Tag Archives: Austin

Go East

The Violation made BRS do some quick and deep thinking about needing to move office.  Brilliantly- Selena and Dylan founded BRS on the East side of ATX in 1994.   After 22 years- the east side is a big part of the firm’s identity.  Personally, it took me a little time to get my East Side on.  But soon our neighbors were like family. The 6th street cowboy gives me a shout out. img_4646

When the churro trailer set up next door, I knew not to assume that they were frying this gringa up to serve to tourists. Or actual dogs for that matter. I stopped trying to find the home of every chicken  I found wandering on the street and finally stopped bringing fabulous shiny piñatas to every party.

And when we looked in other parts of town to office- they just seemed a little too. too. not BRS.  Thus our buckling down to try and stay put.  Last week we took a trip to the history center to see if historically there was parking with this building.  img_8403

This photo is from sometime b/t 1903-1914.  But even before that in 1887 Kunz Groceries and Beer was on this corner.  First street seems to have always been a mix of commercial and houses.  It’s understatement to say that the history and politics of this neighborhood are very tough.  After settling in our new home for a few years,  dsc07268

we arrived at work one morning to see our neighbors Sergio and Monica’s shop being bulldozed. This shit actually happens?  I felt like a complete gringa asshole once again- never mind the fact that I had a yelling street fight with the new owner of the demolished building when he came to threaten me and my business the week before. The new owner told the Statesman — he wanted his building to be beautiful just like Big Red Sun.  It’s confusing to become part of the fabric of this old neighborhood- we are valued in some ways but I’m sure also vilified for gentrifying.  The CoA has contacted the business owners on Cesar Chavez about creating an IBIZ district- we sat in a CoA meeting and shuddered as we contemplated the city “solving” for “connectivity” issues on the street.   This charming neighborhood has infected me.   Last one in-  shut the door to change.   I’m sure that’s not the answer- but we do know that we have to honor this neighborhood, these neighbors and the changing city.  And if the CoA is asking for our help- we’d be remiss to leave.

Olivier Filippi vs. Home Depot – Round 1

We just finished up our fall planting here at BRS for clients and also for my San Gabriel and Vance garden.   I always feel like such a crotchety old lady with my preference for only planting in the fall. Of course, we plant in the spring as well. But it does always feel odd to do stuff for clients that I hesitate to do for myself… but in the end, it is just a plant.


One thing that I do stand firm on, is laying out my own planting schemes. I’m such a stickler for plant placement that I left my 3 week old bambino with his daddy to come and lay out a client’s garden this spring.  Maybe not the best idea to engage in 95 degree weather client relations on 4 hours of sleep per night, but, you know.  We laid out the garden on a Thursday and began to plant on Friday.  When we returned the next Monday,  there were mysterious extra plants from Home Depot placed between our plants- which was puzzling and unfortunately,  really annoying.  I asked the homeowner with as much patience as I could muster (let’s hear it for Botox) what’s the story?  And they told me that the plants were just so much bigger at the Home Depot so why didn’t we use them along side of the nursery grown ones that were the same pot sized but smaller plants?


The frustration melted away.  You know that is actually a good question, and we actually have a really good answer for it, not that I had the bandwidth to explain it that day.  We put the extra Home Depot plants in and 3 weeks later when several of them had expired we helped pull them back out.   We knew in our guts why those plants had less of a chance of survival.


But I will say that the person who really made the point crystal clear, such that you could explain it to clients, was the slyly sexy nursery owner Olivier Filippi who’s nursery and garden we visited outside of Montpeillier earlier this spring.

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The gardens are handsome too.

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Olivier is a highly respected plantsman, who with his wife,  travels the world to research the propagation of drought tolerant plants.  He’s written a bible called The Dry Gardening Handbook that I’d highly recommend.  Anyhoo- handsome Olivier has pioneered the use of a new type of grow pot that is long and skinny so that the roots of drought tolerant seedlings can grow properly.

