Natural Discourse at UCBG opens 7/14/12

For the past several months, I’ve been following the development of Natural Discourse, the collaboration of artists with the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, and now we can see the outcome of their efforts at the official opening this Saturday, July 14, 2012. Not to be missed if you’re in the Bay Area this weekend. Ongoing through January 20, 2013.


Photobucket


gardenbrain

I will be forever indebted to *Eric Liu and Nick Hannauer for coining the word “Gardenbrain” in their op-ed in the 7/10/12 edition of The New York TimesThe Machine and the Garden.” I’ve always had one. Turns out our economy needs one too. One of the best reads I’ve had in weeks. Rather than recirculating the same cliched buzz words for our economic woes, the writers show how “We are prisoners of the metaphors we use.”


Photobucket

The Machinebrain metaphor yields a picture of the world “where markets are perfectly efficient, humans perfectly rational, incentives perfectly clear and outcomes perfectly appropriate.” When we refer to economic “engines” and “fueling” the economy, that choice of metaphor impedes understanding because “economies, as social scientists now understand, aren’t simple, linear and predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden. It can be fruitful if well tended, but will be overrun by noxious weeds if not.”

Government spending is not a single-step transaction that burns money as an engine burns fuel; it’s part of a continuous feedback loop that circulates money. Government no more spends our money than a garden spends water or a body spends blood. To spend tax dollars on education and health is to circulate nutrients through the garden.”

Wise regulation…is how human societies turn a useless jungle into a prosperous garden.”

Gardenbrain — what a fruitful metaphor. Nice potful of gears too…



*Authors of “The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy and the Role of Government.”

talk to me about the weather

When I was a callow youth, a period of uncertain beginning and dubious ending, if all you could talk about was the weather, you had my sympathy. (Possibly you also had my barely concealed disdain as well as sympathy. I was that callow.) Weather conversation was a fallback adults used to avoid discussing all the unpleasant things their jobs and kids were doing to them and/or betrayed a woeful lack of imagination. Now I think and talk about the weather constantly, and not just my own local weather but, for example, the disastrous state of the Mid West’s corn crop from drought and the unprecedented heat in the continental and eastern U.S.


Photobucket

Since my middle-age years have no resemblance whatsoever to the same period in my parents’ lives, or so I like to believe (just as they once liked to believe), I chalk this weather fixation up to the Internet and its plethora of garden blogs and forums. There are so many more stick pins on my map of people and places to wonder and worry about, mainly due to the gardens I’ve come to know via the Internet. This summer I’ve got a corn crop of my own, if a crop can be had with just three plants, all from seed Nan Ondra generously offered for SASE last fall. (Zea mays ‘Tiger Cub.’) I won’t be eating this corn. It’s grown for those beautifully variegated leaves, not the cobs. Making a garden is often typecast as an escapist, tra-la-la pursuit, and there is thankfully plenty of tra-la-la to be had, but the more I learn about gardens, the more I sense that they are also outposts where the sky and land are vigilantly scanned by the sentry on duty, who is the first to note when the fruit trees’ crop is ruined by a freakishly late cold snap after being cajoled into early growth by an unseasonably mild winter. Reading the reports of the many sentries on duty, I’m coming to the sobering, middle-aged realization that weather talk is not just idle chatter anymore.


Lotus jacobaeus’ nonstop summer concert

a summer garden is a lot like an outdoor jazz concert, the surprising improvisations and unexpected solos. I checked past Bloom Day posts, and this nearly black-flowered lotus started its nonstop performance back in January. This short-lived perennial for zones 9-11 is endemic to the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa, islands of volcanic origin uninhabited at the time of Portuguese colonization in the 15th century. Average rainfall around 10 inches.


PhotobucketPhotobucket

Surrounding players are key. This legume’s pea-like flowers are so dark that they’ll disappear without a lighter backdrop. The upright spears of the Sencecio anteuphorbium are providing some structure for the twiggy, sprawling habit of the lotus, and the senecio’s jade-colored leaves are a good color foil too.

PhotobucketPhotobucket


From the Wikipedia entry on the Cape Verde Islands: “Average daily high temperatures range from 25 °C (77 °F) in January to 29 °C (84.2 °F) in September. Cape Verde is part of the Sahelian arid belt, with nothing like the rainfall levels of nearby West Africa. It does rain irregularly between August and October, with frequent brief-but-heavy downpours. A desert is usually defined as terrain which receives less than 250 mm (9.8 in) of annual rainfall. Cape Verde’s total (261 mm/10.3 in) is slightly above this criterion, which makes the area climate semi-desert.”

