There are no finer blooms than those of the hellebores in late winter. The only even slightly negative thing I can say about these lovely nodding bells is that you almost have to lay on the ground on your back to photograph their blossoms! This is one of a half dozen or so I sited up the slight slope of a narrow long side yard on our corner lot. So indeed, I was literally in the gutter with my camera propped on the curb trying to get this picture.
This is Helleborus x hybridus ‘NW Cotton Candy’ (also sometimes labeled ‘NGN Cotton Candy’) in its first winter bloom. The lawn in this side bed was removed in 2017 and the area replanted between late 2017 and early 2018. This 1 gallon plant went in just about this time last year, at the tail end of when hellebores are in full bloom in the garden centers.
It is one of three and is tucked under the shady canopy of a mature Bradford pear. I have to give it stellar marks for vigor as this area is extremely dry shade with ample root competition for what little summer water is available. The trio was a little peaked through the hottest summer months but nothing more than to be expected of perennials not yet having settled into their new homes. The recent rains have helped tremendously and there is a nice first year show of blooms on each plant.
The Cotton Candy strain is one of a series of Northwest Garden Nursery hellebores produced from hand pollinated plants in the Eugene, Oregon garden home of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne. The O’Byrnes have dabbled (their words–I’d call it way more than dabbling) in hellebore breeding since the early 1990s. You may be familiar with other strains in their wildly popular Winter Jewel series. I recently bought their ‘Ruby Wine’ which is almost black with a purple sheen. Although they are primarily breeders and wholesalers they do have select retail days throughout the year. Hellebore Garden Open Days each February offer opportunities to tour their garden. The 2019 Open Days are right around the corner–February 16th and 23th. Please visit their website http://www.northwestgardennursery.com to read all about the O’Byrnes and get a glimpse of their garden. Don’t miss clicking on the Gallery tab to see individual photos of their single flowered and double flowered strains–a feast for any gardener’s eyes!
I first came to adore these so called Lenten Roses when I lived in Georgia where they multiplied readily under the protection of tall pines. While I admire their variety and their propensity to ‘pollinate amongst themselves’ producing seedlings whose eventual blooms look nothing like anything you what actually purchased, I love none more than the ones I just call Mary’s hellebores which were seedlings from the garden of my dear friend Mary S. Transplanted from my Macon garden to my California garden–a very long over the garden fence trip–they did not reach blooming age until after we had left Georgia but now provide me with bountiful blooms and memories, growing vigorously and offering me countless seedlings to pass along to yet another gardening friend.
No, they aren’t really new at all but the wide variety of shapes, sizes and flower color in the genus Grevillea has certainly been more visible in American garden centers in the past decade as the prominence of Australian plants surges in gardens where climate and cultural conditions favor the so-called Mediterranean and sub-tropical plant families.
Grevillea is a diverse genus of over 300 species of evergreen flowering plants native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and other eastern Indonesian islands. The genus is named for Charles Francis Greville who sat in the British House of Commons from 1774 to 1790. He was a very close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, one of the organizers of the Society for Improvement of Horticulture, a precursor to the Royal Horticultural Society.
In my first iteration as a California gardener in the 1970s about the only Grevillea commonly used in Central Valley landscapes was Grevillea ‘Noellii’, a fast growing prickly shrub with fine foliage and with intricate dark pink flowers. For my minuscule first home lot its mature size of 3-6 feet tall and wide was just too overwhelming. I can’t say in the ensuing 40 years that I had thought much about Grevilleas until we returned to California in 2008 and I started seeing them popping up with great diversity in garden centers, especially in very temperate Southern California. Short or tall, upright, mounding or almost prostrate, there seems to be one for almost any garden situation as long as you have a sunny spot with good drainage. They are hardy mostly and 20 degrees C and drought tolerant. The only quirk of note is their intolerance to phosphorus–thus the need to be cautious with fertilizers.
