Moving madness, sheltering in place and a zombie lemon…

Well…we’re in our new home across town. Just us, no furniture yet as the new flooring and painting is not quite complete. I’m beginning to feel right at home in the 6 square feet of accessible garage space and small covered back patio. I’ll give you the short version of our move!

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One of the drone shots of our new place–we have a nice walking trail and a view of the Redbank Slough conservation area

A few days after my March post the movers arrived. Just to make things more exciting it poured down rain all day–mind you, there had not been a drop of rain in the Central Valley for over 6 months. It took two trips 15 miles across town to empty the house. The crew heroically slogged through my gardens loading up soaking wet, doubly heavy pots, my 8 foot potting bench and any number of other cumbersome, oddly shaped outdoor items. On the flip side their truck also slipped down my driveway and plowed over my neighbor of 11 years’ beautiful brick mailbox.

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Fortunately no one was hurt and she recently sent me a picture of her newly built mailbox.

The power went out while my husband was across town with the movers unloading the first run and I was trapped inside my mostly empty home with the alarm screaming–unable to disarm it because our buyers had taken over the service the day before and their new codes were input prematurely. After a torturous 10 minutes, two moving boxes to stand on and a Phillips screwdriver borrowed from a neighbor I managed, under the direction of the alarm company via cell phone, to remove the battery and the transformer to silence it. I think I was 68 when the day started and 70  by the time it ended!

Just 2 days after our move Fresno put their shelter in place order in effect to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus which has cost so many their lives and livelihoods in the past months. This effectively closed the doors of businesses deemed non-essential. Although we are no longer within the city limits, the city of Clovis and the State of California followed in just a couple of days time with their own orders. Fortunately, arrangements had already been made for some of our initial reno work, including flooring and painting, so those things have moved ahead slowly with us and workers alike keeping as segregated as possible.

We have very spotty cell service, no Internet or TV–a very strange way to live in times which are already so unsettling. Last Friday, after 25 days, we finally got our Internet connection!

So we have kept busy with small thing here and there…seeing where pots might be nestled into our tiny backyard and pulling out a few plants that I had deemed to be doomed even before we made our initial offer on the property.

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David’s prized volunteer fig tree scored a prime sunny spot overlooking the trail

The plant in the lower left corner is my Salvia ‘Big Swing’ from the old garden–one of a few things I pulled out of the garden and potted up before we put the house on the market. Below you see it a few days before I cut it back drastically to dig it–in full bloom for at least the last six months. I hope it likes its new home and am looking forward to the fabulous bloom display which is so attractive to hummers returning.

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The potted Geranium maderense has also found a shady corner, though as we move toward summer I’m not sure it will not have to be moved again. For now it is happy as has just rewarded me with a few flowers–the first since I potted the seedling up last fall.

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The new garden is less than half the overall size of the one we left, with much of it being in the front. We plan to build a stone wall to enclose the space between the two garages into a courtyard. This area faces northeast and will the coolest spot during the heat of summer. We will probably remove much of the lawn and replace it with less thirsty perennials and shrubs–an endeavor I feel as though I’ve gained some expertise in over the last few years!

The long eastern side yard faces the walking trail and conservation area and has only wrought iron fencing, affording us a lovely natural vista with a few houses in the distance. For some this might be a privacy concern but so far at least, we have enjoyed getting to know our neighbors as they pass by on their daily walks. With the children out of school and many parents working from home, the trail is getting a lot of use.

My purple potting bench has found a home tucked up against the fence and I’ve staged a few potted specimens from my old back patio around it.

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There is a young Valencia orange tree just to the south on the fence line whose fruit is beginning to ripen. This eastern exposure is also home to what we have been referring to as the zombie lemon–acerbically appropriate in this pandemic time.

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In self defense my husband cut it back by almost half its height and width two days after we arrived. It foliage and 2+ inch thornes made the sidewalk along the house impassable.

