Nature Gets Too Much Credit

So much of nature is unnatural.

Vegetation make people feel closer to nature. It is, after all, what most of us expect to see out in the wild. Most vegetation that is observed in forests and undeveloped areas really is natural. Much of the associated insects and wildlife are natural as well. Such flora and fauna know how to survive within their respective ecosystems. They can not rely on any unnatural intervention from anyone.

Naturalized exotic (non-native) species proliferate only because they are adapted to similar environmental conditions. A lack of pathogens that afflicted them within their natural ranges is a major advantage for most of them. Nonetheless, they are unnatural components of what is commonly considered to be nature. Most naturalized exotic species actually interfere significantly with nature.

Vegetation and associated wildlife that inhabits synthetic landscapes is very different from that which lives out in nature. Only some of the vegetation has potential to naturalize. Even less is native. Almost all of it is reliant on artificial intervention for survival, particularly irrigation. Associated wildlife is reliant on the survival of the reliant vegetation. Landscapes accommodate. Nature does not.

With few exceptions, landscapes that emulate nature are impractical. Landscapes within forests are some of those few exceptions that might need no more than what the forests provide. Even in such situations, combustible vegetation and structurally deficient trees should be cleared away from homes. In California, nature is innately combustible. It is messy and potentially dangerous too.

Most urban landscapes of California would still be dreadfully bleak if limited to natural components. Both San Jose and Los Angeles are naturally chaparral regions. They were formerly inhabited by sparsely dispersed trees on scrubby grasslands. Now, relatively abundant vegetation in both regions is more appealing, and improves urban lifestyles, but is nothing like what nature intended.

Nature is simply inadequate for what is expected of urban landscapes of California.

Horridculture – Halloween

P91009Halloween is a topic that I could rant about for days. Seriously. I loathe it. I dislike any formerly respectable holiday that has been ruined by excessive commercialization. We all know what happened to Christmas. For me, Halloween, in some regards, is even worse. Christmas is at least pretty. Halloween is intended to be morbid and grotesque and creepy and . . . just plain bad.

This should be about gardening though. Yes, there is always that guy who gets too drunk at the Halloween party down the road, but manages to stagger just far enough to vomit on my lawn. Then, I need to figure out how to get all the toilet paper out of the redwoods. The nasturtiums that get trampled by hasty brats who are too old for trick-or-treating will eventually recover.

The worst, though, are the Halloween ‘decorations’ in the front yard! We put too much work into maintaining our gardens in good condition to make them look so bad. I do not care if it is just for one day out of the year. Seriously, it is just wrong, on so many levels. Why on Earth should I want my garden to look as cheap and trashy as young ladies dressed up as naughty nurses?!

Pumpkins and even Jack-O’-lanterns are tolerable, and even appealing in a traditional sort of way, but spiderwebs make me think that the witches could put their brooms to better use than frequent flier miles. All those angry black cats should more efficiently control all the spiders and bats. Tombstones?! – Corpses in various degrees of decay?! – There goes the neighborhood!!P91009+

What about the effigies concealed by white sheets, and the other effigies hanging from trees and porches? Whoever thought those were good ideas?! Perhaps Brent can share some insight.


Boom! Zap! Wow! Bam! Zing!

P90630P90630+P90630++P90630+++P90630++++Batman and Robin were here!
. . . well, not quite. It is decoration for summer camp. We never know what we will find in the landscapes that we maintain here. Those who work at camp arrive before guests, so that they can get ready, and of course, to decorate. Guests only started to arrive two weeks ago. It makes our work more interesting, as we try to work around the traffic and events, but it is SO gratifying to see so many guests enjoy the facilities that we maintain!
Those who work at camp enjoy being here too. It is obvious in all the work they put into preparation. It gets pretty wild and colorful, as I was reminded when I found what had been done in a grove of coast live oak just outside of one of the main auditoriums. Last year, I pruned and groomed the trees to expose their naturally sculptural trunks. I thought they were rather exemplary; but apparently, there was some room for improvement.
There is more to the wardrobe of a well rounded tree than mere ‘trunks’. One might select stylish attire such as this. Really though, I am not certain if this tree is feeling ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ or totally embarrassed.P90630+++++
This one went for an old fashioned veil.P90630++++++
English ivy on the ground below the grove is wearing too much makeup.P90630+++++++
It is not really makeup of course. It is paint from this mysteriously hovering door . . . as if that somehow makes more sense. It was locked.P90630++++++++
This one is more my style, and it has a window. There is no need to open it to see what is outside . . . or inside.P90630+++++++++
If neither of those are good enough, there are plenty of others to choose from.P90630++++++++++

