Winter’s royalty…

I’m going to take a quick detour from the San Jose gardens posts because…it’s Amaryllis Potting Up Day! Yup, that’s in capital letters because at my home it is an actual holiday worthy event. For at least the last twenty years I have potted up quantities of Hippeastrum hybrids, commonly called amaryllis, in the fall. My amaryllis intentions have ranged from growing a few to use as part of Christmas tablescapes all the way to potting several hundred a season to fuel a small home-based business when I lived in Georgia. My Georgia home had a 400 sq. foot sunroom drenched with light from 8 foot high windows on three sides, offering a perfect indoor greenhouse in which to winter force all sorts of bulbs–a serendipitous set up which I know I will never have again. Given the sheer number of these bulbs I have forced over my adult life I was amazed to find I had only a few photographs in my files. I don’t know the cultivar on this one but I can just see the tables full of plants in the background and the year indicates it is from the days when my sunroom ‘greenhouse’ was alive with color in early December.

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The amaryllis we force to bloom at Christmas time are mostly from a broad category called (no hort degree needed here) Christmas Flowering. These varieties are natives to South Africa and their southern hemisphere origin makes them especially eager to pop out of dormancy. Within this category the bulbs are then subcategorized based on their height and flower size as Symphony (largest), Sonata and Sonatini. Singles and doubles, solids and marked varieties exist in all categories. Christmas Flowering amaryllis typically come into bloom 4-6 weeks from planting.

I hold over plants (that I have not given away) for forcing in the subsequent year so in any given year I have a combination of previous years’ bulbs and newly purchased bulbs–after New Year’s I’ll add a post on what to do with your spent bulbs. I like to try a couple of new varieties each year. This year I am growing ‘Wedding Dance’ (single white), ‘Rozetta’ (double mottled pale pink), ‘Blushing Bride’ (another pink), ‘Razzle Dazzle’ (striped red and white), ‘Merry Christmas’ (single deep red) and ‘Gervase’ (yet another single pink). I also have a few held over which have become orphaned from their tags so each will be a new surprise. I purchase my bulbs primarily from Van Engelen Inc. which is the bulk quantity pricing arm of John Scheepers. Both are easily found on your internet search engine. A note about those bulbs in boxes at the big box and grocery stores–your results will look successful to you just until you see an amaryllis grown from a top quality bulb grower. Mail order bulbs from reputable growers are typically shipped out to the purchaser within a couple of weeks of their late September harvest. They are full and firm with new roots popping out, not shrunken and dried out looking. There is no telling when the bulbs in the prepackaged units came out of the ground and whether they have been stored at the proper temperature in the interim. Well, actually you know they haven’t as newly dug bulbs that you are not ready to plant should be refrigerated at 50 degrees with good ventilation–not happening at the mass market outlets!

So below you can see that I have retrieved my pots of last year’s bulbs from their dark resting place (artificially induced dormancy) and, keeping each cultivar separate, dumped each pot’s contents into a large plastic bin.

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They have been unwatered and in the dark since mid July. Not every bulb will be viable. Below you can see the contrast between the fat one (happy face–good for another year) and its neighbor (compost bin bound).

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This group is the variety called ‘Wedding Dance’ and some of these bulbs have been forced for several years. After a while they just don’t have much left and need to be replaced.

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My pots have been cleaned and partially filled with fresh, good quality potting mix.

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I clean up any dead root material from the base of the bulb and work the bulb a bit into the partially soil filled pot. Amaryllis like to be in a cozy pot with about 1/4 of the bulb above the final soil level. The bulb nose and shoulder above the soil prevent water from collecting in the sprout and rotting your bulb. Although you can force these bulbs sitting directly on pebbles with their roots submerged, bulbs planted in soil must have good drainage.

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Adding potting mix to the appropriate level.

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Giving this group a good drink and time to properly drain.

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The potting up date I select is based on how I will be using my plants and keeping the 4-6 weeks to bloom time in mind. Gifts for a ladies’ lunch the first week of December demand an earlier potting up date than having a beautiful bloom show for my Christmas Eve table. This year I will do a second mass planting 2-3 weeks from now to accommodate late December needs. I work each variety as a group and label every pot with the cultivar name and the date. In a perfect gardening world I would plant each variety over the course of several weeks so that I would have all my chosen varieties at varying stages of maturity, extending my bloom season. If anything every gets to be perfect in my gardening world you will be the first to know.

The Royal Dutch amaryllis is a second broad category you will find in catalogs and online. These originate in the Netherlands and bloom 8-12 weeks after planting. I have, with difficulty, forced these to bloom by Christmas by giving them ample bottom heat and a much warmer than average environment. Most bulb growers would prefer to make only a single shipment to each customer and thus send both kinds of bulbs out in mid-October, making holiday bloom a challenge. Probably the most well-known amaryllis in the retail market, a mid to pale pink called ‘Appleblossom’ actually falls in the Royal Dutch group–I have to think that its tendency must be more to the 8 weeks than the 12 weeks to bloom time. Two years ago I planted a container with 10 bulbs called ‘Hercules’ after a late bulb shipment (apparently a European harvest issue) the first week in November and I had this wonderful display for Valentine’s Day!

