Winter whites…

Like a full moon on a dark night, these late winter whites light up my drowsy garden just as it starts to emerge from its winter nap…


My Camellia japonica ‘Swan Lake’ has fewer blooms than previous years, possibly due to limited water, but this one is perfect!


Chrysanthemum hosmariense, locally called Moroccan daisy, blooms over a long period with its most profuse flowering January through March.  Even though the warm weather slows the show down its fine, gray-green foliage makes a nice mound year round. Consistently pinching back the spent blossoms will give you a tidier look and keep the new flowers coming. I have mounds of this perennial in several locations with varying sun and moisture conditions and it has proven very adaptable.


Hard to believe this is a winter bloomer for me! I have several mature colonies of common calla lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica, but only a single clump that reliably blooms for me in winter. The others all look pretty bad by late fall and take a long winter’s rest before returning in the mid spring. I think the cultivar is ‘Hercules’ and, if so, it lives up to its name–the bright golden central spike is almost 4 inches in length. The tiny true flowers of the calla lily cover the spike, whose botanical name is the spadix. The creamy white which we think of as the flower is actually a spathe, a curved leaf modification.

I could not showcase winter whites without my favorite hellebores. As these were pass along plants many years ago from a gardening friend I can only say that I think they are H. orientalis. I grow  more than a dozen large clumps of these, all seedlings of the original plant, and I take care to keep them quite separate from my other hellebores to have the best chance of new seedlings retaining the clear white of the parent. The blooms hold up well as cut flowers and the glossy, dark green and leathery foliage is a great addition to a mixed bed or a mixed bouquet in the summer months.

Getting to the bottom of it…

Many woody perennials winter over more successfully if the previous year’s growth and bloom stalks are left intact through the cold weather.  Generally falling into this category are many of the salvias, echinacea, monarda, achillea, lantana, and buddleia. All of these can be pretty rangy or twiggy by their season’s end and it is hard for me to resist cleaning them up in the late fall just to make the garden’s overall appearance tidier. If trimmed back so late in the season that no new growth has long enough to harden off the plant is left with a plethora of twiggy hollow stems exposed to water by the cuts. Water will fill the hollow stems and can cause rotting down to the base of the plant. We don’t lose many of these plants in my mild winter garden to frost or bitter cold but many could be lost to overzealous fall cleanup! The natural die back of the current year’s growth acts as protective armor for the next year’s new growth.

So, when do you know the time is right to cut back? There is no one size fits all or date to mark on your calendar. As with all plant maintenance the first step is to know how the plant grows. Several of the plants listed above push their new leaves out at the soil level forming a clump of new growth at the base as the soil starts to warm up at winter’s end. Soil temperature is a better indicator of impending spring growth than air temperature. As you walk through your garden finishing up your rose and summer blooming shrub pruning be mindful of what’s going on at the base of your perennials. Today as I raced the rain to get the last of my four ‘Eden’ climbing roses pruned I surveyed a nearby bed and found these specimens giving me the heads up that it is time to tidy them up for the impending spring.


Okay, so I had all ready trimmed a good many of last year’s stems from this Monarda didyma ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Bee Balm) before it occurred to me that this was a good topic for a post! You can clearly see the flurry of new rosettes of growth. The old growth was so ready to be gone that most of it just fell off at my touch.


I decided to wait a few more days to trim back the old stems on this Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’ as the very first of the new growth has just appeared.


It’s cousin and neighbor, Salvia leucantha ‘Velour Pink’ was well on its way so I trimmed back all its spent stems.


This Gaura lindheimeri is a relatively new bicolor called ‘Rosyjane’. It is a little more compact than the species but still looks better throughout the season with regular tidying up. This is the first winter for this cultivar in my garden and you can see the remains of the original top growth is about 1/3 the size of the new growth clump. I will carefully trim all of the old stems to just below the new growth or just wait another week or so and be able to gently pull them off.

There is no rocket science here–the first principle of readying woody perennials for spring is to walk your garden regularly and see what your plants are doing! Understand their growth habits and each will tell you in their own time when to clean them up in anticipation of a great new gardening year.

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in February

Filoli  is a fine example of an early 20th century country estate located in Woodside, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The 654 acre estate is a National Trust for Historic Preservation site which was opened to the public in 1976 and features a 54,000 square foot home, more than 16,000 square feet of formal gardens, a six acre orchard and numerous marvelous open meadow and woodland spaces. They boast extensive educational offerings in horticulture, nature education, botanical art, the decorative arts, flower arranging and much more plus lecture series events and opportunities for nature hikes. Filoli is in its final year of a three year Centennial Celebration and has declared 2017 its Year of the Garden.

