Posted tagged ‘The Garden Conservancy’

Flora Grubb, the Succulent Lover’s Mecca – and My New Garden E-Books

December 15, 2012

I’ve been a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) since 2003. Despite the fact that I’ve won a couple of design awards from this organization and am delighted to be a certified member, until this year I had never attended any of its annual conferences. This year, I vowed, would be different. My son had just moved to the Bay Area and the conference was being organized primarily as an opportunity to tour gardens throughout the area, meeting some of the designers and learning through seeing in person, with written materials delivered via iPad rather than exclusively in lecture settings.

But what really cinched the deal for me was when I learned that the very first event of the tour would be a visit to Flora Grubb Gardens – a dinner reception the night the conference opened. I’ve developed a real love for succulents and consider it somewhat unfair that the most enticing varieties aren’t hardy here. I do have a client with an incredibly wet back yard, save for one area where we have planted lots of creeping sedums and included sempervivums along with other rock-garden plants like Gaura and dianthus. But it’s too cold for agave, and we often find we have to replace the sempervivums in the spring if the winter has been wet.

At Flora Grubb’s store (out a ways from central San Francisco), we ate dinner from food trucks but mostly lusted after the plants, the pots, and the other garden furnishings on display. A bicycle planted with succulents, carnivorous plants in a sink, air plants decorating a freestanding wall, and a vertical wall hanging planted chock full of succulents. I’ll just stop chattering away and let the photos speak for themselves. It was nirvana.

For more information about Flora Grubb, including links to her Web Shop (where I just ordered some great little holiday gifts for clients), click here.

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Speaking of holiday gifts, I’ve just turned two of my Blurb books into e-books if you’re interested in having a virtual copy. Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden can be purchased as an e-book for $4.99 by clicking here, and the Garden Conservancy Open Days book (priced at $3.99) by clicking here. I can attest that they look great on an iPad!

A Visit to the Gardens of Alcatraz

October 5, 2012

In mid-September, I headed to the Bay Area to attend the annual APLD conference, which took us to an impressive number of gardens and made me wish I could grow some of the plants I saw. Before the conference began, however, I spent a couple of days visiting my son, who has just moved to San Francisco to work. One morning, I got up early and took the ferry over to Alcatraz Island. Unlike most tourists, however, I never set foot in any of the prison buildings. I was there to see the Gardens of Alcatraz.

As some of you may already know, Alcatraz served as a maximum security federal prison from 1933 to 1963, when it was closed for budgetary reasons. (Prior to 1933, it was a military prison, dating from the late 1800’s.)

Alcatraz Island

Seen from the San Francisco Bay in the early morning, Alcatraz’s appearance is more than a little foreboding.

Although its nickname is “The Rock,” from early in its history, the officers’ families and later the inmates sought to soften its forbidding slopes and surfaces by planting flowers. When the Bureau of Prisons tore down two homes that had previously been occupied by these families, their foundations were converted to flower gardens tended by families and inmates.

Gardens of Alcatraz, Officers' Row area, The Garden Conservancy

An area of the old Officers Row gardens, open to the public only through the tours offered by the Garden Conservancy two mornings a week.

Garden Conservancy, Alcatraz Gardens, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Another section of the gardens in the old Officers’ Row area.

In 1986, the prison became a National Historic Landmark, but it wasn’t until 2003 that The Garden Conservancy began partnering with the National Parks Service  and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to clear away over 20 years’ worth of neglect of the garden areas. Today, Garden Conservancy volunteers, working through the NPS, lead fascinating and informative free tours ranging over much of the island on Friday and Sunday mornings. My two guides, both first-rate in terms of their knowledge of Alcatraz’s history as well as that of the gardens, met a group of us on the 9:10 a.m. ferry on Sunday morning and soon we were off.

Alcatraz Gardens, Garden Conservancy

Monica Beary (left) and Corny Foster (right) await us. Steps to climb? There were lots.

I was surprised to see plants like old roses,  fuschias and geraniums (as well as succulents) in profusion. Our volunteers explained that these were “survivor” plants that had been discovered in many locations when the GC’s restoration work began. The plants introduced by the inmates and families were exotics; the climate (Sunset Zone 17) is mild and Mediterranean in nature.

Alcatraz Gardens, Garden Conservancy, pelargoniums

Perennial geraniums in the Officers’ Row area, near the greenhouse.

Echium candicans, Alcatraz Gardens

Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira), a North African native, grows in the Gardens of Alcatraz. It’s a favorite of hummingbirds.

Almost everywhere, the view out to the Bay reminds visitors how isolated and grim “The Rock” would be without these gardens to soften it.

Garden Conservancy, Gardens of Alcatraz, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Succulents and roses frame a view of the Bay.

Garden Conservancy, Alcatraz Gardens

An Agave americana in flower on the edge of the island.

At the end of our tour, we took in views of the west end sloped areas of the island – the only gardens that most prisoners could see.

