Categories

the gardening beatle

I think it was George’s son Dhani Harrison who let slip in the Martin Scorcese documentary “Living in the Material World,” (last week on HBO) that the family sometimes called George “Capability,” jokingly comparing George to the great 18th century English landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. At age 27, George bought the derelict property Friar Park. His second wife Olivia moved in later. Dan Pearson describes visiting Friar Park and talking with Olivia about its evolution in an article for The Guardian entitled “Magical Mystery Tour“:

We never set out to make the garden a restoration, we were just doing it for the joy of it…You don’t have to know anything or everything to make a garden and George set out quite independently to do it his own way. ‘It’s amateur hour’ was a mantra and clearing away the dark Victorian palette of laurel and yew and overgrown box was key to being able to move the garden forward. Beth Chatto’s visit to the gardens proved key as a confidence-building exercise. With typical practicality she had said: ‘You know, George, if you had an old sofa in your house that you didn’t like you’d throw it out!’ The comment was a liberation and that was how they began to lift the gloom to make way for a new layer.”

From the dearth of photos available of the gardens at Friar Park, it would be hard not to conclude that this was a very personal endeavor, rarely shared with the public. Image found here:

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In 2008 an exhibit was entered in the Chelsea Garden Show entitled “From Life to Life; A Garden for George.”

I forget who in the documentary commented that George had the most extraordinarily disparate groups of people visiting Friar Park. Along with the pantheon of musicians he hung out with, as a producer of the Monty Python movies and Withnail & I, George’s guests could include Terry Gilliam, John Cleese and the Python gang, as well as Eastern mystics, Rhavi Shankar, visits by Dan Pearson and Beth Chatto. The house and gardens obviously sheltered a rich, layered life. I have to admit to not being much of a Beatles fanatic though consider myself passably knowledgeable on Beatles lore, but watching the documentary unwind the songwriting attributions to George of such songs as “Something” caught me by surprise. I knew it, of course, but had forgotten I knew it. George’s son told a lovely story of his father out in the garden until midnight, running around with a shrub in his hand, trying to find the perfect spot for it, so I’ll end with — what else? Here Comes The Sun.

Sedum & the Summer of Neglect

A tale of invincibility.

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The sedum, with the survivability of a cockroach, has been performing every trick I’ve asked it to.
Way back in January I planted up these hollow flues pried out of our chimney when some repairs were made.
Reusable shopping bags were stuffed into the hollow core as an insert to hold the soil. A very shallow insert not holding much soil mass at all.
Checking on the sedum and keeping it watered and happy was not a priority this summer. Let’s be honest; they were pretty much ignored.

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A shrubby little pea family/Fabaceae member, Dorycnium hirsutum hoisted its leaves up against the concrete.
It’s this tracery and pattern against the concrete that finally drew my interest back to this sedum experiment.
(What a great family of nitrogen-fixing plants is the Fabaceae, including baptisia, lespedeza, Hedysarum coronarium, Trifolium rubens, and on and on.)
The bright green leaves are Orbexilum pedunculatum, aka, ˜Sampson’s Snakeroot,’ another member of the pea family native to Texas.
Purplish flowers, from what I remember, since it hasn’t bloomed this summer.

Wreath of Asarina

Now that it’s October, the grapevine wreath I hung on the fence mid-summer doesn’t seem half as silly.
The pink flowers are from a nearby Asarina scandens, which has been galloping over the fence.
The wreath is one I made for a Christmas past from the grapevine on the pergola.
In combining the two, asarina and grapevine wreath, I had vague ideas of encouraging a living wreath. And so it is.

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The asarina is grown as an annual elsewhere, but can be (and has been) perennial here.
It has an amazingly loopy and arabesque-making habit of growth, creating natural swags.
Never one to have much pink in the garden or get heavily into seasonal/holiday decorating, this is definitely a passing fancy.
The asarina also comes in purple and white forms, either of which I’d prefer to this pink asarina.
The asarina has become a short-timer now that it’s starting to crowd the Monterey cypress.
The three Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’ are now past fence height and ready to take over responsibilities as a privacy screen next year.

Summer foolishness turns into a ripening display of the changing seasons. Proving again that context is everything.

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Occasional Daily Weather Report 10/9/11

After last week’s day of rain, the sidewalk’s warming up again. High 70’s and low 80’s for the next few days.
(A favorite spot to warm up and also cuff the corgi’s tail-less bottom as he passes through the feline gauntlet.)

