Tag Archives: pittosporum

warm thoughts on formal gardens

Have I mentioned how hot it’s been lately?

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It’s the kind of heat that gives a boho plant nut a deeper appreciation of the cool, austere lines of a formal garden.

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A garden built not on the scaffolding of flowers but leaves, eschewing lush variety for lean repetition.

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It’s the kind of heat that makes the formal garden, that ancient response to dry climates, seem fresh and innovative again.

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Katherine Spitz’s garden, Mar Vista, California, 2012 (Katherine Spitz Associates)

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That’s how hot it’s been.

tuesday clippings 3/26/13

Nothing too thematic, just some odds and ends.

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To prove I left the plant sale tables briefly and did a lap in the show room at the recent Orange County CSSA show, here’s a Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’ hybrid that won an award. My own big clump of dyckia is starting to throw up bloom stalks, which the snails munch like asparagus spears. The slimy gourmands ate every bloom last year, and they’re on their way to doing it again this year. Some of that biodegradable snail bait was dispensed this morning, possibly too little too late.

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In the back garden, between the poppies and the anthemis, there’s scarcely any bare soil showing and it’s not even April.
I’ve started thinning out the poppies more aggressively. Diascia personata is the not-yet-blooming swathe of green behind the Agave americana var. striata in the tall green pot.

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Starting to bloom this week, though the event could easily pass unnoticed, is the Australian mintbush, Prostranthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata,’ a shimmering, aromatic shrub of medium size. I’m keeping it pruned to approximately 4 X 4 feet. Tiny, luminous, evergreen leaves, a loose, open form with contrasting dark stems. Tolerates dry but can handle regular garden irrigation. Not a specimen plant, its attractions are subtle. It brings pattern and light, not weight, to the garden. Some might find it a little nondescript. I wish I had room for more than one. In bloom its branches become studded with tiny lilac-colored bells. Not very long-lived, this is a shrub I replant over and over.

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Leaving subtle behind, I’m so excited to see some blooms on the Canary Island Foxglove, Isoplexis canariensis. These shrubby foxglove relatives may save me the trouble of throwing more money at trialing more of the rusty-colored digitalis species like ferruginea and trojana, which have yet to make it through winter. They just melt away, leaving me scratching the soil where they were planted searching for signs of life.
Not enough rainfall maybe.

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Another look at the isoplexis, a big sturdy plant. Nothing seems to bother it, knock wood.

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Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ opened some of its pure, laundry white blooms this morning.

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The back garden viewing gallery, the bricks freshly cleaned and weeded by Marty.
I think he’s got the attention to detail necessary to win prizes at plant shows. Good thing one of us does.
I insisted he leave a few poppies that had self-sown into the bricks.
I used to keep a small table here too, until I planted that Eryngium padanifolium too close. But what a stunning plant it is.

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Around the corner on the east side of the house, the pittosporum is turning into quite the tillandsia outpost.
A neighbor brought over a basketful last week. I love it when neighbors have your number.

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The battle of the compound leaves, melianthus vs. tetrapanax. The purple wash on the melianthus’ leaves is about as strong as it gets. I think it recedes a bit in summer. What an amazingly beautiful compact selection ‘Purple Haze’ is. Fantastic improvement on the species for small gardens.


driveby gardens 12/17/12; studies in textures

It’s been chronically drizzly the past few days, perfect weather for thinning and transplanting some broccoli rabe seedlings at my community garden plot. On the drive home I slowed for some interesting front gardens of contrasting character, some shrubby, some sleek and geometric.


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Some collector’s gardens, elaborately planted, like this one.

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Or spare and simple, like this well-defined study in textures.
The shrub behind the fountain is Phylica pubescens (or possibly Adenanthos sericeus) Agave attenuata, aeonium, maybe ‘Kiwi’ and in the foreground Cotyledon orbiculata. Where lawn is traditionally rolled out from the front porch to the sidewalk, this bungalow has set a gridwork of crisp pavers on a bed of pebbles

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The cotyledon and aloes were planted on a severe horizontal line running parallel to the house, perpendicular to the pavers.
There was a third row of aloes planted alongside that I didn’t photograph or even notice until I was leaving, the leaves so charcoal grey they became camouflaged against the pebbles.

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Agave attenuata underplanted with what looks like Oscularia deltoides. I’m not sure what the golden-leaved succulent is in the small rock outcropping, but possibly a sedum.

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Another front garden had excavated below street grade to lead down into a small amphitheater/anteroom where the front lawn once grew, now surfaced in decomposed granite, bounded by dry-stacked stone retaining walls.

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This garden was the opposite of sleek and spare and was very shrubby in character, planted with aromatic and drought-tolerant plants like Salvia apiana, Romneya coulterii, buddleia, westringia, manzanita, pittosporum.

pittosporum, Salvia apiana, Romneya coulterii, creeping strawberry, Euphorb Diamon Frost, buddleia, westringia, manzanita, lantana

The little amphitheater/courtyard ended in steps leading to the back of the house through a deep cocoa brown door.


Three very different gardens displaying strong, idiosyncratic preferences, all planted for low water needs. Bravo!