Great Dixter, Part 4: the Long Border

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!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day August 2018

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!

Great Dixter Part 3

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.

Great Dixter Visit, July 20th (Part 2)

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.

Great Dixter Visit, July 20th (Part 1)

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!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: July 2018

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!

Botanical snapshots from the Eastern Sierras

I’m back from a too-short trip up to the Eastern Sierras for some hiking and general escape from screens, WiFi, and all those sorts of things. The hubster and I camped for a week (the last week in June) in the Virginia Creek Canyon, between Lee Vining and Bridgeport.We’d never been to the Eastern Sierras, and started our week with campsite reservations for the first 2 nights at Trumbull lake, an NFS campground we found online. We ended up staying for the week — it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful, spacious and quiet campsite surrounded by limber pines.As is usual for us, we geeked out hard on the wildflowers.We did A LOT of hiking. Like, multiple 5+ hour hikes at altitude, which was something for us cubicle-bound corporate drones. I think the highlight of the week for me was the hike up to Burro pass (also called Summit Pass). There is just nothing like being up on what from a distance seems like such a barren peak — only to be amazed by the wildflowers. All that expanse gives me a profound sense of smallness and calm. I can’t explain it with any justice — needless to say it left me wanted to do more exploring of the high sierras. We also hiked up Green Creek Canyon, which was aptly named (and could just as well have been named “wildflower canyon”), ending at a cluster of alpine lakes. I’ve been meaning to figure out what all these plants I photographed are — I’ll get to that at some point! This is just a sample: a have A LOT of plant photos. Here’s a shot of the meadow next to Trumbull Lake, back at our campsite. Is it silly that this meadow (nature), made me ponder naturalistic garden designs a la Piet Oudolf? An ironic case of nature evoking imitation!


A naturalistic landscape design going under-appreciated

The company I work for recently moved in to a new corporate campus location in Foster City, CA, right by the San Mateo bridge. The site features 3 buildings (4 if you count a parking structure) surrounding a central quad, which features a berm and a naturalistic meadow planting bordered by trees.

A view of the quad from the 3rd floor of one of the buildings. Note the wind chop on the bay. I’ll come back to that.

The walkway along the main building’s border with the quad includes seating areas, and concrete “benches” that continue up into the grassy berm.

The benches in the meadow are a bit confusing to me. There’s no pathway, and while in a non corporate setting I might imagine feeling inspired to hang out in the sun up there in the middle of all those swaying grasses, given the professional context I probably wouldn’t actually do that. It will be interesting to see if I ever observe anyone wandering up in to the meadow (and it would be sort of a shame if no one ever does!).

My first impression of the design was happy surprise — I thought, wow how progressive to go so naturalistic in a corporate office park! Plus, I like how the grasses evoke the marshland that must have originally been here. But then, I am such a sucker for grasses and wistful, moody landscapes.

Check out the juxtaposition of the blowy grasses sparkling in the sun and the power lines and industrial tanks behind them.

I asked a few of my coworkers what they thought of the landscape design, and (perhaps not so unexpectedly) heard “stark”, “barren”, and “desolate”. One person commented that they thought maybe the landscape wasn’t yet fully installed. I can’t say I’m surprised by the general impression — perhaps in part because the San Diego office has a more formal landscape design, and in true Southern California style includes a considerable amount of outdoor meeting/socializing/work spaces. The San Diego office design is actually a pretty interesting mash up of formal spaces, native plants, and a naturalistic yet very artificial arroyo and koi pond (it’s lovely, don’t get me wrong). I’ve been meaning to do a blog post on that. But I digress. I think part of the challenge for the Foster City design is the fact that this location is so extremely windy. There are outdoor meeting/socializing areas, but I can’t imagine anyone lingering in any of them, and one of my coworkers specifically commented that it would have been nice if they’d included deliberate wind breaks in the landscaping. Maybe it will be less windy here come Fall/Winter? I’m doubtful. Or maybe once more of the plantings grow in that will help? The site isn’t completely done — a soccer field will be added on what is more or less the bay side of the current campus, so there’s more to come.

All corporate landscapes have to deal with the adjacent “nature”, and perhaps the more naturalistic the landscape the more complicated that relationship becomes. The southwest corner of the FC office campus has been taken over by a family of Canadian geese, who make their residency very well known to the users of the office buildings through the “presents” they leave behind on the walkways and the completely unused bocce court, and through their occasionally aggressive behavior. My gut reaction is to side with the geese, but then they’re an invasive species and this site isn’t actually home for them any more than it is for us corporate drones.

