Sunday, June 28, 2009

In The Garden With Laura

The first week of summer finally brought some heat to the San Francisco Bay Area, after a long cool spring with almost unheard of rain in May AND June. (Compare that to last year: no rain from mid-March to October.) It was a great time to build a new garden, and the majority of the plants in my new no-lawn front yard were planted in April.

My Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer' just started to bloom this week (seems a little early for Indian summer, but my infant garden will take what it can get!) These were planted from a six-pack in April, so they sure didn't waste any time getting down to business. Gotta love perennials. The big, clear, golden flowers glow next to the blue of the fence. They will get about 4' tall, and bloom well into fall. More about them later.

In other news, this is possibly my favorite ornamental grass, Pennisetum spathiolatum (Slender Veldt Grass). I had three one-gallon plants that I bought from grass guru John Greenlee when he came to speak at an APLD 'New Plant Introductions' meeting last spring. (This isn't a new plant, but John doesn't go anywhere without a trailer full of grassy temptation.) The poor things suffered from my neglect for a full year before they finally went in the ground; by then they were unpromising tufts of brown with maybe 3 green blades each.

I apologized profusely as I planted them above the garden wall. And they forgave, becoming the first of my plantings to get taller than the fence. It will become a perfect 3' hemisphere of fine, green blades with zillions of slender spathes (a mature specimen from my last garden can be seen on the splash screen of my website). It wants to be sheared back to a neat ball in winter, so that come spring it can cover itself with fresh growth (I can't abide thatchy grasses! Anything so inclined is cut to the BONE in January, no exceptions!) This is a nice grass to plant bulbs around, but not too close, it gets a wide, dense crown.

The main bed between the sidewalk and the wall is starting to look interesting. At first everything was SO small that it looked like confetti on a plate. People would smile politely and tell me how nice it was going to look 'when the plants get bigger' (I hate that! My garden has such great bones it would look nice with NO plants at all!) But now that the interesting colors and textures are starting to emerge, the smiles are becoming more than just polite.

The succulents are from my SF Garden Show score (I was given 2 flats of assorted 2" pots for my help creating the APLD educational booth). Seen here are Senecio madraliscae and Aeonium 'Thundercloud.' The orangey grass is Stipa arundinacea, an elegant, drought tolerant, evergreen favorite. This is a warm and sunny south-facing garden, so I used sweeps of blue/gray and blue/green plants to visually cool it down. The soft-looking perennial in the foreground is Salvia argentea (Silver Sage) which will form a huge rosette this year, and send up an airy spike of white flowers next spring. And of course, there are the Green Globe artichokes, grown as much for their fabulous looks as for eating (those leaves!)

A Tale of Two Rudbeckias
As I mentioned before, I planted a six-pack of 'Indian Summer' Rudbeckia about two months ago. But I didn't plant them all at once: I was in the middle of staining the fence at the time, so only planted two plants right away. The others suffered in the 'nursery' for a couple of weeks, drying out more than once. Finally the fence was finished, and the last four, rootbound and sulky, went in the ground.

The picture above shows how differently they grew. The plant on the left was planted right away, and has grown amazingly lush with the same soil/exposure/water as the plant on the right. And yet, the plant on the right is the one in the photograph above, blooming early! He's probably thinking he'd better get on with it; who knows what I'll do to him next! It's little 'experiments' like these that teach me about my garden.


I hoped you enjoyed this little 'sorbet' post while I'm working on a juicy one about my May visit with Billy Goodnick. We saw three of his gardens on a foggy Santa Barbara morning, and each was choice! Don't miss!


  1. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for offering a 'tasty sorbet' that captures the essence of summer in the Bay Area. Hopefully today's heat wave will pass quickly! Alice

  2. Yummy sorbet of a post. I love seeing another designer's personal garden experiments. My garden's holding areas suffer from the same neglect as you say yours do. I think it's an occupational hazard. Thanks!

  3. Very nice post Laura. I particularly appreciate your description of the neglected "nursery" and dried out grasses that look spectacular today. It reminds us not to give up on things just because they aren't what we think they should be right now (this goes for more than just plants).

  4. What beautiful photos! I especially like the Foxtail Ferns aka: waterfall photo - so amazing. Your writing style makes me feel like I was there as well. Thanks for such a great treat, Laura!