Occasional Daily Photo 7/11/11

Brugmansia hybrid ‘Charles Grimaldi.’ Incredibly voluptuous, scented trumpets…on a plant that rivals the hybrid tea rose for awkward growth and ugly legs.


Just haven’t found the right approach yet to placing these subtropical shrubs in a zone 10 landscape, where they can bloom nearly year-round.
To me, a gawky brug cries out for the structural boost of a container. A huge, preferably bottomless container, so it can root into the ground.
In which case it’s very nearly drought tolerant, as opposed to the daily wilt it gets in a pot.
Brugs: a love/hate relationship with a complicated subtropical beauty. Nothing like their scent on a warm summer night.

Big Daddy On The Move

“You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.”
Maggie the Cat, daughter-in-law of Big Daddy, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Me, too, Maggie. It’s clearly going to be a hot-tin-roof kind of summer. Visiting Big Daddy’s warehouse full of idiosyncratic antiques during the stifling heat of July, it’s impossible not to think of that other relic, the Big Daddy patriarch heading Tennessee Williams’ cranky, dysfunctional Pollitt clan in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, doing his best to ruin the lives of the two gorgeous leads from the movie, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Big Daddy is played by Burl Ives. Someone had to be the physical foil to Paul and Liz’s delicately chiseled features. (Nobody does titles like Tennessee Williams. Clothes for a Summer Hotel, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, etc.)

Image found here.

Big Daddy’s Antiques, collector of the fascinating detritus of families that came before us, dysfunctional and otherwise, could provide the set design for (unwritten) plays like Letters From A Bohemian Hotel or Desire Among the Ruins.


In addition to a menagerie of obscure objects of desire, Big Daddy’s also assembles bespoke light fixtures.


Big Daddy is on the move, leaving the Gardena warehouse to an as-yet-undisclosed space in Culver City. After reading about Big Daddy’s on Rancho Reubidoux, MB Maher wanted to capture the warehouse before the entire collection is dismantled and loaded into containers by August. This may be the last chance to prowl around a warehouse strewn with objects and furniture from all over the world that have pegged the meter of infinite cool that resides in owner Shane Brown’s visual cortex. The new home in Culver City will be more of a showroom and less a journey of discovery through a dusty warehouse/workroom.

After the jump, more photos by MB Maher from Big Daddy’s last month in Gardena.

Continue reading Big Daddy On The Move

Mystery Mullein

Of all the old seed packets kept stuffed in cigar boxes and metal tins, this one wasn’t saved.
Started from seed from Chiltern’s about two years ago. One central inflorescence branching into smaller spikes.
Leaves are green, not grey and felty. Looks a lot like Verbascum nigrum.


Occasional Daily Photo 7/7/11

Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ in an urn at Big Daddy’s.


(At the end of the month, Big Daddy’s will be moving from its Gardena location to Culver City and may possibly be more inclined to discount inventory rather than pack and ship it to the new location, especially articles judged too fragile for shipping.)

Journal July 6, 2011

The garden saw some frenetic activity over the long holiday weekend. Over the long, extremely hot holiday weekend.
Not since Nixon has a face dripped such copious amounts of sweat. Under these sticky, squalid conditions, one reverts to a feral state of being and savagely pushes on until the next cleansing shower rinse, emerging cooled and civilized once again, ready to attend holiday soirees. (For about five minutes.) Checking a weather map indicates that a good portion of the U.S. was taking frequent showers too this past weekend. I don’t know how plants manage to keep looking so cool.


The big ‘Hawkshead’ fuchsia had to go. A Dan Hinkley introduction for Monrovia, a selection of the shrubby Fuchsia magellanica, it has proven to be nonresistant to the fuchsia mite and was getting the typical leaf deformation. Flowering doesn’t seem to be affected. I’d highly recommend this fuchsia to any mite-free fuchsia gardens.


The 8-foot Coprosma ‘Beatson’s Gold,’ I decided Saturday, also had to go. My love for this shrub was blinding me to how big and out of scale to the rest of the garden it had grown despite increasingly frequent pruning interventions. Arguments against removal included evergreen “winter interest” and as a support for the winter-blooming Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream.’ To hell with winter interest. Time to realize this idea has grown stale, that waiting for the clematis to decide to bloom has become a tiresome winter ritual of disappointment, i.e., in spite of rampant growth, it’s never bloomed and has decided its sole purpose in life is to thwart my desire for its mid-winter blooms. A ‘New Zealand Purple’ castor bean plant was also removed. Taking out that beauty really hurt, but what’s the point of throwing kniphofias into the mix if there’s no room for them to grow and bloom? A seedling from this ricinus thrives elsewhere in the garden.


