On one of my garden center rounds earlier this spring I picked up a few 4″ pots of plants that were totally new to me. My usual M.O. would be to at least Google a plant to make sure I have somewhere to plant it with the appropriate sun and soil requirements but on that day I just threw caution to the wind–after all the little 4″ guys are not too costly so I could afford to make a mistake or two. Upon arriving home I did a bit of research and found a spot for each in the garden. Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you how these finds have done.
I was immediately drawn to the delicately veined and heart shaped blue green leaves of Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’.
This ornamental oregano is a perennial cousin to the culinary oregano grown in herb gardens. The pink and chartreuse bracts look a little like hops and tend to nod downward. While I planted mine in the ground I think a better use might be hanging over the sides of containers which are higher off the ground–giving a better view of the bracts. Full sun and well drained soil are best. As I am cautious with full sun for anything new in my hot summer garden, mine is sited where it gets a bit of afternoon shade. Apparently this causes the bracts to color up less so if it makes it through the winter I might relocate it to a bit more sun next year.
So far I am giving this one an ‘A’. It has bloomed continuously for about 8 weeks and makes a delicate little filler which doesn’t look as though it will morph into a garden monster while my back is turned!
I amazed even myself by keeping fairly close to the schedule necessary to meet my goal of seeing all five gardens open to visitors for the 2016 Garden Conservancy Mendocino Open Day program. If you are arriving late and would like to read more about the work of the Garden Conservancy and their Open Days Programs across the United States go back to my June 19th post titled “A little Mendocino madness…”
My last stop took me even further inland to the community of Hopland to see Frey Gardens. Hopland is a hamlet just off Highway 101 about an hour north of Santa Rosa. The climate is more like the hot, interior valley in which I live and so I was excited to see a few more beds and borders drenched in inland sun from which to get inspiration and encouragement.
Both Kate and Ben Frey were greeting guests as I entered their gardens. In the hour I spent in the gardens there was not a time I did not see them engaged with groups of visitors, naming plants and explaining drip irrigation (Kate) or talking about the property’s many unique structures (Ben). Kate Frey is a garden consultant, designer and freelance writer who specializes in sustainable gardens that encourage biodiversity. She had provided a table filled with educational materials to pick up and had her book The Bee-Friendly Garden available for purchase. It was then I recognized that her name was familiar to me from articles she has written for Fine Gardening magazine. Kate has garden creds too numerous to mention but I do want to share that her gardens won medals in 2003 (silver-gilt), 2005 and 2007 (gold) at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, England. Ben Frey is a rescuer of wood. He is the 10th of 12 children and both of his parents were physicians. Ben has been building things with recycled materials since he was eight years old and has spent the last 30 years rebuilding barns, wineries and old houses–using the reclaimed wood to make fanciful furniture, gates and other structures. A trip to Switzerland kindled a fascination with the Swiss chalet style of building and the rustic home you see in the photos was built by Ben using reclaimed materials. Ben built all the structures needed for Kate’s Chelsea Flower Show prize-winning gardens. They are truly a team in both work and life. Check out their website http://www.freygardens.com for more about both Kate and Ben.
Frey Gardens is a once acre sustainable, habitat garden. The garden is only six years old and is composed of a mix of native plants and others that attract and support a variety of insects and birds and is planted in a naturalistic style. A vegetable garden occupies one corner and it is all connected with wide winding mulched paths. My impression was that of a much larger property and gardens which were decades old. There is a sense of enclosure, shutting out the real world beyond the gates and a coziness that invites you to sit a spell in the shade. People LIVE in this garden and they LOVE it. Take a walk around with me.
Imaginative uses of all kinds of materials are visible throughout Frey Gardens. This shipping crate stores tools and equipment and the adjacent roof provides a shaded area in which to work. The small greenhouse showcases Ben’s love of reclaimed wood.
Who wouldn’t kill for this great sink just outside the vegetable garden? The rustic trellis is smothered with blooming Campsis radicans, or Trumpet Vine.
