Wednesday, October 31, 2018

More beauties from Troy McGregor's garden

I already showed you the first East Bay garden I visited with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) a few weekends ago: Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden. The second was Troy McGregor's, also in Martinez.

As you maybe remember, Troy used to be the nursery manager of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. In that position, he put the nursery on the map as one the leading plant destinations in Northern California for dry-climate plants, especially succulents and Australian and South African natives. Troy now runs his own business, Gondwana Flora, specializing in regionally appropriate landscaping.

I wrote about Troy's personal garden in April and again in September. In this post I'm trying to focus on areas I didn't fully cover before. But this mound in the backyard is so wonderful, it's worth another photo:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden

Last Sunday I joined the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) on a tour of three gardens in the East Bay. One of them was the garden of Ellen Frank, a former president of CalHort. In her own words:
I’ve been in my house almost eleven years and working piecemeal to its present state. It originally had Pfizer junipers all in the front with a narrow race track path around the house.  Inside the courtyard (front yard/backyard) was a lawn next to the racetrack path with a straight wood retaining wall keeping my uphill neighbor’s yard from spilling into my space.  
Troy McGregor [whose garden was also on the tour] gave me a consultation early on. [...] 
My lot is small, something in the neighborhood of 5,000 square feet. Today the garden is a mish-mash of plants, but mainly a tropical dry climate fusion (kind of an oxymoron and that is why I have such a problem watering). You can’t confine a plant person to one type of plant, and I’ve gone through my phases of plant collecting, but at the moment, I have succulents, bromeliads, a little collection of begonias (mainly taking over the kitchen), and my dry collection by the street with South African bulbs and some California natives.
Ellen's words struck a chord with me, seeing how I also combine plants from a variety of geographical and climatic areas. “Fusion” may not seem like a big word, but it's become an important concept for me. That's why I'm always eager to see what kinds of plants other gardeners choose to combine, and how they do it.

Front garden. The driveway is on the right. The opening/passageway you see in the 2 o'clock position leads to the back garden.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fall plant sale at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The plant sale at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park on October 6 was all about California natives (see this post). In contrast, the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arboretum sale on October 13 combined California natives (offered by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Native Plant Society) with plants propagated from the Arboretum collection, mostly Australian and South African natives.

California Native Plant Society area at the UCSC Arboretum fall sale

I had never been to a UCSC sale before, but considering the plant list was full of weird and wonderful varieties, I expected quite a crowd. And I was right. By the time the gate opened to members at 10:00, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I had arrived 25 minutes early and I was in a great spot.

The closer we got to 10:00, the more the anticipation (and impatience) was building. Arboretum director Martin Quigley explained the rules—carts or boxes to be dropped off in the holding area; none allowed in the plant area because of the narrow aisles and the large number of people—and then it was off to the races. It was a scene not unlike the start of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, minus the horses and guns. People were actually running!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

California native plant sale at Tilden Park in Berkeley

This fall, plants sales have been happening at a frantic pace. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more because I've been going to more of them than I usually do.

In any case, you'd think I wouldn't need more plants, especially after my Portland haul. But I got those additions into the ground very quickly and I cleared more space elsewhere by removing dead, dying, and/or underperforming plants. And since gaps must be filled lest there be a disturbance in the force, I simply had to continue shopping. Just like Sarah Winchester had to continue adding on to the Winchester Mystery House in order to the appease the spirits that were haunting her.


Above is one of the many rolling hills you see as you drive to the Bay Area from Davis on Interstate 80. In late winter and early spring they are often a vibrant green. In the summer they turn golden brown (some claim California's nickname, The Golden State, was inspired by these hills). I love those hills, and they're never more beautiful than when there are puffy white clouds in a deep blue sky.

As you can see, going to plant sales has other benefits, too!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: back garden in September 2018 (part 2)

Danger Garden back (part 1)

If you think of the Danger Garden as a symphony, the front garden is the first movement, the front half of the back garden the second, and the rear is the third movement with its rousing finale.

Looking back to what I showed you in my previous post:


Even though it's not huge, the chartreuse Circle Pot from Potted is like a beacon: You can see it from just about anywhere in the back garden.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: back garden in September 2018 (part 1)

Danger Garden front


Now that you've seen what the Danger Garden's public face looks like—the front garden—let's go down the rabbit hole walk through the magic gate into the back garden.

The agave gate was a birthday gift to Loree by her husband Andrew, a mixed-media artist who creates intricate pieces out of paper, wire and other materials. He designed the gate himself and had it manufactured locally in Portland. You can read all about it in this Danger Garden post from October 2015.



But before we enter the back garden, I want to draw your attention to the hanging pots on the garage wall, one planted with Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' and the other with a small Agave 'Felipe Otero'. The two pots are very different, yet perfectly balanced.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: front garden in September 2018


Many of you follow Loree Bohl's blog Danger Garden. If you're not familiar with it and want to know what it's all about, the byline is a good clue: "Careful, you could poke an eye out."

Loree loves spiky plants, and she's not apologetic about it. When you walk through her garden, you're wise to watch your step. Unlike plants that take abuse lying down (literally), many denizens of the Danger Garden know how to defend themselves. That's one reason why I love it.

Another reason: Loree is fearless when it comes to plant selection. I'm sure she looks at USDA hardiness zones but she's just as likely to ignore them if she really wants a certain plant. After all, each garden is different, and unless you're willing to experiment—and accept the failures that come with it—you're never going to know what will really grow in your own garden.

The most striking thing about the Danger Garden, though, is how skillfully Loree's plants are combined. Every placement is carefully considered—and reconsidered if it doesn't work as envisioned. Loree is an active gardener who doesn't hesitate to make changes, even drastic ones, when warranted. In contrast, many of us are much too timid about intervening, letting the plants dictate where our garden is headed.

Loree doesn't have any formal training in landscape design, but she has creativity in spades as well as an instinctive sense of aesthetics many professionals wish they had. Her garden is small (the entire lot is under 5,000 sq.ft.) but there are so many vignettes—combinations of plants or containers—that are so spot on that you can't imagine them any other way. To me, that's the very definition of masterful design.


In this post, I'll show you the front garden as it looked three weeks ago when I was in Portland for a three-day visit. As for the back garden, I took so many photos that I may need to split them into two posts.