bloom day hack august 2018

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The ‘Mesa Peach’ gaillardias seem to be this year’s answer to my craving for a low-growing summer daisy that fits in nicely among the permanently resident aloes and agaves. Similar water and light requirements, not too extravagant in summer growth size. So I went out in search for more last week to strengthen the narrative of intermittent golden clumps among succulents, shrubs and grasses to carry the garden through with some verve to November.* (Anthemis ‘Susannah Mitchell’ seemed like a contender in soft buttery yellow but is truthfully quite sprawly and inclined to smother neighboring plants. And the last clump died without any cuttings taking root, so that’s that.)

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At the nurseries there were some red gaillardias available but no ‘Mesa Peach.’ Not the color story I wanted to tell. But there were a couple Rudbeckia ‘Little Goldstar,’ a dwarf selection entirely new to me. Curiosity prevailed.

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Hello, little friend! From Jelitto, propagated by tissue culture. Perfectly grown nursery plants brought home in August is the quintessential garden hack. But then August deserves a good hack, doesn’t it? Fortunately, we’re having a temporary reprieve as far as high temperatures, dipping into the 80s for the week, so planting now is not the complete and utter madness it would seem. We’ll see if they make it to September bloom day. (And don’t even think of planting stuff like Calif. natives now.)

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The chocolate cosmos project 2018. Too many previous failures to count, but its deep color on small, perfectly formed daisies, luscious scent and long, swaying stems never fail to incite another desperate trial. Full sun, free draining potting soil this summer. It always fails in garden soil for me. I grab them when they become available at nurseries in August.

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Using a metal shop stool to elevate the pot keeps the chocolate cosmos at nose and eye level and allows the dark red thunbergia, possibly ‘Arizona Dark Red,’ to spill down the sides. No aeoniums were harmed in the making of this project.

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Coleus ‘Inferno’ and ‘Henna’ were also brought home. Above is ‘Inferno.’

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The grevilleas are now the ever-blooming anchor plants of the garden, both ‘Moonlight’ and this one, ‘King’s Fire.’

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Aloe elgonica is joining in with other summer-blooming aloes.

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Lots of tillandsias sending out blooms.

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Several Bilbergia ‘Hallelujah’ are in bloom.

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As with last month’s report, solanum, salvia, anigozanthos, verbena, abutilon, valerian, leonotis, calamint, gomphrena are all still in bloom. Garden bloggers can file their bloom day reports on the 15th of every month with May Dreams Gardens.

*Succession planting –keeping the pace going and filling gaps in the garden until the end of the season, and we have a long if very dry growing season here in zone 10 — is more associated with vegetable gardening in the U.S. but also has vast ornamental implications. One of its most famous examples is the garden at Great Dixter, pioneered by Christopher Lloyd, powering on under Fergus Garrett. Lloyd’s book published in 2005 “Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure” lays out the general principles and is worth a read if you’re interested in this subject. Basically, it’s geared to hard-core plant lovers. And, obviously, the size of your garden, length of growing season, climate and rainfall play into how effectively one can exploit these ideas, but even just adding a pot of chocolate cosmos to the August garden or plugging in some rudbeckia among succulents falls under the umbrella of succession planting. Bloggers at The Lower Left Corner and Digging have each just returned from separate visits to Great Dixter and have photos with vivid examples of the results of this intensive, unflagging style of planting that leaves little ground uncovered.

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take it outside

The parents’ exasperation with our indoor hijinks always crescendoed in a bellow of “take it outside!” whereupon we would bang through the screendoor and tumble out into the womb-like, cul-de-sac’d streets of our Los Angeles suburb, joining up with the army of lost boys (and girls) riding skateboards, building forts and blazing trails in the tall grass of early summer in the nearby fields. And we could pretty much take it outside year-round. But still this week’s news in The Washington Post was slightly disorienting. The town I’m living in now, Long Beach, Calif., just a few miles from where I grew up further inland, topped the list of “What cities have the most nice days in America?” Using the criteria of “moderately warm temperatures, at least partial sunshine, a light breeze, low humidity and no precipitation,” Long Beach came in at number one with the “most nice days per year” of 210. We even beat San Diego! So it does feel a bit churlish to confess that summer this year feels like a season in hell. The tops of my feet look like they’re afflicted with small pox, courtesy of summer’s new pest, Aedes aegypti, a day-feeding mosquito infamous for carrying the Zika virus in more southern countries. Which makes Burt’s Bees Insect Repellant the new summer essential. (A neighbor has on order the Bandito, a wristband that emits scents and sounds that purportedly annoy the hell out of mosquitoes.) And as every summer arrives determined to be the champ that wins the all-time heat record, it all becomes a bit much for a beachside community of old bungalows, mostly lacking in air conditioning like ours. And, infuriatingly, the dangerous brinksmanship of climate change denial still rules the land. GOTV. But I hope you’re having a fabulous summer! Because heat and bugs aside, I’m still taking it outside, still in love with summer.

