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windows on the world

Thank you, Paris Review, for continuing Windows on the World, a wonderful “series on what writers from around the world see from their windows,” as drawn by Matteo Pericoli, first commissioned by The New York Times.

My introduction to this series was the entry by Mrs. Borges, Maria Kodama, first published in The New York Times on 1/2/11.

“A certain house in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta has a window that is doubly privileged. It overlooks a courtyard garden of the kind known here as a pulmón de manzana – literally, the lung of a block – which affords it a view of the sky and an expanse of plants, trees and vines that meander along the walls of neighboring houses, marking the passage of the seasons with their colors…” Mária Kodama

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But this isn’t a series about view envy. Not all the writers’ accounts of their views are as rhapsodic as Ms. Kodama’s. I love how Marina Endicott begins the description of her view:

By some spiral of fate and capitulation, instead of a street in the East Village or a shabby lane in London, I stare out at a suburban patio, a generous and quiet garden in Edmonton, Alberta.”

More recent windows:

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wilmington, NC

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Emma Larkin, Bangkok

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Dennis Cooper, Paris

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Matteo Pericoli is a famous drawer of cities. He is known for his witty, loving, obsessively detailed renditions of the Manhattan coastline (Manhattan Unfurled), the perimeter of Central Park (Manhattan Within), and the banks of the River Thames (London Unfurled).

Several years ago, Matteo began to draw New York from a new vantage point—from its windows. He asked artists, writers, politicians, editors, and others involved with the cultural life of the city to let him draw whatever they saw when they looked outside. These were collected in the book The City Out My Window (and the view from 62 White Street appeared on the cover of The Paris Review).

friday’s clippings 4/6/12

I trust we’ve all safely arrived at the doorstep of this spring weekend relatively intact. My car is in the shop from a minor crash a few weeks back, my first since I can’t remember when, and the rental has taken some getting used to. After decades driving a manual transmission, I’m probably one of the few people that has had difficulty adjusting to driving an automatic transmission — the tedium nearly puts me to sleep driving home at the end of the day.

Some clippings from the past week. In a waiting room I thumbed through several issues of the posh magazine Bonhams, including Issue 30 from spring 2012, in which British actor Terence Stamp nominated as his entry for “My Favorite Room” the landmark Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, a kind of Chelsea Hotel West (“stayed up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writing Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you”) with the Chateau Marmont’s emphasis more on the bacchanal and less on tormented artistic endeavor. I might have to hit the local library up for his just-released memoir, “Rare Stamps.”

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Which has nothing whatever to do with gardens except in the tangential respect that, as with the plant world, there occasionally emerges out of the human race as if sprung from the head of Zeus someone so impeccably cool they are worth noting if for no other reason than they simply exist. I’ve always found Terence Stamp, from his earliest, Christ-like role in Billy Budd, up through Soderbergh’s “The Limey,” to be one of these agave-cool beings.

Image found here Rob Walls, 1967.
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With Jean Shrimpton, the first “supermodel,” who has since run a hotel in Penzance, England for the past 30 years.
Image found here.

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Another familiar beauty I bumped into this week was this Irish Wolfhound, whose photo I was kindly allowed to take. Irish Wolfhounds are part of my MegaMillions fantasy scenario. Enough land for them to run and me to garden. That would be quite a bit of land.

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The wolfhound was standing near a shop window of Metlox pottery in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

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At home the poppies continue to be the topic of conversation, especially now that they’re waist high, just a few feet from the kitchen door, and in particular the squadrons of bees that visit these half-dozen plants.

Me: I suppose some people might be a little nervous about walking through here…Kimmie, for instance.
M: (No response, just watches the dozens of bees on the poppies)
Me: What’s that line from “To Have and Have Not”?
M: ‘Was you ever bit by a dead bee?’
Me: That one! Who says it? Walter Brennan?
M: Yeah, as Eddie the rummy.
Me: Hey, have you ever been stung by a bee before, dead or alive?
M: (No response…)
Me: I was, that one time on the Slip ‘N Slide. I’ve told you about that, right? Didn’t see him on the ground and slid right into him.
M: Yeah, you’ve told me about that Slip ‘N Slide business before. On Timmy Prescott’s lawn, right?
Me: Yeah. At least I know I’m not allergic. You must’ve been stung before, too, right?
M: Must have…

(For a more scientific discussion of bees, see this recent New York Times article detailing the link between pesticides and dwindling bee numbers.)


