Iris on parade…

Bearded irises are among the choicest perennials for borders and cutting. Although only one of hundreds of species in the genus Iris, they are perhaps the most widely grown and certainly the most widely recognized. Amongst the rhizomatous irises, the tall bearded irises have routinely stolen the stage from their shorter or beardless cousins. More than 100 years of breeding has produced all manner of colors, ruffles and fragrance.

Bearded irises are best planted mid-summer to fall (for bloom the next year) in soil with good drainage. They will adapt to a variety of soils from sandy to clay if the drainage is adequate. I commonly plant groups of three rhizomes. Because the growth is from one end of the rhizome, plant two parallel to each other about 12″ apart with non growth end facing you. Then add a a third to make a triangle with its growth end facing the first two. That last rhizome’s growth will fill in the space giving you a nice clump. Plant the rhizomes root side down with the top barely at the soil’s surface–do not bury! Iris will benefit from a light application of bone meal, superphosphate or any 6-10-10 fertilizer about a month before bloom and again a month after. Plan to divide every 3 or 4 years. Your iris will tell you when they are too crowded with smaller and fewer blooms. In my climate I trim the bloom stalks back after the flowers are finished but wait to trim the foliage back to about 6″ in the late fall.

Mild winters and early springs here in Central California result in iris blooming far earlier than the printed catalog material indicates. My iris start in late February and are virtually done (except for a few rebloomers) by late May. In other zones, iris may not even start blooming until mine are almost finished!

Here are a few blooming now in my garden. IMG_2024If you have been reading Queen of the Dirt from the beginning you’ll recognize ‘Night Ruler’ as the iris that started my fascination with plants I used to think were too old fashioned and ordinary for me. I saw this one in bloom when I lived in Georgia and thought it was pretty spectacular. Although it never flourished in my Macon garden, I dug a few rhizomes up when I moved and found it likes California’s dry heat. The 3 rhizomes grew to about a 3 foot diameter colony after only a couple of years and they bloomed prolifically. The growth of an ash tree eventually totally shaded out the colony and after several years of decline I dug, divided and replanted the healthy rhizomes to sunnier areas in both my front and back gardens. ‘Night Ruler’ returns to the throne!

Because the development of high shade is a focus for many Central Valley gardeners, a natural consequence is the reduction of full sun for those plants needing it. Almost all of my original iris plantings have been moved at least once as various trees matured. The lawn area we call the driveway circle had 8 different iris cultivars in its interior bed. The crape myrtles had almost doubled in size since the iris were planted in 2009 and all these colonies had been in decline for a couple of years. In our recent lawn removal and replanting project in this area I dug all the iris up and potted up the best of the rhizomes for replanting this fall. The seemingly constant moving around of iris due to division or the need for a sunnier site has resulted in some cultivar name confusion for me. I keep really good records of what is planted where but my map now looks like a jigsaw puzzle with arrows, rhizomes names and numbers pointing everywhere!

Another iris whose original site proved problematic is Iris ‘Riverboat Blues’. Vigorous perennials ended up covering these rhizomes every year with foliage and they just never did much. Last fall I dug the few viable rhizomes and moved them to a sunnier, less competitive site and ‘Riverboat Blues’ has rewarded me with multiple bloom stalks and dozens of huge sapphire flowers.



This is a tall selection which can sometimes need staking with the weight of triple socketed buds and 8-9 flowers per stalk.


Small but mighty Iris ‘Full Impact’ lives up to its name. This dark blue-violet bicolor is beautifully ruffled , has glacial white markings and a  white beard. The beard is the group of fuzzy hairs at the top of the lower three petals of the flower. These three petals are called the falls. ‘Full Impact’ will open 3 flowers at one time, producing a very full and rounded look. I have groups of these 30″ tall stunners on either side of my front walk, blooming amid a lot of pink and lavender perennials and roses and they never disappoint. Although these colonies have multiplied and been divided several times they seem to snap back a little faster than some of the taller selections. AND they are a favored by regular hummingbirds!

Who doesn’t love a plicata? So you say “Just what is a plicata?” In iris terms, a plicata is a flower which has a  stippled or stitched margin color on white.

On the left is Iris ‘Loop the Loop’–a huge selection almost 4′ tall in bloom. IMG00158-20120423-1420In a previous post you saw this photo of a large group of ‘Loop the Loop’ exploding in bloom. This one too has now been divided a good bit and I have smaller colonies in several garden spots. I let the original planting go too long before the first dividing was done and I saw first hand what happens–I think I only had 3 stalks in 2014 compared to over 40 when the photo on the right was taken. Above right is Iris ‘Got the Melody’. The white on this cultivar is much muddier than on ‘Loop the Loop’ so they would not be attractive planted in proximity of one another. This double and triple socketed stem yields 10-12 buds per stalk and is tall enough to stand above its neighbors.

