crushed oyster shells and chanterelles

Tillamook, Oregon, population roughly 5,000 — in the neighborhoods, all grass, all the time. With 80-plus inches of annual rainfall, to peel off the sod and dig is something only an obsessed gardener would do. I couldn’t wait to get started. The neighborhoods eschew parkway trees — I’m guessing it’s to allow as much sun in as possible. Just a few miles west is the ocean, and a few miles east the forest picks up again, blanketing the coast range. The Douglas fir and Sitka spruce were removed from this five-river valley for agriculture, to grow grass to feed the dairy cows — one of the few crops that thrived in the heavy rainfall. In this 1940s-ish subdivision, possibly built to house WWII soldiers from the nearby naval base, the soil is amazing.
all photos by MB Maher taken the week before Thanksgiving

My new mantra, apparently borrowed from an old Swedish proverb, loosely translated: There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. To put it in gardener’s speak, we left frostless, drought-ridden zone 10b in early October and are attempting to become acclimated to an extremely wet zone 8b in the temperate rain forest of coastal Oregon. And though the contrast in growing conditions couldn’t be more stark, I’m consumed with getting a small garden started, which means muddy boots, muddy paws, dodging cloudbursts, piles of excavated sod to deal with — once I found the right boots at the farmer’s co-op, it’s been a muddy adventure I can’t get enough of. (The house came equipped with a very large bath tub.) The air and sky are on a perpetual rinse cycle, so different from the port air of the house in Southern California. Marty has returned briefly to Long Beach to handle some stuff and tells me the garden is covered in the grime I try to rinse off daily, but otherwise seems to be hanging on.

Munson Falls, where we foraged for chanterelles, mushrooms that peak when the rains return, approximately late August to late November

For the house, hand-me-downs and second-hand furniture works. The dirty secret about gardens is the cost of getting started. Plants are the very least of the expense. Without dry paths and a relatively level, weed-free canvas, the future will be problematic. And that means getting the hardscape right. The materials category of craigslist is my new favorite haunt. I’d love to build up a free-draining berm with all this dug-up sod and use broken reclaimed concrete aka urbanite for a low retaining wall — but that’s the thing about urbanite. It’s plentiful in cities, rare as hen’s teeth in the country. Pressure-treated landscape timbers are available, relatively cheap, and will have to suffice.

JAndy’s Oysters where I sourced the shells to be crushed for garden paths

Now when I look at gardens online or in books, for the first time I’m consumed with identifying what besides plants is covering the ground — and even for this very small garden most examples are way beyond my budget. Finding an affordable, local supply of a material for paths to use in place of chronically wet grass has been a challenge in a town where’s there’s no demand for it. My first idea was oyster shells — no problem sourcing those. Tillamook Bay is full of them. But the shells need to be finely crushed, and with just a hammer I was not doing the job nearly fast nor thorough enough. With the right machinery, it’d be a great little business. But as usual, I overestimate the garden desires of the general public, and judging by local appearances, there would seem to be very little demand. Lawn appears to be working just fine for the neighbors, front yards and back, whose free time is filled year-round with hunting, fishing, clamming, hiking, etc.

Oceanside Beach, a great dog beach for Billie, but under the epic king’s tide mid November the broad stretches of sand had completely disappeared. Such tides can be treacherous, and even billy-goating around on the rocks is to be avoided. Sneaker waves are a stealthy, fearsome enemy. The local dog park is another favorite of Billie’s.

After weeks of searching for local materials, it came down to a big-box store delivery of crushed granite very much like what I used in the Long Beach garden. The custom-built concrete planters I wanted to bookend the patio morphed into stock tanks — again, the price tag for the concrete was way out of my budget. Maybe in summer I can DIY some concrete pavers. Trying to get this all done in the brief windows of dry weather means speed and quick decisions are of the essence — because I’m dying to get planting! And we will most likely return to Long Beach after the New Year for a few months before returning here. I am purposely avoiding being a bore and mentioning our new granddaughter, the most marvelous being to ever grace the planet — but then we all start out so promising, right?

on the hunt for the elusive chanterelles — and not one of these photos is of chanterelles!

Daydreaming now about two gardens, I feel a bit like a polygamist. Marty worries that I won’t be happy with this new rainy garden, but I remind him that every garden book I read in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s described gardens filled with plants from zones colder than zone 10. This is not a climate to suit everyone, thank goodness, for the locals very much want to keep it to themselves. But after 30-plus years in the same house, and with the pummeling we’ve all had the last couple years, it’s just the sort of adventure we needed.


I’m hoping to write again before the holidays, but in case I don’t — wishing you the very best!