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It has both normal sized lemons and these mutant ones that are larger than most grapefruit. A citrus grower friend who recently stopped by to bring us some blood oranges and tangerines from his ranch nearby identified it as a Lisbon lemon. He was also able to show Dave two large branches which had grown from below the graft were responsible for the freakishly large (and inedible) fruit and thorns. The “wilder” nature of the rootstock used for the graft had broken through and, never having been cut back, taken over the entire tree. His prescription: cut out the suckered growth, leaving only the normal grafted growth.  Post-surgery the poor thing is pretty lopsided but I’m keeping my fingers crossed as there is nothing like the smell of those blossoms in the spring!

2020 has been a unique year for us all so far. For many it will always be a year marked by anxiety, fear, economic hardship and the loss of loved ones. Let’s hope we all will have learned something about ourselves, our ability to persevere and our faith that life will go on even if forever changed.

“TO PLANT A GARDEN IS TO BELIEVE IN TOMORROW”       Audrey Hepburn 

Moving on…

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There’s been a lot of activity around my house and garden since I last posted in early January about our visit to the Rose Parade. You got a peak at the float barn but I never got back to post about the actual parade experience!

We’ve been mulling over downsizing both our house and the amount of ground I actively garden for the last few years. After serendipitously seeing a home which appealed to us while visiting a cousin across town, we hit the ground running.  It took us a jammed packed two weeks to get our home on the market and only three days more for it to sell. The 30 day escrows on both our sale and our new garden (well, home also) close at week’s end. It will take a few days to drag everything we own 15 miles across town and another couple of months to redo flooring, paint it all and get the boxes from the garage inside so the blog will pretty quiet for awhile. Though the new garden is not a postage stamp, is very small compared to our current in-town 1/2 acre. It lives much larger due to some great borrowed views including the Sierra Mountains on a clear day.

Keep watch for some “before” pictures! I look forward to sharing this wonderful opportunity to develop my  new garden with all of you by my side!

A visit to the Rose Parade float barn…

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We kicked off 2020 with an overnight trip to Pasadena–one of my favorite SoCal cities full of historic homes and beautiful gardens–to take in the iconic New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Parade. A number of Rose Bowl related events lead up to the parade so the stadium and its surrounds are flush with RVs, buses, cars and people clutching their various tickets and of course, the Official Rose Parade program! One of the large float building barns is open to the public, allowing those of us who have only seen these marvelous melds of engineering and botanicals on our TV screens to get a close up view of what it takes to get them on the road for their 5.5 mile slow crawl on January 1st.

The floats are viewed via a sort of boardwalk which winds around and through the barn. Think of those moving walkways in large airports with folks pretty much shoulder to shoulder but it is your legs actually doing the moving. Volunteers are everywhere. The white suited ones with official name tags are directing traffic and talking to passers by about each float and literally hundreds of others, many in sweatshirts due to the barn’s cool temperature, are snipping flowers, scaling scaffolding, and whatever other tasks are needed to get their assigned work of art perfect to the last petal and seed. Everything that covers the float’s mechanics must be natural material–flowers, petals, fronds, grains grasses, seeds, fruit or vegetable.

First up are the floats proudly depicting the school name and team colors of the two outstanding football teams that will compete in the 106th Rose Bowl Game–Oregon State University (Ducks) and University of Wisconsin (Badgers).

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Oregon State University
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University of Wisconsin Badgers
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Roses were the stars of each team’s float

I loved seeing the up-close detail on the beautifully restored antique cars and carriages that will transport the parade’s Grand Marshals, dignitaries and honored guests on the parade route.

The Parade’s three Grand Marshals will ride in two Pope-Hartford Touring cars and a Pope-Hartford Model T, all dating from 1910-1911 and wearing dazzling floral arrangements in warm fall colors.

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The 2019 inductees into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame must look forward to their venture down Colorado Avenue in a 1916 Seagrave Fire Engine, the first engine purchased by the Monterey Fire Department. This engine earned the nickname “The Old Gray Mare” when in 1924 when lightening struck oil tanks on Cannery Row and it pumped water continuously for 72 hours! As it turned out, The Old Gray Mare would end up being towed most of the route but that made its floral finery none the less beautiful.

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float barn 12As much as I adore colorful floral displays I can never get enough of the classic whites and greens! Wouldn’t this be a fun way for a bride to arrive at the church on her big day?

The Tournament of Roses President and the Mayor of Pasadena each had their own spectacular ride.