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When Mitch told me the story of the dinner party he held in a suffocatingly hot little Spanish Revival in Long Beach lacking in air conditioning and plagued by dumpster flies from the surrounding multi-unit apartments, I just had to pry the photos loose from him to share a summer evening that was pure tragicomic gold. Here’s the intrepid bunch who good-naturedly put up with it all. On the far right in crisp and cool blue is chef Daniel Perlof of Rhyme & Reason Catering, nattily equipped with portable grill. There was no way he was cooking in the non-AC’d kitchen with muggy temps straddling the high 90s.

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Mitch, left, has worked with Lisa Gutierrerz-Martinez of Lark Artisan Market for years, photographing (and sampling) her roving dinner parties known as Larks. The next one is August 17 at Cleobella in Sunset Beach, linked above.

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This dinner wasn’t technically a bonafide Lark, just a small group of friends trying out a new menu. And testing their limits for less-than-optimal outdoor dining conditions. No flies were air-brushed out of these photos, but I’m told there were plenty, as in biblical proportions. Mitch was chatting with Jason Witzl, the owner of the new and excellent Ellie’s (“best grown-up food in LBC” according to Mitch) about his dinner party fly problem, and Jason swears it’s the nearby kelp beds that are to blame for the flies. His solution? The Bug-A-Salt. A spray of table salt zaps them dead. Just undersalt the food a bit, he joked. I can easily imagine dinner party guests arguing over who gets to be in charge of the Bug-A-Salt. Weird times call for weird solutions, I suppose.

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Guests came sensibly prepared to change into something cooler.

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Chef Daniel manned the grill.

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Applying the mint/basil/walnut/garlic/lemon pesto.

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While food was prepped, the guests tried their best to stay cool.

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I sampled the artichokes later. I could have eaten a dozen.

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Rome With A View was the cocktail du jour, chosen because “all the bitter Italian vermouth-based drinks are low octane,” and are thus perfect for a big thirst on a hot night, says Mitch.

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All of which proves that summer is messy and hot and epic, and patios and gardens are worth their weight in gold, flies or no flies.

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And a portable grill can be a life-saver.

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And there’s nothing that a plate of artichokes won’t put right.

Have a great weekend.

photos by MB Maher

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good riddance to July, you hot and sultry thing

And hello August! (what fresh hell do you have in store?)

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Unlike me, pedilanthus loves it when the heat and humidity are matchy-matchy numbers.

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I’ve been so worried that Yucca linearifolia would reject this container, which has already killed a dasylirion. It’s a lightweight concrete formulation that seems to retain moisture, so I’ve been careful not to overwater. I admit I get a little free-handed with the garden hose in July and August.

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Both overwatering and underwatering can prove fatal in July, so the margin for error shrinks. There’s been no big, heartbreaking losses so far and even a few surprising successes, including blooms on parodia and astrophytum.

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As summer progresses, more and more plants are congregating at the eastern end of the pergola. Everybody wants to hang out here. Cool morning sun, afternoon shade. It’s prime garden real estate. And it’s also a great spot for new acquisitions. It gives me a chance to get to know and appreciate new plants up close, and they benefit by this kinder, gentler introduction to the garden. The little bromeliad in the lime green pot is Aechmea recurvata var. benrathrii, or False Tillandsia, which is said to be one of the best terrestrial bromeliads for full sun, where it will strengthen in color. The agave is A. kershovei ‘Huajuapan Red.’ I might try to encourage some ruddy color out of both when we’re safely under full winter sun again.

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And the air space at the eastern end of the pergola is maxed out too, mostly with tillandsias and rhipsalis.

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This is where I get to indulge an unstoppable flea market/salvage habit. Propellor pot is Dustin Gimbel’s.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ jumped out of the ground and back into container life at this end of the pergola too. I’ve gotten in the habit of giving plants a light tug now and then. Call it a root check. ‘Cornelius’ came right up out of the ground. Not a bad display of leaves for having no roots to speak of. I cleaned off the dense accumulation of old, dried leaves — so many it looked like a spit of al pastor — to expose the central trunk, which looks healthy. I’m praying it takes root again.

