Pollination cannot be outsourced…

The Garden Bloggers Fling itinerary devoted an afternoon of open time to see the many individual Smithsonian Gardens found along the National Mall in Washington D. C. We were free to pick and choose from among the 12 gardens found in the stretch between the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol–it was no easy feat to decide where to use this precious time. I visited 6 of the 12 and spent a bit of time at the Farmer’s Market near the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building.

Rain threatened constantly and the day was miserably hot and humid. We disembarked our bus and headed in one, twos and threes to execute our finely tuned 12 gardens in 3 hours plans. My first stop was the Pollinator Garden in homage to the designation of June 19-25 as National Pollinator Week. This garden fills a 400 X 40 ft. area on the east side of the National History Museum at 9th St.

The garden was established in 1995 as the Butterfly Habitat Garden, solely focused on butterflies. In 2016 the garden was re-dedicated as the Pollinator Garden to showcase the wider diversity of pollinators, including bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, hummingbirds, moths and wind. Natives were added to the plantings to provide beneficial habitat to the wide range of pollinators and the garden’s focus became the interdependency between plants and pollinators.

Although this garden was packed with plants, those in full bloom were few enough to provide bright pops of color as you walked along the wide curved path. I was really impressed at the educational opportunities this space offers to parent and teachers. The signage is colorful and appealing to both adults and children! The first plaque introduces you to the myriad of pollinators and alerts you to read the each subsequent pollinator profile panel focused on a single pollinator.



This area of the garden focuses on bees. On the far left you see a young lady relaxing under skies which have momentarily cleared. This long slender open space has several benches and at the moment of my visit they were mostly filled. Below is the pollinator profile panel for this section.


I have to say that I stopped and read every one of the seven panels as I wandered through. Who knew that flies prefer pale and dull to dark brown or purple flowers; or that fragrance plays no part in the hummingbird’s choice of flower to visit; or that moths outnumber butterflies 10 to 1 and like to visit four o’clocks, moonflowers and tobacco? I can honestly say that I had never even thought of a beetle or fly as being a pollinator; we are so focused on bees and butterflies. The beetle information was fascinating–the panel tells readers that “beetles are referred to as ‘mess and soil’ pollinators, beetles blunder their way through delicate blossoms searching of food, a mate or perhaps the bathroom”.

Wide borders with tall evergreen and conifer backgrounds block the noise from 9th Street which is only a few feet away. A very pleasant and peaceful walk for being right in the middle of bustle of the capital!

A few familiar pollinator friendly plants blooming included Salvia guaranitica, Monarda (bee balm), several varieties of Phlox paniculata

Pyncnanthenum muticum

This is Pycnanthemum muticum, commonly called clustered mountainmint. I saw this plant in several different settings–totally new to me but I am putting it on my research list–it almost glowed!

The Pollinator Garden was not showy by any measure at this point in its season but I really enjoyed walking through and learning the interesting facts about the different pollinators which perform a task critical for the survival of mankind–the same mankind that stomps, sprays and swats them on a daily basis. Gardens emphasizing natural plant partnerships provide host plants, not only as food sources but also for shelter and safe havens for laying eggs and wintering over. Bravo to this garden for increasing my awareness of pollinator diversity.

We had learned that the weekly Friday Farmers Market adjacent to the Department of Agriculture would have some extra things going on for National Pollinator Week. Only moments after walking back across the National Mall to reach the site the skies opened up and there was a scramble for shelter by visitors and vendors alike. I did get a quick look at a couple of the booths including one educating visitors on bat pollination.



And I made a new garden friend–this HUGE Malayan flying fox! He (she?) is one of the Southeast Asian species of megabat–no kidding, megabat!


There is just not much more I can say about this amazing creature except “Wow!”.

I’ll continue to alternate public and private garden posts for a couple of weeks until I either have given you a peek at all of them or until the details start to become a blur…


Here’s a quick shout out to one of the sponsors of the 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Fling–American Beauties Native Plants. Check out their website at http://www.abnativeplants.com for native plants which will help you create gardens that are not only beautiful but also habitats for desirable wildlife. Thank you!

A garden comes full circle…

Landscape designer Barbara Katz is one of the rock stars of the garden world. In addition to creating beautiful and personalized garden spaces as the owner of London Landscapes LLC, she has teamed up with the high priest of meadow design, Piet Oudolf, to create the new Delaware Botanic Gardens.

