bringing it home

Visiting first-rate plant nurseries necessarily involves purchasing plants, or so I’ve always believed — even if the purchaser is thousands of miles from home and has to shove the pots into an already bursting suitcase and then into the cramped overhead compartment of an airplane. Even if the nursery offers the sensible alternative of mail order. This is a long-standing, deep-seated compulsion of mine, and no trip is considered a success without some newly discovered plant settling its roots into my garden the day after I return. A gardener’s equivalent to trophy refrigerator magnets with images of the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, I suppose. During the recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, under the mistaken impression I wouldn’t be able to fly plants back into California, I fought off this compulsion and resisted many fine plants. After being repeatedly assured that it was safe/legal to fly plants home with me, I caved on the last day, at Far Reaches Farm. We had been urged everywhere we visited that we absolutely must squeeze in a trip to Port Townsend to check out Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson’s nursery Far Reaches Farm, where rare plants abound, like this very cool, black-eyed Aster souliei in their display gardens.


Aster aff. soulieu

As luck would have it, Far Reaches Farm had stock of the fabulous Alstroemeria isabellana that Sean Hogan had pointed out to me in a display garden at his nursery Cistus earlier in the week. Meeting some plants for the first time can be like making the acquaintance of that person with whom you have an instantaneous, natural rapport, and so it was with this alstroemeria: Thick, succulent, pleated leaves and dangling, aloe-esque flowers — we were instantly best friends. It’s already throwing out a bloom stalk and, knock wood, I should have a photo in a week or so. This photo was found here, the ebay plant seller Strange Wonderful Things.

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Following the timeworn, axiomatic advice “In for a penny, in for a pound,” it made sense at that point to add seven more plants into the bargain, mostly shrubby stuff like corokias and olearias but also the hardy ginger Cautleya gracilis and this ruddy form of Saxifraga stolonifera named ‘Maroon Beauty.’

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The description on Far Reaches Farm’s alstroemeria plant ID tag dredged up decades-old memories of stuffing our Honda Civic with loot from Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California, pots sandwiched in between an always-drooling Newfoundland, two kids, two adults, and assorted other gear:

“We got this from Maggie at Western Hills some years ago as an Alstroemeria x Bomarea hybrid called ‘Fred Meyer.’ Thanks to Martin Grantham at UC Davis, we finally have the correct name. This is a rare and surprisingly hardy species from Brazil which does great outside for us. Pink corolla with green petals and yellow throat…Average to drier. July-August. Zone 7. Sun/part sun.”

(Garden Conservancy writes about the recent change in owners of Western Hills here.) Sean Hogan, who is related to one of the new owners of Western Hills, says he has high hopes for the garden now, with much work already accomplished in clearing out the overgrowth of brambles and cataloguing the garden. What an interconnected, supportive and generous world plant nursery people inhabit.

What else did I bring home? The now unshakeable conviction that a water garden must be next on the list. The Little & Lewis garden, which is not at all a large space, seamlessly incorporates many water containers and gardens. George Little described how this water garden rimmed in baby’s tears has been in existence a mere three months, starting out life as a stock tank, which was painted on the interior a dark green to minimize the shine from the new tank, then surrounded with dry-stacked rocks filled with little pockets of soil for plants to colonize, in keeping with their naturalistic approach. And plants do colonize swiftly in the advantageous growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest! Summer-dry, Mediterranean climates like mine, whether in Southern California or Greece, the source of much of Little & Lewis’ inspiration, have long relied on water gardens to convey a sense of lushness and plenty via this most precise and controlled use of water. Their book “A Garden Gallery” also gives lots of reassuring advice on starting a water garden, as well as being a photographic journal of their celebrated first garden, which is just next-door to their current garden.

The waterlily ‘Ultraviolet’ was just beginning to bloom. We were maybe only hours too early.

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(Kathy at Gardenbook has a great post on our visit to the astonishing garden of these warm, generous artists.
Anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology will immediately recognize kindred souls in George Little and David Lewis.)