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The President’s Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was actually blue! The Mayor and his family will pile into this replica of an 1880 Abbott Downing Hotel Coach (background of photo) pulled by the Express Clydesdales, an eight horse hitch of rare black and white Clydesdales.

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All the vintage vehicles had this great signage with lots of interesting historical details

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Finishing touches are added to an 1880s sleigh which will transport stars of the Broadway show Frozen after their mid-parade show. The sleigh will be pulled by a team of Percheron horses.

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In the background you can see yet another color palette of florals–this one adorning a 1915 Pierce-Arrow 48-7-Passenger Touring model. Until 1928 there was a Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company dealership on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.

I know I promised you floats! This barn had a half dozen more floats in progress with volunteers doing all manner of things. I learned that the Tournament of Roses manages almost a thousand volunteers each year to cover the events. This year’s theme The Power of Hope is reflected throughout the entries.

China Airlines presents “Dreams of Flying, Wings of Hope”

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Elements representing Taiwan including these butterflies and spinning tops expresses the good hopes of its people and welcomes visitors to the island nation. The decks of the float are filled with thousands of roses, orchids and lilies.

Pasadena Celebrates 2020: Celebrating the 100th Year Anniversary of the Passage of the 19th Amendment presents “Years of Hope, Years of Courage”

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The purple, gold and white flowers throughout the float represent the colors of the suffrage era, along with a band of red, white and blue representing the American flag. Notice that Lady Liberty is missing her top half as it will have to be attached after the float leaves the barn.

Amazon Studios presents “Troop Zero”

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Not all float participants are cities or charitable organizations. Mega-business Amazon’s entry celebrates an upcoming 2020 film release in which a girl dreams of outer space and organizes a group of scouts to make her dream come true. There are over 15,000 flowers on this float.

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Really behind the scenes at Troop Zero–notice the fire extinguisher camouflaged by the red roses. To the left of the pole you can see that big baking potatoes are used as rocks on the hillside!

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The trees at the float’s rear are hinged to clear the ceiling!
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I’d give almost anything to have roses and tulips grow under MY redwood trees
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Each of the barn floats has an artist’s rendering

Honda presents “Our Hope for the Future”

The flagship sponsor’s float entry celebrates the optimism created by the spirit and vitality of children. Six children are pursing their dreams through a variety of activities. This float leads the parade after the opening spectacular and as we saw it only about 18 hours before parade time it looked pretty undone–my though was that they would need that spirit of optimism before the day was out.

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Except for the gentleman on the phone who I’m sure was taking a much needed break, all these sitting and standing volunteers are laboriously scissor cutting off the dried blossom ends of buckets upon buckets of purple statice. The mandate was purple only–no green stem.

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Then the power tools came out in the form of multiple blenders and spice grinders, in which all those cut off flowers were ground down to a coarse powder and offloaded into bins to be applied to the float–almost like painting with flowers.

Cal Poly Universities present “Aquatic Aspirations”

An optimistic submarine sets out to discover fortune and riches but finds a breathtaking underwater home thriving amongst an old sunken ship instead. This self built float earned a Certified California Grown designation by sourcing at least 85% of its flowers from California farms.

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Yes–this is an actual sea of blue dutch iris!

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It seemed fitting to exit the barn at this homegrown float. It was my favorite of those featured in the barn. It is my understanding that there are a number of barns in various Pasadena locations, each with as much float activity as its space can handle. It is no mean feat to round all the floats up from their disparate locations and get them lined up for the parade’s start.

Several years ago a few of our Orange County friends spent a few day in Pasadena working on the floats. I’m not sure how you get that opportunity but I think I’ll investigate it. The volunteers were having a great time and there has to be a huge satisfaction in knowing you were part for making this immense endeavor a success!

We have a New Year’s Day crack of dawn wake up call to travel from our hotel to the Colorado Avenue parade route where we need to be in our grandstand seats before 8 am to not miss USAF B-2 Spirit (Stealth) flyover. Parade photos may take another few days to post!

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The Badger Marching Band is on the move!

