DryStoneGarden

Plants and Stone for California Gardens

Flower

Natives, Mosaics, and a New Sitting Area

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I recently did a couple of small projects in an established native garden, a pleasant space with a laid-back, informal feel. Oaks, Bay Laurels, and annual grasses are visible outside the deer fencing. Gravel paths weave around berms overflowing with natives, some of the usual plants like Manzanita, Iris, and Buckwheat, but also some of the less common plants you only see at plant sales.

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My primary project was to create a little sitting area with blue path fines. We also cleaned the existing concrete patio next to the new sitting area and we redid the joints with blue path fines. I’ve done that a few times for this kind of old patio; a few bags of path fines and some scrubbing and the concrete looks pretty much as good as new.

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When I finished, I was thinking that with some furniture, a little mulch, and maybe some Snowberry in the narrow space against the fence, this would be a nice little sitting area. This past week I saw the finished result, cheerful and inviting.

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I edged the path fines with scrap pieces of basalt from the fabrication projects at the stoneyard. It’s inexpensive and easy to install; the hardest part is sorting through the scrap pile figuring out which pieces to use.

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The garden has some other interesting elements, including a variety of mosaics made by the client. The wall piece is quite nice.

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My mom recently made one of these mosaic balls, so it was interesting to see that someone else had made one too. I guess I’ve seen them before, but I didn’t realize they were an established thing.

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There’s a cone shaped one at the base of this dogwood. I like the look of the limbed-up dogwood; the trunk is almost like a manzanita.

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The client’s father had been a stone lithographer. The press is now an element in the garden along with several of the old stones.

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I was glad I got to see the garden this week, because a number of plants were in bloom, including Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta Snow Wreath, a rare deciduous shrub that was only discovered in the 90’s. I’d seen it at plant sales, but never established in a garden. It’s not the showiest plant I’ve ever seen — it’s easy to understand how it went unnoticed for such a long time, especially if it tends to grow intermixed with poison oak — but fun to see in a garden.

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I was also glad to see the California Snowdrop, Syrax oficinalis, in full bloom. These take patience to establish, but have such an elegant flower and fragrance.

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Buckwheat

Buckwheats, Foothills Penstemon, and California Poppies were also blooming, with other plants like Coyote Mint getting ready to follow. And photographs of course don’t show the bird calls and all of the bird activity around the natives. A lovely little garden.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Revisited

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Along with Joshua Tree, I also went back to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. It was great to see it in more springlike conditions, after my only previous visit in January. I said at the time that I would like to see this Heuchera patch in bloom, and it didn’t disappoint. The thick haze of pink flowers was visible a long ways down the trail. The day was rather sunny for photos, but I have a few more below. Read the rest of this entry »

Joshua Tree Revisited

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After the garden show I went down to Joshua Tree for a week of rock appreciation, for which there is no better place. There was a small amount of wildflower action to appreciate along with the rock, but not much. This Echinocereus was shockingly intense wherever it was in bloom, but even pulling back out a little shows what a small bit of color it was in a relatively monochrome landscape.

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The main excitement was with the rock. So many beautiful rock formations. I took photos of a few of the features that reminded me of dry-stone work.

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The rock above looks like it was split at the end of the work day and left ready to be installed tomorrow. It’s uncanny how cleanly some of them are split.

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And at the end of the day, it’s all amazing for climbing. One of my favorite landscapes in the world.

SF Flower and Garden Show 2015

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I went down to the flower and garden show this week, saw the display gardens and other curiosities. This year’s gardens are individually all quite nice and as a group noticeably scaled down from last year. There was no submarine party car or bamboo water wheel, and I think the gardens occupied less square footage than last year, too. But I liked just about every garden. This egg-shaped water feature/sculpture by Mariposa Gardening and Design is a good example. It’s pretty neat, a lot of work went into it, and it’s somewhat similar to their egg-shaped sculpture in the 2013 show. But there’s nothing wrong with doing variations on a theme and I was glad to check it out up close and see how it was made.

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The diagonal walling is pretty much a Mariposa signature at this point. I’ve seen it before, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot of horizontal walls too, so I still like it.

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The little planting of native grasses with non-native flowering accents was pretty. There wasn’t a ton of plant interest overall in the display gardens this year, but I think people say that almost every year. It’s hard to get interesting plants for the show.

