Any plant is potentially a suitcase plant as far as I’m concerned, but these agaves and the Euphorbia ammak would present especially prickly challenges. Though I suppose, like anything, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But TSA might be especially touchy about barbed, armed plants, and who knows what Euphorbia ammak might look like on an airport X-ray machine. The suitcase plant I’m talking about is the soft, peachy haze directly behind the potted agaves.
The misery that is modern, economy-fare air travel still has one very persuasive advantage. And for me that is squeezing in a few plants amongst the dirty laundry at the end of a vacation. (And it’s perfectly legal: see article here.) Within hours after touching down on your local runway, suitcase plants can be unpacking their roots in your garden soil, even while you’re still clearing and popping your eardrums. For me this really brings home the marvels (and somewhat cancels out the indignities) of the Jet Age.
Agastache ‘Summer Glow,’ purchased at a nursery on Long Island, New York, a few weeks ago, first seen at wholesaler Terra Nova’s display garden the previous year in the Pacific Northwest, now in bloom in my garden. Thank you, Jet Age. For some unknown reason, Terra Nova’s plants are rarely offered locally. Sharing cramped quarters with the agastache were a Plectranthus ‘Emerald Lace,’ Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess,’ and a couple begonias. Long Island grows the most amazing begonias, greenhouse after greenhouse of them.
Begonias in the conservatory at Planting Fields.
All the plants stoically handled a few extra hours in the suitcase when it missed being loaded onto my plane and arrived a few hours after me. I chose to wait at the airport for the errant luggage, so Marty and I whittled down the hours having breakfast at the cafeteria on the bottom floor of the Encounter, LAX’s iconic George Jetsonish restaurant, until I was reunited with my little stowaways.
Long Island’s many, many nurseries were as seductive as any here in Southern California. All throughout the trip we puzzled over how this small spit of land could support so many upscale nurseries. As one tempting nursery after another whizzed by through the car windows, we cattily speculated whether they support enthusiastic, hands-on gardeners or the garden staff of summer homes. For the nurseries themselves, such distinctions are meaningless.
Regiments of enormous, burlapped trees at Long Island nurseries, tens of thousands of dollars in inventory. The rope work was enthralling.
Many of these nurseries were destinations in and of themselves.
To give my suitcase plants the best possible survival chances, I slipped them from their containers, swaddled them in sheets of newspaper (freely available in hotel lobbies), wrapped the bottoms in plastic bags I collected during the trip for this express purpose, and zipped them all up in a cheap, plastic blanket bag that the hotel provided. There was no soil spillage, no dampness issues. I always find bringing home a few plants does help even the score, if only psychologically, where economy air travel is concerned.
I moved the dahlias to the community garden this year and am so very glad I did. Just as in my own small home garden last year, the plant is a sprawling mess, but now I don’t have to look at it daily anymore and can pillage the flowers for vases as much as I like. No matter how many vases I own, it’s always this lab beaker that I grab first. Wide mouth, perfect height. The dahlia is ‘Chat Noir.’ I could easily get very serious about a cutting garden and wished I’d sown some ‘Green Envy’ zinnias this year.
So my little 10X10 plot is producing exactly three things so far this summer: dahlias, kale, and Trionfo Violetto pole beans. Plus a little basil. I’ve never felt compelled to grow every vegetable A to Z in the summer garden. In fact, I’m late this year with tomatoes, just planting a couple earlier in the week. I admit, it’s la-la land’s long growing season that makes this lackadaiscal attitude possible. The community garden’s disease control rule of thumb is no tomatoes/solanaceae crops left in the ground past December, and none of the solanaceae group (aka nightshade family, including potatoes, eggplant) makes it into the compost piles. The down side of that long growing season and lack of winter chill (and isn’t there always a down side?) is the heightened risk of soil-borne pathogens.
Oh, and it rained today, a rare occurrence in a mediterranean climate, where all the rain (all 12 inches of it!) typically comes in the winter months. On the personal water conservation front, an ongoing domestic discussion since the dishwasher broke is which consumes more resources, hand washing or a dishwasher? I’m finding lots of articles like this to support my pro-dishwasher position. All opinions welcome.
