Easing into the East Bay…fearless color

I am back in the East Bay area–this time to enjoy the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days event showcasing five private gardens. If you haven’t been to http://www.gardenconservancy.org yet to learn about this organization’s garden preservation mission and Open Days events all over the US, take time to let the staff and volunteers of this great garden education non-profit introduce themselves to you after you finish this post.

MARY-ELLIS’S GARDEN IN BERKELEY

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Homeowner Mary-Ellis worked with local garden designer Keeyla Meadows to create a “fun and whimsical garden that is water wise, deer resistant and colorful.” Those of you who have read my post Digging Deeper with Keeyla Meadows at Urban Adamah… have already met Keeyla and if you read the entire upcoming series of posts on the East Bay gardens you will get to visit her amazing garden which is packed full of bold saturated color and her personal metal and ceramic art.

The front garden of this pale pumpkin hued stucco cottage is truly the size of a postage stamp–but it is definitely a one of a kind commemorative stamp rather than your basic first class flag. The lot is probably about 5000 square feet and this front garden no more than 10 feet deep. Even at that diminutive size it packs a punch with an Alice in Wonderland pathway and a variety of foliage texture and color.

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Planting islands outlined by boulders of varied sizes and shapes are home to small scale shrubs, perennials and reseeding annuals.

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There were only a few blooms on this Leucospermum (maybe ‘Sunrise’?) but I loved the way the lighter green new growth almost danced above the more mature stems below. Can you imagine this exotically tropical plant in its full orange glory with the hot pink verbena nestled at its feet?

Leucospermum blooms at different stages of maturity.

Dear readers–please let me know if any of my plant identifications are way off here as none of this day’s gardens had any plant tags and my knowledge of many of the temperate climate plant material grown in both the Bay area and Southern California can be faulty!

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Down a short driveway and through an arbored gate, the fairy tale continues with a path of large flagstones punctuated by cast concrete steps to accommodate the upslope of the back garden. The outstanding color combination of medium scaled shrubs in this wide foundation bed speaks volumes as to the care taken in plant selection by Keeyla–most of us could be paralyzed at the task of “decorating” a room with soft orange walls!

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Directly across from the path and steps is this wall of black-eyed Susan vine, Thunbergia elata. Hot pink, this time in the form of a common geranium, again complements orange.

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Included in the foundation planting are a pair of Coprosma (mirror plant, cultivar unknown) flanking a fabulous Abutilon megapotamicum ‘Orange Hot Lava’. At their feet is an Alstroemeria whose coloration complements the apricot, orange and burgundy theme.

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An additional Abutilon tucked up against the window offers yet another complementary bloom.

I think WOW is the only word to describe this palette–never would have chosen it especially with the stucco color but this just shows what happens when you open yourself to run towards color rather than away from it. I am inspired!

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In case the point wasn’t clear, this contemporary metal table and chairs on the patio between the foundation bed and the vine-draped fence let’s you know that this garden embraces color without fear. The mature oak in the background offers a shady area for native perennials including bright Mimulus.

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Additional rock stairs lead to the garden’s highest point and another colorful dining patio.

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The reddish hues of the Japanese maple are in keeping with the garden’s palette while acting as a relief from more plentiful green foliage.

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Slope plantings are casual and punctuated by large boulders. The incline grows sunnier as you ascend and color is provided by perennials and colorful reseeding poppies and nasturtiums.

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Purple is used sparingly throughout the garden but absolutely makes a statement here in this rambling purple trumpet vine, Clytostoma callistegiodes, draping the fence like a living wall.

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This stunning hand made pot with plantings selected by the designer absolutely glows. These blooms provide a bright spot of color near a door on the service side of the house  used frequently by Mary-Ellis and her husband.

As I returned to my car–first visitor thus best parking spot-Mary-Ellis chases me down to make sure I saw this stunning plant which she called ‘cantua’ tucked back behind other shrubbery near her side gate. The fuchsia-like flowers on this somewhat sprawling loose shrub are easily 3 inches long. It has woody stems but they were clearly tied up for support. The flowers almost glow against the backdrop of her cottage’s stucco wall. A little research later over a quick lunch revealed it to be Cantua buxifolia, a native of the mountainous regions of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Sometimes called the sacred flower of the Incas, it can apparently be grown from seed. I’m all over this one as long as I can find a spot in my garden where it is somewhat protected from frost.

I love going to gardens where I can see plants we do not commonly grow where I live whether due to climate challenges or other cultural issues. I happened to meet this gardener’s neighbor who was working in her front garden. We started talking plants   and I commented on how lucky they were in Berkeley that they could grow many near tropical plants that won’t tolerate our colder winters. I told her I was from the Central Valley and she replied that WE were so fortunate as she despaired that she can’t grow a decent tomato or zucchini due to their summer’s cool, moist air. I guess the grass is always greener…

More gardens to come on this East Bay outing–next up a House of Dreams in Oakland.

