Tag Archives: Lili Singer

Lili Singer’s Thursday Talk with Isabelle Greene

Sixteen years ago I was writing only prose and what I consider now traditional garden writing for magazines. And then one day I was in my office looking at a landscape architecture magazine, turned the page, and there was an image that had an enormous physical effect on me. I had a sense of utter physical certainty and determination that I would do whatever I had to do to stand in that place. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it was nothing to do with my thinking. It had absolutely a physical kind of jolting experience.” — Poet Hazel White on Isabelle Greene’s Valentine garden, Natural Discourse lecture 2/10/12

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Isabelle Greene’s Silver Garden at Longwood Gardens, photo included with kind permission of Fleeting Architecture

I’d resolved to attend as many of Lili Singer’s Thursday lecture series as the workweek allowed, which turned out to be not very many, but the 2/7/13 talk with legendary landscape architect Isabelle Greene was definitely not one to miss. Ms. Greene exudes every bit of wisdom and playfulness you’d expect from someone who has practiced an art that has continuously absorbed and replenished her astonishing creative energies for 49 years. She grew up steeped in a tradition of architecture that celebrates and integrates climate and landscape into a design vocabulary, the Arts and Crafts movement. Henry Greene was Isabelle’s grandfather. (Greene & Greene’s masterwork, The Gamble House in Pasadena, is open for tours.)

Ms. Greene’s speaking engagements are rare, so the turnout filled every seat, where we balanced notepads on our knees and scribbled away, taking notes as she coaxed and cajoled the audience through a garden design brainstorming session. The talk drew quite a few professional designers, and much of its focus was the designer/client relationship, but there was inspiration enough for both professional and layperson. Overall, Ms. Greene exhorts us to “listen to the site, the floor of everything.”

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exploring a coastal garden with Lili Singer

This Pacific Palisades garden was the final garden we visited 1/24/13 with Lili Singer via the LA County Arboretum Thursday Garden Talk series. Despite being firmly in the grasp of winter this January morning, or as firm a grasp on winter as Los Angeles can manage, all three of the gardens sparkled on this rainy-day field trip. Posts on the other two gardens can be found here and here. Being born and raised in semi-arid Los Angeles means I doubt I’ll ever view a rainy day as an inconvenience. Rain is always a godsend, like an unexpected kindness. True, traffic becomes even more awful, if that’s possible, but then I generally expect the worst where that’s concerned.

This last garden celebrates water in true mediterranean fashion, with water gardens and fountains. Richard Hayden is the designer here, and I note from his site that we both attended the same UCLA horticulture certificate program. (Some of the excellent instructors for this program in the past have included Lili Singer.) The owner/client is a huge fan of not only Dan Hinkley, meaning she continually brings up new plant enthusiasms for the designer to consider, but also the garden antiquarian and salvage porn king Big Daddy’s. The full complexity of planting in any garden isn’t visible in the dormant month of January, but it’s an excellent opportunity to clearly appreciate the structure and layout. Listening to the client and Richard banter throughout the tour about some of this garden’s old projects, new projects, abandoned projects, was a fascinating peek into the close relationship that develops between client and designer.


leucadendron, arbutus opposite

It can only quicken anticipation of what’s further down the garden path when an enormous Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ greets you at the front door.


Continue reading exploring a coastal garden with Lili Singer

finishing up a westside garden tour

The second garden we toured with Lili Singer on 1/24/13, through the Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden’s series “Thursday Garden Talks with Lili Singer.” The first garden toured can be seen here.

The description of the second garden from the handout:

The youngest of the three gardens we’ll visit, this family- and dog-friendly landscape in Santa Monica Canyon includes colorful fragrant natives and other mediterranean-climate plants, permeable paving, drip irrigation and smart controllers. Edibles and ornamentals abound, along with birds, butterflies and other beneficial wildlife. Designer Fleur Nooyen will be our guide. She began the installation in 2011 and still works with the owner (an enthusiastic new gardener!).”

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12-year-old lab Sadie in a rare state of repose. She greeted everyone individually, graciously welcoming each of us into her domain.
Sadie runs this garden. Runs it, squashes it, tramples it, digs it.
The owner has the good sense (and warm heart) to design around the challenges posed by Sadie.

