Now THIS is a Labor Day…

Labor Day weekend—last hurrah of summer–has been celebrated the past few years at our cabin in Fish Camp just outside Yosemite National Park’s south entrance. The Fish Camp Volunteer Fire Association holds its annual fundraiser at which residents of this tiny community enjoy one another’s company and live entertainment, eat a great meal and become spirited bidders in the live auction. This year this small enclave of residents and vacationers found itself in the national news with the drama of the Railroad Fire which broke out on August 29th just south of Fish Camp near the historic Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad. Highway closure and mandatory evacuations were immediately put in place and remain as of today. The news photo below shows the fire roaring just south of the Tenaya Lodge with the General Store and old gas station in the foreground. Our place is in the trees behind the structures and in front of the fire.

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The immediate and heroic response of multiple firefighting agencies–both local and traveling from other parts of California–in the first two days saved our small area of homes. Seven structures very close to the fire’s starting point were lost and some damage done to the beloved Sugar Pine Railroad’s historic railcars. The developed area of Fish Camp is now surrounded by a ‘cold line’ from which to fight any additional flare-ups. Unfortunately the fire continues to march to the east and southeast of Fish Camp and is now estimated at about 10,000 acres, 23% contained, with over 800 firefighting personnel in play. Additional areas have been evacuated, the highway remains closed and the local utility faces steep challenges in its attempt to restore power to affected areas. There is no expression of gratitude equal to the efforts of these firefighters and my every thought is focused on their safety.

So, here in the hot valley for the holiday weekend, my husband decided to tackle a little ‘rock relocation’ we have been talking about for a couple of weeks. In June 2016 we removed lawn from several very large areas on our corner lot. Previous posts gave you a peek at the replanting last fall & early spring 2017 of the large roundish bed nestled between our two driveways. The window to work the ground even a little and replant closes here in late May and so the last area has simply remained dirt (and spurge) throughout the summer. It is a very long and narrow side whose curving front connects to the north side of one driveway.

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Three Bradford pear trees and this large weeping juniper, most likely ‘Tolleson’s Blue’, will remain as anchors to the bed as will several podacarpus tucked up against the fence. These mature trees provide our back garden with privacy and some sun protection for plants in the back which rest in their canopy. They also present tremendous challenges to doing much soil amendment and even planting anything larger than a gallon size can. Rather than preplanning what goes where my landscape philosophy may end up being finding where we can dig a reasonable sized hole and THEN decide what to put in it!

There are two huge granite boulders up against the fence under the weeping juniper and it is MOVING DAY for the smaller one! Now, sweet Dave and I have moved several other very large rocks in the garden in the last few years and our process has seen some refinement over time. For the first rock (and smallest) we convinced a friend who thought he had come for Sunday dinner that he would provide just enough extra manpower that he and Dave could muscle it to its new resting place. I am not sure he has ever accepted another Sunday afternoon invitation…

#2 rock signaled the start of the rock moving equipment acquisition–we bought a pry bar and managed to lever the rock, one side after the other, to its new home. That worked very well after realizing that me sitting on the pry bar was only effective until the rock moved and took the pressure off the bar…

We got pretty serious with rock #3–our largest effort to that point–digging out around it to allow the pry bar underneath and a thick nylon rope to be looped several times. Tied that puppy to the pick up and dragged it forward 3 feet. This Sunday afternoon spectacle brought out quite a few neighbors who, I am sure, thought we were nuts.

So that brings us to Labor Day 2017. Maybe you are thinking–why are these people moving these rocks?? The whole landscaping with groups of large granite rocks is kind of a “thing” here–sort of a companion to the mature olive tree brought in as a focal point. The rock people (that’s a real job) load ’em up on the flatbed and come equipped with a crane to set them into place according to the landscape designer’s plan. The rocks act as focal points and are great starting points around which to build plant groupings. After almost 20 years, this garden’s landscape has matured to the point that many of our large rocks are totally hidden under mature shrubs–so we’re just bringing them out into the light again. In the case of what we will now refer to as the Labor Day rock, it will take up some real estate which used to be turf near (no longer under) the weeping juniper and decrease the need for additional digging to add pant material which may well be covered by the juniper’s arms in another couple of years.

Check it out!

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First challenge…avoid running over the sprinklers.

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Notice we have upgraded from nylon rope to a chain…

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Hope to now pass the chain under the rock rather than around.