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Other variegated agaves gravitate to the bright light near the long, southernmost edge of the pergola. Nearest is Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ then ‘Rumrunner,’ and lastly ‘Kissho Kan.’

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‘Kissho Kan’ had a tighter, more incurved habit of growth in containers and is more relaxed in the ground under partial sun.

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The eastern end is also where the evening gin rummy games are held on the hottest nights. I cut out the furcraea’s sprawling lower leaves and moved out most of the pots except for the lone Agave xylonacantha which is doing so well here I hate to change its conditions mid-summer. I was this close to removing the furcraea entirely, but nothing else could be established in its place now that the lemon cypresses’ roots fill the area. Best to stick with the survivor. The cypresses, fern-leaf acacia, and the tetrapanax all have extensive, thieving roots that make persistent water demands, but I take heart from this quote from Saxon Holt in the spring 2018 issue of Pacific Horticulture, Adopting a Summer-Dry Garden Aesthetic: “[W]e should water, wisely and efficiently. The new aesthetic takes its cues from the summer-dry climate but that does not mean no summer watering. Our gardens are too important to be left alone, especially in their early years. We need to keep them healthy. Not only do they offer sanity to those of us who would go crazy without them, they provide habitat for critters, keep the soil alive, clear the air, and provide beauty. The new summer-dry aesthetic is rapidly evolving with increased awareness of our limited water resources and all the wonderful new plants and creative ways to use them — but water is critical.” Hear, hear!

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Looking west, the garden including these pots is in full sun most of the day. Hybrid ‘Little Shark’ (or ‘Royal Spine’) seems to be handling the full sun, whereas Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ might prefer some afternoon shade. An impulse buy for some warm winter color, I’m very impressed with Cordyline ‘Red Planet’ for making it through July without melting away. Also impressed by the performance of erodiums planted among the succulents. Erodium chrysanthum has made quick size, throws pale yellow blooms sporadically, and is always a tidy clump of silvery, finely dissected leaves. I’m waiting for fall to plant a recent order from Robin Parer/Geraniaceae.

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Other new plants in this area include Aloe spicata, the bottlebrush aloe.

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The golden sedum is doing that rare thing, which is following orders and making a nice-sized patch (Sedum x adolphii). Love those warm, honey-colored tones.

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I’ve always kept an assortment of hollow cement and clay pipes around, which I normally use as plinths for staging containers to get some staggered height in displays. But with planting space in the garden pretty much spoken for, lately I’ve been adapting them as planters. Not sure how long term an arrangement this is, but aloes in particular seem to love it.

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Aloe betsileensis, brought home last week from an Orange County succulent show. This has a cone-like flower in the style of Aloe conifera with similar dusky colored leaves with red teeth. All-day full sun may not be in its best interests, so this pipe may move elsewhere. Leucadendron galpinii had a fairly long life in the grey container but didn’t make it through July. It’s filled now with chocolate cosmos, such a gorgeous daisy — in theory. I’ve never been able to figure it out. This summer I’m trying free-draining potting soil in full sun, watering only when it just starts to beg for it.

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At the western end near the office, Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ is on its fourth bloom truss, and the heat has produced a growth surge in Pennisetum ‘Cherry Sparkler.’

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It was a little too early for this photo, before sunrise, but I need it to describe what’s planted at the base of that long-legged iron stand, which has basically been the little black dress of the garden for many years. So freakin’ versatile, it’s appeared in numerous guises on these pages.

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Lots of the newer mangaves are here, like ‘Kaleidoscope.’

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And a newly planted Calocephalus ‘Silver Sand.’

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And this crazy crassula I bought last summer, ‘Garnet Lotus.’ I’m frankly surprised this oddity has had this much staying power.

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Pots are finding their way to top of the stand too. Ferocactus gracilis in Dustin’s log pot.