For a brief moment the entire area vacated by the coprosma and ricinus was simply left mulched, the bone-dry soil watered in, and I contemplated its serene emptiness, leaning toward resting the soil until fall. When I snapped to from this novel and unfamiliar state of being, a Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ was being hauled out from elsewhere in the garden and planted to replace the coprosma, which has already been turned to mulch, and shade rigging erected over the honeybush. The melianthus can stay if it grows no taller than 6 feet. Loree’s (Danger Garden) generous gift of variegated London’s Pride, Saxifraga umbrosa, was moved here too.

Potted agaves were depupped, pots shuffled and reshuffled, begonias seared by afternoon sun dug up and moved to shade.
Tables and chairs were moved into the shade. Under the punishing sun, everything with means of locomotion moved to the shade.
But amidst all the demolition, the mud, the blood, and the beer, summer still works its magic.



A forgotten verbascum, started from seed in 2009, pushed up its candelabra of buds about to bloom. Eucomis are blooming.


After the jump, I’ve updated the garden journal of February, mainly for my own record-keeping purposes.

Continue reading Journal July 6, 2011

Plant Societies

Why has it taken me so long to check out local plant societies? I’ve been a member of the various conservancies, The Mediterranean Garden Society, but membership was mostly in a passive sense, as a means to attend tours and lectures. There might be a small fear of compulsory meetings, which seem to always be held a good 40 miles away, in which case the will to attend usually flags on meeting day. But in the past month, as I checked out Cactus and Succulent Society of America-sponsored plant sales in San Diego, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and attended a meeting of my local Long Beach Cactus Club (oldest cactus club in the U.S.!), it’s become apparent that there’s nothing to fear and a huge amount of information (and plants!) to be gained.

In exchange for creating and maintaining a cactus and succulent garden on site, The Long Beach Cactus Club is allowed to hold its meetings at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe, a California State Historic Landmark. The old rancho is also home to a seminary of the Claretian order, which means the grounds are intensely private and quiet, allowing the thick adobe walls to work their magic in evoking Old California.


It hadn’t occurred to me how insular a plant society might be. If it had, I would never have had the nerve to attend alone. I strode into the newer outbuilding where the talk was taking place and then froze up just across the doorway threshold, instantly realizing I was in the company of people who had been friends for many years. Once the group recovered from the palpable shock of a new face in their midst, I was greeted very warmly and, as a guest, was invited to choose a free plant from a little table. I kept that bright orange-leaved aloe at the foot of my chair the entire meeting. Everyone is allowed to select a free plant, and scanning the room I noted that most of the other selections were cacti. At this stage I’m more interested in succulents in a landscape and garden setting, which was one of my biggest reservations about cactus clubs, that somehow plants would be reduced to a hobbyist pursuit. What I found at the meeting was a comprehensive cultural, scientific and historical approach to the plants that quieted any such misgivings. Woody Minnich gave a talk on a recent plant-exploring trip to Peru. Exquisite photos of Machu Picchu, Cuzco, the Nazca plains from a four-seater plane. Be still my anthropology-loving heart! I was riveted to the folding chair. Apart from his authoritative knowledge of the plants, Mr. Minnich’s talk reflected his catholic interests in the people of Peru, the food, culture, geology, and he’s simply a wonderful photographer. He speaks at cactus and succulent groups all over the world. If his name pops up as a speaker at a society near you, I strongly urge you to attend. He just might be presenting a talk on his recent trip to Namibia.

I bumped into Mr. Minnich again at the Cactus & Succulent Society of America’s sale at the Huntington Botanical Gardens this past weekend and told him again how much I’d enjoyed his talk. And then I got busy checking out the plants. And, yes, I succumbed and bought one of the specialty pots offered for sale at these shows. (This one is from Mark Muradian. Unfortunately, I lost my little notebook at the plant sale, and Mark didn’t have a business card, so I don’t have contact info, but he does sell through ebay.)

Lucky day to bag the elusive Agave americana var. striata. I asked the vendor if the difficulty in finding this agave is due to it possibly being less vigorous, offsetting less, and (fingers crossed) thereby being a a smaller, more manageable A. americana, and he said not at all, that it grows as big and pups just as furiously as the species. Still couldn’t pass it up.


I also brought home Sedum confusum, Crassula rupestris, Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brulee,’ Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue,’ and an Agave utahensis which I gave away as a hostess gift last night.

More examples of pots by Mark Muradian


The mother of all cactus and succulent shows is coming up August 13th and 14th at the Los Angeles Arboretum, The Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale. Not one to miss.


Madeira Giant Bellflower

Musschia wollastonii bulges out of this large pot at an angle as though off a cliff in its native haunts of Madeira, Portugal.


