Judy Adler gardens with nature in mind…

A few years ago while searching for garden tours on the internet I ran across the site for the Bringing Back the Natives Tour which takes place annually in the East Bay. Their site http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net is the home of not only the 14 year old tour, but also offers many resources for gardeners interested in native plants, water conservation, backyard wildlife habitats and much more. The May 2018 self guided tour included forty Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens, workshops and a native plant sale. Unfortunately May is a month overflowing with garden touring and educational opportunities (not to mention an intensive  work time in my own garden) and I have yet to be able to participate in the tour.

Their regular and very informational emails led me to sign up for a class last week end entitled Gardening With Nature in Mind and taught by environmental educator Judy Adler at her half acre garden in Walnut Creek. As with all Bay Area road trip type classes, it was an early departure from Fresno and a long day but well worth the drive.

We were a small class which allowed plenty of time for questions and to get to know each other’s diverse gardening interests and experiences. Judy’s home landscape functions as suburban farm, an ecological and horticultural laboratory, a wildlife habitat and a community educational resource. Her passion for nature and sharing the interconnectedness of all facets of the natural world is boundless. A walk around her garden and her so called “trespass area” offers learning opportunities and examples of sustainable gardening practices in play at every turn.

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Judy’s home is one of two in a cul-de-sac adjacent to a Walnut Creek public school. Across the street lies an open area, once a mustard field, that belongs to the school district. Since 1996 Judy has shaped a half acre plot of this land into a biodiverse dry garden which reflects what is able to survive with only rainfall. In the shade of the oaks we learn about the Mediterranean Climate range across the world–areas marked by dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. The logs you see “planted” in the ground are examples of hugelkulture, a horticultural technique where a mound created by decaying wood debris can produce a planting area with improved soil fertility, water retention and soil warming.

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The spines on this acacia species native to Chile provide cover and protection for birds and other wildlife.

Berries of the evergreen toyon provide winter food for birds and the juicy fruits of the prickly pear has been food for both wildlife and man through the ages.

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Piles of brush and trimmings are left to decay in place, offering additional wildlife habitat as they are on their journey to nourishing the soil beneath.

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This area has many colonies of milkweed. As we encounter stands of now desiccated milkweeds plants, Judy shares a photographic life cycle book of the plants and the monarch butterflies they feed that she has produced as an educational resource.

Of course the area includes lots of spiky things–Judy’s lesson here was to make sure you know the mature sizes of those cute little succulents you put in the ground!

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Looking back toward the hills behind the dry garden. In the foreground are stands of California native rye, Leymus triticoides, which has been fashioned into a maze for young gardeners to explore.

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A short walk back up the street to Judy’s home offered a chance to admire the sculptural quality of the trunks of this group of manzanita.

Prior to class Judy had sent us all electronically a lot of reference material, including a plant list of her garden, a list of resources covering topics such as bee-keeping and permaculture and much more plus a little pre-class homework to learn to calculate rainfall volumes. Judy is all about the water. The fact is that she has very little to work with and is committed to being the best steward of her little piece of the earth’s resources, as well as carrying that message to the general public. I admitted to not doing my homework as our class moved into a discussion of rainwater harvesting. Had I done the math I would have not been so surprised to learn that a roof surface of 2500 square feet could yield almost 30,000 gallons of rainwater in an area receiving only 18 inches of rain a year!

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Here you see Judy as she explains the roof rainwater harvesting system she built with the help of friends and neighbors. The addition of a product called Gutter Gloves as an initial filtering agent allows rainwater to flow off her roof surfaces free of large debris, into a PVC pipe system that then provides a second filter and ultimately routes the water into one of the three 3,000 gallon water tanks just visible over her shoulder. The system is pressure operated with no pump involved. She also uses recycled fire hoses to deliver water to various parts of her landscape!

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A basic botany lesson introduces us to the characteristics of different pollinator insects and blooms in Judy’s pollinator garden give her an opportunity for a pop quiz to review what we have just learned.

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This 1,500 gallon pond incorporates an upper tier bio bog to aid oxygenation. Judy shared that this pond teems with wildlife throughout the year and provides her with a wonderful observation spot.

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This small greenhouse is in full sun part of the day. These recycled containers are filled with harvested water which warms in the daytime and heats the greenhouse when temperatures cool in the evening.

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Raised beds with the remnants of the season remain as food and shelter for birds and insects.

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A pergola to the back patio supports native grape vines. The bright white foliage is a woody perennial shrub called germander which sports bright blue flowers in spring.

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The resident hens participate in the patio goings-on. Judy uses the coop’s manure to enrich needy soil and enjoys both the eggs and the company her girls give her. The chickens are all rescues and relish visitors to the garden as they know there will be a little treat for them!

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During our time with Judy she touched on many topics of interest to gardeners and wildlife lovers alike. Rather than an in depth coverage of any one facet we were able to get a little taste of a diverse range of related subjects and the resource materials Judy shared offered avenues for further exploration on an individual basis.

While my own gardening aesthetic probably will never rise to the level of sustainability Judy practices I absolutely admire the fact that she very clearly WALKS the TALK in all aspects of her life. Her enthusiasm, matter of fact style and plain language is appealing to adults and children alike and I am sure everyone in my class went home having learned at least one new thing–I know I did.

Leaving her garden you see this diminutive art piece with arms raised to the heavens. It is a perfect representation of the joy and peace Judy experiences by observing and being connected with life in all its forms. The art piece was the inspiration for her ebullient garden gate created by metal sculptor Mark Oldland.

Please visit http://www.diablonature.org to learn more about Judy Adler’s life and work.

