Tag Archives: Stipa gigantea

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.

garden chairs

A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Continuing my monomaniacal, object-specific tour of Portland gardens, which brings us around to chairs. Because I’ve always coveted chairs, all shapes, all sizes. Just ask my family. Found at flea markets, thrift shops and, yes, even curbside, we have way more than necessary indoors, so of course the obsession spills outdoors. Sculptural, practical, evocative of humankind at our very best. An unoccupied chair always strikes me as breathtakingly poignant. A single chair occupied speaks to contemplative moments, gathering strength for rejoining the fray. A group of chairs occupied, animated in conversation, is arguably the best civilization has to offer. High, low, rustic, elegant, I want them all.

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Continue reading garden chairs

Bloom Day April 2014

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A day late for the Bloom Day report, with the above photo of the back garden taken this overcast morning and most of the closeups taken the past couple days. It’s all shockingly rumpled and disheveled already, but I still love waking up to it every morning. I’ll use this photo as a point of reference. Verbena bonariensis is already pushing 6 feet, almost as tall as the tetrapanax. The poppies were the first to bloom, followed this month by the self-sowing umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora, the little pops of white. All this blowsy madness will be over too soon, by May probably, and then we’ll be tidy and respectable again, refreshed and ready to dig in for a long, hot and very dry summer. Deep blue on the left is the fernleaf lavender Lavandula multifida, which will be a mainstay throughout summer. There’s about six clumps of this lavender throughout the back garden. (A couple days ago I bumped into an old 2012 article in The Telegraph in which designer Tom Stuart-Smith uses the words “exotic meadow” to describe some planting ideas he’s playing with, and those two words pretty much sum up the back garden this spring.)

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To the left of the tall verbena, the monocarpic umbellifer Melanoselinum decipiens is in bloom.
Since it’s supposed to make great size first, I’m guessing this is a hurried, premature bloom, hastened possibly by conditions not expressly to its liking.
Maybe it’s been too warm already.

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Scrolling back up to the first photo for reference, the orange spears in the background on the right are Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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And furthest right, nearest the arundo, the Kniphofia thompsonii I moved from the front gravel garden last fall. An aloe that actually prefers nicer, cushier digs than the gravel garden.
I finally noticed all those suckering green shoots on the potted Albizia ‘Summer Chocolate’ and removed them yesterday.

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Also in this area, near Stipa gigantea, Salvia curviflora has started to bloom, with more photobombing poppies.

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The salvia is surrounded by the leaves of summer-blooming Agastache ‘Blue Blazes’

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The little 4-inch pot of Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii’ I brought back from Far Reaches Farm is turning into a graceful shrub.
(Under the wire basket I’m protecting some newly planted corms of the Gladiolus papilio hybrid ‘Ruby,’ tall and graceful as a dierama.
There’s no current U.S. source, but Sue Mann of Priory Plants very kindly and graciously sent me a few corms.)
Towering Euphorbia lambii is in bloom in the background.

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This plectranthus is doing a great job as a stump-smotherer.
The stump of the smoke tree ‘Grace’ was still sending out shoots last year, not so much anymore.

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Second (or third?) year in the garden for the Baltic parsley, Cenolophium denudatum, so it’s quite tough as well as graceful. I think the seed came from Derry Watkins.
Who knew umbels could have such variation in color: the orlaya is the whitest umbel, the melanoselinum a pale pink, the Baltic parsley more green than white.

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Last year the pergola had draped canvas for shade, and this year Marty rigged up something more permanent.
It’s shady all day, except for late afternoon, when the sun slants in from the west, and is my favorite spot for viewing all the aerial pollinator activity on the garden.
I’ve been pulling most of the poppies from this area that was reworked last fall, which is now mostly grasses, calamint, phlomis, the Cistus ‘Snow Fire,’ isoplexis.
A big clump of kangaroo paws is just coming into bloom out of frame to the left.

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I doubt if the isoplexis lasts long in this strong western exposure. Everything else will be fine.