The opportunity to visit Barbara’s Bethesda, Maryland garden is a rare honor made even more special after learning a little of the its history. The home was built as a spec home in 1994 and in 1995 its new owners contacted Barbara to create the gardens front and back. The commission was Barbara’s first major residential work and she poured her heart and soul into every detail–so much so that when the project was completed she found herself actually missing the garden.

Years past and Barbara’s design build firm flourished; she never quite let go of that first garden. In 2002 she happened to meet her former client at a local grocery store and learned that they were moving out of the area. Barbara and her husband ended up purchasing the home and the garden returned to her tender care. Right where it belonged!


A large bed filled with grasses, perennials and annuals greets visitors. The colonies of purple Agastache, commonly called hyssop, attracts bees and butterflies along with other pollinators to the garden.The color palette is bold enough to hold its own under strong summer sun but subdued enough to not detract from the home’s stonework and burgundy accents. What you don’t see is the cut bluestone walk adjacent to the curb which provides both a place for visitors to step out of their cars and a little space for plant colonies to grow without ending up in the street.


The bluestone is repeated in the small patio nestled against wide front steps. The plant material layered to the right and left of the steps includes several conifers which will provide winter interest. The red leafed Japanese maple is just visible on the left and echoes the door and shutter color–check out the great dark red rockers on the porch!


The rhythm of the path through the side yard is set by large staggered cut stones. This shady area is illuminated by a variety of lime green and lighter green plants including several varieties of Hosta, Japanese forest grass, ferns and Lonicera nitida. Taller, darker green vines and conifers seem to only intensify the lighter, lower selections. Many of us struggle to just get our generally narrow side yards to look remotely attractive–this pathway could be a garden unto itself and beautifully accomplishes the goal of drawing you into the back garden with the promise of yet unseen colors and combinations.

This charming vignette is found just as the side yard opens out into the back garden. The simple birdbath is nestled among a lovely variety of leaf textures, shapes and colors. The wee bit of pink at the branch tips of what I think is one of the Loropetalum species is echoed in the exquisite bi-color daylily. I regret not getting down on my hands and knees to see if the daylily was tagged–I want this one!

The back of this lot slopes up 12 feet to the property line near a 200 year old oak. As my eyes travel across this slope, which has been terraced to several levels, I see literally hundreds of annual and perennial plantings in well studied plant combinations. Combinations are repeated throughout the space giving the exuberant design continuity and order.


The lesson here is layer, relate, group, repeat. Green is the neutral throughout Barbara’s garden–and all these greens live together in harmony.


The waterfall and small pond were not part of Barbara’s original design and were added recently. Again we see the use of conifers as year around structure in the garden. The vista will be different but just as attractive when the annuals have been removed and the perennials put to bed for their long winter’s nap.


The first of the stone retaining walls is barely visible behind the plantings. The variety of stone walls and paths will also provide winter interest when the leafy materials are dormant.


As you climb the wide stone steps to the upper levels the waterfall can be viewed from multiple perspectives. Ajuga reptans fills in around the stones and will have a lovely bright blue stalk in the spring. Also called bugleweed, this ground cover spreads by runners and will bear a short bright blue stalk of flowers in spring. The white and pale green varigation of the large dappled willow draws  your eyes to the sky!


A small circle of turf on an upper level offers a cool spot to relax–I hope Barbara and her husband sit here often to watch the birds and wildlife attracted to their garden. Another stone retaining wall produces the opportunity to layer in screening plants which act as a backdrop for the entire garden and provides some privacy. The variegated tree in the center is Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’. I had this small and very stylish dogwood in my George garden where is literally glowed among a backdrop of darker green foliage.


We are almost at the top of Barbara Katz’s world now! A few steps behind us she has tucked in hot tub and a spot to sit with her husband for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

Pretty reluctant to leave the Katz garden, my group wandered out by way of her other side yard. What looked to me like more dug in plant material turned out to be her holding area for jobs in progress and additions to her own space.


Plants in flats and gallon containers are clustered together up against the house. From the street the area looks perfectly planted. I am sure she shifts items around trying out combinations and getting a feel (on a small scale) how plants will complement each other in a finished design. Water is nearby and she can pull from or add to her stock as necessary.

Barbara met the challenge of this difficult steeply sloped yard head on with beautiful results. A variety of levels, the continuity of the use of stone and the explosion of carefully curated trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals make this a garden for all seasons–every blade, leaf and flower had me at hello.