 

 

Howdy from Austin…The Natural Gardener

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On my first day out on my own before the Garden Bloggers Fling Austin 2018 officially began I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to The Natural Gardener, a destination garden center in South Austin known for its pioneering work in organic gardening and sustainable living. This family, dog, picnic, photographer friendly gardening experience was to be the luncheon destination for my group on Friday during my absence and I figured if it rated a spot on a packed itinerary; it should not be missed. I am still dodging and weaving around angry skies at this point in the day but again my pre-Fling visit did not suffer the gully washing rains that my group would contend with a couple of days later.

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Of course, the colorful annual offerings were right out front
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There was no shortage of spiky things
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Only been in Austin one day and all ready I love the rustic wood and galvanized vibe
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All the pollinator friendly perennials are colorfully tagged to show you what critters favor them

If I were an Austinite, The Natural Gardener would be in my ‘drop by once a week to see what’s new whether I needed anything or not’ category for good quality and well-tended plant materials but the shop’s main draw for me would be all of the other fun experiences and activities appealing to gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Its eight acres offer quiet areas of contemplation, places to swing and sway, lots of garden ideas to adapt, animals to pet and even an enchanted forest. Established in 1993 by John Dromgoole on a neglected farmstead after the site of his Oak Hill organic gardening business fell to the widening of Highway 290, The Natural Gardener has grown to be a vital community resource which includes display gardens, teaching gardens, farm animals, the retail nursery and many areas of wildlife habitat. Check out http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com to see all this delightful spot has to offer. I’ll show you just enough to wet your appetite!

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The Frog Pond
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The Organic Garden with the Compost Tea House in the background–lots of good educational take home material is available 
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These greens are looking good!
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The Hill Country Stream
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This petite stream was one of my favorite vignettes
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The Herb Garden
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Fun painted VERY LARGE rainwater collection tank
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A small part of the sustainable living picture in play–they practice what they preach
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The arbor marking the return to the retail area is almost indistinguishable from the gnarled trunks of the Milletia reticulata vine
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Looking back into the gardens from the other side of the arbor–notice the Certified Wildlife Habitat sign
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Loved this natural edged planed wood plank siding used with the rusted corrugated metal on the check out shed not in much use due to the weather

Two of the rainwater catch tanks tucked in all over the retail nursery area–they are almost like garden art!

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As I walked up the road I found this whimsical metal gate and a bike hanging around just it case it might be needed
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No interesting thing goes unused
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The Labyrinth and its surrounding benches are a quiet contrast to the garden center and display garden’s bustling activity
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Willie Nelson’s guitar captured in apricot carpet roses
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Entrance to the Enchanted Walk through the woods
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The Butterfly Garden
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Leaving the Butterfly Garden
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Maypop passionflower vine
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The Natural Gardener’s passion for its mission is clear in the sign identifying their outdoor classroom space!
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The Farmhouse Store is a treasure trove for gardeners, birders and butterfly lovers all

Although I almost never purchase plants when I travel out of state (California’s laws about bringing in live plant materials are very specific) I always go to the independent local garden centers to see what’s going on. It’s easy to get the gardening pulse of a region by seeing what’s being sold to the gardeners with boots on the ground, so to speak. With the two Texas plant purveyors I’ve seen so far I am really impressed with the time and energy both have devoted to creating almost magical display gardens to give their customers an idea of what things really look like in the ground and in combination with other plants. Both have worked hard to be garden coaches and create gardening communities–far above and beyond just selling plants. The Natural Gardener’s brochure says it all!

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Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin is the state botanical garden and arboretum of Texas. The internationally recognized botanic garden is dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes. The Center’s website at http://www.wildflower.org has a great overview of its history, mission and programs and states that it “promotes its mission through sustainable public gardens and natural areas, education and outreach programs, research projects, and consulting work throughout Texas and the surrounding region.”

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Founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes as the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982 and renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997, the Center originally occupied land in East Austin and moved to its current site in 1995. A signature piece of Mrs. Johnson’s environmental legacy, it is a must see for any nature lover visiting the Austin area.

The Wildflower Center was to be first up on the Garden Bloggers Fling opening full day schedule–the day I would miss because of my 24 hour trip to Atlanta–and I was determined I would find an open spot for me to see it on my own. At a roadside stop to eat on the way back to Austin after visiting the Antique Rose Emporium I realized it was Twilight Tuesday and the Center would be open until 8 pm. I quickly finished my late lunch, reprogrammed my GPS was off! Later I would discover that my group had been overwhelmed by torrential rain the entire day of their visit and had not been able to see much of the grounds at all. When I visited two days earlier, the skies were periodically dark and threatening (as you will see in some of the photos) but I escaped without a drop.

A FEW QUICK FACTS about the Lady bird Johnson Wildflower Center as taken from http://www.wildflower.org

  • 284 acres total
  • 16 acre arboretum
  • 9 acres of gardens
  • 800 species of Texas natives plants
  • 5 major spaces: Central Complex, Central Gardens, Texas Arboretum, Family Garden, Natural Areas

The buildings and hardscape are constructed with locally harvested stones and designed to reflect regional architectural styles. All of the structures built harvest rainwater into a 68,500 gallon capacity storage system. The Center’s landscapes are managed to support a vast web of life, and have recorded more than 143 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, and 1800 species of insects.

I spent most of my time in the Central Complex and Gardens area, choosing not to stray too far from shelter should a storm catch me by chance. There is easily a full day’s worth of wandering around should you have that much time. The very nature of wildflower gardens is that they are ever-changing and would be equally beautiful, although different, at various times of the year. Membership would be a must for me if I were an Austin resident!

