A narrow side yard lives large in the garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman


I don’t think I planned a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland just to have an opportunity to swing through Eugene, Oregon, to visit the garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, the husband-and-wife design-and-build team at Mosaic Gardens, whose work I greatly admire and recently wrote about for Garden Design. But then again, it’s possible.

Rebecca and Buell graciously invited us to stop by and see their garden last month, even though 1) they weren’t even going to be there, 2) their garden was newly exposed due to the cut-back of a neighbor’s tree, and 3) their poor plants had just endured an unusually long heat wave with little watering. Knowing that their garden is beautiful because of its compelling structure, not just the plants, I wasn’t worried.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Rebecca and Buell’s garden is essentially a long, skinny side yard that slopes sharply downhill from their house. They tackled this difficult space by creating a series of rooms linked by axis views to focal points. Like running your fingers along a string of beads, you enter their garden via a garden room — a gravel foyer — at the top of the slope, pause, look ahead to a focal point, advance toward it, pause in the next garden room, look ahead to the next focal point, and so on.


Each focal point, like this stock-tank pond (yes, one of the inspirations for my own), draws you forward but also gives you a reason to stop and look around, enjoying the mosaic of beautiful plants that Rebecca and Buell have created.


Stone stairs lead you down into the garden. Cascading sempervivum grows in the crevices of the stone retaining wall. Above, a frosty blue conifer cascades on a larger scale.


A wider view, with Japanese forest grass flowing like water alongside the steps.


Now we’re in the pond garden, a sunken space not visible from the street. The stairs where we entered are visible behind the pond. Atop the slope, strategically placed trees screen neighboring houses from view.


Stepping back a few paces, down a short flight of steps, here’s an even wider view. The gravel path flows around the pond so you can view all sides. The narrow spaces around the pond are densely planted with columnar trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layering that makes those beds feel deeper.


And look at the gorgeous plants! I asked Rebecca to ID this combo for me. From left to right: Cotinus ‘Grace’, a sport of ‘Conica’ Picea glauca, a mystery fern (“This thing is a wonder. Gorgeous, even in drought with a blast of midday sun. We don’t recall where we got it, but we’d love to find more. If someone knows this one, please tell me!”), Rhododendron ‘Yak x pak’, Corydalis lutea, and Galtonia candicans, aka summer hyacinth (“the best plant that no one grows — we love it, and so do the hummers”).


Looking across the pond, your eye travels along a path, past a brick BBQ and the stairs to their back deck, to a chocolate-colored pot framed by a living arbor. The pot stands out against a corrugated, galvanized-steel fence.


A closer look. A horizontal bamboo fence adds an Asian flavor to this area, and white hydrangea glows alongside the path. Espaliered trees arch over the path to create a living arbor.


Past the arbor you enter an edible garden, which jogs left into a small back yard. Asparagus was blooming here…


…and grapes dangled from a wire trellis fence.


A gateway in the trellis fence allows access to another garden room — an orchard of fruit trees, anchored by an approximately 4-foot-diameter stacked-stone sphere that Buell made.


I love this.


Apples were ripening in the orchard.


Returning through the garden, here’s another look at the espaliered arbor…


…and artichoke.


Back at house level, a long, narrow porch leading from the driveway to the front door is adorned with a collection of potted succulents massed for impact.


Other potted plants add interest to the edge of the gravel “foyer” garden, with fabulous skinny conifers visible in the background, growing along the property line and creating the illusion of greater depth.


River stone as art object in the garden


Another look from the top of the garden into the sunken side yard.


Eucomis flowers


Rattlesnake master (I think) and red dahlia


How do you approach the garden from the street? Via this almost secret-garden stone stair, through touchable grasses, conifers, and perennials. How could anyone resist taking a peek?


A gravel driveway leads to a garage, but knowing they wouldn’t be parking in it, and wanting to create more of an entrance and drop the cars slightly out of view, Buell and Rebecca dug out the driveway, put in a low retaining wall, and repaved the drive with gravel so that it sits about a foot lower than the entry garden. Isn’t this a nicer spot to come home to than entering through a dark, cramped garage?

My thanks to Rebecca and Buell for sharing their beautiful garden with me! I do hope to meet them one day, too.

Up next: Our day trip along the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and mountain views — a tribute to an incredibly scenic area that is now tragically on fire. For a look back at our visit to the dormant volcano and sapphire lake of Crater Lake National Park, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garden of Gary Ratway and Deborah Whigham and their Digging Dog Nursery


Stepping through a dark-leaved doorway in a beech hedge into the display gardens at Digging Dog Nursery, located in Albion, California, you feel a bit like Alice falling into the rabbit hole. What awaits on the other side? A potted boxwood draws you through the hedge…


…and then wow! A ribbon of emerald lawn leads you past a deep bed of flowering perennials, shrubs, and trees, set off by a mist of blue catmint in front.


Owners Deborah Whigham and Gary Ratway, the husband-and-wife team who founded Digging Dog 35 years ago and operate it as a mail-order nursery of unusual and hard-to-find plants, kindly allowed me to stop by earlier this month, on a day the nursery was closed. I was passing through on a family road trip up the Northern California coast, and I was thrilled to visit the nursery’s display gardens that I’ve heard so much about over the years.


Fog was settling over the gardens on that late August afternoon, softening the light and making foliage and flowers, like these eryngium, seem to glow.


