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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.

freeway wildflowers

Two Sundays ago, on Earth Day, in fact, I bounded out of bed early to head for a strip of wildflowers I’d been watching gain momentum for weeks and which looked to be approaching peak bloom. Instead of driving miles out of town to see the wildflowers in bloom, like I resolve to do every year and then never do, this year the wildflowers had come to me, blooming in a narrow strip alongside the 7th Street onramp to the 710 Freeway as it leaves Long Beach.

For some visual context, the wildflowers are blooming in a narrow band parallel to the freeway onramp in the midst of all this industrial mishegoss. If you’ve seen movies like To Live And Die In LA and Gone In 60 Seconds, you may already be familiar with this view.

Port of Long Beach with the concrete-bottomed Los Angeles River flowing at the bottom of the photo:

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I would have hopped on my bike since it wasn’t far, but this can be a lonely part of town before 7 a.m. on a Sunday.
A sign at the garden proclaimed the patrons of this garden to be a local bank, some civic associations, as well as a corporate sponsor (Walmart).

Up close the garden held some surprises. For starters, it wasn’t strictly an exercise in native plant restoration. On closer examination, the planting was a mix of natives and drought-tolerant exotics.

I’m guessing a form of Pennisetum alopecuroides (edited to add confirmation by Dustin Gimbel as Pennisetum messiacum)

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Kalanchoe beharensis

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Cistus

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As well as cistus, there were other tough, classic mediterranean climate plants such as rosemary, lavender, species pelargoniums, helianthemum…

aloes

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kniphofias

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But the California natives were there too. Tidy Tips, Layia platyglossa

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Mimulus aurantiacus

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Scorpionweed, Phacelia crennulata, native to the American Southwest and Mexico.

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Along with the usual suspects that come in wildflower seed mixes.
Bachelor buttons, Centaurea cyanus, mostly in blue, with a few outliers in purple and pink.

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California poppies, Escholtzia californica, were well represented, perversely enough my least favorite poppy.

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Purple background haze is from Verbena lilacina

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Last exit out of Long Beach is holding quite the springtime show.

Saturday’s Clippings 4/28/12

I enjoyed this article very much earlier in the week, well worth a Sunday read:

Any patch of earth, large or small, turns out to be a mad surprise party of species — fluid, unpredictable and wild — and a microcosm of what is happening and has always been happening around the corner and around the globe.” — NYT 4/24/12 “Counting Species on a Little Patch of Earth,” by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.

Off to do some species counting myself at the Huntington Botanical Garden plant sale tomorrow, Sunday, April 29.

Catching up on this week but still counting species, what a nice touch it was for Dustin Gimbel, of Second Nature Garden Design, and Laura Dalton, of Agave Coast Landscapes, to include our native Catalina Ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus, in their display garden for South Coast Plaza’s Spring Garden Show which I attended on Thursday and which is still open Sunday, April 29. The Catalina Ironwood was in one of three enormous pots, the other two holding agaves in bloom, all three plants towering high into the atrium ceiling — a grand gesture impossible to capture by photo at a crowded garden show held in a mall, so I very sensibly didn’t even try.

Lovely Fermob chairs were featured, too, pale celadon green, from Potted. Burnt orange arctotis and chartreuse Agave attenuata, maybe ‘Kara’s Stripes’ or “Raea’s Gold.’


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And there you have it, proof that garden show display gardens don’t have to be all that complicated. Nice chairs, cool plants, and I’m satisfied.

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And there was some beautifully executed stonework to admire in the display garden by Sarah Robinson

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This show held at the South Coast Plaza shopping mall has room for just a handful of modest exhibits and is really about the plant vendors. Disconcerting though it may be to find yourself hemmed in on all sides by the Apple store, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, etc., the mall’s atrium ceiling has a unique advantage over the typical dark, cavernous settings of most garden shows.

Natural light.
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Orchids, bearded irises, succulents, lilies, African violets, sinningias, Japanese maples. The specialty growers are always generous with their time and knowledge.

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Agave ‘Felipe Otero’

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A special thanks to the nice gentleman at B&D Lilies who spent several minutes explaining why he felt the lily ‘Lankon‘ was the most exciting lily he’s encountered in 35 years in the business. (I tracked ‘Lankon’ down last fall, and it’s now forming buds.)

