Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Garden Show: The Vendors

Yesterday, I published a post on the display gardens exhibited at the Southern California Spring Garden Show here.  I thought I'd also share samples of what was offered by the vendors that occupied the second and third floors of the show "grounds", which occupied the home goods wing of South Coast Plaza, one of the largest (and most expensive) shopping malls in California.

There were the expected selections of plants - some unusual, most not - as well as gardening tools, decorative items, and tables representing various plants societies, the Master Gardeners Program, and a local botanical garden.  In addition, certain specialty items were featured in profusion, most notably, bonsai, fairy garden materials, orchids and succulents.

The bonsai shown below weren't for sale but there were plenty that were.

This tree was reportedly 40-45 years old (but I don't recall the genus)

Bougainvillea in bonsai form

A bonsai grove of Japanese Maple

I lost count of all the vendors offering fairy garden plants and associated paraphernalia.

Fairy garden in a wagon

Fairy garden in a raised wooden platform

I have to admit I got a little sucked in by this one, particularly the bunnies going down the slide

It's hard for me to resist bunnies

Play on fairy garden using succulents and a miniature skeleton

Orchids dominated the third floor of the garden show.

A friend gave me an orchid of this variety (no label), which now sits happily in my home office

I planned to buy myself this orchid but it was gone when I went back for it.

Succulents (and some cactus) were available in almost every size, shape and configuration you can imagine.

A number of vendors offered wide assortments in 2" pots - this vendor charged $3 and up for them

Some vendors presented elaborate succulent arrangements

Others presented succulents as Mother's Day gifts
There were succulents for collectors, like this Euphorbia

And really big specimens of more common succulents, like this Echeveria

As well as succulent collections in interesting containers

I bought several plants on my first run through the show, including 3 Pelargoniums, a yellow Leucospermum I'd been searching for, and a Cleome isomeris, a drought tolerant California native reported to perform well on slopes.  When I returned to the show 2 days later with other friends and a plan to buy 2 additional Pelargonium and some true Geraniums, I found the stock had been seriously depleted and I walked away with just 3 Geranium 'Max Frei,' a compact true Geranium.  I guess, as the saying goes, "he who hesitates is lost."  Or maybe a more positive expression of the same result would be "you win some, you lose some."

As a parting shot, here's a picture of one of the display gardens I wasn't able to get a good picture of on my first visit.  This vertical garden, titled 'Starry Night' after Van Gogh's painting, was designed and constructed by students of Mt. San Antonio College.  It was a great effort, even if the Heuchera didn't hold up so well.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

South Coast Spring Garden Show

For several years I've routinely attended the Spring Garden Show held at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.  Yes, this garden show is set up in a shopping mall.  Actually, this works for me as I can often get even my non-gardening friends to come along.

This year's show runs from Thursday, April 25th, though Sunday, April 28th.  I attended on Friday with one friend but will be back with 3 others tomorrow as I wasn't able to line everyone up for the same date.  That's also fine with me as it gives me time to deliberate as to certain purchases.

The showcase gardens are on the first floor.  Every year there's a central display along the lines of a small Rose Parade float.  I thought this year's construction, dedicated to Andy Warhol, was less impressive than the offerings in prior years.  The centerpiece was a facsimile of Warhol's tribute to Botticelli's Venus, constructed of a mix of paint and floral materials (dehydrated safflower, red bell pepper, carrot flakes, strawflowers, Vanda orchids, lilies, heliconias, and chive and flax seeds).  The picture is stacked on top of other "canvases" made up of various flowers.

Center display designed and constructed by Fiesta Parade Floats

There were 9 other exhibits, only a few of which I found really interesting.  The first of these was a vertical garden depicting Van Gogh's 'Starry Night,' created by the San Antonio College Horticulture Club.  Unfortunately, the lighting was bad and I was unable to get a good picture.  The 'Art of Exterior' by the Garden Gallery featured statuary and interesting lighting features settled in among Nandina, Japanese Maples and other foliage plants.