You caught just a glimpse of the house in the first photo but you need to see more. The raised foundation is deeply planted with a riot of shrubs and perennials. Vines scramble up the rustic wood siding without regard to conventional wisdom. The front porch railing, roof and second story fascia is covered by grape vines whose fruit is just starting to show. The grapes live compatibly with a huge wisteria vine–either one of these within six feet of my siding or fascia would cause my sweet husband to drop over dead so I will be pleased to report to him that it is all thriving and the house doesn’t seem any worse for wear. Check out the great ornamentation Ben has incorporated into the fascia on the dormer windows!
The exuberance of this home and gardens and the couple who tend them both was so appealing and so encouraging that I would visit this one again and again if the opportunities arise–there would be something new at every point as perennials wax and wane throughout the season. Feeling pretty satisfied with my Mendocino whirlwind road trip I bid the Freys goodbye, headed toward my stay for the night in Santa Rosa. Kate reminded me to stop at California Flora in Fulton if I had the chance–all this and nursery recommendations, too!
My takeaway from Frey Gardens? Do your research–learn about the plants which are attractive to the birds, bees and bugs you want to encourage in your garden. Manage your garden as a haven for them by offering food, water and places for shelter and nesting and minimizing or eliminating elements toxic to them.
So happy to have had y’all along for the ride but it’s now time for me to get back to work in my own little half-acre. I’ve seen many ideas I would like to incorporate into my own garden and, as always after seeing fellow gardener’s efforts, I’ll return to it with renewed enthusiasm.
With my apple juice and jams safely packed in the cooler I headed down Highway 128 just a few short miles to the next garden, Wildwood, on my 2016 Garden Conservancy Open Day itinerary. Even though this family home has a Highway 128 address I had to wind quite far back into the woods along a gravel road dotted with small cottages and a barn to reach it. A slight breeze ruffled the branches of the huge trees and the air was alive with bird sounds but there was not even a hint of road noise from the highway.
From the parking area the home was unassuming and almost anonymous in style. As I followed the host’s direction down a short pathway the view opened to the back of home which felt European to me with a smooth stucco exterior and robin’s egg blue shutters. Although it was past its prime bloom, a fabulous climbing rose rambled up to the second story and along the upper floor’s balcony. Taking in the long views from the home I was entranced with a tiny log cabin at the edge of a large pond, referred to by the owners as the Pond House. The main garden area to be visited was a very large walled potager which was almost invisible in its setting of redwoods and other tall evergreens but promised all manner of gardener’s delights.
Of course, there was a garden dog to greet me at the gate which was almost hidden from view by a pair beautiful fresh green yews.
In the French kitchen garden, or potager, gardeners have intermingled vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs since medieval times. Plants are chosen for both their edible and ornamental natures and are put together in such a way that it looks beautiful while providing food for the household. The traditional potager contains symmetrical geometrical garden beds which surround a center element. Wildwood’s potager was anchored by a large peach tree pruned in a manner the homeowner observed on a trip to Japan and which allows for easy harvest of the fruit. The beds were defined by loosely clipped boxwood hedges and connected by compacted earth paths.
The surrounding 4 quadrant beds were filled with vegetables and flowers. There were at least a dozen fruit trees within the walls of the garden and additional vegetable beds surrounding the 4 quadrants, hugging the walls in areas with the most sun filled exposures. The size of the garden visitors in the picture below will give you an idea of the massive size of this enclosed garden area!
Here are two more vignettes from this all encompassing garden space, including a a shot of an very unusual variety of penstemon I covet for its unusual foliage. The homeowner could not recall the name but did tell me the mail order nursery he ordered it from so it WILL be mine soon!
I was in awe of this massive ‘nurse log’ visible in a shady back corner of the garden. A nurse log is a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides a rich, moist setting for seeds to germinate and grow. This nurse log was about 6 feet tall as it lay on its side and the garden’s back fence had been built to allow it to remain in place where it fell.
My takeaway from Wildwood? You can have it all–flowers, fruit, veggies and herbs. The traditional tenets of designing a potager can be adapted to even a very small garden space providing you with tangible rewards for your efforts.
The geography subtley shifted as I descended from the rocky Mendocino coastline through the deep and dark Navarro Redwood Forest and into the Anderson Valley to visit my third garden of the day. The Anderson Valley boasts rolling green hills dotted with vineyards, orchards and small farms. I passed many large and architecturally interesting wine tasting room as I rolled down Highway 128. Although I am not a wine lover I am constantly amazed at the varied and unique compounds built by the wineries in the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Valleys. Every type of architecture is represented from metal roofed, wood sided barn like building to the most ornate re-creations of French and Italian stone castles. Many maintain beautiful garden spaces worthy of visiting on their own merits but alas, that day, I had no extra time!
