To quote Luther Burbank, "Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul". After visiting the garden of Bev Kaplan in Boulder Creek I couldn't agree more.
I never tire of being invited to spend time with a fellow gardening enthusiast. Everyone creates a unique garden which reflects their individuality and personality. To share a garden is a personal experience. To tell the story of each part and how it came to life is a special honor bestowed on those we care about. Here is the story of Bev's garden.
urbanite retaining wall
Bev and her husband, Jeff, bought the property in 1992. Then it was covered with poison oak and Scotch broom but they saw potential and got started on the dramatic transformation. A huge culvert that runs under the driveway used to be lined with old Texaco 50 gallon drums. Now redone with stone, it blooms with agapanthus that were being given away by a friend. Groundcovers blanket the slopes now but in the winter the culvert carries a lot of water.
Bordering the driveway are planters built with concrete from the old pool. Her "designer" bearded iris have finished blooming but Bev bragged about the huge 6" flowers that they bear each spring. Deer can reach this part of the property so iris and grasses survive well here.
A steep slope along another side of the driveway is home to her resident deer. She pointed to the wisteria vines growing over the trees. When in bloom they cover the slope with purple blooms and a wonderful fragrance. She started the wisteria 14 years ago from one seed collected from the hamburger joint at the southern edge of Boulder Creek. It took 7 years for it to bloom but now when the seed pods burst they hit the kitchen window a hundred feet away.
Strolling under the Southern magnolia tree with those huge, white flowers that smell like oranges, we
passed the "Bottle Garden".
Bev explained she just gave up trying to grow anything in this shady area so made bouquets of colored bottles placed upside down in pots. It's charming, whimsical and the ultimate in recycling.
"Maple Lane" was our next destination. Her large Japanese maple collection grows happily alongside abutilon, which are also called Flowering maples. Hummingbirds enjoy all of the flowers equally be they colored red, orange or yellow. Sweet violets and astilbe find homes here, too.
A welcoming flagstone patio under the shade of massive redwoods held a large firepit and lots of chairs. Calling her home, "Bev's Bread and Breakfast", she explained that many relatives come from out of town to stay and the warmth of the fire ring is welcomed by those who are used to warmer nights. Camellias and rhododendrons enclose this beautiful patio with a view of the San Lorenzo Valley.
Everywhere I looked in this garden, glass beads were sprinkled between stepping stones. Like jewels, I was told these "Pixie Fairy Gems" keep the weeds down and invite the fairies – clear ones brightened up the shade, blue ones nestled between the brick-red stepping stones in the hospital area.
Opposite the hospital area, which didn't house any current patients I noticed, a several bowling balls sat atop a patch of Mexican pebbles. These belonged to her husband's late parents and she wanted to remember them by creating this unusual garden.
Finally arriving at the pool garden I was speechless.
This labor of love is a riot of color attracting dragonflies, hummingbirds and songbirds and butterflies
by the score. I asked how she takes care of all of it. Bev smiled and pulled out a large serving spoon and a pair of kitchen shears. "With these", she said.
During a delicious lunch of spinach souffle and fresh lemonade with mint, I was surrounded by the fragrance of honeysuckle, star jasmine, scented geraniums, buddleja, nemesia, purple petunia and dianthus. Many varieties of salvia, calibrachoa, scaevola, dahlia and gladiola filled the many pots and hanging baskets around the pool.
Bev takes care of the entire garden with just a little help. She doesn't spray with anything, even organics, preferring to keep bugs at bay by washing the deck with simple green, hand picking and spritzing with the hose.
It was a day I'll always remember. This garden is a personal labor of love and I hope to be invited back to see the hawk babies when they fledge.
Every season new varieties of colorful flowering annuals and perennials are introduced by hybridizers. These new plants are field tested and bred for better performance, disease and insect resistance, flower size, color and heat tolerance. Where does this happen? What goes into that gorgeous vivid red geranium you see on the bench at the nursery?
Over 30 breeders of flower seeds and perennial starts each spring showcase their new varieties in trials held throughout the state. Professional growers visit the trials to choose which new varieties they will grow this year and offer to local nurseries and garden centers. Goldsmith Seeds in Gilroy is one of the locations that hosts the colorful spectacle.