LA cruising…taming the tea tree

We’ve arrived at our last Los Angeles garden on this 2019 Garden Conservancy Open Days event. If you are just joining us, you might want to go back and read about the other  LA gardens–all post titles begin with “LA cruising”. If you still need information about the Garden Conservancy, its mission or programs http://www.gardenconservancy.org is the place for all the details, including more California Open Days events coming up in the next few weeks.

THE ZABEL GARDEN IN WINDSOR SQUARE

Landscape designer Nick Dean was on hand to answer questions about the front garden’s amazing transformation from overgrown shrubbery and an unused lawn to a vibrant low water landscape featuring wildlife friendly California natives and Mediterranean plants chosen for foliage color and texture as much as flower. He provided us with a postcard plant list which included before and after photos. Below is my photo of his before photo.

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The pom pom of green seen mid photo is the aforementioned tea tree–a 90 year old behemoth whose snaking trunk comes from the ground just below the two windows. The identity of this Godzilla is still hazy to me. Mr. Dean clarified that it was a Melaleuca when I pressed him for a botanical name and seemed a little surprised that it was unknown to me–must be a very common tree in the area.

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Although the angle of the photo is not quite the same my initial reaction was that this could not be the same property…but it is. First the lawn was removed and the slope terraced.

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This street is blessed with parking strips that are larger than some urban front yards. The unthirsty plantings were continued here with gazanias, yellow and orange Anizoganthus (kangaroo’s paws), Penstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ and other sturdy growers providing year round interest without much care.

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The slope is densely planted with both shrubs and woody perennials which have woven amongst each other to form a tapestry of all shades of green, gray and blue foliage periodically shot with whatever is in its prime bloom. There are no ‘one ofs’ here nor any annuals lined up in soldierly rows–a big view landscape like this demands big swaths of texture and color to do it justice.

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Wide cobbled steps were added leading visitors gracefully to the home. On the mid right you see the tea tree’s pom pom again.

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As you pass by it there is a glimpse of a whimsical log table and chairs installed under it making use of its shade and creating fairytale quality. Is this foliage visible enough for a tree ID anyone? Mary C–can you ask Mark?

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This attractive facade was invisible from the street until the staircase and cozy courtyard was added.

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Feels like a romantic afternoon in Italy to me. Casual conifers in pots (maybe Thuja or Chamaecyparis?) are a nice change from clipped boxwoods or privet. all the elements enhance the beautiful arched window.

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Nicely detailed shutters frame windows graced with lovely French balconies to complete the curb appeal. A left turn from this petite circular resting spot would take you to the front door which is actually on the driveway side of the home. We are going to go right to another new courtyard area.

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A study footbridge was built over the massive earthbound trunk of the tea tree to allow the surrounding space to be used without disturbing it. The utilitarian structure was masked by wiring additional removed smaller limbs to the base and handrails giving the bridge a fanciful look. It is not until you are ready to step on it that you recognize there is a solid structure there, not just the branches. Fig vine scrambling over it adds another layer of make believe to the whole picture. A+ on this creative solution to a gnarly challenge!

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As you step off the bridge there is a little path down to the little tea tree dining room–this  gem has grandchildren written all over it.

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Another new Italian feeling courtyard was created in the slope renovation. Formal hedges of Westringea ‘Morning Light’ cozy up to a variety of roses. The curve of the hedge mimics the curve of the darker hedge beyond which virtually hides this courtyard from street view, making it a truly personal space.

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The decomposed granite “floor” enhances the Mediterranean feel and provides a great base for easy walking.

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From the path behind the roses you can see it is a large space with lots of elements joining together to feel welcoming and comfortable.

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Great benches everywhere!

Formerly a solid wall, two new gates in the shadow of blooming yellow brugmansias now connect front garden to back.

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Through the gates, the decomposed granite paths continue into another distinct garden room which is a sort of sunny foyer to much more shady living areas yet to be seen. I am sort of obsessed with these succulent fountains and it took all my control to only include a single photo of them. They were perfectly placed in visual alignment with the French door into the home.

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The inner wall between the gates is massed with blooming perennials, including both purple and white heliotrope, and is home to a tiny bubbling wall fountain. I am not sure if this area was redone at the time of the front renovation. The ambiance is similar although many of the core plantings are clearly quite mature.

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Still moving toward the back of the property paths on either side of the next room lead you through shady, predominantly bright green plantings.

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Both paths allow access to this magical fire pit area surrounded by comfortable cushioned seating. To call this dappled shade would be a lightweight analysis. Tall tropicals and tree like camellias create this room’s walls. Although you are only steps to the home it feels as though you are in another country.

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This massive tree contributes to the deep shade, encouraging a number of large ferns to thrive on the room’s perimeter.

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Another inviting seating area is tucked up against the home. A sturdy pergola supports a leafy wisteria. I’m sure the color play of the lime green cushions and the purple wisteria when in bloom is wonderful!

