Tag Archives: shopping

lostlandscape does dallas

An annual work conference takes me to various cities around the country. Some cities have been amazingly cool centers of human civilization, but most others are places that had never been high on my bucket list. Really, I’m going for the conference, and the city is just set dressing. But the trips is a good excuse to get vaguely acquainted with–and sometimes be pleasantly surprised–by the background city.


The landscape between the airport and the conference hotel is a pretty bland ooze of industrial housing, strip malls and the occasional mega-church, all interspersed with flat-to-rolling terrain that looked scraped clean of anything resembling like nature. One of my fellow conferees looked at the surroundings, appraised it. “Tornado country,” as if that might actually be the best fate for it.

If you’re able to switch on the selective amnesia and forget about the ride into town, however, the immediate setting of the conference, in a hotel adjacent to the Arts District, was actually a pretty pleasant and interesting place.

This being downtown, most plant-life comes served to you on a tray or in a dish.

Other things also come on plates. This is a hazy, out-of-focus remembrance of dessert, a kulfi “ice cream sandwich,” at the most interesting restaurant I had a chance to sample, Samar.

Back outdoors, back to nature-on-a-plate, planters outside the Dallas Art Museum, in front of Muguel Covarrubias’ glass mosaic from 1954, The Gift of Life. The perfect artwork for a gray day in a gray downtown.

A new museum going up, almost ready to open, the Perot Musuem of Nature and Science. Its architect is Thom Mayne, whose “Death Star” building erected for CalTrans in downtown LA (below) bears more than a passing resemblance to this building…

Thom Mayne CalTrans building in LA(Photo by Magnus Manske, from the Wikimedia Commons.)

A few places had grass around them–and even trees.

This being downtown it wasn’t enough for trees to have branches and bear cooling leaves for the summertime. They also had to light up. This is one of a a bunch of trees I ran across that were thoroughly wired.

And another one…

(Add pigeons…)

The quality of light in a downtown area is always a tad strange. You’d never guess that the sun was straight ahead on the other side of the building when I took this. The light and shadow comes courtesy of the reflection off the glass-walled office building behind me reflecting the sun back towards itself.

Pointy shadows, gumdrop prune-jobs…

(Subtract the pointy shadows…)

The twin gods that preside over Dallas…

Window washers, presiding over Dallas.

The old, with the new rising far behind it.

Thank the shopping gods for these: Jonathan Cross vessels for sale at the gift shop of the Dallas Art Museum. There was no space in my carry-on for anything, even these compact little vessels. Wah. They’re almost too cool to consider adding a plant to them.

you paid money for that?

At the plant sale attached to the recent succulent show a couple of the society members looked at one of the plants I had in my hands and made all sorts of approving noises. “Great plant!” or “Wow, you scored!”

That was not the reaction when I got the plants home.

While John didn’t quite come out and say something like, “You paid good money for that?,” it was there in implication in what little he said.

I suppose it’s the curious gardener’s curse, getting all excited over some of the odder botanical life forms that didn’t get sprinkled on with the magic unicorn glitter that makes a plant conventionally pretty. Add to that the more general gardener’s curse of being able to see the future in recognizing the promise in a packet of black seeds indistinguishable from dust or a bag of brown bulbs looking no more promising than a heap of shallots.

Here’s one of the little plants, Ipomea platensis, a species in the same genus as morning glories. This is the young plant.

Some day it’ll grow up into something looking like this plant in the main succulent show. Very cool, but we’re missing the magic unicorn glitter.

This is a cool plant with a Latin name that would draw snickers from a junior high school science class, Fockea edulis.

Some day I hope mine grows up into something looking like these larger plants in the main show…

Here’s a more mature specimen of Dioscorea elaphantipes, another of the little plants I got. I think the form of the caudex on this one looks pretty amazing. So far these are three caudex-forming (caudiciform) species, but the inflated plant parts all look quite different from each other. The foliage, too, looks totally different one plant to the next.

