Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Archive for the ‘private gardens’ Category

Pergola Shadows

A little while back I took some photos of the cast shadows from a pair of pergolas we designed last year. The pergolas are made with rectangular aluminum tube, a little different from most of what I show on this blog, but it still follows the underlying aesthetic of my drystone work. The way the two pergolas overlap echoes the overlapping roof lines of the house, the house’s best feature, but it also overlaps the way stone in a drystone wall is supposed to overlap. Similarly, the rectangular concrete paving has the broken joints of a drystone construction. Even when I’m not designing with stone, I like to see things follow the drystone rules.

There is some stonework in this garden, but it’s not drystone and it’s built by another contractor, not by me. You can’t see it so well in the high-contrast mid-day lighting that was creating the shadows, but the courtyard has a limestone veneer, large thin slabs that are machine-cut and honed and installed with an adhesive instead of mortar and with a rubber crack-isolation layer (nicely explained in a patent application) between the stone and the underlying concrete slab. The stone has an interesting patterning and nice color variation; I’ll probably photograph it in softer light at some point after the planting has grown in.

For now, though, I’m happy with the way the cast shadows highlighted the young viburnum. The shadows on the door and on the courtyard steps were expected, but this raking line across the wall was a bonus.

A couple of before photos are below.


The Spring Fling

Some of the Bloggers Eating Lunch in the Garden

I’m quite late with this, but one of our gardens was on the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling tour earlier this year. I don’t know how well known the Spring Fling is among garden blog readers, but it’s an impressive event. Once a year, garden bloggers convene in a city and spend several days looking at gardens together. This was the sixth year. It began in Austin, then Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, Asheville, the Bay Area this year, and next year it will be in Portland. I’m interested in going to the Portland fling, especially after getting a taste of the tour this year.

I didn’t go to the entire tour, just the one garden that we had helped create. Three days of gardens seemed like a lot to fit into my schedule and I had already visited all of the public gardens and most of the private ones, but in retrospect that was a missed opportunity. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour immensely and to appreciate the intensive overview of Bay Area gardening. Fortunately, the fling organizer, Kelly Kilpatrick of Floradora Gardens who helps the owners with the maintenance and created many of the plantings, was kind enough to invite Anita and me out to the garden. After almost five years of blogging, it was great to meet some other bloggers, however briefly, and I loved getting the perspective of out of town gardeners. I only took a couple of photos, but several bloggers wrote posts about the garden.

Garden in a City
Piece of Eden
The Outlaw Gardener
Danger Garden

Another Group of Bloggers, with Mt Diablo in the Distance

Garden Conservancy Open Days Garden #2

Here are the photos of the other garden I visited on the Open Days tour, an elaborate garden with formal and cottage garden elements and an extensive sculpture collection. I’ve never been to the famous English gardens like Sissinghurst, but this garden had something of that feel, with classic garden plants in well-tended perennial beds and garden ‘rooms’ with carefully composed color palettes.

The entry to the lower garden is through a hornbeam hedge. I don’t see many of those in the Bay Area. They have to shear it every month so the metal man can look out over his domain.

Pretty cool statue, made of building straps.

There were probably two dozen sculptures of varying sizes in the garden. I liked a lot of them, including, of course, the pig.

The lower section of the garden was designed by landscape architect Ron Lutsko about ten years ago. The plantings are now maintained by David and Jane, who also did a lot of the craftwork on the rest of the garden. Everything was pretty much impeccable.

The water feature was cast with a mold taken from a boulder in the hills. Water flowed out around the patio and down alongside the stairs, splashing over the lowest of the steps. I couldn’t decide if the water on the step was deliberate or it happened and they just decided to embrace it.

I’ve heard hostas are easy grow in other parts of the country, but around here they need some coddling. I’m always impressed when I see them looking good, which probably sounds strange to gardeners in other parts of the country.

The upper section of the garden was a steep hillside with cottage garden and mediterranean favorites. Hakonechloa cascaded down the slope like water.

I liked the metalwork around the sprinklers and the hosebibs. Simple and effective.

Beside the front door was a beautiful espaliered gingko.

The door was done by an artist who had also done something similar with the driveway gate. That was the final area of the garden, but then I went back to the hornbeam hedge and walked through a couple more times to feel like I’d seen everything. It was really a fun and impressive garden.

Garden Conservancy Open Days — a Lilian Bridgman House

This past weekend I went to two more gardens from the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. The first is a house owned by Ace Architects, a firm known for quirky postmodern architecture such as the Saxophone House. (Their company website has probably the only Flash Intro that I have ever liked.) This house on the tour is a historic lodge that they’ve renovated and added on to, different from what I think they usually do but beautifully done.