The Apple Farm is a thirty acre family farm which has been worked in harmony with the land by three generations. The Farm, originally a rundown farm labor camp, was discovered and purchased by restauranteurs Sally and Don Schmitt in 1984 to be their homestead, growing both food and flowers and raising their family with a connection to the land. Their daughter, Karen, and her husband Tim Bates now manage The Apple Farm and it has developed into a multi-faceted venture. You are greeted by the Farm Stand as you enter the property. Fresh apples, quince and pears of many varieties are for sale along with their Farm’s own apple juice, apple cider syrup, homemade jams and jellies and much more.
The potting shed/greenhouse was created at the back of the shell of an existing building and it is there I was greeted by Karen and invited to enjoy a refreshing apple juice spritzer as we chatted about life on the farm. The potting shed is County Living magazine material–both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing. I was fascinated by the common jasmine vines twined around all of the ceiling rafters. Karen said it had escaped INTO the shed at one point and was so beautiful when it bloomed that she has simply let it have its way. Because the potting shed has a door closed at night, a quasi greenhouse environment has been created for the vine and it blooms about a month earlier than it would if it were outside. Unfortunately, I missed the blooming time and she had just cut it back to encourage the new growth–it was still lovely.
The Apple Farm is a lovely setting in which to host family gatherings, weddings or just about any other event you can suggest. Karen and her family will help gather up the professional help you might need and feed you to boot if you choose. I got the impression that if you propose it and it is at all feasible she will work to make you dream come true! There are many lovely settings for dining or just relaxing. One of my favorite was this small grove of mulberry trees which have been pruned and managed to provide a leafy canopy for intimate dining.
The Farm also offers the opportunity to stay in one of their apple orchard guest cottages or in their original guest room which is now called the Room With a View. I learned about their Stay and Cook opportunities where you stay the night and assist in the preparation of the family meal using many of the fruits and vegetables they grow. There is no formal curriculum, just the chance to get a taste of working on a farm and taking part in preparing a shared meal. You can go to their website http://www.philoapplefarm.com to find out more about the history of the farm, the family, and the adventures you might plan to absorb a little of life on a working farm.
The Apple Farm’s garden lies just behind the potting shed. It is exactly the right garden for this setting–relaxed and a little bit boisterous, overflowing with veggie beds and perennials and roughly enclosed by a variety of tall shrubs and fruit trees in a loose hedge like fashion. The whimsical metal rod structure of the trellised vines on one side is repeated in the freeform structures used as vegetable supports.
Food, flowers, fruit and fun are all mixed up and invite you to come in a sit a spell to take it all in.
I took the opportunity to wander down the gravel driveway toward the closest of the orchards and was rewarded with more beautiful vignettes.
I found the Himalayan blackberry hedgerows from which Karen makes jam each year and enjoyed a long view of one of the orchards framed by a backdrop of redwoods.
I know that what looked like a serene respite to me is, in truth, a flurry of activity. Maintaining a working family farm takes all hands on deck and if you are not doing a task you are probably planning for what needs to be done next. I’ll leave you with a photo that to me spoke volumes about this family farm. These apples and all the other farm products (and animals) are lovingly tended to and nurtured by hand using sustainable farming methods. No matter what else you do–someone’s got to climb that ladder and pick the fruit!
My takeaway from The Apple Farm? Let your garden be a reflection of the ambiance of both your setting and your lifestyle. Strive for harmony between your garden design and the surrounding structures and ornamentation.
I traveled from just above the hamlet of Mendocino down Highway 1 and turned inland near the community of Albion to reach my second garden stop on the The Garden Conservancy’s 2016 Mendocino Open Garden Day—Digging Dog Nursery and its surrounding gardens. Digging Dog is a small family run nursery, both retail and mail order, and among many of my gardening friends it falls in the ‘big dog’ category along with Plant Delights in NC and Heronswood in Kingston, WA. The folks at Digging Dog are propagators of high quality plants including tried and true garden favorites as well as new varieties which have proven themselves as versatile performers in terms of easy care, year round interest and long blooming periods. I especially loved that most of the plants are sold in small pot sizes which encourages me to try many different plants and gives me the opportunity to tuck well developed but small root masses in my closely packed perennial beds!