The next exhibit, entitled ''Thoughts in a Garden,' was very unusual.  Before I tell you who created it, let me show it to you.  Maybe you'll pick out what's odd about it before it did.

A stream, made of glass and bounded by rocks and logs, flows from a bowl.  A stone path leads down the middle with trees and other foliage on either side.

There's a clue in this picture.  Do you see it?

The plaque shown in this picture identifies the garden's purpose

This exhibit was constructed by Fairhaven Memorial Park to advertise burial plots placed in a garden setting.  In addition to the plaque shown in the last picture, there are empty spaces for other plaques in some of the other stones.  There was a woman on hand handing out business cards who chatted me up.  I told her that the setting was certainly nicer than the Forest Lawn memorial park where my parents and grandmother are buried.  She suggested, not particularly subtly, that I might want to consider making my own arrangements with Fairhaven.  I moved along.

The next exhibit, 'Tunnels,' by Garden Pros Landscape, had a large, curving wood deck.  Wood chairs, backed by a subtle water feature, were surrounded by succulents.

The back wall of the wood deck, which curved up and over the deck itself, was covered with Bougainvillea

Seating area in the interior of the deck

Adjacent lounge chairs, set in rocks and backed by a short water wall

The last exhibit I'll share was probably my favorite.  It was called 'An Architectural Garden Inspired by Environmental Art & Natural Forms' and was the production of Orange Coast College students.  There was a lot of wood in this one too and, because of its open structure, it was particularly challenging to photograph.

Small planting boxes were placed at different levels throughout the seating structure

I loved the veined Coleus shown in this picture but, sadly, didn't find any for sale among the vendors

The second and third levels of the mall were blanketed with vendors, 75 in all according to the show guide.  I'll provide a sampling of their wares in a future post.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wretched Raccoons!

How can a creature that looks so cute be so horribly destructive?

Photo courtesy of Free Nature Pictures

Once again, the blankety-blank-blank creatures are rampaging through my garden under the cloak of darkness.  I wrote about the damage they did in the vegetable garden here in January.  They've paid some nocturnal visits since but, other than pulling seashells out of the fountain and uprooting a few small plants, they haven't done much damage - until now.

I was in the side yard last week when I noticed this.

And then this.

Sheer meanness!  A perfectly healthy Loropetalum chinense torn out by its roots.  Pieces of the plant strewn about.  I tried replanting it but it was too far gone and it dried up.

Then, the next day, I found the Lupinus chamissionis I'd been so delighted to locate at Seaside Nursery in Carpenteria, also yanked out by its roots.  Here it is right after planting.

Here's a picture of what I hoped to have someday.

Mature Lupinus chamissiois postioned behind California poppies at Seaside Nursery

Here is what I have now.

Upon discovery, I tried to revive the Lupinus by soaking the remaining roots, cutting back the plant and replanting it in the safety of a pot.  As you can see, it hasn't sprung back and I don't hold out much hope that it'll recover.

The raccoons also tore out and shredded an Artemisia absinhium I'd recently transplanted from a 4-inch pot.  I found only a tiny piece of that plant - and a hole in the ground.  The next day I found they'd dug up some Aeonium cuttings and the Amaryllis bulbs I'd moved from a pot into a bed along the street.  They have an amazing ability for identifying recently tilled soil.

Their greatest sacrilege yet?  They dug up around the base of my prized Itoh peony, which I wrote about here earlier this week.  Fortunately, that plant was either too large or too closely surrounded by other plants to make it an easy target and they moved on.  Now, I'm making tours around the property every morning to check for and address any damage.