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Each bulb bore multiple 24″ stalks and the blooms measured easily 7-8″ across. It was such a breath of spring to come!

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‘Hercules’ is going to become MY Valentine’s Day amaryllis. It was almost May before the many waves of bloom stalks were finally spent. I lifted the bulbs and potted them up for gardening friends to hold over for the next year. A fresh dozen bulbs will refill my ceramic container and have two to spare for individual pots.

Because this large (20″ X 12″ X 8″ deep) container is actually a bottle cooler it has no drainage. I add a 2 inch layer of pebbles to the bottom and will be very careful with watering.

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A few inches of potting mix to make the bulb a cozy nest, a precise arrangement for fit, filling out the spoil to the bulb shoulders, and voila!

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All my newly planted amaryllis get a temporary home by my south facing dining room window. ‘Hercules’ gets a special spot on a heat mat to help him along. As the weather cools I will move them up to the loft to capture the natural movement of the warm air. About that time my second planting can assume their position in the dining room. As everything is nicely dampened now I will wait until the stems peek up to water again. The bins make it easier to rotate the pots’ positions for more even warmth from the sun.

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As with every year, I can’t wait to see the first bit of green emerge from these lifeless looking globes. Soon there will be a chill in the air and I will once again pay court to winter’s royalty.

Tech meets (very little) turf…

The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days final California offerings for 2017 were three suburban gardens in San Jose, the heart of the Silicon Valley. The majority of the California Open Days occur in April and May and so I was surprised to see San Jose on the docket for September. Although the previews for these three gardens led me to feel they would not particularly fit my personal garden aesthetic they were intriguing enough to point me toward the freeway and in close enough proximity to each other to make it an easy trip. All three promised a mix of garden materials that would not be as summer weary as my those in my own garden!

THE GARDEN OF CEVAN FORRISTT

From street side it is immediately obvious that this garden is not just another neat suburban garden on a narrow street of bungalows of various ages and sizes. In fact, I am not even sure there is actually a house amongst the formidable walls, stones, urns and troughs. Cevan (pronounced Kevin) lives his garden design, embracing concepts and experiences gained from extensive Near and Far East travels and his background in stage set design. His highly stylized garden is probably not a garden suited for a young family or those of us who may need firmer footing but it clearly reflects his personality, playfulness and ‘more is more’ embrace of life.

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The patinaed iron gates confirm his garden as his private sanctuary.

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His mail is delivered in this unique repurposed copper box.

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The front garden is a maze of narrow walkways, many with interesting stone accents.

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Fortress like stacked stone acts as walls for the paths. There is almost no place in the front garden where it is possible to back up to get a wide shot.

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Succulents and perennials top walls and fill gigantic cement troughs. Much of the plant material is closer to eye level than the ground!

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The garden has a wonderful assortment of Coleus, primarily in pots. A  stone wall defines their own narrow garden room. It is hard to remember where I have gone left or right–there are vignettes, urns, statuary and decorative found objects at every turn.

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A cushioned stone bench provides a view of the peaceful koi pond. Above you see a young bald cypress planted directly in the pond. From the bench you get a narrow view of the Forristt home. Originally a modest Victorian cottage built from a kit around the turn of the century, it is clad on almost every surface with reclaimed materials and artifacts to disguise its nature and create the aura of an Asian dwelling.

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Traversing the pond on raised concrete piers to yet new views of the garden  I feel compelled to explain that I have now walked no more than 15 feet in from the from the entry gate–there is not a square foot unstructured or lying fallow.

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In this very small space exist areas of full sun, dappled shade and complete shade. The perimeter of the garden, front and rear, has been planted with very tall screening plants and narrow trees, virtually eliminating any views outside the garden and reinforcing its air of mystery and privacy.

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Stone, recycled and salvaged artifacts act as walls, pedestals and planters.

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The well shaded rear garden gate offers additional layers of detail.

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Very few of us would dare to nurture a towering stand of bamboo in our gardens–Cevan explained that this variety does not run aggressively.

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A number of colorful umbrellas offer high shade in the rear garden. Their poles are cleverly anchored in holes in large stones and in one case, a tree stump.

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I loved these large urns tiled with broken blue and white china.

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Ok–so this has really been a lot to take in! This very personal retreat like garden is not everyone’s cup of chai but there are strategies and elements here that when used on a less over the top scale will make a sanctuary space for anyone who embraces Asian design. If you would like to know more about Cevan Forristt Landscape Design and see  additional photos (far better than mine) check out http://www.forristt.com or the write up in the book Private Gardens, pictured below.

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In  my next post I will take you to the Holden Garden which was designed by Cevan Forristt to meet the couple’s specific desires for an entertaining space inspired by global travel.

