Monday, April 6, 2015

Epiphyllums: Jungle Flowers in a Drought Tolerant Garden

Designing a low water landscape and using drought tolerant plants can be overwhelming if the yard is currently planted with water loving greenery and flowers. There is also the added question about climate and sunlight. What about a garden in dry shade? Is it possible to have color and plants in a shady yard when water is scarce? One colorful and exotic plant to consider are epiphyllums, whose colorful cactus flowers will fill a shaded yard or patio every spring.

Like exotic jungle birds, the brilliant blooms of epiphyllums are always surprising, glorious and dramatic. Too often low water, drought tolerant plants and landscapes are thought to be dull and colorless.  The adaptable epiphulum can change all that.  While they may also be called 'orchid cactus' these are low water cactus that prefer to live in the filtered light of a jungle setting. Shady and forested, with a warm environment, they are spreaders and climbers.

What I love about my epipyllums are their wonderful blooms, of course, but I also enjoy the added texture and linear chaos of their flat scalloped edged branches. When hung from a tree or high setting, these long trailing branches spill out of their pots in abundance. On the ground, in pots set high enough to support the plant above the ground, their branches wander off into the garden where their blooms hide for a unexpected splash of color. There are many branch styles, from narrow scalloped to wide and almost ruffled, they are thin and almost translucent in sunlight.

They completely disrespect the space of other plants, weaving in and out of the less flexible plants near by.  They will even join a pot of succulents for a varied area of texture and color.

Weeding and tending these sprawling exotics can sometimes produce broken branches. As with geraniums and succulents, a broken epiphyllum is an opportunity to grow a new plant. Just by sticking the end back down into loose potting soil they will quickly root and form new growth. I like to mix mine up: scarlet with peach, pink with spikey red, these plants seem to grow on neglect and overcrowding.

This is one sad plant at the end of a hot, waterless summer. With hand watering, it will stay alive until even sparse winter rains revive it to bloom again in the spring.

Where did I get my plants?

All of the blooming plants you see here were started from branches given to me. If you don't see any in your friend's yards, you might want to try an Epiphyllum group. Most have sales and meetings where plants can be bought. There is a large sale at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia every spring. There is information on the sale HERE and more about the Arboretum HERE.

How hard are they to grow?

I have found them to be very easy to grow. They prefer filtered sunlight, but I do have some that are out in the sun, where they get morning light and not hot afternoon sun. I have had the branches become sun burned, so I do know that they aren't tolerant of direct, hot mid-day sunlight. I water them about once a week in the summer, and much less (seldom) in the winter.

I plant in a generic potting soil or a mix from my cedar and redwood tree needles mixed with my leaf compost. All of my plants are in pots on the ground. Some are so large they are difficult to move. All tend to be in tall pots or set up higher on cinder blocks or other stands so that the trailing branches can 'spray' out from the plant center.

I get blooms in early spring when the weather warms up. Each bloom will last a few days, but the plant may continue for some time, weather permitting.

Read more about this great garden plant in this L.A. Times article.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spanish Revival: finding the Romance of Spain and Mission Style at the Bowers Museum

Tucked away at what is now the 'back' side of the modern entrance to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA, are Spanish Revival mission style buildings of the original museum. The mature garden and cool echoing halls are a welcome retreat from the overbearing freeways and commerce just outside.

This older mission style structure was built in 1932 during the early years of the Great Depression, and as such, it had a slow start. Built in a classic Spanish revival style it has a large garden embracing the street entrance, surrounded by archways and tall facades.

This quiet setting has the expected fountain, trees and 'lawn' landscape. Wonderful mature cacti, aloe and other drought tolerant plantings dominate the scene. Above on a wall is a mural depicting early settlers.

The size and color of this landscape is wonderful, creating a small world away from the street outside, and attracting few museum goers, since the newer museum entrance and parking is nearly a block away.

Inside, an expansive hall showcases California history in an older exhibition style of display that newer museums lack. The Spanish architectural style is enhanced by an inside balcony above the lower hall that hints of more galleries upstairs.

From this balcony it's possible to get a higher view looking down at the gallery below, but also at the gorgeously textured coifered ceiling of the great hall. This appears to be carved, but is actually cast and painted.

On this second story there is an exhibit of California plain aire painters that contains some of the best of that genre. This comes as a surprise, considering the lack of publicity that the collection receives, due perhaps to the larger Irvine collection located not far from here.

The upper level halls have ceilings painted by little known mural artist, Martin Syvertsen (1874 - 1947), in the early 1930's. He was trained in Germany, having been born in Norway, arriving in California during the mid-1920's. He created an amazing array of color and design in the murals overhead, almost like an oriental rug in design. These murals feel more like something we'd find in Spain than in Santa Ana. He also painted theater murals, such as the Grauman's Egyptian Theater, and a huge project for the Mountain View cemetary in Altadena, CA.

