summer plant report 2018

Imposing title for a modest report on a handful of new plants, right? Regardless of the size limitations of a small garden, I’m always trialing new plants, but I’m hesitant to report on results that might give a false impression of a plant’s true potential. Because, face it, I can’t offer optimal conditions — maybe too much sun or shade, too much root competition, inadequate winter rain to get the season rolling. Above all, I’m a merciless crowder of plants. (And I’m focusing here on herbaceous or shrubby plants, not succulents.) For example, I think the new Senecio palmeri is going to be a fabulous addition to the dryish garden. It hung on all summer in mostly full sun wedged in among a welter of other stuff. Today I removed a couple of broken branches (cat!). It never achieved the silvery dome I envisioned because I could offer only a quarter of the space it required. Still, it makes the cut for inclusion next year.

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Not a very tempting photo of Senecio palmeri, but nevertheless, you really should try this one, giving it as much room to expand as you can muster, and then you can judge whether it’s strictly a foliage plant or looks equally fine in bloom with bright yellow daisies. I think it’s got a lot of promise for a sunny, dry garden in zones 9-10. The jury is out on another silver in my garden, Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings,’ but it also deserves consideration for making it through summer in full sun — just not growing much. I’m guessing better drainage and maybe a tad more water. The best specimens I’ve seen were made comfy in pots filled with loose potting soil, not stiff clay like mine.

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Another indeterminate appraisal goes to a compact form of one of our native buckwheats, Eriogonoum giganteum var. compactum, not an easy plant to find. Try the native plant nurseries like Theodore Payne or Grow Native at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. All three plants survived summer, and one even bloomed, so they’ve all made the cut for continued trial. All three stayed under a foot in height, an impressively compact performance. I’d never be able to accommodate the enormous girth of the species. Eriogonum is a famed nectar source for lots of butterflies. Squeezed in here among frothy calamints, which will always have a summer home in the garden for fitting in so well among agaves and other succulents and making the bees deliriously happy. I’d love to find a smallish nepeta that gets started earlier than the July calamints, possibly Nepeta grandiflora ‘Little Trudy.’ I could fit in maybe two — if I hadn’t already started infilling erodiums in gaps among the succulents. Erodium chrysanthum in particular quickly makes a feathery mound of bright silver and flourishes in the same dry sunny conditions as succulents. But planting among established succulents can be tricky; this summer I lost a nice clump of Euphorbia resinifera to rot caused by the water I diligently provided to a young Banksia repens getting established nearby.

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And this photo, with kangaroo paw leaves splayed over the buckwheat, illustrates just what I’m talking about as far as less than optimal spacing. I’d love a long sunny bank to give these silvers a proper trial.

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Like erodiums, the glauciums are wonderful interplanted among succulents, in flower or out. Centranthus lecoqui slips in quietly among the succulents too, shown here in bloom above Agave ‘Ivory Curls,’ but be warned that this valerian does seed itself around and not always where you want it. (Personally, I love thinning out the largesse of self-sowers — it makes me feel impossibly rich.)

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Centaurea ragusina is another promising silver, shown here in April. Despite its robust appearance, apparently it’s somewhat shallow rooted. Grabbing a brown leaf, I inadvertently pulled up the entire plant. And, unfortunately, none of the cuttings taken rooted. But my mishap aside, I’m hearing good reports from lots of growers.

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Occasionally I’ll stumble on a summer perennial that doesn’t mind our mild, dormancy-deprived winters. Persicaria amplexicaulis is one, and I seem to remember someone extolling veronicas as another. I picked up this Veronica ‘Purpleicious’ a couple weeks ago at a local nursery (where BTW gentians were also for sale, if that’s any indication of less-than-sound plant offerings for zone 10.). The silver leaves belong to Salvia ‘Desperado,’ a hybrid of two native sages, Salvia leucophylla and apiana. No blooms in its first summer. Some native plants shed their winter leaves for fresh summer leaves, and I’ve noted this sage cycling through sets of leaves at least three times, so it always seems to be holding on to some shabby leaves. If it doesn’t bloom next year it’s out. It’s probably in too much shade anyway, so my trial is by no means definitive. Speaking of native salvias, I pulled out my two Mojave sages in August. They weren’t dead, but Salvia pachyphylla has very little chance of thriving and blooming well near the coast, whereas an adjacent Salvia ‘Waverly’ is foolproof but wants more water than the Mojave sages can tolerate, so due to water incompatibility somebody had to go. Undeterred, I’m trialing another native salvia this fall, a compact selection of a native sage, Salvia apiana ‘Compacta.’ Not sure where this one will go yet.

