Category Archives: garden design

A Visit to the Brook Lomond Iris Farm

Aztec Sun
Aztec Sun

What do you get when you combine a world renowned pottery artist with a reformed corn grower? On California Street in Ben Lomond, the result is the Brook Lomond Iris Farm of Rick and Chris Moran. This fun, educational, inspiring couple recently invited me to admire this year’s crop of tall bearded iris grown with certified organic gardening practices as well as to share their organic vegetable garden, cactus and succulent collection and Chris’ unique pottery. They are getting ready for this year’s annual iris sale coming up April 30th as well as May 1st and 7th from 9:00-4:00 each day when the iris blooms will be at their peak.

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Coiled pottery by Chris Moran

Upon arriving my eyes were torn between the colorful beds of iris on my left and the blooming cactus and succulent collection displayed on the flagstone entry garden on the right. I later learned Chris cut and laid the flagstone herself. Inside the house Chris’s fabulous coiled pottery vases, urns and jugs in their great room were so amazing I had a hard time tearing myself away to start the tour of the back garden and iris beds in the front. Cody, their new dog, was good company as I learned how the Moran’s came to start an iris farm.

When Rick Moran was 13 years old he worked at LoPresti tomato farm in Connecticut. “I hated it,” he laughs. Later when he was a student at UCSC he used to pass by the Chadwick garden and says he “got the gardening bug by osmosis”. After graduation the couple moved to Bar Harbor Maine where they started a community garden. Chris displayed the cactus and succulents she had moved there in a heated porch which was quite the talk of the town for neighbors passing by on a snowy day.

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Organic vegetable garden

When they moved back to this area and found the sunny lot in Ben Lomond, Rick added nine yards of chicken manure mixed with rice hulls and planted corn. He had visions of savoring succulent ears of corn for dinner but quickly realized that the amount of water needed to grow corn was prohibitive. That was after the Chris’ succulent failure. He and Chris wanted to come up with a crop they could make a little supplemental income. She used to sell her cactus and succulents when they lived in Capitola at the drive-in in Santa Cruz many years before but after planting fancy succulents in the front yard and seeing them turn to mush in a Ben Lomond freeze they realized succulents weren’t going to work either.

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Stepping Out

Enter “The Queen of the Garden” as iris are called. The Morans researched these stunning flowers and found them to be drought tolerant and deer and gopher resistant. Having a high water table Iris are the perfect crop. They require no extra water at all with summer being the plant’s dormant season. Chris worked for the City of Santa Cruz for 25 years and started their Home Composing program. They compost all garden waste and kitchen scraps using the compost as the only fertilizer for the iris beds and vegetable garden. They get 15 wheelbarrows of compost a year from their simple bins. Straw is spread as mulch to control weeds between the iris beds’

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Tall bearded iris beds

The iris are starting their blooming cycle now. Some bloom earlier than others. By planting early, mid and late blooming varieties you can extend their colorful show for several months. Iris also make a good cut flower and many are fragrant. Chris told me that you can tell when an iris was hybridized from it’s shape. The early types are not as frilly as modern varieties. She pointed out a bed of Wabash Heritage which was first introduced in the 1920’s- simple with three falls. The lovely sky blue flowers of Striped Zebra iris smelled of Grape Koolaid. Chris explained that the flower scent develops as they sit in the sun. The aroma is not as strong when they first open.

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Bearded iris closeip

The Brook Lomond Iris Farm is located at 10310 California Drive off Highway 9 in Ben Lomond. Just look for the tall flags waving in the breeze and bring your camera. Iris rhizomes for sale are chosen for hardiness in this area and the Morans are always on the lookout and adding the newest varieties available such as the deep purple Dusky Challenger. The Iris Farm is educational as well as beautiful- a place the whole family will enjoy.

A World in Stone

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Lion’s head wall fountain

There’s a reason that stone in a garden gives us the feeling that it has been there a long time. The rustic elegance of a dry laid stone wall, natural stone paver patio, huge stone slab steps, outdoor stone fireplace or flagstone garden path reminds us that we humans have used stone for over two million years when we first started making stone tools.

