Occasional Daily Photo 11/30/11

I switched out the 50 mm lens today for a 24mm to get a bigger view. I’ve been leaning on the 50mm like a crutch — for such a small garden, it just seems easier to manage with the 50mm. This wider view with the 24mm is as you’re coming in the gate from the east, and I’m pretty much backed up against the house with my camera. I’ve seen better camera phone photos than what I get with this 24mm lens, so more practice is definitely in order and/or a night school photography class.

Sometimes, opening this gate after a long day, the garden still has the ability to surprise even me. It’s as though the garden proclaims, Here nature triumphs! Yes, even in November, it’s still a busy, busy garden. I’ll never be able to practice simplicity of gesture when it comes to plants. But there’s more bare ground exposed than this telescoped view implies, and as the “soft” perennials of summer die back, what’s becoming apparent are some of the star plants for a zone 10 winter, such as agaves, yuccas, grasses, and euphorbias.

The agave is an attenuata hybrid ‘Blue Flame,’ one of two, the other out of frame. At the base of this agave to the right is a clump of the hardy cranesbill ‘Bertie Crug,’ which survived some tough conditions this summer, including very dry soil and the typical overcrowding I inflict on plants. Bertie managed to bloom through it all, even if her dark pink blooms were mostly hidden by her neighbors.

Just in back of the agave is one of two big Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ that I tried like heck all summer to keep from becoming deformed by overcrowding, just for this moment in fall thru winter when they gain size and really start to shine. The small-leaved, creamy shrub on the extreme right is a variegated prostanthera, or Australian mintbush. Deep golden yellow flowers dotted mid frame are from Amicia zygomeris, which seems to be responding to a strong cutback and cooler temps with a sunny flush of its typical pea flowers. The dark red grass is Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline.’

If it weren’t for the little heater I’m running in the office this grey, chilly day, the view out the office window onto the garden could almost be mistaken for summer. (Except for all that bare soil.)

Outdoor Rooms Need Shelving

Outdoor furniture, kitchens, fireplaces. Outdoor fabrics have come a long way for dirt and UV resistance.
But anyone else notice something lacking? Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places, but it seems to me that for sturdy outdoor shelving, pickings are mighty slim. If what I needed was for sale, reasonably priced, capable of some serious load bearing, and not made of wood, I’d put it at the top of the Christmas list. In the past I’ve accumulated all manner of tables and high plant stands to hold an ever-increasing collection of containers. Like repurposing my youngest son’s old aquarium stand, fitted with a slab of stone from Building REsources. Time for some sanding and a little paint this winter on this one.


Continue reading Outdoor Rooms Need Shelving

some quiet plant conversation

I suggest we leave the main table with its overturned wine glasses, scattered pie crumbs, gravy stains and increasingly madcap discussions and gather in an out-of-the-way corner to quietly talk plants. A kind of horticultural digestif.

A couple weeks ago I brought home Anthericum saundersiae ‘Variegata’, also widely known as Chlorophytum saundersiae, as it’s listed in Plant Delights’ catalogue. This is only the second time I’ve seen this anthericum offered locally. Having killed it off before in too much shade, full sun will be the new approach. Its graceful habit of growth is part dianella, part tulbaghia, but giving a much lighter effect, with more movement, like a dainty, diminutive Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’ The wands studded with tiny white flowers add a charming, nubby texture. Monterey Bay Nursery is the grower.


Half a minute to degrease the turkey stock again. Where were we? Oh, yes, November and plants, not my favorite juxtaposition of month and garden. Spring and summer are filled with giddy, ever-lengthening moments of And then, And this, one sweet anticipation following seamlessly after another, only to slam full stop into the diminished daylight hours of autumn. Twilight puttering time is over. It is a tricky season for a gardener to navigate, requiring far-sighted, judicious bulb and seed purchases to ease the deprivation, and depending on your climate, even plant purchases, which can occasionally get out of hand. For example, I would never have bought these gerbera in spring, but they were absolutely necessary for fall/winter.