A peaceful oasis…

We arrived at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land late in the day; the skies were somber and overcast. The weather seemed fitting for this place of contemplation and reflection tucked away in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Brookland. Founded in 1899, the monastery is the United States home of the Holy Land Friars. The neo-Byzantine Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the centerpiece of the grounds which include gardens, replicas of many shrines throughout Israel, an archive and a library.

As we were near closing time we immediately descended the stairs into the lower garden areas. Below you can see a small part of the woodland garden as seen from above.


The grounds are layered in evergreen and deciduous trees, conifers, azaleas and a modest selection of blooming perennials and shrubs–their purpose to form a peaceful backdrop to the spiritual nature of the monastery rather than a garden showpiece. Below you see the Lourdes Grotto found in the lower garden.


The lower garden had a truly ancient feel which was enhanced by many low walls and edgings of these fabulous moss encrusted rocks. The soft paths deadened the sounds of our footsteps and we felt the need to almost whisper in this space!


As we wandered the pathways back to the top the skies had cleared a bit making it easier to walk among the gardens.


You can see the administrative and residential areas in the background. Throughout the grounds were places to rest and just enjoy the quiet surroundings.

Of special interest is the Rosary Portico; a cloister like series of open passageways in which you can travel from one side of the buildings to the other. The column supports of the portico are of varied forms and were all crafted by the same mason.


Roses, boxwood, daylilies and annual plantings grace the open spaces.


As you walk the Rosary Portico you see this angelic greeting recreated in over 150 languages, both living and dead. Many visitors search for the greeting in their own language–I looked for the plaque bearing the greeting in Armenian to take a photo for David but alas, we ran out of time before I found it!


After a day full of the three “H”s–hot, humid and hectic–I boarded the bus with a little bit of the peace of this place firmly implanted in my spirit.



A Maine cottage garden…

Hello readers! I am going to switch it up a bit for you. Rather than strictly follow the day by day ramblings of the Garden Bloggers Fling I have decided to mix the public and private garden spaces we have toured just to keep you guessing at what you will see next!

Vacations in Maine were the inspiration for the Bethesda, Maryland home and garden of landscape designer Debbie Friedman. Owner of Bethesda Garden Designs, Debbie has mixed natural elements with a fairly controlled palette in her vision of a quintessential but understated Maine cottage garden. She also inspired us with her ability to tackle garden challenges with innovative solutions–her garden is approachable, achievable and a spot I found to be serenely welcoming.


Debbie greets us with open arms–what a great start to our day!


Debbie has created this mini meadow which fills the area between two walkways leading to her home. She explains that the area has an ever present issue with a very invasive grassy weed species which she has fought for years. Her solution was to fill the area around the small flagstone patio with a meadow of Liriope spicata whose form is very similar to the grassy weed. She can spot the interlopers and remove them easily enough but to most viewers the grassy leaves all look the same. The low Liriope is bordered by taller Pennisetum alopecuroides giving the area a feeling of enclosure. Smaller feather grass (Stipa) provides a little step down to the borders as it winds toward the front porch.


Have a closer look at this wooden log bench providing not only a place to rest but a statement of the importance of natural elements has for Debbie in her garden. The vignette is just enough.


This bold bed beneath the gently curved window is chock full of perennials providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. The golden blooms of Rudbeckia maxima, also called the great or giant coneflower, were awash with goldfinches as we arrived–we just couldn’t get off the bus fast enough to photograph them. Verbena bonariensis, whose purple tipped flower heads you see here is another sun and pollinator loving plant so useful for that pop of color dancing in and around its companions.


Carefully curated artistic objects peek out of foliage throughout the garden.

A tall, slender metal and twig structure echoes the form of the Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ to its right. On the left you can see a glimpse of one of several mature Cryptomeria on Debbie’s neighbor’s property. You can never go wrong with a ‘borrowed view’ when it so nicely complements your own. Debbie uses logs again–this time setting the slices in to serve as her walkway to the back garden.


This long view provides a bit of perspective as to the garden’s size. This garden has two homes behind it but Debbie’s use throughout of nicely layered screening evergreen shrubs and conifers provides a sense of privacy and calm right in the middle of a busy neighborhood.


An amazing retreat awaits under the leafy canopy! Wood slices offer a pathway throughout the ostrich fern. Bamboo all ready existing on the property line provides a backdrop for this shade drenched area. Debbie shares that she keeps it pretty well under control by stomping on the newly emerging shoots each spring. You go, girl!


