Down the Street and Out of the Ordinary is a series that will acquaint Rancho Reubidoux readers with singular local gardens and their creators.
Joe’s place is literally steps away from the Rancho on Redwood Drive. Ironically, it was because I couldn’t see it that I took notice of it at all. From street level, a ground-covered slope and tall bamboo fence choked with vines, hid the house completely. I’d see an elderly gentleman out front occasionally; I made it a point to say hello. Then came a time I stopped seeing the man and I feared the inevitable. For a while, nothing, then: Changes. Big ones. The bamboo fence and vines disappeared and the ground-cover was stripped away completely. I could see the house, finally, and the front yard was now a blank slate. I was intrigued; what would happen next? I feared another lawn might be added to the already lawn-heavy area. Then I embarked on my latest surgical adventure and had to wait until I began walking again to catch up with the yard and its changes, a period of almost 8 months. Walking down the street again for the first time, I got chills: The house that had been obscured behind a green veil now faced a vision from prehistory, or maybe a desert planet. I had to meet the person behind the transformation …
Every once in a while Paul and I will be struck by the beauty of our surroundings, exclaiming to each other how lucky we feel to live where we live. This is not to say that everyone would feel the same; we understand that many of our neighbors would find the Rancho a strange place. Unlike many (most) homes in our town we have no lawn, roses are extinct here, and sprinklers don’t come to hissing life morning and night. Maybe it’s because this place is something we’ve created that we appreciate it so; the same way the parents of an odd looking child look upon it and smile. Still, visitors do proclaim its loveliness, its charms. The intent of this post is to exhibit via photography some of what makes our outdoor spaces so special. Think of them as moments from a sunny spring day, Rancho Reubidoux style.
Our palo verdes are in dazzling bloom and I love seeing them contrasted against weathered wood and deep blue sky.
Okay, so it took a collection of 9 cast iron manhole covers (the details above are from my faves) and 1 oblong vintage meter cover . . .
4 amazing corner stones (that’s them above) and a galaxy’s worth of pebbles . . .
“Oh, hello there”, my octopus agave seems to be saying from its spot between the pepper trees on 14th St. Quite self-effacing coming from a large succulent with a seeming writhing base, with a central stalk that easily extends to almost 20-feet. I had been monitoring my modest friend all last week, waiting for the day the buds that bristled on its stalk’s would open; my secret hope that it might happen on the first day of spring, 2015. Well, disregarding ceremony and my wishes completely, a full 5-inches of the agave’s lowest buds opened the day before that momentous seasonal occurrence . . .
Spring is still a day or two away from its official dawning but I figure we needn’t wait. Not while there are wisterias in spectacular bloom. Part of Bill & Hal’s beautiful garden in Riverside, these lilac-colored swags trail upward on decades-old muscular vines.
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Tillandsias, or “air plants” have so many things going for them it’s surprising they’re not more popular. They possess a rare beauty that reminds me more of undersea creatures — or extraterrestrial flora — than jungle plants from Central and South America, the American south or the West Indies. As epiphytes they require no soil to grow, only a friendly host for latching onto, the better to take in moisture and nutrients from the air. Some tillandsia varieties bloom but I don’t seek them out for their flowers. As with succulents I love tillandsia’s for their looks; they have a singular beauty that enhances a display or vignette like no other plant. Still, despite all their positive qualities, tillandsias are not as popular as they could be. And, ironically, I think it’s these very qualities that hold them back. Their beauty is too “exotic”, too strange for most people. And, it seems to me, the no-soil bit causes confusion as well; if no soil is required where is one supposed to place them? One idea is to reference the way they grow in the forest, attached to a host tree. A recent piece in Sunset magazine titled ’11 Secrets to the Easiest Garden Ever” showed a gorgeous example of just that by my friend, garden designer Dustin Gimbel (click here). Inspired by his design I decided to try and come up some other displays for these amazing plants using elements I already had on hand.
Tillandsia Palm Bow: Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the element at right as what I call a palm “scoop”. Dried and fallen on windy days, these curvaceous scoops are literally gifts from the sky. I’ve used them before, as a centerpiece (click here) and as a hanging succulent garden (click here). This one I found in the Evergreen Cemetery after a storm; it was just too gorgeous to leave for the gardener to discard. And, at more than 5-feet in length, it was much bigger (those previous scoops were about 2-feet long). I hung onto it for months, looking at it and others I’d salvaged, wondering what they might become. In a way it reminded me of Constantin Brancusi’s ‘The Bird’ sculpture (click here) … so I thought of adding a base to it and leaving it at that. But then I decided it could serve as a display for a large tillandsia Oaxacana. I filled a concrete tube with quick-set concrete, standing the scoop upright. My first impulse was to suspend the Oaxacana from a wire at the top of the scoop’s curve; then I decided I’d like the visual (and literal) tension a taut wire from the base to the top of the scoop would provide. This way I could hang the tillandsia from the wire and move it up and down as I pleased. A simple eye hook in the concrete, and another in the scoop’s top, did the job. I’m pleased with this tillandsia display. It’s simple but striking and a great way to elevate something natural that would otherwise be discarded.
Last night they began to move in: Clouds of every description. Sometimes dark, as if overloaded with all the dampness of the sky … other times so light and puffed they epitomized the word “flighty”. I checked through the night for the downpour the clouds promised, but there was no shine on the sidewalks, no glisten on the plants in the Rancho’s front yard. Disappointed, I returned to bed; I was certain the next time I would check there would surely be rain. Still: Nothing. And by morning there was much too much light streaming into the bedroom for rain … looking out the window there was a breeze — and still more clouds — but no rain.
It’s early afternoon now and although I’ve been monitoring them through the day the clouds have stingily held on to their watery bounty. I thought that by taking photos of the clouds they might be goaded into raining on my one man parade, but no … instead I got glances from people in passing cars, looking up to see what I might be shooting of interest. I could almost see the thought in their faces: “But it’s only clouds.”