I’ll close with with the splendid lavender bloom of Iris ‘No Count Blues’. The eye-catching falls are overlaid with a darker purple and it bears a yellow throat. Amazing, don’t you think?


Iris are the perfect pass a long plants. Even in  barely adequate conditions they will multiply rapidly, giving you many to share with family and friends. I kind of like knowing that someone I care for has a little piece of my garden to enjoy every day.

In the pinks…

Blooms of the genus Dianthus are perhaps some of the most widely known flowers to both gardeners and non-gardeners alike. While the family has over 300 species and many hybrids a much smaller number are commonly offered by retail sources for the home garden. The genus contains annuals, biennials and perennials however, many are treated as annuals regardless of their botanical nature. Dianthus of all sorts are classic cottage garden flowers whose foliage forms grey-blue or grey-green mats with the flower stems rising in early spring. They are commonly called pinks by UK gardeners but almost always referred to by their genus name in the US.

Dianthus barbatus or sweet william is a staple of our spring gardens. Although biennials, sweet williams are often treated as annuals in California and replaced from 6 packs each year. I cut mine back every year after they go to seed and accept with grace whatever hangs on til the next year. Once the biennial/seed cycle is established I pretty much always have some in the foliage only state and others bloom ready. There are tons of named hybrids, so many so that they often are not even marked with their variety but only bear a color designation.



I am sure these are very familiar to everyone! I place them to serve as low edging material in the very front of my beds. They come as go as they please so every few years I may add in another 6 pack or two.

A few years ago I started buying every different dianthus species I came across just to see how the ones less familiar to me could be used in my beds. These included named varieties of Dianthus deltoides (maiden pink), Dianthus gratianopolitanus (cheddar pink) and Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation or clove pink.) For the most part they have stayed in the front of the borders and beds and they have been carefree with the exception of an occasional hard cut back to stimulate new foliage.

Two of my favorite clove pink selections are from the Devon Cottage Series of Dianthus caryophyllus bred by Whetman Pinks of the United Kingdom. After a few years in the ground they have formed nice big clumps of foliage with lots of flowers. This series is a great cutting selection and if they have any fault, it is that they are floppers once the flowers open. Even though the flowers are only about 12-14″ tall my plants end up with alot of props! As the common name suggests, the flowers have a wonderful clove scent.


This is Devon Cottage ‘Fancy Knickers’. You can see that the size in bloom rivals the erect foliage of the iris they neighbor. This clump is about 18″ in diameter.


The bloom is bright white with just a hint of a pinky red eye. Every stem has multiple buds which bloom in succession. Deadheading is a must to keep the bloom vigorous and the plants neat looking–I find this to be true of all dianthus.

I also love the clear pink Devon Cottage ‘Rosy Cheeks’. In the ground a few less years, the overall plant size is smaller but the blooms still hover at the foot tall mark.



Another Whetman Pinks hybrid which has done well in my garden is Dianthus ‘Starburst’, sometimes labeled Dianthus ‘Clavel’s Starburst’. A smaller, tighter foliage mat and correspondingly small, shorter flowers of raspberry, pink and white grace this early bloomer.



Here are a few others blooming now!

TPFNPGT Sunday, one garden unifies two homes…

ANOTHER NEIGHBORHOOD, ANOTHER HILL–the Stirton garden in Silver Lake

A very narrow and winding lane took me to my next Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour garden. This street is unusual because in its original state every lot had two homes on it. On one side of the street the lots are at street level and on the other they are mountain goat territory. Of course the next tour garden was on the mountain goat side!


This is the lower part of the front slope which is held back from the side walk with a block retaining wall. This is one of only a few homes I saw which had what we always referred to as a “parking strip” between the city street and sidewalk. This parking strip was chock full of reseeding wild flowers and water wise shrubs, including several varieties of ceanothus and buckwheat. A very prominent player was the annual Lupinus succulentis, California native arroyo lupine.


Even where not in bloom this reseeder’s lush green foliage fills the need for an erosion control ground cover. I was especially interested because this is not traditionally a drought tolerant plant. Although somewhat adaptable it generally requires ample water. This entire slope is hand watered so the homeowner has the opportunity to give the lupine extra water without jeopardizing the plantings which resent wet feet, i.e., ceanothus.

In that first photo you saw one of the two small homes on the property in its original state. It is now used as a rental. The homeowner has extensively remodeled the other home to sleek modernity and you would never believe they were once twins.


Looking up from the street you get just a peek of the clean lines and industrial materials used in the remodeled unit occupied by the property owner! The stairs leading to the homes sit pretty much in the middle and although both homes have small back gardens (only about 6 feet of flat area, then steep slope up), the front garden takes up most of the property. At various point on the concrete steps there are opportunities to step to the side and into terraced areas.