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From the same vantage point there is a wonderful view of a broad expanse of lawn (not well represented in this photo) which would probably be able to host a gathering requiring 20-25 six foot round tables. At the far end of the lawn a rocky grotto offers another, more sunny, relaxing spot. The curvaceous branch acting as a holder for the hanging lantern is yet another repurposed tea tree trunk.

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We walked to the back of the property (ending up at the rocky grotto) on the perimeter path rather than the lawn. Clearly older landscaping without the foliage color variety seen in the front garden, it was still lovely and leafy. From a practical point of view I loved being able to travel from front to back off the lawn and on a compacted surface. I can see using these margins to stash plant material awaiting planting, houseplants needing a bit a rehab, etc. It would make a pretty good tricycle track also!

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A twin to the seating area pergola provides shade for a table and chairs to seat ten and a compact outdoor kitchen.

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A nice job has been done of softening a lot of the hard edges with in ground and potted plants.

We were to exit the back garden at a service area gate where the homeowners had a number of potted succulents including this very tall jade plant. I also spotted this tiny tillandsia tucked into a low tree branch.

The circular patterned pavers seen at the top of the stairs continue on this side of the home which is the driveway side. These garden visitors admire this intricate iron work gate and its simple Anduze style urns. Elegant and understated, I believe this is actually the home’s front entrance.

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I never meet a leafy thing crawling on a house that I didn’t like. On the other hand, my husband gets hives just thinking about all those little suckers worming their way into his stucco or under his roof eaves. Pointing out that Europe is full of buildings that have lasted thousands of years with ivy, fig vine and roses hanging all over them has not moderated his stance. I think it is Cissus of some species, a relative to Virginia creeper and grape. I’m resigned to living vicariously by looking back over my shoulder as we walk to our car and seeing that lovely green tracery making itself right at home.

I loved this garden not only for its beauty but for its day to day liveablilty. The placement of so many relaxing and dining spots close to the home guarantees they’ll be used more often. The variety of plant materials was appealing. It was not perfect, looking as though someone was at the ready 24-7 to nip a past its prime rose or snip an errant leaf. I like that–it looks like real people live here and that they like to spend time in their garden. Can’t beat that in my book.

 

 

 

LA cruising…traditional and timeless

If you have not read LA cruising…terrific terraces please take a quick look at it to get details about this Los Angeles garden tour. I’m recapping these fabulous residential gardens one at a time–each one is deserving of its own post!

THE RHEINSTEIN GARDEN IN HANCOCK PARK

The garden rooms of this beautiful traditional Georgian red brick home were designed by LA garden designer Judy M. Horton. Both the home and its serene, predominantly green and white palette are reminiscent of many homes in the historic Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.

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We entered the back gardens via the long driveway to the left of the front door. A wide sidewalk offers approach for visitors from the street side and they are welcomed by a pair of clipped boxwoods in beautiful traditional greenish-black planters. An almost hidden herringbone pattern brick walk is adjacent to the driveway, its opening marked by an identical pair of stately square planters bearing twin trimmed boxwoods.  This walkway is shielded from street view by a tightly clipped boxwood hedge.

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A Southern magnolia is loosely espaliered on the driveway end of the house–a feature very commonly seen in Atlanta landscapes. Note the working shutters on this historic home, sized and hung correctly to actually be closed and latched over each window if desired.

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The view as the shaded driveway opens into the first of several garden rooms was beautifully calm and peaceful as well as welcoming.

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Looking back toward the driveway reveals the true perspective of the hedge of Podocarpus gracillior which delineates the property line. Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’ rambles and scrambles the brick wall.

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There are multiple varieties of climbing roses in this garden–virtually all are either white or white tinged with pale pink. While the designer provided visitors with a plant list including the rose identities most were too high up the walls for me to tell one from the other. This home had exquisite exterior woodwork and wonderful attention to detail and repetition of classic elements.

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I loved this beautifully furnished porch complete with comfy sofas, a rocker and a small table with a pair of chairs. The interesting garden art piece on the wall merited a close-up photo–I have often seen old garden tools used in this way but never the entire grouping then painted out and antiqued. Its style fit perfectly with this classically clipped and planted garden room. Note that the porch ceiling is painted a pale blue which Southerners universally refer to as ‘haint blue’, believed to keep bad spirits at bay.

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Yet another pale climber headed up the brick wall to the second story. These roses were magical. Even my husband who has an irrational phobia about plant material attached to any permanent surface of our home, admired them. Clusters of pots contained clipped globe boxwoods of various sizes.

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On the porch steps, these massed pots of salmony hued Pelargonium stellata  played off the brick work at their feet.

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Looking across the geometric lawn from the porch is a petite lawn level pool with a quiet bubbler. You can see the opening to what the homeowners call the Tree Room.

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Home to a huge Chinese elm, this room’s wall are formed by a Ligustrum texanum japonica (privet) hedge and its gravel floor a perfect spot for more pots with specimen plants interesting to the homeowners.

