Garden Conservancy Open Days: Los Angeles

So am I going to be one of those people who tells the truth about the gardens I visit or am I going to just say how lovely everything was?  Probably a little of both.  I appreciate that the Garden Conservancy is for a good cause and tries to showcase different styles of gardens at a convenient distance from each other.  The six gardens I visited today were all in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles or in nearby Santa Monica (the ritzy bit, not the bit I lived in for two years).  Unfortunately I only really enjoyed one of them.  Luckily I was able to do the entire tour in three hours since they were so close to each other and traffic isn’t that bad midday Sunday.

One of my issues with garden tours is I that I actually expect to see a garden. I’m spoiled with the Garden Conservancy of New York and Connecticut where no matter how wealthy the homeowners are they actually care about horticulture and are involved in their gardens even if they have a designer to help them.  This is not surprisingly not the case in Los Angeles.

The first garden I visited was in Brentwood and wasn’t so much a garden as a landscape in miniature.  Six plants in repetition in a space smaller than my apartment does not a garden make.  Not that it was unattractive there just wasn’t much to it.  On top of that I can only share one photo.  There was an interesting metal fire place and fountain in another courtyard but I was asked not to take pictures of it because it wasn’t “published” yet.  Whatever.  I had a good eye roll at this request and left.

click photos to enlarge

The yellow square is a recirculating fountain. Actually maybe I wasn't supposed to take pictures of this either but since no one said anything specifically I'm posting it anyway.

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Venice Garden & Home Tour

On Saturday I went to the Venice Garden & Home Tour.  It is something I have been meaning to do for a while now and neve got around to.  Advance tickets are kind of pricey at $60 each but proceeds go to the Las Doradas Children’s Center so at least it is for a good cause.  And you get to see 31 homes and gardens so it is a pretty good deal.

Sadly I am having an issue with my digital camera settings so the exposure on some of my photos was a bit off.  But I do have a few cool things to share.

Venice itself is a very artistic and fairly wealthy neighborhood.  In the neighborhood where the garden tour was located each street has a parallel pedestrian alley which makes you feel like you are in a little village.  Some of my favorite gardens were not on the tour at all but were simply neighboring houses.

click images to enlarge

The street that I parked on was less affluent but many of the houses had very nice little gardens. I parked in front of this run down old house with a beautiful Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' growing against the front porch.

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My Trip Home in March

I was going to start this blog in March and my first post was going to be about my visit home for Persian New Year but my old PC crashed right before the trip.  I generally only go home for visits to the east coast in July for my birthday or September for my father’s birthday so I had managed to avoid seeing snow for five years.

Every year my father asks “Do you want to come visit for Christmas?” and I answer “Are you crazy?” and then he tries again in March “Do you want to visit for Persian New Year?”.

Persian New Year or Nowruz is on the first day of spring so in the past I’ve always said no.  The weather is still pretty dicey in March.  I almost gave in last year and at the last minute changed my mind which turned out to be lucky because there was a nor’easter that tore down a blue spruce and other large trees on my fathers property and he also lost power for a week.  This year I decided I should visit and pay my respects.  Attending a family party at my aunt’s apartment in Manhattan first and then later in the week my father had a big party with around fifty guests.

That is me on the right with my brother and sister. Persian New Year 2011.

Of course it is always nice to see my family.  My father lives in northern New Jersey, my brother lives in Brooklyn and my sister is currently at the University of Pennsylvania studying to be a veterinarian. I’m the only one on the west coast so I do miss them.

But I also miss my old garden at my dad’s place.  It wasn’t my first garden or even my second and it isn’t a particularly great garden.  The setting is a busy four lane road in a New Jersey suburb of New York City, the lot is not especially large or attractive, and the materials I used to hardscape were sort of cheap.  But it was sort of an experimental playground for me while I was in school studying horticulture and some collections of plants I had held onto from my older gardens.  It has suffered a lot of neglect because even while I was living on the east coast I was often too busy with school or away  on internships.  It is amazing how quickly a garden reverts back to a semi-wild state if you leave it unattended.

The current care taker of the garden is my fathers handy man who doesnt know much about gardening but does his best.

The weather was 80 degrees in New Jersey but of course that changed when I arrived.  It snowed not once but twice so my five year snow-free record was shattered.

Snow and freezing weather are probably my two least favorite things in the world.

I tried not to let the weather deter me too much and I made it into the Bronx to visit my friends at the New York Botanical Garden despite freezing weather.  I went to my old neighborhood in midtown and took the train in from Grand Central so it would be just like the old days.

Grand Central Terminal feels like home.

I did visit the Orchid Show but I am not terribly excited by Orchids so you’ll have to check out some other blog for pictures of that.  I did of course pay a visit to the jade vine which is my favorite plant in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Strongylodon macrobotrys or jade vine. I pretty much love all the plants that come in this color.

It was very cold out but beautiful and sunny so I road around with my friend Jean who I used to work with in Plant Records as she put out plant labels and we gossiped and admired the early spring blooms.

Prunus mume Peggy Clarke was looking fierce in the Ladys Border.

Scilla tubergeniana at Wamsler Rock. From a distance it looked like snow.

Iris Katharine Hodgkin outside the rock garden.

Back home in New Jersey it finally got warm enough for me to tackle some of the woody plants that needed pruning.

These Graham Thomas roses hadnt been properly pruned in at least 5 years and were over 8 feet tall. The Cotinus, Hydgrangeas, and Vitex needed some work too.