In our seemingly never-ending lawn removal/bed replanting project I have added a few different species and cultivars of Grevillea. One of the first selections was Grevillea rosemarinifolia, pictured above, which I tucked under the loose canopy of a huge weeping juniper anchoring a spot of ground between our driveway and our side yard fencing. With rosemary like foliage, this species will mound up with layers of airy, nodding branches. As we periodically tidy up the juniper, more space for its eventual 4 foot height is made. Even with the dappled shade produced by the juniper’s branches, this area is in full on southwestern sun all day and gets precious little irrigation. Check out This eagle has finally landed… for some pics at the end of the post of this juniper in all its tree-like glory!
Planted in very late 2017 from a 4 inch pot this selection has proved to be a robust but well-behaved garden dweller, covered now with pinky red buds ready to burst into bloom.
My back garden holding area still has a few “new” Grevillea waiting for their permanent homes to be ready and I am on the lookout for additional ones to try. I am most excited about a little gal called ‘Pink Midget’ which will occupy a spot along the walk from my mailbox to my front door. I can’t wait to see the hummers fighting over a spot at their new nectar bar!
Our so-far mild winter is allowing us to continue work on our final front yard lawn removal. We’ve had just the right amount of rain to loosen up the soil and make digging less onerous but not so much that we have lost too many work days to puddles, sogginess and sinkholes.
We are marching steadfastly from west to east with my sweet Dave in the lead, having both the tools and muscle. You can barely see him in this photo sitting on the ground behind the red wheelbarrow. This being our fourth time to the party he has got a pretty good system. The lawn was chemically treated in early fall–lawn removal by sod cutting machinery is not such a sure thing with a common bermuda lawn. The roots can be very deep and any small viable bits left behind will roar back as soon as growing conditions are right. I swear there have been viable bermuda roots found in fossils from prehistoric times!
He has divided the area into smaller, more workable sections. First, he uses a hula hoe to scrape off any above ground dead grass up into piles. To not sacrifice so much of our topsoil he then sifts through these piles, separating grass remains from viable soil–that’s is what he is doing sitting on the ground in the photo. The good soil is then moved off to a tarp to be reincorporated later. Next he tills the area and again picks out any grass roots, rocks, etc. including copious wads of the green netting that was the original sod’s underlayment. Step three is to double dig the section–one shovel depth’s down worth of soil is dug and off loaded to the side and then the newly exposed surface is dug a second shovel depth’s down. The rock, roots and various leftover construction material removal continues throughout the process. All the previously off loaded soil is returned to the bed and dug together along with whatever amendments I have selected for the area. I am exhausted just outlining the process! The last step is to grade the section to flow smoothly into large untouched areas at the bases of our mature trees.
As Dave prepares the beds I follow behind adding the plants. As with the areas already finished I am concentrating on more waterwise plants–hoping to create a balance the water needs of the existing mature landscape and the new. Unlike last year, my back yard holding area is not so flush with “plants in waiting” so planting is going slowly. Lots of bearded iris and daylily divisions have gone in along with a number of my favorite salvias. I am trying a few more new selections such as Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’ and Ceanothus ‘Hearstiorum’, both plantings of which will be in the bed’s ground zero for all day southern sun. Once these are established they should be very low water users which will allow me to eliminate several pesky, always broken, curbside sprinkler heads.
I am on always on the hunt for plants. Our recent Southern California overnight yielded two nursery stops and a few selections were checked off my acquisition list. Not to be found–and no surprise given the time of year–was another Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ to echo the one planted to the west of the front walk last year.
I probably should read my own blog archives so I can remember if ‘Dara’s Choice’ was purchased locally or, more likely, one of the salvias I bought at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s 2017 fall plant sale. The single gallon can specimen was quite small and unremarkable when planted but over the year it has grown to a beautifully shaped, slightly weepy mound with clear medium green quilted leaves. And in the last couple of weeks it has come into bloom. Not really a show stopper but not every plant has to be covered in big, blowsy flowers to have worth in my garden.
Mid photo you can see there are a good number of gracefully stalks bearing the small pale blue whorled blooms. The layered foliage performed very well, even though in the ground only a few months, throughout our very hot and dry 2018 summer. Its graceful appearance on the slope is worth repeating in the area we are now working. A little research reveals ‘Dara’s Choice’ to be one of the black sages, botanically Salvia mellifera. Apis mellifera is the scientific name for honeybees to which this plant is highly attractive. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and its relatively low, mounding profile and broad spread makes it a great salvia selection for well-drained, sunny slopes. I am hopeful I will find one soon and who knows what other interesting plants I will meet along the way! Give us a few more weeks on this project for a complete coverage of what we’ve added to the mix of shrubs and perennials.