Fragrant, wisteria-covered arbors shade paths that wind throughout the landscaped grounds . The grounds are open to the public to enjoy throughout the summer. Also on site are the greenhouses where breeders work on creating new and better flower varieties. It was interesting to see several acres planted with fava beans as a cover crop. Soon the fields of this flowering legume will be cut down and tilled into the soil to add nitrogen. Legumes attract soil dwelling bacteria that attach to the plant’s roots and pull atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and soil, storing it on the roots as nodules. When the plant is cut down and chopped up to decompose that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed new plants. After a few weeks of decomposition the energized soil will be ready for planting test flowers that Goldsmith seeds will further evaluate.
All of the seeds are actually grown in greenhouses in Holland and Guatemala. Cool season flowers like primroses, cyclamen, violas and pansies are produced mainly in Holland while warm season flowers like dahlias, geraniums, gazanias, and verbenas are grown at different elevations in Guatemala. I learned Goldsmith Seeds has been developing and growing seed in Guatemala for 40 years.
What new cultivars really impressed me at the trials? There’s a new geranium that combines the best features of ivy and zonal geraniums. I liked the amazing color of Calliope Dark Red but all the colors were show stoppers. They would be perfect for baskets or beds in full sun or part shade. And you should see all the colors that calibrachoa now comes in-light blue, dark blue, deep yellow, peach, orange, even white with rose veins. These have now been bred to bloom earlier in the season which is why you’re seeing them in nurseries now. There were many fragrant flowers like . I always looks forward to them when they arrive at the nursery.
Try something new in your garden this year. There are so many good choices.
Picture yourself this summer with your family outdoors during your "staycation" – relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard. Now is the perfect time to plan while the yard is still a bit bare and you can see the space for what it really is. Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.
Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable in the hot summer. We usually get a heat wave in May so be prepared early. National Arbor Day in the last week of April but each state sets its own day of celebration. California celebrates this week, March 7-14, as the week to plant a tree.
There are so many good choices for our area. First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions. Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak. Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple. If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.
What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, with brick or pavers? If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.
How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden. Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.
After you’ve planted your tree and planned your hidden getaway take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden . Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start. If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time. Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time. The last frost of the season is approximately March 15th. Spring is on its way.
So often we design a border with short plants in the front, medium-size plants in the middle and large or tall plants in the back.
Sure, you can see and enjoy all the plants this way but the garden may feel static with the arrangement. Adding lacy, medium to tall plants to the front or middle of the border entices the viewer to move closer or wander into the garden for a better look at the plants that are slightly obscured.
Not every plant that you can see through will be successful in the mid or foreground. An ideal see-through plant has delicate foliage. The flowers have a loose growth and the stems are fine enough to see the plants behind them. Strong stems that don’t flop or need to be staked are a must. The best plants are usually at least 3 feet tall. The width of the plant doesn’t matter as you can use more or less of them as needed.
Place see-through plants at intervals that provide a rhythm or flow to your bed and invites the viewer to pause. Start them at least a few feet down from the beginning of the border. The corners of the bed usually need a plant with a denser habit to mark the beginning or the end.
To use see-through plants effectively in the garden it’s best to plant large splashy flowers or foliage behind them. Plants like roses, daylilies, Shasta daisies and hostas all qualify as backdrops. Subtle foliage plants get lost in the mix, instead use bold complimentary or contrasting colors.
Japanese anemones will soon be blooming and their loose form make perfect see-through plants. Graceful branching 2-4 ft high stems bear single or semi-double white, silvery pink or rose flowers. This plant is slow to establish but spreads readily if roots are not disturbed. Use in borders or partial shade under high branching trees with the vibrant purple of princess flowers in the back ground or a red flowering maple.
For a bed in a more sunny location, consider planting an ornamental grass in the foreground. Grasses are the perfect see-through plant contributing both upright form and the ability to sway in the wind. Other perennials that are blooming now and make good candidates for see-through plants are gaura, agastache, kangaroo paw and lobelia cardinalis.
Look around your garden for places that need something airy and try a new combination today.
Despite how hot it’s been, the "dog days of summer" just came to an end August 11th. Where did this expression come from?