I’m always starved for garden talk by August, so I’m heading to Potted tomorrow to hear Nan Sterman discuss her new book “Hot Color, Dry Garden.” This notice is from the Los Angeles Times:

Dry does not mean dull
What: Gardening expert Nan Sterman, signs copies of her book “Hot Color, Dry Garden” and shows you how to have a colorful garden that’s also drought tolerant
When: 11 a.m. Aug. 4
Where: Potted, 3158 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles
Cost: The talk is free. Book is $24.95
Info:, (323) 665-3801

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, clippings, journal, pots and containers, succulents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

of ponds and pyramids at Digging Dog Nursery

Returning to the June 2018 visit to Mendocino for the Garden Conservancy Open Days, the second garden we visited belonged to Digging Dog Nursery, also the home of co-owners Deborah Whigham and Gary Ratway. The garden comprises five acres, the nursery one acre. “Structured informality” is how the owners describe their garden, which draws on formal European garden traditions, especially the 19th century English Arts and Crafts movement, with some New World twists befitting its rugged setting amid Coast Redwoods. For instance, an above-ground pond makes use of industrial salvage, and the hard surfaces, columns and walls, are simple, functional shapes, smooth and devoid of neoclassical flourishes, built using the rammed-earth technique, a sustainable, ancient building method that uses the native soil mixed with sand and cement. The mix of formalism with experimentation with shapes and materials, the spectacular setting, and the detailed, lush plantings are some of what gives the garden at Digging Dog its unique flavor. (For more background, you really should check out Garden Design’s spring 2018 issue on this garden, “A Fine Balance,” written by Pam Penick, photos by Claire Takacs.)

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One of the many rammed earth columns, a shape reverberating throughout the garden in plant forms as well.

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I’ve happily strolled the borders surrounding the nursery many times. In every season they reflect the exciting range of woody and herbaceous plants that the nursery is known for, and that grow so well at this latitude and in this maritime climate. It might be an overly simplistic analogy, but the division of labor in making the garden at Digging Dog seems to bear some superficial similarities to Sissinghurst, with Gary handling the design duties performed by Harold Nicolson and Deborah standing in for Vita Sackville-West as far as the growing and selection of the plants themselves. But it is only a rough analogy because, on the tour, both Deborah and Gary interchangeably spoke to the design as well as the plants. This June thalictrums, astrantia, and hardy geraniums were still fresh, with ornamental grasses, persicarias, asters, joe-pye weed and many other late-season attractions gathering strength for fall.

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A dogwood in spectacular bloom.

One of my indispensable plants for summer, Calamintha ‘Montrose White,’ was ordered from DD in January ’16, a sterile form that doesn’t reseed, just one example of how DD’s plant list reliably keeps up with the best forms yet is always temptingly filled with beguiling new introductions that Deborah sources through extensive contacts with international nurseries. This visit, Deborah singled out Astrantia ‘Buckland’ in the garden as having the longest period of bloom of the astrantias they grow, for all you lucky astrantia growers — not a zone 10, dry summer plant, unfortunately.

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Hornbeam columns are a recurring structural motif throughout the garden.

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When he was ready to design the grid of hedges as the backbone for their exuberant plantings, and with few examples to study at home, Gary cited the usefulness of visits to European gardens to illuminate the intricacies of planting structural hedges, such as centering distances, maintenance schedules, and ultimate sizes. The hedges are trimmed twice a year, handled in-house with the help of two part-time staff.

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This industrial salvage water garden has an interesting surface provided by its perforated outer cover, a wonderful detail not picked up in the photo. The tank was sunk to a surprising depth — I hazily remember the figure of 8 feet but didn’t make a note.*

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Also depicted is one of the 12 trained weeping silver pears (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) leaping like dolphins at a four-way intersection of graveled paths, an unusual formal treatment for this tree that Gary says was inspired by Edwin Lutyens’ use of it at Castle Drogo.

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The thalictrum is most likely ‘Elin,’ a favorite of DD

Much as I love visiting the nursery and its surrounding garden, this Open Days visit also promised access to normally inaccessible areas of the property. As we slowly threaded our way through the familiar borders wrapping around the nursery on this uncharacteristically very hot day, I have to admit my mind occasionally raced ahead in excited anticipation of what was to come — as it turns out, something wholly unexpected.

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Gary described how every nursery, whether operated organically or otherwise, will necessarily create nitrogen runoff. Fifteen years ago ponds were dug to handle this runoff to prevent it leaching into the water table, which is high, and ultimately the ocean. And to handle the excavated soil from the pond project, Gary tried his hand as a pyramid builder. Obviously, the man doesn’t shy from a challenge.

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The pyramids are covered in tightly clipped germander, Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum.’ Their silvery forms lay down luminous markers of a formal garden painstakingly sculpted out of an emerald green forest.

