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Dim View of the High Line

Yesterday 5/15/11 The New York Times published in their Opinion section “Bringing The High Line Back To Earth” by Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Rybczynski feels compelled to warn us that the brilliant success of the High Line park on Manhattan’s West Side is probably not replicable elsewhere and not a viable model for urban parks. He warns us not to put our trust in urban design, which has “failed” us all too often.

The professor also deems the planting designed by Piet Oudolf “relentlessly hip.” As opposed to bedding out begonias? What exactly does that mean? The professor continually breaks down this magical experience into units, planning board units, yet this park was born out of a love of neglected places and nurtured (with private money) into something astonishing. Personal, historical layers such as these cannot be dissected and pinned to a planning layout. The very act of retaking a neglected place, that historical narrative alone, brings immense vitality to a neighborhood. If not an elevated railway, perhaps an abandoned military fort. Or, as in the case of my own neighborhood, an unused armory (first meeting tonight). The High Line is not an exact blueprint but a brilliant suggestion.

I visited what’s now known as Phase I of the High Line in autumn 2010, which was probably the major impetus for finally spending a few days in NYC rather than just a flyover. Phase II opens in June.

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In attempting to persuade us that the High Line is a one-off phenomenon, applicable only to New York, there’s some circular logic at play here, as in his assertion that “In no other American city do residents rely so much on communal green space, rather than backyards, for relaxation.”

Perhaps the word “enjoy” should be substituted for “rely.” The great legacy of Olmstead’s Central Park has become grafted onto New York’s identity, and, like its iconic buildings and neighborhoods, is inseparable from its allure, just as Golden Gate Park is for San Francisco. Both parks are intrinsic to these popular cities’ livability and have become interwoven among the reasons why young people will always leave home to squeeze into tiny apartments with multiple roommates. These vast urban parks that course through cities, lapping up against multiple neighborhoods, soaking up a myriad of personal, unique experiences, are a far cry from suburban parks with their predesigned activity layouts — clearly marked areas for sports, picnics, playgrounds. Great parks, great cities.

The professor lists several cities contemplating elevated parks and advises against it. I say go for it.

Bloom Day May 2011

Let’s be honest, in zone 10 there’s no equivalent to the pent-up anticipation for blooms to arrive that describes spring in colder zones (and probably makes its arrival that much more exquisitely joyful, that cycle of denial and deliverance). Our spring gets going in February. What I’m really waiting for is the tropicals to hit their stride, still a month or two away. The xanthosoma and colocasias kept dry over winter are just now waking up. The 15-foot Euphorbia cotinifolia tree is similarly slow to leaf out, its bare branches an odd sight compared to the explosive growth on the hybrid cotinus ‘Grace,’ in full leaf and smoke. The bloom has come and gone on the Chinese fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus. Garden cannas are already in bloom, and Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ just finished a bloom cycle, though it can be seen in bloom locally nearly year-round depending on its size.

A couple quick photos. Salvia cacaliifolia rendered even bluer by the lemony backdrop of Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain’

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Knautia macedonia and Salvia chiapensis give magenta a solid, continuous presence.
I don’t mind, not even when the orange crocosmias start to bloom, and I noticed some crocosmia buds forming yesterday.

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Pelargonium sidoides. The bronzy leaves outlined in green belong to Brachysema praemorsum.

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The parkway jacarandas are in full, glorious, exasperatingly messy bloom.

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Potted Lobelia valida has been in bloom since February. First time I’ve tried this short-lived perennial lobelia. Very impressive.

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The best photo I could get of Albuca maxima. The green stripes just don’t want to show up as pixels.
Reminds me of an exotic, elongated snowdrop. I carefully transported this one home from a nursery recently in full flower.

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Carol of May Dreams Gardens, the grand mistress of Bloom Day, has lots happening in her garden, not to mention the gardens of other bloggers participating in Bloom Day. Go there and be amazed.

Summer Containers Aren’t Just For Annuals

I would’ve never been able to get this angelica to bloom in the garden. Trust me, I’ve tried.

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Rich soil, consistent moisture, strategic sun exposure, these crucial conditions could only be offered in a container.

Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’ was planted spring 2010 and, being biennial, is blooming this year.
Morning sun, afternoon shade here in zone 10, where no rain will fall until next winter. Ensuring this wondrous umbellifer’s survival was the ultimate goal, but the ruby stems, elegant compound leaves, the buds unfolding into a complicated pinwheel inflorescence — all are added reasons to grow this angelica in a pot, preferably close to a hose spigot, where it can be easily admired.

