Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Farewell My Garden, Fare the Well

“It ain’t the leavin’ that’s a-grievin’ me
But my true love who’s bound to stay behind” Bob Dylan

We’ve moved. Our garden is no longer ours. One of the underlying facts of the garden has always been that we were renters, but now our landlord has given us the boot so his daughter can live there. Which is okay. As this year’s Nobel laureate says, don’t think twice it’s alright.

We moved out a couple of months ago. The new place where we’re living is quite different from the old one, and I’ll have some blog posts about it at some point. I also might do a retrospective on the ten years at our former garden, but I’m not quite ready yet. Moving, after ten years in one place, has been a lot of work and I’m still catching up on everything. In the meantime, these are a few photos from the garden as I was doing my final walk-thru. It looks a little sad and barren frankly — a potting area with no pots in it, a veggie garden with no veggies, perennial beds with the perennials lifted out — but maybe the new tenant will fill it with plants and it will bloom again. I had a lot of fun with it, with luck I’ll have as much fun with my next one.

Erigeron glaucus


After the Meadowfoam has finished, the other wildflower display in our front garden comes from Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus. I wasn’t originally a fan of it, and in fact I only have it in my garden because I bought a dozen for a project but got cold feet and brought them home instead. I didn’t know what to do with them so I planted them, and since then, I’ve come to appreciate them, a good habitat plant with a long bloom season. I’ve gone on to use it in a few different plantings, with pretty good results.


I’ve used a few of the different cultivars as well as the regular species, but I’m still figuring them out. I thought I knew which ones I was growing here, but I remember them having pink flowers and these don’t look pink. Occasionally on overcast days they take on a pinkish cast, but most of the time they are whitish with a blue tinge. Maybe I got rid of the pink ones and that’s why I like them now?


There’s two different ones, one that hugs the ground with smaller flowers, another that sprawls a bit, with larger flowers held on longer stems.


The sprawling, larger flowers are maybe a little pink or lavender, but not as pink as I remember.


In any case, the color works with the Campanula, as well as the white Philadelphus microphyllus, blue Brodiaea, and the faded pink Allium unifolium. More harmonious than I was expecting. It’s one of my least deliberate plantings, but I’m enjoying it.


Bouverie Preserve


I also went out to the Bouverie Perserve in Sonoma. It’s a 535 acre preserve that’s only open to the public for guided walks a few times a year. It’s a great property. I’m glad I got a chance to see it.


I had heard about the Bouverie Preserve on a list of places to see California wildflowers, but I may have been there late for the peak bloom. I saw dozens of Calochortus amabilis, one of my favorites, and a nice patch of Chinese Houses, another favorite, so I wasn’t disappointed. I also saw Blue Dicks, a few Clarkia purpurea had opened, and a lot of Owl’s Clover was scattered throughout the grasses.



Instead of wildflowers, it was a great place to see oaks. Beautiful oaks.



One of the trails ran along a creek that still had water flowing at the end of April. The tapestry of ferns alongside the trail was even better than the oaks and wildflowers.




Shell Ridge Natives


During the wildflower season, I spent a few hours pulling weeds at a restoration project at Shell Ridge Open Space in Walnut Creek. It’s a compelling, though still somewhat nascent, project, a steep slope facing the entrance of the open space. Most of the restoration work has happened in the last few years. The plants are young and there’s quite a variety of species, including a number of beautiful bunch grasses — Poa, Nasella, and Koeleria, maybe a few others — but the biggest visual impact came from the annuals that were blooming — California Poppies, Chinese Houses, and to lesser extent a Phacelia that I hadn’t seen before, P. distans which was popular with the bees but not really photogenic or garden worthy.




I loved the big patches of Collinsia heterophylla. I tried to grow them in my garden this year, but they didn’t do well, I think because of slugs and snails.


Other areas have been more recently cleared and planted. That’s a great looking oak; it will be beautiful with wildflowers filled in around it.


There’s a former quarry across from the restoration area. From a distance the quarry shows like a scar, but it’s a nice landscape up close.



Some of the boulders display the shells that presumably inspired the name Shell Ridge.



