Away from my own garden for a few weeks I’m satisfying my need for a regular plant fix by observing everything growing around me and passing comments that bore my non-plantaholic companions silly. Late afternoon each day we take a vsd (aka very small dog) for a walk around the streets behind the apartment building that is temporarily home for me. These are attractive residential streets in an old and prestigious suburb lined with handsome mature trees that offer welcome shade from the Californian sun.
Some of the trees were planted when this area was planned as a residential park-like estate back in the 1920s and include an eclectic mix of magnolia grandifloras, deodara cedars, camphors, Fiscus macrocarpa, Californian sycamores (Platanus racemosa), London planes, Liquidambers, Californian live oaks, European oaks, Jacarandas, tulip trees. Also of course a range of the palm trees commonly grown in LA, the Mexican fan palm, the Queen palm and the Canary Island Palm.
The deodar cedars are huge and magnificent, spreading their long branches horizontally across the streets, each festooned with pendulous branchlets. Many of the old Californian sycamores have lumpy gnarled trunks, some heading impossibly sideways as though the original upright trunk had been removed, now they’re looking a bit tatty with withering crispy leaves as they head toward winter. The London plane trees I’m accustomed to from home (Platanus orientalis) always have very upright trunks with a stronger pattern of blocky mottling.
Sadly it seems that many of these trees are suffering from the drier conditions that have prevailed since 2000, exhibiting lighter leaf canopies and dieback, the magnolias from the humid south east and European oaks being particularly hard hit. Along with information about the responsibility of the residents to help look after the street trees and regulations restricting removal of trees there is a sensible movement in this area to gradually infill with appropriate Californian natives like the evergreen Californian live oak (Quercus agrifolia) Despite this I’ve noticed many of the undeniably lovely magnolias are still being planted. Much emphasis is made about the amenity the trees add to the area as well as the money value they add to real estate prices which are pretty hefty in this area already.
Apparently there are also problems with the Canary Island palms that form part of that iconic LA skyline. They are suffering from attack from a fusarium rot that is slowly killing them.
The houses comprise a hugely varied mix of architectural styles ranging from Spanish and pueblo through to Tudor and colonial. The effect is rather charming, nothing is outlandishly huge or ‘look at me’
These two houses are architecturally wide apart but somehow sympathetic and I love the pastel colours. The Californian plane trees are showing signs of drought and the portaloo isn’t the best feature. Presumably it’s for the benefit of the chap working on the little side roof, two days later this pink house was white with grey trim and it’s terracotta neighbour surrounded with a maze of scaffolding.
While the houses have generally retained their original facade, many have been considerably renovated and expanded at the rear. Two sides of this little enclave are bordered by the Wilshire Country Club golf course which adds a premium to their value.
The majority have very green, very neat lawns and nature strips (aka parkways) kept immaculately mown, the effect combined with smaller evergreen planting, iceberg roses and the street trees is both cool and inviting. However those cool green lawns come at a cost and it was interesting to note a few renegades taking a different direction.
The huge bananas are popular and seem to be used a lot for privacy, this garden combines them with less water hungry plants replacing the lawn.
Dotted here and there are front gardens and accompanying nature strips where turf has been replaced with interesting combinations of dry climate plants. Some are new to me but I recognised agastaches, lantana, salvia leucantha and some greigii, pelargoniums, agaves, phlomis, rosemary, lavender, yucca, phormiums, tea trees and a mix of grasses dominated by tall pennisetums.
There are a couple of beautiful simple plantings of what I think is Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass, unfortunately as invasive as it is beautiful
Two more examples of nature strip alternatives to the laid turf. The spiny cactus is sending a clear “keep off the grass” message while the planting of colourful and butterfly attracting lantana should be quite pretty as it matures and mixes with the succulents to cover all the bare ground. In line with the American tradition of open front gardens there are practically no front fences. However I see a few evergreen hedges planted so they create a barrier across the block before the front door, and a couple of places have used a different approach by planting an attractive prickly ‘hedge’ of shrubby roses.
A common feature are the little notices, sometimes as many as 3, generally placed close to the houses, that warn of the armed response of whichever security firm is mentioned on the notice. There seem to be about five providing services in this area
The amount of graveyard and ‘the walking dead’ decoratalia is increasing daily,
A nice contrast in Halloween decoration style below
Hibiscus are predictably popular, I really love these fluffy doubles
And this classic single
And of course this gorgeous bird is everywhere
Here’s the spotted dog, still enjoying those wide expanses of beach
This time, the last word from the vsd