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My first glimpse of what would be lots of beautiful Texas stone put to use creating structures reminiscent of a historic almost ruin-like hacienda and grounds. This water storage tank is part of the rain catchment system–notice the metal water raceway feeding in at the top.

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As you enter the grounds this restful seating area adjoins a shaded wildflower meadow. Not much was in bloom this day but I could see the seed head remain of huge swathes of Texas bluebonnets which would have been a sea of blue only a couple of weeks ago.

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The distant stone arch literally draws you down the long walkway leading to the Central Complex.  This series of vine draped stone columns lends an air of walking back in time into Texas history. The rainwater raceway rests atop the columns.

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The Wetland Pond showcases plants naturally found along streams and ponds in Texas including Justicia americana, commonly called water willow, seen in the foreground with tiny white flowers.

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The water cascades down the rustic stone wall to hit this well worn, mossy rock its base.

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This lone bloom stood amidst a sea of cooling green–I believe this area would make you feel cooler in the blazing heat of summer, even if you really weren’t. This looks to me like  one of the Louisiana irises, often planted in water. The Wildflower Center has a superb plant database on its website and lists 4 native to Texas but this one didn’t look like any of the four.

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I love that the designer/stonemason incorporated planting spots in the inside corners of the archway–a great place to showcase this blue green spiky thing–unless I could see a plant marker that is about as close as I will get on MANY spiky things I encountered on this adventure. Even at some distance my eye was drawn up to this detail.

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Opposite the Wetland Pond, the arched stonework creates a sort of vestibule which almost obscures the modern door into the Auditorium.

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If you read my blog regularly you will have learn that my husband has an almost phobia like reaction to plants trained up any permanent hard surfaces so everywhere I go I take pictures of just that to show him that so far this stone wall has not fallen down yet from the imagined ill effects of green stuff touching it! This scrambler is Clematis texensis, commonly called scarlet leather flower or scarlet clematis. The red balls will open to petite, scarlet, downward-nodding, urn shaped blooms.

Passing under the last massive stone arch reveals the Courtyard anchored by the understated Courtyard Spring.

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Standing in this large area surround by buildings but with a wide open sky, I can imagine an age old Texan hacienda where the work happens during the day in the various parts of the home and then everyone spills out in the cool of the evening to eat, drink and relax.

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Shaded areas create a green buffer between the central open space and the structures, offering some visual softening of the stone and other hard surfaces. The Courtyard offers entry to the Great Hall and Classrooms, the Gift Shop and the Little House. The Little House is a single room structure on the southwest corner designed as a special place for children and includes a kid sized door.

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The Little House has its own back courtyard where many children’s programs are held. This whimsical critter keeps watch on the goings on through a stone opening just at kid level. The Little House also has its own garden filled with native columbine and Salvia greggii ‘Teresa’ as seen below. I love the pale pink tint of the ‘Teresa’ blooms.

 

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This vine draped pergola in front of the Little House marks the transition between the Courtyard and a variety of paths and small garden spaces. You can see a little peak at the Observation Tower just the top of the photo. I am headed that way!

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I wandered past the Color Garden, the Volunteers Garden and the Dry Creek Garden which is nestled at the base of a wall near the Observation Tower. Several mounds of Phlox pilosa, prairie phlox, were growing along the creek bed. I think the surrounding leaves are of Pavonia lasiopetala, a widely used Texas native commonly called pink rock rose.

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The Observation Tower stands tall over the other structures, appearing to be hundreds of years old and should you be able to get to the top, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding country. The golden ball leadtree, Leucaena retusa, was totally unknown to me but one I would see many times more in both commercial and residential landscapes.

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Look how the weather changed just as I backed up to get a wider image of the Observation Tower. No amount of editing could lighten this up any more. It looked as though the rain was ready to pour down.

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It brightened up a little bit as I approached the meadow flanked pathway to the Luci and Ian Family Garden. There were still a few flashes of wildflower color to be found but given the state of the weather I decided to leave this fairly long ramble for another visit.

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The back side of the Great Hall and Classrooms building has walls of windows with a sweeping vista of the meadow. This small stone terraced bed represents plants found in the rockier mountain areas of Texas including the Yucca pallida, pale leafed yucca, which was coming into bloom. Even though falling in that ‘spiky thing’ category of plants which I have not favored I came to appreciate the structural beauty and wide variety of yucca by the time I left Austin.

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Passing through the Woodland Garden I entered the walled Central Gardens area which houses the Theme Gardens. Each small garden here is indicative of a specific habitat or region and showcases Texas appropriate native plant material. Here is just a sampling:

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South Texas Sampler-highlighting plant material from the southernmost areas of Texas
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Hummingbird Garden-big red sage, flame acanthus and hesperaloe all offer blooms loved by hummers
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Wandering Walkers Garden-honors those botanists whose collection and propagation of native plants made them available for use in home gardens

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These were the first of many stock tanks I would see used in Austin as water gardens and raised planters. Note how the back sides of the smaller ones have been altered to allow them to snug up tight to the larger center one.

The Greenhouses and outdoor propagation areas span one entire side of the Central Gardens.

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The Wildflower Center’s large greenhouse operation propagates plants for the gardens and is the site of research projects.  The annual native plant events offer educational outreach into the local gardening community and a chance for gardeners to try plants they have admired at the Center in their own gardens.

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The Pollinator Habitat Garden contains 350 different plant species, arranged in 10 plant communities designed to support butterflies and other invertebrates throughout their life cycles by offering water, food, protection and appropriate breeding conditions. The garden is an open air pollinator habitat, demonstrating the co-dependant relationship of plants and insects and the critical role of pollinators in biodiversity.

