This week, I walked by a parkway garden on Hillslope. There were twisted shapes and incongruous growths occupying white gravel outside the bright yellow bungalow. It was all so Dali-esque, I half expected to see melted clocks intertwined with the plantings. Then again the temp had topped 100 for the third day in a row, which may explain a lot.
Yes we have wondrous roses and gaudy bougainvillea. But nothing says we’re here on the border of Zone Desert more than the mirage-inducing, surreal plants that take root in the garden.
Surrealism—a French movement whose tenets include free association, non sequiturs, and weird juxtaposition—is hard to cuddle up to. Expect a similar feeling toward globe thistle flowers, which you won’t be putting in your hair anytime soon. And no...don’t be bending down to smell the barrel cactus flowers!
Yet to come upon a Disney-gone-mad prickly pear cactus in bloom or an open-beaked bird of paradise flower conjures wild flights of imagination akin to Curiosity landing on Mars or James Cameron’s other-worldly Pandora in "Avatar." It can be either the plant anatomy itself or the juxtaposition of it against a backdrop that references the surreal.
Surprisingly, many such plants attract birds, bees and butterflies. Ear-lobed calla lillies (Zantedeschia aethiopica), when grouped together provide additional shelter for birds. The mind-blowing geometry of passion flower vine is a pit stop for monarchs, Zebra Longwing and fritillary butterflies. Long-tongued Agaves attract bees. Or Dutchman’s Pipe vine (Aristolochia), which you might find in our shady, riparian climes, is a pipe-shaped plant that is decidedly not a pipe, which will delight Magritte fans and swallowtail butterflies alike.
Asparagus aethiopicus, Sprenger's Asparagus fern, is not a fern, has the behavior of a tulip, the shape of an inverted octopus, and hidden in its furry tentacles are bright red berries highly attractive to birds.
A spiny cactus that looks like an eviscerated piano grows flowers that attract doves and bees. It makes you wonder how it even evolved. Turns out the combination of a shallow root system and hooked spines facilitated seed dispersal. If a large animal passes it by and a piece of fur grabs the spine off, the plant can easily re-seed and take root. Plus the white spines reflect sunlight away from the plant.
If you’re headed to Costa Rica this winter, look for the Psychotria elata, which resembles Man Ray’s Monroe-like lips hanging over the Hollywood Hills. Butterflies love them. Or if you’re off to Asia, be on the lookout for Doll's-eyes (White Baneberry), reminiscent of the Dali/Bunuel film collaboration Un Chien Andalou, with its famous eyeball-splitting sequence. Baneberries, dead ringers for eyeballs, are highly poisonous and can lead to cardiac arrest and death in humans but are harmless to birds.
So for that out-of-body experience, that is decidedly not heat related, try some surreal landscaping.
WHAT TO DO:
Intersperse cactus and succulents in a groundcover of volcanic black rock or large white gravel for an outer space scenario.
Bird of Paradise,attractive to hummingbirds rich, likes well-draining soil. Avoid over-watering.
The closer you live to the Coast, the more likely you are to see Buddhas hand. In the Valley, look for it at the Studio City Farmers Market.
When planting Echeveria use at least 50% coarse pumice and when watering, do not get the center of the rosette wet.
Passion flowers grow and bloom best when the soil is kept moist. Plant along a west- facing wall so they get at least 4 full hours of sunlight a day.
STEAL THIS IDEA: For a hang-one-on party try Hangar One Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka. Then at bedtime, brew up some passion flower tea using 8 ounces of boiling water, 1 teaspoon of dried (tablespoon fresh) passionflower leaves.