Austin pre-Fling road trips… heading west

On my second adventure day before the start of the Garden Bloggers Fling 2018 I headed west toward Fredericksburg. In my quest to be just a little less structured when I travel I left Austin without a specific itinerary other than to stop by Friendly Natives, a locally owned nursery and landscape business, and stroll the streets of this picturesque Hill Country community founded in 1846 by the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants.

Heading out on Highway 290, it was only a few miles from Austin proper before I had to make a quick U-turn in Dripping Springs to check out the town’s bespoke nursery and garden art gallery Sol’stice owned by landscape designer Christopher Smartt and his mom, Irene Anderson.

My own geriatric Volvo station wagon: hauler of plants, amendments, stone and all other garden related materials, has developed a keen sense of knowing when and how to turn on a dime when someplace off the road calls my gardening name but the shiny new rental car perhaps had not known me long enough to anticipate my desires!  This small house on just 3 acres packs in a ton of curb appeal–who could not stop to check out this huge metal guitar? I pulled in right behind mom Irene who invited me to look around while she made a quick trip to the post office.

There is lots of interesting garden art made by owner Chris and other predominantly metal artists. Many of the very large pieces are scattered through a small forest of mature trees to the nursery at the back of the property. The little house, too is chock full of local art in a variety of mediums.

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Chris offers full service landscape design and installation focusing on native and waterwise plants. There is a little bit of everything for sale and every plant looks even better in this shaded relaxed setting.

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Irene and I chat about mutual garden concerns–woefully inconsistent rainfall et al–and I get the sense Sol’stice offers this mom the great blessing of combining the things she loves most–her son, art and gardening–into a very comfortable life/work existence. I entered through the garden but left through the art gallery and could not help but admire the natural wood posts holding up the door overhang and their whimsical adornments.

If you would like to learn more about this not quite in Austin full service nursery, the yard art and artists represented by the gallery go to their website http://www.solsticegardens.com or check them out on Facebook or Pinterest.

Back on the road to Fredericksburg…

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Old pickups never die in nearby Johnson City. This one took on a hip new life as a sign for a sort of industrial chic meets Texas ranch house second hand store.

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I also made very quick stop at Wildseed Farms which has been growing fields of wildflowers for the production of seed for over 35 years. There’s a nice nursery operation, lots of interesting structures and a kind of touristy gift shop. Surrounded by open fields the wind was very strong! It was a too late in the season to enjoy vast vistas of colorful wildflowers in bloom but I imagine it is quite a sight in early spring.

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There were several pockets of colorful larkspur still going strong within the confines of the garden center area. Wildseed Farms does have an online site at http://www.wildseedfarms.com where you see see their 2018 Wildflower Reference Guide and Seed Catalog to order any of the native grass seeds, wildflower seeds and regional wildflower seed mixes.

Just one more sign drew me off the road before I reached the historic downtown district of Fredericksburg.

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It was not until after I returned to the hotel and googled Magnolia Pearl that I found it to be the home of an artisan clothing line composed of vintage fabrics and lace designed by Robin Brown.

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Layer upon layer of vintage Texas detail from the historic materials to the historic vehicle marked this 3 story clapboard abode as the perfect setting for an artistic soul to draw inspiration.

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Everything but the kitchen sink!

Fredericksburg’s main street was bustling with activity when I arrived at just about lunch time. I turned onto a side street to park and found myself only a few steps from a beautiful gate opening onto a courtyard garden called the Japanese Garden of Peace, a serene garden in the Asian style.

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This garden was a gift from the people of Japan to the people of the United States in honor of the friendship that existed between Admiral Chester Nimitz and Admiral Togo of Japan

The garden was empty save for one worker who was carefully grooming the plants, clippers and a small bucket in hand. A rake popped against the wall attested to the daily care the gravel requires to keep it looking perfect in every detail.

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The view as I peeked in the gate
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The raked gravel symbolizes ocean waves where stones and plantings stand in for the Pacific Islands

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The predominantly green garden must feel cool even on the hottest Texas days
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The gangplank style post and rope fence offers a nod to the garden’s Naval connection
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This flowing stream tells the story of a single raindrop returning to the ocean
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This replica of the garden meditation study of Imperial Japanese Navy’s Marshall-Admiral Togo was built in Japan, disassembled and shipped to Fredericksburg where it was reassembled by the same craftsmen who created it
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Japanese aesthetic meets Texas infrastructure

I learned that this garden is part of the 6 acre complex called the National Museum of the War of the Pacific which includes the Admiral Nimitz Museum. Nimitz was a Texas native and is memorialized in this statue in front of the museum.