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As sometimes happens with this breed, the corgi Ein was born tail-less, or “naturally docked.” The cats had nothing to do with that.
I should keep the steps free of hidden pouncing opportunities, but I love the way the plants drape, and cats and plants love the sun here in winter.

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(Strangely enough, there is a song about tail-less creatures, which can be adapted to sing to Welsh corgis.
My husband taught me the song, but I see Wikipedia dates it to 1907. The following is the only part of the song I know.

The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga

Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails,
They were bitten off by whales,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga
.)

I won’t even list the cats’ names because they’ll only change them tomorrow. Yes, the cats change them, not me.
Which sets up supreme humiliation at the vet’s office, when you present the tabby cat you call Joseph, and their records have him as Jones.
Next time at the vet’s you present the tabby cat known to you as Prof. Joe. B. Tiger, and their records have him as Joseph, etc., etc.
The vet’s office records have the white one as Evie, but I think she goes by Chizzy these days.

The vet’s office records have always shown this one’s name as Newt, but her records have changed in other ways.
Due to a nerve injury, she had one of her fore legs removed a few years ago — its absence outlined by the negative space on the left in the photo.

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Thank goodness for the relative stability of plant names. Everyone seems to just be ignoring aster’s new name, symphicotricum, and for good reason. Rudbeckia triloba, bought and planted late in summer, responding to warmer days.
If it’s truly a biennial as I’ve read, this sweet little performance will be all the plant will give.
Rumored to be prolific at reseeding, though. I certainly hope so.

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The autumn air smells fantastic.

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Color is deepening purple on the tips of this tiny Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ still in a 12-inch pot, where it will remain for the foreseeable future.
All space for trees currently taken.

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Not a very professional weather crew, it’s true. All we really know is fine weather makes us frisky and happy.
But never less wary of the next pounce.

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“Gardens: An Essay” by Robert Pogue Harrison

Strange how, even in the most unlikely places, thoughts can still turn to gardens. Jury duty last week had me confined for a good part of Friday in a large, drab room full of strangers, all of us potential jurors awaiting selection for a trial. 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., lunch break until 1:00 p.m., finally excused at 2:30 p.m., my juror services ultimately never required. I had expected to be there until 5:00 p.m., so when early dismissal was announced I practically skipped down the courthouse hall. Expecting a long, chair-ridden, time sinkhole of a day, I had grabbed a huge amount to read, including The New York Review of Books of October 13, 2011. (Seems I rarely read entire books anymore, just reviews.) Sometime mid-morning, deep in a review of the Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom’s latest book, “The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life,” the writer of the review was so impressive and his bio in the NYRB so brief that I had to google him on the courthouse’s computers. (Thoughtfully, the courthouse had provided five computers for potential jurors to share.) Among many scholarly works, Robert Pogue Harrison, Professor of Italian Literature at Stanford, published a book in 2008 with the intriguing title “Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition,” and an excerpt from this essay subtitled “The Vocation of Care,” could be brought up on the courthouse computer (found here). The long day was now whizzing by in a gluttony of reading, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since my last plane or train journey. In this essay Prof. Harrison explores the myths of Eden and how they drive our age and history. He feels that faced with the prospect of living forever in paradise, as Odysseus was on the island of Kalypso, humans would wish desperately to return to their homes and care-ridden lives, “For unlike earthly paradises, human-made gardens that are brought into and maintained in being by cultivation retain a signature of the human agency to which they owe their existence. Call it the mark of Cura.”

Prof. Harrison recounts the parable of Cura, or Care:

“Once when Care was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made, Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and demanded that it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and desired that her own name be conferred on the creature, since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one: ‘Since you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called homo, for it is made out of humus (earth).'”


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image found here


While care is a constant, interminable condition for human beings, specific human cares represent dilemmas or intrigues that are resolved in due time, the way the plots of stories are resolved in due time…in general human beings experience time as the working out of one care after another.

“Here too we find a correlation between care and gardens. A humanly created garden comes into being in and through time. It is planned by the gardener in advance, then it is seeded or cultivated accordingly, and in due time it yields its fruits or intended gratifications. Meanwhile the gardener is beset by new cares day in and day out. For like a story, a garden has its own developing plot, as it were, whose intrigues keep the caretaker under more or less constant pressure. The true gardener is always ‘the constant gardener.'”