Posted in climate, journal, MB Maher | 10 Comments

dispatch from the Oregon coast

at the back of the house, facing south, the roofed overhang is a godsend. Turf was stripped back so the plants could be temporarily staged in a sunny strip. Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe’ on the left from San Marcos Growers. Tillamook is zone 8b

We’ve been at the Oregon house a little over two weeks, and this Tillamook Rainforest coastal area is now settling into a comfortable steady rain. Late October and November bring some of the heaviest rainfall to the yearly total over 80 inches. Most of the rain is distributed in fall, winter, and spring, but I’m told there is occasional summer rain too here at the coast.

easy, affordable plants like Euphorbia characias will be part of the first team to test the garden conditions. I saw the enormous size these attain locally when walking Billie yesterday

There is a small, squarish, fenced-in backyard facing south. The first week it was still relatively dryish and the ground workable, so the second day after arrival I was stripping sod, trying to avoid harming the zillions of disturbed earthworms, and getting what plants I brought into the ground in the sunniest band of soil available. The backyard previously supported four kids and three dogs, so the wise parents chose half grass and half bark mulch for optimal mud-free play surfaces. The soil under the sod is beautiful loam. Under the mulch and landscape cloth was an entirely different story.


Amazing what depriving soil of oxygen will do. Pulling back the bark mulch and landscape cloth revealed slick plasticine, completely unplantable. About a 4-foot wide strip of the mulched area is in sun by noon, so the landscape cloth and mulch were pulled away and the clumps of stripped sod were piled on top, roots up, so the earthworms could wriggle their way out of the clumps and work their magic with the slick clay. I’d love to plant it in late spring but it may still be unworkable. Yet to be determined is whether the entire mulched area is in sun by summer or remains somewhat shaded. I’ll most likely remove all the grass for planting and paths and will decide on the mulched areas next year.

whatever survives the winter will be the bones of the new garden. Edging blocks were found in the little vegetable garden on the east side of the house — to keep the encroaching grass at bay while the plants settle in

A rummage sale over the weekend improbably produced, amongst the housewares and old furniture, my old buddy tetrapanax and a potful of fall-blooming kaffir lilies, schizostylis, a South African bulb for zones 7-9 that likes it really wet. I saw it flourishing this late October in a local garden, drew a blank on ID (too late for crocosmia?) and then there it was miraculously at the rummage sale, potted and labeled. My first local plant! The seller of the tetrapanax carefully explained to me how this gunnera was a hardy gunnera unlike the more familiar Gunnera manicata. After that lengthy dissertation, politeness seemed to require that I leave the plant ID unchallenged, and so I did.

On a short trip south on highway 101 I noticed growing fields of dahlias. A return trip was made over the weekend to Old House Dahlias and a handful of tubers ordered for spring after inspecting the dahlias’ performance in the muddy growing fields. I’m particularly excited about ‘Orange Pekoe,’ which looked amazingly strong and healthy for late October. The little vegetable garden will probably be at peak capacity with just the dahlias alone.

Banksy exploring avenues of escape. He didn’t yowl the entire car trip north, just a good half of the way

Front gardens in my neighborhood are sparsely planted with Japanese maples, hydrangeas, fuchsias, rhododendrons, pieris, hebes, and tend to be mostly lawn and foundation shrubs, with everything meticulously mulched. Lots of Lithodora diffusa, and I’ve even spotted a monkey puzzle tree. And of course conifers. A shrub I was semi-interested in, the cutleaf sumac, has taken over a nearby front yard and is in blazing autumnal color, but now I think I’ll pass. It looks like plants can really get away from you here!

previous owner left a shed/unheated greenhouse at the back of the garage

We are all busy exploring this beautiful part of the country. Marty is in love with his new granddaughter, the local oysters, the pellet stove and already has a little boat to get ready for river trips. Billie loves her walks, rainy or dry, though I still haven’t decided whether to get her a little raincoat. A washer was installed yesterday so all major appliances are now accounted for. We still run outside to check out the geese formations as they honk overhead, which the neighbors must find very amusing. But as Ms. Austen says, for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors?

Hope you are well! Much love, AGO

Posted in climate, journal, plant sales | 7 Comments

clippings 9/30/21


A self-sown manihot made an exquisite canopy of uniform growth to 4 feet in its first summer — consolation for the loss of a similar but shorter-lived performance from a young Schefflera taiwaniana, which unlike the manihot had a strong aversion to sustained high temperatures over 90F. (Aversion manifested by complete collapse.) Some years I get lots of manihot seedlings, but this year just the one. It will winter over here in zone 10b, losing its leaves, but I recall it being more gangly in its second and subsequent years. Right now it is simply perfection. I cut back the schefflera’s dead growth, and if it shows signs of recovery may move it to the rainy and cool zone 8b Oregon garden. The deed was recorded yesterday, and we should be checking out the little fisherman’s cottage in the next couple weeks. I call it a fisherman’s cottage — but it really looks like a tract home from the ’40s. I’m imagining a Derek Jarman/Prospect Cottage vibe with sea kale and horned poppies, but really don’t know what will thrive in all that rain. The west coast of New Zealand gets a similar amount of rainfall but is mostly a zone warmer. We’ll see….


Bay Area garden designer David Feix left a thought-provoking comment on my restless garden renovations:

I’m impressed at other gardeners willing to do so much work to constantly update how they enjoy their gardens, but would never consider such in my own garden, the bones are not going to change. It did change dramatically once at middle age some 15 years ago when the central feature arching Japanese Plum festooned with hanging baskets and epiphytes finally keeled over, and it made little sense to preserve the now rotting raised deck below it.