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The garden was first dedicated and opened to the public in 1976 and then restored and reopened in 2015 and is a lasting symbol of peace and friendship between the two nations. It was an unexpected and delightful find. I would suggest that if you have the chance to visit this garden take time before you go to read about the garden’s history and the symbolism of the individual garden elements–it will add much depth to your experience. Go to http://www.pacificwarmuseum.org for lots of details. I experienced the garden with only a surface understanding of its significance from what I read on the rock plaque–sort of like going in the back door and not seeing the signage at the front where you find out who lives there. Awareness of the history and symbolism serves to increase the garden’s natural beauty.

Seems as though I’ve been on the road all day–still haven’t gotten to my stated destination–Friendly Natives. A little lunch and some Main Street window shopping will have to come first. I’ll leave you with a colorful feast I found in a mercantile selling all manner of fabric and fun things. This is for all you sewers and quilters out there.

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Really creative way to display bolts of fabric-like a rainbow on the wall!
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Way beyond your grandma’s red checked oil cloth for the picnic table–so many to choose from

NEXT UP: I will take you to Friendly Natives and show you a bit of what owner/designer Matt Kolodzie is up to around town

 

 

Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Howdy from Austin…

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Ninety two garden bloggers from 28 states plus Canada and the UK met up in Austin, Texas last week for the 10th anniversary of the Garden Bloggers Fling. The Fling started in Austin in 2008 as the brainchild of garden writer Pam Penick and so it was a fitting that it return to its roots. Host/Chairperson Diana Kirby and her committee arranged great accommodations, transportation and meals for us in addition to a stunning itinerary of private gardens, public gardens and the hottest in Austin’s retail garden center world.

As a second time Flinger I was not quite as shell shocked this time at the sheer amount of gardening knowledge and talent surrounding me as we toured and dined together for several days. This year Pam asked each of us to send a photo and short bio to be included on the Fling’s website to help us recognize and get to know each other–especially useful for first timers. In addition to hobby gardeners (i.e., ME) our numbers included professional landscape designers, freelance garden writers, garden authors with multiple books to their credit, horticulturalists who find and develop new plants and seeds, the publisher of a spectacular garden magazine and the editor of another, many current and former Master Gardeners, garden speakers, garden coaches and those whose passions are the pursuit of about any gardening niche you can name. If you are interested in Who’s Who at the 2018 Fling go to the Fling’s page at http://www.gardenbloggersfling.blogspot.com and click on the OWL in the right hand column for a look at the bios.

As a first timer last year, I conscientiously sat down every night, no matter how late or how tired, dumped my camera’s memory card onto my laptop and sorted through the day’s photos. Along with my notes on each garden I could at least develop a framework for each post I wanted to write based on my best photos. I think I posted 3 times while still at the Fling and then used the next two or three weeks to cover the rest of the gardens. This year, with my trusty Mac Book Pro at the St. Apple Hospital for the Near Fatally Wounded getting a $900 solid state transplant there was no place for my photos to go! I have been using that nightly shoot and dump regimen for years–in fact, the only memory card I owned for my Canon was the 1 GB one that came with it. My first Austin stop was Precision Camera–one of the Fling’s local sponsors–to purchase a handful of extra memory cards.

Arriving home a couple of days ago, life encroached on my blogging time immediately–the garden, left under my husband’s care in 90 degree weather for 8 days, had to be walked and any emergency care needed was dispensed. I will do a separate post on the deadheading chores awaiting me. Now with 1095 photos downloaded and ready to be reviewed, the fun starts. My fellow blogger Kris Peterson (her Late to the Garden Party blog is at http://www.krispgarden.blogspot.com) set a great example in her first post-Fling offering this morning by comparing her photos to old time postcards. You’re all ready at home and unpacked by the time your travel postcards reach your loved ones, giving them just a glimpse into what a good time you had. I am going to follow her lead by offering a single pic peek for each location now and follow up with more complete profiles as time permits.