Our ultimate Southern California destination which allowed us the small side trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont was an overnight stay at The Mission Inn to experience their Festival of Lights. Now in its 26th year, this privately produced public event started when Keepers of the Inn Duane and Kelly Roberts decorated the hotel with lights the first Christmas after its reopening to commemorate in Inn’s rebirth. This year’s festival includes over 5 million lights, more than 400 characters and beautiful decor inside and out. The 2017 25th anniversary switch-on ceremony drew 85,000 spectators. The display was voted “Best Public Lights Display” in 2014 and “Best Holiday Festival” in 2015 by the readers of USA Today.
The historic Mission Inn occupies an entire block in the heart of downtown Riverside, California. The oldest part of the Inn dates to 1902 when Frank Miller built a four story U-shaped hotel enclosing a large center courtyard. Over the next thirty years additional wings were added and the Inn became a destination for the wealthy and famous, many of whom stayed for months at a time. I’ll tell you a bit more about the hotel’s history in a second post when you can follow along with us as we take the docent led Historic Hotel tour.
If this looks like an event you’d like to take in next year my advice would be to arrive at the hotel well before dark to get your bearings. My husband had been to the hotel several times many years ago for business lunches and felt sure he knew the lay of the land. However, during the Festival, the normal valet pull-in area and front entrance of the Inn is cordoned off for the very orderly lines of hundreds of people waiting to walk through the light display. And there are masses of people everywhere on the surrounding streets, making negotiating the foot and vehicle traffic nerve wracking. Valet and self-parking for hotel guests is on the back side of the hotel with a short walk to enter on the Orange Street side of the Inn.
As we check in we are greeted by this beautiful Christmas tree. The lobby is sumptuously decorated and is full of groups, large and small, having a drink and a few appetizers, awaiting their dinner reservations and having their photos snapped in front of the tree by the tree’s personal elf. It is hard to say when I have seen so many folks dressed in red, green and sparkles recently. The Inn’s four restaurants and private room facilities are clearly favorites for holiday events.
Our home for the night was Room 101, a corner room in the oldest part of the hotel. The room was very large with three windows, 2 of which opened onto Mission Inn Avenue and the other overlooking Main Street which is a pedestrian paseo closed to vehicles. One story above the ground floor, we would be sleeping right on top of the Inn’s Museum. As I entered, the room felt a bit like being right on Bourbon Street in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Even a grinch would have gotten into the Christmas spirit with the carols playing and the sounds of families and friends enjoying the festival just below. My own grinch’s fears about the room being too noisy to sleep were for naught–when we returned around 10 pm it was quiet and calm.
A perk of being a hotel guest is that you may wander as you please through the displays–no lines to wait in. We made a full circle (square?) around the Inn before we approached the main display at the front entrance. Please enjoy the lights while forgiving my abysmal night photography skills.
Despite the crowds and our fashionably late European dinner reservation hour, the evening was a lovely experience and the Mission Inn is clearly a holiday destination for area residents. FYI–we booked a single package which included our lovely room, a small credit toward dinner in one of the Inn’s restaurants and the docent led Historic Hotel tour the morning of our check out. Although I was actually born at March Air Force Base just outside of Riverside, I had not been there for decades and wasn’t really aware of the many other places of interest in its historic downtown. We certainly could have stayed another day or two and found many engaging sites to see. A+ on this overnight adventure!
An overnight jaunt to Southern California allowed my husband and I a brief visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to view their current exhibit of art in the garden entitled Origami in the Garden2 (actually the little above the line 2 as in the mathematical annotation for squared–no idea how make my keyboard do this.)
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden spreads over 86 acres in Claremont, California and is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants. Its mission is grounded by a philosophy of biodiversity and the importance of bringing real world conservation applications to the public through horticultural education, scientific research and sales of native plants. This garden is yet another public resource I never had the opportunity to visit in the decade+ that I lived in Southern California and today because our arrival is already late in the day and the light waning, we will only see a small part of the grounds. Visit their website http://www.rsabg.org for all the details about the garden, its events and resources.