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His proven theory is to sell drought tolerant plants that have a root structure that is 3x the size of the plant above ground. This he deems a healthy plant that is most likely to survive outside of nursery conditions.  To engineer this, he encourages the root growth by heavily pruning the plant for a couple of years in it’s long grow pot.  The long pot allows the proper root growth of the 2 types of roots drought tolerant plants utilize. These plants first grow a long tap root to go for water deep in the ground.  Then the plant grows side and surface(ish) roots to capture surface water.  In the wheelbarrow behind him is how a taproot grows in on itself when pot bound.  Plants that don’t have their taproot will not thrive.


And here’s the part that made me feel better, these plants generally grow their tap roots in the winter because that is when it rains and also when their above ground growth is slow allowing the root to go for it.  And if they live through the first summer, they will begin to put out their side roots. And if they live through the second summer, the plants are established.

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A newly planted area – note the water wells.

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The first summer, Olivier supplements his plants with water in a tough love fashion waiting for them to wilt several days before finally giving them water and then he doesn’t water them again. Ever. If the plants die, they weren’t meant to live there. After all, it’s just a plant.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your clippers.

Where has everybody been? Here at Big Red Sun, we’ve been working towards our PhD in City of Austin building codes. It’s scintillating. But somehow, I made time to make a last “pre-baby” run to Provence to mainline some contemporary garden design. We signed up for an uppity garden tour led by Mediterranean garden scholar and author Louisa Jones. Poor John Spong had no idea what he was in for.


There is oodles to tell- but i think the main take-away is clip your Mediterranean plants to show them your love. Nicole de Vesian, the mother of this style of provencal gardening, began dispersing it via her acolytes- most notably Marc Nucera. Every time I had encountered Nucera’s name, he was always described as a sculptor but/and he is also always described as the guy who clipped trees in these amazing shapes. Beautiful yes. Art? Sculptor? maybe not.


Mas Benoit, Nucera’s work with Idoux


Nucera’s work at Vesian’s La Louve But then we visited a not very well known garden, “Mas Benoit” by another Vesian acolyte Alain David Idoux. On the bus (yep, a bus?!) Louisa explained that Idoux was interested in geometry, the property owners collected contemporary art and greatly admired the artist Richard Long and ” american land artists”. Honestly- this sounded like the path to garden underwhelment or embarrassment- whichever is worse. But oh how wrong. How very very wrong. I have to admit- it was the first time I could conceive of a garden as a successful sculptural installation. The garden was really intense- I think because the intent of the designer was so clear. He was speaking clearly but in a most spare way, working in a truly minimalist vernacular, speaking in a quiet but huge way. I have never experienced anything like it- and clearly I really don’t have a good way to explain as evidenced by the sentence above OR anyway to show it from the pictures- which may actually be the key to it’s success? This man was not designing for a magazine photo- you need to be in this installation. The most I can muster about it’s success may be that it’s elements of construction are all extremely of the earth. There is no false note here. One of the first things you experience walking up to the farm house is this ante space. It features 2 trees in the yard and this broken vista through the clipped oaks to the back mountains. A bit later, one comes across a lavender planting- a wedge shape that acts as a kinetic sculpture as you walk along it’s length. The views open in relation to the sculpted tree in the field. The field relates to the agrarian nature of the region. This is all neat, but I didn’t really “see” it yet.


Up by the farm house, the planting design is luscious but quite spare even severe. (although later in the year i do believe they let the sage and lavender bloom so…voila)


A lawn lays in front of the house, the perimeters all touched by the clippers. Each tree sculpted over the years.


There is no path to lead you- but you know where you want to go- towards a subtle opening to the grass garden, an allée of olives- and towards the mountains.


The contrast of the grasses – which are to show in late summer are lovely with the clipped. As you enter the allée –it all falls into place. Everything you have seen before and what you will see after as you explore the garden. A large clearing is revealed and with in — sculpture trees. There, I said it. Yes, the trees were sculpture. they took my breath away. they are nothing. but… it made my heart ache.


And to the right another clearing and after, a meadow. And with in the clearing- the aforementioned homage to Mr. Long. And what do you know- did it rise above Richard Long or Robert Smithson? I’m not sure- but “i know it when i see it”, and this is art.


The rest of the garden humbly meanders along. There is no path to guide you. See a meadow and a crude bench from which one overlooks the meadow to the spiral.