ANTIQUE ROSE EMPORIUM

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I had a couple of free days before the fling itinerary started so I took a road trip to Brenham, Texas to visit the Antique Rose Emporium. This iconic retail and mail-order rose source has been featured in many gardening magazines. The multi-acre location includes a number of demonstration gardens filled with roses and perennials and is a popular wedding venue.

NATURAL GARDENER

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Back in Austin, this destination nursery has a farmyard vibe with lots of display gardens featuring edibles, herbs, fruit trees and perennials. I loved this flowing stream highlighting riparian friendly Texas plants. The Natural Gardener was slated to be our luncheon location on the first full day of touring which I would miss so I was excited to fit it in on this day.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER

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The Wildflower Center is a groundbreaking botanical garden featuring only plants that are native to Texas. This gem was first up on the Fling’s itinerary, falling on the day I would not be able to travel with the group. Their late closing time on Tuesday allowed me to add it into the first day I toured on my own.

SOL’STICE

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The following day, heading west to Fredericksburg, I ran across this funky local art/plant place and landscape design firm in Dripping Springs. I so wanted to take this rusted birdhouse (made by Steve Southerland) home!

FRIENDLY NATIVES NURSERY

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Matt Kolodzie and his nursery/landscape design business are all over Central Texas Gardener’s pages, both web and paper. Specializing in Texas climate and soil friendly plants, his Fredericksburg location was a delight. Matt is definitely a Friendly Native–he spent a lot of time talking plants with me and even offered to take me around to see Texas gardens done well!

PEACE GARDEN

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This serene scene was an unexpected addition to the second day on my own. The Peace Garden sits directly behind the Museum of the War of the Pacific in Fredericksburg’s historic downtown and was a gift from the people of Japan. I happened to pass by its open gate on my way to Main Street to have lunch and window shop a bit.

WILDSEED FARMS

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Wildseed Farms is a retail nursery business and event space on the highway between Fredericksburg and Austin. I made a quick stop on my way back to Austin to find a pretty ordinary garden center operation within some nice display garden areas and pleasing Hill Country architecture.

Fast forward…after a less than 24 hour trip from Austin to Atlanta/Athens, GA to see my future daughter-in-law receive her Masters Degree in Social Work I joined up with the Flingers to find out that torrential rains had kept most of them under cover at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Natural Gardener and the day before’s 3 private gardens. I had never glimpsed the sun and the the skies had threatened on the two days I was on my own but apparently Mother Nature was saving it all up for the other 91 bloggers. Whew!!

SATURDAY

GARDEN OF COLLEEN JAMISON

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Shady respite is the theme of this tree canopied garden which incorporates lots of casual seating amongst borders and beds filled with subtle color.

GARDEN OF PAM PENICK

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Texture and diversity rule in this sloping back garden. The space boasts several large shelves of rocks around which Pam has planted all manner of visually pleasing and wildlife friendly plant materials. This garden is full of interesting garden art and artifacts –watch for the full post with more photos soon.

GARDEN OF B JANE

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B Jane’s stated garden goal for her own garden was to “create a resort vibe” and if this gorgeous outdoor shower off the master bedroom doesn’t do that there is just no help for you. B Jane is a professional landscape designer and builder–see more of her work at http://www.bjanegardens.com.

GARDEN OF DONNA AND MIKE FOWLER

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A small town rural garden filled with Texas natives, reseeding wildflowers and whatever else strikes the owners fancy. Yes–there is a hippo story to tell…

TANGLEWOOD GARDENS

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Skottie O’Mahony and Jeff Breitenstein relocated from Seattle to Austin in 2013 with the dream of establishing a daylily hybridizing nursery. Their 1.7 acre garden overflows with tropicals and Moroccan influences.

SUNDAY

GARDEN OF LUCINDA HUTSON

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Cookbook author Lucinda Hutson’s La Casa Moradita (the little purple house) in historic downtown Austin cottage bursts with color at every turn and has been featured in magazines and PBS gardening shows. A devotee of all things Texican, this unique gardener greeted with open arms and wearing purple cowboy boots. This is one of the most personal garden I have ever visited–I am saving the best pics for the full post!

GARDEN OF RUTHIE BURRUS

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Ruthie’s Garden Haus was featured in Southern Living magazine in April 2017. Built from stone gathered on the property and salvaged tin roofing, windows and doors it is the backdrop for a climbing rose called Peggy Martin, sometimes referred to as the Katrina rose.

