Monday, January 31, 2011

Discovering DIG Gardens in Santa Cruz

Recently my friend Rebecca Sweet wrote a great post about DIG Gardens in Santa Cruz, so I just had to see it for myself!

This former patio furniture store has been lovingly and skillfully reworked, making full use of the high ceilings, abundant light, and ample wall space. I'll be seeing more of this classroom area in the future, as DIG has a wonderful lineup of Talks and Workshops this spring, with timely topics like Chicks in the City, Backyard Bee Keeping and Jam Making (Meyer Lemon Marmalade, anyone?)

The chicken corner! Organic supplies for the home henhouse, pretty cool. Don't think my apartment complex includes chickens in its "pet friendly" policy...dang.

Every corner is a delight...all that's missing is the coffee...and I believe they are working on taking care of that (a coffee shop next door? Brilliant!)

I especially liked their interesting wall pieces, some including live mosses or Tillandsias; just lovely. Displaying houseplants this way really helps customers visualize the possibilities for their own spaces.

Rebecca spoke so highly of the beautiful succulent-infused art and furniture built by 5 Feet From The Moon; they've evidently been very popular; I think this was the only piece left!

Hey, look! Books by our friends Jeffrey Gordon Smith (who is busy creating a spectacular garden for the SF Flower & Garden Show) and Debra Lee Baldwin (who will be speaking at the show AND at DIG, on Saturday, March 26th) Since they keep selling out of Debra's new book (Succulent Container Gardens) that should be a popular event!

I've been hearing a lot about terrariums lately, and since DIG seems to be right on target with other new trends, I wasn't surprised to see terraria of many kinds in the shop. And, of course, there will be a Terrarium Workshop this coming weekend (February 5th) that will teach you how to do cool things like this! Here's something an apartment dweller could get very interested in...

Woolly Pocket is another product I keep seeing everywhere, and this stunning wall display of houseplants shows why they are so popular. DIG is a great place to learn about vertical gardening, and of course they have everything you need to succeed.

I loved this beautiful display of contemporary pots. Oh, and if you have your eye on that cool Sansevieria cylindrica on the middle shelf, too late! (It's OK, they have more.)

Great Balls of Succulents! (Sorry, had to say that.) These were especially effective against the fresh white of the walls and ceiling. Lovely.

After reading Rebecca's post I was particularly  interested in seeing these succulent panels, which are SO hot right now. This is a great example of how they can be used to create a garden on a cinderblock wall; loved them against that green. DIG owners Cara and Will Meyers hand-pick their plants from many local nurseries and growers.

A note to Inlanders; some of these plants are quite tender, and to live outside they are happiest near the coast. Planting them in pots that can be sheltered during winter should keep your conscience clear!

Loved this! Again, good for a sheltered spot...would not be happy in freezing temps OR blazing sun. Just because succulents don't use much water doesn't mean they don't appreciate being able to keep what's stored in those lovely leaves, bracts, fingers, and spikes, right?

Delighted to run into an old friend in the shade house; any day that includes Kwan Yin is a good one. Thanks for joining me on my first visit, and if you're in the area, consider coming to one of DIG's many events; maybe I'll see you there!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter Fragrance at Elizabeth Gamble Garden

The Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, California is a historic urban estate built near Stanford University in 1902. It is now the home of a nonprofit horticultural foundation, and its mature woodland, formal and working gardens provide education and beauty to the community.

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers meets regularly at Gamble, so I've been able to visit in all seasons. (I was actually married there once, but that's a different story!) Today it was particularly beautiful, as winter-blooming shrubs are luxuriating in our recent warm spell. This hedge of camellias was screaming for attention, so my camera and I excused ourselves for a moment...

Isn't it stunning? Camellia japonica are one of our earliest bloomers, often starting right after Christmas. Carefully maintained by staff and volunteers, these hedges are light and yet covered with bloom for weeks.

And the fragrance! The warmth of the day brought out scents from all over the garden, including this Magnolia soulangiana in full bloom.

Oh, Daphne! So finicky, but when you're happy, everybody's happy...

The most fragrant thing around, however, was this Mahonia siamensis...yum!

The bees agreed!

This patch of Kniphofia offered an unexpected touch of warmth...

While a large clump of Elegia capensis cooled things down again.

Beautiful Leucadendron towers overhead.

We have time for one, sweet whiff of Sarcococca as the meeting is about to start; what a glossy beauty this is.

If you are ever in the neighborhood, treat yourself to a visit to this lovely garden. Their Spring Tour (April 29-30) explores the diverse gardens of the Palo Alto area, and is enjoyed each year by thousands of Bay Area gardeners. Add it to your spring calendar if you can!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are You Going to The Nor Cal Spring Tradeshow?

As a garden designer AND community builder, I look forward to the Nor Cal Horticultural Tradeshow every year. Aimed at professionals in the nursery and landscaping trades, this show is a great way to be introduced to new products while catching up with old friends.

You'll find great new garden products, like the biodynamic compost from Malibu Compost...

Along with every kind of garden tool, accessory and decor imaginable (that's Leo Goria, VP of California Operations for SummerWinds Nurseries visiting the J. Pedersen booth...)