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Ocean Pearl sauna wall detail

Stone is much more than the Wikipedia definition of “a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals.”  Granite, for instance, comes from igneous rocks formed slowly as it cooled deep under the earth’s surface. Sandstone and limestone are sedimentary rocks formed by the compaction of grains or pieces of any kind of existing rock material then cemented over millions of years by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates and sometimes contain fossils formed at the time of deposition. Then there is metamorphic rock like marble and slate that were formed at extreme high pressures and temperatures beneath the earth’s crust from other types of rock. The presence of swirls, linear patterns or banding is a key characteristic of this kind of stone.

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Whimsical wall detail- anchor, agate, shells

In Ben Lomond lives a stone advocate who has created a spectacular decorative stone wall, a stone shower and sauna room, stone patio, paths and slab steps and he’s invited me to come and view them at his home before he puts it on the market.

Jon Troutner has been in the stone business for a long time. He owned Antolini Masonry and Landscape Supply in Santa Cruz for 20 years until he lost his lease and sold the company in 2008. Afterwards he used his expertise and some choice materials he saved to use at his home in Ben Lomond and another in Aptos. Jon’s primarily a musician these days but his creative vision in stone is a magical experience as he walks me around his home.

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“eel-head” rock peaking out of wall

Jon’s property is located near Love Creek up on a hill and has a lovely canyon view. When he bought the property 5 years ago the backyard was just sand but now it is fully landscaped. Ocean Pearl, one of his favorite stone types that he used in his whimsical wall and sauna, comes from a quarry on Vancouver Island that he used to own. Jon gave this this type of quartzite it’s unique name because of the subtle hues and shadings in the stone.

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“Where’s Waldo” stone wall

Jon’s creations in stone have a look of their own. Being a harmonica player he puts an old harmonica somewhere on each of his unique walls. It’s his personal signature and he pointed out one in the sauna and one in the “Where’s Waldo?” wall as he calls it.

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mermaid in stone wall

“What’s a ‘Where’s Waldo’ wall, I ask?” Jon just laughs and explains that this 1987 children’s book is about the travels of Wally where readers are asked to locate him hidden in an illustration and to re-explore each scene locating other objects too. Jon showed me three mermaids, five otters, two turtles, three seahorses and an eel-shaped rock poking out from the “waves” of ocean pearl stone veneer on the showpiece wall he created to enclose the patio. There are also ship net balls, an anchor, abalone shells, fossils and his signature harmonica. “I pictured this wall as the ocean floor,” Jon explained.

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fossils in stone wall

As we walk around, Jon points out the Vermont slate floor and the ocean pearl veneer sauna room, the basalt shower with rounded cobble stone floor, the Indian rainbow cut sandstone shady patio, the Connecticut bluestone slab steps, the ocean pearl columns, the tumbled Arizona gold flagstone path and the 125 pound crystals from Brazil that are lighted at night.

This place is magical and timeless. Jon’s creative vision will live forever in his stone creations.

A Day at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

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water feature in a display garden

I remember my first San Francisco Landscape Garden show as it used to be called. The year was 1989- not long after the event started as a fundraiser for San Francisco Friends of Recreation and Parks. My father and I loved it. All those orchids and bonsai and beautiful gardens. It was held at Fort Mason and my father, a retired Army colonel, was quite familiar with the location. I was new to garden shows and was yet to discover that the display gardens are part theatre – part landscape design. ‘Who would plant a shrub that grows to 6 feet tall in front of that little bitty flowering perennial?”, I said to Dad. Well, I’ve been to a lot of garden shows since including the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show when it was held at the Cow Palace and now, in it’s 30th year, at the San Mateo Event Center.

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Fellow landscape designers at the show

So this year I know what to expect. Or I think I do but there are always surprises. I’m with a couple fellow landscape designers and we have a keen eye for new plants in interesting combinations and design solutions for upcoming landscapes. In addition to the show gardens there are also hundreds of vendors selling all sorts of wonderful garden related items and vendors selling every type of plant you could possibly want. So much fun. Here are just some of the highlights if you weren’t able to attend this year yourself.

