October morning backlighting.
October morning backlighting.
So I was up in the Bay Area last month visiting some friends, and I should mention that my friends live *in Richmond*. Now, Richmond is actually where Annie’s Annuals happens to be located. And as luck would have it, my friends were up for tackling a little afternoon garden project, which of course meant we needed to go to Annie’s. I’ve bought plants from here via mail order for years, and it felt like a pilgrimage to get to finally visit the nursery in person.
The place did not disappoint. All I can say is wow! So many gorgeous flowers and plant combinations on display.
Ah Tithonia! I grew these in North Carolina and Iowa, but couldn’t keep them going in San Diego.
I saw things I’d seen online and am now even more obsessed with, like this Salvia (below)
And some new finds… what is this thing (above) with these gorgeous smooth, silver leaves?
And this thing out by the front gate!? Must get one.
The nursery is large, and chock full of beautiful specimens.
And by large I mean *large*. I also have to say it was incredibly well tended, with plenty of helpful signage. My Richmond friend commented that she finds this to be a very well organized nursery, in terms of how the plants are grouped for sale. I haven’t seen other commercial nurseries set things up in quite this same way. My friend commented that she finds that the organization of the place makes it easier to understand what to pick out, how to garden with the plants, and ultimately helps you as a customer enjoy your gardening experiments all the more.
Ok, so vegetables in hand it was time to tackle our project. My friends use as much of their yard as they can to grow fruit trees and vegetables and have named their place Tiny Acres. I think this may be in part named after one their cats, Tiny. Or it may have to do with the size of most yards in Richmond. Or probably both.
Our goal for the afternoon was to replant some raised beds.
We added celery, chard, beets, green onions, and a new rosemary plant. There may have been more but since I’m only now (finally!) writing this post I might be forgetting something.
Tiny Acres features apple, plum, Meyer lemon and avocado trees. And this pineapple grave whose foliage I find really striking, and whose fruit my friends highly recommend. I may need to get one of these, too.
And then sadly it was off to the Oakland airport for the flight home. But I feel lucky to have such dear friends in my life, and weekends like that to share with them.
A few snapshots from an early September weekend in Sonoma County with a couple of old friends.
Hello again, world! It’s been a while since I checked in with the blogging inter webs: nearly 2 months since my last post, and I skipped September’s bloom day altogether. My September started off with a weekend in the East Bay of San Francisco and Sonoma. I was meeting up with a couple of very old, very dear friends from grad school days. We were set to meet up Friday evening, but I grabbed an early morning flight to Oakland and BART-ed and bussed my way to Walnut Creek to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden.
You know you’re not in Southern California anymore with glorious Quercus lobata trees like this overhead.
I arrived in Walnut Creek late morning and stopped in at a Noah’s bagels to grab a snack. I have deep nostalgia for Noah’s even if they aren’t the best bagels in the world. Back in the 90’s my Noah’s go-to was a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese and sprouts. What ever happened to sprouts anyway? They were part of every build your own sandwich and salad bar (and bagel option menu) in 1996. But times change: now its sesame with avocado, or raisin with almond butter for me.
Back to the RBG: the remarkable story of this garden and its creator was captured in The Bold Dry Garden by Johanna Silver, pictures by Marion Brenner. The garden is indeed pretty special.
The Chilean Wine Palm (above) was enormous — I hope the table and chair give you some idea.
Visiting the RBG had been on my list for some time, and I am incredibly happy to have made the trip. I love the story of the RBG, and the fact that it served as inspiration for the Garden Conservancy organization. I feel almost a certain allegiance to Ruth Bancroft herself, as a fellow total amateur. But the garden itself for me wasn’t super memorable. There were many features of it that were incredible to see in person (like the Chilean Wine Palm, and the trio of native CA date palms).
Later in the day I made my way back to Oakland, landing at the Temescal Brewery tasting room to wait for my friend, Dawn.
I had some time to reflect on my reaction to the RGB. I think there are 2 reasons why it didn’t personally appeal to me as much as other gardens have.
For one, the RBG is a collector’s garden of course. It’s not a designer’s garden or even what I might tentatively call at horticulturalist’s garden. (I think of a horticulturalist as someone trying to create effects through plant combinations, the emphasis on the effect).
