Tag Archives: Western Hills Nursery and Garden

Wednesday clippings 1/6/16


One storm down, five more or so to go. For the first time in a long while, the air smells incredibly fresh.

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January is always the perfect time for the shocking pink blooms on Pelargonium echinatum to arrive.

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A “Sundiascia” I planted in early December, found at Sunset Boulevard Nursery. I expected it to immediately stop blooming, as most things planted out in December do.
Dating myself now, but I remember in the 1980s traveling eight hours up the coast to Western Hills to check out their new diascias, euphorbias, salvias, anything and everything.
And doing that at least twice a year. And now diascia hybrids are sold everywhere in the bedding sections of nurseries.
(Speaking of Western Hills, they are beginning garden docent training January 28th. It is a six-week training on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Call (707) 872-5463 or email Stacie at stacie@westernhillsgarden.com to sign up
.)

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Rainy day Agave ‘Blue Glow’

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First blooms on Acacia podalyrifolia. With the air sweetened by rain and now this fragrant acacia in bloom, the front garden is a little slice of heaven.
After it’s finished blooming, it will be cut back hard. Lots of complaints about its encroachment on the driveway.

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Melianthus ‘Purple Haze’ enjoying a good soaking.

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Linking up with Flutter & Hum’s icy Wednesday vignette.

planting details at the Reid garden

I went through my Reid garden photos again, looking for clear examples of the subtly layered plant communities that rose up around my feet as I followed the paths, scanning the garden like a hungry predator, looking down then quickly back up to trace the changing treeline, the alternating pools of light then shade, the understory of shrubs surrounded by blankets of ground-hugging sedums, bergenias, hardy begonias, grasses. Immersed in the garden, it feels as though the enfolding landscape continually builds up then releases great dramatic tension, holding charged breaths filled to bursting, then exhaling in a pool of sunlight, or a vista over fields and distant stands of trees. Heady stuff.

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Filling over two acres, plants are allowed to contribute the full breadth of their character and are seen in all their dimensions.

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The Lion’s Tail, Leonotis leonurus, was a dazzlingly exotic beast to American Conifer Society members on the tour.
I heard languages from all over the world amongst our group excitedly conferring over the Lion’s Tail.

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Remember, this is a California garden in September, in a mediterranean climate (theoretically winter wet/summer dry) under water restrictions due to our cursed, ongoing drought.

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On the path alongside the serpentine wall.

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Their terraced landscape covers two and a half of the 140 rolling acres they bought outside Occidental in 1989.
A few miles east of the Pacific Ocean and south of the Russian River, the garden overlooks farm fields, apple orchards, and fir forests
.” — (“A Passionate Pursuit”)

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Now on the semi-parched lawn atop the wall.

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Leucadendron, Rosa mutabilis, and Salvia involucrata.

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Cussonia paniculata on the left, in the distance behind the veil of Stipa gigantea, white oleander on the right.

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Up against the house, tibouchina and abutilon.

There is a new book out, that I haven’t read yet, entitled “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, that describes this kind of “ecological landscape design.” If you have a nearby garden to study that follows these principles, consider yourself fortunate, because brilliant examples like the Reid garden in Northern California are not often seen. Gardens attached to nurseries, like nearby Western Hills in Occidental, are often good places to study this kind of planting, because detailed plant knowledge is the key.

the colors of Bilbergia nutans



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The first bloom of the common Queen’s Tears bromeliad, Bilbergia nutans, is just so very startling when it arrives, especially if you’ve only seen it in photos before. Like drop-your-coffee-cup startling. As though David Hockney was in the garden overnight manically touching up the blooms. This bilbergia’s constituent colors are impressively shocking on a small scale, but seeing them together made me realize I’ve been actively pursuing these colors elsewhere in the garden.

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The deep pink on the bilbergia just about matches the last of the nerines to bloom

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The lime green of the bilbergia can be found in Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold.’ Planted again this fall at a pathway’s edge, it’s growing well. Better air circulation and a little more moisture might be the answer. I won’t know if it gets thin and patchy again until next summer. Everything seems so much more promising in fall.

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The bilbergia’s deep blue can be found in salvias like Salvia guaranitica or ‘Indigo Spires,’ or this fern-leaf lavender, Lavandula pinnata var. buchii

I found a couple fern-leaf lavender locally, when I was out searching for some more blue agastache to plant this fall. This lavender was once a really big deal, big enough to drive all the way up to Western Hills (written about here) to fetch when it arrived on U.S. shores in the ’80s. Tender and lacking the eponymous scent, but with those amazingly deep navy blue blooms and finely cut, jade green-grey foliage. Not very long-lived, it grows woody at the base and has to be renewed frequently with cuttings, which is possibly why I stopped growing it. And then it became easily available and I moved on to other plants less easily available, as is my way. I remembered it as Lavandula multifida, but the tag indicated Lavandula pinnata var. buchii. Whatever. Somewhere along the way, its name changed, or so I thought.