For about five days in mid-June a small group of us toured gardens on Long Island, NY, with the last day, Sunday, dedicated to visiting the High Line and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which seemed a perfect ending to the trip. I’d never visited the BBG before, and the High Line had opened a new extension since my two previous visits. But facing daunting logistics, including having to leave Brooklyn late on Sunday and find my way to a new hotel near JFK for the one night before the 6 a.m. flight on Monday morning, and squeezing in returning the rental car at some point, all these details broke me and I opted not to go. Instead I drove from Long Island to the hotel near JFK, checked in, drove to JFK to return the rental car, took the Air Train and then a hotel shuttle back to the hotel, where around 4 p.m. I called Marty (my husband) to let him know I had triumphantly mastered all these details, including navigating through some horrific New York traffic. Marty said well done, stay where you are, find something to eat, and don’t miss the 6 a.m flight Monday morning.
I then called MB Maher (my son) to deliver the same triumphant account, and he said, Are you crazy? You’re in New York and skipping the High Line?
I protested that it was 4:30 p.m., I was exhausted and hungry, having eaten nothing but raisins and peanuts all day, that the High Line’s website said the park closes at 7 (which I misread. It closes at 11 p.m during summer), and there was no way I could make the push to see the High Line this late in the day. Mitch wasn’t at all impressed with my recitation of timetables and repeated the Are you crazy? bit again, and I had to admit, yes, I would be crazy not to go.
So I found the hotel concierge, and within eight minutes of asking him how this cab thing worked, I was sitting in one and heading into Manhattan. Very slowly, in horrific traffic. In Los Angeles a cab ride experience comes along about as frequently as Haley’s Comet, and I had absolutely no frame of reference for suitable behavior, his or mine. My cab driver had never heard of the High Line, so I handed him my iPhone with a map. On the way, moving incrementally in mostly stalled traffic, I had grave doubts that the cab driver and I had successfully negotiated my destination and was certain only of the utter folly of the entire misadventure. But the traffic did ultimately thin out and before sunset we were in Chelsea, driving under those unmistakable railway trestles. I was chagrined to have doubted the driver, even though only in silence, tipped him heavily ($70 total), and arrived at the High Line by 6 p.m. And, yes, I would have been crazy not to go.
Doubly crazy because the eremurus were still in bloom
As were masses of Knautia macedonia
Pink astilbe shockingly paired with orange milkweed
With the sedums just coming into bloom
Baptisia alba and liatris just coloring up
So exciting to see Dalea purpurea in bloom. I just tucked a small dalea into my own garden.
Echinacea species, maybe E. pallida
I have read that some locals consider the High Line too successful, and accuse the park’s gravity pull of distorting the surrounding neighborhood.
The resulting construction boom I’ve been reading about since the park opened is everywhere in progress, and the park does become clotted with people at its narrowest walkways. But I haven’t been among this many excited people since the last hockey game I attended. There is an unmistakable sense among the strollers that they’ve arrived at a very special place and are participating in and affirming something truly wonderful. Camera phones clicked and visitors marveled at common plants like echinacea and other robust prairie plants and grasses that held their own against Manhattan’s skyline, something the typical park fare of bedding plants could never do. The dynamism of the seasonal plantings continually offers up new associations and perspectives and endless plant/city “combinations,” to use garden writing vernacular.
Eremurus, dalea, and liatris
Are the gigantic leaves inula?
I’m not sure what allium has been planted, but it’s lovely even with the color drained away
It was a hot, sticky New York evening, but the subway was icy cool on the way back to the hotel, and I was tucked in my room with a cold can of Fosters for dinner by 10 p.m. I did make the early flight (just barely) and settled in a middle seat between two largish men. Catching up on movies seemed a sensible option, and a choice offered was Steven Soderbergh’s lastest film Side Effects — small scenes of which were filmed at, yes, the High Line. This park has definitely arrived.
