I’m calling it ‘Geranium lazarusii’…

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Geranium nodosum ‘Clos du Coudray’

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 Geranium nodosum ‘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 Lippia nodiflora (AKA Lippia repens AKA Phyla nodiflora) 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.

Easing into the East Bay…aging gracefully

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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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Classic  boxwood globes enclose a spot filled with calla lilies, bergenia and oak leaf hydrangeas.

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A lovely open sunny spot.

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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.

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My next chauffeur is going to want a balcony after reading this post
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The grape leaf ivy has had its way with the stucco walls and softens what is a really majestic facade for garage
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View from the car park
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Looking at the stairs straight on–note the reddish brown foliage of a mature copper beech

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.

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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.

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An interesting iron gate leads marks the stairway to the upper garden entrance.

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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.

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Wisteria trails off the restored porte cochere

The next terrace runs fully across the garden and is home to another original garden feature-the pergola.

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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.

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Pergola hanging lanterns

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One of many interesting potted combinations
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Really good view of the restored porte-cochere from the pergola
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Would have loved to see the vista from this roof top balcony

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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.

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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.

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View from the koi pond through the pergola to the shady seating enjoyed by garden visitors

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Clipped boxwood hedges and tall, pale roses soften yet another retaining wall holding back the significant slope.

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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.

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Out of the shade of the trees the slope plantings become more eclectic and more waterwise/sun tolerant.

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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.

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Sturdy stone steps were cut in to allow access to the hillside

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At the garden’s opposite, end bistro seating is placed in front of a small stone fireplace.

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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!

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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.

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Heading up the path
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Nasturtiums meander around an artichoke right off the path

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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.

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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.

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Succulents are pocket planted amongst the piles rock wall
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Looking back where I have already been and moving into the more shade side of the garden
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View of the garage turned dream home from the garden northwestern most corner filled with pale pink roses doing just fine in lower light
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Looking down on the property line end of the koi pond
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Leafy koi pond shade cover has plenty of space to add in shady annuals and ground cover
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Perfect home for a cymbidium orchid
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Surrounding ground cover obscures the pot
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Shade again gives way to sunshine 
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Roses and perennials meander companionably with succulents and edibles
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Pittosporum makes another appearance as an edging plant
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As close as I could get to the upper floor living space–significant remodeling included period appropriate windows and doors

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I am just about back to where I started my wandering adventure.

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So many artful presentations…
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…and arrangements

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!

Need to know anything about the Garden Conservancy and its work? Go to http://www.gardenconservancy.org or just Google Garden Conservancy.

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As I walked the narrow street back to my car I noticed this tiny arched door on the southeast corner of the HART GARAGE–another mystery I look forward to solving!

 

 

 

First glimpse…’Lavender Tonic’

Those of you who read my post Purple reigns… know that I have been anxiously awaiting the first blooms on a new addition to my small cache of daylilies. In my former Georgia garden I had a massive collection–over 150 named varieties–all in the apricot, orange, gold and coral palette. Finding daylilies that work in my Central Valley’s predominantly lavender, blue, pink and purple palette has been a challenge. Most pinks seem to lean to orange rather than the blue, and the purples tend to fade out in our strong summer sun. Last year I added Hemerocallis ‘Pink Perfection’ and, although beautiful, its coral hue stuck out like a sore thumb. They are now happily settled into my fellow daylily aficionado Ann’s garden. Last fall I replaced those first season clumps with a grouping of H. ‘Lavender Tonic’ and her first blooms are indeed a tonic for my daylily longings.

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Hemerocallis ‘Lavender Tonic’

Ok, I’m still having to stretch my concept of lavender but, regardless of what she’s called, the mauve-y rose tone works well with not only the cool blues but also the more purple leaning pinks. This one is a keeper. Ann is also trialing a few purples this year so hopefully once our successful ones clump up nicely we’ll be able to pass them back and forth over the proverbial garden fence.

Ann is blessed to have a horticulturist daughter who recently gave her the lowdown on a Ventura County grower called Greenwood Daylily Gardens. Located in the small community of Somis, they are open for retail sales only on Saturday in the months of April through June–so…we’re making an early June road trip to check it out. Their website http://www.greenwoodgarden.com has a wealth of cultural information including the tidbit that all daylilies have some underlying yellow pigment. It tends to come out after planting the scapes in a new location or experiencing other stressful circumstances–thus the pink ones looking so peachy or salmon toned and the lavenders looking muddy. The message was to give the plants a few seasons to acclimate and the more desired (and hybridized) color should emerge. What a revelation and I can’t wait for this visit! So just as we patiently wait while new perennials sleep and creep for their first couple of years before we are rewarded with the LEAP we so desire we must let our daylilies settle in before they offer their true colors.

Greenwood also grows irises, pelargoniums, clivia and cannas–something for every garden. I’ve got my eye on dark red (almost black) Pelargonium ‘Queen of Hearts’ PPAF, one of several bred specifically for California gardens by SoCal local hybridizer Jay Kapac. Wish us luck on our quest and I’ll be sure to report back to you what we bring home!

