The Garden Bloggers Fling 2019 is all in–we closed our final full day of touring last night with a delicious meal together in wood clad barn surrounded by beautiful landscape and rollings fields. Today folks are heading home with their heads and hearts filled with hundreds of garden vignettes and even more inspiration for their own pieces of paradise–and so far uncounted photos which they will share with the readers of their blogs. We’ll gather again next year in Madison , Wisconsin and do it all over again.
To learn more about the Garden Bloggers Fling go to http://www.gardenbloggersfling.blogspot.com where, in addition to general information about the Fling, you’ll find lists of participants and links to their blogs, a list of our wonderful sponsors, and photos from all the past Flings.
My last postcards from Denver…
THE GARDEN OF KIRSTEN AND SCOTT HAMLING IN DENVER
THE GARDEN OF ROB PROCTER AND DAVID MACKE IN NORTH DENVER
THE GARDEN OF JIM AND DOROTHY BORLAND IN DENVER
DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
THE GARDEN OF PANAYOTI KELAIDIS IN DENVER
THE GARDEN OF DAN JOHNSON AND TONY MILES IN ENGLEWOOD
The High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC) is a non-profit (501c3) organization located in the Lakes at Centerra neighborhood in Loveland, Colorado. HPEC manages open space for the Centerra Metro district, homeowner’s associations and other landowners. In the simplest terms, revenues from those management fees support the operation and projects of the center. The organization’s website http://www.suburbitat.org has a wealth of information about the vision that inspired the center and the road it has taken to result in the current method of operation.
THE MEDICINE WHEEL GARDEN
The under-construction Medicine Wheel Garden is an ethnobotany garden which features plants that are used by Native American tribes of the Great Plains for food, medicine, and ceremony. The site also hosts powwows with regional third grade classes. The plants in the slightly raised, cut stone bordered beds which form a circle are just recently planted and very small.
Looking back toward the HPEC’s office building it is obvious that this is not a manicured garden space but a natural space whose primary goal is that of environmental stewardship and education. They are focused on community outreach rather than elaborate structures. Executive Director Jim Tolstrup shared that everything on their site, save the actual buildings, has been built by volunteers.
The geographical area known as the High Plains or Front Ridge enjoys 300+ days of sunshine a year and rarely more than 15″ of rainfall. It is a rich habitat for both wild life and plant life.
Centerra is a 3500 acre mixed use, master planned community in which people can live in harmony with nature, work and play. Seventy-six acres of land, three miles of trails and two lakes totaling over 200 additional acres are managed by HPEC. They work to create sustainable landscapes, restore native plant communities, and provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. In addition to the Medicine Wheel Garden, the site includes a Native Plants Demonstration Garden, an Heirloom Fruit Orchard, a Community Garden, a Native Plant Nursery and a kids area they call the Wild Zone.
NATIVE PLANTS DEMONSTRATION GARDEN
The Native Plants Demonstration Garden showcases Colorado native plants and promotes a regionally appropriate style of horticulture that celebrates the natural beauty of the state, conserves water, reduces reliance on pesticides and fertilizer, and provides habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.
This very long double border contains trees, shrubs and perennials. This area had snow only a couple of weeks ago and thus is having a very late spring. Lots of healthy foliage throughout the border but not as many blooms as I had hoped for.
Although the Falugia paradoxa, commonly called Apache plume, on which these flowers and seed heads were born was pretty well past its prime, there were still many of the clear white blooms and even more of the fluffy, plume-like developing seed heads. I first saw this shrub in Austin and have lusted after one ever since.
The mountain ninebark, Physocarpus monogynus, was in full bloom.
Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’, the Montgomery spruce, is not only structural and sturdy but also provides a pop of blue gray to the border. Denver gold columbine is seen in the foreground.
Several nice colonies of showy milkweed caught everyone’s eye.
A logistically lucky shot caught its flower in all stages.
I think the penstemon were the stars of today’s show. I think this is Penstemon strictus, the Rocky Mountain penstemon.
THE HEIRLOOM FRUIT ORCHARD
Northern Colorado was once a significant fruit growing region. Apples, plums, cherries and blackberries with historic significance have been collected and are grown here, celebrating and preserving a piece of Colorado history.
