A visit to the Rose Parade float barn…

float barn 1

We kicked off 2020 with an overnight trip to Pasadena–one of my favorite SoCal cities full of historic homes and beautiful gardens–to take in the iconic New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Parade. A number of Rose Bowl related events lead up to the parade so the stadium and its surrounds are flush with RVs, buses, cars and people clutching their various tickets and of course, the Official Rose Parade program! One of the large float building barns is open to the public, allowing those of us who have only seen these marvelous melds of engineering and botanicals on our TV screens to get a close up view of what it takes to get them on the road for their 5.5 mile slow crawl on January 1st.

The floats are viewed via a sort of boardwalk which winds around and through the barn. Think of those moving walkways in large airports with folks pretty much shoulder to shoulder but it is your legs actually doing the moving. Volunteers are everywhere. The white suited ones with official name tags are directing traffic and talking to passers by about each float and literally hundreds of others, many in sweatshirts due to the barn’s cool temperature, are snipping flowers, scaling scaffolding, and whatever other tasks are needed to get their assigned work of art perfect to the last petal and seed. Everything that covers the float’s mechanics must be natural material–flowers, petals, fronds, grains grasses, seeds, fruit or vegetable.

First up are the floats proudly depicting the school name and team colors of the two outstanding football teams that will compete in the 106th Rose Bowl Game–Oregon State University (Ducks) and University of Wisconsin (Badgers).

float barn 2
Oregon State University
float barn 4
University of Wisconsin Badgers
float barn 3
Roses were the stars of each team’s float

I loved seeing the up-close detail on the beautifully restored antique cars and carriages that will transport the parade’s Grand Marshals, dignitaries and honored guests on the parade route.

The Parade’s three Grand Marshals will ride in two Pope-Hartford Touring cars and a Pope-Hartford Model T, all dating from 1910-1911 and wearing dazzling floral arrangements in warm fall colors.

float barn 5

float barn 6

float barn 8

float barn 7

The 2019 inductees into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame must look forward to their venture down Colorado Avenue in a 1916 Seagrave Fire Engine, the first engine purchased by the Monterey Fire Department. This engine earned the nickname “The Old Gray Mare” when in 1924 when lightening struck oil tanks on Cannery Row and it pumped water continuously for 72 hours! As it turned out, The Old Gray Mare would end up being towed most of the route but that made its floral finery none the less beautiful.

float barn 11

float barn 10

float barn 9

float barn 12As much as I adore colorful floral displays I can never get enough of the classic whites and greens! Wouldn’t this be a fun way for a bride to arrive at the church on her big day?

The Tournament of Roses President and the Mayor of Pasadena each had their own spectacular ride.

float barn 14

The President’s Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was actually blue! The Mayor and his family will pile into this replica of an 1880 Abbott Downing Hotel Coach (background of photo) pulled by the Express Clydesdales, an eight horse hitch of rare black and white Clydesdales.

float barn 16

float barn 13
All the vintage vehicles had this great signage with lots of interesting historical details

float barn 15

Finishing touches are added to an 1880s sleigh which will transport stars of the Broadway show Frozen after their mid-parade show. The sleigh will be pulled by a team of Percheron horses.

float barn 17

In the background you can see yet another color palette of florals–this one adorning a 1915 Pierce-Arrow 48-7-Passenger Touring model. Until 1928 there was a Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company dealership on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena.

I know I promised you floats! This barn had a half dozen more floats in progress with volunteers doing all manner of things. I learned that the Tournament of Roses manages almost a thousand volunteers each year to cover the events. This year’s theme The Power of Hope is reflected throughout the entries.

China Airlines presents “Dreams of Flying, Wings of Hope”

float barn 21

float barn 20

Elements representing Taiwan including these butterflies and spinning tops expresses the good hopes of its people and welcomes visitors to the island nation. The decks of the float are filled with thousands of roses, orchids and lilies.

