Building My Garden Part 3 – Mediterranean Bed

I got tired of being sick and lounging about so yesterday I jumped into action and started planting one of my new gardens beds.  It is a large island bed that is home to a purple leaf plum.  I was going to get rid of the plum but it was one of the few plants that my landlady has an emotional attachment to. I considered moving it but she was too worried it wouldn’t survive so I had to modify my plans.  Not a huge set back in the scheme of things.  I’ve wanted a mediterranean garden (lowercase m for describing the garden style. upperclass M for describing the region of the world) for a while now.  It didn’t really matter where on the property it was.

OK I know it doesn’t look like much.  You have to remember that even though I live in California it is still February!

Just try and imagine what the plants will look like three months from now at the start of spring after months of cool weather and winter rains.

Come on!  I know you can do it!  Stop laughing.  Picture the plants all big and in bloom and imagine that I have put down some nice mulch.

Gardens always look a bit sad in photos when they are first installed and for a few moments I always despair a bit.  But I have a mind that imagines gardens and I just walk around the bed picturing what each plant will look like once it is full sized and bursting with flowers.

This isn’t just a garden for fun. Mediterranean style gardens are perfect for California so are a big share of the type of gardens I design.  It was important to me to be able to grow and experiment with some of the plants that I use in designs.  You can be an OK designer reading about a plants growing habits and dimensions and looking at pictures but I to be really good I think you need to grow the plants you work with.  Most of the plants in this bed are from Native Sons, a wholesaler that specializes in plants for our mediterranean climate here in California.  By growing their plants at home I can get a better idea of how these plants will look in future designs and play around with some nice combinations.

Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’ is a plant I have coveted since it first came on the scene about ten years ago.

Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’ has beautiful variegated foliage that will really set off the metallic blue flowers once they color up.

Dorycnium hirsutum is a small fuzzy leaved shrub with pale pinkish white pea flowers.  At the bottom of the plant you can see a bit of the chicken wire sticking out that I used to cage the root balls of my plants.  It was kind of a pain but worth the extra planting time protecting my plants from gophers rather than crying months from now when an established plant is devoured from under ground.  The only plants I won’t cage and am confident won’t be eaten are Euphorbias.  I also didn’t cage a rosemary, Salvia, and Nepeta as an experiment to see if the things that make them unpalatable to rabbits and deer will work against gophers.

Plecostachys serpyfolia forms beautiful silver mounds about a foot tall and four feet across.

Have you ever seen a plant in a book or magazine and coveted it for years before you could grow it? Maybe it isn’t something that will grow where you live.  Maybe it is something that is so rare in the trade it took you forever to track one down. I still remember the first time I saw Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’. It was back when I was in school almost ten years ago and I was on a bus from NYC headed to my dads house for the weekend. I was reading an article about a Colorado rock garden in a magazine that had just arrived and this plant caught my eye.  I memorized the name and lamented the fact that I lived on the east coast where Helianthemums don’t do particularly well.  Well when going over the list of plants available at Native Sons last week this name jumped out at me and I knew I had to have it for my garden!  Just imagine in a few months it will be covered in tons of little reddish-orange flowers.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this garden turns out.  Aside from the plants pictured above the garden will feature Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’, Salvia ‘Aromas’, Nepeta X faassenii, Eschscholzia ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Buttermilk’, Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, Epilobium ‘Marin Pink’, Stipa gigantea ‘Pixie’, and Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’.  There are still a few spots left for Lavenders (I’m still trying to decide which species and cultivars I want to grow) and some other choice plants.

Remember I complained about birds attacking my mesembs and seedlings the other day?  This is what a Conophytum that has been attacked by a birds beak looks like.

And a Lithops.  I might have thought they had burst from too much water if it wasn’t for the fact that other small plants were completely torn out of their pots and my nearby seedlings were also nibbled on and torn up.

Now my precious little year old Mitrophyllum dissitum seedlings are protected with bird netting.  I’m so relieved the bird didn’t find these plants.

In fact all my seedlings are protected with bird netting now.  Hopefully by next year I’ll have a greenhouse.

Plants I Need Part 2

We’ll call this one the Botanical Garden Edition as I took most of these photos at the various botanical gardens I worked and studied at over the years.  Some of these plants I have waited ten years to grow and now I finally can.  I just have to find them.

This first plant caused quite a sensation at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden when I was an intern there in 2003. This amazing specimen was right at the entrance to the perennial garden and no one could go past it without stopping and freaking out over it. It is Angelica stricta 'Purpurea' I am not sure where Lily Ricardi got it originally but I know she shared some seed with Annie's Annuals so I will hopefully be able to get it at some point. I actually collected seed from this specific plant and sent a bunch of packets out all over the world to various friends from a garden forum I posted at back then.

Another exciting plant that Lily introduced me to that summer was Mathiasella bupleuroides a very unusual umbellifer from Mexico that was named after botanist Mildred Mathias. At this stage it looks almost like some sort of bizarre Hellebore but once the flowers fully open it is quite unique. Despite the fact that it is a North American plant it is probably easier to get in England than it is here but I'm sure I'll track it down eventually.