THE COMMUNITY GARDEN
Garden plots here are cultivated by local families and the garden serves as an outdoor classroom for instructional the cultivation of food crops.
THE NATIVE PLANT NURSERY
The NATIVE PLANT NURSERY works in conjunction with the demonstration garden to help local homeowners establish their own native plant focused landscapes–they can see what mature plants look like and how they perform and then purchase their own small starts. The nursery grows over 80 species and propagates much of what is planted throughout the center. Plant sales provide an additional revenue stream for the HPEC.
THE WILD ZONE
The Wild Zone is an area dedicated to letting kids be kids in an unstructured natural environment. The signage says, “Please DO climb on the rocks, wiggle your toes in the water and create your own art projects using natural materials found here. Go Wild!
The High Plains Environmental Center is both proud of and passionate about its commitment to the community and Colorado’s natural world. Jim Tolstrup shared that Centerra has been registered as Colorado’s first National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat–way to go!
I am having fun everyday watching my new lawn-free front garden fill in. It has been a great opportunity to use larger scale perennials which simply would not have worked within the confines of the small planting beds and islands dictated by the turf’s contours. Don’t misunderstand–I love the look of a healthy emerald green swathe of grass in contrast to beds filled with color and texture from blooms and foliage. HOWEVER, I’ve never even come close to that in the best of times and given my state’s water and climate challenges (not to mention the weeds and pests) we are far from the best of times. The mandate is to learn to appreciate what seems to be working so far so good for me rather than pining for a perfect look that would have never been. See how far my new normal has come…
Above: Curbside view of the area to the west of the walkway to the front door
Above: Just west of the sidewalk to the front door
Above: Just east of the sidewalk to the front door
Above: The eastern center of this widest section was 100% turf except the ash tree and 4 indian hawthorns tucked up near it–never even took its photo until I started replanting!
Above: View from the driveway side–the last area to be planted
Although I am still adding a few bits and pieces to this area I’m going to call this front lawn conversion project officially at an end. In six months or so I’ll revisit this youngest section in photos for you. Many of the perennials in this area have mature sizes of 3-5′ in height and width and so they’ll deserve another look.
So while the sun is symbolically setting on this renovation project, this morning’s sunrise over the front garden has to symbolize a new lawn-free era for my garden!
A Saturday road trip took me with two gardening friends, Ann D. and Glee M. several hours south to the inland hills and canyons of Ventura County off California Highway 126. Not the breezy coastal part of that county but rather the dry scrubby hills south of the small town of Fillmore. A little mapping misstep on my part sent us in a wide circle around our destination but resulted in stumbling upon another specialty nursery that had already been a possible #2 stop–more about that later.
Our primary destination was Greenwood Daylily Gardens in Somis–well, we never really saw any town called Somis but I’m pretty sure there must be one. We were out in the country amongst small ranches and an amazing number of wholesale nursery operations. Definitely dry and I’m pretty sure really hot at the height of summer. The draw for this particular daylily source is its owner’s focus on varieties which are bred for or have shown superior adaptability to Southern California’s particular growing conditions.
As we turned into and then down the long dirt road to the ground I just didn’t know whether to take in the long views first or focus on the masses of color to my left and right! I actually jumped out of the car at the top of the drive to take a few photos as my traveling companions pulled into what we thought was the retail area.
The gardens are in a small valley surrounded by gentle hills.
There are plants everywhere! Greenwood also specializes in pelargoniums and iris. Hoop houses and open ground have rows of exciting colors and shapes.
These two fields of daylilies were across from the hoop houses–probably each a hundred feet in length and 30 feet deep. I was amazed to see when I got up close that they are all being grown in 5 gallon nursery cans cozied up next to each other.
Not many iris were in sight but his hoop house has row upon row of 4″ pots of pelargoniums of all kinds and hues, making a colorful tapestry. As with the daylilies, the pelargoniums are selected for their proven success in Southern California gardens.
It probably should have occurred to us that with no staff, no carts and no labels on most of what was in the hoop houses that we really weren’t in the right place but I can’t say that it did!
Two splashy daylilies and an equally vibrant hibiscus were huddled up together growing out of the hoop house’s dirt floor.
