Category Archives: landscaping history

Gardens Change with Time

quiet_path.1280Call it a trick, call it a treat, but all gardens change with time. It’s part of nature for the fittest to survive. Now possibly you have different ideas of what you want your garden to look like but it’s hard to fool Mother Nature. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a special garden in the Gilroy area that has evolved with time. This garden of California native plants truly demonstrates how nature can decide the best plants for birds, butterflies, wildlife and people.

It was one of our classic mild autumn days when several fellow landscape designer friends and I were treated to a tour by the enthusiastic owner of the 14 acres of land called Casa Dos Rios at the base of Mt Madonna. Jean Myers loves to share her deer_grass.1280property and especially the journey that has transformed it from a formal landscape with lots of lawn to the present truly native wild garden. She loves that the landscape now supports all sorts of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.

A few of the native plantings have been more successful than she would have liked, Jean laughed as she pointed out the California Rose thicket has taken over the entry garden. She wishes she had planted the native wood rose instead which doesn’t spread as much. She plans to remove the wild rose eventually to make room for other native plants that aren’t so aggressive.

At this time of year a native garden is at rest. There’s a quietness to the landscape as the wind blows through the grasses. Large swaths of deer grass have naturalized. Originally, Jean planted many varieties of native grasses and some still remain but the deer grass have been particularly successful. Jean explained that this grass was used for making baskets by the Ohlone Indians that used to live in the area. To keep this grass fresh looking she cuts them back to 6 inches from the ground in late winter.

Calif_fuchsia.1280The California Aster was still blooming along the path as we made our way to the frog pond. This plant is well liked by the native moths and butterflies, Jean said, as it provides a late source of nectar. The lavender flowers make perfect landing pads. The two species of butterfly weed bloomed earlier in the season and had already spread their seed for next year.

The frog pond consists of basalt columns that drip water into a deep pool filled with rocks which cools the water in the heat of the summer. Jean said the area is usually alive with birds but they were keeping their distance during our visit. Lots of time for them to bathe later when we weren’t invading their space. She said Pacific Tree frogs and Western toads call the area home, too.

Another late blooming plant, the California Fuchsia, covered a slope alongside massive granite boulders. You could barely see the foliage through the hundreds of flowers of this red blooming variety. These plants spread easily and with a bit of late winter pruning look great late into the season.

Jean loves all her native plants. From the butterfly garden to the bog garden she has a story to tell about each Calif_buckwheat.1280area. In the spring, Jean said, the native iris steal the show. She rounded up 600 of these from nurseries all over California when the garden was first planted. Grouping each type together she says was half the fun to keep the colors pure in each stand. I was amazed to see them in areas of full sun as well as part shade locations.

We picked late blackberries and raspberries as we walked around this amazing 14 acre property that benefits all wildlife. She is an avid birder and she and her husband manage two creeks, the Uvas and the Little Arthur that support hundreds more bird species, including bluebirds, swallows and owls. “There’s so much for them to eat here.” says Myers. She lets nature feed and attract all the native wildlife that visits.

It was a privilege to listen to Jean share her enthusiasm for gardening with California natives to attract wildlife and to conserve water. I left with my pockets filled with seeds from native wild grape and clematis so I’ll always have a bit of Case Dos Rios in my own garden.

Roses of Yesterday

rose_Kathleen_closeup 3Under blue skies on a perfect spring day I sat recently with Colly, my friend, fellow columnist and gardening enthusiast, surrounded by roses, roses and more roses. Next to an old apple tree and a gnarled cherimoya we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch Colly brought while she shared stories about this rose nursery called Roses of Yesterday.

Back in the 1960's one of Colly's many jobs was to proof read the catalog for Roses of Yesterday and Today as it was then called so she is quite familiar with the history of this rose business located on Brown's Valley Rd. in Corralitos. It's not quite a grand as it was in the old days but the massive old roses growing in the ground were magnificent in size and we admired and rated each one on the fragrance scale.