Good luck sorting out which plants remain/get edited, but you seem quite confident in your willingness to do so continuously! I think having other, client’s gardens to evolve puts my own garden at less risk of changes; less pressure to pull/edit/replace out of a desire for the new; I mostly do so if plants die or fail to thrive. Sometimes it can take a decade to decide, I finally pulled a decrepit 10 years old Mimetes cucculatus that should have disappeared years ago, truth be told.

Photos from early April of Peder and Marilyn's 3 year old new garden I designed for them in the Emerald Hills of Redwood City.
landscape design and photo by David Feix

I wonder, David, if when the thing you love becomes work, then might it feel like work to mess with your own garden? Or maybe you got it perfect the first time! I know what little design work I’ve done wasn’t something I wanted to develop further — but then you have amazing clients that give you basically carte blanche as far as planting. And you certainly deserve the very best clients!


The area near the east fence that was reworked in fall 2020 has filled in quickly. My long-distance worrying will be focused on the new shrubs planted here, especially the Leucospermum ‘Tango,’ which seems to appreciate lots of water while getting established. The young trevesia and metapanax in the far corner will also need extra attention from the garden caretaker. (I’m going to try really hard not to be a complete nag.) We were congratulated by our provider for our low water use this summer, so the garden is definitely trending drier, but new plants always need extra help.

Newly planted Aloe labworana throwing its first bloom in my garden

I’ve been coddling this self-sown Polygonum orientale seedling all summer, which I expected to explode into robust growth and bloom long before the last week of September. Instead, feeble and spindly growth is what it had planned. I have been using liquid seaweed on annuals, but apparently not enough.

rusty red ‘Fred Stone’ was the first mum to open

I promise, after these photos it will be mum’s the word on my chrysanthemum experiment — which I have to admit I am really enjoying. These are plants that seem to know what to do and when to do it, with very little input from me. And the flowers hang on for weeks.

‘Fine Feathers’ was next to open
‘Fine Feathers’
then ‘Cheerleader’
next to open was ‘Carousel’

There is a ‘Grape Queen’ that has yet to open. And it should be said that all these mums are bred to produce flowers up to 5 inches across if given more luxurious growing conditions than my foot-deep containers can offer. And pinching and disbudding, which I did lightly. These flowers are maybe 2 inches across.

Daubigny’s Garden by van Gogh (July 1890)

A movie I enjoyed quite a lot recently is unfortunately leaving Netflix September 30, so sorry for the late notice. Vincent van Gogh, as imagined in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, stomps around fields, staring intently at everything that crosses his cornea — it all felt very familiar even to a nonpainter like myself, who just stomps around a garden. Even though slightly old to play 37-year-old Vincent, it had to be Willem Dafoe, who inhabits the nerve-jangling intensity of the painter consumed with sharing the holiness of everything he sees — farmland, stars, sea captains, sunflowers. There’s no time for anything else (a maid points out that he stinks), and the only respite from his work is when his nervous system occasionally capsizes completely. When asked, and I’m paraphrasing, he admits he paints so others might also look and really see the extraordinary world surrounding them. Amen! It’s an energetic performance that captures the exhausting physicality of VG’s approach to painting — walking for miles with easel and paints in tow to find the perfect light. Working with Dafoe are some of my favorite actors, Oscar Isaac and Mads Mikkelsen. It’s a slow movie that gives the actors room to stretch, which is not a drawback for me but just a head’s up. And if you haven’t kept up on the new research, you might be surprised by Schnabel’s interpretation of who fired the gun that ended van Gogh’s life. The voluminous correspondence van Gogh conducted, almost exclusively with his brother Theo, is always a fascinating read and is now archived here.

The excellent documentary on regenerative farming, Kiss the Ground, might also be something you’d like to queue up for the weekend.

You can read about Southern California’s latest affliction, how “Climate change lets mosquitoes flourish — and feast — in Los Angeleshere. I’m one of the lucky ones that they leave alone — possibly because my blood is A negative.


Something else to daydream about, if I ever visit Australia — Grevillea Park!

See you in October!

Posted in Cinema Botanica, clippings, journal, succulents | 7 Comments

APLD Plant Fair 10/2/21 at LA Arboretum


The Los Angeles chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers puts on a helluva fall plant fair, and against some impressive odds they have managed to deliver another one for 2021 on October 2nd. And hooray for autumn plant fairs! Having once planned a trip to England around Great Dixter’s October plant fair, personally I find fall plant sales much more exciting and inspiring than the spring shows and sales. And after a long, hot summer (will there ever be any other kind?) it’s just the horticultural pick-me-up I’m craving in fall. Buy your tickets via LA Arboretum here.


For their third plant fair, the APLD has assembled another great lineup of nurseries and speakers to share their knowledge and latest plant crushes. Trust me, even if you don’t spend a dime at the overflowing sales tables, you won’t go home empty-handed — the plant raffles are insane opportunities for new plants, so bring the biggest vehicle you own or can borrow! (I barely squeezed Aloe ‘Tangerine’ into my Mini one year.). You can read about their first fair I attended in 2018 here.