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Getting ready for another go.

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A few positional adjustments and we’re there. A little digging in tomorrow after dinner will help it settle in.

Labor Day 4 A man, a chain and a rock–now that’s a love story, huh?

Thank you to all who labor, making contributions to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our nation—whether by keeping us safe from fire and flood, working the land to feed us or teaching our children; the future of this country is in your hands.

 

 

 

 

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When we first returned to California in 2008, my husband maintained an office in South San Francisco and frequently worked several days a month at Stanford University Hospital. Being more a Southern California girl than a Northern California one I took advantage of his time there to tag along and explore the South Bay in search of public garden adventures and good plant shopping. On one of my first days in Palo Alto, I stumbled on the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden which to this day remains one of of my favorite garden go-tos. On that same day, needing a place to kill a little time before picking David up at the hospital, I stopped by the Stanford Shopping Center to get a cold drink and sit a bit.

The Stanford Shopping Center is an open-air shopping and dining experience just minutes from the Stanford campus. It is home to some of the most luxurious raised bed and potted plantings I have ever seen. On my visit that day I never even opened the door to any of the 100+ stores–I spent my entire time there walking the wide promenades filled with comfortable cushioned sofas, chairs and glorious blooms. Massive pots were home to small scale trees, hydrangeas, camellias, dahlias and companion plantings and acted as screens and focal points. The raised beds in both sun and total shade were filled with annuals and perennials to complement the bed’s evergreen year round plant material. Since that day, every time I am in Palo Alto I spend some time in this outdoor center–often taking a book or my laptop and finding a shady spot to relax and people (and plant) watch.

Not long ago I heard a life altering rumor that the Stanford Shopping Center had redesigned their plantings in response to California’s continued water issues and all was now native grasses and drought tolerant selections. Booo…even in my understanding of their civic mindedness I was in mourning. After all, I cannot keep a hydrangea alive–much less grow them 8-10 feet tall and wide in pots larger than jetted tubs–but at least I could revel in them beautifully combined with roses, impatiens and violas for a little while with a visit to the SSC. Last week on my monthly South Bay trip for my Filoli day I went up a day early and had an afternoon to fill. I downed a protein shake for strength, gritted my teeth, grabbed my camera and headed to see what havoc the drought had wrought on my beloved garden haven.

I was excited to see that while some of the plantings were less luxurious than in previous years and many of the planters had been converted to more permanent plantings needing less seasonal change-outs–all was not lost! The thirstiest selections were fewer and farther between but no less meticulously maintained as in previous years. Have a look.

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SSC has a lovely Williams-Sonoma–this great bottle ‘tree’ is the centerpiece of one side of the store.

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Part of the core walkway of the center is in total shade. I especially loved these gorgeous raised beds boasting greens and purples–a great example to refer back to in planning an exciting shade plant combo.

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Good to know the earth has not fallen off its axis. There are still beautiful raised beds and planters to delight the gardeners who may have the need to actually shop for something other than new plants. Palo Alto’s temperate climate allows these plant displays to endure for months on end. Winter, however mild, does come to the South Bay and I think this will be the year I will plan to see what the Stanford Shopping Center offers (horticulturally) for the holiday season. Isn’t it always true that you never really appreciate something until you think you may have lost it? Truly no purchased required to enjoy these fruits of someone else’s labor.

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Casa Mariposa…

2017 Garden Bloggers Spring Fling Director Tammy Schmitt (check her blog out at ts-casamariposa.blogspot.com) flung open her own Bristol, Virginia garden gate for us to see her exuberant cottage style garden. I knew I would love this garden when we entered through a gate crowned with a freeform trellis created by a long dead but quite sturdy vine trunk!

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This precious little Clematis was making its way up the trunk as fast as it could. This downward facing bell shaped flower is not one I see often in California.

Schmitt 14It is easy for those of us who garden in areas with short mild winters and long, long growing seasons to forget that many Zone 7a gardens like this one may be  blanketed with snow well past when we have all ready fertilized our lawns and deadheaded our roses for the first time .

Keeping that in mind, the riotous summer foliage and flowers in Tammy’s back garden are all the more impressive to me. Her garden is completely organic and features many native plants and ornamentals that attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. While perennials stay in place through the cold season, all Tammy’s pollinator friendly annuals are sown from seed while all else sleeps.

