Summer’s Bounty


Man cannot live by tomatoes alone. (The first dahlia opened today.)

There’s no way I’m going to keep the garden moist enough simply for a few dahlias to thrive, but I’d hate to face August and September without them. So this year I planted my one dahlia tuber in a 5-gallon nursery can in March, amping up the potting soil with lots of compost. The container was then plunged into the garden, hidden from view behind some grasses but still in full sun and easily accessible for watering. This prestidigitation with containers, popping them into the garden in season, whether tulips, lilies, or dahlias, keeps things interesting, and has the added benefit of allowing the water runoff from the containers to go directly in the garden’s soil. Checking the blog, I find this dahlia was bought in 2009 at a garden show, and I neglected to note the name.

As far as tomatoes, so far it’s been a disaster, and I’m miserable about it. 2010 was a raging success. Never having had a garden before, my mom was thrilled with her daily summer bounty of tomatoes and zucchini from the 5X8 foot raised bed we built off her patio, and probably has the world’s unofficial record for number of zucchini breads baked by one woman in a 3-month period, which she froze then gave as holiday gifts. I knew the first year of living alone after my dad died would be difficult and, of course, my predictable solution was to plant a garden for her. I can’t help it. My mind finds the solution to all problems at the end of a garden path. (If the U.S. Congress can’t get this debt ceiling debate reconciled, they should be made to tend the White House vegetable garden in the sweltering heat of August and September, and then distribute the vegetables among the Capitol’s needy. And with their paychecks suspended in limbo.)

This year for her raised bed I foolishly chose a San Marzano tomato on a whim, knowing nothing about this legendary sauce tomato from the Campania region of Italy. As a sauce tomato, it doesn’t crop like tomatoes grown for the table, and while her friends are boasting of the ripe tomatoes they’re picking, she’s had zip. Right now it’s loaded with huge, bright green tomatoes, but over the past week the vine looks to have become diseased. I wouldn’t know cucumber mosaic virus if it bit me on the ass, but I’m guessing this is the affliction.

My mom is heartbroken. After her happy, carefree foray into vegetable gardening in 2010, except for the surprise success with Persian cucumbers, this year is all confusion and pain. Which is a common state of being for vegetable gardeners, something I’m trying to explain to my mom. But she just thinks she’s done something wrong, when the fault is all mine for choosing a late-cropping, finicky variety meant for sauces and not eating fresh.

Today I’m running to the local nursery to find a run-of-the-mill, dependable tomato to plant in a large container for her. There’s plenty of time left in our long growing season to turn this sad tomato situation around. Wish I could say the same for any prospect of turning this sad political season around as well.

Sherman Gardens & Library

I took the day off yesterday to check out some local nurseries for dahlias and eucomis in flower.
(All my eucomis were bought as bulbs, some with leaves purportedly of varieties as dark or darker than ‘Oakhurst,’ but all instead carry leaves of the brightest green.) One of the nurseries was minutes away from the Sherman Library & Gardens, so I popped in for my first visit ever to this gem of a garden tucked into the busy shops and restaurants of Corona del Mar, just off Pacific Coast Highway within sight of the Pacific Ocean. A courtyard garden had been famously redesigned by Matthew V. Maggio in 2005-2006 during his internship there as a horticultural student. Prior to the renovation, the courtyard garden had been known as the Cactus Garden and included the requisite cactus kitsch, sun-bleached steer skulls and splintered wagon wheels, which Matthew felt more rightly belonged on a Hollywood movie set than a garden. Macabre ornaments such as these, depicting death and decay, mischaracterize and obscure the true story of ingenious survival written in every succulent. In an article Matthew wrote on the making of this garden for Pacific Horticulture (Volume 71, No. 4, Oct/Nov/Dec 2010), he shares his goals to “shatter conventional views about succulent plants, engender lasting excitement over succulents, inspire design creativity,” and in the new garden each of those goals is met and surpassed. All quotes are from this article.