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I call that an inspired solution to a prosaic problem like nitrogen runoff.

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Irrigation is not set by timer — so many factors such as lengthy seasonal cloud cover or, like today, excessive heat, render a preset irrigation timetable useless. There are four wells on the property, one as much as 180 feet deep (can that be right? From phone notes…and Marty remembers only two wells mentioned but swears the depth of 180 feet is correct.*) The water is very acidic.

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The pyramids introduce new angles for interplay with the hedges as well as mass to contrast with seasonal, thready perennials.

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The eye eagerly traces the plant-based geometry, following sweeping curves of hedging punctuated by grasses, perennials, and the trees of the surrounding Mendocino forest.

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And all these repeated design elements come together in a spectacular crescendo at the water lily-dappled pond.

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Pyramid meets pond.

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Hornbeam sentinel columns meet pond.

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And the back of the rammed-earth house meets pond.

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My only photo of the back of the house, which leaves out the fountain built into the base of the rammed-earth retaining wall. Marty in the foreground, with Gerhard (Succulents & More) in the blue t-shirt up above on the right.

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I did catch some details of the retaining wall’s upper terrace, railing and steps.

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Piercing the pond is a short pier, a prime water lily viewing spot. That’s so Digging Dog to plant sanguisorba in the industrial salvage containers at the pier’s end.

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And believe it or not, there’s still so much left unphotographed, like the private lawn near the house and outdoor dining area, but the tour was well attended and in some places too crowded for photos. Thanks so much to the Garden Conservancy and Digging Dog for including this special place on their 2018 Open Days.

*(Marty claims the water tank was not industrial salvage but was designed by Gary. My phone notes were a jumble, with references like “fast-growing katsura smells like burnt sugar in fall.”)

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Digital Nature; Artist Talk at LA Arboretum 7/28/18

Digital Nature
Artist Talk at LA Arboretum
301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
4 pm, Saturday, July 28, 2018
free with Arboretum entry

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The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden and Natural Discourse present

Artist Talk
with Mia Feuer, Chris Kallmyer & Andrew Yang
Saturday July 28th 4 pm in the Palm Room at the Arboretum

This event is free with entry to the Arboretum & we would love to see you!

Mia Feuer and Andrew Yang, two of the artists with Digital Nature 2019 will be in residency at the Arboretum from July 23 to 30 creating new work for the exhibit. For this conversation, they will be joined by Chris Kallmyer and curator Shirley Watts

Through field research, collaborations and a deep fascination with natural and synthetic materials, Mia Feuer explores concepts relating to the transfiguration, the transformation and the interconnectedness of humans, animals, machines and environments. She collect materials, timelines, sounds, forms, textures, experiences and stories. She utilizes 3d scanners, photogrammetry, a range of mold making techniques, field recorders and hydrophones to create immersive installations and allegorical objects that explores one’s simultaneous role as the Protector and Exploiter of The Earth.

Chris Kallmyer is a sound artist and performer living in Los Angeles. His work explores a participatory approach to making music through touch, taste, and process using everyday objects that point to who we are and where we live. His work is best characterized by its relationship to site and architecture, inviting the listener to experience sound in situ.

Andrew Yang works across the visual arts, the sciences, and natural history to explore the cosmological flux. Exhibiting from Oklahoma to Yokohama, his writing & research can be found in journals including Biological Theory, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Current Biology, and Leonardo.

He is an Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Research Associate at the Field Museum of Natural History.

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Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden is an ongoing series of symposia, publications and site-specific art installations that explore the connections between art, architecture and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums.

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c’mon & safari with me

So friends and/or relatives are visiting you in Southern California, and you’re sorting through which tourist destinations will please everyone, of all ages and dispositions (even your own sweaty and cranky self at the thought of hitting tourist spots). Do yourself a favor and throw out this suggestion: San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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And you won’t be entirely selfish in making this suggestion. Because everyone loves giraffes (including this rare push-me/pull-you subspecies). And seeing them move unmolested over wide open spaces, grazing alongside all their antelope and wildebeest friends, is a surefire crowd pleaser. David, your tram driver and guide, will urge you to observe the canopies of the trees as you rumble along in the tram, each canopy identical in height from the ground as though sheared by an overzealous OCD grounds keeper– but which in fact reflects the uppermost reach of the grazing giraffes. It is an enthralling scene.