There was so much to look at–7 species of buckwheat (Erigonum), 4 species of manzanita (Arctostaphylos), 5 kinds of salvia, 3 cultivars of Mimulus (monkey flower). Oh my!


This healthy stand of Trichostema lanatum, common name woolly blue curls, was a testament to the care this gardener takes with his water. If there ever was a zero water/perfect drainage plant once established, this is it. The wide range of water requirements for these hillside plantings simply could not be met with a one size fits all irrigation scheme. Bravo to a man and his garden hose!


Many of the native landscapes lean heavily to the purple, blue and orange palette. This bright pink island mallow, Lavatera assurgentiflora, is native to California’s Channel Islands and grows quickly to a 12 ft. erect shrub with maple like leaves.

As this garden was a designated rest stop we had the opportunity to step into the more modern bungalow and take in the view this gardener enjoys every morning when he has his coffee on the balcony! Having once struggled with a garden which had several steep hillsides and not experienced success even close to this—I tip my broad brimmed gardening hat to this labor of love.


My take away on this Silver Lake hillside garden–not all natives are drought tolerant and not all low water users are natives. Mixing in natives and non-natives with high moisture requirements is do-able if you can commit to hand watering them. Cohesive landscape design can unite even the most diverse architecture!

LAST STOP ON THE TPFNPGT 2017 will be a tiny cottage garden in Jefferson, only a few hundred feet from I-10. I saw 19 of the 32 gardens on this year’s tour and will have given you a peek at 13. Time for us all to move on to new adventures. In less than a week I will head north for the Gamble Garden 2017 Gather in the Garden tour and in 2 weeks I’ll be back in SoCal for the Mary Lou Heard tour and Garden Conservancy’s Los Angeles Open Day.

P.S. I am experimenting with the resolution on my photos to try to free up additional space  in my WordPress media library. Let me know if you feel the quality of the photos had diminished to the point that it is not good for you. Thanks!!

Hello ‘Little Rev’…



The genus Dianella, also called flax lily, are interesting architectural plants originating in Australia and Tasmania. The upright habit and grasslike strappy leaves of Dianella revoluta ‘Little Rev’ and its cousin Dianella caerulea make them especially suited to modern drought tolerant gardens. ‘Little Rev’ is a bit smaller than other selections and will reach 18″ in full sun and 24″ in partial shade as mine is planted. The 3/4″ sparse star- shaped blue flowers are followed by metallic blue berries. We have been inundated with ornamental grasses and grasslike plants in the last few years and most seem pretty scruffy to me in a traditional mixed border. ‘Little Rev’ is well-behaved in the ground or containers, requires little to no care and looks attractive year around. Put this one on your garden center shopping list!

TPFNPGT Sunday, a new neighborhood…

The gardens of the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour have opened my eyes to new groups of plants to explore. My challenge will be to do the research on their adaptability to a colder winter and how to integrate the ones I like best into all ready established garden areas. I’ve pick just a few more to share in this post and one more and then we can move on to other topics and tours!

A GARDEN IN TOTAL HARMONY WITH ITS HOME–the Kramer garden in Atwater Village

California native gardens are designed to complement many home styles from starkly modern to Craftsman post and beam but no architectural style seems to be as well suited as the quintessential Spanish bungalow.


This homeowner redesigned her back garden using many natives in 2010. The front garden was installed in 2013 and mixes meadow and coastal sage scrub elements with some carefully designed topographical changes, adding lots of interest to a small and originally flat lot. The large mounding plant front and left is a nice stand of Salvia clevelandii  ‘Allen Chickering’.


This railroad tie and compacted earth walkway leads you up and through the garden in a meandering fashion allowing you to see a wide variety of color, texture and form on the relatively short walk to the front porch. The grasses left and right are Aristida purpurea, common name purple three-awn. The lavender pops on either side are Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’. The darker purple mound to the right of the path is Penstemon spectabilis var. spectabilis or royal penstemon.


As the narrow path takes you to the porch steps by way of the small driveway you pass the phenomenal salvia which is almost as tall as the home’s roofline (look at the previous photo for a better perspective). The plant is marked Salvia ‘Vicki Romo’ but the Theodore Payne docent on site believed it was mismarked and actually was Salvia ‘Desperado’. My references list ‘Vicki Romo’ at a compact 3 ft. and this whopper is at least 10 feet tall.  Another interesting specimen is the Artemisia californica ‘Canyon Gray’ seen in the front left and again just behind the clump of orange poppies on the right. The grayish foliage provided a pleasing midpoint between the greens and the grayish white foliage of many of the garden’s selections. This artemisia is finely textured and very soft to the touch. I saw this in others gardens later in the day in large mounds 4-6 ft. wide. As with all artemisias, good drainage in a must. Repeated in this garden were many of what I now know are staples in the Southern California native garden: dwarf coyote bush ‘Pigeon Point’, red-flowered buckwheat (foreground above) and saffron or Conejo buckwheat.