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I love the fact that this garden has no 5 or 6 foot privacy fence and can be enjoyed by Tammy’s neighbors as well as the wildlife and family dogs. This creative gardener met the challenge of her 5 rescue dogs’ favorite pastime of running back and forth in front of the low wire and timber fence by clearing the plants from their preferred footpath and rechristening it a dog run. Not even visible to those enjoying the garden but perfectly “dogscaped” for her pooches.

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A hand dug river bed over 60 feet in length ending in a rain garden prevents runoff from entering the storm drain that flows to the Chesapeake Bay.  Volunteers from reseeding annuals are free to take root in the river bed, adding to its very natural feel.

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Tammy has a great way with pots, with dozens forming living walls on either side of the steps into her home. There are some interesting posts on her blog chronicling her search for a way to get these yearly pots going through the winter weather to get the best jump on spring.

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Absolutely going to use this great idea for marking plants–mini clay pots with the plant names on the bottom casually top supports which disappear into the sea of green.

Tammy has been using a product called Penetrate from one of the Fling’s sponsors, John & Bob’s Smart Soil Solutions, to improve her clay soil.  We had an opportunity to be John Valentino’s audience as he filmed a promotional spot for the products in Tammy’s back garden.  It was interesting to hear the science behind the line of organic products and a few good questions from our group added to the filming, making us a truly captive (and quiet until called on!) audience. Thank you, John!

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A quick note to my Central Valley readers–John & Bob’s is a Fresno company. My Fling swag bag included both literature and sample products to try. We all know great gardens start with the soil–I am going to put several of these products into play in my garden. John cautioned us that these are not overnight fixes but I am willing to put the time in if I can reform my clay soil even moderately! I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, check out what these local soil superheroes have to offer at http://www.johnandbobs.com

And it is so obvious that Tammy Schmitt loves to garden–thank you to her for the three years of blood, sweat and tears it took to organize the 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Spring Fling. As a first year participant I had no idea what to expect. One description I read called the Fling “summer camp for gardeners” and I think that is quite apt. I spent time with new friends away from the normal routine of my life, shared stories and experiences, saw some beautiful scenery and created memories to last a lifetime. 2018 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling and that anniversary will be celebrated in its ‘home town’ Austin, Texas. Don’t worry–I’ll be there and by way of photos and words–you can be, too!

A Year in the Garden…Filoli in July

So let’s take a detour 3000 miles west of the wonderful gardens I saw as part of my recent trip to Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia to check in on one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most beautiful garden estates. I have a single public garden and two private ones still in the wings to share so don’t think the party on the East Coast is over quite yet.

I was a bit late getting on the road to Filoli, limiting my pre-class photo opportunities. I have been watching these pollarded trees since February. Take a look at how they have developed.

I think by October the leafy allee will be complete–then in a month or so the pruning process will start all over again. Just another example to remind me that this estate was built during a time of prosperity and by people with substantial resources to provide the regular maintenance required by this, and many other examples on the property, specialty pruning technique.

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I arrived in the Sunken Garden just in time to catch this interplay between a visiting heron (birdwatching friends–feel free to correct me on this) and the bronze herons who inhabit the pond.

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A bit too early in the day for these to be open.

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On my June visit the garden staff was busy clearing out the last of the spring annuals, amending the beds and putting in the summer color. Bright orange Zinnias take center stage in the boxwood edged beds, complemented by blue Salvia farinacea. Some of the last planted pots of blue pansies remain and new pots packed with petunias in purple tones have been added.

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Bed areas adjacent to the steps down to the garden are accented by small stands of apricot dahlias.  In spite of the fiery color scheme, the summer garden seems quite restrained in comparison to the spring planted beds just past.

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No buds last month…in full bloom today!

I will admit to being a little disappointed in the new planting in the Walled Garden, which lies between the Sunken Garden and the Rose Garden. Although I recognize that Filoli attempts to keep the all the gardens planted in the style of the 30s and 40s when much of the landscape was enriched by the estate’s second owners, Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, the rows of small pink begonias fell flat for me and the pale lavender petunias just disappeared into the strong sun.

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In the Rose Garden, much was still in full bloom. A good bit of deadheading was called for on some of the earlier bloomers and that worked out well for one of today’s class topics–Pruning Principles II.

