Building My Garden: Part 6 – Finishing Up the Mediterranean Beds

Since the garden bed expansion project I have been slowly planting and finishing off the various beds.  I’ve been taking my time because I am busy and also kind of wiped out.  I’ve done a lot of work on this garden and think it looks pretty good considering it was only started in February.

The mediterranean garden is now made up of two long beds.  The large one near the street and the narrower one along the chain link fence.  I am hoping I will get the drip irrigation and mulch down and finish the path with decomposed granite some time this month.  We’ll see how much energy and money I have.

The entire planted part of the yard is approximately 70 x 40 feet. It’s a pretty good size.  In the fall I hope to expand the garden further with the side yard which is also 70 x 40 feet.

Over the course of the next year these plants should fill in enough so that barely any soil is visible.

The only things that remain unplanted are the backyard bed of shrubs and odds and ends.  Frankly I’ve just been too tired to tackle this and needed to give my back a break.  But I’m getting sick of looking at it and may try to get it started tomorrow.  Some Salvia, and Grevillea, and a Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ will be the stars of this bed along with a few different Ozothamnus that I am trying out (since I know nothing about them).

I’ve planted many lavenders in the expanded medit beds including several different cultivars of Lavandula stoechas like ‘Willow Vale’ and ‘Boysenberry Ruffles’.

Lavandula stoechas Coco™ Dark Pink is a very unfortunate trademark name. Sadly it seems the cultivar name is L. stoechas ‘Cocdap’ which is just a horrible morph of the trademarked name and not much better.   It is a pretty, compact, dark pink L. stoechas so I guess I’ll put up with the generic name that is meant to appeal to the broader public.

Berkheya purpurea

I first saw this plant in Beth Chatto’s gravel garden but it wasn’t quite blooming yet so I wasn’t sure what it was.  The mystery was solved when Andrew Keys over at Garden Smackdown blogged about it and I recognized it from his photos.  I ordered mine online at Dancing Oaks Nursery and they sent me two for the price of one!  I love free plants!

Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’

Early on in my gardening career, my experience with Artemisia on the east coast was that they melted in the heat and humidity of summer.  So I don’t know much about them.  They seem much better suited to my new coastal climate so I am trying out four different types to see how I feel about them.

Artemisia pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’

This artemisia is a selection of one that is native to coastal California.  It should form a nice low mound but as you can see it has these weird ropey inflorescences so I am not sure how I feel about it.  Maybe it will not be as weird looking once the plant grows a little and they can be pruned out, but pretty much every picture I found online the plant had these weird alien looking blooms flailing about.

Frankenia thymifolia

This is an unusual little groundcover that is sort of like a cross between a thyme and a dwarf conifer.  It has these teeny little pink flowers.  The poor things have been sitting in the ghetto for the past two months and were looking a little raggedy. But they burst into bloom a week or two ago. I finally got them planted today so hopefully they will settle in despite the abuse.

Gaillardia ‘Oranges & Lemons’

I’ve been seeing this Gaillardia on wholesale lists for a while now so decided to grab a few to finish off the edge of the medit bed.  I’m a sucker for anything daisy shaped and the colors are pretty great.  I have a more compact one called ‘Gallo Red’ too.

Another project I finished today was fixing up my seedling nursery.  I wanted to make it a bit more professional looking.  I need to cover the young seedlings with bird netting, but I was using stacks of bricks to hold them up over the plants, which looked awful. I figured I could create some sort of frame with PVC pipe but had no idea how to go about making it.  Just in time, Clare over at Curbstone Valley Farm, saved the day. She posted pictures of a structure that she made with PVC, to create a humidity tent for her grafted heirloom tomatoes. I’m not very handy with tools and building things so the pictures made me feel a bit less insecure.

I started out making a rectangular frame base big enough to contain a dozen nursery flats. I cleared my old nursery bed near the vegetable garden and pulled up all the weeds and then put down weed cloth.

I added four T’s to the frame to create supports to hold up the netting.  Overall a pretty easy experience and much more professional looking.  It also holds the netting higher over the plants to give them a bit of room to grow.  Now I just need to get some PVC snap clamps to hold the netting more securely.

So the garden is coming along.  Hopefully soon I’ll have a post about irrigation and mulch!

Plants I NEED

Christmas seems like a good day to set up a wish list for plants that I need to grow someday.  Either in my new garden (I’m moving on Friday!) or a future garden or just a wish list of amazing plants that I would love to grow.