Dierama pulcherimum is another one that stops people in their tracks. It is from South Africa so it does quite well in California gardens so I am not sure why I don't see it more often. I try to put it in gardens that I design whenever I feel it is appropriate. I have a Dierama mossii that I started from seed a few years ago that I have been nurturing in a pot. I'm sure it will be happy to finally get in the ground. There is a dark purple cultivar called 'Merlin' that I want to get ahold of as well.

Agrostemma githago is a pretty Mediterranean annual that makes a great cut flower. Like Dierama the flowers are at the end of gently swaying wands that add movement to the garden. Annie's always seems to have this in stock and I have the perfect place for a row of them along the white picket fence bordering my driveway.

I'm not sure what it is about Catananche caerulea that I love so much but I have wanted to grow it ever since the first time I saw it in bloom in Mendocino. I pretty much love all little daisy flowers but these are not shaped or colored like a typical daisy.

Now with Jasione perennis (aka J. laevis) I just love to say the name. Jasione. Say it with me. Jazz-e-oh-nee. So ridiculous sounding. I love it.

Lily had quite a collection of Eryngiums and I would like to grow many of them but Eryngium maritimum stood out as a favorite. It grows in dunes across Europe and is sort of silvery green but also with a hint of that metallic blue that it shares with some of the other Eryngiums. If I remember correctly gophers loved them so I'll have to protect mine with chicken wire. I just know there is an army of those little devils waiting for me to start planting.

Another one that is fun to say. Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue'. I am so excited that I actually found a source for this plant and specced it for a garden I just finished designing. I really hope the homeowner likes the design and goes ahead with it. I know she will love this plant. There are a lot of really interesting bamboos but the colors on this one are sort of otherworldly. And it is a clumper too so it isn't going to eat your entire yard!

I'm not actually sure how Crambe cordifolia will do on the California coast. I have never seen it growing here. But it is a common staple in English gardens. A bit like babies breath on steroids. These plants were in the order beds at Kew but I saw them planted at almost every garden I visited in England last May and June. If I can get my hands on some I would love to give it a try here.

Digitalis are one of those delightfully collectable plant genera. So many different species and cultivars and so many of them are beautiful (or at least interesting). They brownish and orangish ones used to be a nightmare to ID because it seemed like every book on the subject gave conflicting info. But Google images seems to have helped narrow things down and I feel pretty confidant that this is Digitalis laevigata. Hopefully the seed that I ordered will actually be the correct plant as well.

How can you not love Verbascum bombyciferum. First of all another fun name to say. And then it is like a jacked up lambs ear that goes crazy and creates this huge spiky candelabra of yellow flowers but the inflorescence is still all fuzzy. Verbascums are already fun plants as it is but to have one that is fuzzy like a pet is way cool. They are monocarpic but they seed around after they bloom and die.

And finally a plant that is so cool I am posting not one but two photos of it. The incredibly bluest of blues, Techophilaea cyanocrocus from Chile. What is it about Chile having plants with all the best colors? Remember Puya chilensis from last time with its intense chartreuse flowers?

Here they are at the old alpine house at the New York Botanical Garden. My friend Marc is manager of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at NYBG. I figure if I trick him into coming to visit me and hold him hostage maybe they'll trade me one of those plants to get him back. I mean they don't need ALL of those, right? I just NEED one!

Well hopefully you liked this latest edition of plants I need and maybe learned about a new plant or two that you can now lust after yourself.  And hopefully in the next year I will be growing some of these in my garden and will have new pictures to share.

Nostalgia for England part four

This is the finale for this series.  A few more shots of gardens I visited followed by a few flower shots from 2004. I promise the next time I post about England it will be at the end of May when I am there again and the photos will all be current.

Hadspen House Garden. I'm so glad I got to visit Hadspen because the entire garden was torn out a few years ago by the new owner.

Private garden of Derry Watkins of Special Plants Nursery in Chippenham. I like to think of it as the Annie's Annuals of the UK.

Tintinhull. The design of the garden wasn't as grand as the days when Penelope Hobhouse was in charge but the bones of the garden were still impressive.

Allium giganteum and Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost'. Because the weather stays so cool flowers bloom much longer than they do in the northeast US. This photo was taken in July and these alliums were still going strong. This makes plant combinations much easier to plan. In New Jersey where I am from it often gets so hot that plants only bloom for a few days.

Perovskia atriplicifolia with Kew Palace in the back ground. These flower beds were called The Colour Spectrum garden. Nine beds shaped like a flower with each bed representing a different color in the spectrum. My favorite garden at Kew but sadly maintained by an outside company.

The exotic border in the Duke's Garden where I worked that summer.

Echinacea sanguinea in the rock garden at Kew. I thought it was kind of funny that I had to go all the way to England to learn about this beautiful U.S. native plant. I have still never seen this species of cone flower planted here in the states.

The bumblebees loved this Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' as much as I did.

Clematis integrifolia is one of my favorite plants and is the basis for my screen name entire leaves.

The colors are insane on this Penstemon 'Catherine De La Mare' at Wakehurst Place. I have planted a few of these in a garden here in west Los Angeles last September. They are getting ready to bloom now and I only hope they are that same shade of shocking electric purple.

Lathyrus odoratus 'Painted Lady'. Who doesn't love sweet peas?

Digitalis 'Spice Island' at Wisley. This cultivar which was new at the time knocked my socks off.