In March we concentrated on the basics of pruning–why pruning is needed, what tools are available and how to make a good cut. We also learned the 4 basic pruning methods: pinching, thinning, heading back and shearing. Most of our practical application in the garden involved spring flowering shrubs that flower on old wood such as the flowering quince which is pruned immediately after blooming to permit new wood to develop for the following season’s growth. If I could take a pruning class every month year after year, I would still sign up for another. Pruning is an art and, as such, improves with practice. As a hobby horticulturalist I still do not have a wealth of pruning CONFIDENCE even though I have a pretty good intellectual grasp of the how-tos!

Yet again, instructor Mimi Clarke stressed the importance of understanding the plant’s natural habit, when it blooms and whether flowers are produced on new growth or last year’s growth. Know what you are pruning and how it grows before you even get your clippers out of their sheath. Her reference recommendation from March lingered in my head–the American Horticultural Society: Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce. I found the newest edition (2017) online. I am not sure why the book no longer bears the AHS logo but I am reasonably sure it has nothing to do with the actual content and wanted the most recent edition.

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There are very specific instructions, including timing and technique for hundreds of plants. Many plants that don’t have their own listing are included at the end of each section with a notation to “prune as_____________” with reference to a plant whose pruning scheme is similar. I bought the paperback so I could feel ok about dragging it around the garden and filling it with notes!

On our garden walk in search of plants needing a snip or nip we stopped at the Rose Garden where Mimi showed us examples of correctly deadheading roses to encourage new blooms. The three Ds (dead, diseased, damaged) come into play here. Mid summer is a good time to thin out some of the interior growth, especially when the inevitable black spot, rust or powdery mildew are present, to increase air flow and generally shape thing up. For many years I have done a pretty hard cut back midsummer on both roses and perennials and find that little bit of downtime now pays me back two fold in a more healthy and longer flowering period into the fall. Even an old gardener needs a little validation now and then.

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Check out the height of these roses in relation to Mimi. In our discussion we agreed that it may be time for these quite old roses to be pruned back really hard in January to decrease their overall size and reinvigorate them.

We wandered toward the Perennial Border and found the staff gardeners nipping into the Veronica ‘Pink Damask’ and salvias that had been spectacular less than a month ago.

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Most of the fabulous garden photos we see in the magazines and books are of plants at their absolute peak. The truth is that most perennials, even those with relatively long bloom periods, are only at that peak for 2 or 3 weeks in a season. Secondary bloom flushes can be stimulated with a dedication to deadheading. Even if you have ignored the spent flowers many perennials will signal their needs to be tidied up a bit by developing new growth at the crown. Below you see the Teucrium chamaedrys used as a border in the knot garden.

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In the lower photo the Teucrium (commonly called wall germander) is the bright green in the lower left corner. In June, it was not yet in bloom. The bloom detail above shows that it will only be another week or two before all the germander will need to be sheared back. Another bloom is not guaranteed but the least you have done is to neaten it up for the fall.

We finished our morning with a pass through the orchard. The variety of fruit trees call for a variety of pruning schemes–the key, of course, is to know your tree and how it produces fruiting wood. There’s a nice crop forming on the row of espaliered apple trees.

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Thank you, Mimi, for the wonderful written resource material included in our notebooks! I can use all the visual aids I can get to work through my pruning challenges.

Pest Management was our afternoon topic. Within the 2 hour window to cover this never ending subject Mimi stated the obvious: no way we can even mention every insect or disease, much less how to handle it. She took a practical approach: you will have pests, whether insects, rodents or disease AND your goal will be to MANAGE them as best you can.

Mimi’s philosophy on problem solving starts with trying to prevent those problems from ever showing up in your garden. Prevention starts with a healthy garden. To that end: LEARN to ask the right questions when buying plants; DIVERSIFY your plant selection; PREPARE your soil and REGULATE your irrigation practices.

Determine what population level (disease or critter) is acceptable to you. Eradication may not be a practical goal. Then look at CONTROL on four levels, using chemical controls as your last resource.

CULTURAL CONTROLS might include selection of resistant varieties, companion plantings, sanitary practices, pruning and proper use of fertilizers and water.

MECHANICAL CONTROLS can include mechanical devices such as paper collars around plant stems or sticky barriers on trees, hand picking of pests, water blasts and traps appropriate to the critter.

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Filoli’s staff garden grows their berries totally encased in wire structures to discourage raccoons and deer. Below you see row cages that can be placed over seedlings for protection.

