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)

 

 

Salvia mexicana ‘Ocampo’?

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I have had several failed attempts to successfully grow Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’–most recently a couple of years ago in my back garden close to the fencing so as to provide a green backdrop for other lower perennials planted in the foreground. As much as I would appreciate it, few plants die with a definitive autopsy report conveniently attached to their crispy brown stems. I am reasonably sure this last loss resulted from the species’ need for more shade and less of our death star summer sun.

Not to be defeated and with a few large open areas in the new front beds having a high shade canopy from the Raywood ash, I threw caution to the win and bought 3 wee 4″ pots in late March. The ‘Limelight’ cultivar is known for the chartreuse calyces which form in the fall signaling impending bloom. Unlike many of my other salvias which bloom year round given periodic cutting back, this one appears to be a true fall bloomer. As spring and summer passed the three little plants grew and grew. I did a little pinching back to promote bushiness but not having any experience of when they would actually bloom I was perhaps too timid, worrying about nipping off soon to be bloom spikes.

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Here you see one of the three, having grown to about 6 feet tall and 4 feet across. A second is directly behind it but on the other side of the ash’s canopy, near an open pathway which provides me access to the bed for tidying up and planting tasks. The inflorescences which eventually grow to 6 or 8″ in length started to form just a couple of weeks ago.

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The calyces on all of my plants lack ‘Limelight’s signature yellow-green color. A little research leads me to believe my plants may actually be Salvia mexicana ‘Ocampo’ which is known for its dark purple to almost black calyces. So for all my self congratulation through the summer at these flourishing specimens I STILL haven’t been able to successfully grow ‘Limelight’! Regardless of what I call it, this salvia is a hummingbird and bee magnet. Its sturdy structure sways in a light breeze and the dappled shade makes the bright green leaves dance. I love it!

The third of my plants was sited in slightly more sun. All got adequate water (they are are not especially drought tolerant) due to regular hand watering to supplement the minimal automatic irrigation of the bed and I’d give their planting positions an A+ for drainage.

While the last of the plants grew as large, if not larger, than the two in slightly more shade; many of the new leaves emerged somewhat curled. Even as the entire plant looked on death’s door it continued to put on new leaves with some emerging curled or crispy dark brown. Through this seemingly torturous growing process it too began the process of forming bloom spikes along with its neighbors. As the siting of the struggling plant pretty much obscured its closest and better performing neighbor, I gave in and cut it back to about 15″ a few days ago. It is starting to put on a few new leaves but they too are deformed–any thoughts out there in gardening land??

For those of you who would like to try Salvia mexicana, (‘Limelight’, ‘Ocampo’ or a more compact form ‘Lollie Jackson)’ give your plant sun to bright shade depending on your summer climate and well-drained rich soil. Protection from frost is essential although most are root hardy down into the 20°s. Your reward will be a summer of beautiful clean foliage followed by stunning fall flowers buzzing with nectar loving pollinators.

In other salvia news…

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This unidentified microphylla/greggii hybrid–maybe Heatwave ‘Blaze’–is putting on a fabulous show as you approach my front door.

 

Quilting in the Garden…

Every year on the last weekend in September, one of my favorite road trip nurseries hangs the works of local quilters throughout its grounds and welcomes quilters and gardeners alike for a weekend of shopping, classes and special exhibits.

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Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, California is a family owned full service garden center established in 1955 on a parcel of land home to dozens of majestic Valley oaks (Quercus lobata.) Once in the countryside, it is now surrounded by town and takes its role in this small community seriously, sponsoring many weekends of seasonal activities every year.

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Alden Lane’s gift shops, houseplants and administrative offices are housed in a beautiful residence like structure with a Country French vibe–offering lots of “yard” spaces to introduce planting schemes. I had always assumed this to have been an original home on the property but learned on this trip that despite the building’s vintage feel, it was built only 20 years ago.

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As you can clearly see, on this morning it was slightly overcast and very windy. The main nursery entrance is decorated with colorful quilts and seasonal pumpkins. The addition of huge swathes of dappled shade from the centuries old oaks made photography challenging.

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Almost every fall weekend event features this apple stand with several varieties of local apples for sale
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This long view over the annuals gives you an idea of the size of these wonderful oaks
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Featured Artist Sue Rasmussen’s work hangs high amongst the massive branches
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A little let up in the wind!
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Shopping at Fig Tree Quilts’ booth
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 Local quilters gift veterans with quilts made especially for them through the Quilts of Valor program–presentations were to be made later in the day
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One of several on site food vendors
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This little quilt is perfect for this little house

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If you could line up the far left of the top photo with the far right of the bottom photo you would have the full expanse of this oak branch which lies close to the ground. I can imagine having this unbelievable living sculpture as part of my garden would become a quiet place to sit in the shade and a magical climbing structure for anyone over 2 and under 90.

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Woo-hoo, hold onto your hats!
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Even the nursery’s selfie spot needed a wrap to take the chill off
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Rainbows in the trees

Despite bring pretty windblown and wishing I had brought more than a lightweight jacket, I spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds taking in the more than 250 fabric works of art ruffling in the breezes.

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I brought home a very small batch of goodies including a thyme leafed fuchsia with blooms no more than 1/4″ long

Alden Lane Nursery’s website http://www.aldenlane.com is full of information about upcoming events including October 12 & 13th’s Fall Festival. Their associated blog posts offer seasonal gardens tips and a useful monthly garden checklist. I am sure you will enjoy the wealth of gardening resources Alden Lane provides!

 

 

 

Is is fall yet?

