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.
NEXT STOP: THE APPLE FARM