In a daze in Denver…lessons from a cocktail napkin

THE GARDEN OF ROB PROCTOR AND DAVID MACKE IN DENVER

A few months ago my husband outlined the inspirational message he was to give at our youngest son’s wedding to his long-time love on a polka dotted cocktail napkin–you can actually see the napkin in his hand in the photos taken of him with the bride and groom at the altar. In the garden notes about Rob Proctor and David Macke’s phenomenal  garden, I learned that 25 years ago Rob drew a layout of the garden on a cocktail napkin  as he and David celebrated the closing on their new home. The cocktail napkin’s role in new beginnings and big decisions is starting to take on new meaning for me!

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Rob and David invited us to enter their back garden through their 1905 brick home which displays an eclectic collection of David’s antiques and Rob’s watercolors. Rob Proctor is part of Denver’s horticultural royalty. He is a past Director of Horticulture for Denver Botanic Gardens and has written sixteen gardening books on topics from cutting gardens to how to create beautiful gardens on a shoestring budget. Rob has written for the Denver Post and is the resident gardening expert for Denver KUSA-TV. He is also a noted botanic illustrator and watercolor artist. This garden has been featured in many books and magazines and is open annually in August (at its peak bloom) for the Proctor’s Garden tour which benefits a local nonprofit community-based animal shelter/humane society.

A Denver Garden Bloggers Fling would not be complete without a chance to see Rob’s garden. Caveats to this post which simply does not do the garden justice, even in its first few weeks of the season; you get the light you get based on the time of day we are scheduled to be in any given garden and MY photography skills can’t do much to alter that; we have about 35 minutes in any single garden to not just take it all in but also photograph it. If you are a YouTube viewer, there are multiple videos over several years of this garden, several including interviews with Rob. Especially engaging is a June 18, 2019 YouTube upload set to music by fellow Flinger Janet Davis who blogs at The Paintbox Garden–unfortunately my platform doesn’t support links to video but any of the videos can be found by Googling.  Your search engine will also offer you a series of Rob’s own video clips at http://www.9news.com on a variety of gardening topics. All of these are worth watching.

On with the show…

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The brick patio opens to a series of very long and lush perennial borders within a formal structure “walls” provided by brick columns and lathe fencing. The garden’s folly is the visual focus from the seating area and draws the eye to the into to the depths of the garden.

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Flower filled intimate seating spot just a step or two away from the kitchen door
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Turf plays the role of pathway between the borders
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The lathe supports vines and climbing roses, the columns offer another location for containers
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A spot to relax on the way to the herb garden

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The parterre herb garden as viewed from several angles. Again, Rob has used formal structure but let the plants fill it in a blowsy, live and let live fashion. The herb beds are actually sunk below grade to collect water in a technique employed by the Native Peoples which Rob describes as the way a waffle collects syrup.

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This climbing rose anchors the center of the parterre

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Cobalt cushioned seating along the fence line overlooking the herb garden
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A pair of potted clematis flank the loveseat

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The gravel allee is actually the old driveway, now transformed into a long border completely composed of pots. This is perhaps a good place to note that this garden is home to over 600 planted pots. that’s 6-0-0! They are small and large, tall and squat, mostly but not all blue or terra-cotta. Holy moly–I’m doing well to not let the ivy left behind in last year’s abandoned container croak over the winter…

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Rob and Dave snuck this red seating area in to see if we were paying attention
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Lots of crimson and chartreuse in these terra cotta pots
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A little peachier here

The next border over–they all extend from the back of the home sort of like tines from a fork–is quite shady due to the tree cover directly behind the herb parterre but chock full of emerging perennials. Pots of color are placed in the borders to add pops of interest at strategic spots.

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Succulents planted in hypertufa boxes rest on a wooden bench at the base of a large shade tree
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One type of pot, one type of plant= big impact
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Looking down the border

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This magnificent plant that is sited on both sides of the border at its sunnier end (look to the very end of the lawn strip in the next to last photo for the billowy clouds of white) was the subject of much interest to many of us–finally identified as Crambe cordifolia, sometimes referred to as giant sea kale. It sort of looks like airborne baby’s breath floating six feet in the air. Even in a smallish garden it could be used as the backdrop for other more colorful perennials and annuals.

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The white lathe folly at the end of the center border is filled a variety of containers potted up with succulents, ferns, tropicals and houseplants needing a little protection.