Try not to laugh at the horrible pillars. I had a collection of about a hundred Clematis at one point and needed every surface imaginable for them to climb up. In fact some of the shrubs in this border exist for the sole purpose as suport for Clematis.

I learned to prune roses from the great horticulturist Mike Ruggiero. I think he would be happy with my work. It wasnt easy after all those years of neglect to find a suitable framework to prune back to but I think I pulled it off.

One regret I have is that I didn’t plant lots of Hellebores in the garden.  I’m not really sure why.  I think I just never got around to being a Hellebore collector. My focus has always been on late spring and summer plants and I am not a fan of winter but Hellebores definitely make later winter and early spring more tolerable.

This nameless white Hellebore near my pond is the only one in the garden. Now I wish I had planted more of them.

My quest to obtain Chiondoxa sardensis was a failure but on the plus side the garden now has hundreds and hundreds of Chiondoxa luciliae.

One of the coolest plants in the garden is a self sown Euphorbia palustris growing out of the rocks and moss in our ponds waterfall.  Palustris is Latin for  swampy or marshy and it is living up to its name by growing in a steady stream of water.  It is something I couldn’t have planned if I tried but the cool thing about Euphorbias is they are seed flingers so you never know where they might end up.

This self sown Euphorbia palustris has been in this spot for about 9 years and has formed a gnarled woody caudex. It looks like something swamp hobbits would live in.

Here is a wider angle so you can see how it is growing in proximity to the water fall. If you look closely you can see that the plant is encased in ice but doesnt seem to mind.

I found this old picture of the parent plants in 2004 at the side of the pond. They are still going strong and always look fantastic in spring.

There are many beautiful Euphorbias for gardeners to choose from. Succulent, shrubby, or herbaceous. Euporbia palustris is one of the nicest of the herbaceous types with beautiful chartreuse blooms in spring and a really nice habit through summer and fall. If it gets too leggy and tall after it blooms you can cut it to the ground and it will come up fresh.

I’m not sure how much work I want to put into further developing this garden.  My father bought an apartment in Manhattan where he will retire in a few years and it is possible that the entire house will be torn down and a McMansion put in its place and most of the gardens replaced with lawns.  But I may go back for a visit in September to renovate the big driveway border a little bit.  The center of it was taken over by some large weedy clumping grass and once that is removed there will be a lot of empty space.  And while I currently do not have a garden of my own it is nice to have one I can visit even if it is on the other side of the country.

Nostalgia for England part three

One Saturday I rented a car and drove south with some student friends to visit two of Englands most celebrated gardens.  Our first stop was Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent.  Sissinghurst was the home of writer Vita Sackville-West. I had written a paper on Vita for my history of landscape design class so I was really looking forward to seeing this garden.  She sounded like quite a character always running around having affairs with both men and women.

Another interesting character was Christopher Lloyd whose garden is Great Dixter.  When I first started gardening his books were some of my favorites because he was so opinionated.  If a plant sucked he wasn’t afraid to say so and he loved bold color combinations that more genteel designers stayed away from.  He passed away in 2006 so I feel very fortunate that I got to meet him while I was shopping in the plant nursery.  For me it was better than meeting a movie star and my only regret is that I was too shy to ask to have my photo taken with him.  We chatted about Clematis and when I told him I was from New York he smiled impishly and said “Isn’t that where all the crime is?”.

The tower at Sissinghurst where Vita Sackville-West wrote.

Roses and lupins in the much celebrated white garden.

Stipa barbata (silver feather grass) in the white garden.

Me posing with alliums and poppies. I look much the same seven years later but with even less hair.

View of the various garden rooms from the tower at Sissinghurst.

Great Dixter.

Mosaic dog at Great Dixter.

Lupins and Geraniums in the mixed border at Great Dixter.

Mixed border at Great Dixter with a clipped hedge backdrop.

Alliums, Achillea, and Delphiniums form a nice contrast in the mixed herbaceous border at Great Dixter.

Nostalgia for England part two

While I was in England I spent most of my time at Kew where I was working in the Duke’s Garden as an intern.  I wouldn’t exactly call Kew the most beautiful of gardens as far as design is concerned.  It is mostly a botanical collection of plants and any nicely designed parts depend on the staff working in that section or just luck that a grouping of fine specimens happen to be blooming near each other.  It is rather a hodge podge.

So it was nice to take some field trips and visit some other gardens.  The first was Wakehurst Place which is Kew’s country estate and a National Trust Garden.  It is also home to the Millenium Seed Bank.  As far as design goes it is the complete opposite of Kew.  The landscaped lawns and collection of trees are breathtaking.  The walled Sir Henry Price Garden is done in a cottage style and was my favorite of all the gardens I visited in England.

After Wakehurst I went to Wisley which is the premiere garden of The Royal Horticulture Society and it takes garden design to the extreme.  It felt overly designed to me. With every group of plants I imagined a committee of a dozen people voting on which plants should be included.  Still it was impeccably maintained and the trial gardens are fun.  There were Delphinium trials going on while I was there and I have to admit it was pretty impressive.

The Sir Henry Price Garden at Wakehurst Place.

There is something about walled gardens that I find irresistible.

Mixed border featuring roses and alliums at Wakehurst Place.

The Elizabethan mansion at Wakehurst Place.

I love seeing these Sequoiadendron giganteum dominating the landscape at Wakehurst Place.

Delphinium trials at Wisley. Take note of the committee.

So impressive. I wanted to hug them.

A double row of Delphiniums. The wee ones on the left are either little bedding cultivars or something went horribly wrong. They must feel so inferior.

I even like the white ones.