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Salvia pulchella x involucrata blooming into Senecio viravira

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The irises again, with the big leaves of the clary sage just behind.

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The little annual Linaria reticulata just happened to self-sow near the dark iris and the Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy.’ You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Closer to the house, looking down through the pergola, with the shrubby Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegata’ in the foreground.
The mint bushes are notoriously short-lived, and I’ve already got a replacement in mind, the smallish mallee Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’ I brought back from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery.

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Flash of pink at the far end of the pergola comes from a stand of pelargoniums, including this P. caffrum X ‘Diana’ from Robin Parer’s nursery Geraniaceae.

And that’s what April looks like in my tiny corner of Long Beach, California. More Bloom Day reports are collected by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

I’ve frontloaded my tumblr (under “Follow“) with lots of old photos and have been adding new ones too.

favorites 4/10/14

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Loree at Danger Garden shares her favorite plants in the garden every week, and spring is a good time to join in, when so much is fleeting and the turnover in favorites comes at a rapid pace.
True, that’s not the case with Stipa gigantea, a clumping grass from Spain which will grace a garden from spring until late fall.

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But it is the case with ephemerals like the South African bulb Albuca maxima (also goes by Albuca canadensis) which will go dormant after flowering, when it needs to be kept dry. For this reason, it thrives in the gravel garden amongst agaves and dasylirions, where it reliably pushes up its elegant 5-foot blooms amongst all those jagged leaves every spring. (The beast directly behind this beauty is the Agave ‘Jaws.’) The blooms do last surprisingly long, and it does seem to be self-sowing too. More would be nice to cut for vases, since I hate to rob the garden of those swaying, statuesque flowers that remind me of a snowdrop crossed with a fritillary.
For zones 8 to 11.

Ethan Hawke fondles switchgrass at the High Line

There’s an attention grabber. No, that’s not a recent tabloid headline and, yes, I am being facetious, but I find it amazing that the High Line (and switchgrass!) is casually slipped into a bit of puffery about the current goings-on of Ethan Hawke.

From the May 13, 2013, issue of The New Yorker: “Ethan Hawke traipsed the High Line with his hands in his pockets, his blue-gray eyes wide in the strong morning light…Knifing through a bed of switchgrass, he observed…”

No further explanation of what the High Line is, or what switchgrass is for that matter (panicum). It’s just assumed we’ll know — or should know.

In the land of public opinion, the High Line has been an idea in transit, moving relatively swiftly from an impossible feat to a controversial instigator of gentrification, now coasting and settling into a beloved space mentioned in articles about film stars. I’ve been a fan every step of the way. Will the High Line be the impetus for plants and landscapes to begin to share a little space in the collective cultural mind, alongside film stars and cat videos? Wouldn’t that be something? Can headlines like “Autumn crocus now in bloom at the High Line!” be far off?

I’ll always read any piece on Ethan Hawke, because of all the Chekhov plays he’s been doing, because of the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies and Gattaca, and because of the film version he made of Jack London’s White Fang, in which at 21 he costarred with the incomparable Klaus Maria Brandauer and that equally incomparable actor Jed, the wolf mix that played White Fang. The scene where Jed rescues Ethan from a mine collapse is especially riveting, as is the scene when Jed dispatches the bad guys.

But I had no idea Ethan Hawke had narrated a history of the High Line. I suppose his movie Chelsea Walls was a tipoff to his involvement in the neighborhood.

There is something so emotionally satisfying about moving through a landscape — which is why I think there’s something uniquely American about the High Line and its contribution to landscape design. Footfall after footfall expectation builds, scent and sound are stirred, memories too. Memories like walking to and from school on paths through empty fields, an interlude of intense freedom bracketed by responsibility at both departure and arrival. Even in a tiny garden like mine, moving through a landscape is embarking on a journey of discovery. Cutting a little path through the main border and scaling the plants down to knee-high at the path’s edge has been an interesting and rewarding experiment this year.

Where the bricks end is where the new path begins, maybe 8 feet in curved length. It’s really just a dog track in width now that summer growth is spilling onto it, fit for corgi-sized adventures.