 

 

Autumn musings…

As spring is the most anticipated season to those cold weather gardeners whose labors lay under a blanket of winter ice and snow, autumn is the season that hot and dry climate gardeners eagerly await. And we don’t wait patiently either. We grouse, we commiserate, we complain daily about the soaring temperature, crispy plantings and the lack of rain–you would think we have actually forgotten where we live. Somehow it always seems to be ‘the worst summer ever’.

Autumn is my favorite season. Autumn is the busiest season in my garden. It is the time to reflect on how first season in the ground plantings have fared–declaring both winners and losers; plan for additions to beds and borders; complete essential cutting back and dividing of perennials; refreshing the humus topdressing everywhere and a myriad of routine maintenance tasks. If I have a productive autumn my spring must-dos are reduced exponentially. With various injuries having kept me out of the garden since late spring for all but the least physically demanding jobs, there is a great deal to be done!

Over the last couple of weeks our temps have dropped down into the eighties and nineties, allowing for a human being to actually be out in the garden for more than 30 minutes at a time. Take a peek at what’s going on.

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Working this wide front bed entails dividing dozens of bearded iris–over 20 cultivars which were last divided 4 years ago. July and August are more preferred months for iris division but it is simply too hot and thus my iris seem to have acclimated to September division and replanting. Multiple salvia cultivars await their final pinch back and the Santa Barbara daisy–now reduced to wee fist sized clumps–had totally obscured the soil.

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I am declaring Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ a winner! I found 3 bedraggled 4″ pots last fall and dug each one into a different spot in the garden, hoping for the best. This is one which is sited in full on all day sun.

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Iris divisions are settling in; asters and salvias have been neatened up. Not much to look at right now but most of these perennials will bounce right back for another short bloom before shutting down for winter in late November.

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The driveway circle bed completed early spring 2017 is looking great. The most time consuming care this bed has required through the summer is the periodic removal of the crape myrtle suckers whose growth was no doubt stimulated by all the shovel work around their huge roots systems.

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Disappointingly, none of the Correa ‘Carmine Bells’ in this new bed survived. Three were planted last November and grew steadily through the rainy season and spring. Above you can see that one has already been removed, the one in the foreground is flat dead and the one behind and to its right is starting to fail. Below you see a shot of the same plant in March of this year.

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I guess DEAD assumes it to be in the loser category for me. I have read a lot about these drought tolerant Australian natives trying to discern what happened. Ruling out overwatering (they grew like gangbusters during out wettest season) I am leaning toward too much reflected heat from the street and driveway. They are in a morning only sun position as they require but just inside the shade canopy and the literature does caution against reflected heat. The three Correa were the only plants lost in the new bed–any thoughts about the cause?

I’ve made my first two additions to the 12′ X 140′ side bed. The burgundy foliage and rigid form of Berberis ‘Helmond Pillar’ is a good contrast to the weeping grey-blue ‘Tolleson’s Blue’ juniper as its backdrop. It’s tucked behind the boulder Dave dragged out from under the juniper’s canopy (see my Labor Day post). Around the corner I dug in a $2 (yes, two dollars!!) Grevillea ‘Pink Pearl’ I picked up on my Sacramento trip. It looks like a drop in a very big bucket now but literature puts it at 6′ X 6′ in average garden conditions. My Virginia and Maryland travels in June have cemented my goal to get out of the small leafed, medium green rut and strive for more variety in foliage shape, size and color. Mature trees and compacted soil are making this new lawn-free bed a challenge to plan and plant–look for a spring post when the project is completed.

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Just to make sure there is no rest this fall and winter, we have targeted another lawn area. The lawn has been chemically killed and awaits a man (or woman, I guess) with a shovel to remove the remnants. The foreground of this photo is the site for my Little Free Library to be added along with a sturdy bench. Stay tuned on this area also!

A couple of other winners from this year–

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Aster novi-belgii ‘Henry I Purple’ has been blooming non-stop since June
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Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’ has almost white foliage and sporadic small dark purple blooms–one of the smallest cultivars of Texas ranger

One of a few staging areas for special finds, potted up divisions of perennials and crate after crate of iris in holding mode ready to go into new bed areas. I am really excited about the weeping redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’–gorgeous heart shaped burgundy leaves! Autumn is the best time for planting but the worst time to find plant material so I accumulate specimens throughout the summer months in areas I can count on them having some afternoon shade and a nearby hose.

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A mixed bed in the back garden still sports nice blooms–mostly small flowered salvias.

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This Salvia ‘Fancy Dancer’ was cut back about 3 weeks ago and has rewarded me with fresh green foliage and another nice bloom cycle.

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No horticultural degree needed to know I have totally lost control of this climbing rose, ‘Morning Magic’. Yes, that is a cane about 6 feet long laying horizontally. Definitely moving this tidying up task toward the top of my list.

Autumn is my favorite season. Autumn is the busiest season in my garden. That just about covers it.

