Pepper Tree courtyard

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Spotted locally around dusk, a front-house courtyard with Pepper Tree (Schinus molle), stone paving “grouted” with Dymondia margaretae.

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Planting includes euphorbias, agaves, phormiums (or dianella) a small Cercis ‘Forest Pansy,’ and purple irises in bloom near the side gate.
There may possibly be bauhinias as well (pink flowers at roof height).

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Plantings are repeated the length of the entrance garden, including a cercis on either side of the front walkway, another pepper tree at the far end.
Aeonium-filled black urns flank the arched entranceway.

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It struck me as such a vibrant example of reimagining the space from the front door to the sidewalk.
Imagine how dreary and perfunctory the same images would be if replaced with lawn.
Private yet still inviting, full of interest but mindful of an overall quiet balance, showcase and shady retreat in one stroke. Nailed it!


driveby garden; LAPD headquarters, Downtown Los Angeles

The first five months of this year were the driest on record in California, with reservoirs in the state at 20 percent below normal levels.” – Arid Southwest Cities’ Plea: Lose the Lawn, The New York Times, August 11, 2013


I stumbled onto another forward-looking example of civic landscaping in Downtown Los Angeles this week. Little did I know that in attempting to communicate my simple admiration for this landscape, I was also stumbling into an LA Confidential-style quagmire. The more I read, the more complicated this landscape became. Briefly, for reasons explained in depth in links* at the end of this post, the plantings at the Los Angeles Police Department’s new headquarters have been beset by controversy over maintenance failures since unveiling in 2009. This side of the building seems to be either a later or revised planting that appears to be in beautiful shape. So putting all that aside for now, here’s what’s visible today on the Spring Street side of LAPD’s new HQ.

I know architects love sweeps of lawn to show off the lines of their work (and thereby obstruct views of it as little as possible), but if you want that shiny LEED certification for your new building, the lawn has to go. I find it ironic that it took restrictive water supply issues to finally shake up staid and predictable plant choices. There’s no way this landscape would be as visually arresting had the new LAPD HQ’s clean lines and alabaster, horizontal planes been complemented by the standard repertoire of plants in use even ten years ago. Which means a glass-half-empty problem has been transmuted into an exciting landscape brimming with form and color.

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It was these colors, deep burgundy and icy blue, that prompted the detour from my intended destination, the Metro Rail station, heading home yesterday.
Dark red aeoniums dotted through the blue chalk sticks, Senecio mandraliscae. I swung around quick for a closer look.

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The aeonium will need some help getting established, to gain some height, or the senecio will handily win the space-invader competition. But it’s doable if anyone pays the slightest bit of attention.*
Bees were all over the senecio’s modest blooms. In this case, modest blooms are a good thing. Nothing to interrupt the strong shapes and colors, and much less upkeep too.

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Decomposed granite walkways weave in and out of a repeating grid of low-walled planters that also serve as benches, each punctuated with a dark-leaved Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’

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Which pick up the aeoniums’ deep color and send it skyward to contrast with and warm the building’s creamy facade

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The cercis are planted in a double row, seen when standing at the back of one of the low walls/benches.
The pork and beans plant, Sedum rubrotinctum, fills the back of the planters. Blue Dianella tasmanica are massed behind the chalk sticks.

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Some of the trees may have been the straight species, since they don’t have the deep coloration of ‘Forest Pansy’

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Beyond the planters, what I first thought were Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo’ turned out to be furcraeas massed amongst silvery Cerastium tomentosum.
Dianella tasmanica in the foreground

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Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ or Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo,’ either one is a great choice here, though the beschorneria’s exotic bloom spikes would require more upkeep.
Sedum rubrotinctum can be seen behind the furcraea, a warm-colored ground cover anchoring the building.

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The sedum is filling in slowly.

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While the cerastium romps and will need to be regularly kept in check.

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*As I mentioned above, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. All human interventions in ecosystems, be it a potted plant or a civic landscape, have to be looked after and maintained. And please don’t roll your eyes at this absurdly obvious fact, because it seems to escape some reasonably intelligent folks and therefore needs repeating. It’s obvious to us, the garden makers, but apparently maintenance wasn’t budgeted and appropriate funding allocated when this landscape was installed in 2009. I think my photos may depict a more recent installation or possibly a revision. Not long after the 2009 install, trees were collapsing, literally caving in because the soil mix was all wrong. More on the LAPD HQ’s landscape controversy can be read here and here. Reuben at Rancho Reubidoux has posted on the LAPD HQ several times, not including the above planting, which has me wondering if it’s possibly a revision of an earlier problem area.

