Tag Archives: Pacific Horticulture

planting details at the Reid garden

I went through my Reid garden photos again, looking for clear examples of the subtly layered plant communities that rose up around my feet as I followed the paths, scanning the garden like a hungry predator, looking down then quickly back up to trace the changing treeline, the alternating pools of light then shade, the understory of shrubs surrounded by blankets of ground-hugging sedums, bergenias, hardy begonias, grasses. Immersed in the garden, it feels as though the enfolding landscape continually builds up then releases great dramatic tension, holding charged breaths filled to bursting, then exhaling in a pool of sunlight, or a vista over fields and distant stands of trees. Heady stuff.

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Filling over two acres, plants are allowed to contribute the full breadth of their character and are seen in all their dimensions.

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The Lion’s Tail, Leonotis leonurus, was a dazzlingly exotic beast to American Conifer Society members on the tour.
I heard languages from all over the world amongst our group excitedly conferring over the Lion’s Tail.

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Remember, this is a California garden in September, in a mediterranean climate (theoretically winter wet/summer dry) under water restrictions due to our cursed, ongoing drought.

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On the path alongside the serpentine wall.

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Their terraced landscape covers two and a half of the 140 rolling acres they bought outside Occidental in 1989.
A few miles east of the Pacific Ocean and south of the Russian River, the garden overlooks farm fields, apple orchards, and fir forests
.” — (“A Passionate Pursuit”)

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Now on the semi-parched lawn atop the wall.

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Leucadendron, Rosa mutabilis, and Salvia involucrata.

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Cussonia paniculata on the left, in the distance behind the veil of Stipa gigantea, white oleander on the right.

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Up against the house, tibouchina and abutilon.

There is a new book out, that I haven’t read yet, entitled “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, that describes this kind of “ecological landscape design.” If you have a nearby garden to study that follows these principles, consider yourself fortunate, because brilliant examples like the Reid garden in Northern California are not often seen. Gardens attached to nurseries, like nearby Western Hills in Occidental, are often good places to study this kind of planting, because detailed plant knowledge is the key.

the case of the disappearing hebes

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I was in San Francisco recently for several days cat-sitting a charming fraidycat in the Mission district named Banksy.
It was during this trip that I solved the case of the disappearing hebes, those lovely little shrubs from New Zealand.
Because I just can’t seem to acquire a photojournaling habit of anything but plants, I’m borrowing some of Jessica’s wonderfully expressive photos to fill in the cast of characters.

photo from Thread and Bones

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photo from Thread and Bones

This hallway was definitely a character on the trip. Since this photo was taken a couple years ago, it has been covered, and I mean every inch of it, with throw rugs.
Because of the rugs, the apartment has taken on the personality of 221B Baker Street.
Also because of the rugs, the downstairs neighbors were spared the deafening knowledge that a corgi had taken up temporary residence and was delighting in thundering up and down that hallway.
After a quick visit with Mitch and Jessica the night before they left for some lengthy photo work, we had the “railroad” apartment to ourselves for five days.
Banksy pretty much kept to his room, the middle bedroom, and we had the front, streetside bedroom.

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So it was the four of us, me, Marty, Ein, and Banksy, and that long hallway, where the curtain billows all day just as in the photo.
Ein emptied out the kibble from the cat bowl only twice, showing amazing self-restraint…for a corgi.

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photo from Thread and Bones

Banksy and Ein, while not exactly enemies, didn’t become best friends either.

We were thrilled to be leaving the stifling heat in Los Angeles for the legendary cool summer environs of San Francisco.
Surprising both us and the mostly non-air-conditioned residents of San Francisco, the heat was stifling there as well. The Mission hit 100 degrees the day we arrived.

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While in the city, of course, there was the ritual trip to Flora Grubb Gardens

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and the required visit to Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, timed nicely with fall planting.

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I also horned in on a tour of the Reid garden near Sebastopol via my very nice contact at the American Conifer Society, Sara Malone, whose own fabulous garden at Circle Oak Ranch was also on the tour.
Unfortunately, I only had time for the early morning visit to the Reid garden and had to get the car back to the city.