 

Sacramento’s WPA Rock Garden…

Long before I started blogging about gardens, my own and those of others, I visited public gardens in every city I found myself–I used to sit down with the local telephone book; now my iPad miraculously organizes all a city has to offer. A recent trip to Sacramento left me some open time and my tablet provided a few smaller garden suggestions that looked as though they might be a perfect fit for my limited touring time. The WPA Rock Garden’s story turned out to be much more a tale of what wasn’t there rather than what was.

The WPA Rock Garden is a scant one acre tucked between Fairytale Land and the Duck Pond north of the Sacramento Zoo in William Land Park. The Works Progress Administration was a Depression-Era work relief program put into place in 1935 by Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal. The WPA put unemployed craftspeople to work on projects to improve communities all over the country–their efforts often recognizable by the use of indigenous building materials, commonly the local stone. The WPA Rock Garden was constructed in 1940 as a place of quiet respite within the park.

The first challenge was recognizing the garden–no signage was evident. I had seen  photos of a lovely sign erected in the late 1990s but I clearly missed it. The meandering rock work, the signature of many WPA projects, was my only clue that I was in the right place. Not surprisingly, the garden was in poor condition at the end of a very hot and dry summer.

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I found my way in via this path. The hillside gradually slopes up to the back of the zoo (chain link fence).

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There was virtually no color to be found, even among the scruffy stands of native and non-native drought tolerant plantings. You see all of the color I saw except some white oleander just too high to photograph.

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There were a number of bench areas to relax. I enjoyed a respite from the 95 degree heat on the shaded curved bench, closed my eyes and could envision what this garden could have been and still could be with its pleasing layout, meandering paths and multiple vistas.

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Sort of by accident I found myself at what I think is intended to be the entrance to the garden.

 

A monument to Charles Swanston, one of the late 1800s pioneering businessman of Sacramento sits on a knoll to the back of this grassy area. I assume at some point water filled the pool at its base and then flowed down this rock raceway. Dry as a bone now, just like the rest of the garden.

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This cooling view is directly across the street from the garden and the memorial to Mr. Swanston–known to residents as the Duck Pond.

It was in my research into the Swanston monument that I was drawn into a more recent history of this once remarkable garden space. If you Google WPA Rock Garden and just look at the IMAGES you will see a garden that bears no resemblance to the garden I visited. Exuberant bursts of color pop from mixed evergreen and deciduous backdrops. Stands of herbaceous and woody perennials line the paths. Blooming vines scramble over the pergolas and children pose standing atop large rocks. Where was THIS garden–what happened here? Numerous newspaper articles, magazine articles and blog posts, mostly from the early 2000s to about 2012, extol the pleasures of this unique space. I even find a feature article filled with photos in Pacific Horticulture from April 2005–PH is pretty much the gold standard of horticulture publications for me. It was from these articles that I learned the real secret of the WPA Garden and her name is Daisy Mah.

Like many WPA era projects, the original garden declined once funds were depleted and the area remained neglected for decades. Horticulturalist Daisy Mah started her career with the Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation in 1980 as the lead for the McKinley Park Rose Garden. After tiring of the monoculture of the rose garden she transferred to the William Land Park in 1988 and took the WPA Garden on as her own. At that time it was little more than an overgrown patch of ivy. Her first vision was that of a rock garden filled with alpine plants. The realities of Sacramento’s hot dry climate set in and she recognized that drought tolerant plants from the Mediterranean climates of the world would have a greater chance of success. This was pretty radical thinking in the late 80s and early 90s when public gardens (and many home gardeners) were all still living in a pretty starry eyed world of roses, hydrangeas and bedding plants—and we thought water was a never ending commodity. Over the ensuing 25 years Daisy Mah created and maintained the garden so beautifully represented in all those articles. In October 2013 Daisy Mah retired, moving on to travel and I am sure other garden pursuits. The last 4 years have not been good for many gardens in hot and dry California and public gardens in my state are under special scrutiny to be good stewards of resources. Daisy’s garden has surely suffered the loss of her passion, vision and daily ministrations.

Check out these two links for great photos of the WPA Rock Garden at its finest.

http://www.gardensforgoldens.com/2012/09/29/inspiration-from-the-wpa-rock-garden

http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/daisy-may-and-the-wpa-garden

Exploring the history of Sacramento’s WPA Rock Garden has affirmed for me the importance of local gardeners taking on the advocacy role for their community garden sites–they are living symbols of our never ending efforts to surround ourselves with nature’s beauty. The WPA stone structures endure and offer a template from which a garden may rise again. We all need a little help sometime!

 

 

 

 

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in September

My monthly treks to Filoli in Woodside draw to a close with this last visit. It has been amazing to walk alongside this historic garden’s journey each month, observing its seasonal rhythm and getting behind the scenes insight into what it takes in time and labor to keep it going. The garden’s class and event schedule is on my radar now and I plan to make many more visits, even if not in such a regular pattern.