In the foreground are Debbie’s favorite cultivar of Japanese forest grass–Hakonechloa  macra ‘All Gold’–which almost seems to glow in the shade. Log hollow slices set on their side reinforce the use of natural materials as both functional pieces and art

Two levels of patio seating areas grace the rear of Debbie’s home. They offer wonderful long range views of the garden and have architectural and material interest all of their own.


More than one gardener in my group is headed right to their local patio store for orange outdoor furniture! I loved the simplicity of the lower deck water feature and the use of industrial materials as a counterpoint to all the leafy green. The tall red blooms are Monarda  (I think ‘Jacob Cline’).


Take note of the dappled willow, Salix integra behind the water feature. Debbie used the supple new whips from this plant to weave through these interesting metal framed balls which reside just at the edge of her lawn.


This creative garden designer and her charming garden were the perfect start to our first day of touring Capitol region private gardens. I think we all boarded our buses appreciative of her generosity in sharing her garden with us and a little in awe of many of the creative ways she used everyday, natural materials.

Eat more Post Toasties…

The schedule for the first full day of the 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Fling was an ambitious one–garden touring (stalking?) in Washington D.C.’s June heat and humidity is not for the faint of heart. Our day was to include Hillwood, the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post; The Franciscan Monastery; the United States Botanic Garden and the 12 Smithsonian gardens on the National Mall.  I am exhausted just listing them all! Look for the next few posts to to cover them–hopefully doing them all justice.

The gardens surrounding Hillwood are worthy of an entire day of devotion. One of the tenants of the Fling is to give participants a little taste of a wide variety of garden experiences in a given city or region rather than full immersion in a very few. There is a lot to appreciate at Hillwood and I’ll do well to give you enough of a glimpse of its beauty to inspire you to visit should you have the opportunity.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the only child of Ella Merriweather and Charles Post, becoming the sole heir to the C.W. Post cereal empire. She was a businesswoman, diplomat, philanthropist and noted art collector. In 1955 she purchased this 25 acre estate, then called Arbremont. The grounds overlook Rock Creek Park, offering sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Renovation of the mansion and its gardens, which were designed and built in the 1920s by landscape architect William Gebhart, was started immediately and lasted about 2 years.



Above you see Hillwood’s Motor Court at which Marjorie’s guests would arrive via the winding uphill driveway. This statue of an adolescent Eros stands among a formal bed of English ivy and boxwood and greets visitors with an arrow pulled from his quiver as he carefully shields a goat, a symbol of fertility. Although the Motor Court was the first glimpse of the home viewed by visitors, it is actually the rear of the mansion. The more impressive formal facade faces the back.

The French Parterre features a terra cotta sculpture of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and is divided into quadrants using gravel paths. Channels of moving water divide the central Italian glass tile pool.



This whimsical garden is viewed from the master bedroom and dressing room. The elaborate boxwood scrolls and numerous small pieces of statuary reflect Marjorie’s love of all things French.



Even in this small formal garden you see the lavish layering of conifers, hardwood trees and shrubs of varying textures, forms and colors used throughout the estate to create garden rooms, evoking a sense of both privacy and expansiveness.

The Lunar Lawn, so called because of its elliptical shape, is part of the panoramic view from the home’s portico. Masses of evergreens, azaleas, camellias, dogwoods and magnolias create a grand outdoor room. Seasonal color is added but the attraction of this area for me was the sheer variety of texture  and color rising to form living walls.

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The Rose Garden offers a wood and brick pergola covered in wisteria in the spring and roses in the summer. The other rose plantings are simple with a single variety of floribunda rose in each bed. The centerpiece of the Rose Garden is a pink granite monument crowned with an antique urn.  Marjorie Merriweather Post’s ashes are housed at its base.



An exquisite Japanese Garden is reached by several paths of stone steps at the furthest point of the Lunar Lawn.  This garden is on several levels with many opportunities to view the vignettes from different perspectives. Take a look!






Such a peaceful spot, surrounded by towering green and calmed by the ever present water sounds.

Hillwood has two interesting buildings reflective of Ms. Post’s interests. The Dacha, or Russian country house, is her interpretation of a small peasant house. It is currently used for museum programs and rotating exhibitions. The Adirondack building, also used for exhibitions, was built 10 years after Marjorie’s death and recalls the rustic architectural style of Camp Topridge, her summer retreat in the Adirondack Mountains.