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A towering Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata’ was leaning from too much shade so was dug up and potted, and the open view to the garden beyond was so entrancing that I vowed to plant nothing else to impede the view…until I got a great deal on this Metrosideros excelsa ‘Gala.’ It’s only getting half-day sun here, again, not optimal. Sigh…

This fall phygelius are on my mind again for their shrubby reliability and long bloom. I’ve grown the peach and yellow forms in the past, but this year I’m trying a smallish form, ‘Magenta.’

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And just in time for fall planting, the Los Angeles chapter of the APLD is holding a plant fair at the Los Angeles Arboretum September 29, with vendors and sponsors like San Marcos and Australian Native Plants. Non-APLD members are invited to attend as well.

Not that I have any space for more plants…still, it never hurts to look, right?

Have a great weekend.

Posted in plant nurseries, Plant Portraits, plant sales | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

friday clippings 9/7/18

What a week. I think it’s time for some portraits of very clever squirrels by Geert Weggen, like this:

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More industrious squirrel portraits at the link, via My Modern Met.

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Another mood lifter is this charming series of drawings by Gretchen Roehrs entitled “Edible Ensembles,” via The Guardian

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I’ve never heard the expression “cowboy pool” before, but Victoria Smith at sfgirlbybay details how a stock tank becomes one in her DIY. photo merlin_142706031_c176ced6-f8d8-43ff-98f0-e2d57ccfe864-superJumbo.jpg

Some weekend reading: “Oaxaca’s Potent Secret, Mezcal Is Born of Time, Tradition and a Slow-Growing Plant

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On my wish list is this dreamy book of greenhouse photography by Samuel Zeller, “Botanical

And here’s a horticultural mystery solved. In case you’ve ever wondered what the heck is up with the weak growing habits of chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus, the RHS’ The Plantsman is on the case in “The story of Cosmos atrosanguineus.” Assumed to be extinct in the wild, the gene pool was reduced to a sterile, male form of the plant found at Kew that was tissue cultured and sent back to Mexico for reintroduction. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all concerned, “a diverse population of seed-raised plants was already in existence in New Zealand and the plant was not, in fact, extinct.” Now I don’t feel so inept about past failures and am very interested to know what the genetic status is of current nursery offerings, like the three plants I brought home that seem much stronger and healthier than in the past. Maybe they’ll even make it to a second year — wouldn’t that be a nice change!

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I’m such a fan of self-sowers. Some of us are discovering that Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ is the new Verbena bonariensis, though it doesn’t reseed to the same extent. But a few plants are all I ever need. Just one volunteer seedling of Solanum pyracanthum is making a big impact on my summer.

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Nan Ondra introduced me to Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ which hasn’t reliably reseeded, so I sowed fresh seed in spring. Must remember to save some this year.

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My triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi, sends out lots of volunteers. Rather than continually weeding out the seedlings because of worries over ultimate size (the mother palm is 20 feet plus), I’ve had a change of heart and decided to play around with the slow-growing baby palms. I’ve even read that they can be grown as houseplants, so will dig up a few to give that a go.

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Like a lot of us, Leslie Vigil is obviously a fan and keen observer of all things succulent…(via This Is Colossal), but just look where she takes those observations:

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Treat yourself to something nice this weekend!

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oil drums for plants

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Way back in spring, when we were sourcing stuff for the popup, there was an ad on craigslist offering food-grade, powder-coated oil drums for cheap. Really cheap. Temptingly cheap. Large containers are so pricy, and these would be perfect for small trees and shrubs.

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I hemmed and hawed and ultimately gave in to the fear that I’d get stuck with them so took a pass, because there’s not an inch to spare here at home.

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Pouring salt in that wound, Imperfect Interiors (via Desire to Inspire), uses oil drums to great effect in their East Dulwich Industrial Conversion. That’s what I’m talking about!

Drat…I mean well done!