For the last several years they have offered an eight month horticultural certificate program called A Year in the Garden. Long on my bucket list, I declared 2017 MY year in this marvelous garden. This informative series of classes covers a broad range of topics from basic botany to water management and garden design. A huge perk for its students is that it is taught by Mimi Clarke who was a full time Filoli staff gardener for over ten years. Mimi now maintain gardens for a number of private clients but has not lost her love of Filoli and has a wealth of knowledge of the gardens and its plant material gained over her many seasons of stewardship of the grounds and its plantings.

In future posts I’ll tell you more about the history of Filoli and share with you more photos of both the home and grounds. The day of the first class meeting arrived with dark skies and a steady drizzle of rain which made both the almost 4 hour journey from my home and photography in the garden challenging.

Clad in our boots and raincoats, our group of fourteen was met in the Visitor and Education Center to be escorted behind the scenes to our classroom in the Potting Shed located near the estate’s original greenhouses. And a very nice potting shed it was…


This lovely building was built in the last few years with funds donated by a generous Filoli benefactor and offered the perfect setting to begin our study, surrounded by the garden staff’s tools of their trade and with lovely views of both work in progress and the surrounding woodland.

Mimi Clarke gave us a short overview of the series and we all had the opportunity to introduce ourselves. Many of my fellow students characterized themselves as novice gardeners and their hopes for what they would gain from the class were as varied as their ages and hometowns. I think we’ll be a fun group and everyone will learn from each other’s experiences.  I was really excited to hear that most class days will have a nice balance of classroom work and hands on work in the garden or garden walks.

Our morning topic was part one of two lectures devoted to Basic Botany. No matter how many times I have heard these plant growth basics, I feel a little more empowered every time. So many of the decisions we make about how we choose, plant or prune individual  specimens should be based on basic knowledge of their root, stem and leaf structures and often, they are not. We just put them in the hole and hope for the best–often applying a one process fits all plants philosophy. We cut them back hoping to make them fit the size or shape we require without regard to their genetic disposition. We prune when it is convenient for us rather than the optimum time in the growth cycle of the plant. I can never hear these basics too often! I also appreciated Mimi’s concise explanation of botanic nomenclature and the importance of knowing your plants by their scientific names rather than their common or regional names. The printed material we received on botany basics and types of root, stem and leaf systems along with illustrations of leaf classifications is to the point and will be a good addition to my references.

After a quick lunch break we set out on our first garden exploration–the Landscape Tree and Shrub I.D. Walk.

As a quick diversion we first spent a few minutes learning about the literally hundreds (maybe thousands?) of potted up daffodils, tulips and foxgloves lined neatly in the yard area outside our potting shed classroom.

We learned that these pots are used not only for color in and around the patio and walkway areas of the garden but also placed in the beds to fill in gaps. Once each pot’s peak bloom has passed it is replaced with a new one whose bulbs were set in a bit later, thus extending the bloom season as long as possible. Spent daffodil bulbs are then planted in the outlying areas of the garden to provide color the next year. Spent tulip bulbs are composted as there is not enough winter chill to have them bloom from year to year in the ground.

With umbrellas up and a great handout relieving us from too much note taking Mimi led us through various parts of the property stopping at intervals to highlight trees and shrubs many of which are considered to be foundation plantings of the estate, meaning that the species was included, often in large groupings repeated throughout the grounds, in the estate’s early landscape design. Here is a small part of what we saw:


This stately grove of Olea europaea ‘Mission’, or Mission olives, was planted around 1918 and is an original landscape feature. The Mission olive is native to California and was developed by Spanish missions in the late 1700s. The trees in winter have a soft cushion of oxalis underfoot and still bear fruit after almost 100 years!


An allee of Plantanus x acerifolia, commonly called London plane trees, is an example of a stylized pruning technique called pollarding. If left to mature naturally, these deciduous trees would grow to 65-100 ft. tall with trunks more than 10 ft. in diameter. Pollarding produces the short, club-like branches you can clearly see in winter. As spring arrives long whips of new growth will leaf out to provide a shady canopy and a tree whose size is much more in keeping with the needs of the walkway. Growing against the building’s brick wall you can see the leafless trunks of a very large wisteria. Filoli has both Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria) and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) growing on many of its brick facades. Without a label it is impossible for me to tell which species this is until it leafs out and starts to flower. I’ll check back in on this one as the year progresses–it will be spectacular to photograph in bloom!