GARDEN OF MARGIE MCCLURG

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A trip to Butchart Gardens on Canada’s Victoria Island inspired this homeowner to transform her courtyard back garden into a beautiful space to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

ZILKER BOTANICAL GARDEN

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The Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, along with the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, are popular Sunday afternoon strolling spots.  We took time for lunch here before moving on to the final few gardens.

GARDEN OF TAIT MORING

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Local landscape architect Tait Moring has gardened this spot since 1997. His goal to celebrate the Texas Hill Country’s natural beauty is reflected in his use of native trees, shrubs, perennials and succulents. He characterizes his garden as a “test kitchen” for regional plants and is committed to the garden being a safe haven for local wildlife.

GARDEN OF KIRK WALDEN

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This relatively new home and garden (2013) replaced an abandoned house surrounded by invasive shrubs and weeds. Being in the front seat on the bus worked well for me at this garden–not everyone was able to photograph the terraced patio, spa and pool (and its phenomenal view) without anyone else in my shot. The home sits high on a bluff overlooking deep blue Lake Austin. Just bury me here.

ARTICULTURE

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We ended our day with a Texas barbecue dinner at Articulture, a creative indoor gardening boutique with a plant filled back yard event space. This happy hour with food and drinks inspired by Lucinda Hutson’s cocktail recipes was the perfect way to end our Austin Fling.

Every one of these gardens has so much more to see than the single photo I chose for this postcard peak. Hopefully I’ve lured you in and you keep an eye out for the longer, more complete posts as I publish them.

Greystone Mansion and Gardens…

My quick overnight jaunt to Los Angeles allowed me time to visit one more venue on my list of lesser known garden sites: Greystone Mansion and Gardens, also called the Doheny Estate, in Beverly Hills. A heads up if this post inspires you to spend an afternoon at this lovely historic home and gardens which are now a city park, complete wth its own on site ranger: when your GPS tells you to turn off Sunset Blvd. onto Doheny Road–make sure you turn on Doheny ROAD not on Doheny DRIVE. I saw many other beautiful estates and gardens during the 30 minutes I spent going in circles on Doheny Drive but not one homeowner invited me in to take photos. Apparently this is common enough that a very explicit caution about just that is printed on the brochure–which of course you do not have until you get there!

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View of the Inner Courtyard

The gardens’ brochure offers a brief Doheny Family history to help you put Greystone in its proper context. In 1892, Edward Doheny Sr. and his business partner discovered the first productive oil well in Los Angeles. With the opening of additional deposits in California and Mexico they became one of the largest producers of oil in the world. In the 1910s Mr. Doheny Sr. purchased a number of land parcels in what is now Beverly Hills, creating the 429 acre Doheny Ranch. The 12 and a half acre parcel which became the site of Greystone was on the western edge of the ranch. In 1926 the senior Mr. Doheny gave the land to his son, Edward “Ned” Doheny Jr. and his wife Lucy.

Southern California architect Gordon B. Kaufmann designed the 46,054 square foot 55 room home in the English Tudor style. It took 18 months to build the mansion, outbuildings and install the landscape at a completion cost in 1928 of $3,166,578. The house is built of steel reinforced concrete faced with Indiana limestone and has a Welsh slate roof. The grounds included a tennis court, kennels, garages and stables, a fire station, swimming pool and greenhouse.

Ned Doheny was tragically shot and killed within a year of the family moving into their new home. Lucy Doheny, her five children, and eventually her second husband remained at Greystone until 1955 when she sold the mansion and 18 acres of land to Chicago industrialist Henry Crown. Mr. Crown never occupied the home instead starting a long tradition of using the property as a movie location–over 69 films have been made there to date. The City of Beverly Hills purchased the property in 1965 and the grounds were dedicated as a city park in 1971. The American Film Institute was based at Greystone from 1969-1972. Greystone was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The grounds of Greystone are open daily with plentiful free parking (I am pretty sure this is the only place in metro LA that has plentiful free parking) and the mansion is the site of many cultural events and activities.

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Looking down into the Forecourt of the Formal Garden.

Landscape architect Paul Thiene and lead designer Emile Kuehl created a series of terraced gardens and lawns that reflected a mixture of styles, most notable are the Italian Renaissance inspired gardens above the house. Parking is at the highest point on the hill and so you wind downhill through these gardens to approach the mansion.

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You go down stone stairs into the Forecourt and then back up another set to the Formal Garden.