Oper­culi­carya decaryi also has a cool inflated stem…

…and tiny, dark, delicate leaves.

And then there was this one, Tyle­codon striatus, a plant that even I think is kinduv ugly. Lots of brown stem and not much else. They have competitions to find the ugliest dogs. Do they have ugly plant contests? This species stands a pretty good chance of winning. And I paid good money for it!

Not all was lumpy and bulbous at the plant sale, and there actually was a lot of unicorn glitter spread over many of the plants.

Echevaria Afterglow and Sedum adolphii 'Oranges'
Golden sedum
Dudleya brittonii
Flower on Adenium obesum, a relative of the tropical plumeria. Like most of the plants I purchased this species will form a dramatic caudex, but people seem to buy it at least as much for the flowers.

I liked the forest of plant labels at this vendor's booth. One of them bears the really unhelpful plant name of succulent...

There were succulent-friendly pots, too. Just look at all that drainage.

And of all the pots I came so close to going home with this one by Don Hunt Ceramics. Isn’t the glaze terrific? You wouldn’t care if the plant inside was as ugly as one of my new ones!

Considering what I purchased–and especially what I did not buy–this might just be the last time I’m allowed to go shopping unattended.

après le déluge

Six days of wet weather were coming to an end this morning when John and I left the garden with its pockets of standing water and did a little grocery shopping. We weren’t far from the San Diego River, and we’d heard it was running high. With the storms clearing and being more curious than cautious today we headed over for a look.

The estuary where the channelized river flows into the Pacific flowed with more water than I’ve seen in it. The ducks took to it like…ducks to water.

Heading east, Friar’s Road was down to one passable lane.

We stopped at a couple spots. The first was the YMCA, where the parking lot was being claimed by the river. Stairs led into water where ordinarily they deposit you onto dry land.

Most dramatic was this schoolbus. I’m sure it was empty at the time the water rose, but it’s a pretty awesome indicator of what nature was doing.

Stop #2 was Fashion Valley Shopping Center. People look at its siting–on the banks of the San Diego River–and sometimes wonder whether placing it there was such a good idea. Today, right about the time these pictures were taking, the river was cresting at the highest level it’s reached since 1980–the highest water level in a generation. The parking garages were partially submerged. Underground parking became underwater parking.

Access into the mall shuts down from one direction whenever the river runs high. Today there was only one way in and out of the mall.

All the sights until now were pretty amazing, but being good consumers we were almost more shocked at this sight: two open parking spaces. On December 22. In the middle of the day, during prime shopping hours.

And just as shocking was this: Inside the mall. Where’d all the shoppers go? Let me remind you it’s still December 22…

Well, that was pretty much the end of our expedition. Our holiday shopping was pretty much complete except for the kinds of things that don’t grow in shopping centers. So it was back home, where the standing water in the garden was starting to drain. Will we remember this freakish week once the sun comes out and all the relatives descend?

my new natives

Saturday was my local California Native Plant Society’s annual plant sale.

Eight hours on my feet, volunteering, had me pretty exhausted, but not too exhausted to shop! Still, I thought Saturday’s haul showed remarkable focus and restraint–except for one plant.

I’ve threatened to start a collection of dudleyas, that cool mostly-California genus of rosette-forming succulents. I have several species in the garden already, and I’ve always been struck by the subtle variations between the different kinds. I think that you can make out some of the differences pretty easily in the big group photo above, though a couple are immature plants and will look a little more like their relatives when grown up.

So here are the new additions:

Dudleya abramsii, Abrams’ dudleya.

Orcutt’s dudleya, D. attenuata ssp. orcuttii.

Britton’s dudleya, D. brittonii, a Baja species, probably one of the biggest, splashiest of this genus.

Candle holder live-forever, D. candelabrum, another of the larger, more charismatic species. This hails from the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara.

Bright green dudleya, D. virens ssp. hassei (also called D. hassei). The “bright green” in this Catalina Island species appears to be a misnomer since my plant looks really white or blue-green, as do the photos up on CalPhotos.

