Tag Archives: The Los Angeles Times

beam me here

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Actor Zachary Quinto, probably best known for playing the young Spock in the JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies, on the evidence of his garden, seems to be a well-grounded young man.
It’s not very often that a house for sale comes with a garden that I could see myself puttering in, a garden without irreversible mistakes or in need of buckets of sweat equity.
Good bones is the cliche I’m trying but failing to avoid. The hardscape looks easy to care for, the angles are sharp and clean, with abundant retaining walls for seating or containers.
Some areas look sunny enough for potted agaves but with mature shade trees for cooling sitting areas and, just as importantly, shading the house.
And no surprise that privacy screening looks to be thoroughly handled and in move-in shape, ready for morning coffee.
The roofline’s deep overhangs will also help soften the blast from the heat. Personally, I’d like a little more ground to play with, but I could be arm-twisted into downsizing.
I’d keep the dining table and the Acapulco chairs too. From The Los Angeles Times.

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hillside with Schwentker Watts Design

I was in a wonderful garden the other night, but was caught flat-footed as far as having any photos to show for it. Although only 7:30ish, twilight doesn’t last long in this Los Angeles neighborhood but is quickly swallowed up by the hills that impart such a unique character to these Hollywood communities. Moody, atmospheric shadows come early. Rather than not posting at all, I’ve pulled together what can only be a teaser of this quintessentially mediterranean garden. Luckily, MB Maher had visited the house and garden a couple years ago, so I asked him to search his archives. Along with some photos from an article by The Los Angeles Times‘ (“L.A. Cottage Remade as Wonderland of Color“) I’ve cobbled together a small portrait of the creative extravaganza that is packed floor to ceiling, sidewalk to hilltop, in the home and garden of architect and garden designer James Schwentker and film production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone. James Schwentker is a principal of Schwentker Watts Design, that rare firm that engages in “full-service architecture, landscape, and garden design.”

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The dining terrace of the garden nestles snug and level into a steep hillside in the Franklin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles near Silverlake. Apart from this broad dining terrace, the rest of the garden is carved from the sharply sloping hillside in terraces backed by low retaining walls of broken concrete (“urbanite”). The work involved with managing the slope of a hillside garden is of a kind and degree I’ve yet to encounter. Just thinking about it makes my back throb. Out of the photo’s frame are stairs that lead from the dining terrace both further up the hillside as well as down to the street. The finely cut, jagged leaves leaning in from the bottom left belong to bocconia, a huge, tree-like specimen. Two lemon cypresses, tightly clipped specimens of Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora,’ flank the path that cuts into the hillside leading down to the street. The tight clipping gives the golden spires an elegantly clean, strong line, an idea I may have to try on the three juvenile lemon cypresses I have at home.

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The looming agaves seemingly tapping on the kitchen window also speak to the steep terracing that begins just outside the house.

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Streetview from the LA Times. Behind the hedge is the secluded dining terrace, one of the soaring lemon cypresses just visible.
The house’s colors are described as “mango accented with moss and celery.” (I love it when an architect has plants on the brain.)
That enormous Agave americana resides in one of the largest terracotta pots I’ve ever seen.

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The entry into the 1923 cottage, reputedly once the home of actress Gloria (“Sunset Boulevard”) Swanson.

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The main room, its original low ceiling removed, with the new “catwalk” overhead. The early renovations were a joint effort with Harvey Watts, the other half of Schwentker Watts Design.

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And this is where the catwalk leads, former attic turned sleeping loft. Photo by MB Maher.

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Dining terrace just visible through the doors. LA Times

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Citrus fruit picked from the hillside’s many fruit trees.

Saturday’s Clippings 4/28/12

I enjoyed this article very much earlier in the week, well worth a Sunday read:

Any patch of earth, large or small, turns out to be a mad surprise party of species — fluid, unpredictable and wild — and a microcosm of what is happening and has always been happening around the corner and around the globe.” — NYT 4/24/12 “Counting Species on a Little Patch of Earth,” by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.

Off to do some species counting myself at the Huntington Botanical Garden plant sale tomorrow, Sunday, April 29.

