Horridculture – Parking Lot Islands

P80120kWhat a waste of space! What a waste of water! What a waste of time for the mow-blow-and-go ‘gardener’ who charges money to mow and edge it, but are too inept to suggest planting something that might actually be pretty, or shade the parking lot. There are a few of these between parking spaces marked for ‘compact’ cars, because it is cool to discriminate against full size cars that can not pull far enough forward to get out of the way.

Even between a Buick and a Chrysler, it is nothing to look at. It looks like something went seriously wrong with a grave site that was supposed to get a slab ‘over’ it (not ‘around’ it). It could be a Chia Pet litter box. There are much better spots to picnic at the park down the road. Whatever it is, it is not much better than the swales that are required in modern parking lots. It has potential to be a tripping hazard, but is not quite as dangerous.

I would make one of only two suggestions.

1 Pave over it. If there is not some building code that limits the area that can be paved, this might be thee most practical long term solution.

2. Landscape it responsibly. Yes; ‘responsibly’. Turf grass is just lame. Those trendy carpet roses that mow-blow-and-go ‘gardeners’ typically plant snag the clothing of those coming and going from the cars they park there. Since parking lots get warm, I would recommend shade trees with complaisant roots that are compatible with pavement. Such shade trees also should get tall enough to not obscure the signs on the buildings.

Parking lot islands contain some of the most deplorable landscapes. Trees commonly get hacked down below signs rather than pruned up and over them. Even if they get properly pruned with up-dos, their canopies must be carve around security lighting. Most problems result from negligent maintenance. Some problems result from design glitches. Realistically though, parking lot islands are very difficult to landscape well.

Horridculture – High Fences

P90522There is no doubt that fences are useful for a variety of functions. They exclude deer from the garden. They confine livestock. For suburban homes, they enclose a relatively safe space for children and pets. Fences should be designed according to their intended functions. Those designed to exclude deer might be as simple as coarse mesh on posts. Those enclosing backyards might be more refined and compatible with the landscape.
Over the years, conformity to modern suburban and urban landscapes, as well as modern architecture and lifestyles, has changed the standards of how fences are designed. Low picket fences do not adequately obscure the scenery that adjacent and often dissimilar landscapes contribute to a view. Where common vegetable gardens might have been, most of us want private outdoor rooms, with a distinct style of landscape.
It seems that everyone wants privacy nowadays. Those who have no need for privacy will get it anyway because no one will build fences that will not provide it. In the 1950, fences were commonly four feet high, and not every backyard had them. By the 1970s, they were more commonly six feet high, and standard for almost every backyard. Now, fences are expected, and many are seven feet high or higher, with lattice on top!
Modern architecture and lifestyles are part of the justification for such tall fences. Low profile older homes on formerly suburban lots are commonly replaced with two or more larger homes on smaller subdivided city lots. They are much closer to each other than the older homes were, with only narrow spaces between upstairs windows, where even eight foot high fences will not provide privacy.
So, not only do much larger homes on much smaller parcels mean that there is much less space for gardening, but taller two story (or taller) homes with weirdly high fences mean that more of the very limited space available for gardening is shaded!

Utilitarian Landscape

P90505I am no designer. I am merely a horticulturist. I grow things, and I know how things should be grown in landscape situations.

My colleague Brent Green is a landscape designer, as well as a horticulturist. He knows how things should be grown in landscape situations too, but more importantly, he knows how to assemble the landscapes that they grow in. He creates the sort of landscapes that most people think that all horticulturists strive for. (A few pictures of his home garden can be found in a former article, as well as another similar article that it links to: https://tonytomeo.com/2019/04/06/six-on-saturday-brents-garden/ .)

Brent and I have two completely different sets of standards for landscape design, to say the least. His ideal landscapes are very lush and inviting, with abundant color and fragrance. Mine are very simple and structured, with abundant fruits and vegetables. He strives to bring the ambiance of wild jungles into very urban settings. I try to instill formality and structure into the forests. Yet, we both agree that landscapes must be functional.

That means that landscapes must work for those using them, whatever they are using them for. Almost all of Brent’s clients use their landscapes as extensions of their homes, so want them to function as such.

