Tag Archives: West Coast design

A Succulent Wall Like No Other

succulent_wall.1280I designed other parts of this garden but this area was all hers. She’d been interested in cactus and succulents for a long time before deciding to combine her passion for these plants and her love of gardening to a problem spot in the garden. The results are jaw-dropping impressive and I was honored to visit this garden and get a private tour. My friends live on the river in Ben Lomond and working as a team have created a living wall on a slope that runs the length of their driveway rising steeply up to a road on the upper side.

Most people would have built a block retaining wall and added a few low water use plants for erosion control and called it a day. But not this couple. He’s a rock hound and has collected specimens on every vacation and job site for a very long time. “His rock collection became so large we needed to bring them out in the open and put them in a place where he could see them daily”, she says. My eyes were riveted on a mosaic of colors as the various stones of jasper, jade, granite, graptopetalum.2048serpentine, travertine, chert, sandstone, obsidian, lava and limestone intertwine. “The wall has been quite an adventure”, the couple says casually as my eyes darted back and forth, up and down admiring each vignette. Almost all of the succulents and cactus plants were obtained for free from discards and generous friends and the garden art in the wall was found on construction sites and recycled. The wall itself is an ongoing labor of love. Starting just a year and a half ago with a short block wall as the base, this living succulent wall has been built with mortar, rebar and dry laid stones and even has a sturdy set of stairs, a flagstone and pebble path and several places to sit and take in its beauty.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful rock walls and colorful succulents that filled every crevice and cascaded down the rocks. How do you make it so stable I asked? “A good mason handles a rock only 9 times”, he said with a laugh. Seems there’s a story that accompanies every little section. An unusual black ornamental lion_fountain.1600iron railing surrounds a tiny slate patio at the top. It consist of typical sunflowers on the sides but in the middle of each section is a bat with wings extended. Really gets your attention I have to tell you. I was told that Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame used to live in Ben Lomond. He had a patio made for his aging mother and this was the surrounding railing. It arrived via some friends who now own the house and said they could have it as long as they never sold it. Along with some rocks from Tarzan’s old garden it is permanently installed in the succulent wall. At the top of the wall along the road lives a red rose that’s been in the garden a very long time. Story goes that a neighbor distributed these roses to many in the neighborhood and they originally came from Eleanor Roosevelt when she visted the area. Succulents for the wall are part trial and error, part research.

Drainage for any succulent is a must so first a mix is created using pumice, gravel and sand. This is used for the pockets in the wall and also for containers which are filled with rocks and only a few inches of the mix is added to the top. They have found that by using frost blankets over only the most frost sensitive varieties their collection survives our winters. The first winter they did protect them while getting established but now they are on their own. Even if some turn to mush, I was told, they are cleaned up in the spring, replanted and grow back just fine. And being succulents they multiply and there are even more to tuck into crevices the next year.

The wall contains hundreds and hundreds of plants, both succulents as well as other plants that my_garden_rock.1024provide colorful foliage and contrast to the rock. A new section is being developed with dark green serpentine and orange jasper rocks. Blue chalk stick (Senecio vitals ‘Serpents) is just one of the succulents growing here along with several varieties of crassula, echeverria, graptopetalum St. Ives, agave, sempervivum and aloe. There is a pink and blue section and a chartreuse and burgundy section, too. Every color of the rainbow is represented. Every succulent garden is unique and the owner’s of this one have created their own astonishing living wall. From fossil rocks shaped like hearts to slate pavers chipped into a heart shape to Hens and Chicks growing in the rock crevices and forming a heart, this garden shouts love.

Ahbkazi Garden – Victoria, BC.

How many beautiful gardens can one visit on one vacation? I spent a whole day at the spectacular Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. a couple of hours at St. Ann's Academy heritage garden and the lovely Empress Hotel rose garden is a nice place to watch the sunset over the harbor.  But I wanted more and on the outskirts of Victoria in a residential neighborhood I found the perfect garden.

Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offers a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees if you put your mind to it. Now owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the property was bought in 1946 by Peggy Pemberton Carter who recognized the possibilities on this last undeveloped lot in the neighborhood. This independent minded woman traveled to the west coast after WW II from a prisoner of war camp in Georgia, using funds she had hidden during the war in talcum powder. She married Prince Abkhazi, a Russian fellow prisoner, when he joined her in Victoria and they began to build the summer house and lay out the garden together.

Over the next 40 years, Prince and Princess Abkhazi  designed, planted and maintained the property. Peggy had lived in Shanghai before the war and it was this influence that plays out in the garden. Chinese gardens are essentially places of meditation, places to withdraw from worldly cares. This must have been very appealing to the Abkhazi's  after their experiences in prisoner of war camps. Nothing in a Chinese garden is hurried or blatant. Paths are not just a way of getting from one point to another, instead they are a way of exploring changing views that slowly shift as you walk through the garden.

As I made my way between massive glaciated rock outcroppings and under mature native Garry oak trees gorgeous views of the snow-covered Olympic mountains and the Straight of San Juan de Fuca could be seen.
Each garden "room" utilizes the natural lay of the land and has a welcoming bench for sitting and taking in the flowers. Lots of birds and butterflies were busy feeding and going about their daily activities.

Purple allium flowers the size of grapefruit caught my attention. Growing nearby, pale yellow Candelabra primula[/caption]Japanese iris bordered one of the paths. Fragrant dianthus, several varieties of campanula and euphorbia, lady's mantle and candelabra primula were all blooming and the weeping Crimson Queen Japanese maples were pruned to perfection.

More than just a collection of plants, this garden flows with the natural contours and blends the house with it's surroundings. it is a stunning example of West Coast design. The garden flows around the rock outcroppings, taking advantage of deeper pockets of soil for conifers, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The original Lily-of-the-Valley beds still carpet a slope. Alpine plants are placed like little jewels around the boulders and woodland plants border the undulating lawns.

A small waterfall flows into a pond where 2 large turtles sunned themselves on the rock edge while a third rested on a waterlily pad, it's red ear markings picking up the dark pink color of the waterlily flower. A stand of stately white calla lilies emerged through a piece of drifwood near a resting spot. The garden is magical. One that you could imagine on your own property if you had the next 40 years to plant and maintain it.
It would have been  a terrible loss if the property had not been purchased in 2000 by The Land Conservancy. After the death of the Abkhazis the land was slated to become a townhouse development. This unique garden
is truly a place of wonder. a place to meditate and to withdraw from worldly cares.