I am sure Ruth truly loved all these weird and wonderful plants, but I would guess she was more concerned with their maintenance than with designing with them. I mean, of course — none of these were easy to come by, nor was it easy to predict how they would fare in Walnut Creek.
The other thing I realized was how much I am swayed by formality and structure, and particularly the juxtaposition of them with loose and naturalist plantings. The RBG very deliberately has no straight paths. And yes there’s the shade house and the shade structure but to me these seemed distinctly non-dominant features, painted pale green to fade into the background.
It was interesting to realize these things, and certainly a treat to see Ruth’s amazing creation.
When I plotted out how I would squeeze this visit to Great Dixter in to one day at the end of a work trip, planning my transportation with Google maps was easy and didn’t really prepare me for just how small a village I was headed for. My hosts at the South Grange Bed and Breakfast seemed pretty surprised by the effort I’d gone to, just to get to Northiam and see Great Dixter (but then, maybe that was just classic British modesty I wonder?) There are more famous gardens in Britain for sure, but the fact is I’m not really in the know when it comes to famous gardens in Britain (though I’m working on that). So why did I immediately think to visit Great Dixter? (And believe me I’m glad I did!).
It all started with the plant blog reading, a habit I picked up years ago, after I moved to San Diego. At some point I was lucky enough to stumble into Thomas Rainer’s Grounded Design, including This post about the Long Border at Great Dixter. I devoured Grounded Design — it felt like finding a set of secret instructions. So Thomas Rainer’s post about Great Dixter is where this idea started. And the chance to see it in mid-July, high summer, at its peak? Certainly worth a few hours on trains and buses.
So: the Long Border. Truth is, after I got through The Sunk Garden I needed to give my eyes (and my brain frankly) a break. So I paused, had a cup of hot tea, dried out a little bit, and then headed out to see it. From the Refreshments Loggia you can get to the Long Border via the Orchard.
Once there, I spent a very long time looking at the Long Border.
I didn’t decode any master planting plan, or suddenly understand the mastery of Christopher Lloyd’s lifelong project — that was all more than I was equipped to comprehend, and wasn’t really what I was after. I just looked… and looked some more.
But while yes I suppose all along I did intend to write a blog post about my day off at Great Dixter, I was deliberately trying to not aim to report out on anything in particular. I hadn’t really known what to expect, and liked that feeling. I was at some point struck by how lucky I was. It’s a rare thing to have a day set aside to just see, to look at something, and to be someplace where what I was looking at was beautiful and unendingly interesting to say the least.
And in the end one thing I can say for sure is that it was utterly beyond any perennial border or planting bed I have ever seen. So yes the Long Border was legitimately spectacular. I went back through at the very end of the day — it was the last part of the garden I visited before I left.
Here (below) is my last look — looking back from the path through the orchard. We all know this, and we’ve heard it before and sad it ourselves, but I was reminded again that gardens are powerful — they conjure the power of place, of mystery (or in this case, mastery), of surprise and wonderment… made all the more powerful because they are fragile and fleeting at the same time, never the same on a different day.
Do check out a series of posts from another blogger (Pam at Digging) about Great Dixter and the Long Border visited on a day a few weeks before I was there. It was sunny then, and earlier in the season of course, and Pam has a very thoughtful (and different) take on Great Dixter!
This is the quiet season in my neck of the woods. Everything is hunkered down, waiting out the heat and dryness of late summer and fall. This picture of the side yard in the fading sunlight of bloom day captures the mood. Flowers are few and far between right now.
This is the time when textures really stand out, and the succulents take a leading role. But globe amaranth provides a spot of color.
And many of the echeverias are blooming, keeping the hummingbirds interested.
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens has faded to seed.
Eriogonum fasciculatum is also fading, but still has some white flowers.
This is a lousy picture of a fabulous, crazy tough, late summer blooming native plant, whose name I simply cannot track down tonight. I got this plant years ago at Las Pilitas, when they still had a nursery in Escondido. I’ll add the name when I find it!
Chuparosa (Justicia californica), confused by nearby micro spray, has flowered through the entire summer.
Verbena bonariensis is still flowering, but is slowing down and looking tired.
Nearby Gomphrena “fireworks” is still going strong.
Then there’s these guys — Strelitzia (NOID) they usually bloom later in the fall but I’m not complaining.