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Summer gardens and parks, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

in love with my garden

It’s Earth Day. Or the day after, to be exact. Let’s hope being a day late is not a portent of things to come.
So this morning after, I’m sending mash notes to Earth for making my little garden possible.
I want to thank photosynthesis for everything you do. I want to give special thanks to the atmosphere, to rocks, to continental drift.
Who am I forgetting? Oceans, plankton, magma. You know who you are. I couldn’t have done it without you.
You too, moon and tides. I also want to thank my latitude, nighttime pollinators.
Oh, there’s just too many to thank, and I don’t want to forget anyone. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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Earth, I owe everything I am to you.
(title inspired by “In Love With My Planet.”)

This work is not about landscapes. It is about love.”

Bloom Day April 2013

Spring is moving fast here in Southern California. I’ve already checked out some of the gardens on our host’s site for Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and saw lots of traditional spring shrubs and bulbs and perennials like hellebores in amazing colors just coming into bloom. Slowly but surely spring is spreading across the land. Huzzah!

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Spring has had an unmistakably orange cast to it in my garden this year. A kniphofia in its current 50/50 bar coloration.

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Same kniphofia about a week ago.
I moved this one around and didn’t keep track of the name, but all my kniphofias come from Digging Dog, which has a great list.

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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is just starting to bloom, and hopefully the isoplexis will hang in there a little longer.
The grass Stipa gigantea was moved here last fall and hasn’t missed a beat, showing lots of bloom stalks.

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Tweedia caerulea/Oxypetalum caerulea may be a rare baby blue in color but it is a surprisingly tough plant.
This one survived forgotten and neglected in a container throughout the mostly rainless winter.
It’s climbing up a castor bean, Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple.’

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The self-sowing annual Senecio stellata started bloom this week. Big leaves, tall, and likes it on the shady side.

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Another tall one, Albuca maxima.

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This South African bulb has been thriving in the front gravel garden, which gets very little summer water. Over 5 feet tall, it reminds me of a giant galanthus.

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More white blooms, Erodium pelargoniflorum, a prolific self-seeder in the front gravel garden.

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The fringe tree on the east side of the house, Chionanthus retusus, just about at maximum white-out.

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The fried egg on a long stalk near the Euphorbia cotinifolia tree trunk is Argemone munita. Hopefully better photos to come.
I wouldn’t mind about six more of these self-sown in the garden for next year.

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Self-sowing white valerian forming buds, with the lavender bells of the shrub prostranthera, the Australian mintbush.

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The mintbush with the succulent Senecio anteuphorbium.

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A gift pelargonium, no ID. The small details in the leaves and flowers of these simple pelargoniums get me every time.

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Closeup of the tiny flowers.

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The plant at its base is even more self-effacing, with a big name for such a quiet plant, Zaluzianskya capensis.

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Lots of self-sown nicotianas. The flowers are too small to be pure N. alata, so it probably has some langsdorfii in the mix.
Whatever its parentage, lime green flowers always work for me.

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Nicotiana ‘Ondra’s Brown Mix,’ with a potted begonia for scale. This strain of flowering tobacco has been keeping hummingbirds happy all winter.
This is the first begonia to bloom (again, no ID!), and the colocasias are just beginning to leaf out.

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The porch poppies, with lots more poppies in bloom in the garden.

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The anigozanthos might be a tad too close to the euphorbia, but I love the lime green and orange together.

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The last two photos are by MB Maher, who was in town briefly and tried to get more of the Euphorbia lambii from a higher angle.

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MB Maher’s photo of the Salvia chiapensis with a bit of purple in the center from Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP,’ planted from gallons a couple weeks ago.
I have a feeling that yucca will be in bloom for May Bloom Day. See you then!