P.S. Thanks to Ann for providing the inspiration for this post’s title–it was her subject line on a recent e-mail bearing a photo of one of her new selection’s first blooms.

 

Easing into the East Bay…Casa de Sueños

I climbed high in the hills of Oakland to the Cabot Park neighborhood to find my next garden on Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Days itinerary–although I am sure somewhere on this property there was a killer view toward the Bay, this garden was all about the plants.

CASA DE SUEÑOS IN OAKLAND

This house of dreams has been a garden journey for the homeowner and her son for 21 years since purchasing the modern fifties-something wood ranch house on almost an acre covered in eucalyptus and ivy.

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My tour started at the bottom of a long steep driveway–I wandered the garden for almost 15 minutes before I even found the house. This rusted gate and fabulous textural tapestry of large scale plantings sets the stage for the lush tropical nature of the entire garden. Those of you who read my blog even occasionally know that my succulent and tropical knowledge doesn’t even rate a two on a scale of one to ten so it goes without saying that you are not going to see very many named plants in this post. That big spiky whopper is an agave and its almost furry neighbor to the left is a leucadendron, I think–maybe a few phormiums behind the agave?

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I’ve got this one! Cerinthe major scrambles at the feet of its giant companions

 

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At the top of the driveway I’m faced with a decision to go left or right–having no idea what lies in either direction and still with no house in sight.

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I decide on the path to the right and find myself on what was apparently additional driveway circling the house to end at the garage. this stretch is now used as a veritable nursery installation packed full of potted specimens, rooting cuttings and quirky art.

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Yup…this is a chair in a tree!

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This bloom spike (agave??) is coming from a very large specimen in a really small pot and it looks like a rocket launching against the backdrop of the tall cypress.

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I get myself turned around and head toward what I can only guess is the interior of the garden. Every inch of earth and sky seems packed with foliage and flowers.

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Piled rocks form low retaining walls and raised beds that weave in and out of sunlight.

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This tiny but detailed shrine is tucked into the crotch of a tree. This is the first of many Asian and Indonesian influences seen throughout the garden, apparently the fruits of the homeowner’s travels.

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Plants and found objects are tucked amongst the rocks. I loved this small moss-covered water bowl.

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This path eventually brings me to a large koi pond which is sited just at the end of the house.

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Rocks and logs outline the pond’s shape and all manner of plant material is tucked into every viable inch of earth. The koi pond goddess sculpture is the work of artist Vickie Jo Sewell.

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From this vantage point you can see the shade structure protecting the path at the end of the house.

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A narrow walkway circles the house, a low slung wood side rancher that blends into the landscape. This abutilon is one of several I saw and is easily the tallest one I have ever seen. It appears to rise out of this 4 foot tall urn but is actually planted behind it on the slope. Getting a little further from the vignette, the color orange runs through this grouping as it does through many in this garden.

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A cool azure pool beckons visitors as this garden touring day heats up a bit. This high up the hill feels a lot closer to the sun, especially in this open sky space.

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Fanciful ceramic blooms by artist Marcia Donohue are clustered at the pool’s far end. You might remember that I saw similar pieces by this Berkeley artist in a San Jose garden featured in Tech meets (very little) turf #2… last year. I have been told that Marcia opens her garden to the public several days a year and experiencing it is definitely on my bucket list.

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The garden has multiple paths and most have a slope component of some kind. Rock steps and retaining walls with built in places to stop for a rest are plentiful. Clivia blooms continue the hot palette even in the leafy shade.

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These remnants of broken pots are a pop of cool color amidst the greens.

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A fierce fish swims through the trees near the pool house.

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Not a clue as to what this is but it was amazing that the weight of the top does not pull the small pot holding it over on its side.

Colorful succulents are tucked in EVERYWHERE. Sometimes they are the star of the show and other time play the supporting roles.

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Back near the sunny side of the koi pond and the path to the driveway downhill is this very happy planting of Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’, a plant I have had zero success at growing. At first glance many of the planted areas could appear to be just a jumble of whatever fit in the space. The more time I spent in the garden it was clear that the selections were clearly curated for diversity in foliage texture and color.

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Plants in the ground and in pots live happily with rocks and interesting found objects.

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Another look at the upper driveway as I left this incredible garden. Although the tropical vibe of this garden is not necessarily my personal gardening style, I could not help but admire the love and care this gardener has invested in her property over many years. The sheer volume of plantings on the property is amazing. I did not get to meet this homeowner but I am sure she has many, many plant collecting stories to tell us all.

Next up–I head back to Berkeley to see a historic garden near the Claremont Hotel  where I have a close encounter with a ring tailed garden mama.

 

 

Achillea ‘Peter Cottontail’ PPAF…

I paid a visit to an acquaintance the other day–that is, a garden center I had not shopped at in about 7 or 8 years. Sierra View Nursery on Academy Ave. is about as far east in Clovis as I am west in Fresno and almost requires me to take a canteen and pack a lunch! I had purchased a couple of Blue Point junipers there when we first started renovating our current garden but found nothing else compelling enough to make many return trips since then.  After chatting about salvias with Adam Steinkraus who does our lawn weed control, his recommendation of the nursery prompted me to take another look.

