January Garden Design Update

You may remember my post back in November titled Inspiration. Well I am excited to say that the construction for that design began this week. The crew over at Gardens by Gabriel are hard at work preparing the landscape for the planting that is to come in this Morro Bay garden.  Normally “before and after” pictures would be in order but I am too excited to wait for the after so you will get the “before and during” pictures today and the after pictures will have to come when we are finished. The “during” being the hard work behind the scenes that make the garden possible.

This is the lower lawn of the property. The entire home is on a pretty steep hill.  The balcony in the upper right corner of the photo has a beautiful view of the bay which is just a block away.

Dan drives the Bobcat while Victor checks the level.  This area is being prepared for a Bocce Court!  It will be surrounded by the homeowners existing fruit orchard and new, mostly succulent, plantings.

This is the before shot of the front entrance and the upper lawn. All of the palms on the upper lawn were removed to make way for the new design.  One way for homeowners to save money on the construction is to do some of the preparation work themselves.  He killed and tilled the lawn and removed the palms before we began our work.  He will also build the bocce court himself.

The palms are all gone and some of the foundation plantings were moved to other areas.  Garden mascot Cody watches over some of the plants that have been delivered.

The upper lawn.  I believe there were six palms that were removed. As you can see the property has a pretty severe slope.  We will remedy this by creating berms.  Unfortunately there is also an unsightly telephone pole in a pretty prominent spot on the property.  There isn’t a lot you can do with utility poles or lines.  In this case we are going to do our best to disguise its view from the house with large plants.  There is an existing Otatea acuminata aztecorum right up against the foundation of the house.  Since it was poorly placed to begin with we will move it to a better spot and use it to try to soften the utility pole a bit.

As you can see some of the foundation plantings are gone.  Some Cyperus have been moved near the driveway and some small palms removed.  More Woodardia ferns will be added to the remaining foundation plants.  Irrigation is being prepared and soil that is coming out of the lower lawn to level the bocce court area will be brought up to create the berms.  Another ten yards of soil will be purchased and delivered tomorrow. The lime tree on the left hand side of the lawn will be moved down to the lower lawn.

Garden design books always talk about using “borrowed views” to enhance your garden. I’m pretty sure all of those books were written about huge English estates with vast lawns and beautiful vistas to frame.  It is a bit frustrating when your own view consists of a large telephone pole.  The view to the north isn’t so bad though.  Sadly Morro Rock is hidden behind some trees (you can just make it out peeking out behind the trees in the upper left) and we have a pretty solid view of the infamous Morro Bay smoke stacks.  But we also have a nicely landscaped neighbors yard.  One thing that caught my eye right away was the two beautiful Arbutus ‘Marina’.  So I capitalized on this and included two of our own to mirror the neighbors along the fence.  The street planting consists of a Melaleuca and some Helichtotrichon. I feel that our planting of Knifofias, Thamnochortus, and Grevillea will compliment the neighbors bed perfectly.

Our order from San Marcos Growers down in Santa Barbara arrived already and I am pretty excited about the quality of the plants. The weird plant above is Berzelia lanuginosa a South African plant that I think will look great with the Protea themed garden.

Aloe ‘Hercules’ is a tree Aloe that can grow thirty feet or more.

I originally wanted to use Chondropetalum elephantinum but when I saw Thamnochortus insignis I liked it better so we made a last minute switch.  Here it is along with some of our succulents and our two Arbutus.

The large berms will be held in place by two and a half tons of rock so Gabe and I went down to the quarry so he could handpick them and have them delivered next week.

He marks off the ones he wants with tape.  Hopefully I will be able to get up to the garden to watch as they are installed and get some photos of the machinery required to set them in place.  I find the whole thing a bit intimidating so it will be fun to see it all unfolding. I’m just the plant guy so some of this stuff is very new to me.

Now for a bit of a change of pace we’ll go check in on another one of my garden designs.  You’ll remember my post on My First Installation back in November and my courtyard garden designed with mostly Annie’s Annuals plants. It was super thrilling but also a bit nerve-wracking as well.  Would the clients like it?  Would the plants get enough or too much sun?

Well altogether the garden is looking great.  There was an unfortunate (and rare) heat wave right after they went in so we did lose a few plants and a some of them got a little crispy but now two months later and Annie’s plants are filling in just as beautifully as I knew they would and we are on our way to a very exciting spring.