Some rocks are lined up against the wild part of the garden to delineate. But now everywhere you looked- you saw the components of the garden differently. It’s hard to explain- but the trees, the clippings, the stones placed- all had a character. Not character. A character. They were individuals now. It was an odd awakening.


Walk along these rocks at the perimeter of the garden- come to the end and encounter a twisted olive- not to mention a massive oak that has been trimmed to guard the pool. (These Provençals think of pools as a necessary evil and tuck them away like a mistress perhaps?)


The owners keep the garden as Mr. Idoux intended- (He died prematurely and Mr. Nucera continues the garden) A full time gardener and his family live on the property and the owners visit often. The group appreciated the garden but didn’t love it. They thought it lacked soul, maybe wasn’t a “garden”. And perhaps they are right. There are no concessions to conventional needs (except that pool) but there are shady nooks, lawns, vistas, heart calming vistas in amongst the art- the garden makes you be in the land. not on the land. I have an urge to sum it up here- but I think that’s precisely not the point. more soon! xojb

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.

I know i know- for a couple of reasons it’s easy to forget that i’m related to Dolly Parton. I try to play up the Anne Boylen side of the family for the sympathy card. But, you know I really relate to cousin Dolly when i’m trying to talk to clients about the price of…. subtle. I mean it’s like the older you get– it takes an inordinate amount of maintenance to look like you haven’t put any effort into your maintenance. And hear me now, but believe me later it’s as complicated to achieve that in the garden as it is under your chin.

Let’s start with chez Spong. We found a photo at the History Center of the original front of the house and decided to dial it back to pre- war chill.


At the time of purchase:



Sometime this summer:



And I confess, it seems annoying, even to me who understands why it costs so much, to pay to just take stuff away. But you know, pull up all those boring yaupons, get rid of all the excess stones, bricks, tiles, hire a really great hombre to wield a tiny little jackhammer to take off the additions to the patio while leaving the original 95 year old tile work, move the electric, re route the gas, hand dig around the heritage oak , bulldoze the wall and OMG look at all that dirt i just took out of that little bit of space down there?


And i really added were some limestone caps on the steps that were kind of already there under all the 80’s ca-ca. easy. and i’m installing a circular low wall that let’s us hang under the oak canopy. some grass. and you know. done. but mon dieu. it’s a fortune. BRS is too busy- i’m using subcontractors- i feel our client’s pain. I’ve been doing it in little bite sizes to hide the price from myself.


We’ve a couple other favorite clients who have faith in subtle. For a favorite recent project we arrived on site to this:




The client wanted it really to look like “nothing happened to the site- perhaps a bit enhanced”. So we planted thousands of natives. grasses, yuccas, some bushes, seeds etc. We pick axed them into the rock just like nature would have done it. The patient patient client was out of town during our install. She was sent photos that showed “all we had done that day” in which was all but impossible for her to see what she was paying for.


Finally Fall

Do i say this every year… the weather finally broke- it’s totally gorgeous here and we’ve been just working until we drop. Chucho dropped- has Chucho ever been sick since he started with the company at 15 years old? Yipes. But we are pecking away at it. We are in a funny spot- we have great great projects that we are working on- but we are getting backed up. Some clients are ok with waiting, but we are beginning to lose projects because we are booked out a bit. Which of course is a luxury but now a double edged sword. I get nervous about hiring another crew- everyone is clicking here together we are running 2 crews and i’d hate not to have top quality work. ack. So, of course I put my head in the sand a bit and think about E.A.S.T (east austin studio tour).   We are working a post apocalyptic angle featuring our new planter series we are doing with Massif Concrete. look cute solo or en masse non?

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But- also we are contemplating if gardeners will be the most powerful in the post apocalyptic world since we will be the ones who know how to grow food and utilize phytoremediation. Which as we all know, is using plants to pull toxins from the soil. And let me just say that HEMP is one of the most effective plants at removing radiation from the soil. So let’s all keep a good supply of seeds. I won’t be growing it in our exhibition el camino garden however. Gotta love a crew to whom I can say- Can WE just get a shelled out El Camino please? HOW HARD can it be? and 24 hours later- this shows up at the lot. jaunty right?