I do not design landscapes, but I do happen to work in some. Most are in public spaces, and some are comparable to athletic fields. They function very differently from those in residential situations.

The unexpected way that these three small redwoods are functioning in this landscape was just too amusing to not get a picture of. I have no idea where all these wet suits came from, or why they are hung in this particularly prominent location, but it is the last thing I expected to encounter here.

Horridculture – That’s Just Swale

P90424Building and environmental codes are so ridiculous. So much of what I would want in my home is now illegal. So much modern technology that I do not want is now required. Fireplaces and wood stoves are not allowed. Overly elaborate electrical systems to serve every room are necessary. I would prefer a technologically simple home comparable to those built more than a century ago, but am prohibited by law from ever constructing one.
The area outside of a home is no easier to work with. Dead trees inhabited by the wrong sorts of woodpeckers can not be cut down. Excavation can be prohibited if a particular beetle happens to be in the way. Even some of the increasingly combustible trees and overgrown vegetation have more rights on my land than I do. Now, I am a horticulturist; so I know more about vegetation management than the treehuggers formulating these laws.
Even some of the weather has more rights than people do. In some municipalities, rain that falls onto a property has the right to percolate into the soil. Rain water that drains from roofs and pavement must be provided with ‘swales’ or basins where it can do so. It can not be evicted into old drainage systems that drain into local creeks and rivers. However, such rain water must not be detained in tanks for use in the landscape through summer.
The picture above shows part of a new landscape in the middle of a new parking lot at a newly constructed building. It looks simple for a reason. It is a pair of swales. The meadow grasses conceal a pair of surprisingly deep ditches on either side of the central walkway. Rain water drains here to percolate into the ground. The soil below the walkway might have been replaced with coarse gravel to promote drainage into that area as well.
Do not park a car at the curb and try to step from the curb into a swale to get to the walkway! You could get hurt. As I mentioned, that grass is concealing ditches that are deeper than they look. It is safer to walk through the parking lot to a large paved patio like area that is out of view behind where the picture was taken from. The other option is to walk away from the building to the far end of the walkway, but really, who would do that?
Why is the walkway even there? I really don’t know. There are no curbs on it, so anyone in a wheelchair who feels so compelled to go to the far end to use it could get seriously hurt by tumbling off the edge while trying to get out of way of someone going the opposite direction! The swales are snares for walkers and baby buggies too. Perhaps the walkway is merely bait. What are the surveillance cameras really for? What sick entertainment!

Six on Saturday: Brent’s Garden II

 

Yes, this is another sequel; and yes, this is my second Six on Saturday post for today. So far, no one has told me that posting twice is against the rules.

These are six more of the many pictures that my colleague, Brent Green, sent to me. They are of his home garden in Mid City Los Angeles, which is much more interesting than my utilitarian sort of garden. I explained the situation in more detail with the first post last week, and briefly mentioned it in the other Six on Saturday post just prior to this one.

The other Six on Saturday for today was posted here: https://tonytomeo.com/2019/04/06/six-on-saturday-brents-garden/

1. This is the small elevated porch-like patio at the rear of the garden from which the first of the six pictures in the previous post was taken. (This picture was taken from the back porch seen in that picture.) You can see how it, and the low wall to the left, were constructed from the broken concrete of the old driveway. The very edge of the new driveway is barely visible at the left edge of the picture. More on that with the fourth picture.P90406K

2. You can not see the most interesting feature of this picture, which is just to the left of the previous picture. Right there in the middle, completely obscured by vegetation, there is a small garage that was converted to an office with a deck on the roof, where I camp out when I go to Los Angeles. It is like sleeping in a tropical jungle with a view of the ‘HOLLYWOOD’ sign, which by the way, is different from sleeping in a redwood forest.P90406K+

3. Just to the left of the previous picture, the ‘driveway’, which I will explain next, extends from the garage that is now an office to the street out front. In the narrow space between the driveway and fence, this overgrown mess of pink jasmine on top of a ficus hedge behind a thicket of bamboo palms obscures the house next door. All this jasmine is VERY fragrant all day and into evening when the angel’s trumpet gets powerfully fragrant too.P90406K++

