Plants and Stone for California Gardens


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

The Biggest Rock

‘I want you to take a look at this rock. Pretty big, right?’

This video is making fun of TedTalks, but I suspect if you go through my blog archives you’ll find a few posts that could also be the target.

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.

Yosemite Interlude

Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

I meant to already have a post up about the second garden I visited on the Garden Conservancy tour, but I ended up taking a trip to Tuolumne Meadows (the early scenes of the video) before I got a chance. Tuolumne was of course awesome, and it will probably be a little while before my attention fully turns back to Bay Area gardens and posting resumes.

— Update 8/29 — I haven’t been closely following the news about the rim fire, it kind of depresses me, but here’s a video of it. Sadly it’s a bit more relevant than the one above.

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.

Bloom Day and Recent Garden Projects

Alyssum, Viola, and Zuchini in the Veggie Garden

Happy Bloom Day. Our garden is in a little bit of a transition phase. There are a number of things blooming, but none of the showier plants. A lot them need deadheading, frankly, but I’ve been working on other types of projects in the garden. So this is a bloom day post, but also a ‘state of the garden’ post.

Alyssum and Zuchini

One project happening is the upgrade of the roof over our front porch. It was made sheets of corrugated metal. The seams between the sheets would leak and the sheets weren’t quite as wide as the porch, so rain would run off and splash everything, making it pretty much a failure as a roof. Also, it blocked light from our living room. Anita convinced our landlord to replaced the corrugated metal with some kind of clear material that would cover the entire porch. There are also plans to collect the stormwater in a basin and use it in the garden somehow. I’m not entirely sure what they are planning, but our living room is much brighter and more pleasant without the porch. Instead of that project, I’ve been involved with a number of smaller tasks throughout the garden.

The Porch Roof

Western Bleeding Heart and Tasmanian Tree Fern

The fronds on the Tasmanian Tree Fern got sunburned without the roof, but it’s already putting out new fronds. The Oxalis oregana started looking ragged too, and it was time to repot them, so I divided them and moved the containers to another part of the garden. The Bleeding Heart seems happy with the extra sunshine.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum

The Vine Maple is happy, too, though it recently drew the attention of leafcutter bees. I think some of the cut leaves look cool.

Mimulus cardinalis

The Mimulus cardinalis is blooming in the bathtub planting, but somewhat raggedly. We moved the bathtub when we built the garden shed. The tub was set deep in the ground in the last spot, but I didn’t feel like digging another large hole, so instead I’m covering the edges of the tub with scrap pieces of flagstone. I’ll probably tidy it up at some point, but for now I’m fine with just leaning the stone against the tub and letting the plants cover most of it. I recently added a pipe to carry the stormwater from the new garden shed down into the tub planting. Though if we have more winters like this past one, that won’t amount to much stormwater.

Colocasia Black Magic and Mimulus cardinalis

Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ used to be have a stronger presence in the tub, but the Mimulus has taken over in the new location. There is still some stream orchid beneath the Mimulus, but I need to pull that out and plant it somewhere else, which is a shame because they coexisted nicely for several years. The Mimulus is reseeding in all of the pots around the tub, not hard to control, but I don’t have a use for such a water-loving plant.

White Clarkia amoena

Clarkia amoena is the last of the native annuals from the seed mix I scattered last fall. We had masses of Clarkia unguiculata. I had never grown it before and realized as soon as it bloomed that I don’t really like it. I like C. amoena a little better, but they’re both too pink for me; Clarkia bottae is my favorite of the Clarkias.

Pink Clarkia amoena


In the planting bed in front of the garden shed/office, the Clarkia was mixed in with Agastache and Calendula, which looked a lot better. I took a couple of photos of that last month, but never did a bloom day post. Now the Clarkia needs to be pulled before it reseeds and the Calendula is ready to be cut back.

Dudleya pulverulenta

Dudleya farinosa

Last fall I posted a photo of this little container I made out of stone scrap, which has very little space for roots. I considered trying to bonsai something in it, but instead I ended up putting a Dudleya farinosa in it. It’s doing well, though the container is getting a little smudgy. We have a lot of Dudleyas these days, enough that I’ve lost track of what some of them are.

Garden Shed/Office Paving Area

Last weekend I made a landing step for the office/garden shed and putting in path fines and stepping stones leading to it. The triangles of stone are from a project almost five years ago. They’ve wandered around the garden, but have probably found their permanent home, though I see that one of the Arizona flagstone pieces needs to be moved an inch or two now that I’ve swept everything off. I also made a low, wide planter beside the step, planted with Agave utahensis, Sedum spathulifolium, and Monardella macrantha. I might show it more clearly when the Sedum has recovered from transplanting; it looks a little ragged from being handled. And I have one more area where I edged the path fines with yet more scrap stone. The stones are laid out but not set in the path fines yet. When they are set, I will have used up almost every stray bit of stone knocking around the garden.

Off Duty

I don’t know if that sounds like a lot of work, but it feels like I’ve crossed a lot of things off my to-do list. Next bloom day post I’ll focus more on flowers. For a bigger bloom day flower fix, check out May Dreams Gardens where Carol has a lot of nice photos of her flowers and there are over a hundred links to bloom day posts by other bloggers. My thanks to Carol for hosting.