The display gardens offer inspiration from lawn replacement ideas to sustainable building methods to exciting new plant introductions. For five days each March, people from around the world are brought together to educate, encourage and inspire garden enthusiast of all ages and all levels of knowledge and experience. This year was no exception although I wish there had been more display gardens like in the “good old days” of the garden show.

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deer scare or Shishi Idoshi water feature

Who doesn’t enjoy sitting next to an impressive water feature? This year there were several incorporated in designs that also included low water use plants. A pondless waterfall can attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. The soothing sound of the water can also mask street noise. One garden featured a Japanese bamboo deer scare or Shishi Odoshi. Perfect for a small space the bamboo spout fills with water and rocks forward to empty, then rocks back to create a gentle clacking sound.

Another impressive display garden featured succulents of every type and shape. Grouped by color and shape, large swaths of these modern succulents_basalt_column.1600looking plants created a living tapestry around columnar basalt landscape rocks. Other notable features of this garden were the brightly painted stucco walls enclosing the space and stucco-over-building-block retaining walls painted bright blue, red and terra cotta.

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creative wall lighting

I probably got the most practical ideas from the garden created by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers than any other garden. Theirs demonstrated ways to re-imagine your garden without a lawn.There were cozy sitting areas. plants that screen out the street or next door neighbor, a vertical edible garden, lawn alternatives like Kurapia and vibrant planters filled with low water use plants. The whole garden was engaging and useful. I also saw a great idea for wall lighting that used a rusted metal screen in front of the light creating an interesting pattern. You had to be there to appreciate it’s unique design.

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callistemon ‘Little John’

For me and my colleagues the plants and garden art both featured in the gardens and for sale are what keeps us at the show for a long time. There are so many new plant introductions to evaluate for future designs. From new and improved selections of old favorites such as variegated lavender ‘Meerlo’, a soft mahonia ground cover, abelia ‘Miss Lemon’ to nandina ‘Lemon Lime’ and callistemon ‘Slim Jim’ there is a perfect plant for every garden.

Think about what you want to do in your front or back yard this year to save water and maintenance and enhance the beauty of your space.

Gardening Trends for 2016

Pieris japonica or Lily-of-the-Valley shrub
Pieris japonica or Lily-of-the-Valley shrub

As a landscape designer I try to stay abreast of the latest plant introductions and trends in garden design. Many of these new plants work well with our backdrop of mountains and naturalistic settings. Some new trends will appeal to those who grow edibles while some will appeal to the gardener who loves their garden but doesn’t have time to do a lot of maintenance. What’s new this year is a return to some old fashioned ideas.

Many of us are removing overgrown shrubs and replacing them with water smart, easy-to-care-for plants that will stay the right size in smaller spaces. There are new compact and dwarf versions of old plants that have been garden favorites for a very long time. The reason they have endured is because they are reliable. Good reason to look again at some old favorites.

Vignette composed of Summer Wine physocarpus, Phormium ‘Jester’, Elegia capensis, and Japanese Forest Grass
Vignette composed of Summer Wine physocarpus, Phormium ‘Jester’, Elegia capensis, and Japanese Forest Grass

I’ve wanted to grow a Ninebark in my own garden but this beautiful deciduous shrub normally gets too big for my space. Sure I could prune it regularly but I don’t want the ongoing maintenance to keep it the right size. Several new cultivars of physocarpus opulifolius are smaller while providing just as much drama. The varieties Petite Plum and Summer Wine both have that rich, dark purple foliage all season that blends so well with lime colored foliage or pink flowers. This mounding, fast growing, deciduous shrub is adaptable to difficult situations. It’s easy to grow and tolerates drought once established. I can even cut the showy, soft pink flowers to bring inside. The flowers are followed by attractive seed pods making this plant attractive all season long.