While this visit to old California is part of a newer, larger art museum with diverse multi-cultural exhibitions, it has been allowed to remain regional and historical in scope. A fitting content for a grand and romantic structure.

"Bowers Museum is home to Art and Artifacts", more on museum history:HERE.

Martin Syvertsen's murals can also be seen at the Mountain View Cemetary, Altadena, CA: illustrated brochure HERE

Orange County magazine, Oct. 1992, Museum history: HERE

1922 article, Martin Syvertsen mural: HERE

Bowers Museum

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Cactus Time: California Cactus Center

This is the perfect season for a landscaping project with succulents, aloes and cactus, and the California Cactus Center is a good place to start. Whether a single planter like the one above is in your plan, or a larger grouping in the ground, finding inspiration within a garden setting can help to give any project focus, style and content.

The California Cactus Center in Pasadena, CA is a great place to wander around, taking in the almost overwhelming plant diversity, and the creative ways that these can be arranged in a yard. Planters are a popular way to create focus with texture, color and scale. They also allow the plants to be moved with the seasons, from a sunny but frost safe winter location to a filtered sunlight site for the hottest summer days.

There are examples of arrangements in the ground, filling in awkward spaces or little tight sites where smaller plants are perfectly at home.

More views of the Cactus Center, show additional inspiration along with how the nursery is organized in tables of smalls and the talls set around the perimeter. It's an awesome sight when you are thinking about water wise plants, but wondering what they will grow up into. You can select a few bits of small color to set along side more common cuttings from the gardens of friends and family to start your own collection.

Above are some of the best ideas I found there. I love the cactus landscape in small scale planted in a 'tray' built onto a flat. This is perfect for yards with sloping ground or difficult sñoil. The hanging ball is a real conversation piece to hang in a sheltered porch or patio.

Under the shade screens sit a huge variety of plants in a wide range of sizes. This is the core of California Cactus Center.

More about California Cactus Center:
Location & Hours: HERE
Gallery of Plants: HERE

Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Install a Simple Gray Water System

Trying to capture gray water and transporting it out to the yard or garden can be a huge task, let alone a slow process. Although I'm no engineering expert, it seemed to me that there had to be a easier way, so I am sharing with you what I 'set up' at my house to divert water out to my garden.

I use a simple hose pipe system that the exhaust hose from my washer pours out into.  This pipe then diverts the water out to plants within the length of my pipe, or additionally with the use of rain gutters to carry the water further.  This is not a permanent system, so the hoses are removed from the garden after use.

For materials, my main element is a long, black flexible pipe (shown in these photos). After scouting my local big box hardware stores, I found that this item was not stocked (although since then I have spotted it at Home Depot). I ordered online a 4-in x 25-ft 70-PSI Corrugated Solid Pipe that was what I wanted.  So far, this length has worked with my yard.

Black corrugated hose/pipe: available in various lengths, and can be made longer
Rain gutter: any length required to carry water further to plant/tree
Wire: for 'handle' at top of pipe

To set up my pipe for installation, I punched 2 holes about 2" below the top edge on each side of the hose end, using an ice pick (heated over the stove flame).

Next I created a wire hanger that looks alot like a bucket handle using the 2 holes to fasten the wire to the pipe end (in this photo, this 'handle' shape looks slightly twisted).

The pipe needs to be hung near the original water outlet in the wall, so that the washer hose can be easily put into the pipe when in use. I also needed this to be easily removed after each use.  Two large cup hooks were screwed to the bottom of overhead cabinet to hang the pipe from.  Do not try lowering the washer hose below the level of the wall exhaust pipe.

When in use, the back door is open for the hose to exit the laundry area.  It is layed outside at a level that is flat or 'going downhill' so water flows easily out to the yard.

To extend the distance, I use a few long rain gutters that seem to fit the pipe easily and don't need to be fastened or secured, as shown in the photo.

Laundry soap: I researched laundry products online and took my list to Wholefoods where I selected a brand recommended for gray water use. After using this product for about 6 months, I haven't seen any problems develop with the plants that receive this gray water. I sort our laundry and do not gray water any loads that might have cleaning chemicals or other harmful elements.

This method waters: camellias, citrus trees, pittosporum, random succulents in the flood plain, and a redwood tree.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Cleaning: How To Wash a Rug

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Washing rugs used to be part of an old time Spring Cleaning ritual. How to wash a rug? Today this seems like an ancient concept, but after a long winter it can be pretty essential. A freshly washed rug will give your room a new start for spring.

Getting ready, have these items on hand:

vacuum cleaner
water bucket
garden hose with sharp nozzle
outside work surface
cleaning agents: Oxy Clean, Dr. Bronners liquid castile soap
scrub brush
2 saw horses, and/or plastic patio chairs

To get started, it's important to determine if this rug is a good candidate for washing. Most wool, cotton and especially synthetic rugs are fine with the process. If you have any concerns, try rubbing a white rag or old tee shirt saturated with cold water in a hidden corner of the rug. If it removes some color, you won't want to wash it.