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Today’s blue sky and puffy white clouds are almost art through the airy canopy of the elm.

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A robust Acanthus mollis stands as a sentry to the room’s entry–possibly the best looking specimen of this plant I have ever seen.

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Close-up of the Acanthus bloom
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Residents of the Tree Room

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This Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (purple pineapple lily) stood out as a spot of color surrounded by cool greens.

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Looking almost like a chessboard whose pieces were in motion, this veritable bevy of trimmed and shaped shrubs is a crossroads between the Pool Garden and the Secret Garden. Which way to go?

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We chose the Pool Garden, all but hidden from sight behind beautiful painted lattice fences fronted by greenery. Much of the home’s trim and all the exterior fencework is a color at first glance appearing to be black but actually I think what we called Charleston Green in the south–a green so dark that it appears black in some light. Geometric clipped low boxwood add symmetry to a not so symmetrical entry. You can see the facade and roofline of a to die for family living area which also houses a bath for the use of pool goers.

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The long rectangular pool is surrounded by bluestone paving, The back of the property has another very tall podocarpus hedge at whose base sit several lovely traditional English garden benches.

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At the far end of the pool a piece of statuary depicting a young man standing on his head seems almost to act as a trunk for the ‘Gold Nugget’ loquat tree. This tree, however desirable for the fruit, was the first element of this exquisite garden which gave me pause.  Sited almost overhanging the pool, its crop was mostly on the bottom of the pool!

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A pineapple guava tree near the loquat was bursting with colorful blooms.

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These great looking chaises lounges are the envy of any pool owner–including me.

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Looking back over the pool’s leafy walls I caught sight of this retracted wide awning on the home’s upstair’s patio area–fashioned from the same fabric as the pool chaise cushions.

The well-appointed family living area was accessible to the pool through two sets of french doors and was open for us to walk through. The family had requested no photos  taken to include this area but you will be able to see the back of the building from our next stop, the Secret Garden.

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Looking back to the main house as we leave the Pool Garden

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A ‘Black Mission’ fig is espaliered on the outside lattice of the porch and provides a leafy lane to the Secret Garden.

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The Secret Garden is a courtyard created by the main house, the side of the living area off the pool (the back of which is seen here), and the property’s fence line. If you were to enter this door you would be in a tiny kitchen equipped for flower arranging and potting up indoor plants which is located directly behind the living area which opens to the pool. I suspect this building to have originally a guest house or possibly servant’s quarters.

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Several kinds of germander are clipped as low hedges in the parterre style garden. The beds overflow casually with perennials, annuals and bulbs, plus a few veggies.

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The frame of an old Turkish tent is covered seasonally in annual vines. Everywhere in this cheerful space you see the continuation of brick paths as flooring and simple clay pots as are used elsewhere in the garden rooms. The tall backdrop is the property line with the next home. Then sense of enclosure throughout this garden is amazing. The extremely tall screening hedges on three sides block out the view of any surrounding homes or structures and you feel as if you are out in the country rather than in downtown Los Angeles.

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My Secret Garden favorite were the abundant clumps of Nicotiana sylvestris, an old fashioned annual known as flowering tobacco.

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We ended our visit to this amazing garden out the small side yard where the homeowner had tucked in a variety of red clay pots, breaking up the very tall expanse of leafy wall.

This home and garden were classically beautiful and exceedingly welcoming to the eye. It must be a delight to spend time, both quiet and active, within the serenity of the garden’s high green walls, rocking on the porch or enjoying a tall, cool drink with friends. I would live here in a heartbeat–the only caveat would be the need for a full-time gardener to assist in its maintenance. The garden’s feel is casual and relaxed, not fussy or buttoned-up but I imagine the hedge trimming alone to be a career, not to mention all the shaped potted boxwoods and roses requiring ladders to tend to them. My sun hat is off to both the designer of this garden of delights and to those who keep it looking as if it takes care of itself.

One of the bonuses of tours with gardens in close proximity is strolling from one to the next and seeing what other beautiful homes and gardens are on the way…this lovely Spanish influenced home was just across the street and its very wide parking strip was bursting with succulents and color.

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Next up…

THE DAVIS GARDEN IN HANCOCK PARK

LA cruising…terrific terraces

It’s Garden Conservancy Open Days time again! If you’ve not read any of my previous Open Days posts (I’ll add their links at the end of this first 2019 post) let me tell you a bit about the program. Open Days is a nationwide community of gardeners with a passion for teaching and inspiring each other. Since 1995 Open Days has welcomed more than a million visitors to noteworthy private gardens in 41 states, all under the umbrella of the non-profit Garden Conservancy’s mission “to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.”