I was fortunate to meet Deborah Whigham who, along with her husband Gary Ratway, founded this wonderful garden resource and are blessed to be in this garden every day. Deborah and Gary both hold degrees in Ornamental Horticulture and Gary also has a Landscape Architecture degree. They went in search of land on which to start their nursery in 1984 and Deborah confides that she believes they found the perfect spot—their 14 acre homestead boasts 7 acres of redwood forest and about 3 1/2 acres of gardens. The nursery occupies about 2 acres and is composed of multiple greenhouse areas, both covered and uncovered depending on the needs of the plants. The temperate climate of the Albion Ridge is conducive to growing a wide variety of plants from all over the world. Deborah regards herself as only a co-creator of this space, in partnership with the universal forces of nature. She has seen her gardens bear witness to the passage of time as they are ever-changing. Deborah feels she has acted as parent and nurturer to the gardens as they developed and now is the child of older, wiser and more mature gardens from whom she learns something everyday.
The gardens are home to elderly digging dogs Neptune and Maya—see 16 year old Maya below with Deborah, the adorable nursery manager Boobah (very small chihuahua on a large pillow!) and several nursery cats. They all seem to know just how to greet visitors to take the stress of the day down a notch and might even come to join you if you sit a spell during your visit.
A small demonstration area near the front of the nursery has a selection of lovely perennials to pour over. Nursery staff were both welcoming and a wealth of knowledge. The demo area is surrounded by the many greenhouse plots. It is as if the towering redwoods are holding these plants in their protection!
The gardens both border and surround the nursery areas. Mature borders and beds showcase the variety of plants for sale, offer inspiration for plant combinations and an insight into the conditions in which specific plants are happiest.
As I meandered through many shrub walled garden rooms with the light ever-changing, I wonder at how each spot can seem expansive yet intimate at the same time. I loved the use of the ‘long view’ coupled with the borrowed vistas of the surrounding terrain–I was literally drawn through the garden by the garden’s energy and the mystery of what was to be found around the next bend.
I could have spent all day in these beautiful gardens, not knowing whether I enjoyed the serenity or the energy more. Seeing so many plants which struggle in my hot valley garden perform so vigorously and lushly encouraged me to keep on trying. The owner Deborah told me that although this past rainy season was kind to them, they are always mindful of water use and are fortunate to have the resource of 5 ponds and a 10,000 gallon storage tank on their land.
Reluctantly I retrieved my wagon of precious finds (including several new hardy geraniums) and headed to pay my bill. On my way back to the front of the nursery I smiled to see this evidence that there is always something to be done in the garden.
My takeaway from the gardens surrounding Digging Dog Nursery? Spend more time doing what you love. Spending less time worrying about whatever it is being done the ‘right’ way. Have fun with your life and your garden.
The old Volvo wagon is gassed and and my sun hat packed, the snacks are safely in their cooler and I am off to Northern California on a garden visiting adventure. My sweet husband, preferring to spend his weekend at our mountain cabin, kissed me goodbye and uttered those words so indicative of his concern for his lovely wife wandering the wilds of Mendocino County: “Don’t call me if you run out of gas…”
The Garden Conservancy is a nationwide, nonprofit garden education program which partners with garden owners, community and professional organizations, and local volunteers to help save, preserve, rehabilitate and rescue gardens and the rich cultural heritage they embody. The Conservancy was founded by New York gardener Frank Cabot over 25 years ago after his visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA inspired him to look for a way to help historically and horticulturally important private gardens in need of preservation.
Since 1995 the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program has been inviting gardeners to share their gardens and gardening know how with the public. Each year a directory is published listing the open gardens by state and by date, complete with brief garden bios, highlights and maps. The 2016 directory lists gardens in seventeen states and the open days range from early April to late October. Although many of the gardens are in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other eastern states California is well represented with gardens in 5 counties on 7 dates. Often the owners are on site but the garden visits are self guided and there is a small fee for each garden. For more information about The Garden Conservancy and its Open Days Program visit their website at http://www.gardenconservancy.org or http://www.opendaysprogram.org or call 888 842-2442.