Out in the front yard now, California fuchsia lights things up along the driveway.
The NOID hibiscus from a big box store is going strong.
Island mallow Lavatera (assurgentiflora I think) has a few blooms…
… as does desert globe mallow Sphaeralcea ambigua.
This dwarf oleander (NOID) is lovely right now.
Here’s another favorite native, Eriogonum giganteum.
And the ever dependable, ever cheery Oregon fleabane.
Garden bloggers bloom day is hosted by May Dreams Gardens. See you in September!
Part of the reason Great Dixter made such an impression on me was perhaps because it was the first formal English garden I’ve ever seen. Reading up on it a bit, I learned that it is an example of a garden in the Arts and Crafts style. Another example of this style is Sissinghurst, which you can take a tour of by visiting Pam’s post about Sissinghurst over at Digging. Pam’s got a whole bunch of posts from her recent tour of English Gardens — you should definitely check it out!
The more formal areas of Great Dixter’s gardens are the Blue Garden, the Wall Garden, The Sunk Garden and adjacent Barn Garden, and the famous Long Border.
Leaving the Loggia above the Topiary Moat, you enter the Blue Garden.
Yes that green surface on the ground is actual lawn. It looked nearly unreal to my Southern California eyes, and in comparison to How many of the lawns in Britain look this summer. (But more on that in an upcoming post about my visit to Kew).
A few steps in the corner of the Blue Garden bring you to an arched entryway to the Wall Garden beyond…
… which features a dazzling display of potted plants arranged around a courtyard with an elaborate stone mosaic portrait of Christopher Lloyd’s dachshunds. I spent a lot of time here, just admiring the plant combinations.
It sounds silly, but I recall gasping out load as I walked in to the Sunk and adjacent Barn Gardens, the burst of color and texture was just that amazing. Note I took a few of these later in the day (my second pass through) after it brightened up a little. So if the light suddenly looks different, that’s why.
This might be a formal garden, but here the formal edges are overtaken by the exuberance of the plants, weighed down with rain, bowing in to the paths (and each other).
Above is a shot of the Barn Garden. You might start to notice in these pictures how all these layers and layers of plants, colors, textures feels… not just informal but experimental. Despite this being a managed, Charitable Trust property since 2003, it still feels very much like a gardener’s garden.
The Sunk Garden features an octagonal pond with water lilies, which is down and to the left of the picture above.
Next… the Long Border.
As I said in Part 1, Great Dixter left me dumbfounded by its vibrancy. So next let me try to organize my story here a bit. Fueled by lunch, with a newly purchased umbrella in hand, I explored the western sections of the garden first.
I resisted the temptation to linger in the nursery, planning to come back through (more on that later).
… and headed to the Exotic Garden as the rain really started to set in. You can see the Exotic Garden’s bananas and other jungle-y plants poking up above the yew hedge.
The Exotic Garden is built on what was originally the cattle yard and later a rose garden (this according to the guide book — or the Website of course.) Once I entered through the tall hedges, I was surprised by how closed in and packed it was (which turned out to be utterly characteristic of the whole place). The effect (along with the rain and having the place nearly to myself) was to make the garden seem extra-mysterious. I felt like a little kid getting lost (in a good way).
I then traced my way past the edge of the orchard to the mulberry tree (with a newly installed succulent planting below it … plants I see all over the place back home in San Diego).
… then along the lower terrace.
…ah, hydrangeas! This is just the start of… oh, probably 50 hydrangea pics I took. In my normal life I am completely deprived of hydrangeas so I got a bit carried away.
This is looking back toward the lower terrace from one of the loggia. (Loggias? I’m not sure. I only just learned What a loggia is from this trip).
And here’s looking out toward the Topiary Lawn, where I headed next.
If I have my facts right, it was during the 1990’s that Christopher Lloyd replaced a formal mown lawn in this section with the wild meadow. The contrast of the weighty forms of the topiaries with the gentle texture of the meadow and the Continus, all mixed together, was another stroke of pure magic.
The third week in July I was in Cambridge for business. I scheduled my flight home for Sunday, and took Friday and Saturday off to do some sightseeing (something I always mean to do on these work trips, but somehow never actually do).