Alcatraz Gardens, The Garden Conservancy, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Today these areas are planted heavily in succulents interspersed with other plants, such as Gaura, which can tolerate the rocky soil and limited rainfall of the site.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit the Bay Area over a weekend, the Garden Conservancy offers tours of the Gardens of Alcatraz on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9:30. You’ll need to book the 9:10 ferry, nothing later, if you want to get there in time. And for more information on the gardens, check out Bay Nature’s online article and the Conservancy’s own website. Highly recommended!

Brookside Garden’s Private Gardens Tour

May 19, 2012

As many of you know, I live in the metropolitan Washington DC area. One of my favorite photographic haunts is Brookside Gardens (part of the Montgomery County park system). This year they have organized a tour of seven private gardens in Bethesda, Maryland for Saturday June 2nd. I’m very impressed how quickly they’ve been able to organize it, find gardens, and arrange publicity. (I worked on the local Garden Conservancy Open Days Tours here in 2010 and it was a lot of work!).

I have photos of two of the gardens, so I’ll start with those. First is fellow designer Barbara Katz’s own garden, which was last open to the public in spring 2009 as part of the GC Open Days tours here that year. Welcoming you in the front yard you’ll find a friendly boxwood caterpillar:

Katz Garden, London Landscapes, Garden Conservancy, Brookside Gardens Tour

A boxwood caterpillar graces the front lawn of landscape designer Barbara Katz’s garden in Bethesda

Originally designed for a client of hers, this garden came into Barbara’s own possession when the client moved to Boston. She makes changes every year. I love visiting and photographing it because of the amazing plant combinations she has come up with, not to mention her containers.

Brookside Garden tour, London Landscapes, Katz garden

The back yard of the Katz garden (in autumn)

London Landscapes, Katz garden, Brookside garden tour

A bust with pearls, planted with ivy “hair,” provides whimsy and textural contrast in the spring garden of Barbara Katz.

The other garden on the tour which I know well is – full disclosure – one I designed in 2003, and which I continue to work on with its owners, Robyn and Bill Collins. Because the house sits on an underground spring, the site is consistently wet and one of the issues we had to address (and still struggle with today) is moisture.  This is true especially in the back garden, which may be why these astilbes look so happy, and hostas thrive.

Collins garden, astilbe, Brookside Gardens tour, wet gardens

Astilbe, Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’, and sweetbay magnolia in the back yard of the Collins garden.

Although the primulas aren’t likely to be in bloom by the time of the tour, the hostas and other shade plants shown in this photo will be in full glory.

Collins garden, Brookside Gardens tour, wet gardens

A view of the pool house from the patio in late spring.

Other gardens on the tour include the personal garden of Holly Shimizu (director of the US Botanic Garden) and three other gardens personally selected by the staff at Brookside. For more details and photographs of the gardens, click here. You can register for the tour in advance here or by coming to McCrillis Gardens in Bethesda on the morning of June 2nd, where on-site tickets will be sold and addresses for the gardens will be available. This is a fundraiser for one of our area’s premiere public gardens. If you’re within driving distance, please mark your calendar!  This is a rain or shine event. You may even run into me at the Collins garden, where I expect to be on hand to answer questions most of the day.

Goodwin’s Montrose Garden

April 6, 2012

One of the first famous gardens I visited after becoming a gardener myself was Montrose Garden, in Hillsborough, North Carolina. It was part of a weekend trip that included a visit to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, Edith Eddleman’s own garden, and tantalizing stops at places like Tony Avent’s famed retail mail-order nursey, Plant Delights.

Montrose is a 61-acre property that was purchased in 1977 by Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin, who immediately began to expand the gardens substantially.  Neophyte that I was, I had no idea of how well-known or superb Montrose was when I first stepped off the bus that morning. Nancy Goodwin herself, along with an intern who was working at the garden for the summer, greeted us and showed us around. I saw Dianthus planted in gravel for the first time, was awed by a mature baldcypress tree that had been grown from seed (planted by the previous owner), and ended up at some long tables back behind the house that represented the winding-down of Goodwin’s own mail-order nursery efforts, where we bought some small plants to bring home. Goodwin spoke about how there is always something blooming, the thousands of snowdrops that have naturalized from the hundreds she planted, and then turned us loose for a little while to wander on our own.

I wasn’t really a photographer at the time, but I did have a camera along, and captured a couple of shots of the Lathe House, which I’m sharing today. I was inspired to write this post because of an article in the New York Times I came across in digital form the other day, testifying that the garden is still going and open to the public by appointment. Goodwin and her husband have made provision for it to become a preservation project of  The Garden Conservancy.

Montrose Garden, Nancy Goodwin, Lathe House

The interior of the Lathe House at Montrose Garden, c. 1992 (maybe)

Montrose Garden, Nancy Goodwin, Lathe House

Seeing through the Lathe House

If you have a chance to visit, don’t pass it up. If you want to learn more about Goodwin and the creation of the garden, she has written two books, both of which I can recommend: Montrose: Life in a Garden, and A Year in Our Gardens: Letters By Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy.


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