So I have mapped my route and my challenge is to visit the 5 open gardens (one being the gardens surrounding the fabulous Digging Dog Nursery) during their open hours of 10 am to 4 pm. For my non California friends–Mendocino County is a lushly green, rural county give or take a 100 miles north of San Fransisco. It enjoys a long stretch of uniquely wild and rocky coastline with fabulous views of the turbulent Pacific Ocean. Probably less mentioned in the tourist guides is the county’s fame as the most southern part of the so-called Emerald Triangle, the largest cannabis producing region in the US. Hey, this is a gardening blog, right?
After a day’s drive to arrive in the town of Mendocino and a refreshing night’s rest lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean waves crashing against the rocky shore I am on my way. Let me say that now that I have decided that every one of these inspiring gardens is deserving of its own post so this will be the first of the 5 with the remaining four installments over the next few days. The greatest challenge of this adventure for me has been picking the photos to show you as I have so many of each garden and I just don’t want to leave any out! As these are private gardens plant material was not marked. I chose to take many wide and long shots to show you the overall ambiance of each space rather than focus on individual specimens as I have when visiting botanical gardens. Most photos contains multiple plant varieties and even if I knew all the varieties/cultivars it is just not feasible to list them all. Just sit back and enjoy the views…
THE MOSS GARDEN
This tranquil property is surrounded by the Russian Gulch State Park and is only a stone’s throw from Point Cabrillo Light Station, nestled between scenic Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean. A long rural drive opens to a gorgeous heather garden which is the oldest of the garden’s elements. Beyond the sea of heather you get a peak at the charming redwood home set back from the ocean bluff enough to be protected from the strong ocean breezes. The house provides shelter for much of the garden and its Northern European details inspired many of the garden elements. The area between the house and the ocean bluff has been left much in its natural state which preserves the open view. My garden host, Eloy, maintains this garden which was designed by Gary Ratway of Digging Dog Nursery.
The sunken garden was excavated to put it below the effects of the harsh winds from the ocean. The excavated soil was used to construct rammed earth walls which not only create the garden room partitions but also act as retaining walls for the varying elevations. A wide variety of lush plant material fill the various garden rooms (including many of my beloved hardy geraniums!)
There are vistas of the Pacific Ocean from both sides, in addition to from the front of the home. Even this beautiful property has not been exempt from trees suffering from California’s 4 year drought.
The large orchard garden is leeward of the home and boasts large meandering beds of both sun and shade plantings and a large lawn space perfect for relaxing or playing with the grandkids.
A highlight for me in this garden was seeing this great specimen of Eryngium, commonly called Sea Holly–success with this has eluded me in more than one garden. Also a first was this brightly hued Brugmansia, or Angel’s Trumpet:
My takeaway from the Moss Garden? The power of garden rooms, gravel pathways, repeated elements to move the eye and wide, swathes of compatible plants. Hey, and the ocean didn’t hurt the view either!
NEXT STOP: THE GARDENS SURROUNDING DIGGING DOG NURSERY
I admit to spending a good bit of time talking about hardy geraniums over the last couple of months in my quest to make you aware what really is a geranium, as opposed to what we here in the US call geraniums which botanically are called pelargonium. That effort is born not in my desire to bash the pelargonium world but to make more gardeners aware of the magical world of the ‘other geranium.’ Feeling that the pelargonium may need a little love from me, let me tell you a bit about them.
Pelargoniums are woody perennials, most native to South Africa, which can endure light cold but not hard frost. The three most commonly grown species in the US are the P. x domesticum (Martha Washington), P. x hortorum (common) and P. peltatum (ivy leafed). All of these are garden center staples. Both the ivy leafed and common pelargoniums have fleshy, succulent like leaves and are easily propagated from cuttings. In the past few decades many species of scented geraniums have also become increasingly popular. The common names of these will usually refer to the fragrance of their leaves and most in this category are good for bed edging, in herb gardens and in some culinary/medicinal uses.
Beyond these easily recognizable groups there are many more pelargoniums to be coveted. One of my favorites is pelargonium sidoides. Several years ago on the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour in Orange County, my gardening girl Judi and I started our day at a garden farther north than we had generally ventured in past years. To put this into perspective, this tour can often have 40+ gardens open and you could travel 90 miles from the most northern point to the most southern. Given that we prefer to see as many gardens as possible rather than spend our day driving we would laboriously plot our route to get as many gardens per mile and thus never really get to the ‘outer limits.’
