Saturday, December 28, 2013

Taste rears its critical head again!

Many Californians will know of the city of La Quinta near Palm Springs, known as one of the top golf destinations in the USA. Fewer will know that the city's name comes from the La Quinta Hotel that was built around 1926, long before the city was established. It was designed by Gordon Kaufmann, built by William Morgan and opened in 1926 as a desert-getaway. It originally had a series of Spanish style casitas amongst 45 acres of fruit trees and over the years has hosted many Hollywood celebrities. Frank Capra is said to have written the screenplay for 'Lost Horizon', sitting by the pool in 1937!






Just yesterday I visited the La Quinta resort as it is now known. It now has 796 casitas, suites and villas, 41 swimming pools, 53 whirlpools, 23 tennis courts, conference facilities, shops and restaurants. My friend Jim had been told that the gardens were a 'must visit' venue, so there we were. Amazingly, despite huge expansion it retains much of its charm with numerous small whitewashed adobe dwellings, set amongst landscaped grounds with the mountains towering behind. Fruiting citrus are everywhere, although quite why they paint the trunks white, I have no idea. So amazingly were numerous beds of roses, with some of the best blooms I have seen here in the desert. Lovely old-fashioned roses with a real scent.



The landscape is very traditional with green lawns and numerous displays of bedding plants which in this climate feature a curious mix of pansies, petunias, snapdragons and geraniums for winter display. A huge Christmas tree was surrounded with an expensive looking bed of red poinsettia. And this is where the whole question of taste crops up again. As we approached the central area with shops and restaurants, the intensity of bedding doubled with a Disney-like spectrum. None of the beds had a logic, colour scheme or theme - there were just lots of them! Running through the centre was a ribbon-like water feature edged with more bedding plants. I remarked to my friend that it was amazing but totally tasteless which drew a look of absolute shock - I had dared to criticise! Yes it was fun but was it either good horticulture or tasteful design? I think not. I'm sure it gives many visitors a lot of pleasure but as a professional,  I am a horticultural snob! It was gross!




Later in the day, I got my comeuppance for being so negative. We stopped by a shop with some brilliantly coloured Mexican pottery. I loved it all - naive and colourful, so I bought my partner Philip a rainbow roadrunner sculpture (a local bird he loves) and proudly handed it over on my return. To my astonishment his instant response was 'It's gross!'. The poor roadrunner has now been 'promoted' to a home in the garden. But it all comes back to the big question of what's good taste - mine or his!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bargain landscape!

Finally we have some progress with our own yard. Although just renters we have the owners permission to landscape - at our expense of course! The blank canvas of this sunny yard was one of the attractions when we signed the contract on this property last year.
Although I have been back here over two months, there has been little progress up to now, partly due to a shoulder injury, preventing me doing much myself and also as we were waiting for the overhanging tree to be dealt with. Finally 10 days ago, the tree surgeons arrived and to my delight had instructions to fell the tree completely. This was certainly good news as I had visions of being left with a mutilated stump like many of the local trees. But it's gone and we now have a fine view of the mountains and some adjacent palm trees.

Our problem tree, dwarfing the house and dropping vicious spiny bits that were murder to stand on!
The guy working on felling gives you some idea of the scale of the tree

Our mountain view with the tree gone!

Just today we have had a couple of local landscapers working, who have reshaped the rear garden, giving us a broad perimeter border, with a curved path. They worked to my design and the result utilising  existing materials is really quite rewarding. The patchwork of coloured gravel patches has been rationalised and we now have broad sweeps of black, red and pink gravel. The ridiculous ribbons of cobbles lining each patch have become chunky drifts. Amazing what can be done with existing materials, a little thought and a lot of sweat! Fortunately not mine but at a very reasonable $200!

the yard as it was

The yard after a simple make-over. The black shape in the centre isn't just a  shadow but black gravel that in time I'd like to make into a arid bed.

All we need now are plants! This will be the fun part buying and establishing new plants. I am aiming for the style that could be called desert tropical - colourful plants like bougainvillea, Tecoma, Strelitzia, Lantana and so on. It has to be said that this isn't the most environmentally sensitive way of landscaping because of water usage. But I do love colour and my excuse is that I want to attract the humming birds! Of course all of these plants will need water so the next step will be to install an irrigation system. The contractor's quote for this was a further $400 so I shall do this myself. Last year, when we planted our citrus, I fabricated a simple irrigation system with a battery powered timer and this has functioned well for a year and has a second channel which I'll use for the new planting. Sadly our potted bougainvilleas were caught by an unexpected frost a week ago and have been entirely browned off, so I'll trim them back and plant in the borders where they can recover. Watch for future episodes and I'll tell you all about the planting!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A two mile border!

There are various claims for the longest herbaceous border but a new landscape scheme under construction here, will when completed blow the opposition out of the water at an amazing 1.98 miles! In Palm Springs there is an ongoing move to change  much of the traditional water-guzzling landscape over to the far more appropriate desert landscape. One such scheme is the median (central reservation) that runs through Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs. This is a major thoroughfare that runs from the airport up to the centre of town. As such its one of the first sights to great any visitors that fly in. For many years it has been a long ribbon of immaculately maintained green grass, punctuated with Mexican fan palms and spotted with blobs of increasingly pathetic bedding.