As a Garden Conservancy member I receive a directory each spring listing, state by state, the gardens and landscapes included in the year’s Open Days offering. As a rule, the California gardens are amongst the earliest of the season although in the last few years a Bay Area day has been scheduled in the fall. Some years I barely have received my directory before I have to get on the road to see as many as I can fit in my schedule. All of the information is also available on the Garden Conservancy’s website http://www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays along with more details about their Garden Extras and Digging Deeper events and their local partners. The directory itself is great resource and I keep mine from year to year.

California’s first Open Days event took place this past weekend and showcased five gardens in the Hancock Park and Windsor Square neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The drive from my San Joaquin Valley home requires a crack of dawn departure to ensure I am ready and waiting at the garden I have designated as first on my route to ensure that I get to see them all by 4 pm closing. This year’s Los Angeles selections are all quite close to each other so there is at least a possibility of finding time for lunch. My husband has opted in so I might even catch a nap on the way down. The morning air was cool and crisp as we navigated off a busy urban street to a small neighborhood where most of the homes were shaded by the canopies of mature trees. I think it’s going to be a great day!

THE MEADOW LANE GARDEN IN HANCOCK PARK

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This 1907 painted shingle historic home sits a stone’s throw away from very busy Wilshire Avenue but feels as it it is miles away. The front garden is simple and snuggled up against the large covered porch draped in wisteria.

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This front door and the entrance to the back garden are reached via the motor court which is shade by this magnificent eucalyptus tree.

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I’ll take any corrections on the tree identification–my guess is based on the smooth slightly mottled bark. I simply could not back out into the street far enough to capture the actual height of this tree which offered shade to a large part of the home’s facade.

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A petite, wooden playhouse sits just outside the back garden’s vine covered entrance, along with a few pots and an old-fashioned rocking chair.

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The garden is very narrow and falls off to the back in a steep slope which has been extensively terraced to offer level ground at several elevations as you descend. The brick path leading you into the garden is set in gravel and curves around another huge tree. You are seeing the full width of the garden at this point.

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A couple of steps up to the house level reveals a wooden deck (again built around another very large tree) with a casual dining area screened from the neighbors yard with trellis and lattice work.

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The brick path opens into a small terrace of the same material with a shaded dining area. I have purposefully not adjusted the exposure on any of these photos to give the a true sense of the intimacy and sense of enclosure these very large trees offer in this long narrow garden. The masses of greenery, both in the ground and potted, effectively disguise how close the property line fencing is to this cozy space.

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A small utility space is hidden between the garage and a foliage covered lattice screen which is also seen in the far right of the photo just before this one–again an indication of the garden’s size.

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The ornate iron chairs on the right mark the end of the brick terrace level but the slope down is again camouflaged by the abundance of plant material in the ground and in pots.

Looking down into the lowest part of the garden from the brick terrace.

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The staircase railing disappears into the vines draping it.

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A few steps down the wooden staircase offers another level to sit and enjoy the garden from a slightly different vantage point. A small fountain gurgles in the background and pops of color  stand out amongst the primarily green landscape.

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Seen as you descend the steps into the meadow part of the garden at its lowest level.

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Looking back uphill from the small Carex meadow to the back of the garage. Not easily visible are the several extra terraces created by piles stone and broken concrete which step the plantings up giving them more depth.

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The Carex meadow acts as a wee front garden for this petite rose covered cottage furnished as a sitting room.

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A massive and gnarled bearing fig tree towers above the cottage with closely planted perennials and shrubs beneath its canopy.

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A Philadelphus, or mock orange, covered with sweetly scented white blooms lights up the shade created by the fig.

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The stone path through the meadow offers a shady swinging spot and a bit of bright potted color.

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Looking back up towards the house which is totally hidden by the tree cover. On the right is the back of the garage.

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A spot of bright sun across from the swing is the perfect place for a few veggies, in this case blueberries and brussels sprouts.

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A couple of cushioned Adirondack chairs stand at the ready for anyone who is just tired out after making the descent!

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View from the furthest point of the garden back uphill to the tree canopy. This charming garden warmed my heart with the attention to detail and its frowsy country charm. It is clear evidence of homeowners who not only love but also live in their garden. I think the basic geography of this lot would have scared off many of us as being just too much to deal with but these homeowners have created a garden with classic, yet casual style, using the elevation challenges to their advantage in creating very useable space.

Previous Garden Conservancy Open Days gardens can be seen in these posts: A little Mendocino madness…Mendocino madness…#2Mendocino madness #3…More Mendocino madness…#4Mendocino madness #5 at last…LA dreaming…Tech meets (very little) turf…Tech meets (very little) turf #2…

This year’s Los Angeles gardens are deserving of individual posts so next up will be THE RHEINSTEIN GARDEN IN HANCOCK PARK.

 

 

Digging Deeper with Keeyla Meadows at Urban Adamah…

The last day of my long Bay Area weekend was devoted to a Garden Conservancy Digging Deeper program at Berkeley community farm Urban Adamah.