Posted in design, pots and containers | 4 Comments

coloring outside the lines; Hot Color, Dry Garden

In her new book “Hot Color, Dry Garden,” botanist/biologist/educator Nan Sterman aims to reassure readers that in these uncertain, climactically challenging times for gardens in the drought-afflicted western U.S., there’s no need to scrimp on what compels us to make gardens in the first place: the astounding results possible when we curate and surround ourselves with the enticing colors and forms of plants. Low-water gardens don’t need to be the equivalent of virtue-signaling, like penitents wearing dreary hair shirts grimly made from a position of pessimism. In fact, just the opposite. Nan urges us to make the most of color, tightening and strengthening color associations between plants and the built environment for maximum impact. Houses, walls, paving — no surface is left unscrutinized as having the potential to dial up the drama in pursuit of an unapologetically fabulous, waterwise garden that holds its own under intensely sunny skies. In the tradition of Luis Barragan and Steve Martino, garden walls are painted bougainvillea magenta, saffron, Marrakech blue, or toned and blended into the celadon shades of Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata.’ I’ve personally seen examples of such fearlessness with color, just recently in the Austin garden of Lucinda Hutson and some years ago in Keeyla Meadows’ Bay Area garden. Appetites for strong, saturated color vary, but the intention is infectious, as is the irresistible siren call “Paint is cheap!”

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So the book is strong on design — what about plant IQ? This is that rare book that is comfortably fluent in both areas. Nan, no offense, is a charming plant nerd; for example, she confesses Aloe rubroviolacea to be her favorite among aloes. The Plant Directory at the end of the book reflects her deep knowledge as both garden journalist and designer. Though many of her recommendations may not be hardy outside the southwest, they are prized as tender additions to summer gardens everywhere, and her emphasis on integrating house and garden thematically via color and other design principles is likewise universally applicable.

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Hot Color, Dry Garden showcases some gardens I know — Dustin Gimbel’s, Judy Horton’s — and many I’m now dying to know based on the detailed accounts in the book, including Scott Calhoun’s, Alan Richards’ and Nan’s own garden. Most of the excellent photographs were taken by Nan on visits to the gardens, which from my experience is rare in garden publications. Wearing both hats, as writer and photographer, Nan is able to control the material and themes with a welcome subtle attention to detail.

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I bought my book in early August at a lively, full-house reception held at Potted for Nan’s presentation on her new book. As more and more attendees streamed in and available seats were filled, Annette advised us to simply grab another brightly colored Fermob chair from the display hung on the wall. The reception fittingly ended up looking like a page lifted straight from Nan’s book, which has been one of those leisurely, enjoyable reads that I’ve been relishing most of August, not wanting to rush it to an end.

Posted in books, design, inspire me | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

garden employment openings at the Getty


Two openings, head gardener and gardener. Deadline for applying is September 21, 2018. Descriptions of duties and job requirements follow:

    8-21-18 Head Gardener, Getty Center or Getty Villa, Los Angeles, 9-21-18 deadline

$24.16/hour. Work 76 hours every two weeks, typically with a Friday off every other week. Weekend work occurs with a rotation schedule. May be assigned to the Getty Villa or the Getty Center during the course of employment.

Continue reading

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agricultural shade cloth is taken seriously in Ho Chi Minh City

Neighbors have taken note of our traditional summer shade cloth improvisations (what Nishizawa Architects calls “vernacular uses”) and are now deploying their own shade cloth configurations in strategic locations over the sunniest areas of their deck. Along with shading work areas over our driveway, we’ve even hoisted some trapezoidal shade cloth over maybe a third of the garden in full sun this summer, and the plants do look happier for it. So I was gratified to see this utilitarian material getting some recognition from Nishizawa Architects and receiving an upscale treatment at the restaurant Pizza 4P in District 3’s Ward 6 in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Here, the tropical sunlight is so intense that we primarily recognize it as a physical hindrance, like the rain or the wind…You can easily imagine its harshness when you see most of the people outside wearing, even in the hottest season, coats and multiple layers of clothes to protect themselves from the sun’s strong rays. If you look around the city’s streets, you can also note they are full of add-ons purposefully arranged to create shades: observe the outdoor parking areas, the street-cafes, the flower shops or the play-yards in schools…Indeed, under such a heavy sunlight, it is as natural to seek and generate shadows as to have umbrellas and raincoats under rainy conditions.” (Text description provided by the architects.)