And it was very moving to find the late Gary Hammer’s nursery, Desert to Jungle, selling plants at the show, with an impromptu shrine to Gary consisting of his photograph, paperclipped to which were cards with the names of the many plants he introduced. The mystery Ecuadorian knotweed I bought from his nursery many years ago still grows in our parkway.


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selections from Mar Vista’s Green Garden Showcase

A quick look back at one of the gardens on the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase last Saturday, which was a huge tour, with over 80 houses participating. Careful logistical preparation is required, researching and winnowing through descriptions online, mapping out routes, which we didn’t do, so consequently only a handful of gardens were toured. Next year we’ll be better prepared and ready to spend the better part of a day on the tour. And maybe bring bikes too. Photos by MB Maher.

The first garden we visited was the home of landscape architect Katherine Spitz and her husband, architect Daniel Rhodes.
It was this December 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times that put their garden on our must-see list. (This blog’s spin-off post can be found here.) The article’s photo gallery gives a comprehensive tour of their garden, including these twin Hidcote-inspired follies.


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The mature bamboo privacy screening threaded with vines was of a stupefying height and achieved complete seclusion.

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Five fountains, varying changes in elevations, strong English and Italian influences superbly adapted and executed in simple materials — and all I could think about were those courtyard trees! The entry courtyard masses familiar dwarf Pittosporum tobira around a central concrete fountain, over which two weeping Acacia podalyriifolia were seductively dangling their seedpods. Against this restrained, pared-down backdrop, the acacias shimmered and twirled in the dappled light, their sylvan performance rippled back by the reflecting pool. I stood for as long as I could to take in this simple but mesmerizing vision until tour-goers started to back up behind me. Those two trees could carry that entire courtyard without any other plants, just the paving and simple basin fountain. I fell so hard for these trees that I’ve already ordered one, having no space whatsoever for another tree. (Annie’s Annuals & Perennials currently carries this acacia.) Ms. Spitz told me she was asked so many times on the tour for the name of these trees that she regretted not hanging name tags from the branches.

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Sinuous, silvery seedpods.

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A tour well worth bookmarking for 2013. Just be sure to do your homework ahead of time and map out an itinerary.

Carex pansa

Somewhere out there in nature, he reasoned, there had to be a grass…that would be naturally low-growing, drought-tolerant, evergreen, and trampleable: a natural lawn grass.” – The New Yorker, August 19, 1996, “The Grassman.”

Carex pansa, the California meadow sedge, as seen in a garden on the recent Mar Vista garden tour, blanketing the backyard of a fairly large property. I’d never seen such an extensive planting of the California meadow sedge before. A pathway of stepping stones on a base of decomposed granite meandered through the sedge.


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In The New Yorker article published August 19, 1996, entitled “The Grassman,” Wade Graham traces Greenlee’s early enthusiasm for outsized prairie grasses growing where manicured lawns once held sway, up to his epiphany:

Eventually, it came to Greenlee: Americans have to have some sort of lawn…The botanist in him asked, If grasses can be big and floriferous, why can’t they also be the opposite: low, self-effacing, and well-behaved?”


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John Greelee wrote back in December 2001 in “Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape” that “This native Pacific Coast sedge is hands-down one of the finest native sedges for making natural lawns. Largely untested in the East, it has proven durable in Texas and Colorado. Slowly creeping, dark green foliage grows 4 to 6 inches unmowed. California meadow sedge will tolerate varied types of soil conditions and temperatures, from sandy, exposed seacoasts to heavy clays and hot, inland valleys. It is also exceptionally traffic tolerant. Thriving in full sun to partial shade, it will thin out in deep shade. Mowing two to three times per year keeps the foliage low, tight, and lawnlike. Unmowed, it makes an attractive meadow and remains evergreen in all but the coldest climates. California meadow sedge is fast to establish from plugs planted 6 to 12 inches on center.”

the clematis club

I’m referring to a club in the informal sense, with really only one criterion for membership. And that is to push on past the inevitable early disappointments associated with growing clematis until one is found that will bloom in your garden. Because, let’s face it, apart from the challenges zone 10 offers, the clematis is a flowering vine with a fearsome reputation everywhere for doing unnerving things like wilting in full bloom overnight. With such a temperamental reputation, clematis weave in and out of fashion but will always have a rabid corps of enthusiasts.