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Glimpse of a mature leucadendron on the upper left. I think the garden is likely in zone 9.
Penstemons, zauschnerias/epilobiums, ceratostigma and salvias were in bloom, with some roses having a late-summer flush.

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The garden has incredible atmosphere and spatial presence built up over decades of deeply informed selection and placement of beautifully appropriate plants.

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The Reid garden is not at all conifer-centric, but a wonderful mix of dry-adapted trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.

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I believe the rose on the arbor behind the potted agave is ‘Mme Alfred Carriere,’ a creamy, very fragrant climbing noisette.

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The blue pool on the lower left is Crambe maritima. Mine have done remarkably well all summer on restricted irrigation.

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I’ve wanted to see this garden since learning of it through Pacific Horticulture.

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Back to the case of the disappearing hebes. I confess I hadn’t thought about hebes in years and hadn’t even noted their disappearance from SoCal.

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Along with traipsing through spectacular gardens, there were mundane chores to do in the city as well, like laundry.
Needing the services of a Laundromat and finding the one familiar to us in the Mission shuttered, we headed to the Marina district.
Which is where I found this majestic stand of Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’
I dropped off Marty and Ein at a nearby Laundromat and promised to bring back food. But first I needed to examine these enormous clumps of salvia.
They were admirably dense and uniform in habit, unlike the rangy specimens I grow. This planting is at the George Moscone Recreation Center.

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The shrubs surrounding the salvias were just as remarkable. Hebes! Beautiful New Zealanders. I haven’t seen hebes for ages.

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Ruddy coprosmas with pale, variegated hebes.

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There used to be hebes in Southern California. Where had they all gone? Is changing fashion ruthless enough to cause complete eradication?
Possibly, but even more ruthless is Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. From the Monterey Bay Nursery website:

[F]ormerly important stalwarts in California landscaping, but now essentially extirpated due to the introduction of Fusarium oxysporum v. hebei. This disease persists in soils and nursery beds for years, and induces systemic, incurable stem infections which ravage landscapes and commercial crops. By the early 1990’s hebes had essentially left the commercial trade in California.”

Rather than choosing for flowers, my favorites have always been “those with tight, dense, box-like foliage in grey or green, and the whipcord types with minute, scale like leaves and stringy branches…
Some of the smaller leaved types can be more resistant, may be tested in the ground, but don’t come crying to us if they die. You have been forewarned

I have no idea what chances for longevity the hebes at the Moscone Rec Center have, but they appear for now to be in robust good health.
I personally have no problem with short-lived plants, say three to five years. I love the changeover. But public landscapes are on different timetables.

Upon returning home, awaiting me was the July issue of Gardens Illustrated with, of all things, an article on hebes by Noel Kingsbury.
Famous for championing the “new naturalism,” comprised of perennials and grasses, Mr. Kingsbury struck me as an unlikely proponent of these tidy shrubs, but the man knows his hebes.
He describes the changing fortunes of hebes as falling in and out of favor relative to garden styles, whereas in California the reason for their disappearance is not mercurial tastes but insidious pathogens.


Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ photo from 2010

The next time I find a Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ at a nursery, I’ll know its chances for survival face much better odds in a container than in the garden.

Wednesday clippings 4/15/15 (water on the brain)

Finally, a chance to spend some time with the blog again. There’s been lots of reading to catch up on, after the guv dropped that bombshell. (Pass the almonds.*)

One of the best sources of information I’ve found was right there on my blogroll, journalist Emily Green’s Chance of Rain.
In concert with KCET, Emily is writing an amazingly detailed series bristling with helpful links and step-by-step instructions for those wondering what to do with their lawns.
Definitely read Emily’s After the Lawn series before making a call to any lawn removal company that’s eager to snap up your rebate dollars in exchange for wall-to-wall gravel.

Amidst all the finger pointing and accusations, at least we’re beginning to talk about our water situation.
Ironically, after decades of denial, we just can’t seem to shut up about it now.

This entry under the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times rounds up dozens of articles for background reading.

And here’s a great interactive map on water use across the state, city by city, courtesy of The New York Times (“How Water Cuts Could Affect Every Community in California“)

And who knew that a century-old, squatter’s rights mentality governs ground water for agricultural use? Emily Green deciphers the state’s arcane water rights here: (Whose Water Is It Anyway?)

