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quick trip to Rolling Greens

Work cancelled at the last minute today, the message on the phone said, so there I was in a Culver City business center parking garage with nothing to do.

Driving around Culver City, I mulled the situation over and considered my options. Head home and back into rush-hour traffic or to the Culver City branch of Rolling Greens, Los Angeles’ “predominant live plant nursery for professional landscapers, landscape architects, production designers, and in-the-know home gardeners.” (I think I’m included in there somewhere, maybe the last category if we substitute “half-ass” for “in-the-know.”)

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Ah, Rolling Greens. Aren’t pottery and plant nurseries some of the most serene destinations known to mankind? There is the occasional pang of remorse, like when you check the price on the Yucca rostrata and it’s half your mortgage payment. But the discomfort quickly passes because, honestly, where would I put it anyway? Unless an agave blooms soon, I’m maxed out.

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Overall, serenity permeates every crunchy footfall along the gravel paths exploring the many levels to this hilly Culver City location.
Very Etruscan/Sumerian theme with the containers today.

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But every style of garden ornament and container is represented, whether Balinese, French, Italian, Mid Century Modern — truly an exhaustive selection of styles and kinds of pottery, some of gigantic proportions. Lots of salvage and vintage garden furniture too.

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The nursery side of the business doesn’t try to dazzle with plant rarities, but instead offers a very solid selection for mediterranean gardens.

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221 North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles

From the tenth floor looks like this:

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And at ground level.

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Aloes, furcraea, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Senecio mandraliscae, Dichondra argentea.


One of the most successful public plantings of succulents I’ve seen around town. It’s been at least five years since I last visited this address and saw the early stages of these plantings, and it was a delight to see them again today, still beautifully maintained, obviously the work of an adoring plant geek. This type of detailed planting is so easily overrun by the vigorous spreaders like Senecio mandraliscae and S. vitalis, but there’s a watchful eye at work here keeping the mature plantings in balance and proportion.

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Incredible variety and detail for for intimate revelation.

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But in large enough swathes to read as gorgeous, abstract ribbons of color from upper stories.

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With hidden ponds and streams to discover throughout the labyrinthine gardens.

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An exciting, energizing view, whether at ground level or from a tenth-story window.

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Really brightens up a workday.

Foliage Followup April 2012

Grasses and agaves, yes, of course, solidity and movement, so why not grasses and aloes?
A youngish Aloe marlothii and the evergreen cold blue steel blades of Blue Oat Grass, Helicotrichon sempervirens.

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I can’t imagine keeping a plant in the garden with really awful leaves. Even so, participating in Pam’s Foliage Followup to Bloom Day is always a puzzle as to what to include without getting too repetitive. I don’t believe I’ve ever included this odd, neoclassical scene in the very back of the garden.

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The salvaged urn was a gift from friends moving to Eugene, Oregon, years ago and leans against the back wall propped up on a base of large rocks. It was nearly swallowed up entirely this winter by a shroud of creeping fig, Ficus repens. The fig covers the back wall, southern boundary, essentially rendering it a 10-foot hedge, home to possums, lizards, and all manner of secretive creatures. It needs clipping twice a year, now overdue for its spring clip. Plectranthus argentatus manages to survive in the urn which has no drainage holes and is therefore seldom watered. Labrador violets, asparagus fern, and Corsican hellebores seed into the base of the wall too. Very Last Days of Pompeii.

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x Fatshedera lizei, rinsed clean from the rain.

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Pathway lined with succulents, echeverias and aeoniums, fresh growth of eucomis in the background.
Dark green, thyme-like mat grower is Frankenia thymifolia.

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Bloom Day April 2012


April deserves a thorough Bloom Day post, but if I’m to get this in before midnight it’ll have to be brief. A big change here is that the poppies of Troy, Papaver setigerum, are over sooner than I’d like. I expect them to last at least all of April. The past two mornings countless confused bees have been aimlessly circling the air space once filled with poppies in bloom. The last rainfall was followed by ferocious winds which battered and ultimately flattened the poppies, so they’ve been pulled from the crevices in the dry-laid brick terrace in which they self-sowed, and now it’s like they were never there. Poof, and the terrace is once again just an ordinary terrace instead of a meadow of swaying, buzzing poppies. And it seems the garden has no other flowers to tempt the bees, though the hummingbirds are finding plenty to keep themselves occupied. Last pre-rainstorm photo of the poppies.