I’d seen photos of the house somewhere before. It’s a beautiful little Lilian Bridgman (a Maybeck-influenced, Berkeley architect) house from the 1930’s, originally built as a hunting lodge back when Lafayette represented the outer reaches of the Bay Area. The brickwork on the house is beautifully restored, and additions to the house blend smoothly while still revealing the original design.

The garden is suitably quirky for owners like Ace. I walked through it before I found out it was designed by them, but for a variety of reasons I could already tell it was designed by an architect. There’s something about the training or the mindset that always seems to show up when architects design landscapes. The gardens are often interesting, but usually somewhat static. For instance, in this garden, it seemed like very little would ever change; there would be little seasonal variation, the planting would always emphasize the structural form of the plants, and the plants would get bigger but never touch each other or need to be moved. Also, it was completely purist, with zero non-succulent plants, and it ended abruptly, delineated as if it were a built structure in the landscape. Maybe the architect influences were more prominent because Ace has such a distinctive style. It was cool, though. There were some great specimens, especially the Yuccas and a big Xanthorrhea.

Further down on the property, surrounded by the dried-out grassy hills of Contra Costa, was a roundish lawn watched over by five statues reclaimed from the San Francisco public library and edged by a wide hedge of aloes. I’m not sure how one ends up with old statues from the library, but they were a very strange and cool thing to find in a private garden.

El Cerrito Front Yard

This is another one of our nearby gardens that I photographed this spring. It’s on a similar time frame as the garden with the Magnolia tree; the planting is now in its third year and somewhat filled in, with the manzanitas starting to catch up to the faster plants like the Verbena lilacina and so forth. The plants are about half native, all from the more commonly planted species.

After doing the grading and stonework, we weed-wacked everything and left the soil covered for six months to try and control the weeds. We also sheet mulched a second time when we put in the plants. It worked well against the annual weeds, but gophers made so many mounds everywhere, that the newspaper got kind of messy and wasn’t a very effective barrier against the oxalis. Almost every planting we do these days needs to be gopher and vole resistant. I might do a post about it at some point, but whenever I think I have the gophers figured out, they do something to prove me wrong.

We planted five redbuds to go with the existing Chinese Elm. Two are established, but three still need staking from the wind, and overall they aren’t yet big enough to really carry a wide angle photo that would match the perspective drawing from the design.

The stone is called Elk Mountain Tumbled Sandstone. I used it for another little wall about a year before this one. The stoneyard sells it as a paving stone, but it works well for a long, low wall like this where you need a high percentage of capstones. The gravel path is on top of an existing french drain that runs along one side of the house.

Some plant photos are below. (more…)

Magnolia Underplanting

Magnolia with Ipheion in the foreground

One of my goals for the year is to get better photos of some of the gardens we’ve designed. I have lots of photos of our own garden and lots of photos taken right after the installation when the plants are little things surrounded by mulch, but I haven’t been as good about going back and taking pictures with decent lighting. Last year I was especially bad; this year I’ve been better, though that’s partly because a couple of the gardens are within walking distance of our house, and this one, especially, I often pass by while walking our dog. She’s been surprisingly patient about waiting for me if I stop, partly because she likes to eat the Deer Grass in the parking strip. I took the above photo in March, and then I thought it might be cool to get photos from a similar angle at several different times throughout the year. I’ve stopped several different times so far, and I also want to take a picture next January when the Magnolia is at peak bloom.

Heuchera maxima, Penstemon heterophyllus, Watsonia

So far, I think the first photo is the best. The next two are from early May. I love the bloom color of Penstemon heterophyllus in real life, but it never seems to look as good in photos, whether taken by me or by other people.

Heuchera maxima

The Heuchera maxima looks good and it’s a plant I really like, but it’s hard to get too excited about a photo of Heuchera.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

This is from last week, mid June. I think the Yarrow was already in the garden when we did the planting. I don’t remember if we transplanted it or just left it in place, but I usually don’t plant the pure white yarrow, even though it’s the native one. I saw this morning that the maintenance gardener deadheaded the Heuchera, so I might take another photo with the old bloom stalks gone.

Sisyrinchium, Heuchera, Yarrow, and Calamagrostis

I also might try with the Yarrow pulled out of the frame so that you can see the Sisyrinchium striatum behind it. The Sisyrinchium’s not a native, but it’s a more interesting plant than the yarrow.

Snow in Summer, Verbena bonariensis, Geum, Coreopsis

I’ve also tried to photograph the planting on the slope beyond the Magnolia. My dog gets a little more restless if I venture down there.

Snow in Summer, Verbena bonariensis, Geum, Coreopsis

Watsonia, Nasturtium, Cal Poppies, Love in a Mist, and a couple of other things have popped up in what was already a rather unrestrained planting.

Nasturium in the Verbena

Snow in Summer, Verbena bonariensis, Geum, Coreopsis


I accidentally clicked this photo with the camera moving and everything blurring into an impressionist painting. Part of me thinks it’s the best image of the bunch.

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