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Even parts of the extensive cutting garden used for arrangements for the house and Visitor Center are permanently covered in wire mesh. The staff gardeners creatively fashion new cages, collars and trap routines to keep all the wildlife under as much control as is practical.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROLS are defined as any activity of one species that reduces the adverse effect of another and might include the introduction of parasites, pathogens, predators or competitors.

CHEMICAL CONTROLS are used when non chemical approaches have failed.

Mimi lists these steps to use when you detect a pest, weed problem or disease in your garden:

  • Correctly identify the problem
  • Determine if you can tolerate it or if it needs to be corrected
  • If your goal is correction, use mechanical/physical controls above first
  • Still need help, determine if a biological control is available
  • When pesticides are your last resort, read labels carefully and choose the product that has been identified as the most effective
  • Apply proper amounts in confined areas

I really appreciated this process driven approach to pest management. My tolerance for insect pests and weeds has grown as I have aged. I no longer even have an expectation of a weed free or non-beneficial insect free garden–although I would still pay BIG MONEY for a snail free garden. I am not alone in jumping past the first 3 types of control and landing on my feet with a chemical control in my hands! My goal will be to make pest management a more thoughtful process in the future.

Our class year is winding down. In August we will spend our entire class time in the greenhouses exploring plant propagation. September will bring a overview of fall cleanup and the presentation of our individual projects.

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The dahlia tubers have been planted. I hope we will get to see this in full bloom before our Year in the Garden comes to a close.

 

 

Bays and coves…

Was the way a fellow garden blogger described the the undulating borders and beds as we took in the big picture of the The Plains, Virginia front garden of Linda Hostetler. Her neat, cream colored stucco home sits smack on the main street of this little village with a population of about 200. Linda is a graphic artist turned landscape designer and she has used her narrow and very long one acre lot to compose a cottage style garden packed with trees, shrubs, conifers, perennials, annuals, bulbs and ground covers organized into hundreds of vignettes curated to delight the eye and senses.

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A little screening  from the busy street offers an alluring view of what’s to come!

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Linda repeats variations of the primary colors red, blue and yellow throughout her garden to create visual rhythm–keeping your eyes and your feet moving through her numerous plant collections.

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Japanese maples, both green and red, are a staple in the Hostetler garden and are used as focal points and architectural elements. By the way–we are still in the front garden which is probably 1/5th of the total garden space.

Thriving colonies of what I think are ladybells (Adenophora) and Agastache are loving the sunnier areas of the front garden.

There are plenty of shade dwellers also–notice the red, blue and yellow foliage working in harmony.

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Linda has used structure, in the form of pathways, conifers and other evergreens, low walls and hedges to define garden spaces and views. Her use of more than one path choice to move you through the garden offers the chance to see plantings from multiple angles and in different light conditions. As we start to wander toward the back garden via the side yard the first choice must be made–up or down.

I chose the pathway furthest from the house. Densely planted on both sides the path is not even visible from the lower one.

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The lower path at its ‘trailhead’.

The upper path appears to lead us to…?

My route was a woodland walk with civilization mostly obscured. Hydrangeas, ferns, hostas, Solomon’s seal and other dappled light lovers guided my way.

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The path opens up and a few stepping stones down bring me to the charming back patio.

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You can see a fellow visitor arriving by the lower route, stopping to photograph a rustic birdhouse. Linda has used a variety of garden art and artifacts throughout–and while they all look very random at first glance–each is as carefully placed as the plant grouping it highlights. Notice the curve of boxwood acting as a low wall to define this part of the garden from the pathway.

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A serene rock pond is the focal point for this patio area. The path on which I entered is actually above and behind (see the hanging basket on the tall tree trunk?) and circles around and down to the right of the waterway, allowing me to see it from above before I have even arrived at the patio level.

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Another example of Linda’s use of small boxwoods to define a curve. These greens and whites really sparkled in the dappled light.

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The barn–what a wonderful structure around which to build garden elements!

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This stacked stone bed provides an ending point for the patio area and the starting point for the rest of the garden which I’ll call the lower back garden. Buckle up! We are going on a wild ride!

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One of dozens of gorgeous conifers, large and small, which provide year round interest and structure in the Hostetler garden. This specimen sits proudly at the gateway to the lower garden and just begs you to come on down.