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Cobalt blue pots are again prominent, many with yellowy-chartreuse foliage
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Matched hanging baskets of a huge coral hued begonia flank the folly’s doorway
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Another cluster of blue pots are nestled at the base of a spiral staircase

Remembering that this garden is just now in its opening weeks of Denver’s relatively short growing season, I am not sure I can imagine all 600 of the pots bursting with blooms at the peak of the season.

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The central border is alive with bright and dark foliage colors and many blooms. While more is not yet quite blooming than is, the overall effect is staggering. Another plant drawing a bit of attention is this huge leafed perennial which is present is all the borders in various stages of maturity. Several Midwest gardeners recognized it right away and referred to it ask hogweed, cautioning unwitting novices like me not to touch it! David Macke identified it for us as Heracleum maximum, commonly called cow parsnip. It is a genus of about 60 species of perennial herbs in the carrot family. Apparently it can deliver a nasty rash if you handle it and then the affected areas are exposed to sunlight.

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The umbels on this cow parsnip tower least 8 feet in the air
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Another favorite in this sunny border Kashmir sage, Phlomis cashmeriana

The most Westerly border ends in an arbor leading to the vegetable garden which spans the entire back of the property, mostly shielded from the view of the more ornamental borders.

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A huge weigela is an explosion of blooms
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Clematis recta billows at the base of the arbor
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Things get a little wilder  as you approach the veggie area.
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A little potting up space
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Once again having structure and organization firmly in place allows for freedom within the planting beds
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The “waffle” scheme is repeated here, allowing valuable water to flow into the below grade planting square
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Each square of edibles has a terra cotta potted succulent centerpiece–art in its own right
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Malva sylvestris, zebra mallow snuggles up against the base of a bench
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Clary sage pops out of the gravel in abandon
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Creative succulent containers abound

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I am practically on a dead run from the far back veggies to the house as last call for the bus is made-fortunately I am not alone!

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Looking back to main patio from central border path
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Blue pots explode with pansies, succulents and more
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How could I have missed this patio water feature–hidden amongst the myriad of pots!
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Rob bids us good-bye

The lush back garden Rob and David have planted, nourished and nurtured over 25 years after its initial plan was rendered on a cocktail napkin was beautiful on June 18th, the day of my visit. I expect that each day of its season, while different, is equally as stunning. Layer upon layer of plants will come and go through out the borders, beds and pots, rewarding anyone who is lucky enough to spend even 35 minutes amongst them. The “bones” and fundamental framework planned out on that cocktail napkin have made it possible for diverse plant materials to flourish in both contrast and harmony with one another–bits of interesting chaos resting safely in the arms of the garden’s structure. The message David delivered to the soon-to-be newlyweds was one of building a framework of confidence in one another through caring and communication. The goal being a relationship in which both can flourish individually and as partners, in times of contrast and harmony, but always in a safe space. Didn’t think you could get all that on a cocktail napkin, did you? A huge thank you to Rob and David for their generosity in sharing their garden with us on this day.

 

 

In a daze near Denver…a praire meadow

THE GARDEN OF MARY AND LARRY SCRIPTER IN NIWOT

Mary and Larry’s rural Niwot garden occupies about a quarter of their 5 acre lot. With roads on two sides of their property and fields on the other two, you couldn’t ask for a more serene location. Unless you could also have an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains–did I mention that they enjoy that also?

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Adding to their sense of privacy, a long driveway well treed on both sides brings us to their neat 70s ranch home. Mary notes in her garden profile that they started their garden in about 2011 challenged with bindweed, thistle, quack grass, dying aspen trees and clay soil. I don’t even know what those first three things are but I’m sensing they are not good.

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The island in the driveway is only a couple of seasons old and filled with a variety of perennials,  small scale shrubbery and iris

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The barn takes on a quasi desert look with this colony of shapely yuccas. Larry recounted that plants in this group have all descended from a small one he found out in the field and stuck in the dry ground. When asked what species of yucca they were (as garden bloggers do) he replied dryly, “field yuccas”.

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Looks like a field yucca to me…

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This sprightly little pine had a spot just at the end of the field yuccas. It is one of the lodgepole pines, Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ and should reach 12 ft. high and 8 ft. wide and sports those new bright yellow needles for about two months each spring. Although this pine was new to me it would not be the last time I saw it during my Denver stay.

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Mary’s front porch adjacent plantings were colorful and traditional–roses, salvia, and a number of other low fillers not yet in bloom.

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Centranthus ruber, also known as red valerian or Jupiter’s beard is a tough prairie perennial very attractive to butterflies

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It was impossible not to gawk at the exquisite woodwork around the front door, not at all usual for the style and age of the home. Larry shared that one of Mary’s many endeavors had been dealing in European antiques and that this piece was from a French cathedral.