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Urban Adamah was founded in 2010 by Adam Berman as the first urban Jewish community farm in the United States.  The farm’s seeds are rooted in a Connecticut farm-based residential leadership program. Adam envisioned an urban farm that would provide a fellowship program, offer Jewish agriculturally based experiential programs for youth and families, and contribute to food security in the East Bay. The farm moved in 2016 to its permanent home near Codornices Creek in Northwest Berkeley after  five years in a temporary location. The word adamah in Biblical Hebrew means ground or earth.

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A little hard to decipher as the metal sign over the entrance has aged–it reads “Love…all the rest is commentary”.

Berkeley artist and landscape designer Keeyla Meadows was brought in to design a city required swale when the 2.2 acre parcel was a blank slate. She went on to design the Pollinator Garden, the Children’s Garden and work with staff as other parts of the garden have been developed. Keeyla (on the left below) and Emily, the Urban Adamah Landscape Coordinator were our guides.

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We gathered in the center of a large circular planting bed to learn a bit about the farm’s history and philosophy. The core tenants of Urban Adamah are stated in this Mission Statement: “Urban Adamah seeks to build a more loving, just and sustainable world. We ground and connect people-to themselves, to others, and to the natural world. We do this by providing farm based, community building experiences that integrate Jewish tradition, mindfulness, sustainable agriculture and social action.”

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As we start our day together, Zumba teacher Kat leads us in noticing our surroundings and getting in touch with the wind and sky

Keeyla points out that almost every area of the farm has a central open area designed for small groups of people to meet and build relationships. This was a specific request made by Urban Adamah’s founder–places to gather as a community must be plentiful, welcoming and comfortable. The farm is open to the public most week days and is a lovely environment in which to enjoy the outdoors and observe nature at work–plus volunteer workers are welcome! We will explore most of the farm’s major areas, stopping to observe the plantings and ask questions as Keeyla and Emily share the design philosophy and challenges in developing this very young garden.

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We start at the Blueberry Meeting Circle where a ring of sturdy upright logs provide both seating for us and a podium for Keeyla.

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Without sharp eyes you might miss the ring of blueberries planted around the meeting circle, nestled amongst freely self sowing California poppies. Several native penstemons, blue-eyed grass and salvia also make their home here along with many Douglas iris.

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Gardeners are good multi-taskers. As Keeyla describe the soil building and design process for this area, one of our group pulls weeds as she listens. The farm is organic and weeding is a never ending task, especially in areas where self-sowers are allowed to have their way.

The Blueberry Meeting Circle is a charming front garden to the Aquaponic House where four levels of plants are stacked, producing lettuces, basil and other leafy greens.

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This buttery lettuce is planted with only a small amount of bark like material and its roots reaching down into the water below.

The bottom trays now hold a variety of plants being grown for their leaves textural experience, such as the gigantic Gunnera leaf and the surprising soft, almost furry, leaf of its neighbor.

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This tank is home to fish whose waste provides the natural fish emulsion nutrients to the plant via the circulation system of pipes.

We circle out of the Aquaponics House and return to the Blueberry Meeting Circle, a great vantage point to see the full length of the Urban Swale. the farm is adjacent to Codornices Creek which is in the midst of a civic restoration plan. The city of Berkeley required the installation of a swale on the farm’s property to prevent runoff of both rainwater and farm waste water into the creek.

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The Urban Swale, planted entirely in California natives runs from just beside the Blueberry Meeting Circle and along the farm’s front fence line almost to the entry gate.

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Hummingbird Sage

Hooker Creek boulders and Sonoma stone were brought in to form the bank stabilizing structure of the swale. Plantings were designed in repeating color bursts to keep your eye moving down the length of the swale. Keeyla calls this ‘weaving color’ throughout a space. Native plants requiring more moisture are planted lower on the bank while the more drought tolerate plants are higher up. The shape of the swale allows accumulated water to percolate slowly back into the ground. Keeyla’s choice of native plantings in part was to relate the swale to the creek and to honor the area’s indigenous peoples and their stewardship of the land.

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A little closer look at the beehive end. Notice the enormous Verbena ‘De La Mina’!
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Visitor to the ‘De La Mina’

Several varieties of California poppies were included in the original sowing of reseeding annuals. Subsequent seasons have produced some interesting color variations as the result of natural hybridization.

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Looking back as we wander the Urban Swale
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Fledgling bee colony
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Looking across the farm from the Urban Swale end

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As we walk to the far side of the farm to see the Pollinator Garden, Emily shares that this Administration Building was the first permanent structure built on the site; a great accomplishment after five years of a trailer office. The passionflower vines on the office trellises (and on the fences in the Urban Swale) were a concession to a former farm colleague who was instrumental in the early planning days. He loves passionflowers and would regularly harvest the fruit for use in tea and other edibles.

