Tag Archives: mediterranean plants

Coronilla valentina

Now that we all have a new phrase in our meteorology lexicon (“polar vortex”)*, it’s time to entertain our cold-blasted friends with talk of plants from warmer climes. Along with the unexpected germination of several triangle palm seeds (Dypsis decaryi), the coronilla also surprised me this year with more than a dozen seedlings. The mother plant was grown from a single cutting taken of the variegated form as it was collapsing in August a few years ago. (Variegated or non-variegated is fine by me.) Coronilla, like lots of plants from the mediterranean climate regions of the world, are not long-lived. Its very lanky form is supposedly limited to 2 to 3 feet. Since I never see this plant locally, I can’t be sure if mine is an outlier, topping as it does the garage roofline. Its sprawling stems were threaded when young through a spiraling tuteur, and now a froth of rue-like, ferny leaves and, beginning in January, scented, clear yellow flowers billows up and over the top of its cinched-in shape. Coronilla blooms on new growth, but hard pruning is to be avoided, so I just clean it up after the major bloom period is over in spring, though it does throw a few flowers all summer. Twiggy tracery, tiny blue leaves, flashes of yellow like sunshine snagged in its stems. Sometimes I think this plant has a fan club of one (me), so it’s nice to find out I’m in good company. English plantswoman Derry Watkins lists it as a favorite too. Coronilla sails through our ever-lengthening dry season. One of those plants damned with the faint praise of having a “subtle beauty.” I’ve gotten so used to this beloved plant being ignored by visitors, that when a gentleman helping us hang gutters on the garage inquired about it, I didn’t know what to say. You’re talking about this plant? I asked him incredulously, grabbing and shaking one of its branches. Indeed he was. He declined my offer of seedlings, but later was seen googling “coronilla” on his smart phone. Proving again there’s a first time for everything.


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The crown-like flowers

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Lanky stems cinched in by the iron tuteur

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Absorbing patterns and scented bloom for mid-winter. For zone 8 or cool greenhouse. I’m including coronilla in Loree’s discussion of favorite plants at her blog Danger Garden.

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*”Polar Vortex Causes Hundreds of Injuries As People Making Snide Remarks about Climate Change are Punched in Face.” (It’s humor.)

So Cal Hort’s “Coffee in the Nash Garden”


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Potted dwarf pomegranate

Southern California Horticultural Society sent out a “Coffee in the Garden” invitation to its members for a late October visit to Donivee Nash’s garden in Arcadia, redesigned by Judy Horton in 2009. Participation in hort. society events in the past always seemed to founder on the anticipated sludge of freeway traffic, but this one was 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a cool, foggy Sunday. Most of LA would still be gently snoring under the covers, I reasoned. That I ended up being an hour and a half late as a consequence of the 710 freeway shutting down when two semis caught fire just stiffened my resolve to attend as many such events as possible, whenever and wherever, because there’s really no grace period on the freeways anyway. Arriving late and rattled, I fell in with a group following the designer Judy Horton around the garden, trying to gauge what topics had been covered so I wouldn’t annoyingly repeat the same questions. If I did, Ms. Horton was gracious enough not to let on.

The Garden Conservancy provides some illuminating background on the Nash Garden in their Open Days Program from April 2013:

Donivee Taylor Nash was brought up in Delaware surrounded by the rich culture of nineteenth-century estate gardens—Winterthur and Longwood included. She brought these gardening roots to this 1938 New England-style saltbox thirty years ago. Although the house and landscape have grown and changed, its park-like graciousness is still very much in evidence. Donivee is a collector of beautiful specimen plants; over the years she added roses and perennials to the existing English-style gardens. She added a poolside pavilion (a miniature version of a Beatrix Farrand design at Dumbarton Oaks) to the west end of the pool, which is a cool oasis in hot summers. In 2009, when the couple wanted to unify the backyard and reduce water consumption, they called upon well-known garden designer Judy Horton who accomplished the transformation of their landscape. Out went much of the lawn, in came eighteen trees, including a sycamore grove to screen the tennis court, a birch grove underplanted with hundreds of Japanese anemones, and a mixed grove surrounding an antique Japanese lantern. A fig tree garden was added east of the tennis court, and an olive terrace south of the house. Mediterranean plants are now artfully planted near the living and dining rooms. The golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) still shades the patio as it has for decades, but now is accompanied by a fresh palette of lavender, silver, white, and chartreuse.”