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A late summer Lilium speciosum album in the front garden

Fall can be sort of a moving target in California’s Central Valley. Some years we pull out our hoodies in mid-October and others find us Christmas tree shopping in shorts. We are not without seasons–just not sure when to expect them to change throughout the year!

Whenever it gets here, fall is my favorite season in the garden. It is certainly not the most attractive as many plants, even those not naturally winding down their seasons due to shorter days and longer nights, look pretty peaked from the ravages of the hot and dry summer. Fall is the season symbolizing another year of work well done in the garden with a little time for reflection, planning and rest on the horizon. Our short, relatively mild winters make attention to the garden in fall even more critical.

This year our spring was cooler, longer and wetter than average and the summer days in the triple digits were fewer than many years–all in all a summer worthy of rejoicing. That being said, as I write this post temps for the next few days range from 89° to 98° with a definite cooling trend into the 70s at week’s end. The last couple of weeks we have had cooler early mornings well suited to getting going on fall garden tasks and some light winds which seem to have made the mosquitoes less active–always a plus.

Last year every available gardening minute from September through the end of the year was devoted to the last phase of the front garden’s lawn removal/bed replanting effort. The back garden was left to fend for itself–roses were never pruned, perennials not cut back, winter annual weed pre-emergent never scattered, and humsy mulch never refreshed. I think you get the picture…

Like the 5 year old who feels neglected amidst the excitement of a new baby in the house, my back garden has both pouted and gone wild. It’s time to get back to a more normal rhythm for both gardens and see what can be refreshed (or just plain salvaged) in hopes that after a little winter’s nap it will reward me with another year of fresh foliage or bright blooms.

First on my hit list are the vigorous clumps of Viola ‘Royal Robe’ which have all but taken over the shade bed adjacent the back patio. Below you see some of the smaller clumps nestled up against Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Queen’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’

fall 7

The hellebores can hold their own against this thug but many of the bed’s less substantial ground covers like the lime green foliaged Campanula ‘Dickson’s Gold’ are all but lost. Don’t get me wrong–I love the violets. I generally thin them drastically in the early fall as they are ready to reseed with the goal of keeping enough in the bed to enjoy the flowers without them turning into the playground bully. Without last year’s thinning, they reseeded prolifically and just about every open space in the long bed looked just like the above photo.

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It took me about 9 hours spread over several days to dig out every clump, large and small, figuring there was enough seed already dropped to have gracious plenty come back next year. Each one of the seed pods forming at the base of the plant contains dozens of seeds and I swear every single one germinates in this bed which stays relatively cool and moist. The clumps, even with the dirt shaken off the roots, filled almost four trash cans.

fall 6
Shade bed cleaned of violets!

I also trimmed back the sun scorched maidenhair ferns, cleaned up the iris foliage, trimmed off any hellebore foliage with snail damage and pulled off all but the freshest foliage from all the hardy geraniums. All that turned up soil resulting from the violet digging begged for a layer of enriching humus to be dug in. A light dusting of granular pre-emergent seemed warranted to minimize germination of any seeds churned up to the surface.

Dave did the heavy digging and lifting to remove two huge clumps of Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ from behind the rocks of the pool waterfall. They had originally been planted flanking the rock work in 2011 but quickly proved to be incompatible with that full southern sun location. Absent any other place to put them I dug them in behind the waterfall where they got a little shade from the boulders. When I later added some climbing roses to the fence they provided a nice foliage contrast at the base of the climbers–even though I was really the only one who even knew they were there! Fast forward to 2019 and the clumps are so large I have lost all ability to even stand at the base of the roses (wedged up against the back of the waterfall!) to do routine maintenance…and the dianellas, commonly called flax lilies, are still in too much sun to have pretty foliage. The plan was to dig them out, divide and replant in shadier locations.

fall 9
No easy feat to lift this clump out over the rocks and other mature plants

fall 8

Dave moved the first one into the shade of the pavilion for me and I set to pulling it apart! This one yield over 60 divisions–plenty for me to replant in my yard and pass along to gardening friends. Much of the literature about dianella indicates that they can be invasive as they spread by underground runners. My guess is that they probably need to be in good rich and moist soil to become a pest. Although my clumps grew quite large over many years each was very compact. The striped foliage of this species makes a nice contrast in areas of predominantly green foliage. Flax lilies bear small clusters of starlike blue flowers, followed by bluish purple berries, on narrow stems held above the foliage–not terribly showy. In a shady area of the replanted front garden I have added a grouping of Dianella ‘BluTopia’ which is a hybrid of Dianella prunina ‘Utopia’ and Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’–it will be interesting to see how this cousin of ‘Variegata’ will perform in a moister, shadier area.

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Dianella ‘BluTopia’

Each of the back gardens beds in turn will get a little love over the next few weeks. Working early in the morning and in easily managed chunks of tasks I hope to get through everything needing attention by mid-October.

fall 10

This small poolside bed anchored by a ‘Purple Pony’ ornamental plum needs only a light deadheading of the pink Sunblaze® miniature roses and ground hugging purple Salvia ‘Gleneden’ PPAF. Several large clumps of Aristea ecklonii on the far side were groomed soon after their early summer blooms faded. They are aggressive reseeders and I have learned to remove the spent flower stems religiously after a few seasons of digging scores of volunteers on my hands and knees. Almost done here–I’ll be on to the next bed soon!

I hope you are all enjoying your almost fall gardens–whether you are blessed with actual autumn weather or are just in a fall state of mind.

fall 12
A nodding agapanthus bloom bids summer adieu