First phase, as it was - tribal land
Bedding - no comment!
Phase 2 - city land - still to start.

Finally a new scheme has started to replace this green ribbon with desert landscaping. Much of the land in Palm Springs is owned by the native Americans so $1.9 milllion is being budgeted by the tribe for the first phase, that is currently underway. A further $2 million has been approved from city funds for the second phase. Rock is being used together with areas of natural stone paving. Some curiously shaped timber constructions  that puzzled us, turned out not to be sculptures but form-work for some interesting curved concrete shapes.  Breaking up the linear nature of such a long, flat shape is a huge challenge and it will be fascinating to see how the scheme is completed and particularly when planted.



Nice big rocks - no parking on here!
Great paving  but rather small planting pocket

Curious timber 'sculptures!
The end product - a curved textured concrete wall
Overall a wonderful scheme that will be exciting to see progress but in all this I do feel the city has missed a trick. Nowhere can I find plans or anything more than the scantiest information on this scheme. This is worth shouting about or at the very least some good publicity materials, drawings and plans.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Running with an iPhone

Yesterday was a bad day and today even worse but let's start with yesterday! I'm building up to the Mayor's Ten Mile Run in January so set out to run 6 miles yesterday. (And I do hope he's training too!) As my normal run is 5 miles, this was theoretically a piece of cake but I soon realised my legs were not in the mood  but in true British style carried on. Nice morning, chilly but bright, so perfect for running. I became aware that overnight it had obvioulsy been very cold as there were ice patches on the sidewalks in the shade. Seeing the irrigation running on a frosty morning always seems odd! Glancing at the gardens I passed I could already see the tell-tale signs of frost damage - wilting and darkened leaves. Twenty four hours later as I write this, the bougainvilleas in our yard are badly damaged and the local paper had a front page feature on damaged crops. Frost is rare in this area and when it does occur, quite devastating to both landscape plants and the economic crops grown. I guess prices will be up and the choice limited at the Farmer's Market on Saturday!


Anyway - back to the run. the further I went, the worse I felt - just no energy and  I started taking some 'walk breaks'. Then I noticed things that caught my eye and remembering my iPhone, stopped to take some pictures. Now although I've been fairly computer literate for years, phones have always left me in the land of the Neanderthals. Only recently have I discovered what a wonderful piece of kit this is and started installing apps on it. So instead of making a mental note to return with a camera, (which I rarely did) I can now stop and take instant pics for you folks. The pic above is of the garden of an empty house with a boundary of wonderfully neglected bougainvilleas. The irrigation must be still running as everything dies when the water or electricity is disconnected.  I guess the frost will have damaged them but at that point they still looked good. Then I became aware of some wonderful shadow patterns created by the low but intense winter sunshine. Sadly the other sight that caught my eye was a landscape where every tree was hideously pruned, even some pines - every leader and branch tip removed. Why do they do it? What an enormous annual cost!



Why  do people do this to a tree? Makes no sense!

So I finished the run, more of a walk really, spending more time on pictures than on exercise. A day later I am recovering from a rather nasty stomach bug (the less said the better) but at least it explained the reason for my appalling 6 miler!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Plants to paints

Well a couple of weeks ago I wrote about criticism and mentioned that I was being 'juried' for the local Desert Arts Centre. Well I'm highly relieved to discover that I have been juried in along with 13 others from 30 applicants. I feel thrilled that the adjudicators liked my paintings. So I am now officially a 'hanging member' which means that I can submit paintings for each show in the gallery and sell my work. I even have my own bin at the side with unframed pictures. Whether anyone will buy is another matter! Opening night at the gallery was fun - I was on the bar - good place to meet people - everybody goes to a free bar, even if it was 'two buck chuck' (very cheap wine for those from the UK!)

Hope you like the T-shirt - called 'the artist within' and bought at the Tate Modern in London

It all seems quite strange and exciting making a 'career change' late in life. As a horticulturalist, managing a large estate, my daily work evolved around getting the work done, purchasing whatever was needed, balancing the budget, attending meetings, planning for events and designing new landscapes. Relatively little of my time was spent on plantsmanship and in latter years, virtually none was hands-on time.  I once objected to my boss regarding some issue and was told that I was a manager not just a horticulturalist! After retirement, I spent much of my time writing about plants and gardens and enjoyed the few glorious years working on the nine books I now have published. I guess some are out of print or remaindered - I never made the best sellers list! But the writing dried up - apparently gardeners aren't buying books anymore!




Now here I am in my mid sixties with a new interest, - once again plants and flowers but this time painting. To my astonishment I seem to be getting some success and it seemed strange to be making plans, framing pictures for the gallery, packaging mounted paintings and printing greeting cards, all for sale.  And with hesitation I even printed some new business cards - Ian Cooke - artist!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Milestone or a millstone?

