Two Years!

WordPress just sent me a little note that my blog has just had its two-year anniversary!  Kind of crazy how fast time goes by. Here is a little retrospective.

I had just moved out of my apartment in Santa Monica where I had gardened on a small balcony with a view of the Pacific ocean.

Santa Monica had some really nice gardens but I got bored there and foolishly moved to West Hollywood.

I ended up hating West Hollywood and my balcony there sucked for gardening so I blogged quite a bit about my mesemb seedlings.

I also reminisced about my Clematis collection in my old garden…

And various trips to England…

Where I saw the queen…

and visited Clivedon and many other historic gardens.

I started designing gardens for my friends at Gardens by Gabriel.

And took road trips to Annie’s Annuals where I had to get creative to fit as many plants as I could into my VW Golf!

I went on a trip to Hawaii…

and fell in love with Leucospermum reflexum.

I moved to the Central Coast of California…

and was inspired by the South African Garden at Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria.

I thought about the things I enjoyed about southern California like the California Poppy Preserve…

and Coreopsis gigantea growing in Malibu.

But I was happy to be living in the Central Coast where I designed some new gardens…

Including my own!

Which has come a long way in a year!

Despite some recent drama!

And in case you were wondering Geranium maderense did just fine during the wind storm last night.

So thanks for coming along on my horticultural journey the past two years. Hopefully the next two years will be full of even more beautiful gardens.

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.

Varian Ranch

So on Thursday I went to place plants for a design I did.  This was definitely a cool one and quite important to me.  Even though the plants are only going in now, in March, I actually designed the garden last July. It was the very first design I did for Gardens by Gabriel that was given the go ahead by the clients to be installed.  It got pushed back so far due to Gabe’s busy workload, some changes I made to the original design, and some other work the clients needed to have done.

The home is in the Edna Valley wine region that borders San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande in a beautiful gated cattle ranch.

There are just cows wandering around all over the place.  It is kind of crazy for a city boy like me.

This little guy was hanging out right next to the house as I was placing plants.  Probably contemplating walking in and eating some of them.  A very real threat to this garden!

You may remember I posted this picture last month.  This was how part of the yard looked last July.  That is a very overgrown and poorly pruned Correa.  The house had been professionally landscaped over twenty years earlier but the more interesting plants had died out and been over taken by Correa and rosemary which had then been pruned into billowing cloud shapes!

Last month most of the plants were removed leaving behind some beautiful live oaks.  The planting had to be wait for the mason to put in new paths near the front entrance and then dry rot was discovered on the large front porch so the planting was delayed while that was all ripped out and replaced.

I finally got the call that we were ready to plant on Thursday!  This part of the garden between the driveway and the front entrance I decided to carry on the mediterranean theme that the other side of the driveway and the backyard already had.  So between these two oaks are lots of lavenders, Artemisias, Salvias, and yarrows.  The large specimens in these beds are a Caesaplinia mexicana, Berberis nevinii, and Olea europaea ‘Montrose’.

One of the tricky things about designing this garden was that I was still living in West Hollywood and never got to meet the clients.  So I didn’t have a very clear picture of what type of garden they might want. I knew that it certainly wasn’t this.  I picked up on queues from exploring their property.  They had multiple birdfeeders, several dogs in the backyard, and an outdoor tortoise pen!  I pressed my nose up against the glass on the front door to peek inside and saw some Audubon prints hanging on the walls.  Designing a garden is much easier if you have some sort of theme so for the front yard I decided on creating a native plant garden featuring wildlife attracting plants.  The design was well received but I did have to make some changes to some of the large plants (Pacific wax myrtle and toyon) .  Even though they would have been great for attracting birds they were deemed too tall and would eventually block the beautiful views.

Part of the design was this path between the driveway and front yard.  As you can see it was mostly obscured!

The hedges were removed and the oak was gracefully limbed up a bit to reveal the path.  The Correa here was replaced with Salvia spathacea and Ribes speciosum with some Muhlenbergia and Sesleria to round out the design.

One of the reasons I didn’t just continue the mediterranean theme was that the entrance way was dominated by two large western sycamores. I felt that switching to natives would make more sense with the sycamores and oaks.

Native plants certainly make more sense here than the crazy hedges of rosemary all over the place.

The sycamores also received some artful pruning, the lawn beneath them was removed, and a new path was created as well as a small sitting area to enjoy the view of the beautiful hills and wandering cattle.

The new sitting area complete and waiting for plants.

I love the way they worked the huge boulders right into the path.

Did I mention the bluebirds?  Finally I got pictures!  They found our cars to be the perfect height to scan the fields.

They seemed to love perching on the windows and gazing at their reflections.  They enjoyed it quite a bit as you can tell by all the poop on Gabe’s truck!

I saw my very first western titmouse and a pair of magpies too!  On my way home I stopped at the farm supply store and finally picked up a bird feeder.

A new “lawn” was created in place of the old water thirsty one.  Three different species of Muhlenbergia wind through the space like a ribbon.  At the base of each boulder are Seselarias, Aquilegias, Eriogonums, and Salvias.  Around the edges of the property are several different cultivars of manzanita and some Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ (hopefully none of which will be pruned into cloud shapes!).  Even though it is not native we also included some Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Blush’ for the contrast in foliage color. Flanking the front entrance are two pairs of Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’.