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An avid lounger on plants, the sticks are intended as Sadie deterrents.
The turquoise blue fountain stones are from Arizona.

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A young Arbutus ‘Marina.’ Stunning showboat of a tree to shade the seating area off the back of the house.

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A fascinating provenance for this madrone is given by San Marcos Growers at the link. “Marina” refers to the Marina District of San Francisco. Legendary plantsman Victor Reiter, founder of the California Horticultural Society, is involved in the account:
Mr. Reiter had acquired his plant in 1933 when he was allowed to take vegetative cuttings from a boxed specimen that was at the Strybing Arboretum. The Strybing Arboretum, under director Eric Walther, had purchased the boxed tree from the closing down sale of Western Nursery on Lombard Street in the Marina District. Charles Abrahams, the owner of Western Nursery, was thought to have taken cuttings from trees that were sent from Europe for a 1917 horticultural exposition, one of which was probably this beautiful tree.”

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Dining area with herb garden. Weber kept in handy proximity.

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Luminous bright leaves in the herb garden are, I think, Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus Plectranthus neochilus ‘Mike’s Fuzzy Wuzzy’

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A row of Salvia leucantha is planted in a narrow border alongside the table. When this salvia is strictly cut back hard each year, as is done here, it is marvelous. When not cut back, it’s a twiggy, leggy, obnoxious mess.

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The herb garden, with Salvia leucantha in the foreground. Stairs lead to…

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The hot tub

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Coming up the driveway, the fence is planted with privacy vines, ceanothus, abutilon

Ceanothus 'Frosty Blue'

Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue’

Santa Monica Canyon - designer Fleur NooyenSadie the dog - installed 2011

Luscious flowering maple. I asked the designer Fleur Nooyen about the scale insect problem that always afflicts any abutilon I try to grow. Not a problem here so far. Fleur said that other than applying dormant oil, there’s not much remedy for bad scale infestations. Don’t I know it!

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Looking back at the house, photo taken from an unseen lawn of Carex pansa, a lawn substitute that doesn’t require mowing.
The entire back garden is built for water permeability to avoid wasteful runoff, with pathways of decomposed granite and terraces of unmortared, dry-set stone.

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Some of the carex visible in this photo. The large swath of Carex pansa surrounds another terrace topped by an arbor.
Keeping track of the blues?. Blue fence, blue stones, and now blue Adirondacks.
The blue doors are a design deception that lead nowhere. Clever trick for breaking up a long, adjoining garden wall.

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The blues in the garden tie in with the trim on the Spanish-style house

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Little orbs on the light strings woven from grapevine

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Just one of the many benefits of bringing in a designer is that every detail is planned and built in from the get-go.
How many years has it taken to get around to building your potting area? 24 years here, and still counting.

Arbutus (marina?)

One more angle of the madrone and its gorgeous bark. Another of its names is the Strawberry Tree.

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Thanks to Lili Singer, the owner, and designer Fleur Nooyen for the tour of this personal, intimate garden designed for long outdoor meals, filled with natives and aromatic herbs that are easy on the water bill. Sadie is one lucky dog.

One more to go. The designers’ briefs for the first two gardens revolved around family, pets, native plants, edibles, permeability. The designer of the last garden is pedaling like mad to keep up with the owner’s enthusiasm for garden antiques. She keeps a personal warehouse container at the ready at Big Daddy’s, which I’ve written about here. lord, have mercy! I’ll have that post up later this week hopefully.


Photos 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 by MB Maher.

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.

Garden Party in Westwood, CA Oct 22 & 23

With speakers the likes of such SoCal horticultural heroes as Bart O’Brien from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is hosting this inaugural event, Lili Singer, Emily Green, John Greenlee, all whose talks will be spread across both days, making it almost impossible to choose which day to attend…

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden invites you to celebrate gardens, gardening and gardeners at Grow Native Nursery Westwood’s Autumn Garden Party. Four California native plant experts will present lectures at the two-day event at RSABG’s Los Angeles retail nursery location.”

I’m fairly sure the seslerias are European, not native, so this photo of Sesleria ‘Greenlee’ in my garden is not precisely on topic. But it is an amazingly good grass.

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I have so many questions about gardening with natives, whether exclusively or partially, so now must get to the hard work of deciding which day to attend. In case you missed it embedded above, the link to the event is here.