Our soon-to-be best friend Javier and his friendly rescue dog, Diego, arrived presently in a golf cart from some far off place and…we’re busted! This is the staff only area and we should have driven further into the valley to reach the small retail area.
With a silver Airstream as its office backdrop and a shaded area outfitted with chairs looking as though a class would soon start, the retail area was quite small. We learned that the owner John Schoustra and his wife were out of town and Javier was our man for whatever we needed. I was a bit disappointed to have missed the owner. The Greenwood website, http://www.greenwoodgarden.com, has a lot of good daylily culture information (plus the same for the pelargoniums and iris) and reading through it made me feel as if Greenwood Daylily Gardens is as much passion as profitable business for Mr. Schoustra. He feels very strongly about breeding and using plants good for where you live and they’ll prosper–more important than a fancy new marking or ruffle on a bloom. He was named 2018 Horticulturalist of the Year recently by the Southern California Horticultural Society. I had a list of questions and, although Javier told me he had been with John for 20 years, my Spanish and his English didn’t mesh quite enough for me have an in depth discussion rife with horticultural nuance.
This great bloom display gave us an opportunity to study these varieties upclose and each tubular base had the plant ID tag zip tied onto it. Smartest thing I’ve seen in a long time. On this day there was not an enormous variety of hemerocallis to purchase in one gallon cans. My sense is that Greenwood’s strength lies it its ability to provide masses of large, mature clumps (5 gallon whoppers) for large more institutional, commercial jobs. There is at least one photo on the website of his daylilies filling the medians of the streets of nearby Calabasas. Greenwood Daylily Gardens is open for retail sales only during its Open House days which are the Saturdays in April, May, and June. The retail availability list for Open House visitors lists 54 named cultivars with only 36 of them in single gallon cans. In contrast, Oakes Daylilies, who I have visited and purchased from for 20+ years, is a more retail focused grower with over 50 acres planted in the rich, dark earth of rural Corryton, Tennessee and a robust mail order business. Their website lists 400+ cultivars. Mr. Schoustra focuses on limited numbers of locally successful cultivars and does those really well. This fits right into his daylily design philosophy of using large masses of the same cultivar rather than mixing lots of different sizes, shapes and colors up. He offers a visual of those mixed up plantings as being akin to “a bad hair day.”
These two mauve-y pinks were pretty but my focus today was on lavenders and purples of which there were none.
The closest I got was this beautiful poster showing a nice range of my sought after tones. The website does list several lavenders that looked really good to me but I am not sure if the stock was gone for the retail season. Clearly it is best to visit earlier in the span of Open House days to get the most selection for purchase even if the bloom display may not be yet at its peak.
Ann picked out a few reblooming white iris rhizomes–peak iris bloom is long past here. I selected several interesting pelargoniums.
Unlike our first illicit stop at the hoop houses, everything here was well labeled and Javier had a laminated copy of their most recent catalog (2016) which he was happy to walk around with me so I could read about each one I considered.
This Pelargonium x domesticum ‘Dark Mystery’ will fit right in with a small selection of plants settling into the stock tank that have a burgundy element in either foliage or bloom. This species, commonly know as regal or Martha Washington geraniums, puts on the biggest show for the shortest time–the Greenwood catalog refers to them as “the prom queens of the pelargonium world.” This one is a Greenwood Daylily Gardens introduction.
Pelargonium sidoides ‘Lavender Lad’ is already at home in a sunny spot near the sidewalk off our back patio where it won’t get lost in the shuffle and can soften the concrete edge–although it may get buried during the peak bloom of its bellflower neighbors. I have had his cousin ‘Burgundy’ in my front garden for over 5 years with nary an issue so I have high hopes for this lad.
No chance this delicate ferny leafed scented geranium was going to get away from me. Pelargonium denticulatum ‘Folicifolium’ is commonly called the pine scented geranium or balsam scented geranium but I was drawn to it for its unusual foliage. Going to pot this one up until I have an idea of its size and hardiness to both cold and our resident snails and slugs. The above photo is the full flat rather crammed together. My single 4″ pot is much airier.
I had it sitting in a protected spot only a full day and it is already leaning into the sun–a good clue where it will eventually be happiest!