Some of the best souvenirs are the memories of meeting plants I’d only read about before, like this anemonopsis at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Or this celmisia just about to bloom at Dunn Gardens. There wasn’t a name tag, but it couldn’t be anything but a member of the tribe of New Zealand Daisies. I don’t really have an Actor’s-Studio favorite swear word, but upon seeing a huge celmisia for the first time, an involuntary eff me escaped my lips — luckily, the docent wasn’t around.

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Edited to add possible ID: Pachystegia insignis

At Linda Cochran’s renowned garden on Bainbridge Island, I discovered what a 15-year-old stand of Lobelia tupa looks like.

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After years of gardening for mainly foliage effects, Linda said her interest in photography is increasingly drawing her towards flowers.

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Lilies were another signature plant in bloom everywhere we visited. Regal lilies at Dunn Gardens.

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Melianthus was also widely planted, seen here at Linda’s garden with potted Japanese forest grass hakonechloa.

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Hostas of course were everywhere.

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And brilliantly planted containers, like this one at Dunn Gardens. Acid yellow, corrugated leaves of Pelargonium ‘Golden Lemon Crispum’ against the smooth blue chalk fingers of Senecio mandraliscae. I’ve outright stolen this bit of genius, no doubt the work of curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey, and have already found the pelargonium at a local nursery. Senecio mandralsicae is too rampant here, so I’m trialing the similar but more restrained Senecio serpens.

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The same pelargonium, like bolts of zig-zagging, foliar electricity, used elsewhere at Dunn Gardens.

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Potted lewisia at Dunn Gardens.

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More potted beauties at Dunn Gardens. No idea what these are.

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Linda Cochran prefers clay pots for spiky plants, which she simply shatters when it’s time to move on to a larger pot size instead of struggling to remove the plant, risking gashes and scratches.

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I also discovered that all nursery dogs are unfailingly good-natured. One of the Blue Heeler cattle dogs at Dragonfly Farms.

Dragonfly's Blue Healer

I hadn’t seen perennials grown this well since visiting England. The colors gleam and remain vibrant under overcast skies. From the display garden at Dragonfly Farms.

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To everyone whose nursery and/or garden we toured, the warmest thanks for the generous gifts of your time and knowledge.

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Joy Creek Nursery

Continuing the posts on my recent visit to Oregon and Washington with some unabashed flower porn courtesy of the display gardens at Joy Creek Nursery, a retail and mail-order nursery in Scappoose, Oregon.

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(The buddleia might be ‘Evil Ways’)

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I went a little crazy with the Rudbeckia hirta photos. Fascinating differences from each one to the next were as mesmerizing as an unfolding fireworks display.

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(Gardenbook has blogged on this same visit here.)


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Cistus Nursery

The second installment of my recent visit to Oregon and Washington (or How I Mispronounced Botanical Latin for Six Days While Touring Gardens and Nurseries of the Pacific Northwest).
My own peculiar zonal filter can’t help but color these posts; for example, I did feel a special affinity for our next destination, Sean Hogan’s nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island, a marvelous nursery I’ve visited a couple times before and hope to visit many times again. This sign at Cistus neatly sums up the reasons why I find this nursery so horticulturally sympatico.

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Our group represented gardens from zones 5 through 10. There was lots of overlap in the plants we admired, just differences in the lengths we have to go to care for some of them.

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And then there was the vicarious thrill from everyone’s plant choices. The dark-leaved Daphne houtteana made the transcontinental flight back to a garden on the East Coast.
Sean feels scent is paramount in a garden and I completely agree, but I killed my last daphne years ago.

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The sea hollies are a particular favorite of mine, and I’ll always remember them as one of the signature plants of this visit.
This giant at Cistus is Eryngium latifolium, which Sean said is second in size only to Erygium pandanifolium.

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Wonderful against the steely blue leaves of eucalyptus and Yucca rostrata

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It did lightly drizzle during our visit to Cistus, which limited photo-ops somewhat. Normally, Portland gets scant summer rain.
Even so, a skilled plantsman like Sean knows how to obtain a lush effect from climate-appropriate plant choices.
I’m wondering now if the blue leaves mid-photo aren’t Kniphofia caulescens.