4. Now the driveway. The old pavement was removed and recycled into other features. The new pavement replaced it . . . but was never used as a driveway. The gate seen here is wide enough for a car to fit through, but is never opened. A car couldn’t get through all this vegetation anyway. A French door from the dining room opens up onto a wide spot where that weird orange fountain in the middle is. It all became more nice patios space.P90406K+++

5. Coming back around to the back patio from where the first two pictures (of these six) were taken, we can see how thoroughly the garden space is enclosed by vegetation. No outside structures are visible. You would never guess that this garden is about a block from the Santa Monica Freeway, and that it is surrounded by other homes and apartment buildings. Even the utility cables out back are hidden. Fountains obscure ambient noise.P90406K++++

6. Way back in the corner on the right of the previous picture, behind the kentia palm and past the glass door of the master bedroom, we find another blooming azalea, like the specimen in the third of the six pictures posted earlier. For Southern California, this is an impressive specimen. The big staghorn fern above and behind it is really getting monstrous. I have no idea what that weird twisted purple plastic device is. Brent has such bad taste.P90406K+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Six on Saturday: Brent’s Garden

 

Did you see my Six on Saturday posts last week, in which I explained the origin of these pictures, and why they are of such bad quality? To be brief, they were sent by Brent Green, my colleague since 1986, who is a renowned landscape designer in the Los Angeles region, and takes very bad pictures.

Well, these pictures are atypically not bad. They are of Brent’s home garden, which is crowded with way too many plants. There is more variety within this confined space than I could fit in several acres . . . or many acres. Some plants get trialed here before being used in some of the landscapes that Brent designs.

What you can not see in these pictures is that this garden is on a small city lot in Mid City Los Angeles, just about a block from the Santa Monica Freeway. What you can not hear, either here or there, is the noise of the freeway, which is mostly muffled by the high hedges and various small fountains strategically located throughout the garden.

Since Brent sent too many pictures, six more will be posted here: https://tonytomeo.com/2019/04/06/six-on-saturday-brents-garden-ii/

1. A small elevated porch-like patio at the rear of the garden was built from debris of the old, and now replaced (obviously) driveway. The old broken concrete was stacked in a few layers. The chunks of the top layer were mortared together with a bit of fresh concrete. This is the view from that patio, back toward the house. The patio and low walls constructed of the same debris can be seen in the next batch of pictures.P90406

2. This is probably the most important picture that Brent sent so far. Those soft orange flowers just to the left and just above the center of the picture are Alstroemeria, or Peruvian lily, from my garden. They are the main reason that Brent’s garden is SO spectacular. Anyway, the low wall was also constructed from the debris from the old driveway. This picture is a closer view just to the left of the previous picture above.P90406+

3. Just to the left of the picture above, and just in front of the picture above that (although outside of the margin of the first picture), this unidentified pink azaleas was blooming happily. Brent probably thought I would be impressed with this one, but duh, I used to grow azaleas, and I still work with more than I can count. I did not grow this one though. There is another picture of a similar specimen in the next batch of pictures.P90406++

4. Again, Brent mistakenly thought I would be impressed with this one. I think he wanted to show off the blooming Chinese wisteria rather than the beams that it is climbing on. It really is spectacular though, and was even more spectacular when it covered more of the arbor. Unfortunately, parts of it mysteriously died, and some was removed to allow more sunlight through. This section is obscured by the big angel’s trumpet in the first picture.P90406+++

5. What a sloppy mess! The bright reddish orange flowers amongst the lush strap shaped leaves in the middle are Kaffir lily, Clivia miniata. There are a few scattered about, that bloom in colors ranging from even redder orange to very pale (almost white) yellow. Yet, the traditional bright reddish orange is still the best. They tolerate quite a bit of shade, which is important in this overgrown jungle. I am impressed, but I do not tell Brent.P90406++++

6. If this ‘Charles Grimaldi’ angel’s trumpet looks familiar, you might have seen it in the Sunset – Western Garden Book. It provided the illustration for its genus of Brugmansia. It is quite large, and grows like a weed. I pruned it years ago, and to my surprise, Brent didn’t totally panic when I cut the entire top off. Just before I pruned it, Brent tore off the big rooted canes that grew into the big copy off to the right in the first picture.P90406+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Horridculture – What’s The Point?