The Kramer home has a deceptively large back garden–probably 3 times the depth of the front. The narrow, deep lot lends itself perfectly to a series of garden rooms. This is clearly the homeowner’s garden playground with a less restrained palette and lots of variety, including some of the finds you just pick up and dig in because you thought they looked interesting!


Galvezia speciosa–showy island snapdragon


MATURE TREES AND WOODLAND SHADE–the Miller-Coon garden in Atwater Village

Just a short ride passing through the “village” part of this community led me to another wide flat street of small, neat homes. Parking was at a premium and I ended up about 2 blocks from the next tour garden. The short walk yielded several great yards so just imagine you are walking down the street with me and take a look!




A side note–as I got out of my car I fell in step behind this couple walking home from their grocery trip to the little village area about 3 blocks away. They had their bags and their Starbucks cups in hand and were strolling home on a great day to be outside. The couple turned into their driveway just across the street from the garden which was my goal and I was momentarily jealous of the walkable, small city within a big city lifestyle they were obviously enjoying!


The Miller-Coon garden has been on tour every year since 2003. It is somewhat more relaxed and relies heavily on a mix of mature trees and shrubs and lots of reseeding annual wild flowers.


It is a diminutive front garden dominated by a large Torrey pine and 6 different native oak  species. In this photo you see the pine in the background, our native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, and one of several species of manzanita on the property. The violet blooms in the foreground are elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) which returns each year from seed.

My take away from the Atwater Village gardens–you can pack a lot of gifts in very small packages! Although both of these streets are definitely in the “flatlands”, you don’t always have to play the hand you are dealt. Both homeowners added dimension, interest and additional planting space to their gardens by altering their topography with very gentle mounds and curves.

NEXT UP–I travel to a unique neighborhood in Silver Lake where the historical standard is to have two homes on a single lot.


Spring is here…

Although I still have several more gardens to share with you from my recent visit to Southern California on the Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour and given that I have two more big garden tours coming up in the next two or three weeks, I thought I hit pause on other folks’ gardens and let you see that I DO actually garden.


We have had an abnormally wet spring and everything in the front garden has benefited from the extra water. At mid-April, to not have turned on the irrigation systems by now is phenomenal. Last year I added pops of rosy red in the form of the Double Knock-Out  roses and a few of the perennial salvias–you can see the Salvia ‘Killer Cranberry’ in the mid righthand side of the photo. I think they really wake up the predominantly purple, lavender, pink scheme and will provide strength when the paler colors wash out in the heat of the summer. The earliest of the iris are blooming with others ready to come on. The perennial dianthus I have been adding over the last few years are nice big blue green clumps this year with the first few pink or white flowers open.


This foundation bed by one of the front sidewalks is looking especially good! The pair of tree roses (‘Renae’) has exploded into bloom. Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ and Salvia fruticosa add a little violet and blue relief from all the pink. I featured this salvia in a post last spring when I added it to the bed. I love the blue gray foliage against all the other clearer greens. It has tripled in size from last year and is covered in blooms. The ‘Pink Dancer’ Indian hawthorn (lower left) has finally come into its own after several years of very few  flowers. I told you that 2017 was going to be the best garden year ever!


TPFNPGT Sunday, fresh legs and new batteries…

Here we go again! My schedule for the second day of the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour is ambitious so I do my eating and driving on my own time and arrive and my first garden of the day just at the 10 am opening bell.

A CHALLENGING HILLSIDE–the Rice-Siwolop garden in Beachwood Canyon

This recently renovated Mid-Century Modern home had perhaps the smallest front yard I have ever seen!

This massive 7 ft. retaining wall rose from the narrow public sidewalk to enable these gardeners to have a small strip of level ground which you see in the photo below. This very narrow bed, anchored by the broken concrete walkway, was planted in California fuchsia (Epilobium ‘Silver Select’) and Silver Carpet aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia  ‘Silver Carpet’). And yes…those are the tops of the car parked on the street that you can see in that photo! The similarly narrow bed to the left of the steep steps held other silver green and gray native plantings and the superb non-native specimens of Euphorbia bourgeana  and  Agave parryi in the center photo.


So I am thinking–having spent more time locking up the car than I did in this garden that I will be way ahead on my schedule! The next garden is about 100 yds. uphill on the same street and as I pass by the street level garage I see the back yard is open also. An extremely narrow sidewalk flanked by the house on one side and another very high retaining wall on the uphill side leads to a funky two level wood staircase which takes me up into the back garden.


Holy slope! The back yard melds a wild and untamed slope with the man made elements required to make it accessible. The hillside is stabilized by a gabion wall, hemp and wattle erosion netting and large drifts of native plants.