A new version of the drought tolerant Grecian laurel bay tree is available now that will only grow to 6-8 feet tall in10 years. Laurus nobilis is the one that adds the classic Mediterranean flavor to soups and sauces. Little Ragu is compact and handsome in it’s natural form or you can clip it into a formal hedge or topiary shape. When I moved to this area 30 years ago I made the mistake of using our native bay tree for a spaghetti sauce. Now I can grow the real deal and not ruin my sauce.

Other trending looks in the gardening world are to combine ornamental plants with edibles. Well, maybe this isn’t new to you but it’s a good reminder that your veggies don’t have to be in a special raised bed or plot but can by planted throughout the garden. Think tomatoes, pole beans and other vining veggies trained on an metal obelisk within a perennial bed. Or compact versions of beans, eggplant, chard, hot peppers, tomatoes or edible flowers like nasturtiums planted among your other plants or along path borders. These can be planted from seed where they are to grow making them super easy to enjoy later on.

Rhododendron ‘Pink Delight’
Rhododendron ‘Pink Delight’

Even if you’re not redoing your whole garden you can plant a small section or vignette using a more toned down palette. Whether it’s shades of pink or white or blue this look will give your garden a calm feeling. Add a place to sit and you’ll want to relax there with a book or beverage.

Everything old is new again from old fashioned flowers, bicolor blooms, solar lights for the garden, sharing extra produce with neighbors and super fragrant plants.

Exploring Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens sign
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

What could be more lovely than spending Christmas Eve at a botanical garden? After a windy, stormy morning the clouds cleared and winter sun brought color to the golden heather, early blooming rhododendron and grevillea growing in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. I’ve long wanted to visit this famous garden and here was my chance. I was not disappointed at what is described as 47 acres of beauty to the sea.

The mission of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden is to conserve plants in harmony with the Northern California coastal ecosystem. Like your own garden this one provides interest year round. I could see the affects of the long summer drought on some of the rhododendron leaf edges but winter rains have turned every fern and blade of grass bright apple green. Mushrooms emerged from

Jan and Sherman enjoy the gardens
Jan and Sherman enjoy the gardens

damp earth and the Fern Canyon Creek looked more like a small river.

Dogs are welcome here at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden so Sherman, our Welsh springer spaniel, was overjoyed with the gardens, too. He seemed to favor the weeping Lebanon cedar and red-twig dogwood but the wild ginger was a big hit also.

It’s an easy half mile walk from the perennial garden to the spectacular vista at the ocean’s edge but with so many side gardens and side paths the journey is as long as you want. In the summer and fall the perennial garden is ablaze with blooming plants but even at this time of year there are many specimens that provide foliage color and structure.

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Euphorbia paired with lonicera nitida

I especially liked the combination of blue euphorbia paired with Baggeson’s Gold lonicera. This type of lonicera is not the familiar honeysuckle vine but an evergreen shrub called  box honeysuckle. It is hardy to cold and requires only moderate irrigation. Other favorite plants in this section of the garden were the blooming hellebore, pheasant tail grass, dwarf conifers, Hinoki cypress and a brilliant purple hopseed.

Pink Delight rhododendron
Pink Delight rhododendron

 

Further down the path, the garden’s signature plant, the rhododendron, made its appearance. Several varieties from the Himalayas including Pink Delight and the fragrant, Harry Tagg, are early bloomers and were covered with blossoms. Many tree-like rhododendrons, including the native rhododendron californicum and the Big Leaf rhododendron will put on their show in late spring.

Bergenia cordifolia
Bergenia cordifolia

Blooming also in the woodland garden large stands of bergenia cordifolia bordered the path, their bright pink flower spikes surrounded by huge round leaves. Helleborus take any amount of winter weather and the Corsican hellebore at the botanical garden were also in full bloom.

Bergenia cordifolia
Bergenia cordifolia

I’ve seen huge fuchsia shrubs before but never a fuchsia tree with flaky bark and a few brave fuchsia flowers growing right out of the wood. Fuchsia excorticata is the world’s largest fuchsia and in its native habitat, New Zealand, is can grow to 36 feet tall and form a trunk over a yard in diameter. The flowers are rich in nectar and visited my honey-eating birds there. The dark purple berries, known as konini by Maori, are edible and taste like tamarillos. In New Zealand, possums love this tree fuchsia and have eaten it out of many locations.