These brazen daisies are kin to the familiar florist flowers from South Africa, bred for thick stems and strong petals on huge floral disks. Earlier this year I’d read of work being done on breeding back in traits more suitable for garden than florist. My guess is I found it somewhere on Graham Rice’s site, The TransAtlantic Plantsman Gardener, but now can’t easily relocate the article. In any case, perusing the back pages of Mr. Rice’s site is winter reading time well spent. I found both plants, the anthericum and this Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Carmine,’ at a local Armstrong nursery, which has more information on the gerbera here. The leaves are softer, not as leathery as the florist gerbera, and the scale of flower size to overall plant has been ratcheted down and is now similar in proportion to that of a geum. The gerbera’s flowers are, of course, larger than a geum’s, at approximately two inches across, still way under the florist bloom sizes. Playing around with this reputedly free-flowering gerbera would also be a fine winter diversion for a glasshouse.

Speaking of strategies to lessen the end-of-summer pangs, did you take up Nan Ondra’s fantastically generous offer of Hayefield seeds? I’m sending my SASE envelope out today.

With the onset of cooler temps, the succulents grow ever more rosy-rimmed. (In the foreground, Echeveria ciliata X nodulosa.)
Like Marilyn Monroe, succulents have the best “skin” for photography.


What else? I’ve had pollinators on the brain lately and have been haphazardly researching whether small urban gardens can be of any real benefit, or are issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder going to be resolved on much larger, contiguous tracts of land and involve changing agricultural practices. This recent photo gallery of Los Angeles gardens from the Los Angeles Times depicts sleek, modern gardens with very little blooming (messy?) plants. Often such gardens are contrasted, and not always politely, with plant-driven gardens. But if the garden is small, the pavement is permeable, water usage kept to a minimum, and no pesticides or foul practices are in use, why not? Is it only a matter of taste, or is wildlife suffering from such preferences? It would be nice if biologists could provide a definitive number of feet/meters or acreage necessary to support healthy pollinator populations, so designers or owners of small urban gardens, where pollinators might find little of interest, can enjoy them guilt-free. Or, conversely, face up to the harsh truth if even their small urban garden could be of significant help to pollinators. I’ve asked my handy neighborhood biologist, John, who works in native landscape restoration, this very question, and his face lit up with excitement, but he had no ready answer. John says this topic is currently making the rounds at seminars but didn’t know of any definitive sources at this time. Please chime in if you know of any material on this subject.

I see the attraction in linking the house to clean, geometric spaces and the relative ease of maintenance, too, but personally I’ll always prefer the mess of plant procreation. To wit, the Corsican hellebores are budding. Salvia littae’s cerise buds grow fatter.



For this summer I’m bringing ‘Monch’ asters back to the garden, that long-blooming composite that often graces 10 Best Perennials lists, and getting introduced to the dashing thistle, Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum.’ Long-forgotten orders of bulbs keep trickling in, including a new hybrid lily, ‘Lankon’ (L. longiflorum X lankongense), even though lilies are on the short list of plants I’ve vowed to stop growing, since they hold a deep grudge against my garden. I suppose the bright side to these shortened days is we have the whole winter to plan for the immoveable feast that is the summer garden.

Until next summer, little manihot.


Desk Diversions

The past few days have been misshapen, unwholesome things, misspent in a prolonged bout of desk duty. Sporadic but sweet relief and diversion came in the form of The Paris Apartment. Claudia has been shopping the Paris flea markets(!) The interminable hours at the desk had me rifling through my Reader, where I’ve stashed away all kinds of marvelous blogs such as hers just for these occasions.

The colors in these blankets instantly wiped away hours of desk fatigue.



Faster than you can say “Concorde,” for a few stolen moments I was lost in Parisian flea markets, wandering among the stalls, gaping at a copy of La Vagabonde, inscribed by Colette. (Photo found here, portrait by Irving Penn.)


And then there was this tableaux outside a Parisian florist. The subtle staging at varying heights, interplay of pattern and texture, bowls of succulents balancing the vertical, soft sweep of the grasses. With the pièce de résistance, the hydrangea on standard. So very French!