As you can imagine, my favorite displays are those done by the nurseries, like this best-of-show winner created by Belmont Nursery.  I could have hung out here all day!

But while the plants and products are great, it's the knowledgeable people you meet that makes an event like this truly valuable to professionals and hobbyists alike. What a great opportunity to pick the brain of Succulent Gardens owner/guru Robin Stockwell, for instance. (And then buy some of his gorgeous plants, of course!)

Sooo...are you going? Thursday, February 17th, 9am to 5pm at the San Mateo Event Center (same place as the SF Flower & Garden Show) 1346 Saratoga St., San Mateo CA (near 101 and 92)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Cats Are All Right

One of my biggest concerns about moving to an apartment was the impact on my two cats, who from kittenhood have enjoyed the run of nice gardens. They napped under the shrubs, patrolled the perimeter, greeted guests (or hid from them); in short, they were a part of the landscape. I felt sad that they wouldn't have that any more. I might have been projecting, just a little...

Fortunately the complex I chose is pet-friendly; and after a few busy weeks, we're all settling in just fine. Haku can now be found lounging on the balcony love seat, and although Zennie still spends much of her day under my bed, she does emerge at night to claim the top of the cat tower as her own (Haku is learning that it's best not to dispute this, especially when she has "that look in her eyezzz!")

Haku and Zen are brother and sister, almost eight years old, and getting to that "sleeping most of the time" stage of their lives. I felt no need to "cat-proof" the balcony, although I probably would with a rambunctious kitten. Their requirements are met, we're all OK with the litterbox situation, and there is still plenty for them to look at...

Like our first hummingbird at the feeder!

This birdhouse has sheltered several generations of chickadees, titmice and sparrows in turn. Hopefully it will be discovered here. I love the "happy accident" of its reflection in the mirror on the storage room door, allowing me to watch from the living room.

So far I love apartment living; I miss my washer and dryer the most, but love the endless hot water, low heating bills, and the nearby grocery store, nursery, movie theater and light rail station. I've lost more than the weight of my mortgage; for once I feel as though I'm living within my means and touching the earth more lightly as a result. There is now room for new things in my life, and I'm starting to discover them.

It was less than four months ago that I began this final stage of life re-engineering, in the autumn of a tumultuous year. Now it's January,  and I'm home. There's a feeling of spring in the air and a strong sense that everything is going to be OK. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking My Own Small Garden Advice!

Last June I wrote a post for the Garden Designer's Roundtable about small-space garden design; little did I know that I'd be testing my own advice when I downsized to a 6x10 apartment balcony six months later.

My rough concept drawing was done mainly to determine how many plants I could bring with me, and didn't focus much on where I might sit. I figured the space would be enjoyed mostly from inside; I didn't see how it could be private enough outside. Space for plants was the priority, and a small chair was drawn in as a placeholder.

But then I remembered my own advice about not skimping on comfortable seating in a small garden, especially since it really only has to be big enough for two. I spotted a loveseat on another balcony, and once I realized how nice the winter sun was going to be, and how quiet the complex is during the day, I knew I had to carve a cozy, private spot for myself into my balcony design. That's how my favorite outdoor loveseat was added to the mix...

And it is perfect. Placing it in the corner facing inward was the master touch. It blocks the view onto the balcony from nearby paths, catches the slanting winter sun all afternoon, and surrounded by plants I can curl up in complete privacy. I can be out there with my sweetheart or a cat and not feel on display. Since the balcony is completely sheltered, a cozy wool throw and a jute rug warm the space up further and can be left out year-round (although I'll opt for a lighter throw in summer...)

And look how my wooden crates (which hold frequently used tools and supplies) can be tucked underneath; sheltered and dry and easy to access, and freeing up lots of room in my storage closet.

In my Roundtable post I talked about imagining the space in three dimensions, mentally carving out the paths you need to use it effectively. On my balcony the curved swathe between the sliding door and my storage closet needs to be kept clear, but everything else is fair game (and remember, not just at ground level). I used tall specimens in the corner pots, and elevated other plants on upturned pots, small tables, even my coffee-tuffet.

Long streamers of ivy, which had been growing for years in some of the larger pots, are being trained all over the railing and will add their own lacy green layer of privacy as they fill in. A strand of white lights around the railing can be lit on festive occasions.

Traffic area nice and clear, and the rest of the available space is layering up nicely. I'm not a fan of hanging plants (keeping the ones on the ground happy is challenging enough) but wind chimes, bird houses and feeders, lanterns etc. can add a lot of interest, especially if you have sturdy overhead beams to work with.

I didn't discuss using storage space efficiently in my GDRT post (probably because at the time I had a two-car garage) but that was a huge consideration for this space, as I have many tools and supplies and one very small closet in which to store them. My two wooden crates under the loveseat helped a lot, and using one of my old garage shelves gave this small space structure. Another shelf mounted inside the door holds mason jars full of frequently used things, and silverware trays organize all the other odd bits from my garage and junk drawers. There's room for everything, with space left over. Nice...

It was so comforting to be able to create a new garden space using some old friends, some of which I have had for years. And it was also gratifying to put my own design principles to the test and find them solid.

Happy New Year!