Coos Bay, Oregon, averaging 64 inche of annual rainfall, by Mosaic Gardens 

This year I’ll be interested in plants for zone 8b, coastal Oregon, rainfall averaging over 80 inches a year (gulp!). Long distance, we’ve undertaken the nerve-wracking process of trying to acquire a small house so we can spend lots of time with our little granddaughter Hannah, and it’s possible the plan may come to fruition the end of this month. Or not. But whatever happens, it has been fascinating to research what to plant in such conditions. And if the plan succeeds, we will have two small gardens; one incredibly dry in zone 10b, the other incredibly wet in zone 8b. For someone who likes nothing better than trialing and experimenting with plants, it’s a thrilling challenge.

assembled to travel to a very winter wet/relatively summer dry garden are lots of odds and ends, including a variegated Italian buckthorn, Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset,’ Euphorbia ‘Dean’s Hybrid,’ Phormium ‘Pink Blush,’ Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle,’ carex, ballota, Hebe ‘Quicksilver,’ eryngium, Rhodocoma capensis, geum, and a few others not shown above

I’ve already begun assembling plants to bring north, many from my own garden and smaller sized plants from local nurseries, but I’ll be proceeding slowly, planting smallish areas at first. I’d be happy to get hebes, nolinas, and grasses growing! Any planting suggestions are much appreciated. I’d love to mulch it all with crushed oyster shells, which are in abundance locally, but we’ll see what a tight budget allows.

Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ will make the trip along with Eryngium pandanifolium from my garden

It would be so much fun to see you at the APLD Plant Fair at the Arboretum on October 2nd — save the date!

Posted in plant nurseries, plant sales, shop talk | 8 Comments

garden clippings 9/7/21

Chrysanthemum ‘Fred Stone‘ with chocolate cosmos

Yes, that is a box full of chrysanthemums. Let me explain why such a wildly uncharacteristic flower, for me, is blooming in my otherwise mostly austere and dryish garden.


It’s part of the ongoing experiment of trying cut flowers in containers. Last year it was cosmos (mildly successful, but a much shorter bloom period than I hoped, and so much watering!) Dahlias are also intense upkeep in containers and not happy in the best conditions I can muster for them. Florist-style mums seemed like a fun experiment, so I ordered five spidery kinds from Bluestone Perennials last fall which were potted up in gallons in May. And they’ve remained in gallons all summer. Unlike dahlias, the mums are beginning to bloom on much smaller plants. The leaves are tougher and more sun resistant and overall healthier, and they don’t seem as sensitive to occasionally dryish soil. I know, mums. But dahlias and gladioli were once witheringly dismissed as déclassé too. I can honestly say that my box of mums has been less problematic than cosmos or dahlias. True, they don’t have the range of shapes and colors that dahlias do, nor the willowy elegance of cosmos, not to mention that they skip summer bloom entirely. And this doesn’t mean I want to be surrounded by grocery store foil-encased pots of dwarf flowering mums — where gaudy flowers are concerned, I’m in the less is more camp and prefer to keep pollinators happy with the tiny flowers of, say, calamint. But this experiment in pots has been fun. I would never grow them in the garden, only a cutting garden. (Floret Farms writes of their rediscovery of chrysanthemums here and links to King’s Mums growing instructions here.) Chocolate cosmos has also been easy in containers, clean leaves, cuttable stems, moderate size.


This toothy Aloe divaricata ‘Chompers’ I found plant shopping yesterday, however, will definitely get planted in the garden. Winter blooming, with a multibranched inflorescence, but it’s mostly about the leaf coloration and teeth with this one. It can get big, to 5 feet high and across, but is easily manageable by thinning out the offsets.


The ‘Chompers’ aloe was planted this morning in this newly reworked area that has seen a lot of planting action lately. Agave geminiflora, in a pot for years, was also moved here recently. It spills out beautifully from a pot but was in too much shade, and it will color up deep red here in full sun. I like the shape echo here with Agave stricta ‘Nana’ too.

Aloe divaricata ‘Chompers’ to the right of chunky Aloe marlothii. A small Agave horrida was planted just to the left of the blue glass interrupter. Other aloes in this area are classenii, camperi, aculeata, ‘David Verity,’ and labworana.

Most of my aloes are winter bloomers, but ‘Rooikappie’ is the rare repeat blooming aloe. I love how when it blooms, a small patch in the back garden becomes a little slice of the African veldt — with liberal applications of imagination! I’m amazed that these succulents in grass are still getting enough sun at their bases to bloom, but for this to continue a success the grasses will have to be thinned.


Brassaiopsis hispida was doing so well in a container that I decided to take a chance on planting it in the garden, where I don’t have to worry about missing a daily watering. Another member of the Araliaceae, Schefflera taiwaniana, was planted in morning sun on the north side of the house, carefully watered, flourished all summer, but still took a wilt dive when temps rose into the 90s. I dug it up and it seemed to be recovering, but collapsed when we hit 97 — even though it had been moved into full shade! The brassaiopsis seems unfazed by the heat so far, and the trevesia seems to revel in it.


