Design Update

Back in November I stopped by to take some pictures of my favorite garden that I designed in Morro Bay. It was installed in January of 2012 by Gardens by Gabriel so is almost 2 years old. I’m really impressed by how big everything has grown in such a short time.

If you have been following my blog since then you may remember how it looked when it was first installed. This is a screen grab from Google Earth back when the garden was just a month old. You can see the homes proximity to the bay and the ocean (both visible to the left) and Morro Rock is peaking out behind the chimney. The plants were so tiny. The mulch was so bright. I always worry that clients won’t have the imagination to picture what my intentions for the design were.

It just takes a bit of patience.

Some of the shrubs still have some more growing to do and we did have a few problems with some of the plants but overall my vision for the garden is being realized and each time I visit it looks better and better.

I am actually less happy with the area to the left of the bocce court (in the foreground). Perhaps we will go back and make some changes there in the future.

But the upper garden looks great. This Agave gypsophila is gorgeous as are the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ and Agave celsii ‘Nova’ in the background.  Agave gypsophila is one of the more tender Agave species. It is not especially happy when temperatures dip below 32 degrees. I have one in a container that had finally started to look better after a cold snap last year disfigured it. Now with this recent dip below freezing it is looking a bit rough again. Luckily Morro Bay is usually a few degrees warmer than Los Osos so this garden should be fine.

Agave celsii ‘Nova’ was a later addition. I believe that a design is never finished. In this case once other plants started to grow in I felt like this spot needed something extra. I wanted to use Agave ovatifolia but that wasn’t available. Garden design also requires quick thinking and coming up with appropriate substitutions when needed.

Agave macroacantha ‘Pablo’s Choice’ is pretty sexy with its black (painful) spines and beautiful leaf markings. This usually forms a little colony but so far the gardens owner has been rooting out the pups and keeping the plant solitary.

The stems on Euphorbia caput-medusae will eventually elongate and sort of flop around on the soil like snakes. Right now it looks like Medusa has had a crew cut.

Right now Kalanchoe beharensis reminds me a bit of a piece of modern art. Felt blocks that have been haphazardly stacked in a pile.

Do you see the sneaky little Oxalis growing underneath Agave geminiflora? One issue with growing succulents is that removing weeds can be a painful and difficult experience. Sometimes best to just let the plant smother them out.

I think I have mentioned before that this was sold to us as Echeveria X imbricata but I am a little unsure if that is correct. It is bigger and the leaves are thicker than the E. X imbricata I am used to and the leaves really color up more than I have ever seen before. Perhaps it is just environmental but it is pretty common for plants to be mislabeled.

I love how Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ matches the yellow plastic guards the phone company put on the metal telephone poll support lines. They added those after the fact. Not the greatest thing to have in your garden but at least the color sort of blends in.

One mistake I will admit to is I used two pairs of plant cultivars that are so similar I have a hard time telling the difference. This is possibly Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush’.

And this is Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’. Or maybe I have that backward? Looking them up with Google Images or on Flickr doesn’t help as they are just as mixed up there and Leucadendrons are so changeable from month to month.

This is Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. I think.

And this is Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt. Tamborintha’. Or maybe strike that and reverse it.

Now when I design a garden I try not to include species or cultivars that are very similar. If only it was so easy as looking at the design plans and seeing which plant was supposed to go where. Unfortunately plants from wholesalers almost never have labels. So it is entirely possible that we even mixed up where each group were supposed to be planted. This can really be a problem if one plant is very different in size or form when it matures but luckily in this case all of these plants are quite similar in their adult size and structure.

Actually hold on a second. I think the Leucadendron salignum ‘Blush’ I posted earlier is actually ‘Winter Red’ and the above picture is the true ‘Blush’.  Aaargh! See how confusing this is?

Fortunately Leucadendron ‘Jester’ is very distinct. No mistaking its tri-color variegation for any other Leucadendron in this garden.

We had some problems with some of the Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ we planted in this garden but the one above has performed perfectly.  Unfortunately even with our ideal growing conditions most Proteaceae can be persnickety.

This Grevillea rhyolitica has performed really well here but the one in my garden planted at the same time is long dead.

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ has grown massive in just two years. Already at least 6 feet across.