I have grown Geranium maderense before from seeds (maybe seedlings, I can’t recall) from my SoCal friend Judi H.’s garden. I could never keep it reseeding as she does but I’m going to give it another go. This is the only hardy (true) geranium Greenwood grows. A biennial in nature, it is said to perform very well in dry shade, amongst masses of tree roots. Dry shade lovers are few and far between–I would be happy for just the foliage. It is potted up for now but is destined for underneath my Bradford pear trees when I return from Denver.
We had paid for our purchases and were contemplating lunch when Javier ran over to beckon me to a close to purple daylily he had found amongst a seedling mix out in the field containers that Greenwood calls ‘Miami Mix’–a melange of golds, oranges, yellows, et al. So many more questions about the idea of this kind of a mix and how it gets that way that were beyond my Spanish skills. With the work Javier and faithful Diego had put in scouring the stock for it, I had no choice but to purchase it.
The original bloom from the day I got it was tragically lost (but then happily the only fatality) in a very short stop to avoid an accident only a few blocks from home–after transporting it and our other finds several hundred miles without incident. This bloom opened this morning.
This flower (photographed in the field) is also part of the ‘Miami Mix.’ Ruffled, the palest yellow and at least at large as a salad plate, it was so different than the others.
Although truly not what I expected, having only visited one other daylily growing operation, our visit was educational and fun. Even the being sort of lost as we climbed up a two lane road high into the hills with precious little way to turn off or around.
Our other stop was Matilija Nursery on Waters Rd. in (ok, not in–but in the country outside) Moorpark. This seemingly one man operation specializes in California native plants and bearded iris. He had tons of 2″ pots plus other larger containers to choose from but again most of them were unmarked. I love a surprise as well as the next gardening girl but I probably would have bought more if I had not had to track him down each time I wanted to know what something was. Can’t google it unless it has a name!
No rocket science involved in the naming of this nursery–a huge colony of Matilija poppies is busy scaling the slope. Do you think the people up there know what’s coming?
This shade house is home to owner Bob Sussman’s precious collection of Iris douglasiana, California’s native Pacific Coast iris. I will tell you all of his crosses are meticulously labeled but it is in handwriting only his mother will recognize. I’m sure he has a system for keeping track of his hybrids which is simply not recognizable to casual shoppers! It is a little late in their season but a few were still blooming. If you are interested in learning more about California natives or the nursery’s habit restoration work check out their website http://www.matilijanursery.com–it has a well written plant availability list with links to plant profiles and photos.
I don’t think you can beat a day trip with good friends and great plants. A time to visit, laugh, share a meal together–what could be better?
I am going to end the Garden Conservancy Open Days East Bay posts with a bang as I take you to the home and studio of renowned painter, sculptor and garden designer, Keeyla Meadows. You’ve met Keeyla and seen some of her garden design in my posts Easing into the East Bay…fearless color and Digging Deeper with Keeyla Meadows at Urban Adamah…. If you’ve not read those posts, make sure to go back to them as a chaser for this visit. I am not sure you could ever get too much of Keeyla–from her cowboy boots and headful of springy curls to her color rich garden and whimsical sculpture she revels in her life filled with art and nature.
KEEYLA MEADOWS GARDENS & ART IN ALBANY
Keeyla makes her home and some of her art in this 1910 wood framed bungalow on a small lot in a cozy neighborhood where I imagine everyone knows everyone else and someone probably periodically drags their grill out front for a block party. There is no doubt that this colorful house is the home of an artist! Keeyla works in many mediums–bronze, paint, ceramics and of course, plants plus all the other elements which enhance gardens. Her uninhibited use of color makes her gardens giant scale works of art.
Gardens themed with the use of saturated color are like living color paintings!
Keeyla has changed the dynamics of her once flat front garden with huge slabs and boulders of native stone which she used to create drama and additional square footage in a small space. Rocks add stability and the varying elevations add interest. In addition to the time I spent in Keeyla’s garden on my own, I took part in her Digging Deeper presentation along with about 25 other tour goers. The walking workshop opened our eyes to her design process and how to translate our personal color preferences into tangible form in our own gardens. I’ll try to weave bits of that workshop in amongst the garden pictorial. The exuberant gardening lady above is one of many figures created by Keeyla throughout her garden.
A bronze couple bids you welcome and marks the way to Keeyla’s back garden. This would be a good time to buckle up!
