It was one of those days when the light is soft as the fog burns off over Watsonville. My group of fellow landscape designers were gathered for a private tour of Sierra Azul Nursery and Garden. The picnic tables were set by owner Lisa Rosendale and covered with delicious salads, chili, appetizers, desserts and beverages. We were in for a real treat.
Lisa’s nursery is a demonstration and sculpture garden as well as a retail and wholesale nursery. She and her husband Jeff grow drought tolerant and exotic plants that promote the use of Mediterranean climate adapted plants in water conserving gardens and landscapes including fruit trees and plants for shade gardens. It was fun and interesting to hear the back story of the soil, growing conditions and trials and tribulations of the 2 acre demonstration garden straight from the source.
Seems this property, which is directly across from the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, sits on 20 feet of clay covered with 2 feet of top soil. The drainage is poor as Lisa found out when they planted a field of Grosso lavender. It turns into a marsh during wet years. She still harvests some lavender spikes to make into wands for sale but many of the plants have died.
The demonstration garden is always evolving. The mounds showcase Mediterranean plants and many types of full grown grasses, trees, shrubs and perennials. The birds and the bees love it. A different scent greets you at every turn. Lisa did confess that maybe one of the self sowing ornamental grasses is too much of a good thing. Personally we thought they were charming. “Nothing we can do about it”, Lisa said, “Plants grow where they want.”
There are breathtaking sculptures incorporated into the plantings that are permanent. This is also the13th year that the exhibition Sculpture IS in the Garden featuring 52 artists and 80 sculptures have been installed throughout the garden. They will be on display through October 31. Admission is free. Relax under the umbrellas, bring your picnic lunch and spend an afternoon like we did enjoying the demonstration garden and the exhibit.
But back to the plants. Some were new to me and some old favorites not to be forgotten. There are hundreds of plants growing on mounds in the demonstration garden. These were just a few of my favorites.
Similar to a dusty miller, a Velvet Centauria (centauria gymnocarpa) immediately caught my eye. This beautiful, fast growing sub-shrub features soft grayish-white filigreed leaves and purple thistle-like flowers. It blooms from spring to mid-summer, is deer resistant, tolerant of any type of soil and is very drought tolerant. As a 3 foot by 6 foot wide groundcover it looks great between other contrasting colored plants.
Another cool plant that all of us commented on was a columnar redwood called Mt. Loma Prieta Spike Coast Redwood. With its robust, upright weeping habit a mature specimen will measure 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide. This cultivar originated as a natural mutation by Allan Korth around the time of the earthquake. He is thought to have found the mother plant near the epicenter near Mt Loma Prieta peak.
Just a few of the other plants of note was a beautiful blooming upright hypericum called Mystic Beauty. A California native, salvia lilacina ‘De la Mina’ , was in full bloom among one of the many sculptures. A huge clump of bidens covered with red and yellow flowers grew among three upright sculptures that resembled giant cabbages. A gold cultivar of phlomis fruticosa or Jerusalem Sage was stunning in the late afternoon light. Covered with “smoke”, a Purple Smoke tree looked spectacular next the a rusted metal sculpture. Lisa told us that the artists who created the different works came to the nursery to decide on just the right spot that would showcase both the sculpture and and plants.
Don’t miss visiting Sierra Azul. You’ll be glad you did. If you want to see more photos of the nursery and just some of the sculptures visit my blog on my website.