Required Reading: Private Gardens of the Bay Area

You have to hand it to authors Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, when they choose a subject for one of their handsome books that transport you to the gardens of a particular region they are not drawn to homogenous places. Take their Gardens of the Garden Statepublished in 2014 and covering the gardens of New Jersey, an area Lowry and Berner describe as having a complex topography with mountains and hills carved by glaciers, rich flat farmlands, and an extensive coastline.

Now they give us Private Gardens of the Bay Areaa collection of 39 landscapes curated from the more than 100 gardens they visited in and around San Francisco over nearly two years. From the majestic large-scale estates of the Peninsula, to the tiny, quirky gardens of urban San Francisco and the wine region’s enclaves, Lowry and Berner give us exclusive peeks into the personal landscapes of a wide variety of Bay area residents. Their undertaking is greatly enhanced by the evocative photographs of Marion Brenner, a gardener herself, who has been taking pictures of California gardens for more than two decades.

Here’s a closer look at two of our favorite small urban gardens in the book:

Photography by Marion Brenner courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

driveway and garage succulents in Castro neighborhood San Francisco
Above:  In the tiny front yard of client Madeleine Nash in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, designer Dan Carlson of Wigglestem Gardens created a midget landscape with giant impact.

The center strip of Nash’s fully functioning ribbon driveway is a showcase for succulents and a variety of thymes. Although a portion of the garden is necessarily hidden when the car is in residence and occasionally a flower will get decapitated when an auto pulls in, this complex assemblage of succulents provides a startling pop of beauty in a totally unexpected place.

permeable ribbon driveway succulents Castro San Francisco by Marion Brenner
Above: The Nash driveway’s succulents garden includes varieties of sedum, echeveria, and sempervivum, all no taller than 6 inches.

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of San Francisco, you probably remember huffing and puffing your way up and down its formidable hills, which present daunting challenges to garden designers as well as pedestrians. Add the city’s penchant for cool, foggy summers and mighty winds, and you have a mind-boggling collection of microclimates and engineering conundrums. However San Franciscans are a creative group and have embraced their hometown’s eccentricities, frequently using them as design elements.

Ikea’s Hydroponic Garden Concept Uses 90% Less Water Than a Regular Farm



“Ikea is known for its low-cost furniture that comes packed in cardboard boxes, but now it’s experimenting with something entirely different: Cutting-edge indoor farming.

At the London Design Festival in September, Space10 — Ikea’s “future-living” design lab — debuted its concept for a salad bar prototype whose ingredients are grown using an indoor hydroponic farming system.”

Read the original article at: “

Erasing nature by Elizabeth Licata

Photo by Zoe Rodriguez Photography

“acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.”

These are the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

“attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”

These are the words that have replaced them.

This is not a new controversy, but the first I’d heard of it was during a moving and enthralling talk by author Terry Tempest Williams, given last week as part of a local lecture series by internationally known authors. It’s called Babel and is put on by Just Buffalo Literary Center.

These replacements of words associated with nature correlate well with the ongoing threats to protected natural spaces, including US national parks and monuments. First, there are the dangers imposed by nature—wildfires, coastal erosion, and flooding. Then there are those that have long been imposed by man—pollution, oil drilling, mining, development, and unregulated recreational uses. Then there are the new threats to reduce the size of certain monuments and/or open them to more commercial uses. Tempest Williams’s latest book, The Hour of Land, is a poetic celebration of America’s national parks. During her talk, she spoke of her favorite parks; she also spoke of recently designated monuments that are threatened by the current administration.

In a recent review of twenty-seven national monuments, there are vague plans to reduce the boundaries of six and allow “traditional” uses (drilling and mining) of four. Among the threatened monuments are Bears’ Ears, a red rock expanse in Utah; Gold Butte, a place of petroglyphs, canyons, and desert in Nevada; Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon/California, which would be opened to logging; and several areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that are homes to reefs, atolls, and islands filled with protected species.

