31st Annual Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale

31st Annual Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale
The LA County Arboretum in Ayres Hall
301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Saturday, August 13, 2016, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, August 14, 2016, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

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By a bit of trickery with angles, the stunning bloom of Urginea maritima seemingly belongs to a boophane at a past CSSA show.

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A year ago, August 2015. Within days after this photo, Opuntia microdasys was chewed into disfigurement by a worm I failed to notice in time.
Before the worm, it kinda looked like two parents herding a gaggle of opuntia kids, didn’t it? That’s dad pointing to the left.
But the gymnocalycium is in bloom again. Purple echinocereus looks exactly the same.
I think I’ll pass on the opuntias for now. But the best part of the Inter-City shows and sales is you never know what you’ll find that speaks to your plant-loving soul.
Hope to see you there.

Natural Discourse: Light & Image 2014, an epilogue

Ever wonder when our buildings are going to have the photosensitivity and photoreactivity of plants? Dale Clifford, with his focus on biomimetics applied to architecture, is on the case, investigating the possibility of designing a photoreactive brick inspired by the quadrangular, shade-modulating shape of a cactus. Looking for a tidy description of life on earth? Plant biologist Roger Hangarter has one for you: excited electrons powered by the sun. I’m totally borrowing that, Roger.


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Christian Thornton, Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio

Questions, questions. Can modern glass kilns reduce their energy footprint?
Certainly, by as much as 30 percent, if recycled glass is used and the kilns are run on vegetable oil discarded by local Oaxacan restaurants.

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Cobaea scandens in the Ware Collection of Glass Plants

And what did 19th century university botany departments do when dried specimens were insufficiently detailed for the rigorous study of plant architecture? Find the finest glass artists in the world, of course, German glass blowers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, to create glass models with precise, scientific accuracy. Harvard’s Ware Collection of Glass Plants transcends its scientific origins and is now regarded as a prized art collection visited by millions every year.

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Shirley Watts readies the book table sponsored by Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore.
Clarissa Dalloway may have bought the flowers for her party herself, but the large vase on the book table was, I think, provided by Silverlake Farms.

All these questions and more could only have been answered by another installment of Natural Discourse, the peripatetic series of lectures curated by artist and garden designer Shirley Watts that allows artists and scientists to share their unique perspectives and fields of inquiry into our beloved plant world, which was held Saturday, October 18, 2014, at the LA County Arboretum.

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The auditorium at the LA County Arboretum was the biggest space yet of the three iterations of Natural Discourse, and for that reason I thought it perhaps the most challenging venue thus far.

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But wherever Natural Discourse is located, whether perched in a conservatory-like glass hall atop the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden, or in a historic landmark hotel designed by Julia Morgan, or at your local arboretum, the effect is consistently hypnotic. The lights go down, the chattering eventually subsides, and Marion Brenner begins to articulate her relationship to light and its role in obtaining her exquisitely timeless landscape photographs seen on the projection screen. And then you begin to scribble furiously as she explains how she now shoots wirelessly to an iPad to live-proof her work.

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Photo found here

Possibly only at Natural Discourse will you meet an artist concerned with how long it will take an agave bloom to grow and thereby destroy the glass necklace he’s designed and placed on its flowering shoot.
(Christian Thornton of Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio has recorded 8 inches of growth a day.)

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The welcome being given by Richard Schulhof, Director of the LA Arboretum.

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Jenny Brown, Collection Manager of the Ware Collection of Glass Plants, playfully engages with the interactive programming wizardry of John Carpenter.

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Mr. Carpenter’s work asks questions like: Why can’t the fleeting thrill of blowing on a dandelion be prolonged?
(You can view the results of his dandelion inquiry at the link.)
Carpenter’s work may bring to mind the digitally interactive sequences in the movie Minority Report, which he designed.

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I want to personally thank Sue Dadd and James Griffith for providing both food and lodging Friday night.
And thanks also to their charming cat Kabuki, who slept at my feet all night.

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Very early Saturday morning I crept out in jammies and socks to have a private natural discourse with their stunning garden, this time a ravine adjacent to the Folly Bowl.
Talk about excited electrons!

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Photos of Natural Discourse at the LA County Arboretum by MB Maher.

Natural Discourse at Los Angeles Co. Arboretum 10/18/14

The drive will be considerably shorter for me to this year’s Natural Discourse, which will be held close to home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden:
A symposium presented by the Garden Conservancy and the Arboretum that will explore the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of the botanical garden.”

Natural Discourse: Light & Image
Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
301 North Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007

Wahoo! Garden designer/Natural Discourse curator Shirley Watts assembles a mesmerizing group of storytellers in a day-long event that has no equal in the botanical world.


