Tag Archives: landscaping history

Trees of Stanford University

Flame_treeThe other day I visited the campus of Stanford University to view something from their archives. The campus is beautiful. Flowering trees in bloom every where you look. I was told by a colleague that Stanford has a huge collection of trees some planted back in the late 1880’s when the university was first built and the landscaping installed. The designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect also created New York’s Central Park. I wanted to find a mature specimen of a California native, the Catalina Ironwood, which is listed in their Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs and Vines.

The campus is huge and with so many areas to explore I missed the grove of Ironwood. There are over 400 species, 150 genera and 60 families which total 27,000+ individual trees growing on the central campus. Senator Leland Stanford vowed that no healthy oak be cut down and even today the dominant tree on campus is the coast live oak. There has been a loss of diversity from the original tree and shrub plantings of the 1880’s and 1890’s, which is well documented for conifers. Still the sheer number and variety of trees is impressive.

In the main quad by the Memorial Church and the grounds surrounding the Music library and the Green library I found dozens of trees which were all surveyed and named on a map I found online. It was fun to locate each tree.

I’m always on the lookout for mature tree specimens to photograph. When I recommend a tree to be included in a design I like to be able to share the image of what the tree will look like in the future. Trees anchor your house to the land. They are more than just a pretty face to look at from the kitchen window. They provide habitat, food and shelter to birds as well as giving shade in the summer. Some of the trees I saw on the Stanford campus may not be suitable for all gardens but they are interesting to learn about. Here are a few of the highlights of my campus botanical adventure.

In the main quad there are 8 circular planting beds containing over 80 individual trees. One that I was attracted to because of its unusual trunk and branching structure was the Flame tree or brachychiton acerifolius. Although not yet in bloom it will soon be covered with scarlet bells. I learned from the campus encyclopedia that this tree was planted in 1998 after the original specimen died. That flame tree, planted in 1891, was famous for the brilliant display it put on in May and June, covering the ground with a mantle of red bells. The pod-like fruits contain masses of irritating bristles but also nutritious yellow seeds that were eaten by the Aborigines after toasting.

The next tree that caught my eye had such formidable thorns that I wondered where it grew naturally. Floss-Silk_treeHow could it come by the pretty name, Floss Silk tree, with those deadly spines? I learned in September this tree redeems itself with masses of showy pinkish-white flowers so numerous they hide the foliage. Hummingbirds enjoy the nectar of the flowers which are used in Brazil as threads in upholstery. But the most distinctive feature of the tree is the wicked looking array of stout spines that crowd the trunk and protrude by an inch or more. Who knows why they evolved this way? The fruit of the Floss Silk tree is very large and on ripening the pods open to expose masses of white cottony kapok-like material that perhaps acts as a barrier to rats seeking the tiny seeds. Is it rats that the trees are hoping to deter by growing the huge spines?

Red_mulberryRedwoods, giant sequoia and Bristlecone pine live a long time but there’s something impressive about an ornamental tree that is over 100 years old. Planted in 1889, the trunk of the Red Mulberry tree growing in the quad has attained great character and girth. Mulberry leaves are the food of the silkworm and if you grow your own silkworms you can make silk. One silkworm produces about half a mile of incredibly strong monofilament to make its cocoon. The pale berries of the red mulberry are not as good to eat as the black mulberry but both grow quickly to provide shade for your home or patio.

A tree planted for beauty shade, habitat and posterity is a gift to all.

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.

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.


Landscaping in the Early 1900’s in San Lorenzo Valley

Our gardens reflect who we are. Some of us plant edibles while others fill their gardens with fragrance. Some concentrate on native plants, attracting hummingbirds and wildlife while others have a bit of everything.

Our area is rich in history. I love to look at old photos and try to identify what the early settlers planted around their homes in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s.  Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country.  Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brushland to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebes from New Zealand were all the rage.  The brochure for this world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …" a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled."

My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at a friends family photographs from the turn of the century. His family had a resort with a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths close to Hwy 9 in south Felton. This was very near the Big Tree Grove resort ( now Toll House ) that opened in 1867.     I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown back but at that time there was lots of sunshine, a by product of clear cutting.   I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Landscaping in the Santa Cruz mountains in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could be lush or sparse depending on the location and logging activities. A picture from the 1880s of the Harmon cabin off Hwy 9 shows many palms that look like Canary Island date palms. Perhaps they were imported from a nursery in San Francisco and brought down here by railroad. The landscaping is lush and full of plants.

Pictures of the Locatelli barn in 1892 near the grammar school in Boulder Creek, however, show the hills nearly clear cut. Railroad tracks at that time ran right through downtown.  Simple houses with picket fences were located very near the tracks and these yards had no trees, shrubs or flowers at all. It must have been quite hot for them in the summertime.

By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms, and hollyhocks in their yard. Out on Bear Creek Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs.  Most likely they originated from the deserts in the southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.

California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns.  Black locust trees planted for their fragrance and flowers are still seen here today where they have naturalized.  Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

The 1915 Panama Pacific Expo introduced more plants to the public. In 1916, construction of a home in Brookdale featured timber, flooring and doors shipped from the expo to this area by Southern Pacific railroad. When the house was finished in 1926, photographs show a beautiful home surrounded by hollyhocks, roses and wisteria.

Also in the museum archives are the scrapbooks of the Valley Floral Club, later called the Valley Garden Club. Dating back to 1947 they contain old newspaper clippings as well as the minutes of monthly meetings, details of various speakers and pictures of plants and members. One old clipping from 1928 shows as ad for "Calif. Redwood Burl Ferns " for 75 cents that were a ..".guaranteed curiosity in any home for several years".

That’s my trip down the memory lane of horticulture. Many thanks to Linda Phillips and Maya Caldwell from the SLV Museum for their help in researching this information.

If you have any of these plants in your garden, remember the early settlers enjoyed them also. You might even plants a for the fun of it.