I have even less impulse control when plant shopping now because…summer. Of the four seasons, summer seems to be the one that we’re constantly admonished to savor to its fullest or risk being filled with inconsolable regret. And you won’t get any argument from me. It can be hot, dry, and miserable, but since about 5 years of age the season has become baked into us as inseparable from adventures, vacations, vagabonding, daydreaming, and overall freedom from boring routines. Liberación! You can’t fight that kind of hardwiring.
So when I sensed a need for a few more Sesleria ‘Campo Azul,’ because a few more of this grass are always needed, off I went to the local nursery, where I ran smack into Agapanthus ‘Indigo Frost’ and its seven swaying bloom stalks. It was definitely playing the summer card. Shamelessly playing it.
I see agapanthus all over town in summer and have never particularly desired to possess it for my garden. I’ve tried some dark, dark blues and some golden-leaved variegates as occasional novelties. But this ‘Indigo Frost’ number seemed to be a purpose-built messenger for summer: Psst, you know this summer will never come again, right? Sure, I’m a little OTT, but it’s summer! Subtlety is for losers! So what are you waiting for!?
There’s the Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ in the foreground. A Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’ filled that pot winter and spring and needed a cutback for rebloom. But gardening is a fluid thing. A light cutback inexplicably turns into yanking the entire plant out of the pot and instantly deciding to move on to something else. Hmmm, what could it be? Oh, yes, the bromeliad just brought home from Ray’s plant sale. I’ll drop that in the pot, shove the pot a few feet this way, plant the base of it up with more sesleria, make a quick dash to the nursery to purchase said sesleria — oh, and a bicolor agapanthus too. As I say, it’s a fluid process.
And as far as losing Salvia ‘Love and Wishes,’ a great salvia btw, I’ve got a much stronger bond with the willowy, smaller-flowered Salvia chiapensis. Comparing the leaves of the two, I’ll always prefer chiapensis.
I’ve been regularly deep watering the eastern boundary cypresses, the indispensable privacy workhorses of the garden, but apparently not so much the rest of the garden other than containers. This area under the tetrapanax’s canopy was spitless dry, not easy conditions to dig a hole for a 3-gallon agapanthus. (The dry conditions and increasing shade were no doubt to blame for the poor show this year of the big clump of kangaroo paws, Anigozanthos ‘Tequila Sunrise’ nearby, which was also dug up.) After planting I must have stood watering the area in for a solid half hour. Slow hand watering — another of summer’s pleasures.
Agapanthus ‘Indigo Frost’ came bearing the Sunset Western Garden tag:
Feature: Multiple spikes of large, bicolor, white and blue flowers
USDA Zones: Hardy to 10°F – 20°F USDA Zones 8-10
Sunset Zones: 4-9, 12-21 (I’m technically in zone 24)
Special Features: Attracts Pollinators, Clumping Habit, Cut Flowers, Disease / Pest Resistance, Heat Tolerance, Upright Habit
Since returning on Monday, I haven’t been able to shake Colorado from my mind. It’s a landscape that leaves you with a visual hangover, so this post will be hair of the dog, blog style, while the visit is still fresh and even my case of chapped lips lingers from the thin Rocky Mountain air.
I have quite a history with commercial greenhouses. There was a large, abandoned greenhouse at the end of my cul-de-sac’d street, the mesh netting detached in places from the rickety structure and flapping in the breeze. Through the gap in the mesh is how my nosy, grade-school self found a way in. Once inside, clearly trespassing, I was mesmerized by the sights, the smells, the few plants remaining, the absolute quiet, and the tracery of the structure itself, which despite its frailty seemed capable of holding light and shadow captive. And then there’s the fact that I was trespassing and getting away with it, always a bonus with a Catholic school kid. Childhood lays down a roadmap that’s carelessly tossed under the front seat as you drive away. (Growing up in Los Angeles, the metaphor will be cars.) Which is just as well, since it’s mostly illegible, offers no clear way forward, and is only able to confirm a destination once you’ve already arrived. But because of that roadmap, I brake for greenhouses.
With that fading roadmap rustling under the seat, I continue to be mesmerized by its roadside attractions — growth, light, shadow, stepping into strange, transformative places. Which is why I have hundreds of photos of the greenhouses at Rancho Soledad Nursery from a visit last month.