And Arbutus ‘Marina’ is another fast grower. Already towering above me. This is quite a messy plant so be careful not to plant it near walkways or over cars. Fortunately the two in this garden are off to the side where they shouldn’t cause any problems.

Cayucos Courtyard Update

Back in November I posted about my first installation with Gardens by Gabriel.  This beach house courtyard garden in Cayucos. The design featured mostly plants from Annie’s Annuals.

This morning Gabe and I stopped by to check things out.  It is looking pretty good.

The first bed has a purple, pink, and blue theme going on.

The second bed adds some chartreuse to the mix with Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’.

And the third bed is orange at the moment.  Very, very orange.

Eschscholzia ‘Apricot Chiffon’ is doing really well.

As I’ve mentioned before California poppies are seed grown so there is always going to be some variation.  The one below is kind of neat even if it is more yellow than orange.

We moved the Musschia wollastonii to a new location in January but it looks like it didn’t miss a beat.

I’m not even sure these pictures can convey how blue Anagallis monellii is.  It is very, very, intense, deep purply-blue.

I like this violent combination of Anagallis and Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’

Nicotiana mutabilis is just getting started. I wanted something that would be tall but not overwhelming for the space.  It is sort of a see-through plant so I thought it would work well.

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ and Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ have been blooming since November.

I’m very impressed with how big these November planted Trachelium ‘Hamer Pandora’ are.  Mine were only planted in February and are quite boinky and little in comparison. Nice combination with Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’.

Altogether I am very happy with the way the garden turned out.

Anholm House Restoration: Part Two

As I mentioned in Part One I visited Anholm House the other day and rather than just do a post on the plants I wanted to give you a little background.  Now that we’ve learned a little about the design process and the house itself you’ll get to see how the plants have grown and filled in the space.  Be warned, if you are a succulent lover not living on the California coast you may suffer a bit of zonal envy after seeing some of these photos!

As mentioned in the first post the plants were chosen by Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel and Nick Wilkinson of Grow Nursery.

First the lovely little hell strip.  It is fairly simple with some Dudleya, Carex, and the charming Silene uniflora ‘Druett’s Variegated’.

Silene uniflora ‘Druett’s Varigated’ – Pure white flowers on a low matt of cream variegated foliage.

A little colony of Banksia blechnifolia lives in the mulch under the shade of a large tree.

Banksia blechnifolia – Of all the unusual plants of the family Proteaceae I think Banksia are perhaps the strangest.

As Gabe mentioned they decided to create a large berm in the front yard rather than wall in the space.

This pergola archway just went in recently.  Even though the main restoration was completed over a year ago new garden projects are ongoing.

Euphorbia myrsinites coming into bloom in the front yard.

Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinancea) is a beautiful grass from New Zealand that glows in the right light.  Unfortunately it can be a bit tricky.  It is short lived and sometimes plants just drop dead for no reason even though another one is thriving just a few feet away. Luckily this one is looking particularly amazing right now.

The driveway leads to a detached garage in the backyard and features a strip of Carex and a circular parking space in front of the garage. (I cheated a little.  This picture was taken last September.  The Carex was recently cut back so I didn’t take a picture of it the other day). The hill in the background is Cerro San Luis Obispo (aka Madonna Peak).

As you reach the backyard you are greeted by this pair of Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’.

I posted some pictures of the houses backyard in part one but now you can see how things are filling in.  The summer blooming Gaillardia and Calylophus are resting and the succulents take over the show. Silver leaved Dymondia margaretae creeps along between the edge of the mulch and the flagstone path.

I’m amazed at how much these Agave ‘Blue Flame’ have grown since the first time I saw them a little over a year ago.

Cordyline ‘Renagade’ – If you want to be snooty you can pronounce Cordyline the correct way.  Kor – DILL – in – ee.  Remember in botanical Latin the accent goes on the antepenultimate syllable and the “e” at the end of words is its own syllable and is usually pronounced as a long E.

One of the features of the backyard is this cute little school-house red guest room.

Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Blue’

Otatea accuminata var. aztecorum and Puya berteroniana.  The Puya is one that I bought as a present for Gabe on a trip to Annie’s Annuals about three years ago. So even though I wasn’t involved in the design of this garden a little piece of me made it in anyway!

The large central island bed in the middle of the backyard with the fire pit and seating over on the left hand side and the detached garage in the background.

The back porch of the house decorated with a palm, Agave paryii, and a few Echeveria ‘Zorro’.

