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Flea Market Shuffle

A sunny day at the flea market brings its unique brand of hangover. An unfocused listlessness follows the rest of the day.
The adult equivalent of the delicious exhaustion I’d feel as a kid after spending a whole day at the beach getting pummeled by sun and waves.

Shuffle, shuffle, stare, swivel, stop, investigate. Shuffle, shuffle. Repeat.
Marty had to admonish me several times to stop bumping into people.

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Table after table of the pottery I refuse to collect anymore. But so temptingly arrayed.

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A dionysian atmosphere pervades the aisles. Cigar smoke wafts through the crowds at 9 a.m., along with a permissive spirit that puts a beer into many of the men’s hands before breakfast.
I stuck with coffee.

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This little siren called out to Marty, who has worked on the ocean over 30 years. A mermaid “church key.”

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And the mass hysteria incited by these stacks of wooden crates! Who can say why so many were mesmerized by this display and wanted to possess an agricultural artifact for $10?
And that’s for the smallest size. Every flea market has its own zeitgeist.

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This tall, inexpensive fifties metal trash can looked promising as a cache pot. Sure enough, at home the square pot of Russelia equisetiformis slipped right in.

I was very tempted by some large Japanese fishing boat flags to dress up the fence or rig as impromptu shade but made an insultingly low offer.
A pair of matching iron jardinieres for tulips this spring were out of my range too. There’s a real knack to bartering I’ve yet to grasp.
I usually offer half the listed price, get rebuffed, then slink away into the crowd.
Sometimes, like today, I then send Marty back to buy the object at full price while I hide in the next aisle over.

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A poor photo of a remarkable chair, a mesh steel lounger via the lever on the lower left. The man eyeing it alongside me wanted it for his living room, not outdoors.
Priced at $1,500. When I doubled back for a photo, it was guarded by prospective buyers, in the process of being purchased.

Some really interesting plant vendors too. Unusual flower bulbs from Thailand were on sale today.
I overheard a vendor say she’s giving up on flea markets and in the future selling exclusively through eBay.

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Try to imagine a world without flea markets or bazaars, without the crazy juxtaposition of objects like these prayer monks and robot.
Impossible!

The Long Beach Veteran’s Flea Market is open the third Sunday of every month.


Anemone japonica in Southern California

A rare sight in Southern California. There’s a garden on a bluff near a popular dog walking spot that has big, established clumps of this anemone blooming in fall, along with giant stands of Romneya coulteri, the Matilija poppy, in spring and summer. I’m sure there’s got to be other plantings of this anemone around town, but no others come to mind at the moment.

These are photos MB Maher took of this great fall-blooming plant in Battery Park in New York City last September, a planting designed by Piet Oudolf.

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Yesterday I was working in Beverly Hills, a city with an impossible parking situation. I scribbled myself notes to feed the meter every two hours and did manage to avoid a parking ticket. On the third and last trip to feed six quarters into the meter, a short walk further down the street to stretch the legs brought me up against the front garden of a house planted with seemingly nothing but huge, overgrown, woody roses and enormous clumps of Japanese anemones in bloom, both pink and white. Stopped me in my tracks.

Single white anemones, my favorite, in Battery Park, NYC, September 2010.

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There was a friendly dog in a wicker bed leashed to the front gate, and we silently flirted, which amounts to me making Harpo Marx faces, him wagging his tail. A woman in the distance looked to be tying a vine up to the front of the house, her back to me. After a few moments I heard myself blurting out, “I love your Japanese anemones!” And then instantly cringed. What would she make of such hooliganism? But she whipped around before I had time to flee the scene, and without hesitation rushed over, unleashing the dog so we could cement our budding friendship, and then she and I chatted anemones like old friends.

No wonder there’s so many garden blogs — we’re all starved for plant talk. She said she was astonished that I knew the daisy’s name, that no one else had shouted “I love your Japanese anemones!” from the sidewalk before, impossible as that seems to believe. I asked her opinion of why they’re rarely seen locally. She was inclined to attribute their rarity to the difficulty in getting them established. (That’s certainly true, but what’s also true is that there’s very little actual gardening going on in Southern California. One-time landscaping then ongoing maintenance of it, yes; gardening, no.) And then pointing to the pink-blooming ones in her parkway, she observed that, once established, they’re impossible to eradicate. The parkway anemones were flourishing in some fairly mean and dry conditions. I told her I’ve yet to have success getting any established. She pointed to the pink blooms and asked, “Do you like that color?” I really prefer the white, but nodded yes, whereupon she nipped back to the porch, returning with roots wrapped in paper and handed them to me. At that point, I wanted to hug this woman and her little dog and spend the rest of the afternoon helping tie up vines, but I had to get back to work, so left the house of anemones and roses, stopping to deposit the package in the car. A rather nice unintended consequence of the lousy parking situation in Beverly Hills.

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Foliage Follow-Up September 2011

I just noticed today that seedpods had formed on the little manihot tree. M. grahamii is hardier (zone 7b-10) than M. esculenta, which is grown for its starchy, edible tubers, with a possible future in biofuel.

