice Garden and Home Tour, which overlaps the Jane Jacobs Walks that are taking place in cities across the globe. The “What Would Jane Do” walk for Los Angeles will take place in the Silver Lake neighborhood and includes former homes of Richard Neutra and Anais Nin. (Raise your hand if you read the entire collection of Nin’s diaries in your late teens/early twenties.) You can see if there’s a walk taking place in your city here. The Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour also takes place this weekend, and guess who’s on the tour Sunday? Some clues: He’s on my blogroll and is a garden designer and master of the non-sequitur who will be opening his garden Sunday to the curious hordes, of which I am and always will be one. Addresses on the self-guided tour for both days can be found here.

And without any context, just some odds and ends from recent garden tours.


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Top three photos by MB Maher.


Brassica juncae ‘Scarlet Frills Mustard’

This mustard is the only edible I brought home from the recent plant sale at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. I have a satellite 10X20 foot vegetable garden this year at a local community garden that’s already full to capacity with tomatoes, squash, and beans, and it’s really the tail-end of the cool winter growing season for brassicas here in Southern California. But whatever this beauty wants to do, grow or go to seed, is fine with me. I’ll save the seed and plant ribbons of this frilly stuff next fall. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a current source for seed.


Brassica juncea ‘Scarlet Frills Mustard’

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Reputedly the fieriest mustard you can grow, I’m excited to find out what it can do to my favorite fast food these days, spaghetti with anchovies, recipe from Mark Bittman at The New York Times. Ever since we were served plump, fresh anchovies in a Trastevere restaurant after an exhausting, late-night ramble in Rome some years back, we’ve enthusiastically embraced these tasty little fish. Granted, that fish we had in Rome and what’s available locally don’t have a lot to say to each other, but the salty spirit of the sea still comes through in the fish packed in olive oil in those little tins. Better if you can find them in glass jars. I’m not sure whether to lightly cook the mustard or use it as a garnish. But at a minimum, the mustard’s burgundy lacyiness will look divine sprinkled on top. This winter I’ve been substituting spinach for arugula and use anchovies from Trader Joe’s.

Pasta With Anchovies And Arugula via Mark Bittman

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
8 anchovy fillets, or more to taste, with some of their oil
1 pound linguine or other long pasta
2 cups arugula, washed, dried and chopped
1/2 teaspoon or more crushed red pepper flakes

PREPARATION

1. Set a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it.
2. Put half of the olive oil in a deep skillet, and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the garlic and the anchovies. When the garlic sizzles and the anchovies break up, turn the heat to its lowest setting.
3. Cook the pasta until it is tender but not mushy. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain. Add pasta and arugula to skillet, along with enough of the reserved cooking water to make a sauce. Turn heat to medium, and stir for a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch or more of red pepper flakes.
4. Turn pasta and sauce into a bowl, toss with remaining olive oil and serve.
Yields 4 servings

succulents in spring

Prowling around the garden yesterday with this or that new plant in one hand, spade in the other, looking for planting opportunities where I already knew none existed, it seemed more constructive to put the spade down and pick up the camera. This small group of succulents right outside the kitchen door may be overgrown and out of shape by the end of summer, or changed up on a whim, so a spring portrait seems like a good idea at the moment.

The tall green pot holds a young Agave americana var. striata. I’ve been told never to select green ceramic pots, any color but green, since it will only blend into the background. Sometimes blending into the background is the point, though. Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ leans in, with Cotyledon orbiculata, the latter two planted in the garden. The thin red tips on the cotyledon just slay me.


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Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ is recovering from a winter of snail depredation. The snails mercifully eat mostly the older leaves lower down on the stems.
Last year Solanum marginatum grew here and was a small tree by the end of summer.

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This photo was taken on a different day, after an early morning fog.
I love that loosely incurved rosette shape that this hybrid inherits from Aeonium undulatum.
‘Cyclops’ is potentially a giant that may very soon become much too large for this small corner.

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This baby Agave victoriae-reginae was growing in the ground but became engulfed by surrounding plants, was rediscovered, rescued, and given a safe haven in a small pot atop a larger container. Small agaves can become engulfed and forgotten when one too frequently prowls the garden with a new plant in one hand and a spade in the other. Froth of lime green Sedum confusum on the right.

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Backing up a bit to include Aeonium balsamiferum, spilling out of a smaller pot.
I like the echo of pot rims and rings from this angle and the tension of containment and surge.
Sliver of a trunk on the left is a 6-foot Manihot grahamii also growing in this pot, its canopy an increasingly receding tuft of leaves as the maturing trunk twists and elongates. The yellow flowers are from the bulging Sedum confusum.

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Back further still. What a happy community they’ve made for themselves, for this brief moment in spring anyway. Self-sown bronzy Haloragis erecta threads around the pots, always choosing to seed at the garden edges.

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Huntington plant sale swag

Sunday’s plant sale at the Huntington was the best I’ve attended in many years.
The succulents and cactus sale tables are always reason enough to attend, but the herbaceous stuff has been unexciting in recent years bordering on the moribund. This year I found a couple salvias that were new to me, and this gorgeous, leafy brunette, Rumex flexuosus:

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Senecio vira vira formerly S. leucostachys, is a favorite silver that’s rarely available. Nice to find this old friend again.

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A good plant sale creates its own giddy momentum. Carnivorous plants, succulents, edibles — seems I brought home at least one of everything with the exception of water plants, though there was much lingering and sighing over the lotus. A full list for record-keeping purposes will go up later this week.