To protect it from Billie the digger, rather than store this unused tuteur, it makes a handy plant protector.

red shrimp plant loving the heat
Billie the Digger putting on her most serious “Who me, a digger?” face. She was spayed last Wednesday but seems back up to full speed this week.

The Agave geminiflora’s empty container became home to an Alcantarea imperialis that needed a larger pot and a tongue fern (Pyrrosia lingua) I had growing in a wooden orchid basket. The fern loved life in that mossed wooden basket and was surprisingly difficult to extricate after residing in it just a few months.


One pot of coleus can make quite a statement. I like the simple strong colors versus the wildly variegated kinds.


Alternanthea ‘Purple Knight’ is another good strong single-colored tropical. This has been in the ground since last December, dying back early summer then putting out lush new growth late summer.


Another plant that makes an impact and is easy in a pot is Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow.’


Passiflora ‘Flying V’ produces flower buds all summer, but it’s only in late summer that they really fully open enough for a decent photo. Odd…


Hibiscus mutabilis is another heat lover. This one needs attentive watering, maybe less so after its first year.

Salvia ‘Waverly’ waking up and shaking off the summer doldrums
Echeverias are blooming in containers and in the garden

Another worthy mention for summer containers is Begonia luxurians.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, cut flowers, journal, pots and containers, succulents | 10 Comments

Little Island

Little Island is a 2.4 acre park with amphitheaters at former site of Pier 54 —
unless otherwise noted, all photos by MB Maher

There is a new waterfront reclamation project in New York City that will take some heat off the 12-year-old High Line as the punching bag for unintended urban renewal consequences. The old elevated railway reimagined by James Corner for plants, people, and wildlife instead of rail cars, and planted by New Perennialist Piet Oudolf, has become a vilified victim of its huge success. Adored by tourists for its sky-high meadowy strolls and unparalleled views, the High Line has been accused of instigating expensive high-rise development along its length, rampant selfie tourism and a host of other neighborhood-changing ills. And the High Line and Little Island have something else in common — their funding source. Media mogul Barry Diller was the largest single contributor to the High Line. With funding for repairs to storm-damaged Pier 54 hitting a dry well, the Hudson River Trust decided to also approach Diller, and he agreed, stipulating that he wasn′t interested in mere renovation of the pier but something ambitiously iconic, like the Sydney Opera House.

photo by Michael Grimm via Vogue

After several years of negotiations and the occasional legal battle, the finished Little Island is assuredly iconic, comprised of 132 tulip-shaped “pots,” each configured for differing load capacities and offering an array of microclimates to plant.

structural architecture by UK-based Heatherwick Studio, landscape architecture designed by Signe Nielsen, founding principal of MNLA

Throughout its development and opening in May 2021, Little Island has also aroused heated discussion about high-dollar vanity projects, local control, destinations that attract tourism vs. green space for locals, gentrification spillover effects, and lord knows what else. Loved or loathed, without the Medici-money patronage of the Diller von Furstenburg Foundation ($260 million), such projects as Little Island would be dead in the water.


I confess that I look at such projects through a very narrow lens, which pretty much begins and ends with if and how they support plant life. And like the High Line, Little Island very much made supporting the growth and health of plants a priority on its 2 and a half acre site. Like the space program, such projects are an investment in necessary future technologies — the work to make Little Island can only push engineering and technological innovation in an important direction for greening up land-starved, flood-prone cities in the 21st century.


I was able to get a closer look at Little Island when Mitch visited NYC a couple weeks ago.

rusty appearance of weathered steel is nothing to worry about — Corten steel quickly develops this rusty layer as a protective coating that is corrosion resistant

From the audio tour by landscape architect Signe Nielsen (highly recommended!), I learned that of the 114 trees planted in 2020, 19 are considered “hero” trees, any tree with a 10 or 12 inch caliper with ultimate heights of 60 to 80 feet. The trees need at least 6 feet of planting depth. Seventy percent of the deciduous trees are native. Salt-spray pollution required highly resilient evergreens — accordingly, just 30 percent of the evergreen trees are native. To keep the trees from blowing over in the maritime climate, the trees are anchored to the underlying deck itself via a system of 4 to 10 steel straps resting on the root balls. It′s an invisible, subterranean system of support that has already weathered a 2020 hurricane.

(Checking to see if the park is open after Hurricane Ida, they are still accepting timed entry reservations after 12 p.m. No reservations are necessary for visits between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m.)


Planting runs the gamut from 66,000 spring bulbs, 270 varieties of grasses, vines and perennials, shrubs and lawn, all the way up to heroic trees like the Cedar of Lebanon, weighing 16-20,000 pounds. Apart from aesthetics, concealing and revealing views, plants are also chosen for their ability to hold soil, block wind and noise, and wet tolerance.

top of the hill is 36 and a half feet above the water

Landscape architect Signe Nielsen says the chief challenge will be maintaining the integrity of the three hills, which are made from Geofoam — large blocks of lightweight, nonabsorbent, styrofoam-like material.

the base elevation of 16 feet above the river is 2-1/2 feet higher than any projected sea level rise for the lifetime of the pier. 