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:

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:

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:

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:

Pseudodendron falsifolia

p90126kLatin and the other languages used to designate botanical names can make the mundane seem compelling, and the unpleasant sound appealing. ‘Nasturtium’ certainly sounds better than ‘nose twister’, which refers to the reaction to the unpleasant fragrance of the flowers. Horticultural professionals can use such language to our advantage, and for more than designating real genera and specie. ‘Necrodendron’ certainly sounds more interesting than ‘dead tree’, and is less likely to offend tree huggers.
‘Pseudodendron’ is a euphemism for ‘fake tree’. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sometimes points them out in interiorscapes, or worse, in real exterior landscapes. We sometimes analyze them as if they are real. We both are amused to see fake bananas or fake pineapples, or both, hanging from fake cocoanut palms. Sometimes, someone who overhears our conversation feels compelled to inform us that the pseudodendrons that we are so intrigued by are fake. Sometimes, someone asks about growing them in their own gardens.
Of course, hassling Brent about his artificial turf never gets old. It is installed outside of his office to demonstrate how practical it is for clients who are considering it for their landscapes. It really does look great though. Brent probably gives it plenty of fertilizer, and waters it well.
By the time Brent finds out that there is something much worse in one of the landscapes that I work in, it will be gone. Now that it is late January, these fake poinsettias will be removed any day. I will not miss them. Even if they were real, they would still look silly. That is just too much red.
Unfortunately, these poinsettias are perennial. They will be put away until next winter, when they will come out of storage to go back into the same spot in the landscape.

Six on Saturday: New Landscape


Yes, we have another new landscape. It is not much bigger than the last one, and is not very far away. In fact, although it is associated with two different buildings, it is located adjacent to the opposite corner of the same building that the last landscape was constructed for.

These six pictures were taken prior to the installation of wood chip mulch, so ground cloth is visible below. It was quite dry and dusty at the time. All of these six plants were newly installed after being procured from nurseries, so none were relocated from other landscapes, or from our storage nursery. They were blooming nicely when installed, but are actually not blooming so nicely now, and some were damaged by the sudden warmth immediately after installation. They would have been fine if only the warmth did not arrive so suddenly, or if it had arrived a few days later. Well, we can not control the weather.

Large stones and bare soil prior to the installation of the landscape were shown in this previous Six on Saturday post,

1. fernleaf yarrow, Achillea filipendulina, Most of these are white. A few are rusty red. A few are yellow like this one, which might be ‘Moonshine’. These did not show symptoms of heat stress right away, but have since gotten rather crispy. I could not find a picture like this one now. Fernleaf yarrow has been popular here for as long as I can remember because it supposedly does not need much water, although most get watered regularly.P805212. Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, That sounds like ‘piroshki’. These and the rockrose #4 were 5 gallon plants, so are somewhat bigger than most other plants in the new landscape. They were not bothered by the change of the weather. Their faded denim blue flowers continue to bloom nicely. This is a plant that has been popular for a while, but that I have never grown. I tend to avoid trendy plants. However, my colleagues do not.P80521+3. gaura, Gaura lindheimeri, The common name is ‘white gaura’, but some are pink and some are darker pink that is almost red. I do not know if they are merely cultivars of ‘white’ gaura, or different specie. It seemed appropriate to omit ‘white’ from the name. Besides, that is how I learned it. This one can self sow enough to be an annoyance. Individual plants do not live very long, so a few feral seedlings can be selected to replace them.P80521++4. rockrose, Cistus cretisus, When I learned about rockrose back in the 1980s, we learned only two specie. One was white rockrose. The other was pink rockrose; and the pink rockrose did not look like this one. Now, there are too many to remember. Most do not have species name, but merely cultivar names. I really do not know if this really is Cistus cretisus. It just happens to look like it. I suppose I should have looked at the label.P80521+++5. chocolate coreopsis, Coreopsis ‘Chocolate’, As I implied for #4, nomenclature is not what it used to be. It was standardized to simplify things, but is difficult to keep track of now with all the breeding and hybridizing, and botanists wanting to make a name for themselves by changing a name to something supposedly more accurate. I really do not know the species name of the chocolate coreopsis. It is known merely by the cultivar name.P80521++++6. milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, This one wilted rather badly in the warmth, but did not get roasted too much. The shriveled flowers in this picture are the worst of the damage. It is blooming more profusely now, and is developing strange seed pods. Milkweed is another trendy plant that caters to the butterfly gardening fad. I am not certain if I like the idea of planting something that is expected to get munched. It sure is colorful for now.P80521+++++This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Tent City