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An agricultural net. Made from polyethylene, it was initially developed for agricultural purposes, to soften the direct sunlight and raise foliage plants, shade-loving plants, grafted plants and seedlings more efficiently. However, with its extremely competitive price (less than 100 USD per roll of 2.5 m × 100 m), this agricultural equipment quickly made its way through all the scenes of people’s daily lives in Vietnam. Inspired by the vernacular uses, we sought with this project to define a new typology of tropical architecture: playing with this ordinary material, we used shades, shadows, and lights to compose space.”

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In the center of Ho Chi Minh City, the project is located in a city block’s basin created by middle/high-rise commercial buildings surrounding its four sides…a narrow alley, connects it back to the main street. On the site, from the 2F terrace of the existing building, we can appreciate the peaceful roof-scape of old French style villas in front and the 7-10 stories commercial buildings or 25-30 stories high-rise hotels all around.”

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The half-transparent black screen is not only used as a device that creates a sensitive shadow below, but also as a light top-window that softens the glare of a too bright sky and scenery.”

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Yes, finally, we intended to create a generous environment of tropical where humans and plants, indoor and outdoor, building-interior and urban-landscape all mingled… under one large shade.”

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In place of temporary rope and line, the Restaurant of Shade has me rethinking designs for semi-permanent structures to support shade cloth, my summer garden’s new bff for mitigating the effects of super heatwaves like that nasty one we had this July.

via Archdaily, “Restaurant of Shade” and thespaces.

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Posted in climate, design, inspire me | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

bloom day hack august 2018

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The ‘Mesa Peach’ gaillardias seem to be this year’s answer to my craving for a low-growing summer daisy that fits in nicely among the permanently resident aloes and agaves. Similar water and light requirements, not too extravagant in summer growth size. So I went out in search for more last week to strengthen the narrative of intermittent golden clumps among succulents, shrubs and grasses to carry the garden through with some verve to November.* (Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell’ seemed like a contender in soft buttery yellow but is truthfully quite sprawly and inclined to smother neighboring plants. And the last clump died without any cuttings taking root, so that’s that.)

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At the nurseries there were some red gaillardias available but no ‘Mesa Peach.’ Not the color story I wanted to tell. But there were a couple Rudbeckia ‘Little Goldstar,’ a dwarf selection entirely new to me. Curiosity prevailed.

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Hello, little friend! From Jelitto, propagated by tissue culture. Perfectly grown nursery plants brought home in August is the quintessential garden hack. But then August deserves a good hack, doesn’t it? Fortunately, we’re having a temporary reprieve as far as high temperatures, dipping into the 80s for the week, so planting now is not the complete and utter madness it would seem. We’ll see if they make it to September bloom day. (And don’t even think of planting stuff like Calif. natives now.)

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The chocolate cosmos project 2018. Too many previous failures to count, but its deep color on small, perfectly formed daisies, luscious scent and long, swaying stems never fail to incite another desperate trial. Full sun, free draining potting soil this summer. It always fails in garden soil for me. I grab them when they become available at nurseries in August.

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Using a metal shop stool to elevate the pot keeps the chocolate cosmos at nose and eye level and allows the dark red thunbergia, possibly ‘Arizona Dark Red,’ to spill down the sides. No aeoniums were harmed in the making of this project.

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Coleus ‘Inferno’ and ‘Henna’ were also brought home. Above is ‘Inferno.’

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The grevilleas are now the ever-blooming anchor plants of the garden, both ‘Moonlight’ and this one, ‘King’s Fire.’

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Aloe elgonica is joining in with other summer-blooming aloes.

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Lots of tillandsias sending out blooms.

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Several Bilbergia ‘Hallelujah’ are in bloom.

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As with last month’s report, solanum, salvia, anigozanthos, verbena, abutilon, valerian, leonotis, calamint, gomphrena are all still in bloom. Garden bloggers can file their bloom day reports on the 15th of every month with May Dreams Gardens.