Yesterday I found this audio clip of Prof. Harrison ruminating on the jacaranda tree in the quadrangle outside his window at Stanford, and how “cultivation” is an apt word for expressing the kind and depth of attention required to sustain a garden, an education, a democracy. So far, I’ve only listened to this part 1 of 4 and will catch the rest this weekend.




Rained Out

Unlike a sporting event or outdoor concert or meal, a Southern California garden that’s rained out in early October is cause for rejoicing.

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And to really intensify the blissed-out experience of the first seasonal rains, just the day before you must have tucked in some new plants.

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Along with the Salvia farinacea ‘Texas Violet’, two Agave parryi var. truncata have also left their long-time homes in containers to manage independently in this very hot, dry strip, which they will handle beautifully. An enormous, woody ‘Waverly’ salvia needed pruning off the bricks, where it had bulged at least 3 feet outward from the garden, and then after pruning looked so misshapen it was removed entirely. (There was a small incident, a minor trip-and-fall over the plants spilling onto the brick patio outside the office, with some mild bruising. Accusations flew, and to keep the peace the only solution was a bout with the pruning shears.) Though there’s plenty of other winter salvias to bloom, I was worried about my hummingbird friends so used to having a nip from salvia flowers in this part of the garden. Amazing how their interests and mine coincide so nicely! These two salvia should keep them happy until cut to the base later in winter, that is if these Texas natives like the conditions. Read San Marcos Growers’ description of this salvia here. Some eyebrow grass (wouldn’t ‘Andy Rooney’ be a better cultivar name than ‘Blonde Ambition’?), Bouteloua gracilis, are getting a tryout here too. Drumstick alliums, A. sphaerocephalum, were interplanted among the grasses and salvia. (Tulips and alliums arrived in the mail yesterday. Exquisite timing. The tulips and other alliums requiring a chill went into the fridge until after Thanksgiving.)

I’ve noticed once agaves edge a planting with newly disturbed soil, the cats stay out.

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It’s all part of the creeping agave syndrome the back garden has been experiencing. Slowly, imperceptibly the garden is readying itself for less and less irrigation. Last year the first agave, a large Agave bovicornuta, was slipped from its pot and planted in the ground.

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And some Agave ‘Blue Flame’ were planted in the back last year too.
Although the front garden has been full of agaves for years, the agave creep in the back garden is a new phenomenon.

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But such concerns as possible diminished precipitation in the future fly out the blurry window on a rainy day, which are also the rare occasions I’m actually glad for a small garden. The back pressed against the surrounding walls only allows for tight shots, but today the shelter of the eaves is a welcome spot for keeping the camera dry. The house or garage or boundary walls are always just 3 or 4 feet away. (Hence, the disputes over plants spilling onto walkways.) The burgundy grass is the pennisetum hybrid ‘Princess Caroline,’ which looks to be a strong grower. A gallon was split into two clumps mid-summer. All the old anigozanthos bloom stalks were cut away, this sole new bloom in bright yellow pushed horizontal by the rain.

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The watering can has been handed over once again to more capable hands than mine.

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Now that the baton has been passed, the dahlias will be so pleased and may just make it to November.

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Home

If you ever walk your neighborhood wondering why it looks the way it does, or wonder why you never want to walk in your neighborhood at all, you may be interested in The New York Times opinion piece, “Shifting the Suburban Paradigm,” by Allison Arieff, former editor-in-chief of Dwell, and the spinoff discussion in the comments section, some of which I’ve copied below. Thank you, NYT, for going the extra mile to, as usual, moderate comments. It’s made for some incredibly layered, thoughtful reading over the last couple of days. The photo below caused much consternation and initiated a hilarious recurring subplot through the comments.

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John NYC: “Hmm. I don’t get the ZeroHouse. Is this the model with the ZeroDriveway? Or is it considered “green” to drive over flowers and mulch rather than asphalt?”

Harry San Antonio: “Way to go KB! Concept of using nonfunctional garage door as energy saving design element could really catch on.”

kk Denver, Colorado: “Speaking of houses as a part of the larger whole, the last image in the article was obscene. Here you have a massive, gaping garage door, leading to nowhere. Does KB honestly think using the same automobile focused floor plan with some plants in mulch really make their poorly made homes acceptable? How stupid are we?”

