Monday, August 31, 2009

The Seven Gardens of Meme

Sarah and Helen of Toronto Gardens have kindly bestowed upon me the honor of a "Seven Things About You" meme, and it feels so much like, "have another glass of wine, dear and tell us about yourself" that I accept!

In pondering the topic, my mind veered into the garden, as it often does. I saw that there have been seven particularly influential gardens in my life. Spanning nearly five decades, their stories make for a passable memoir of a California gardener. Thank you for inspiring
me to share them!

Garden 1: Floribunda roses in Sunnyvale, CA 1967

For the first four years of my life I traveled with my parents as a Navy family. We lived in Texas, San Diego and the Philippines, but I recall little of it. In 1964 we moved to Sunnyvale, and when my dad finished his tour of duty, we stayed in the 'Valley of Heart's Delight.'

Our first garden was a simple suburban lot in the heart of what was rapidly becoming Silicon Valley, but at that time was more orchards than offices. My mother planted roses and annuals and old fashioned shrubs like pussy willow. My dad built us a clever play yard. There were trees to climb, just enough lawn, and a full complement of butterflies, bugs and birds, of which I was inordinately fond.

I have such vivid memories of that garden, much more so than the inside of the house. Looking through photos for the post I could almost smell that particular fragrance of snapdragons as you squeeze their sides to make a tiny roar; and almost taste that drop of nectar you can sip from a nasturtium.

Garden 2: My room, Saratoga, CA 1977
In 1970 we moved to Saratoga, where I commenced my teen years. We had a different sort of garden there, perched at the top of a creek bank lined with large pine trees. It was a larger and wilder place.

During those years we played in the creek, planted vegetables and enjoyed the many fruit trees. But I have to say, my main horticultural interest then was houseplants, I loved them, my private oasis in my room. Back in the day, I was the QUEEN of macrame plant holders.
My true gardens would have to wait a bit longer.

Garden 3: With a small helper, Aptos, CA 1989

My stay-home mom years coincided with a move to Aptos, along the coast south of Santa Cruz, where my first husband and I rented a home for eight years. My creative outlet during that time was building my first 'real' gardens.

It all started innocently enough, a row of petunias down the driveway, but with that first little taste I was hooked. By the second summer the tiny front yard was overflowing with perennials. Those were the years of gardening books, magazines and catalogs stacked by the bed, and a grubby baby monitor in the tool bucket.

Garden 4: My first sanctuary, Aptos, CA 1991

With no more room in front, I set out to reclaim the tiny (~10' deep) back garden. Our house was cut into a steep, north-facing slope covered with live oaks, ivy, native hazelnut, elderberry, wild currant and blackberry, all intertwined with copius amounts of poison oak. Fellow blogger Ivette Soler (The Germinatrix) recently wrote about how the jungle advances like the ocean. This stuff advanced like a tsunami!

The garden I made, by adding a planter along the retaining wall, a deck outside our bedroom doors and a shade garden under an arbor, was actually a finalist in a contest (for small gardens under 200sf) held by The Victory Garden. It didn't win, but to have such an early effort recognized at all was very cool!

Garden 5: My first 'Landscape' San Jose, CA 2006

Fast-forward through four dalliances with rental house gardens to
the landscape my second husband and I created, with the help of a landscape architect whose work we admired. The flat lot was transformed into something really quite unique and lovely.

These pictures were taken six years after planting; only the mugo pines by the walk and some star jasmine remain of the original. This west-facing ranch-style home, with its large windows used to be an exposed, hot fishbowl. What it became was a colorful dappled private woodland and meadow, with a house nestled in.

Garden 5: Where my Buddha used to sit

The bones of the garden were the large granite boulders used throughout, sometimes as structure, sometimes as accent. I love boulders in a garden, and use them often (I like structure you can count on, and you can count on rocks.) The cream-colored pot is actually a bubbling fountain, really nice to have near a front door.

Garden 5: Front Entry

We had the hand-carved front door made in Santa Fe; the chip-carved surface almost looks like hammered metal, and the stain went beautifully with the house color, the brick and the bluestone porch. Taking advantage of its willingness to roam, I liberated the star jasmine from the foundation bed and allowed it to ramble along the roofline, one of my favorite details.

Garden 5: Pinching the view; privacy in layers

We used 'pinched views' to gain privacy without blocking the house off completely, as a fence or hedge might do. The garden is actually quite open in the middle, once you walk up the path or over this hill between the shrub rose and large phormium. The focal point stone in the center was a particularly fine place to pose a large furry spider at Halloween!