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Urban Adamah gives away 90% of the food it grows. The remainder is used on the farm for events and for use by residents of the farm. They host a weekly farmer’s market for anyone who needs food. Local grocery stores, including Whole Foods, contribute goods not yet produced on the farm. At any given times throughout the year they will produce all kinds of vegetables, herbs, stone and pomme fruits, potatoes, onions, eggs and milk.

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Crops are rotated regularly–vetch, Fava beans and crimson clover are planted as nitrogen fixing cover crops to be tilled back into the ground (after bean harvest, of course).

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The Pollinator Garden is our next stop–a melange of seasonal veggies surrounded by plants chosen specifically for their attraction of certain pollinators. Emily worked closely with Keeyla on the implementation of the design and credits this garden as awakening her desire to not only plant, but also be a designer. As we visit not much is in prime bloom. Emily explains what different shapes and colors are attractive to specific kinds of pollinators–tubular for the hummers vs flat for the butterflies, etc.–and the importance of having something for everyone if you want to maximize pollination.

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The Children’s Garden entrance is home to arbor seating–I haven’t been counting seating areas but I’m sure there at least 10. A young vine is on its way up to give visitors some shade while they get to know each other.

Urban Adamah has a full schedule of family friendly activities, including summer camp. The goals for children are the same as for adults; to build community; to foster Jewish traditions; to learn and practice sustainable agriculture and living.

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The Children’s Garden is only a stone’s throw from the creek and has its own swale to serve the same purpose as the first built Urban Swale. Keeyla also designed this garden and the swale is similar in planting with the exception of possibly more native wildflowers–sowing seeds is a popular activity on this side of the farm. Here you can see the swale emerging from under the bridge to the Earthbench meeting place.

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With the guidance of an educator from the Peace on Earthbench Movement (POEM) children built this garden gathering space using plastic bottles and other recycled materials over several camp sessions. Locally based POEM’s international mission is to encourage youth to turn plastic waste into artistic community gathering places. This is a project I would want to participate in–what fun!

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Looking down the Children’s Garden swale you see art created by children and displayed on the fence.

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A surprisingly unafraid hummingbird

Leaving the Children’s Garden we pass a newly constructed grape arbor tucked up against the street side fence.

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As yet unplanted, the arbor will be home to several grape varieties (you can see the barrels just outside the fence awaiting the vines) for a nascent partnership with the kosher winery directly across the street. The structure was built by local Eagle Scouts–notice every section has seating for several people.

We make a quick detour to the goat pen to meet Lev and Ivy and give them a snack pulled right from the field–and right in front of the Do Not Feed the Goats sign.

These two clearly recognize Emily and know she comes with goodies. They will not let her out of their sight!

On our way to talk about the Seven Sacred Species Garden we stop for a brief art activity. Keeyla has provided us with paper, colored pencils and markers, and string and asks us each to make a wish or a prayer to hang on the farm’s olive tree, telling us our thoughts will be released into the wind. The olive tree is the farm’s focal point, visible as soon as you enter the gate. A universal symbol of peace and one of the Seven Sacred Species, this tree was 42 years old when it was selected for the farm 18 months ago and the variety is one preferred for its oil. It actually sits mounded high because the farm’s electrical and water utilities are underneath it. Rocks were added to stabilize the raised planting area. I’m not sure how much of an olive oil crop you can get from one tree but I’m giving the farm extra credit for covering all the bases.

Had to make a quick trip back to the goat pen to retrieve an errant paper prayer from Ivy!

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The Seven Sacred Species are plants which deeply link spiritual beliefs to the natural world and play prominent roles in the Bible. They are olive, fig, date, wheat, barley, grapes and pomegranate. It was important to the farm’s founder to include these species on the farm and at this writing they have 6 of the seven, lacking only barley.

Several are represented around the entry gate.

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One of several young fig trees on the farm
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Pomegranate in the background–in the foreground is Etrog, a yellow citrus used during the Jewish holiday Sukkot
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Grapes will cover the entry trellis

There is a lone date palm near the Blueberry Meeting Circle and wheat planted in the crop beds. It is fitting that these species closely linked with the Bible would be at home in this place deeply rooted in Jewish traditions.

Our group had thinned a bit by now–many, including me, did not know the extent of the experience and had planned for less time. Those of us remaining took a break to gather fresh herbs, berries, greens and edible flowers to add to salad ingredients Keeyla had provided.

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A fresh dressing was made…
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Our table was set…

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Keeyla had made grape leaf dolma stuffed with barley and currents, polenta, small white pastries with dates, and a blueberry tart. A wonderful challah was the highlight for me–delicious.

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We filled our plates and gathered at a circle of benches to break bread and get to know each other a little better–exactly what Urban Adamah founder Adam Berman would have wanted.

This day was a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone in the vicinity of Urban Adamah to take a few minutes to see the farm. I will close with a few more photos and several websites for you to get more information if you desire.

