Tag Archives: Garden Conservancy Open Days Los Angeles

beyond the lawn; notes on 2016 LA Garden Conservancy Open Days

Since the 5/7/16 tour, Gov. Jerry Brown surprised us all by announcing that mandatory water restrictions are now suspended except for agriculture. Water use policies will revert back to the local level.
So pat yourself on the back for enduring those spartan showers, ditching the lawn, adding in more permeability to your garden, and overall diligent water use reduction efforts.
(But you still can’t hose down your driveway, so get over that.) Even so, this might be a good moment to emphasize the big picture. From The California Weather Blog:

Nearly all of California is still ‘missing’ at least 1 year’s worth of precipitation over the past 4 years, and in Southern California the numbers suggest closer to 2-3 years’ worth of ‘missing’ rain and snow.
These numbers, of course, don’t even begin to account for the effect of consecutive years of record-high temperatures, which have dramatically increased evaporation in our already drought-stressed region.”

And the bigger, possibly more sobering picture is that even in non-drought years, Los Angeles averages only 15 inches of rainfall. So the problem of too little water for too many people is not going away. Ever. And it was a problem long before the governor hit the red alert button. But you know what? Other cultures have already figured this out, this business of crowding ourselves into hot, dry lands. And there’s great examples all around town. Landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power’s garden on the recent GC Open Days tour is a case study of these principles. And while we all obsess over what to do with the lawn, her almost 20-year-old garden suggests we might also think about where outdoors to eat, nap, cook, read, chat with friends, daydream, warm by a fire, take shelter from the sun, catch an ocean breeze, inhale clouds of jasmine — the scope of possibilities extends far beyond the boundaries of that poster child for this drought, the lawn, and what replaces it.

I liked this line from that keen observer of all things Southern Californian, Joan Didion, in the 5/26/16 New York Review of Books. It easily applies to our attitudes about water in Los Angeles:

I have lived most of my life under misapprehensions of one kind or another.” Boy howdy, you said it, Ms. Didion. Don’t we all? (“California Notes” NYRB 5/26/16)

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This little table and chairs is at the front of Ms. Power’s small Santa Monica house, just off the street, entirely screened by plantings.
A short staircase zig-zags up from the sidewalk through retaining-wall beds filled with agaves and matilija poppies, depositing visitors in this shady “foyer.”
A potted cussonia at the entrance to a garden is always an auspicious sign of good things to come.

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Also in the front courtyard is the first of many small fountains and pools. Implicit is the strong affirmative that, yes, water is precious stuff.
Watch it glisten and sparkle in the sun, ripple in the wind, draw in birds. Just don’t ever take it for granted.

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Narrow passage to the back of the house, a jasmine-scented journey this time of year.

The forgotten spaces in most people’s houses — the side yards and setbacks — I look at as opportunities.”
(all quoted material from “Power of Gardens” by Nancy Goslee Power)

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Already you can sense the strong interplay between indoors and outdoors, the feeling of shelter extending beyond the house, eager to envelope and claim the outdoors as well.

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Up those distant steps leads to the banquette in the photo below.

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Ms. Power’s “napatorium.”

Walled gardens offer so many solutions still relevant in the modern world.
They give privacy and safety from the outside environment, often perceived as hostile.
The living spaces of the house open onto exterior spaces, and outdoor dining is possible in courtyards in good weather most of the year

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[T]he more you define a space, the larger it becomes.”

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The view from the kitchen door.

I designed the water to be seen all the way through the house and make a strong central axis that pulls you outside.”

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A small apartment/cottage shares the wall with the rill.

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Dining area off the kitchen, where the colors warm up.

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The kitchen, windows open to the narrow, pebbled side passageway, a nook in the wall for a potted plant just visible through the window.

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More shaded seating just off the kitchen.

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Everywhere were the tell-tale signs that the outdoors were as lived in as the indoors, if not more so.

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From the street, you’d have no idea what lay up that small flight of steps off the sidewalk, so tours like this are much appreciated.
I wanted Casa Nancina to reveal herself slowly…I didn’t want my landscape to stand out.
It needed to be discreet and feel as if it belonged to the neigbhorhood

Ambivalent About Holidays

It occurred to me belatedly after Sunday’s post that it wouldn’t have killed me to slip a “Happy Mother’s Day” message at the end of the post.
“Ambivalent” is a $2 word for how I feel about holidays. (And pretty much everything else.) Of two minds. Especially those holidays that coincide with spring and summer, which includes those pater and mater familias holidays. (“I’m the pater familias! I’m bona fide, dammit!!” — O Brother, Where Art Thou?)


Pardon my bluntness, but most holidays do seem like calendar filler and crass gift-selling and tchotchke-accumulating opportunities. And the holidays honoring parents, though I sincerely share the fundamental sentiments, these two are full of pitfalls for those who’ve recently lost parents, or those who never wanted to be parents themselves, or those whose parents ran off and abandoned them at the tender age of 5, leaving them in charge of not only the family farm but also the care of their four younger siblings. (Channeling the Coen brothers a bit there.) Just unnecessarily complicated holidays. For example, the recent holiday, Mother’s Day, seems designed to cause someone, somewhere, gratuitous sadness. Also not in any holiday’s favor is the fact that preparing for and commemorating holidays, which seem to reach critical mass in our family in spring, usually takes up the better part of a precious weekend. (Next weekend, for example, a family holiday falls on the Huntington Botanical Garden’s plant sale, May 15, which is also the same day as the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days for Los Angeles. Fresh torment. This may just be the year I become a member so I can attend the members-only Saturday plant sale.)

I recently read that Freud felt, unlike me, that ambivalence was not a weakness, since the ambivalent mind necessarily had to hold more information than the resolutely dogmatic mind. This was a cheerful thought to a life-long ambivalent. Of course, now we’re ambivalent about Freud himself and his continuing relevance…and he didn’t have many nice things to say about mothers anyway, did he?

Ahem. Moving along to the very small point of this post. I do begrudgingly dash around to find obligatory holiday cards and gifts, which is absolutely No Fun At All.
(Except the part where I get to have dinner and cake and watch hockey with my wonderful mother. That part I love.)
And though I do technically fall into the mater familias category myself, no gifts for me, please, no store-bought cards, thank you very much.

But then late Sunday night I unwrapped this beauty, and all holiday irritation melted away. Felco No. 9.


I was told the transaction went something like this:

Pater Familias: I need to find a pair of pruners that aren’t made like crap.
Patient Shopkeeper, probably slightly taken aback at such frankness and sensing this customer was going to be a wild card: Hmmm
Pater Familias: She leaves them outside, and they rust and need sharpening all the time. And they are just junk and it’s a waste of money.

Patient Shopkeeper nods quietly and motions for the pater to leave the rack of cheap gardening implements and to follow him.
Patient Shopkeeper then disappears into a back office, closing the door behind him, reappearing a few minutes later with an object in his hand.

Patient Shopkeeper: This is what we use. I’ve had these for 15 years. But I’ll warn you, they are not cheap.
Pater Familias: Can she leave them outside?
Patient Shopkeeper: Only if she doesn’t care if they’re stolen.

Felco No. 9. just in time.

The Cotinus ‘Grace’ is in full smoke, her whippy branches dipping low and brushing heads.


Belated Happy Mother’s Day.

I hope you unwrapped presents like this (from the California Cactus Center.)


Edited 5/11/11: Pottery in the last photo by Mike Cone. California Cactus Center carries a good selection of his amazing pots.