So, yes, I’ve been reading up on the politics of the recent water restrictions. Because it’s not like we need more information on how to design dry gardens.
Reaching into my bookshelf, I can pull out Beth Chatto‘s The Dry Garden, a chronicle of the 30-year-old garden she’s made in East Anglia, England, supported on rainfall alone.
(Which if I remember correctly is, at 30 inches, at least double our 15-inch average pre-drought.)

Then there’s Bob Perry’s landmark resource Landscape Plants for California Gardens.

More recently, there’s the great California resource Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

Lambley Nursery in Australia is also planting display gardens sustained on mostly rainwater.

At home I’ve been tweaking the garden the past few years to accommodate drier conditions anyway, and our water bill is consistently below average.
Granted, smaller properties like ours will have an easier time adjusting to restrictions.
What lawn we inherited when buying the house was removed over 20 years ago. I’ve never been emotionally attached to closely cropped, bright green turf.
But both neighbors to the east, who cherish their front lawns, have been quietly irrigating them with grey water for years.

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Berkheya purpurea, brought home from Cistus last summer, is a riveting, prickly daisy out of South Africa.
One of countless examples, native and exotic, of gorgeous plants blithely indifferent to dry conditions.
The literature cites berkheya’s habitat as stream banks, so we’ll see how tough it really is.
Once established, anything tap-rooted has a big advantage.

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Hymenolepis parviflora, a dry-tolerant shrub with chartreuse umbels. Nature is a genius.
In the past few years a lot of perennial/biennial/annual umbels have passed through the garden, the toughest probably being cenolophium, melanoselinum, yet even they needed pampering.
This one, however, is the real deal. Hymenolepis is a short-lived shrub from So. Africa that will probably need to be renewed from cuttings in a few years. I’m cool with that.

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Lily ‘Black Charm.’ Fortunately lilies love container life. I find it makes better water sense to grow them in pots to provide the even moisture they crave than in the ground.
The bucket collecting water from the shower is a steady source for container plants now.

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Seeing the Desert Bird of Paradise in rampant bloom wedged into the heat-reflected, bone-dry parkways along Long Beach City College set off a county-wide search for a source.

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The City College’s Hort. Department sold all their stock at their recent plant sale, but one local nursery had a couple plants.
I replaced Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Caesalpinia gilliesii. I know Sunset is marketing this salvia as waterwise, but I’d planted mine far from the hose bib, and it was showing some stress.

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Verbascum in Dustin Gimbel‘s garden, seed collected on his recent trip to Italy. He gave me two of these wavy-leaved mulleins, possibly V. undulatum.
Verbascums are classic perennials for dry gardens.

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Water garden out, agave in. Formerly a small water garden, now a cache pot for Agave franzosinii.
Surrounded by the unstoppable globe mallow Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral,’ a hybrid developed at Hopley’s in the UK.
Planted last fall, I’ve cut back and thinned the globe mallow three times since mid winter.
It’s never stopped blooming and, because of its vigor, I purposely avoid adding water.

One last point, an important one to keep in mind.
It’s no big surprise that trees are a constituency without much representation at the water restriction negotiations table.
I vigorously applaud Emily Green’s emphasis on prioritizing irrigation for our trees.

Landscape reform is sweeping California more as an emergency response to drought and less as a considered piece of town planning. Representatives from three of the region’s largest water providers, a City of Los Angeles arborist, and a Los Angeles County botanist interviewed for this article all seemed surprised when asked if they had consulted one another about the impact on the region’s urban canopy before moving to dry out the lawns in which most of the trees are planted.” After the Lawn Part I

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*”[A]ccording to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.” – “Making Sense of Water

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.

the Taft Garden

Ancient geologic forces shaped the Ojai Valley that modern-day visitors find so attractive. This part of Ventura County lies in a region geologists call the Transverse Range Province. Transverse means “lying across,” and the mountains and valleys in these parts have been moved by seismic and other forces out of California’s usual north-south orientation into an east-west configuration.” — The Los Angeles Times 2/17/90

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Late afternoon, crossing the seismic detritus of a rock-strewn stream on the entrance road to the Taft