I’ll probably try to do this as a long running series and hope to fill it with new plants I learn about or just plants that I love.

The first is Crotalaria agatiflora. I spotted this Chartreuse beauty at the Kula Botanical Garden on Maui (well worth a visit if you are ever in Maui). Both Annie's and San Marcos Growers have sold this plant in the past and no longer do. I don't know if that means it is difficult to grow or just not very garden worthy but I want one. I NEED one!

Sticking with a Chartreuse flower theme for a moment the next plant on my list is Puya chilensis. This is a plant I first learned about from one of my gardening mentors, Lily Ricardi, at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. The only one I saw at that time was already finished blooming but I never forgot Lily's description of the vivid green blooms. Remember when I went to England last May but then didn't share many pictures with you because I suck at blogging? Well I'll try to remedy that with future blog posts and this is the first of them. I was very excited when I visited St. Michael's Mount near Penzance and got to see this impressive specimen in full bloom. I had seen photos of course but nothing beats seeing a plant in real life. I'm not sure if I will grow this in my new garden as it a huge plant (this one must have been at least 20 feet across) and is rather prickly (it is believed that Puya's may be carnivorous because animals get trapped inside the prickly tangle of leaves) but it is on my "some day" list.

This plant was so big that this was the closest I could get to capturing a photo of the blooms.

And now for something a little less rare but still spectacular. I grew Lupins in my first garden in the mountains (OK hills) of northern New Jersey. There is something about the way the leaves push up out of the soil in late winter and early spring that is magical. They look like dewy green fingers. And then the flowers are these wonderful phallic spires of pillowy bi-colored pea flowers! My first plants were all seed grown Russel Hybrids so it was always exciting to see what interesting color and bi-color combinations you would get. Once my garden moved to my father's place I could no longer grow them as they prefer cooler summers, but California has many native Lupines, and the cool climate of Los Osos should be perfect for them. This picture was taken at Hidcote where they had an entire border filled with Lupins.

Isoplexis is a foxglove relative endemic to the Canary Islands and Madeira. They are very common growing under glass in English gardens but in coastal California they should be quite happy growing in the yard. This one was growing in the glasshouse at Hidcote.

The spectacular spiral leaved Aloe polyphylla, coveted by many, but tricky to grow. It grows at a high altitude in its home in South Africa so doesn't do well with heat and humidity. Luckily the central coast of California seems to have the perfect growing conditions and it is quite common there. I have even seen a row of them planted in a hell strip in San Luis Obispo!

Quite by accident the next plant I chose was another with the polyphyll specific epithet (it means "many leaves"). This one is Tropaeolum polyphyllum. Regular garden Tropaeolum or Nasturtium has escaped into the wild and is a fairly common weed here in California but there are also many unusual species in the genus. Many of them are tuberous or climbers and most are somewhat tricky to grow (especially compared to Nasturtiums). I feel like the cool coastal climate may be just what they want so I am going to give a few of them a try. This tuberous blue leaved beauty was growing at Beth Chatto's garden.

As I have said in earlier posts I am eager to learn more about the Protea family and definitely want to grow some in my new garden. But there are so many. Which ones should I grow? I don't even know where to start! Luckily I saw this beauty while driving in Maui and stopped to take some pictures. It is Leucospermum reflexum. This impressive silver leaved bush is growing along the road that leads to Haleakala Crater and the Kula Botanical Garden so I'm sure I'm not the only person who has stopped to take pictures.

The flowers of Leucospermum reflexum start out with the usual pincushiony greatness! I think this one looks like a phoenix.

Then the petals all bend back on themselves and the look changes to a fiery shuttlecock. Very cool. I NEED one.

The last plant on my list today is one I am not likely to ever grow but I was just excited I got to see them in person. It is the Haleakalā silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum) a rare and endangered plant endemic to Maui (two other endangered species of silversword grow on the big island of Hawaii). All the ones I saw were basically planted in the parking lots at the top of Haleakala Crater. It was so cold, foggy, and rainy that we didn't go hiking about looking for them out in the wild (in fact my father and brother stayed in the car when I got out to photograph these). On a nice day the views from the top of the crater must be spectacular but all we could see was a wall of grey. But it was worth the cold, and rain, and my father crying in the back seat, as we drove up the crazy 18 mile windy road to the summit 10,000 feet above sea level (he is terrified of heights and complained the entire time that he had not given informed consent when he agreed to take the trip with us to the top).