Pasadena Celebrates 2020: Celebrating the 100th Year Anniversary of the Passage of the 19th Amendment presents “Years of Hope, Years of Courage”

float barn 22

The purple, gold and white flowers throughout the float represent the colors of the suffrage era, along with a band of red, white and blue representing the American flag. Notice that Lady Liberty is missing her top half as it will have to be attached after the float leaves the barn.

Amazon Studios presents “Troop Zero”

float barn 24

Not all float participants are cities or charitable organizations. Mega-business Amazon’s entry celebrates an upcoming 2020 film release in which a girl dreams of outer space and organizes a group of scouts to make her dream come true. There are over 15,000 flowers on this float.

float barn 23

Really behind the scenes at Troop Zero–notice the fire extinguisher camouflaged by the red roses. To the left of the pole you can see that big baking potatoes are used as rocks on the hillside!

float barn 25
The trees at the float’s rear are hinged to clear the ceiling!
float barn 30
I’d give almost anything to have roses and tulips grow under MY redwood trees
float barn 26
Each of the barn floats has an artist’s rendering

Honda presents “Our Hope for the Future”

The flagship sponsor’s float entry celebrates the optimism created by the spirit and vitality of children. Six children are pursing their dreams through a variety of activities. This float leads the parade after the opening spectacular and as we saw it only about 18 hours before parade time it looked pretty undone–my though was that they would need that spirit of optimism before the day was out.

float barn 28

float barn 29

Except for the gentleman on the phone who I’m sure was taking a much needed break, all these sitting and standing volunteers are laboriously scissor cutting off the dried blossom ends of buckets upon buckets of purple statice. The mandate was purple only–no green stem.

float barn 27

Then the power tools came out in the form of multiple blenders and spice grinders, in which all those cut off flowers were ground down to a coarse powder and offloaded into bins to be applied to the float–almost like painting with flowers.

Cal Poly Universities present “Aquatic Aspirations”

An optimistic submarine sets out to discover fortune and riches but finds a breathtaking underwater home thriving amongst an old sunken ship instead. This self built float earned a Certified California Grown designation by sourcing at least 85% of its flowers from California farms.

float barn 31

float barn 32

float barn 33
Yes–this is an actual sea of blue dutch iris!

float barn 34

float barn 36

float barn 37

It seemed fitting to exit the barn at this homegrown float. It was my favorite of those featured in the barn. It is my understanding that there are a number of barns in various Pasadena locations, each with as much float activity as its space can handle. It is no mean feat to round all the floats up from their disparate locations and get them lined up for the parade’s start.

Several years ago a few of our Orange County friends spent a few day in Pasadena working on the floats. I’m not sure how you get that opportunity but I think I’ll investigate it. The volunteers were having a great time and there has to be a huge satisfaction in knowing you were part for making this immense endeavor a success!

We have a New Year’s Day crack of dawn wake up call to travel from our hotel to the Colorado Avenue parade route where we need to be in our grandstand seats before 8 am to not miss USAF B-2 Spirit (Stealth) flyover. Parade photos may take another few days to post!

float barn 35
The Badger Marching Band is on the move!

 

 

Virginia Robinson Gardens…

rewild 1

I have been receiving the Virginia Robinson Gardens e-mail newsletter ever since I saw a small article about the Beverly Hills estate in my AAA magazine a few years ago. It looked like just the kind of garden I love to visit–interesting and progressive garden originators, a historic home and a size pretty easily covered in a single day. The kind of garden that locals cherish but is not widely known outside its broader neighborhood. This six and a half acre jewel is smack in the middle of historic Beverly Hills–in fact it is often called Beverly Hills’ first estate. Vintage photos taken circa 1911 show a ground hugging house built in the Beaux-Arts style on a rise surrounded by acres and acres of bare dirt. Some 100+ years later it sits behind a modest stucco wall at the end of a residential cul-de-sac.

rewild 2

The home was built by Harry and Virginia Robinson in 1911. Mr. Robinson, originally from Massachusetts, was the fourth generation in a family of dry goods merchants and heir to what we know today as JW Robinson, the Los Angeles based department store. Virginia was known for her social, business and philanthropic activities and their garden, much of which was modeled after architecture and gardens she and Harry had seen on their 1911 world tour, were often used to entertain the Beverly Hills and Hollywood elite and fundraise for causes dear to the couple. Although Harry died in 1932, Virginia continued to live on the estate for another 4 decades. Upon her death in 1977, the estate was donated to the public for their enjoyment and is currently owned and maintained by the County of Los Angeles.

