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.

 

Smitten by all accounts…

2018 has been an unbelievably busy year both in out of the garden! Our January and February weather was mild enough to accomplish all of the “heavy lifting” work needed in the newest of our lawn free landscape areas. March gave us enough precipitation to keep the ground from crusting over but not so much that I could not get out and dig in plants purchased for the bed in the fall and overwintered in my back yard holding area. I also divided and moved in some plants which had proven southern exposure successful in the driveway circle bed last year. Still having some very large open spaces and a need for some white to temper the purples, lavenders, blues and pinks I took a road trip last week to one of my favorite garden centers–The Greenery in Turlock, CA. Not exactly around the corner for me but worth a trip every few months. I got so caught up in browsing I forgot to take more photos!

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Annuals and an addictive gift shop
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Perennials galore–stock is always fresh!
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My go to nursery for lots of plants in 4″ pots
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Shady gems and tons of good quality pottery
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Lots of varieties of barberry, abelia and other shrubs
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One of many fairy gardens throughout!

I may have been a wee bit too early for all of the newest waterwise stock to be in place. There were many salvia selections–mostly from the Salvia greggii/microphylla complex–but none of what was on my list. So even though I did not bring home anything to add to my bed in progress I did snag a couple of other very precious dark red specimens for my shadier areas.

In recent years I have been dabbling in adding a smidge of red to my garden. In deference to my existing palette the red MUST be a blue/red NOT an orange/red and these cooler reds are not nearly as plentiful and one would think. Salvia ‘Killer Cranberry’ is my touchstone for a workable red–if it looks ok in the same visual plane as the Killer it will work anywhere. A deep rich red is a beautiful foil for the many deep purples and lavenders in my garden as well as the clear pinks.

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I have to say I almost ran toward this camellia in the shade section at The Greenery! A perfect marbling of red, pink and white distinguishes Camellia japonica ‘Tudor Baby Variegated’. Fortunately, I have room for yet another camellia in an area we actually shade cloth over during the summer months so I can grow camellias for cut flowers in the cooler months. Listed as a formal double and late spring bloomer, it was a must have for me.

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I never met a lenten rose I did not like and this one leaped into my cart with very little assistance. A little more purple than dark red or burgundy, it is a stunner called ‘Cherry Blossom’ from the Helleborus hybridus collection called Winter Jewels. The spent blooms, one of which you can see lower left, take on that typical lime green hue but still bear the dark edging. This was the only remaining flower in its prime throughout the half dozen or so gallon plants available to buy and it sold me!

So no white, nothing sun loving (or even tolerant) and certainly no new waterwise plants are calling my garden home after this trip but all together a fun day of seeing what’s as new and fresh as spring feels today.

Bits and pieces, buds and blooms…

The garden in early spring is more individual threads than the marvelous tapestry it will become in the coming weeks. Little bits and pieces of awakening life give me just a glimpse of this year’s promise.

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The pointy, burgundy starts of this year’s Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ push confidently out of the moist shade bed. Even in my shadiest area this woodland perennial dies back well before I get the benefit of its signature yellow autumn color. Notice that the slugs have all ready had their way with these babies.

The very first of the blooms on a Spirea cantoniensis ‘Flore-Pleno’, commonly called double bridal wreath spirea, added to the secret garden area last fall.

Redbuds have burst into bloom all over the city and mine is no exception!

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Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ is always one of the earliest blues in the shade area and like its neighbor, Solomon’s seal, I lavish it with early spring attention even though I know its fate is to be a pretty crispy specimen by mid summer.

Fruit trees, both ornamental and edible, are at their most splendid in early spring.

New to my growing collection of vines is Clematis x cartmanii ‘Blaaval’, also know as the avalanche evergreen clematis. I purchased two of these in 2 gallon cans on a nursery shopping trip last fall. They overwintered in their proposed home but are still unplanted, awaiting their 6 foot tuteur climbing structures. This one simply could not wait until its change of address cards were mailed out and burst into bloom yesterday after a few weeks of these massed creamy bell shaped buds–its partner is not far behind.

The tilling and turning is finally completed on the new front bed. Next up is to establish a casual path (stone?) through it to allow me to access the large area from multiple vantage points for planting and maintenance. Find your gardening gloves and sharpen up your tools–your garden is calling!