Sticky dudleya, D. viscida, a plant only found in the low southern end of the state.

Looking at the first photo you’ll probably notice a plant that looks nothing like a dudleya. That plant is thick-leaved yerba santa, Eriodichtyon crassifolium. With a reputation for spreading when it’s happy, this isn’t a plant for every garden. There’s a spot behind the back fence on the slope garden where there’s a tangle of iceplant and ivy. If any plant stands a chance against those two nemeses it might be this one. I’ve loved its lavender flowers in the spring and the strikingly modern upright growth habit. It’ll give me more excuses to tend this little wasteland of a garden space, my little secret garden with big, scary datura flowers and the even scarier iceplant and ivy.

scrub your air

This was fun: I opened up the Museum of Modern Art gift catalog yesterday and saw this on page 2, the Andrea Air Purifier. Instead of filters or electric charges, Matthieu Lehanneur’s machine from 2007 uses a live plant.

Once again I get the feeling that gardeners are way ahead of the curve. Plants to clean the air? Who’d have thought such a thing was possible?

And then there’s the matter of the price tag $199, plant not included. Yikes. But the manufacturer makes some claims about how the gizmo is lots more efficient than traditional purifiers or even plants:

Based on experiments performed by RTP Labs, Andrea improves the efficiency of formaldehyde removal from the air relative to plants alone by 360%. Relative to HEPA and carbon filters, comparison between the RTP Labs data and literature data show an improvement in formaldehyde filtration efficiency of 4400%. These data confirm that while plants alone in an interior setting are more efficient than HEPA and carbon filters at removing toxic gases from the air, they are significantly less efficient than Andrea. Even more important, the rate of gas removal by Andrea is, according to the RTP Labs data, over 1000% faster than for plants alone.

Much of the technological magic appears to be due a fan that circulates air around the plant and then into the room–something that you could probably rig up in the privacy of your own home. (Be prepared to water your plant more often.) As a fun piece of conceptual art that was part of MoMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind show, the price wouldn’t be that outrageous. But as a functional appliance I’d probably opt for a few little green machines, growing and photosynthesizing and blooming through the winter doldrum months…

my haul

In the spirit of the “haul video,” the art form in which a fashion-conscious usually young consumer describes his or her latest finds from the last shopping trip to the mall–a video in which the word “cute” has to appear at least fourteen times–let me show off my latest finds on my recent excursion to the Theodore Payne Foundation. (You didn’t think I’d go there and only pick up a couple plants for Aunt Barbara, did you?)

This first photo, a dark-flowered selection of desert willow, Chilopsis linearis, is a plant I did not buy. But if I manage to kill of one of my existing large shrub-sized plants in a spot that receives some summer water, this plant will be near the top of my list.

I also didn’t picky up any of the cool selection of pots.

But I did buy a few plants, including:

Verbena lilacina ‘Paseo Rancho,’ a light pink selection of the usually lavender Cedros Island verbena. You might call its color a little on the pale and insipid side, but it’s different from the other clones in my garden. Insipid but different, and maybe just a little cute. Reason enough to have it.

Cliff lettuce, or Dudleya caespitosa. Cute, huh? Ever the collector, I think it might be fun to explore some of the dozens of Dudleya species that grow in California.

Coast buckwheat, Eriogonum latifolium. I don’t really know this plant–which is sometimes reason enough to try to get to know it better. It’s been described as being similar to San Miguel Island buckwheat (E. grande). To me it looks like the leaves are a little more deluxe, thicker, fuzzier.

This plant, along with the preceding two selections, isn’t native to my immediate area. But being coastal or island plants, I’m hoping they’ll like what I have to offer them. The rest of my haul, however, consists of species that grow in my county, some of them not far from me.