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Our first glimpse of Mary’s sense of garden whimsey: busy iron ants amongst scrambling poppy mallow

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The garden slopes down at the end of the home and as we descend the stairs, Mary’s numerous fairy gardens, both sun and shade, come into view.

At the northwest corner of the garden work began in 2011 to add privacy from the road and increase bird habit. The design was done by Lauren Ogden Springer, an internationally known garden rock star who lives and gardens in nearby Ft. Collins. She and her husband, Scott, have written two books together: Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens (Timber Press 2011) and Plant-Driven Design (Timber Press 2008). Lauren also authored The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Water-Resilient Beauty (Fulcrum Publishing 2011). She is currently overseeing the planting of a newly designed public garden named the Undaunted Garden at The Gardens at Spring Creek which is on our tour itinerary. The Scripter privacy screen contains over 60 trees and shrubs planted with the help of their backhoe and 600 blue grama and little bluestem grasses. To deter the weeds and keep the new plantings moist they were covered with free mulch from tree contractors. Now established, the area is only watered about four times per year.

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Looking into the privacy screen from the end of the Scripter home
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Sort of an organic “Please don’t walk on the grass” sign
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My first view of the prairie meadow–in the foreground, masses of columbine

In 2012, Larry prepped the area behind their home which was destined to become their own personal prairie meadow using 800 pounds of alfalfa pellets and 10 cubic yards of compost, working it into existing clay soil  with his tractor. With Lauren Springer Ogden’s meadow design in hand, Mary spray painted the ground, laying out the matrix of plants, section by section.

From Mary’s garden profile, “Over a period of three weeks, we planted 1,800 plants, including 70 types of perennials, shrubs, native wildflowers, and 13 types of grasses. In the fall of the same year, we planted 1,500 bulbs–daffodils, camassias, tiger lilies, eremurus, gladiolus and various alliums plus many flowers for cutting.” Using a shovel and a wheelbarrow, Larry spread 25 tons of pea gravel around all the precious plants to deter weeds from the hayfield and retain moisture. They had realized their goal of having a prairie meadow with a view of the Rockies.

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Wide gravel paths allow easy access for maintenance

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Keep in mind that this meadow was covered with snow a short three weeks ago. While it is mostly green now, it has many diverse plant colonies which will come into bloom throughout the summer and probably reach its peak in August.

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Eremurus (desert candles) just rising up
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Waning Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’–named after garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden
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Sanguisorba, I think–commonly called burnet and endowed with astringent properties

This prairie meadow under the big Colorado sky lies not much more than a hay field away from the Lagerman Reservoir. Mary had laid out several bug spray options for us on the deck and you only had to venture out into the meadow to understand why–it was swarming with mosquitoes. Many of us, including me, just weren’t able to spend much time photographing plant groupings because you couldn’t stand too long in one spot before they found you!!

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This striking bird bath was one of my favorite meadow elements.  Mary shares that the ever changing meadow landscape is full of life year-round, including hundreds of birds. The entire meadow is a certified Pollinator Habitat, feeding wild bees and the bees from neighboring farms.

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Viewing the meadow from the southwestern end of the back garden. This area is shaded and planted with many traditional shade loving species.

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The shaded back deck is perfect for relaxing and enjoying the view of the meadow and the Rockies beyond.

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The back deck bears witness to another part of Mary’s collecting life when she dealt in    cowboy and western items. This vintage Americana seems just right for Colorado decor.

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This delightful photographic essay on the meadow development which also included photos of the Scripter’s family and friends was available for us to enjoy.

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A memorable moment

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Although the meadow is now well established, the Scripters concede that no garden is ever done. A meadow this size requires significant maintenance with weeds, weather and critters all being unpredictable factors from year to year. Regardless of the work involved to maintain their stunning long range view from the meadow to the mountains, they express that they are very grateful to live here. I am very grateful that Mary and Larry were willing to share their garden with us.

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Gamble Garden Spring Tour 2019…the last two gardens

EAST MEETS WEST

The owner of this historic Professorville cottage in Palo Alto wanted a garden to honor his father’s garden in the family’s native Vietnam. The result is an eclectic mix of tropical and traditional plants nestled amongst paths, gates and art pieces fashioned from driftwood and salvaged antique bricks.

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The fully enclosed front garden is a potpourri of shrubs and vines nestled underneath a canopy of mature oaks.

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The first of many unique driftwood creations crafted by the homeowner greets visitors near the front gate.