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Papaver rupifragum in the front gravel garden, in a more protected spot, was safe from wind damage. And possibly the leaner soil here may have helped them to grow a little tougher.

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One of the mainstay salvias in the garden, Salvia chiapensis, in bloom nearly year-round. I’m including yet another Bloom Day photo only because I liked this angle with the waterfall of yucca as a backdrop. In the blurry foreground is Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’

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The last of the Dutch iris, too, this one ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ hands down my favorite. Dark, smoky, moody.

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Albuca maxima, a summer-dormant bulb from South Africa, flower stalks about 3 feet high, growing in the front gravel garden which gets little supplemental irrigation.

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Always a surprise to have a grass bloom as early as Stipa gigantea. The albuca is just a few feet away, and fall-blooming nerines grow in this part of the gravel garden too, another bulb that requires summer dormancy.

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Pelargonium ‘Splendide’ with an unidentified sedum species

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Peachy thunbergia, just a little snail-chewed.

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I prefer the clear orange of this Orange Clock Vine, Thunbergia gregorii.

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A large pot of this oversized figwort, Scrophularia calliantha, was moved to a spot with less afternoon sun yesterday in the narrow inner courtyard off the front gravel garden, where coincidentally it also drapes and displays itself to much better effect. In probably the reverse of what’s going on in many spring gardens, I’ve been busy removing the clutter of winter pots to streamline the garden for summer, keeping just a few large pots which hold moisture longer. I don’t yet have any big plans for summer containers but am always open to temptation.


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Geum magellanicum

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I’m trialing a couple new kinds of foxglove this year, Digitalis ferruginea and this one, Digitalis ‘Goldcrest,’ a sterile hybrid of D. obscura and grandiflora reputed to be extremely floriferous.

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For fans of chartreuse bracts, besides euphorbias, hellebores, and ornamental oregano, there’s sideritis.

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The color of chocolate cosmos but with silvery leaves, Lotus jacobaeus in its first season has already earned a permanent place in my affections.

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Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Variegatum’ is almost more excitement than I can handle in one plant.

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Salvia littae grows in a mad, scrambly tangle. Brittle too, so attempts to tidy it up results in broken stems. A frustrating salvia unless allowed to drape down a wall, I’d guess. Brought home from the Mendocino Botanic Garden last summer.

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Salvia macrophylla. I don’t think I’ve ever grown a salvia that clothes itself with leaves right down to the ground like this one does.

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White blooms of Aeonium ‘Kiwi’

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Tweedia caerulea, started from seed by Dustin Gimbel. I’ve crowded my plants so they’ve been slow to bulk up.

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A little past midnight so time to put this Bloom Day to rest. Thanks again to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for giving Bloom Day a home.

a lull between rainstorms


Two storms this week, unusual for April. February is usually our wettest month.
The first storm arrived around midnight Tuesday, the other is due later tonight.
Just before the first storm, leaves were swept, tables and chairs straightened.
Later that night I fell asleep to the sound of rain drumming on these tables, a deeply satisfying “sleep song.”

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Anticipating the rain on Tuesday, I celebrated with a late-afternoon trip to a couple nurseries.
(Aloe capitata var. quartzicola.)

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Yes, I’m silly in love with rain, but I’m not the only one.

By Langston Hughes

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.


road trip destination; Nevada Museum of Art

As road trip season begins, with the price of gas being what it is, the question we’re all asking ourselves has to be, Is the gas tank half empty or half full?

I vowed to make a road trip to the Nevada Museum of Art earlier this year when its Director of the Center for Art + Environment, William Fox, popped this image up on the screen while speaking at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden’s Natural Discourse seminar. A gabion man!

Cairn, by Celeste Roberge

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Now I find that another artist at that UCBG seminar, Gail Wight, will debut her video work on slime mold, Hydraphilia, at the Nevada Museum of Art from April 21 through August 26, 2012.


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At the UCBG Natural Discourse seminar, Gail gave a hilarious account of the slime mold experiment escaping the lab and oozing into the domestic parts of her house and life. As a layperson grappling with the overlay of art and science, she finds that “the obsession to make art is a neurological disease.”