The current thinking in the administrative branch seems to be that commercial/industrial needs are more important than all other needs and that all lands, even lands as wild as these, are there for us to use or denude as we see fit. It’s not just the national monuments, either. Coal-fired power plants are undermining the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Grand Canyon National Park has long been challenged by pollution, and the Everglades is a mess. Is it likely that agencies now led by those who have long opposed regulation will do much to mitigate these conditions?

Sadly, I have visited all too few of the parks Tempest Williams writes about in her book—and none of the monuments she discussed during her talk. But I agree with her when she says (in a recent interview): As we watch this administration undermine decades worth of environmental laws and regulations …. dismantling and discrediting science, including forbidding government employees from even speaking the words “climate change”—we can rise up and speak out against these injustices. We can call Congress, we can write letters and opinion pieces, we can attend community meetings, and we can meet these direct assaults on all we hold dear, each in our own way with the gifts that are ours. But we must act.

Erasing nature originally appeared on Garden Rant on October 17, 2017.

Bye Bye Beans!

Well, I have definitely picked my last Runner Beans of the year!

I always like to take my Runner Bean plants down before the onset of really “Autumny” weather. It’s a nasty job to do in cold, wet conditions.

It’s surprising how much foliage can be produced by 12 Runner Bean plants. A row of them like this has a lot of wind-resistance, and is very vulnerable to collapse in strong winds, so although we were never forecast to be very much affected by the long-anticipated ex-hurricane Ophelia, Sunday morning seemed like a good time to get this job done.

Stripping away the leaves and vines with my secateurs, it was inevitable that I would find a few pods that I had missed earlier. There were a few very old ones that had already dried out, and a few immature ones that would have had no chance of growing to a decent size. At this time of year even the small ones are usually tough and flaccid – not nice for eating. The big ones I kept for drying, and the small ones went in the compost-bin.

Here in the UK not many people grow Runner Beans for the actual beans; they grow them for the young pods. However, the beans are very nice and dry well for Winter storage. They make a nice Chilli con Carne…

This is the support-frame, with the foliage removed. Those are 9-foot poles. Luckily I was able to stand on the edge of the raised bed so that I could reach up to the top.

Here are the poles, cleaned-off and bundled-up for storage in the garage until next year.

If you are wondering about the pots, they contain Daffodil and Tulip bulbs. I have protected them with wire grilles (aka shelves from my mini-greenhouses), weighed down with stones, to stop the foxes digging them up.

This is one of the benefits of the job – it produces lots of material for the compost bins.

I find that Runner Bean plants make very good compost material, because they are a good mix of soft (leaves) and hard (stems). My only problem is that the compost-bins are already nearly full – and soon I’ll have a garden full of Maple-tree leaves to cope with too!

Anyway, the task is complete now.

I’ll leave the raised bed empty for a while, and let the birds rummage in it for grubs. It will be the first bed to be planted-up next Spring. Gosh, Spring. Doesn’t that seem like a long way off?

Tropical fruit and palm trees in deepest Surrey? Why they’re going bananas at Wisley

A newly-planted exotic garden at RHS Wisley has torn up the rule book – it’s a bold gamble for a garden in Surrey, and one which Steven Desmond traces back through centuries of adventurous English gardeners.

exotic garden at RHS Wisley

A nation of gardeners is bound to be eternally on the search for something more exciting in the view from the kitchen window. Every now and again, a deep-seated yearning for something with a bit more get up and go breaks through the polite surface. Away, then, with the drizzle-flecked windowpanes looking out onto familiar favourites and in with a vision of desert-island scenery.

Something of this nature has just occurred in the heathland of Surrey, in the august setting of RHS Wisley, not hitherto noted for revolutionary sentiments. Until recently, a handsome and instructive rose garden stood on the spot where we now find ourselves peering from beneath the giant paddle-shaped leaves of banana plants across a planting scheme more usually seen on the French Riviera. The exotic garden has landed.

There are limits to this extravagance, of course. Wisley is still Wisley and the new garden is framed by the hydrangeas of Battleston Hill on one side and the famous long herbaceous borders on another. The layout is also reassuringly conventional, with radiating paths circling a central fountain whose pineapple finial is fittingly modest in scale.

However, it’s the planting that catches the eye. It seems more suited to the coast of northern Queensland than the Home Counties.

‘It flares up now and again only to peter out gradually as fashion moves on. Like a firework display, we should all rush now to marvel at the spectacle while it lasts’

Like all new gardens, this is a work in progress and adjustments will be made as time goes on. All the plants have been included for their dramatic form and outline and some will flourish irrespective of the character of the coming winter. These include a young monkey-puzzle tree, always so distinctive with its regularly spaced branches curving down to the ground, the whole tree covered in that perfect spiny green armour.

Other plants, such as the dahlias and cannas, are old friends. Some will remain in the ground, perhaps covered with a pot filled with straw, to re-emerge next May. The biggest of them all, Dahlia imperialis, is here, towering above my head, and everyone will want to see how it copes in this situation.

This might be a home, too, for my own favourite, D. merckii, whose shiny mauve blooms flourish outdoors in the botanic garden at Logan on the Mull of Galloway. The free drainage here will be a considerable help.

The questions, however, hang over the glasshouse favourites, including the big shrub Eriobotrya japonica. Can the loquat really survive the winter in England? Will it have to suffer the indignity of being wrapped up for months?

In fact, this new venture, a daring experiment in the expert hands of garden manager Emma Allen, is the latest in a long line of such breakouts. The stalwarts of England spluttered when Christopher Lloyd, chuckling with glee, dug up his rosebeds at Great Dixter and replaced them with planting very much along these lines.

The tradition can be traced back intermittently at least to the late 19th century, when William Robinson’s The English Flower Garden included a passage by John Gibson describing his grove of palm trees underplanted by Swiss-cheese plants in Battersea Park, in 1873.

The Jardin des Plantes in Paris beds out each year an elaborate scheme of rubber plants, bananas, bird’s-nest ferns and cannas on a lawn in, interestingly, the Jardin Anglais. And the Chusan palm, brought to these shores in the 1840s by Robert Fortune from the coast of China, has long been known as the Torquay palm.

The revolution, then, has been rumbling on for some time. Like all such things, it flares up now and again only to peter out gradually as fashion moves on. Like a firework display, we should all rush now to marvel at the spectacle while it lasts.


October’s Bounty: Garden Bloggers Bloom Day October 2017

What’s that plant?

Visitors asked about two plants at my Open Garden. The first one is readily available at garden centers or online.

Fire Light hydrangea

Fire Light® (Hydrangea paniculata ‘SMHPFL’) is a much more colorful version of ‘Pee Gee’ hydrangea. It’s hardy to Zone 3.

Hydrangea paniculata is the only type of hydrangea that can be shaped into a tree form. If you’ve seen hydrangeas that look like trees growing in yards in your neighborhood or town, then you know this more colorful version will do fine for you. The other plant visitors asked about is not as easily found.

Angelica gigas

Angelica gigas is a biennial. The first year it just grows leaves. The second year (third year, for me) it sends up an amazing umbel of deep purple flowers that are covered with pollinators.

Sometimes an online specialty nursery will offer it for sale, but I’ve always gotten mine as seedlings from friends or the nearest rock garden society sale. In theory, it will self-sow and produce more seedlings. In practice, this has never happened for me. Perhaps I don’t recognize the seedlings and weed them out. Or perhaps I really don’t have the right conditions. After all, I started with three seedlings, and only one made it to maturity. But I love its dramatic form and deep color, so whenever seedlings come my way, I try again. That’s the fun of gardening!

Plants that start blooming in autumn

We haven’t had a frost yet. I thought this might be a record for my garden, but looking over previous posts in October, I see we didn’t have a frost until this date in 2015–and yes, frost is expected tonight. As I mentioned last year, frost is not the end of the garden. Yet many of the open garden visitors expressed surprise at how much I did have blooming on the last day of September. They just don’t know my special plants and secret techiniques.

heterotheca villosa Ruth Baumgardener

False golden aster (Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’) doesn’t even start blooming until mid-September.