One of the most famous summer jazz performances of all time was coincidentally by another of Cape Verdean heritage, Paul Gonsalves, who played tenor sax for Duke Ellington. At the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, Gonsalves electrified the crowd with a tour de force solo in Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” over 20-something choruses of blistering sax. Have a listen and a good read about the performance too. Happy weekend!




salvias, large and small

Two salvias new to my garden, both in bloom this first week of July.

Looking at these photos, I can easily imagine a response of: You’re kidding. Those washed-out things? So what?
Why I find certain plants appealing is a perpetual mystery, but a possible clue is the element of surprise that reseeders add to a garden. Surprise and also a snug sense of community as they return in new configurations with other self-sowers, until that fine day when you wake up to find you’ve created your own idiosyncratic chapparal/meadow. This salvia has the same rugged, big-leaved stature and similar culture requirements of verbascum. I’ve tried to establish this infamously reseeding biennial salvia in my garden for many years, whether by seed or by bringing in plants. Never a single bloom until this year. Either they’re planted too deep in a border and are swamped, and/or the slugs get them. (Perhaps fall planting was a mistake, though conventional wisdom is to get biennials planted late summer/fall for bloom the next summer.) This Salvia sclarea ‘Piemont’ is from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, planted this spring, a nice airy location provided by removing a few more pathway bricks for optimal breathing room. Compared to AA&P’s website photo, the coloring on mine does look slightly anemic. But it’s a start, and hopefully variations in seedlings will bring better color. Plus, look at those leaves and star presence among grasses.

PhotobucketPhotobucket


And now for the small salvia, less than 6 inches tall, Salvia taraxicifolia, the Dandelion Sage, a perennial salvia found at the Huntington Botanical Gardens plant sale in spring. If I hadn’t decided to give the golden oregano a clip, I wouldn’t have noticed it was in bloom. Whether that makes a plant charming or irrelevant is a matter of personal taste.


Hope it reseeds.

Photobucket


crocosmia

Thin stands of crocosmia are what’s left of the formerly generous clumps of fast-thickening cultivars with names like ‘Star of the East,’ ‘Solfatarre,’ ‘George Davidson.’ They pop up now as anonymous singletons in surprising locations every year, always some shade of orange, always signalling that things are really going to start heating up temperature-wise, color-wise, every-wise imaginable. There was a time long ago when the appearance of crocosmia and the lighting of summer’s orange torch in the garden caused some mild unease about its color-wheel effects on, for example, crimson Persicaria amplexicaulis. Now I just call such effects…summertime.


PhotobucketPhotobucket


plant crushes

New plant crushes developed since visiting the Huntington Botanical Gardens on Saturday.

For frost-free zones 10-11, from Mexico, South America, Jatropha multifida. Easy from seed, fast growing, drought tolerant shrub or small tree. Spectacular coral flowers give it the common name Coral Tree. Like two others in the Euphorbiaceae, Euphorbia cotinifolia and the manihots, it might be worth trying even where tender as a summer tropical. Furcraea as a backdrop is a nice touch too. I saw this large specimen in the Desert Garden greenhouse after I’d already passed up a small rooted cutting on the sale tables at the CCSA plant sale at the Huntington over the weekend.


jatropha multifida

Also in the Desert Garden greenhouse was this mesmerizing, Medusa’s-head of a tillandsia, maybe T. xerographica.

Photobucket

Agave ‘Snow Glow,’ white-margined, variegated form of Agave ‘Blue Glow,’ the wildly successful hybrid of Agave attenuata and Agave ocahui.
A little over my budget though. Gratifying in a perverse way to see jacaranda bloom debris trapped on many of the spines and leaves of the plants for sale. Just like home.

Photobucket

I was surprised and thrilled to find so many cool pelargoniums at the show, like this caffrum hybrid ‘Diana,’ whose flowers remind me of a lewisia.

Photobucket

For stunning photos of a mature plant in bloom, go here.

Not too sure how I feel about this variegated opuntia, and so far I haven’t met a variegated plant yet I didn’t like.

variegated opuntia

Temps weren’t probably much over 90 degrees at the Huntington on Saturday, but by noon I was wilting, dissolving.