It’s gaining size rapidly, pushing aside the cordyline, but I try to stay calm and suppress an increasingly giddy expectation that it possibly intends to bloom this summer. Internet photos of its 6-foot panicles of bloom show chartreuse flowers which remind me in character of Michauxia tchihatchewii, pronounced like a sneeze, another odd bellflower I grew once, with its “Catherine wheel” flowers. (Always that reference to michauxia having “Catherine wheel” flowers, a charming description. I remember the collaboration between choreographer Twyla Tharp and musician David Byrne called “The Catherine Wheel” but other than that, the words draw a blank. Possibly a reference to a medieval dance or a wheel for spinning yarn? This morning I looked it up and wished I hadn’t. An appalling Middle Ages method of torture and death.)

Thankfully, this biennial Madeira Giant Bellflower has no such cruel associations. *Named for the physician and explorer A.F.R. Wollaston. John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary has an interesting post on Wollaston and some of the plants given his name, like my Wollaston’s Musschia, which has been thriving in filtered morning sun and the even moisture a container provides. An exciting plant for shady gardens.

*According to Mr. Grimshaw, not named for AFR Wollaston after all…

Raw Salvage

I first heard about Big Daddy’s architectural salvage and antique business from Reuben’s blog Rancho Reubidoux and had been itching to check it out ever since, which I finally did about a month ago. The contrast between the natural world and the man-made, that tension partly explains why I think salvage can sometimes be so bracing when included in gardens. Decrepit, man-made objects falling apart in a garden that will continually renew itself and go on in some form without us, there’s rusty poignancy to be exploited there. But you’ll have to refer to Reuben’s photos to view some of Big Daddy’s selection of gorgeous architectural salvage. Because what did I come back with?

Photos of sweaty mannequins in T-shirts and random chair groupings.


Out of all that cool shit, here’s where apparently I felt the need to point my camera. Was it sensory overload? Sheer contrariness? Who can say?
But needless to say, I didn’t blog about that visit.


At Big Daddy’s every object was uber cool, desirable, collectible. And the prices reflected the work and knowledge* that goes into sourcing these objects, the transportation and then storage in the warehouse until sale. Rightfully so. And not pricy exactly, but certainly more than I can afford. The only other shoppers I noticed were designers who loaded up vans full of stuff intended for clients or maybe their own antique shops. I wandered around, got those silly photos, and drove home feeling slightly defeated. Do we all remember the days when we found this kind of stuff dirt cheap and usually had the bonus of some colorful story to tell about the acquisition too? I know it’s still out there somewhere, but someone always seems one step ahead of me, putting a hefty price tag on it before I get there. I know, I know, it’s big business now. Get over it, I scolded myself driving home through this heavily industrial part of town.

And that’s when I found another warehouse just a few streets away, a kind of boneyard of the Industrial Revolution. Massive machines of forgotten purpose, some beautiful, all filthy, some towering 15 feet high. I’m not completely sure why I find this stuff so terribly exciting, but would guess that it’s similar to the affinity for the shape and design of plants in response to their environments. That kind of beauty and ingenuity and singular purpose can also be seen in the hulks of cast-off machines. But while the machines are mesmerizing, they’re terrifying too, which just adds zest to the adventure, that tug between repulsion/attraction. Praise be to OSHA/Occupational Safety and Health Administration! was a recurring thought as I wandered through the hangar-sized warehouse for an hour, resolving to come back with my husband later to get his opinion on some things of interest. And also to get his opinion as to if I was or was not crazy to find this place spectacular.

Yesterday we finally made it back, and he affirmed it was indeed all that spectacular.
I brought home this little rolling tool cart I’d seen the first visit. For staging plants, yes, but also to move around heavy containers. Indestructible.
I’ve seen these sold as rolling bar carts for hipster lofts at eight times what I paid.


And a heavy, welded basket that sifted god-knows-what.


And a clamp-on lamp that needs cleaning and some other bits, but I ended up putting back more than I brought home. There’s some industrial shelving I desperately covet that’s priced a little high, although still amazingly cheap. I think the owner sells by the pound. I selfishly want to keep what I call Morlocks Machinewerx (for the subterranean, machine-mad creatures in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine) a secret until I own that shelving, but that would be incredibly unfair to the owner who could use the business. It’s called simply Hick’s Machinery. Go there and be amazed at the relics of America’s manufacturing might.

Whenever possible, I prefer my salvage raw.


*For a look at the costs of sourcing “junk,” check out this LA Times article on the lawsuit against Restoration Hardware for mass-producing the curated discoveries of Obsolete, a collector’s mecca in Venice, California.


Such a joy to watch Peter Falk in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.
Here chatting with an angel at a Berlin food truck.

 photo wingsofdesirescreen1.png

photo found here

So many good things.

Wings of Desire

Occasional Daily Photo 6/27/11

Dasylirion longissimum, about 6:45 a.m.