In early April, as I was leaving a garden on the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden tour, I noted a hand-lettered “plant sale” sign in the neighborhood and swung around to have a look.
I posted a photo of the garden attached to the plant sale to Instagram, to which garden designer Ivette Soler exclaimed “RAY VALENTINE!” I had been given a business card on the day of the plant sale but hadn’t checked the name yet. Indeed, it was the garden of Raymond Valentine, owner of Maintaining Mother Earth, “a full service landscape and maintenance company, owned and operated by Ray Valentine, License #818049-C27.”
Documenting my enthusiasm for gardens seen on foot or driving through Los Angeles neighborhoods has migrated to Instagram, which seems more suited to a quick visual blast without background information on how such landscapes came to be. But I’m making an exception for these two beauties, which happen to be directly across the street from each other in the Hancock Park neighborhood. The intelligent interplay of house and garden, the crisp outlines and massing of plants alternating with negative space, strong verticals, all done with an aim of limited supplemental irrigation, not to mention the amazing stonework in one and tilework in the other — I was so smitten I had to go back and get some photos for the blog. And do you think I got enough photos of that multi-trunked Yucca rostrata? Enjoy!
White Point Nature Preserve in San Pedro, CA is a remarkable gift of public open space nestled into 100 acres of bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a landscape that visibly bears the marks of tumultuous human endeavors spanning at least the last two centuries, including the concrete and *rusting defenses built to prevent military invasion. Walking its paths, the landscape provokes insistent questions impossible to ignore like: How in heck did all this prime coastal Southern Californian real estate with a front-seat view of Catalina Island escape developers’ interest to become set aside for hiking trails and rebuilding native plant and wildlife communities?
Not a few miles up the coast there are swanky resorts and a famously branded golf course, but here at WPNP it’s been granted permission to slowly find its way back to coastal bluff scrub. How did this happen? I’ll tell you what I know. My credentials? I’m an old Pedro girl myself (btw “Pedro” is pronounced by the locals with a long “e”), and my brothers and cousins regularly surfed Royal Palms just across the road from WPNP. And when Marty told me the story of the wreck of the Dominator off nearby Rocky Point, sailing us in as close as safety and the tides allowed to inspect its *rusting hulk, is probably when I knew I’d marry him. And I have a thing for disturbed places whose very existence poses thought-provoking questions about land use. (*And apparently I’m also drawn to stories with lots of rust.)
“The White Point site holds significant cultural resources mirroring California’s rich history. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first encountered the indigenous inhabitants, the Gabrielinos, in 1542. Spanish colonization of the area began in 1769, and in 1827, the Sepulveda family was given White Point as part of the vast Rancho de Los Palos Verdes land grant. The Sepulvedas used the land for grazing cattle. In 1899, Japanese immigrants leased the land and established an abalone fishery, a beachfront resort and later, farmed the area. During WWII, White Point was taken by the Federal government and incorporated into the Coastal Defense system of Fort MacArthur.” — Master Plan for the White Point Nature Preserve, Pages 63-64
WPNP was included in the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour in 2018, a very exciting piece of news that I frustratingly couldn’t act on at the time since an AGO pop-up event was planned for the same day. But it seemed so fitting and gratifying to me that the site of this former military installation overlooking the Pacific Ocean was still furthering worthwhile, non-military, post-Cold War era pursuits, and I couldn’t wait to visit this latest worthy iteration involving native plants. Our young family had benefited immeasurably from this site when one of the former barracks was transformed into a Montessori preschool with a sleepy rural ambience that Mitch attended half days from 1986-88 when I worked from home.
San Pedro has its own rough, land’s end feel to it, and White Point pushes that to a Bronte-esque apotheosis. That it appeared to be semi-forgotten only added to its allure. Artists’ studios and a hostel also found a home here, but at the time it felt like we had the mostly deserted fort to ourselves — just us, some chickens and rabbits, about a dozen free-range preschoolers, and row after row of empty barracks. In my burnished memory, the rickety playground fence draped in passionflower vines seemed to be continually enveloped in clouds of butterflies.