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The planted vintage pick up truck ‘driving’ through a sea of ground cover roses was worth the trip all by itself.

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The grounds have changed immeasurably since I was there years ago. My recollection is of an open air space stocked with mostly shrubs and trees plus some edibles. They now have an extensive selection of perennials and natives and it appears they grow a fair amount of their own stock.

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Yarrows, salvias, penstemons, oh my!

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I recently saw this unusual foxglove on a garden tour and was excited to be able to put a name to it: Digitalis Foxlight™ Ruby Glow, apparently one of a series of exciting new foxgloves.

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I also was excited to see a yarrow similar to one I had seen on my tour of Urban Adamah in Berkeley (Digging Deeper with Keeyla Meadows at Urban Adamah…) which Landscape Coordinator Emily had been momentarily unable to identify. Most of my yarrow experience has been with the ferny-leafed Achillea millefolium which is available in a number of pastel and hot color shadings. New to me is Achillea ptarmica. It is native to Europe and Asia and is a more erect plant having deep green, narrow finely toothed leaves. The flower heads are born singly rather than in the flat clusters of common yarrow and are larger at about 1/2″. I think the foliage will provide some contrast to the mostly gray green plants in the new lawn free front garden areas. Above you can see one of the two I added to those beds.

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The Achillea ptarmica ‘Peter Cottontail’-ish button flower heads will add a bright white pop to my purple, blue, pink palette. Who could resist a plant which evokes the playful and whimsical feelings every cottage garden needs?

So, take time to visit someone whom you never got to know well enough to realize you have so many interests in common…even if you have to pack for a road trip.

Easing into the East Bay…fearless color

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

MARY-ELLIS’S GARDEN IN BERKELEY

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

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

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

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

Leucospermum blooms at different stages of maturity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digger’s Speedwell…

My out of town garden tour junkets provide me with lots of opportunities to shop at both botanical gardens and retail garden centers all over California. Although I am a believer in purchasing plants grown locally or in conditions easily adaptable to my garden we have very few such resources in my community. Our few independent retailers are good but don’t often venture out past the stock selections used all over the Central Valley–sort of an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” attitude. True be told garden centers will only select and stock what people will readily buy–it’s not realistic to ship in lots of niche plants which may not sell. So I travel..I look at everything everywhere I go…and always come home with a few new plants to try out.

On my second trip to the East Bay area in 3 weeks I left an extra hour early to be able to do some shopping at the East Bay Nursery on San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley. I’d stopped there briefly on my first trip and came back prepared with a short list of hopeful garden additions. A few bits and pieces, not on the list, sneaked their way into my cart!

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Meet Parahebe perfoliata, common name digger’s speedwell. I did a quick Google on this and decided it was worth try, if only for the eucalyptus like leaves and nodding racemes of small blue flowers. I have Parahebe catarractae (below) elsewhere in the garden and it is a very small woody subshrub with small green leaves and white flowers bearing a red eye. Given the stark differences I did a little more research when I arrived home.

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The parahebes were formerly classified as genus Hebe and before that as genus Veronica–now the cloud’s are lifting a bit. Speedwell is the common name for perennials in the Veronica genus. Apparently the shrubbier ones were split off of the classification for the softer herbaceous perennials, then the smallest, or subshrubs, were split off yet again. Are these folks lacking for other productive work??

Both my parahebes are from down under–Australia for the new one (hmm…eucalyptus like leaves) and New Zealand for the little white one.

Digger’s speedwell is low growing to about two feet with a graceful arching habit. The evergreen foliage of rounded blue-gray leaves clasp the stems in opposite pairs making it a handsome foliage plants and giving rise to another common name in the literature, shish kabob plant. The flowers are set on new wood so pruning for shape and density is best done mid-summer.

The terminal spikes of veronica-like blue flowers produced in April or May are airy but heavy enough to give the racemes a nodding look.

I’m going to pot this little shish up and try it in a few places in the front garden, close enough to paths to not get lost or overrun but with enough neighbors for its flowering stems to have a little support and stay off the ground. Full sun or light shade is recommended and as with most Australian specimens, good drainage is essential.

I can also be drawn in by a good story on a plant label–I picked up this new little sage labeled Salvia ‘Rohana’s Angel’ grown by emerisa gardens (they don’t capitalize either word.) This was a chance seedling found amongst Salvia greggii, S. microphylla and Salvia x ‘Mesa Azure’ and thus its parentage is unsure. It’s a little one so I can tuck it in anywhere.

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This bubble gum pink baby sports a little white edge on its lip and is named after the wife of the founder of emerisa gardens. Emerisa is a family run-wholesale nursery in Santa Rosa, CA that has seasonal retail hours from March through November. They specialize in four-inch plants emphasizing hardy and unusually perennials, herbs, ornamental grasses and succulents and have long been on my road trip list. Check them out at http://www.emerisa.com if you find yourself in the vicinity!