Tag Archives: Spanish Revival architecture

a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

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That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden.
Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

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Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.)
Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

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Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

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I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell.
The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk.
With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

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After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller.
Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

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I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged.
This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer.
Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

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A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

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driveby gardens; more on the disappearing lawn

I got a very late start on the self-guided Lawn-to-Garden tour Saturday, thirty gardens from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., just because Friday was an unusually odd workday and I lingered and wallowed far too long in the glory of being home Saturday morning.


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There might have been some extended Saturday morning puttering with hanging tillandsias on maritime salvage.

Continue reading driveby gardens; more on the disappearing lawn

More GC Open Days/Pasadena

More on the Pasadena gardens on the Garden Conservancy Open Days, April 25, 2010.

This was my first tour of Pasadena gardens. I knew the gardens would be large, stately, formal. What I wasn’t prepared for was their scale. The six we saw were truly estate gardens in every sense of the word. Seeing the vernacular elements of garden design on this massive scale can be disorienting; coming home later to my little garden, it felt like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. It took a couple days before the fun-house mirror effect wore off and my garden looked normal again and not so…well, so squished.

Sally and Harlan Bixby Garden. Spanish Revival architecture, 1922. One-acre garden redesigned in 1990’s by Owen Peterson/Bob Erickson.

Immediately I sensed a languor to human movement through such large spaces. You slow down, amble, drift along.


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To admire intimate details of inlaid tiles adorning doorways and arches.

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And a juggernaut of Euphorbia ammak jutting up well past the roof.
The Huntington curated this desert garden, accessed through a side gate off the main pool/pergola area.

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The wisteria on the pergolas had already bloomed, but more scented plants were arrayed in large pots around the pool, including brugmansias, roses, and plumeria. I sat down on the pool’s retaining wall covered in Delft tiles to take in the opposite matching pergolas and the flight of steps flanked in enormous Aloe plicatus leading up to the house.

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Pleasure grounds in every sense, sybaritic, Gatsby-esque.

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All photos by MB Maher.