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The far side of the Central Gardens offers another pathway to the Family Garden. Given more time and better weather I think I would make the loop through that garden back to the first path but not today!

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I strolled back to the parking area on what must have been a service road behind the Silo Garden–I could have been 20 miles out in the country if I hadn’t known better–and found these blooms among the meadow grasses.

 

Now…if I only had a good Texas wildflower book!

Plantspotting in Pasadena…

With barely a day home from AQS QuiltWeek (see We quilt this city…) I’ve changed out my suitcase to accommodate Southern California’s warm weather and am off for a few days in the LA area while my sweetie attends a conference. The garden gods have graciously arranged this international neurology meeting to coincide with the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days event in Pasadena.

Open Days is the Garden Conservancy’s education program which offers special invitations into private gardens all over the United States. The tours are self-guided and usually within reasonable driving distance of each other to allow you to see every one within the designated open hours. Visit http://www.opendaysprogram.org for information on gardens by location and date for the rest of 2018 and http://www.gardenconservancy.org for information about the Garden Conservancy and its mission to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.

Pasadena is one of my favorite garden cities. It has it all–beautiful public spaces, tons of historic architecture, interesting neighborhoods with lots of diversity in home sizes and styles and residents who all seem to have a green thumb. I would venture a guess that it is something in the water but these days no California city seems to have plentiful water! Pasadena gardeners, along with those in several cities in the Bay Area, have risen to the occasion with some of the most well done waterwise and drought tolerant landscapes I have seen in my travels. A strong statement given their moniker ‘City of Roses’! You can see additional Pasadena gardens in my post The Ellen 5 get Rich in Pasadena….

Six private gardens plus La Casita Del Arroyo Garden (a City of Pasadena property maintained primarily by the Pasadena Garden Club) were included and I will post on four of the private gardens. As the day warmed up and my time grew short I left La Casita Del Arroyo for another visit. First up–the Penner Garden.

THE PENNER GARDEN

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In this era of every HGTV show touting the value of curb appeal it is immediately obvious that this home is more about privacy and family than making a splash in what is all ready a very WOW neighborhood. A 7 passenger golf cart ferried garden viewers up and down this very steep tree canopied driveway–a few of us made the climb on foot and regardless of how you got there the payoff was at the top.

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The mid-century single story home on the bluff overlooking the Arroyo River was designed by Smith & Williams in 1963. The post and beam residence is surrounded by mature oaks, olive trees and palm and the renovation of the outdoor spaces was designed to maximize their existing role in the landscape.

As we approach the wide entrance adjacent to the carport these agaves (terrible with succulents-let me know if I’m wrong) foreshadow the emphasis on groups of plants with strong structural qualities, an aesthetic which I think fits the home’s architecture well. Mature podacarpus of unknown variety have been limbed up to soften the stucco wall and provide some textural contrast.

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I imagine these are spectacular lit at night.

As the back garden vista opens up it is clear why this home is at the top of the hill rather than street side.

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The view of the river bed and distant mountains is spectacular!

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From every vantage point you are held captive by the vista.

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Mid photo on the left is the historic Arroyo Bridge.

So now that you have recovered from the big picture–there’s a lot going on in this very family friendly garden which was renovated by landscape architect Nord Erickson to maximize outdoor entertaining space as well as create a more natural transition to the  hillside vegetation lying beyond.

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There are multiple seating and entertaining areas. Above you can see this great grouping of egg like woven chairs which surround a fire pit. What looks like a red sculpture tucked under the roofline’s overhang is actually a giant chair with multiple places to sit–the homeowner says his kids love to do their homework perched comfortably on this big red thing!

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This fully outfitted outdoor kitchen, complete with a pizza oven, is tucked up next to the home and has raised beds to accommodate veggies and herbs.

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Stone steps tucked at the end of a small area between the infinity pool and the downslope of the bank of the riverbed give you access to another intimate seating area–this is definitely the after dinner wine sipping venue.

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I loved the steps taking you up the other side which incorporate these large boulders and offer a planting pocket sporting a mass of succulents. The landscape architect’s plant palette is restrained in both color and number of plant choices. His selections are repeated throughout the garden and used in masses. Rosemary and cape plumbago peek over the short retaining wall.

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As you ascend those steps the emphasis on massed plants with architectural qualities is evident. In the foreground, the strap like narrow leaves of a mass of dianella (not sure which one but lower than most) are in start contrast to the geometric planting of a very spiny barrel cactus and its smaller blue gray succulent companion. Rosemary under the palm provides yet another leaf form and texture.

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Here is the view from that area back into the rest of the garden. The garden has a beautiful sense of enclosure given that the view from one side is just about forever– private, yet expansive!

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Three bushy olive trees planted in square metal forms sunk in the ground soften the stark white stucco wall of this wing of the home. Yet another table and chairs, this time funky red ones, offer a shaded place to dine or play games. You can be in the vicinity of whatever is going on in the pool without being right in the middle of it.

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Looking back at the home from the far side of the pool you can see that this home has the extensive walls of glass so evocative of the mid-century modern style and which provide a seamless transition to the outdoors and vistas beyond. A comfy sofa and chairs provide another shady spot for hanging out.

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Just one more look before we go! It seems as though lately we have been focused on  creating ‘garden rooms’ in our landscapes–looking to provide a little mystery as we move from one part of the garden to another. This garden could not be more different. From the vantage point of the last of those sculptural agaves in the first photo the entire space is in a single visual plane. This garden is beautifully designed to take best advantage of its location and is in total harmony with the home it enhances.

I often find ‘bonus’ homes and gardens as I move from one tour garden to the next and include them in my posts. Fun stuff along the way is always a great addition to any adventure.

