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Archive for April, 2010

The Ruth Bancroft Garden — Winterized

I’ve been meaning to do a long post about the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, but long posts don’t seem to fit into my schedule right now, so it’ll come in a couple of parts. I visited the garden a couple of times recently, once in late March when the garden was still winterized and again two weeks later when the garden was primped up for its open house. Very cool garden. It has what’s probably the biggest collection of succulents and cactus in Northern California and it was the garden that inspired the creation of the Garden Conservancy.

From the Ruth Bancroft Garden website:

‘By trial and error, Ruth discovered how to use succulents in the landscape and how to protect tender plants from winter rains and the occasional hard freeze. She created dynamic planting combinations by using contrasting textures, forms, and colors.

‘Ruth’s garden began to attract a great deal of attention from other gardeners and horticulturists. In 1988, Frank and Anne Cabot visited Ruth and were troubled to hear that there were no plans to preserve the garden. They were inspired to form the Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving significant American gardens, and The Ruth Bancroft Garden became the first preservation project of the newly formed organization. The Garden opened to the public in the early 1990s.

Today, The Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which owns the garden and raises funds for its preservation. The garden is protected by a conservation easement, which ensures that the property will always be a garden and will be preserved in the spirit of its founder, Ruth Bancroft. The Garden has become an outstanding example of a water-conserving garden, appropriate for our Mediterranean climate. The garden also houses important collections of aloes, agaves, yuccas, and echeverias. Aeonium ‘Glenn Davidson’, the first succulent in Ruth’s collection, is still growing in The Garden.’

It’s a pretty well known garden in the area and I had heard a lot about it. The way the Fleming garden is the Bay Area’s place to see a mature garden of natives, the Ruth Bancroft Garden is the local place to see big, mature succulents. I found it a little less impressive than I expected, but also much more funky and interesting. I was expecting something like the slick use of succulents you see from designers these days, but instead the garden has a much more organic feel, like a real garden, the creation of an obsessive gardener who would wander around with a plant in her hand trying to find a spot where there might be space and where the plant might look nice.

One of the interesting aspects of the garden is that many of its specimens are not hardy in Walnut Creek, so Ruth Bancroft outfitted them with homemade cold frames every winter. Apparently, it took her 5-6 weeks every year to get the garden ready for winter, and 2-3 days just to plan where the different cold frames should go. Pretty crazy. Showing the photos of the plants all wrapped in plastic feels a little like showing the garden with its hair in rollers, but I found it quite fascinating and unique to see the garden so winterized, and, actually, this is how the garden looked when the founder of the Garden Conservancy first visited the garden and felt compelled to found an organization to preserve it. In the oral history of the Bancroft garden (pretty interesting if you have the time), she expresses surprise that Cabot was so impressed with the garden while it was in winter mode, but personally I’m not surprised. The homemade cold frames and the giant specimens and the interesting plant textures and combinations make the garden distinctive and full of personality. You walk in and immediately know there’s no other garden like it.

— Update 12/13 — A few of my photos here were used in a French publication, PlantAExotica, looks like a good read for succulent lovers who speak French.

One of My Favorite Oaks

Wow

Quercus garryana or lobata

This is one of the best oak trees I’ve seen, in a Lafayette yard where we did some work a couple of years ago. I was back to check on the pondless waterfall this past week (still no leaks or pump problems, knock on wood), and I was glad to see the oak is just as amazing as I remember. At the time I thought it was a Garry Oak, but apparently the various arborists and oak experts who have looked at it have given several different ID’s, saying it could be a Garry Oak, a Valley Oak, or a hybrid between the two. They also differ on their estimates of its age. Everyone agrees, though, that it’s big and old and beautiful.

The Trillium Stampede

Trillium giganteum

Trillium chloropetalum var. chloropetalum

The plant sale at the Tilden botanic garden is tomorrow. Anita is a docent at the garden, so we’ll be volunteering at the sale, getting our retail on. I’ll be the guy telling everyone to buy a Ribes. The highlight is the Trillium stampede at the beginning of the sale. People line up about an hour before the plant sale and then sprint to the Trilliums when the sale opens. I have seen people fall, but so far no plants or people have been injured.
I can’t say I blame folks for wanting a trillium; they’re beautiful and there aren’t many opportunities to buy one. I have photos of five, T. ovatum, the two chocolate and white versions of T. chloropetalum, T. angustipetalum which looks a lot like the dark T. chloropetalum, and little T. rivale in the Tilden garden. I’m not positive they are still blooming, but if they aren’t, there will be lots of other things to take their place. The more time I spend at Tilden, the more I appreciate it, and now is the time when it looks it’s best.

Trillium giganteum

Trillium chloropetalum var. chloropetalum

Trillium chloropetalum var. giganteum

Trillium chloropetalum var. giganteum

Trillium giganteum

Trillium chloropetalum var. giganteum

Trillium rivale

Trillium rivale

Trillium rivale

Trillium rivale

Trillium angustipetalum

Trillium angustipetalum

Trillium ovatum

Trillium ovatum

Bloom Day — Meadowfoam Edition

Meadowfoam with Blueberry and Iris

Meadowfoam with Blueberry and Iris

Happy tax day to everyone. I took these photos while working on our taxes, but I don’t see any signs of anti-tax fervor. I did first type out ‘Blom Day’ for the title, in true tea party style, but overall the gardens seems quite free of financial angst. Except for spittle bugs on some of the plants, the garden seems quite happy.