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On a clear day you can probably see the ocean from this classic garden. The plant materials are as you would suppose them to be in a garden of this style: clipped boxwood, ‘Iceberg’ roses, columnar yews and mature single trunked crape myrtles.

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Classic fountain at the furthest sight line

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From the Forecourt another stairway leads me to another sparkling fountain and the Cypress Walk.

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I love the simplicity of the soaring cypress allee complimented only by the stone walk, lawn and French lavender snuggled in their bases. The massive retaining wall which supports the Formal Garden above is not left without ornamentation–each of these framed alcoves houses a small bubbling pool.

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Two more sets of stone steps down and walk along the back of the Inner Courtyard Wall brings me to the West Courtyard . This curved swathe of Camillia sasanqua is at least 100 feet long and reinforces the philosophy of using great quantities of a restrained variety of plants so that the mass has reasonable proportion to the adjacent structure. These blooms are shaded by mature Southern magnolias.

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This stone area would have served as the car park for the mansion. Guests could be dropped off right at the archway which shelters the home’s main entry. It was not atypical for home built in this era to have the ‘front door’ in the back–thus preserving the views from the front of the home. The Inner Courtyard (first photo) lies on the other side of the entrance archway.

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This stone path leads me from the West Courtyard entrance to the Reflection Pond. More clipped boxwood and white roses in formally geometric beds.

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This koi filled pond is visible from Greystone’s Mansion Terrace which spans the entire width of the back of the home.

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The walkways and this terrace are paved with colorful stone (slate?) which is complimentary to the home’s facade and the slate roof.

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It is hard to believe that this property is actually in the city until you catch the stunning view from the balustrade of the Mansion Terrace.

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Copper gutters, brick chimney pots, leaded glass windows and, of course, that great Welsh slate roof.

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A long curving path with multiple sets of steps on the east side of Greystone leads me downhill in front of the mansion in an effort to get the ‘curb appeal’ photo. This planted slope appears to have been updated with broad groups of grasses, shrubs and ground covers which have more drought tolerance than the uphill formal areas.

There are some small areas of succulents–this is one of very few plants I saw that probably would not have been part of the original plans–I am sure that just like everywhere else in water starved California attempts at xeric modifications are being made in areas that will not take away from the overall garden atmosphere.

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At the bottom of the hillside property the original Gatehouse now serves as Greystone’s main office.

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Tucked up against the Gatehouse is the small but formal Rose Garden.

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I am not sure what the cultivar name for this rose is but it is powerfully fragrant even late in the season.

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This modern day brick lined roadway leads to the original Stables, Garages and Greenhouse.

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To give you a sense of the scale I am standing on that paved road looking across the lawns and planted slope uphill to the imposing home.

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A number of paths through the broad lawn allow you to descend the hillside toward the west side of the house. This would be similar to the view seen by guests as the approach Greystone on the driveway that will take them to the West Courtyard. Can you imagine?

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More modern day pathways lead visitors back to the home’s elevation. This pretty little Magnolia stellata was unexpectedly in bloom!

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Sort of like the back stairs in a home, several sets of stone stairs on the west end will lead me back up to the far end of the Formal Garden. Interestingly, I saw none of these openings when I was IN the Formal Garden.

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View from the first landing looking back at the West Courtyard

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Gorgeous hardscape

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Uphill one more terrace level–there is a bridge at this level connecting the garden to the home via a second story walled courtyard.

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Back stairway landing hidden at the west end of the Cypress Walk

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Arriving the back way to the elevation of the Formal Garden I find the site of the original Pool House and Pool. The bricked over pool is popular for wedding receptions and community events. Without my Greystone brochure map I would have missed this entirely. It is directly adjacent to the fountain end of the Formal Garden but totally obscured from view by the trees and high courtyard wall.

I have come full circle–from top to bottom to top again–and I am sure I have missed lots of landscape detail along the way. Greystone is a fairytale mansion surrounded by formal and informal gardens styled perfectly to complement its era and architecture–a fun afternoon for gardeners and historic home buffs alike.

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Yes–there really is a Beverly Hills Park Ranger–a polite young man with a spiffy uniform and a very nice ride!

 

 

Blue Ribbon Garden…

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is a gleaming silver space age structure which opened in October 2003. Designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, it is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The photo below is the facade as viewed from Grand Ave and 2nd Street. The building occupies the entire block and each side features a variety of flat and undulating metal panels. At $4.50 per 15 minutes of parking in the structure across the street you are just not getting views of all sides of the building!