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The most interesting stone elements at the show are these three sculptures by Edwin Hamilton.

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My favorite is this third one. The assemblage/walling aspect adds a lot of interest.

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The other highlight of the show was the gourd art, artist Betty Finch’s amazing gourd creations. The horse is uncanny, her heron marionette has an internal life of its own, and her gourd mask is distinctly creepy. When she put it over her face and cradled a little gourd baby in her arms, I compulsively stepped back as if I’d suddenly found myself in a town with way too small a gene population.

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Treebeard was at the show last year. Pretty great.

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I always look at the bonsai display. I sometimes feel bad for the trees, but this California Buckeye really is a condensed little manifestation of the awesomeness of buckeye trees. Some more photos of the display garden are below. Read the rest of this entry »

March Blooms

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Happy spring, happy equinox. These are a few of the plants that were in bloom on bloom day. The seed grown Sidalcea has been in full bloom for a couple of weeks, the groundcover selection is not blooming yet. The first California poppy opened in late February. Established ones are blooming, new ones are still too small to bloom.

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The Sacred flower of the Incas has several nice bloom clusters.

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The Babianas are in full bloom. I have these in my garden because a past client didn’t like the way the old leaves stay around after they go dormant. His loss, my garden’s gain. I like them.

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Salvia sonomensis looks great right now. It’s my favorite of the native salvias, along with Bee’s Bliss, ahead of the more upright clevelandii types.

Check out bloom day at MayDreamsGardens to see what was blooming for other gardeners a few days ago. The full bloom list for our garden is below. Read the rest of this entry »

UC Botanical Garden

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The UC moved a 100-year-old Julia Morgan building from campus up to the botanical garden. Apparently it was in the way of the latest Haas Business School expansion. There’s a video of the moving process here and an article about it at SF Gate with some nice photos. It’s a great little building. From the outside it’s not showy, but the interior makes you appreciate good architecture, with wonderful reveals in the woodwork, a great old brick fireplace, and windows overlooking the garden. I’ve liked Julia Morgan buildings all the way back to when I was kid with no interest in architecture.

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The building sits quite nicely in the landscape when you consider that it was built for a different site and then adapted to a hillside. The garden has plans to use the building for events, including renting it out for weddings and parties, so this seems likely to be it’s final home.

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The new plantings around the building have an interesting concept. Because the garden features plants of ‘documented wild origin’, there are very few cultivars in the garden — almost everything is a true species with records kept of the provenance and genetics of each plant — and yet a lot of cultivars have been selected from the garden’s plants. Roger Raiche, in particular, selected a ton of California natives that have become mainstays in the nursery trade, Roger’s Red Wild Grape and Ceanothus ‘Kurt Zadnick’ being just two that I know offhand. For the new planting around the building, the garden decided to make an exception to the ‘documented wild origin’ policy, and instead do the planting with California native cultivars introduced from the garden.

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Landscape architect Ron Lutsko gave a pro-bono planting plan. It should turn out nice enough but I didn’t find it quite as interesting as I expected. It seemed a bit ho-hum, with some Manzanitas and Ceanothus against the building and much of the planting looking like his office just hatched a big area and labeled it ‘perennial mix’. I understand why plantings are so often done this way, why so few prominent LA’s place the plants themselves and instead just hand off the drawings to a contractor to implement, but it does seem like a missed opportunity for a planting in a botanical garden, especially when probably half the garden’s staff have horticulture degrees. But I don’t know the politics of the garden and how these things get decided, and I shouldn’t complain about someone’s pro-bono work. It will compliment the building nicely.

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Much of the new planting will probably resemble this mix of natives near the entrance to the garden, a nice enough green patch and very pretty when things are blooming, but not a high point of the garden. I’ll try to take some pictures of the new planting after it has had a few years to grow in. I’d also like to find a plant list to see which cultivars are from the garden.

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I wandered around the rest of the garden and in particular the South African section which was looking terrific. Lots of bold colors. By April the native section will rival it, but in February it is the unquestioned star of the garden.

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Leucadendroneucalyptifolium

A new plant for me was this Leucadendron eucalyptifolium. Apparently this is only a five or six year old specimen to reach this size, twelve or fifteen feet tall. I’ve never seen it available in the trade, so perhaps a selection should be made; it could be planted years from now when the next building gets sent up from campus.