Sadly the flowers were all finished on this silversword (they are purple!). But the spent inflorescence is still cool. The plants can live up to 50 years but they are monocarpic. Once they bloom and set seed they die. So this guy won't be around much longer.

That’s it for this installment of Plants I NEED.  Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Beth Chatto Gardens (finally)

Beth Chatto Gravel Garden.HelianthemumAllium 'Firmament'Oriental poppies, Gladiola communis, Nectaroscordum siculumVeronica teucriumTropaeolum polyphyllum
Verbascum bomiciferum and Nepeta.Parahebe perfoliataOriental poppiesAllium karataviense, Hellianthemum, and Acaena.
Me with a NepetaBeth Chatto Water GardenLysichitonSantolinaSantolina foliageBeth Chatto retail nursery.
Dictamnus albusNectaroscordum siculumNigella damascenaAllium cernuumTropaeolum pentaphyllumBeth Chatto Gravel Garden

Beth Chatto, a set on Flickr.

Time to stop making excuses and start posting pictures! If I wait any longer no one will be interested or even remember that I have a blog. I’ll try to figure out how to make slideshows in the future but for now I am going to try to use Flickr’s integrated features to make posting pictures faster.

Beth Chatto Gardens was as wonderful as I imagined it would be. My main interest was the gravel garden but the water garden and the rest of the gardens were really impressive as well.

Edited to add: Well this works just as well as a slideshow.  Thumbnails that take you right to my Flickr set.  You can view them as a slide show if you wish or just go through them pic by pic.  In the interest of time this is probably how I’ll put up the rest of my England pictures over the next week.  Let me know what you think.

Back to England

Shortly after graduating from The New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture in 2004 I did an internship at The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew in England.  England had a great impact on my formative gardening years when I was self taught from books by great English authors and early days of HGTV (when they still showed gardening programs).  I was determined to study in or travel to England and visit some historic gardens and when a friend was accepted to the School of Horticulture at Kew I had an in.  I enjoyed my time there so much I even looked into getting a job there and staying but immigrating to the UK for an American isn’t easy to do and for a country that has such a vast and important gardening history and culture they sure don’t pay their gardeners well.

Normally I would pick somewhere entirely new to visit.  There are still a lot of countries with gardens I want to see.  But there are two things I missed out on the last time I was in England.  The first was The Chelsea Flower Show.  Now I did actually attend the show.  In fact it was one of the things I was most excited about.  But my aforementioned friend had purchased the tickets and the day of the show she had to meet with her thesis advisor for the first time.  Apparently this expert on Nepenthe was a bit lonely and once they started talking he didn’t want to let her go.  So we already had a late start and then as we rushed to Chelsea she left her wallet on the counter at the Tube station and we had to go back and get it.  So we arrived at the show with just over an hour before it closed.  Knowing that wasn’t enough time to see everything I wanted to see I simply ran around with my camera and took pictures of everything without really getting a good look at it.  I figured at least if I was going to be rushed I would be able to enjoy it later.  But then when transferring the pictures from my SD card to a CD I accidentally deleted all but one of them.  That’s right I took around 230 pictures and deleted them all.  Except this one:

Ora - The New Zealand Garden of Wellbeing

It is pretty cool.  The first garden entry from New Zealand at The Chelsea Flower Show and it won a gold medal but because it is my only picture it is pretty much the only thing I remember about the show.  This time I bought a full day ticket and will have 12 hours to take as many pictures as I want. I will be extra careful not to delete any of them.

The other thing I really wanted to do but ran out of time was to visit Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.  I especially want to see her gravel garden that never receives any supplemental watering.  So the day after the flower show I plan on taking a train up to Essex and paying Ms. Chatto a visit.  She is 88 years old this year so I feel like I shouldn’t put this off any longer.

Then my family is joining me and we are planning a bit of a family trip around London and southern England. Should be interesting as the four of us (my father, brother, and sister) haven’t all been on a trip together since I was a teen.  Of course I want to see as many gardens as we can fit in so I am hoping that they don’t put up too much of a fight.  There have already been some grumblings but at the very least I am hoping to see Hidcote and Knightshayes Court.  I have a list of over a dozen gardens I want to visit so it is a little overwhelming trying to figure out what my priorities are and how to get to them all in the time allotted and still allow time for touristy things the rest of the group will enjoy.