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This peacock flew (?) up to this driveway gate only a few feet from where we were waiting for the Penner garden to open. Apparently in nearby Arcadia (which is relatively close to the Los Angeles Arboretum) there are literally bands of roving semi-wild peacocks inhabiting residential neighborhoods. Who knew? My guess is that they are cute just about as long as deer are cute in a residential neighborhood–just until they poop on your car or eat all your perennials to the ground.

SLO down for this Central Coast botanical garden…

The coastal morning fog (which followed those several screaming hot days) had not yet lifted when I arrived at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden just as it opened. San Luis Obispo, lovingly nicknamed SLO, is home to Cal Poly. Although now consolidated with other disciplines of study, the former horticulture department has been responsible for many professionals in the ornamental horticulture and plant science world. Although it makes perfect sense that SLO would have a botanical garden I had heard nary a mention of it from any of my plant road tripping, nursery shopping, garden touring compatriots.

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San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is located on Highway 1 tucked into El Chorro Regional Park. It was established in 1989 and focuses on plants adapted to the dry summers of California and the world’s other four Mediterranean climate regions.

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Gold tiles on this beautiful mosaic map near the entrance show the Mediterranean climates which were first studied scientifically around the Mediterranean Sea. These climate regions feature hot summers with no rain which stresses plants. Winters are mild with rain which supports growth and blooming. Adapted plants are able to minimize water loss and store water to survive through the summer. This type of plant material does not make a classically beautiful garden filled year round with showy color but does provide a great resource for gardeners faced with long dry summers and mild wet winters as a place to see successful plants in situ and at mature size. Sort of a bloom where you are planted philosophy–we all can’t have English cottage gardens or Pacific Northwest woodlands.

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The present garden (far left middle in green) represents only 2 of the 150 acres laid out in the garden’s 1998 master plan. Development of these remaining acres awaits further funding. Check out http://www.slobg.org  for ways you can donate to help this ambitious project!

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Lucky for me, my visit coincides with the annual Fall Plant Sale. Knowing that the early shopper gets the best selection I am headed there first, hoping to find a few new-to-me goodies to incorporate in my long side yard renovation. As it is a pretty much stand alone area with little view of the front yard proper I think it can take a few ‘one ofs’ without distracting from the visual rhythm of the existing landscape. Up the hill I go!

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The screened houses are almost ethereal in the low hanging fog. Note the  barely visible shrub with the white blooms cascading down the slope–this is Capparis spinosa, the evergreen shrub whose flower buds are pickled and bottled as capers. I encountered the plant elsewhere in the garden and decided it was a little large and rangy for my needs but I did snap a photo of its gorgeous flower.

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Unlike my valley, the Central Coast is able to many plant succulents directly into the ground without fear of frost–there were many varieties and container sizes available.

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Happy shoppers!

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I was really impressed with the sale’s organization and excellent labels. The forest lily was one of my purchases and I doubt I would have looked twice (only foliage, no flower) had the photo of the plant in bloom not caught my eye. I am going to put this one in a pot for its first year and give it some winter protection while I settle on a spot in the ground with enough summer shade.

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Knowledgeable volunteers to assist shoppers were abundant and I was given an information sheet like this one for each of my selections. For those with garden questions the SLO County Master Gardeners (not affiliated with the botanical garden) were on hand with lots of reference material to tease out the answers. Although this was a modest sale in terms of the number of plants, the individual plants were in excellent condition, the variety of plants was great and I even got a ride back to my car with the garden’s Education Director, Lindsey Morgan, plant booty tucked safely in the back of her golf cart!

With the precious cargo stowed away in my car I spent some time wandering the meandering hilly paths of the garden. The Self Guided Tour leaflet listed the not-to-miss specimens in each of the site’s numbered climate zones. Most zones had several beds and each bore a reference letter. Note that the above info sheet told me to look in the Mediterranean region (#4) at beds B, H, or O to see Teucrium betonicum–easy to find.

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Many of the plant labels have attached QR (Quick Response) codes–the little jigsaw looking square scanner codes you see on everything these days–which allow you to access additional information about the plant using your smartphone camera. The red ones like above link you to the garden’s publication, 128 of Our Best!

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This bright green, weeping mayten tree (Maytenus boaria) is the star of the Chilean Region. Its lush and graceful branches make it hard to believe that is a drought tolerant evergreen from canyons in central Chile’s coastal ranges. If this one is at its mature size it would make a lovely addition to a midsize residential garden.

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Many of the plants in the California Region have small or needle-like leaves with hard coatings to minimize water loss. Manzanitas (Arctostaphylus spp.) and California lilacs (Ceanothus spp.) are good examples of this water saving foliage strategy. In several of my April 2017 posts about the Theodore Payne Native Plant Tour there are photos of many different cultivars of both of these species. Both species are spring/summer bloomers and as such don’t look like much more than green shrubs here!

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The California buckeye (Aesculus californica) is a summer deciduous tree which blooms in the spring and then drops its large leaves to reduce water loss. It is easily identified from a distance by its large, hard, fig shaped fruits. My tour leaflet taught me that the Chumash and Salinan peoples crushed and tossed these toxic fruits into ponds and streams to temporarily stun fish for easy harvest.

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Can’t resist a great piece of garden art made from recycled/upcycled materials.

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The Firesafe Demonstration Landscape includes plants with fire resistive properties and good educational materials about maintaining a fire defensible space around homes built near natural spaces. Dry summers = fire danger–we have all seen the recent examples of loss of life and property to wild fires.

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The Life Celebration Garden is a quiet, contemplative space furnished with benches in the shade of oaks. The Allen Root art piece entitled Celebration invites you to imagine as you view it a flowing stream with circles of ripples from pebbles tossed into it.