The description of this garden enticed us with the promise of a collection of pelargoniums which had been amassed by the homeowner over 30 years and the opportunity to purchase plants grown from his cuttings. And we were off!! We arrived at a pretty nondescript home surrounded by others just as much so until we got out of the car and a little closer–the front yard was overflowing with pelargoniums of all shapes and sizes, both planted in the ground and in pots placed strategically to let their flowers peek up behind another plant’s foliage. The small back yard was dominated by a large greenhouse crammed with more specimens and a couple of smaller plastic sheathed growing areas. The owner circulated among his guests answering questions and pointing out various plants. Truly these plants were his passion and we caught a bit of the fire from him. One of the 4″ pots I purchased from him was a fairy garden worthy stunner called pelargonium sidoides:
The dainty burgundy flowers born on slender, branching, trailing stems wave with the breeze. They are held high over a dense mound of small, silvery gray, heart shaped leaves. Although I have just two plants (the second being a cutting from the original purchase) I think this sweet thing would make a good small scale ground cover in areas receiving no hard frost. Once established it can take full sun with moderate water. It blooms continuously from early spring (when the above photos were taken) to the coming of cold days in November or December. Mine are planted perhaps a bit too close to the front sidewalk and tend to wander onto it as you can see below in the photo taken yesterday–doesn’t bother me until visitors have to actually step over it and then I’ll pinch it back a bit. I have come to understand that this pelargonium is not as uncommon as I initially assumed and I have seen it a few times since in local garden centers. To my knowledge it does not have a common name but I am going to call it Burgundy Fairy Flower!
I have been thinking about doing this post for little while but was spurred into action by emails from two gardening friends who sent me basically the same message in response to my last post: “Your garden always looks beautiful. No matter how hard I work mine will never looks like yours or like the ones I see season after season in the gardening magazines. I am so discouraged.” Clearly it is time for some green thumb psychotherapy! First and foremost: No one’s garden ever really looks like the magazines. Beds, borders and plant specimens are photographed at their peak and in perfect light. Undoubtedly a magazine minion (production assistant?) is hovering around spray cleaning foliage, picking weeds with a tweezer, sucking up the errant leaves and twigs and generally making the natural world look way more perfect than it is. Great gig if you can get it! As for my personal garden world: I only let you see what I want you to see. Here are a few vignettes of what’s lurking just outside the scope of my iPhone’s little lens.
We call this the ‘corner of death’. We have had one in every garden in every house for over 30 years. If we had a nickel for every plant that failed in this spot over the last 7 years we might have that beach house we’ve always wanted. No amount of soil amendment, sprinkler adjustment, mulch or prayer seems to alter this bermuda triangle like location. Oh, and notice the dead grass…
Slugs at work and their buddy, the snail, at rest…
Long searched for Hydrangea anomala petiolaris ‘Miranda’ –a variegated leafed climbing hydrangea not often seen in California– looks like a victim of nuclear warfare. More common but no less doomed are three ‘Mystery’ gardenias in the Secret Garden behind our dining pavilion in the back yard.
Mature sequoias and young hydrangeas alike just cannot cope with the combination of the super heated air and our current exterior watering limitations.
Dead grass, dead grass, and did I mention dead grass with our friend Spotted Spurge? These areas are slated to be cleared, amended and replanted with drought tolerant shrubs and ground cover but I am not sure I will live long enough to see it.
This area has been in the process of being cleared to install a long north facing potting bench with shelves behind it. Oh, yeah…started relocating plants in 2014. What year is it now anyway?
Big weeds, small weeds, weeds I can name and weeds I call names you would not want to hear!
So this is another post to which I could go on adding photos through the night but I think you get the idea. If there are no weeds, critters, diseases, impending death and multi-year projects where you hang your big floppy sunhat then you probably have a LANDSCAPE not a GARDEN. Landscapes are something you get done for you and let someone else maintain. Gardens are planned, cursed at, pruned, replanned and encouraged by hands that love them. Gardens are about hope and gardeners are the most hopeful people on earth. We garden because we just can’t wait to see what wonderful thing will spring out of the ground next year. We plot, we purchase, we plant, we nurture, we pray for our garden of the future–the garden of next season.