“White Point is a highly disturbed parcel of land comprised of large open field areas with limited road access to several buildings, foundations and underground structures. All vegetation habitats have been exposed to varying degrees of anthropogenic disturbances. Prior to these man-made alterations to the area, the land was most likely composed of coastal sage scrub (CSS), coastal bluff scrub and native grassland plant communities. At present, the native habitat has been replaced almost completely by annual non-native grassland and disturbed ruderal vegetation with planted ornamental trees scattered throughout the site. Remnants of coastal sage scrub vegetation can be found on the site in the form of small patches of sage scrub shrubs and individual CSS plants. ” Master Plan for the White Point Nature Preserve
Even though we left San Pedro in 1989 (buying a house here was out of our price range), this particular area had been such a beloved feature of our daily lives that I didn’t even check for an address when I raced up to visit the nature preserve the first chance I got — and then couldn’t find it. After that mortifying experience of driving around and around a very familiar area and not being able to locate a large green building with red trim and clear signage, I didn’t try again for a year.
Last week I resolved to give it another go and, humbled, this time checked for an address: 1600 W Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro, CA 90731. In 2018 I had entered the “upper reservation” from Gaffey Street, just as I always did five days a week so many years ago. I later learned that recent landslides in 2011 stemming from an unknown source of groundwater cut off WPNP from that access. (Groundwater issues aside, this is a notorious geologically active area due to the Palos Verdes Fault. The road along the coast seems to have new hollows and twists every time we go, turning into an especially rollicking rollercoaster near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wayfarers Chapel, and that newish golf course had some trouble with its greens falling down the cliffs into the ocean too.)
The Master Plan for the White Point Nature Preserve, published in August 2001, which I’m freely quoting from for this post, answered a lot of my questions. Because I know this area a bit, I had some theories as to its current status, but after we left San Pedro in 1989 I lost track of the chain of custody of the land. Roughly, it goes like this: Home to the Gabrielino Indians, grabbed by the Spanish who leased it to Japanese fisherman, who lost the lease when they were sent to WWII internment camps and the military took over the land, later deeded by the Secretary of the Interior to the City of Los Angeles in 1978, which stipulated the area “be used for coastal open space retention, habitat restoration, passive recreation and historical preservation” in 2000. Managed in partnership with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, landscape restoration plantings commenced around 2001.
“The proposed project is also consistent with the Natural Community Conservation Program (NCCP). The NCCP was initiated by the California Department of Fish and Game in order to streamline and coordinate development and preservation of habitat, especially coastal sage scrub and related plant communities. The program is established by the Natural Conservation Planning Act of 1991 (Fish and Game Code Section 2800.) The intent of this program is to encourage cooperation among landowners and developers, conservationists and regulatory agencies to protect long-term viable populations of California’s native plants and animals in their natural habitats and in landscape units which are large enough to ensure their continued existence. The NCCP Planning Agreement identifies six target species for the Rancho Palos Verdes planning area: California gnatcatcher, cactus wren, San Diego horned lizard, Palos Verdes blue butterfly, El Segundo blue butterfly and a plant, the bright-green dudleya or live forever.”
Further out from the education center the remnants of former military operations become more prominent, and aging hardscape covers some of the ground.
If you like roaming through “anthropogenically disturbed” landscapes that visibly spill their layers of historical secrets, a landscape interrupted but not beaten, White Point has your number too. Dogs on leash are welcome. A native vervain I discovered in bloom on my hike, Verbena lasiostachys, was available at their plant sale I happened to luck into, which is held the second Saturday of every month.
Correcting the record: In early May I wrote “Reseeding nicotianas are a fixture of spring now and come to the fore after the poppies are almost over. I sowed some ‘Tinkerbell’ nicotianas, which are so similar to this reseeding flowering tobacco that originated from ‘Nan Ondra’s Brown Mix’ that I really didn’t need to bother.”
A premature rush to judgment. ‘Tinkerbell’ is a wonderful variety that in just a few weeks since I wrote that dismissal has grown taller than my reseeders, which gives more opportunities for the flowers to twist and dangle and flaunt those chili-colored trumpets with the pale reverse. I hope that fixes any misunderstanding. I love the variety of nicotiana reseeders I’m seeing in the garden, all manner and combination of langsdorfii and alata influences, but it doesn’t mean new strains like ‘Tinkerbell’ don’t have something to offer as well.