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A short walk up a wide staircase easily visible from the corner of Grand and 2nd will take you to one of downtown Los Angeles’s secret garden gems–The Blue Ribbon Garden. This rooftop garden wraps the modern architecture of the Hall on three sides. In spite of its almost 1 acre size the garden is intimate in nature, an amazing design feat given that at the core of the garden the building’s facade rises several more stories and that there are also many opportunities from garden’s perimeter for expansive views of the surrounding city.

The Blue Ribbon Garden is a gift from individual members of The Blue Ribbon, an organization of women devoted to the support of the music center and its resident companies. The garden provides a gracious outdoor venue for receptions and other events; I imagine it would be beautiful at night when lit for a gathering of music lovers.

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This sculptural Erythrina coralloides, native to Mexico and commonly called naked coral tree, is one of several in the garden and greets you at the top of the stairs. This species is the first of many tropical trees and shrubs in the landscape. The naked coral bears showy red flowers in the spring and is deciduous, as you can see by its just turning leaves. This species is said to be the most cold hardy of the coral trees. Just beyond, a labyrinth awaits a busy Angeleno in need of a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown. I fully intended to get a closer look at this but when I circled back at the end of my wanderings an actual line had formed with soon-to-be-newlyweds and their engagement photographers waiting for their turn in the labyrinth’s center!

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This garden’s plant palette is well-defined and restrained; the selected elements are repeated throughout. No willy-nilly plant collectors at work here. That restraint has produced a very calm but not at all boring viewing experience. As with many open urban gardens, this one seems to be a magnet for readers and lunchers in ones and twos–nothing rambunctious going on here.

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Also repeated throughout the landscape is the Bauhinia x blakeana, or Hong Kong orchid tree. I had to stand on my tip toes to catch a good look at its blooms.

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Another tropical, the Hong Kong orchid tree grows to about 20 feet tall and broad and is semi-deciduous and frost tender.

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The juxtaposition of the leafy green trees, even those just starting to don their fall colors, with the sleek metallic building facade somehow seems to be both startling and expected and the same time.

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Lovely foliage color combination

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The bed plantings soften the winding edges of the wide paths. Pavers set into the paths pay tribute to those donors whose gifts built this city garden.

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Large mounds of Strobilanthus cusia, Chinese rain ball, offer late fall blooms. Also called Assam indigo, this herbaceous perennial is native to tropical climes and not frost hardy. There are over 350 species in this genus and one of the most commonly known to American gardeners is Strobilanthus dyeranus, Persian shield, grown for its green, silver and purple variegated foliage with pale violet flowers. The Chinese rain ball and all its cousins are surely hummingbird havens!

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Definitely a focal point in the garden, the architect designed this fountain to pay tribute to the late Lillian Disney and her love of roses and Royal Delft porcelain vases.

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The large rose is covered in a mosaic of thousands of pieces of broken Delft porcelain and tiles.

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You can just make out some of the donor tribute pavers surrounding the rose. More silvery wall panels rising to the sky provide a backdrop for the fountain. I am not sure if the water action on this fountain is intentionally subtle or if it was just not working today.

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Wow–from total shade to total sun in just a few feet!

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Another interesting pair of semi-tropical trees–these are Dombeya wallichii, the pink ball tree from Madagascar. The velvety heart shaped leaves are dinner plate sized as seen below. In autumn and winter this smallish tree will be adorned with large clusters of fragrant pink flowers. The clusters will fade to pale pink, then brownish, and then dry on the tree. So sorry that these were not in bloom yet.

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Although much of the plant material grown here is not conducive to my garden’s slightly colder winters, the obvious takeaway for me is how effective using limited but bold and repeated plant selections throughout a space can be. The Blue Ribbon Garden earns a place on my list of off the beaten path small gardens to revisit at a different time of year, even if I have only an hour to spare. I would love to see the pink ball tree in bloom!

 

 

 

SLO down for this Central Coast botanical garden…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy shoppers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sacramento’s WPA Rock Garden…

Long before I started blogging about gardens, my own and those of others, I visited public gardens in every city I found myself–I used to sit down with the local telephone book; now my iPad miraculously organizes all a city has to offer. A recent trip to Sacramento left me some open time and my tablet provided a few smaller garden suggestions that looked as though they might be a perfect fit for my limited touring time. The WPA Rock Garden’s story turned out to be much more a tale of what wasn’t there rather than what was.