 

 

Virginia Robinson Gardens…

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I have been receiving the Virginia Robinson Gardens e-mail newsletter ever since I saw a small article about the Beverly Hills estate in my AAA magazine a few years ago. It looked like just the kind of garden I love to visit–interesting and progressive garden originators, a historic home and a size pretty easily covered in a single day. The kind of garden that locals cherish but is not widely known outside its broader neighborhood. This six and a half acre jewel is smack in the middle of historic Beverly Hills–in fact it is often called Beverly Hills’ first estate. Vintage photos taken circa 1911 show a ground hugging house built in the Beaux-Arts style on a rise surrounded by acres and acres of bare dirt. Some 100+ years later it sits behind a modest stucco wall at the end of a residential cul-de-sac.

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The home was built by Harry and Virginia Robinson in 1911. Mr. Robinson, originally from Massachusetts, was the fourth generation in a family of dry goods merchants and heir to what we know today as JW Robinson, the Los Angeles based department store. Virginia was known for her social, business and philanthropic activities and their garden, much of which was modeled after architecture and gardens she and Harry had seen on their 1911 world tour, were often used to entertain the Beverly Hills and Hollywood elite and fundraise for causes dear to the couple. Although Harry died in 1932, Virginia continued to live on the estate for another 4 decades. Upon her death in 1977, the estate was donated to the public for their enjoyment and is currently owned and maintained by the County of Los Angeles.

The Virginia Robinson Gardens can be seen only by pre-scheduled docent led tours–in part this may be due to their good neighbor policy of having all visitors park on the property rather than on the street. They have a small lot which probably only accommodates 20 or so cars and thus must maintain strict control over the size of tour groups. Every Southern California trip I have made in the last several years has started with a e-mail to them checking for an available tour spot coinciding with when I am passing through–they also periodically update days & times with open spots on their website but you must email them to secure your reservation–no online booking. Go to http://www.robinsongardens.org for all you’ll ever want to know and some really wonderful photos. The newsletter announcement of a short class entitled Re-wild Your Garden on the day after I was planning to attend an event at The Huntington in nearby San Marino was a no-brainer for me–not the docent led tour but an opportunity to see the gardens and learn about their efforts to create a more sustainable garden and habitat for pollinators and other local birds and wildlife. I’m in!!

So…the day did not go as smoothly as I had hoped–the first challenge a result of being gone too long from living in a city where you measure your trip in terms of traffic and minutes rather than miles. I checked my Map app as I wound down from my Huntington visit and noted the 39 minute driving time to Beverly Hills. All y’all from SoCal know how this turns out–that was a Sunday night about 7 pm and my drive was to be on the following Monday morning. When I got into the car (fortunately pretty early) I turned on my navigation to reveal the 1 hour and 34 minute drive time which meant that if all went well (??) I would still be 11 minutes late for class. And then there was the route over winding Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Road…

Arriving semi-intact at 10:06 am, it was already 91° but hey..I’d made it and I was not, in fact, the last person to arrive. Tom Lindsay, Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens, introduced the concept of Re-Wilding as creating sustainable garden spaces that offer opportunities for meaningful interaction with nature and people while nurturing the health of the planet. We would walk the gardens as a group using them as an outdoor classroom to illustrate various techniques and concepts such as composting and using plantings well suited to the natural climate/rainfall.

Our first stop was the Kitchen Garden, home to this little lathe greenhouse and its surrounding veggie garden. Composting was the message here–Tim is super hands on in the management of this property and gave concise, clear explanations of how they produce and use their compost. As a note–the home, large back lawn, pool and pool pavilion are on flat ground but everything else falls off precipitously to either side of those areas. The veggie beds have only a small swathe of level ground then go right up a hill.

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To further illustrate that, base of the stairs are at the driveway level–at the top of the stairs you are on the level of the lawn and pool.

Tim shared that a mandate from the City of Beverly Hills several years ago requiring them to cut their water use by 30% was integral in sparking the desire to be more sustainable. At that time the property had two large lawn areas in the front, the Great Lawn in the back and two smaller lawn areas immediately in front of the pool pavilion. He felt the Great Lawn was necessary for siting large numbers of tables and chairs for events but decided to eliminate all the other lawn. The first season after the lawns were removed they reduced their water usage by 33%.