*Succession planting –keeping the pace going and filling gaps in the garden until the end of the season, and we have a long if very dry growing season here in zone 10 — is more associated with vegetable gardening in the U.S. but also has vast ornamental implications. One of its most famous examples is the garden at Great Dixter, pioneered by Christopher Lloyd, powering on under Fergus Garrett. Lloyd’s book published in 2005 “Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure” lays out the general principles and is worth a read if you’re interested in this subject. Basically, it’s geared to hard-core plant lovers. And, obviously, the size of your garden, length of growing season, climate and rainfall play into how effectively one can exploit these ideas, but even just adding a pot of chocolate cosmos to the August garden or plugging in some rudbeckia among succulents falls under the umbrella of succession planting. Bloggers at The Lower Left Corner and Digging have each just returned from separate visits to Great Dixter and have photos with vivid examples of the results of this intensive, unflagging style of planting that leaves little ground uncovered.

Posted in Bloom Day, design | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

take it outside

The parents’ exasperation with our indoor hijinks always crescendoed in a bellow of “take it outside!” whereupon we would bang through the screendoor and tumble out into the womb-like, cul-de-sac’d streets of our Los Angeles suburb, joining up with the army of lost boys (and girls) riding skateboards, building forts and blazing trails in the tall grass of early summer in the nearby fields. And we could pretty much take it outside year-round. But still this week’s news in The Washington Post was slightly disorienting. The town I’m living in now, Long Beach, Calif., just a few miles from where I grew up further inland, topped the list of “What cities have the most nice days in America?” Using the criteria of “moderately warm temperatures, at least partial sunshine, a light breeze, low humidity and no precipitation,” Long Beach came in at number one with the “most nice days per year” of 210. We even beat San Diego! So it does feel a bit churlish to confess that summer this year feels like a season in hell. The tops of my feet look like they’re afflicted with small pox, courtesy of summer’s new pest, Aedes aegypti, a day-feeding mosquito infamous for carrying the Zika virus in more southern countries. Which makes Burt’s Bees Insect Repellant the new summer essential. (A neighbor has on order the Bandito, a wristband that emits scents and sounds that purportedly annoy the hell out of mosquitoes.) And as every summer arrives determined to be the champ that wins the all-time heat record, it all becomes a bit much for a beachside community of old bungalows, mostly lacking in air conditioning like ours. And, infuriatingly, the dangerous brinksmanship of climate change denial still rules the land. GOTV. But I hope you’re having a fabulous summer! Because heat and bugs aside, I’m still taking it outside, still in love with summer.

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When Mitch told me the story of the dinner party he held in a suffocatingly hot little Spanish Revival in Long Beach lacking in air conditioning and plagued by dumpster flies from the surrounding multi-unit apartments, I just had to pry the photos loose from him to share a summer evening that was pure tragicomic gold. Here’s the intrepid bunch who good-naturedly put up with it all. On the far right in crisp and cool blue is chef Daniel Perlof of Rhyme & Reason Catering, nattily equipped with portable grill. There was no way he was cooking in the non-AC’d kitchen with muggy temps straddling the high 90s.

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Mitch, left, has worked with Lisa Gutierrerz-Martinez of Lark Artisan Market for years, photographing (and sampling) her roving dinner parties known as Larks. The next one is August 17 at Cleobella in Sunset Beach, linked above.

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This dinner wasn’t technically a bonafide Lark, just a small group of friends trying out a new menu. And testing their limits for less-than-optimal outdoor dining conditions. No flies were air-brushed out of these photos, but I’m told there were plenty, as in biblical proportions. Mitch was chatting with Jason Witzl, the owner of the new and excellent Ellie’s (“best grown-up food in LBC” according to Mitch) about his dinner party fly problem, and Jason swears it’s the nearby kelp beds that are to blame for the flies. His solution? The Bug-A-Salt. A spray of table salt zaps them dead. Just undersalt the food a bit, he joked. I can easily imagine dinner party guests arguing over who gets to be in charge of the Bug-A-Salt. Weird times call for weird solutions, I suppose.

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Guests came sensibly prepared to change into something cooler.

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Chef Daniel manned the grill.

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Applying the mint/basil/walnut/garlic/lemon pesto.

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While food was prepped, the guests tried their best to stay cool.

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I sampled the artichokes later. I could have eaten a dozen.