The Virginia Robinson Gardens can be seen only by pre-scheduled docent led tours–in part this may be due to their good neighbor policy of having all visitors park on the property rather than on the street. They have a small lot which probably only accommodates 20 or so cars and thus must maintain strict control over the size of tour groups. Every Southern California trip I have made in the last several years has started with a e-mail to them checking for an available tour spot coinciding with when I am passing through–they also periodically update days & times with open spots on their website but you must email them to secure your reservation–no online booking. Go to http://www.robinsongardens.org for all you’ll ever want to know and some really wonderful photos. The newsletter announcement of a short class entitled Re-wild Your Garden on the day after I was planning to attend an event at The Huntington in nearby San Marino was a no-brainer for me–not the docent led tour but an opportunity to see the gardens and learn about their efforts to create a more sustainable garden and habitat for pollinators and other local birds and wildlife. I’m in!!

So…the day did not go as smoothly as I had hoped–the first challenge a result of being gone too long from living in a city where you measure your trip in terms of traffic and minutes rather than miles. I checked my Map app as I wound down from my Huntington visit and noted the 39 minute driving time to Beverly Hills. All y’all from SoCal know how this turns out–that was a Sunday night about 7 pm and my drive was to be on the following Monday morning. When I got into the car (fortunately pretty early) I turned on my navigation to reveal the 1 hour and 34 minute drive time which meant that if all went well (??) I would still be 11 minutes late for class. And then there was the route over winding Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Road…

Arriving semi-intact at 10:06 am, it was already 91° but hey..I’d made it and I was not, in fact, the last person to arrive. Tom Lindsay, Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens, introduced the concept of Re-Wilding as creating sustainable garden spaces that offer opportunities for meaningful interaction with nature and people while nurturing the health of the planet. We would walk the gardens as a group using them as an outdoor classroom to illustrate various techniques and concepts such as composting and using plantings well suited to the natural climate/rainfall.

Our first stop was the Kitchen Garden, home to this little lathe greenhouse and its surrounding veggie garden. Composting was the message here–Tim is super hands on in the management of this property and gave concise, clear explanations of how they produce and use their compost. As a note–the home, large back lawn, pool and pool pavilion are on flat ground but everything else falls off precipitously to either side of those areas. The veggie beds have only a small swathe of level ground then go right up a hill.

rewild 5

To further illustrate that, base of the stairs are at the driveway level–at the top of the stairs you are on the level of the lawn and pool.

Tim shared that a mandate from the City of Beverly Hills several years ago requiring them to cut their water use by 30% was integral in sparking the desire to be more sustainable. At that time the property had two large lawn areas in the front, the Great Lawn in the back and two smaller lawn areas immediately in front of the pool pavilion. He felt the Great Lawn was necessary for siting large numbers of tables and chairs for events but decided to eliminate all the other lawn. The first season after the lawns were removed they reduced their water usage by 33%.

rewild 8
Looking from the Great Lawn to the Pool and Pool Pavilion
rewild 10
One of 14 water features on the property–all maintained with the use of mosquito fish and without chemicals–provide habitat for birds and insects
rewild 11
Lone pond bloom
rewild 6
Pool nestled in front of the Pool Pavilion–the areas to either side of the brick surround now contain pea gravel and a tough ground cover that will take both foot traffic and dining seating when needed
rewild 9
Looking back toward the house from the Great Lawn