Three species of camellias are prominent in the Filoli landscape: Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua and Camellia reticulate. Pictured are several cultivars of sasanqua camellias. Mrs. Roth, the second owner of the estate had a particular fondness for camellias and had them shipped in from all over the world. Many cultivars of Helleborus, commonly called Lenten Rose, carpet the shaded areas under the camellias. I especially liked this one which almost appeared striped from above.



This amazing specimen is Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’, the Camperdown Elm. This cultivar is unable to reproduce from seed and is propagated from grafts. The wide canopy and contorted pendulous branches develop slowly over time, ultimately reaching up to 30′ high and wide. This Camperdown Elm was planted in 1918. These elms are very susceptible to Dutch Elm disease and thus are rare in world today, usually found on large old estates. In the background left you can see three of  the over 200 Taxus baccata ‘Stricta’ which are planted on the property. Cuttings for these Irish Yew trees were taken from Muckross, the Irish estate of Filoli’s original owners, Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn, II.

Our semi-sogginess did not dampened our enthusiasm as we finished our walk and gathered up our belongings for the day, looking forward to our next class in March.


Daffodils lead the way each year in Filoli’s parade of blooms. Although I saw several blooming naturalized colonies my visit was just a bit too early to see them in their full glory. The estate’s annual event, Daffodil Daydreams, spans Friday, February 24-Sunday, February 26, and will feature talks, tours, demonstrations and hands-on activities all in celebration of this beautiful bulb whose blooms signals the coming of spring. If you would like more information about this event or anything else going on at Filoli go to their website:

Over the fence…

Each gardener works her ground for different reasons. Some love the physical labor and breathing the fresh outside air. Some enjoy seeing their planning on paper come to life.  Some use their gardens to express their creative core and reveal themselves to others who view and enjoy the resulting beauty. Some just revel in the diverse plant world God has given us with which to work.

I am probably a little bit of each of those gardeners but most of all I am a social gardener. While it is true that most of us actually labor in our physical garden space alone, with the exception of spouses or children who are conscripted into service, there is so much “gardening” that goes on in the world around us bringing each of us into contact with others whose unique gifts, knowledge and experience enrich our lives. Enthusiasm is the catalyst for the movement of ideas among individuals who might never cross the other’s path if not for their shared passion. Enthusiasm is–by its very nature–SOCIAL.

In every city I have gardened I have made friends for whom the seed of our relationship was a shared love of our gardens. Those seeds grew to sturdy plants, blossoming into relationships that grew far beyond our gardens. I think back to my thirties and Mary C. who made many garden center trips with me trying to develop a steep, dry slope into a cottage (hillside cottage?) meadow. Her plant knowledge was far superior to mine and I learned so much from her! BFF Judi H. and I have toured, shopped, planned and planted together for more than 30 years even though we have not lived in the same city since 1997. Beautiful Mary S. introduced me to the wonders of her Southern woodland landscape and a host of plants I knew but had never grown. We traveled the back roads of Georgia to nurseries far and wide, took in classes and events at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, celebrated our successes and bemoaned our failures for a decade. Karen B., also a Georgia girl, gardens in a relaxed style we all could take lessons from–she taught me that not every garden need be weed free and groomed to be a source of pleasure to those who inhabit it. It was always a joy to drive by her home and see her in her broad brimmed hat and gloves picking blueberries or a bloom or two to fill the glass wall vases in her kitchen.

As my Central Valley garden grows in years, so have I. Now in my sixties with gardening friends in their 60s, 70s and beyond, our gardening dreams may be loftier than our knees and backs can follow through on but our enthusiasm has not waned. Ellen H. has expanded my meager knowledge of local birds and their homes in my garden. Ann D. has taught me more about trees and wildflowers than I could have hoped to learn from a book. She has a keen scientific body of knowledge and is my go-to for native plant and wildlife information. We approach with chagrin our shared inheritance of gardens not well planted nor well tended by their previous owners. We exchange knowledge, ideas and plants ‘over the fence’ just as gardeners have done for centuries.

Please enjoy a few plantings from all of my gardens which came to me over the fence from cherished gardening friends.


Parting words to gardeners ‘over the fence’ everywhere.