I mentioned last month the sharp decrease in garden visitors from the throngs I encountered March through July and today was not much different. Although very few garden lovers were strolling the grounds, the garden was alive with staff and volunteers checking tasks off their to-do lists as they readied the estate for fall.

Preparing for Fall is the focus for our last morning garden walk. It was easy to observe almost every bullet point on the fall checklist instructor Mimi Clarke had included in our notebooks. Things to do around the garden include:

Planting new trees and shrubs. Cool weather and more rain make autumn the ideal time to plant. Roots will have enough time to establish before winter cold sets in and they will have a head start on spring. These tiny Irish yew trees were started from cuttings and grown up in the Filoli greenhouse. The goal here is to eventually have a continuous row to act as a screen for behind the scenes work area.

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Planting perennials and cool season annuals. The bed below was home to pink petunias through the summer and is now replanted with seedlings for ornamental cabbages.

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Autumn is the time for lawn repairs and renovation.

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A small window remains for perennial plants to be trimmed back and neatened up. Too much later in the season and any new flushes of growth will be damaged by cold. The goal is to have any new growth hardened off before winter dormancy sets in.

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Cutting garden beds are neatened up; cutting back appropriately to the specimen; leaving seed pods or berries to feed winter birds or complete removal and composting of spent annuals.

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Some herbaceous perennials, like these peonies below, are left to continue ripening. The flowering shoots have already been cut back to new growth.

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The time is right to plan out any other maintenance tasks or projects, keep close watch on the irrigation system, making changes as weather and moisture requires, and clean up dead and diseased foliage throughout the garden.

Since we last walked the area housing the spent potted daffodils from spring, the bulbs have been knocked out of the pots and cleaned up for winter storage and the pots cleaned and readied for late winter planting.

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While much of the Filoli Cutting Garden is in its normal seasonal decline, one area burns brightly–the dahlia bed. Last month we observed the foliage making itself known, most plants from 12-24” tall. The first pinching to promote strong branching had just been done. Here is today’s look.

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And a few favorites–

Dahlia 'Gits Attention'
Dahlia ‘Gits Attention’

 

 

In a few short weeks these too will be done and the tender tubers lifted to be stored for the winter. The thought of having this fresh and vibrant late summer color has inspired me to try a few dahlias next season!

Another Cutting Garden inhabitant caught my eye. The bold fuchsia of this Gomphrena ‘Firecracker’ draws attention from afar.

 

Many of the cutting garden flowers used in the house and Visitors Center are grown inside wire “greenhouses” to protect their delicate blossoms from pests and critters. The wire sides of these enclosures offer many opportunities to showcase annual vines. This one caught my eye. It is in the morning glory family and called Ipomoea lobata or Mina lobata. Common names found in reference material include exotic love vine, Spanish flag and firecracker vine. I know my gardening BFF Judi will love this one! I am adding ‘try a few annual vines’ to my gardening bucket list. Seed packets are inexpensive and the commitment much smaller than to a perennial vine.

 

On the subject of vines–this one was not yet blooming when I passed it last month on my way from the Sunken Garden to the Potting Shed. This month I could see it all the way across the Walled Garden and had to make a detour from our walk about to snap a few photos!

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Commonly called silver lace vine, Fallopia baldschuanica or Polygonum aubertii, is an easy going perennial vine with a wild heart. It is fast growing (12-15 feet per year) and will scramble over anything in its path–in this case it cloaks a long brick wall at least 15 feet in height.

Begonias were on display throughout the Walled Garden, both in the ground and in pots.

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As we were heading for the Area 2 Shop and to check out the large scale compost operation which deals with all the spent annuals and pruning bounty, I stuck my head into the Garden House, an ornate brick structure which is the focal point of the Walled Garden–the only time I have seen it without an activity in progress.

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With french doors on all four sides this conservatory style outdoor room offers vistas of both the Walled Garden and the Sunken Garden.

The ambiance and architecture was very different at Area Shop 2–the hub for all activity in the Sunken Garden, the Terraces to the west of the manor house and the Meadow.

 

The Gentlemen’s Orchard is the last stop on our prepping for fall tour. This 10 acre orchard of mixed fruits lies to the east of the parking lot and was established in 1918 with 1,000 trees to provide the family and their guests with a year-round selection of dessert fruit. Today 150 surviving trees are being preserved along with a newly planted collection of rare period fruit cultivars. We sampled apples and grapes as appetizers to our lunch!

 

Back at our classroom we celebrated our ‘graduation’ with snacks and lunch. Each participant had the opportunity to present a project of their choice, putting new-found knowledge to work in solving real life garden issues. Projects ran the gamut from landscape renderings to a fledgling app which would send alerts to your smartphone based on your garden maintenance schedule. Our farewell task was to pot up our rooted cuttings from the August class session. These eight monthly sessions not only provided a good garden education foundation but an interesting look into other gardeners’ challenges and successes. While we may toil in our personal gardens mostly as individuals (so far not even my best friends have offered to come over and pull weeds with me) we also benefit hugely from our local and regional garden communities. In that way even our most solitary of efforts can become a valuable source of inspiration and fellowship.

