DryStoneGarden

Plants and Stone for California Gardens

Flower

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 gardens 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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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.

Pennisetum and Lomandra

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Requests for Mexican Feather Grass are one of the constants of doing landscapes in the Bay Area. I don’t blame anyone for wanting it. It’s stunningly beautiful, especially at the end of the day in the golden hour. But of course it’s also highly invasive. Planting it in your yard essentially means you are planting it in your neighbors’ yards as well. I try not to plant it, and in fact the only time I have planted it in recent years was for a parking strip in an urban part of Berkeley. I warned the client that it would spread to the neighbors’ yards and he pointed out that the neighbors were already growing it. It was hard to argue with that. But, otherwise, when clients request it I try to find an alternative.

This planting is one of my attempts. Instead of a gold-colored grass — PlantRight has a list with several alternatives that are fine plants but not really as graceful or beautiful — I went with the more cream-colored bloom of Pennisetum orientale (a Pennisetum that doesn’t reseed) and a background of Lomandra ‘Breeze’ to keep things looking green in the winter. I had the idea that the two of them together might combine into the equivalent of Mexican Feather Grass. I think they do end up having a little of that vibe. I should be able to get a better photo later in the year when some of the other plants are blooming and when the shrubs have grown a bit more, but this is pretty good for a January photo. Some ‘before’ photos are below. Read the rest of this entry »

February Bloom Day

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I’ve been meaning to get back on my bloom day horse this year. This month’s offering is pretty light, but better than last month when there was very little going on. We have a few bulbs in bloom, the species tulips (Tulipa saxatilis) probably being the highlight.

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Ipheion uniflorum (Spring Star Flower) is also blooming. I’ve been happy with how they well they’ve come back each year. They’re a relative of our native Brodiea, another bulb that has done well in the garden.

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Several Hellebores are blooming. This dark one is my favorite.

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The Sidalcea grown from seed are starting to bloom. We also have a native cultivar of Sidalcea, but it hasn’t started budding yet.

Solanum

There’s one Solanum umbelliferum ‘Indian’s Grey’ in the garden. It has more flowers than foliage at the moment. This is its second year in the garden, so I haven’t figured out if that is normal for it.

Ribes

Our Ribes sanguineum used to be ‘White Icicle’ but it has fully reverted to the regular pinkish form. It’s also more upright than it used to be. It was a passalong plant, so I don’t mind. It’s the only ‘White Icicle’ that I’ve seen revert. This winter doesn’t seem to have been cold enough to knock the old leaves off the branches.

We have a few other things blooming. Salvia ‘Green Carpet’ has some flowers. Heuchera sanguineum and Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ are starting up. There are a couple of Freesias and a Daffodil in bloom. Woodland Strawberry, Galvezia, a couple of the Blueberries, and Arctostaphylos ‘Dr Hurd’ each have a few token flowers. The Ninebark is the first of the deciduous plants to begin leafing out; its new green leaves are always as pretty as a flower.

For more bloom day posts, check out May Dreams Gardens. Carol says this is the ninth year of bloom day. Really impressive. I’ve always felt that bloom day was the single best thing in the garden blog world. A salute to Carol, and my thanks for keeping it going so long.

Rain!

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‘For the first time since 1850, San Francisco will log .00 of rain for the month… The previous record low rainfall was 0.06 inches set just last year. In January 2013, 0.49 inches of rain fell on San Francisco… The past three Januaries in San Francisco are among the five driest on record. This has brought the average for the past ten years down to 3.03 inches, dramatically lower than the 30-year normal of 4.55 inches.’

‘All I know is that I don’t know.’ Operation Ivy

How will a January without rain affect my gardens? How would I know? As a rule of thumb, the evapotranspiration rate doubles in February and then doubles again in March, so January isn’t a real critical month in terms of rainfall for the garden. Factors like day length, dew, winter dormancy, and low plant metabolism keep the plant water needs low, even when the weather forgets that it’s the rainy season.

But I don’t really know the effect of six weeks without water in the heart of our rainy season. Some of our clients turned their irrigation on, some left it off. A couple of gardens are weather-satellite controlled, another has a low-budget rain sensor; who knows how often those systems ran. My parents turned their irrigation back on to full summertime levels (I guess they didn’t believe me about the evapotranspiration), and the elderly tenant of a friend never turned the irrigation off at all, not even during the heavy rains in December. And I’ve realized, looking at some of these gardens, I can’t really tell the difference. I don’t see signs of drought stress in the unwatered gardens and I don’t see signs of over-watering in the over-irrigated ones. If I can’t see a difference, it’s probably best to save the water, but who knows, maybe the effects will start to show later in the year. I’m just glad it’s raining.