Bloom Day November 2011

It can’t be November already. But the winter-blooming salvias don’t lie.
Rosebud-like blooms are forming on Salvia wagneriana, and the slender wands of Salvia littae from Oaxaca, Mexico are budding up.
The latter’s tall, lanky growth habit is very reminiscent of Salvia uliginosa, but in pink and without the crinkly, rugose leaves or funky cat-pee smell. I’m checking S. wagneriana’s buds daily, but it seems to take an agonizingly long time for the complex structure of flower, bracts and calyces to elongate and reveal itself. (A watched flower never blooms?)
The third pink salvia is S. chiapensis.


Many of the so-called late-blooming, tender salvias collide with early frosts outside of zones 9 and 10. Here in zone 10, these salvias are not so much late fall-bloomers as early winter-bloomers, when they will bloom from November to March. Of course, a gardener’s perception of the timeliness or tardiness of a plant’s blooms arises out of a narrow range of aesthetic considerations. From a plant’s point of view, it is always exquisitely on time.

Salvia madrensis started bloom late summer and gets continued support from castor bean plants. It needs it.
These winter-blooming salvias are nothing like the herbaceous salvias’ tidy, vertical forms, but huge, sprawling shrubs that need cutting back after bloom, and then even again mid-summer to keep them to a manageable size. I can fit in only a few kinds, or there’d be no room left for a proper summer garden.


Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ continues its intricate weaving act, oblivious that most other summer performers have left the stage.


The Passiflora sanguinolenta is fulfilling its reputation as a dainty (maxing at 10 feet), prolifically blooming passion vine. I didn’t think it was possible, but now I’ve seen ever-blooming proof. Alongside is ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ the lone survivor of a one-time 30-plus collection of old tea roses and noisettes. Spring and fall are the seasons I miss these roses the most.


The Moroccan toadflax, Linaria maroccana, was added the last couple weeks to bloom fall/winter.
Apart from this Hakonechloa macra ‘Emerald Glow,’ very few grasses bloomed this year.
I’ve never grown Japanese forest grass before, assuming it preferred much moister soil than mine, but it did surprisingly OK.


With a rack rivaling Bullwinkle, the inflorescence on the tetrapanax must be 4 feet across, reaching for this aerial basket of succulents and bromeliads, including the trailing Crassula sarmentosa, its starry white flowers now in bloom.


A Thunbergia alata vine planted at the base of the tripod holding the basket of succulents has made its way to the top of the basket. The golden-leaved bromeliad is Aechmea recurvata ‘Aztec Gold,’ the darker green Vriesea gigantea.


Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts the monthly Bloom Days, providing a look at what’s in bloom all over the world.


Lunaria annua

I’ve finally discovered the identity of the little clutch of seedlings under the smoke tree.


Lunaria annua, which I saw lining the pathways of *Western Hills, the former plant nursery in Occidental, California.

Western Hills photo by MB Maher.

I’ve been hoping to entice lunaria to naturalize and bloom with spring bulbs and Helleborus argutifolius, which also throws its seed around with wild abandon. A single Geranium maderense that bloomed last spring carpet-bombed the area with seedlings, so initially I mistook the lunaria for more late arrivals from the geranium. The lunaria’s seedlings also came from just a single plant, a variegated selection that bloomed under the smoke tree Grace this past spring. Rather than bring the transparent seedpods indoors for a vase, I tore them apart and shook them over the ground.

Photo found here.


Lunaria annua is a biennial known, strangely enough, as both Honesty and the Money Plant. Although not a rarity, still the possibility of getting a self-perpetuating colony going of this charming plant has me gleefully counting the little seedlings and moving them around to shady areas of the garden, which are admittedly few. The translucent seedpods or “coins” are an old-timey, dried flower favorite. If I’d taken a moment’s care, peeling back the membrane would have revealed the three flat seeds encased in each pod. Carol Klein discusses history and propagation here.

And in another lunaria triumph, seeds of the perennial Lunaria rediviva have also germinated. Source of these seeds was Derry Watkins.

Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is a mail order source of Lunaria annua, including the dark-leaved selection ‘Rosemary Verey.’