The gabion, which you can see at the bottom of the photo, has its own story. Neither side of this lot has enough room for any mechanical digging apparatus access to this back slope. The terraces on the hillside were hand dug and the dirt hand carried down to the very narrow flatland. It was then screened and mixed with cement for stability and formed into the square blocks which fill the wire cages to form the gabion running the width of the yard. So…the slope is actually retaining itself!


Thoughtful placement of the timbers forms a set of steps which allow access to the upper levels for planting and maintenance. Natives anchoring the hillside included my new favorite Erigonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat), Pigeon Point dwarf coyote bush, Hearst’s ceanothus, Salvia leucophylla (purple sage), several types of manzanita and in summer, a wide variety of reseeding annual wild flowers.


A small lawn of common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is home to  native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, and offers a soft contrast to the more industrial feel of the hardscape. This property was truly an example of taking what you have and adapting your garden style to fit the site. Bravo!

As I walked up the hill to my second garden I passed several really well done landscapes, all using their steeply sloped lots to best advantage. Take a look…





Another Mid-Century Modern, another orange door! A standout feature of this front garden was the immense stand of lavender which occupied almost half of the slope. The combination of the lavender and the succulents seemed a bit of a disconnect for me up close but when you stood back and took in the home’s landscape in the context of the hillside it sort of worked itself out.


The back garden was planted in 2013 and offers a laid back style with naturalized scenery year round-interest. The homeowner reports lots of wildlife from the surrounding hills.


There is definitely a sunny side and a shady side to this back garden. This beautiful Palo Verde (Cercidium) tree anchors the sunny corner. You can get just a peek at the river rock wash descending the hill. The bed area behind the retaining wall incorporates additional drainage mechanics to direct water rushing off the slope in a rainstorm.


The Salvia sonomensis was a bee magnet and I think its season is just getting started. More creeping and mat forming than upright this species spreads to about 4 ft. wide and needs exceptional drainage, preferring gritty soil.


A mature pine provides a shaded spot just outside the home’s kitchen. Just as in the previous garden, the flat area is quite narrow but used really well, offering places to eat outside, rest and read a book or just observe the nature surrounding you.

My takeaway from the Beachwood Canyon gardens–steep slopes front and back presented challenges for these gardeners. A combination of good planning, thoughtful use of a variety of hardscape options and erosion control deep rooting plantings can tame the wild while preserving the expansive views offered by slopes on small lots.

NEXT UP–heading to Atwater Village

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in April

What a difference a month makes! The potted daffodils have been retired, the tulips are waning and the gardens at Filoli have burst into bloom. Especially light traffic allowed me to arrive with almost an hour to walk the gardens before I needed to be in my potting shed classroom. As Filoli was not yet open for day visitors, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to revisit a few plants which were not quite out in March and take photos in a virtually empty garden.

Of course, my first stop was the courtyard now dripping in wisteria. Different varieties were in different stages from just barely in bud to full bloom–both purple and white. The smell was heavenly! This first one drapes the door of the gift shop and is Wisteria floribunda ‘Violacea plena’.



It is a beautiful double with shadings from light to dark purple. The white silky wisteria, Wisteria brachybotris ‘Shira Kapitan’, was just getting started.


The grouping of Wisteria brachybotris ‘Murisaki Kapitan’, yellow Lady Banks roses and weeping cherry was stunning. The wisteria bloom detail below reveals that the flowers in each amethyst inflorescence has a spot of yellow, tying in perfectly with the rose clusters.



With time running short I cut through the walled garden to make my way to the greenhouse area. Along the way I saw not only another gorgeous wisteria but also a grouping of Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ making a bright statement against the red brick wall of the garden.



Kerria is a deciduous shrub with an open arching form. It can grow quite large with a spread of 8 ft. and a height of 6 ft. Its position as the backdrop for a stand of agapanthus gives it room enough to spread out as the season progresses. As the flowers do not stand up well to strong sunlight, the somewhat shaded area will help the kerria blooms hold their color.


Soil Management was our morning topic. Instructor Mimi Clarke reviewed the four key components of soil composition: mineral soil, organic matter, water and air and we learned the terms needed to understand and discuss soil: soil profile, soil texture, soil structure and soil reaction. The takeaway here was that virtually none of us are blessed with the loamy soil (40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay) perfect for most plants. While we cannot change our soil’s texture we can change its structure with the addition of organic matter and thus improve conditions gradually over time. No magic bullet, no specific formula and definitely not overnight. We discussed the differences between and the merits of compost and mulch. We finished the morning with a discussion of both organic and synthetic fertilizers. This unit in our notebooks has some great reference material including an overview of the various types of organic fertilizers available and how they are best used and a scaled down home gardener batch recipe for Filoli’s potting soil. Thank you, Mimi!