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Looking from the Great Lawn to the Pool and Pool Pavilion
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One of 14 water features on the property–all maintained with the use of mosquito fish and without chemicals–provide habitat for birds and insects
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Lone pond bloom
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Pool nestled in front of the Pool Pavilion–the areas to either side of the brick surround now contain pea gravel and a tough ground cover that will take both foot traffic and dining seating when needed
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Looking back toward the house from the Great Lawn

The Italian cypress seen in this photo are a prominent feature throughout the grounds and provide a baseline of water requirements for any future plantings. The automated sprinkler system runs once every seven days and anything to be added must be adaptable to that watering schedule. Newly planted materials may get a little supplemental hose watering but only until they are established. From the Great Lawn we moved toward the Dry Border and then on to the Italian Terrace Garden both of which are off to the right of this photo and then downhill…way downhill by means of multiple sets of brick steps and walkways. It was in the Dry Border that I dropped my camera on the brick walk and it bounced off and downhill about 3 feet under a bush–good thing I was at the end of the group! Well…everything seemed to be working and it wasn’t until I got home to download my photos that those from this point on are totally black. See–I told you that you would enjoy those great photos on their website! I so wanted you to see the Musical Stairs-a set of brick stairs which have a rill in the middle (little rivulet of water) traveling downward down from a neighboring small water feature. The hillside terraced garden was spectacular as was the skyline view of LA skyscrapers. Go ahead and close your eyes and maybe you can imagine it.

Tim took the class on through to the meadow garden which has replaced the turf on both sides of the front walkway from the street. The meadow is at its peak in March, April and May and looks pretty dreadful now–which is just as you would expect it to. The dead vegetation has been tidied up and Tim demonstrated how he uses a whirlybird spreader to broadcast seed to beef up the meadow for next year. Many plants are reseeding annuals or perennials but each year something new is added to keep it filled in.

It is here our class ended but Tim offers us the opportunity to walk down into the Palm Forest across the driveway to see the newly installed pond which will be the centerpiece for many children’s programs. There are old and new narrow sloped walking paths, not yet having handrails all the way down. My camera strap was irritating my now pretty sweaty neck so I tucked the camera in my bag and pulled out my phone for some photos. I am convinced now there must have been a garden fairy on my shoulder giving me that idea or I would not have a single shot of this amazing part of the garden.

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Palm Forest seen from the driveway

The Palm Forest is a roughly two acre sloping area originally planted with citrus and other Mediterranean plants. Poor drainage and heavy soil eventually caused their demise and a consultation with a landscape architect in the 1920s led the Robinsons to dedicate the area to tropical plants. Hundreds of King palms from Queensland, Australia were planted and now provide a shaded canopy 60+ feet high. It is not known if the palms were planted from seed or small plants but it is agreed that this grouping is now the largest of this species outside of Australia. The forest floor along the upper part of the walkway is planted with Clivia miniata. Although only a few remnants of it remain today, Harry Robinson tended a serious collection of ferns in this area.

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The new pond is very large and bordered with large boulders. A duck house awaiting a coat of stain rests on the corner of a small terrace. It is hoped that a few outliers from a duck colony living in nearby Franklin Canyon will take up residence in the pond and lay their eggs in the house once it is installed on the water’s surface.

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Amazing King palms
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Looking up from the forest floor, newly planted with sun perennials, near the pond to the house above

Insane hilly driving and lost photos notwithstanding this was a worthwhile visit. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time talking with one of the children’s program docents (for 26 years!) who encouraged me to come back and take the guided tour for more history of the garden and generally more time in each area.

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She also helped me with the purchase of this wonderful book written by Mr. Lindsay and colleagues which is chock full of photos of both the home and garden from its earliest days and of Mr. & Mrs. Robinson and their friends and family in addition to descriptions  of each garden area including plant lists. I will study it before I visit again so I can be on the lookout for interesting features and details which I’m sure I passed by this time.

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Harry (named after Mr. Robinson) the Kitchen Garden cat hopes to see you soon!