Echeveria subrigida in a bed of blue Senecio.

An impressive Agave speciosa in the center bed.

You have to love its inflorescence.  Maroon buds fade to cream flowers with green stripes as they open and reveal stamens made up of long deep red filaments topped with bright yellow-orange anthers. Craziness!

The Agaves in this garden are planted in pairs like these stunning Agave vilmoriana ‘Stained Glass’.

Another view of the central island bed.

Yucca ‘Bright Star’

Even if a garden isn’t on acres and acres of land Gabe likes to squeeze in a mini orchard in his designs.

Aloe striata

Next to the fire pit is this nice specimen of Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ with variegated Cordyline ‘Torbay Dazzler’ behind it.

I think that is more than enough plants for one post. I don’t want anyone to overdose!

I hope you enjoyed this two-part tour of one of Gabe’s great gardens.  Hopefully in the next year some of my own designs will have filled in as impressively and I can share them with you.






Anholm House Restoration: Part One

So the other day I paid a visit to San Luis Obispo to one the projects Gabe did before I came on board with Gardens by Gabriel.  I know the garden as the “Chorro House”, for the street that it is on, but the correct name is the Anholm House. It is part of a historic home restoration that Gabe was part of and is one of his largest projects to date.  I took some photos of many of the beautiful plants in the garden but I thought it would be fun to get some of the back story of how the design came about and what it was like for Gabe to involved in such a large-scale restoration.

So the following will be a sort of informal “interview” style with my basic questions and Gabe’s answers and some photos that he took before the project started and shortly after the project was completed.  Part two will be my post on what the garden looks like now and photos of some of the impressive succulents and other plants in the garden.

So tell me about 375 Chorro Street.  What was it like designing and installing a garden along side such a huge renovation?

The historical name is the Anholm house and the house is part of a historical tract named after the owner, Chris Anholm. The house was moved a couple hundred yards down the street in 1931 to its present location. The house underwent a full historical restoration in 2009 along with the garden. Its attained a Mills Act status for the design and authenticity of restoring a period house. Gregg Wynn was the architect, and Ryk Kluver out of Cayucos did the full home restoration.

The GBG crew were actually the the first ones in on the project, and the last ones to leave. Ryk was an amazing contractor to collaborate with especially on a large project. He’s an artist and a craftsman, so great care was put into the quality of materials, and details of construction. He was very clear about the coordinated efforts and timelines of when we could do work, and how details changed throughout the process. The garden was installed in stages as permitted through a year and half period, starting with the back.

The front facade of the Anholm House at the start of the project.

The front facade when the project was completed.

The landscape underwent a dramatic transformation.  What was the overall plan for the new garden?

 The site was very much a grandma style garden with sweet peas, roses, wisteria, daffodils. We preserved noteworthy specimens of Trumpet vine, Wisteria, Camelias and Citrus to keep the great bones of the garden. Besides those everything else was removed, including a large concrete pool, a Santa Maria style barbecue, and over twenty pallets of red brick (they weren’t nice old brick unfortunately).

The backyard before work began.

The design intent was to create an ecological garden that was quintessentially Californian. This meant that the design could be somewhat eclectic, and represent the crossover influence of the mediterranean climates in a california style.  The house was bold, so the garden needed to have impact and pair with the clean lines of the architecture. Being seated on busy Chorro street, the house needed a noise and visual buffer so instead of doing large, expensive, masonry walls we decided to build up and create some dynamic soil berming to add height and a great volume of good soil to the heavy adobe clay. We used forty yards of soil in the front yard alone, and some areas of the berming are around three feet off the original grade.

The completed backyard including the freestanding garage to the left and the little red guest house.

Tell me a bit about the gardens hardscaping. 

We wanted to create a natural way of unifying the garden with the hardscape installation, so we chose big slabs of sweetwater flagstone to lay for pathways throughout.

Sweetwater flagstone path.

The sweetwater stone has similar rusty warm colors that paired well with the gold granite, Mexican onyx, and Arizona boulders and cobbles. From the garden there are vantages of both Madonna and Bishop peaks, so to echo the surroundings, and give the gardens a sense of place, we used massive boulders, some upwards of 2 tons a piece. We formed a fire pit seating area, around a series of stacked Arizona slabs at different levels to allow people to sit at various distances from the gas fire.

