Tag Archives: Los Angeles

a garden by Urbafloria

It’s a rare opportunity for me to be able to provide before-after photos of a dramatic garden transformation
Garden designer Jacky Surber of Urbafloria sent me this “before” photo after touring this garden on the Greater Los Angeles APLD Garden Tour 4/17/16.

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With the kids grown and the backyard no longer needed for their activities, it lost its importance in the family universe and looked like this for a while.
(There’s a very nice desert tortoise that lives in that igloo against the fence.)

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And now, garden despair happily averted.


This tour impressed me on many levels, one of which was the amazing results possible when there is a strong bond of trust between designer and client.
Living day in and out with this barren lunarscape, the owner still managed to dream big. She asked the designer to transform it into a small piece of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena, a strolling, dry garden of seasonal sights and sounds filled with California natives and mediterranean climate-appropriate plants. And within that alchemical bond that can sometimes — not always — form between designer and client, Jacky grasped her longing and made manifest that vision. The owner said she still walks her garden in wide-eyed wonder, in a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” state.

I grabbed just this one photo before racing off to other gardens on the tour. Several seating and napping areas are tucked in throughout the garden, and a small grove of the Catalina Ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus, are planted beyond the rose arch. If I remember correctly, the rose is ‘Social Climber.’
Rest assured, the desert tortoise is still there, a little bleary-eyed coming off of winter hibernation, but he tore into his first meal of lettuce with gusto.

Notes on this garden from the tour:

This backyard garden was inspired by the client’s love of the Arlington Garden in Pasadena. The garden features numerous seating nooks, an informal decomposed granite bocce ball court, as well as a mix of natives and other climate-appropriate plants. The main design challenge was remediating a yard that flooded every time it rained. The design solution was to create a large rain garden that is working fabulously! Planted in late 2014, the garden is growing in nicely and a small front yard was also recently installed.”

eat your lilies

How many times have we browsed through plant catalogue descriptions padded with chatty, ethnobotanic non sequiturs like such-and-such is an edible delicacy in its country of origin?
Impatient to discover whether the object of your desire is frost hardy, does such arcane information sometimes strike you as an insufferable display of useless erudition?

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Eat this? Don’t you dare. My only lily this year, ‘Black Charm’ cozying up to aeoniums for support.

Take lilies, for example. Catalogues would have you believe that someone, somewhere, is growing lilies not for those soul-stirring flowers and scent but to eat the bulb.

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And of course it’s all true. I was recently vividly reminded that eating some plants that we consider only as ornamentals isn’t a practice remote in time or place.
All these photos were taken last month at my favorite shopping destination when I work in Koreatown, Zion Market.
(Lily bulbs used for cooking are the “Lanzhou lily (Lilium davidii var. unicolor), which was mainly grown in the region around Lanzhou, Gansu province, Longya lily (L. brownii), which was mainly grown at Hunan and Jiangxi province, and Yixing lily (L. lancifolium), which was mainly grown in Jiangsu province,” source here.)

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I knew these leaves as Chyrsanthemum coronarium, when I tried growing them for cut flowers, now Glebionis coronaria

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Platycodon grandiflorus, the Balloon Flower, doraji in Korean. Lots of ways to go with this, including boiled and dried.

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Campanulas are typically considered the bellflowers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is platycodon as well.

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Platycodon grown as an ornamental, photo via Monrovia

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There does seem to be a Campanulaceae slant to this edible theme.
I did have a codonopsis phase once, spurred on by Heronswood’s wide selection under Dan Hinkley.
Very dainty vines with tiny, subtle bellflowers that, as far as I could tell, hated life in So. Calif. Eating it would be the perfect revenge.

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Leaving plants behind for the moment. Examples like this always make me wonder about that first pioneer who urged, “Try it! Tastes just like __________!”

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I just love that word, bracken. It’s just so, I don’t know, Wuthering Heights. (It’s a large fern.)

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Crithmum maritimum

The blurred line between edibles and ornamentals shouldn’t be such a surprise to me.
I’ve long grown two well-known edibles, the sea kale, Crambe maritima, and samphire, Crithmum maritimum, not in the vegetable plot but among agaves and grasses.

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New, powder-blue leaves of Crambe maritima in March

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And who just went through an extensive search, at no little cost, to source the rare variegated Tuscan kale? That would be me.
I still haven’t decided whether to eat it or worship it.
(Territorial Seed Company carries small plants of “Kosmic Kale” — it doesn’t come true from seed.)
Edible or ornamental? Depends on the eye, palate, and culture of the beholder, and we know those three things are in constant flux.