Aster tataricus Jindai

‘Jindai’ tatarian aster (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’) is a “dwarf” form at 4 to 5 feet. I’m sure the regular giant plant would never bloom for me, because ‘Jindai’ barely manages to get started before we get frost.

And frost ruins the flowers. Too bad, as it’s winter-hardy to zone 4 (I’ve even seen zone 3). I love the lavender-blue flowers, and it’s a vigorous grower, but I only share this plant with gardeners in warmer climates.

Ruby Mound Chrysanthemum

‘Ruby Mound’ chrysanthemum started blooming in mid-September and is still growing strong. What an amazing color!

Honorine Jobert anemone

Japanese anemones also start blooming in fall. This beauty is ‘Honorine Jobert’.

Helleborus Pink Frost

Oh, look! My ‘Pink Frost’ hellebore (Helleborus x ballardiae ‘COSEH 710’) is blooming! It’s supposed to bloom from February to April, but I won’t tell if you don’t! I got this as an Easter plant at my grocery store.

I’m not surprised it’s blooming now, as it has “Christmas” rose (Helleborus niger) parentage, and my October/November would be late December in Great Britain (where H. niger got its common name).

Plants that bloom again in fall

The secret to having lots of flowers in fall is to deadhead in summer. I’m not a tidy gardener. And since neglecting to deadhead doesn’t kill a plant, if I’m short on time, I’d rather weed or plant a new acquisition. But I’ve learned that deadheading certain plants means more flowers in the fall.

Salvia transylvanica

Romanian sage (Salvia transylvanica) starts blooming in June and will bloom again in the fall if deadheaded.


Foxgloves are another plant that will send up new bloom stalks if deadheaded. Make sure you let them seed around before cutting them down.

Flower Carpet Pink Supreme

Flower Carpet roses look spectacular in July. They take a rest and then bloom again in the fall. This is Flower Carpet ‘Pink Supreme’.

I don’t deadhead these thoroughly and I’m pretty sure they would rebloom without deadheading. Maybe they would bloom even more if I cut off every dead flower.

Oso Happy Petit Pink rose

I’m pretty sure this little sweetheart never did stop blooming–and I didn’t deadhead her at all! Meet Oso Easy® Petit Pink (Rosa x ‘ZLEMarianneYoshida’)

Some daylilies will rebloom if you promptly cut out the spent scapes and there are also reblooming bearded irises. Do you know some rebloomers that I didn’t mention?

Annuals that keep on blooming

Let’s face it: a lot of so-called summer annuals don’t really look like much here until September.

White cosmos

Cosmos is one of those. Yes, we get blooms in August, but it doesn’t really come into its own until September.

Mingus Toni dahlia

‘Mingus Toni’ dahlia gets humongous. It’s one of the earliest blooming dahlias I’ve tried and once it gets going it doesn’t stop until frost blackens it.

Sweet alyssum, violas and pansies, golden feverfew, and flowering tobacco are other annuals that bloom in fall and even through the first frosts.

Fall foliage–it’s what defines the season

Every year I talk about colorful foliage in the garden, and you probably have your favorites, too–tell me about them in the comments. I just want to mention a few you might not have considered.

Knautia macedonica Thunder and Lightning

Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning’ is no longer blooming, (hmm, maybe I should have been deadheading it?) but its foliage still looks very attractive.

Sugar Shack buttonbush and Lets Dance Rave

Buttonbush (top of photo) is known for its interesting flowers and seedheads. My Sugar Shack® (Cephalanthus occidentalis ‘SMCOSS’) which I got as a sample from Proven Winners hasn’t bloomed (yet), but I love the fall color. Let’s Dance® Rave® (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘SMNHMSIGMA’) is blooming below it.

Want more?

More great ideas for fall color from previous October posts:
Frost Is Not The End
Hello, Frost; Goodbye Plants
Frost Tolerant Flowers
Not Dead Yet
Freeze Aftermath

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.