Now that Google Reader is in the dustbin of history, I’m trying out Bloglovin for organizing blogs I want to follow.
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Bloom Day April 2012

April deserves a thorough Bloom Day post, but if I’m to get this in before midnight it’ll have to be brief. A big change here is that the poppies of Troy, Papaver setigerum, are over sooner than I’d like. I expect them to last at least all of April. The past two mornings countless confused bees have been aimlessly circling the air space once filled with poppies in bloom. The last rainfall was followed by ferocious winds which battered and ultimately flattened the poppies, so they’ve been pulled from the crevices in the dry-laid brick terrace in which they self-sowed, and now it’s like they were never there. Poof, and the terrace is once again just an ordinary terrace instead of a meadow of swaying, buzzing poppies. And it seems the garden has no other flowers to tempt the bees, though the hummingbirds are finding plenty to keep themselves occupied. Last pre-rainstorm photo of the poppies.


Papaver rupifragum in the front gravel garden, in a more protected spot, was safe from wind damage. And possibly the leaner soil here may have helped them to grow a little tougher.


One of the mainstay salvias in the garden, Salvia chiapensis, in bloom nearly year-round. I’m including yet another Bloom Day photo only because I liked this angle with the waterfall of yucca as a backdrop. In the blurry foreground is Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’


The last of the Dutch iris, too, this one ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ hands down my favorite. Dark, smoky, moody.


Albuca maxima, a summer-dormant bulb from South Africa, flower stalks about 3 feet high, growing in the front gravel garden which gets little supplemental irrigation.


Always a surprise to have a grass bloom as early as Stipa gigantea. The albuca is just a few feet away, and fall-blooming nerines grow in this part of the gravel garden too, another bulb that requires summer dormancy.


Pelargonium ‘Splendide’ with an unidentified sedum species


Peachy thunbergia, just a little snail-chewed.


I prefer the clear orange of this Orange Clock Vine, Thunbergia gregorii.


A large pot of this oversized figwort, Scrophularia calliantha, was moved to a spot with less afternoon sun yesterday in the narrow inner courtyard off the front gravel garden, where coincidentally it also drapes and displays itself to much better effect. In probably the reverse of what’s going on in many spring gardens, I’ve been busy removing the clutter of winter pots to streamline the garden for summer, keeping just a few large pots which hold moisture longer. I don’t yet have any big plans for summer containers but am always open to temptation.


Geum magellanicum


I’m trialing a couple new kinds of foxglove this year, Digitalis ferruginea and this one, Digitalis ‘Goldcrest,’ a sterile hybrid of D. obscura and grandiflora reputed to be extremely floriferous.


For fans of chartreuse bracts, besides euphorbias, hellebores, and ornamental oregano, there’s sideritis.



The color of chocolate cosmos but with silvery leaves, Lotus jacobaeus in its first season has already earned a permanent place in my affections.


Sisyrinchium striatum ‘Variegatum’ is almost more excitement than I can handle in one plant.



Salvia littae grows in a mad, scrambly tangle. Brittle too, so attempts to tidy it up results in broken stems. A frustrating salvia unless allowed to drape down a wall, I’d guess. Brought home from the Mendocino Botanic Garden last summer.



Salvia macrophylla. I don’t think I’ve ever grown a salvia that clothes itself with leaves right down to the ground like this one does.


White blooms of Aeonium ‘Kiwi’


Tweedia caerulea, started from seed by Dustin Gimbel. I’ve crowded my plants so they’ve been slow to bulk up.


A little past midnight so time to put this Bloom Day to rest. Thanks again to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for giving Bloom Day a home.

Under Trees

Should any part of your garden extend under a tree canopy, be joyful, for you will never lack for tasks to keep you busy. (Ha!)
But if your garden is home to spiky plants, no amount of sweeping and raking will help. The tree litter will be stuck, impaled, draped like dirty laundry for weeks until a strong wind arrives to liberate the garden of its vegetative equivalent of Irish pennants. Or failing a stiff gale, you may be driven to reach in desperation for a vacuum cleaner to suck debris from plant crevices and thorns, exposing your plant-geek tendencies to the ridicule of the entire neighborhood. (As if such tendencies have been well hidden up to this point.) While trees rain down bounteous spring bloom, remember that despite being a teeth-gnashing annoyance, it’s really a small price to pay for all the good that trees do. And if you’re not paying a price, reaping the inevitable downside of something glorious and good, check your pulse quick.