1/24/13 Thursday Garden Talk with Lili Singer

I had the belated, long-postponed, very intense pleasure of attending one of Lili Singer’s Thursday Garden Talks held by the Los Angeles County Arboretum, a tradition going back ten years. Lili Singer has long been so embedded and enmeshed in everything that is good about Los Angeles gardens and garden making that it’s impossible to untangle a first awareness of her. I know of Lili primarily from her public radio broadcasts on KCRW called simply “The Garden Show,” which spanned the years 1982 and 1996. Her Thursday talks at the arboretum never jibed with my work schedule, but I kept abreast of the talks through The Los Angeles Times weekly Datebook, serene in knowing that such fine things were taking place. And then The Los Angeles Times cancelled the wonderful Datebook section, and that news blackout startled me into action, a bleak reminder to take advantage of the good things while they last.

Yesterday’s Garden Talk took the form of a tour of three Los Angeles area gardens. Photographer MB Maher is in town briefly and tagged along on the tour as chief photographer and navigator. Rain had caused the freeways to spasm and seize up, so we shamefully straggled in five minutes late, which turned out to be earlier than most of the other attendees who were also caught up in rain-panicked traffic. Lili said this was the first time in ten years that one of her field trips saw rain. Nothwithstanding the atrocious traffic, I loved it. January rainfall in Los Angeles means all is right with the world.


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This landscape was designed to soak up every precious drop.


From the handout, a description of this Brentwood garden:

Simplicity and clean lines define this Southern California part-modern, part-Japanese, part-woodland landscape with good ‘old bones.’ Situated on a well-traveled Westside street, the outdoor spaces surrounding the Mid-Century Modern residence are carefully studded with ornamental and edible plants from continents near and far. The eastern redbud and western sycamore will be bare, but the ancient camellias will be showing some color. Ryan Gates and Joel Lichtenwalter of Grow Outdoor Design, who updated the landscape in 2008, will join us on site.”


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Taking shelter under the carport. One of the garden designers from Grow Outdoor Design, Joel Lichtenwalter, with umbrella.
Acacia iteaphylla the lacy-leaved shrub in the background

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Not often seen in local gardens, the marbled leaves of Arum italicum ‘Pictum,’ an enthusiastic spreader, with asparagus fern, euphorbias, and oakleaf hydrangeas sprawling at the base of a privacy screen.

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The privacy screen

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Leafless Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy,’ one of several throughout the landscape, and front driveway.

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Around the corner into the back garden, past the twisted trunk of a magnolia gleaming dark from the rain against what looked like a Mexican Weeping Bamboo, Otatea acuminata aztecorum, but I didn’t verify the name.

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The decomposed granite pathway had already soaked up all the overnight rain.

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The back garden was sleek and simple, a retreat designed to honor existing trees and the needs of a growing family, with the central area kept mown lawn, a glimpse of which can be seen here, bounded by the encircling walkway of decomposed granite.

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The power of restrained use of ornament: The owner’s brilliant choice of ceramic tiles by Sam Stan Bitters, which deftly emphasize the orange culms of the towering bamboo growing behind the fence in the neighboring property, claiming ownership and inclusion of a “borrowed” view.

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I wish I could provide a website for Mr. Bitters’ work, but none could be found.

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The owner’s choice of chairs was equally inspired.

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The weight of just one of these chairs was more than I could single-handedly support.

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The owner’s penchant for Mid Century Modern design is also evidenced by the choice of the Circle Pot, designed by Mary and Annette at the Atwater Village shop Potted.

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The garden designers worked closely with the architects, continuing the architect’s use of concrete as the medium for the steps descending from house to garden.

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Chatting about plants and design is the perfect use of a drizzly January morning. So very, very glad I finally decided to attend one of Lili’s Garden Talks. From now on, I’m hoping to make it a standing Thursday appointment.

More photos of this garden can be found on the website of Grow Outdoor Design.