Bloom alert…

A few days ago (February 16) I shared with you a bearded iris on the cusp of blooming–very early even in my mild winter weather garden. Throughout the daylight hours of Saturday, February 24th, this bloom slowly unfurled to its full 6″ beauty.

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Tall bearded iris ‘Blueberry Bliss’, although beautiful, would probably not be a standout in a garden planted with many other bearded varieties blooming in shades of blue, lavender, purple and white but in my garden which currently has lots of healthy iris foliage coming on but no other flowers it draws your eye like a beacon in the night!

This one is new to my garden, part of a large Schreiners Iris Gardens order I planted last fall. The color is more purple than the advertised navy blue but the fans are robust and the stems are tall with 3+ branches each bearing many buds. Two other new varieties are planted on either side, one a midseason bloomer and the other a late bloomer, none of those fans are showing even a peek of what is to come. People who garden are the world’s most persistent optimists–there is always something to look forward to!

 

The winter that wasn’t…

This morning I enjoyed a fellow garden blogger’s new post entitled Snow Day from gardeninacity (a Chicago area writer) and my eyes were once again opened to the vast differences in gardening cycles across our country. Check it out and be sure to like, comment and or follow to let him know you’ve found his site.

On opposite side of the weather spectrum, most of us here in California are not buried under snow and would probably pay to have Chicago’s fluffy, white stuff trucked in to dump in our yards.

I always refer to my garden as being in a mild winter or temperate winter zone–not a dramatic winter with ice storms or snowfall but a winter where historical lows have been in the 40-50 degrees daytime, colder night and some early morning frost or fog. This “winter” is really our only hope of annual rainfall with almost all of the year’s precipitation occurring in December through February.

This year our winter has been more like a Southern California winter and So Cal’s winter  has often approached conditions that many other areas never see in their warmest winters. In January, my Orange County gardening bff posted pics on Facebook more than once showing her thermometer in the mid nineties. Late to the Garden Party is a great Southern California garden blog to check out if you want to see what’s going on down that way. Here in the Central Valley I have been shirt sleeved gardening since Christmas with temperatures pretty consistently in the mid 60s and 70s. Our mountain cabin at 5000 feet elevation has had no appreciable snow and has also seen much warmer than average temperatures.

All these extra degrees have not been accompanied by much measurable rain with the exception of the massive overnight storm which caused the devastating mudslides down the fire ravaged hillsides of Montecito near Santa Barbara. Our rainfall season in Fresno County runs from October 1-September 30 each year. Rainfall to date is 1.64″. Our normal or historical average is 6.74″ at this point and 11.5″ for the full season. Last year was a banner year for us in which we reached our normal full season number by mid-February.

There are both positive and negative consequences of all this lovely spring like but dry weather in months when we should be inside eating soup and binge watching Netflix. On the plus side, I have gotten an enormous amount of maintenance work done and will approach actual spring with a much shorter punch list. We also have been able to actively work on yet another lawn removal effort–with a wet winter we would have been looking at bare dirt until fall 2018.

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Since these photos were taken we have started tilling and amending–more on this project soon.

Not so exciting is the prospect of a summer with even tighter outdoor watering restrictions (we are at a single day per week NOW with watering only before 9 am and after 6 pm) and a garden full of trees, shrubs and perennials which will enter the most heat stressed part of their year all ready somewhat starved for deep ground moisture. Many plants which normally gain the new season’s strength from their winter rest have never gone dormant and many others have all ready flushed out new growth which may be in danger of damage from an unexpected late frost.

Here’s a smattering of what’s blooming now in my garden:

Clockwise–Fernleafed lavender (Lavandula multifidia); Cherry Sunblaze rose; calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

Clockwise–Pulmonaria ‘Tivoli Fountain’; Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’; Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’; unknown cultivar of pansy; Anisodontea x hypomandarum ‘Slightly Strawberry’

Clockwise–Geranium sanguineum striatum; Penstemon ‘Midnight’; Salvia chiapensis

I noticed this bloom stalk on one of my bearded iris just peeking out of the foliage on February 1st and photographed it on February 8th. I often have several remondant bearded iris bloom off and on all winter but this is by far the earliest I have seen a single bloom cycle iris with a bloom almost open.

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So while I am sure gardeners in snow covered areas are longing for spring, I am a little envious of those of you still tucked in for your garden’s long winter’s nap–at least it is a season you can count on!