Firepit and seating area.

Cobble path.

Tell me about the plant choices.  Did you have any help with the design?
The garden was dreamed up by Nick Wilkinson of Grow Nursery and I over a series of drafting sessions. The owners liked our collaborative style that they had witnessed at the Cambria Shores Inn garden in moonstone beach, Cambria so they gave us free reign to make the garden as unique and spectacular as we could. A designers dream really…
The homeowners were from Michigan, so they loved all the classic elements of the california fusion style. We used plants with striking foliage like blue hesper palms, dwarf date palms, Mediterranean fan palms, variegated Yucca, Cordylines, Beaucarnea, and agaves for bold focal points. Plants like mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea) , a weeping blue atlas cedar, Agonis ‘After Dark’ and a twenty-one foot tall redwood specimen (48″ box)  were installed to create soft screening for fences, and sweeten the views.
The edible component of the garden held a heavy influence as well. A small orchard was created that catches the southern exposure complete with pluots, peaches, espaliered apples, three kinds of figs, hass avocadoes, raspberries, and a herb garden.

Plants shortly after the garden installation was completed.

In parts of the garden, we contoured the soil, to create water detention areas where the winter rainfall could slowly percolate into the ground and form deep reservoirs in the landscape. All the gutter downspouts were routed to a large cistern where winter rainfall could collect, and be used to irrigate in the dry summer season. A grey water system was also installed to irrigate the orchard section. All plantings are drip irrigated. All the flagstone walkways are permeable with gravel joints that allow water to soak back into the garden.

Back facade of the house.

Driveway featuring Carex strip of "lawn".

Stay tuned for part two where I will take a closer look at some of the plants used in the garden!


Remember my recent posts about the garden I designed in Morro Bay? InspirationJanuary Garden Design Update, Giant Rock Moving Truck, and Design Update: Completed! Well the bocce court is finished!

How excited am I that I designed a garden that features a bocce court?  Pretty excited actually.  Simply because it isn’t something that I would have ever imagined myself being involved in a few years ago.

Gabe and I stopped by to take a look at the finished court and see how the garden is coming along.  Homeowner Carl gave me a lesson in bocce and I’m actually pretty good at it (or maybe it was just luck).  Pretty cool stuff.  I’m really looking forward to sharing updates on this garden as the plants grow in.  You can’t really see from this photo but to the left of the court there are some plants.  A pair of Agave vilmoriniana, some Sedums, Leucadendrons, and Grevilleas. I think they will look really nice when they grow and fill in but now that I see the finished court I kind of wish I had kept it simpler.  Just a row of maybe five Agave vilmoriniana growing from a carpet of Sedums.  Oh well.  All part of the learning process.  I don’t think I had a really strong image of what the bocce court would look like in the space.

We were discussing maybe adding some kind of art installation hanging on the fence at the end of the court.  What do you think?

Now this wasn’t the only garden we visited today that has a bocce court.  This next one is going to knock your socks off.  I just wish my photos were better but I wasn’t planning garden visits today and only had my camera phone.

This is the garden of homeowners Vince and Janet just a few blocks away.  This is a garden that Gabe designed before I started working with him. It is hard to believe but I think the garden is just under two years old.  Plants grow really fast here on the coast.  I first saw this garden last January when I was had just moved to West Hollywood.  I was just starting my design business and came up to Morro Bay for a visit to ask Gabe for some tips on how he was running his business.  He took me to several of his gardens that weekend and they were all amazing but this is the one that really wowed me.  It also encouraged me to ask Gabe what he thought of the possibility of us working together and here I am today designing gardens for him.

I love everything about this garden.  Gabe said the design itself was rather informal.  He started putting it on paper and then just started buying cool plants for it.

Look at the size of this blooming Sedum ‘Coppertone’.  I wish my camera had captured the color of the leaves better.  They glow at dusk.

Look at all the blooms on this Leucospermum!  Vince and Janet are really into caring for and learning about the plants in the garden. It is fun to see homeowners so involved and excited about their garden.

Another Leucospermum with a Grevillea.  I’m a little bit in love with the genus Grevillea lately.  I’m going to include them in more and more of my designs.

Kalanchoe pumila

It is hard to believe this is a Kalanchoe.  It reminds me of an Arabis or Aubrieta.

