Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Joy contained

This weekend, as in past years, I enjoyed the Theodore Payne Foundation's Native Plant Garden Tours. If you're near L.A., it's a great bargain every spring. $20 buys you a pass to visit over 40 private gardens, all featuring plantings of California native plants. What could be a better bargain than that?

There are some truly magnificent gardens on the tour - you can get an invitation behind the fortified gates of the Brentwood and Beverly Hills elite, to see the feats of designers that get free reign with their money. Or you can visit the homey, much-loved gardens of dedicated plantsmen-and-women whose body of knowledge about growing California plants will amaze you.

But one of the nicest gardens I visited this weekend was one that was new on the tour - and it was an unexpected pleasure.

This was a small Santa Monica rental property - a little duplex, just south of Wilshire across from the auto dealer service shops. A modest mother-in-law cottage behind the main house opened up onto the concrete-paved fenced car-park, where the tenant had created a container garden paradise.

Here, a drear and dull place had been transformed into a garden room. Containers of native plants sprawled wildly beneath a lattice-topped shade cover. They were tiered onto benches. Flat ceramic saucers of water invited birds to browse and bathe while feasting on dried flower seeds.

I arrived just after 10 am, at the beginning of the day. My name was first on the sign-in list. The t-shirted docents turned out to be the gardener herself, and her husband. They showed me around and made sure I saw everything, from the water garden made from a metal livestock watertank to an unidentified succulent rescued from the garbage behind the nearby CVS store.

A mature salvia apiana sprawled its fragrant branches into the space. In one pot, a vigorous and healthy ribes speciosum almost overflowed its container. Mallows, monkeyflowers and manzanitas abounded.

Mystery plant
Nearby a plant with grey, wooly leaves and pompon-like flowers studded with orange florets was just beginning to bloom. What is it? I asked. It's a mystery, said the gardener. It came as a volunteer in another pot. Other gardeners have been mystified, too. Here it is, for your consideration.

/The driveway planters
The garden had outgrown the courtyard enclosure and expanded to a narrow planterbox that flanked the landlord's driveway. Here larger specimens grew and their flowers and fruit attracted birds, including this amazing  perennial, grindelia stricta, or "coast gum plant", with its bold, sticky foliage and yellow composite flowers that bear seeds that draw the birds.

Grindelia stricta, coastal gum plant
Despite the modest setting, such horticultural ardor was thrilling and inspiring. It reminded me of the time I rented a daylight basement apartment, and grew roses in pots in the driveway. It reminded me of the funny clapboard duplex I lived in, where flowers in clay pots ranged up and down the rickety stairs. It reminded me of living on the circus train and growing bromeliads in my roomette.

It reminded me that passionate gardeners make their own spaces, no matter how limited they are.


smalltownme said...

That's an inspiring garden and makes me want to do better with my little collection of pots. Remembering to water them would help!

I would love to hear more about the circus train. You drop that in there so nonchalantly but what an interesting thing to have experienced in one's life!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I agree. This is a gorgeous post but you need to seriously spill it about the circus train!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

That "pay one price" deal is great. It's nice to see a bunch of places embrace reciprocity.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I love that you share your garden tour finds (and the idea of it in general, with such a great price for all that you get to see).
I was so busy gazing at the flowers in this post that I nearly missed the reference to the circus train! Now I am clamouring along with the others to know more!