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Mature rhododendrons grace the front walk–the only ones I saw on the tour this year.

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The piece of driftwood perched atop this gate’s frame is reminiscent of a bird stopped for a rest on its daily travels.

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Multi-colored antique bricks laid were laid in sand to make this rustic path.

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A vine covered arbor..

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…and another driftwood gate open onto a brick path to the back garden.

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The back garden features a brick floor with accents of stone and driftwood. The single sunny spot in the garden is home to a raised planter with its own ‘found wood’ fence.

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A raised gazebo is dressed in driftwood style and its comfy couch offers a great view of the garden.

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A huge orchid in bloom,  Dendrobium  kingianum, is perched atop a waist high stump.

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A rock waterfall, once part of a koi pond whose inhabitants sheltered under the raised platform of the gazebo, is home now to tropicals and ferns. The pond itself is now a brick floor, a bit of which you can see in the lower right corner.

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A neat stack of materials stands at the ready for future projects! The beauty of this garden for me was the homeowner’s obvious affinity for the space and enjoyment in creating his garden with his own hands.

A FEAST FOR THE SENSES

As much as I admire landscapes with sophisticated green and white palettes, perfectly poised pots, and every detail dedicated to the theme; I am at heart a gardening girl who loves a riot of color and texture, prefers her shrubs in naturalistic shapes and adds things to the garden just because I want to try them out rather than that they fit some prescribed color or category. This last garden of my day on the tour spoke to me in terms I not only understand but see as achievable and possible to maintain in my slightly messy, do what you will vibe.

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My dream home and garden would be an authentic Spanish bungalow tucked behind wonderful courtyard walls–a little bit of public garden street side and the rest of it  nestled privately inside where I could play to my heart’s content in raised beds reached by stone and ground cover paths. Although the garden of this third generation landscape professional is very visible from the street side, it checked almost all my design boxes.

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Red brick walks are the front garden’s floor and series of geometric beds harbor most pf the plants. The raised beds are capped with red brick and are perfect sitting walls. I love a good sitting wall!

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The beds have a definite East coast influence is throughout and are densely planted with a mixture of roses perennials coming in and out of bloom amongst a formal structure of evergreen shrubs.

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This neighborhood has sidewalks and wide parking strips (called something different everywhere-the area between the sidewalk and the curb)–masses of agapanthus and daylilies and other strap leafed perennials will make this the prettiest ‘hell strip’ in town when they are in full bloom.

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A mature tree canopy provides dappled shade to the front walk.

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The homeowner enjoys flower arranging and makes use of many blooms from her own garden. The front plantings were originally designed to serve as a demonstration garden for her clients.

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A narrow planting strip along the driveway offers vertical gardening opportunities, both softening the look of the property line fence and providing additional privacy.

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The driveway as seen from the garage which is placed far back on the lot. The combination of brickwork adds interest and just feels softer and cooler than concrete.

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A small guest house with a pergola whose columns mimic those on the home’s front facade separates the back garden into rooms. I thought this little sitting area was one of the most charming I saw on the tour and I know I would be relaxing out there every day.

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The red brick fountain tucked next to the sitting area is presided over by a Korean acolyte sculpture the homeowner has named Yoda. The glass balls are meant to deter raccoons from fishing in the pond!

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Green Goddess calla lilies share the spotlight with papyrus and other water plants in the pond.

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Raised beds and pots in the sitting area are massed with nasturtiums and other edible flowers.

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The sitting area and pergola provide a lovely view of the rectangular lawn with its wide compacted gravel walkway–the original brick walkway was replaced after the homeowner’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in preparation for a time when a wheelchair path might be needed. Railings were also added to any areas having even a step or two.

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The lawn leads to a raised patio from which to dine and enjoy the garden. Kiwi vines cover the the arbor and abundant roses are within reach of the house for easy cutting.

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A brick walkway between the guest house and the garage draws visitors back–anxious to see what other delights they will find.

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The lot is remarkably deep and easy to walk compacted gravel paths wind around beds filled with annuals, bulbs, perennials and herbs. A green screen along the back property line offers the sense of being all alone in the city.

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Ornamentals give way to edibles in raised beds. I could sooo…live in this garden. It feels cool and colorful without being fussy or overly regimented. This is a gardener’s garden.

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So ends this year’s Gamble Garden Spring Tour. The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden deserves a post of its own and I’ll save that for the dog days of the summer when my spring travel is over and my own garden looks like scorched earth.