Alas, this garden was not to stay mine; we sold the house not long after these photos were taken, and another family has made the garden their own. These may well be the last record of "how it was."

Garden 6: My second sanctuary, San Jose, CA 2006

Which brings us almost up-to-date. When I moved into my present home in the summer of 2006 I was a little discouraged to find myself back to square one, but also excited about finally using my years of experience as a landscape designer to create a new garden for myself.

Garden 6: My second sanctuary: 2009

The back came first, as it had been reduced to dirt during a remodel. I've written about this particular corner before; it is my favorite place to be, under the Red Umbrella. It has taught me much about the healing power of peaceful surroundings, particularly gardens.

The back garden was designed and built rather quickly to take advantage of a rare alignment of resources; for the next one I would take my time.

Garden 7: My Manifesto 2006

This is my house as I first saw it. Small, sunny, perfect; I immediately knew it was home. However, it would be a couple of years before I could replace my aging lawn, and I semi-dutifully mowed and watered the tyrant until a sprinkler head broke last year. I saw that as a sign, and let the lawn die with no regrets.

Garden 7: My Manifesto 2009

This winter, with business much slower and my nest newly empty, the time and resources were there to begin in earnest. My dad did the beautiful woodwork; every bit as artful and sturdy as the play yard he built more than 40 years ago. Working with him was a precious opportunity, and I happily bequeathed him my power mower in gratitude for his help.

So the garden mandala I've been creating for three years is now complete; harmonious elements combined to surround, infuse and define my private world. It is not perfect by any means, but it certainly shows how far I've come since that first row of petunias.


Thanks for joining me on my long journey; I'm a bit exhausted! Now is the part where I sent you off on further adventures. Here are seven different directions you can go:

A Verdant Life John Black writes SO well, and has a knack for introducing provocative viewpoints with wit, insight, and the chops to back them up.

Blue Planet Garden Susan Morrison has already opted out of the 7-Things meme, but I want you to know about her blog anyway, her message is important and the way she relays it is smart, funny & charming.

GardenPunks Katie Hobson is an amazing photographer as well as a writer; when I saw the photos she took of my garden I looked at my trusty point-and-shoot and said "why can't YOU do that?"

Gossip in the Garden Rebecca Sweet serves up fresh and funny horticultural and design advice from her own beautiful gardens, which have twice been featured in Fine Gardening magazine!

Great Stems Meredith's blog is new to me, but it had me at cantaloupes and ladybugs; the work of a true gardener and talented photographer.

Miss Rumphius' Rules Susan Cohan has already been meme'd I know, but if anything deserves some extra recognition, it is her intelligent, informative blog. It is a standard to which I aspire.

Root Awakening Lynn Felici-Gallant's photos of her New Hampshire garden are exquisite, I have borrowed several (with permission!) for my screen saver, and enjoy them every day!

The Germinatrix Ivette Soler has also been meme'd already, (and her delightful response might be even longer than mine) but I HAD to include her because I adore her every post. When I'm inclined to curb my enthusiasms, her writing reminds me that it is OK to have passion for what I do, and to not be afraid to show it!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On My Knees for Gardening Gone Wild!

David Perry, the judge for the August photo contest at Gardening Gone Wild asked us to get down on our knees and show them something they haven’t seen in quite the same way before.

I was encouraged to submit a cool hummingbird shot (thanks, Maureen!) but two things were wrong; first, it was taken a couple of weeks ago, (not with this assignment in mind) and second it was kind of a panic shot taken from above, not a thoughtful shot taken from knee level or lower. For my first GGW entry, I want to follow the rules!

As I sat under the Red Umbrella pondering, I saw this fellow making his way across the garden, and knew that he would be my subject. A common brown snail, not very sexy, or is he? Well, I groveled before him, so I bet he's feeling pretty special (from his, um, new home in the neighbor's ivy!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Day In The Life - The Growers

The same day I visited Pottery Planet, I also paid calls to two different plant growers, Pacific Plug & Liner and Soquel Nursery Growers. The central coast of California, with its mild climate and agricultural focus, is home to many kinds of growers, from small specialty to annual color to huge commercial wholesale.

My first visit was to PP&L, a starter-plant grower in Watsonville that provides small plants in large quantities to wholesale growers (Like Soquel) who grow them on until they are ready to sell to retail nurseries and landscape professionals. PP&L also tests and develops plants provided to them by breeders all over the world.

The gorgeous Gaillardia above is one of PP&L's summer perennial trials; if bee votes count, this beauty is a sure thing!
~click any picture to enlarge~

Boy, not a plant in sight! This is where it begins for many of PP&L's plants, the cold closet where seed stock is kept at a preserving temperature until ready for propagation. I felt a bit guilty, thinking of all those unscientifically stored seed packets in my garage!

