Friday, October 28, 2016

Nothing but California natives: Josh Williams’s garden

The third and final private garden we visited as part of Pacific Horticulture Society’s Summit 2016 belongs to Josh Williams, the manager of California Flora Nursery. According to the description in the Summit 2016 driving tour:

[he ] converted the flat lawns and bare soils of his urban garden into a landscape dedicated to the striking diversity of plants native to California, particularly those of Sonoma County. You’ll find the half-acre parcel divided into ecological zones displaying distinct plant communities as they’re found in nature.

I’m not an expert on California natives, and even after reading The Drought-Defying Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-Water Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren I wouldn’t know how to begin creating an all-native garden. In addition, I’ve seen some insipid examples over the years that have left me anything but inspired. All this was going through my head as we we were driving from Mary and Lew Reid’s hilltop Eden in rural Sonoma County to Josh William’s garden in Sebastopol. But all my concerns fell away when I saw this:


Josh Williams’s front yard in Sebastopol

I wasn’t able to identify many of the plants (which bothered the analytical nerd in me), and Josh Williams was too busy talking to other visitors to approach with him a list of ID requests, so I let it go. Instead, I focused purely on how the garden looks. And as you can see from the photos below, it’s a stunner. The contrasting textures and colors create a tapestry I found truly beautiful. But beyond that, I finally felt the inspiration I’d found lacking in the other California-native gardens I’d seen previously.

Now I have proof that you can create truly special spaces with nothing but plants endemic to the Golden State. More than that even: with plants native to one county in California—although Sonoma County is not your average county but a true biodiversity hotspot.

161016_JoshWilliamsSebastopol_009  161016_JoshWilliamsSebastopol_005

Front yard


Arctostaphylos ‘Austin Griffiths’



This is a hybrid between Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Sentinel' and Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Dr. Hurd'


Arctostaphylos ‘Austin Griffiths’

As you can see in these photos, the Williams garden has many different species of manzanita (Arctostaphylos). I don’t know how many, but my guess is several dozen. Josh is clearly a manzanita collector. I’m just an admirer, i.e. I love manzanitas but I couldn’t tell you which is which. The only positive ID I can give you is Arctostaphylos ‘Austin Griffiths’ above—and I only know that because the California Flora Nursery web site has a photo of the same specimen.



Now we’re walking around the side of the house (to the left of the garage you saw above). The side yard is fully landscaped with more manzanitas and other shrubs, perennials and even trees.






I had never seen different groundcover manzanitas planted side by side like that. The result is very pleasing.



Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata)


Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata)

The backyard is large and open, almost like a park. The plantings are dominated by groundcover manzanitas and other low-growing shrubs and perennials. The expanse of green is broken by a circular seating area that allows you to enjoy the beauty all around you.





I need to figure out which manzanitas do well in pots. This is a vignette I’d love to recreate.


My eyes kept going back to what I think is manzanita perfection


I didn’t know what selection this was, but fortunately…


…reader Tracey from Sonoma County contacted Josh Williams, and he says it’s Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Monica’, originally found growing along Guerneville Road right in Sonoma County


Beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)


Sonoma Coast yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Sonoma Coast’) and California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica)


California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica)





Prostrate coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), possibly ‘Kelly’s Prostrate’ (see here)


I wonder if this guy knows that he’s in Sonoma County, not in Australia?


Josh Williams talking about his garden

I hope I will get another chance to tour Josh’s garden to get more insight on the plants he chose. From the brief snippets of conversation I overheard, he’s not only extremely knowledgeable but also infectiously passionate.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Botanical paradise with a view: Mary and Lew Reid garden

This post continues the tour of the private gardens in Sonoma County, California I had the privilege of visiting as part of Pacific Horticulture Society’s Summit 2016. The first garden we saw was garden designer Roger Raiche’s place in Guerneville. Stop #2 was Mary and Lew Reid’s garden outside of Sebastopol. This is how it was described in the 2016 Summit program:

Mary and Lew Reid’s garden is 25 years old and ever changing. Lew, who never passes up a chance to grow a plant, and Mary, a landscape designer, have the pure pleasure of creating this beautiful garden painting high above Sonoma County’s lowlands, The zone 8 setting makes it possible to grow just about anything, and their garden is filled with plants from all over the world. What matters most to them is the juxtaposition of foliage colors and textures. Carefully considered, these carry the garden throughout the year. You’ll see it in its autumn glory.

It took quite a while to get there from the first garden. The roads were getting narrower, and the houses fewer in number and farther apart. Eventually we realized that this was not going to be your ordinary property. I didn’t know how large it was at the time, but a search of public records revealed that it’s 55 acres.