Another Gamble ramble…

Enter the Garden is the theme for the 34th Annual Gamble Garden Spring Tour. Five homeowners graciously opened their gardens to give garden lovers a peek into Palo Alto’s historic neighborhood surrounding the Gamble Garden and just a short drive from Stanford University. I am an unashamed garden tour junkie and this event is right at the top of my favorites list. The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden is a precious community resource and is supported solely by memberships and donations, receiving no funding from the city, state, or any other government entity. This annual tour provides valuable funding needed to keep the garden open to the public every day of the year. Please look back at my posts Gather in the garden… and You can Gamble on this spring tour… to learn more about the historic Gamble property and see gardens from the 2017 and 2016 tours.

A SHEEP IN PALO ALTO

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The clean and classic lines of this New England flavored family home are enhanced by the front garden’s simple elegance, featuring formally clipped boxwood hedges and white tree roses.

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Glossy black shutters and sparkling white woodwork play off the warm toned brick porch set in a herringbone pattern. The pair of Adirondack styled swings invite visitors to stay awhile.

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A sunny spot as you enter the side yard offers a place to grow a few veggies. Notice the herringbone brick ‘stepping stones’, carrying the porch floor theme into the back garden.

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The simple black metal gate echoes the home’s shutters and provides privacy for the family’s personal spaces. The coniferous Thuja trees (seen behind the planters above and on either side of the gate) are used as bright green backdrops throughout the garden.

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This black sheep welcomes you to the back garden and was an online find by the owner.

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This side yard provides visitors with their first full height view of the back garden’s small grove of mature redwoods.

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A beautifully appointed outdoor sitting room offers a spot from which to enjoy the garden–the use of herringbone patterned brick is repeated here.

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Artificial turf provides open play space for a busy family and the ability to host large gatherings. The garden’s green and white palette gets a pop of color from the orange mid-century modern chairs tucked in a spot perfect for viewing outdoor ping pong tournaments. Formal boxwood hedges and globes enclosing beds planted with white azaleas, ferns and New Guinea impatiens feel cool and chic with a Southern ambience.

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The redwoods’ trunks and roots dictate the bed elevations and the stair step plantings make the beds feel very full even though a good circle of air space protects each tree’s base. The redwoods have been limbed up to a height of 25 feet. This allows them to provide almost a forest like atmosphere without overwhelming the space. Lights have been woven among the trees and they need to be adjusted every few years to accommodate the trunk’s changing girth.

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Looking back from the grass to the home offers a view of the gorgeous second story deck which spans the width of the home and is outfitted with lounges and greenery in bright white cans.

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The outdoor dining room graces a small brick patio and is partially screened from the neighboring property by Thuja.

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This small guest house was added in a recent remodel and its patio offers space for the outdoor kitchen plus a powder room for guests.

As you exit the back garden by the side yard an out of the way, but easily accessed, nook has been created for the family’s bikes. Even the family dog has a stylish pad, including his own sun screen.

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The small space between the driveway and the property line fence is outfitted in keeping with the home’s formal front garden–including its own Adirondack loungers…

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…and a Little Free Library in case you need a good book while enjoying the garden!

PARADISE IN A MEADOW

I like to start a garden post with a street shot–sort of a curb appeal intro to what the garden is all about. The Palo Alto neighborhood surrounding the Gamble Garden has homes of all styles and sizes set on smallish to moderate sized lots by California semi-urban standards. Real estate here is purchased possibly by the square inch and even a tear down property is priced in the multi-millions. Homes may be very close to the street and shielded from view by walls or hedges. Mansions on huge lots with expansive gardens are rare but very large homes on small lots are not, especially if the current home is not the original one built on the parcel.

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This historic Victorian home (photographed from the neighbor’s front walk) rises above its totally enclosed modern meadow garden inspired by New York City’s High Line, a naturalistic garden established on an unused spur of the city’s elevated train. Check out http://www.thehighline.org if you are not familiar with this unique garden offering trails and a killer NYC view.

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As you enter the shallow but heavily planted area you are greeted by a fawn sized moss topiary grazing on its planted partners. Access to the open meadow is narrow and with a steady line of tour goers it is not possible to even step aside to identify or photograph individual plants.

Mixed plantings of shrubs, perennials, grasses, bulbs and ferns fill this small space, including many plants selected for their popularity in Victorian gardens–such as the Bear’s Breeches in the upper left and the Queen’s palm in the upper right.

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The meadow is reached through a tunnel arbor planted thickly with sweet peas and other flowering annuals. Artistic accents are welcome surprises around each curve.