The focus of our afternoon garden walk was Landscape Perennial and Annual ID. Just as she had for our Tree and Shrub ID walk, Mimi provided a reference sheet for each of  the selections on our list. So great to be able to walk, look, listen and take photos knowing you have all the hard facts all ready on paper to refer back to rather than trying to write down the details as you go along. While there was masses of blooming material on our walk, many of the plants we were focused on were not yet blooming–running a little late this year. As on our previous walks, our group is very enthusiastic and tends to slow Mimi up on her walk schedule. But, no matter, we always have next month to revisit anything we missed!

Most of the perennials and annuals on our list were very familiar to me and so I tended not to photograph them, especially if they were still only foliage. Take a look at a few interesting plants that caught my eye as we rambled:


Choysia ternata or Mexican orange is an evergreen shrub with glossy dark green leaves and covered in clusters of small fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring. Although I had read about this shrub I had never actually seen one. It was beautiful and the scent of orange blossom was heady. Reference material indicates that this shrub is fast growing and can reach 6-8 ft. The several I saw were more in the 3ft. range but looked quite mature so they may have been a more compact cultivars rather than the species. Below you see detail of both buds and blooms.

Weigela florida is a large deciduous shrub with long arching branches that almost reach the ground. This shrub was quite common in Georgia but I think many California gardeners in very temperate zones are not as drawn to deciduous shrubbery when there is so much available that gives year round green plus seasonal flowers. Weigela is not especially interesting after it finishes its bloom period and can get pretty rangy. They definitely benefit from yearly pruning of the oldest stems to the ground to increase production of dense new growth and blooms the next year.



There are a number of named cultivars and hybrids with flowers ranging from white to deep pink and foliage varying from bright green to burgundy. The plants I saw were quite young, very open and loose.

Yet another deciduous shrub I don’t often see in Valley gardens is Deutzia gracilis, or slender deutzia. As with the weigela, deutzia are not especially attractive when not in bloom and probably best used in a mixed shrub border where they can blend in with other foliage when they are not flowering. Although somewhat smaller and more fine textured than the weigela, deutzia also has slender arching stems and benefits from cutting back the wood that has all ready flowered severely to outward facing side branches.



These three shrubs are all best in full sun to partial shade in really hot climates and need regular water.

One of the annuals highlighted on our walk was Viola cornuta ‘Jersey Jem’, as seen below.


This little tufted pansy was bred by Filoli staff and it not available commercially. Every year the gardeners collect the seed from the violas as they wane and then use that to raise seedlings to plant the following year. Although these plants will be removed in another month or so as Filoli resets their display beds to summer, with a shaded spot, regular pinching and deadheading they could last well into summer in a home garden. Lucky US–next month as part of our Seed Collecting unit we will get to harvest ‘Jersey Jem’ seed to take home for our own gardens!

We also made a return trip to the Camperdown elm I shared with you in my February post. The bare branches are just starting to leaf out in a few places and the tree was covered with pale green seeds which, from a distance, made the elm look as though it were flowering.



Filoli is a garden of long views. They have been ever-changing over the three months of class so far. It is difficult to narrow my favorites down to a few from this trip. Take a look.






And the short views are just as impressive!


Looking forward to good gardening days ahead for us all and many more great road trip gardens to share with you!

TPFNPGT Saturday, ending the day at the Gottlieb garden…

After viewing six lovely gardens in the San Fernando Valley, I climbed up Benedict Canyon Drive on a veritable Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to drop down on the other side into the LA Basin. I continue to be amazed that after, all the years I lived in Southern California, this was my first trip through the hills NOT driving on a freeway! Only minutes from the glitz of Rodeo Drive a man made (woman made?) urban oasis overlooks Laurel Canyon and offers a  place of respite for the owners, Dan and Susan Gottlieb, and the flora and fauna they nurture.

This one acre steeply sloped site has been in the making for over 25 years. When Dan first showed Susan the home, she was distressed that the ivy covered slopes provided no habitat for the birds–and so the labor of creating this environmentally sensitive and sustainable chaparral woodland began. The garden is a National Wildlife Federation-certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat and a Xerces Society-designated Pollinator Habitat.

Dan and Susan are environmental philanthropists and photographers. Susan pursues her passion for conservation not only with this native garden but also by serving on the President’s Advisory Council for the National Wildlife Federation and in her work with both the Theodore Payne Native Plant Foundation and UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, among other organizations. The Gottliebs own G2 Gallery, a wildlife and nature photography gallery in Venice, CA which donates all proceeds of sales to environmental causes.

After seeing the garden on in 2003 on the first Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour,  Huell Howser, the late KCET television personality and host of “California Green”, devoted an entire episode to Susan’s conservation work. The garden has its own website where you can find a host of photographs, plant and wildlife lists and a great Wildlife Journal whose posts give you a look at what the Gottliebs see on a daily basis in their garden.