We garden because there is always another perfect blue flower to add, a plant we have never even heard of to pop into the ground and a new year to which we look forward with open arms and hearts.
Psst! One of two huge Bird of Paradise (big orange beaky flower) plants snugged up against the front of my home and providing a less than desirable backdrop to my predominantly blue/purple/pink plantings seems to be failing. David loves these plants and is bereft. I MAY have accidentally dropped a bucket of Round-Up on this one as I was passing by…
There will never be enough blue flowers in the world for me to say “I have enough blue in my garden.” Blue for me ranges from the very pale sky and lavender blues all the way to the darkest royal and navy blues. The interplay of crisp whites and blues of all shades with the myriad colors of green foliage is what I see when I close my eyes and envision heaven! The only thing better than a blue flower is a blue flower that you can not only love for its color but for its hardiness, ability to hold its color is very hot sun and fill the role of a garden multi-tasker to boot. Today I am sharing two of my Best Blue Flowers Forever in hopes you’ll be inspired to add them to your garden where they will bring a smile to your face each day and reward you many times more than the investment you make in them.
The Sunset Western Garden Book tells us that there are more than 600 species of asters ranging from compact mounds to 6 foot tall loosely branched plants with blooms in shades of white, pink, blue and purple, mostly bearing a yellow center. I have never lived in an area where they were used to their full glory in perennial plantings but have seen countless photos of wide swathes of flowing plants dominating borders in the American northeast and in the UK. While I have only had a handful of species/varieties in my own gardens each has been a faithful performer. The retail nursery trade by in large dictates what we put in our yards and often they feel the need to stick to the ‘tried and true’ that they believe are familiar to the average gardener and will sell. This is where having an small independent plant passionate nursery in your area will benefit you so much in terms of garden diversity. Fortunately, A. x frikarti ‘Monch’ does fall in the tried and true category and thus is pretty commonly available even in the big box stores.
This aster is commonly called a Michaelmas Daisy. In cooler summered European climates it is an autumn bloomer and would be gathered from gardens to decorate churches around the 29th of September, Michaelmas Day, when harvest festivals take place. In my garden it blooms from late spring through frost or whenever I cut it back to rest during the short winter months. This hybrid was produced around 1918 by Swiss nurseryman Carl Frikart and was named, along with another one called ‘Eiger’, for the mountain peaks which were visible from his nursery. It fares best in full sun to part shade (the one pictures is in a full sun southern exposure with just a bit of shade from a small crape myrtle tree) in well drained, alkaline, average soil. Although many asters are plagued with powdery mildew this one is very resistant. The lavender-blue flowers are borne on long, loosely-branched arms which will wave a bit when there is a slight breeze. They are wonderful cut flowers–try adding their delicate daisy faces to mixed blossom bouquets. Its open habit does benefit from a bit of pinching back now and then. I find that even if I let it go too long and need to nip more aggressively it responds well. My full sun front beds tend to get a little tired as the long, hot summer wears on and the ‘Monch’ helps me out with its sprawling, loose habit in camouflaging some of its worse for wear neighbors. As I have them planted in beds on either side of my front walkway where their root balls are snugged up against the bases of the trunks of a couple of young crape myrtles, I can always tie them up a bit if the need arises. Mostly I just let them do their thing and often by mid September when everything else is gasping for cooler air and a drink of water, the asters are just rambling and scrambling along with little care. Other similar varieties you might run across to try would be Aster x frikarti ‘Jungfrau’ and ‘Wunder von Stafa’–both similar in color to the picture.
On to #2! I know you might be tired of hearing about geraniums–hardy geraniums–from me but they are so unknown by many that I don’t think there can be enough written about this marvelous group of plants. To recap, these are GERANIUMS, not the PELARGONIUMS that we commonly call geraniums. The European gardening community calls this group cranesbills and while you may now and then find a plant tag bearing that name in the US it has never caught on with us. Hardy geraniums are mostly perennial and in my zone 9 garden they will die back to the crown during the coldest of winters. They generally prefer soil more acidic than alkaline and need adequate water in hot summer areas. They range from full sun to full shade depending of the species and cultivar you choose.