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Rome With A View was the cocktail du jour, chosen because “all the bitter Italian vermouth-based drinks are low octane,” and are thus perfect for a big thirst on a hot night, says Mitch.

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All of which proves that summer is messy and hot and epic, and patios and gardens are worth their weight in gold, flies or no flies.

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And a portable grill can be a life-saver.

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And there’s nothing that a plate of artichokes won’t put right.

Have a great weekend.

photos by MB Maher

Posted in climate, edibles, MB Maher, photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

good riddance to July, you hot and sultry thing

And hello August! (what fresh hell do you have in store?)

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Unlike me, pedilanthus loves it when the heat and humidity are matchy-matchy numbers.

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I’ve been so worried that Yucca linearifolia would reject this container, which has already killed a dasylirion. It’s a lightweight concrete formulation that seems to retain moisture, so I’ve been careful not to overwater. I admit I get a little free-handed with the garden hose in July and August.

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Both overwatering and underwatering can prove fatal in July, so the margin for error shrinks. There’s been no big, heartbreaking losses so far and even a few surprising successes, including blooms on parodia and astrophytum.

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As summer progresses, more and more plants are congregating at the eastern end of the pergola. Everybody wants to hang out here. Cool morning sun, afternoon shade. It’s prime garden real estate. And it’s also a great spot for new acquisitions. It gives me a chance to get to know and appreciate new plants up close, and they benefit by this kinder, gentler introduction to the garden. The little bromeliad in the lime green pot is Aechmea recurvata var. benrathrii, or False Tillandsia, which is said to be one of the best terrestrial bromeliads for full sun, where it will strengthen in color. The agave is A. kershovei ‘Huajuapan Red.’ I might try to encourage some ruddy color out of both when we’re safely under full winter sun again.

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And the air space at the eastern end of the pergola is maxed out too, mostly with tillandsias and rhipsalis.

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This is where I get to indulge an unstoppable flea market/salvage habit. Propellor pot is Dustin Gimbel’s.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ jumped out of the ground and back into container life at this end of the pergola too. I’ve gotten in the habit of giving plants a light tug now and then. Call it a root check. ‘Cornelius’ came right up out of the ground. Not a bad display of leaves for having no roots to speak of. I cleaned off the dense accumulation of old, dried leaves — so many it looked like a spit of al pastor — to expose the central trunk, which looks healthy. I’m praying it takes root again.

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Other variegated agaves gravitate to the bright light near the long, southernmost edge of the pergola. Nearest is Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ then ‘Rumrunner,’ and lastly ‘Kissho Kan.’

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‘Kissho Kan’ had a tighter, more incurved habit of growth in containers and is more relaxed in the ground under partial sun.

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The eastern end is also where the evening gin rummy games are held on the hottest nights. I cut out the furcraea’s sprawling lower leaves and moved out most of the pots except for the lone Agave xylonacantha which is doing so well here I hate to change its conditions mid-summer. I was this close to removing the furcraea entirely, but nothing else could be established in its place now that the lemon cypresses’ roots fill the area. Best to stick with the survivor. The cypresses, fern-leaf acacia, and the tetrapanax all have extensive, thieving roots that make persistent water demands, but I take heart from this quote from Saxon Holt in the spring 2018 issue of Pacific Horticulture, Adopting a Summer-Dry Garden Aesthetic: “[W]e should water, wisely and efficiently. The new aesthetic takes its cues from the summer-dry climate but that does not mean no summer watering. Our gardens are too important to be left alone, especially in their early years. We need to keep them healthy. Not only do they offer sanity to those of us who would go crazy without them, they provide habitat for critters, keep the soil alive, clear the air, and provide beauty. The new summer-dry aesthetic is rapidly evolving with increased awareness of our limited water resources and all the wonderful new plants and creative ways to use them — but water is critical.” Hear, hear!

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Looking west, the garden including these pots is in full sun most of the day. Hybrid ‘Little Shark’ (or ‘Royal Spine’) seems to be handling the full sun, whereas Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ might prefer some afternoon shade. An impulse buy for some warm winter color, I’m very impressed with Cordyline ‘Red Planet’ for making it through July without melting away. Also impressed by the performance of erodiums planted among the succulents. Erodium chrysanthum has made quick size, throws pale yellow blooms sporadically, and is always a tidy clump of silvery, finely dissected leaves. I’m waiting for fall to plant a recent order from Robin Parer/Geraniaceae.

