The Porch Steps Up

As garden space shrinks, the focus becomes ever more minute, with no strip of soil too narrow to remain unexploited.
For example, I’m really starting to work the back porch. Every inch, as in the crevice between porch and brick path.

Poppies on March 19. Astonishing how lush plants can grow in so constrained a space.
The insect life on these half dozen plants was a joy to wake up to for the couple months the poppies bloomed.
Busy, noisy little back porch.


A previous owner redid the old, circa 1919 back porch and added the brick pathway.
The wood form for the concrete porch gradually rotted away, and over the years opportunistic poppies have begun to self-sow in the cool root run between porch and path. Facing south, by May the sunlight is too intense for the potted plants that sat on the porch all winter, and the poppies have gone to seed.
Now little succulents are tucked in where the poppies previously stretched their long tap roots.


I love how the whole character has changed and become more austere. Hunkered down and ready for the long summer.
Most of these succulents were pups from garden plants, with some cuttings of Aeonium sedifolium tucked in.
I’ll probably pull up the succulents in fall, fattened up for pots or elsewhere in the garden. The poppies will return next winter.


Despite a few friendly questions (“How long are these poppies going to be here exactly?”) everyone seems to be adapting to the porch doing double-duty.
The door still swings wide. Watch out for and minimize tripping hazards, of course.

Warming Up

Edging into the high 80′s the next couple days here at the coast, about a mile from the Pacific, in the 90′s for the inland cities like Pasadena.
The castor bean plant and Salvia canariensis are reveling in the heat, leaving little ground uncovered.


Salvia canariensis should be in bloom in a couple weeks.


The annual quaking grass, Briza maxima, self-sown, ripening in the heat.


Grapevine already past the top of the pergola. Beans, squash, and kale in the silver circular containers (air vents).


Solanum marginatum, about 4X4 feet of undulating leaf.


Unlike me, dyckia welcomes the heat, sending up a half dozen bloom stalks, this photo a couple weeks’ old.
This garden has been thinned a bit since this photo was taken. Stipa gigantea leaning in on the left.


The leeks undulating even more wildly in the heat.


This spring I’ve craved pots of wispy, diaphanous annuals like linaria, anagallis.
This is Linaria ‘Licilia Peach’ with potted agaves and Senecio medley-woodii.



As a kid, I loathed summers in Los Angeles. It’s taken decades for me to warm up to the prospect each year.
Having a garden of my own is probably solely responsible for changing my mind. Plants like these make it…bearable.

Sudden Mediterranean Plant Collapse Disorder

I made that name up. But it’s true, collapse and then a swift death does come suddenly to mediterranean plants in lusty health mid-summer.

Which is why I’m ecstatic that this one cutting of Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Variegata’ has rooted. Emergency cuttings were taken just before it collapsed in a dessicated heap a couple summers ago, a sad day. I was truly smitten with this plant. I’d never seen one before and haven’t since, so it’s fairly rare. But at first glance, some plants just seem to make perfect sense to me. (Some good plants, like cannas, takes years to warm up to.) The scarce information I could find came from, of course, English garden writers (Val Bourne writing for The Telegraph.) A fragrant, evergreen, winter-blooming shrub in the pea family with bright yellow flowers and rue-like foliage that has an especially shimmering quality in the variegated form. ‘Citrina’ has paler yellow flowers.

Unfortunately, the little cutting appears to have reverted to the non-variegated, so we can drop the ‘Variegata.’ The original plant came home from a road trip up the West Coast, purchased from the Portland, Oregon nursery Cistus several years ago, and had reached a lanky 5 feet before its sudden death. In late February, I was sure new growth on the cutting showed definite signs of variegation, which can just be made out in the photo, or so I deceived myself at the time.


But wishing does not make it so, and the variegation did not come through. Photo taken in April.