P90403In this situation, the point is that all those pointed tips of the leaves of this awkwardly floppy century plant, Agave americana, are extremely sharp, extremely rigid and EXTREMELY dangerous. Those shorter teeth on the margins of the leaves are just as sharp and rigid, and are curved inward to maximize injury to anyone trying to get away from an initial jab. With tips that impale, and marginal teeth that slash, this is one very hateful perennial!

Another point is that this big and awkwardly obtrusive century plant is on a patio at a Mexican restaurant. Yes, it is in a public place where people get dangerously close to it. On Friday and Saturday nights, this restaurant can get quite crowded. Some within such crowds are inebriated, so are more likely to stumble about and bump into things that are best avoided. Those concrete slabs to the left are benches where people are often seated.

The third point is that the only remedy for this ridiculously bad situation is to remove the century plant. Chopping the leaves like those that were over the bench on the left only removes a few tips and teeth, but does not make the rest of the foliage significantly safer. Nor does folding the leaves inward, like those that are next to those that were chopped. Such abuse only makes the whole mess uglier. Now it is both dangerous AND ugly.

Now, who thought that putting the most dangerous of all perennials available into this public situation was a good idea?! (Cacti with inward curving spines and other plants that are more dangerous are not even available in nurseries.) Century plants are dangerously nasty even when small and young, so even someone who knows nothing about landscape design should have known better than this!

The Davey Tree

P90317This is no common Douglas fir. It is the ‘Davey Tree’, named after the tree service that so diligently prunes it for clearance from the utility cables above. Yes, I can see as easily as you can how disfigured it is. The plan is to cut it down before it falls apart. At least that is the excuse for cutting it down. It is relatively short an stout, so is likely quite able to support its own weight, regardless of this disfigurement. We really just want it gone because it is so unsightly.
Most who see the Davey Tree are quick to blame the disfigurement on those who prune it for clearance. They do not consider that without such pruning, the utility cables would eventually be ruined and unable to deliver the electricity that so many of us use. Those who prune the trees do what they must to keep the electricity and other utility cables operational. Unfortunately, such work sometimes ruins trees.
As an arborist who sometimes works with other arborists who must perform clearance pruning, I am more likely to blame other landscape professionals. Some landscape designers design landscapes with trees that get too tall or broad within utility easements. Heck, many designers do not even designate where such easements are on the drafts of their landscape plans. Some so-called ‘gardeners’ plant such trees in utility easements with no plan at all. For what they all charge for their services, landscape professionals should know better than to put inappropriate trees into situations where they will eventually need to be mutilated or removed. Not many think that far ahead, or even care.
Anyway, the inappropriate location and disfigurement of the Davey Tree really can not be blamed on anyone. It is a wild tree that grew there from seed.P90317+

Horridculture – Fads

P90313This is why I do not grow hellebores in my own garden. The specimen in the pictures above and below are about as good as they get here. Most are quite a bit worse. Some put out only one or two flowers. Some do not survive their first year in the garden.
No one seems to know why they don’t do well here. It might be the lack of chill in winter, although they do better in even milder climates. It might be the minimal humidity, although they generally do no better in the damp redwood forests where the specimen in these pictures lives. Those that might get too much sunlight do no better or worse than those that get too much shade. They are simply not happy here.
My solution to this ‘problem’ is to not grow them in my own garden. I do not particularly like them anyway. Even those that look ‘good’ look like huge African violets dipped in paraffin. Those in the landscapes that I work with now are the colors of worn vinyl upholstery of 1970s Chryslers. Yup, I will pass on hellebores. ‘Problem’ solved before it happened.
That ‘solution’ does not work for everyone.
Some landscapers get what they can from the few growers who will grow them here, and plant them in all sorts of landscapes that they just do not belong in. Some will do it because they read somewhere that hellebores do well in shade, which is technically true, but only in regions where other environmental conditions are appropriate. Some do it because they saw pretty pictures of them, and read a nice article about them in some gardening magazine that features such articles about what does well where the respective magazines are published.
Sadly, many do it because hellebores are a fad here, and something that many landscapers with something to prove like to brag about. They are like dawn redwood and unusual varieties of Japanese maple that are so often installed into inappropriate situations just so the landscaper can add pictures of them to their portfolios. Fortunately, hellebores merely struggle or die without causing any other damage to the landscape.
There are a few kinds of fads, and some of them actually make sense, but good landscape designers should use fads responsibly and with discretion.P90313+