Begin this project early on a sunny, warm day. First working inside, vacuum the rug to remove surface dirt. Turn it over and vacuum the back surface as well. Outside, prepare a working space that is flat, hosing off the surface until it is clean. Take the rug out to the work space and lay the rug out flat. Hose the rug off with a strong water stream until it is fully wet.

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Prepare a bucket of cleaning agents. I dissolve a mixture of "OXI Clean" in about 4 cups of hot water, stirring until mixed well. I add this to a bucket of clear cold water. Next I add a small squirt of "Dr. Bronner's" liquid castile soap or other gentle soap to the water bucket. Even cheap hair shampoo will do. You want to avoid a heavy, soapy mixture that will be difficult to rinse out.

Next comes the part where you will need to get down on your knees and scrub the rug. Dip your scrub brush into the soapy water bucket then work the brush in the direction of the rug pile. Short pile surfaces such as the one you see here can usually tolerate this type of scrub brush. Loopy piles may require hand scrubbing only, using your fingers to work in the soapy mixture. You want to avoid shredding or frizzing the rug fibers.

Usually I clean only the nap side of the rug, but if you are cleaning up stains that have soaked through to the back, you may need to turn the rug over and scrub the back as well.

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Using a strong water stream, hose off the suds and work out the soap. You may need to do rub the rug again by hand (or by walking barefoot over the rug to push out the suds). Work until the water runs clear.

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To wring out the remaining water, roll up your rug and walk on it, pressing out the water. Smaller rugs might be fine if they are just pressed by hand.

The rug will need to be air dried on a support so that air can reach the back side and water can flow off. I have found that if I drape this over two saw horses, smaller rugs can be hung out to dry.

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A larger rug like this needed additional support. I added 2 large plastic patio chairs under the ends to keep it off the deck surface to dry. I have also seen rugs hung over balcony railings to dry. Another tip is to suspend a strong broom stick between two chair seats or ladders to create a pole to drape the rug over.

At this point you may need to draft another strong body to help you lift your rug up and over the saw horses because a water saturated rug can be super heavy to move.

How long will the drying take? In hot, dry weather this can take a day or two, longer in other climates. When the rug is dry, take it back inside. It may need a good vacuuming to 'fluff up' the rug nap again if it has dried a bit stiff. Plastic bristle hair brushes also can be used to comb out a rug. BTW, hair brushes can be more effective than vacuuming in homes where pet hair seems to fill up the rugs.

I hope your efforts work out for you. Getting the dirt out can really improve a rug and give extend its use for years.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taking a Look: Art Deco Bathroom Tile

When designing a new Art Deco bathroom or remodeling an old one in a vintage style, looking at original tile work is always a plus. This vintage bathroom is in a bungalow home located in the hillside community of Tujunga, CA. The tiles here have an Art Deco color scheme, which brings this home's age into the 1920's era.

Looking down, the floor and lower walls appear to be the most dramatic part of this tile scheme. By bringing together yellow and a light lavender in both hexagon and square tiles there is a kinetic sense of design. Capped by a yellow linear edge, the large lavender wall field has a tiny medallion motif in line around the towel rack level.

Modern chrome legs on the original sink allow for the rich coloration of this tiny room to flow around two walls. In a nod to tradition, an original wood medicine cabinet sits to the left side of the sink. This and the upper walls are painted white, which is what was probably used originally.

Bathrooms such as this example that have had few modernizations are becoming rare. It's always a surprise to open a bathroom door to find a gem like this hidden away, waiting to inspire new ideas for bathroom remodels and new additions.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Water Conservation & Kids

So, we are in a drought. Are you thinking about teaching children water conservation? On my way to research another blog article, I have come across quite a few fun articles and activity pages online that are perfect for teaching the kids in your life about water conservation.

After a winter without rain, you probably have alot of explaining to do to the small people running around the house, especially of you are contemplating yanking out the front lawn in the next few months. This is something kids are going to notice, so get them on-board with some activities that will help them understand more about drought and what it means to them.

LINKS to great IDEAS:

What Do You Know About H2O: an interactive website with activities for the K thru 12 grade levels: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

A Journey through Water : Children’s booklet on water and conservation: Santa Margarita Water District (Orange County)

Water Conservation Around the House: Activity page: EcoKids, EarthDayCanada

Kids: Water, Use it Wisely: Activities, Lessons, Resources: (a huge online resource from Arizona)

What Does a 20% Reduction in Water Use Look Like? one page poster with easy graphics

Easy Ways Kids Can Conserve: Youtube video

Save our Water, the state website:

So, that's a good jump start on water conservation from a child's point of view, and I have to add that most of the websites and worksheets listed above would be fine for working any age group.