Tag Archives: Bocconia arborea

hillside with Schwentker Watts Design

I was in a wonderful garden the other night, but was caught flat-footed as far as having any photos to show for it. Although only 7:30ish, twilight doesn’t last long in this Los Angeles neighborhood but is quickly swallowed up by the hills that impart such a unique character to these Hollywood communities. Moody, atmospheric shadows come early. Rather than not posting at all, I’ve pulled together what can only be a teaser of this quintessentially mediterranean garden. Luckily, MB Maher had visited the house and garden a couple years ago, so I asked him to search his archives. Along with some photos from an article by The Los Angeles Times‘ (“L.A. Cottage Remade as Wonderland of Color“) I’ve cobbled together a small portrait of the creative extravaganza that is packed floor to ceiling, sidewalk to hilltop, in the home and garden of architect and garden designer James Schwentker and film production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone. James Schwentker is a principal of Schwentker Watts Design, that rare firm that engages in “full-service architecture, landscape, and garden design.”

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The dining terrace of the garden nestles snug and level into a steep hillside in the Franklin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles near Silverlake. Apart from this broad dining terrace, the rest of the garden is carved from the sharply sloping hillside in terraces backed by low retaining walls of broken concrete (“urbanite”). The work involved with managing the slope of a hillside garden is of a kind and degree I’ve yet to encounter. Just thinking about it makes my back throb. Out of the photo’s frame are stairs that lead from the dining terrace both further up the hillside as well as down to the street. The finely cut, jagged leaves leaning in from the bottom left belong to bocconia, a huge, tree-like specimen. Two lemon cypresses, tightly clipped specimens of Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora,’ flank the path that cuts into the hillside leading down to the street. The tight clipping gives the golden spires an elegantly clean, strong line, an idea I may have to try on the three juvenile lemon cypresses I have at home.

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The looming agaves seemingly tapping on the kitchen window also speak to the steep terracing that begins just outside the house.

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Streetview from the LA Times. Behind the hedge is the secluded dining terrace, one of the soaring lemon cypresses just visible.
The house’s colors are described as “mango accented with moss and celery.” (I love it when an architect has plants on the brain.)
That enormous Agave americana resides in one of the largest terracotta pots I’ve ever seen.

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The entry into the 1923 cottage, reputedly once the home of actress Gloria (“Sunset Boulevard”) Swanson.

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The main room, its original low ceiling removed, with the new “catwalk” overhead. The early renovations were a joint effort with Harvey Watts, the other half of Schwentker Watts Design.

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And this is where the catwalk leads, former attic turned sleeping loft. Photo by MB Maher.

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Dining terrace just visible through the doors. LA Times

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Citrus fruit picked from the hillside’s many fruit trees.

on the scent of tillandsias

Tillandsias, epiphytic bromeliads or “air plants,” have almost single-handedly elevated the caliber of gifts for people who love plants. Aeriums, terrariums, glass globes, and light bulb shapes like these from Los Angeles-based outdoor living shop Potted have all been inspired by and designed to accommodate tillandsias’ clever rejection of all things earthbound — and who wouldn’t gladly give or receive such airy, translucent worlds-within-worlds?


But it wasn’t until I came nose-to-bloom with Tillandsia straminea at garden designer Dustin Gimbel’s garden recently that I realized that, in addition to being one of the hippest gift shop novelties being offered by great taste-makers like Potted and Dirt Couture, tillandsias in their own right are fascinating little bromeliads, some with delicate blooms and perfume that carries on a warm June evening. Like a hawk moth to a datura’s trumpet, I returned again and again that night to inhale its jasmine-ish scent.


Some of the best plant discoveries are made not in plant nurseries or catalogues but in other people’s gardens. I’m also infatuated with Dustin’s Bocconia arborea, a macleaya relative, seen here with his ever-increasing assortment of hand-made, concrete, disembodied deities…


As to the tillandsias, as it happens, one of the best places to see the most diverse collection of tillandsias around is not 10 miles from my home. Today at Rainforest Flora, Inc., in Torrance, Calif., I discovered there are other scented tillandsias, too, like T. streptocarpa, also a summer bloomer.


Rainforest Flora creates elaborate naturalistic settings to display their tillandsias.


But I’m trying out a spheroid, hinged wire cage for my T. straminea.


Tillandsia straminea and streptocarpa’s new home is under my pergola, where the dappled light seems perfect except for possibly that late-afternoon blast of sun. The conventional wisdom says the more silver in the leaf, the more sun it can stand, but I’ll be watchful.

Tillandsias are frost sensitive and are grown as houseplants outside zone 10. Mist once a week and immerse completely for a few minutes once a month.