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Coincidentally, and perfectly in keeping with this year’s theme of Light & Image, Shirley’s lanterns inscribed with excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein made the cover of Pacific Horticulture this month, with photos by MB Maher, and an interview by Lorene Edwards Forkner: “Artful Gardens; A conversation with Shirley Alexandra Watts.” 19-year-old Mary Shelley famously conceived of the idea for her novel Frankenstein while vacationing with friends in Geneva, Switzerland. The weather was miserable, so they passed the time indoors in an impromptu game of Can You Top This Scary Story. (I think it’s safe to say that Mary probably won that game hands down when she recounted the germ for the story that grew into her book: “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”)

All of which proves that sparks fly when like-minded people gather to entertain each other. See for yourself at Natural Discourse tomorrow, Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can search the blog for the many posts I’ve written about previous Natural Discourse symposia, such as this one here.

Friday clippings 8/22/14


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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.

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James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!


Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’

Seen at the 2013 Inter-City Cactus & Succulent Show held at the Los Angeles County Arboretum over the weekend.

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Once again, on the show table, not the sales table. Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony,’ intensely desirable and chronically unavailable. Is it going to take a Kickstarter campaign to get this propagated and into general circulation?

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Another arresting sight at the show was Boophone disticha.

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A South African bulb with a spectacular bloom that I covet more for those seductively twisted leaves. I brought a small one home from the sales tables.

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The sea squill, Urginea maritima. Being a mile from the ocean, I doubt I could go far wrong in making a garden just with plants that included the descriptor “maritima” or “maritimum.” Sturdy plants like Crithmum maritimum and the sea kale that filled Derek Jarman’s garden, Crambe maritima. I’d love to try the sea squill in the gravel garden, but it’s really not large enough an area to hold sufficient numbers of these massive bulbs for a good effect. Anyway, the bulbs are pricey. None for sale that I saw at the show.

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The sea squill with adjacent boophone leaves. By the time the sea squill blooms late summer, its leaves have died down.

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The arboretum’s unofficial mascot, its image found on coffee cups for sale in the gift shop. He hung out with me while I admired a hedge of Grevillea ‘Moonlight.’
The national bird of India seems to feel right at home in the intense summer heat of the San Gabriel Valley.

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I’ve decided that Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ has to be my next big shrub purchase. Tolerates pruning? Check. Attracts wildlife? Check. Low water needs? And check.

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Stunningly beautiful? Double check.


InterCity Succulent Show and Sale August 17-18, 2013

Mr. Ripple and friends cordially invite you to that holy of holies in the world of desert plants, The InterCity Show and Sale next weekend, August 17 and 18, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

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Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’

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Agave potatorum in the loveliest shade of powder blue, found at a plant show unlabeled

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Aloe marlothii

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Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

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the white whale of agaves, A. celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’

Now that succulents are as ubiquitous as petunias and can be found on racks outside grocery stores, there’s no need for proselytizing about their sculptural attractions and water-wise virtues. This sale is for the already converted who are looking for rarities in affordably small sizes. The discerning eye and encyclopedic knowledge of members of Southern California succulent societies have already done the heavy lifting for us in seeking out the best of the best, and these plants offered for sale are the fruit of their lifelong passion for desert plants. But if you’re still not convinced, drop your magazine, possibly turned to a regionally inappropriate article on the top 10 plants for perennial borders in August (though there’s nothing wrong with a little garden porn!) and come see why Southern California is the envy of savvy plant people all over the world. Like the bodies on Venice’s Muscle Beach, these are some seriously well-toned plants, each one an evolutionary warrior able to survive with minimal irrigation. I’m hoping to find more of my latest enthusiasm, hanging epiphytic cactus like rhipsalis.

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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beauty’s best bargain

for me will always be plants.
401ks and SEPs may crash and burn, but I’ll always be able to live on the cheap surrounded by some of the most gorgeous patterns and shapes on earth.

Some of the results from a leisurely rummage through old photos, trying to jump-start a slow, President’s Day morning.


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Agave bovicornuta, Los Angeles County Arboretum

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Venice Garden & Home Tour 2011

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Melianthus major, Linda Cochrane’s Bainbridge Island garden

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California Cactus Center

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My dearly departed Agave guadalajarana

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Spanish poppies (Papaver rupifragum), furcraea and succulents, my garden April 2012


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.


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Aloes in Southern California

It’s that time of year again to catch the displays of these spectacular South African succulents in bloom around town.
These photos were taken mid-day at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden 2/7/13.

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Aloe vryheidensis.

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Many were of hybrid origin, no name given.

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En masse, the hot-blooded, scorched-earth effect of an aloe in bloom gets seriously ramped up.

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Another good bet to see a glorious display is at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.