At UCBG Fox spoke on the difficulty of making art in isotropic places like Antarctica, “the unnerving sense of disorientation that humans experience in flat, featureless landscapes,” a part of his “sustained inquiry into how human cognition transforms land into landscape,” or as he put it at the seminar: “What I do is travel around the world in extreme environments and look at how to get lost and look at the ways we deploy both neurophysiology and culture to find ourselves again.”

Both Gail and Bill are rollicking good storytellers. Bill wrote about his day at UCBG here.

You can meet Gail Wight in person at the Nevada Museum of Art on May 4, 2012. (Ask her about the runaway slime on the staircase.)

when the world gets too koyaanisqatsi

I heard this phrase a couple weeks back and thought it an instant classic, the perfect shorthand for those moments when life gets a little too fractured, too fragmented, too…out of balance or koyaanisqatsi, referring to that 1983 art house movie staple by Godfrey Reggio which takes as its title the Hopi word for “life out of balance.” When the world gets too koyaanisqatsi is precisely the moment when you’ll want to have the garden in order. So I sweep, clip, move plants, move pots, pot up seedlings, add buckets of compost, sweep some more, knowing how appreciated the work will be when the center, for whatever reason and however briefly, does not hold. A little secret — koyaanisqatsi trembles before gardens. Really.

The importance of keeping an eye out for koyaanisqatsi-fighting plants cannot be overstated.
Centaurea clementei seen in Dustin Gimbel’s garden.

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Nameless kniphofia in bloom in my garden, rendered anonymous by countless moves.

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Gardens, my preferred koyaanisqatsi buster.

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(Thanks for the sonchus, Dustin!)


windows on the world

Thank you, Paris Review, for continuing Windows on the World, a wonderful “series on what writers from around the world see from their windows,” as drawn by Matteo Pericoli, first commissioned by The New York Times.

My introduction to this series was the entry by Mrs. Borges, Maria Kodama, first published in The New York Times on 1/2/11.

“A certain house in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta has a window that is doubly privileged. It overlooks a courtyard garden of the kind known here as a pulmón de manzana – literally, the lung of a block – which affords it a view of the sky and an expanse of plants, trees and vines that meander along the walls of neighboring houses, marking the passage of the seasons with their colors…” Mária Kodama

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But this isn’t a series about view envy. Not all the writers’ accounts of their views are as rhapsodic as Ms. Kodama’s. I love how Marina Endicott begins the description of her view:

By some spiral of fate and capitulation, instead of a street in the East Village or a shabby lane in London, I stare out at a suburban patio, a generous and quiet garden in Edmonton, Alberta.”

More recent windows:

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wilmington, NC

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Emma Larkin, Bangkok

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Dennis Cooper, Paris

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Matteo Pericoli is a famous drawer of cities. He is known for his witty, loving, obsessively detailed renditions of the Manhattan coastline (Manhattan Unfurled), the perimeter of Central Park (Manhattan Within), and the banks of the River Thames (London Unfurled).

Several years ago, Matteo began to draw New York from a new vantage point—from its windows. He asked artists, writers, politicians, editors, and others involved with the cultural life of the city to let him draw whatever they saw when they looked outside. These were collected in the book The City Out My Window (and the view from 62 White Street appeared on the cover of The Paris Review).

friday’s clippings 4/6/12

I trust we’ve all safely arrived at the doorstep of this spring weekend relatively intact. My car is in the shop from a minor crash a few weeks back, my first since I can’t remember when, and the rental has taken some getting used to. After decades driving a manual transmission, I’m probably one of the few people that has had difficulty adjusting to driving an automatic transmission — the tedium nearly puts me to sleep driving home at the end of the day.

Some clippings from the past week. In a waiting room I thumbed through several issues of the posh magazine Bonhams, including Issue 30 from spring 2012, in which British actor Terence Stamp nominated as his entry for “My Favorite Room” the landmark Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, a kind of Chelsea Hotel West (“stayed up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writing Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you”) with the Chateau Marmont’s emphasis more on the bacchanal and less on tormented artistic endeavor. I might have to hit the local library up for his just-released memoir, “Rare Stamps.”

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Which has nothing whatever to do with gardens except in the tangential respect that, as with the plant world, there occasionally emerges out of the human race as if sprung from the head of Zeus someone so impeccably cool they are worth noting if for no other reason than they simply exist. I’ve always found Terence Stamp, from his earliest, Christ-like role in Billy Budd, up through Soderbergh’s “The Limey,” to be one of these agave-cool beings.