 

Australian Astroturf…

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I have been accumulating a few miniature conifers to use in a shallow dish garden and recently made a quick pit stop at my local specialty garden center to pick up a small container of scotch moss to add to the plant mix. While ringing up my purchase the owner lamented about the fact that I had gotten the last one and how he had kept meaning to put a container aside to experiment with. I’ll admit I was not really focused on the exchange and when I got into my car I wondered what all the fuss was about–scotch moss is a dime a dozen in most nurseries!

It was not until I got home that I realized I had NOT purchased the needed scotch moss but a look-alike called Scleranthus biflorus. The plant tag announced its common name as Australian Astroturf and I was immediately captivated, although still without the scotch moss!

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The almost instantaneous miracle of the internet supplied lots of information on this Australian ground cover, native to the country’s natural alpine and coastal areas. Who knew that Australia–home to every living critter that can kill you instantly–even HAD natural alpine areas? This perky mat forming, almost spongey perennial is part of the dianthus (think carnation) family and is known as lava lime to the down under gardening community. Most sources also mention that it will bear tiny white flowers.

Cultural requirements include a location with full sun to bright shade, USDA zones 9-11. The United States websites indicated the plant to be very drought tolerant while the Australian gardening web cited the need for some moisture. I guess the driest of our climate zones doesn’t even come close to what the Aussies deal with! The key seems to be excellent drainage.

 

Pulling the specimen out of its quart container I found its roots to be a very fine but dense mass, perfect for division by slicing in half–giving me the opportunity to try it out in more than one location.

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I put one half in a little full sun spot which gets some irrigation runoff from under the weeping juniper but is basically out of the direct line of fire of any one sprinkler. This little plug is only about 2″ by 4″ but its chartreuse color makes a great contrast to the blue green conifer. At a mature size of about 3″ tall with a 3 foot spread it should fill the open area without getting buried under the overhanging limbs.

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I sliced the remaining half in two and put the pie shaped pieces back in the original pot, alternating them with fresh potting soil. My bright but shaded holding area will allow me to keep an eye on the pot’s progress–it will be interesting to see how quickly the mass fills in!

A ‘new-to-me’ plant to play with gives me as much pleasure as a new pair of shoes, a great new dress or a special piece of jewelry might give someone else–the goes without saying exceptions being made only for for woodworking tools and diamonds! And now…back into the car to get that scotch moss.

 

 

 

This eagle has finally landed…

 

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I recently wrapped up the seemingly interminable lawn removal/replanting of the long side yard bed between our side fence and the street. Living on a corner lot comes with blessings and curses. The biggest advantage is a little more privacy as we have no neighbor on one side. The curse (challenge?) is having a lot of area to landscape and maintain which is pretty well disconnected from the rest of our front garden and is not visible from any where inside our home.

As I have chronicled in several other posts, in June 2016 we initially chemically killed the ragged Heinz 57 variety grass planted the length of this approximately 140 foot bed along with grass in 3 other areas, including the large driveway circle bed tucked between our two driveways.  We finished the replanting of the other areas very early in 2017 and they all had successful summers. Our stamina flagged and the heat came and so we did not get back to it until fall 2017. Check out posts Now THIS is a Labor Day… to see the great rock relocation project; Autumn musings… for the plantings closest the driveway and A little cleanup and a few new friends… to see the second wave of new plants added to the bed.

We left number of the original elements in the bed, including 3 Bradford pear trees, which are all planted smack up against the fence. The trees are critical to us for privacy  plus shade AND as 2 of the 3 are original (18 yrs old) to the landscape I deemed removal of  some of the shrubbery whose roots are amongst and surrounded by tree roots to be a risk without benefit. The Rhaphiolepis indica and nandinas of unknown cultivar were trimmed up, along with several mature podacarpus, variety also unknown.

The pear trees drop an unbelievable number of leaves over a couple of weeks in late winter, usually early to mid January depending on the weather. The last areas of new plants and final mulching down had to wait until leaf fall was completed and cleaned up. Their bare limb stage is very brief and they are all ready showing buds.

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It is almost impossible to photograph this bed without crossing the street and standing on my neighbor’s porch! Even though many of my plant selections look very small–I opted for 1 gallon on almost everything–quite a few will be large scale shrubbery at maturity. A number of my SLO Botanical Garden purchases went in this bed. My goal is moderate to low water usage. The trees need regular water so I had to find a balance of materials that would tolerate summer water. As each section was hand dug around major tree roots and planting points determined, every hole was filled with water to sit overnight to test drainage. Luckily I had to change only one intended planting spot–far fewer than I had anticipated!

