In Praise of the “old-fashioned”

Camellia japonica happily hugging a partly shady wall

Camellia japonica happily hugging a partly shady wall

I’m reading a book right now called the “Paradox of Choice.”  As you can probably guess, it’s premise is that we now have tremendous choice in our lives about virtually everything and this is not necessarily a good thing.  In landscape design it’s no different, there is an exploding array of new plants and materials to choose from.  It’s thrilling to discover a new variety of something, and instantly one thinks “hmm, where can I use this?”   But time and time again, I am reminded about how some “old timers” like the Camellia are still as relevant and appropriate as ever.  For some, the Camellia just seems like something out of grandma’s garden and it definitely does reside there next to the twisting juniper and overgrown jade plant.  Just because the Camellia is at home in the garden’s of yore doesn’t mean it’s not a super performer in today’s garden.  Let me count the ways…..Camellia’s bloom when not much else does (mainly winter), Camellia’s are generally easily espaliered saving ton’s of “floor space” and providing a nice wall of glossy green leaves and blooms,  Camellia’s have limited pest problems and once established are surprisingly thrifty on water and Camellia’s can brighten up a shady area like few other plants.  The right Camellia can fit in with many different garden styles…cottage, Mediterranean, Japanese, formal, etc…

For an excellent selection of Camellias check out Nuccio’s nursery in Alta Dena.  They sell retail and wholesale and are very helpful in getting you the perfect Camellia for your location and design.  Here are some helpful care tips for Camellias.

A Plant Geek’s Favorite

amazing Euphorbias

amazing Euphorbias

Like any self-respecting plant geek, hardly a day goes by when I don’t fall in love with a new plant or revisit an old favorite.  In fact, for me, the challenge of designing landscapes is more what plants to leave out than which ones to put in.  BUT… if you where to aim a garden hose at me and force me to decide I would say Euphorbia’s were my all time favorite.  They are a huge and varied genus ranging from ground hugging Euphorbia myrsinites to striking succulent forms E. canariensis.  There are euphorbia’s with very soft, textural qualities like E. dulcis ‘Chameleon’ and there are stiff, oddly beautiful forms like E. resinifera. I have placed the E. characias ‘Portuguese Velvet‘ in a cottage garden and used a E. tirucalli (sticks on fire) in a very clean-lined modern design.  And as far as blooms are concerned, well few last as long as the fused bracts (which form around the true flowers) of the E. characias wulfenii.  And with striking colored foliage like the blue of Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ or the copper wine of E. continifolia, euphorbia’s look good year round.

In general euphorbia’s are tough, pest resistant, water thrifty plants.  Their milky white sap is known to be irritating so take care when pruning.

Here’s a great article on Euphorbia’s if you want to know more about this amazing plant.

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San Miguel de Allende

naturalistic rill at Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden

rill at Charco del Ingenio

returning to our cool courtyard for siesta

returning to our cool courtyard for siesta

I took my husband to San Miguel de Allende in January to celebrate his 50th. We had been wanting to go for so long and finally we could justify leaving the kids at home and getting away for nearly a week. The beautiful Spanish colonial town in the mountains did not disappoint. Up until now, all of my Mexico experiences had been coastal towns with more new architecture than old. Since San Miguel de Allende is an UNESCO village, it is gorgeously preserved. We walked the narrow streets, peeking behind immense wooded doors into the shaded courtyards with huge potted plants, trickling fountains and cool stonework. Another treat we experienced was the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden, a 167 acre nature preserve. Besides the stunning specimens of Agave, Dasylirion and Euphorbia, I especially liked this naturalistic water feature cut into the hardscape.