I’ve been home for over a week, but I left my heart in….okay, not my heart, because that’s solidly esconced here at home in the LBC, but I think I may have left my sensorium in San Francisco. On the nearby island of Alameda to be exact, in artist and garden designer Shirley Watts’ garden, which undulates and swirls with cultural references, both pop and classical, science, language and poetry, but in teasingly subtle and allusive ways. Shirley has that rare gift of making a space look undesigned, inevitable. Lush and moody, the garden doesn’t give up its secrets all at once and welcomes and rewards the inquisitive. Intimate and intensely personal, humble really in its refreshing lack of assertive, California-style hardscape and “garden features,” it enfolds and envelopes, quietly offering up much to stimulate the eye and mind or just a tranquil place to become lost in thought. Confident, playful, simultaneously artless and artful, relaxed and rigorous, it’s a garden that asks you to peer in closer, look behind, into and around, that engages as much as it restores. A Joseph Cornell shadowbox of a garden. I’ve been wanting to see this garden for ages, and fortuitously Shirley and Emmanuel graciously agreed to open their home and garden Thursday night for a pre-Fling reception. I’ll change the Fling channel soon, I promise, but couldn’t resist offering a look at Shirley’s garden in repose, sans partiers, the prequel to Thursday night. Photos by MB Maher, who also paparazzi’d Thursday night’s festivities here.
If there’s any doubt that this is the home of a supremely confident artist, constantly tweaking and playing with symmetry and classical expectations, the back view of the recent addition clarifies matters. The black pots are terracotta painted with chalkboard paint.
A bracing juxtaposition to the exterior view of the addition is the traditional wainscotting, carpets and chandelier of the interior.
The home and garden of a woman informed by and comfortable in any century.
Rosa glauca tapping at the window
The lanterns send out their glowing messages at night, whether fanciful images of coleoptera
or words from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Don’t all garden makers veer dangerously close to the same impulses as Dr. Frankenstein?)
Below are some of my photos from Thursday at the kick-off party
shoes of MB Maher
Leslie Bennett of Star Apple Edible Gardens and one of the nicest people at the Fling. Swag from the Fling included her new book, The Beautiful Edible Garden
Behind the vellum, the wooden sculptures and a screen filled with mussel shells.
Though she doesn’t make a big deal of it, Shirley is a superbly knowledgeable plantswoman with a great eye for layering the plants of a garden down to the smallest detail. Everyone asked about this plant, Mathiasella bupleuroides, rare and not easy to grow (don’t ask). Shirley claims the opposite, that it’s not formidable at all, and said it’s been blooming like this since February. Mathiasella is a designer cocktail of a plant, equal parts angelica, euphorbia, and hellebore.
Mathiasella bupleuroides, over 5 feet in height
A wavy-leaved mullein, possibly Verbascum undulatum
Calla lily tangled in a succulent’s bloom
I saw this mimulus later on the trip at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials
One of the hallmarks of Shirley’s work is the subtly elegant use of salvage. She doesn’t hit you over the head with repurposing, but tucked away against a fence you might discern a screen of abstract shapes, the cast-offs from an industrial machinist’s template.
A rose that reminds me of the Austin rose ‘Othello’
To scent an open summer window, Nicotiana sylvestris
A rusted urn filled with Echeveria nodulosa
When acanthus blooms, a garden instantly becomes timeless
Possibly the serrated leaves of Eryngium agavifolium
The owl Emmanual liberated from the Reims cathedral in France
The visage of Orlando Bloom broods over the garden. Shirley is fearless in sourcing pieces for her garden design work, and provenance can include old movie billboards.
I’ll close with some images of a garden Shirley worked on for a client that shows traces of the same themes as her own garden. Photos by MB Maher.
Along with her garden design work, Shirley has recently been acting as co-curator of an ongoing collaboration between artists and the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley entitled “Natural Discourse.” You can search AGO for posts related to Natural Discourse, such as this one here.
To read more about Shirley Watts’ work, check out Stephen Orr’s Tomorrow’s Garden and Zahid Sardar’s New Garden Design, both listed with Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts.
(Edited 7/10/13 and reposted. Shirley confirmed the rose is indeed ‘Othello’ and that the owl “did not come from the Reims cathedral. It came from a 17th century villa across the street from where Emmanuel grew up. They were tearing it down for condos.”)
There’s an unspoken Upstairs/Downstairs, front garden/back garden dynamic at home, as I suspect there is with most hands-on gardens. Most of the front garden isn’t tinkered with much anymore, needs little attention, more of just keeping an eye on sizes. I rarely think to chronicle the front garden, and the dyckias bloomed this year without a single photo. But the light was especially burnished last night. Just to the right of the phormium there once grew an enormous leucadendon, something I’ve been mulling over since touring Bay Area gardens full of members of the wonderful Proteaceae family such as leucadendrons, leucospermums, banksii, proteas. There was once a large leucadendron in the back garden too. I miss them both. In the front garden the leucadendron grew much too large for its position, but in the back garden it was removed for a different reason. That reason revolves around the constant tension between the tantalizing beauty of shrubs and other big, long-term plants and wanting to retain space for the spontaneity of ephemeral self-seeders, new plant enthusiasms and acquisitions. One approach produces eventual boredom and the other always brings some regret. For now, I seem to prefer regret to boredom, but that could easily change.