So good-bye to and from Filoli for now–we’re best friends now and I get wait until we have a chance to get together again.

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Now THIS is a Labor Day…

Labor Day weekend—last hurrah of summer–has been celebrated the past few years at our cabin in Fish Camp just outside Yosemite National Park’s south entrance. The Fish Camp Volunteer Fire Association holds its annual fundraiser at which residents of this tiny community enjoy one another’s company and live entertainment, eat a great meal and become spirited bidders in the live auction. This year this small enclave of residents and vacationers found itself in the national news with the drama of the Railroad Fire which broke out on August 29th just south of Fish Camp near the historic Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad. Highway closure and mandatory evacuations were immediately put in place and remain as of today. The news photo below shows the fire roaring just south of the Tenaya Lodge with the General Store and old gas station in the foreground. Our place is in the trees behind the structures and in front of the fire.

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The immediate and heroic response of multiple firefighting agencies–both local and traveling from other parts of California–in the first two days saved our small area of homes. Seven structures very close to the fire’s starting point were lost and some damage done to the beloved Sugar Pine Railroad’s historic railcars. The developed area of Fish Camp is now surrounded by a ‘cold line’ from which to fight any additional flare-ups. Unfortunately the fire continues to march to the east and southeast of Fish Camp and is now estimated at about 10,000 acres, 23% contained, with over 800 firefighting personnel in play. Additional areas have been evacuated, the highway remains closed and the local utility faces steep challenges in its attempt to restore power to affected areas. There is no expression of gratitude equal to the efforts of these firefighters and my every thought is focused on their safety.

So, here in the hot valley for the holiday weekend, my husband decided to tackle a little ‘rock relocation’ we have been talking about for a couple of weeks. In June 2016 we removed lawn from several very large areas on our corner lot. Previous posts gave you a peek at the replanting last fall & early spring 2017 of the large roundish bed nestled between our two driveways. The window to work the ground even a little and replant closes here in late May and so the last area has simply remained dirt (and spurge) throughout the summer. It is a very long and narrow side whose curving front connects to the north side of one driveway.

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Three Bradford pear trees and this large weeping juniper, most likely ‘Tolleson’s Blue’, will remain as anchors to the bed as will several podacarpus tucked up against the fence. These mature trees provide our back garden with privacy and some sun protection for plants in the back which rest in their canopy. They also present tremendous challenges to doing much soil amendment and even planting anything larger than a gallon size can. Rather than preplanning what goes where my landscape philosophy may end up being finding where we can dig a reasonable sized hole and THEN decide what to put in it!

There are two huge granite boulders up against the fence under the weeping juniper and it is MOVING DAY for the smaller one! Now, sweet Dave and I have moved several other very large rocks in the garden in the last few years and our process has seen some refinement over time. For the first rock (and smallest) we convinced a friend who thought he had come for Sunday dinner that he would provide just enough extra manpower that he and Dave could muscle it to its new resting place. I am not sure he has ever accepted another Sunday afternoon invitation…

#2 rock signaled the start of the rock moving equipment acquisition–we bought a pry bar and managed to lever the rock, one side after the other, to its new home. That worked very well after realizing that me sitting on the pry bar was only effective until the rock moved and took the pressure off the bar…

We got pretty serious with rock #3–our largest effort to that point–digging out around it to allow the pry bar underneath and a thick nylon rope to be looped several times. Tied that puppy to the pick up and dragged it forward 3 feet. This Sunday afternoon spectacle brought out quite a few neighbors who, I am sure, thought we were nuts.

So that brings us to Labor Day 2017. Maybe you are thinking–why are these people moving these rocks?? The whole landscaping with groups of large granite rocks is kind of a “thing” here–sort of a companion to the mature olive tree brought in as a focal point. The rock people (that’s a real job) load ’em up on the flatbed and come equipped with a crane to set them into place according to the landscape designer’s plan. The rocks act as focal points and are great starting points around which to build plant groupings. After almost 20 years, this garden’s landscape has matured to the point that many of our large rocks are totally hidden under mature shrubs–so we’re just bringing them out into the light again. In the case of what we will now refer to as the Labor Day rock, it will take up some real estate which used to be turf near (no longer under) the weeping juniper and decrease the need for additional digging to add pant material which may well be covered by the juniper’s arms in another couple of years.

Check it out!

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First challenge…avoid running over the sprinklers.

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Notice we have upgraded from nylon rope to a chain…

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Hope to now pass the chain under the rock rather than around.

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Getting ready for another go.

Labor Day6Woo-hoo!

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A few positional adjustments and we’re there. A little digging in tomorrow after dinner will help it settle in.

Labor Day 4 A man, a chain and a rock–now that’s a love story, huh?