The Taft Garden is a 265-acre botanical garden near Ojai, California, that was open to the public from 1994 to 2001, when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors closed it, citing neighbor complaints and permit use violations. A particularly toxic case of NIMBY, it seems. It can still be visited via plant and garden societies, such as the Mediterranean Garden Society, which is visiting this month, March 14 and 15, including in the tour other local gardens such as Lotusland. When I shopped at Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery last week, she invited me to have a look around this garden where so many of her nursery plants have found a home. I knew none of its turbulent history at the time, but even before arriving I was experiencing more than the usual pre-garden visit jitters. It’s a bit difficult to find, and Jo’s cheery caution to talk to no one along the long, hilly entrance road added an unexpected layer of intrigue to the visit.

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Marty dropped me off at this pavilion/visitor center then drove back through the garden to find a place to unobtrusively stow the car.
His next task was to sign the visitor book kept in one of the three “huts” at the entrance. Jo was very emphatic that we sign the book.

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Osteospermums, with Aloe striata blooming in urns. Against the pergola grows bougainvillea, with what looked to be parthenocissus overhead catching the late afternoon sun.

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The spiky outlines to the right of the fountain mark a desert garden.
Plants from all over the world fill the Taft, with special emphasis on Australian, South African, California natives.

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There was a Jurassic Park feel to the place, of an impossibly ambitious dream made real, built and then abandoned after the dinosaurs had dispatched the last of the eco-tourists.
It was a truly eerie sensation to be seemingly the only person experiencing such a dense concentration of botanical riches. The last eco-tourist standing, so to speak.

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A broad path off the pergola. All the paths were broad, deeply mulched or graveled, weed-free. Acacias were in bloom, but the proteas peak fall/winter.
The Taft reputedly has the largest collection of proteas outside of South Africa.

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The Taft is a garden where the rare becomes commonplace, like the fabulous xanthorrhoeas, the Australian grass trees, dotted throughout, with their distinctive deep brown, catkin-like blooms.

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And xanthorrhoeas again, here with bottle trees, Brachychiton rupestris.

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I had less than an hour to visit before the garden closed at 5 p.m, but still lingered quite a while with the bottle trees.

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Paths were deep with the leaf fall of grevilleas, banksias.

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I’m guessing cabbage palms/cussonias.

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Leucospermum. I just planted an orange leucospermum at home, ‘Sunrise’

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Had there been an aerial record of my visit to this garden, you would have seen me scuttling across the landscape like a demented beetle, following any turn in a path that presented itself, erratically reversing course to chase a glimpse of something remarkable in the distance. I covered about as much ground as a beetle could, too, of this vast place. After 45 minutes, I began to hear the distinctive whistle Marty and I use, which I knew signaled the end to our visit. At this point I began to jog along the paths, took a couple of wrong turns, then finally had to stop and listen for the whistle call to lead me out. I wasn’t trying to get lost. Really.

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The many rocks tumbling through this valley 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean have been collected to line paths and create low retaining walls

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Following Marty’s whistle, a glimpse of the windshield emerged just beyond some aloes.

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The car was parked near this little garden at the entrance.

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So instead of heading for the car, I lingered here while the minutes ticked closer to 5 o’clock and the whistle grew more insistent.
The sun was setting and the gates were closing on the first of what I hope to be many visits to the Taft Garden.

(Can’t thank you enough, Jo!)

For more background on the Taft, see this reprint of a 1996 article from Pacific Horticulture

Hazel White: Aesthetics of Inundation

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden’s symposium “Natural Discourse” held February 10, 2012, has been constantly in my thoughts this past week, whether riding the train, driving freeways, staring at the garden. I’d never visited UCBG before and found the physical location enthralling. I’ve been starved for rain, and a small rainstorm obligingly followed me up the coast, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and rained off and on most of the weekend. For me, mist and rain always increases a place’s allure, and that day the canyon with its meandering creek and trails was magical.