Roses of Yesterday, one of the oldest antique rose nurseries in the U.S., was established in the 1930's. It has passed through several generations and owners since then. They still use the honor system to sell their old, selected modern, unusual and rare rose varieties. A young father, kids playing in the car, loaded up a collection of potted roses and deposited a check in the cash box before leaving.

Another sign advised that the nursery doesn't spray their roses with fungicides, insecticides, rose_Kathleen_bench 3herbicides or other chemicals and the rose petals can be used for salad, jams, spritzers and teas. I did notice some rose slug damage on some of the roses but it was minimal. We noted the Sally Holmes roses and the rugosa roses had the least pest problems.

The garden contains many huge old roses. The first mammoth plant we encountered, Newport Fairy, was over 15 feet tall and nearly as wide. Covered with hundreds of small pink flowers it provided cover for many small songbirds who hopped inside searching for insects. This hybrid multiflora rose was first bred in1908. Lots of Red Admiral butterflies and Swallowtails found the surroundings to their liking, too.

We walked under a Cecile Brunner– engulfed pergola and then we saw it. Against a fence in filtered light, a spectacular single white rose with stiff, butter yellow stamens shaded an old wooden bench. We searched for the name tag and found, buried among a groundcover of sweet violets, the name Kathleen. This unusual and unforgettable hybrid musk rose from 1922 blooms repeatedly with blossoms richly perfumed. The catalog states the flowers drop cleanly and orange rose hips form along with the new blooms.

Several English lavender plants grew between the rugosa roses. We especially liked a small double magenta one called Rugosa Magnifica as well as a lovely white variety named Rugosa Blanca. Rugosa roses are very old dating back to before 1799 and bloom repeatedly with a marvelous fragrance. Large orange rose hips will form when the disease and pest resistant foliage drops. These edible hips are very high in vitamin C and are also relished by wildlife.  I've been told the crinkly foliage of rugosa roses is deer resistant.
rose_Stretch_Johnson 3
Growing nearby, a burnt orange rose got our attention. This amazing rose with two tone reddish orange petals and a lighter orange to yellow reverse is similar to Hot Coca. Called Stretch Johnson the flowers have the classic fragrance of rose petals and the disease resistant dark green glossy foliage of this floribunda was lovely.

The garden contains roses of all types especially old fashioned single roses as well as ruffly cabbage varieties. One bright pink single rose was especially beautiful. We thought the name tag read Rosa Wichuraiana but it must have been referring to the white groundcover rose nearby. We also loved a bright pink rose called Marguerite Hillig with its sweet fragrance and graceful arching canes.

The 4 inch dusky pink blossoms of Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea climbing rose, decorated one of the fences. rose_Sally_Homes2 3I learned this is a classic variety among hybrid teas since 1925 from the online catalog. The non-stop blooms are exceptionally long lasting on the plant and in bouquets.

From Ballerina to Climbing New Dawn to a huge Heinrich Munch with double pink blossoms covering a rose bush 20 feet across with a foot wide trunk, I enjoyed every inch of this old rose garden and nursery and it was fun to hear personal anecdotes from Colly about Dorothy Stemler,  the rose aficionado who's touch can be still be seen in the gardens of Yesterday and Today.
 

A 100 Year Old Garden near Quail Hollow

lawn_perennial-bordersVisiting gardens is one of my passions. Wherever I travel I take time to enjoy an arboretum or a historical garden wherever I find them. Local gardens can be just as exciting and recently I was invited to stroll and marvel under majestic oaks in a beautiful garden near Quail Hollow.

This 25 acre property was first developed by an Englishman in the very early 1900's. After building an Italian Mediterranean style house featuring plenty of earthy materials such as terra-cotta paver floors and patios, red clay tile roof, stucco walls, rustic wood beams and enclosed outdoor spaces, he set out to landscape the property.

A spring fed creek provides water to a woodland garden with 40 foot rhododendrons still thriving and in full  bloom during my visit. Western azaleas scented the air and the horsetail, columbine and white calla lily rhodie_bicolor2grew lush in the moist soil. The original owner built Japanese inspired stone bridges over the creek, the remnants still poking through the ferns.

Huge stands of black bamboo and golden bamboo border the creek in another area making me wonder if perhaps he became interested in these exotic plants after the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition that showcased plants from all over the world. The current owners have installed a 3 foot barrier to keep the bamboo in check. Now towering 25 feet tall, the black bamboo shades the house on the south side with stems 2" thick.

The property passed from the original owner to a concert pianist who lived there until she died. The current owner bought the property in an estate sale in the early 1970's. When he married Nancy 23 years ago the garden again came to life. The front yard which had been a flood-irrigated horse pasture was transformed into the magical place it is now.

Nancy is the perfect steward of the land. Interested in all growing things she has surrounded the lawns with shrubs, perennials, grasses and flowers of every type. Sunny borders bloom with trellised Cecile Brunner roses, pink clematis montana and purple Jackmanii clematis along with lots of bright red climbing roses. By providing support, Nancy has even coaxed Apple Blossom and other carpet roses to bloom off the garden floor.

In addition to her gardening successes, Nancy shared her ongoing nemesis. Every year she said she hand picks at least a hundred white gaura that have self-sown. Seems Siskiyou pink is not as prolific. The crocosmia Lucifer have overtaken one bed and she begged me to take some. I politely declined. Her white Japanese anemocourtyard2ne threaten to march into the lawn but the pink variety is better behaved. Nancy takes it all in stride. You can feel her love of gardening and plants at every turn.

Nancy loves perennials. The chocolate cosmos were just emerging but the double coreopsis, Spanish and English lavender, Moonshine yarrow, Japanese iris, douglas iris and columbine were in full bloom. In a shady spot by the old icehouse daphne, azalea and pieris had just finished their show. The hydrangeas were all budded and ready to take over the spotlight.

We walked through a lovely enclosed courtyard complete with formal fountain and Nancy pointed out containers of gardenias, Evergold carex grass, a deep red Bob Hope camellia and huge woodwardia ferns. She planted the rhododendrons bordering the courtyard over 20 years ago. A gopher did get 3 of the camellias last year but she's now replanted in gopher baskets. Her Japanese maples, started from seedlings, are now 6 ft tall with trunks over an inch thick.

I'll never forget the afternoon Nancy shared her garden with me and Sherman, the springer spaniel I was dog-sitting.  It's an enchanting place and I'm looking forward to visiting again.

Fall Wildflowers & October to-do’s

Above the clear turquoise water of the Big Sur coastline, wildflowers still bloom in October. Bright orange Sticky Monkeyflower meander among a carpet of rosy blooming California Buckwheat. Deep orange California fuchsia flower on hillsides alongside the bright white flower heads of yarrow. They make a striking combination. Under the partial shade of pine trees lavender Seaside Daisy explode with color. Even poison oak contributes deep rusty-red tones to the landscape making it easier to identify and avoid. This wild land offers lessons and ideas to make our own gardens more beautiful.

Big Sur has areas of chaparral, oak and pine woodlands, riparian or streamside woodlands and redwood-tanbark-oak woodlands. Nearly half of all the flora of California grows here and many northern and southern California plants mix in this unique location. . Only in Big Sur will redwoods and yuccas thrive together. The look is startling. Certainly not a combination you would think of for your own garden.

Near McWay Falls on Hwy 1, fragments of an elaborate stone house still remain along with some of the landscaping. Christopher McWay and his wife Rachel settled the area in the late 19th century.The land passed through several owners until former U.S. House of Representative Lathrop Brown and his wife Helen acquired it and built a beautiful stone structure overlooking McWay Cove. The house was torn down 50 years ago but many of the landscape plants still thrive after all these years.  Hardy pittosporum eugenoides have survived without any supplemental watering. A huge stand of blooming Naked Ladies covers the rocky slope. We all know what survivors these bulbs are. Tall Mexican palms and ornamental trees surround the fragments of stone staircases and walls reminding us that nature will endure.

What allows all plants to thrive in their environment is the simple set of conditions that they like. It's nearly impossible to grow ferns in the hot sun around here and don't even think about trying a California fuchsia in the shade. Soil is important, too. Rich, moist soil is perfect for wild ginger but gravelly, well drained soil works best for Five-fingered ferns. Match the right plant with the right spot and you'll have success every time. Big Sur is a chock full of success stories.

Here are more tips for early fall in the garden.

Fall is not a good time for major pruning.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don't prune when leaves are falling or forming.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or in late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature.  

Do refresh perennials, such as butterfly bush, salvia and yarrow by cutting a third to half of their growth.

Rake leaves– compost or put in your green can. If large leaves are left in place they will mat down and set up fungal problems come spring.
 

The Gardens of Poland- Part 2

Poland is a country nearly as big as California so it stands to reason that gardening styles would vary over such a large area. Settled as a recognizable entity about the middle of the 10th century, Poland has had a lot of time to develop although it's borders have fluctuated with Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany,

Mostly I saw neat, red or green roofed houses surrounded by a large flower garden, a few apple trees and a robust vegetable garden in full production. Whether the house was brick, mortared granite, wood or stucco everything was tidy around the property with nary an abandoned car to be seen. Brightly colored ivy geraniums tumbled from boxes attached to windows. Sometimes the vegetables were grown in larger plots for sale and these areas staked with wire strung tightly between the posts. Every 10 feet or so pieces of plastic bags attached and these waved in the breeze. Surprisingly  this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay, I was told.

Closer to the Slovakian border and the city of Krakow some of the houses employed a vary different style of landscaping. Unlike the wild perennial flower gardens I had seen, these gardens were austere with square lawns surrounded by an arborvitae hedge. In the middle of the lawn were planted 8-12 dwarf conifers planted like chess pieces on a grid. Everything was green in these yards. The house was usually 2 storied with very small porch and no flowers.

Whatever the style of house, the Polish people love their dogs. I saw mostly small dogs with the occasional German shepherd but all were well cared for and anxiously awaited their owners return if left behind in the yard.

In the southeastern part of Poland the farms are smaller and more numerous.  Not being able to afford baling tractors, hay is stacked into tall piles and sometimes covered at the top with plastic for rain protection. The soil here is a mixture of fine sand. clay and silt. Called loess it is rich in minerals. Poland grows most of the apples for concentrate for all of Europe with the help of this soil.

Red currants, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are commonly grown. Fields of sunflowers surround farmhouses.  Brightly colored bee hives find a home in many orchards. Pigs are kept in barns but dairy cows graze in the meadow. Geese, chickens and goats are common.

Here's what I learned in Poland.  Be sure to give swans who are protecting 7 young, fluffy grey cygnets a wide berth while kayaking down a river. Tobacco fields are beautiful when covered with spikes of pink flowers. Millions of migrating geese, swans, ducks and waders stop by the northeast corner of Poland in May .A quarter off all migratory birds who come to Europe for the summer breed in Poland.  A White storks will eat anything that fits in its mouth. Cobblestone streets can be made from rounded cobbles, small squares of granite set in beautiful patterns, brick, basalt or random pieces of stone. Gas costs about $7.00 per gallon although it is bought by the liter. Around any hole with a worker at the bottom there usually are several in orange vests standing at the top just watching.

I also learned that Polish people eat very large breakfasts consisting of many types of cold cuts and sausage, several kinds of cheese, many styles of eggs, bread, rolls, butter, jam,  tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and salad. Dairy farmers in small villages can use a bicycle to bring two cans of fresh milk to the collection barn while others use small carts, a tractor or a horse. Close to the Belarus border, the last stand of original forest in all Europe is thriving and is home to bison, wild boar and the occasional lynx, bear and wolf. The last Russian tsar in the 1800's had most of the predatory animals killed so he could hunt more bison when he came to his summer castle. I did see a red fox checking out a vole early one morning and fresh badger and marten tracks in the mud on the trail.