As the space opens up the raised porch leading to Keeyla’s door (she doesn’t use the front door!) is to the left and on the right this small roughly circular patio area sports an Alice in Wonderland glass table and fairytale benches for casual dining. Several of the huge boulders found in this area were originally destined for further back in the garden and if the crane man could have gotten them over the house to place them Keeyla would have been able to have the larger friends and family outdoor table and chairs she longed for. The boulders in their current placement form a sort of second story planting opportunity–taking the plant materials up in layers.
The side wall of the small garage offers a backdrop that invites this fanciful gardener to join in any group gathered around the table.
Just a step away is an ornate forged arch…
…and another of Keeyla’s fanciful bronze sculptures.
Looking back from the arch, the checkerboard porch leads to Keeyla’s kitchen where she was preparing a special snack for her Digging Deeper participants.
Let’s stop my own ramble for a moment to peek in on parts of Keeyla’s Digging Deeper workshop.
Because our group was quite large and there were still many visitors in her small back garden Keeyla gathered us up and we stepped across the street to the driveway plant sale captained by master plant propagator Susan Ashley. She began the discussion by throwing out the question, “What function do you want your garden to serve in your life?”, and many participants voiced hopes specific to their own spaces including: respite, recreation, dining, entertaining, growing food, providing habitat for wildlife and making an appealing environment for pollinators. Keeyla used plants from the sale to make suggestions filling various roles in the garden.
I think I’ve already convinced you that Keeyla loves a big rock–not just for defining spaces, creating visual interest and multiplying available planting space but also for a good podium from which to address us all. What is not really visible either in this shot or in similar ones at the beginning of the post is that Keeyla has placed HUGE squarish slabs of rock almost directly against the railing (or maybe wall?) of her front porch. This once very flat front yard has tremendous dimension now and is home to hundreds of plants. The curb appeal of her bungalow is not the structure itself, but the garden which almost obscures it. She is in the gradual process of changing over the plant materials in the front garden to emphasize natives and already many of the reseeding native annuals are making their presence known.
We take a few step walk to what was once her driveway, now home to many large planters of edibles which are favorites of the neighborhood children, then we take the back garden by storm! Keeyla explains that each area of her garden has a color theme and that she designs using a tool she has dubbed as a ‘color triangle’, sort of a reinvention of the traditional color wheel. Keeyla has written two books: MakingGardens Works of Art (Sasquatch Books 2002) and Fearless Color Gardens (Timber Press 2009)–it is in Fearless Color Gardens that she lays out the color triangle process as a tool to create both harmony and contrast. She challenges us to select a color–red, blue, green, yellow–and walk through the garden gathering flowers and leaves in all tones and variations of that color.
Not the greatest photos in a small space filled with many participants (and quite dark with the red painted ceiling!) but we lay out our gatherings using red, blue and yellow as the triangle’s points, then layering in the combinations and gradations as on a color wheel. The flowers were a great visual to see how color combinations can create both harmony and drama in your garden.
Our garden findings made a great backdrop for the lovely mixed fruit tart Keeyla had made for us along with several other healthy bites. I didn’t think to take any photos of them but we ate our shared meal on a variety of Keeyla’s one of a kind original plates in all colors and designs.
An exquisite forged arch dripping with delicate angel’s trumpet blooms stands in tribute to the living plant barely seen to the right. This was perhaps my favorite piece in the garden–delicate and organic. I would love to have an arch like this over my half height interior garden gate.
A raised path just beyond the beautiful arch leads to one entrance of Keeyla’s garden art studio and its yellow and purple themed garden.
These last six photos from the yellow and purple garden where taken by simply standing in place and making a 360 degree circle–it is a very small area but packed with plants of all textures and sizes–each chosen for its ability to contribute to the color theme.
Leaving the studio through French doors which face the interior of the garden there is a rock waterfall whose ‘banks’ are canvases for arrangements of huge filled pottery and all manner of blooming color. The pink and purple bench offers a spot to not only relax but view the design from uphill looking down.
Hands down my favorite part of the garden–possibly because my color preferences tend to not be as bold as Keeyla’s and more so that she designed this pastel corner in memory of her mother who taught her about flowers and encouraged her interest in the natural world. The hues of the lavender, pink and yellow mosaic bench are echoed, in larger scale, in the mixed media floor beneath it. This garden room lies directly behind the bungalow and is visible from her kitchen window.