I feel duty bound to write something although I have to admit the creative juices are not flowing, at least not through the medium of words. So why the compunction to put the proverbial pen to paper? (Should that be fingers to keyboard?) Well after running this blog for nearly two years, we have finally passed the magic marker of 5000 hits - actually 5181 as I write.  (Philip says he was up all night clicking on the link to up the numbers!) Bearing in mind the limited comments I receive, I do wonder how many of those hits link to actual readers. So you see I feel duty bound to satisfy my regular readers. Yesterday I did visit a sculpture garden but it wasn't very photogenic. I did however love the use of blue glass within the concrete pathway and shadows out here in the low winter sun can be dramatic!


Very sparse foliage on this tree with distinct veins tinged purple - any ideas what it is Chad?
(Update - Ficus religiosa or petiolaris - my readers can't agree!)

Not sure whether this is its normal branch structure or the result of barbaric pruning!

Horticulturally, its a little barren. The book writing dried up two years ago which was sad - a downturn in the market they say but who knows why, with gardening as an all time popular pastime! I have several potential books at various stages but no publishers fighting over me - pity! Little progress in the yard here, basically because I have a shoulder injury that is slow to heal, so garden activities are on hold. Very frustrating as I'd love to get on with landscaping and planting our blank back yard. There is some colour as our potted bougainvilleas are flowering beautifully. Last year they were a mass of foliage but little flower. This year, they are less lush but a nice smattering of flowers - maybe neglect has paid off!

Love the bright colours of bougainvillea
So much space and potential when I can get on with it - so frustrating!

Regular readers will know that for the last six years I have split my time between six months here in California with my partner Philip and six months back in exile in the UK. Now with a change in the law, the future here is looking quite promising. A couple of weeks ago we  submitted all the documentation for a change in in Immigration status  and Green Card for me and just today we have received the confirmation that this is being processed. It will be wonderful not to have to leave at the end of six months, although I guess I'll still want to return to the UK for some time in the summer - judge the shows, visit some gardens and enjoy the long summer evenings, which we don't have here.




Just love the thrill of the flower shows, being involved and seeing the stands being completed before judging!

I hasten to add that I haven't however become a total couch potato. Whilst my shoulder injury is preventing me doing much at the gym, I'm still running regularly with a current target of the 'mayor's ten miler' in January. Much of my recent time has been spent on my painting and this last week has been particularly busy.   Lots achieved and an exciting development - more about that in the next blog which hopefully you will read! Must keep you guys coming back to keep the statistics up!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Return to the High Line

A few weeks ago when in New York we returned to visit the High line Park. Well actually this was my second visit but Philip's first. Last year he wasn't interested and went off to something boring like the Apple shop! (My opinion!) But he was fascinated by last year's pictures and my blog after the first visit, so wanted to see for himself this year. A convert! This visit was about six weeks later than last year's, so the planting was starting to look autumnal but every bit as interesting as last year. For those of you that don't know the background, do look up last year's blog. This curious linear park was just as good as last year and crowded with locals and tourists all enjoying the October sunshine. Amazing that this little green oasis should be so popular and no great distance from the rolling green acres of Central park.

So many places to sit and enjoy

Beautifully crafted landscape detail

Woodland walks - on a railway line in the sky!



I love the links to the site's railway heritage

Once again we were impressed by the quality of all the landscape features and the attention to detail throughout this beautiful landscape. Some things were new, like the huge metal sculpture covering a blank wall. Others things we noticed that I had missed last year, like the many different views from this elevation. It was also great to see that construction has been started on the third phase, taking one more section of this old derelict railway.

Clerodendron trichotomum

Excuse my ignorance - I've forgotten this - someone remind me! (Update - Tricyrtis formosana - thanks Chad)


Great detailing between soft and hard landscape

Cotoneaster of some sort

Empire State Building in the distance

New sculpture - mirrors and rusted metal - I like it!

A neighbouring balcony but nicely sympathetic

Anyone identify this Iris? (Update - possibly a form of Iris fulva - the Lousiana iris - normally spring flowering but sometimes gives the odd autumn bloom - again thanks Chad)

The High Line Park isn't quite unique as Paris has its own similar landscape, opened a number of years before the High Line. The Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway) is a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure in  Paris, France and completed in 1993. This one is built on the former right-of-way of the Vincennes railway line, which ceased operation in 1969. Part of the line was  completely abandoned and became the Promenade Plantée. This was the only elevated park in the world until the first phase of the High Line Park was completed in 2010.


By comparison on wonders whether the proposed plan for the Thames Garden Bridge is any more than a hair-brained scheme. The planned 367-meter bridge features two fluted pillars that support a split promenade between Temple Station and Southbank. Walkers will be able to enjoy 'a beautiful green environment made up of indigenous trees, shrubs and smaller plant species, stroll under the leaves and relax on benches next to the path'. The Garden Bridge Trust has been created to drive the project forward and organize fundraising in advance of a planning application in 2014 and construction in 2015. One wonders whether it will join that huge legacy of great projects that have never been built!