(Leaving the drivewayless garage trope, which was agreed to be a model home and temporary sales office, and moving on to more substantive concerns:)

Lawyer in Miami Beach: “The pro-single-family home arguments typically stubbornly rely on contending that this is what “Americans want.” However, the reality is that the single-family home has been heavily promoted and subsidized by government, starting with zoning (restricting uses, set backs, etc.), and heavily subsidized infrastructure (wide roads without sidewalks, highways to distant places, utilities, sewer/water lines, schools, etc.) that encourage sprawl. Americans “want it” because that’s all there is, for the most part. It is impossible to walk anywhere or ride a bike anywhere in modern suburbs, so Americans feel they “need” or “want” big cars to get around, and big driveways and garages to park them in, and so on. One must get in a car to run the simplest errand in a suburb, much less get to work. But when real walking communities with mass transit are available, many Americans choose to live there. That’s why neighborhoods such as SoHo, The Meat Packing District and Greenwich Village in NYC are so popular (i.e., expensive). Same thing with South Beach, in Miami Beach, and the nascent “urban” neighborhoods of Miami.”

Life on Mars NC: “Cost is such a huge factor in housing, and anything that doesn’t fit the currently accepted “norm” is more expensive. Everything is “luxury”, even the studio condos downtown where I live. Innovative building is typically priced out of reach for the average person. (I mean the REAL average person with an average income.) I’ve seen amazing things done with shipping containers and suggested to be used for urban infill housing (in magazines of course). When you research things like this, you find that you need an architect and designer to create something for you and most residential neigborhoods and zoning laws aren’t conducive to this kind of building, if you can find a builder who will take on the project. Banks are not likely to provide financing due to the unique nature of the project. Factoring in all of the additional costs, even this innovation is out of reach for most people. Until innovation in housing becomes truly affordable and accessable I think we’re stuck with more of the same. Builders like it because it’s familiar and easy to build, banks like it because they know it can be re-sold later, and buyers buy it because it’s what’s available. Change on that scale seems sort of like turning the Titanic with a kayak paddle.

Arky Tect, Wake Forest, NC: “Ms. Arieff is dead on with her comments about the state of the industry, the lack of innovative thinking, the direction of new trends (can’t go back to the old paradigm) and opportunities that now present themselves.

Some readers are wasting space pointing out the obvious (driveway issue). KB Home is a large US homebuilder… this is obviously a model home in a tract development. It is typical for models to be set up this way. The model will be one of the last homes sold in the neighborhood. It will be converted for single family use (including driveways) at that time.

Thanks also for revitalizing the notion of regional vernacular building as a more appropriate response to climate, especially in the new energy economy. The early modern movement may have begun as a noble cause (“mass-produced design for the masses”), but its frequently poor responses to climate and context doomed it.

I still want to believe that good design, well executed and perhaps even mass-produced, can provide a significant benefit without breaking the bank. It flabbergasts my brother (a general contractor) and I to see US$300 per square foot (and up!) modular homes on offer. All too frequently they are presented as custom curated modernist mini-museums with top-of-the-line materials and furnishings. All hard edges and cold surfaces, on a picturesque twenty acre site, far removed from the common folk.

If the design community doesn’t claim a leadership role in the evolution of housing, the industry has proven it will go on without us… just like it has until now, for the most part.”

And the final comment as I finish this post, No. 138:

Fast Guy FL: “It’s not unusual for a sample/sales office to be fully landscaped, driveway area and all. It is unusual for people to be baffled by it.”

(Not having done any house shopping recently, I was baffled too.)

Beer & Art

I’m not arguing that these are the twin pillars of civilization or anything.
Just pointing out that there is a surreal alliance between the two that has been taking place for years in a local abandoned brewery.
The old Pabst Brewery in Los Angeles that I drive by at least once a week is billed as the world’s largest artists’ colony and has been housing working artists since 1982. A peek into the artists’ live/work lofts and sale of their work is held every spring and fall.
One of the great, free, looky-loo adventures to be had in Los Angeles, held again this past weekend.

Pabst is one of the iconic 19th century German-American brewing dynasties along with Miller, Schlitz, Busch.
(Anyone else watching Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition? Part 2 airs tonight.)
An aerial photo of the Brewery from an old 2008 invite.

