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here’s to 2012

The usual quiet of my little garden was broken by lots of chatter and laughter in 2011.

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Thank you!

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I’ve been entertained, educated, enthralled, and enchanted by our garden blogging community in 2011 and can’t wait to read what you’re up to in 2012.

With much affection,
Denise/A Growing Obsession

gentlemen, stop your motors

The Los Angeles Times ran this piece in their Pro Portfolio section on Monday, December 26, and it really deserves another look. The article profiles the home garden of Katherine Spitz, of Katherine Spitz Associates, Inc., Landscape Architecture.

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The Pro Portfolio format allows for the designer to describe their project, in this case, her home garden, in their own words. This little snippet reveals what may be a timeless conflict:

Our biggest issue was the lawn. I wanted less and my husband wanted more. It has been incrementally reduced but remains an issue. Concrete pavers replaced lawn around the circular fountain in front of the follies.”

Here’s the “before” photo, with lawn still in place:

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I showed Marty both photos and asked for his honest preference, then about fell out of my chair on hearing his answer.
He prefers the photo with the lawn. Even though the luminous top photo looks like it was lit by Terrence Malick, with the windows of the twin follies gleaming gold behind the balletic arch of the fountain jets over the reflecting pool — he prefers the lawn. There is clearly an emotional attachment to well-mown turf grass that eludes me. As more frequent droughts and water scarcity necessitate increasingly smaller (or entirely absent) lawns, will it be men who mourn the loss the most?

Feel free to try this test at home.

Checking my choice for a title, I find via Google that it’s been used a mere 1,800,000 times. The Internet is certainly one of the most effective means to disabuse one’s self of any pretense of originality. Still, the title stays. I’m referring to lawn mowers, of course.

poinsettia hangover

I was up early with the possums this morning after Christmas.

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Seconds before we startled each other, my attentions had been directed at the Euphorbia milii, or Crown of Thorns, on the other side of the hedge.

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A couple neighbors have outlined their front lawns and walkways with extensive potted collections of this euphorbia. An interesting choice for a collection.

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Apart from the very scary thorns, I suppose I can see the attraction. Tough, drought tolerant. Blooms in an array of colors.

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What really had me up early, prowling the still-drowsy neighborhood like my possum friend, was another euphorbia, the large poinsettia trees a couple streets over.

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There’s a rare, concentrated mood in a neighborhood just after a holiday, just beginning to dissolve away until it rebuilds next year, but still palpable, especially before sunrise. Most days, it’s anyone’s guess what occupies my neighbors’ hearts and minds. The possible range of concerns is too vast to fathom. Whether we’re happy, sad, or indifferent to the winter holidays, they have the unique ability to narrow that range for a brief time, and that overlap of shared concerns can be very warming indeed.

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Think of these poinsettias as visual “hair of the dog” for the holidays.

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Although belated, the very warmest season’s greetings!

Occasional Daily Weather Report: Hailstorm damage

There’s really nothing else I can think of that could cause this mysterious pitting:

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Last week a very local weather system kicked up, causing a tremendous downpour and hail. The rainfall was that rare, torrential, deafening kind that always makes me laugh in amazement. The thunder and lightning soon put a stop to the frivolity, and all of us, cats and dog in the lead, skidded and sloshed in frantic search for shelter. I thought I sensed maybe some hail mixed in as I ran for cover but wasn’t sure, until my neighbor Holly told us she made a little snowman from the hail she found on her back deck. Since then, I’ve been finding this kind of damage everywhere in the garden. On echeverias, aeoniums, and some of the softer-leaved agaves, like the attenuatas and desmettianas.

Agave ‘Kara’s Stripes’ and Agave celsii ‘Multicolor’

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What’s even more surprising to me than this hail damage, if that’s what it is (and what else could it be?) is the fact that this has never happened before. From Wikipedia: “Hail formation requires environments of strong, upward motion of air with the parent thunderstorm (similar to tornadoes) and lowered heights of the freezing level. Hail is most frequently formed in the interior of continents within the mid-latitudes of Earth, with hail generally confined to higher elevations within the tropics.”

This video taken at a local high school, and which — WARNING — contains very “strong” language, offers an inside look at Southern Californians’ response to a hailstorm.

Growing Dragon Fruit

Yesterday, 12/20/11, The Los Angeles Times ran a well-informed piece on the cultivation and propagation of pitahaya, or dragon fruit, written by Jeff Spurrier of the The Global Garden, which you can read here. I wrote about my neighbor’s dragon fruit here.
(As far as what to call the dragon fruit, I guess it’s one of those tomato/tomahto, pitaya/pitahaya situations. Mr. Spurrier opts for pitahaya.) I vividly remember being confronted with the possibility that I might not be the adventurous epicure I thought I was, upon being offered my first slice of dragon fruit. Certain textures can be intimidating, but I managed to swallow. Amazingly nutritious, I’m told. I really need to try it again, calmly, possibly in private, where I won’t be worried about making offensive facial expressions.