Keeyla Meadows believes that gardening is an act of gratitude–appreciation for all that nature has given us. Her reverance for the natural world and acknowledgment of how small a part each one of us plays in the whole is expressed in her garden and her art. She is young at heart, exuberant, and generous with her skills and talents. I aspire to having a piece of her work grace my garden and it would be all the more special by having spent a little bit of time with her at both Urban Adamah and in her own personal space. What could be better than a gallery in a garden?
Keeyla’s website http://www.keeylameadows.net has many close-up photos of her art in all her mediums plus gardens she has designed. I encourage you to visit it whenever you feel the need of a smile that you can’t seem to come to on your own! Contact Keeyla at email@example.com if you would like to make arrangements to see her garden in person next time you are in the Berkley/Albany area. Please note this a correction for those who may have read the original post a few days ago–Keeyla’s garden is no longer open on Sunday afternoons as stated on her website.
NOTE: those of you who have been counting the Garden Conservancy Open Days East Bay posts will know I am one short, having presented only four of the five. I am going to keep the last one in reserve for a dry spell when I am not traveling anyplace interesting and my own garden is not worth writing about. Tomorrow I am off on a road trip with garden girls Ann D. and Glee M. to Greenwood Daylily Gardens in Somis, CA. Wednesday next I fly to Denver for the Garden Bloggers Fling in Denver, Colorado–three and a half days of non-stop private and public garden touring with lots of food and fellowship mixed in. Having only been stranded in the Denver airport in a blizzard and never actually in the city I’m taking an extra day before and one after to allow me to see as many sites as possible. I’m gonna be in a Denver Daze…I’m sure.
Although neither our alkaline clay-ish soil nor our zero humidity screaming hot summers are friendly toward them, I have a never ending friendship with the hardy geraniums, specifically the genus Geranium, not the pelargoniums we casually call geraniums. As they are not as common in California as other parts of the US I cannot resist buying almost any one I see in my gardening travels and am guilty of not always doing my research before swiping my credit card.
Three years ago while on my first Garden Conservancy Open Days jaunt I visited Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, CA near the Mendocino coast. My post Mendocino madness…#2 will give you a glimpse of Deborah Wigham and Gary Ratway’s wonderful demonstration garden, retail and mail-order nursery flourishing in a forest near sea level in Northern California. They have great selections in small sizes so it’s easy to try a lot of different plants for not such a huge investment. One of three hardy geraniums I purchased there is Geraniumnodosum ‘Clos du Coudray’, named after a famous garden in the Normandy region of France. G. nodosum spreads by underground rhizomatous roots to form medium sized mounds and is indicated to use in medium to light shade area. My reference material–which I had with me to consult as I shopped–states “At least two sources have reported G. nodosum can become very invasive and that it is very difficult to eradicate.” Well, I have made a few missteps in the past on planting things purported to be invasive–the dreaded Lippianodiflora (AKA Lippiarepens AKA Phylanodiflora) took years out of my gardening life to finally see the last of it after I blithely planted a 4″ pot in a rose bed needing ground cover, foolishly believing I could confine it with a brick edging. It not only overtook the bed but also everything else planted in it. Hoping to not have a repeat of that messy situation I planted little ‘Clos du Coudray’ in the Secret Garden behind our outdoor pavilion where I thought it could not do lasting harm if it ran amok under the sequoias. I never saw it again until today. After its almost immediate disappearance I have periodically checked the ground near the ID tag for signs of life three or four times a year since the summer of 2016. Nothing, nada, zilch.
Like Lazarus, the little jewel has risen from the dead. It actually looks as though this might be its second bloom, albeit only a single bloom stalk (stem? whatever!) With nine leaves I think I am in no immediate danger of the area being overrun! I will keep a close watch over it though as it has had almost three full years to build up its strength.