Associate Director of Collections and Horticulture Chris Carmichael described this contemplated collaboration with artists as a new direction for this predominantly teaching-based botanical garden in an effort to broaden its appeal as part of an ongoing struggle to attract and connect with new visitors. This is an entirely new direction for UCBG, which dates its inception as a teaching adjunct to the university back to 1890. This “living museum” is a member of the Berkeley Natural History Museums Consortium and has only been open to the public since the 1960s. Bringing artists into this hallowed botanical garden to render site-specific works has not been accomplished without some gnashing of teeth by all involved, but like all of us, new survival strategies must be pursued in these tumultuous times, and botanical gardens are no exception. Despite the joking and joshing, deep affection and respect was readily apparent among all involved. A brief interlude to present Richard Turner with a Monkey Puzzle Tree, Auricaria araucana, in honor of his retirement from Pacific Horticulture, was a wickedly funny touch.

Continue reading Hazel White: Aesthetics of Inundation

Sherman Gardens & Library

I took the day off yesterday to check out some local nurseries for dahlias and eucomis in flower.
(All my eucomis were bought as bulbs, some with leaves purportedly of varieties as dark or darker than ‘Oakhurst,’ but all instead carry leaves of the brightest green.) One of the nurseries was minutes away from the Sherman Library & Gardens, so I popped in for my first visit ever to this gem of a garden tucked into the busy shops and restaurants of Corona del Mar, just off Pacific Coast Highway within sight of the Pacific Ocean. A courtyard garden had been famously redesigned by Matthew V. Maggio in 2005-2006 during his internship there as a horticultural student. Prior to the renovation, the courtyard garden had been known as the Cactus Garden and included the requisite cactus kitsch, sun-bleached steer skulls and splintered wagon wheels, which Matthew felt more rightly belonged on a Hollywood movie set than a garden. Macabre ornaments such as these, depicting death and decay, mischaracterize and obscure the true story of ingenious survival written in every succulent. In an article Matthew wrote on the making of this garden for Pacific Horticulture (Volume 71, No. 4, Oct/Nov/Dec 2010), he shares his goals to “shatter conventional views about succulent plants, engender lasting excitement over succulents, inspire design creativity,” and in the new garden each of those goals is met and surpassed. All quotes are from this article.


Continue reading Sherman Gardens & Library

Jeffrey Bale’s Permeable Road to Paradise

Is it just me, or has all subtlety been suddenly drained from the world? All sense of nuance seems lost. (In addition to lethargy, extreme heat occasionally brings on irritable, sweeping generalizations.) Here in Southern California, record cool temps all summer abruptly spiked into, you guessed it, record high temps the week of the Pacific Horticulture event, “Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies VIII.” In the days just prior, enthusiasm and excitement trickled away drop by salty drop with every uptick in degree, 100, 101, 102, 103, ultimately achieving 113 degrees at USC in downtown Los Angeles, where the official civic thermometer resides.

Enthusiasm for the long-awaited symposium itself never waned, of course. The event was being held at the LA Arboretum, in the foothills only 30 miles away, but always at least 10 degrees hotter than where I am at the coast. As the heat wave progressed, 10 degrees’ difference was beginning to loom as very significant math.

Okay. Just one speaker. If I narrowed it down to just one must-see speaker, who would it be? That’s impossible. Okay. Two speakers. I could always forego the bus tour of local gardens held after the speakers each day, which would tour gardens like Sue Dadd and James Griffith’s Folly Bowl.

MB Maher attended the opening Thursday and provided a glimpse of the garden delights ahead.



Of course, it had to be Jeffrey Bale on Saturday and Marcia Donahue on Sunday. Amongst the list of stellar speakers, these were two I had yet to see. I had first seen Bale’s pebble mosaic work at a 2008 tour of Lucy Hardiman’s garden in Portland, a small “prayer rug” in her hellstrip, was floored to see a modern revival of pebble mosaics, and have been tracking his career ever since.

After Saturday in the foothills, I opted not to return to see Marcia Donahue on Sunday. I’ll just have to make another trip to the wonderfully cool, foggy Bay Area to attend one of her open garden Sundays. I have to confess, it wasn’t only the heat that did me in. I was spooked, seriously intimidated by the hortilati, the stars in my rarefied galaxy, such as Robin Parer of Geraniaceae. Keeyla Meadows wandered amongst the booths, smiling beatifically, and at his booth John Greenlee vociferously expounded on the beauty of Arundo donax ‘Golden Chain,’ (a plant I just tucked into my garden today, ordered several weeks ago from Plant Delights). Debra Prinzig inquired as to which tour bus I would be joining. Blogging less than a year, I felt sure the press pass hanging around my neck branded me, at best, a cheeky upstart, at worst, an impostor. What an odd, completely unexpected reaction I has having.