P80224KIn the autumn of 1989, small and temporary tent cities appeared in parks and other public spaces around the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area, where many homes had been damaged or destroyed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. They were necessary at the time, but were not intended to be permanent features of the landscapes. For a while, they were unpleasant reminders that some people could not go home until their homes were repaired or rebuilt.

In more recent history, ridiculously expensive real estate and rents have increased homelessness in the same regions. Even gainfully employed people are homeless because they can neither purchase nor rent a home, either because of expense or because of a lack of availability. Those who live in homes complain about the unsightliness and other problems associated with the homeless living in homeless encampments and small tent cities.

We get it. Tents are bad.

So then, what is this small tent city on one of the main roadways in town?

Good planning and bad planning.

First the good. Each of the shop spaces in the contemporary retail building behind this tent city needs its own water meter and valve manifold. Each of these meters and manifolds must be easily accessible. Because they are accessible, they are also exposed, so they need to be insulated so that they do not freeze during the very rare occasion (in our mild climate) that the weather gets cold enough to do so. This explains why the water meters are next to the sidewalks, and the upright valve manifolds behind them are covered with these billowed tents.

The bad? Good landscape design should have been considered with the location of these meters and manifolds. A water main line should have been routed so that this whole complex could have been constructed within a utility closet or shed, or even a small utility yard that could have been fenced in a less prominent location. If constructed inside a utility closet or shed, the insulating tents would not be necessary. Now that it is too late for that sort of planning, there is not even enough clearance from the sidewalk for hedging or low fencing to obscure the meters and manifolds without obstructing access. It really would not have taken much of a landscape modification to obscure the view of all this infrastructure, if only more space had been made available where it is needed.

Sadly, landscape design was not a priority on this building. Although the water meters and manifolds are completely exposed, shrubbery obscures window and more appealing features of the buildings, such as ornamental stonework. The view from inside many windows is of the unsightly backsides of pointlessly shorn shrubbery. Trees were crowded and planted directly in front of signs, even though there is plenty of frontage without signs where trees could have been planted. It is amazing what some landscape designers get away with.

Dreamscape at the Jungalow

B80128The Jungalow is my colleague Brent’s bungalow home, surrounded by a jungle of a landscape, just about a block off of the Santa Monica Freeway in Mid City Los Angles.

This picture very effectively illustrates that Brent has no business taking pictures . . . and that he should have had a V-8.

The landscape really is spectacular though. You might have seen bits and pieces of it in Sunset Magazine or other horticultural magazines. Pictures of specific flowers and plants were used to illustrate the Sunset – Western Garden Book.

Brent likes his garden to be spectacular. He uses it to trial a few plants before using them at the homes of clients, and to demonstrate how effectively his home garden functions as a lush jungle oasis in the middle of the city. The dense hedging obscures views of neighboring homes, and muffles the sound of the Santa Monica Freeway and La Brea Avenue. Fountains obscure more of whatever outside noise that happens to get through. Although the situation is completely synthetic, and includes species that were imported from all over the World, to be pruned, groomed and trained to do unnatural things, Brent likes to think that it mimics nature. The straight lines, square corners and flat surface of the compact urban lot are invisible behind curvacious borders, terraces, lush foliage and sculptural trees. There is way too much material for such a compact space. It is all so completely contrary to the big city that surrounds it.

Three hundred and fifty miles to the northwest, on acreage in the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos, my garden could not have been more opposite. Despite the abundance of more space than I could possibly use, the area used for gardening was quite confined to less than an eighth of an acre. The hilly terrain was flattened as much as possible, and surrounded with straight retaining walls and walkways. Native vegetation was removed to allow more sunlight through. There was no need for hedging because there was nothing beyond the garden to obscure the view of. There was no need for fountains to obscure outside noise because the only outside noise was that of Zayante Creek at the bottom of the garden. For efficiency, plants were installed in rows and grids, and very evenly spaced. It was completely contrary to the surrounding forest.

That is why Brent is a landscape designer and I am just a horticulturist and nurseryman. Who is right? I am.