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Entering the sunny meadow we walk along a single person wide path–a profusion of flowering trees and shrubs, bamboo, grasses, bulbs and perennials mingle in happy abandon.

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The path follows the outside curve of the sunny center allowing us to walk in shade looking back over the meadow to the home’s porch.

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The death of a massive oak last year offered the opportunity to plant two Chinese silk floss trees, one of which you see in front of the group of visitors. The tree’s trunk sports huge thorns and it will bear pink hibiscus like flowers in late summer through fall.

This eye-catching Albuca batteniana is tucked among the path’s green backdrop. This is a rarish South African perennial bulb related to Orthinogalum and will eventually have white starry flowers. The leaves were a yard long and the immature flower stalk rose over my head. I would think it a winner even if it never bloomed!

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This beautiful vine draped arbor along the back of the garden was the space’s standout for me, offering a shady space to relax, dine and enjoy the garden.

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The front half of the arbor has metal roofing in addition to the vines but the back half is open as you can see by the shade lines. Comfy outdoor furniture invites visitors to rest a bit while they admire one of several beautiful flower arrangement made from flowers, branches and foliage cut from the meadow.

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View of the garden from the outdoor seating area under the arbor.

The more shaded end of the arbor is shielded from the street and the home’s parking by a double gate made from the same materials. These gorgeous custom iron handles and latches grace the double gate and adjacent pedestrian gate.

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Looking back from the cobbled parking pad to the gates and arbor–who says functional can’t be also charming?

These first two gardens on the 2019 Gamble Garden Tour could not be more different from one another. The meadow garden, carefully planned and executed, results in a look of wild and natural abandon–anything goes! The classic, clean lines and limited palette of the first offer traditional garden beauty while not limiting the family’s use of the space for parties and play.

With such an inspiring start to this year’s tour I can’t wait to for you to see what’s next. This year I will spread the gardens over a few posts to give you as many photos and details as possible. Keep your eyes open for more gardens coming up soon–right now I am off to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden’s spring plant sale!!

 

Allelulia!

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Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.

MARTIN LUTHER

 …and bloom, too! Have a blessed Easter Sunday enjoying God’s beautiful gift of nature and his only Son.

 

 

Amaryllis aftercare…

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Here is what’s left of this holiday season’s amaryllis crop. I started the cycle with 15 bulbs held over from the last couple of years and 36 fresh bulbs from my favorite grower, Van Engelen, Inc.

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A veritable forest of blooming beauties–this shot taken December 6, 2017. These are the two new varieties I tried in 2017: ‘Rozetta’, a ruffled double, and ‘Blushing Bride’, a paler pink single.

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Amaryllis ‘Rozetta’
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Amaryllis ‘Blushing Bride’

I give away many potted bulbs throughout December, including dropping off small groups at local retirement centers and at businesses I patronize throughout the year. The majestic blooms towering over a few green sword like leaves never fail to elicit a smile from the recipient! For many years I attached a card printed with directions to answer the perennial question “What do I do with it when it is finished blooming?” but lately I have had to field that question less often–probably Alexa and Siri are doing my work for me.

In the first photo you can see I still have several pots with stalks in bud or bloom. For many of these pots you are seeing the 2nd or possibly 3rd bloom stalk. I have had amaryllis continuously in flower since the week after Thanksgiving and expect to enjoy them several more weeks.

Three options exist for your post-holiday amaryllis: thank it for its service and show it the compost bin; plant it in the ground; hold it over to force it again next year. I am going to assume you are not hell bent on the first one or you would have skipped this post!

For either of the remaining paths, start by keeping the potted bulb inside until overnight temperatures reliably exceed 60 degrees F. Give the pot a sunny spot so the plant will continue to produce chlorophyll and healthy green leaves. Many amaryllis will continue to bloom off and on throughout spring and summer if you do not force them into a dormant period. Remember–growing in the ground these plants are naturally spring blooming perennials, waking up due to soil temperature and day length after a long winter’s nap. As each bloom fades you can cut it off but try to leave the stalk intact to die back naturally as it helps to feed the bulb.

If you live in USDA Horticulture Zone 9 or warmer, the bulbs can be planted in the ground. Remember to shelter them inside until your nights have reached the 60 degree mark and then harden them off gradually, introducing them to sun gradually over several days. They need well-drained soil, bright filtered sunlight, a neutral pH soil and will be most reliable if planted in an area getting no supplemental rainfall from mid-summer through fall. One of my Georgia neighbors (shoutout to Shelly T.) has an entire bed filled with amaryllis from Christmases past and it was spectacular in the spring. My success with these bulbs planted in the ground has been miserable. It is challenging for me to find a spot where water can be limited July-October because everything else in my garden must have irrigation to survive those months AND the snails send out their house party invitations as soon as they hear the whisper of the ‘A’ word.

