Sierra Azul and Sculpture IS in the Garden…

Happy New Year to all my gardening friends! A very warm December and early January has lured me away from my computer and into my garden more than usual for what is supposed to be winter. Before I catch you up on what’s going on in the Queen’s little 1/2 acre I want to close the loop on the Watsonville trip I wrote a bit about in my December 6, 2017 post Gardening with Goat Hill Fair….

One of the facets of chronicling my garden travels for this blog that has proved an unexpected pleasure for me is learning a little about the history of the communities, events and gardens I visit. Even as a native Californian there are so many places in my own state that I have never visited!

Watsonville is the second largest community in Santa Cruz County. The city of  Santa Cruz has always been a popular beach destination for Central Valley residents and those of us who stayed in town for college thought that our friends who went of to UC Santa Cruz had died and gone to heaven…to party forever! I am pretty sure Watsonville–just a few miles away–was never on our radar. Watsonville was settled in 1852 and named after Judge John H. Watson who arrived in the Pajaro Valley and set up a claim on a portion of the Bolsa Del Pajaro, a land grant belonging to a prominent Mexican-American settler. Watsonville’s history is based in agriculture, growing products such as strawberries, apples (it is the home of Martinelli Cider), berries, lettuce, mushrooms and cut flowers. The rich, fertile land and favorable agricultural climate of the Pajaro Valley remains the basis of the area’s agricultural success today.

I have been buying plants grown by Sierra Azul Nursery from my local garden centers for many years and so I was excited at the prospect of visiting the nursery and meeting its owner, Jeff Rosendale. Jeff’s wholesale operation, retail nursery and demonstration garden are located on E. Lake Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds and enjoy a spectacular view of the distant mountain peaks. The nursery’s name is taken from the mountain range of the same name. The southern half of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range is divided in two by California State Highway 17 into what the colonizing Spanish called the Sierra Moreno, “brown mountains”, to the north and Sierra Azul, “blue mountains”, to the south.

Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens specializes in plants from the 5 Mediterranean climate zones–remember the great mosaic art piece at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (see November 6, 2017 post SLO down for this Central Coast botanical garden) describing these 5 zones? Most of what the retail part sells is grown on the property.

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Owner Jeff Rosendale’s 2 acre demonstration garden adjacent to the retail nursery offers insight into what many of the plants he grows will look at mature size during various times of year. While it is not a manicured garden, it is a very realistic representation of how a wide variety of native and non-native trees and shrubs can work together in large scale borders.

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The rocket ship like conifer in the background is Sequoia sempervirens ‘Mt. Loma Prieta Spike’, unfortunately no longer being grown for retail purchase. I loved it!!

In 2006, Sierra Azul’s demo garden became the backdrop for a project of the Pajaro Valley Arts Council dubbed Sculpture IS in the Garden, an extensive installation of art pieces from California artists. The open air exhibition now runs from June 1-October 31 yearly. Even though the event was technically over when I visited Sierra Azul many of the art pieces were still in the garden, along with pieces Jeff has acquired for his permanent garden collection. The 2017 event showcased over 90 pieces of original art. Included each year are works (many for sale) in a variety of styles and media, including steel, wood, ceramic, bronze, glass and concrete. Many are large scale. Some are static, some bend in the breeze. The winding open spaces of the garden drew me through the beds and borders, finding something new to admire at each turn. Over 1,000 pieces of sculpture have been featured in the garden in the past 11 years. Here’s a small sampling of what I saw.

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This playful Pisces greets visitors just inside the property’s gate.
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This organic representation of earth hangs high in the trees.
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Bird and Gear by William Huffman was one of the pieces offered for sale.
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Another large scale piece rising from the landscape–I loved the fanciful rusted iron face!
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One of a series of colorful ceramic totems–I am obsessed with totems in the garden.

This huge bronze and steel sculpture entitled Woven Ring by Paul Cheney was my favorite piece–it can be yours for $7000.

Recognizing that I was lucky to even see a few of the pieces displayed this year I am putting a 2018 road trip to Sierra Azul on my calendar DURING the exhibit dates so I can get the full experience, including taking in the plantings during their best season.

I  spent a very enjoyable hour strolling the retail nursery and selecting a few interesting additions for my garden. The retail area is compact and gardener friendly. Like plant families are grouped together with lots of variety in each area. I am assuming that having your growing operation just steps away allows Jeff to keep just a few of each plant on display with the possibility of providing a larger quantity of a single species  upon demand.

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Phormium and Cordyline varieties  with the demo garden in the background.
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Lots of Pittosporum on the left and Leucadendron just past them

Garden centers in Southern California, the greater Bay Area and Central Coast are finding that plants of Australian and South African origin fit the bill for drought tolerant plantings in their warm winter climates. I see more and more varieties of Leucadendron and Banksia–genera with both interesting foliage and flowers. We see few of these in my somewhat colder winter valley. Sierra Azul has a nice selection in both these plant groups. They are fascinating to me but I am not sure about long term winter survival in my garden.

This huge Banksia integrifolia dwarfs the little redwood check out cottage!

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Lots of Banksia, including integrifolia, await shoppers
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Leucadendron argenteum or Silver Tree
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Leucadendron salignum ‘Golden Tulip’

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I had to keep my hands in my pockets while passing this Correa ‘Wyn’s Wonder’. I love the dainty bell shaped flowers BUT the three Correa, although a different variety, I planted in the driveway circle last year were the only plants I lost–dead, dead, dead!

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This was a new one to me–called Astelia nivicola ‘Red Gem’–and described as an evergreen perennial for shade.
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There were many Grevillea to chose from–including this one Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’.
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I never met a sage I didn’t like!
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My booty accumulates!

Some of my purchases have all ready found places in my garden, others are resting in my holding area awaiting the right spot. Take a look!

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Salvia repens x namensis–a low selection with leaves similar to scented geraniums
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Salvia repens x namensis–bloom closeup
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Salvia semiatrata–very delicate looking but purported to be 4 feet tall and wide
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Salvia semiatrata–bicolor bloom closeup
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Pelargonium quercifolium–common name oak leafed geranium
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Salvia mellifera ‘Calamity Jane’
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Heuchera maxima–a California native with huge leaves
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Salvia somalensis–bright green velvety foliage

So many of the specimens I purchased are new to my gardening experience. It will be fun to see how they perform and share their success or failure with you. Sierra Azul Nursery & Gardens has a permanent place on my ‘make time to stop’ list if I am anywhere at all close. Check out their website at www.sierraazul.com for more information and contact information–also a series of pictures of lawn free landscapes Jeff has designed. A++ for a great selection of plant material, helpful gardening advice and a welcoming garden for a picnic lunch when I have done my shopping!