San Diego ragweed, San Diego ambrosia–whatever you want to call Ambrosia pumila. The leaves are really delicately cut, like some artemisias, and I think this diminutive plant really does qualify as “cute.” This is a species that’s listed on the CNPS list of rare plants and proposed for the Federal Endangered Species list. It’s weird to travel 140 miles to get a mile that grows nearby, but that’s the responsible thing to do. Our local CNPS plant sales also have offered this plant. Yanking these up out of the ground where they grow nearby would be grossly tacky and totally illegal.

San Diego willowy monardella, Monardella linoides ssp. viminea, is another local plant that’s listed by both the state and federal agencies as endangered. It’ll have delicate whorls of lavender flowers when it blooms. But like most (or maybe all?) monardellas it has intensely fragrant leaves that I can enjoy right now.

And finally, one of my favorite of the softly delicate grasses, Aristida purpurea, purple three awn. It’s slightly more coarse than the popular Mexican feather grass that’s non-native and starting to look like it’s invasive. But it moves just as amazingly in the wind, and has a delicate purple tinge part of the year, something feather grass doesn’t offer.

August isn’t high season for planting, but with this cool summer-that-never-was I figured I could get away with it. And really, here, not that far from the coast, the main issue with many plants is water.

I hate to show newly installed plants before they have a chance to fill in, but here’s the finished bed where all of the plants except for the monardas went into. These Californians should be better choices for this exposed, dry spot than some of the exotics that I had in there before. Not shown in this photo is a very happy Cleveland sage and some ecstatic purple three awn plants that I grew from seed.

I haven’t counted all the “cutes” in my writeup. I know I’ve failed miserably, partly because I really dislike the word unless I’m discussing my extremely cute cat. I will try to do better if I decide to commit my shopping trips to video.

agonizing over the right pot

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that people often hate to go shopping with me. Plants, clothes, paint colors, cheese…it can sometimes take me a long time to make up my mind. I admit that these aren’t life-or-death decisions I’m making. But as far as I’m concerned that’s no excuse not to pay attention to the process. Some things in life are still very important.

During last week’s plant shopping adventure I picked up three little aloes I wanted to pot up for the back patio. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to pick between all the cool offerings. Some collectors like one of everything that catches their eye. By contrast I guess I like to collect one thing in depth. Accordingly I picked an interesting genus of plant (Aloe) and then decided on three contrasting but complementary examples. I was a little bothered that two of the three were unknowns, but I don’t begin to consider myself an aloe collector. They looked cool and the price was reasonable. Decision made.

Then came time to select pots for the plants and for the location where they’d live. The local Home Depot had some functional designs but nothing that excited me. Then I was off to my favorite local nursery. Even when I set some basic rules for myself (“nothing matching,” “a simple design not detracting from the plant,” “earth tones or glazed blue for color”) I ended up with lots of workable options. Since the nursery has a good return policy I picked six to take home to see how they looked on the patio and with the plants.

None of the pots were really pricey, but in all cases they were priced higher than the plants. A lot of the profits in the nursery and landscaping biz aren’t the plants themselves, but all the stuff that goes with them.

So in the end I kept four of the pots and rejected the center and right of the largest pots in the first photo. The extra pot now houses a little division of Aloe maculata (a.k.a. A. saponaria) that I dug up from the front yard. It’s typically an aggressive colonizer–the Matilija poppy of aloes–spreading underground via long stolons. I’m not sure how it’ll do in a pot, so this is an experiment.

Here’s part of the finished edge of the patio. Clockwise from the top: Aloe andongensis, A. saponaria, unknown red aloe.

And here’s the last of the aloes, yet another unknown, nearby in its new pot.

In my teen years I did some informal study of Japanese bonsai and ikebana, the art of arranging branches, leaves and flowers. Proportion proportion proportion were big themes in both, and one of the standard formulas was that the container should be approximately one and a half times the height of the plant material. In all my pots the plants seem too small, but as we all know plants do that amazing thing: grow. Since some of these are unknown species I have no idea how much they’ll grow. But I hope they’ll come to look more at home in their new digs.

Okay, now it’s time to worry about the next big thing…