Wonderful photo from the LA Times article of the epiphyte engulfing a wall:
Dragon fruit covers a wall at Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, the botanical garden in Oaxaca, Mexico.”

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Running out to check on the progress of my neighbor’s dragon fruit, I find I hadn’t even noticed that he’s removed it completely, giving its space over solely to bananas. In the dragon fruit’s place, an enormous hand of bananas now dangles like the sword of Damocles over the fence, just a few feet above the windshield of our Eurovan. I’d assumed the pitahaya was still threading itself through the jungle canopy. Mr. Li still has plants elsewhere in the garden, like the massive one trellised over the front walkway gate, kept neatly manicured and not wildly cascading like the photo above from the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. The mailman wouldn’t be able to deliver the mail otherwise.

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But none will be as daily visible to me. Glad I took a few photos.

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holiday cheer

the garden has started a holiday party of its own, in a very traditional palette

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fountain with fishnet and text

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The matted, black material at the base of this fountain merited closer inspection. Was it trash? Or perhaps something had gone terribly wrong with the water chemistry.

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Not at all, just fishing net. A wonderful touch which brought a smile of recognition. This is Manhattan Beach, California, after all. Apart from utilitarian use made of this netting by the commercial fishing industry, it was a big part of the surf culture decor and once hung from the ceiling of many a shabby beach apartment, including the one I lived in not far from this plaza in the early ’80s. In this town’s determined evolution from funky to upscale, my old apartment building, where I made my first and only rooftop garden, was torn down. All vestiges of this beach town’s former fishnet decor seem to have been successfully obliterated — except for fugitive memories of shag carpet and macramed glass fishing floats snared by this fountain, which anchors a large, new plaza, sharing a wall with the parking structure built on the site of the old Metlox Potteries and bounded on another side by the new Shade Hotel. The shopping complex down the street is the work of Tolkin & Associates and Wade Graham Landscape Studio. I’m not sure if the fishnet fountain is their work as well.

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Standing close enough to identify the fishnet in the fountain, I could now see the text running parallel in the paving along the front of the fountain, like the opening to a childhood story told by an old-timer like me:

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All of us kids would walk barefoot through the wild areas covered with wildflowers, buttercups, daisies, lupines, brush, statice and other flowers

Foliage Followup December 2011

400 South Hope Street, Los Angeles
Mellon Bank Center

An enormous agave (A. weberi?) in a sea of Senecio mandraliscae, ribboning out into massed plantings of dwarf phormium, then masses of a smaller agave, replaced by blocks of feather grass. The hedge to the left is bamboo.

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Foliage Followup courtesy of Pam at Digging, the 16th of every month.

Bloom Day December 2011

An unexpected afternoon cloudburst visited the garden this Bloom Day.

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In five minutes it was over, leaving enough time to collect some photos before sunset.
Self-sown Orlaya grandiflora, the Minoan Lace.

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Rose ‘Bouquet d’Or still in a flush of blooms.

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Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ and Thunbergia alata, one of the lighter, peachy shades.

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Salvia wagneriana

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Russellia equisetiformis

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Begonia ‘Paul Hernandez,’ Pedilanthus bracteatus

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Tulbaghia simmleri, Salvia madrensis

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Helleborus argutifolius

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Merry Bloom Day!

Bloom Day arrives unfailingly the 15th of every month courtesy of Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Rolling Greens Nursery

I had a job just down the street from Rolling Greens Nursery yesterday, but the sun was already set by the time I paid them a visit. The store is a big, roomy, open air space (formerly a tire shop) that’s a pleasure to visit, but too dim for photos after sunset. This location is quite a change from their Culver City nursery, which was a meandering, hilly, multi-level site devoted to mostly very cool plants and containers. The Hollywood location is a gorgeous, luxe, over-the-top design mecca for house and garden. More Paris flea market than Mid Century Modern but still appealing to a range of tastes.

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And damned if they didn’t carry a couple plants of Lepismium cruciforme, one of which rode home shotgun with me.

Nancy Silverton, local celebrity chef, will be at Rolling Greens tonight to celebrate her new book, The Mozza Cookbook. It is a rare occasion when I buy a cookbook, but I made an exception for this one, and it now sits on my reading bench. Ms. Silverton will forever be honored in our house for her wondrous hand-made breads made at the flagship artisanal bread-making shop, the La Brea Bakery. Although the bakery is under new ownership, the breads still rise and are still consumed weekly by us. Ms. Silverton now devotes her energies to her Mozza restaurants. (As a gossipy aside, the hard-earned proceeds from the sale of La Brea Bakery were invested with, and looted by, Bernard Madoff.)

Nancy Silverton at Rolling Greens Nursery
December 15, 2011
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
7505 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
refreshments will be served!

Disclosure: This is where I live, so this is what I write about. No remuneration is involved.