This is geranium ‘Rozanne’, probably one of the most currently commercially available of the hardy geraniums. The above photo is a single plant which covers about about a 3 foot circle. ‘Rozanne’ was bred by Donald and Rozanne Waterer of the UK. Now and then you will see her marked as G. ‘Jolly Bee’ although in the garden patent world the patent on ‘Rozanne’ replaced that of ‘Jolly Bee’. This mounding sprawler is equally at home in the ground, in large containers or in hanging baskets. I have never been able to produce a photograph that does the blueness of the lavender justice. The blooms are at their most blue as they open and then fade to a more lavender shade. Research I have done on this plant suggest that the flowers or more lavender pink in hotter weather and more lilac blue in cooler climates. Given that I will probably never see the full extent of the blue hue! As with most hardy geraniums give her a slightly acidic, moist soil for best performance and some light afternoon shade in very hot summer areas. My ‘Rozanne’ is planted right in front of a fairly mature ‘Pink Elf’ hydrangea. The hydrangea is in too much sun as the summer progresses and sort of becomes a crispy mess. I let ‘Rozanne’ wander right over it providing some visual relief for me and a little sun screen for the plant. I tidy it up about halfway through the season by just gathering the plant up and whacking it off to about a foot and ‘Rozanne’ responds with fresh green foliage and a fresh profusion of flowers.
There you have it–two beautiful blues for you to become BFFs with. Garden on!
No visit to Orange County in Southern California is complete for me without a visit the iconic Roger’s Gardens in Corona Del Mar. Their marketing tagline is ‘Bringing Beauty into your Home and Garden’ and that truly says it all. Roger’s history spans over 50 years and it is a destination for plant people all over the country.
In the late 1990s when my gardening partner in crime, Mary, took me to Roger’s I was captivated. It is like a little island of beauty and creativity surrounded many equally lovely homes in some of the country’s most high priced real estate. Over the 11 years I lived in Orange Country I visited Roger’s hundreds of times and always found a bit of this or a piece of that needing to be added to my own efforts at creating an island of beauty of my own. As if being a veritable visual feast of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, roses and just about anything else with roots isn’t enough; Roger’s has several exquisite home and gift sections to moon over and is a ‘must see’ destination when its holiday spirit is on display from late fall til January. Today fellow gardening gal who always believes there’s hope for next year, Judi, and I are here to take it all in. And shop, of course.
So, come with us on a photographic tour of this OC destination:
A peek at the current events welcomes you as you approach. The entrance changes with the season and is always an inspiration–loved these metal containers used both as planters and great accents displaying vintage gardening tools. The living wall is planted using Wooly Planters and a variety of plant material including ivies, heuchera, campanula, ferns and more!
The front area where you line up to check out is always beautifully done and it is hard not to find more to buy (or photograph) as you move toward the cash register clutching your precious cargo. The largest of the home gift areas is visible to all who thought they were done and ready to check out. The themes and palette of this area changes frequently and it is a seasonal treat even if you are not REALLY shopping.
This island bed, anchored by mature conifers, beckons you into the open air of the nursery area and is planted seasonally. It is also a cool oasis for those non-gardening companions to hang out while you shop.
Planted containers surrounded by featured plant material lure you forward to see more!
Wander through areas for sun and shade plants, all well marked, and with helpful staff at the ready to answer your questions.
Today there is a vegetable seminar in progress and close by are tables to pick up those new varieties you may have learned about from the speaker. A full schedule of seminars and classes is available at http://www.rogersgardens.com
Some of the best stuff is the farthest away from the entrance but wagons are easily maneuvered along the winding paths. Every turn finds a new delight.
Drought is on all our minds here in California. Roger’s offers lots of printed material to educate gardeners in their quest to create a beautiful landscape while conserving this most precious resource.
Although my personal haul today was restrained by my standards, I was tickled pink (or lavender?) to find one more the my sought after salvias from the Western Dancer series called Dancing Dolls.
Roger’s Gardens is a delight for the soul regardless of the level of your desire to get down on your hands and knees and dig in the dirt. It is more a life experience than a retail one!
We passed this poster as we made our way to the car with our finds. Now who wouldn’t want to learn to make a hummingbird swing? Is June 25 too soon for me to head south again?