The garden is beautifully mulched and we already have blooms in January.

Bed one was originally full of canna lilies and a giant tree fern.

Bed two was an overgrown mess full of weeds and Coleonema. While we were here Gabe and I did a bit of weeding and we pinched a few things back.  We decided to swap the Musschia and Cantua to give the Musschia more shade and the Cantua more sun.  I don’t think it will change the overall design too much even though they are very different plants. Sometimes what works on paper just doesn’t work in real life.

These Geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ and Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ are already charming now in January.  Just imagine them in a few months when they are in full bloom!

I was surprised by how big Trachelium caeruleum ‘Hamer Pandora’ had grown in just two months.  This is one of the key plants that is included in all of the beds to help tie the design together.  *Mental note to buy some of these for my own garden in a few weeks!

And just a reminder of the view from the backyard of this beautiful house.

Our last stop was a nearby garden that Gabe had recently designed himself.

He designed the plantings in front of this guest house around the homeowners hardscaping design.  This is another home with beautiful ocean views.  This time from the upstairs balcony of the main house.

I am a little bit in love with this little vignette of Phylica pubescens with a beautiful piece of driftwood.  Hmm…I think I want some driftwood for my garden now!

I hope you enjoyed this design update.  I’ll be posting more updates as the work continues on the Morro Bay property so be sure to check back next week.

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!

Good Stuff

Exciting things happening! (skip to the end if you just want to look at pretty pictures)  First of all I found a place to live when my lease is up here in West Hollywood!  I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t really having much luck in the house hunt but I found a great 2 bedroom house to rent in Los Osos.  Finding a suitable house to rent was more difficult than I thought it would be.  It seems a lot of rental houses just pave over their entire yards.  Understandable as a lot of renters probably don’t want the bother of a garden but that wasn’t going to work for me.  An apartment was out of the question as well.  I’ve lived in apartments (for the most part) since 1999 and having a garden of my own was on top of my non-negotiable list. No neighbors above or below me or drunkenly running around on the streets outside at 3 in the morning was important to me as well.  This place has a nice big yard and the landlord seems excited that I am a garden designer and want to go a bit crazy with it.  It is in a very pretty part of Los Osos right near the  Morro Coast Audubon Society Sweet Springs Nature Preserve.  So yay!  I’ll be moving sometime in the week between Christmas and New Years day.

The other big news is I am going to Hawaii on Saturday for 10 days.  My brother is applying to medical schools and has an interview in Honolulu so we decided to make a trip out of it. My father will be joining us for 5 days as well. My poor sister is left out because she will be doing an internship in NYC.  So this trip added a bit of stress to my house hunt as well because I needed to find a place before I left but now I am looking forward to a nice relaxing trip. I’ve never been to Hawaii.

Some other good news is one of my recent garden designs is being installed this week and next. It is a fairly large property with several separate garden areas with pretty widely varying styles of gardens.  A large Mediterranean garden featuring a lot of lavenders, a small succulent garden, a lawn area with a border of papyrus, Cordylines, and lemon trees and then a guest house with a cottage garden.  I cant wait to see how it turns out.

And the clients really liked my design for the garden I talked about in my inspiration post.  So installation will begin in January on that one.  Thrilled about that as it was a fun project and I will probably be using a lot of the plants and combinations for my own garden.  Los Osos is just south of Morro Bay and has a cool foggy climate similar to that of San Francisco’s Sunset zone 17.  I’ll be able to grow a lot of interesting plants that like being in the fog belt.  The only thing that might not work is plants that require a lot of heat. I think I can live with that.

So my posts may be a bit sporadic until January.  I stayed with friends Gabe and Maggie while I did my house hunt so enjoy these pictures of Gabe’s backyard nursery to tide you over in the meantime.

Super amazingly cool variegated Agave 'Blue Glow'. I want to steal it!

Orange leucospermum blooming. I definitely want one of these babies in my new garden.

I want some Leucadendrons too. I believe these plants are destined for that garden I designed.

Not sure what this tuba is about. Kind of neat though.

Agave gypsophila becomes a sort of candelabra/octopus shaped plant with wavy leaves with curled ends. It is hard to get nice specimens in big pots though because they are easily damaged. So Gabe saw these young plants and snatched them up for future designs. For some plants it is better to plant small and let them grown into their space.