Zion Market is located roughly between Normandie and Vermont on Wilshire Boulevard.
It’s improbably tucked away in a new mall at the back of the Brutalist-style Equitable Plaza. The main entrance is on Sixth Street.
You could spend a half hour in the kimchee section alone.
And if you want to try your hand at home-made Korean tacos made famous by Roy Choi and his ground-breaking Kogi food truck, you can find your bulgogi marinade here.
I’d been raving about this market to Marty for some time (oh! the aisle-long, mulit-hued bags of rice display!) and finally was able to show him around recently.
It was gratifying to see Marty utterly gobsmacked too. The fresh fish section is a wonder, and the dried fish section is no slouch either.
We’re huge fans of the anchovy, especially in pasta, and there were enormous bags of dried anchovies for I know not what purpose, but we’ll have to figure something out.

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photo via The Los Angeles Times

A few blocks from Zion Market, Roy Choi opened up The Line Hotel.
I love how the greenhouse-inspired restaurant emphasizes the source of all our food, of life itself, plants.
I’ve peeked in the door, but the busy lunch crowds have scared me away so far.
Maybe the The Commissary is serving up some tasty crown daisy.

supergraphic Deborah Sussman


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When I visited Los Angeles’ Grand Park for the first time, I didn’t know that environmental designer Deborah Sussman, who passed away last week at age 83, was the force behind those shocking pink chairs and benches, a color Ms. Sussman energetically promoted throughout her 60-year career.

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Her design firm Sussman/Prejza & Co handled “signage, wayfinding, and amenities” for Grand Park, including its color schemes.

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above photo by Jim Simmons found here

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Garden markers (designed by Sussman/Prejza & Company) resemble oversized garden stakes and indicate the region, describe the climate, and talk about the specific characteristics of a featured plant within each garden. Magenta site furnishings throughout the park invite visitors to linger, enjoying its vibrant display. The vibrant color was chosen to act as a year-round “bloom” that complements the seasonal colors of the gardens.” — World Landscape Architecture

photo from Design Boom

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photo from Design Boom

Of course, there were many more celebrated projects before and after Grand Park, beginning in her twenties, when she worked for Charles and Ray Eames.

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I also didn’t know that Sussman had collaborated on the graphics and signage work for the Eames exhibit at Pacific Standard Time when I visited that show at LACMA here.

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Perhaps most famously, Ms. Sussman was the environmental designer for Los Angeles’ 1984 Summer Olympics, the first since 1932 to make a profit. Her brilliant sleight of hand with inexpensive, temporary structures such as scaffolding, bold use of graphics and color in signage, has brought her the status of the graphic designer’s designer. Just last weekend I was chatting with an architect about her, who admitted that he had stowed some of the throwaway ’84 Olympic signage in his garage (lucky him).

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image found at Design & Architecture

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As her last show at the WUHO Gallery proclaimed, Deborah Sussman loved LA, and the bold, vibrant mark she left on this city will be something I’ll be reminded of now every time I visit Grand Park.


AGO/non-secateur flea market pop-up shop 12/15/13

I’ve been checking out local flea markets to get a sense of how this whole thing works from a seller’s perspective, which is totally foreign to me. I still have stuff from flea markets I bought when I was in my teens but have never been a seller. All that will change on December 15, 2013, when Dustin and I will have our own stall at the Long Beach Antique Market, a combined AGO/non-secateur pop-up shop. Dustin wants to change his garden, so expect lots of his concrete orbs and buddha heads, plus new crete work. And plants, of course. Meanwhile, the flea market research is getting expensive, because I can’t stop bringing home more stuff, which is why I needed to sell at flea markets in the first place. I found these pots at the Downtown Flea, which meets every fourth Sunday, from a vendor whose card I’ve since lost, a very nice invertebrate biologist who apparently has an amazing garden that he’s promised I can visit. (I bought only one, the green with the rosette design.) I’m hoping he might stumble onto this post and leave his name and address.

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This Sunday, November 10, 2013, I’ll be checking out one of the biggest in Los Angeles, if not the country, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and hoping to draw upon previously untapped reserves of self-control.

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.


Los Angeles’ Grand Park

I worked at the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles today. I love these occasional work assignments downtown. We drove up Broadway, taking in an early morning dose of awe at its many ghostly, majestic movie palaces like the Orpheum, now housing optometrists and bargain shops. It wasn’t until I was dropped off at the courthouse steps on Hill Street, preparing to brave the security queue, that I caught that distinctive flash of magenta out of the corner of my eye. I instantly knew where I’d be spending the lunch hour.