Poland has more than 3500 species of mushrooms and hunting for them is a traditional past time. I enjoyed many soups and other recipes made with wild mushrooms. Two million private farms grow most of the potatoes and rye for Europe and is one of the worlds largest producers of sugar beets. and triticale, a self-pollinating hybrid of wheat and rye, leading Poland to be called the future breadbasket of the European Union.

I'd love to go back to Poland.  It's a beautiful country rich in history and the gardens are spectacular.

 

Historical Landscaping in San Lorenzo Valley

The history of our area is fascinating. Being a gardener, I’m especially interested in the landscaping and plants that surrounded homes in earlier times. A friend of mine lives in a home off Hwy 9 in Ben Lomond. Her house was built in 1960 replacing the original cabin-style home from the turn of the century. In a tour of the property I learned some of the history of this beautiful area.

Pictures of the property from 1937 show grapes, fruit trees, a pampas grass and flowers bordering the clearing for a flag pole. One of the original Gravenstein apples is still producing. A horseshoe pit figures prominently in the yard. You can see the sparsely forested  Ben Lomond mountains behind the house.

Fast forward to 1960 when the present ranch style house was built. According to a neighbor who’s family has lived in the area for decades, The Bird of Paradise was one of the prized plants installed at that time and has survived many a winter, blooming spectacularly this year. Other plants that have lived in the garden for over 40 years are Cecile Brunner roses, camellias, daphne, Atlas cedar, hawthorn, yew and interior live oak.

The current steward of the property is a fellow landscape designer and has created a personal arboretum. She took me on a tour pointing out favorite trees and other additions she has made since 1987. I’ll start with the trees.

In full bloom is a 20 ft Himalayan flowering dogwood which has sported its huge white petal-like bracts for over two months now. Each flower is over 3" across and makes quite a show. The fruit is edible for birds. Another prized tree is her Fernleaf Fullmoon maple, which at 25 ft is tall enough to be underplanted with red flowering currant and hydrangeas. Sweet violets cover the ground along with a large stand of omphaloides. Resembling forget-me-nots this groundcover doesn’t reseed itself from those pesky, sticky seeds that used to stick to her yellow lab Banjo and cat Toby.

In another corner of the garden grows a Drimys winteri, commonly known as Winter’s Bark. This evergreen, slender tree has aromatic mahogany-red bark and leathery 5-10" long fragrant leaves. Small clusters of jasmine scented, creamy white flower appear in winter and spring. Underplanted with a black calla lily, columbine, coral bells and mimulus it makes quite a statement.

Two clematis, a burgundy Ernest Markham and a purple jackmanii grow over the arbor framing a white picket fence. A woolly blue curls blooms happily in a barrel along the driveway. The veggie garden, complete with a well-dressed scarecrow, guards the ripening San Marzano paste tomatoes as well as boysenberry, blueberry, artichokes and citrus.

On the way to the frog pond, we pass her collection of lacecap hydrangeas, fuchsia, foxglove, more omphaloides, ribes, campanula and a large butter-yellow flowering kerria japonica. A 22 year old native western azalea also claims a spot in this border next to the hachiya persimmon.

Back at the pond, the Pacific tree frogs are mostly quiet this time of year. Mating season is over and there is little reason to attract the attention of potential predators. She informed me that the frog population varies from year to year and has noticed that 10 years ago the frog chorus started about March but now mating starts earlier-about Christmas time.

Surrounding the pond are native stream orchids, appearing mysteriously here and there in the garden, ferns, blue oat grass, loropetalum, hellobore, polemonium and fuchsia thymifolia. Anemone, aucuba, ribes and a yellow rhododendron contribute color and texture as the season progresses.

We ended ours tour at the back garden. A border of Chinese ground orchids, spice bush, wax myrtle and rhododendrons surround the red fescue lawn allowed to grow long gracefully. Sitting at the table, nibbling on bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes and enjoying a glass of wine, we speculated what it might have been like to garden back in the early 1900’s. From the pictures it looks like it was very different than gardens today.