There are no better words to describe this exhibition, an intersection between art and nature which will remain in the garden until April 14, 2019, than those on the website: “Origami in the Garden2 is an outdoor sculpture exhibition of larger-than-life origami creations. Created by Santa Fe artists Jennifer and Kevin Box, the sculptures capture the delicate nature of Origami, a paper art form originating in Japan and celebrated around the world. Crafted in museum quality metals, the artworks each tell the story of a single piece of paper as it transforms into a soaring bird, emerging butterfly, galloping pony and many other remarkable forms. The exhibition features the Boxs’ own compositions as well as collaborations with world renowned origami artists: Tim Armijo, Te Jui Fu, Beth Johnson, Michael G. LaFosse and Robert J. Lang.”
The guide we picked up at the entrance not only contained a map of the botanic garden’s various areas but an easy-to-read as you walked along guide specific to the location of each of the 16 outdoor sculptures celebrating art and nature through the lens of origami. Super cool was an Audio Tour phone number to call on your cell phone to hear additional information from the artists. As you stopped at each sculpture you dialed the number and at the prompt entered the audio tour number listed on both the map and the artwork’s signage. It was really fun to hear the actual artists talk about their pieces and the audio content expands upon what was on the printed placards by each piece. My husband took charge of navigating our route and queuing up the audio for each piece on cell speakerphone, leaving me free to let my senses take in the garden and my camera lens to wander. Unfortunately, this freedom had no immediate effect in improving my photographic skills but I looked very professional, as if I had an assistant along to do my legwork. By the time we had seen seen and heard about each piece it was past sunset and almost dark–and 4:58 pm, only 2 minutes shy of the garden’s closing. Here are a few of my favorites:
This sculpture is the first origami-inspired work by Kevin Box and is crafted from painted cast stainless steel on a steel base. In his words, “The origami crane is a symbol of truth, peace, beauty and long life. This crane reveals the meaning of its life as it unfolds into a star.” To him, the folded crane is a representation of what we see on the surface of life, while the unfolded crane is a representation of the beauty hidden beneath–there is more to life than what meets the eye.
Painted Ponies frolic in Fay’s Wildflower Meadow. They are fashioned from powder coated aluminum and represent an example of an origami technique called kirigami which means cutting paper. Scissors are used to make four cuts in the paper square and these cuts enable more easily achieving the detail needed for the ponies’ legs and ears. The symbol on the red pony’s hindquarters is a nod to the collaborative nature of this piece. The Chinese character of Te Jui’s last name, Fu, is enclosed in a box representing the metal sculptor’s surname.
The white bird or dove is a global motif recognized as a symbol of peace and the human spirit. In nature, cranes mate for life. These painted cast stainless steel cranes symbolize that quality of pure devotion.
Duo occupies a peaceful space at the end of a stream bed in the Percy C. Everett Memorial Garden which features examples of grouping together plant material with similar water needs. I loved this large bubbling rock!
Who Saw Who? by Kevin Box, Tim Armijo and Robert Lang stems from a sort of after the fact collaboration. The raptor and mouse in their original origami forms were each cut from single sheets of paper: the mouse by Tim Armijo and the raptor by Robert Lang. Kevin Box cast each in bronze at different times and set them aside in his studio. It was not until he caught a glimpse of them later that they appeared to be looking warily at each other–predator and prey frozen in time and metal.
Seed Sower by papermaker and origami artist Michael G. LaFosse and Seed by Beth Johnson were cast in patinated bronze by Kevin Box. The duo explore the role squirrels play in the life of a healthy forest.
When Jennifer and Kevin Box built their home and studio together, they were reminded of two birds building a nest. The bronze casted olive branches symbolize peace and compromise and form the nest. The artwork emerged naturally at a time in their life together when they were discovering and accepting the need for compromise to build a happy marriage. The addition of the two cranes, mated for life, resting comfortably on a nest of compromise completes this beautiful and very personal piece. Thank you, Jennifer and Kevin!