Photobucket

Sending out heartfelt sympathy to those suffering through the recent heat wave and power outages in the Eastern U.S.

Photobucket


Friday clippings 6/29/12

Lobelia tupa from Chile is blooming for the first time in my garden, thereby making everything right again with the world. Long time coming, Ms. Tupa. The color on the lobelia is deeper than salmon but slightly less intense than tomato red. Pure and unmuddied. Don’t crowd her and give her lots of compost. 4 feet tall now but still a young plant. Seems to be a late-summer bloomer everywhere else in her favored digs of zone 8 and warmer.


Photobucket

I had an enormous Agave bovicornuta growing here last year. Big mistake, for both me and the agave, whose leaves were spotting brown from the relatively higher levels of irrigation in the back garden, while my forearms were spotting red from the frequent piercings from its formidable spines. Never should have been planted in a part of the garden I change up so often. Its rapid speed of growth did catch me off guard. For old time’s sake, a photo of the agave from last year. Was that cowhorn agave purdy.

Photobucket

Petunia integrifolia axillaris (“Wild White Petunia”) has started to reseed about, which is always the game plan. Tough and fragrant.
The mother-ship plant came from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.

Photobucket

Shrubby Teucrium betonicum, also from Annie’s, looks promising but would probably appreciate being moved out of the tough-love gravel garden.

Photobucket

The rolling tool cart is serving as a summer conservatory, changed out frequently with the potted plant du jour.

Photobucket

Moving the Lepismium cruciforme here into full sun will deepen its reddish coloration. I’m waiting for this trailing, epiphytic cactus from Argentina and Brazil to gain some heft and length before moving it to a hanging container. All those tiles I seem to accumulate make great pot trivets, and the glass interrupters are useful for holding down tablecloths in a breeze. Finding sensible purposes for irrational magpie acquisitions is so satisfying. Still haven’t identified the sedum in the foreground on the right.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

The stacked-leaf succulent is Portulaca molokiniensis from Hawaii, which shatters my childishly cliche notions about Hawaii’s plant life as one vast Rousseau’s jungle. I may need to take up my brother’s invitation for a visit one of these days.

Photobucket

Our early morning marine layer, aka the June Gloom, which I find anything but gloomy, is almost over. Dahlias just beginning.
In addition to ‘Chat Noir,’ I planted a couple other dahlias, for a grand total of three this year. They’re a tricky plant to fit into a tiny garden along with the other plants I enjoy growing, so three is really pushing it. Keeping them in pots in the garden border makes it easy to dial in their water and compost needs. Even with these maneuvers, I may end up moving them to my community vegetable plot since their needs are so similar to vegetables.

Photobucket

I mentioned my infatuation with expanded steel in a recent post, seen here in a little table I’ve had for some years.
If you can’t stop yourself from placing potted plants on outdoor tables, even to the point of ruining them, this is the way to go.
Containers drain right through the fretwork.

Photobucket

Southern California is a graveyard of machine shop detritus like these mysterious former agents of industry.

Photobucket

Time for another good prowl through the salvage yards. And the CSSA Annual Show & Sale at Huntington Botanical Gardens this weekend. All on just two days, cheated out of a long weekend by the 4th orphaned in the middle of next week.

Photobucket

Another entry from the Agaves I Have Loved and Lost department, this one taken in June last year of my now-departed Agave guadalajarana. Maybe I’ll find another one at the CSSA sale.

Photobucket

scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

I want to show you a house and garden I found earlier today, but first you’ll need to look at the Pacific Ocean, just as I did before I found the house.


Photobucket

No, this wasn’t a vacation. I had a couple hours between jobs in San Pedro, California, a small town just over a couple bridges from Long Beach.


Photobucket

San Pedro is possibly one of the oddest cities in Los Angeles County, a little harbor town in which the mighty Port of Los Angeles is located that still manages to retain the look and feel of an Italian fishing village. It is as psychologically isolated from the rest of Los Angeles as the Cinque Terre is physically cut off from the rest of Italy. A town immune to endless attempts at gentrification. Town of my father and countless relatives. I lived here in an apartment house overlooking the waterfront in my mid to late twenties. Both my sons were born here. My first community garden was here. So when I got a 2-hour break between work assignments in San Pedro this morning, it was with an insider’s knowledge that I headed to Point Fermin Park, to see if I could maybe sneak into the Sunken City, the apocalyptic remains of a 20th century neighborhood that slumped and slid on geologic waves into the sea.