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But the sneaky part about voting for visiting the park is the fact that, for the botanically inclined, it’s nirvana. The botanical richness includes the largest collection of boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris), outside their native habitat in Baja California. In our case, none of us were out-of-towners, just enthusiastic locals. We were guests of family, Duncan and Kristy, members of the Safari Park. Cardóns (Pachycereus pringlei) rising up like saguaros behind them complete the feeling of being in Little Baja.

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The stout quiver trees on the left (Aloidendron dichotomum), are of course from Southern Africa.

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Stay alert because the botanical show is scattered through the park. The Fever Tree or Yellow-Barked Acacia, A. xanthophloea, is near the entrance, but there are many more throughout the park. Nothing is labeled, so it’s a bit of a scavenger hunt, and thankfully there’s not a trace of the floral-heavy public-planting syndrome. The plantings are suitably naturalistic.

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It will be hot in summer, but the grounds are so thickly planted that shade is never far away. Hats, drinks, and sensible shoes are de rigueur, as in any summer outing. Misters are set up at various sites throughout the park, both to cool visitors and make the Sumatran tigers feel right at home.

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Moreton Bay Fig? It’s adjacent to the pavilion where we caught the falconry show.

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Our little group moved at a snail’s pace through the park, arrested at every turn by some spectacular plant or animal, but nevertheless we covered miles on foot. We never did get to see the elephants even though we arrived at 9 a.m., when the park opened. The tram ride was the final flourish to our visit, and we left the park around two o’clock to be back in Los Angeles for dinner. But the park is open until 7 p.m., and it’d be magical to experience twilight here.

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Bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) and aloe.

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Wollemi pine

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In the new exhibit, Walkabout Australia, Australian plants are densely showcased.

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This is not only thematic botanically but also because this is what the animals from Oz want to eat. (I can’t place which buttonbush that is in the right foreground, but there were loads of callistemons, banksias, and of course eucalyptus including ‘Moon Lagoon.’)

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And there is an enormous bonsai pavilion that appears to be quite new.

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The nonprofit Safari Park, which takes up thousands of acres, was started some 40 years ago as the breeding arm of the San Diego Zoo and is entirely reliant on donor and visitor support. Currently among their challenges is finding a way to breed their Southern White Rhino with the last two female members of the Northern White Rhino. (The last male Northern White Rhino died this past March, under guard in an animal sanctuary in Kenya, so the species is now functionally extinct.) To finance conservation efforts, the park has hit upon a great combination of sights and activities — zip lines, hot air balloon rides, elevated rope trails, not to mention the cycads, bamboo tunnel and enormous Bismarckia palms…as I said, something for everyone.

Posted in clippings, garden travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

S A Y A Designs

When Victoria at S A Y A Designs asked if I wanted to know more about her work in helping to replant rain forests in Indonesia, I told her most definitely yes, I very much would be interested in knowing more. So she sent me a package.

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In the package were three slim cream-colored boxes.

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Inside the slim boxes were carefully sewn silk sheaths in colors of turquoise, pomegranate and lime containing lustrous, hand-carved hair sticks.

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Each one unique, one of a kind, just like the trees from which they’re carved. Tamarind, teak, rosewood. Their journey started in Indonesia, where local craftsmen fashion them from the salvaged roots of abandoned hardwood tree plantations. These slim little hair sticks carry with them a big story, one of deforestation and UN sustainable development goals. They are the tangible manifestation of Victoria Jones’ vision with S A Y A Designs of a circular economy that doesn’t just strip away raw materials but replaces what has been depleted (for each hair stick purchased, ten trees will be planted). It’s a hope-based economy that relies on conscious consumerism to thrive, on literally starting at the root of some of our most intractable problems. And it’s a chic vision too, drawing on Victoria’s background in the visual arts before she moved to Bali a little over a year ago. These little hair sticks make very seductive ambassadors for their rain forests! You can listen to more of S A Y A Design’s story here:

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So we asked some friends to play with them, and the hair sticks picked up their journey again, this time to the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Would our friends in Santa Monica, California, know what to do with the hair sticks from Bali?

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Inquiring minds…

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Absolutely they knew! Hands, hair, and wooden sticks have been mixing it up for millenia, long before plastics and elastics.

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Okay, mom was savvy to the hair sticks. But what about her daughter in West Hollywood?

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Like I said, it’s simply intuitive.

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Thank you so much, Victoria, for setting this marvelous journey in motion.