Phormium ‘Alison Blackman,’ Agaves ‘Blue Glow,’ Furcraea macdougalii, assorted sotols, aloes, dyckias, succulents. Not much work or attention is needed with the front garden. (Kind of an “empty nest” feeling here.)
At the site where the leucadendron once grew to a size of 6X6 feet in the front garden, Echeveria agavoides and Dymondia margaretae are covering the ground on a much smaller scale and injecting some breathing room into the plantings. I did tuck in a tiny Euphorbia atropurpurea here, just brought home from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. All last summer I chased this plant locally from cactus show to cactus show after seeing it at the Huntington. I’d given up on finding it but then there it was at Annie’s, bless her exotic plant-loving heart.
The back garden is where I change things up every year, try out new plants like this tall, sticky-leaved Cuphea viscosissima, started from seed this spring, or combine familiar plants in new ways.
Remember that tree that toppled mid-June? This green aeonium and a couple ‘Blue Fortune’ agastaches were just moved into the vacuum.
Even aside from falling trees, the back garden is in constant flux and frequently gets churned up with new plantings.
The small purple buds mingling with the agastaches are from Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ I’ve grown calamints before, but I don’t remember them having the dark purple flower buds as on this one, Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ I keep breaking off a leaf and sniffing it, expecting it to smell like a mislabeled oregano, but it’s the unmistakably minty scent of a calamint. Digging Dog is where I ordered mine last fall. I’m smitten by this one and would love a bigger swath of it.
Eucomis have started to bloom, another plant designated for the back garden so its leaves can die back gracefully.
“Never pretend that the things you haven’t got are not worth having.” – Virginia Woolf, The Diary, Vol. 2: 1920-1924
In writing those words, Woolf was probably thinking of the children doctors advised her not to have, but I always find them useful in any situation requiring critical honesty.
I never like to pretend that things I haven’t got are not worth having. A bigger garden, for example, would be very much worth having, but I think I can hum along just fine as things stand, with very little boredom and manageable regret. Travel for me always results in turning over choices and tapping them for soundness. But coming home I’m always reminded that to have any garden at all is such an amazing gift.
Second garden on Friday, designed for a work/live fabrication studio and sculpture display space in a light industrial neighborhood of San Francisco. We are an avid bunch, craning necks, snapping cameras, firing off questions (my bad habit). I have to constantly check an impulse to blurt out a question and query myself first: How would I feel if this were my garden and I came face to face with me as a garden visitor? God forbid. But it is just so exciting to see these special gardens that questions tumble forth. And by special I mean wholly individual responses to climate, topography, and the space one has to work with — all the really important variables. After all the ink spilled on formal/informal and all the other garden principles drilled into us by books and public parks, seeing the imaginative responses of garden artists to the circumstances they find themselves in is unbelievably refreshing. And liberating. Bay Area gardens whisper seductively: Do what you want, where you want, how you want, and as best fits available resources and how you live, work, and play.
Amen. And then let us come visit, please.
Or, alternatively, bring in a talented Bay Area garden designer, as artist Matt Gil and his wife Lesa Porche did, when they asked Dan Carlson of Wigglestem Gardens to create a garden in which to display their sculptures, all of which are for sale. (And then let us come visit, please.)
This blurry photo is the best I had looking at the upper deck from the garden, the office at ground level under the corrugated awning.
On the Fling we were split into two groups, so no more than 40 visited each garden at a time.
The dining room window, light flooding in from the deck
The hillside just visible through a scrim of backlit container plantings
The view from the deck down into the garden with its low retaining wall holding back the plantings at the base of the steep, rocky hillside
Descending the stairs, fountain at the bottom, bamboo against the hillside
Colocasia growing in the fountain at the base of the stairs
And stepping into the sculpture garden
The steep hillside, which the owners eye nervously during the rainy season. San Francisco averages around 20 inches of rain per year, usually in the winter, but I was told there were two solid days of rain just before the Fling began.