Justin and I are going to have to try and plant it up this week to look like a fully grown vegetable garden. i know all this apocalyptic talk makes you want to ask about the Hades Garden. I did have to kill some things that just weren’t cutting it- the wing thorn rose- cool but not for this location. The Millet never turned black- you must die. And of course i’m still picking out the amaranth. The green rose is a blooming fool. And the black pomegranate really makes black pomegranates- and grew from the 4″ stick to a 12′ bush.


and get a load of the stepelia- all those flies. SO nasty right? yay. the whole street smelled like old trash cans. It’s all floating around in my brain because this fence we just finished (see below) seems to be in the hades apocalyptic vein right? although really, i was thinking of the artist Louise Nevelson.


Burning it was just the best way to get it black and finished in one fell swoop. Hans with a blowtorch on a client’s property- the torture to our insurance company is really non stop. But really it was JT who suffered. Every single board was placed at random. with me figuring out the random. Poor patient JT- higher, lower, left, right, left. no, that one isn’t really right. we are all still talking so no permanent scarring physical or physic seems to have occurred.


more soon- Julie

Hath no fury

S- whoa. We’ve been a wee bit in the weeds. Quick ATX update.


The Hades garden had a major set back when sophisticated east side plant thieves stole several of the more choice selections that i had so carefully mail ordered and then nursed to happiness. quite dispiriting i confess. In spite, i let the garden wallow with the gaping holes in the ground until in a hormonal frenzy i got back out there and replanted it- albeit with some cruel choices. Fish hook cactus Mr. Rustler?

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Here’s what Dr Robin pulled out my toe 2 weeks later after I tripped over my own trap moments before an appointment. (but it’s nothing in comparison to the sun spots on my hands- look at that?!)


But now all is growing in well enough for a first year garden. The mullien is blooming- will it really turn black?


A “red” pumpkin that we are trying to hide from the rustlers.


In other news, I just got back from a quick trip from LA and Palm Springs. I do love that the dishabille of the Chateau Marmont extends to it’s garden areas.


I feel like everything here has to be so neat and tidy. The confidence that you are cool enough to have something be real is true sprezzatura. But it’s all in the details non?


We also popped out to the Parker meridian in Palm Springs to see the Elysian designed landscape. Which is cute- but tidier in spite of an attempt at overgrown insouciance. Admittedly, overgrown is harder to achieve in the desert. But as charming as the Parker is- the Marmont feels actually authentic- but i think even this “fakeness” is on purpose at the Parker, which is in itself quite genius. landscapes talk. more soon. xojb


Meet me at the doritos stage

S- How can you miss all this?

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i should have added, please don’t pee on my new garden. You know i loves me my SXSW. We taught the new girl Kate to play hipster homeless rockstar to enhance her first experience with the parade outside our windows. I did have a wee freakout on the guy who was sleeping in his van for a few days along side the building. Justin went all organic on him like any other pest. first with sea weed spray on the garden, then a bit of composted manure. none of which really didn’t seem to budge him. A friend last night pointed out that perhaps he smelled worse than anything we could throw at him. mercy sakes alive-the whole thing makes me bolt. It was good timing because I needed to get up to see the NYC apartment one last time as it is under contract. I can’t remember if I told you that it was published late last year in NEW YORK Rooftop Gardens by Charles de Vaivre. Ooh la la. It’s a big old phat spread- and it’s nice to have it documented before another girl gets to have her way with it. It’s hard to leave an established garden. Terraces are a little more instant gratification than in ground gardens- but still they take time. And the patience is worth it- but i’ve such a hard time getting our clients to chill with the fact that construction is messy and takes time. And sometimes things have to go backwards to go forwards. Below is what the terrace looked like before this girl got her hands on it.

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you know i can’t resist a little fake grass.

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then the discouraging backwards to go forwards….


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It was imperative to install a perfect new roof membrane. it took forever to make sure everyone one came by to inspect it- but this is the foundation on your house- what’s underground is the most important of all. And of course it’s what keeps rain off your neighbor below-lawsuit city in NYC- so wait to get it right. beginning to lay the marble custom cut tiles. no grout for drainage. lots of tips for the freight elevator guy.

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custom planters from brooklyn.

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finally, the uppity fake grass.