The wisteria shower is the highlight of the garden, with probably the meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii) the next best. We have four patches of it in our garden, with the sunnier patches in full bloom now and the shadier patches just starting up. I really like it. It does great in any spot where we’ve improved the soil with some compost. Though it has a reputation for liking water, it has never needed any extra, probably a sign that our garden is naturally somewhat damp.

Meadowfoam and Geranium Bill Walls

Meadowfoam and Geranium Bill Wallis

The Geranium “Bill Wallis” didn’t work its way into the mass of meadowfoam quite as well as I’d hoped, but some of the flowers are together. This is the third year for this patch in the vegi garden. The meadowfoam seems to finish at just the right time for planting a tomato or zucchini, and then it comes back on its own as the summer crop is ending.

Meadowfoam, Mustard, Miners Lettuce, Garlic

Meadowfoam, Mustard, Miners Lettuce, Garlic

Triteleia ixioides Starlight

Triteleia ixioides Starlight

The Triteleias have started. It seems clever that they open the flowers down at ground level, before raising them up to where you can see them.

Sacred Flower of the Incas, Cantua buxifolia

Sacred Flower of the Incas, Cantua buxifolia

The Sacred Flower of the Incas is blooming.

Sacred Flower with Wisteria

Sacred Flower with Wisteria

A couple of branches made it up into the wisteria. I’m not sure if I would call the Sacred Flower a vine, but I wouldn’t really call it a shrub either.

Bearded Iris

Bearded Iris

We brought home some bearded iris divisions three years ago and stuck them in the garden without knowing what color they’d be. When we don’t like the color we move them to my mom’s house. We’ll see about his one.

Freesia

Freesia

We’ve had a few mystery freesias for a couple of years, too. The orange turns out to match the poppies and calendulas in our inner yard, so these can stay.

Purple Needle Grass, Nassella pulchra

Purple Needle Grass, Nassella pulchra

And the bunchgrasses are blooming. I sometimes forget to think of them as flowering plants.

Festuca californica

Festuca californica

Thanks to Carol at MayDreamsGardens for hosting Bloom Day. Click over to her blog for links to a ton of other bloggers showing what is blooming in their gardens. The full list of what is blooming in my garden and a few more photos are below. (more…)

Showering in the Rain

Showering in the Rain

Showering in the Rain

One of the things we’ve discovered with our outdoor shower is that it is surprisingly pleasant to take a shower in the rain. At night in the rain is usually the best — the rising steam and dripping plants create a wonderful tropical ambience — but daytime is better now while the wisteria is blooming. It feels quite decadent to shampoo your hair with a bunch of wisteria flowers hanging five inches from your face.

Wisteria Shower Curtain

Wisteria Shower Curtain

Our wisteria is the Japanese one, Wisteria floribunda, which has longer, more fragrant bloom clusters that open more gradually over a longer period than the more common Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis. It doesn’t give us the dramatic every-flower-open-at-once photos of the Chinese, but it gives us a longer season of showers, which is more valuable to us. Today’s rainy showers are at the start of its peak. Pretty soon the flowers will be getting stuck to us while we shower.

Pandorea Flowers

Pandorea Flowers

One of the other vines in our garden is a Pandorea pandorana. It’s overhead on a trellis, screening us from our neighbor’s second story windows, and we probably don’t appreciate it as much as we should. I knew it was blooming but didn’t pay much attention until this recent storm when it dropped hundreds of flowers on the little side patio that it shades. Not as nice as some fallen flowers can be, but still one heck of a lot of flowers.

The Cracked Pot Moss Rock Wall

Moss Rock with Cracked Pots

Moss Rock

I was recently back at a garden where I did a day of rock work last summer, a short section of moss rock wall along a sloping path. When I built the wall, the client and I incorporated a couple of cracked pots into the wall where it tapers into the slope, and then she transplanted a number of her succulents to plant along the wall and in the pots. It’s one of our only gardens in which the client is also a gardener, and it was nice to now see how her planting has begun to fill in. The plants in the cracked pots still need a little more time to spread, but I think they already look pretty cool.

Moss Rock with Cracked Pots

Moss Rock with Cracked Pots

The wall in the background was already there, built by the company who installed the garden five years ago. I like the choice of aloes to plant along the top of it; they do well there, and their pokiness discourages people from messing with the rocks.

Container

One of her containers

The garden is quite spectacular and worthy of a longer post some day. There are always things blooming and I usually take a few photos while I’m there; the shots of the swallowtail and prostanthera in my last post are from this garden. When the prostanthera is done, this member of the aster family will be in full bloom. I’m not sure what it is, but I like the look of the flower buds, and when it gets going, it puts on quite a show. Does anyone know it? I would try to figure it out, but the aster family is mighty big.

Some kind if Aster

Some kind of Aster

The Aster with Coleonema last May or June

The Aster with Coleonema last May or June

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