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The Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ is gaining size, but hopefully not too much. I want to believe its reputation for relative compactness. As luck would have it, the only available spot for this honeybush was adjacent to the golden-leaved plumbago, and the two play very well together. I’m sure I bought the plumbago under the cultivar name ‘My Love.’ (Or was it ‘Palmgold’?) In any case, I’ve incorrectly identified it on the blog as Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, when it is in fact Ceratostigma willmottianum.

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Grevillea ‘Superb’ was cut back fairly hard midsummer to keep its sprawl off a sideritis. It seems to be responding to this coaching with more cooperative, upright growth.

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Canna ‘Intrigue.’ Slatey grey/eggplant purple tones against the redder leaves of Euphorbia cotinifolia tree in the background.

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It’s good to see the trailing Crassula sarmentosa stretching out again and blooming in the cooler fall temps.

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Pelargonium ‘Splendide’ is just about bloomed about, but its leaves are…well, simply splendid, in and of themselves.

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Pam at Digging hosts the Foliage Follow-Up the 16th of every month, the day after the hortgasm that is Bloom Day. Grab your camera and document the extraordinary beauty in leaves.

Bloom Day September 2011

No use in dancing around the fact that my Bloom Day posts can be a bit repetitive. Seems it’s the same cast of characters every month.
But if you’re in zone 10 and lack the space for big herbaceous drifts but still looking for months of bloom, you can’t go wrong with any of the following.

The dahlia I posted on earlier in the week, ‘Chat Noir,’ livens up the roster this month, nestling up to silvery Athanasia acerosa.

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Continue reading Bloom Day September 2011

Grace Notes

I hadn’t noticed until last night that Bulbine frutescens was blooming again among the fallen seedheads of grasses and dyckia.

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Amazing how the outlines of plants can clarify a mood I’ve been in.
I was just writing to my brother that I’ve been feeling a little “thinned out” lately.

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Just an end-of-summer mood. A time to stay tuned to the grace notes in the garden.

Old Lights Made New

In the angle of the eaves where the house intersects with the bath house, the space cried out for a light. A hanging light or three. I’ve had these three glass shades for many, many years, but every time I got rev’d up about using them, someone would invariably insult them. Usually, I was icily informed that they look like my mother’s lights from the ’70s. Last week there was that still, beastly hot Labor Day holiday, where the best use of our time and diminished, slightly hungover energy seemed to be sitting in one place all afternoon fooling around with the wiring and all the various bits I gathered to get these lamps hung in that angle under the eaves. Electricity is fascinating. Keep the black wires with the black and the white wires with the white, splice, tape, and you’re good to go. I think in this context they look nothing like my mom’s old ’70s lamps, a decade I have no interest in channeling design-wise. But apart from the kind my kids bluntly dish out, I always welcome all friendly criticism. There’s lots of similar glass shades for sale on eBay under “swag lamp.”

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Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’

I’m fairly certain now that the identity of the one and only dahlia I’m growing this summer is ‘Chat Noir.’
September’s heat has really kicked it into gear. Some additional support was added a couple days ago.

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Otherwise, as far as blooms, it’s mainly gaura, Salvia chiapensis and Persicaria amplexicaulis still carrying the garden through fall.
This persicaria is such a fantastic plant. I would love to get ahold of some of the Belgium hybrids Chris Ghyselen has created.
Some have dark-colored bottlebrushes so large that it’s advised they be grown only as cut flowers, since the rain ruins them.
Not a problem in this summer rainless garden.

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More salvias soon to step up. Salvia madrensis.

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Along with the steadying presence of grasses, bananas and castor bean.

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The ‘Chat Noir’ dahlia leafed out in March, so it’s been a long wait to see more than a single flower open at a time.
And when the bloom really started, of course I wasn’t prepared and had to shove in some ad-hoc support.
Much as I grumble about the long wait and wayward, tipsy growth habit, I think I’m smitten.

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L.A. Lawn

Emily Green, in the September 9, 2011, edition of The Los Angeles Times, discusses many of the hidden costs related to keepings lawns, including the health risks to those often hired to maintain them in Southern California, in her piece entitled “The health of our gardens, and the people who tend them,” found here.

In discussing the health risks faced by landscape workers, the “mow-and-blow” crews:

Studies conducted on farm laborers working with the same suite of pesticides used in lawn care suggest that home garden teams might also be more likely than the general population to develop the pesticide-related issues of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and having children with birth defects…The status quo is clearly unacceptable. Yet here we trip into the biggest pitfall facing a transition from turf to more environmentally beneficial complexes of trees, herbs, shrubs, succulents, meadow grasses (not turf) and flowers.

“As obvious as it sounds, to make the change, Southern California’s homeowners would have to care as much about the land around their homes as the house itself. This would mean learning how to garden themselves, or paying skilled gardeners, not mow and blow teams.”

And to her credit, Ms. Green doesn’t underestimate the difficulties homeowners face in transitioning from relatively easy-care lawns to more complicated, diverse landscapes:

It seems clear that homeowners and residential mow and blow crews can’t effect necessary change alone. We need the entire grounds maintenance industry, along with landscape design and public expectations of what constitutes a nice yard, to change. We need civic leaders who understand that a healthy Los Angeles cannot afford lawn as a default landscape.”