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The courthouse borders part of the new 12-acre Grand Park, which replaces the moribund Los Angeles County Civic Center Mall, about as inviting a space as a name like that implies. There have been lots of financial complications and physical challenges leading up to the opening of Grand Park in July 2012, which can be read here. But today I wasn’t interested in the sausage-making back story. This was my first look, and I was ready to be dazzled. Yes, the new park is sited awkwardly in places. Yes, it’s a compromise location. And it strikes me as more plaza than park, probably because it’s not heavily treed and is unapologetically angular and geometric. But, oh, I do most definitely approve.

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Landscape architects Rios Clementi Hale Studios were not only bold in their choice of seating but in their selection of plants as well.

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It was the plants that coaxed and lured me deeper into the park. A lunch hour wasn’t nearly enough time to explore it all.

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The openness of the park allows for wonderful views

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Large bunch grasses like miscanthus are seldom seen in Los Angeles. Here were great sweeps of them.

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The movable metal street furniture was designed inhouse by Rios Clementi Hale and manufactured by Janus et Cie.

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It’s about time Los Angeles decided to be included in the pantheon of cities with great urban parks.

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The opening of the fourth and final segment will be celebrated this Saturday, October 6, 2012.

From Rios Clementi Hale Studios website:

“Our design for Grand Park has no smaller aim than to express the global multicultural diversity of Los Angeles through landscape design and architecture to create a spectacular, iconic park for Downtown Los Angeles. Thematically, the park celebrates Los Angeles’ identity as a 21st-century multi-cultural global city metropolis composed of an amazing diversity of authentic ethnic communities and neighborhoods, set in a County where 244 distinct languages are spoken.

Over its length, the site is divided by two city streets and a challenging 90-foot grade change. Our design makes a series of grand park gestures to tie the four-block site together, and create a connected, unified park. We used Grand Park’s significant grade changes as an asset, rising to the challenge of softening Bunker Hill’s natural incline with pedestrian-friendly and ADA-accessible ramps and broad steps. The new ramps extend existing below-grade ramps to the north and south to create a series of central terraces leading down into the park from Grand Avenue with a great view of the restored fountain. The terraces are adaptable to an array of uses, including al fresco dining, event seating, meeting enclaves, and general gathering places. The historic Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain has been restored and expanded to increase its sustainability as well as its viability as a dynamic water feature for park users.”

High Line jeremiad

Some interesting Sunday reading to be found in another nuanced, contrarian view of the High Line Park in New York City. I know, not another post on the High Line! I can’t help it, I’m utterly fascinated by this subject. So many twists and turns down those old railway tracks. Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, had his Op-Ed on the High Line, “Disney World on the Hudson,” published in the New York Times on August 21, 2012.


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Some sample paragraphs:

Not yet four years old, the High Line has already become another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners, another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World. According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers. It’s this overcrowding, not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it, that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.”

Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.”

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The High Line was certainly on this out-of-towner’s must-see list when visiting New York. In fact, it was the prospect of walking the High Line Park that finally induced me to stay a few days in this astonishing city and have my first look around, a trip I had put off year after year. Just the first section was open when I visited in the autumn of 2010, and there were no stagnant pools of tourists to be avoided at that time. It was fairly empty. Who could have imagined that the High Line Park would be so successful that it would stir up some New York nativist blowback? Rezoning the surrounding Chelsea neighborhood to allow for an influx of expensive, fish-bowl high-rises adjacent to the High Line seems to be the cause of much of the animus. (“Close Quarters,” New York Times 8/1/12)

Gain a park, lose a neighborhood?


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Unintended or otherwise, one of the consequences of the repurposing of the abandoned elevated railway trestle into the High Line Park has been to spur a juggernaut of gentrification, a fate the city of Los Angeles has long been praying will be visited upon its downtown. We’re finally getting a park, too, the 12-acre, much-delayed Grand Park, scaled back from pre-recession ambitions.


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Los Angeles is woefully in need of public parks, found to rank 17th among major U.S. cities in public space devoted to parks. Yes, we have our public beaches, but there’s currently no Metro Rail service that runs to the beaches.