The Cutting Garden and Greenhouse were my final stops at Hillwood. I have seen many cutting gardens on large estates across the country and I can say this one was exquisitely design and impeccably maintained. The selection of plants in the cutting garden are representative of what was used in arrangements for the home in the 1950s and 60s.




A few favorites from the cutting garden…

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The Greenhouse is filled with a collection of exotic orchids which are used for color and arrangements in the mansion when the outdoor cutting garden is dormant.



Marjorie Merriweather Post’s beautiful Hillwood is surely a jewel in Washington D.C.’s garden crown. Layers upon layers of mature trees and shrubs surround the house and grounds like a jeweled green cape. This garden stands as a timeless inspiration to all who aspire to make their own surroundings a little bit more beautiful.

Garden Bloggers Spring Fling…getting to know you!

The Garden Bloggers Fling is an annual social and garden touring event for garden bloggers across North America, organized and hosted by volunteer garden bloggers from the host city. This year’s Capitol Region event features Washington D.C, Virginia and Maryland. Since its 2008 kick off bloggers have gathered together in garden cities from Seattle to Buffalo and Austin to Minneapolis, learning about the region’s unique garden character and challenges by touring both public and private gardens. There’s plenty of time to meet and greet and lots of fun goodies from sponsors. This is my first Fling and in just the first few minutes I have found the group to be very friendly and interested in sharing their garden experiences and learning about mine. As a novice blogger I hope to get some tips on the fundamentals I have been fumbling through and absorb the energy which abounds in gatherings of people who share similar passions! I was excited to put a face to a gardener from Maryland who follows my blog!

We boarded buses to travel to our welcome event and dinner at Willowsford in northern Virginia. Willowsford is a rural residential development which includes 2000 acres of open space, part of which is a working farm–more about this in a bit. Capitol Region Fling Director Tammy Schmitt welcomes us and introduces both sponsors and participating garden owners who have joined us for dinner. Our light but delicious meal in the beautiful back garden space is sponsored by American Meadows and High Country Gardens.  Note to self for future parties: a cube of perfectly cooked beet beside a petite ball of goat cheese rolled in something a little crunchy (finely chopped nuts?) makes a wonderful single bite!


IMG_2620After our taste buds and tummies were satisfied we took the short walk to the Willowsford Farm stand, accompanied by Farm Manager Michael Snow and farm employee Jen.

Michael takes this time to give us a little history of this unique partnership between housing and farming. Loudoun County, VA is apparently caught in the age old push pull between development interests and rural interests. In some areas development has been completely stopped while other areas are called ‘transition areas’. In areas designated so, any development must be balanced with 50% open space. The developer of Willowsford purchased 4000 acres of land, of which 2000 will remain open space, including the Willowsford Farm. The large homes are clustered on what Michael refers to as “smaller lots”–he clearly has never been to my home state where we build on postage stamps! A non-profit called the Willowsford Conservancy and Farm manages about 300 acres on which herbs and vegetables are grown and livestock managed for both meat and eggs.

Farm Manager Michael Snow

The developer has capitalized the farming operation and produce from the farm is sold to the public at the farm stand. Willowsford Farm has establish a CSA which currently has about 300 members, about half being residents of the surrounding homes.

Michael shared that the operation is a little over five years old now and when asked about the operational model for which he strives he replied, “to grow stuff we can sell to keep us going”. He added that they are always interested in new ways to partner with the development’s event center kitchen. The Farm sells produce directly to the kitchen; food is cooked there that then comes back to be sold at the farm stand. They also offer cooking classes relevant to whatever produce is plentiful at the moment.

We set off through the herb garden with farm dog, Bella, along side, to see a small part of the farm itself which lies just beyond a riparian area–sort of a through the woods and over the river trek!



Michael and Jen make a quick stop at the home of the farm’s two massive geese, Ben and Not Ben. The poultry on the farm, about 1000 chickens and 800 hens, is managed as what’s called ‘pastured poultry’. The population is housed in small groups in rotating locations, enabling the birds to contribute to the ground’s fertility by doing what they do best. Periodically the small chicken enclosures are picked up and moved to new areas, spreading the wealth around. A herd of goats also reside on the farm and they earn their keep by being hired out to clear ground for other local farmers.