Photobucket

But I couldn’t very well crawl underneath the security fencing surrounding the Sunken City in work clothes. That would be silly! (and coincidentally illegal but nobody cares.) So I settled for a walk amongst the huge magnolias in adjacent Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point of Los Angeles County, land’s end high up on vertiginous bluffs overlooking the seaweed-strewn tidepools of the Pacific Ocean.

Photobucket


This hilly little town has numerous microclimates. I left hot, clear skies at 6th Street, disappointed that at noon there’d be little chance for decent photos, and traveled less than a mile to find the park shrouded in a moody, dense fog. The cliffs smelled of anise, the fog horns blew, and I happily practiced my rusty native plant ID skills on the coastal scrub. Lemonberry (Rhus integrifolia), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis). And the dreaded exotic invasive tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla).


Photobucket

Continue reading scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

Dwell on Design/Los Angeles 2012

The Metro Blue Line out of Long Beach dropped me off on the doorstep of the Los Angeles Convention Center on Sunday, the last day of Dwell on Design. There’s such a buoyant feeling to bounding off a train at the platform and hitting the pavement in a few short steps, compared to a long drive and still having to face the deflating task of parking and where and how to pay for it. One of the oddities of public transportation in Los Angeles is that the rest of the day will be spent telling people that you didn’t drive, you took the train. Really? they will say. Yes, the train! we say, bursting with the pride of daring explorers. We still can’t get over the fact that there are trains whizzing over, under, and alongside clogged streets and freeways, with more lines added all the time. New lines to Culver City just this week. And we’re promised that the ugly freeway snarl that is the Forbidden Zone (Santa Monica/Westside) will also be conquered one day. For over ten years I’ve been taking the trains for the freelance court reporting work I do anywhere there are tracks laid down, but it’s a rare thing to head to downtown LA on a weekend, and I finally made my decision to go at the proverbial last minute. There was a staggering amount to see, but photos are a product of the catch-as-catch-can, indoor trade show school of photography.

As soon as you enter, “Screenplay” demanded immediate attention, all undulating 21 feet of it, from every vantage point possible. By the Oyler Wu Collaborative, from certain angles it felt as though the hulk of a steel-cable suspension bridge had been twisted and compacted and lowered onto the polished concrete floor for our up-close viewing pleasure.

Photobucket


Things were already looking promising. The expanded stainless steel furniture by Damian Velasquez really amped up my idle but happy browsing into full-on engagement. Expanded stainless steel is a material I often use in my fabrication daydreams for the outdoor benches and shelving I crave, so these chairs, tables and sofas prompted me to sputter out the few questions I asked of any designers at the show. I’ve even got a small collection of expanded metal objects, mostly industrial baskets and trays found at local salvage yards. The furniture is laborious to produce so is pricey, the sofa going for about $4,000. All powder-coated and weather resistant. I truly lurved them.

Photobucket

Photobucket

PhotobucketPhotobucket

Photobucket

I’m also captivated by Bend’s line of furniture Geometric, and these lovely ceramics from BKB Ceramics of Joshua Tree, California.

Photobucket

Loll’s outdoor line made from 100% recycled materials (mostly milk jugs)

loll

Annette and Mary of Potted debuted their fabulous City Planters and drew in the hordes with their seductive, exclusively Potted pottery.
Both these lines are made locally in Los Angeles. Potted has been at the vanguard of Los Angeles designers committed to finding local workshops to fabricate their designs.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

When four hours of circling the exhibits caused feet to falter, there were fascinating symposia to wander into and grab a chair, like the engrossing panel discussion of the Purdy-Devis residence on which garden designer Laura Cooper collaborated. Then it was back out onto the main floor to peruse lightweight concrete materials, sun-fast fabrics, sustainable wallpaper.

Photobucket

I overheard a mildly snarky remark about designers’ current “arms race for a sustainability badge.” I think this is a case where I’ll gladly suffer through the overuse of a buzz word like “sustainability” and cheer on the application of its principles.

Photobucket

There was lots of gee-whiz design to ponder.

Photobucket

Airstream and camping porn.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

Really well-done show, Dwell.

PhotobucketPhotobucket

Photobucketspun remodelista

PhotobucketPhotobucket