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S A Y A Designs — turning heads for the right reasons.

photos by MB Maher

Posted in artists, commerce, design, inspire me, MB Maher | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

bloom day July 2018

July 15th arrives slightly singed and battered. I was just noticing this morning that the big serrated leaves of Bocconia frutescens were untouched by that nasty 109F heat, whereas I’ve had to cut sheafs of tetrapanax stalks to clear out all the crispy leaves.

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But the heat can’t get a purchase on the grevilleas’ lacy, finely cut leaves. What a good plant ‘King’s Fire’ has blossomed into.

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I grow very few big and juicy flowers anymore but was making an exception for a couple dahlias. But this year the dahlias became so badly mildewed and then heatstruck that they’ve already been cut down. By July the garden mostly fizzes with tiny blossoms.

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Gaillardia ‘Mesa Peach’ planted in early summer represents for summer daisies this year.

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Icy Agave mitis var. albiodor and calamint. Icy is a great look for July.

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Aeonium nobile’s monocarpic swan song.

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Eryngium planum

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And E. pandanifolium, just two bloom stalks this year.

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If only glaucium would reseed. Such fabulous plants that tolerate hot and dry conditions.

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Really nice with Centranthus lecoqii.

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Keep Albuca spiralis watered and it may kick summer dormancy down the road a bit.

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The pale yellow kangaroo paws seem to be the most sun resistant. The other paw, ‘Tequila Sunrise,’ has bleached to a biscuity-orange now.

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Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ is throwing another bloom spike as this one finishes.

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The pergola is a godsend to people and plants. If I could give a new garden in zone 10 a single piece of advice, it would be to build a pergola, a breezeway, a covered patio — some sort of shade structure asap now that record-breaking heat is the new normal. I’m constantly playing around with the potted plants under the pergola — I can’t imagine having a garden with a southern exposure without it. (That’s one of three pots of Amorphophallus impressus in the foreground. Loves the heat but appreciates some shade under the pergola. I moved the big-leaved tropicals out of the sun and under the pergola too.)

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New to the garden this year, Miscanthus nepalensis sailed through the heat and has about 9 blooms now — not that I’m counting or anything…

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And in the ground just a few weeks, planted from blooming gallons, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Raspberry Improved’ needs to be babied and shaded from the strong afternoon sun. Which is why, as a rule, one shouldn’t plant so far into summer. But I haven’t really given digiplexis a thorough trial, and here these were, inexpensive and beautifully grown, with ‘Improved’ helpfully included in their name, etc., etc. — this summer’s exceptions to the rule.

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Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad Jalisco’ is slowing down and not as full of blooms as this photo taken in late June.

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A self-sown Solanum pyracanthum mixes it up with salvias, verbena, berkheya, gomphrena, but most obvious from this photo is my great affection for Yucca ‘Blue Boy.’

Stay cool!

Thanks to Carol, our host for Bloom Days on the 15th of every month.

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, Bloom Day | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Sara Malone’s remarkable Circle Oak Ranch

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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.

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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.

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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:

Circle Oak Ranch

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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in garden visit | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Garden Conservancy Open Days/Mendocino/Moss Garden

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cooler on Sunday, June 24, Mendocino Bot. Garden, a plant mix like nowhere else of conifers, maples, perennials, redwoods. Island beds designed by Gary Ratway.

The buzz started spreading at the Austin Garden Bloggers Fling in May, at least among the Northern California bloggers, Kathy and Gerhard: Wouldn’t it be great to meet up in Mendocino for the Garden Conservancy Open Days in late June? Even though it’s roughly a 10-hour road trip for us from Los Angeles, both Marty and I need little encouragement to visit foggy Mendo in the dog days of summer and camp again in the great coastal state parks. (This year MacKerricher State Park. The Surfwood section has the campsites closest to the ocean and is highly recommended.) The big attraction of the Open Days program this year as far as I was concerned was a tour of the private garden at Digging Dog Nursery. I’ve been a mail-order patron and occasional visitor to Digging Dog since before the display gardens and rammed-earth house were built and wasn’t aware that a private garden had also been added. (As Deborah reminded us on the day of the tour, the nursery pre-existed the house and gardens.) Of the three GC gardens open on Saturday, June 23, it seemed logistically possible to see two of them, Digging Dog and another garden also designed by Digging Dog co-founder Gary Ratway, the Moss garden. On the drive north Friday we stopped at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, made another stop in Petaluma at Lagunitas’ Tap Room where we bumped into live music by LA band Arms Akimbo, overnighted in Willits, then made the trip west to the coast on Highway 20 early Saturday morning, arriving at the Moss after 10, with a firm deadline to be at Digging Dog by 1 p.m. Our car’s AC gave up Friday afternoon on Interstate 5 near the Altamount Pass, in 100-degree, stop-and-go traffic, which made the prospect of Mendo’s foggy embrace even more tantalizing.