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Scented geraniums for the inaugural season’s annuals.

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then finally 8 months later, move in day. (i should have kept the pink on that vintage couch)

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and 4 years growth gets perfect hedges (the remnants of a dinner party visible there)


Clearly, i’m feeling all nostalgic. I had some fancy photographer come and take pix of the inside- if he ever gets them back to me, i’ll put them up so you can see them. well- as long as we are imbibing in some real estate porn- check this listing out that we went to go see when we were there. gorgeous right? i begin to get obsessed all anew because there’s always a new garden to be made…xojb


Black Thumb vs Boring

S – quick update from the Hades planting. The garden is beginning to hang together, and I’m much perkier- probably because my roses came in the mail.

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The wingthorns are just a stick- I always really adore a plant that can travel like that- look at those thorns! But the green and dame de coeur roses are already setting bud and roses make everything better.


I put those voodoo lilies in the ground and they are kind of rotting out and falling over real drama like 1 by 1 which is rather sad of them. I left their bulbs in the ground- there’s a chance that the nursery forced them or whatever? I’ve never grown them. They will be quite a surprise if they come back next year. They are also called Viagra Lily so… I guess I ordered some more plants because when I came in to the office this am there were several angel trumpets (antique lace variety), black euphorbias, a voodoo flowering maple (see her above?) and a dutchman’s pipe. So ah, i kind of scrambled around and found spots for them. It’s becoming “that” kind of a garden-you know when you go on site to a client’s and you’re all like- wow- one of everything. eek. Revisionist history: now a collector’s garden. Not super smart to grow a bunch of experimental things as your exhibition garden- if things crap out, clients are going to think we have a black thumb. Everyone knows gardeners kill way more than we grow. right space right plant right client. Justin started an “anime” garden in the front- everything’s super sized. We’ll see how that progresses- his plants look like something that people are going to steal and there is an office pool to see how long they last out there. xoxojb



leap year luck?

S- look at this scraggly ass start.

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I mean, i’m probably hormonal- but-for heavens sake- does this look pathetic or what. It’s February 29th and I’m sweating through my shirt direct planting seeds into the ground, simultaneously thrilled that there has been no winter and petrified of what this summer might bring because there has been no winter. dig bitch dig grumble.

Clearly I’m super pissy- so i already yanked out a giant coral bean tree from last year that was supposed to be an anchor. It just looked too messy (had JT pull it up in exchange for a cupcake). And the one at the back is also on my list too unless i’m in a better mood tomorrow. Normally i’d all be happy that black sunflower seedlings were volunteering from last year


but Justin drove up at the end of his day and was pissy too.

And I’m all- should they live?

And he’s like nah- they bloomed last year we took a picture and then they crapped out fast from the bottom up.

So they are out. I’ve nuked the red hot pokers I special ordered in toffee brown. They looked too strappy with the oxblood lilies which i know will work better and i’ll be desperate for a fresh bloom in the fall.

I opened up my pack of lime green nicotina seeds and they are freaking microscopic.


WTF am i supposed to do with this? just sprinkle and hope for the best advises Justin. I open the coleus seed and there are solomente 10 in there- really? So i just kind of dust them under the black pomegranate tree and in front of the nicotina. Now the black pomegranate stick in a 6″ pot has already sprouted out a few leaves so we looove her. Good girl.

I decided we needed something more meaty by the BRS sign so popped in an agave weberi- and i’ve got this idea that i want to grow the red pumpkin underneath it- which made Justin’s eyes roll back in his head- until he got his game on and was all like- yeah. WE can DO that. rearrange the irrigation to drip, mound the agave. Now I’m all thinking the pumpkin vine will be ugly or take over the sidewalk. but SO cool to have a big red pumpkin doing it’s thing there all summer.

I did decide on my linking colors- chartreuse and silver. So I popped in a few Artemesia -i thought it could help disguise the icky bottoms of the black cannas and love the whole absinthe link to the hades garden.


