photo by Janice LeCocq via Pacific Horticulture “The Curious Plantsman Looks at Dwarf Conifers”
It’s a good news/bad news day on AGO. Because Sara Malone is an incredibly generous person in more ways than I can count — with her time, her boundless botanical knowledge, with stories and jokes, nursery recommendations and plant sources — because of her good-natured generosity, I’ve finally made a long-awaited visit to her garden at Circle Oak Ranch in Petaluma, California. Sara had helped me arrange a visit to the nearby Reid garden a few years ago, and ever since I’ve been plotting a visit to her own Circle Oak Ranch.
Leucadendron ‘Jester,’ photo by Jan LeCocq for Garden Design. It’s even bigger now.
I emailed her just a few weeks before the trip to Mendocino asking if we could stop by, and she said just name the day and time. Another example of that generosity gene in action. So that’s the good news. The bad news is I took zero photos. It was a rollicking, nonstop gabfest amidst a private collection of some of the most remarkable woody plants and conifers I’ve ever been privileged to see. Rather than letting us in and then leaving us to wander on our own, Sara personally guided our group, including Kathy/GardenBook, through the garden for almost two hours, and this after having had a party for 200 at the ranch just a couple days beforehand and having recently returned from a symposium at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina.
Marty trailed behind, enthralled by the three of us twittering away in botanical Latin. And unbeknownst to me, he snapped a couple photos like the one above and even shot a very brief video of the stone patio near the house, which may or may not load for you:
To the distant left of the Blue Fan Palm which appears in the video was a fabulous stand of Eryngium eburneum that’s now on my must-have list, a list that grew by leaps and bounds during the visit. Everything was meticulously labeled, and for a brief time I frantically jotted down names on my phone like Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Nizeti,’ Juniperus cedrus, Agathis robusta, but Sara’s running narrative was such a torrential goldmine of information that I gave up entirely on notes. I didn’t want to miss a single nugget.
Marty snapped this typical photo of me pointing, mid question. There was a lot of that, pointing and talking and questions like “Sara, how do you manage to grow such enormous Leucadendrons ‘Ebony’ and ‘Jester?'” Sara admitted that she doesn’t stint on water, which is plentifully available, and has liberally amended her very heavy adobe clay with lava rock fines for swift drainage. The gardens at Circle Oak share acreage with her husband Ron’s Circle Oak Equine, a sports medicine and rehab center for racehorses. Unfortunately, the woody plants Sara grows would not benefit from applications of manure, which gets composted and/or given away.
Leucadendron ‘Ebony,’ still a 2-footer in my garden.
If only I’d noticed Marty snapping away, I could’ve directed him to take a photo of the huge, uncharacteristically multi-trunked Yucca ‘Bright Star,’ or the Chilean Myrtle, Luma apiculata, or the evergreen maple from Crete, Acer sempervirens, or Cedrus brevifolia ‘Kenwith.’ I’ve never seen so many beautifully grown clumps of Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty,’ a relative newcomer that Sara has brought in by the dozens. This is a collector’s garden filled with stunning specimens that Sara says can be confusing to visitors. “Where are the flowers?” they ask, or even more discouragingly, “Now can we see the real garden?” A private garden with mini-arboretum aspirations may not be considered the height of fashion to some, but it is one of the most absorbing gardens I’ve ever visited. Thank you so much, Sara!
For more information, see The Gardens at Circle Oak Ranch.