Thank you to all who labor, making contributions to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our nation—whether by keeping us safe from fire and flood, working the land to feed us or teaching our children; the future of this country is in your hands.

 

 

 

 

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in August

Filoli was eerily quiet as I arrived for my monthly class in this quintessential country estate of times gone by. The forecast was for a day in the low 70s which for me would be a relief from a summer with weeks on end of temps surpassing the 100 degree mark. Unlike the efforts of many home gardeners who are about ready to call it quits by this time of year, Filoli’s formal beds benefit from the June changeout of plant material from spring to summer (and staff to make it happen…I must have misplaced my own staff) and were bright, bold and thriving!

The play of the morning sun turns the sea of orange zinnias to gold! The bold color scheme of the Sunken Garden almost glows in full sun under blue skies.

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The blue mealy cupped salvia and lavender statice, barely past seedling stage last month, have come into their own. All of the annual flowers seen here are started from seed and grown out in the estate greenhouses.

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This butterscotch colored Amaranthus was interesting. Commonly called amaranth or love lies bleeding, there are many ornamental varieties as well as whole grain varieties used as a food crop. Most of the ornamental ones I have seen are in the red and burgundy tones–slipped my mind to ask our instructor, Mimi Clarke, later in the day for the cultivar name.

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I also enjoyed seeing the pops of white along the northwest wall provided by really nice stands of Cleome. A taller variety, the flowers topped 5 feet. I am going to find a sunny spot in the back of one of my borders to sow a packet or two of these next spring.

The garden and gift shop area was dressed for late summer also. The plants for sale often mirror what is prominent in the garden at any given point–today was a bit of an exception with this nice display of succulents.

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My usual route through the Walled Garden to my potting shed classroom allows me to check in on those disappointing begonias I noted last month. They have filled enough now to give me a grudging smile.

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The less formal areas southeastern areas of the garden reflect more of the late summer doldrums all gardeners experience: perennials not quite fully cut back in hopes of encouraging an second flush of bloom, cutting garden annuals nearing the end of their prime time and roses looking like they have had a long, hot summer. Every month I find these areas to be a comfort. Even with a hard working staff there are always more maintenance tasks than time and hands to do them–just like my garden!

A highlight this month where the clumps of naked ladies blooming everywhere! The bulbs of Amaryllis belladonna and Lycoris squamigera both produce straplike leaves which die back in late spring, followed by long naked stalks topped with clear pink blooms.

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I believe these to be the Amaryllis rather than the Lycoris due to the symmetry and more pointedness of the petals and the color of the stalks but I wouldn’t put money on it! They are in areas clearly visible from the paths but not close enough to examine on hands and knees without walking into the planted areas. Both plants are great naturalizers and resent being moved. They were very popular with 19th and 20th century gardeners and remain so today–although many folks who have them ‘inherit’ them with their property rather than having sought them out to add to the garden.

Propagation is today’s classroom and garden walk topic. As we had covered seed collecting earlier we would concentrate on asexual propagation today with our hands on focus being propagation by cuttings. The major methods of asexual propagation are cuttings, layering, division and budding/grafting. Propagation by cuttings involves rooting a severed piece of the parent plant; propagation by layering flip flops the process by rooting a part of the parent plant and then severing it. Propagation by division is accomplished by digging up the parent plant and separating it into several parts or separated off plantlets that have set down roots away from the parent plant; budding and grafting allow you to join two plants from different varieties. Excellent written material walking us through each of these propagation methods is included in our class notebooks–I have propagated by division countless times but have little experience with the other three techniques.

Mimi’s go-to advice of knowing your plant and using good references is especially apt as you try your hand at propagation. A plant’s basic genetic and structural properties can point you to the method and time at which it can be most successfully propagated. The fibrous crowns of daylilies are perfect to tease off new plants by division while a plant with a tap root like Queen Anne’s lace cannot be propagated in this fashion. Even the seasoned professional gardening staff at Filoli consult their reference materials to find out the specifics for the plant they seek to reproduce. One of her recommended text is the American Horticultural Society’s tome Plant Propagation which is well organized by plant and written at a practical level for a non-scientist–good step by step photos also.

So today we will take a look at Filoli’s propagation set up, take some cuttings from the estate and prepare them just as the staff gardeners would. The hope is that they will be sufficiently rooted for us to pot them up to take home in September.

Before we head out into the garden we get a quick primer on rooting media and containers. Filoli gardeners construct propagation flats, sized perfectly to sit two deep on the tables in the propagation house (prop house), but any box that will provide suitable drainage can be adapted. The rooting media (soil) should be clean, porous enough for root aeration and drainage but also capable of water and nutrient retention. An easy mix to start with would be 50% peat moss and 50% perlite–dampened, mixed and pressed into your rooting container. Let’s head into the garden!