And the bocce court!  The walls are a bit higher on the ends of this court and the plantings around it are more mature.  What do you think?

Not one but two beautiful specimens of Euphorbia lambii.  I wish I had a picture of the entire plants as they are quite impressive. (ETA: actually I just noticed you can see them in the background of the next photo!).

Kniphofia thompsonii

I was excited to see this species of Kniphofia looking so fantastic as I just included some in a design.

This is the top of the garden around the bocce court.  The rest of the garden that you can see in the first picture slopes down toward and is visible from the street.

Not only is this Dyckia in full wonderful bloom but it has four more huge inflorescences forming!

They even had some bocce inspired art commissioned. I love it. I think if you are going to include art in your garden you should go all out and have something grand and a little crazy.  Something made just for you is neat too.

Leucadendron discolor is just starting to bloom (I’m sorry it is not quite in focus).

And finally a very impressive specimen of Agave gypsophila.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour. I’ve wanted to share this garden for a while now and in the future I’ll share more of Gabe’s garden designs before I came on board.  As homeowner Carl said “I’ve hitched my wagon to a shining star” and after seeing some more of Gabe’s mature designs you’ll see that is true.

Design Update: Completed!

I went back to see my Morro Bay design the other day and the work is pretty much completed.

OK the mulch is a bit much.  The homeowner went with shredded Eucalyptus because it is much cheaper.  Once it gets a bit weather worn the color won’t be as intense.  And of course once you take the plants out of their big pots and put them in the ground they seem tiny.  But most of these are shrubs that will get between three and ten feet tall.  Morro Bay has a very long growing season so many of them will grow and fill in quickly.  I look forward to taking some pictures in six to eight months and seeing how the garden is progressing.

I would have preferred a gravel mulch for the succulent beds in front of the house but that can be quite expensive.  Once the plants will in and the mulch has faded this will look much more natural.

I think in time this border will blend in nicely with the neighbors garden.  Going back and looking at photos can highlight problem areas in your design.  I see a Kniphofia that needs to be repositioned.

Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’

Leucadendron ‘Jester’.  Usually I am not a fan of this type of variegation but I think this plant mixes well with other boldly colored plants.

Calopsis paniculata  Rhodocoma capensis

My original design specced four Chondropetalum ‘El Campo’ (a beautiful dwarf Native Sons selection) and a large Chondropetalum elephantinum.  But then I saw some Thamnochortus insignus in a garden and decided I liked it better than C. elephantinum. Then five gallon C. ‘El Campo’ were not available.  Only show quality specimens in fifteen gallon containers.  That would be stunning but it would also have destroyed our plant budget.  So we went with just one ‘El Campo’ and added the above Calopsis paniculata Rodocoma capensis and two Thamnochortus insignis instead.  I think the variation will be nicer.  When you design a garden you need to be ready to make substitutions and modify your design at the last minute.

ETA: just a correction on the Restio pictured above.  It is actually Rhodocoma capensis.  We considered Calopsis paniculata but thought it would get too big for the spot so went with the Rhodocoma instead.

Furcrea foetida ‘Mediopicta’

When I design a garden on paper I always try to match colors to neighbors or even distant visible spots in the garden.  It is hard to tell from the photos since the plants are so small now but I am pretty satisfied with the way my color scheme worked out in this garden.  The variegated yellow of the Furcrea above is matched in yellow and green Leucadeondron ‘Ceres’ to its left.  The orange flowers of the pincushion on the left edge of the photo is picked up in other pincushions strategically placed around the garden and the red leaved Leucadendron barely visible in the center and winter blooming Aloes (and I am hoping some Kniphofias will overlap as well since they have a very long bloom season here on the coast).

Aloe rubroviolacea

I had originally specced Aloe wickensii for this spot but Gabe showed me these beautiful specimens of Aloe rubroviolacea from Yemen that he had in his backyard nursery and I made another design swap.  I think their shape is more similar to the A. speciosa and A. ferox from my inspiration photo and they were also just really nice big plants.

Grevillea rhyolitica (deau flame).  I still have a lot to learn when it comes to Grevilleas but right now this one is my favorite.  Gabe gave me one for my new garden!

This has been a fun process so I look forward to sharing more pictures as this garden fills in.  Hopefully over the next year everything will grow in and come together nicely and my design choices will be successful.