The first and tallest kangaroo paw is always this unknown pale yellow with genes from Anigozanthos flavidus. Contrary to paws’ reputation in general as short-lived, this clump increases every year. The darker colors get most of the attention, but this one gets my allegiance for continuing to thrive in a very crowded garden. It’s increasingly hemmed in by Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ and the bocconia yet still throwing 6-foot blooms. Not to mention the Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ that was moved behind the paws to get it out of afternoon sun.
This relatively small-sized ‘Red Velvet’ kangaroo paw came home from the nursery already in bloom in late winter, a dangerous period for plant shopping. I don’t think I would purchase it today. There’s already a tall ‘Big Red’ in the garden, possibly too young for blooming this year.
Grevillea ‘King’s Fire’ is a robust grower planted a little too close to the walkway against the house. Everyone’s been pretty good-natured about this sprawler so far, even though the walkway is in frequent use because it leads to the main refrigerator in the garage, with only a small bar fridge kept in the circa 1919 kitchen. I feel that the opportunities for viewing close-up hummingbird and bee action are so worth a little less walkway — but then I’m notorious for siding in favor of plants on encroachment issues.
My browser is still playing tricks on me, so I’ve been unable to comment on some of my favorite garden blogs. Snafus aside with such tedious things as cookies and caches, I love checking out what gardens are up to around the country at May Dreams Gardens, which hosts Bloom Day reports on the 15th of every month.
The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days for Los Angeles was held last Sunday, and its five gardens fairly well covered the breadth of idiosyncratic ambitions people have for the land immediately surrounding their homes — from verdant gardens supporting lush plant life to urban havens allowing their owners to comfortably exist outdoors. The most fully realized vision of resort style belonged to the Davis garden. Swimming, cooking, sunning, watching movies or a dancing fire — most of these activities are either impossible to do in my garden or difficult to arrange, and I wouldn’t un-plant it or change that for anything. But…I wouldn’t mind being invited over to this one for repeat visits during the hot and sultry months of July, August, September…
“The Davis family bought this 1918 Italian Renaissance home in 2005. In 2017, we began an extensive renovation of the back yard to better fit our grown-up family! With the help of architect J. Thomas Kaiser, designer Donna Berg, and landscaper Isidore Orozco, we came up with an innovative plan. The original garage was removed and replaced. A trellis was built alongside both entrances to this room and ‘Eden’ climbing roses are making their way up and over. A dramatic pergola was built with an outdoor kitchen, table for twelve, living room, fireplace, and outdoor entertainment system. In the garden you will find citrus trees, azaleas, white star jasmine, Schefflera arboricola, Chinese elm, dwarf mondo grass, boxwoods, hydrangeas, Hawaiian ginger, camellias, and Pittosporum mock orange.“
I’m blaming it on spring. A beautifully soft, mild spring. And that rainy winter certainly didn’t hurt in rebuilding confidence. New acquisitions are now unloaded from the back of the Mini at near weekly intervals. Amazingly, this little garden swallows it all up, but certain accommodations do have to be made. I won’t be tempted by behemoths like Agave franzosinii again. There’s very little room left for big, beamy, full-sun planting, but when someone thins out a cactus and leaves some branches in their parkway, the tallest the Mini can handle gets a ride home to be rooted (which is precisely why I should never drive a car bigger than the Mini.) Slim and vertical are welcome. And containers give so many options, like with Cotula ‘Big Yellow Moon’ which was planted up a couple months ago, the pot plunged into the gravel at the sunny, western end of the pergola. You know how plants are sometimes described as cheerful? Well, cotula is goofily cheerful, with those bobbing satellites straight out of a fifth-grade science project. There’s not enough sunny ground for the cotula to sprawl as it would prefer, so the container makes a small patch possible. (The anarchist in me hopes it spills over and roots into the gravel of this rapidly shrinking sitting area.) Containers do proliferate around the pergola. Potted Crassula ‘Jitters’ is just behind the cotula, a specimen a few years old, next to a newish butterfly agave bought to replace the Agave potatorum that bloomed. Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ is the variegate in the foreground, its ultimate size deliberately restrained by a container.