Virginia Robinson Gardens is located at 1008 Elden Way in Beverly Hills, California

All things Robinson, including a timeline of the garden’s development, great photography and information you need to visit at http://www.robinsongardens.com

 

 

 

 

 

A hot minute at the The Huntington…

In the many years I lived in Southern California I never visited The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino just north of Los Angeles. An overnight road trip to attend two educational lectures in the LA area, one at Rothenburg Hall on the grounds of this sprawling 120 acres of specialized botanical gardens, offered me a very brief window to view a small part of the gardens. The Huntington Library is a collection-based educational and research institution established by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. The institution also has an extensive art collection focused on 18th and 19th century European art and 17th to mid-20th century American art. When I say hot minute, I mean just that. I arrived at 1 pm, about 45 minutes before the lecture was to begin, and it was 92°! Fortunately I had checked the weather forecast before leaving my Central Valley home where temps have been comfortably in the 60s and 70s–which is pretty warm for us in mid-November.

Knowing I would not be able to do the world renown Japanese and Chinese gardens justice and that the Australian and Desert Gardens were a pretty good walk away, I stayed close to the Education & Visitor Center and took in what I could. To experience all the themed gardens and see the art and science exhibits to boot, I think all but the most casual visitor probably needs 2 full days and then to visit again at different times of the year as the scenery is ever changing.

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Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court

The 6.5 acre Brody California Garden fills an allée central to the Education & Visitors Center. My map tells me that my lecture hall is reached through the Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court so I locate that first to get both my bearings and my time frame available for wandering in perspective. The California Garden is home to 50,000 California native and dry climate plants, reflecting the area’s Mediterranean climate. The purple emerging foliage on the silvery Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea” is reflected in its name.

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Hedge sitting rooms on either side of the wide walk offer a little shady seating and a quiet place to enjoy the surroundings
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Rosemary used as a lush groundcover

At the end of the olive allée, the garden transitions to the historic core of The Huntington property.

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The Celebration Garden greets visitors with a shallow stream of recirculated water that empties into a rectangular pool. Plantings here, including those in pots, negate the common belief that drought tolerance equals dry and dull. Vibrant salvias and lavenders plus the varied hues of succulents, large and small, offer a riot of color.

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The Orbit Pavilion

Just beyond the Celebration Lawn is an outdoor installation which inaugurates the new /five initiative at The Huntington focusing on creative collaborations with other organizations. NASA/Jet Propulsion Labs is the first of five partners (over 5 years) and the project’s them was drawn from The Huntington Library’s aerospace history collection.

While standing in the middle of the pavilion, visitors hear sounds which represent the location of 19 NASA satellites orbiting and observing Earth’s surface, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans. NASA satellites say “hello” as they move across the sky by pairing the live trajectory data of each spacecraft to artistically created sounds. You can find extensive information about this unique installation and the initiative at http://www.huntington.org/orbit.

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From a distance The Orbit looks a little like a spaceship crashed on an alien world
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Amazing agave spike
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These agaves glow in semi-shade
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The outskirts of the Palm Garden and Jungle Garden

At this crossroads I elected to see the more European inspired gardens surrounding the original mansion, leaving the palms and their friends for another trip.

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The Huntington residence, now home to the European art collection, peaks out from behind a pocket garden anchored by mature trees

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A fanciful fountain anchors the little garden which is filled with an assortment of unusual, international plant material

Native to the dry regions of Argentina, the trunk of the white silk floss tree (Chorisia insignis) stores water in its bulbous, spiny trunk. At first I wasn’t sure that the flowers were actually part of this tree rather than a vine which had scrambled up it willy nilly.

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Otherworldly cones of the south African cycad, Encephalartos arenarius, planted at the tree’s base
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The North Vista from the mansion/museum to the San Gabriel Mountains–many tree sized camellias line either side of the lawn

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As you would expect of a home from this era, plantings of mature mixed shrubbery wind among broad expanses of lawn.

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The Bard himself, shaded by a rambling ‘Snow Goose’ rose welcomes visitors to his namesake garden
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The Shakespeare Garden features plants grown in the author’s time in addition to those mentioned in his literary works

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The 3 acre Rose Garden was originally created in 1908 for the private enjoyment of Mr. and Mrs. Huntington. It now contains more than 3,000 plants and 1,200+ different cultivated varieties. This arbor covered pathway leads to the Japanese Garden.