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Image from LA Times
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A tale of two cities, a tale of two parks: As a park, the High Line brilliantly captures the innovative optimism and skyward character of New York, taking up no new space at the ground level, whereas Grand Park is an awkward fit around parking garages, interrupted Los Angeles-style by streets breaking it into sections, just as our freeways isolate neighborhoods. But for now it’s all we’ve got. From Christopher Hawthorne’s review in the LA Times 7/24/12:

Mostly what we’ve had is a collection of thousands upon thousands of privately owned and miniature Central Parks, one for every suburban backyard. Grand Park represents something else: an attempt, imperfect but encouraging, to chip away at the rigid infrastructure of the car-dominated city and make a private city a little more public.”

Like the newly gentrified Chelsea neighborhood surrounding the High Line, Los Angeles developers originally had big plans for the area surrounding the Grand Park:

Under the original plan, which backers said would help create a “Champs Elysees” for Los Angeles, a dramatic Frank Gehry-designed complex of high-rise towers, shops, upscale condos and a five-star hotel should have been completed by now.”

Unlike the grass-roots efforts that got the High Line Park rolling, big-money developers have always been in charge of Grand Park, and developers will always aim for the Beverly Hills jackpot.

During the height of the real estate boom, developers unveiled numerous luxury projects, believing the downtown revitalization was so strong that it could support Beverly Hills-level retailers and residences.”

Then there was that pesky 2008 recession. At least New York got the High Line out of their devil’s bargain. We did get some nice hot-pink chairs though.


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And who knows? In the big picture, maybe we’re actually lucky that the recession knocked the glitz out of our park and left us with a modest, workday space instead of a tourist magnet like the High Line. I do have to warn Mr. Moss, though, that I plan to once again join the throngs of tourists clogging the High Line Park to see the completion of its subsequent phases. The High Line’s success is just another example of the price that great cities — London, Paris, Venice, New York — pay for their daring, walkable beauty.

Wrapping Up the Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012

The Venice Garden & Home Tour is an annual fundraising event, benefiting the children of the Neighborhood Youth Association’s (NYA) Las Doradas Children’s Center in Venice, CA. This self-guided walking tour showcases the unique homes and gardens of the creative Venice Beach community, with original homeowner style as well as the designs of renowned architects and landscapers. The Tour was conceived by Venice landscape designer Jay Griffith and Venice community leaders Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot. NYA was founded in 1906, and has served thousands of “at risk” children and families in its 106 years.”

The last of the posts on this year’s abbreviated tour, having seen just a handful of the 32 homes and gardens. Maybe it was the food trucks that slowed us down this year, the scent of Korean BBQ and Indian curry wafting through the streets, seducing us to spend at least a full hour for lunch, unlike the forced marches of prior tours. This garden was originally designed by Jay Griffith, redesigned by Russ Cleta, so I’m not sure which designer deserves the award for largest agaves in a small garden setting. (The tour is a little Hollywoodish, after all.) These heroic agaves were such a force to be reckoned with that lemons were stuck on some of the spines near high-traffic areas for the tour.


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Continue reading Wrapping Up the Venice Garden & Home Tour 2012

friday’s clippings 5/4/12

Spring is such a great whoosh of a season, isn’t it? A spring weekend really needs to be four days to accommodate all the incredible stuff there is to do. Let’s get those bright minds in Congress on that right away. Here in Southern California, tomorrow, May 5, is the Venice Garden and Home Tour, which overlaps the Jane Jacobs Walks that are taking place in cities across the globe. The “What Would Jane Do” walk for Los Angeles will take place in the Silver Lake neighborhood and includes former homes of Richard Neutra and Anais Nin. (Raise your hand if you read the entire collection of Nin’s diaries in your late teens/early twenties.) You can see if there’s a walk taking place in your city here. The Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour also takes place this weekend, and guess who’s on the tour Sunday? Some clues: He’s on my blogroll and is a garden designer and master of the non-sequitur who will be opening his garden Sunday to the curious hordes, of which I am and always will be one. Addresses on the self-guided tour for both days can be found here.

And without any context, just some odds and ends from recent garden tours.


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Top three photos by MB Maher.


a lull between rainstorms


Two storms this week, unusual for April. February is usually our wettest month.
The first storm arrived around midnight Tuesday, the other is due later tonight.
Just before the first storm, leaves were swept, tables and chairs straightened.
Later that night I fell asleep to the sound of rain drumming on these tables, a deeply satisfying “sleep song.”

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Anticipating the rain on Tuesday, I celebrated with a late-afternoon trip to a couple nurseries.
(Aloe capitata var. quartzicola.)

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Yes, I’m silly in love with rain, but I’m not the only one.

By Langston Hughes

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.