The origami Pegasus was folded from a single uncut square of paper by physicist Robert J. Lang based on a sketch designed by Kevin Box. The artists’ collaboration eventually produced a 25 foot tall fabricated metal sculpture now found in Dallas, Texas. This smaller version was then created from painted cast aluminum on a steel base. Kevin Box shares, “Hero’s Horse is a story of hope, reminding us that who faced with impossible odds help is on the way and good will always win the day.”
Seven simple folds transform a blank page into an airplane in flight. Each fold is symbolic of a choice or action to transform an invisible idea into a reality and repeats a common theme in Box’s work–the story of a piece of paper dreaming of flying.
Selected nights throughout the run of the exhibition RSABG will be open in the evening with its pavilions and other structures festooned with luminarias and Japanese lanterns to see the sculptures by moonlight.
The term “conversation piece” refers to an interesting or intriguing object that sparks conversation. In this interpretation of the game rock-paper-scissors, the paper has won by folding itself into a peace crane and flying just out of the scissors’ reach. This artwork represents the sculptor’s belief that conversation is the key to the peaceful resolution of serious conflicts, many of which arise from our misunderstanding of each other.
As we round the gift shop to our last sculpture we have almost totally lost the light. The Johnson Memorial Oval is a wonderful setting for Rising Peace, allowing it to be viewed from all sides. At a distance the family of cranes appear to be rising into the night sky.
Although my focus was to at least see each one of the 16 sculptures I did see many interesting plants. This time of year there is not much expectation that a California native plant garden would be awash in bloom and this one certainly displayed evidence of a long and droughty summer not long gone by.
A single cluster of flowers on XChiranthofremontia lenzii, an intergeneric hydrid introduced by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. This was a massive tree/shrub with just this one glowing spot of golden orange, clearly the reason its common name is Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’.
If you are anywhere in the greater Los Angeles/Inland Empire area you still have plenty of time to take in this inspiring exhibition. A more in depth reading of the written materials I picked up at the entrance revealed an extensive educational program and a retail native plant nursery on site. Although this garden is a 3+ hour drive for me I’ve bookmarked their website to check back now and then so I don’t miss interesting upcoming events I might be able to piggyback on to future SoCal trips.
I have never had spectacular success at growing lavender. My current analysis is that I have included most as ‘one of’s in mixed beds of perennials and roses which require much more summer water than is preferred by lavender. I’ve got the Mediterranean climate part of the picture right, just not the companions and cultural practices they favor.
In the lawn removal/bed design we completed very early this year I included a grouping of 5 Anouk lavender, Lavandula stoechas ‘Anouk’.
Although they did not bloom spectacularly well in their first summer I’m taking the position that they were settling in, just getting the feel of their new digs and will wow me in 2019. I feel confident that this new bed which is filled with unthirsty selections and receives good summer sun with allow them to flourish in most conducive conditions. And so the lavender bug is buzzing around my head again for the current and much larger remaining lawn removal effort. I plan to include another grouping of Anouk lavenders for continuity but have been keeping my eye out for a few other cold hardy varieties to pop in here and there. Not an easy task as new garden center stock virtually disappears by November 1st when holiday plants and Christmas trees seem to descend from nowhere.
When I visited Morro Bay the last week in October I squeezed in a little nursery shopping time and picked up a lavender with startlingly white foliage with plans to add it to the new bed diagonally across my front walk to play off the similarly hued foliage of an existing plant, Salviaapiana ‘Compacta’.
This is (as was marked) Lavandula stoechas ssp. pedunculata ‘Ghostly Princess’. In mid-November I dug it in what I planned to be a temporary spot as I was clearing out a few other elements which had been crowded into a small bed at the base of a crape myrtle–this bed will now be part of the larger bed opened up by the lawn removal. As I did with the first project last year I have spread plants in the original small beds further out into the newly opened areas to blur the old bed lines and allow them more breathing room.
In doing a little research on this plant it did not take long for me to fall down the botanical name rabbit hole. I have always identified L. dentata as the so-called French lavenders and L. stoechas as the Spanish lavenders. ‘Ghostly Princess’ was bred by PGA (Plant Growers Australia) Innovabred around 2013 and their informational material identifies it as a Lavandula pedunculata bred as a companion for their “The Princess” which apparently was a blockbuster introduction around 2003. They also refer to it as one of the French lavenders. Other sites label the plant Lavandulapedunculata ssp. pedunculata. After reading multiple site’s distinctions between lavender species and their common names (French, Spanish, etc.) I decided it was a global turf war this non-botanist really didn’t need to be involved in. I did learn that it is the ‘peduncles’ or rabbit ears on the top of the flower identify it as one of the French, Spanish or butterfly lavenders as opposed to an English lavender. Holy moly!
