Road Trip to Annie’s!

It was time to take a road trip to the Bay Area this weekend so I could stock up on plants from Annie’s Annuals for my garden.  I decided to take the scenic route up Route 1.

I stopped at Ragged Point and took a bunch of pictures of this hummingbird zipping around the Echium candicans.  Even though there are several species of hummingbird in California I always assume they are Anna’s hummingbirds I am seeing because I believe they are the most common year round residents.

They are fast little buggers but I got a couple of decent pictures.  Pretty sure this is the same guy but the red around their throat is only visible when the light hits it from a certain angle.

I pulled over to take a picture of this huge lupin.

Aside from lupins there were Oxalis, Ceanothus, mustard, and California poppies in bloom along the coast.  On my way back I took the interior roads and there were tons of almonds, cherries, and plums in bloom.  It will always be a bit strange to me that fruit trees bloom in the middle of winter here in California instead of in early spring on the east coast.

Since it was a Sunday I didn’t make too many stops because there were a lot of cars on the road and most of the parking lots were full. So I skipped the elephant seals and Nepenthe.  I did stop at the vista point to take a picture of Big Creek Bridge.  It was a beautiful clear winter day.

wooly Indian paintbrush

I believe this is Castilleja foliolosa but I’m not an expert on them.  I do know that they are hemiparasitic (derive some of their sustenance from the roots of other plants) which is why you don’t see them for sale as a garden plant.

So happy!  Every time I drive up the California coast I feel very lucky to be living here.

The waves were insane!  I tried to get a picture of some of the big ones but of course they wouldn’t cooperate.  The huge waves were shy and only came out when I put my camera away.

I spent Sunday night in Berkeley and woke up bright and early Monday morning and headed to Annie’s for a full day of shopping.

I made a beeline for this Athanasia pinnata.  I think it will make a really nice specimen planting in my mediterranean garden so of course I had to have one.

Megan from Far Out Flora (one of my favorite garden blogs) works at Annie’s so I let her know I was coming so I could say hey.

I had a long day ahead of me.  I was there for a total of 5 hours.  Even though I came prepared with a list and Annie’s is very well organized I always end up running around in circles like a fool.  Everyone that congratulated me for being a grown up and not buying that Globularia a few weeks ago can go ahead and revoke my adult status.  Things I didn’t plan on buying were literally leaping into my cart when I wasn’t looking.  To be fair it is a four hour trip so I need to stock up. And there is no other nursery in the world like Annie’s Annuals (and Perennials).  The type of plants they grow are the exact sort of plants that I am in love with.  It was a beautiful overcast day for taking pictures but of course it is February so the display gardens are not at their bloomiest best.  There are always display plants in containers in bloom though so I did take the time to snap a few pictures.

Platystemon californicus – cream cups

Nemophila menziesii ‘Penny Black’

Lupinus succulentus – arroyo lupine and Gilia tricolor 

Nemophila menziesii – baby blue eyes

Alonsoa meridionalis ‘Apricot’

I set a new record for amount of the amount of plants I can fit in my VW Golf!  Twelve and a half flats.  That is TWO HUNDRED four inch pots!

I purposely traveled light so I would be able to stuff plants in every available spot. I had added so many extra plants I was afraid I was going to have to balance a few on my head but as it turns out two hundred is pretty much the exact amount of plants that will fit in my car without resorting to heroic measures.

They all made it home with me safe and sound.  I spent all of today placing and planting and I have a lot more planting to do tomorrow.  My spring garden is going to be out of control!  Thanks Annie’s Annuals!


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!

My First Installation

I think I have mentioned before that I have recently started my own garden design business (Propaganda Garden Design).  For the past few months I have been doing freelance work designing for my friend and former classmate and roommate Gabe.  He and his wife Maggie have a successful landscaping business in the San Luis Obispo area called Gardens by Gabriel.  I’ve done around six or seven designs for them now but the first one was recently installed so I am pretty excited about it.  I’ve designed many gardens but this is the first legit “I got paid to do this” one.