When the Garden Conservancy Open Days Directory arrives in the mail each April I can’t wait to read through the descriptions of the gardens included on any of the California days which I have already penciled in on my calendar. This garden preservation non-profit offers regular gardeners like you and I entre into beautiful private gardens to which we could never hope otherwise to have access. I don’t know if each garden’s preview paragraph and title are written by staff or by the homeowner but they always offer highlights not to miss and often historical information which enhances the visitor’s experience in the garden. Rarely are the profiles overstated–in the case of this third garden on my whirlwind Saturday in the East Bay–the title, at least, was understated. We all should be aging as gracefully or have lived as colorful a life as this garden has.
Having no real familiarity with Berkeley I was unaware of the the Hotel Claremont and its role in the development of the well-heeled, quiet residential streets which surround it. As I entered the area from south of the hotel I did not even see it until I had left the garden and then, having caught a glimpse as I was making a left turn, had no way to even take a quick photo for those of you who do not know it. I found this unattributed photo below to give you a flavor of its style.
Let me briefly tell you the tale of the home which this next garden graces as a way to set the scene to view that garden as it is today.
The Claremont Hotel was built on land formerly known as the Palache and Garber Estates, high in the Berkeley Hills. The vision was for a tourist hotel surrounded by 14 acres of park-like gardens, all seen from vistas around the Bay. The surrounding gardens were to set the scene for and encourage the building of beautiful homes in the adjacent gently rolling hillsides. Train and ferry systems recently developed would connect the East Bay to San Francisco, opening the area for refined suburban living by those who could afford it without limiting their access to doing business in the city. Residential lots would be large with significant setbacks, encouraging picturesque and park influenced front gardens. Ground was broken in 1906 and the hotel largely finished in 1915 after a number of financial issues and, ultimately, its sale to another owner.
Ten subdivisions of residential lots were released between 1905 and 1907 and many palatial homes in a variety of styles were built long before the hotel itself was open. The 4th release of lots was called the Hotel Claremont Tract and Mr. Howard Hart stood ready to purchase its prime lots, #1, #2 and #3 on which he planned to build a massive home in the Spanish and Italian renaissance style. These lots lay just southeast of the hotel on a street which curves back upon itself so tightly that they had street on all sides save the southernmost. Think of the letter U laying on its side–the curve of the U faces the Claremont and it would be prominent in the views of the 43 room manse. Lot #2 & #3 would allow room for a conservatory, ample gardens and chauffeur’s quarters built over garage space. Mr. Hart had made his fortune mining gold in the Klondike and no expense would be spared in the building of his new estate.
The first structure to be built on the property was the garage and its second story apartment. Built on Lot #3 with easy access to the street via a long curving driveway, this garage and the portions of the gardens developed adjacent to it are all that remains of the grand Hart estate completed in 1912. The balance of the estate has long since been divided again into smaller lots, now having homes of their own. Additional parts of the garden have been preserved at two of these homes but are not visible from the street.
THE HART GARAGE GARDEN IN BERKELEY
The current homeowner has characterized the property as “the ugly duckling in the neighborhood” and admits that she refused to even look at it when it came on the market. Neither the home (ok, the garage) nor the remnants of the once fabulous garden are visible from the street. There is nothing remotely translating to a “front door.” Living in an area starved for anything green and especially mature trees I knew it had to be beautiful back in there somewhere!
As you walk up the driveway there are lovely, primarily green borders undulating amongst lawn areas. Tall trees provide shade and shadows which only enhance the almost fairytale feel.
Classic boxwood globes enclose a spot filled with calla lilies, bergenia and oak leaf hydrangeas.
A lovely open sunny spot.
Cool and refined–perhaps what the Claremont Hotel builders had in mind?
To the right of the very wide drive is this first peek at the sweeping staircase leading to the apartment over the garage. the Harts lived in the apartment while the main home was under construction and perhaps that is the reason for such a grand staircase entry for a living space to be used as chauffeur’s quarters. Tall spires of Acanthus mollis are nestled in a very small footprint at the base of the stairs and what I think is a Phormium with its bronzy leaves is taller than I am.
I believe this open space leads to what was at one time the entrance to the lower area called “the pit” where car repairs were done. Directly to the right is a large paved area with parking for multiple cars.
A steep terraced slope filled with roses and edged in boxwood makes the transition from the concrete parking area up to the garden’s next level. The gaily black and white striped umbrella is one of several throughout the garden.
An interesting iron gate leads marks the stairway to the upper garden entrance.