Horridculture – Good Design / Bad ‘Maintenance’

P90227From a distance, this landscape does not look so bad. It seems to have been only recently installed, and features the sort of material that was likely intended to not necessarily obscure the sleek architecture of the building behind it, but to eventually soften the starkness of it.

Let’s analyze the landscape. A glossy privet hedge in back should grow up into an informal screen to provide some substantial green against the wall, but with a bit of proper pruning, should not become too obtrusive. A lower hedge of variegated tobira (Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’) in front can be pruned into a semi-formal hedge to obscure the bases of the trunks of the glossy privets, which will undoubtedly shed lower growth as they mature. The lightly colored variegated foliage of the tobira contrasts nicely against that of the dark green privets. The blue festuca in front of the variegated tobira hedge provides even more contrast of color, as well as contrast of form, and also ties in with the same blue festuca elsewhere in the landscape. The only two ‘intentional’ interruptions of the simple sleekness of this landscape is where a pair of grapevines flanking a doorway await the installation of an arbor, and a single ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood is expected to provide additional contrast of form and color in front of the glossy privets. Both features are well situated, and balanced within the symmetry of the landscape. Yes, it is all quite well designed.

And yes, this is Wednesday; the day for my ‘Horridculture’ rant. So, let’s look closer.

Firstly, this is not a new landscape. It has been here long enough to mature better than it has so far. The so-called ‘gardeners’ know that allowing the material to grow means that they will need to put more effort into maintaining it. They would prefer to just keep the glossy privet hedge down low where it does not produce much debris, rather than allow it to grow most of the way up the wall, where it should be by now. A row of cinder block painted green would work just as well, and not need to be shorn at all. The ‘Icee Blue’ yellowwood should likewise be larger than it is now, and looking like a small and neat but informal tree. It actually seems to be growing slowly, which is no fault of the so-called ‘gardeners’.

The pair of grapevines have the opposite problem of the privet hedge. They are not being contained enough. Without the arbor that has yet to be built, they have no place to go, so are just being pruned as rampant and fat shrubs that will fall over as soon as their old stakes rot at the ground. If an arbor is ever built, all that congested and disfigured growth should be cut to the ground in winter, and started over from the ground up. However, it is unlikely that the so-called ‘gardeners’ would maintain them any better on an arbor than they do with them within reach; so it is probably just as well that they are in the ridiculous situation they are in.

That low spherical shrub in the front and center of the landscape, which is just to the left of the lower center of the picture, and is the unintentional interruption to the simplicity of the otherwise well designed variegated tobira hedge that I alluded to earlier, is a variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium. It is so ridiculously shorn and abused that I can not identify the cultivar. I can only guess that it is the common and overly popular ‘Marjorie Channon’. Apparently, one of the variegated tobiras died and needed to be replaced. Hey, it happens. A so-called ‘gardener’ knew that the necessary replacement plant needed to be variegated. He also knew that it needed to be a pittosporum, which is probably more than most so-called ‘gardeners’ could ascertain. The problem was that he went to a nursery and grabbed the first variegated pittosporum that he found, which, as you can plainly see, does not match the tobiras. It assumed a different form, flopped forward as they often do when shorn in such an inappropriate manner, and continues to be shorn into the ‘shape’ seen here now . . . as if it is somehow an asset to this otherwise well designed landscape. The blue festuca that it landed on gets shorn right along with it.

The only feature in this well designed landscape that does not have a serious problem, except for its one member that was clobbered by the single disfigured pittosporum, is the blue festuca, and that is only because the so-called ‘gardeners’ do nothing to it.P90227+