Landscape Crit

A new shopping center was planted with sharp plants four years ago. Agaves, yuccas.
I was thrilled but also slightly alarmed.

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Alarmed for the shoppers’ safety, too, of course!

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But, it’s true, I was mainly concerned that the plants would be punished for having been wrongfully placed too close to the walkways.
And some of that punishment has happened.

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Poor, abused Aloe striata.

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But apart from occasional siting lapses, overall, the plantings are holding up, though a serious thinning is now in order.
(There’s no rational justification for a commercial landscape to pack in plants like I do at home.)
I would so love to dig in and thin out about 50 percent of the plants.
(And, except for the Agave americanas, cart the remainder home.)
Also, gravel for mulch would be a vast improvement.

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Agave americana and its variegated form were a poor choice, since they are incredibly vigorous, but were probably initially chosen to keep costs down. Now that the various other plantings are mature, they can be replaced with more choice agaves. Just today I found at a local nursery a large Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star,’ Tony Avent’s selection, which would be a gorgeous substitute for the manically offsetting variegated Agave americana. For a blue agave, A. parryi var. truncata, beautiful en masse and compact, or hybrid agaves ‘Blue Glow’ and ‘Blue Flame.’ Likewise, rampageous Senecio mandraliscae has been hacked and cut back and generally looks to have been problematic for these tight island plantings. Allowing more space for these plants to express their full sculptural beauty, coupled with a gravel mulch, would make the need for a ground cover like the senecio superfluous.

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This Yucca rostrata needs to be rescued from imminent attack by agaves.
(All these crossed swords makes a dynamic, almost swashbuckling scene.)

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The soft stuff, Salvia greggii and artemisias, are rangy and overgrown and need to be removed. Any plant whose upkeep requires some knowledge and a light touch needs to be jettisoned because the default maintenance approach is to meatball-prune, a fate met by a couple Salvia greggiis. Most unattractive.

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Located in Torrance, Southern California, Zone 10, a couple miles from the Pacific Ocean, this new, small shopping courtyard is a satellite, open-air plaza attached to the leviathan Del Amo Mall, a retail mecca dating to the heyday of the Malling of America* and once the “largest indoor shopping center in the world.” The old, hulking mall still exists. This zippy, new, outdoor pedestrian mall houses the trendier stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. All my retail energy is directed at plant nurseries, so I hadn’t been back to shop at the mall since the plants were first installed, but I was working nearby on Wednesday and stopped in after work, about mid-day, overcast, but still fairly bright outside.

More aloes would be nice, such as A. marlothii, and some dramatic tree aloes. The hybrid ‘Hercules’ is reputedly very fast-growing.
It’s always easy to make a dream list, but, again, cost seems to have been a factor, with the cheapest and most commonly available plants used.

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Other agaves included A. attenuata, celsii, desmettiana. Yuccas included Yucca rostrata, aloifolia. Dasylirion, aloes, deciduous trees not yet leafed out that I took for Palo Verde/cercidium. (If so, a beautiful but very messy choice for a pedestrian mall.) Just a few phormiums were included, no doubt because they’ve been overused in zone 10 landscapes and might be considered passe.

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I liked the simple pairing of Senecio mandraliscae and sansevieria.

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I was happily clicking away when a security guard rolled up on a Segway to icily inquire what I was photographing. (Somehow, a security guard loses their edge of intimidation when they scoot around like Gumby.) Once she was reassured it was not reconnaissance for an elaborate heist, just some photos to document the maturing of the plantings, she relaxed and answered a few questions. I asked if anyone had been injured by the plantings or if there had been any problems, and she said no, that the only injuries were to the plants themselves, and she pointed out some carvings in some of the leaves. Miscreants.

No changing out of bedding plants every spring and fall, no fertilizing or wasteful irrigation. With a little tweaking — I’d ditch the Agave americanas, add some furcraeas, move some of the spikier stuff deeper into the beds so they’re no longer mutilated, thin it all out by at least half, tuck in some choicer, flowering stuff like beschornerias, dyckias, and mangaves deep in the beds, far away from potential vandals, and mulch with gravel — and I think this experiment can be considered a great success in using such tough, bold plants.

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8 Responses to Landscape Crit

  1. Several of those images are just gorgeous, others are heartbreaking. And bark mulch? Really? That’s just insanity!

  2. Denise says:

    Loree, don’t you wish we had the time & money to be landscape vigilantes? Just drive up in a large truck, with plants and gravel, and straighten everything out…

  3. Grace says:

    Landscape Vigilantes now there’s a thought. What a great reality show that would be! 🙂

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    Denise, I enjoyed your assessment of the landscaping and the changes needed, especially as it has matured. No landscaping is maintenance free, as we gardeners know, and changes are often needed over time, but it is nice to see commercial properties using these sorts of plants instead of traditional and labor-intensive bedding annuals.

    Re: the bark mulch, at least one agave/aloe expert here in Austin prefers it for his garden. Jeff Pavlat uses a loose, hardwood mulch for most of his xeric garden and swears by it: http://www.penick.net/digging/?p=3736 . Of course, he gardens under trees, which create litter, perhaps making a wood mulch a more natural choice than in an open, sunny garden.

  5. Denise says:

    Grace, I know your vigilante tendencies would involve removing blue tarp…
    Pam, yes, gravel would be trouble under trees (boy, do I know!)

  6. Kathy says:

    Ah Denise, you’d lower your head in pity if you saw what this rainy winter has wrought om my once beautiful, pristine, ‘Arizona Star’.25 degrees, no problem..40 inches of rain? Bad news.

    Your assessment of the landscape is right on the money. But they meant well didn’t they ?

  7. hoover says:

    Or DG. Gravel would be thrown about by miscreants, no? Very nice though. They did pick some of the wrong material, but nice to see something in a shopping mall besides daylilys and rapheolepsis. Not that I’ve been to a shopping mall for years.

  8. When you get contacted by the networks for this reality show “Landscape Vigilantes” just know that I’m in. You don’t even need to email me…I’m there. (well as long as they are [picking up the airfare and all the agaves I can ship home).

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