Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for July, 2013

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 enjoyed.) 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 with the original elements while still contrast enough to reveal the original design. For instance, the concrete pillars of this new trellis contrast with the brick to show that they are from distinct eras, but the contrast is not so glaring that you notice it if you aren’t specifically looking at the architecture.

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. Perhaps the architect influences were more prominent because Ace has such a distinctive style. It was cool, though. I liked it. 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.

Wedding Ceremony Watercolor

A couple of weeks ago I went to a commitment ceremony for a couple of friends of ours at a redwood grove up in Guerneville. Since then, thanks to the Supreme Court decision, the commitment has become a marriage, which is as it should be. It was a very nice ceremony, but I’m not really a ceremony guy, so I sat towards the back and started this watercolor. Not my best effort, but I felt like posting it anyways. In recent years I’ve been to two weddings in churches and four weddings in redwood groves, a pretty clear expression of how Northern Californians feel about redwood trees.

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. These days almost every planting we do 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…)

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