Continue reading Sherman Gardens & Library

Ennis House

All Bladerunner fans, relax. Deckard’s house is safe.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis house in Los Angeles, used as a set for some of the scenes in Bladerunner, left a Wright family conservatorship in 2009 and has now been sold to a private party for $4.5 million.


It’s these kind of brilliant design choices by director Ridley Scott that give Bladerunner its timeless quality.
One of four “textile block” homes by FLW, the Ennis house was built in 1924 and was FLW’s favorite. The use of concrete was experimental, and it was hoped to be an affordable new building material. The concrete blocks were cast on site, modeled in a Mayan Revival style with Greek key/meander motifs in the blocks.


I’ve never been inside the house, and this photo gallery is the most extensive one I’ve seen so far. I’m incredibly drawn to this house, but my husband is absolutely repulsed by it. Does anyone live snug and comfortable in a FLW home? And why can’t we make fences with blocks like these? — albeit with modern-day building methods to minimize some of the crumbling the Ennis house has seen over the years.

A pity the blocks and house as built won’t last forever, but then what does?

More photos here.

Agave bovicornuta

The Cow Horn Agave. I can’t think of another agave with this translucent quality to its leaves.
And the little “steer horns” (teeth) fire up in morning sun like burning coals heating a branding iron.


Do I really know anything at all about such cowboy matters as branding irons?
Only what I learn from my husband constantly alluding to the old cowboy shows of his youth, like “Rawhide,” whose theme song he knows by heart. And what I learn from checking in occasionally on that modern take on cowboy life, The Pioneer Woman blog, a powerhouse of marketing which I’d never even heard of until The New Yorker did a piece on it this past May. Always got my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, yesiree. (Not!) The Pioneer Woman’s photography is stupefyingly good.

My little cow horn agave is growing up into a big beast, and the Irish guide lists 5 to 6 and a half feet as ultimate width. He grew to most of his current size, about 2X3 feet, in a container and was carefully moved into this position in the garden last year. And like all agaves in the landscape, it’s always catching some manner of schmutz on its horns — I mean thorns. Teeth, rather.

I really need to simplify this bit of garden in the fall, since the agave’s golden halo from slanting morning sun is obviously what’s important here. Most everything else is superfluous, especially that lanky aeonium and possibly even the *solanum grown as a standard which is responsible for all the schmutz. This agave reputedly doesn’t offset, flowering after 12 to 18 years, so it keeps that pure, lotus-like form to the end. Appreciates some shade in summer. From the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Chihuahua. Frost-tender.

*Typically, once I truly acknowledge where the problem is, there’s no lag time. Thought becomes action. In garden matters, anyway. Five minutes after I typed about its possible removal, the solanum standard is gone. Truthfully, there was a 5-foot tree covered in purple flowers behind the agave and aeonium when I woke up this morning, now headed for the shredder. But the aeonium stays for now.


Sean Hogan at Flora Grubb Gardens

On Sunday, July 17, 2011, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, Portland, Oregon, gave a talk at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco, California, entitled “The Art of the Rosette.” I’ve visited Cistus Nursery twice, so I know first-hand that it’s every inch a horticultural destination, in the same league as such legendary West Coast nurseries past as Heronswood and Western Hills. To have Sean Hogan so frustratingly close, a mere 300 miles away, proselytizing about succulents and agaves, one of my favorite subjects, was maddening. Over the last couple weeks I wheedled, cajoled, and outright begged MB Maher, also in San Francisco, to attend the lecture, maybe take a few notes and grab a couple photos. Which, despite a busy weekend schedule, he kindly did.


Sean organized the talk around some fabulous rosettes:
Bromeliads, aloes, manfredas, eucomis, yuccas, and some of the smaller agaves.