Now for the bad news–I was not very far into this fascinating ecosystem when my camera let me know my last CF card was full. Having little battery left on my phone, I have only limited photos of this great garden. So I’ll show you what I have and if I’ve left you hungry for more, hop on over to the garden’s website. Or go to and click on the 2017 tour information for photos and plant lists of ALL this year’s gardens.

Most of the homes on this street have minimal front yards. A shady courtyard leads you to the Gottlieb’s front door. A special treat for garden visitors was that this garden was accessed through the home. Dan and Susan have a wide variety of art in many different forms, both inside and outside. As you approach the large glass doors opening to the patio, the views capture you.



Both Dan and Susan have a special affinity for hummingbirds and, although I did not count them, they must have over 30 feeders just on the patio area. There were literally hundreds of hummers hovering around feeders grouped in clusters and hanging on shepherds hooks.



The Gottlieb home is on a very steep street and thus they have a significant slope retained by a block wall on their uphill side.  Here you see a small section of the slope where water runs down the slope into a calm little stream bordered by colorful sun loving natives.


The Erigonum fasciculatum that I have seen in so many of this day’s gardens shines here as a slope cover draping down to camouflage the utilitarian block wall.


All of the planted areas are exuberant and filled with such variety I could not hope to even give you a partial list. What struck me about this long and very steep slope was how restful all that variety was even though the palette tended more to the lighter, more yellow green than to the darker greens.

The Gottliebs have designed an interesting solution to allowing their cats to have time outside without putting them in the position of being either predator or prey. Wire mesh tunnels run from cat doors in the side of the home to a number of points on the slope- sort of like an elevated train track for the kitties.


 Succulents play a role in the patio area and especially liked this cheerful collection!


The patio and its compact surrounding beds and beautiful pool are only a small fraction of the garden property. Dan and Susan Gottlieb have made their steep slope down into the canyon accessible with a series of wooden walkways. On tour day groups of people wander up and down the slope stopping to admire the variety of form and texture making notes about plant combinations. Susan drifts among her guests answering questions and pointing out plants of special note. Although I walked the entire slope, my camera had already failed me so I have nothing to share save my impression of what a stunning habitat the Gottliebs have created, with the intent of returning the landscape to what it might have been before we all came in digging and building.


This lovely new book tells the story of the garden and features Susan’s photography. The book is also packed with interesting topics, in prose and pictures, including an introduction to P22, the bachelor mountain lion who lives in the Griffith Park area; LA Bird Day; a short list of reasons to “go native”; native alternatives to invasive species and profiles of many Southern California and national organizations dedicated to environmental causes. All proceeds for the sale of the book go to environmental causes.

My takeaway from the Gottlieb garden–I will attend this tour next year just to have another opportunity to spend time in the beautiful habitat they have created and graciously share with others interested in biodiversity, native plants and water conservation. It will be my FIRST garden of the day, not the LAST, and I will come prepared with extra batteries, CF cards for the camera and fresh legs to explore the slope into the canyon more fully.

NEXT UP–I’ll check in on Filoli in April and next week I’ll share the TPFNPGT Sunday gardens.

TPFNPGT Saturday, part deux…

So I am back to share a couple more of the predominantly native plant gardens I  saw this past weekend on the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour. Having returned home, assembled both my thoughts and photos I won’t quite finish my Saturday  garden visits in today’s post. The last garden I saw on Saturday was the Gottlieb garden in the Laurel Canyon area of Beverly Hills. The Gottlieb native plant garden is one of the most renowned native plant gardens in California and has a great back story in addition to being an amazing garden so I will give it its own post. The Sunday gardens (11) will be broken up into at least 3 posts over the next couple of weeks. Wednesday I am back to Filoli for my April class and I know you will want to see what’s going on up there, too!

STILL IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY–The Jacobsen-Bennett garden in Sherman Oaks

The Jacobsen-Bennett home is a neat stucco home sitting on a small corner lot. The front and side gardens, about 3,300 sq. ft, wrap the home and feature both chaparral and woodland plantings.


In the foreground of this large street side bed you can see two of my new favorite plants. At the very front and dead center in the photo is Erigonum grande var. rubescens, or red flowered buckwheat. This very well behaved native makes an 18″ mound about a foot high. In summer the sturdy upright branch tips will be topped with clusters of rosy red flowers. The green spreading mounds behind the red buckwheat is Erigonum fasciculatum ‘Bruce Dickinson’ which also covered the slope in the Klemm garden in my previous post. I saw this California buckwheat and its cousins ‘Theodore Payne’ and ‘Dana Point’ in MANY gardens on this tour and I never saw them woody or overgrown. Reference materials puts their spread at about 4 ft. and their height varying from 12″-36″. ‘Theodore Payne’ is amongst the lowest growing of what I saw–very ground hugging. California buckwheat is a water miser, great for slopes and erosion control and will have whitish pink flowers from late spring to early fall. Did I mention this is the year of the buckwheat? I am absolutely researching the California buckwheat for use in my climate. Below you see the foliage detail for both:

A lovely dry creek bed and native Carex pansa meadow harmonize with the surrounding hillsides.