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The Children’s Garden features drought tolerant plants, edibles, insect and bird houses and is the site for a variety of family friendly educational activities designed to spark interest in and appreciation of our natural world.

As I wandered the casual garden spaces I observed many of these little house and conjured up a scenario in which the SLO Botanical Garden was providing shelter for some quasi-endangered little creature. Meeting up with garden staffer Lindsey Morgan near the end of my tour I question her about the wildlife the houses were sheltering–turned out to be the native Sprinkerlus manifoldii–proving that I can be be sucked into believing just about anything.

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OK, so this Historic Fig Tree doesn’t really look different from any other fig tree but here is its story: A cutting of the ‘Mother Fig’ at the San Gabriel Mission was given to Father Jose Cavalier of the San Luis Obispo Mission in the late 1780s. It grew to be a large tree in the Mission’s orchard until its removal in 1974 during construction work. Many cuttings were made at that time and this one was given to the SLO Botanical Garden in 1997. It is Ficus carica (edible fig) and bears fruit annually.

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So ends today’s brief tour of this nascent botanical garden. I love the fact that it is part of the larger regional park. There are people playing baseball in the field to one side of it and I can see tent campers on a not too distant rise. I expect that locals use the park for many family friendly activities and events and that makes the garden another place you can spend part of a larger day in the park–learning about plants and wildlife under the open skies rather than a classroom. I plan to return in the spring to see many of the garden’s shrubs in the full flush of a coastal spring. I hope you will come too!

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This caper bud escaped harvest and the pickling brine to offer this gorgeous bloom!

 

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in September

My monthly treks to Filoli in Woodside draw to a close with this last visit. It has been amazing to walk alongside this historic garden’s journey each month, observing its seasonal rhythm and getting behind the scenes insight into what it takes in time and labor to keep it going. The garden’s class and event schedule is on my radar now and I plan to make many more visits, even if not in such a regular pattern.

I mentioned last month the sharp decrease in garden visitors from the throngs I encountered March through July and today was not much different. Although very few garden lovers were strolling the grounds, the garden was alive with staff and volunteers checking tasks off their to-do lists as they readied the estate for fall.

Preparing for Fall is the focus for our last morning garden walk. It was easy to observe almost every bullet point on the fall checklist instructor Mimi Clarke had included in our notebooks. Things to do around the garden include:

Planting new trees and shrubs. Cool weather and more rain make autumn the ideal time to plant. Roots will have enough time to establish before winter cold sets in and they will have a head start on spring. These tiny Irish yew trees were started from cuttings and grown up in the Filoli greenhouse. The goal here is to eventually have a continuous row to act as a screen for behind the scenes work area.

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Planting perennials and cool season annuals. The bed below was home to pink petunias through the summer and is now replanted with seedlings for ornamental cabbages.

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Autumn is the time for lawn repairs and renovation.

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A small window remains for perennial plants to be trimmed back and neatened up. Too much later in the season and any new flushes of growth will be damaged by cold. The goal is to have any new growth hardened off before winter dormancy sets in.

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Cutting garden beds are neatened up; cutting back appropriately to the specimen; leaving seed pods or berries to feed winter birds or complete removal and composting of spent annuals.

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Some herbaceous perennials, like these peonies below, are left to continue ripening. The flowering shoots have already been cut back to new growth.

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The time is right to plan out any other maintenance tasks or projects, keep close watch on the irrigation system, making changes as weather and moisture requires, and clean up dead and diseased foliage throughout the garden.

Since we last walked the area housing the spent potted daffodils from spring, the bulbs have been knocked out of the pots and cleaned up for winter storage and the pots cleaned and readied for late winter planting.

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While much of the Filoli Cutting Garden is in its normal seasonal decline, one area burns brightly–the dahlia bed. Last month we observed the foliage making itself known, most plants from 12-24” tall. The first pinching to promote strong branching had just been done. Here is today’s look.

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And a few favorites–

Dahlia 'Gits Attention'
Dahlia ‘Gits Attention’

 

 

In a few short weeks these too will be done and the tender tubers lifted to be stored for the winter. The thought of having this fresh and vibrant late summer color has inspired me to try a few dahlias next season!

Another Cutting Garden inhabitant caught my eye. The bold fuchsia of this Gomphrena ‘Firecracker’ draws attention from afar.

 

Many of the cutting garden flowers used in the house and Visitors Center are grown inside wire “greenhouses” to protect their delicate blossoms from pests and critters. The wire sides of these enclosures offer many opportunities to showcase annual vines. This one caught my eye. It is in the morning glory family and called Ipomoea lobata or Mina lobata. Common names found in reference material include exotic love vine, Spanish flag and firecracker vine. I know my gardening BFF Judi will love this one! I am adding ‘try a few annual vines’ to my gardening bucket list. Seed packets are inexpensive and the commitment much smaller than to a perennial vine.

 

On the subject of vines–this one was not yet blooming when I passed it last month on my way from the Sunken Garden to the Potting Shed. This month I could see it all the way across the Walled Garden and had to make a detour from our walk about to snap a few photos!

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Commonly called silver lace vine, Fallopia baldschuanica or Polygonum aubertii, is an easy going perennial vine with a wild heart. It is fast growing (12-15 feet per year) and will scramble over anything in its path–in this case it cloaks a long brick wall at least 15 feet in height.

Begonias were on display throughout the Walled Garden, both in the ground and in pots.

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As we were heading for the Area 2 Shop and to check out the large scale compost operation which deals with all the spent annuals and pruning bounty, I stuck my head into the Garden House, an ornate brick structure which is the focal point of the Walled Garden–the only time I have seen it without an activity in progress.