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Mendocino Bot. Garden

And because life can’t resist throwing a curveball, instead of the anticipated cool, overcast skies, we found ourselves Saturday in a heat wave, Mendo style, which felt like maybe the mid 80’sF to me.* The Moss garden situated on bluffs overlooking the Pacific was cooler than Digging Dog Nursery, which is a few miles inland, but still get a load of this hot glare:

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And those colorful magenta and orange shrubs massed under the redwoods? Those would be heaths and heathers, which love full sun in cool, acidic soil. The heath and heather collection at nearby Mendocino Botanic Gardens has been recognized as a Collection of National Significance, so clearly this part of the Pacific Coast provides the niche conditions to their liking.

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The Mendocino coast is wild and windswept, with ferocious winter storms, so it’d be a guess as to distinguishing style from necessity in opting to deploy closely cropped orbs of box and teucrium among the hummocks of heath and heather at the Moss garden.

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But the overall effect is as though the house and garden have been bundled in warm, brightly colored clothing against the cold blasts of the ocean.

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The majestic trees towering over the sinuous shapes of the hedges and topiaries brings vertical design elements to a whole other level of scale.

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The entrance to the 3-acre property.

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The grass appeared to be the Slender Veldt Grass, Pennisetum spathiolatum.

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These teucrium topiaries bring to mind the grey whales that migrate south along the coast November through April. (Though I also see submarines and even bombs in their forms.)

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Covered porches and decks at the back of the house looking out over the meadow to the ocean.

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Marty wonders which path to take.

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Close in to the house are formal design elements such as gravel paths, gates, low walls and hedging.

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Moving away from the house, the landscape tosses in waves of swaying grasses, storm-proof mounds and hummocks, anchored by summer-bleached mown meadows. Such is the pragmatic design response to an exposed site on a coast infamous for shipwrecks. But then Mr. Ratway sets up a surprise — a secret sunken garden to indulge a bit of formal romance organized on an axis to be enjoyed through windows from the main house.

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As at his own garden at Digging Dog, the columns are constructed using the rammed-earth technique. Temporary wooden forms are filled with a mix of soil and concrete, a practical method for utilizing the excavated soil.

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On its own, this sunken garden with pool and rill could be a template for a small, stand-alone garden.

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But then that sense of discovery and arrival, of stumbling out of the storm into a world in perfect order, would be missing. Large gardens do have the advantage of generating layered, complex emotional responses.

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Moving through a large garden of many moods is like — what? A complex piece of music? A delicious multi-course meal?

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The little sunken garden clearly displays Gary Ratway’s understanding and appreciation for European estate gardens. To me it is strongly reminiscent of the work of Lutyens and Jekyll at Hestercombe.

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We almost missed visiting the orchard garden entirely, which doesn’t flow from the main house but is set apart and fenced to keep out wildlife.

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We entered through this gate.

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Looking at another entrance, this view showing how the orchard garden relates to the house, with the ocean in the distance. The large expanses of mown grass appear to forego irrigation for summer.

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The interior lawn of the orchard garden is much greener than the outer mown areas.

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The orchard garden is planted with summer perennials and roses, including salvia, geraniums, nepeta, alstroemeria, kniphofia, bergenia and stachys.

More soon on the tour of Digging Dog’s gardens.

*(Thinking back, I estimated maybe mid 80’s and then asked Marty his opinion. He estimated 90 degrees. Checking Accuweather, they’re copping to 71 degrees for the 23rd of June whether I plug in Fort Bragg or Mendocino, which seems a crazy underestimation, yet Accuweather is usually spot on for our local temps. I can’t explain the difference between our perception of being surprisingly warm, which the locals confirmed by apologizing for the unusually high temperatures, vs. the actual temp. BBC reporting of the recent heat wave in Scotland that melted roads cites temperatures of 32C, which converts to just 89F, and even 22C was considered hot in Glasgow, which converts to 71F. The heat waves in northern cities unaccustomed to such high temperatures is the latest installment in our headlong descent into AGW/climate change.)

Posted in climate, design, garden travel, garden visit, journal | 7 Comments