driveby gardens; sundown on the Miracle Mile

I worked in the “Miracle Mile” stretch of Wilshire Boulevard on Thursday, approximately the 5600 block. In the surrounding neighborhoods, the houses had gardens that looked promising and full of interest, so during a 20-minute lunch I dashed out to have a look. There have been discrete garden design phases in Southern California, and this neighborhood seemed to have examples of quite a few of them. There was a phase for a while where ‘Iceberg’ roses and ‘Silver Sheen’ pittosporum seemed to be in every garden, and then things got very serious and monochromatic and shrubby, with myoporum, westringia, and helichyrsum. (I happen to love serious, shrubby gardens too.) There were quite a few excellent, succulents-only front gardens. But most exciting for me, I encountered my first blooming beschorneria in Los Angeles, so I know there’s hope for mine, but definitely not this year and possibly not even next year. I forget how massive the rosette is at blooming size, and mine has quite a ways to go still. I couldn’t wait for work to end so I could head back out again, this time with the camera I try to always bring along. But work stretched past 6 o’clock, and it was nearly sundown by the time I set out in search of the beschorneria on the way to catching a bus then a train home.

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En route to the beschorneria, I found this leucospermum in full backlit glory, rivaling the sunset in brilliant peachy gold.
Genius or accidental, the siting was spectacular, and in a hellstrip no less.

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Of all the South African plants in wide use in Los Angeles, a mature leucospermum is still something of a rare sight.

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The spoor of a plant nut was evident in the hellstrip. That looks to be a Senecio decaryi jutting out on the left of the leucospermum.
Including a phormium, euphorbias, aeoniums, underplanted with Senecio mandraliscae.

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It was almost too dark for photos by the time I found the beschorneria again.

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These were right at the property line, overhanging the sidewalk. Beschorneria are frost-tender succulents from Mexico and Central America.
A lengthier revisit to the neighborhoods around the Miracle Mile is definitely in order, judging by the treasures on just two of its streets.
I’ve always found that interesting gardens are infectious, and where’s there’s one or two, there’s bound to be more.

driveby garden: Baker Street, San Francisco

For those who plan to attend the garden blogger meetup in San Francisco this year, known as the Garden Bloggers Fling, here’s a tiny glimpse of what the City offers mid January. And if you haven’t decided to attend yet, just imagine what June will be like.

The grand houses and dowager apartment buildings of the Marina District are set back just a few feet from the sidewalk. On Baker Street, there is the rare urban garden-making opportunity in those narrow, rectangular beds bordering driveways and front door walkways. Varying in size, these photographed below are relatively large, maybe 5 X 4 feet in size, running perpendicular to the sidewalk. Most of these spaces are planted simply, grassed or paved over, but someone grabbed the reins and went absolutely wild in maybe three or four of those rectangles, and in the adjacent parkways too.

What first slowed my pace from quite a distance were the spires of this brilliant, lemony bulbinella leaning into the sidewalk:

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Bulbinella nutans? This bulbinella’s leaves were strappy and wide, not grassy.

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Up close, the extravagance of the planting brought me to a full stop.
And closer inspection revealed that two rectangles had been planted almost in mirror symmetry.

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The two Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’ were the tip-off.
But there were also twin Mediterranean Fan Palms, one each in the center of these two rectangles, and the same plants were repeated in varying combinations.

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The symmetry wasn’t pushed to an extreme, but the overall shapes and sizes were congruent with the neighboring beds.
Massed aeoniums were planted alongside one agave, a crassula alongside the other.
Both dark and green aeoniums were repeated extensively throughout.

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The blue fronds of one of the young fan palms can be seen here, along with various aeoniums and dyckia. In the distance, a yellow phormium anchors another rectangle, possibly Phormium ‘Yellow Wave.’

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The beds were built up and rimmed with stones encrusted with sempervivums and baby tears.