Hopefully once they fill in the new plants will accentuate the beautiful sycamores and not dominate the scene like the huge rosemary hedges did.  You can see the brand new front porch in the back still waiting for a handrail.

Western sycamore – Platanus racemosa

The clients also lost a large oak in the backyard recently created a large new sunny space. So a few more projects are being worked on including expanding the existing perennial garden, adding a mini orchard, adding four raised beds for a vegetable garden and a play set for their grandchildren.

I went back to inventory the existing perennials to see what could be salvaged and what should be added and when I sat down four very affectionate dogs jumped all over me!  This is Maya and Hudson.

And this tortoise had been let out of his pen for a bit of exercise on the lawn.

And this is one of the many scenic view of the hills around the property.

As my first successful design this is definitely another very meaningful garden to me.  Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and have a look when everything has grown in to see if my vision for the garden works the way I imagined it would.


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!

Gopher Trouble

Yesterday I discovered these holes in my backyard.

Every time I checked again there would be a new hole and an old one was backfilled.  I assume they are gopher holes though I am not an expert on telling the difference between gophers, moles, and voles.  California has all three.  Gophers and voles are particularly sucky little beasts and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy.

This morning I went to the hardware store and picked up a pair of Macabee gopher traps. They are nasty little spring loaded traps that I will be in constant terror of impaling my finger or hand on.  But I’m not going to mess around and let the little ground burrowing devil find my new plants.

After setting the traps (you can watch videos describing how to do so on Youtube – what did we ever do before Youtube?) I got to work finishing planting and created some more chicken wire protective planting baskets for my plants.  A pain in the ass but worth the little extra bit of protection it offers my plants.  Hand made gopher baskets are way more economical than the premade ones.

Both traps are set but so far no luck in catching anything.  More holes keep popping up all around the first set. The twist tie is so I can easily retrieve the trap.  You are supposed to tie string around them but I realized when I got home that I don’t have any.  I have to admit I am somewhat skeeved out at the thought of removing the dead impaled corpse from the trap (don’t worry I will NOT be sharing photos).  Gophers are actually fairly large and there is nothing cute about them.  I just hope the trap does the job properly and I don’t have to finish one off with a shovel.

In other more exciting news I went and picked up that last paver and finished my path!  You would not even believe how heavy that sucker was.  They are two by two feet and two inches deep and made of concrete.  Must weigh about a ton.  Not fun getting it in my car.  I’m in awe of Victor who brought over twenty of them when he and Gabe where helping me.  I’ve already bought a few little six packs of plants to put between the pavers and tonight I am going to sit and figure out an order for the rest.  It should be pretty cool.

In other somewhat annoying news I was literally planting my last plant in this part of the garden (I do have a few odds and ends left over that I need to find homes for) and I pierced the irrigation pipe with my shovel. Ugh!  So much ugh!  So now that has to be patched before I can finish planting.  So much of the garden is raised berms that it didn’t occur to me that I was in a lower part.  Oh well. At least most of the garden is planted and now my back can recover a bit.  More about the garden in future posts including a full inventory of all the plants I used.


Exciting day!  While I was finishing planting up my mediterranean garden bed a western bluebird landed on my mailbox and chirped at me for a few minutes.  I’m not that serious of a bird watcher (I don’t keep a little notebook or anything) but I do enjoy attracting birds to the garden and this was a first for me.  I had never seen a bluebird in real life before western, eastern or anything. They don’t generally live in cities or suburbs (where I have spent most of my life) and they don’t really come to feeders because they are insect eaters rather than seed eaters. I had a feeling that this was a perfect habitat for them since I live right next to several acres of fenced off grass fields but I wasn’t sure if they were in this area.  Well they are!

Sadly I did not have my camera or my phone on me so no pictures.  But he did poop on my clipboard and I took a picture of that for you.

There you go. Authentic western bluebird poop.  I bet that is something you don’t see every day.

In other weird blog news does anyone else follow the zany and wonderfull Bloggess? I saw these at the hardware store the other day and thought of her.  Should I buy one for my garden?

And now for something more serious and garden related I was very happy yesterday that my order from Far Reaches Farm arrived.  Three nice healthy plants plus a sweet little pink bonus Primula.  My evil, enabling, plant-nut, friend Marc sent me a link for this Ajuga incisa ‘Frosted Jade’ so of course I had to have it.  I thought about it for all of five minutes and then placed an order (only after scouring the website for other wonderful oddities).  I bet if you check out their website you will want to order one too.  There you go. Now I am an evil, enabling, plant-nut too.

I spent the day finishing up my mediterranean bed today.  This involved moving some of the plants that I had originally planted but since they had only been in the ground a few weeks it wasn’t a big deal.  Of course I stuffed the garden with way more than I should have (and still left a bit of room for some seedlings that I am growing on now – annual Scabiosa, Gilia, and Nemophilla will be planted out in a month or so) but I think the garden will be beautiful.  I think I will wait to post pictures until the plants are a bit grown in and the garden is mulched and nicer looking but I may post an inventory of all the plants I used so you can get a feel for  the direction I am going with this garden.  My inspiration was the wonderful book The Dry Gardening Handbook which is by far my favorite mediterranean climate book in my library.

The garden is more plant collectors garden than landscape but there definitely is a thought process to the design.