For me the highlight of this garden was the flow to the side yard–an area that is often neglected on corner lots (including my own!) The creek bed meandered right down the side with naturalized plantings on either side. You can see the use of the red flowered buckwheat again and the great play of color, form and texture.



Above right corner and below, the Abutilon palmeri, or Indian mallow, was spectacular in this garden!



I have become interested in the many species of manzanita. The one above is Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’ and there were many others to be seen on this tour. ‘Dr. Hurd’ will grow to about a 15′ tree form sporting mahogany bark and light green leaves. The white winter flowers are an added bonus!


The palette of plant material in this garden was not as extensive as I would see in many other gardens but thoughtful planning and placement often outweighs sheer numbers. I especially loved the contrast of textures and the all the different grays, greens and gray greens represented.

The home had a tiny backyard with both natives and non-natives. I was drawn to a large trellis with a very delicate vine on it, sporting this single tiny flower. The tag read Maurandella antirrhiniflora. Another one for me to research–who could resist a vine whose common name is roving sailor?


WINDING DOWN–the Gerety garden in Sherman Oaks

In contrast to all the previous gardens, this was the first one whose owner told me unabashedly that he had nothing to do with the planning of the garden and even less to do with maintaining it. He did, however, thoughtfully provide his garden caretaker to answer our questions and help with plant identification. We are not all gardeners but everyone can appreciate a beautiful landscape to come home to at night and make that happen using the expertise of others for whom it is a passion.

The feel of the Gerety home is midcentury modern, sleek and simple with clean lines and repeated elements and the garden exuded the same vibe. Also a small home on a small lot, the front garden is only about 2,000 sq. ft. but packs a big visual wallop.


This landscape makes use of a limited number of species used repetitively in masses, allowing your eye to move across the garden and giving the space a calm restful feel. It is beautifully maintained.


I’ve left this shot full-sized to make it easier to pick apart the elements. The large dark green mass beginning in the upper left is Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’, unfortunately not in bloom as some of the other varieties of ceanothus I saw on tour; moving clockwise you see a little knot of California poppies (Eschscholzia california); moving down from the poppies the mid-green mound is Baccharis pilularis ‘Pidgeon Point’commonly called Pidgeon Point dwarf coyote bush; the lavender in the lower right is one of the non-native Spanish varieties and one of the deepest purple lavenders I have ever seen; rounding out the vignette is a mixture of orange, gold and white California poppies.

I saw ‘Pidgeon Point’ coyote bush in many gardens and have added it to my list to try to incorporate into my garden. It is evergreen, has remarkable climate and soil adaptability and, once established, requires only monthly watering at most. It looks to be a great low maintenance bank cover for sun. You can expect a 30″ high mound which will spread to 6 ft. or more. There is also a lower form called ‘Twin Peaks’ with smaller, darker leaves.


There are dozens of species of ceanothus, varying greatly in size, form and growth. Referred to in our state as the California lilac, they are prized for their blue flowers and glossy, dark green leaves. Most are evergreen and many are very frugal water users and particular about drainage. ‘Yankee Point’ ceanothus is one of the taller ground cover types and one that has a more refined look. Even though not in bloom yet in the Gerety garden, I can envision the show the broad masses will put on this summer.



This lovely front garden also boasts a mature cottonwood tree, a gorgeous stand of Echium, both  pre-dating the 2014 garden installation. Additional plants seen in the above photo include Lymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’, a native grass commonly called Canyon Prince giant wild rye, Fremontodendron ‘Ken Taylor’ (flannel bush) whose golden flowers are just visible and Verbena lilacina ‘De La Mina’ whose lilac flowers echo the purple tones of the lavender. Not seen in the photos are several of the almost white leafed Conejo buckwheat I featured in the details of the Stonehurst arroyo stone cottage and  new little leafed Palo Verde tree, Cercidium microphyllum, which is not much more than a sprig at this point but will eventually provide the garden with a striking focal point.

My  take away from these two Sherman Oaks gardens–thoughtful design of paths, rocks and planted areas using a variety of plant forms, leaf color and texture in repetitive masses can make a small garden with a big impact. Even though both of these garden spaces had the benefit of design professionals and only one is being maintained by the homeowner, they are both do-able efforts by the interested gardener and offer solid examples of good design.

COMING UP AND NOT TO BE MISSED: The Gottlieb Native Plant Garden–a garden with its own book and website!