Check out the seeding machine! Large trays with compartments not much bigger than sugar cubes are run through this machine, where the seeds are planted at the proper depth, covered and watered, just like that. I was impressed. The planted trays are then taken to the indoor growing field.

And, I do mean field. You are looking at thousands and thousands of perennials, grasses, even small shrubs and groundcovers, on a vast sea of waist-high tables in a carefully controlled greenhouse.

The next field over is the propagation room; the plants you see aren't the end result, they are the beginning...mother plants from which thousands of cuttings are taken and rooted in a similar fashion to the seed trays, but with slightly larger cells.

These mother plants are never sold; they are harvested until that can't take it any more, and then composted. Here we see a field of Dianthus.

These are starts of Cordyline 'Festival Grass' from FitzGerald Nurseries in Kilkenny Ireland, who provide very small sprouts to PP&L to be started like this. These will probably grow for another few months before being sold to growers, who might tend them for another six months (small wholesale size) to a year (full retail size) before selling.

Ah, that's more like it! Some of the many plants they are developing; a couple of beautiful Carex in the middle (also from FitzGerald) a beautiful variegated Euphorbia, pink Agastache, and some bright Coprosma.

Here's what all the cuttings and seedlings look like when they are ready to come outside, still in their propagating trays. Amazing to see familiar plants in their infancy! I believe the foreground trays are the ornamental cabbages that are a common winter annual in California.

This is a batch of a new variety of Pennisetum Rubrum almost ready to ship out for planting in 1g containers; these will likely be going in to gardens next spring. It was fascinating for me to see the 'early childhood development' of some of my favorite (or next favorite!) plants! Now on to one of my favorite wholesale nurseries.

A half hour north of Watsonville you'll find Soquel Nursery Growers. I've been shopping at Soquel for years. They are a small wholesale only (sorry!) nursery specializing in unusual perennials, grasses, groundcovers, shrubs and vines, mostly in 1-and 5-gallon size.

As you can see, they are a terrific place to go for color, also a good choice for a client visit. They nearly always have an electric cart for me to use, and a tour of inspection is always a pleasure!

I was shopping for the containers I had purchased earlier at Pottery Planet, which were destined for a partially shady deck. So to the shade house I went, for a look at their choicest plants. Here we have two varieties of red Loropetalum chinense, Lamium 'Purple Dragon' and blue-flowered Brunnera.

Southern sword fern, (Nephrolepis) Coral Bells (Heuchera) and Sweet Flag (Acorus 'Ogon') remind me of how gorgeous these three are planted together!

I'm a visual designer, and prefer to choose plants on the spot rather than plan everything out and just execute a shopping list. I played with groupings on the flatbed of the electric cart until I had what I needed. Then, I went home.

Thanks for joining me on this 'Day in the Life' it's always more fun when someone comes along!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2009

I didn't think there was much blooming in my garden this morning, but I was wrong! Starting in the front, the Lantana by the porch is one of my most reliable & pest-free performers; it will bloom through November at least. Butterflies adore it. ~Click any photo to enlarge~

Coral 'Flower Carpet' Roses - I use these a lot in designs when pale pink just won't do. Great color for in front of the blue fence, and another one that will bloom through Autumn.

'Primrose Heron' Lamb's Ears, a new plant for me this year and I LOVE it. Grown for the unusual blue/yellow tinted foliage, it puts out few flower stalks, which is good. (I know I'm cheating, but who could say no to him with a butterfly?)

Limonium perezii, Sea Lavender. A tender perennial, and another mainstay. The actual flowers are the tiny little white guys; the purple bracts are straw-like and last for ages (like statice.)

OK, technically these are still buds, but they will be eaten before they bloom, so this is their only chance...Artichoke 'Green Globe' (I use these small side shoots mostly for the hearts).

Rudbeckia 'Indian Summer' is another new plant for me, and easily the star of the show. They can probably be seen by satellite. Grown from a jumbo sixpack planted 4 months ago, in bloom for 2 months, and showing no signs of stopping. I love how the blooms start small and just keep getting bigger and bigger. It makes an awesome cut flower.

Bronze Fennel...isn't this the coolest picture? A screen saver for sure;
I think it could hypnotize you!

Lantana again, and my favorite rose scented Geranium, 'Fragrant Frosty' which I bought in a 4" pot from Geraniaceae Nursery at the SF Flower and Garden Show in March. I love it because it's really compact and doesn't sprawl like some scented geraniums. Cuttings for sure!