I have had pretty good success keeping the potted bulbs through spring and summer with the goal of forcing them for another season. It never hurts to try!  When your area has reached appropriate night time temps and you have brought your pots out into the sunlight gradually (hardening them off), find a resting spot for them with about 6 hours of sunlight. Warning—Fresno gardeners need to make that filtered sunlight! I keep my pots corralled in the plastic bins (I have a set in which drainage holes have been drilled) you saw in my post Winter’s royalty… making them easier to move as a group if I need to adjust for sun or water. Give them a little shot of diluted houseplant fertilizer every month. The foliage will be floppy and unattractive but do not trim it back. Water regularly until mid-July when it is the time to convince your bulbs it is winter and nudge them into dormancy. Store the pots in a dry, dark location and withhold water. The lack of water and darkness will cause the bulb to go dormant with the foliage dying back as nutrients are reabsorbed by the bulb. If the stars are correctly aligned you will be rewarded by a nicely fattened up bulb when the big reveal is made in late October. A little soil refreshment may be done at that point but keep the same sized pot–amaryllis like to be cozy in their pots.

It took me many years to realize that the neatening up I do on my tablescape plants–cutting off each spent flower stalk close to the base–is detrimental to my success in forcing the bulbs for a second year. In achieving an attractive display I was removing much of my bulb’s future nourishment. It is a hard line to walk for me but at least now when I whack that stalk I am making an informed choice and accept that I may diminish the return of my bulb.

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Still to look forward to–my large pot of 10 Royal Dutch Amaryllis ‘Hercules’. This class of amaryllis takes about 4-6 weeks longer to bloom than the Christmas Flowering group. I should have a mass of blooms by Valentine’s Day.

I simply could not have Christmas without amaryllis and poinsettias. It is part of human history to associate particular flowers with special seasons or events in our lives and we hold these  associations as dear to our hearts as the memories of the blooms our parents or grandparents nurtured. It is also uniquely human to revel in our ability to control the bloom periods of our favorite bulbs, enjoying them in seasons when they would not naturally bloom. There are many other bulbs that can be easily forced for indoor beauty in winter–narcissus, crocus, hyacinths and lily of the valley to name a few. I have only tried a couple of these but am going to revisit my bulb catalogs in the fall and make some selections for 2018!

 

 

Winter’s royalty…

I’m going to take a quick detour from the San Jose gardens posts because…it’s Amaryllis Potting Up Day! Yup, that’s in capital letters because at my home it is an actual holiday worthy event. For at least the last twenty years I have potted up quantities of Hippeastrum hybrids, commonly called amaryllis, in the fall. My amaryllis intentions have ranged from growing a few to use as part of Christmas tablescapes all the way to potting several hundred a season to fuel a small home-based business when I lived in Georgia. My Georgia home had a 400 sq. foot sunroom drenched with light from 8 foot high windows on three sides, offering a perfect indoor greenhouse in which to winter force all sorts of bulbs–a serendipitous set up which I know I will never have again. Given the sheer number of these bulbs I have forced over my adult life I was amazed to find I had only a few photographs in my files. I don’t know the cultivar on this one but I can just see the tables full of plants in the background and the year indicates it is from the days when my sunroom ‘greenhouse’ was alive with color in early December.

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The amaryllis we force to bloom at Christmas time are mostly from a broad category called (no hort degree needed here) Christmas Flowering. These varieties are natives to South Africa and their southern hemisphere origin makes them especially eager to pop out of dormancy. Within this category the bulbs are then subcategorized based on their height and flower size as Symphony (largest), Sonata and Sonatini. Singles and doubles, solids and marked varieties exist in all categories. Christmas Flowering amaryllis typically come into bloom 4-6 weeks from planting.