In the photo above you see the entrance to the fenced section of the property. The area where we parked, off to left, had room for a dozen or more cars, Oh, to have the luxury of so much space! (I allowed myself a brief moment of indulgence just now but stopped before I got carried away.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

More is more: designer Roger Raiche’s personal garden

Last weekend, I attended the Pacific Horticulture Society’s Summit 2016 held at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, CA. Under the motto “Changing Times, Changing Charges: Shaping a New Environment,” the two-day event featured a series of diverse presentations exploring “how gardens are evolving in the face of climate change, with inspiration coming from our natural surroundings as well as from innovations in water conservation and land management.” The speakers ranged from landscape architects with experience in private and public projects (Thomas Rainer, Michelle Sullivan) to garden designers (Bob Hyland, Marilee Kuhlmann) to nursery owner and plantsman extraordinaire Phil Van Soelen, owner of Cal Flora Nursery in Sonoma County.


Roger Raiche’s house: subtle clues notwithstanding, it’s often difficult to know what treasures might be hiding behind fences and gates

Sunday’s program included a self-guided driving tour of Sonoma County with more than 30 stops—everything from private gardens, public gardens and spaces, nurseries, wineries, and even “on the road” attractions such as bakeries, cheese and ice cream shops. Knowing that the public places are open and accessible year round, my partner-in-crime Kathy Stoner of GardenBook and I decided to focus on the private gardens. Sonoma County is large (1,576 square miles, 4,080 km²) and driving between the gardens took time. In the end, Kathy and I managed to visit three of the five private gardens. As is so often the case, we underestimated how engaging gardens can be and how easy it is to lose track of time when you get lost in plant-related reveries.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fall plant sale excitement at UC Davis Arboretum

We may not have the best selection of nurseries here in Northern California (the Portland area is hard to beat) but we have great public gardens. And many of them have one or even multiple plant sales in the fall.

I’ve already been to the Ruth Bancroft Garden fall sale, always a personal favorite. Last Saturday I missed the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum sale (I was at the 2016 Pacific Horticulture Summit in Santa Rosa, CA). But this Saturday I will go to the second of three fall plant sales at the UC Davis Arboretum.

2016-10-18_17-43-08_1I’ve been critical of their plant selections in the past (same old plants, nothing new and exciting) but they have dramatically changed the scope of what they offer. Yes, there are still the stalwarts Davis gardeners seem to like, but the number of succulents they offer has tripled or quadrupled in the last couple of years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

They’re now also selling newly introduced hybrids in a wide variety of genera, from Agastache to Helleborus to Westringia. They even have a bunch of intergeneric hybrids like ×Heucherella (Heuchera × Tiarella), ×Mangave (Manfreda × Agave), ×Echibeckia (Echinacea × Rudbeckia) and a newly released ×Sedoro (Sedum × Orostachys) from Chris Hansen called ‘Blue Elf’.

Lots to be excited about!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Replacing mealybug-infested aeoniums

In recent years we’ve focused almost exclusively on the front yard, from tearing out an old pittosporum hedge to replacing the front lawn. In the process, the backyard has gotten short shrift.

Last weekend I completed what I hope was the first of many backyard projects to be tackled this fall: redoing the planting strip on the north side of house.

This is what it looked like before:


October 1, 2016

Not only was this bed completely overgrown, most of the aeoniums were infested with mealybugs. I had initially considered trying to save as many of the aeoniums as I could, but in the end I decided to toss them all and go a different route.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My best pictures from a recent photography workshop at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Last Saturday I took my first-ever photography workshop at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. I would have missed it if Kathy Stoner of GardenBook hadn’t brought it to my attention—thank you, Kathy.

The workshop was billed for beginners, and while after 30+ years of taking photos I’m not exactly a novice, I thought it would be great to have early access to the garden (8 a.m.) in order to take advantage of the best light.

And the light was sweet indeed! The silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) near the back fence, one of the garden’s signature trees and in full flower right now, was spectacular backlit by the morning sun.

I think this might be the most beautiful photo I’ve ever taken at the Ruth Bancroft Garden:


Agave ‘Mr Ripple’ and silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2016 fall plant sale recap

After an unseasonal heat wave a week ago it’s finally beginning to feel like fall. And fall means plant sale time. Last weekend it was Ruth Bancroft Garden’s turn. Their spring and fall sales are always a personal highlight, especially since I use the opportunity to check out what’s new in the garden.

Last Saturday I took a photography workshop at the RBG that allowed us early access (8 a.m.). I’ll show you my best photos later in the week. Today’s post is about the plant sale, which started at 10 a.m..


New banner in the nursery

In the “old” days, the plant sales at the RBG were a big deal. The retail nursery was small and only offered a limited selection year round. For the sales, the garden staff brought in a large amount of plants that were not available otherwise.

The expansion of the retail nursery in February 2015 has taken the pressure off the twice-a-year plant sales because the nursery has such a large permanent inventory now. Fortunately, they still bring in special plants specifically for the sales so the thrill of discovering something new is still very much alive. In addition, RBG members receive a generous discount of 20% during the sale, which sweetens the deal even more.


Inside the covered nursery area