Bromeliads discussed were terrestrial, such as puyas, and it was while on the subject of puyas that Sean acknowledged the masochism required to grow these spiny plants, even speculating they may have carnivore tendencies, since small rodents have been known to become impaled and trapped on their thorns. Hechtia texensis, a hardier terrestrial bromeliad similar to a dyckia from Texas/Mexico, was also given special mention.

I’m linking to photos from that excellent resource, the Plantlust site, which lists many of the Cistus plants discussed, such as Tradescantia sillamontana from the limestone mountains of Northern Mexico, where its cobwebby leaves mimic and disappear against the limestone formations. An admitted “opuntia freak,” Sean singled out for discussion Opuntia fragilis, native to a range stretching from Arizona up to Oregon and beyond, to the Peace River in Northern Alberta, Canada, as it happens also the former range of the North American buffalo, who unwittingly propagated this shy-flowering opuntia through pads hitching a ride in the beast’s shaggy coat. (I hope I’m keeping the notes straight on that anecdote. Perhaps a bit of MB Maher’s poetic license strayed in?)


The diminutive aloe hybrid ‘Brass Hat’ was singled out as particularly fine for container culture. Also cited for fabulous rosettes were the manfredas and their complicated hybrid spawn like ‘Spot’ and Mangave undulata ‘Chocolate Chips.’ Below is my photo of my Mangave ‘Bloodspot.’ Such wonderful studies in rosette architecture.


Eucomis, the pineapple lily, are to be appreciated for their tolerance of poor drainage. Their fast-growing, strappy leaves and dramatic summer flowers can enliven relatively static succulent plantings. I agree that they’re fabulous summer bulbs, in the ground or in containers. Sean feels yuccas are underused, underappreciated, and includes Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ in his top ten list of favorite plants, a spherical beauty hardy to zone 7 with almost a grassy texture. Also mentioned were Yucca nana, named just 12 years ago, from western Utah, hardy to zone 5, planted to good effect rising up out of iceplants and echeverias, as well as Yucca angustissima ‘Southside.’ A green roof project in Portland, Oregon included in its design 300 Yucca rostrata to add summer interest and structure, since vernal plants also used were summer-dormant. One-half inch of water three times during summer is all it takes to keep the yucca flourishing.


As far as agaves, there are lots of size options, since a vigorous agave poorly sited is a terrifying thing. The americanas can grow larger than a VW bug. Sean showcased some of the choice, smaller agaves, such as Agave schidigera ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Shira ito no Ohi.’

Below is my photo of another schidigera selection I’ve had at home a couple years, ‘Durango Delight,’ about 4 inches high. (Edited to correct ID. This is indeed ‘Black Widow.’)


He did stress, however, to include varying sizes and heights of agaves in the landscape, and not to be afraid of including the occasional large specimen.
Sean also emphasized that succulents are like goldfish, in that they will adapt to the size of their container, staying small when confined.


Apart from being unable to bring home an Agave funkiana ‘Fatal Attraction,’ I almost feel like I was there.
Huge thanks to MB Maher, for covering this wonderful lecture by Sean Hogan and to Flora Grubb Gardens for hosting such an exciting horticultural event.

Bloom Day July 2011

We’re a tad overexposed and on the run…


a day late for Bloom Day, the 15th of every month, hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

More photos after the jump. Continue reading Bloom Day July 2011

Succulent Experiments

Crassula expansa subsp. fragilis was planted this past May in these car jack stands, using window screening to hold the soil in, first pictured here near the bottom of the post.

Unlike my mossy experiments, this crassula is growing much faster and really seems to be thriving rather than barely hanging on. Tiny, starry white flowers are just starting to erupt. Love the delicate, thyme-like texture on this one. Soon it will engulf the entire structure.


I like it so much that a new one has been created using Crassula pellucida var. marginalis. So much of this crassula was broken in the process!
Someone really adept with their hands and eye could get some beautiful folds out of the window screen as a feature in the open spaces of the design. It’s nearly as pliable as a stiff fabric.