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Towering, shaggy bamboo

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More summer-drought lushness. Genista showering golden blooms over the green flower umbels of thoroughwax, Bupleurum falcatum.
An araucaria, the Monkey Puzzle Tree, can just be glimpsed in the center of the photo.

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Brody dutifully herded us along while Sean pointed out the botanical bounty of Cistus.
I do think Brody was a tad smitten with Sue, who blogs at Idyll Haven.

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At this point in the trip, I was still under the delusion that flying plants back home to California was verboten.

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Good thing this delusion lasted until the last day of the trip, or I would have probably thrown all my clothes away in an attempt to shove a couple Crambe maritima in the carry-on bag.

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Enormous cardoons, Cynara cardunculus, legacy of a prank played on Sean by the late Christopher Lloyd, who sneakily described the gift of young plants as smallish, dainty, front-of-the-border plants.
The punchline came a year or so later: Surprise, they’re gigantic! Gotta love horticultural humor.

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(More botanical tit-for-tat: Sean gifted Lloyd’s Great Dixter with its first hardy banana, Musa basjoo, which Lloyd infamously planted where the rose garden had grown for decades.
When Lloyd ripped out the rose garden to grow tropicals, the English gardening public was aghast, and many regarded the move as heretical.
Sean must have thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing controversy.)

But enough gossip and dawdling! Three more days to go…


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summer 2012 road trip: Pacific Northwest

I find vacations in the Pacific Northwest have a lot in common with Chinese food; after being home for a few days, you’re hungry for another serving of Puget Sound, please. I’m sitting at a table in my garden in Southern California, staring up at a piercingly blue sky, like a child’s crayon drawing of Sky, trying to recapture the thrillingly turbulent, clouds-of-Michelangelo skies that were overhead every day of our six-day visit to the Pacific Northwest. Skies like this one off the balcony at our hotel in Silverdale, Washington, the staging place for gardens and nurseries outside Seattle and on Bainbridge Island on the second half of our trip.


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A sky you don’t turn your back on or rain might sneak in to pelt your umbrella-less head. Which theoretically doesn’t happen in the PNW’s mostly summer-dry climate, but it did happen once, at the nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island, and wasn’t a big deal at all. Nursery umbrellas are always handy, even if little frogs have to be coaxed out of the folds before hoisting it overhead.

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I’ve attended just a couple road trips with this group of rabid plant enthusiasts, and both those trips were on the West Coast. But any garden-rich part of the U.S. is fair game, and the Pacific Northwest was chosen this year for its wealth of incredible nurseries and gardens.

The trip was divided into two chapters, Portland and Seattle, and the itinerary looked roughly like this: Arrive Portland, Oregon, meet at airport, pile into car, then immediately head over to Loree’s house to take her up on the generous invitation to visit her garden and then lunch at the McMenamins Kennedy School. Loree’s garden, the eponymous Danger Garden well known from her blog, has already been chronicled by a couple of my trip mates, fellow bloggers Kathy at Gardenbook and Sue at Idyll Haven. (Sue gives a nice history of the garden group here.)

The clean lines of Loree’s garden geometry are the perfect counterpoise to a serious plant lust.
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The next two nights we slept in a botanical garden. In comfy beds and with complementary breakfast, of course, but for the entire time we spent at the Oregon Garden Resort, the 80-acre botanical garden in which the hotel is located was at our disposal, to wander at will. A couple of what were, for me, the “signature” plants of the trip were first seen here at the OGR, like this dierama in bloom outside our rooms and then everywhere else we visited.


Dierama, or Angel’s Fishing Rod, is an African member of the iris family, to zone 7.
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Also seen at OGR was another signature plant of the trip, eryngiums, which bloom spectacularly well in the PNW.

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Thoroughwax, Bupleurum falcatum, an understated evergreen I’ve always admired.