Here’s a shot of the goose family patrolling the perimeter.

Despite the absence of immediate appreciation the local professionals have for the landscaping, I wonder if the design is in fact serving its purpose. Maybe modern naturalistic design, no matter how artificially reconstructed it may be, serves a purpose if it makes those that experience the setting think about the windswept bayside marsh that must have been here at one point, harsh elemental exposure and all. And perhaps forcing some human-invasive bird negotiations will inspire some reflection on how to cope with these issues on a larger scale. It will be interesting to watch how this landscape grows in as the seasons change, and in particular as the site gets more use. It’s only at about 1/4 capacity right now. So perhaps these outdoor spaces will get more appreciation in the future.

Bloom Day June 2018

Summer has arrived in San Diego! That means a couple of things… First, it’s going to be dry and hot from here on out. Second, I need to let go of any vague intentions to add new plants until the Fall. And third, the flowering wind-down has begun.

But it’s not all bad. Eriogonum grande var. rubescens has burst on to the scene.

Along with its cousins, sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum something)…

Common buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum (I LOVE this plant by the way. It’s so lacy in appearance and yet tough as nails)…

…and giant buckwheat Eriogonum giganteum. My neighbor smartly pointed out how much it resembles cauliflower (she was about 7 at the time).

The native type Palo verde is done flowering, but Desert Museum is still going strong.

Hesperaloe parviflora “brakelights”

The chuperosa Justicia californica is confused and keeps on flowering because its near a micro spray.

Verbena bonariensis

Gomphrena fireworks (a bit blurry)

Globe amaranth of some kind (and colors)

An echinacea! I usually kill these so don’t keep your hopes up that we’ll see this again…

Desert penstemon. (I sure have a lot of pink going on in June.)

Matilija poppy Romneya coulteri

Digiplexis “Illumination flame”

Kangaroo paws Anigozanthos NOID are fueling a lot of hummingbird fights these days (with Salvia clevelandii in the foreground… also inspiring hummingbird angst)

Little tiny flowers on the Euphorbia leucodendron

And a NOID epiphyllum that is utterly spent.

Signing off for June! (For bloom day at least). Have a fabulous weekend.

Belated Bloom Day: May 2018

This month I figured I’d focus on the front yard, but its looking awfully bleak to me now that the poppies are done. Still, there’s this exuberant fleabane of unknown species (Erigeron something). These guys are on irrigation so they get a little out of hand this time of year.

Anigozanthos (not sure which one):

Hibiscus from a big box store

Camissonia: This is such a great plant — and tough, too! Little wonder I suppose, given that its a native.

One of my very favorite natives is blooming. I think this is a variety of Eriogonum umbellatum, but I’m not sure which one.

Manfreda Silver Leopard

Cleveland and Black sage (Salvia clevelandii and Salvia mellifera)

Island Mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora from Annie’s annuals)

Another favorite native, Eriogonum giganteum, isn’t quite open yet. Next month!

The plantlets are starting to pop on the Agave desmettiana stalks. Sure, they’re not flowers, but still noteworthy. That purple blur in the background is more Salvia clevelandii.

So I just have to pause here and say I didn’t realize quite how much natives dominate my garden. I’m certainly a native plant advocate, but there are just way too many interesting plants in the world for me to ever actually commit to an all-native garden. But yet… I nearly have! I blame it on negligence: the exotics under my care have a tough time of it.

On to a sampling of the backyard, where there are a few things that deserve to be mentioned.

First, the Achillea x ‘Moonshine’ is just glorious right now.

Penstemon heterophyllus X ‘Margarita BOP’ positively glows

I’ve got two different chalk Dudleyas here: I need to spend some time figuring exactly which these are. The flowers might be kind of plain but the hummingbirds really like them.

A potted Euphorbia lambii is blooming

Tiny little white flowers on a Rhipsalis (I think? No idea which one).

Finally, the epiphyllum cactus is about to open. The angle of bud changed dramatically today. The 2 additional buds are still doing ok — if they make it this will be the first time I’ve ever gotten one of these to produce more than 1 bloom.

I went out to check it at 10pm: still not open. Stay tuned!

This bloom day report is a nod to Carol at May Dreams Gardens.