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With french doors on all four sides this conservatory style outdoor room offers vistas of both the Walled Garden and the Sunken Garden.

The ambiance and architecture was very different at Area Shop 2–the hub for all activity in the Sunken Garden, the Terraces to the west of the manor house and the Meadow.

 

The Gentlemen’s Orchard is the last stop on our prepping for fall tour. This 10 acre orchard of mixed fruits lies to the east of the parking lot and was established in 1918 with 1,000 trees to provide the family and their guests with a year-round selection of dessert fruit. Today 150 surviving trees are being preserved along with a newly planted collection of rare period fruit cultivars. We sampled apples and grapes as appetizers to our lunch!

 

Back at our classroom we celebrated our ‘graduation’ with snacks and lunch. Each participant had the opportunity to present a project of their choice, putting new-found knowledge to work in solving real life garden issues. Projects ran the gamut from landscape renderings to a fledgling app which would send alerts to your smartphone based on your garden maintenance schedule. Our farewell task was to pot up our rooted cuttings from the August class session. These eight monthly sessions not only provided a good garden education foundation but an interesting look into other gardeners’ challenges and successes. While we may toil in our personal gardens mostly as individuals (so far not even my best friends have offered to come over and pull weeds with me) we also benefit hugely from our local and regional garden communities. In that way even our most solitary of efforts can become a valuable source of inspiration and fellowship.

So good-bye to and from Filoli for now–we’re best friends now and I get wait until we have a chance to get together again.

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A Year in the Garden…Filoli in August

Filoli was eerily quiet as I arrived for my monthly class in this quintessential country estate of times gone by. The forecast was for a day in the low 70s which for me would be a relief from a summer with weeks on end of temps surpassing the 100 degree mark. Unlike the efforts of many home gardeners who are about ready to call it quits by this time of year, Filoli’s formal beds benefit from the June changeout of plant material from spring to summer (and staff to make it happen…I must have misplaced my own staff) and were bright, bold and thriving!

The play of the morning sun turns the sea of orange zinnias to gold! The bold color scheme of the Sunken Garden almost glows in full sun under blue skies.

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The blue mealy cupped salvia and lavender statice, barely past seedling stage last month, have come into their own. All of the annual flowers seen here are started from seed and grown out in the estate greenhouses.

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This butterscotch colored Amaranthus was interesting. Commonly called amaranth or love lies bleeding, there are many ornamental varieties as well as whole grain varieties used as a food crop. Most of the ornamental ones I have seen are in the red and burgundy tones–slipped my mind to ask our instructor, Mimi Clarke, later in the day for the cultivar name.

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I also enjoyed seeing the pops of white along the northwest wall provided by really nice stands of Cleome. A taller variety, the flowers topped 5 feet. I am going to find a sunny spot in the back of one of my borders to sow a packet or two of these next spring.

The garden and gift shop area was dressed for late summer also. The plants for sale often mirror what is prominent in the garden at any given point–today was a bit of an exception with this nice display of succulents.

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My usual route through the Walled Garden to my potting shed classroom allows me to check in on those disappointing begonias I noted last month. They have filled enough now to give me a grudging smile.

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The less formal areas southeastern areas of the garden reflect more of the late summer doldrums all gardeners experience: perennials not quite fully cut back in hopes of encouraging an second flush of bloom, cutting garden annuals nearing the end of their prime time and roses looking like they have had a long, hot summer. Every month I find these areas to be a comfort. Even with a hard working staff there are always more maintenance tasks than time and hands to do them–just like my garden!

A highlight this month where the clumps of naked ladies blooming everywhere! The bulbs of Amaryllis belladonna and Lycoris squamigera both produce straplike leaves which die back in late spring, followed by long naked stalks topped with clear pink blooms.

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I believe these to be the Amaryllis rather than the Lycoris due to the symmetry and more pointedness of the petals and the color of the stalks but I wouldn’t put money on it! They are in areas clearly visible from the paths but not close enough to examine on hands and knees without walking into the planted areas. Both plants are great naturalizers and resent being moved. They were very popular with 19th and 20th century gardeners and remain so today–although many folks who have them ‘inherit’ them with their property rather than having sought them out to add to the garden.

Propagation is today’s classroom and garden walk topic. As we had covered seed collecting earlier we would concentrate on asexual propagation today with our hands on focus being propagation by cuttings. The major methods of asexual propagation are cuttings, layering, division and budding/grafting. Propagation by cuttings involves rooting a severed piece of the parent plant; propagation by layering flip flops the process by rooting a part of the parent plant and then severing it. Propagation by division is accomplished by digging up the parent plant and separating it into several parts or separated off plantlets that have set down roots away from the parent plant; budding and grafting allow you to join two plants from different varieties. Excellent written material walking us through each of these propagation methods is included in our class notebooks–I have propagated by division countless times but have little experience with the other three techniques.

Mimi’s go-to advice of knowing your plant and using good references is especially apt as you try your hand at propagation. A plant’s basic genetic and structural properties can point you to the method and time at which it can be most successfully propagated. The fibrous crowns of daylilies are perfect to tease off new plants by division while a plant with a tap root like Queen Anne’s lace cannot be propagated in this fashion. Even the seasoned professional gardening staff at Filoli consult their reference materials to find out the specifics for the plant they seek to reproduce. One of her recommended text is the American Horticultural Society’s tome Plant Propagation which is well organized by plant and written at a practical level for a non-scientist–good step by step photos also.