The Italian cypress seen in this photo are a prominent feature throughout the grounds and provide a baseline of water requirements for any future plantings. The automated sprinkler system runs once every seven days and anything to be added must be adaptable to that watering schedule. Newly planted materials may get a little supplemental hose watering but only until they are established. From the Great Lawn we moved toward the Dry Border and then on to the Italian Terrace Garden both of which are off to the right of this photo and then downhill…way downhill by means of multiple sets of brick steps and walkways. It was in the Dry Border that I dropped my camera on the brick walk and it bounced off and downhill about 3 feet under a bush–good thing I was at the end of the group! Well…everything seemed to be working and it wasn’t until I got home to download my photos that those from this point on are totally black. See–I told you that you would enjoy those great photos on their website! I so wanted you to see the Musical Stairs-a set of brick stairs which have a rill in the middle (little rivulet of water) traveling downward down from a neighboring small water feature. The hillside terraced garden was spectacular as was the skyline view of LA skyscrapers. Go ahead and close your eyes and maybe you can imagine it.

Tim took the class on through to the meadow garden which has replaced the turf on both sides of the front walkway from the street. The meadow is at its peak in March, April and May and looks pretty dreadful now–which is just as you would expect it to. The dead vegetation has been tidied up and Tim demonstrated how he uses a whirlybird spreader to broadcast seed to beef up the meadow for next year. Many plants are reseeding annuals or perennials but each year something new is added to keep it filled in.

It is here our class ended but Tim offers us the opportunity to walk down into the Palm Forest across the driveway to see the newly installed pond which will be the centerpiece for many children’s programs. There are old and new narrow sloped walking paths, not yet having handrails all the way down. My camera strap was irritating my now pretty sweaty neck so I tucked the camera in my bag and pulled out my phone for some photos. I am convinced now there must have been a garden fairy on my shoulder giving me that idea or I would not have a single shot of this amazing part of the garden.

rewild 12
Palm Forest seen from the driveway

The Palm Forest is a roughly two acre sloping area originally planted with citrus and other Mediterranean plants. Poor drainage and heavy soil eventually caused their demise and a consultation with a landscape architect in the 1920s led the Robinsons to dedicate the area to tropical plants. Hundreds of King palms from Queensland, Australia were planted and now provide a shaded canopy 60+ feet high. It is not known if the palms were planted from seed or small plants but it is agreed that this grouping is now the largest of this species outside of Australia. The forest floor along the upper part of the walkway is planted with Clivia miniata. Although only a few remnants of it remain today, Harry Robinson tended a serious collection of ferns in this area.

rewild 18

The new pond is very large and bordered with large boulders. A duck house awaiting a coat of stain rests on the corner of a small terrace. It is hoped that a few outliers from a duck colony living in nearby Franklin Canyon will take up residence in the pond and lay their eggs in the house once it is installed on the water’s surface.

rewild 16
Amazing King palms
rewild 15
Looking up from the forest floor, newly planted with sun perennials, near the pond to the house above

Insane hilly driving and lost photos notwithstanding this was a worthwhile visit. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time talking with one of the children’s program docents (for 26 years!) who encouraged me to come back and take the guided tour for more history of the garden and generally more time in each area.

rewild 19

She also helped me with the purchase of this wonderful book written by Mr. Lindsay and colleagues which is chock full of photos of both the home and garden from its earliest days and of Mr. & Mrs. Robinson and their friends and family in addition to descriptions  of each garden area including plant lists. I will study it before I visit again so I can be on the lookout for interesting features and details which I’m sure I passed by this time.

rewild 13
Harry (named after Mr. Robinson) the Kitchen Garden cat hopes to see you soon!

Virginia Robinson Gardens is located at 1008 Elden Way in Beverly Hills, California

All things Robinson, including a timeline of the garden’s development, great photography and information you need to visit at http://www.robinsongardens.com

 

 

 

 

 

Dog and other woods…

The last trip to our cabin in Fish Camp near Yosemite National Park had a few hours for leisurely walks and Yatzhee! on the wraparound deck but was mostly about accomplishing chores necessary for the coming winter. We take the removable snow rails down from the deck and pull out the painted plywood snow doors for installation on two of our three entry doors. With central heat and a nice wood stove, we make use the cabin every few weeks throughout the cold season. It’s impossible to know whether we will have 10 feet of snow or none at all and so the smart money is to be prepared for whatever comes well in advance the the first icy flakes.