I talked to a nursery employee who told me that the raccoons are very active right now because their pups are being born.  They dig the soil looking for grubs.  Trying to relocate them is a pointless exercise in our area - even if I succeeded in trapping them, it's not clear that Animal Control would bother to move them and, as the region is so heavily populated with raccoons, others would just move in anyway.  So, I'm concentrating on actions to make the garden a less attractive target.   According to internet sources, milky spore granules can help reduce the grub count in the soil and something called Whole Control spray can temporarily add a bad taste to the soil to deter them.  We already control our trash and don't have any issues in that regard.  Hopefully, the non-poisonous controls will help.  If not, I may have to move up to motion-activated sprinklers or something or that sort.  Do you have any tips for deterring raccoons?

Monday, April 22, 2013

I finally did it...

In a moment of weakness, I bought one of the exorbitantly priced intersectional hybrid Itoh peonies, 'Keiko' to be specific.  I've never had any success with peonies.  My zone (USDA zone 10b, Sunset zone 24) isn't hospitable for peonies.  Yet, I've always coveted them.

Many years ago, in a fit of zonal denial, I bought a bare root herbaceous peony.  I don't recall where I got it.  No local nurseries offer herbaceous peonies so I must have mail ordered it.  I planted it carefully.  Trying to emulate winter in its preferred zone, I placed ice cubes on the soil around it - regularly.  For months.  I knew it was an exercise in futility but I did it anyway.  It produced foliage but, of course, it never bloomed.  Common sense eventually prevailed and I gave the space allocated to the peony in my postage stamp-sized garden over to a plant better suited to my environment.

Later, I heard tree peonies could survive and bloom in Southern California where herbaceous peonies do not.  I located and planted one of these, obtained through mail order.  After about 3 years, it produced one beautiful bloom.  I was sure I'd turned the corner and that, in future years, it would bloom regularly and more heavily.  It did not.  It bloomed once more a few years later, again producing just a single bloom.  I finally pulled it out and made do with a peony-less garden.

When we moved to our current house 2 years ago, I decided to try another tree peony.  This time, I found a bare-root plant at Sperling Nursery in Calabasas.  It hasn't bloomed yet but it continues to produce foliage.  I remain hopeful.

Paeonia 'Shimadaijin' (tree peony)

The Itoh hybrids are recent introductions.  They combine genes of herbaceous and tree peonies and they're reported to be more resilient in our Southern California climate.  Monrovia began offering them last year.  I considered the purchase but, with so many other priorities in my "new" garden, I couldn't bring myself to pay $80 to buy a single plant.  Then, a week ago, I attended a talk at Rogers Gardens in Orange County, conducted by Nicholas Staddon, the director in charge of new plant introductions for Monrovia.  He spoke about how successful the Itoh peonies were proving to be in Southern California.  Now, I realize that he had a vested interest in making that case, but members of the audience also spoke up about how well their Itoh peonies are doing.  A number of these people came from areas as inhospitable to peonies as mine.  And, of course, Rogers just happened to have a large supply of the Itoh peonies on hand.  One came home with me.

'Keiko' (Japanese for Adored) has been carefully sited in a partially shaded area, although I worry that she may still get sun burned when summer hits.  She's blooming, although I have yet to get a really good picture.

Photo of 'Keiko' peony in my garden with partially opened bloom

Photo courtesy of Monrovia's website

It remains to be seen whether she'll earn her keep in my garden.  In the short term, I'll just be happy if she survives the summer.  Is it madness to invest so much in a single plant?  Perhaps.  But then gardening usually proceeds on a hope and a prayer anyway...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Kind of Garden Tour

Last week I participated in a tour of 3 gardens located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which I wrote about here.  All of those gardens were large, created with the assistance of landscaping professionals, and 2 of the 3 required the ongoing support of professionals to maintain.

On Saturday, April 20th, a friend and I toured gardens of a very different type in the community of Mar Vista, located on the west side of Los Angeles.  Modest, bungalow styles houses dating back to the 1920s-1940s are still common there, although the area has been undergoing gentrification for some time and angular modern style homes now sit side by side with the older bungalow homes on many streets.