So today we will take a look at Filoli’s propagation set up, take some cuttings from the estate and prepare them just as the staff gardeners would. The hope is that they will be sufficiently rooted for us to pot them up to take home in September.

Before we head out into the garden we get a quick primer on rooting media and containers. Filoli gardeners construct propagation flats, sized perfectly to sit two deep on the tables in the propagation house (prop house), but any box that will provide suitable drainage can be adapted. The rooting media (soil) should be clean, porous enough for root aeration and drainage but also capable of water and nutrient retention. An easy mix to start with would be 50% peat moss and 50% perlite–dampened, mixed and pressed into your rooting container. Let’s head into the garden!

We stop outside the propagation house to see what is hanging out in the cold frames. Cuttings which have rooted well are potted up (usually to 4″ pots) and moved outside to acclimate. There are a number of cold frames throughout the ‘working’ areas of Filoli and at any given time they contain a mixture of potted up rooted cuttings, divisions and grown out plants waiting to be switched out in the display areas or bound for the retail shop.

Inside the propagation house, pots and flats–check out Filoli’s perfectly sized wooden rooting boxes–are arranged on the concrete tables on either side of the structure. These tables are original to the prop house, which dates very early in the estate’s history. The tables provide bottom heat to the cuttings by means of a piped hot water system tucked up under the table top–also original and still working well. Overhead misters and fans provide the ongoing constant moisture needed for root development. Temperature of the rooting media is monitored by a thermometer in the box or pot and adjustments are made to the climate as needed. Everything is labeled with the plant name, date and often where the particular cuttings were taken in the garden.

Our next stop was one of the large greenhouses adjacent our classroom–this one houses many of the potted tropicals that rotate through the house and a host of succulents plus anything else that just needs a temporary home inside. We are catching this house at a time just past the last large annual changeout (June) and before flats are seeded in the fall with next year’s spring annuals. Mimi tells us that much of what we see today will have to be moved in a month or two out to house hundreds of flats of newly germinated annuals.

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The greenhouse features a wide center walkway going from doors on either side. The perimeter window walls have permanently fitted table space. The double wide center table seems to only allow access from one long side and it initially appears very hard to reach anything more than an arm’s length away. I was fascinated to find that this very wide and long (maybe 30 feet long and 15 feet wide?) table sits on a system of galvanized pipes that allow it to be rolled from side to side with little more than one person’s effort–thus eliminating the need for a walkway on both sides and increasing the overall storage space.

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Additional cold frames are found on both sides of this greenhouse. In the winter months they will be covered to prevent heat loss.

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In the center of the above photo you can see pots of young Taxus baccata ‘Stricta’, the Irish yew, which is one of Filoli’s signature plants. Prominent in the original estate landscape, many of them on the grounds are decades old and there is a constant need for replacements. The original yews were started from cuttings taken from trees at Muckross, the Bourn family estate in Ireland. The cuttings were then planted at Mr. Bourn’s Empire Mine until Filoli was ready for landscaping. Every Irish yew replacement is grown from a cutting of one of the original plants.

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We came upon this artful stack of wine boxes in the covered work area behind our classroom–looks like some quick minded gardener had snagged them to use as boxes for rooting cuttings and starting seeds. Some of my classmates opine that they were perfect in size and shape and muse about how they could explain to their spouse that they need to buy all their favorite wines by the case now so they could have these great boxes as a bonus!  On to a lightening fast lunch so we can get back out in the garden to get our cuttings!

 

Mimi had planned for us to take cuttings from Weigela florida and Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena), both robust deciduous woody shrubs that we had talked about on earlier garden walks. Special request cries arose for Philadelphus (mock orange), Hydrangea anomala petiolaris (climbing hydrangea), and a specific camellia. Clippers and brown paper bags for collecting in hand we’re off!

Everyone takes a turn at snipping, looking for supple disease free whips to harvest. On the left you see the brick wall of climbing hydrangea. Having done our research in the classroom on each of the proposed selections we had learned that this slow to establish but eventually very aggressive deciduous vine is best propagated in the spring when it is just beginning to produce new roots at the nodes to help it cling to its support (wall). Armed with the knowledge that the success rate for our late summer cuttings may not be high, we are still going to give it a try–I read recently a quote “If you are not killing plants you are not stretching yourself as a gardener.” So there. Now if I can only get the man I share a checkbook with to adopt that philosophy…

Back in the potting shed our booty is spread out by variety and we get a quick demo on where individual cuts should be made so that every cutting has a node which will be down in the rooting media and one exposed to the air which will produce new growth.

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We divvy up into teams and to prep our plant’s cuttings and organize our rooting tray, keeping like cuttings together in tight rows. Labels are made and added to the tray at each point where the plant type changes. We are sharing our tray with the Saturday class it is amazing how many cuttings we got into our half. You can see above we originally started to fill the tray from both sides but ended up relocating them to our designated space. ‘Tray management’ may seem to be a facetious concept but it really critical in knowing what and when you’ve planted and keeping your propagation efforts organized.   Just like so many things in life that you think you will remember exactly what and how you did something (on the day you actually did it)–the reality is that a week later it is all going to blur together!

Like a dozen proud parents we walk our tray to its place in the propagation house. Mimi Clarke gives it a gentle spray. If gardeners gazing with pride and love can make plants root these babies ought to be 2 feet high by next month!

The September meeting will be our last meeting of A Year in the Garden. We will close our time together talking about winding down the garden in fall. Our individual projects are due and we’ll have the opportunity to see what everyone else has done–no pressure here–and hopefully have well rooting cuttings to add to our own gardens as reminders of the time we have spent at Filoli.

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Hydrangea macrophylla–possibly ‘Ayesha’–with beautiful cupped sepals.