Image found here Rob Walls, 1967.
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With Jean Shrimpton, the first “supermodel,” who has since run a hotel in Penzance, England for the past 30 years.
Image found here.

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Another familiar beauty I bumped into this week was this Irish Wolfhound, whose photo I was kindly allowed to take. Irish Wolfhounds are part of my MegaMillions fantasy scenario. Enough land for them to run and me to garden. That would be quite a bit of land.

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The wolfhound was standing near a shop window of Metlox pottery in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

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At home the poppies continue to be the topic of conversation, especially now that they’re waist high, just a few feet from the kitchen door, and in particular the squadrons of bees that visit these half-dozen plants.

Me: I suppose some people might be a little nervous about walking through here…Kimmie, for instance.
M: (No response, just watches the dozens of bees on the poppies)
Me: What’s that line from “To Have and Have Not”?
M: ‘Was you ever bit by a dead bee?’
Me: That one! Who says it? Walter Brennan?
M: Yeah, as Eddie the rummy.
Me: Hey, have you ever been stung by a bee before, dead or alive?
M: (No response…)
Me: I was, that one time on the Slip ‘N Slide. I’ve told you about that, right? Didn’t see him on the ground and slid right into him.
M: Yeah, you’ve told me about that Slip ‘N Slide business before. On Timmy Prescott’s lawn, right?
Me: Yeah. At least I know I’m not allergic. You must’ve been stung before, too, right?
M: Must have…

(For a more scientific discussion of bees, see this recent New York Times article detailing the link between pesticides and dwindling bee numbers.)


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Some of what I’ve been missing in my garden this week is the astonishing, universe-expanding development of Allium schubertii. Truth is, the fact that any allium develops past the leaf stage in my garden is cause for astonishment. Allium christophii and schubertii are supposed to be candidates for zone 10, that is, not sensitive to winter dormancy issues, but my garden always seems to eat the bulbs for breakfast, although the drumstick allium, A. sphaerocephalon, grows reasonably well here. I prechilled a bunch of different allium this year and have had much better results. Spectacular results in the case of Allium schubertii.


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My one rose, the tea-noisette ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ has started a nice flush of bloom. I’m surprised how much I like having just…one…rose. One rose to represent her kind. Make it a climber and scented, and that one rose can be quite enough. (I wrote about my complicated relationship with roses here a couple years ago.)


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The blessed weekend is finally here.

front porches


The front porch, that shaded darling of New Urbanism. Decompression chamber and threshold between the kick-you-in-the-shins workaday world and the sanctity of home. Preferred lookout post for hard-working dogs.

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The porch – as an intermediate space, even a sphere of ‘civil society’ – was the symbolic and practical place where we learned that there is not, strictly speaking, a total separation between the public and private worlds. Our actions in private are not merely ‘private,’ but have, in toto, profound public implications.” Front Porch Republic

Reasons why I rarely sit on my porch:
1) Our porch faces a gloomy north.
(However, I don’t see my neighbors on the opposite side of the street, who face sunny south, using theirs much either.)
2) My porch was built when horses still clopped down the street but now overlooks rows of parked cars or, alternatively, cars whizzing by at curse-inducing speeds. Not much enticement in either case to sit for a spell.
3) Who sits for long anymore unless it’s in front of a screen?

Barry Berkus of B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara: “New urbanism has been promoted as the great answer to housing needs and urban sprawl. But it’s not for everyone. Before air conditioning, there were reasons for front porches. People in summer would sit on porches until the house cooled down. That’s not the way people live today.”

John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute: “Expect future new urbanism projects to include more rental, high-rises and open spaces, but fewer single-family homes.” (Chicago Tribune, “New Urbanism: Old-fashioned design in for long run,” 4/1/12.)

So is a porch a useless, anachronistic waste of space? Not at all. Maybe people have lost the knack for porch life, but cats, dogs, and plants haven’t. For plants, the shadier aspect the better, to keep colors vivid as long as possible on ephemeral spring bulbs like Dutch iris brought out for display at peak bloom.


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And I’ve noticed a definite correlation between the number of pots on the porch and the amount of time I want to spend there.