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Other new plants in this area include Aloe spicata, the bottlebrush aloe.

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The golden sedum is doing that rare thing, which is following orders and making a nice-sized patch (Sedum x adolphii). Love those warm, honey-colored tones.

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I’ve always kept an assortment of hollow cement and clay pipes around, which I normally use as plinths for staging containers to get some staggered height in displays. But with planting space in the garden pretty much spoken for, lately I’ve been adapting them as planters. Not sure how long term an arrangement this is, but aloes in particular seem to love it.

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Aloe betsileensis, brought home last week from an Orange County succulent show. This has a cone-like flower in the style of Aloe conifera with similar dusky colored leaves with red teeth. All-day full sun may not be in its best interests, so this pipe may move elsewhere. Leucadendron galpinii had a fairly long life in the grey container but didn’t make it through July. It’s filled now with chocolate cosmos, such a gorgeous daisy — in theory. I’ve never been able to figure it out. This summer I’m trying free-draining potting soil in full sun, watering only when it just starts to beg for it.

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At the western end near the office, Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ is on its fourth bloom truss, and the heat has produced a growth surge in Pennisetum ‘Cherry Sparkler.’

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It was a little too early for this photo, before sunrise, but I need it to describe what’s planted at the base of that long-legged iron stand, which has basically been the little black dress of the garden for many years. So freakin’ versatile, it’s appeared in numerous guises on these pages.

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Lots of the newer mangaves are here, like ‘Kaleidoscope.’

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And a newly planted Calocephalus ‘Silver Sand.’

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And this crazy crassula I bought last summer, ‘Garnet Lotus.’ I’m frankly surprised this oddity has had this much staying power.

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Pots are finding their way to top of the stand too. Ferocactus gracilis in Dustin’s log pot.

I’m always starved for garden talk by August, so I’m heading to Potted tomorrow to hear Nan Sterman discuss her new book “Hot Color, Dry Garden.” This notice is from the Los Angeles Times:

Dry does not mean dull
What: Gardening expert Nan Sterman, signs copies of her book “Hot Color, Dry Garden” and shows you how to have a colorful garden that’s also drought tolerant
When: 11 a.m. Aug. 4
Where: Potted, 3158 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles
Cost: The talk is free. Book is $24.95
Info:, (323) 665-3801

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

of ponds and pyramids at Digging Dog Nursery

Returning to the June 2018 visit to Mendocino for the Garden Conservancy Open Days, the second garden we visited belonged to Digging Dog Nursery, also the home of co-owners Deborah Whigham and Gary Ratway. The garden comprises five acres, the nursery one acre. “Structured informality” is how the owners describe their garden, which draws on formal European garden traditions, especially the 19th century English Arts and Crafts movement, with some New World twists befitting its rugged setting amid Coast Redwoods. For instance, an above-ground pond makes use of industrial salvage, and the hard surfaces, columns and walls, are simple, functional shapes, smooth and devoid of neoclassical flourishes, built using the rammed-earth technique, a sustainable, ancient building method that uses the native soil mixed with sand and cement. The mix of formalism with experimentation with shapes and materials, the spectacular setting, and the detailed, lush plantings are some of what gives the garden at Digging Dog its unique flavor. (For more background, you really should check out Garden Design’s spring 2018 issue on this garden, “A Fine Balance,” written by Pam Penick, photos by Claire Takacs.)

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One of the many rammed earth columns, a shape reverberating throughout the garden in plant forms as well.

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I’ve happily strolled the borders surrounding the nursery many times. In every season they reflect the exciting range of woody and herbaceous plants that the nursery is known for, and that grow so well at this latitude and in this maritime climate. It might be an overly simplistic analogy, but the division of labor in making the garden at Digging Dog seems to bear some superficial similarities to Sissinghurst, with Gary handling the design duties performed by Harold Nicolson and Deborah standing in for Vita Sackville-West as far as the growing and selection of the plants themselves. But it is only a rough analogy because, on the tour, both Deborah and Gary interchangeably spoke to the design as well as the plants. This June thalictrums, astrantia, and hardy geraniums were still fresh, with ornamental grasses, persicarias, asters, joe-pye weed and many other late-season attractions gathering strength for fall.