(*NB: In an update on this post on Western Hills, Chris and Tim Szybalski of Berkeley’s Westbrae Nursery have since become its new owners and will be preserving the garden.)

pieces of Rancho Reubidoux

The inaugural Rancho Reubidoux Bazaar took place this weekend, a truly one-of-a-kind experience amounting to a physical journey through Reuben’s blog posts, a kind of dimension-pushing experience with flash mob overtones. Blogging in 3-D, so to speak. At my last visit to RR in April, it was garden-tour ready, (see this post here from which I’ve borrowed some photos) and now we had Reuben’s beaming permission to dismantle it all and cart it away. And at ridiculously good prices.

Gear Guy found a good home in an art gallery.


I can barely express what an unusual, layered experience it is to rummage through objects and at the same time have flashes of recognition, already in possession of the object’s most recent, specific story of Reuben’s relationship to them. Like this neoclassical urn on the right, one of a pair, formerly part of RR’s temple. Already purchased by the time I got there.


I was trying to keep the focus on small, lightweight, and plantable, since all the bulbs chilling in the fridge will need potting up soon. I’m still wishing I’d found a way to bring home this very heavy, planted metal container with the zigzag striations. MB Maher grabbed the vent.


And then there he was, the little man. I’d completely forgotten about him. Was he already purchased? Carefully lifting him and holding him aloft, I called out to Reuben, who said, Take him. He’s a gift.


Reuben knew from my comments on his blog that I was smitten with the little homunculus. I’m telling you, anywhere the little man sits, his naked serenity instantly calms and composes his surroundings. I’ve already tested this theory quite a bit. Currently the little man sits on the fireplace mantle.


I did find some troughs for the bulbs, the top one planted yesterday with Dutch iris, and this indispensable grappling hook/anchor thingy.


Whether abstract pieces of heavy pig iron formerly built up into towering assemblage or delicate, metal bird’s nest weavings, all the objects hummed at the Rancho’s frequency. And now they would hum elsewhere. Reuben hinted at a new direction he’d be exploring, inspired by a recent visit to Joshua Tree.


Thank you, Reuben, the ever-charming Paul, and all the friends and vendors who made the bazaar possible.


Can we say until next time?


Villa Mundo Nuevo

This fall photographer MB Maher revisited this Northern Californian residential garden designed by landscape architect Jarrod Baumann of Zeterre Landscape Architecture and built by contractor Jim Everett of EvLand LLC that won the 2010 California Landscape Contractors Association Trophy Award. An early rough video preview of this project from last November can be found here. Laura Livengood Schaub first blogged on this project on Interleafing May 2010, found here.


Continue reading Villa Mundo Nuevo

Occasional Daily Weather Report 11/2/11

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.” — Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”

Aunt Annette and Uncle Paul in Chicopee, Massachusetts, still don’t have power on after that freak snowstorm blindsided the East Coast in late October. Here in Los Angeles nothing so devastating has occurred weatherwise, but this morning the Santa Ana winds did arrive, making this the kind of day where ions are so active and static electricity so intense you don’t dare pet a cat. Our house is divided over these seasonal winds, with the breakdown in approval/disapproval generally falling along skin types. Oily skins love it. The sailor in the house loves it. And robust nervous systems usually have no quarrel with these winds blowing out of the cooling high deserts, but the Santa Anas have been notoriously to blame for all manner of calamities and crimes, as Joan Didion explains in this quote from “Los Angeles Notebook.”

Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”

Kate Braverman in “Lithium for Medea” also finds the winds menacing:

The Santa Ana winds were blasting through the streets, bristling and smelling of desert, of white sunlight, of sharp, wiry plants and white rock…A hot madness was enclosing the city.”

Doomsday literature aside, really, if you keep the lip balm handy, you’ll be fine.

(Brought to you by that imperturbable weather girl, Evie the cat.)

this week on AGO

A new garden in Los Gatos, California, by Jarrod Baumann of Zeterre Landscape Architecture, re-explores formalism in the landscape and proposes that modern materials like steel do not necessarily equal chilly results. Not when forged with a plant lover’s sensibility.


More photos by MB Maher later this week.