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And the flashy Tiger Eye Sumac, Rhus typhina, was widely seen throughout our trip

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As was Leycesteria formosa (but especially in it’s golden-leaved form ‘Golden Lanterns’)

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The Clematis tangutica on the arbor at the OGR was a harbinger of the PNW as Clematotopia

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The next day, Thursday, started with a tour of the tissue-culture labs and display gardens of Terra Nova Nurseries. (It is a rare thing to be among travelers all uniformly excited about touring a plant tissue culture lab. I love these people!) I’m probably wildly misquoting Dan Heims, but my iPhone notes tell me Terra Nova tissue cultures 3 and a half million plants a year at this 18-acre site. One in 20,000 of those is a mutation that might be the next sensational tiarella, heuchera, echinacea, kniphofia, agastache destined for sale at your local nursery.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ on the left, echinaceas and the dark flowers of Calla ‘Edge of Night’ in the background. All the plants seen in the display gardens are currently available.

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Dan says the ‘Popsicle’ kniphofia series is a nonstop-flowering breakthrough

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Agastache ‘Blue Boa’

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Agastache ‘Summer Glow’
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I was intrigued by this diminutive crocosmia coming into bloom, ‘Twilight Fairy Gold,’ which has the bronzy leaves of ‘Solfatare’

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Fatsia japonica ‘Spider Web’

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Persicaria ‘Brushstrokes’ and heuchera

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Actaea ‘Black Negligee’ with the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’

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Endless permutations of echinacea, the coneflowers

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Might be time to rinse the palate at this point with a grouping of cannas, sedums, and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’

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We finished off the day with a tour of Dancing Oaks, where I apparently felt a deep need to photograph something familiar at this point, like Aloe striatula.

Aloe striatula Dancing Oak

Eucomis flourish in the PNW. This is ‘Can-Can’

Eucomis 'Can Can'


The sun unexpectedly blazed at this beautiful nursery and garden filled with eminently desirable plants. I managed to get only a couple photos before the camera battery died. One of the owners, Leonard Foltz, was amazingly generous with his time and knowledge, which we found to be the case at every garden and nursery we visited.

And that’s just the first two days. More soon.

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a week in the PNW


Day one of a week touring gardens and nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a clue to our first stop after landing in Portland, Oregon.


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Still stumped? More clues…

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Obviously, this can only be Loree’s incredible garden (the Danger Garden), which we toured the day after it appeared in Apartment Therapy.

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The Low Line (really)

Credit goes to New York for currently being the city with the most moxie, ingenuity, and brass-balled chutzpah in creating new public parks. (See Frank Bruni’s 7/14/12 piece in the NYT’s Sunday Review “Our Newly Lush Life.”) New York’s recent success with parks illustrates two important points: Where space is at a premium, look again at existing, abandoned infrastructure. When money is tight, get creative with public/private relationships. New York is aiming to build on the enormous success of the High Line, the abandoned elevated railway transformed into one of the most exciting public/private garden collaborations of recent years, but this time going underground.

Yes, underground, where the sun don’t shine.


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With a moon-shot, can-do, New York swagger, co-creators of the Delancey Underground project, James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, envision light reaching the abandoned Delancey Street Trolley Station through “a large system of mirrors and fiber optics to transport sunlight from the streets above into the cavernous facility, filling the space with enough natural lighting to even allow plants to grow.” (“The Low Line – New York’s First Underground Park“)

Architectural Digest’s 5/11/12 Daily Ad reported on a soiree held to benefit the High Line and ended with this intriguing snippet:

As for New York’s next great park, Boykin Curry, a partner at Eagle Capital Management, and his wife, interior designer Celerie Kemble, mentioned a project they’re currently championing: the Low Line. ‘Some friends and I have been collaborating on this,’ explained Curry of the proposed two-acre subterranean park that would occupy a former trolley terminal on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. ‘A friend of ours is an engineer who invented the technology to bring sunlight below ground, so you can grow trees and grass there,’ he continued. ‘We’re working on it with the MTA and the city.’ Fingers crossed.”

No, I’m not making this up. You can read more about the Low Line here and here. Initial fund-raising goal was met on Kickstarter this past April.

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Bloom Day July 2012

I’m taking the last few weeks of July off work, which means sitting at a computer is the last thing I want to do. But miss a Bloom Day? Never! Since I’m heading out on more adventures this week, I’m going to rush through a few photos of my garden and then add in a few from last week’s trip to the Bay Area.