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Looking from the furthest point back toward the driveway. This pitiful tree is a crape myrtle that we moved about 5 years ago. It also was right up against the fence and we moved it midway between the fence and street. Last summer the tree actually bloomed for the first time ever since we purchased the house in 2008. It is a gorgeous, clear purple–possibly a ‘Catawba’.  At the base of the tree is a 2 year old colony of Convolvulus mauritanica ‘Moroccan Blue’. There are also quite a few bearded iris in blues, whites, and purples that have been moved to this sunny end over the years as I have had divisions with no other place to go. Two lavender lantana will fill the area closest the curb–readily available and easy to get going. I am using them throughout these renovations as filler plants while more permanent shrubs mature.

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The area fully in the shade canopy of the pear trees needed an evergreen backdrop and I chose Pieris japonica ‘Tiki’ to fill the bill. The common name of this plant, lily of the valley shrub, is evocative of the pink to white pearl like clusters of drooping blossoms. ‘Tiki’ is on the smaller side of the pieris selections, topping at about 3-4′ tall. My group of 5 should make a nice show once all the buds open!

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Also in the shade canopy area but getting a good bit of the rising sun I added a hardy geranium with chocolate hued foliage. This unmarked find came from Branches & Barrels in Encinitas, a great little garden and event center in north San Diego county. It has lots of new foliage, a brighter green than the more mature leaves, and I anticipate that when I have blooms I may be able to identify it from my resource library. It is hard for me to leave a hardy geranium not already in my collection behind for someone else to snap up!

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No shady area in my garden is ever complete without a few hellebores. I added 2 groups of three plants each, hoping for a pretty full look in a reasonable period of time. The top photo is Helleborus orientalis ‘NW Cotton Candy’. Its ruffled double light pink flower has darker pink veins–the first one opened yesterday and you can see it up close at the beginning of the post. The single pink flower just above is Helleborus orientalis ‘Pink Frost’As this bed slopes nicely from the fence to the street it affords a better view of the flowers than if it were totally flat. I hope to have placed them forward enough to catch the morning sun but back enough not be trampled by people getting out of parked cars.

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Another Branches & Barrels find is Leptospermum scoparium ‘Star Carpet’, or prostrate white tea tree. The foreground of the center pear tree is ground zero in its need for a cast iron plant selection. It is sloped more sharply than the surrounding areas and to find planting crevices amongst the mature, close to the surface roots is challenging. The reference material for this lesser known variety of the upright New Zealand tea tree characterizes it as a good bank cover tolerating dry conditions. The leaves are tiny but plentiful on delicate weeping branches which should spread 6-8 feet. The wild card on this one will be sun–hopefully the morning sun will be adequate for production of its small star shaped white flowers. I think dry shade is perhaps the hardest condition for which to find plants. Three of these went in the ground about 2 weeks ago and I do have new growth. Everyone, keep your fingers crossed!

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The canopy opens up near the newest of the pear trees, requiring plants with more sun tolerance. Even though this bed faces east and gets only morning sun; that sun can be quite strong at the peak of summer. Complicating the issue is that, over time, the area will be ever more shaded. At some point there will be more shade than sun except in the very early hours of the day. Breath of Heaven is an evergreen shrub native to South Africa and much used in my valley as foundation plantings. Their delicate character is appealing and their leaves are aromatic when bruised. The Coleonema pulchellum ‘Sunset Gold’ is lower than the species and bears tiny pink flowers on yellow gold stems. It has actually been kind of fun trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that in this new bed!

The plants below were described in the previous posts about this bed renovation but here’s a look at them one more time.

Left: Teucrium betonicum Right: Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Everblooming’

Left: Grevillea ‘Pink Pearl’ Right: Cotoneaster horizontalis variegatus

Left: Plumbago auriculata ‘Alba’ Right: Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’

Left: Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Sungold’ Right: Dorycnium hirsutum

The larger part of the bed has filled in very well–most plants were added in October. We did have the treelike weeping juniper professionally trimmed in late summer and I think it looks better than it ever has.

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No doubt I will add a few more bits and pieces over time–a plant collector’s wheelbarrow is never truly full–but I feel as though the time is right to let this initial go around of plants settle in and see how they fare through the summer.