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What’s really fascinating to me is what the artists do with the little outdoor spaces just outside their studios.

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All manner of detritus is dragooned into the making of these private gardens. A privacy screen of soup cans.

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Succulents are clearly the artists’ plant of choice. Sculptural plus sturdy enough to ride out prolonged bouts of inattention when the muse calls.

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Though there are exceptions. Wooly pockets and florist’s cyclamen. Rosemary too.

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A meeting of disarmament specialists.

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Kids had a tough time keeping their hands off the creations, like these broken eggshells spiked with jacaranda seeds, props in a fanciful narrative.

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Free admission, free parking, free inspiration. You can sign up for email ArtWalk notifications here.

Mid Century Modern Madness

Yesteday, the Modernica sale, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A couple wire, Eiffel-Tower-base chairs were tentatively on my list, like these:

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But the sale itself was such an amazing spectacle of Mid Century Modern mania that I lost my focus, becoming completely absorbed in the Build The Perfect Chair assembly line in the back of the warehouse, where fiberglass shells in luscious colors could be wedded to metal or wood bases in endless iterations. You just hand over your selection of base and shell to the elves with the screwdrivers and within five minutes or so your gorgeous chair was born and ready to go home.

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Problem was, those pesky, fuchsia-colored “Sold” signs were already taped to quite a lot of stuff.
Amid the buying frenzy, some people did manage to keep their cool and detachment. Oh, but not me.

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The wire chairs on my list were available in silver or black, but I had forgotten all about them and instead needed to Build The Perfect Chair, a “Case Study” rocker in a mustard or pale green like this. (List? What list?)

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By the time I arrived at 11:30 a.m., my favorite colors had long since been picked over. I circled around a group of seated shoppers who had several of my color shells in neat stacks at their feet waiting to be assembled. “Nice color,” I murmured nonchalantly as I walked by. At least I tried for nonchalance, as much as one can hissing through clenched teeth. (I’m kidding, of course.) The other three or four, maybe six times I walked by the group with my color I murmured nothing at all. I hope I wasn’t scowling.

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Lots of white and beige left of the fiberglass shells with arms, but I wasn’t interested.

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I mentally built dozens of chairs, which is actually loads of fun, but ultimately left the warehouse sale chairless.
And since there’s not a foot of available floor space left in the house for more chairs, it’s not such a tragedy.

Lesson for next year’s sale: Arrive early, have a firm list of chairs including colors and bases preselected, and do not waver.
And clear some space in the house for that rocker.

(NB: This post by Apartment Therapy, and the following comments, discusses the ownership of Eames’ fabricating equipment, “Modernica Acquires Fiberglass Shell Chair Equipment

Garden Miscellany

Since the post on the tree collard continually gets a surprising number of hits, full disclosure is in order: I’ve composted the tree collard. It is a defiantly ugly vegetable. My hat is off to fellow tree collard growers who manage to overlook this fact. Long and tall may their tree collards grow. There’s an inherent contradiction built into growing a cool-season brassica year-round, and by mid-summer this contradiction is etched into the few mangy leaves remaining on an absurdly naked and gangly stalk.

A few days ago I took this photo of a flower of Solanum marginatum, which I didn’t know at the time would be the last. (The fruit has been saved for those who asked about seeds.) The encrustation on its stems and branches by keel-backed leafhoppers, Antianthe expansa, aided by their ant buddies, had reached critical mass, and no amount of hose spray or pruning was making a difference. This morning’s exasperated scene of ripping out a member of the solanaceae family at the end of summer has been repeated many times in my garden. With the solanum vines like jasminoides and crispum ‘Glasnevin,’ on related shrubs like iochroma and cestrum. Typical of my garden, like an elevator filled to capacity, when the solanum made its final exit other plants surged forward in relief to stretch their limbs and fill the gap.

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The solanum back in early September, hovering over a potted agave.
The solanum was already getting pruned into a little tree rather than the 5X5-foot shrub it would prefer to be.

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Salvia madrensis and the castor bean plant are sending me off into fall with the knowledge that nice things do happen in the garden from time to time. Sure, Musschia wollastonii, so promising all summer, mysteriously collapsed late September without having bloomed, and Lobelia tupa, though still alive, never bloomed either. The salvia and ricinus are matched in height, both over 7 feet, and together are flying the colors of autumn as though I had planned it all along.

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