It is a small courtyard garden for a beach house in the coastal town of Cayucos.  That perfect zone 17 climate right on the ocean but somewhat sheltered by the house.  The home owner wanted lots of color and listed a bunch of bedding plants that he loved.  Now I am not such a garden snob that I dislike bedding plants but I figured since he was paying a designer he should get something a bit more special so my first thought for the space was that a garden full of Annie’s Annuals plants would be perfect for this spot.

I first experienced Annie’s plants back when I was an intern at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden when the nursery manager let me act as buyer.  This was back right before Annie started doing mail order so for me as an east coaster it was pretty exciting getting to see all these amazing plants in person.  Anyway I got to relive a bit of that nursery buying magic and buy a bunch of Annie’s plants on someone else’s dime.  Being a garden designer is pretty awesome.  So enjoy this photo tour of the process from start to finish.

The courtyard had four beds. This is bed one. Just a bit overgrown and not terribly exciting.

Bed two is not much better. My favorite part of this particular design is all the hardscaping was already taken care of. All I had to do was fill the beds with plants.

The Bougainvillea on the right in bed 3 got a reprieve. I wanted to rip it all out but it was one fo the few plants the homeowner really liked so we decided to spare a bit of it. I'm kind of notorious for wanting to start with a really blank slate.

Bed four is rather tiny but this Bougainvillea got to stay as well. Everything else came out though. Including the Solandra.

Back home in West Hollywood I poured over Annie's website deciding on a theme for the beds and picking out plants. The general method I use when designing a garden is imagine the beds in my head while pouring over websites and books and writing down a list of plants. Then I look over the plants and start moving them into combinations that I think will work well together and crossing some plants off the list (because I always go a bit overboard). Since this was a small design I decided to do it in marker. I also wanted to get across the color theme of the beds. There are two plants that are featured in all the beds (Trachelium and Anagallis) to tie the beds together and then each bed would have its own color theme while sharing at least one other plant in common with the bed across from it.

Now for the fun part! A trip up to the bay area and shopping at Annie's. On this trip I learned that you can fit nine flats of plants in a VW Golf! Now obviously taking such a monumental road trip isn't a really sensible way to run a business but I made a four day holiday of it. I figured this was a special occasion and I wanted my first garden to be incredible. But normally there are lots of other cool nurseries in the Central Coast area to shop at.

I don’t really have any cool pictures of the nursery because EVERY time I visit Annie’s it is always insanely bright out and my photos are all washed out.  But I’m sure anyone that is reading my blog already knows all about Annie’s and has read about her and seen her nursery in lots of other blogs from folks who are better photographers.  If by some chance you haven’t heard of or have never visited Annie’s be sure to check it out if you are visiting the San Francisco area.  It is probably my favorite nursery in the world.

Meanwhile back in Cayucos Gabe's crew was hard at work tearing out all those plants and preparing the beds for their new arrivals!

The next day the beds were all ready to be planted. Those Bougainvillea really got a haircut.

Hard to believe that this is the same bed that was full of tree fern and Impatiens just the day before.

So I got to work placing all the plants.

Gabe's crew got to work installing. Here David and Victor are planting bed three. The plant that Victor is removing from its clay pot in the back is a Abutilon vitifolium that I grew from seed collected at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden in 2003.

Mindy and David prepare the drip lines for the irrigation.

And here is bed number two almost finished. After the drip was installed it was mulched as well but I had a three and a half hour drive back to West Hollywood ahead of me so I left early. Hopefully this garden will be as beautiful in the spring as it is in my mind and I'll have some great photos to share then. And in the next few months I will be moving up to the San Luis Obispo area so I can be closer to my work and get involved in more projects with Gabe and his crew.

Just so you get more of an idea of the setting of this garden here is a view of their "backyard". That is Morro Rock off in the distance.

I really hope this garden is successful and the homeowners end up loving it.  About 95% of the plants are from Annie’s so it should be pretty neat.  Aside from some really colorful plants in beautiful combinations I tried to include something really interesting in each bed that the homeowners have maybe never seen before (Musschia wollastonii, Cantua buxifolia, Abutilon vitifolium).  So fingers crossed that we have a perfect winter so the plants get big and fat and burst into bloom in the spring.