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A dogwood in spectacular bloom.

One of my indispensable plants for summer, Calamintha ‘Montrose White,’ was ordered from DD in January ’16, a sterile form that doesn’t reseed, just one example of how DD’s plant list reliably keeps up with the best forms yet is always temptingly filled with beguiling new introductions that Deborah sources through extensive contacts with international nurseries. This visit, Deborah singled out Astrantia ‘Buckland’ in the garden as having the longest period of bloom of the astrantias they grow, for all you lucky astrantia growers — not a zone 10, dry summer plant, unfortunately.

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Hornbeam columns are a recurring structural motif throughout the garden.

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When he was ready to design the grid of hedges as the backbone for their exuberant plantings, and with few examples to study at home, Gary cited the usefulness of visits to European gardens to illuminate the intricacies of planting structural hedges, such as centering distances, maintenance schedules, and ultimate sizes. The hedges are trimmed twice a year, handled in-house with the help of two part-time staff.

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This industrial salvage water garden has an interesting surface provided by its perforated outer cover, a wonderful detail not picked up in the photo. The tank was sunk to a surprising depth — I hazily remember the figure of 8 feet but didn’t make a note.*

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Also depicted is one of the 12 trained weeping silver pears (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) leaping like dolphins at a four-way intersection of graveled paths, an unusual formal treatment for this tree that Gary says was inspired by Edwin Lutyens’ use of it at Castle Drogo.

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The thalictrum is most likely ‘Elin,’ a favorite of DD

Much as I love visiting the nursery and its surrounding garden, this Open Days visit also promised access to normally inaccessible areas of the property. As we slowly threaded our way through the familiar borders wrapping around the nursery on this uncharacteristically very hot day, I have to admit my mind occasionally raced ahead in excited anticipation of what was to come — as it turns out, something wholly unexpected.

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Gary described how every nursery, whether operated organically or otherwise, will necessarily create nitrogen runoff. Fifteen years ago ponds were dug to handle this runoff to prevent it leaching into the water table, which is high, and ultimately the ocean. And to handle the excavated soil from the pond project, Gary tried his hand as a pyramid builder. Obviously, the man doesn’t shy from a challenge.

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The pyramids are covered in tightly clipped germander, Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum.’ Their silvery forms lay down luminous markers of a formal garden painstakingly sculpted out of an emerald green forest.

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I call that an inspired solution to a prosaic problem like nitrogen runoff.

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Irrigation is not set by timer — so many factors such as lengthy seasonal cloud cover or, like today, excessive heat, render a preset irrigation timetable useless. There are four wells on the property, one as much as 180 feet deep (can that be right? From phone notes…and Marty remembers only two wells mentioned but swears the depth of 180 feet is correct.*) The water is very acidic.

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The pyramids introduce new angles for interplay with the hedges as well as mass to contrast with seasonal, thready perennials.

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The eye eagerly traces the plant-based geometry, following sweeping curves of hedging punctuated by grasses, perennials, and the trees of the surrounding Mendocino forest.

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And all these repeated design elements come together in a spectacular crescendo at the water lily-dappled pond.

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Pyramid meets pond.

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Hornbeam sentinel columns meet pond.

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And the back of the rammed-earth house meets pond.

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My only photo of the back of the house, which leaves out the fountain built into the base of the rammed-earth retaining wall. Marty in the foreground, with Gerhard (Succulents & More) in the blue t-shirt up above on the right.

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I did catch some details of the retaining wall’s upper terrace, railing and steps.

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Piercing the pond is a short pier, a prime water lily viewing spot. That’s so Digging Dog to plant sanguisorba in the industrial salvage containers at the pier’s end.

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And believe it or not, there’s still so much left unphotographed, like the private lawn near the house and outdoor dining area, but the tour was well attended and in some places too crowded for photos. Thanks so much to the Garden Conservancy and Digging Dog for including this special place on their 2018 Open Days.

*(Marty claims the water tank was not industrial salvage but was designed by Gary. My phone notes were a jumble, with references like “fast-growing katsura smells like burnt sugar in fall.”)

Posted in artists, design, garden travel, garden visit | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments