Saturday, December 23, 2017

In the Rear View Mirror -A Photo Workshop at Western Hills

 Way back in June (summer seems like such a distant memory) I attended a full day photography workshop at the iconic Western Hills Nursery -now known as Western Hills Gardens. Any visit here is a step back in time to the days when many of the exotics that we commonly grow now were rare, never seen and never sold except for here at Western Hills. I remember my first visit in the early 80's a new transplant  from Southern California. Though I had been in the nursery trade for almost 10 years , I was completely lost in a sea of plants I had never seen or heard of . I was not aware that I was visiting during a period of transition for the garden , that the subtle air of dishevelment  the lack of plant tags and the careworn infrastructure were all a sign that the resources to maintain the garden and nursery were dwindling.

 After years of uncertainty and neglect the garden found new stewards who are mindful of the historic nature of Western Hills and have worked diligently to restore it .You can read a very nice retrospective on the garden in this article from Pacific Horticulture .

 On this Sunday in June horticultural photographer Saxon Holt conducted a class for a small group of photographers. We had the opportunity to get into the garden early and  to spend a day there with our cameras.

  I had hoped for a bit of June gloom but it never seems to show up when you want it to and the day was sunny and cloudless. With Saxon as our guide we were at least able to learn a few strategies for foiling bright contrasty garden light .There were places in the garden where you just had to give up trying to photograph unless you were extremely gifted in the post-processing department.
 In spite of the light conditions Saxons workshops are always fun and informative, and most importantly plant-centric.

 You'll have to trust me when I say this plant-clad building is a classic example of redwood forest bohemian architecture , and the photo below it is the greenhouse.

I feel certain this peice of garden art was there when I visited in the 80's although the hanging may have been different.

I kept to the shade, and zooming in close can exclude the harsh sunlight.

 Still, I wanted to capture full garden views ; I used my exposure compensation but ultimately there was a lot of tweaking in Lightroom.

 Many of the images from that day were overexposed and had to be discarded, nevertheless even those had something to learn from. Bad photos can often be just as instructive as good ones.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

New Life for a Hateful Area

 Back in August of 2014 I posted about the Hateful Areas in my garden . You would think after three intervening years that I would have dealt with most if not all of these eyesores , however it was only this summer that I began to tackle 3 of them in earnest. Today we'll take look at what I now refer to as my Tiny Succulent Garden -an upgrade from hateful I think.

  Here is the space as it looked in 2014. This small bed is directly outside the back slider into the garden, and it rarely looked good. Complicating the issue is the exposure, which is shade all morning and strong hot western sun in the afternoon. Because of the sun angle and the brief period of direct sun anything I planted here either flopped or burnt up.

 I decided to plant it with winter hardy succulents . Most of my succulents are grown in containers, and there were a few that were begging to be liberated. Last fall I dug up everything in this bed and either moved it or put it in the yard waste . I planted two 4" pots of Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'  from Annies. They sailed through winter in spite of nights in the 20's and plenty of rain.

In spring I had to decide which containerized plants were going to be released into the wild.  Agave 'Blue Glow' was the first candidate however a sledge hammer was required to get it out of the pot. Damn, I liked that pot too.

 Here it is, with Sedum 'Angelina' (a combination I shamelessly copied ) much happier in it's new home.

Agave weberi 'Arizona Star' was also moved here in fall 2016 around the same time I planted the Graptoveria. I was surprised to find that over winter it was attacked repeatedly by snails and a shocking amount of the plant was eaten down to the nubs. I was never accustomed to snail-patrol among the Agaves, and this plant had spent many years in a pot on my patio without being touched. You can just see the remnants of a couple of the damaged leaves at the base.It put on lots of new growth this summer and is in full recovery. I'll be more vigilant this winter.  After 5 or 6 years of drought I think the snails were especially desperate .

This sad little Agave 'Cream Spike' has been in a pot for 2 or three years. I don't think it grew at all. I planted it out here just last month with a little shade cloth tent to protect it from the still hot midday sun.

 Agave stricta , another victim of pot culture which looked so bad I was about ready to toss it. A summer in the ground has reversed it's fortunes.

I planted many small pots of Semperviviums , some purchased and some taken as cuttings, around the edges . I have more rooting now to be planted in spring.

This silvery Cotyledon was given to me as a cutting by our friend Gerhard of Succulents and More 
It made it through last winter so I had no fear of planting it out in the garden. The color is really fantastic, and I planted it next to Echeveria nodulosa. My zone is marginal for both , but since they are close to the house I am hoping for the best , and if it gets really cold I'll cover this bed with frost-cloth.

 The excellent Fred Ives , anchor plant of this small bed.

I still have several plants to install here and as you can see I've allowed space for the new residents to fill in -a radical departure from my usual cram-and-jam process. This photo was taken from roughly the same perspective as the first in this post.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloomday Oct 2017

 For the first time in several days I have been able to spend at least some time out in my garden, with frequent trips indoors where the smell of smoke from the ring of fires around us has been mostly closed out. Until yesterday, going outside without a mask on was unthinkable . Winds that came up to fan the flames further in the hills ironically cleared smoke out of the valley for a small respite.  Winds have died down again this morning which is a huge plus for the thousands of firefighters working the lines .

 Our temperatures have been warm and there has yet to have been a nights that is close to imposing the first frost, an event that seems to come later and later the last few years. What we truly need is the first rain, and while there is some slight chance of rain for our far north coast late this week it does not seem to be on the agenda for wine country.
  Nevertheless, the garden always gives and there are a few floral gifts still to be had.

 Clematis Arabella will keep blooming until frost, and this years summer cut-back experiment was a success. Clematis foliage can get a bit ratty here in mid-summer, so I decided to try some modest pruning, and as you can see by the fresh green of the leaves in this photo  all turned out well.

 The unnamed Sasanqua Camellia is in full bloom .

The roses are putting forth what will likely be their last big flush of the year.

'Fair Bianca' has escaped my rose digging shovel even though she is rather a scraggly thing , in a poor location. The plant is quite small and as she doesn't take up much room I am letting her stick around for now.

' Golden Celebration'


 'Brass Band'


Geum 'Totally Tangerine' was bloomless for most of Sept and I assumed it was done for the year , and didn't begrudge it a rest since it bloomed non-stop since February. To my surprise it grew a couple more flower stems this month.

The Sedum purchased as 'Indian Chief' may or may not be that cultivar. What ever it is, it bloomed really early, flopped as Sedums are wont to do, and them began blooming again in the fall from  the splayed-open center.

Pretty sure this is Sedum 'Bertram Anderson' -since I buy just about any Sedum I find I do loose track.

Phygelius 'Moonraker' . I have given up trying to dig it out and instead I use the shovel frequently to keep it in bounds. At least I can say it blooms heavily and never looks bad.

Cuphea micropetala.

Late season bloom on Verbascum 'Dark Mullein'

I love my Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' so much, it gets 2 photos this month.

The fabulous Panicum 'Heavy Metal'

Sanvitalia procumbens, a great edging  plant .

Be sure to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens for more October blooms.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Weekend in Maine-Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

 In August I made my 3rd visit to the marvelous Coastal Maine Botanic Garden in Booth Bay , a charming harbor town on the coast of Maine.There is lobster there-it is fresh caught and plentiful.The garden itself is first rate; beautifully designed and maintained, it holds it's own with any public garden I have visited regardless of size or location. Clearly the maritime east is completely irrelevant to my climate zone and the more I visit gardens across the US , the more I realize that there are schemes I can never execute and plants I can (or should) never plant . I live where there is absolutely no rain in summer and by now in October the dryness of my garden- in spite of weekly irrigation -has taken  it's toll, and there are many commonly used plants in the east that just can't tolerate both the lack of rain and the lack of humidity. There is nothing like rainwater, and as much as I dislike that humid factor the plants seem to love it. Not to mention warm nights which we only have here if we are in the throes of  an extreme heat wave.  So I have learned over the years to enjoy these east coast gardens, immerse myself when I am there and take inspiration from colors and textures and design features that can translate to Northern California with a more climate appropriate plant selection.  Having said that, I try plants all the time that are marginal .Collecting is not a particularly rational activity.
 I was excited to see this obviously well financed venue is undergoing  a major expansion, some of which looks pretty close to completion. I've put a return visit on my calendar for 2019 pending at least some of the new features opening. And I'm always up for a trip to Maine.

 The plantings are exuberant and colorful, and a far cry from the sad state of my garden in August. The trade off is the growing season; so short that everything happens at once. These photos were all taken in the childrens' garden, which is outstanding-one of my favorite areas of this garden. I posted about the CMBG childrens' garden on my last visit here.


 I was very taken with this bobbley-dot design-kudos to whoever conceived this, it was so appropriate for a garden that has an emphasis on playfulness.

This green roof looks nice from afar , but close-up....

...Mr. Mantid is revealed

 The next few images were taken around the perimeter of The Great Lawn, which is a central location from which most of the paths initiate-at least for now. The expansion of the garden will no doubt change the orientation, especially considering that a new visitors center and entry is involved. Around this lawn are borders of perennials, grasses and annuals in inspired combinations.

This path leads down the hillside to woodland and conifer gardens.

  The Garden of the 5 Senses is under-represented in my group of photos, but here are a few . An extensive pond system is included in this area

 Sneaking in a couple more from the childrens garden. We ran back in when the overcast showed up.

And after garden touring, lobster. After lobster, cocktails overlooking the harbor.