But there are a few things that aren’t here yet because- ahem, it IS still February (as I keep telling our clients) and it’s hard to be patient and not fill the holes because of course I ordered too many plants for the amount of space. I mean, why do we do this every year? Whatever- tomorrow’s another day and we’ve still over 1/2 the border to plant. I’m sure it will all pull together. And look at this AWESOME jump we get on it planting it on leap year day. That has to be good luck non? xoxojb

January Inspiration


S- now this is what winter is all about right? In spite of not having time to go over plant catalogues with Mr. Gosling this January- which is a complete rip off- I was able to put a bit of thinking towards our side garden. The castor beans were pretty nuts last year- but as they are annuals, we’ve got a clean slate again. Yay!


Thursday, Jenn unpacked our first flush of plants for the….. Hades Garden. Oui, I decided upon a theme of plants that kill. or maim. or smell like rotting flesh. or have the word voodoo, or blood in their names. I think this came about from trying to think about black and red plants. Or rather, I hope. Look at these pathetic little things that came in the mail this week.

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Those tall things on the left- are voodoo lilies. Who could resist this explanation- and these photos? This unusual tuberous plant has one giant divided leaf on top of a 5-6′ tall, green and purple mottled, fleshy stalk (petiole). When old enough, the tuber produces a fascinating 6′ flower (early May, before the leaf emerges), resembling a giant vase made from the purple vinyl used for cheap ’70s car seats. The vase (spathe) is home to a 3′ purple spadix that sits atop a 2′ speckled petiole…gather your neighbors for the flowering ritual. After flowering, the plant may rest for a couple of months before the leaf emergesin late June. The mother tuber will form offsets, eventually making a giant clump…STRANGE!


“when it’s old enough”. I guess I’m set to wait- because that stick to their right is the largest black pomegranate I could find.

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Better if Eve is eating a black pomegranate. hmm- maybe this is how we got to a Hades Garden. anyhoo- Also ordered a Mangave “bloodspot”. An accidental cross between an agave and a manfreda that may bloom without dying like an agave, which doesn’t strictly fit the theme (not dying), but we’ll give her a spot because of her good thorns and good name.


And this neat “Kniphofia toffee nosed” – I still haven’t gotten a poker to be happy for me here through the summer but that’s really no reason not to try again. right?


This wonderful 1980s introduction was selected by John Metcalf of Four Seasons Nursery in the UK. Compared to the larger pokers, the narrow green leaves on this winner of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Award of Garden Merit make a smallish, 2′ wide clump. Starting in June (NC), the 3′ tall, narrow flower stalks end in ivory flowers with an orange top…a very unusual color combination in pokers…elegantly stunning and a hummingbird magnet. Be sure to stick one of these pokers up your…I mean, IN your garden! The nursery that we ordered these plants from kind of cracks me up. When Jenn read the literature that came with the plants it said ” please do not ingest, snort or smoke” these plants. We’ve also got carrion plants coming.

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Blooms smell like rotting meat to attract flies. ooh and a wing thorn rose. Look at those ornamental thorns! We had a booger of a time finding it. Had to order from canada. Which doesn’t bode well- but whatever.

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And what else? some black coleus for filler, oxblood lilies and Australian black cannas. And from seed a “rouge” pumpkin for some fall pizzaz, “black currant swirl” datura for a dark trip. Oh and some elephant head amaranth.

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I mean I know I shouldn’t plant amaranth- it’s a self seeding fool but i have to. it looks like a big ole …well… that or someone shooting the finger. tee hee- i’ll be spreading big purple cocks all over lower Cesar Chavez. la-ti-da. Holding over from last season, we’ve got a black smoke tree rescued half dead from a client’s garden last year. Thanks Gardens. and those black ornamental peppers that are still completely leafed out in February. Thanks Home Depot. But now mama’s got to weave all this shit together. In ballet we call that “enchainment”- the linking steps that knit dance together. Enchainment is the difference between dance and Cirque De Soleil. Cirque is just trick trick trick. No one wants their garden to be wow wow wow. The eye and soul needs some quiet places to rest before the next surprise. But ahem, my work is cut out for me. These colors all look like ca-ca together and my eyes may be bigger than my border. We’ll see what transgresses. I remember reading about James David’s beautiful garden in a picture book and he’s all- oh heavens, i’d never plant all this difficult pouty stuff in a client’s garden. That’s what I’m saying! more soon- xoxojb