I got up early Friday morning to catch a 7:19 train out of Cambridge.
Two British Rail connections (1 train even had WiFi!) got me to the village of Rye, where I caught a bus to the village of Northiam. I didn’t know quite what to expect of where I was headed, and was a little surprised to find myself (post bus drop off) walking down a series of narrow country lanes, wheeled carry-on in tow, seeking the address of a B&B, South Grange. After checking in and dropping off my suitcase and the trappings of a professional work week, I headed out on foot to find Great Dixter.
I should mention that, despite the UK’s record breaking summer of drought and hot sunny weather, on this particular Friday, it rained. Pretty much all day. On arrival at the garden I ducked in to the Loggia to get some lunch, and peer apprehensively out at the rain. Can you believe I’d left both a rain coat and a fold-up umbrella in my luggage, back at the B&B? Only someone from Southern California would pull such an amateur move in British weather.
But the gift shop had umbrellas. Nice ones that weren’t even very pricey.
In the rain, the place was pure magic.
The colors were mind blowing. I quickly realized how lucky I was to have a rainy day — fewer visitors, vibrant colors, and the raindrops literally sparkled.
I spent nearly 2 hours stumbling through about 1/3 of the gardens, visually dumb struck by the depth of colors and textures. I had a revelation of finally understanding design principals like dividing a garden in to rooms, and the impact of vertical elements (vertical interest! What a concept!). To someone who spends probably most weekdays looking at screens or office interiors, a day of just looking — at this! — at as slow a pace as I wanted…. using my eyes in a deep way I typically don’t, was simply amazing.
I’d turn a corner and come face to face with some incredible detail.
More to come!
It’s a bleak bloom day report this month from Del Diablo Lane. Last month I said the flowering season was starting its wind-down: well, I was right. The record heat wave just after the 4th of July left so many things — even natives — just utterly fried. The hottest part of the summer is usually when my garden is at its least showy point, but this year the transition has been uncharacteristically drastic.
There are few surprises. The native palo verde is seeing a second flush of blooming. I suspect its due to my neighbor, Dennis, turning up his irrigation.
Close by, Sumac (Malosma laurina) is blooming.
The Eriogonum grande var. rubescens is pretty much finished: not much left but ripening seeds.
Common buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum is still at it.
I seem to have 2 forms of it: this one has tidier umbells.
The hesperaloe parviflora is a bright spot along the north fence, keeping the hummingbirds fed.
And alone among the citrus, the Mexican lime seems fairly unfazed by the heat wave and is flowering.
In the main garden beds, Gomphrena fireworks is proving its worth (and then some).
Verbena bonariensis is still showing up, even while fighting off an emerging case of powdery mildew. Achillea “moon glow” adds a splash of yellow in the background.
NOID echeveria (possibly After Glow but it seems too… “robust”).
And here’s one that I think is After Glow:
The Kangaroo paws Anigozanthos NOID are fading, but still proving some color framing the patio.
Elsewhere in the back, the echinacea is still hanging on (but is that anther smut I see developing?), the NOID globe Gomphrena is looking fabulous, and I’m loving the flowers on the cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii syn. Calocephalus brownii).
The Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’ has one (last?) flower open.
On in the front garden, the big news this month is that Zauschneria cana “Hollywood Flame” is already flowering! It seems early but the hummingbirds and I are happy to see it. I absolutely love this plant. It has a lovely draping shape and is tough as nails. This picture doesn’t do it justice.
Another species of Zauschneria (shown here in front of and taller than “Hollywood Flame”) also just started to bloom.
The Oregon fleabane is happy with its mostly shade setting and drip line watering.
Also flowering is statice,
And Eriogonum giganteum.
Along with a NOID Eriogonum I got a few years ago at Tree of Life nursery.
The island bush mallow Lavatera assurgentiflora is blooming (blurry picture warning):
… and a drawf oleander I thought was a goner a few months back:
And a Big Box hibiscus that I also thought I was going to lose.
The front garden NOID Anigozanthos are still flowering.
Plus here’s a NOID Salvia I got years ago at a big box store. (Does that make it, Big Box Salvia?)
A NOID echeveria and a NOID aeonium are both flowering in the front window box.
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is hosted by May Dreams Gardening. Check out Carol’s June update: it gave me Zinnia envy!