In my 2018 post Dogwood day…Memorial Day I featured bloom photos from the lone Cornus nuttalii, Pacific dogwood, on our property. I’ve since found that we have one other but certainly that’s not really the making of a dogwood forest, especially when the spring blooms bursting out along the highway to our place have almost a wedding like feel. On this visit the dogwood’s leaves are starting to show their fall color.

wood 1

wood 2

Shaded by a high canopy of cedars, firs and pines it is a little hard to see the russet and purple tones creeping in.

wood 8

I got pretty excited when I saw a number of seed clusters well within my reach–maybe I can grow my own little dogwood forest! I texted my native plant mentor Ann for counsel and spent a bit of time on a few California native plant propagations sites to get a sense of the best way to go. The consensus was that directly sowing the seeds would probably be more successful than trying to start in pots. I was amazed to learn that germination could take up to 18 months!! Seed collection is #1 on my to-do list for our next trip–hopefully I won’t have missed my window of opportunity.

Number one of this trip’s list was to take care of our wood supply for the winter. We are able to cut firewood every year in specific amounts and from designated locations on public lands with US Forest Service permits. Every couple of years we supplement that supply with a load of cured and cut almond.

wood 7

In preparation for the new wood we shift the older wood remaining on the second set of wood cribs to the front one, making a nice open space for the new wood to be delivered. Even with two sets of hands this is a several hour job.

wood 4
The big truck makes the big dump

The weight of the wood truck (this one hauling 4 cords of wood stacked in the bed with vertical partitions separating each cord) dictates that the wood must be dumped at the TOP of our year old asphalt driveway–the truck could come down but would never be able to get back up!

wood 5

wood 6

Our wood moving method involves Dave backing up our truck to the pile. We then fill up the bed, drive the truck down the hill and back it up near the wood cribs and unload it into another pile…three times.  A strong motivating factor is that we cannot drive off our property until the wood is moved.

wood 3

Then that big pile gets stacked onto the empty crib. The whole process takes about six or seven hours. Dave is strong and I am slow but steady. I am not sure I would have survived “the olden days”. He always gets the honor of placing the last log. With every stick tucked in its spot both piles get tarps and bungee cords to keep the wood dry. We use these two wood storage stacks to refresh the smaller wood supplies kept closer to the cabin. I am here to tell you this work makes even the most strenuous garden tasks seem lightweight!

Dogwood Day 3
Missing these beautiful blooms until next spring (taken May 2018)

 

 

Getting down into the gutter…

NW Cotton Candy 2

There are no finer blooms than those of the hellebores in late winter. The only even slightly negative thing I can say about these lovely nodding bells is that you almost have to lay on the ground on your back to photograph their blossoms! This is one of a half dozen or so I sited up the slight slope of a narrow long side yard on our corner lot. So indeed, I was literally in the gutter with my camera propped on the curb trying to get this picture.

This is Helleborus x hybridus ‘NW Cotton Candy’ (also sometimes labeled ‘NGN Cotton Candy’) in its first winter bloom. The lawn in this side bed was removed in 2017 and the area replanted between late 2017 and early 2018. This 1 gallon plant went in just about this time last year, at the tail end of when hellebores are in full bloom in the garden centers.

NW Cotton Candy 3

It is one of three and is tucked under the shady canopy of a mature Bradford pear. I have to give it stellar marks for vigor as this area is extremely dry shade with ample root competition for what little summer water is available. The trio was a little peaked through the hottest summer months but nothing more than to be expected of perennials not yet having settled into their new homes. The recent rains have helped tremendously and there is a nice first year show of blooms on each plant.