In our case, our particular bete noire is the jacaranda. The subtropical South American Jacaranda mimosifolia, two of them planted by the city in the parkway, overhanging the front garden. We’re just now digging out from under two months of incessant rain of violet-blue, stick-to-your shoes petals. Let’s not even get into “My tree creates more havoc than your tree,” for I know many of us have our patience tested each and every spring and fall by diverse species of trees. In our case, we get about a two months’ respite a year from the jacarandas, July and August, when they are not unleashing some kind of debris. As far as petals, by late June the end is in sight, and the bulk of the flowers will have fallen.

Strong blasts from the hose unearthed my Agave guadalajarana this morning.


Fortunately, I don’t really mind sweeping and have worn out many a broom on these bricks.
But when the sticky petal grime builds up to critical mass, only a strong jet of water from the hose can remove it.


From the opposite direction, Stipa gigantea caressing a furcraea, with dried flowers from the ‘Kiwi’ aeonium, Agave ‘Jaws’ in the distance on the right.
Lots of nooks and crannies for tree litter.


Senecio decaryi from Madagascar (formerly Senecio amaniensis) is almost 6 feet tall this year. Since I bought it as an unnamed succulent, I had no idea it’d reach such proportions. There’s so much in the front garden I truly enjoy… if only I wasn’t so pissed off at the jacarandas every spring.


But by July we’re in love with our trees again, fully leafed out for the heat of summer, appreciating all they do to cool our home and clean our dirty, port-town air.

Changing Tastes

I visited a couple nurseries today and was a bit horrified by the seemingly overnight invasion of flat after flat of “spring color,” a reaction which made me wonder if I’m growing snobbish. So am I a snob? I don’t think so, just possibly confusing strong personal opinions with snobbery. I am amassing stronger opinions the older I get, exclusionary opinions that make distinctions and draw battle lines, if only for my own sense of clarity on issues. But I don’t think that strictly counts as snobbery.

Roses would be an example. No floribundas. I would never plant a rose for scentless masses of color.
(I can’t think of any plant from which I’d ask for masses of color, preferring the intriguing, shimmering inflorescences of Stipa gigantea to, for example, landscape roses, though that’s not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison.)


We can agree to disagree. Many people will prefer strong color over all else and find what I’ve come to love weedy and insubstantial. Others will find any rose unbearably old-fashioned, just as bearded irises go in and out of fashion. A mature stand of bearded irises in bloom nowadays is a rare sight in my neighborhood. These sorts of plants, bearded irises and roses, have in the past inspired extreme loyalty that overlooked any faults as garden plants. I recognize well that loyalty, since years ago I once gamely tried to make a garden out of a collection of old roses, over 30 in number of mostly noisettes and tea-noisettes, in this very same small garden. And though I loved them all, I have never felt more constrained and miserable as a gardener. Tastes change.

Reuben’s friends, Hal and Bill, invited us to visit their lovely garden, classically bricked and box-hedged, and this is but one stand of their many irises in bloom interspersed among trees of Euphorbia lambii and sprawling matilija poppies. (Who can look at bearded irises in bloom without thinking of Henry Mitchell, who took his yearly vacation the few weeks his hundreds of irises flowered, to stay home with them in their fleeting glory?)


And yet Hal and Bill were most excited by their new “meadow” of toadflax, Linaria maroccana. Tastes change.


As far as roses, I ask for intense scent, voluptuousness of bloom and iridescence of petal, preferably in a climber. Many can deliver all this.
But I’m finding I feel tyrannized when I grow more than one at a time. And the water bill doesn’t like it much either.


Right now, that one rose is the tea-noisette climber ‘Bouquet d’Or,’ and she amply represents all rosedom for me.


She makes do in a narrow gravel border with some exotic bedfellows like this beschorneria at the far end.


Tastes change.