Bred for a prolonged flowering, a compact habit and cold hardiness the silvery foliage and pale pink petals are a stark contrast to the gray green/purple combo we see on many lavender varieties. Descriptions detail the pink bracts as having darker pink veins. Despite cold temps and a fair amount of rain my girl put on flowers the first week in December! Given a good start and time to develop a good root system through our moderate winter, I have high hopes for her royal highness.
I have always been an inveterate consumer of gardening, home decorating and lifestyle magazines. If I had a nickel for every issue of Southern Living, Sunset, Country Living and Traditional Home that has graced my coffee table…and now a whole new genre of magazines which have the word cottage in their titles has captured my fancy: The Cottage Journal and Cottage Christmas (substitute Winter, Spring,Summer and Autumn to cover the year!) to name few. Periodically, horrified at the amount of money I spend on this quasi-obsession, I go cold turkey and let all my subscriptions lapse. I can stay on an even keel for most of the year but when those fall and holiday focused issues appear at Barnes and Noble and my local grocery store display I can feel that craving wash over me. I don’t really care about the perfect purse or another piece of jewelry but I am undone at the thought that there may be a life changing idea (vignette, recipe…) in one of my favs and I am going to miss it!
So, with your new understanding of my lifelong fascination with pouring over those picture perfect family friendly kitchens, blooming right-on-cue garden beds and exquisitely curated party plans, you won’t be surprised that I developed a few romantic notions of quintessential cabin life when in 2015 we bought our cedar sided cabin in Fish Camp just outside the southern gate of Yosemite National Park. Most have been dispelled by a basement full of squirrels and the stuff that comes with them, bats in the rafters, 40 year old windows and the realization that we neither have the funds nor the expected lifespan for cabin life to be magazine perfect, except possibly Handyman. Making it habitable and a fun place to host family friends was our ultimate goal in the first place and it didn’t take long for me to circle right back to that.
One lingering and picturesque thought for me has been to host a wreath making day for my BFFs on the deck overlooking our snowy meadow. I would spend a morning clipping fresh boughs from the array of conifers on our property, arrange them beautifully in bins by variety (complete with identifying tags in hand done calligraphy) and set out all the necessary tools and supplies. My friends would arrive, all perfectly outfitted in the colorful and coordinated cold weather gear–looking like ladies who stepped right off the pages of Lands’ End. We would enjoy a sumptuous lunch of hearty, homemade soup and crusty bread, sitting around a perfectly dressed rustic table arrangement and breathe in the fresh mountain air while we share our family holiday plans.
On our last cabin stay that thought resurfaced when my iPhone calendar reminders popped up with notations for ‘wreath making at Ellen’s’ on two days early in December. With absolutely no recollection of what these were I reached out to Ellen and we quickly determined that our quilting friendship group had decided LAST year that we would work in this activity in 2018, piggybacking on the class offered by our local River Center for which Ellen is a volunteer. The reality is that holiday wreath making in the Sierra mountains can come with all kinds of challenges: weather that can change on a dime, icy roads, gathering greenery in 3 feet of snow and packing in our lunch groceries in the same. I am not even mentioning the need for the large Lands’ End order to achieve ‘the look’ AND not freeze to death.
And so before we packed up to come home I cut a few bins worth of boughs and braved our rocky slope for some manzanita. A few days later we gathered in Ellen’s flatland garage with contributions from our Fresno yards and my mountain greens to fashion our holiday wreaths.
Not exactly Country Living, but real life with friends sharing fellowship, food and a fun activity. We feasted on hearty, homemade soup at at Ellen’s beautifully arranged holiday table and although there was no crusty bread–there was dessert! I think we almost got the outfits right–what do you think?
P.S. Within a few days of coming down the mountain, Fish Camp got its first winter snowstorm.