The chocolate cosmos on the shop stool is a holdover from last August. (And, yes, I am a bit obsessed with how it has exceeded all expectations — previous attempts always produced dismal results.) Its scale is perfect for a container, and the depth and richness of color together with that scent tick off all the boxes. A great cut flower too. It bloomed most of the fall/winter, was cut back around January, and has started flowering again. Having had zero success with this Mexican cosmos in the ground, I can only conclude that it’s all about growing them in a quick-to-warm container and not an overcrowded garden, plus getting lucky with a vigorous strain. The shop stool was deployed because a brownish-red thunbergia was also planted in the pot and needed room to trail. That the succulents continue to thrive underneath and pool around the stool’s legs, I confess, makes me feel just a little bit smug about successfully exploiting the full-sun air space hovering a few feet over the garden. Making it all fit like a puzzle is the game.
The eastern end of the pergola is for the half-day-sun lovers. (Some of the succulents here would prefer full sun but they do okay.) So many bromeliads including the big silvery Alcantarea odorata thrive at the eastern end of the garden in bright light but shaded from strong afternoon sun by the tetrapanax.
Earlier in the week I tucked in another spring plant sale purchase, Ursulaea tuitensis, a full-sun bromeliad from Mexico found last weekend at the Huntington’s sale. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a full-sun brom, but for the reddest leaves the risk must be taken. Just to be safe, I’ll watch it in half-day sun for a few weeks.
That same full-sun risk was taken with Aechmea recurvata var. ‘Benrathii,’ which took on these stressed-out inky tints — fun but probably not sustainable, so it’s been moved back under the tetrapanax too.
The tetrapanax is critical in diffusing strong sunlight and sometimes offering actual physical support too — tillandsias love life tied to its branches, and a leggy Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ is using it like a crutch. But its main talent is in keeping bromeliads happy under its canopy.
Bromeliads are such lookers and so easy to keep happy, that I can’t stop bringing more home. They don’t require much soil, so are equally good in the ground or containers.
Sustaining the collecting habit requires zoning in on where the range of plants I love to grow — from bromeliads to agaves — grow best. The eaves under the pergola are the perfect environment for tillandsias and rhipsalis.
It’s so hard to predict which acquisitions are in it for the long haul, and it’s the surprises that keep things interesting. Aristolochia fimbriata is more a small-scale scrambler than a climber, yet it has a steady vigor I appreciate, hoisting itself up among salvias this spring to show off those gorgeous leaves. The bizarro flowers are a kick but just a little creepy, so I don’t mind that they’re often buried under the leaves. I’ve had this diminutive White-Veined Dutchman’s Pipe reseeding in the garden since at least 2014.
I think this is the second year in the garden for the tall ‘Single Black’ carnations, and I’ve already started to move offsets around whenever a rare patch of full sun opens up. Plants with scent and absorbing details that require close-up inspection were made for small gardens.
Which I suppose is why I’ve been gravitating to the scented pelargoniums that cover themselves in nebulas of bloom and prefer the same conditions as my potted agaves. The tall “pelly” in the back is ‘Pomona,’ a hybrid bred by Jay Kapac that I brought home from Robin Parer’s booth at the recent South Coast plant fair.
I haven’t grown herbaceous geraniums in years, and I’m not really a fan of the masses of bloom that ‘Rozanne’ provides, but I’ve always been a sucker for the meandering psilostemon hybrids with intense, black-eyed magenta flowers. ‘Ann Folkard’ turned up at a local nursery, and ‘Dragon Heart‘ was on Robin Parer’s table at South Coast. (‘Dragon Heart’ didn’t like full sun the last time I grew it so will be trialed in part sun.)
Reseeding nicotianas are a fixture of spring now and come to the fore after the poppies are almost over. I sowed some ‘Tinkerbell’ nicotianas, which are so similar to this reseeding flowering tobacco that originated from ‘Nan Ondra’s Brown Mix’ that I really didn’t need to bother.
With reseeding comes unexpected variations in color, from white to pale chartreuse through lime green to darkest red-brown — so far I haven’t met one I didn’t like.
Bulbs of Lily ‘Night Flyer’ and ‘African Queen’ were brought home from the South Coast show, Penstemon ‘Midnight’ was grabbed from a local nursery, a great penstemon I grew years ago, etc., etc…