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Spectacular vista from the Rose Garden

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Rounding the house through the Rose Garden the expansive raised back terrace comes into view. The floribunda rose seen in the lower left is ‘Huntington’s 100’, named in honor of The Huntington’s Century celebration being held throughout 2019.

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Rosa ‘Huntington’s 100’

Huge hibiscus shrubs were tucked up against the house and still sporting their bright tropical blooms a month before Christmas.

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View from the back terrace

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Back almost full circle from the little garden where I started (you can glimpse it through the columns on the left) is this lovely covered area with a panoramic view of the grounds on two sides. Closing my eyes, I can see this exquisite space at dusk bathed in candlelight with gracious ladies in long gowns and men in tuxedoes milling about with brandies in hand, enjoying the coolish night air.

With the lecture time drawing near, I quick walk back to the glass domed garden court. It is fabulous inside with the air somewhat cooler and many places to sit for a bit.

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The program begins only moments after I get settled into my seat in the adjacent auditorium.

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James Brayton Hall, Chairman & CEO of the Garden Conservancy is speaking on America’s Outstanding Gardens as part of a quarterly lecture series sponsored by the California Garden & Landscape History Society. Although this organization is new to me, I have been a member of the Garden Conservancy for many years and attend as many of their California Open Days as I can fit in each year. Look back at my post A little Mendocino madness… for a look into the work of the Garden Conservancy or go directly to their website http://www.gardenconservancy.org for information on their mission and programs.

Mr. Hall’s slideshow featured photos of and commentary on many of the gardens that the Conservancy has helped to preserve for the benefit of the public, as well as his thoughts on what makes a garden outstanding and how the Conservancy goes about its preservation efforts. Of special interest to me were the historical perspectives on two of Garden Conservancy’s ongoing projects: the Gardens of Alcatraz and the Gardens at Palmdale in Fremont, CA–both on my road trip wish list. We also got a video introduction to a new project they are calling the Garden Film Documentation program. Short films are being produced telling the stories of gardens which have been the focus of the Conservancy’s preservation efforts. So far two have been produced and you can see a trailer for the film on the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Short Hills, NJ on the website. Check it out!

So much more to be seen at The Huntington than the small part I toured today–I always like to find out about the people behind these fabulous properties enjoyed by the public on a daily basis and I’ll try to do that before I return. I can see that each of the major themed gardens will be deserving of its own post. Reading about them beforehand helps me to not miss any of the high points because I’m caught up in the wonder of each new plant combination or fanciful garden structure.

Tomorrow I’m off to see the Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills and hear Tim Lindsey speak on Re-Wilding Your Garden–focusing on creating a garden with plants for wildlife, pollinators and people. This is a garden I’ve been trying see for years and have no idea what to expect from this 6 acre property in the heart of the city. See you soon!

Another day…another salvia

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Perhaps you remember this this box of precious finds from my post on the Spring Plant Sale at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Center stage is Salvia ‘Big Swing’, one of several  totally new to me salvias I saw that day. I got it in the ground in my front garden in early May but of course failed to photograph it. As I gave it a good large open space the photograph would have only shown the velvety leaves about 6″ tall surrounded by a vast sea of humus!

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Salvia ‘Big Swing’ mid October 2019

It has been an exciting summer venturing away from the many twiggy, small leafed salvias I’ve grown for several years. Selections from the greggii and microphylla species are very successful here and bloom almost year around given periodic cutting back as the blooms fade. Below, Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ is my enduring favorite with its nice mix of flowers and brighter green foliage. It has also been tough as nails in terms of weather and water.

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Grouping of S. ‘Mesa Azure’
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Masses of lavender blooms, each lit up by a tiny white blotch

Feeling the need to expand my salvia horizons into some of the more tender perennial species I having been picking up whatever I find on my gardening travels, usually just a single plant to trial as I did with ‘Big Swing’.

Salvia ‘Big Swing’ originated as a chance seedling between S. macrophylla and Ssagittata and was brought to gardens by noted Bay Area salvia expert Betsy Clebsch. I also purchased a Salvia sagittata but it has not been as successful for me as ‘Big Swing’ which purports to be more compact than its parent.

