LA cruising… a tantalizing tapestry

One of the greatest gardening pleasures of living in Southern California is the ability to grow a great diversity of plants successfully. Being virtually frost-free in winter and having a significant coastal cooling influences in summer seems to be the best of both worlds. Tropicals and subtropical live companionably with perennials often pegged as “English cottage garden” and no one seems any worse for wear.


GC LA tropical 1

Barely a car’s length away from a very busy 4 lane thoroughfare, the garden of this two story Spanish bungalow was created to provide and escape from the fast pace of the city. Indeed, having parked on the opposite of the street with multiple blocks to a traffic light in either direction, only the wide grassy median gave us (and other garden visitors) a bit of breathing room in the middle as we gauged the traffic and made the mad dash!

GC LA tropical 2

The hard surfaces of the paver driveway, the courtyard’s pillars and wrought iron gate were softened  by multiple pots of hot hued pelargoniums and bold back aeoniums accented by lighter hued succulent rosettes. Remember this is me writing and I can identify probably 2 out of the thousands of succulent we are all so crazy about now!

GC LA tropical 7

You all know how I love a good courtyard and this one has a couple of the best elements–a Mediterranean-styled fountain and lots of pots to play with throughout the year.

GC LA tropical 4

In a very narrow planting strip up against the house is the interesting combination of a vigorous Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and and what was originally identified to me (and subsequently by me in an earlier draft of this post) by the designer as pair of eastern redbuds, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. A savy reader alerted me that they looked like Euphorbia cotinifolia, common name Caribbean copper plant. I did a little Googling and found a foliage close-up on a trusted host site that is a dead ringer for mine below.

GC LA tropical 5

GC LA tropical 6

Bougainvillea makes an immediate Southern California connection for me. They clamber all over the walls of homes, large and small, and of all architectural styles. The pink and red flowered varieties probably can be seen from space.!

GC LA tropical 21

Nothing screams Spanish bungalow like a bougainvillea gracing a second story railing. The soft green trim on the home really allowed the color to stand out without competition.

GC LA tropical 8

The garden is home to many Melaleuca trees, this one of which clearly had squatter’s rights when this trelliswork was added to the courtyard’s tall wall on the property line. The soft green from the bungalow’s trim is carried through in the garden structures throughout. Peak back at the photo of the fountain and you’ll see this tree right above the gate into the side garden.

Through the gate is a cool, leafy path to the back garden. The photo on the right is the view looking back toward the gate.

GC LA tropical 10

There are many species of Melaleuca, a tree of Australian origins. They all have narrow, sometimes needlelike leaves and bear clusters of flowers with prominent stamens, sometimes confused with bottlebrush. Many have bark that peels off in thick, papery layers. I’m hoping my reader, horticulturalist Tony, will identify this one for me!

GC LA tropical 20

As the shady path opens into the back patio and pool I can see that these same trees form a screen at the back, hmm…unfortunately right under the power lines…I’m not sure how this serious trimming affects their natural shape.

GC LA tropical 18

A partially shaded and cozy sitting area in front of the guest house (or office?) has attracted some weary garden visitors.

GC LA tropical 11

The stone patio carries through to the pool’s edge and provides space for the garden’s sunny dining area. The garden designer set up a notebook with before and after pictures from the relatively recent pool installation.

GC LA tropical 14

I thought the pool’s shape and size was appropriate to the era of the home and very appealing to jump right in on what had become a hotter than expected afternoon. Although beautifully executed, the stacked stone facing on the curved wall at the end was a little bit disconnected. That type of stone facing is not used elsewhere in the garden that I saw.

GC LA tropical 13

The loosely trimmed screening hedge was an interesting use of Polygala grandiflora, commonly called sweet pea shrub. This is a plant I’ve contemplated adding to my own garden but until today, never seen except in a gallon can at the garden center. It was really good to see the actual scale of the mature shrub in place. The taller screen might also have been Melaleuca based on the look of the trunk but the foliage seemed to be a little different. This small backyard had a wonderful sense of enclosure and there was much less traffic noise than I expected.

GC LA tropical 15
Another resting spot with a nice view of the sunny pool
GC LA tropical 16
Happy oakleaf hydrangea in a shady back corner
GC LA tropical 17
Looking back toward the home
GC LA tropical 12
A hot orange bougainvillea is headed up to the waiting trellis with Pentas ‘Nova Pink’ as its base

GC LA tropical 22

It was not until we had left the back garden that I noticed this group of ‘Forest Pansy’ redbuds, looking more as they should, planted in the small front garden adjacent the paver driveway. Note: given my edit to the information about the other burgundy leafed plant earlier in this post I am not at all sure about this ID! Readers–any thoughts?

GC LA tropical 3

A tiny bright green island of lawn with a slightly raised bed border is planted with roses, foxgloves, impatiens and other annuals and perennials with the romantic cottage garden vibe. Yes, gardeners just have it all in Southern California. Except the peonies–they just can’t do the peonies…ha!!

Last stop cruising LA is THE ZABEL GARDEN IN WINDSOR SQUARE–see you there.




9 thoughts on “LA cruising… a tantalizing tapestry

    1. They certainly did not look like redbuds to me either. The landscape designer was on-site and he was the one who gave me the identification–no ‘Forest Pansy’ I’ve ever seen looked that leggy and scrawny. I only know a few euphorbias by sight and I am going to look up one you think it is up now. Looking forward to seeing you in Denver. Are you staying over any extra days? K


      1. I think you are right on–the close-up photo of the leaf on one of the websites is a dead match for the close-up i took of the leaves down low on the trunk. Thanks!


    2. I think you are spot on–the foliage photo close-up I just saw on one of the websites is a dead ringer for my own close-up foliage photo of one the two flanking the bougainvillea. Does the shape on the trees screening the street view in the photo near the end of the post also seem right for the Euphorbia? I did not look at that group particularly closely as we were leaving.


  1. ‘Forest Pansy’ is not my favorite. The color fades. I believe that (somehow) it does better in Los Angles. The color lasts, and they don’t get so grungy by late summer. It makes no sense.


    1. Tony—not sure if you read my post before or after I made a correction to the id of what I was told were ‘Forest Pansy’ (and thought were awful looking for that variety.) They were actually a very tall euphorbia with common name of Caribbean Copper plant. The street screening trees toward the end of the post I still believe to be the redbuds. When I asked the landscaper on site about the 2 in the courtyard, describing them as the plants with the round reddish brown leaves I think he though I meant the street screening trees and thus id’d them as the ‘Forest Pansy’. A fellow blogger from then Napa area was kind enough to correct the incorrect id on the euphorbia. It takes a village.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I saw the copper plant too, so it was after the edit. I don’t particularly like the copper plant either, although, they do happen to look much better in the Los Angeles region. They get frosted here.


      2. It wasn’t my favorite either although I think I’ve seen some that looked better in Orange County on a tour a few years ago—only remember it because I didn’t know what it was and asked. I was just glad to find out they weren’t pitiful looking ‘Forest Pansy’ redbuds. I’ve not ever grown this redbud myself but Atlanta has many that are used as understory trees for skyscraping pines and they look lovely even through the hot humid—could be they prefer the humid air more than our dry California air.


        Liked by 1 person

      3. That is what I am told. They dislike the aridity. Warmth is no problem for them, Lack of humidity is.
        The copper plant is something that I never was too keen on. They just look weird to me. There is one at an apartment building that my colleague’s parents own in Los Angeles, and everyone wanted to get rid of it even before the building was landscaped, but we did not know who planted it or why. We didn’t want whomever planted it to drive by and see it gone, so it is still there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s