Upon arriving, I rushed up to Robin Parer’s booth to inquire if she was selling ‘Salome,’ a geranium I’ve grown and lost several times and, standing before her, was struck freakishly mute. No Latin or common names could be summoned, just lots of nervous hand flapping. Robin, taking me for a rank punter, began to gently advise of the difference between true pelargoniums and herbaceous geraniums, assuming what I was after were probably lipstick red pelargoniums for a lone windowbox. Another customer came to claim her attention, and I slunk away, shamed to the core. Three minutes later, botanical Latin flooded back, and I was able to get a complete question out. No, Robin wasn’t carrying ‘Salome’ today and would not sell it in any case to someone in Southern California because of its poor performance here. I made a small purchase from Robin then headed to the auditorium to find a seat, but was still seriously rattled by my Harpo Marx routine at her booth. (I described it to my husband later that night, to which he rejoined, “So you were piss shy.” Ah, the art of brevity.)

In the auditorium, all nervousness subsided when I joined an audience that oohed and laughed and whispered in astonishment at exactly the same moments, like one giant, delighted organism, in response to Bale’s lecture and slide show of his work. Permeability is on his mind, and breaking up our water-sloughing driveways to transform them into grander, more porous and creative entrances to our gardens. We need to rent concrete saws on the weekend for $200 and get busy. This whippet-lean man inhabits a world that’s a blank canvas waiting to be mosaiced and pebbled and freed from the mundane and utilitarian, to be infused with personal symbology, where designs inspired by Miro swirl underfoot. His mortared-in mosaic work is always surrounded by permeable paving. Examples of ancient permeable paths still serviceable today flickered across the screen, his own photos of Rome’s Villa Borghese, the Boboli in Florence, the Granada in Spain. Bales is a prodigious traveler, exploring the world’s cultures through their poetics of stone, returning dozens of times to South America and Asia. Gravel for surfacing gets high approval, especially when there are cost constraints, as does getting prone in gardens, whether for lounging, bathing, or sleeping. Sitting in a chair is way too formal of a garden encounter for Bale, an unapologetic sybarite who favors layering throw rugs on seating areas in summer. His book on sale after the talk, “The Gardens of Jeffrey Bale,” is full of details than can be adapted on a smaller scale for possibly less energetic stonemasons.

In a New York Times profile published in December 2009, Bale stated of his work, “I feel that the designs should have meaning and trigger consciousness.” Elsewhere Bale has stated his intention is “to manifest an Earthly and Heavenly paradise through the gardens that I build.”

In autumn of 2009, MB Maher photographed some of Jeffrey Bale’s design work in the Pacific Northwest.







After Bale’s talk, I ventured out into the arboretum and shared some shade with a peacock under trees near the cactus and succulent garden. Puya mirabilis’s lime green flowers were just beginning to bloom. The habit of this puya is similar to dierama, tall, arching and elegant, but takes up very little space when not in bloom, perfect for my gravel garden. Sitting quietly with my peacock friend, I watched wedding planners set up chairs on a lawn in 105-degree heat and reflected on how the brick-on-sand path running through my gravel garden could use a bit of inlaid detail. And about the driveway, when the weather cools off, anything is possible…

Fried Cannoli & The Banyan Tree

My aunts and cousins called my mom, who called me. Our bakery was back in business after what turned out to be just a brief hiatus of a couple years. The owner decided early retirement was not the answer, reopened his bakery at a new location, and started cranking out his Italian family recipes again. All is well with the world once more. The shelves were empty but for trays and trays of the house favorite, cannoli, by the time I got there mid-afternoon, yet there was still a long line at the door.


The bakery is 3/4 of the way to the South Coast Botanic Garden, which I’ve been meaning to pay a visit ever since the July issue of Pacific Horticulture profiled the SCBG and mentioned their enormous banyan tree grove of Moreton Bay Figs, Ficus macrophylla, tucked deep into the garden, unbeknownst to me. The last time I visited the SCBG I had small kids in tow, and no wonder I never consulted their map or perused their garden in any kind of orderly fashion. Today’s agenda, the bakery reopening coupled with a visit to the SCBG, was sliding into place like beads on a string.