Succulents planted into the slope, shown draped here with mahonia
Protea, Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Geranium incanum, echeverias, aeoniums, yuccas
Further back, Geranium incanum spilling over the retaining wall, tall yellow kangaroo paws, aloes, California poppies, silvery dudleyas
Using the Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’ as a visual pivot point. Kangaroo paws just behind. Aloe plicatilis almost out of frame in the top left-hand corner
With grasses, aeoniums, poppies, and Agave parryi var. truncata
Mangave and California poppies
A potted cussonia streetside as we leave the sculpture garden and head back to the bus for lunch and frivolities at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.
There will be no photos about the visit to AA&P, because honestly all I did was shop after lunch and the demonstration of nifty hose nozzles put on by a Fling sponsor, Dramm. Matt at Growing With Plants has a nice post on the visit to AA&P here.
The first garden on Friday was created in the courtyard between two apartment buildings originally gifted to twin sisters by their father in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The Organic Mechanics, James Pettigrew and Sean Stout, see opportunity where others see only a dead zone of concrete and a few pittosporum. Now it’s a lush urban sanctuary brimming with salvaged and repurposed treasures, a transformed community space enjoyed by all the residents. (Organic Mechanics was also responsible for the gigantic walk-in succulent cube that was the toast of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show a few years ago.) I’m guessing there’s something in the coastal fog that gets the creative synapses firing among Bay Area designers, just as it sends the mighty redwoods soaring taller than any other trees.
Under your feet is no ordinary paving
Marble salvage from a local tombstone sculptor also finds its way here
The courtyard had a wonderful collection of plants, like this Yucca rostrata
I’m officially on the hunt now for this gorgeous compact shrub, Leucadendron linifolium
Looks like Leucadendron argenteum to me, but I overheard discussion that this might be a banksia
photo from SFGate
Not only was this garden a visual feast, but we were also serenaded by the raspy warblings of Simon, the 25-year-old Yellow Nape Amazon Parrot.
A wonderful beginning to the 2013 Garden Bloggers Fling.
Loree at Danger Garden has been faithfully reporting on her favorite plant in the garden every week and has asked others to join in when so inspired. So many succulents dangle or trail their blooms, but these blooms are hoisted high on the elongating thick stalks of this echeveria, making it worthy of inclusion as a favorite plant. To be honest, the mauvey color of its leaves is a color I usually avoid in succulents, and one of the reasons I rid the garden of the excellent but similarly tinted Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives.’ ‘Opal Moon’ complicates the color with some grey, some blue, a blush of caramel, but it’s mainly the fleshy size of this one that makes it such a hubba-hubba attraction.
Echeveria ‘Opal Moon’
I brought home Loree’s favorite plant this week, Alstroemeria isabellana, from Far Reaches Farm last summer, but it vanished during my zone 10 winter. It may prefer the rainier winters of Portland, Oregon. I am nursing along one of its relatives, a bomarea, in a container that’s never allowed to dry out. Maybe I’ll be able to report on it in an upcoming “favorite plants” post, fingers crossed.
The garden continued its beguiling ways while I was away, offering up new studies in green and blue, umbellifer and thistle, as the samphire, Crithmum maritimum, sent up blooms through the eryngium that just gets bluer and bluer every day.
Crithmum maritimum and Eryngium planum
Thanks to photographer MB Maher for briefly (and spontaneously, I might add) taking over the reins of this runaway blog. He is most welcome to do so any time he likes. I have so many photos to sort through I feel like a python that’s swallowed a…well, something very large and nearly indigestible. Would that I had any photos to post as exquisite as those he took of the party Shirley and Emmanuel threw for the garden bloggers on Thursday night. The pros make it look so easy, don’t they? And I mean to include both MB Maher and Shirley Watts in that remark.
We move too quickly to keep up. There is much to say about the team at Organic Mechanics,
photos to share of a vast and wine-fueled dinner at the Conservatory of Flowers, stories to tell
of the city itself as the county clerk swings wide the doors at the marriage office, but for the
moment the only photos we have to share come from the opening cocktail reception of this wonderful
traveling circus hosted by the uncontrollably talented Shirley Watts and husband Emmanuel Coup and cat Fifa.
MB Maher caught wind of the party from his nearby headquarters and arrived by zipcar to document. Photos his.
MB Maher also conducted a sandal survey.