In planning the project, the most crucial aspect of the tight collaboration between landscape architecture and engineering was of course weight load. A year of 3D modeling among the teams involved reconfiguring the tulip pots, including redesign of 30 to 40 percent of the pots due to the weight load challenges.

trees include oaks, dogwoods, fringe tree, honey locust in autumn, maple, columnar english oak, cercis

Ms. Nielsen surprisingly cites Gertrude Jekyll as an influence in designing the planting of the three hills with six distinct seasons, including early and late spring, early and late summer. As well as seasons, time of day was also considered for views at early morning, dusk, shade at mid-day — she sincerely hopes everyone can find their favorite tree and their special spot to catch the sun or evening cityscape. After the strain of ciphering weight loads and root zone depth, she found her quiet moment of joy when finishing a small planting of creeping thyme and orange coneflowers.


The intent of the design was to offer a varied set of experiences calibrated by pace of movement, changes in elevation, opportunities for different routes. (The park is ADA accessible.)


There is vastly more to this complex project than what little I′ve touched on here. Some of my reading can be found here, here, here, and here. As always, where included, the readers′ comments are a helpful complement to the articles.

Posted in design, garden visit, MB Maher | 10 Comments

August fidgets part 2

So I did act on those August fidgets and started work on a path through the back garden. The planted back garden encompasses roughly a 14X40′  rectangle, and I’ve been inclined to keep every inch of it available for planting, with paths changed up as the planting varies over the years. Having a deep border of 14′  to plant has been useful for playing with seasonal summer stuff. But goals change, the drought tightens its stranglehold, and for now I‘ve put in a gravel path that bisects the garden lengthwise from the west, stopping roughly in the middle.

looking west over the rock spine plantings

With my back to the east fence, looking west at the open office door, very little of last week’s work is apparent. The removal of the tall Roldana petasitis approximately mid garden is the most notable absence. I didn’t bring the path all the way through to the eastern end. If completed east/west through the entire back garden, the proposed path would continue to wind roughly past the Yucca rostrata on the left and the tall blue chalksticks (Senecio ficoides) on the right and lead out onto the east patio. I may (or may not) get around to doing this later in the year.


Just outside the office door at the western end of the garden, the new small path begins, maybe 14 feet in length. A corgi-sized path. Billie was completely unaware of the work until it was finished, due to her afternoon nap schedule, and was a little hesitant about the change. Having been continually chastised to stay out of the plantings, she obviously suspects I‘m playing a trick on her now.

Aloe ‘Moonglow‘ on the right, Aloe ‘Tangerine‘ on the left.

She tested it out very carefully.

car jack stands are useful paw guides along the new path for Billie. Mangave is ‘Navajo Princess.’  The sweet potato was added a couple weeks ago. The reddish-bronze color is not always available locally, but when it is I usually can find a spot for it. Another sweet potato was moved elsewhere to make the path. Two non-blooming ‘Gardeners World’  Lychnis coronaria were also removed. Sinningia ‘Invasion Force’ was moved to the rock spine. Shrub-like Senecio medley-woodii was removed as well as most of Berkheya purpurea. Chocolate daisies were pulled up, but there’s more berlandiera elsewhere in the garden.  The red kangaroo paws were removed.
And it‘s still stuffed! Looking east, the short path bisects the deep 14-foot wide, 40-foot long border lengthwise.

The short run of bricks are a relic from the old path that ran east to west in an arc. And look how they glisten! A couple days ago the morning mist blissfully morphed into a light rain that lasted over an hour.

Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty‘ starting to rebloom

Looking through the pergola, Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Medio Picta’ shows up dramatically against gravel. The variegated Agave mitis on the left was transplanted, replacing a big clump of Aloe ‘ Moonglow.’  The biggest job was cleaning up and sawing back the bocconia, which had thick, mostly bare-leaved branches soaring over 8 feet.

Leucadendron ‘Ebony‘ 
Billie inspects newly replanted beehive pot

The path ends at Leucadendron ‘Ebony‘  and turns toward the southern creeping-fig covered wall. It’s maybe 14 feet of path before it turns to the south wall. With Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope‘ having bloomed, I saved the pups and filled its pot with some offsets of Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger‘  that needed a home. Phormium ‘Jester‘  was struggling in too much shade under the fernleaf acacia so was added to the pot in full sun. A large pot is a good visual guide for Billie as well as a foil to her digging energy. She loves to dig anywhere I‘ve been recently working in the garden.


So many good plants in the center of the garden were revealed, including three Echium wildpretii and restio Chondropetalum tectorum, one of four planted last year. I‘ve decided to use the evergreen restios in tandem with winter-blooming aloes. Grasses like miscanthus are usually ready to be cut back by the time the aloes are blooming, so restios make a fresher companion for them.


And that is where the August fidgets led me this year!