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Succulents In Your Face

Now that their former stigma as strictly hobbyists’ plants has been exploded by proselytizers like Thomas Hobbs and Debra Lee Baldwin, the moment for succulents is undeniably now. If tulips and bulbs are the lipsticks of the garden, succulents are the jewelry. Kitschy containers, modernist minimalism, lush landscapes, succulents can do it all. And though I don’t know from personal experience, I presume some must be fairly easy to winter over in frosty climates, at least size-wise.

It’s way too easy to become a devotee of these drought-adaptive plants. Easy to become smitten with echeverias.

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And then there’s the endless iterations of graptoverias, graptosedums, graptopetalums.

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Personally, I’ve been a little unhinged by crassulas lately. And let’s not even get started on aeoniums. I think eye level is a great vantage point to fully appreciate the many complex colorings and shapes, and apparently so do a lot of other people, judging by the continuing momentum of living walls. Another benefit of keeping succulents airborne is the distance it imposes between these plants and their earth-bound enemies, snails and slugs. (They’re not called succulent for nothing.) My little experiments have to do with what matrix will hold them aloft and contain the soil, with gravity continually trying to assert its rights. Obviously, far greater minds than mine are figuring this out with scientific precision for green walls that do the important work of carbon sequestration, water runoff absorption, and cooling of buildings, but I’m talking using stuff lying around at home for small-scale experiments.

Coir, coconut fiber used as hanging basket liners, was an early experiment that still holds together but is really difficult to wet.
These plants are tough and can tolerate a lax watering regimen, but they do need watering to stay plump, and the coir just seems to wick water away from the roots. I’ve been tempted many times to dismantle this one, but the growth has become extremely tight. When knocked to the ground by high winds recently, it bounced like a beach ball. The dripping beads are Senecio rowleyanus.

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Hollow concrete chimney flues unearthed from the fireplace, planted back in January with Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina,’ recyclable shopping bags used to hold the soil. Holding up surprisingly well with just an occasional absented-minded spritz of the hose.

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I think these are car jack stands. I found them stacked in the garage. I’m sure nobody will miss them.

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The succulent above, which has a thyme or sedum-like quailty, was labeled Crassula expansa, but don’t quote me. Online searches don’t corroborate this name.
I used old window screens to hold the soil for this one. So far it’s been easy to keep moist.

I love taking succulents to the next level. Eye level.

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Asarina

Asarina scandens. What a kewpie-doll mouth.

I love watching how the blooms trace along the ropey stems, scrolling intriguing outlines. See the letter “E”?

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A trove of inspiration for a jewelry designer.

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A galloping vine, wending its way this summer over the fence and into my neighbor’s peach tree. I hope they feel free to take appropriate action.
I’ve been gently guiding its enthusiasm away from the Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora,’ one of three against the fence.
In frost-free areas, zone 9-10, a perennial vine, otherwise grown as an annual. This was supposed to have been the white form.
Now I try to visualize white instead of pink but can’t see how it would work. I mentally squint but see none of the details, just glare.
But that’s probably a failure of imagination. I bet the white form is beautiful against a dark background. (Like a blue fence, the original intention.)
I planted this vine in a container a couple years ago, then pushed it against the blue fence, occasionally remembering to add water.
Just Add Water. Such an important horticultural maxim, with few exceptions. This vine was no exception.
Sneaky roots found their way out of the drain hole at the bottom of the container and into the dry-laid bricks.
I pretended not to notice, and the vine found a more reliable source of moisture and a cool root run.

Ambivalent About Holidays

It occurred to me belatedly after Sunday’s post that it wouldn’t have killed me to slip a “Happy Mother’s Day” message at the end of the post.
“Ambivalent” is a $2 word for how I feel about holidays. (And pretty much everything else.) Of two minds. Especially those holidays that coincide with spring and summer, which includes those pater and mater familias holidays. (“I’m the pater familias! I’m bona fide, dammit!!” — O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

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Pardon my bluntness, but most holidays do seem like calendar filler and crass gift-selling and tchotchke-accumulating opportunities. And the holidays honoring parents, though I sincerely share the fundamental sentiments, these two are full of pitfalls for those who’ve recently lost parents, or those who never wanted to be parents themselves, or those whose parents ran off and abandoned them at the tender age of 5, leaving them in charge of not only the family farm but also the care of their four younger siblings. (Channeling the Coen brothers a bit there.) Just unnecessarily complicated holidays. For example, the recent holiday, Mother’s Day, seems designed to cause someone, somewhere, gratuitous sadness. Also not in any holiday’s favor is the fact that preparing for and commemorating holidays, which seem to reach critical mass in our family in spring, usually takes up the better part of a precious weekend. (Next weekend, for example, a family holiday falls on the Huntington Botanical Garden’s plant sale, May 15, which is also the same day as the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days for Los Angeles. Fresh torment. This may just be the year I become a member so I can attend the members-only Saturday plant sale.)