Mar Vista has sponsored sustainable, California-friendly landscaping for several years, using its annual Green Garden Showcase to promote interest within the local community.  This year's showcase featured 98 gardens open to the public.  My friend and I, although ambitious, had no illusions about trying to see all of these.  Last year, we toured about 6.  This year, we set our goal at 12.

Touring 12 gardens in a single day is easier than you might expect.  Many, if not most, of the gardens show only their front yards and, many times, featured gardens were on the same street.  The vast majority of homeowners participating in the showcase have removed their lawns, although this year I saw more artificial grass than last year.  The use of succulents and other drought tolerant plants is also common, as shown below.

Front entry, bordered by palms, banana trees and succulents

These plants were placed along the hell-strip bordering the street, effectively blocking it from view

The plants in this garden were all healthy and obviously robust but I'm afraid the garden itself made me feel claustrophobic.  I had a similar reaction to the second garden we visited.  Although the large agaves were impressive, they also felt a bit intimidating placed close to the entry way and along the public walkway.

The garden shown above and the next one, located across the street, were designed by the same person and used similar plants; however, I liked the one pictured below better.  It had a more open feel.

Do you think the 2 large agaves on the parkway were added with the intention of discouraging people from parking in front of the home?

The homeowner at the next garden told us that she had put her front garden together entirely from cuttings from a few plants.  In talking to her, we also learned that she had attended the same high school we had in the San Fernando Valley so we enjoyed a brief trip down memory lane.

The next homeowner we spoke to was very into feng-shui and her garden was constructed in support of those principles.  She and her husband also raise chickens.  I asked if that bothered her neighbors at all.  She told me that a lot of the neighbors in the surrounding blocks have chickens and no one complains.  There's a general "no roosters" rule.  I asked if the chickens had names and she said they're called Original, Extra Crispy and Nugget.

Newly planted front yard with Swiss chard reportedly added to remove impurities in the soil (but not to be eaten)

Raised vegetable planters in a sunny section of the front yard

I believe this is either Original or Extra Crispy - Nugget was in a corner laying an egg

The homeowner at the next site was unavailable but her friend, who turned out to be the horticulturist on HGTV's "Outdoor Room" show, showed us around.  This garden uses a gray water system.  I wasn't thrilled with the front but I liked the lounge area in the back.

The wood canopy over the lounge area was entirely covered by Bignonia capreolata

The next garden, with ponds and waterfalls in both the front yard and the back, was essentially an advertisement for the owner's pond installation business.  There was a lot of greenery but the plants were placed in a hodge-podge fashion (and there were fake orchids placed throughout).

Front yard looking down downward the street

Koi pond in back

The next 2 gardens were designed by the same landscaper and, like the matched pair we'd seen earlier in the day, these also utilized a lot of the same plants.  The front yards in these 2 gardens were deeper than many of those we saw on the tour, which made them feel more open.

1st garden, viewed from sidewalk

1st garden, viewed from the house looking back toward the street

2nd garden, viewed from sidewalk

2nd garden, viewed from side path

Those are all the pictures I took of the gardens we visited on the official tour.  (We just drove by a few.)  Frankly, by comparison to last year's tour, I was disappointed.  Perhaps my friend and I just made poor selections from the list of 98 featured gardens but I didn't come away with a lot of ideas about plant combinations and design ideas to try as I did last year.  Actually, I thought some of the houses we passed that weren't on the tour had more attractive front gardens.  Most of those that attracted my attention used simpler plant palettes.

This appeared to be a bungalow house fronted with modern fencing.  The ornamental grasses were placed in the hell-strip.

I liked the repetition of colors and plants here

I didn't particularly like this house but I did like the simple fence, the front hedge of Pittosporum tenuifolium and the no-mow grass

This was probably my favorite front yard - the relatively simple plant selections complemented the Spanish style house without overwhelming it
I probably need to give some thought to what I liked and didn't like in the gardens depicted above and apply those lessons to my own front yard!  I tend to crowd a wide variety of different plants together without giving as much thought as I should to the overall picture.