Pacific wax myrtle
Pacific wax myrtle

After passing through an ingenious deer fence gate made from woven tree branches on a wooden frame, the rest of the garden trails wind through pine forest, a fern canyon and a creekside path finally emerging at the Pacific ocean along the Coastal Bluff Trail. This area is open to black-tail deer and native plants like mahonia, salal, wild ginger, huckleberry and Pacific wax myrtle abound.

Sherman loved the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as much as I. The gardens are located an on Hwy 1 just south of Ft. Bragg. If you are in the area at any time of year. take a stroll through. You’ll be glad you did.

Save Water in the Garden like they do in Carmel

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Aeonium ‘Sunburst’, echeveria, statice and agapanthus grouping

You can sum up a Carmel garden with one of two descriptions – hot and dry or mild and dry. Closer to the coast the weather is mild year round while further up Carmel Valley it can get pretty toasty.

In either place, the people of Carmel are used to paying close attention to their water consumption. Monterey County water districts have some of the most stringent regulations around.

On a recent trip to this beautiful part of the world, I took the opportunity to study their beautiful low water-use gardens. What makes for a successful garden that doesn’t include a lawn and lush perennial border? Here are some of the plants and strategies that I admired while in Carmel.

Because many homeowners are replacing their lawns with low water-use landscapes a well thought out design is more important than ever.

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Libertia peregrinans

Stone makes a garden look like it’s part of nature. Granite boulders are one of the go-to choices for accent rocks due to their lower cost and I saw many gardens with beautiful installations using granite. But it was the creamy yellow Carmel stone that caught my eye. It’s used for everything there from retaining walls and steps to veneer for homes.

Carmel stone is a Monterey sedimentary shale and can be found throughout the Santa Lucia mountain range. The best stone colors, however, come from quarries in Monterey County. With beautiful rust, orange, pink and caramel iron oxide striations it’s plentiful and relatively light by rock standards. That’s probably why it was the material of choice for the native Ohlone tribes who built the Carmel Mission.

In addition to the beautiful stonework and boulders in Carmel gardens, plant selection is often unique and bold as well as easy on the water budget. I wasn’t familiar with Globularia sarcophylla ‘Blue Eyes’ when I first saw it blooming. Covered with hundreds of button size flowers of cream with dark blue centers it really stood out. This showy little Canary Island shrub is very drought tolerant and hardy down to 10 degrees.

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Anigozanthos ‘Gold Velvet’

Another plant that looked great paired with old fashioned shasta daisies was the medium sized Gold Velvet kangaroo paw. Flowering for most of the year this variety has more resistance to black spot, needs less trimming and is frost tolerant. Plant kangaroo paws in a well mulched garden using chunky bark chips and ensure the crown of the plant is above soil level. Remove older flower stems and cut back foliage every 1-2 years. Kangaroo paw offer drought tolerant color in the garden.

Dramatic purple leafed phormium ‘Guardsman’ accented one of the gardens. Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Los Alamitos’ -Texas sage – would complement this phormium. The gray foliage and pink flowers smother this plant in color from summer into fall. Succulents like aeonium ‘Sunburst’ and echeveria paired with agapanthus and statice made a nice vignette in another garden.

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Leucodendron ‘Ebony’

A visit to several nurseries in Carmel Valley shed more light on what customers are buying in these times of drought. One of the smaller leucodendrons called Ebony is a favorite. This bushy compact shrub grows 3 to 4 feet tall and a bit wider with lustrous blackish-purple foliage and burgundy red bracts surrounding the flowers from late winter to summer. One of the great things about this species is its ability to tolerate only occasional to infrequent irrigation once established.

Other low water-use plants featured at the local Carmel nurseries include California native Woolly Blue Curls, the stunning teucrium ‘Azureum’, Velour Pink Mexican Bush Sage and Wyn’s Wonder Australian fuchsia.

Lots of awesome gardens, nurseries and plants – so little time. Take some ideas from the people of Carmel and embrace low water-use gardens.