Papaver rupifragum and the Broom Fern, Asparagus virgatus (zone 7-10).

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No vase required for this arrangement.

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Helenium puberulum — of all the knockout heleniums to grow, right? I do like knobby stuff, though.
I thought perhaps less petals meant less water requirements than fully petaled heleniums. Silly logic and not at all the case.
A one-summer experiment.

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Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’ — trialing a couple peachy dahlias this summer, too, and am not at all enthused. Done with dahlias. Except for this dark beauty.
Saliva canariensis and Persicaria amplexicaulis in background

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‘Monch’ asters are making a reappearance this year. Amazing long period of bloom, consorts well with grasses.

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Disclaimer: Bloom Day post effectively ends here. All photos after this point are not of my garden.

Continue reading

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Natural Discourse at UCBG opens 7/14/12

For the past several months, I’ve been following the development of Natural Discourse, the collaboration of artists with the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, and now we can see the outcome of their efforts at the official opening this Saturday, July 14, 2012. Not to be missed if you’re in the Bay Area this weekend. Ongoing through January 20, 2013.


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gardenbrain

I will be forever indebted to *Eric Liu and Nick Hannauer for coining the word “Gardenbrain” in their op-ed in the 7/10/12 edition of The New York TimesThe Machine and the Garden.” I’ve always had one. Turns out our economy needs one too. One of the best reads I’ve had in weeks. Rather than recirculating the same cliched buzz words for our economic woes, the writers show how “We are prisoners of the metaphors we use.”


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The Machinebrain metaphor yields a picture of the world “where markets are perfectly efficient, humans perfectly rational, incentives perfectly clear and outcomes perfectly appropriate.” When we refer to economic “engines” and “fueling” the economy, that choice of metaphor impedes understanding because “economies, as social scientists now understand, aren’t simple, linear and predictable, but complex, nonlinear and ecosystemic. An economy isn’t a machine; it’s a garden. It can be fruitful if well tended, but will be overrun by noxious weeds if not.”

Government spending is not a single-step transaction that burns money as an engine burns fuel; it’s part of a continuous feedback loop that circulates money. Government no more spends our money than a garden spends water or a body spends blood. To spend tax dollars on education and health is to circulate nutrients through the garden.”

Wise regulation…is how human societies turn a useless jungle into a prosperous garden.”

Gardenbrain — what a fruitful metaphor. Nice potful of gears too…



*Authors of “The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy and the Role of Government.”

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talk to me about the weather

When I was a callow youth, a period of uncertain beginning and dubious ending, if all you could talk about was the weather, you had my sympathy. (Possibly you also had my barely concealed disdain as well as sympathy. I was that callow.) Weather conversation was a fallback adults used to avoid discussing all the unpleasant things their jobs and kids were doing to them and/or betrayed a woeful lack of imagination. Now I think and talk about the weather constantly, and not just my own local weather but, for example, the disastrous state of the Mid West’s corn crop from drought and the unprecedented heat in the continental and eastern U.S.


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Since my middle-age years have no resemblance whatsoever to the same period in my parents’ lives, or so I like to believe (just as they once liked to believe), I chalk this weather fixation up to the Internet and its plethora of garden blogs and forums. There are so many more stick pins on my map of people and places to wonder and worry about, mainly due to the gardens I’ve come to know via the Internet. This summer I’ve got a corn crop of my own, if a crop can be had with just three plants, all from seed Nan Ondra generously offered for SASE last fall. (Zea mays ‘Tiger Cub.’) I won’t be eating this corn. It’s grown for those beautifully variegated leaves, not the cobs. Making a garden is often typecast as an escapist, tra-la-la pursuit, and there is thankfully plenty of tra-la-la to be had, but the more I learn about gardens, the more I sense that they are also outposts where the sky and land are vigilantly scanned by the sentry on duty, who is the first to note when the fruit trees’ crop is ruined by a freakishly late cold snap after being cajoled into early growth by an unseasonably mild winter. Reading the reports of the many sentries on duty, I’m coming to the sobering, middle-aged realization that weather talk is not just idle chatter anymore.


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