I hadn’t been to Shell Ridge in years, so it was great to be lured out by the restoration project. It’s a pretty classic California landscape, lovely grassy hills, and I’ll be sure to go back see how the restoration project continues to progress.

Oakland Hills Foliage Garden

This past weekend was the Bringing Back the Natives Tour. I spent Sunday afternoon volunteering at a garden that we maintain, Carol Baird and Alan Harper’s garden in the Oakland Hills, an extensive garden on five acres overlooking Redwood Regional Park. It’s a tremendous garden and there’s a lot I could say about it, but this post just scratches the surface. I’m sure I’ll post about it again at some future point.


To give an overview, the house and garden were put in about fifteen years ago. Roger Raiche, who I have mentioned on this blog before, planted the garden, imprinting the main areas around the pool and entrance with his signature style — closely-spaced interwoven plantings, an extensive variety of plants, lots of chartreuse and variegated foliage, strong forms, bold contrasts. Afterwards, the maintenance gardener began weeding and taking out blackberry thickets on the rest of the property using the Bradley method, restoring a lovely section of oak woodland and making quite a bit of progress on a grassland area. She retired two years ago and we took over the maintenance, continuing to use the Bradley method in the restoration areas, as well as making some upgrades. The trellis in the photo above was recently added for the climbing rose, and I’ve done some stonework in a couple of areas, including this little basalt wall next to the parking area.



Some of these photos include flowers but more than anything this garden is a celebration of foliage. Roger Raiche’s concept was ‘Every shade of green’ and I can attest to there being just about every shade imaginable. A lot of the foliage is set to contrast, but there are also a lot of interesting ways that the colors and forms are carried from one plant into another, such as the way the green striping on the Phormium echoes the Berkeley Sedge. At first glance the stripe could be a blade of the sedge, and even after your eye adjusts it still looks a little bit as if the sedge’s green was somehow injected into the Phormium.



Roger Raiche is a native plant expert and he used a lot of natives, including this clever use of Western Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis, to drape over a ten foot retaining wall along the driveway. I’ve never seen Spicebush used like this anywhere else; it’s effective and easy to maintain, casually matching the scale of the wall.



The majority of the natives in the garden, however, planted themselves. Anita is more involved with the restoration and maintenance than I am, so I don’t always know for sure what was planted and what came as a volunteer, but a tremendous variety of native plants were uncovered from the blackberry thickets or seeded themselves afterwards. I love the combination of plants in the photo above, a beautiful woodland mix as pretty as anyone could hope to design.


I put the other photos from the slideshow below.
Read the rest of this entry »

Meadowfoam Path


Springtime is Meadowfoam time in our garden. It has been blooming since we got back from Baja. I love this plant. It is such a cheerful yellow to greet me when I get home. This path, leading from the top of our steps to the potting area, is the most convenient place to stash leftover materials from our jobs so it tends to get covered up, but when the Meadowfoam is blooming I make a point of keeping it clear.


I made the path with leftover stone from several projects. There are four different types of stone; a few pieces are flagstone, but much of it is wall stone and extends quite deep into the ground. The path was dirt, then mulch, then halfway paved for about a year, and finally completed last winter.


There is beach and woodland strawberry growing with the Meadowfoam, but this is the thickest the Meadowfoam has grown in, and I am curious to see how the other plants have held up beneath it.



The Meadowfoam is blooming well around our birdbath also, but not as full or as dramatic as in the front. It gets less sun here and has less space to spread and the plants look a little more leggy, a little more messy, as a result. Judith Larner Lowry at Larner Seeds, where I originally bought the seed, recommends giving it a space at least three feet wide for best effect. The plants are getting pushed out of the raised gray water bed by the Scarlet Monkeyflower and the Juncus, and I think it will only come back at ground level next year unless I actively make space and resow it in the raised bed.


The rest of that planting has filled in pretty well and I don’t think it will need the Meadowfoam next year. These plants are one of my goto combinations, I think of it as ‘green native mix’ or ‘native woodland mix’ and use it fairly often. Iris, Mahonia, Sidalcea, Tellima, Asarum, a few other plants such as Heuchera come and go with essentially the same effect.

I have more photos of the Meadowfoam below. Read the rest of this entry »