Ben and Not Ben

Adjacent to this poultry area is a plot of ground that had been used for the farm’s venture into ‘forest farming’. This concept was new to me but several others in the group were familiar. In the photo below you see the area which really doesn’t look like much! The premise is that you select a small area and anchor it with the planting of a tree. the ground beneath the tree is then planted with nitrogen fixing shrubs and perennials which could provide a specialty crop product under the tree’s canopy. I think this will require more study for me to really understand it but Michael Snow confided that the weeds had gotten the better of their efforts anyway!


The farm is responsive to growing what the public asks for and so is growing a number of beans and gourds favored by Southeast Asian cooks–remember Michael’s ‘grow stuff we can sell’ model!


Many of the leafy crops are grown in mixed groups under row covers to protect from insect damage. Michael confirms the radishes are ready for harvest!


We got to taste a little of the Salanova lettuce being grown. This leafy lettuce grows in heads but when picked provides a variety of color and texture from one layer of leaves to the next. Michael said it stands up to the heat and humidity and tastes pretty good even after it bolts!


Coming full circle we stop at the newly erected  plastic covered hoop houses, home to the farm’s tomato crop. The high humidity is problematic for tomatoes and they have found much more success growing them under the plastic.


Many of you know I am not a veggie gardener–my husband comes from a large farming family and we always have boxes of produce and fruit on our doorstep during the growing season–but I am always interested in hearing the stories of people who passionately grow food and make finding better ways to do it their life’s work. Bravo to Michael Snow and his colleagues for making this unique partnership a win-win for all!

TOMORROW: Hillwood, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post; the US Botanic Garden and the gardens of the Smithsonian; the Franciscan Monastery and a mystery guest speaker after dinner

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in June

Having recently completed two major events, the beloved Mother’s day weekend and the Filoli Flower Show, the garden was abuzz with staff and volunteers in the midst of changing out the many display areas in the formal parts of the grounds. Flats of Filoli greenhouse grown annuals were strategically stacks on carts awaiting planting. Beds were being turned and amended. The miles of low boxwood hedges were being trimmed. At every turn I came upon another cadre of (mostly) youthful gardeners.

One of the perks of being enrolled in my class is that I have access to the gardens in advance of the public opening time. The grounds are supremely peaceful at this time and  it is the best time of the day to take photographs. I usually only see a gardener or two working in the background and they quickly become invisible once the garden is open to the public. This day, the massive task of changing out the seasonal display beds has brought the gardeners into the spotlight and it helps to remind visitors of the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours it takes to keep Filoli looking beautiful year around.





Even the courtyard garden shop is wearing its summer colors with many summer blooming annuals for purchase in addition to Filoli’s signature plant material.


Given the choice to walk down the service road to my potting shed classroom or through the garden, I always choose the garden. The rose garden still looks wonderful! The very long perennial border which has been quite slow to bloom is now in its full glory.





The colonies of Veronica ‘Pink Damask’ were breathtaking and repeated throughout the border. The knot garden (below) was in full bloom.


On to class! Our morning topic was Water Management. Rather than focusing on getting to know unthirsty plant material or designing for low water usage, our goal today was to get an overview of common residential irrigation systems and most importantly get up close and personal with how an automatic clock or timer works. My household division of labor for 30 years has put the irrigation system in my husband’s purvue. He has installed and repaired systems in all our gardens and I have only gotten involved when MY plants interfere with HIS sprinklers or in telling him how long I would like each line to run. Instructor Mimi Clarke started with the very basics of low flow (micro spray, drip emitters or lines) and high low (fixed spray, rotor, impact bubbler) with examples of how each type is best used. We took a walk to the tool and equipment shed and got a look at the various components of each and some tips on how to organize your sprinkler parts and tools to be able to do regular system checks and repairs efficiently.

And now…on to the automatic clock! Mimi tells us she has never been to a client’s garden on a first visit where the sprinkler system is being used correctly and most homeowners have no idea how to program their clocks. So our first directive is to find the manual that came with the automatic timer or go online and print it off of the manufacturer’s website. Seems simple but we’ve lived in our home almost 9 years and I certainly do not have the instruction manual for my automatic sprinkler clock!

Using one of the 20 large timers in the Filoli formal gardens Mimi walks us through setting multiple programs and start times.