The Cotton Candy strain is one of a series of Northwest Garden Nursery hellebores produced from hand pollinated plants in the Eugene, Oregon garden home of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne. The O’Byrnes have dabbled (their words–I’d call it way more than dabbling) in hellebore breeding since the early 1990s. You may be familiar with other strains in their wildly popular Winter Jewel series. I recently bought their ‘Ruby Wine’ which is almost black with a purple sheen. Although they are primarily breeders and wholesalers they do have select retail days throughout the year. Hellebore Garden Open Days each February offer opportunities to tour their garden. The 2019 Open Days are right around the corner–February 16th and 23th. Please visit their website http://www.northwestgardennursery.com to read all about the O’Byrnes and get a glimpse of their garden. Don’t miss clicking on the Gallery tab to see individual photos of their single flowered and double flowered strains–a feast for any gardener’s eyes!

NW Cotton Candy 1

I first came to adore these so called Lenten Roses when I lived in Georgia where they multiplied readily under the protection of tall pines. While I admire their variety and their propensity to ‘pollinate amongst themselves’ producing seedlings whose eventual blooms look nothing like anything you what actually purchased, I love none more than the ones I just call Mary’s hellebores which were seedlings from the garden of my dear friend Mary S. Transplanted from my Macon garden to my California garden–a very long over the garden fence trip–they did not reach blooming age until after we had left Georgia but now provide me with bountiful blooms and memories, growing vigorously and offering me countless seedlings to pass along to yet another gardening friend.

NW Cotton Candy 4

The “new” Grevilleas…

grevillea rosemarianus 2

No, they aren’t really new at all but the wide variety of shapes, sizes and flower color in the genus Grevillea has certainly been more visible in American garden centers in the past decade as the prominence of Australian plants surges in gardens where climate and cultural conditions favor the so-called Mediterranean and sub-tropical plant families.

Grevillea is a diverse genus of over 300 species of evergreen flowering plants native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and other eastern Indonesian islands. The genus is named for Charles Francis Greville who sat in the British House of Commons from 1774 to 1790. He was a very close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, one of the organizers of the Society for Improvement of Horticulture, a precursor to the Royal Horticultural Society.

In my first iteration as a California gardener in the 1970s about the only Grevillea commonly used in Central Valley landscapes was Grevillea ‘Noellii’, a fast growing prickly shrub with fine foliage and with intricate dark pink flowers. For my minuscule first home lot its mature size of 3-6 feet tall and wide was just too overwhelming. I can’t say in the ensuing 40 years that I had thought much about Grevilleas until we returned to California in 2008 and I started seeing them popping up with great diversity in garden centers, especially in very temperate Southern California. Short or tall, upright, mounding or almost prostrate, there seems to be one for almost any garden situation as long as you have a sunny spot with good drainage. They are hardy mostly and 20 degrees C and drought tolerant. The only quirk of note is their intolerance to phosphorus–thus the need to be cautious with fertilizers.

In our seemingly never-ending lawn removal/bed replanting project I have added a few different species and cultivars of Grevillea. One of the first selections was Grevillea rosemarinifolia, pictured above, which I tucked under the loose canopy of a huge weeping juniper anchoring a spot of ground between our driveway and our side yard fencing. With rosemary like foliage, this species will mound up with layers of airy, nodding branches. As we periodically tidy up the juniper, more space for its eventual 4 foot height is made. Even with the dappled shade produced by the juniper’s branches, this area is in full on southwestern sun all day and gets precious little irrigation. Check out This eagle has finally landed… for some pics at the end of the post of this juniper in all its tree-like glory!

Planted in very late 2017 from a 4 inch pot this selection has proved to be a robust but well-behaved garden dweller, covered now with pinky red buds ready to burst into bloom.

grevillea rosemarianus 1

My back garden holding area still has a few “new” Grevillea waiting for their permanent homes to be ready and I am on the lookout for additional  ones to try. I am most excited about a little gal called ‘Pink Midget’ which will occupy a spot along the walk from my mailbox to my front door. I can’t wait to see the hummers fighting over a spot at their new nectar bar!