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tying up the blooming bromeliad

I think the potted Agave Snow Glow might be getting ready to bloom too

To continue with the hyper-journaling of the back garden, Alcantarea odorata has been tied upright to the tetrapanax and hummingbirds are able to visit the opening flowers safely and regularly again. That was done last week. Lovely heavy mist this morning that stained the pavement wet.

No sign of pups at the base of the bromeliad yet
but Mangave Purple People Eater has produced a pup, planted upper right
growth continues to surge on the trevesia in August. Im calling it Trevesia palmata, but Im not certain about the ID — it was a gift labeled as a green cussonia, quote unquote. My keyboard is still in ee cummings mode (lacking in some punctuation)

Yesterday I started on that path I was envisioning, which doesnt transverse all the way through yet, but its a start. I transplanted what I wanted to keep and saved some Aloe Moonglow pups, if anyone is interested. Ive got another big clump of Moonglow so cant use them all. With the current news cycle, just thought you might need a garden report distraction this morning…

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the path not taken (August fidgets)

Billie tearing across brick path under the pergola running east-west

There are as many ways and reasons to design a garden as their are gardeners — but Im with Billie. Its all about the feet (and paws).

landscape design by Lucian Giubbelei via Desire to Inspire

I love to play with the varying scale that moving through a garden affords — plants experienced ankle-high, hip-high, the landscape pressing in, opening up, receding in the distance. I know a lot of gardens love the throw rug of a central lawn upon which to view the surrounding plants, where you can spin and turn in deciding which direction to explore. Openness, choice. But for whatever reason, Im bonded to the insistent journey of paths. If I had to guess the origin of my affinity for plant-lined paths, it likely stems from the lush growth the winter rains brought in spring to the empty fields near my Los Angeles home, and the paths the neighborhood kids blazed through the tall grass and mustard, the hidden forts we built — all of it lasting at most two months, before summer heat and drought burned it all away.

Miscanthus nepalensis and Justicia brandegeana ‘Red’ at the very southern boundary of the garden, maybe 4 feet from the 8-foot-high, creeping fig-covered CMU fence.

Im never quite happy with the movement through this small, plant-obsessed garden, no doubt the reason I change it up constantly. Today Im fighting an impulse to take out the middle of the garden and carve a path from the pergola to the back fence. I want a strolling, immersive garden this August, not a central garden filled with plants ringed in perimeter paths. (And less ambitiously, I also want the punctuation on my keyboard to function properly — apostrophes disappeared this morning as well as questions marks. Lets check out exclamation points — aha!)

looking south under pergola to creeping fig wall, miscanthus and shrimp plant just visible on the distant left — a possible gain of 6-feet of path if the Phormium ‘Black Rage’ and the middle planting are emptied out

In this fantasy, the miscanthus and justicia would remain, but Id have to pull out the central, very dark Phormium ‘Black Rage,’ one of the best Ive grown, the Roldana petasites, a young Rhodocoma capensis, kangaroo paws, emptying the giants out of the center and rebuilding it with low-growing aromatics, sculptural and swaying things too. (Also in this fantasy, I am not a rabid experimenter with new plants.) But all fantasies aside, in reality it would be a very short, silly path from pergola to the back fence. Better to have a long path meander east to west in this narrow rectangle, and that would mean a wholesale changeup, risking mature plants like Leucadendron Ebony (which from this view is mostly concealed by the phormium). Way back in the 90s, the garden did have a path that ran east to west, dry-laid brick on sand, but I gradually pulled it up to make room for more plants like the phormium…no doubt changes undertaken in August. This month always brings the change-it-up fidgets, a desire for new paths, new ways to experience the plants, new perspectives.

landscape design by Lucian Giubbelei via Desire to Inspire

Try to imagine a little bungalow in place of this Tuscan villa — try hard and dont laugh — so the back of my house is on the left, the creeping-fig covered boundary wall on the right. That distant tree on the right is my fernleaf acacia. Looking out my office door east, I could make a walkable path through the center of the garden. It would mean massive amounts of replanting, but it is technically doable…

Sesleria Campo Azul — sitting under the pergola frames this view, but how much more enjoyable it would be to walk through it

If I ran a path east-west again, some of the sesleria would have to be moved, but grasses are very accommodating to change-up whims. Ive given an overly large share of ground in this small garden to seslerias but dont regret this bargain. I could struggle with keeping something watered for months or have these oatsy, light-catching blades and flowers. And I love how a manihot aka hardy tapioca has found a way through.

Agave kerchovei with newly arrived carex

And its not like I dont move plants all the time anyway. I love this part of making a garden. I moved a couple clumps of Carex testacea on Friday — the big fibrous rootballs really hold together when transplanted, so theres a good chance for success, even when doing this in August.


Two big clumps of Carex testacea were moved from the rock spine planting, one coming from the left of the restio. The chartreuse clump is Carex Everillo, a very promising sedge that tolerates more sun than I anticipated. I had planted five in deep shade in spring and noticed the clump in the most sun was by far the strongest in color and size, so a couple were moved to almost full-day sun here, just missing strong afternoon sun.

gravel visible again after Carex testacea was removed, adding a little breathing room for plants like a small, struggling Banksia repens

The other clump of Carex testacea was smothering my Aloe wickensii. Now the aloe just has to contend with Carex Feather Falls — another sedge new to me this year that is simply fabulous. I can see this sedge spilling onto my new east-west path.