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This first level is the sunniest area in the garden and surely the gathering spot for family and friends. Multiple pathways, gravel, stone and mulched lead off from this open spot to all reaches of the garden. Linda’s pathways take you places you did not even know you wanted to go to! Ramble around with me…

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Cobalt blue is the color of choice for garden ornamentation–market umbrellas, metalwork and glass objects sport this happy hue.

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The garden is on so many levels that wonderful views can be found at every turn of the path. I wish I had thought to count the blue market umbrellas throughout the garden–I am guessing there are at least a dozen, each with a comfy spot to sit beneath it.

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Even from the highest paths there are lovely views up toward the fence line. This semi-shaded area sports all manner of greens nestled among large rocks.

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The ‘high road’ takes us from shade to sun and back again. I love the way the elevation and sighting of the paths make them invisible–offering access to all part the garden for maintenance but no distraction from the layers of foliage and colorful blooms.

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Standing on this rock to get the long view doesn’t quite make it–maybe a small helicopter?

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Linda and her husband dug this 16 X 24 foot pond and its 90′ stream to provide food and shelter for the garden’s resident amphibians. A small seating area is suspended over the water’s edge, offering a shady spot to watch the wildlife.

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I loved the uses of stone throughout the garden as pathways, accents, interest and structure. Look at these great chunky steps taking us back up from the pond area to the more central part of the garden.

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Linda and her husband have created a garden that is the end of the rainbow for a plant junkie like me. Sadly for us, she was unable to be onsite during our visit. I would have liked to ask her about her design process–all of those paths and elevation shifts carefully planned out on paper or developed in stages as the spirit moved her? Master plant plan or “I love this and I’ll find a place for it.”? The garden is so relaxed and welcoming one could easily be fooled into thinking it just developed itself–if only that could happen I would have a garden just like this one!

 

 

 

 

Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor…

Local gardening legend, former television show host and aspiring blogger Peg Bier welcomed us to the constantly evolving two and a half acre garden paradise she and her family have called home since 1959. She readily credits the help of her four children and 12 grandchildren in being able to keep the bountiful beds, borders and overabundance of container gardens tended and watered. Then a full-time employee at local nursery, Merrifield’s Garden Center, she was the obvious choice to co-host the local cable TV call-in gardening show, Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor, which aired on Saturday mornings for over 25 years from 1990 until 2015. Check out the archived shows on You Tube by entering Merrifield Gardening Advisor in the search box! Her common sense advice and seasonal topics are timeless. No longer in her seventies, she has retired from television but remains a part-time Merrifield’s employee and a fixture in the Fairfax County, Virginia gardening community.

I feel sure that, in its youth, the Bier home and garden in Tyson’s Corner were surrounded by rolling farmland. Modern day development has grown right up to its property lines and Peg now gardens her acreage right in the middle of a neighborhood of well cared for homes. The riotous roadside garden filled with all manner of plants is the first hint that this garden is a bit different from its more restrained neighbors.

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In Peg’s own words, “It is not the wow factor but the smile when some small discovery is made.”

Before we even get off the roadside I see that there are small vignettes and dish gardens tuck into the garden here and there. Many are so subtle you really have to be looking for them!

 

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The first view of the family home–the elevation change is the perfect set-up for sunny raised beds viewed perfectly from the front porch.

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Peg’s garden weaves in and out of sun and shade offering good growing conditions for a wide variety of perennial, shrubs and trees.

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Peg shared that all the maples in the garden were propagated by her. Her home seems to grow right out of the garden, softened on all sides by greens, golds and burgundy.

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The home’s main outdoor dining area, complete with seating for the whole family, is barely visible until you actually climb the few stairs to the patio.

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This timber framed sunken patio offers shady respite and another opportunity for built in raised beds.

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There are sun plants…

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And shade plants..beautiful hostas on parade, big and small!

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Comfy, resting and reading spots appear as you round curved paths–this one themed with red-orange blooms and bright blue garden accents.

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This green roadway parallels a small riverbed and took me to Peg’s veggie garden.

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Completely fenced to foil the deer, veggies are grown in and amongst flowers and small accent shrubs.

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Above and below dish gardens planted with small scale shrubs nestle among carefully curated garden accent pieces.