Hanging on branches temporarily to grow in the dappled light under the Chinese fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, the simple abstract shapes are not a glaring intrusion here. I have no doubt that this idea for multiple, nearly identical hanging planters was inspired, consciously or unconsciously, by the inventive hanging succulent creations seen this spring at Lotusland. The strips of rusty metal used for hangers, about 2 feet in length, are salvage from Building RESources in San Francisco, California.



I finally corraled someone (Mitch) into modeling the sunsleeves that were sent to me by Kool Dog. If you email them and inquire as I did, I’m sure they’ll send a sample to you too.

The model’s unfortunate choice of a *Tintin and Snowy T-shirt, however, might possibly be stealing the sunsleeves’ thunder.




As I wrote here, I noticed these sunsleeves in a golf shop window. Didn’t know they were just sleeves at first. Didn’t even know what to call them. After some online investigation, I found that “sunsleeves” seems to be the preferred vernacular. These have an Eiffel Tower pattern, which wouldn’t be my first choice. I wore them at least five hours one day last weekend and can vouch that the arms stay cool and the sleeves don’t feel at all constrictive. Very comfortable, in fact.


With the high temps of this summer stretching into the foreseeable future, this kind of clothing may start to gain traction. The state of my dad’s arms after an adulthood of golfing in Southern California, even though his skin possessed the added protection of his Mediterranean heritage, are an incentive for protecting these constantly sun-exposed limbs.

*Coincidentally, LA Times this morning reports the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson production of “The Adventures of Tintin” will be released this December. Bless you, Steven & Peter!

Occasional Daily Photo 7/11/11

Brugmansia hybrid ‘Charles Grimaldi.’ Incredibly voluptuous, scented trumpets…on a plant that rivals the hybrid tea rose for awkward growth and ugly legs.


Just haven’t found the right approach yet to placing these subtropical shrubs in a zone 10 landscape, where they can bloom nearly year-round.
To me, a gawky brug cries out for the structural boost of a container. A huge, preferably bottomless container, so it can root into the ground.
In which case it’s very nearly drought tolerant, as opposed to the daily wilt it gets in a pot.
Brugs: a love/hate relationship with a complicated subtropical beauty. Nothing like their scent on a warm summer night.

Big Daddy On The Move

“You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.”
Maggie the Cat, daughter-in-law of Big Daddy, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Me, too, Maggie. It’s clearly going to be a hot-tin-roof kind of summer. Visiting Big Daddy’s warehouse full of idiosyncratic antiques during the stifling heat of July, it’s impossible not to think of that other relic, the Big Daddy patriarch heading Tennessee Williams’ cranky, dysfunctional Pollitt clan in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, doing his best to ruin the lives of the two gorgeous leads from the movie, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Big Daddy is played by Burl Ives. Someone had to be the physical foil to Paul and Liz’s delicately chiseled features. (Nobody does titles like Tennessee Williams. Clothes for a Summer Hotel, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, etc.)

Image found here.

Big Daddy’s Antiques, collector of the fascinating detritus of families that came before us, dysfunctional and otherwise, could provide the set design for (unwritten) plays like Letters From A Bohemian Hotel or Desire Among the Ruins.


In addition to a menagerie of obscure objects of desire, Big Daddy’s also assembles bespoke light fixtures.


Big Daddy is on the move, leaving the Gardena warehouse to an as-yet-undisclosed space in Culver City. After reading about Big Daddy’s on Rancho Reubidoux, MB Maher wanted to capture the warehouse before the entire collection is dismantled and loaded into containers by August. This may be the last chance to prowl around a warehouse strewn with objects and furniture from all over the world that have pegged the meter of infinite cool that resides in owner Shane Brown’s visual cortex. The new home in Culver City will be more of a showroom and less a journey of discovery through a dusty warehouse/workroom.

After the jump, more photos by MB Maher from Big Daddy’s last month in Gardena.

Continue reading Big Daddy On The Move