Double flowered Helichrysum bracteatum. This was an impulse buy from my trip to Annie's Annuals and is going in the garden that is being installed next week. I saw it in bloom and fell in love so grabbed a few and subtracted a few other plants. I'm currently involved in a secret obsession with everlastings and straw flowers.

Gabe had a neighbor build him a little greenhouse in his backyard for propagating more tender plants and for a few of his own personal collection. I think I need a greenhouse too!

Protea blooming in Gabe's front garden. I have to find out what species or cultivar it is.

Inspiration

When I am designing a garden I usually try to find a few photos for inspiration. It might be a photo of a garden I admire or even just a particular plant that I am currently excited about and want to add as a featured specimen.

My latest design for Gardens by Gabriel is a corner house just a few blocks from the bay in Morro Bay.  The homeowners saw a beautiful garden that Gabe had designed for one of their neighbors and decided they wanted their yard to look that nice as well.  The directive was simple.  They want it to have a “Wow factor!” and wanted to have a bit of a Protea/South African theme.

Proteaceae is one of Gabe’s favorite plant families so they are in good hands.  He is familiar with all the different genera and knows how to care for them (they have some tricky soil requirements but are right at home in the cool fog of the California coast).  But as the designer for the project I had my work cut out for me.  Since I learned gardening on the east coast and Protea were not mentioned in a single horticulture class I took I had a bit of homework to do.  I knew enough about them to look at a plant and say “Hey I bet that is in the Protea family”.  But that was about it.  Fortunately Gabe had recently picked up a bunch of plants at Monterey Bay Nursery so at least I had a partial plant list.

For inspiration I turned to some photos I took over a year ago at Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria.  If you are a garden lover and are visiting the Santa Barbara area you definitely want to check out this nursery.  Not only do they have a nice selection of plants but they have several acres of “botanical gardens” designed by local garden designers.  I actually think they are among the nicest gardens I have seen in California and every time I am in the area I bring my camera with me and spend a little time walking around.  They have nine display gardens but my favorites are the South African and Succulent gardens.

This particular photo was my main inspiration and the one I kept going back to while I worked on this project. The South African garden at Seaside Gardens designed by Laurence Nicklin of Ojai.

The homeowner has been to South Africa and sadly he doesn't like Aloe ferox! I guess I can understand that since in the wild they can look rather unkempt with their old dead leaves skirting the plants and they do get rather gigantic. I think they are great architectural plants though so I was a bit sad that I had to leave them out. One of these days I'll get a project where the client just loves everything.

This combination of Leucadendron, Kniphofia, and Chondropetalum is stunning and I am not embarrassed to say I stole it for my design.

I loved the pale purple heaths behind this Leucadendron 'Jester'. The right backdrop can really make a beautiful plant pop so my design features a backdrop of Erica caniculata, Chamelaucium uncinatum 'Purple Pride,' and other purple and pink flowered plants.

Leucadedron salignum 'Safari Sunset'. Most plants in the protea family need excellent drainage, a cool mediterranean climate, acidic soil and don't like to be fertilized with phosphorous.Protea 'Susara'

Aside from the Proteas the design also features other Mediterranean and native plants, succulents, and a bocce court! I hope the homeowners love the design because I had a lot of fun creating it and learned a lot.  It is in a rather prominent spot so it would be very exciting to drive past it and know that I had a hand in creating it.

A bit of the design. I think hand drawn designs have a certain charm to them but I am taking a class in AutoCAD this winter.

Berkeley Botanic and Tilden

Dioscorea machrostachyaWelwitschia mirabilisCeropegia ampliataMitrophyllum dissitumAloe plicatilisBrunsvigia josephinae
Protea cynaroidesCeratotheca trilobaClose up of CeratothecaDeuterocohnia brevifoliaThe green weeping conifer is Dacrydium cupressinumSome type of dogwood?
Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigataArctostaphylos pallidaArctostaphylos regis-montanaClose up of the beautiful red peeling manzanita barkManzanita BarkManzanita Bark
Manzanita BarkManzanita BarkManzanita BarkGrove of quaking aspensWoodpecker or sapsucker damage on this old tree?Redwood Grove at Tilden Regional Botanic Garden

Berkeley Botanic and Tilden, a set on Flickr.

I’m up in the bay area on a little business trip so I decided to visit UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and the Botanical Garden at Tilden. Both are great gardens and just a few minutes away from each other so it is worth checking them both out if you are in the area. Berkeley displays plants from around the world and Tilden is a native plant garden.