That fateful day in August I knew the coronilla’s collapse was imminent and just managed to get some decent cutting material before its untimely end.
I’ve experienced this late summer plant collapse disorder before. Leaves lose their luster, look water-stressed, so you instinctively pour on the water, which hastens an even swifter death, stimulating some nasty soil pathogens running amok in the warm soil of late summer. And by the time the plant looks obviously stressed, it’s too late to do anything anyway. Other victims have been cistus, coprosma, olearias, prostrantherum. Soil too enriched? Too clayey? Too much water? The latter theory seems to be the conventional wisdom on this little-discussed subject, but my garden is, if anything, kept too dry. From the Cistus Nursery description: “Quite summer drought tolerant in dappled shade to bright sun. Lean conditions create more compactness.” Mine was a lanky 5-footer, so the soil may have been too rich. It’s also true that these mediterraneans are generally considered to be short-lived, but I never did see this young coronilla flower.

*From Mediterranean Gardening: A Waterwise Approach, by Heidi Gildemeister: “Air circulation around or within plants during summer heat is vital to Mediterranean vegetation.” Dense planting is a continual weakness of mine, but I try to be vigilant. Just last week I did a major thinning of the front gravel garden.
Leucadendrons and dwarf olives still encroach on Agave ‘Mr. Ripple,’ but I’m assuming he’s tough enough to take a little crowding.


Spring’s irrational exuberance is no time for morbid concerns. And, in any case, it looks like I’ll get another chance with this beautiful shrub — always keeping a steady supply of cuttings in reserve.

*Edited 5/2/11 to add a very important detail from the same book: “Overhead irrigation results in premature death.”

Armchair Spelunking

I’m a little excited this morning. Some clues…
What do all these images have to do with each other?
Explorers, cave paintings, spiritual communion with rocks…

Ralph Fiennes as Count Laszlo Almasy, The English Patient; Anne-Louise Lambert as Miranda, Picnic At Hanging Rock.

Seeing things on film you’d otherwise be unable to experience.

Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World.

The incredible ability of movies to capture our all-too-brief love affair with the physical world.

Something that we’ve been documenting for a very long time.

Cave of Swimmers, Western Egypt

Werner Herzog’s new documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is in limited release this weekend.

Urbane Nasturtiums

I’ve been transplanting a few self-sown nasturtiums and tucked a couple in with some eucomis bulbs to spill out of an ancient cast-iron sewer pipe that somehow made its way here years ago. I wonder which previous car’s shocks had to absorb that load.


Brought home no doubt during the same period when I couldn’t walk away from a cast-off manhole cover either.


Or an old street lamp glass shade. I seem to be continually bringing home bits of aging cities.


Nasturtiums flourish in whatever contains them, be it the finest Impruneta terracotta, a rusty sewer pipe, or an abandoned city lot.
Common and easy, but no less exquisite.


Pelargonium ‘Splendide’

From Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae


“A scandent shrub; leaves are pinnate, grey and hairy; a truly splendid hybrid with red upper petals, a dark center and almost white lower petals; do not leave outside in rain and prune very carefully.”

Horticulture’s Continuing PR Problems

In a March 12, 2011 issue of The New York Times, in a column by Maureen Dowd entitled “In Search of Monsters,” Ms. Dowd comments on the suitability of Donald Rumsfeld giving current foreign policy advice: “You would think that [he] would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture.”

Politics aside, I just can’t get over Ms. Dowd’s back-handed slap at horticulture.

Mr. Rumsfeld, coming to a community garden near you.

The Kashmir Cypress

A pre-dinner garden tour at Dustin’s.

“What is it?” I asked.

You asked me that last time,” he answered patiently. “It’s psoralea.”

Oh, the Kool-Aid something or other?” (Strange, how memory works.)

Right,” he explained, “from Annie’s.

His psoralea is growing up into a beautiful little tree.


Continue reading The Kashmir Cypress

Landscape Crit

A new shopping center was planted with sharp plants four years ago. Agaves, yuccas.
I was thrilled but also slightly alarmed.


Continue reading Landscape Crit


This spring I am not going to be drawn into running out into the garden with my camera every time I hear the whoosh of a rapid aerial descent then the whirring of tiny wings. I don’t have the stamina or the lens for it. I swear these will be the last 58 frustrating attempts at capturing this little guy on the wing.
You can just make out his mocking smile.


We’re both just not interested anymore. Really. We are so…over…hummingbirds.