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The bed with the yellow phormium, bulbinella, yucca (filamentosa?) almost buried under the phormium, Agave bracteosa, echeverias, with the dried, aged blooms of a hydrangea nearer the house. The large grassy clumps in front of the phormium may be aloes. Amazingly enough, I think there may have been some beschorneria in here too. It’s hard to say how old the plantings are, but another small garden could easily be made from the abundance of plants without leaving noticeable gaps. In the Bay Area, a succulent garden can quickly leap from the initial, spare, well-spaced plantings to the lushness of these little gardens.

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The palms in particular will definitely be needing more elbow room.

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But at this moment in time, the proportions still hold up. Succulents are the perfect place holders here, easily thinned out to allow more room when necessary — well, maybe not so much the dyckia, seen here next to one of the medio-picta agaves. I don’t dare thin the enormous clump of dyckia in my front garden. It is far more formidable a plant than any agave where flesh wounds are concerned.

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The phormium repeated in the parkway with what looks like Kalanchoe grandiflora.
Euphorbia characias wulfeniii has seeded among the plantings too.

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I’m pretty sure this is a beschorneria in the parkway, also known as the Mexican lily, which all have spectacular flower spikes that dangle intricate lockets of blooms.

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Another plant repeated in different combinations was the squid agave, Agave bracteosa, here among baby tears, variegated yucca nearby.

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Lush, strappy parkway.

What a pleasure it was to stroll along this undulating sequence of intense planting built up of rosettes and variations on strappy, spiky leaves. And you can’t miss it, should you attend the Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s directly across from here:

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The Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium, though I understand the Exploratorium is moving elsewhere soon.

Magnolia stellata 1/12/13 Legion of Honor

Magnolia stellata in bloom January 2013, Palace of Fine Arts


Changing Tastes

I visited a couple nurseries today and was a bit horrified by the seemingly overnight invasion of flat after flat of “spring color,” a reaction which made me wonder if I’m growing snobbish. So am I a snob? I don’t think so, just possibly confusing strong personal opinions with snobbery. I am amassing stronger opinions the older I get, exclusionary opinions that make distinctions and draw battle lines, if only for my own sense of clarity on issues. But I don’t think that strictly counts as snobbery.

Roses would be an example. No floribundas. I would never plant a rose for scentless masses of color.
(I can’t think of any plant from which I’d ask for masses of color, preferring the intriguing, shimmering inflorescences of Stipa gigantea to, for example, landscape roses, though that’s not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison.)

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We can agree to disagree. Many people will prefer strong color over all else and find what I’ve come to love weedy and insubstantial. Others will find any rose unbearably old-fashioned, just as bearded irises go in and out of fashion. A mature stand of bearded irises in bloom nowadays is a rare sight in my neighborhood. These sorts of plants, bearded irises and roses, have in the past inspired extreme loyalty that overlooked any faults as garden plants. I recognize well that loyalty, since years ago I once gamely tried to make a garden out of a collection of old roses, over 30 in number of mostly noisettes and tea-noisettes, in this very same small garden. And though I loved them all, I have never felt more constrained and miserable as a gardener. Tastes change.

Reuben’s friends, Hal and Bill, invited us to visit their lovely garden, classically bricked and box-hedged, and this is but one stand of their many irises in bloom interspersed among trees of Euphorbia lambii and sprawling matilija poppies. (Who can look at bearded irises in bloom without thinking of Henry Mitchell, who took his yearly vacation the few weeks his hundreds of irises flowered, to stay home with them in their fleeting glory?)

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And yet Hal and Bill were most excited by their new “meadow” of toadflax, Linaria maroccana. Tastes change.

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As far as roses, I ask for intense scent, voluptuousness of bloom and iridescence of petal, preferably in a climber. Many can deliver all this.
But I’m finding I feel tyrannized when I grow more than one at a time. And the water bill doesn’t like it much either.

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Right now, that one rose is the tea-noisette climber ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ and she amply represents all rosedom for me.

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She makes do in a narrow gravel border with some exotic bedfellows like this beschorneria at the far end.

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Tastes change.