We stop outside the propagation house to see what is hanging out in the cold frames. Cuttings which have rooted well are potted up (usually to 4″ pots) and moved outside to acclimate. There are a number of cold frames throughout the ‘working’ areas of Filoli and at any given time they contain a mixture of potted up rooted cuttings, divisions and grown out plants waiting to be switched out in the display areas or bound for the retail shop.

Inside the propagation house, pots and flats–check out Filoli’s perfectly sized wooden rooting boxes–are arranged on the concrete tables on either side of the structure. These tables are original to the prop house, which dates very early in the estate’s history. The tables provide bottom heat to the cuttings by means of a piped hot water system tucked up under the table top–also original and still working well. Overhead misters and fans provide the ongoing constant moisture needed for root development. Temperature of the rooting media is monitored by a thermometer in the box or pot and adjustments are made to the climate as needed. Everything is labeled with the plant name, date and often where the particular cuttings were taken in the garden.

Our next stop was one of the large greenhouses adjacent our classroom–this one houses many of the potted tropicals that rotate through the house and a host of succulents plus anything else that just needs a temporary home inside. We are catching this house at a time just past the last large annual changeout (June) and before flats are seeded in the fall with next year’s spring annuals. Mimi tells us that much of what we see today will have to be moved in a month or two out to house hundreds of flats of newly germinated annuals.

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The greenhouse features a wide center walkway going from doors on either side. The perimeter window walls have permanently fitted table space. The double wide center table seems to only allow access from one long side and it initially appears very hard to reach anything more than an arm’s length away. I was fascinated to find that this very wide and long (maybe 30 feet long and 15 feet wide?) table sits on a system of galvanized pipes that allow it to be rolled from side to side with little more than one person’s effort–thus eliminating the need for a walkway on both sides and increasing the overall storage space.

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Additional cold frames are found on both sides of this greenhouse. In the winter months they will be covered to prevent heat loss.

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In the center of the above photo you can see pots of young Taxus baccata ‘Stricta’, the Irish yew, which is one of Filoli’s signature plants. Prominent in the original estate landscape, many of them on the grounds are decades old and there is a constant need for replacements. The original yews were started from cuttings taken from trees at Muckross, the Bourn family estate in Ireland. The cuttings were then planted at Mr. Bourn’s Empire Mine until Filoli was ready for landscaping. Every Irish yew replacement is grown from a cutting of one of the original plants.

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We came upon this artful stack of wine boxes in the covered work area behind our classroom–looks like some quick minded gardener had snagged them to use as boxes for rooting cuttings and starting seeds. Some of my classmates opine that they were perfect in size and shape and muse about how they could explain to their spouse that they need to buy all their favorite wines by the case now so they could have these great boxes as a bonus!  On to a lightening fast lunch so we can get back out in the garden to get our cuttings!

 

Mimi had planned for us to take cuttings from Weigela florida and Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena), both robust deciduous woody shrubs that we had talked about on earlier garden walks. Special request cries arose for Philadelphus (mock orange), Hydrangea anomala petiolaris (climbing hydrangea), and a specific camellia. Clippers and brown paper bags for collecting in hand we’re off!

Everyone takes a turn at snipping, looking for supple disease free whips to harvest. On the left you see the brick wall of climbing hydrangea. Having done our research in the classroom on each of the proposed selections we had learned that this slow to establish but eventually very aggressive deciduous vine is best propagated in the spring when it is just beginning to produce new roots at the nodes to help it cling to its support (wall). Armed with the knowledge that the success rate for our late summer cuttings may not be high, we are still going to give it a try–I read recently a quote “If you are not killing plants you are not stretching yourself as a gardener.” So there. Now if I can only get the man I share a checkbook with to adopt that philosophy…

Back in the potting shed our booty is spread out by variety and we get a quick demo on where individual cuts should be made so that every cutting has a node which will be down in the rooting media and one exposed to the air which will produce new growth.

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We divvy up into teams and to prep our plant’s cuttings and organize our rooting tray, keeping like cuttings together in tight rows. Labels are made and added to the tray at each point where the plant type changes. We are sharing our tray with the Saturday class it is amazing how many cuttings we got into our half. You can see above we originally started to fill the tray from both sides but ended up relocating them to our designated space. ‘Tray management’ may seem to be a facetious concept but it really critical in knowing what and when you’ve planted and keeping your propagation efforts organized.   Just like so many things in life that you think you will remember exactly what and how you did something (on the day you actually did it)–the reality is that a week later it is all going to blur together!

Like a dozen proud parents we walk our tray to its place in the propagation house. Mimi Clarke gives it a gentle spray. If gardeners gazing with pride and love can make plants root these babies ought to be 2 feet high by next month!

The September meeting will be our last meeting of A Year in the Garden. We will close our time together talking about winding down the garden in fall. Our individual projects are due and we’ll have the opportunity to see what everyone else has done–no pressure here–and hopefully have well rooting cuttings to add to our own gardens as reminders of the time we have spent at Filoli.

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Hydrangea macrophylla–possibly ‘Ayesha’–with beautiful cupped sepals.