Marvelous Mendocino motel garden

Sorry for the alliteration, I couldn’t help myself. Blame it on the ongoing heat here in the Sacramento Valley. Speaking of which: We escaped the heat this past weekend by slipping off to Mendocino on the northern California coast where we attended a wedding in blissfully cool 65°F weather. Overcast skies, too! I couldn’t ask for more.

Since I’m always on the lookout for things to blog about, my curiosity was piqued when I saw this sign in Fort Bragg, the town where we were staying:


See what it says? “…and Gardens!”

What kind of gardens could a motel have? A motel, mind you, not a fancy resort with a hefty landscaping budget. I set out to find out, and I was blown away. Come take a look.

NOTE: I recognized some of the plants but not at all of them. If you can provide a missing ID, please leave a comment and reference the photo number, which appears in brackets in the caption below each photo.

The plants that drew my attention in the first place were these variegated New Zealand flax (Phormium sp.). I have no idea what cultivar this is, but it makes a statement.


[1] Variegated New Zealand flax (Phormium sp.)


[2] Variegated New Zealand flax (Phormium sp.) and Canna ‘Bengal ‘Tiger’

Looking closer, I began to realize that great thought had gone into the plant selection. The textures and colors combine so harmoniously, this could not have been an accident.


[3] Wider view of this bed

Walking around to the far side of the motel, I found a BBQ and picnic area surrounded by lush plantings. Seeing the sheer number and variety of plants put such a big smile on my face, I must have looked like the Cheshire cat.


[4] Around the far side where the BBQ area is


[5] I love densely packed plantings like this one!


[6] ‘Tis the season for Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). Does anybody know what the reddish plant is?


[7] Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and variegated hebe (Hebe ‘Variegata’)

Many of these combinations are truly inspired.


[8] The reddish plant is quite possibly gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides). The silver plant is most likely Helichrysum italicum.

Leucadendron ‘Jester’ has been a bit of an “it” plant these past few years. Two years ago it was almost impossible to find, now it’s becoming more available but it’s still not mainstream. And yet, the Surf Motel in Fort Bragg had several specimens, all of them pristine.


[9] Leucadendron ‘Jester’. What is the white-flowering shrub next to it? Some Ozothamnus species?


[10] Leucadendron ‘Jester’


[11] Leucadendron ‘Jester’

Let’s walk around to the central area of the motel, starting with the office:


[12] Motel office


[13] Love the parrot’s beak (Lotus berthelotti) just going to town!

Now moving into the garden in the middle between the two central wings—the area that in other motels would be nothing but parking lot.


[14] ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autum Joy’) next to a shockingly green shrub with soft leaves. Another Australian native?


[15] Calluna vulgaris, perhaps 'Golden Carpet' (enchplant, thank you for the ID)


[16a] Leucadendron salignum and cannas


[16b] Leucadendron salignum, cannas, and Calluna vulgaris


[17] Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), providing visual interest even in death


[18] The shrub is a red angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea)


[19] Brugmansia sanguinea, hardy only in zone 10



[20] Usually I would never want to sit in what essentially is the middle of a motel parking lot, but this is such an inviting space…


[21] Just about the most perfect kangaroo paws I’ve seen in a long time!


[22] Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos sp.)


[23] Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ and some sort of hebe


[24] Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ surrounded by a hebe


[25] They even had gunneras (Gunnera tinctoria)! These beasts thrive on the California and Oregon coast, provided they receive enough water.


[26] Gunnera tinctoria


[27] Gunnera tinctoria


[28] Restios were represented as well. This one is large Cape rush (Chondropetalum elephantinum), typically sold in nurseries as Chondropetalum tectorum.


[29] Chondropetalum elephantinum


[29] Chondropetalum elephantinum

This is the gazebo in the middle of the garden. From there you have an ocean view (the motel is less than a mile from the Pacific).