Catching up on this week but still counting species, what a nice touch it was for Dustin Gimbel, of Second Nature Garden Design, and Laura Dalton, of Agave Coast Landscapes, to include our native Catalina Ironwood, Lyonothamnus floribundus, in their display garden for South Coast Plaza’s Spring Garden Show which I attended on Thursday and which is still open Sunday, April 29. The Catalina Ironwood was in one of three enormous pots, the other two holding agaves in bloom, all three plants towering high into the atrium ceiling — a grand gesture impossible to capture by photo at a crowded garden show held in a mall, so I very sensibly didn’t even try.

Lovely Fermob chairs were featured, too, pale celadon green, from Potted. Burnt orange arctotis and chartreuse Agave attenuata, maybe ‘Kara’s Stripes’ or “Raea’s Gold.’



And there you have it, proof that garden show display gardens don’t have to be all that complicated. Nice chairs, cool plants, and I’m satisfied.


And there was some beautifully executed stonework to admire in the display garden by Sarah Robinson


This show held at the South Coast Plaza shopping mall has room for just a handful of modest exhibits and is really about the plant vendors. Disconcerting though it may be to find yourself hemmed in on all sides by the Apple store, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, etc., the mall’s atrium ceiling has a unique advantage over the typical dark, cavernous settings of most garden shows.

Natural light.

Orchids, bearded irises, succulents, lilies, African violets, sinningias, Japanese maples. The specialty growers are always generous with their time and knowledge.


Agave ‘Felipe Otero’


A special thanks to the nice gentleman at B&D Lilies who spent several minutes explaining why he felt the lily ‘Lankon‘ was the most exciting lily he’s encountered in 35 years in the business. (I tracked ‘Lankon’ down last fall, and it’s now forming buds.)

And it was very moving to find the late Gary Hammer’s nursery, Desert to Jungle, selling plants at the show, with an impromptu shrine to Gary consisting of his photograph, paperclipped to which were cards with the names of the many plants he introduced. The mystery Ecuadorian knotweed I bought from his nursery many years ago still grows in our parkway.


the children’s garden at the Huntington


The last time I visited the Huntington Botanical Garden a few weeks ago, the prevailing theme for the day was kids in the garden. Moms with toddlers and strollers were everywhere. Field-trip kids in the cactus garden trudged along the paths like it was the Bataan Death March. I couldn’t tell if these young elementary school kids were being sarcastic or not, but they were pleading, “Water! Water!” as they shuffled chain-gang style past barrel cactus, and I also heard a lot of, “Where’s the bus?!” Their teachers always maintained that amazingly chipper tone of encouragement, “Just a bit further! Look, here’s a bench where we can rest.” I know that relentlessly chipper tone well, having used it myself with my kids when visiting public gardens.


As I was coming up a steep path out of the Australian garden, a young mother with a toddler in one hand and pushing a stroller in the other was heading down the path, which immediately aroused deep sympathy. She looked lost, and sure enough, as we passed each other, she asked, “Where’s the Children’s Garden?” I pointed her in the general direction, which was quite a distance away, but told her the trek would be worth it, that it shouldn’t be missed. As soon as I spoke those words, an older woman marched up to us and demanded to know what’s not to be missed. Possibly she thought the amorphophallus was in bloom or some other momentous botanical happening. I told her we were talking about the Children’s Garden, at which point she said witheringly, “Oh, the Children’s Garden,” waved her hand dismissively, and marched off in search of more rarified botanical pursuits. Which is a shame, because the Children’s Garden is a marvelously enjoyable, fairly new addition to the Huntington. Watching people and especially families explore this garden has become a not-to-be-missed part of my trips to the Huntington.


On this last visit, I spent a lot of time peering through the windows of the teaching greenhouse that anchors one side of the Children’s Garden. Aside from being naturally drawn to any greenhouse, the space was unusually animated with personal touches and vignettes, like in this photo from The Los Angeles Times. There was a strong, idiosyncratic presence that animated the greenhouse.


I have since learned that the animating force in the teaching greenhouse and creator of those vignettes was Jeff Karsner, the director of the Children’s Garden, who passed away on January 30, 2012.


Past vice president of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society, board member of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry, Mr. Karsner’s legacy includes one of the busiest, noisiest gardens at the Huntington, well worth a visit by all who attend the HBG, whatever their age.