 

 

Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’…

Our so-far mild winter is allowing us to continue work on our final front yard lawn removal. We’ve had just the right amount of rain to loosen up the soil and make digging less onerous but not so much that we have lost too many work days to puddles, sogginess and sinkholes.

Daras choice 1

We are marching steadfastly from west to east with my sweet Dave in the lead, having both the tools and muscle. You can barely see him in this photo sitting on the ground behind the red wheelbarrow. This being our fourth time to the party he has got a pretty good system. The lawn was chemically treated in early fall–lawn removal by sod cutting machinery is not such a sure thing with a common bermuda lawn. The roots can be very deep and any small viable bits left behind will roar back as soon as growing conditions are right. I swear there have been viable bermuda roots found in fossils from prehistoric times!

He has divided the area into smaller, more workable sections. First, he uses a hula hoe to scrape off any above ground dead grass up into piles. To not sacrifice so much of our topsoil he then sifts through these piles, separating grass remains from viable soil–that’s is what he is doing sitting on the ground in the photo. The good soil is then moved off to a tarp to be reincorporated later. Next he tills the area and again picks out any grass roots, rocks, etc. including copious wads of the green netting that was the original sod’s underlayment. Step three is to double dig the section–one shovel depth’s down worth of soil is dug and off loaded to the side and then the newly exposed surface is dug a second shovel depth’s down. The rock, roots and various leftover construction material removal continues throughout the process. All the previously off loaded soil is returned to the bed and dug together along with whatever amendments I have selected for the area. I am exhausted just outlining the process! The last step is to grade the section to flow smoothly into large untouched areas at the bases of our mature trees.

As Dave prepares the beds I follow behind adding the plants. As with the areas already finished I am concentrating on more waterwise plants–hoping to create a balance the water needs of the existing mature landscape and the new. Unlike last year, my back yard holding area is not so flush with “plants in waiting” so planting is going slowly. Lots of bearded iris and daylily divisions have gone in along with a number of my favorite salvias. I am trying a few more new selections such as Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’ and Ceanothus ‘Hearstiorum’, both plantings of which will be in the bed’s ground zero for all day  southern sun. Once these are established they should be very low water users which will allow me to eliminate several pesky, always broken, curbside sprinkler heads.

I am on always on the hunt for plants. Our recent Southern California overnight yielded two nursery stops and a few selections were checked off my acquisition list. Not to be found–and no surprise given the time of year–was another Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ to echo the one planted to the west of the front walk last year.

Daras choice 2

I probably should read my own blog archives so I can remember if ‘Dara’s Choice’ was purchased locally or, more likely, one of the salvias I bought at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s 2017 fall plant sale. The single gallon can specimen was quite small and unremarkable when planted but over the year it has grown to a beautifully shaped, slightly weepy mound with clear medium green quilted leaves. And in the last couple of weeks it has come into bloom. Not really a show stopper but not every plant has to be covered in big, blowsy flowers to have worth in my garden.

Daras choice 3

Mid photo you can see there are a good number of gracefully stalks bearing the small pale blue whorled blooms. The layered foliage performed very well, even though in the ground only a few months, throughout our very hot and dry 2018 summer. Its graceful appearance on the slope is worth repeating in the area we are now working. A little research reveals ‘Dara’s Choice’ to be one of the black sages, botanically Salvia mellifera. Apis mellifera is the scientific name for honeybees to which this plant is highly attractive. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and its relatively low, mounding profile and broad spread makes it a great salvia selection for well-drained, sunny slopes. I am hopeful I will find one soon and who knows what other interesting plants I will meet along the way! Give us a few more weeks on this project for a complete coverage of what we’ve added to the mix of shrubs and perennials.

The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights…

Our ultimate Southern California destination which allowed us the small side trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont was an overnight stay at The Mission Inn to experience their Festival of Lights. Now in its 26th year, this privately produced public event started when Keepers of the Inn Duane and Kelly Roberts decorated the hotel with lights the first Christmas after its reopening to commemorate in Inn’s rebirth. This year’s festival includes over 5 million lights, more than 400 characters and beautiful decor inside and out. The 2017 25th anniversary switch-on ceremony drew 85,000 spectators. The display was voted “Best Public Lights Display” in 2014 and “Best Holiday Festival” in 2015 by the readers of USA Today.