Kalanchoe bracteata and sideritis before removal
after removal and replanting — if it wasnt for keeping the dog and cat from digging, Id clear out a lot of the pots too — ringing the planting with pots here is not great feng shui imho

More plant moves, but no new paths yet. A very large Silver Teaspoons kalanchoe was removed last week, maybe 3X3 feet in size with regular clipping. Winter blooming, adored by hummingbirds, the kalanchoe was an easy, invaluable place holder, protecting Leucadendron Jester while it deliberated whether to thrive or fail. With the leucadendron seemingly choosing to thrive, I began to contemplate removing the kalanchoe, first trying to prune it back to see if that helped the flow in this corner. After removing the old sideritis nearby of a similar size, the kalanchoe looked even more awkward. Is there a feng shui for gardens, question mark…because a perceived lack of flow really bugs me now, and I hate having to look over and around one plant to see another. Instead Im envisioning a long east-west path, each plant luminously outlined in the morning sun. Ah, the August fidgets strike again! But of course August is not the month for such garden upheaval in zone 10b, which is better scheduled for autumn — a delay that will help cool down and refocus the mad, impulsive fidgets of August.

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while I was away

We have a new member of the family, so of course I had to immediately become acquainted with little Hannah, who resides in a foggy coastal Oregon town. And even though she’s only days’ old, I began deliberating before leaving, What shall she call me? Nana? Mimi? Grandmothers in our family style themselves with the French word for grandmother, Memere, but my mom seemed to so thoroughly own that title that it feels inappropriate somehow to take it on. After meeting little Hannah, I’ve decided she can call me anything she wants — just please call me! Anytime, anywhere…

the big news while I was away — flowers opening on bromeliad Alcantarea odorata

As well as helping friends pack and move house, Marty handled the garden and Billie while I was away and seemed overwhelmingly pleased to have me home to take over garden responsibilities again. I didn’t make it easy for him, leaving lots of new plants needing extra attention while they settle in, next to succulents that don’t want any water at all, etc…I still can’t get over what a phenomenal job he did at the hot end of July. I planted an Annie’s Annuals order a day or two before I left — what was I thinking? — and not a single plant was lost. Bravo, Marty! (And sorry I’m such a PIA.)


Between Marty’s dutiful attention to watering duties and the 90-degree heat, the garden is incredibly lush, with the trevesia in particular throwing some bronzy new leaves that look like they were cast in dyed concrete.


It’s always so much fun to prowl the garden after a few days away, when it has even more of a capacity to surprise. There were buds on this tillandsia when I left, but I was unprepared for this graceful performance. Possibly T. stricta — tell me if you disagree. I’m very lax with tillandsia names.

The blooming tillandsia is massed with other bromeliads and succulents on wire scaffolding along the east fence, and this arrangement has worked out surprisingly well throughout sumner, mostly getting by on misting

Pineapple lilies opened.


With the high temps, the tropicals exploded into growth and flower, like this shrimp plant.


A six-pack of Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ was planted down the rock spine right before I left.


The gomphrena hasn’t made much size yet, but at least all six survived. The Carex testacea on the right is lush, happy, and reseeding along the rock spine. A Libertia chilensis was just squeezed into this area too, part of the Annie’s Annuals order.


This little coreopsis was a recent local find, ‘Hardy Jewel Desert Coral’ — not much info available on it other than the name implies it’s perennial and not an annual.


The sideritis and Verbena bonariensis were pretty much done, so they were both pulled — with high hopes for reseeding — and a couple Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ I had potted in reserve were slipped in. (This sesleria, along with the sedge Carex testacea, have become the dominant grassy presence in the back garden.) Now Aloe marlothii can get a nice baking this August and redden up those spines.

Silvery succulent is Kalanchoe bracteata

And I took the opportunity to clean up some of the wandering pups of Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor.’ I really need to pull that bloomed-out ruby grass as well — Melinus nerviglumis provides plenty of seedlings.

bloom on bromeliad Alcantarea odorata

Back to that crazy bloom truss on the bromeliad. I’d been debating whether to stake it, and in a week’s time it’s become nearly parallel to the ground. I really need to make a staking decision or risk damaging the flowers. (I think the better approach might be to tie it with fishing line to the tetrapanax.) The individual flowers are lightly scented. I can find no information on if and how many pups will form, and whether they will be on the bloom spike or at the base. My Tillandsia secunda is incredibly prolific, continually throwing pups along the spike and at the base, and has been doing so since July last year! In bloom a full year, I noticed new flowers buds forming on it again just this morning, which means more pups will form along the stalk — very different from agaves. My White Agave, A. mitis var. albiodor, has finished blooming, and I’m desperately scanning the base for a single pup — I may have spotted one — whereas I’ve taken at least a dozen pups already from the tillandsia.


Hoping your gardens are also pleasing you this summer, whether nourishing your eye or stomach — or both!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, journal, succulents | 4 Comments