Tuesday, November 24, 2015

High Desert Cabin: Welcome to My New Desert Hideaway

North of Joshua Tree the high desert landscape opens up, falling away from the San Bernardino mountains towards distant dry arroyos and lake beds. In this area, small homestead cabins were built in the 1950's and 60's mostly by families on the other side of the mountains, 2 hours away in the Los Angeles basin. They built their retreats first as open box structures, later filling in with bathrooms (if water was available), kitchen nooks and bedrooms. First without water or power, those services were gradually brought out to many of the properities, although it's not uncommon to find cabins today still without any utilities available.

This is were my cabin sits, out in the open desert with creosote bushes to soften the sandy landscape. The views that surround it make for an endless day of sky, sun and shadows, clouds and winds. The desert slope here washes gradually down, like a tilted table top you can't quite get even. Look for the light blue rooftop to find the cabin.

While it's not too far out on a dirt road for an emergency trip down the road to the market or gas station, it invites one to stay for awhile once you arrive.

Once here, it's easy to fill a day with exploring animal tracks in the sand, cloud gazing and soaking up the open space.  There's time for translating the freedom that this open space brings into creative play.

At night, it's impossible to ignore the big sky, revolving with stars and cross country plane lights. It wasn't long before we added deep patio chairs and a good set of binoculars to the cabin's contents for our evenings outside.

Here is the cabin as I found it. I'll be sharing with you my journey to make it a hideaway for long desert weekends. Right now I am observing the seasons out here, making improvements and changes most important for each as I create a space for comfort and retreat.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hillside Landscape in Rocky Los Angeles Canyon

Situated in the foothill community of Tujunga, high above Los Angeles, this lush garden reflects a long range plan utilizing local materials and drought tolerant plants. Originally this south facing yard was inaccessible from the house which stands nearly a full story above the sloping back yard.

What you will see here was hand crafted by the homeowner, Steve, who terraced the stoney south facing mountain lot to create small planting areas.  Connecting these areas, he built steps, bridges and winding pathways lined in local granite boulders. Verdant planters created by mounding mulch into free form rock lined beds provide Steve with rich soil where he grows vegetables and ornamental annuals. Fruit trees provide shade and height for the terraces.

From above, a deck and stairway down to the back yard patio and now provide access to the landscape below. In the lower basement, there are now rooms adjacent to the ground level patio which is shaded by triangular awnings stretched out over that area.

These photos were taken at a recent visit late in the day as dusk settled on the garden lit with lanterns and torches. I hope you'll find inspiration in how this rocky dry scape has been transformed.

The garden pathways meander along the terraces, lined by larger boulders that hold back the mulch filled planters.

A closer look shows how the raised beds are built and shaped to hold the mounds of mulch. Soaker hoses provide necessary water.

Three of the foot bridges over a dry creek bed used to divert rain water runoff down the property, and also to provide a great landscape detail. Each bridge has its own character, making for wonderful discovery moments in the garden.

Hardscape steps are also integrated into the pathways as the garden changes in terrace levels.

A firepit is located in the final and lowest terrace, making for a fun discovery after taking a walk down the pathways from the house. This is created from reclaimed concrete pieces, carefully set into a level circle.

As evening settles over the garden, torches, lanterns and lights come out to light the way along the pathways. It's a magical setting that lasts well into the night.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

French Dirt: A small garden story

Books about adventures in travel and gardening can be inspiring, especially when reading about something familiar in another culture. "French Dirt" takes us to the south of France, where the author Richard Goodman and his Dutch girlfriend rent a large stone home for a year. This new life included living in a very tiny village with all the challenges of being foreigners. The story of his garden begins 6 months into his stay there, while he sought to take part more in village life as spring started to appear in the rural setting.

This story follows the journey any vegetable garden takes, from the first preparation of the site, to fighting off summer's heat. Along the way we get to know individuals around the little town who make an effort to help him create this one-time garden. By offering advice, tools and time, the village gets to know this American, and he them.

For any gardener, this little book will remind us of our own journey in gardening, and that we should not make it alone, but seek out the help and advice of others.  For it is there that we can build strong ties along with great food.

You'll want to seek out this book to read and share. I recommend the 1st edition hardbound for it's quality deckle edge and cover.  It would also make a great gift for the gardener who likes to read now and then:

"French Dirt: the story of a garden in the south of France"
Richard Goodman
Publisher: Algonquin Books

1991 First Edition: 203 pages
ISBN-10: 0945575661 (original hardbound)
ISBN-13: 978-0945575665

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Daedalus Books Inc Remainders (March 4, 1993)
ISBN-10: 1857930967
ISBN-13: 978-1857930962

Paperback: 203 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 5, 2002)
ISBN-10: 1565123522
ISBN-13: 978-1565123526

Monday, April 6, 2015

Epiphyllums: Jungle Flowers in a Drought Tolerant Garden

Epiphylum Bloom: Drought Tolerant Flowers

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.

Epiphyllum flowers in a drought tolerant garden

Epiphyllum flowers growing wild in a drought tolerant garden

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

Mission style garden at the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA

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.

Mission Style Garden at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA

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.

Drought tolerant Mission style garden at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA

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.

Ceiling in Mission style Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA

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