If you live in Los Angeles, you don’t have to travel far to find an artichoke farm. There’s a big one on Las Posas Road, near Malibu, on the edge of a fertile valley that stretches between the Ventura Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway. Who knew? I had always thought of artichokes as a crop exclusive to northern California, with virtually all of U.S. commercial acreage confined to the Castro Valley and vicinity, near San Francisco. It turns out that, whether north or south, proximity to the California coast, together with protective valley topography, provide the perfect set of conditions for artichoke production.
You can also grow artichokes in any sun splashed San Fernando Valley garden. You can start them from seed or from basal cuttings taken from mother plants, or you can transplant container grown artichoke seedlings directly into the earth. Prior to planting, soil should be amended with lots of compost and a complete fertilizer, including micronutrients, will help your artichokes along their way. Large, bushy specimens, covered with fruit, should be yours within one year of planting.
Although watering will be of major concern during their first year in the garden, artichokes will be reasonably drought tolerant after that. However, for better quality crops – I would say fruit, but artichokes are actually unopened flower buds – plants should be soaked every other day in hot weather during their productive life of two to three years.
'Lady Banks' rose requires nothing but winter rain and a moderate dose of winter cold to flower each spring. I have been puzzling over nature's ways as opposed to people's behaviors. More precisely, the discipline of nature as opposed to that of human beings. Is there a common bond between them? There is, of course, a physical side to human existence. People need to eat just as plants need to unfurl their leaves to receive sunlight in order to photosynthesize and make sugar, their source of energy. But people show their humanity, which is just another word for holiness or G-dliness, when they go beyond the physical. Nature is trapped in always being nature, a mere physical reality. but people can go beyond the physical and delight in other, higher realms.
pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
Are you prepared for an aromatic explosion? Any day now, pink jasmine will give you just that. It's called pink jasmine on account of its tightly wrapped flower buds even though the flowers themselves are white. Yet, from a distance, it looks more pink than white.
I am planning a garden of exclusively aromatic plants. Each selection will possess scented flowers or leaves. It should be a luscious garden with something for everyone. Roses for romantics, herbs for cooks, jasmines for perfume makers.
carpet geranium (Geranium incanum)
When you think of geraniums, you probably see amorphous plants that bloom for long periods in terra cotta pots. Carpet geraniums are different. They present a soft mat of delicately cut foliage upon which small light mauve flowers bloom in profusion. Carpet geraniums are universally loved because they are simply charming, generous, and never overbearing. Have you ever met people like that? My father, of blessed memory, was like that. He was a tzadik, a holy man.
trailing iceplant (Lampranthus spectabilis)
"Give thanks to G-d for He is good, for His kindness endures forever." King David, Psalm 136
A hillside covered with flowers invokes G-d. Especially glowing, shining flowers such as those produced by many species of iceplant. Pictured here is Lampranthus spectabilis, a trailing iceplant. Lampranthus means shining flower (lampr = shining, anthus = flower). On a bright day, the glare given off by carpets of iceplant can be nearly blinding. As G-d says to Moses, "You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20)
G-d is everywhere but cannot be seen, either because what you are looking at is just too bright -- and we are reminded of this when looking towards the sun, or at iceplant, or at snow-capped mountains on a sunny day -- or because what you are seeking, such as an essence or a soul, is just too hidden.
white rock rose (Cistus hybridus)
Get ready for rock roses. These Mediterranean winter and spring blooming beauties not only display endearing flowers but possess fragrantly musky foliage as well. Throughout the Mediterranean, from Spain to the island of Crete, goats are herded into thickets of rock rose. A dark resin exuded by the plants sticks to the goats' hair from which the resin is removed with special combs. Since ancient times, this resin has been used for incense, in perfumery, and for fumigation.
Rock roses are highly drought tolerant. Their ability to live in extreme conditions is noteworthy. I have seen them clinging to sharply sloping, nearly vertical, terrain.
How do you explain the disappearance of a classic plant?
They call this one winter blooming bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia) and there was a time when it was more popular but now you hardly ever see it. It is an excellent selection for the shade or partial sun garden, blooming in winter and spring.
Leaves are cabbage-like and flowers are displayed in dense clusters that rise up above the foliage. Bergenia spreads by means of rhizomes. It is an unspoiled species that does not need a lot of attention, although its water needs would probably not qualify it as drought tolerant.
Any day now, eruptions of African daisies will take place. The first time you see a wave of them, in either purple or white, you will squint and do a double take, wondering if this is a living botanical reality or some sort of trompe d'oeil, some magic show. You half expect that when you return to this same spot tomorrow, the daisies will be gone.
In prayers for the new Hebrew month, we say that it is better to put your trust in G-d than in human beings, better to trust in G-d than in rich benefactors.
Each botanical outburst of African daisies is a welcome surprise, welcome because it puts you immediately in touch with the Creator. You cannot put a price on such beauty, all calculations disappear.
I went to the Getty Center in Brentwood, in Los Angeles, on a misty Sunday afternoon and took this photo above the cactus garden. I really don't know what to make of this except to so say that it's "so LA." No, you can't walk in the cactus garden but you can observe it like an art exhibit. Understand: from where this picture was taken, you need only turn around to enter a vast art gallery that encompasses everything from medieval religious art to modern sculpture, from Impressionist paintings to photography. There are also rooms devoted to furniture and wall hangings from the estates of 18th century European nobility. Something for everyone. The place was crowded and I was surprised. It gives you hope that life still exists beyond the confines of television and computer screens.
Back to the cactus garden. I think the main attraction of the cactus garden is as a work of art, something to be photographed. If I lived on a huge estate and could plant anything under the sun, I doubt I would plant this sort of garden. Cactus is wonderful to photograph, it is bizarre and exotic, but would you really like to wake up to it each morning and have it greet you every evening when you return home? That's why this cactus garden is "so LA." LA is an exotic place with millions of people caught up in a variety of pursuits but does anyone really love living here? There is a song called "I love LA" that seems to be tongue-in-cheek, if not sarcastic, where the singer talks about driving the freeways and mentions an assortment of neighborhoods from different parts of the city. It's an ode to sunshine, music, and pretty girls, but I have yet to meet a person who loves LA.
island tree mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora)
I am not going to make an all-encompassing statement about the wonders of this plant. I will only remark that its flower is uniquely attractive. Just look at it! Its beauty does not require words. The plant itself is gangly and out of control. You can try to keep it in bounds with trimming but why bother? It will serve as a somewhat see through barrier, as it does reach more than ten feet in height but it does not have the dense growth habit of typical hedge selections. Maple-leaf shaped leaves are interesting enough but, as a whole, the plant lacks classic aesthetic attributes. Still, for the flower alone, it deserves a place in the garden.