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Peg Bier’s garden is truly full of small discoveries but there is no absence of wow factor here either. My impression is that of a “gardener’s garden”–plantings are relaxed and re-seeders just go where they please, her less than perfect lawn reflects her commitment to organic gardening and I believe she will find a home for any plant she to which she takes a fancy. Her garden mirrors her personality and is a fitting legacy of the almost 60 years of devotion.

 

Over the river and through the woods…

In all honesty, I am not sure there was a river and I don’t know if Ellen Ash is a grandmother (hmm..she does have a bubble machine in her back garden) but we journeyed through many tall trees on the way to her woodland garden in Great Falls, Virginia. California gardeners–except those in the coastal northern areas who have plenty of their own trees–get a little sappy about rural areas with rolling GREEN fields and stands of towering oaks maples and conifers. The Ash garden is no more than 50 miles from Washington, D.C. yet it seems to be in a totally different world.

The gated entry and long drive in flanked by mature woods reveal no clues of the contemporary home and treasure filled  2 acre woodland garden carved out of the forest.

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This dry riverbed flows from the house to the drive. Mature plantings of hollies, flowering trees, junipers and other shrubs nestle up to the home. I often talk about designing plantings to give a garden a “sense of privacy and enclosure”. No need here! This property actually is enclosed on all sides with woods–no road or neighbor can be seen or heard. Check out our group as we left our bus to see the scale of the surrounding forest.

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The highlight of Ellen’s garden for me was the extensive perennial bed–maybe 250+ feet long and 20 feet deep bordering the driveway directly in front of Ellen’s home. You can see just the end of it in the photo above.

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In addition to small blooming shrubs, clematis, spring bulbs and lilies this bed is home to over 100 varieties of perennials and many of the fun garden chachkis Ellen adores. The low stack stone wall undulating through the bed adds a second level of interest.

We wandered through her woods which includes mature native American hollies, oaks, maples, hickories on our way to the back garden. I loved her use of very large stones set into mossy paths offering many side routes to areas filled with hydrangeas, azaleas and rhododendrons.

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This little girl I met along the way made me laugh! Clearly she represents the joy this gardener takes in tending this beautiful piece of Virginia.

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Among the ferns and hosta I spied this plant which appears to be an Acanthus-the variety is unknown to me as we pretty much just grow the Acanthus mollis which has the huge glossy dark green leaf. Can anyone help?

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One of many areas to sit and enjoy the garden and its inhabitants, organic and inorganic!

The Ash back garden has a classic large lawn area–great for games and dogs–bordered by groupings of mature shrubs. When I gardened on an acre in Central Georgia I learned the value of having large areas which were less fussy and more maintenance free so that I would have time and energy to intensively garden other areas requiring more TLC. What a wonderful leafy background for these broad plantings.

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While a large pool and pool house is the focal point for the back yard I was drawn to the variety of beds and plant material softening the perimeter and the areas between the home and the pool hardscape.

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Ellen’s dahlia bed–so sorry I will not get to see these when they come into bloom in late summer.

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The use of stone throughout the pool and patio area ties the manmade landscape to the natural landscape.

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Layers upon layers of green made this garden seem cool even on a hot and humid late June afternoon.

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As we say goodbye to Ellen Ash’s gracious garden I know you are wondering, “What does a can of spray paint have to do with a woodland garden?” Here’s the story!

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The moment I got off the bus in Ellen’s driveway I was held captive by a number of groupings of brilliantly colored Allium. In my defense, your view is through my camera lens. In reality I was 10-15 feet away from the blooms. As I marveled at their clear color this late in the season, a Virginia garden blogger standing next to me clucked and shook her head as if I was a lost in the woods (literally). “They’re spray painted.”, she said. “No, really, they are.”, she added. Apparently spray painting your alliums is SOP in these parts. Many gardeners like to retain the spiky seed heads throughout the summer and then harvest them for fall and winter arrangements–presumably breaking out the spray paint again in an appropriate hue. I will admit to being a wee bit skeptical of the explanation until I saw spray painted seed heads in several more gardens over the next couple of days.

I can see the Ash homestead in the forest as the gathering place for friends and family far and wide–children and adults playing touch football on the broad lawn, going on scavenger hunts amongst the canopy of the forest or just sunning and swimming at the pool. In my mind’s eye I see Ellen with her sun hat and trowel puttering in her garden and enjoying the very personalized garden she has nurtured in this wonderful natural setting.

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There really is a bubble machine!!