Southern California road trip, day 6

Day 6, the last day of my Southern California road trip, arrived all too quickly. I had spent the night in the Central California university town of San Luis Obispo, home of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). I've always had a soft spot for SLO and can actually see myself living there some day. Gardening in such a gentle climate has got to be dreamy!

My first stop was the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, a non-profit endeavor I'd discovered in April 2016. In my post about that visit, I mentioned their ambitious expansion plans for the future. Unfortunately, raising the funds for such a big project is a difficult and slow process, and I didn't see any visible progress on this visit.

Still, the 2½-acre preview garden is a nice medley of plants from the various Mediterranean climate regions around the world. Here are some examples:

Aloe ferox against California buckeye (Aesculus californica)

Mayten tree from South America (Maytenus boaria)

Mayten (Maytenus boaria)

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) looking stark and wintery against the morning sky

My next destination took me into terra incognita—a part of Central California I'd never been to before. Looking at a map (thanks Google) helps visualize where I was going:

It was cold (upper 40s) but sunny when I left San Luis Obispo at 9:45 am. It didn't take long before I hit a wall of fog: 

This is sparsely populated rangeland dotted with native oaks. In the fog, their stark silhouettes looked both stately and creepy.

The tree in the next two photos is big enough to be a centenarian. Its gnarled branches, some of them touching the ground, look like they've seen their fair share of violent weather. This area doesn't get a lot of rain, but judging from the amount of moss, fog must be a regular occurrence.

Below is the road to Las Pilitas Nursery from SLO—the drive alone is worth it!

Along the way there are beautiful rock formations studded with white sage (Salvia appiana) and big berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca). In the photo below you can see a manzanita on top of the rock in the upper right:

Driveway into Las Pilitas Nursery:

Las Pilitas Nursery is one of California's leading native plant nurseries. It was founded by legendary plantsman Bert Wilson in the 1970s when the use of native plants in landscaping was considered an outlandish idea and there was very little knowledge of how to cultivate them in a garden setting. Bert, who passed away in 2014, inspired several generations of native plant proponents and was instrumental in pushing native plants into the mainstream (or at least into its orbit). 

Today, Bert's daughter Penny Nyunt is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the 5-acre nursery. Penny grew up planthunting with her father and helps keep his legacy alive. Her intimate knowledge of the plants they grow, and her boundless enthusiasm, were very much on display when I met her on Saturday.  I picked seven different manzanitas (most of them low-growing groundcover types), and she knew what each plant was as I put them in my wagon. Mind you, Las Pilitas carries almost 50 different manzanita varieties, none of the plants I picked were labeled, and quite a few looked very similar, as small manzanitas in #1 can tend to do (at least to my eyes). 

A word about the nursery. This is very much a place where the plants take center stage. Las Pilitas is open to the public every Friday and Saturday, but don't expect fancy facilities. It's literally just hoop houses where you go to pick out your plants. I felt right at home, but customers used to fancy nurseries with pretty trappings might be disappointed because of the lack of bling.

Where you pick out the plants you want

Las Pilitas is primarily a mail-order nursery. Their selection is vast, as you will see if you poke around on their web site. The plant descriptions online are detailed (many of them were written by Bert Wilson) and include valuable cultivation information.

Below is one manzanita I picked, a dwarf form of Arctostaphylos glauca Las Pilitas calls 'Blue Corgi'. Penny told me she and her dad found it years ago on one of their plant hunting trips. 'Blue Corgi' is difficult to propagate—only about 15% of the cuttings strike—but I'm glad Las Pilitas continues to offer it. It makes such a nice compact mound, the gray leaves contrasting beautifully with the cherry-red bark.

Arctostaphylos glauca 'Blue Corgi' growing at Las Pilitas Nursery

After I left Las Pilitas Nursery, I forged ahead on backroads until I eventually hooked up with Highway 46 that took me to Interstate 5 north (and home). I love driving on small rural roads where I can pull over anytime I want to take a picture.

NOID grasses in their fall finery light up this burned hillside

I love lonely country roads where I feel like I'm the king of the world

On the way home, the rain caught up with me. A couple of downpours were so heavy that the windshield wipers had a hard time keeping up, even on high.

Before I unloaded the plantmobile, I took a few photos. Below is a photo of what was in the back. I'll show you more in a separate post.

Just two pieces of luggage, the rest are all plants

Here's a map of my route. I drove 1,200+ miles. Not bad for 6 days!

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  1. These are the shots of California that I never get to see -- such a varied state! I'm quite surprised, and glad you took the rural routes -- those really are the best, aren't they?

    1. I couldn't agree more. All too often we're in a rush and have to take the Interstate, but my heart belongs to the country roads--GAWD, that sounds like a bad song!

  2. Kudos on the long - and varied - trip! I've mail-ordered plants from Las Pilitas before but it's fun to see it and the surrounding area up close. I look forward to getting a closer look at your haul.

  3. A very productive trip I must say ! I can completely relate to a car full of plants on road trips lol. I hope to get a chance to stop in at the SLO Botanical garden in Feb.


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