[30] Ocean view gazebo


[30] More leucadendron and Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’


[31] More leucadendron and Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’


[32] And here is the most spectacular plant of them all, horsetail restio (Elegia capensis)


[33] Elegia capensis


[34] Elegia capensis and and NOID groundcover that played beautifully off the vibrant green of the restio


[35] Elegia capensis

I wish I knew what the story of this garden is. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG) is just a few miles down the road. I visited it right after stopping at the Surf Motel and saw similarities in both plant selection and landscape design. The MCBG also has a great nursery with a good selection of southern hemisphere plants, like leucadendrons and grevilleas. (I’ll have a separate post on the MCBG in a few days.)

The next time we’re in the Mendocino area, we’ll stay at the Surf Motel. It gets excellent reviews, garden aside.


  1. It looks fabulous, very impressive planting for a motel! It looks like a cross between cottage and exotic style gardening. Nice to see a motel making an effort with their planting, it certainly makes it extra special and stand out.

    1. It made me very happy to see a regular motel make such a special effort.

  2. Hmmm, 8 could be gooseneck loosestrife turning fall color, but that's just a guess, the other is a Helichrysum. 15 is a heather of some sort, there are many kinds (none that grow in Davis). 18 is Brugmansia sanguinea, which is a species that likes it cool, and won't grow here either. 24 is a species hebe, there are a few that look like that, I've grown them here successfully. I have no clue what 14 is, but you're right, it looks Australian to me too.

    1. Sue, thank you for the IDs. No wonder I didn't recognize so many of them by name since they don't grow here in Davis.

  3. Holy cats! What a fantastic garden. And the fact that it's at a motel is evening more wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour and looking up many plants I am unfamiliar with. How about emailing the motel for that garden back story? I'd love to hear it! Can't wait to see the MCBG tour.

  4. A beautiful place to spend a few days. Looks like you scored on the hotel. Much better than the one we stayed last time we were there (Mendecino Hotel) on main street. Love all the lush plantings around your motel. Oh, and everytime I see Elagia capensis, I want one. Wish I have the room. Do you have this Gerhard?

    1. I had an Elegia capensis once but it didn't make it. Our climate is just too harsh. Restios thrive in a milder climate.

  5. That Elegia capensis was worth the price of admission alone! (well, okay double the price). What a find and I love that they included "and gardens" on their sign. They understand the marketing potential!

    1. The growing conditions on the coast are dreamy. That elegia was picture perfect!

  6. I love, love, love the combinations of so many colors and so many plants!!! This place is beautiful! I´m so impressed with the garden! And that Elegia capensis is beautiful!!!

    1. I thought the "tapestries" of color and texture were stunning. And the element of serendipity--how I came across this place by sheer luck--made it even sweeter.

  7. That Monkey Puzzle tree was so cool! Great garden!

    1. Years ago there was a giant monkey puzzle tree in Capitol Park in Sacramento. And then all of a sudden it was gone. I wonder what happened to it?

      I'm a bit obsessed with monkey puzzle trees and keep a mental log of all monkey puzzle tree sightings :-).

  8. i am sorry if this is duplicate. If duplicate, please delete.

    It is the work of one plant lover, name unknown. But we of that tribe know each other, don't we? Beautiful.

    I wonder if the noid in #34 is Teucrium chamaedryoides, which has proven to be a superb plant here also, I recommend it without hesitation and with enthusiasm.

    Cool north-coast climate sounds like heaven right now on another sweltering day. Your post cooled me off mentally, thank you.

    1. No duplicate :-).

      Yes, clearly this garden was designed and/or built by a plant lover. This is the antithesis of a corporate landscaping job.

      I wouldn't want to live on the north coast because it's so damp and unpleasant in the winter, but in the summer it's dreamy, especially coming from the sweltering heat inland.

      #34 could indeed be a Teucrium. Good guess there.

  9. I think the rust colored plant in 15 and 16 is A variety of Calluna vulgaris perhaps 'Golden Carpet'.Also photo 30 might be Cheiranthus 'Bowles Mauve' instead of Verbena Bonariensis. Lovely garden and great blog!

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and for the IDs. I've updated the captions above.

  10. I think the rust colored plant in 15 and 16 is a variety of Calluna vulgaris, perhaps 'Golden Carpet'. Also the purple plant in 30 might be Cheiranthus 'Bowles Mauve' rather than Verbena bonariensis.
    Lovely garden and great blog!


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