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After watching it fill out and increase in bloom for a week or so, and realizing this was just the small, shrubby, blue-flowering answer I was looking for, I went back to the nurseries to find more. This time the label said Lavandula multifida. Now I was confused. At the hort.net site I found this remarkably pertinent discussion from 2002 by John MacGregor:

Not surprising that you are confused. You are not the only one. The
nursery industry in California doesn’t have a clue on this one.

First, Lavandula multifida, L. pinnata, and L. buchii are three different
species. In recent years, I have bought about everything offered in the
trade in this state under these names, trying to sort it out, and have
received the same species from the same nursery under different names as
well as different species under the same name.

Twenty-five years ago we had all three species at the Huntington Botanical
Gardens (at the time, L. buchii was classified as a variety of L. pinnata).
I shared cuttings of all three with various wholesale nurseries and
collectors, and authentic plants of each were sold at Huntington plant
sales. Apparently, along the way some of the cuttings must have been lost
or the name tags of some of the survivors were mixed up (L. pinnata and L.
buchii–both from the Canary Islands–are much more frost-tender than L.
multifida–which is from southern Europe and North Africa). Lately,
everything I have seen labeled “L. pinnata var. buchii” in nurseries
is L. multifida. L. multifida is also sold occasionally as “Lavandula
‘California'” or “California Lavender” as well as under its own name. For
instance, the lavender offered by Monterey Bay Nursery as “Lavandula pinnata
buchii” and illustrated on their web site is actually Lavandula multifida…
” and so on.

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I wish I could get the fern-leaf lavender closer to Euphorbia rigida, but without some demolition, there’s just no room. Photo from last spring.

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The lavender would be equally wonderful with Euphorbia mauritanica in the front gravel garden, which is building up good structure for spring bloom. But no room at the inn there either.

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Until I saw the bilbergia bloom, I wasn’t aware that I’d been orchestrating these colors elsewhere: deep pink, chartreuse and dark blue.

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Gomprehna ‘Fireworks,’ fern-leaf lavender, Pelargonium crispum.
(This gomphrena has almost cured me of my allium envy.)

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After some fall planting, for a brief moment the garden has taken on the colors of Bilbergia nutans. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these colors next spring too.


unidentified fabulous grass/sedge (Chloris virgata)

I’ve gone through a couple online plant catalogues this morning and checked out the online index to John Greenlee’s Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses. Nada. Still no ID. I brought this grass home from Western Hills long ago, when Maggie Wych was running the Northern Californian nursery after the original owners bequeathed it to her. The grass has been an afterthought since then, not much more than a memento from Western Hills straggling along in too much shade, placed too close to pathways where it gets a good stomping, never watered. Blades are dark green. I usually forget about it until a few of these sparkly, tassel-like flowers appear.

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Like the nursery Western Hills, this grass is a survivor. Last fall I moved it into a full-sun position, just to test its mettle even further. I also wanted to get it away from my clumsy feet trodding on it, breaking those beautiful tassels. It handled with aplomb temps that precipitously climbed into the 90s the past two days. I think it’s proven itself. It deserves a name. Any grassophiles out there, help would be appreciated. About a foot high, topping 2 feet when in bloom. Evergreen here. A small division this fall is offered in exchange for a name. Email me if you don’t want to guess in public.


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unknown grass with Orlaya grandiflora and Ursinia sericea

Edited 5/17/13: Thanks to Stacie at Western Hills for contacting Maggie Wych (former owner of Western Hills). The grass is Chloris virgata, the feather windmill grass.

Lunaria annua

I’ve finally discovered the identity of the little clutch of seedlings under the smoke tree.

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Lunaria annua, which I saw lining the pathways of *Western Hills, the former plant nursery in Occidental, California.

Western Hills photo by MB Maher.
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I’ve been hoping to entice lunaria to naturalize and bloom with spring bulbs and Helleborus argutifolius, which also throws its seed around with wild abandon. A single Geranium maderense that bloomed last spring carpet-bombed the area with seedlings, so initially I mistook the lunaria for more late arrivals from the geranium. The lunaria’s seedlings also came from just a single plant, a variegated selection that bloomed under the smoke tree Grace this past spring. Rather than bring the transparent seedpods indoors for a vase, I tore them apart and shook them over the ground.

Photo found here.

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Lunaria annua is a biennial known, strangely enough, as both Honesty and the Money Plant. Although not a rarity, still the possibility of getting a self-perpetuating colony going of this charming plant has me gleefully counting the little seedlings and moving them around to shady areas of the garden, which are admittedly few. The translucent seedpods or “coins” are an old-timey, dried flower favorite. If I’d taken a moment’s care, peeling back the membrane would have revealed the three flat seeds encased in each pod. Carol Klein discusses history and propagation here.

And in another lunaria triumph, seeds of the perennial Lunaria rediviva have also germinated. Source of these seeds was Derry Watkins.

Annie’s Annuals & Perennials is a mail order source of Lunaria annua, including the dark-leaved selection ‘Rosemary Verey.’

(*NB: In an update on this post on Western Hills, Chris and Tim Szybalski of Berkeley’s Westbrae Nursery have since become its new owners and will be preserving the garden.)