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Some of what I’ve been missing in my garden this week is the astonishing, universe-expanding development of Allium schubertii. Truth is, the fact that any allium develops past the leaf stage in my garden is cause for astonishment. Allium christophii and schubertii are supposed to be candidates for zone 10, that is, not sensitive to winter dormancy issues, but my garden always seems to eat the bulbs for breakfast, although the drumstick allium, A. sphaerocephalon, grows reasonably well here. I prechilled a bunch of different allium this year and have had much better results. Spectacular results in the case of Allium schubertii.


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My one rose, the tea-noisette ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ has started a nice flush of bloom. I’m surprised how much I like having just…one…rose. One rose to represent her kind. Make it a climber and scented, and that one rose can be quite enough. (I wrote about my complicated relationship with roses here a couple years ago.)


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The blessed weekend is finally here.

front porches


The front porch, that shaded darling of New Urbanism. Decompression chamber and threshold between the kick-you-in-the-shins workaday world and the sanctity of home. Preferred lookout post for hard-working dogs.

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The porch – as an intermediate space, even a sphere of ‘civil society’ – was the symbolic and practical place where we learned that there is not, strictly speaking, a total separation between the public and private worlds. Our actions in private are not merely ‘private,’ but have, in toto, profound public implications.” Front Porch Republic

Reasons why I rarely sit on my porch:
1) Our porch faces a gloomy north.
(However, I don’t see my neighbors on the opposite side of the street, who face sunny south, using theirs much either.)
2) My porch was built when horses still clopped down the street but now overlooks rows of parked cars or, alternatively, cars whizzing by at curse-inducing speeds. Not much enticement in either case to sit for a spell.
3) Who sits for long anymore unless it’s in front of a screen?

Barry Berkus of B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara: “New urbanism has been promoted as the great answer to housing needs and urban sprawl. But it’s not for everyone. Before air conditioning, there were reasons for front porches. People in summer would sit on porches until the house cooled down. That’s not the way people live today.”

John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute: “Expect future new urbanism projects to include more rental, high-rises and open spaces, but fewer single-family homes.” (Chicago Tribune, “New Urbanism: Old-fashioned design in for long run,” 4/1/12.)

So is a porch a useless, anachronistic waste of space? Not at all. Maybe people have lost the knack for porch life, but cats, dogs, and plants haven’t. For plants, the shadier aspect the better, to keep colors vivid as long as possible on ephemeral spring bulbs like Dutch iris brought out for display at peak bloom.


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And I’ve noticed a definite correlation between the number of pots on the porch and the amount of time I want to spend there.

hellebores in the rear-view mirror


To write that hellebores are a much-desired plant for winter gardens is stating the obvious. I grow nothing but H. argutifolius, the Corsican hellebore, and have become a repetitive bore in constantly blogging my adoration for it, but I do admire all kinds wherever I travel in winter. This moody, Moorish, Othello of a hellebore was photographed near the office at Annie’s Annuals. Possibly ‘Onyx Odyssey’?


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A pale yellow growing in the courtyard of our lodgings in San Francisco.

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But by April it’s time to think about saying goodbye to this constant winter companion. Yesterday I cut most of my garden’s fallen bloom stalks, split the stems at the bottom about an inch or so, and filled a couple large vases full.


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How’s that for a performance? Bloom all winter and still look this good in a vase.

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Sepals and nectaries

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Helleborus argutifolius, like H. foetidus, are the caulescent hellebores, or those with above-ground stems, so cleaning them up is a simple matter of cutting away the long (3-foot and over) bloom stalks. Fresh new leaves are already forming, trifoliate, evergreen, leathery goodness for spring and summer that I promise not to blog about for the next six months.


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things to do in the Bay Area after a garden show

or any other preposition that fits your schedule — before the show, between visits to the show.
Of course, you don’t have to wait until the next garden show in 2013 for a visit.

Building REsources, discussed before here and here, with its ever-changing selections of kaleidoscopic, polished glass mulch and salvage of infinite variety.


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Big Daddy’s new store in San Francisco, a visit to the Los Angeles store discussed here.