Banyan trees have the barked equivalent of “washboard ab’s,” seriouslycut. Sinuously sculptural. Latent arboreal lust surges forth at the sight of these towering, beautifully muscled giants that fling their enormous branches low and horizontal and ripple their massive roots through the forest floor like sea serpents.

Walking amongst a grove of these leviathans was worth the trip alone, but the cactus and succulent garden was much better than I remembered too. It was a hot, solitary, dusty tramp over pathways that dipped and billowed from methane settlement, this whole site being former landfill. What bliss. Though I did eventually bump into a film crew deep in the garden, which broke the spell just a little.


Plant labeling was overall very good. A botanic garden is bound to have much of interest, even in mid-August, and the SCBG didn’t disappoint.


Dicliptera suberecta, the Uruguayan Firecracker Plant. A beautiful, drought-tolerant subshrub, but too much for my small garden to handle. Here it has the room it needs to sprawl.


A shrubby native euphorbia, E. xantii, Baja Spurge, billowing like baby’s breath in the cactus garden.


I’m guessing this bromeliad winding around the base of this palm is an aechmea, possibly A. recurvata, but no name card for this one.


Detail of an agave labeled A. toumeyana, a giant, bumpy, whiskery agave approximately 4×6. Plant Delights describes this agave’s habit as forming “a splendid tight colony resembling overweight hedgehogs at a feeding trough.” Zone 7-9. The variety Agave toumeyana var. bella is supposedly more compact, growing as a singleton rather than a herd of hedgehogs.


Pumpkin. By this time, it occurs to me that sitting on the passenger seat of a closed-up car in the hot sun these past two hours might not be the best thing for my cannolis.


So I headed for the exit, but was waylaid by lush vines of Dolichos lablab. (My one dolichos at home has withered away this August.)



Scent was pouring out of this double datura, the jimson weed, perfuming quite a large area, making it impossible to leave.


I did put the windshield shade up after all, so the cannolis were probably fine.


I didn’t know it, but my visit coincided with their dahlia festival. Where is that exit anyway?


The exit now in sight, but there’s a little fuchsia dell just off the gift store. Lots of shrubby species fuchsias, most of them labeled mite-resistant, though this one lacked ID.


Almost there, but then there’s this beautiful shrub, spotted in a parking lot median as I was leaving. The car just in sight, cannolis probably dripping off the seat by now, but this shrub had to be investigated. Amazingly fresh looking for August. Nasturtium-like flowers, bi-lobed leaves. Maybe a bauhinia? Very graceful, scandent habit. A little Internet research later brought up Bauhinia galpinii, The Red Orchid Bush, a sprawler to over 20 feet.


To paraphrase The Godfather (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli“), it was past time to leave the banyan and take the cannoli, but I’m thrilled to have rediscovered the SCBG.
Next time the cannolis are coming inside for a picnic.

Folly Bowl

Another garden preview for the upcoming Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies symposium to be held this September 23rd to the 26th through Pacific Horticulture.

Photographer MB Maher and designer Dustin Gimbel of Second Nature Garden Design visited artists Sue Dadd and James Griffith at their home and garden which will be on the upcoming tour. Since I wasn’t there for this preview, I wouldn’t presume to attempt an approximation in words. These amazing images more than suffice. If the tour isn’t already sold out, I’d make the effort.

What could be more evocative of the Mediterranean than to have your own amphitheater, where every summer, when the sun sets and the stars and twinkly lights start to glimmer, artists of your invitation entertain you and friends for a summer evening?


Dadd and Griffith dragged and carted all the soil, all the broken concrete into this steep ravine, materials found strewn about their street when the civic plumbing lines were refurbished, to make this extraordinary place, what they call the Folly Bowl. Dadd and Griffith have said they had no particular plan in mind when they began the project after buying the property in 1999.


I am at a complete loss for words.


Apart from the astonishing physical creation of the steep amphitheater, the planting is sophisticated, appropriate, gorgeous, and flourishing.


More photos at MB Maher’s slideshow.