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First bloom stalk opens June 3

The foliage was fast growing to a lovely mound of large, almost chartreuse green arrow shaped leaves. Both the leaves and stems are soft and somewhat downy.  This is my second wave of branched flower stalks–the first flush having been cut back in August. The flowers are not especially numerous but prominently held high above the foliage.

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The saturated cobalt blue flowers are almost electric and their shape interesting in the salvia world. On a breezy day the blooms appear as dancing butterflies atop the wiry stems.

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‘Big Swing’ is a tender perennial having hardiness only to USDA zone 10a according to one of my references. Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, CA lists zones 8-10 which is more hopeful for me–could be dicey to overwinter in my zone 9 so I may cut back, mulch and cover before our cooler weather sets in. Even if I lose this one, I would gladly treat it as an annual just to be able to enjoy it every year. Finding it again locally will be a challenge but that is what road trips are for! On the other end of the weather spectrum reference notes that it may require some afternoon shade and adequate water in the sunniest climates. My ‘Big Swing’ is in true full sun (southern) until very late afternoon and has done fine within the parameters of my weekly automatic sprinkler schedule. Of note is that the parent species S. sagittata purchased and planted at the same time does get some afternoon shade and perhaps a bit more water. It is half the size and has very few flower stalks!

Salvia ‘Big Swing’ gets an A+ for performance in my garden. For interesting information about great salvias for your garden check out any of the books written by Betsey Clebsch including The New Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden (Timber Press 2003).

 

 

Dog and other woods…

The last trip to our cabin in Fish Camp near Yosemite National Park had a few hours for leisurely walks and Yatzhee! on the wraparound deck but was mostly about accomplishing chores necessary for the coming winter. We take the removable snow rails down from the deck and pull out the painted plywood snow doors for installation on two of our three entry doors. With central heat and a nice wood stove, we make use the cabin every few weeks throughout the cold season. It’s impossible to know whether we will have 10 feet of snow or none at all and so the smart money is to be prepared for whatever comes well in advance the the first icy flakes.

In my 2018 post Dogwood day…Memorial Day I featured bloom photos from the lone Cornus nuttalii, Pacific dogwood, on our property. I’ve since found that we have one other but certainly that’s not really the making of a dogwood forest, especially when the spring blooms bursting out along the highway to our place have almost a wedding like feel. On this visit the dogwood’s leaves are starting to show their fall color.

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Shaded by a high canopy of cedars, firs and pines it is a little hard to see the russet and purple tones creeping in.

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I got pretty excited when I saw a number of seed clusters well within my reach–maybe I can grow my own little dogwood forest! I texted my native plant mentor Ann for counsel and spent a bit of time on a few California native plant propagations sites to get a sense of the best way to go. The consensus was that directly sowing the seeds would probably be more successful than trying to start in pots. I was amazed to learn that germination could take up to 18 months!! Seed collection is #1 on my to-do list for our next trip–hopefully I won’t have missed my window of opportunity.

Number one of this trip’s list was to take care of our wood supply for the winter. We are able to cut firewood every year in specific amounts and from designated locations on public lands with US Forest Service permits. Every couple of years we supplement that supply with a load of cured and cut almond.

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In preparation for the new wood we shift the older wood remaining on the second set of wood cribs to the front one, making a nice open space for the new wood to be delivered. Even with two sets of hands this is a several hour job.

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The big truck makes the big dump

The weight of the wood truck (this one hauling 4 cords of wood stacked in the bed with vertical partitions separating each cord) dictates that the wood must be dumped at the TOP of our year old asphalt driveway–the truck could come down but would never be able to get back up!

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Our wood moving method involves Dave backing up our truck to the pile. We then fill up the bed, drive the truck down the hill and back it up near the wood cribs and unload it into another pile…three times.  A strong motivating factor is that we cannot drive off our property until the wood is moved.

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Then that big pile gets stacked onto the empty crib. The whole process takes about six or seven hours. Dave is strong and I am slow but steady. I am not sure I would have survived “the olden days”. He always gets the honor of placing the last log. With every stick tucked in its spot both piles get tarps and bungee cords to keep the wood dry. We use these two wood storage stacks to refresh the smaller wood supplies kept closer to the cabin. I am here to tell you this work makes even the most strenuous garden tasks seem lightweight!

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Missing these beautiful blooms until next spring (taken May 2018)