Barrie Coates' tranquil Green Valley garden, complete with bonsai

The third garden I visited a few Sundays ago with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) is located in Green Valley outside of Fairfield, about 35 minutes west of here. Climatically speaking, Green Valley is in between San Francisco Bay with its mild winters and summers and the Sacramento Valley with its somewhat colder winters and blazing-hot summers. It's not quite Goldilocks country, but almost (and certainly closer than we are)

The garden we toured belongs to Carol and Barrie Coate. Now retired, Barrie has been a leading figure in California horticultural circles for decades: as a consulting arborist, director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (now part of UC Davis), arboricultural consultant to the Getty Center, and author of numerous articles and books.

Barrie and his wife Carol moved to Green Valley in 2014. They inherited a number of mature trees and shrubs but have added everything else you see in the photos below. The soil in their area can only be described as a gardener's dream: 20 ft. deep class-1 soil with consistent water at 6 inches. Barrie said he's now able to grow finnicky plants that he was never able to grow before.

50-year old mayten tree (Maytenus boaria)
LEFT: Maytenus boaria   RIGHT: Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Seiryu' (the Quan Yin statue was a gift from a client)

The front of the house has a Japanese feel...

...thanks to several large bonsai specimens:

European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

I was immediately drawn to the gray-blue succulent tapestry on the east side of the driveway:

FRONT: Cotyledon orbiculata var. spuria  MIDDLE: Graptopetalum paraguayense

Graptopetalum paraguayense and Graptopetalum oviferum (guessing)

Graptopetalum paraguayense and Helichrysum argyrophyllum

Inside the east gate is a small but exquisite bonsai collection:

On the edge of the covered patio, I noticed a Flying Dragon bitter orange (Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'). I regularly see this cold-hardy citrus relative in Portland, but this is the first time I've seen it in Northern California (aside from my own small plant):

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'

More goodies behind the bitter orange:

BACK: Duranta erecta 'Sapphire Showers'   FRONT LEFT: Dioon edule

BACK: Duranta erecta 'Sapphire Showers'   FRONT: Dioon edule

Duranta erecta 'Sapphire Showers' 

Haemanthus albiflos, a South African bulb, in flower

Haemanthus albiflos

The east side of the backyard is quite shady. The plantings are dominated by grasses and grass-like plants like these flax lilies:

Dianella 'Clarity Blue' (wider steel-blue leaves) and Dianella revoluta 'Little Rev' (narrower blue-green leaves)

LEFT: Dianella revoluta 'Little Rev'  RIGHT: Dianella 'Clarity Blue'

Green: Sesleria 'Greenlee's Hybrid'. Unfortunately, the icy blue grass wasn't labeled but I assume it's a selection of Festuca glauca.

Now we're on the south side of the backyard:

The tree trunk belongs to an apple gum (Angophora costata), a eucalyptus relative. The potted barberry is Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Pillar'.

Karl Foerster grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') at its peak

Cotoneaster apiculatus 'Tom Thumb' covered with netting to protect it from birds

Potted succulents on the back patio

More potted succulents on the patio, including Dudleya viscida behind the gazing ball

The coleus is a nice pop of color but I was primarily interested in the Calibanus hookeri on the right. It's sometimes called "Mexican boulder," and if it weren't for the grass-like leaves, it could be mistaken for a rock.

A picture-perfect potted fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) behind a bowl of Cotyledon orbiculata

Lurking behind the fan aloe is an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

There was a lot more to see in Barrie's backyard, including a vegetable garden and columnar apple trees, but the light was so contrasty that I didn't even try to take photos.

To see the other gardens I visited on this CalHort tour, click the links below:

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  1. The mix of succulents and bonsai is interesting. I recently saw a piece on Garden Smart on a Georgia-based bonsai expert's collection and was captivated, although the time and patience required is daunting.

  2. Something tells me Dr. Coates was scouting garden locations for a while before his retirement... ;>

  3. consistent water at 6 inches

    What does this mean? The "water" and "consistent" together in the same sentence inspires intense envy...


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