These clocks are quite old but still working well and although they lack the features of some of the newer and more high tech timers, they still work basically the same way. I was thrilled to learn that almost all modern day timers have remotes available for them. At our house it takes two people to work on the sprinklers: one to do the actual adjustments or repairs and the other (me) to run back and forth turning lines off and on! I also realized that we have been working too hard adjusting run times individually for various lines depending on season when we could be using the ‘%’ feature–on my clock it is called ‘water budget’. In a nutshell, you set the amount of time you want lines to run at the hottest point of your year and call that 100%. Then you simply adjust the percent downward during the times of year when much less water is called for–one adjustment covers all the lines. Pretty good reason right there to have read your instruction manual!

We also took a walk to the staff veggie gardens to look at a pretty low tech drip tape system that works using a timer attached to a hose bib. Just have to show you a small part of the garden even though the irrigation system is not very visible.


Moving still further down on the technology scale, we were introduced to the ‘Filoli Water Horse’–a unique handmade structure which allows you to direct the water from a hose with a spray nozzle in various directions and angles. The garden has 20 or more of these which are routinely used to water difficult areas outside of the automated irrigation system.


This was a very informative morning for me–feeling a little more empowered about actually managing my garden’s water more efficiently in the future. Dave and I have often felt that we spend an inordinate time adjusting/repairing parts of our sprinkler system but after hearing much anecdotal evidence from Mimi about the trials and tribulations of her clients and her own watering systems I now know that “misery loves company” is just about the right description of everyone’s experience.

We had a beautiful cool afternoon for our California Native Plant I.D. Walk. Filoli does not have a large collection of natives as the gardens are maintained in much the same style as they were originally designed. There is a small area behind the Visitor’s Center with both coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia)and valley oaks (Quercus lobata). The native madrone (Arbutus unedo) is also represented there along with several species of Arctostaphylos, or manzanita. The surrounding hillsides outside the formal gardens are mixed forests where these three trees are also seen along with many non natives.

Here you see a coast live oak in its youth in contrast to a more mature specimen.

And below a young native madrone…


There were just a few blooms left on the Salvia spathacea, hummingbird sage, and they provided a colorful contrast to the mostly cool green environment of this shaded niche.


We went “off roading” on our return to the potting shed, tramping through the open fields outside the formal gardens–a whole new perspective of the 864 acre estate. As we rounded our last turn we paid a ceremonial visit to the “daffodil graveyard” where the hundreds of pots of daffodils are housed until their foliage totally dies back.


The pots will then be emptied, the soil knocked from the bulbs and the bulbs stored in net bags until it is time to pot them up again! We are really behind the scenes now. You can get a glimpse at a number of different species of ivy growing along the back chain link fence–an entire collection was given by a donor some years ago and the plantings are maintained by a single dedicated volunteer. There is amazing diversity in this genus as you can see in the few I’ve included below.


Bidding you farewell from Filoli for this month. I can’t wait to see how the newly planted display beds will look on my July visit. Kudos to all the dedicated staff and volunteers who make these beautiful gardens reality for all those who come to admire them.


Let me introduce you to my new friend, ‘Miss Heidi’…

A recent non life threatening but exceedingly frustrating injury is going to keep me sidelined from much garden work for several more weeks and so, other than upcoming trips, my posts may be a bit anemic!

On my early May garden tour road trip to Orange County, I saw this dainty pink geranium in one of the tour garden’s sunny beds. The benefit in touring within a car ride’s distance from home is that there will always be at least one outing to my favorite Southern California garden centers!

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‘Miss Heidi’ is one of more than 85 named selections of Geranium x oxonianum, a  very large group in part due to the species’ tendency to produce enormous numbers of seedlings. Ninety-nine percent of these named selections are pink! ‘Miss Heidi’ is one of the Monrovia nursery introductions and I have yet to see it in a Central Valley retailer even though it is purported to offer more tolerance to summer heat than many other true geraniums. Literature indicates it resents high humidity and direct afternoon sun.

All of the Geranium x oxonianum form clumping mounds of five lobed, deeply dissected green leaves. The small but plentiful flowers are slightly funnel shaped with notched petals and vary from white to dark pink and many with prominent veining.  ‘Miss Heidi’ is a clear mid pink with purple veins.


I sited my new friends in my south facing front garden tucked back under some leafy shade. I have in mind to set several large stepping stones to form a casual path to a seldom used side gate and hope that with two ‘Miss Heidi’ on the right and the third on the left forming a loose triangle, they will offer a colorful but subtle guide along the path.

With more gardeners appreciating the virtues of the true geraniums, as fillers, spillers, creepers and mounders adding texture and interest to containers and beds I can’t help but think we will start to see them more available at local garden centers and nurseries. Hooray!