The WPA Rock Garden is a scant one acre tucked between Fairytale Land and the Duck Pond north of the Sacramento Zoo in William Land Park. The Works Progress Administration was a Depression-Era work relief program put into place in 1935 by Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal. The WPA put unemployed craftspeople to work on projects to improve communities all over the country–their efforts often recognizable by the use of indigenous building materials, commonly the local stone. The WPA Rock Garden was constructed in 1940 as a place of quiet respite within the park.

The first challenge was recognizing the garden–no signage was evident. I had seen  photos of a lovely sign erected in the late 1990s but I clearly missed it. The meandering rock work, the signature of many WPA projects, was my only clue that I was in the right place. Not surprisingly, the garden was in poor condition at the end of a very hot and dry summer.

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I found my way in via this path. The hillside gradually slopes up to the back of the zoo (chain link fence).

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There was virtually no color to be found, even among the scruffy stands of native and non-native drought tolerant plantings. You see all of the color I saw except some white oleander just too high to photograph.

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There were a number of bench areas to relax. I enjoyed a respite from the 95 degree heat on the shaded curved bench, closed my eyes and could envision what this garden could have been and still could be with its pleasing layout, meandering paths and multiple vistas.

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Sort of by accident I found myself at what I think is intended to be the entrance to the garden.

 

A monument to Charles Swanston, one of the late 1800s pioneering businessman of Sacramento sits on a knoll to the back of this grassy area. I assume at some point water filled the pool at its base and then flowed down this rock raceway. Dry as a bone now, just like the rest of the garden.

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This cooling view is directly across the street from the garden and the memorial to Mr. Swanston–known to residents as the Duck Pond.

It was in my research into the Swanston monument that I was drawn into a more recent history of this once remarkable garden space. If you Google WPA Rock Garden and just look at the IMAGES you will see a garden that bears no resemblance to the garden I visited. Exuberant bursts of color pop from mixed evergreen and deciduous backdrops. Stands of herbaceous and woody perennials line the paths. Blooming vines scramble over the pergolas and children pose standing atop large rocks. Where was THIS garden–what happened here? Numerous newspaper articles, magazine articles and blog posts, mostly from the early 2000s to about 2012, extol the pleasures of this unique space. I even find a feature article filled with photos in Pacific Horticulture from April 2005–PH is pretty much the gold standard of horticulture publications for me. It was from these articles that I learned the real secret of the WPA Garden and her name is Daisy Mah.

Like many WPA era projects, the original garden declined once funds were depleted and the area remained neglected for decades. Horticulturalist Daisy Mah started her career with the Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation in 1980 as the lead for the McKinley Park Rose Garden. After tiring of the monoculture of the rose garden she transferred to the William Land Park in 1988 and took the WPA Garden on as her own. At that time it was little more than an overgrown patch of ivy. Her first vision was that of a rock garden filled with alpine plants. The realities of Sacramento’s hot dry climate set in and she recognized that drought tolerant plants from the Mediterranean climates of the world would have a greater chance of success. This was pretty radical thinking in the late 80s and early 90s when public gardens (and many home gardeners) were all still living in a pretty starry eyed world of roses, hydrangeas and bedding plants—and we thought water was a never ending commodity. Over the ensuing 25 years Daisy Mah created and maintained the garden so beautifully represented in all those articles. In October 2013 Daisy Mah retired, moving on to travel and I am sure other garden pursuits. The last 4 years have not been good for many gardens in hot and dry California and public gardens in my state are under special scrutiny to be good stewards of resources. Daisy’s garden has surely suffered the loss of her passion, vision and daily ministrations.

Check out these two links for great photos of the WPA Rock Garden at its finest.

http://www.gardensforgoldens.com/2012/09/29/inspiration-from-the-wpa-rock-garden

http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/daisy-may-and-the-wpa-garden

Exploring the history of Sacramento’s WPA Rock Garden has affirmed for me the importance of local gardeners taking on the advocacy role for their community garden sites–they are living symbols of our never ending efforts to surround ourselves with nature’s beauty. The WPA stone structures endure and offer a template from which a garden may rise again. We all need a little help sometime!