I hold over plants (that I have not given away) for forcing in the subsequent year so in any given year I have a combination of previous years’ bulbs and newly purchased bulbs–after New Year’s I’ll add a post on what to do with your spent bulbs. I like to try a couple of new varieties each year. This year I am growing ‘Wedding Dance’ (single white), ‘Rozetta’ (double mottled pale pink), ‘Blushing Bride’ (another pink), ‘Razzle Dazzle’ (striped red and white), ‘Merry Christmas’ (single deep red) and ‘Gervase’ (yet another single pink). I also have a few held over which have become orphaned from their tags so each will be a new surprise. I purchase my bulbs primarily from Van Engelen Inc. which is the bulk quantity pricing arm of John Scheepers. Both are easily found on your internet search engine. A note about those bulbs in boxes at the big box and grocery stores–your results will look successful to you just until you see an amaryllis grown from a top quality bulb grower. Mail order bulbs from reputable growers are typically shipped out to the purchaser within a couple of weeks of their late September harvest. They are full and firm with new roots popping out, not shrunken and dried out looking. There is no telling when the bulbs in the prepackaged units came out of the ground and whether they have been stored at the proper temperature in the interim. Well, actually you know they haven’t as newly dug bulbs that you are not ready to plant should be refrigerated at 50 degrees with good ventilation–not happening at the mass market outlets!

So below you can see that I have retrieved my pots of last year’s bulbs from their dark resting place (artificially induced dormancy) and, keeping each cultivar separate, dumped each pot’s contents into a large plastic bin.

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They have been unwatered and in the dark since mid July. Not every bulb will be viable. Below you can see the contrast between the fat one (happy face–good for another year) and its neighbor (compost bin bound).

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This group is the variety called ‘Wedding Dance’ and some of these bulbs have been forced for several years. After a while they just don’t have much left and need to be replaced.

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My pots have been cleaned and partially filled with fresh, good quality potting mix.

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I clean up any dead root material from the base of the bulb and work the bulb a bit into the partially soil filled pot. Amaryllis like to be in a cozy pot with about 1/4 of the bulb above the final soil level. The bulb nose and shoulder above the soil prevent water from collecting in the sprout and rotting your bulb. Although you can force these bulbs sitting directly on pebbles with their roots submerged, bulbs planted in soil must have good drainage.

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Adding potting mix to the appropriate level.

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Giving this group a good drink and time to properly drain.

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The potting up date I select is based on how I will be using my plants and keeping the 4-6 weeks to bloom time in mind. Gifts for a ladies’ lunch the first week of December demand an earlier potting up date than having a beautiful bloom show for my Christmas Eve table. This year I will do a second mass planting 2-3 weeks from now to accommodate late December needs. I work each variety as a group and label every pot with the cultivar name and the date. In a perfect gardening world I would plant each variety over the course of several weeks so that I would have all my chosen varieties at varying stages of maturity, extending my bloom season. If anything every gets to be perfect in my gardening world you will be the first to know.

The Royal Dutch amaryllis is a second broad category you will find in catalogs and online. These originate in the Netherlands and bloom 8-12 weeks after planting. I have, with difficulty, forced these to bloom by Christmas by giving them ample bottom heat and a much warmer than average environment. Most bulb growers would prefer to make only a single shipment to each customer and thus send both kinds of bulbs out in mid-October, making holiday bloom a challenge. Probably the most well-known amaryllis in the retail market, a mid to pale pink called ‘Appleblossom’ actually falls in the Royal Dutch group–I have to think that its tendency must be more to the 8 weeks than the 12 weeks to bloom time. Two years ago I planted a container with 10 bulbs called ‘Hercules’ after a late bulb shipment (apparently a European harvest issue) the first week in November and I had this wonderful display for Valentine’s Day!

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Each bulb bore multiple 24″ stalks and the blooms measured easily 7-8″ across. It was such a breath of spring to come!

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‘Hercules’ is going to become MY Valentine’s Day amaryllis. It was almost May before the many waves of bloom stalks were finally spent. I lifted the bulbs and potted them up for gardening friends to hold over for the next year. A fresh dozen bulbs will refill my ceramic container and have two to spare for individual pots.

Because this large (20″ X 12″ X 8″ deep) container is actually a bottle cooler it has no drainage. I add a 2 inch layer of pebbles to the bottom and will be very careful with watering.

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A few inches of potting mix to make the bulb a cozy nest, a precise arrangement for fit, filling out the spoil to the bulb shoulders, and voila!

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All my newly planted amaryllis get a temporary home by my south facing dining room window. ‘Hercules’ gets a special spot on a heat mat to help him along. As the weather cools I will move them up to the loft to capture the natural movement of the warm air. About that time my second planting can assume their position in the dining room. As everything is nicely dampened now I will wait until the stems peek up to water again. The bins make it easier to rotate the pots’ positions for more even warmth from the sun.

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As with every year, I can’t wait to see the first bit of green emerge from these lifeless looking globes. Soon there will be a chill in the air and I will once again pay court to winter’s royalty.