Here we go–

For more information about Urban Adamah, its mission and programs go to http://www.urbanadamah.org

For more information about Keeyla Meadows, her art, books and gardens go to http://www.keeylameadows.net

For more information about Garden Conservancy Digging Deeper programs go to http://www.gardenconservancy.org then click on Open Days, then Digging Deeper

For more information about the Peace on Earthbench Movement go to http://www.earthbench.org

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Still rambling in Palo Alto…

This year’s Gamble Garden Spring Tour is even more walkable than usual–it looks as though all but one of the gardens is an easy stroll from the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. Three are within a couple of blocks from each other. Taking the docent’s instruction I headed down the alley and around a corner to see my third garden of the day.

SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION

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This 120 year old cedar shingled residence is home to a minimalist modern Japanese garden commissioned by a homeowner with an affinity for Japanese history, art and garden design. She also is a practitioner of ikebana and wished her garden to have materials to use in her flower arranging. Family friend and garden designer Jarrod Baumann gave her the garden of her dreams including her requested Moon Gate, an iconic Asian design throughout the world.

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The garden gate is flanked by a pair of weeping, corkscrew elms which were just leafing out. A zipper style path of Devonshire cream limestone and Ipe wood planks leads to the front door.

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Miniature gingkoes, Gingko biloba ‘Mariken’ take the role of foundation shrubbery on both sides of the front steps and supply glowing yellow fall color fall. The plantings on either side of the front path are not symmetrical but compliment each other with similar materials in free flowing swathes.

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The planting scheme is restrained without being overly manicured. Areas which would traditionally be moss in Japanese gardens are clothed in a perennial lawn substitute which is labeled Kurapia–botanically it is Lippia nodiflora. A bit of post tour research revealed this not particularly new plant is being trialed and marketed as a drought tolerant lawn replacement. It is a dense ground cover no more than about an inch tall. If allowed to flower it is very attractive to bees. The flowers are sterile and thus does not seed itself. HOWEVER, what is not really covered in the informative Kurapia brochures online is that it is very invasive, spreading rapidly by rooting runners. I planted a single 4″ pot under a tree in a smallish bed and spent 3 years fighting to get rid of it. It will overwhelm any other plant material and run under and over hardscape borders intended to contain it. I reckon this homeowner has it edged regularly. In this garden it was absolutely beautiful but I would caution buyer to beware! The Kurapia is bordered with a black mondo grass and sparkling Hokone grass, Hakonechloa macro ‘Aureola’. The low fencing encasing the front garden echoes the style of the zipper paths.

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The shade of mature redwoods give this front garden which is on a busy corner, a welcome sense of enclosure and beds in dappled shade. Notice the large white concrete boulders which punctuate both sides of the front garden. Their smooth surfaces and pale color mimics the cream of the wall and path stones.

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A magnificent cut-leafed Japanese maple, Acer P. dissectum ‘Sekimori’ stands as a sentinel to the side garden entrance in its stone planter.

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The side yard is anchored by a rectangle lawn surrounded by mostly green plantings. The vertical bronze sculptures of bamboo stalks on both ends of the lawn are meant to evoke Inari shrines.

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Just inside the gate and up against the house is this weeping cherry tree, one of a several used as a hedge, under which is tucked a small garden stool just in case you need a quiet spot to hide!

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The white flowering quince also planted up against the house is prized material for late winter flower arrangements.

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I can’t resist showing you the world’s best looking power meter, almost disappearing into the cedar siding.

Porches on two levels at the back of the house are draped in wisteria–white above and purple below.

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Also planted on the front edge of the arbor is a Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Twisty Baby’, a deciduous, multistemed shrub in the black locust family. It’s contorted form and relatively small size make it an eye-catching patio specimen.

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As we’ve reached the back of the side garden the bronze bamboo and plantings are repeated. They mask a wee potting bench and utility area.

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A narrow Ipe planked path carries us to the opposite of the home. The small cottage ahead is used mostly for flower arranging.

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Adjacent outdoor seating areas, one on a stone surface and the other stepped up on a wooden deck offer plenty of places to visit with friends and a glass of wine. The woven iron sofa and coffee table are massive yet airy–I’m not sure if cushions would usually be in play here.

Pots throughout are kept simple and spare. This large amber colored crystal was an unexpected piece of nature’s own art.

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This designer left no detail undone–you saw the power meter, and now, necessary garden equipment (and possibly AC units?) is hidden behind a beautiful Ipe screen based on a traditional Japanese fan design.

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The Moon Gate leads visitors back into the front garden via another zipper limestone path.

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This sculptural Japanese pine, at least forty years old, anchors the front garden on this side of the house.

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A dwarf red cut-leafed Japanese maple hovers only inches above the ground and seems to float in a sea of crushed limestone. The Kurapia ‘lawn’ and Hakone grass elements tie the front garden’s two side together.

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Leaving the garden I can’t help but take one more glance at the Moon Gate, this time as it’s seen from the front.  This garden is simple and serene without feeling fussed over or complicated–Glee, this one’s for you!

 

 

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!!