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Flora Grubb Gardens, discusssed here.
The last time I visited was around Valentine’s Day 2012, and the store was a mesmerizing tableau vivant of happy, busy people making themselves and their loved ones things like this. Glass, tillandsias, moss, lichens. (Magic.)

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UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, discussed here. Aloe castanea in bloom in February 2012.


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Cornerstone Sonoma. Over the Golden Gate Bridge and north into Sonoma County you’ll find this outdoor collection of shops, salvage, statuary, with gardens designed by Topher Delaney, Roger Raiche, Suzanne Biaggi.

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Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. So many of the plants I grow are from Annie Hayes, written about here, for example. For this recent, brief visit to the Bay Area, I had time for only one side trip. It had to be to Annie’s nursery.

Homoglad hybrids (Gladiolus tristis X Homoglossum watsonium)
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Annie’s geum selection…sigh. Some of the species are surviving, if not exactly flourishing, in my Los Angeles garden.
Geums are not dry garden candidates.

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Senecio glastifolius, written about here.

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Some of my favorite plants from Annie’s are the Mediterranean subshrubs like sideritis, whose ghostly white, subtle beauty is hard to capture in a photograph but is devastatingly gorgeous in a garden.

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Euphorbia characias and Eupatorium sordidum.

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Also, The Dry Garden in Berkeley, discussed here.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Restoration Hardware’s flagship store is a huge space upon which the RH fantasy is writ large. Nice little formal outdoor courtyard too.

Consider also a 25-mile side trip to the legendary Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, discussed here.

And in this horticultural mecca, that’s just for starters.

last day of March 2012



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2012 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Before last week’s show in San Mateo, California, “Gardens For a Green Earth,” recedes into the dim past, just a few photos, not at all a comprehensive account.
All photos taken by MB Maher at the preview on Tuesday, 3/20/12.


“Windows,” Gold Medal Winner
(Association of Professional Landscape Designers, American Society of Landscape Architects Award,
California Landscape Contractors Award, Sunset Western Living Award, San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers Award, and The Garden Conservancy Award)
McKenna Landscape
Leslie McKenna
Los Gatos, CA
(408) 356-1842
leslie@mckennalandscape.com
www.mckennalandscape.com

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Continue reading 2012 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

the most salient landscape feature of Los Angeles

has to be the parking lot.

It’s estimated that there are three nonresidential parking spaces for every car in the United States. That adds up to almost 800 million parking spaces, covering about 4,360 square miles, an area larger than Puerto Rico. In some cities, like Orlando and Los Angeles, parking lots are estimated to cover at least one-third of the land area, making them one of the most salient landscape features of the built world.”

Italian architect Renzo Piano, when redesigning the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, eliminated the parking lot’s islands and curbs and planted rows of trees in a dense grid, creating an open, level space under a soft canopy of foliage that welcomes pedestrians as naturally as it does cars.”


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Developers talk about the importance of ‘first impressions’ to the overall atmosphere conveyed to the user. Yet parking lots are rarely designed with this function in mind. When they are, the effect is stunning. For instance, the parking lot at the Dia art museum in Beacon, N.Y., created by the artist Robert Irwin and the architecture firm OpenOffice, was planned as an integral element of the visitor’s arrival experience, with an aesthetically deft progression from the entry road to the parking lot to an allee that leads to the museum’s lobby.”

Image found here.


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From The New York Times, 3/25/12, “When a Parking Lot Is So Much More,” by Eran Ben-Joseph, Professor of Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of “Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking.”

my favorite garden show

is the one taking place at any given moment in my own backyard.

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be it ever so humble and jumbled, chaotic, disheveled, contrary, exasperating, etc, etc.

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That the show blithely carries on while I’m away is always slightly infuriating.
More on a proper show, the 2012 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, later this week.

back in a few

While we’re away for a couple days for the San Francisco Flower & Garden show, Agave ‘Mr. Ripples’ will have to take over chin-scratching duties. Don’t wear him out, Joseph, okay?

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Good or bad, inspired or tired, garden shows are the exclamation point to spring.

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March couldn’t be a better time. The obsessive examination of my own garden for signs of spring gets a little intense, and it’s a relief to look further afield.

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See you on Sunday.