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In its current form, this is a mediterranean-inspired garden that celebrates the light that pours in and bathes the earth 33 degrees north of the equator.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this brilliant light all my life.
(When I was young and wanted nothing but to leave, it was intrusive, unforgiving, a relentless glare. Now love has the upper hand. Just keep a lime green umbrella handy.)

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The estate-like spaciousness is emphasized by broad, low hedges of westringia, teucrium and rosemary, which are also sometimes clipped into balls or left to run in long bands along the lawn that has been greatly reduced and reproportioned by Ms. Horton. These tough shrubs require little supplemental irrigation. It’s interesting to view this garden’s recent transition to a more water thrifty profile in light of November being the 100-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The aqueduct’s chief designer William Mulholland envisioned semi-arid Los Angeles would “blossom like a rose,” a prophecy many of us have come to realize became fulfilled at much too high a cost.

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I love the trick of breaking free from the belt of trees at the perimeter and planting new trees forward into the lawn, adding more depth and interplay with shapes and planes.
The remaining lawn seems to become less assertive a feature in its own right and is integrated into the overall landscape as just another choice of ground cover.

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The golden light of the foothills sets the fine-leaved mediterranean plantings shimmering.
Strong, smooth blades of iris pierce the gravel, which the Santa Barbara daisy Erigeron karvinskianus freely seeds into, as does Verbena bonariensis.

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Ms. Horton said this supposed non-fruiting olive tree fruited this year.

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The sweep of a glittering landscape is everywhere emphasized as with this choice of underplanting with Cerastium tomentosum.

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Near the house the garden was full of salvias in bloom. Japanese anemones too.

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Detail of the Dumbarton Oaks-inspired pool pavilion

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The planting of roses fronting the property along the street speaks to the evolution of the garden from English-inspired rose garden to its sleek and lean lines today.

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Having arrived late, I stayed until the coffee things had been cleared away. Some gardens are just hard to leave.

driveby garden; AT&T Center, Downtown LA

You’d be surprised how many “Angelenos” have never visited Downtown Los Angeles, even now that it is surging with vitality again. For decades it was right up there in ignominious competition as one of the most superfluous, neglected downtowns of any major city. Working here in my twenties, lunch breaks always included long walks into the historic core, among the faded movie palaces turned dollar stores and block after block of wonderful buildings I daydreamed of owning and restoring. Well, I couldn’t afford to rent here now. Most of those buildings have gone or are going loft, and the revitalization pushes ever deeper into previous no-go areas like the South Park neighborhood I worked in yesterday, which also holds Julia Morgan’s Mission Revival gem, the still-shuttered Herald Examiner building. The former insurance high-rise I worked in yesterday was built in 1965 and has been given a new facade, LEED certification, and rechristened the AT&T Center. What struck me yesterday were these plantings in steel containers rimming the building. Most of the planters were elegantly and simply planted in low clipped boxwood hedges underplanted with silver ponyfoot, Dichondra argentea, but the designer got a little frisky and kicked up his heels with one stretch of planters.
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This isn’t the frisky business I’m referring to, but Agave villmoriniana and rosemary, very appropriate for hot and dry urban container plantings and frequently seen. The olive trees in the distance are underplanted with sedum, kept neatly within the boundaries of the polygonal cutouts in the sidewalk.

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Here’s where it gets interesting. Ornamental oreganos? Also suitable but rarely seen outside of private gardens, and certainly not large-scale commercial plantings.

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So much of the ground previously given to mediterranean sympaticos like Convolvulus sabatius (Convolvulus mauritanicus) is now given to succulents when new commercial projects are undertaken.

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So it’s a bit of a surprise to find herbaceous stuff in sleek, steel planters.

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Looks like a mint in the foreground and Dorycnium hirsutum in the background

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One of the dark-leaved Geranium x antipodeum varieties like ‘Stanhoe’ or ‘Chocolate Candy’

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Lavender and a few magenta blooms from the “bloody” cranesbill in the foreground, Geranium sanguineum. Very odd sight these days, especially in a modern commercial design. Someone is definitely giving their plant chops some play time.

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More oregano.

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And then there was this (crooked) view down into the atrium which I couldn’t access. a Mondrian painting with pebbles, grasses, succulents and bamboo.
The variegated plant looked from a distance to be hoyas, the silver band in the center I’m pretty sure were hebes, and the maroon bands were succulents, either dyckias or a dark echeveria. There was at least twice again this length of bamboo and geometric shapes. Someone seems to be having an awfully good time with this commercial project.

The upgrade including landscaping was done by the Gensler firm.