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A clematis in bloom is a rare sight in zone 10 Southern California. The jackmanii hybrids are faithfully offered for sale at local nurseries, but bringing one of these home is a surefire way to propagate the myth that clematis just will not grow in zone 10. The smaller-flowered viticellas are much more suitable here. Clematis have roughly the same needs as roses as far as nutrients and water consumption, and I’ve been leading the garden in a leaner direction, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a clematis in bloom. In the past I’ve always kept to the easier viticella varieties like the stalwart ‘Madame Julie Correvon,’ which are much less finicky about growing conditions than the jackmanii hybrids, but I really do prefer the subtle beauty of the viticellas and species clematis in any case. Among the viticellas, ‘Betty Corning’ has a reputation as being one of the easiest and most vigorous. Stunning too.


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Care for Clematis viticella varieties involves pruning back to a couple strong buds in January/February leaving about 12-18 inches of vine. Rather than planted directly in my clayey garden soil, ‘Betty Corning’ is growing in a tall, terracotta pot placed directly on the soil adjacent to a climbing rose, which also acts as its trellis, the pot filled with fluffy, nicely aerated potting soil and lots of compost. Growing the clematis in a pot also has the advantage of keeping me focused on a regular watering schedule, like I would any summer container, with the benefit that water runoff goes back into the garden soil, and the clematis roots can wander through the drainage hole to find a deeper root run as the vine matures. I’ve been situating summer containers of tropicals this way, too, directly on garden soil, so there’s no water runoff waste. As with most clematis, it takes at least three years for them to make the leap from cranky malingerer to one of the most elegant flowering vines one can grow. I bought Betty in 2008 when the late, lamented Chalk Hill Clematis had a going-out-of-business sale.

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Joy Creek Nursery has a wonderful clematis list, including lots of interesting species, and they currently carry stock of ‘Betty Corning’ as well as many other viticella varieties.

Occasional Daily Photo 4/21/12

Some mornings the poppies do an especially fine job of arranging their blooms throughout the gravel garden.

Orange notes from Papaver rupifragum and dyckia
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(I know I keep referring to this bit of garden as the “gravel garden,” which it mostly was at one time, though now the ratio of plants to gravel has increased in favor of plants. Still, it’s an easy point of reference.)

friday’s clippings 4/20/12

Friday’s Clippings is a handy blog closet into which accumulated stuff can be shoved at the end of the week, things I want to refer to again that might be of wider interest. And speaking of odds and ends shoved into storage to be mostly forgotten, these cardboard cutouts were found during a recent garage purge and their photos taken before the recycle truck took them away forever. These Four Characters In Search of a Garden Party are the perfect poster people for Friday’s Clippings.

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I meant to comment on this nice piece on trees last week from The New York Times on April 11 by Jim Robbins entitled “Why Trees Matter,” with some interesting facts like “when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called ‘Forests Are Lovers of the Sea,’ fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.”

What a poetic name for an environmental action campaign, instead of defense/resource council this and that. Yes, the NYT is now paywall-protected, but up to ten articles each month are available to nonsubscribers.

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Also meant to be included last week was a gardener position available with the City of Long Beach, mainly just offered now for informational wage purposes, since the position closed today.

City of LB job: Job Title: GARDENER I-II
Closing Date/Time: Fri. 04/20/12 4:30 PM Pacific Time
Salary: $15.12 Hourly
$1,213.75 Biweekly
$2,629.80 Monthly
$31,557.60 Annually


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Garden tour season is here, and unless careful attention is paid the tours whiz by unattended. One I’ve never attended and don’t want to miss this year is the Mar Vista garden tour this Saturday. Emily Green’s done a great post on the upcoming tour on her blog Chance of Rain.

The 23rd Annual Southern California Spring Garden Show runs April 26 through April 29, 2012, at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. I’ve heard rumors that garden designer Dustin Gimbel of Second Nature Garden Design and the blog non-secateur will be designing an exhibit for the show. Can’t wait to see what he’s been up to.


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Lastly, already banned in Europe, Neonicotinoid-based pesticides have been irrefutably linked with the problems bees have been experiencing, with new information detailing routes of exposure:

Among the largest single uses of these compounds is application to maize seed; production of maize for food, feed and ethanol production represents the largest single use of arable land in North America. Maize planting reached unprecedented levels in the US in 2010 and is expected to increase. Virtually all of the maize seed planted in North America (the lone exception being organic production=0.2% of total acreage) is coated with neonicotinoid insecticides.”

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.