I recently read that Freud felt, unlike me, that ambivalence was not a weakness, since the ambivalent mind necessarily had to hold more information than the resolutely dogmatic mind. This was a cheerful thought to a life-long ambivalent. Of course, now we’re ambivalent about Freud himself and his continuing relevance…and he didn’t have many nice things to say about mothers anyway, did he?

Ahem. Moving along to the very small point of this post. I do begrudgingly dash around to find obligatory holiday cards and gifts, which is absolutely No Fun At All.
(Except the part where I get to have dinner and cake and watch hockey with my wonderful mother. That part I love.)
And though I do technically fall into the mater familias category myself, no gifts for me, please, no store-bought cards, thank you very much.

But then late Sunday night I unwrapped this beauty, and all holiday irritation melted away. Felco No. 9.

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I was told the transaction went something like this:

Pater Familias: I need to find a pair of pruners that aren’t made like crap.
Patient Shopkeeper, probably slightly taken aback at such frankness and sensing this customer was going to be a wild card: Hmmm
Pater Familias: She leaves them outside, and they rust and need sharpening all the time. And they are just junk and it’s a waste of money.

Patient Shopkeeper nods quietly and motions for the pater to leave the rack of cheap gardening implements and to follow him.
Patient Shopkeeper then disappears into a back office, closing the door behind him, reappearing a few minutes later with an object in his hand.

Patient Shopkeeper: This is what we use. I’ve had these for 15 years. But I’ll warn you, they are not cheap.
Pater Familias: Can she leave them outside?
Patient Shopkeeper: Only if she doesn’t care if they’re stolen.

Felco No. 9. just in time.

The Cotinus ‘Grace’ is in full smoke, her whippy branches dipping low and brushing heads.

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Belated Happy Mother’s Day.

I hope you unwrapped presents like this (from the California Cactus Center.)

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Edited 5/11/11: Pottery in the last photo by Mike Cone. California Cactus Center carries a good selection of his amazing pots.

Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’

Yes, I finally succumbed to the newest incarnation of the paddle plant/flapjacks plant, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, a flashy variegated variety that’s actually a cultivar of
K. luciae. I first saw this succulent a few months ago, in January, at the Terra Sol Garden Center in Goleta, California. San Marcos Growers details its history here.

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I attended a small, local, underwhelming garden show recently and found myself in the astonishingly unique position of not wanting anything they had for sale.
If I left a garden show empty-handed, I fear my head would explode before I made it back to the car. The kalanchoe was reasonably priced in a 4-inch pot, so home it came.

Venice Garden & Home Tour 2011

Buy tickets and a map at the Las Doradas Children’s Center, apply the lime-green wrist band, and we’re off on the VGHT 2011 (Last year’s post here.)

Under overcast skies, thirty houses, covering several miles. Bikes would be the preferred mode of travel, but, like last year, sore feet will have to suffice.

Come in and warm yourself by the fire.

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Continue reading Venice Garden & Home Tour 2011

Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’

Last time I wrote about this echium was for a March Bloom Day post, cursing myself for having transplanted it while it was just beginning to show flower buds.

I am now relieved to report it has made a full recovery.

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Any plant with the word “gentian” in its name has to be a sure bet.

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From Annie’s Annuals, currently in stock.

Missing Boxwood

House on the corner. Famous in the neighborhood for at one time housing local band the Cold War Kids and their legendary late-night poker parties. Bare, packed earth, a memory of lawn haunting the hardscrabble front yard. A single boxwood sphere, the lone relic of a bygone garden, managed to eke out a rotund, dense, and surprisingly healthy existence near the foundation in spite of such malevolent neglect, and always had a cheering effect on me as I turned the corner into my street. I often thought of asking permission to dig it up, since no one seemed to care anyway, and over the years — at least 20 years that I know of, but possibly quite a few more — it had managed to grow under such lean and spiteful conditions into a beautiful, tight green orb, about 4X4. Today, after years of inattention, a new landscape was installed, possibly signaling a change in landlords, and guess what got the boot? Yep, that boxwood sphere that defied the odds for so many years was scrapped, cast aside in a broken heap. I nearly piled into an oncoming car as I turned that corner coming home from work last night to find the cheerful survivor struck down. Damn, I should’ve asked.

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Photo found here.
Cold War Kids “Something Is Not Right With Me”