Personally, I love the surge of plants pressing in all around, the sense of being immersed in a landscape, and would never keep a lawn, but I fully appreciate the difficulty losing the lawn presents for many homeowners. Practically speaking, it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, especially if you’re not that interested in plants and gardens to begin with.

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Of course, there are entrenched interests quite happy with the status quo. Catherine McLaughlin, with the garden design firm of Rodgriguez & Satterthwaite, took this photo on a local Los Angeles freeway last week. I’ve seen this truck around town too.

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Emily Green blogs at Chance of Rain.

1stdibs

In a piece in yesterday’s New York Times, Steven Kurutz introduces readers to the “marketplace for design and antiques” known as 1stdibs.
And the next thing I knew, about three hours were somehow sucked out of my day.

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Set of five collapsible metal tables with black lacquered X bases and two part sage and red lacquered tops. Much like the post modern architecturally inspired furniture designs by the Memphis Group. A collective of architects and designers established by Ettore Sottsass in Milano, Italy in the early 1980s.

Price
$1,750

Collapsible tables found on this page, about 80 pages in under the category “Curated Searches, 20th Century Specialists.” In my defense I can only offer that I was hoping to ID a Mid-Century chair I bought at a thrift shop in San Francisco in the late ’70s. As the NYT article points out, the lofty prices make browsing the site an exercise in admiration of craftsmanship and design rather than one of actual shopping.

The link to garden furniture can be found here. Proceed at your peril. Grab a light snack and something to drink.

(Consider yourself warned.)

Garden Puzzles

Working with a small garden can be a bit of a puzzle. This powder blue Agave potatorum, or ‘butterfly’ agave, was planted a couple years ago deep in the recesses of the gravel garden, much too out of the way and concealed for such a handsome agave, but no other space was available at the time. An ill-fitting piece of the puzzle.

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Might as well admit that the puzzle has at its root a ceaseless acquisition of beautiful plants. (I could have just passed up that agave, couldn’t I? But I’d never seen a butterfly agave that peculiar shade of blue, and haven’t since.) A lot of recent friction seems to be coming from the shrubs I can’t stop bringing home. Appreciated and admired in December, by mid-summer shrubs just seem in the way. This summer, much of which has been spent methodically deshrubbing the garden, I’ve had to face up to the unavoidable conclusion that shrubs are not in the cards for the foreseeable future. Perhaps their moment will come again when, for whatever reason, I won’t enjoy the level of intensive gardening I do now. As much as I love the amazing range of Australian, South African, and New Zealand shrubs available today, they fill up space so quickly, when I’d rather play around on a much smaller, more impermanent scale. Even so, enticing shrubs like this Azara microphylla ‘Variegata’ from Chile, with vanilla-scented blooms, still break down my defenses. Perhaps it will be happy in a pot for a few years.

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In this instance, a beautiful leucadendron was removed and sedums and agaves planted in its place. With the leucadendron gone, I much prefer how the bay of smaller, low-growing plants fits into the garden contrasted with the 4×5 foot leucadendron. An old, overgrown Lespedeza ‘Gibraltar’ near the leucadendron was also removed, though I note a few shoots of the lespedeza are returning. The rhythm and sweep of bays is something I love in landscapes but a feature I often forfeit due to the persistent vice of overplanting. The butterfly agave was moved yesterday to the spot vacated by the leucadendron, which is filling up fast with mangaves, sedum, carex, the New Zealand Purple Sheep’s Bur Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea,’ and other small agaves. The restio in back was completely hidden by the leucadendron, and the lespedeza thrashed around behind the big agave on the right, ‘Mr. Ripples.’ The planting has perhaps unintentionally taken on the character of an agave garden now. (Gee, ya think?)

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Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea,’ image found here, was extremely happy up in Mendocino County, where it was purchased at Digging Dog Nursery, but is struggling in Los Angeles’ recent temperatures in the high 90s.

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What finally set that half-concealed Agave potatorum in motion was the need for its spot mid border to try out Callirhoe digitata, a very tall winecup that needs the dry, lean quarters of the front gravel garden instead of the lush, compost-rich digs of the back garden. While the grand gesture of sweeps of grasses and perennials is impossible to pull off in a small garden in a near-winterless zone 10, still the seasonal vibrancy that a few well-chosen, fairly drought tolerant perennials brings has always caught my imagination. The puzzle resolved itself with the agave finally getting the prominent position it deserved, and with the callirhoe tucked into a spot where they have a chance of thriving.

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This summer has been a continual process of paring down. Earlier this morning a ‘Silver Anniversary’ buddleia exited the back garden roots first, a shrub I love but lack of room was making it awkward rather than graceful. Cuttings were taken in case unforeseen space suddenly opens up (as in, say, a small meteorite hits the back garden this winter). Also removed this morning was a large Clematis recta ‘Lime Close’ that never colored deeply or even bloomed much for that matter, and its spot given for a trial of Trifolium rubens. Pieces of the puzzle continually slide in and out of place. Rarely, but occasionally, there’s that satisfying “click” when the pieces somehow manage to fall into shape.