Some say it signifies hot sultry days not fit for a dog, but the dog days are defined as the period from July 3 through August 11 when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction ( or nearly so ) with the sun. As a result, some felt the combination of the brightest luminary of the day (the sun) and and brightest star of the night ( Sirius) was responsible for the extreme heat that is experienced during the middle of the summertime. Since Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky it’s reasonable to guess that it adds some heat to the earth but the amount is insignificant.
The name "dog star" came from the ancient Egyptians who called Sirius, the dog star, after their god, Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog. They called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction "the dog days of summer" because it coincidentally fell at the time of year when it was very hot. We now know that the heat of summer is a direct result of the earths tilt. Now you know… the rest of the story.
If your deck or patio needs some perking up about now, plant up a new container or add to your existing ones. Almost anything goes when it come to combining plants in containers and nearly any type of container looks good with the right plant. I have over 250 in a sprawling garden of containers arranged like a border on my deck, under trees, around my front door, down my driveway… places where planting in the ground just isn’t possible. I can move them farther apart, up, down, to the front or to the back to create a display that is always evolving. I add spots of vivid color where I need it and texture where I want it. I have the flexibility to remove anything past its prime or bring forward a fragrant plant when I want to really enjoy its scent up close.
So what looks great in containers? One simple strategy I use a lot is to put just one plant in a pot. A single perennial like a flowering maple looks good year round. My asparagus meyeri really looks dramatic in a low ceramic pot. The princess flower and my enormous hosta sieboldiana (which I’ve named Bob) can be hidden behind other pots in the winter when they are dormant. Succulents, like a large hen and chicks, are always real standouts in a pretty container as are grasses. I have a Sango Kaku Japanese maple in a large cobalt blue glazed pot as the thriller in one vignette with chartreuse green barberry and a fragrant heliotrope as fillers and lysimachia aurea and purple calibrachoa as spillers. I like burgundy foliage so Sizzling Pink loropetalum is one of my favorite background plants. It looks great with Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass. The purple leaves of oxalis triangularis works well in this color scheme, too. My displays change every year and also as the summer progresses. I live in partial shade but if you live in the sun try the rich colors of canna lily, black-eyed susan, kangaroo paw, aeonium and old fashioned variegated geraniums.
Although I take a more-is-merrier approach to container gardening, numbers alone don’t mean much. Five pots are enough to create a dramatic composition on a porch or patio. The trick is not how many pots you have, but what you do with them. I use overturned nursery or clay pots, boxes and plant stands to stage my plants so short but showy plants can be placed up off the ground at eye level. Containers of plants placed in front hide the risers from view. By elevating pots with various props, I create combinations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Staging can also be an effective way to display garden art like sculpture , fountains and handsome empty pots. It’s easy to place ornaments where they look best -a place of honor – by raising them up in your grouping.
When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough. That doesn’t count green, unless it’s lime. Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you’re done. You want the pots to look good right away. Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.
Whatever plant or container you choose, you’ll enjoy the results now that the dog days of summer are over.
We spend more time relaxing, playing and entertaining outdoors at this time of year. Your wish list might include a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and a pool with built-in spa but with todays gas and food prices those additions may be on hold for the time being. So what landscape design features can you implement on a budget to make your time outdoors really count?
- Water features – relaxing self-contained fountains are easy to set up. Some styles incorporate child-safe pond-less fountains. What about a simple outdoor shower with a Mexican pebble floor and vine covered lattice for privacy?
- Fire pits – you can warm your family and guests around a simple fire pit while you wait to install the pizza oven and outdoor fire place next year. Fire pits can be purchased ready-made or you can construct you own with fieldstone or concrete blocks. Either way they’re a fun addition to your patio or sitting area.
- Outdoor lighting – you’ll be amazed at how beautiful your garden looks when you add some lighting and how much you’ll want to stay outdoors after dark. Light a path or uplight the trunk of one of your trees. Back light a plant with interesting foliage or wash a wall with light. Todays solar lights are getting better and better and low voltage lights are more affordable, too.
- Stone in the garden – whether you want a seat wall to surround your patio or a permeable flagstone patio, stone lends a sense of permanence and elegance to your property.
Consider adding some new elements to your garden so that you can spend more time outdoors both in the evening and throughout the year.