Moving to the back garden; I usually pinch the flower buds out of Coleus before it has a chance to bloom, preferring the foliage, but as I'm particularly lazy about gardening this summer, I let it have its way. And it's kind of lovely!

Hybrid Fuchsia, I cannot recall the variety. Had a heck of a time getting this shot, I think my camera was blinded by the color too!

Begonia richmondiensis, Shrub Begonia. A really lovely plant; flowers like a typical wax begonia, but with a larger, more open form. Tender, gets knocked back to main stems in winter in zone 8. Long blooming, self-cleaning, perfect for a shady corner.

So pretty it gets two shots. Shrub Begonia grows well in pots too; this was transplanted from my courtyard this spring as a sad single stem. It has redeemed itself! ~click photo to see bloom detail~

Shrub Rose 'Pure Perfume' and an unplanned visitor (love them, and since I read Mr. Brown Thumb's blog, I know this is a fly, not a bee!) This is a lovely, low-maintenance rose with a very distinct, sweet grapefruit fragrance.

The last of the Star Jasmine

I introduced 'Moonlight' Nasturtiums into the back garden this year; they will be with me forevermore!

In the herb garden, Marjoram growing up through the Sage.

Salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' got enormous this year; it is a particular favorite of bees and hummers.

Signs of fall; there will be Pomegranates this year!

And Apples (this from my six-variety espalier, I believe these are Granny Smith)

And here are the tomatoes (Big Beef) to remind me that it's still summer. Thanks for visiting the garden, and to Carol from May Dreams Gardens for the idea of 'Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!'

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Bamboo Is Scaring Me!

As you may recall from my earlier post, I have a favorite sitting corner in my garden (The Red Umbrella!) that is surrounded by four robust specimens of Bambusa oldhamii; giant clumping timber bamboo. This species was suggested to me by a trusted plantsman, who then found them for me and presented them as a gift for my new garden. So I was meant to have them! And they are fabulous.

This is how my corner looked two years ago, about three months after planting. The bamboo had just been through its first 'shoot' which is the period in July/August when the new growth starts. The culms are noticeably thicker each year, and reach full height by winter, staying tightly sheathed all the way up (tallest are well over twenty feet now). In spring they let loose leafy side branches. Here you can see the utility pole in the corner; but you never will again!

That same new growth from two years ago has turned golden, and is considered mature. Last year's culms are still green. And this year? Um, can you see why my bamboo is scaring me?

My task as a responsible, rule-breaking gardener is to keep these beasts in check. Which is surprisingly easy to do, if you deal with them before they are bigger than you are! I have three ways of helping my bamboo do my bidding.

The first approach is a short, sharp, shock. You can see this unfortunate fellow at the far right in the picture above. Too close to the path, no shoot for you!

Until it is about two feet tall, a bamboo shoot is very pliable and loosely connected at the joints, just give it a wiggle and it pops right out. To further control growth from this spot I could dig it out more, but it won't be up to any more mischief this year.

This species of bamboo is also edible; if I were more adventurous in the kitchen I'd think of something tasty to make with it. For now, it's nicely compacted green waste. [see comment from Annie below for a preparation suggestion, courtesy of none other than Allen Lacy, one of my pantheon!]

The second way I work with bamboo is by training the new culms, which are often pointing in odd directions (continuing the trajectory of the rhizome below the ground, I guess). Such waywardness can be turned to an advantage with the right training, giving the culms graceful curves.

When they have reached about four feet and their bases are hardened
a bit, I train new culms by tying them to older ones (built in plant stakes!) By doing this I can separate canes that are growing too closely together, position the tall plumes just where I want them, and encourage the elegant interplay of the culms at ground level. I like to use raffia-wrapped wire, as it is inobtrusive, strong, and reusable.

Old-Hammy would love to be leafy to the ground, but for my small space I want to keep the lower part of the culms clean. So the third trick to bamboo dominance is removing the leaf nodes at the joints. Again, if done cleanly and early, they won't sprout again.

One of my design inspiration books is about Japanese courtyard gardens. My favorites feature timber bamboo, trained by skilled masters to just a few choice culms, in some impeccable setting.

So I am NOT insane!

The tallest culms now meet over the top of the Red Umbrella. Between the dappled shade and the way it catches every breeze, my scary bamboo has made this a heavenly place.

Understanding that I am the master here, and making the sometimes ruthless choices needed to develop the space, has been critical. I think of it as editing the garden; removing what is superfluous and grooming what remains so that it can shine.