Plants and Stone for California Gardens


The Strybing Native Meadow and Stone Circle


After checking out the Drew School green wall, I went by Strybing to hang out in the native meadow. It’s one of my favorite spots in the city, and this is pretty much its best time of year. It was designed in 1988 by Ron Lutsko, who recently designed the new planting around the Julia Morgan building at the UC Botanical Garden. It’s one of the nicest meadow plantings I know; you hear a little bit of traffic but you can’t see any sign of the city that’s just beyond the trees.


Give me some bunch grasses, some rocks, and a manzanita and I’ve got pretty much all I need to be happy.


But what puts the meadow over the top is the stone council ring made with some of William Randolph Hearst’s peripatetic monastery stones. I love the simplicity of the circle. The stone ring is for the most part only a single course high, but with enough double-stacked stone to qualify as a wall. The garden has other, more elaborate walls built with these monastery stones, but this is the one I head to on a sunny spring morning.


California Native Green Wall Revisited


It’s four years since Patrick Blanc installed the vertical garden at the Drew School. I’ve been curious how it was doing. I was hugely impressed when I saw it, even though it was late fall and the plants were getting cut back for the winter. I always intended to check back on it, see how it would endure over time. As you can see, it’s doing great. It’s lush and green; it’s not organized into as much of a tapestry as some of his other walls and it’s not particularly full of springtime flowers, but it’s still a dramatic, exuberant, awesome thing to see on the side of a building.


The planting has simplified over time, with fewer species. Lower sections are mostly covered by ferns, with patches of oxalis and heuchera. I couldn’t tell exactly what’s growing up top, except for an Island Bush Poppy in bloom, but some of the shrubs have grown quite large.


A couple of sections are patchy, with felt showing, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effect.


And so much of it is exuberantly lush and green. It’s great to see natives filling the side of a building.

Natives, Mosaics, and a New Sitting Area


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.


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.


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.



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


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



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.



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.


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.



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.



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.



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


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


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.



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.






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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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


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



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.



Treebeard was at the show last year. Pretty great.


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 »