Festival of Lights 5

The historic Mission Inn occupies an entire block in the heart of downtown Riverside, California. The oldest part of the Inn dates to 1902 when Frank Miller built a four story U-shaped hotel enclosing a large center courtyard. Over the next thirty years additional wings were added and the Inn became a destination for the wealthy and famous, many of whom stayed for months at a time. I’ll tell you a bit more about the hotel’s history in a second post when you can follow along with us as we take the docent led Historic Hotel tour.

If this looks like an event you’d like to take in next year my advice would be to arrive at the hotel well before dark to get your bearings. My husband had been to the hotel several times many years ago for business lunches and felt sure he knew the lay of the land. However, during the Festival, the normal valet pull-in area and front entrance of the Inn is cordoned off for the very orderly lines of hundreds of people waiting to walk through the light display. And there are masses of people everywhere on the surrounding streets, making negotiating the foot and vehicle traffic nerve wracking. Valet and self-parking for hotel guests is on the back side of the hotel with a short walk to enter on the Orange Street side of the Inn.

Festival of Lights 1

Festival of Lights 18

As we check in we are greeted by this beautiful Christmas tree. The lobby is sumptuously decorated and is full of groups, large and small, having a drink and a few appetizers, awaiting their dinner reservations and having their photos snapped in front of the tree by the tree’s personal elf. It is hard to say when I have seen so many folks dressed in red, green and sparkles recently. The Inn’s four restaurants and private room facilities are clearly favorites for holiday events.

Our home for the night was Room 101, a corner room in the oldest part of the hotel. The room was very large with three windows, 2 of which opened onto Mission Inn Avenue and the other overlooking Main Street which is a pedestrian paseo closed to vehicles. One story above the ground floor, we would be sleeping right on top of the Inn’s Museum. As I entered, the room felt a bit like being right on Bourbon Street in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Even a grinch would have gotten into the Christmas spirit with the carols playing and the sounds of families and friends enjoying the festival just below. My own grinch’s fears about the room being too noisy to sleep were for naught–when we returned around 10 pm it was quiet and calm.

Festival of Lights 7
Looking down from our Mission Inn Avenue window
Festival of Lights 19
Those are our windows right behind the blue lights!

A perk of being a hotel guest is that you may wander as you please through the displays–no lines to wait in. We made a full circle (square?) around the Inn before we approached the main display at the front entrance. Please enjoy the lights while forgiving my abysmal night photography skills.

Festival of Lights 16
Carriages for hire on Orange Street
Festival of Lights 8
Orange Street entrance
Festival of Lights 11
Displays on every floor over Las Campanas restaurant
Festival of Lights 4
Main Street facade
Festival of Lights 12
So many people lined up to see the Festival–happy faces for a cold night!
Festival of Lights 9
Mission styled architecture on the Inn’s front facade
Festival of Lights 6
One of two nutcrackers guarding the entrance to the courtyard

Festival of Lights 14

Festival of Lights 17
Historic orange tree decked in white lights
Festival-of-Lights-2.jpg
Pergola connecting the courtyard to the Main Street paseo–this structure once extended a full five blocks to the train station!
Festival of Lights 13
Dining in the courtyard at the Mission Inn Restaurant 
Festival of Lights 3
Courtyard’s fountain decorated for the season

Despite the crowds and our fashionably late European dinner reservation hour, the evening was a lovely experience and the Mission Inn is clearly a holiday destination for area residents. FYI–we booked a single package which included our lovely room, a small credit toward dinner in one of the Inn’s restaurants and the docent led Historic Hotel tour the morning of our check out. Although I was actually born at March Air Force Base just outside of Riverside, I had not been there for decades and wasn’t really aware of the many other places of interest in its historic downtown. We certainly could have stayed another day or two and found many engaging sites to see. A+ on this overnight adventure!