From this angle you can see a bit of the arch belonging to the estate’s original porte-cochere which had been totally enclosed in an unfortunate past remodel. The current owner restored the porte cochere and cut in the wide staircase for easy garden access.
The next terrace runs fully across the garden and is home to another original garden feature-the pergola.
The sweeping pergola appears to have once connected the conservatory and farthest gardens to the main house. Sturdy circular columns support crossbeams cloaked in vines and lit a night. At the end you can see the current property line. I couldn’t tell if any of the pergola remains in the adjacent garden. Parts of this walkway needed replacement and the current homeowners commissioned custom brick, including its unique beveled edge, to make the best match possible.
Slightly downhill from the pergola is a lovely shaded sitting and dining area carved out of the existing shrubbery beds. The homeowner removed a wide swathe of old hydrangeas, added a couple of stone steps down and a gravel floor. She shared with us that this small change is one that made the most impact on day to day life in the garden.
The former flower bed is now home to a casual teak dining table and chairs on which she had placed welcome snacks and beautiful floral arrangements using materials from her garden.
This was a wonderful spot to relax for several minutes and look over materials detailing the history of the home and garden and some of the most recent renovations. The lady of the house was in the garden answering questions and made sure we didn’t miss this shady haven. Thank you to her and to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association for a wonderful booklet from which I took many notes from to be able to give you the area history which lead off this post.
I stepped through the pergola on the uphill side to enjoy a long and narrow koi pond built in a classic style with water softly trickling from an embedded fountain.
A shady resting point at the far end of the koi pond shelters a marble statue which was found under layers of greenery and dirt when the garden was renovated. The black and white stripe fabric playing off bright green backdrops is a theme carried through the landscape.
Clipped boxwood hedges and tall, pale roses soften yet another retaining wall holding back the significant slope.
The slope on the koi pond end of the garden is more shady and more formally planted. These sculptural tree trunks and their leaf canopies shield the pond and its dual chaise lounge resting spot from the vista when you are high on the slope.
Out of the shade of the trees the slope plantings become more eclectic and more waterwise/sun tolerant.
There are lots of small succulents in the foreground. The plantings disguise the packed gravel and stone paths that zigzag their way up the hill.
At the garden’s opposite, end bistro seating is placed in front of a small stone fireplace.
A peak through the gate next to the fireplace reveals a steep slope packed with agapanthus, bellflowers and cast-iron plant. A stepping stone path leads to who knows where?
I use the set of stairs closest to the fireplace to ascend the hill. Paths led both forward and to the left. Which way to go? I am going to wander my way up and across–let’s see what I find!
Large scale phormiums and fat agapanthus clumps cover a lot of real estate near the fence. This was one of only a few places where any other house (even the roof) could be seen. The sense of enclosure and privacy was wonderful–definitely in your own little world in this garden.
Reaching the uppermost cross garden terrace path I am in deep shade surrounded by acanthus, ferns, camellias and other low light classics. The home you can barely see in the background sits on a lot which was once part of this garden.
Looking across the garden pittosporum brighten up the shade and are clearly trimmed to keep them quite low. Much of the uphill side of the path is built up even further with rocks.
I am just about back to where I started my wandering adventure.
Beautiful roses, most but not all pale in hue, are a mainstay in this garden along with many classic plants from the era the Hart Estate was built. Many decades old shrubs, trees and perennials were refreshed adding to the mature feel of the space. The traditional mixes freely with succulents and salvias. The terracing of the slope provides ground to grow many much more plant material than if the slope were simply graded. The multiple paths spanning the entire width of the garden lead you to believe you have walk very far from home when, in fact, you are only a few feet away.
This garden is up there in my top ten private gardens I’ve seen on countless tours over a decade. The mixtures of formality and playfulness, old and new, leafy and spiny are all very appealing. Regardless of its size and complexity it feels like a manageable garden, in part due to the casual but not messy attitude of the terraced slope. The shady seating and dining housed in the reformed hydrangea bed and the serene koi pond are both perfectly done. I would have loved to have seen the restoration of the interior space; wiping out the sins of the 80’s and reforming it from garage to beloved family home over the span of seven years. I’ll be watching the Berkeley Historical Architectural website http://www.berkeleyheritage.com for any interior tours in the future. A++ on this one!