I didn’t recognize most of the plants, so I can’t ID them for you. You cool-climate gardeners may know them anyway, and we hot-climate gardeners probably can’t grow them. So let’s just soak in the beauty, shall we?


Flowers the color of crushed peppermints


Looking back along the path


Steely blue eryngium


At the end of that long grassy path, steps are planted with geranium and other low growers.


From the steps you get a view of another long path, and an unusual sight…


…weeping silver pears (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) trained on vertical arcs of rusty steel along the path. They remind me of leaping dolphins, or the crests of large waves.


A tidy pot of horsetail reed acts as a focal point and marks a crossroads where another path leads off to the right.


Past the horsetail pot, the path terminates at a wooden bench. But let’s turn right at the intersecting path, where you see…


…a raised circular pond, taller than any stock-tank ponds I’ve seen, encircled by perforated steel panels. Very cool!


Waterlilies float on the surface, including coral-pink ‘Colorado’, which I grow in my own pond. Beyond the pond, hornbeam columns and a wavy, Oudolf-inspired hedge add geometry and architecture to a meadowy garden. Pointy conifers make a sawtoothed frame in the distance.


I stepped around the pond and then looked back to admire those striking weeping pears, silver against a dark-green hedge, with the early-turning foliage of some other trees (I forget the name) beyond the hedge. In the foreground, small burgundy-leaved shrubs add yet more foliage color.


Here’s Gary, the designer of this beautiful garden. He’s also a landscape architect and founder/owner of Integrated Design, and a delight to talk with.


Tall grasses and flowering perennials mingle in harmony.


Great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), one of my favorites here.


Another view


Rattlesnake master rising tall and pale


Vivid crocosmia against a backdrop of tawny ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass


All these vivid colors, not to mention the cool weather (around 60F), made it feel like late October or early November to this Texan.


Hydrangea and grasses


My daughter took this picture of a globe thistle (Echinops) and shared it with me. I wish I could grow these!


One of many handcrafted benches in the garden


This small overlook offers a view of the hornbeam columns and wavy hedge.


Fuchsia dangling alongside the path. These were blooming everywhere in the Mendocino area.


Another lovely path with a bench at the end


Jerusalem sage (Phlomis) and red hot poker (Kniphofia)


Such beautiful scenes, everywhere I looked


Even the non-gardeners were enjoying the visit.


A small orchard and vegetable garden, sited where there’s enough sunlight amid all the tall redwoods on the property.


The walls and columns that provide architecture and create garden rooms are Gary’s creation, made of rammed earth, and blend in nicely with the plants and gravel paving.


A clematis scrambles up a column.


Inviting paths to explore, everywhere you turn. I could spend hours here.


More fuchsia


A nearly black shrub makes a perfect foil for bright-green fern and hot-pink anemone.


Anemone closeup


The peeling ginger trunks of paperbark maple glowed in the late afternoon light. (Thanks for the ID, Evan.)


At its base, a shining white anemone


A closer look


Gary and Deborah’s home is located on the property, behind the nursery. I’m not sure how much of the gardens is their personal space versus nursery display gardens. It seemed to blend seamlessly as Gary led us through. This, however, is their own back patio, where a sunset-hued succulent wreath hanging on a metal chair frame caught my eye.


Lovely


A grotto-like pond filled with waterlilies is accented with potted plants including a stunning Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’. On a back ledge sits a toy VW Bus, a reminder of one Gary once drove.


More glowing succulents and grasses (sedges?) on a dining table


And more unique pots and plants by the back door, including a giraffe-necked, nearly black aeonium.


I adore that pinched pot on the right.


One of Digging Dog’s many four-footed ambassadors


At the front of the house, you walk through a sparkler-like tunnel of giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea).


Grasses and rammed-earth wall panels


Huge thanks to Digging Dog owners Deborah and Gary for welcoming us into their home and garden and showing us all the beauty they’ve made there! It was a delight to meet them.


If you’re not familiar with Digging Dog Nursery, check out their online catalog and see what treasures you can find. If you’re in the area and want to visit, they do also sell retail, but check their hours, as they’re off the beaten path and not open to visitors every day. Their website lists their summer hours currently as Tuesday by appointment only; Wednesday-Saturday 10 am to 4 pm.

Up next: Dramatic coastal views at Goat Rock Beach, Mendocino, and Russian Gulch State Park. For a look back at the beautiful Sunset Test Gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Cactus & Succulent Society hosts its Fall Show and Sale on September 2 & 3, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, at Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road). Come see rare and beautiful cacti and succulents and shop for plants and handcrafted pottery. Admission is free with paid entry to Zilker Botanical Garden ($2 adults, $1 children and seniors).

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Edibles, outdoor living, and more at Sunset Gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma


While touring the Cornerstone Sonoma gardens in Sonoma, California, a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a two-fer. Sunset’s Test Gardens relocated to Cornerstone in 2016, and after a year of growth they’re already looking amazing. A glowing vertical garden of sempervivums, planted in the orange Sunset logo, greets you as you enter.


Sunset, publisher of Sunset Magazine, sold its longtime Menlo Park location in 2014, leaving behind its beloved display gardens, which I toured during the San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling in 2013.


Sunset’s new gardens at Cornerstone were designed by Homestead Design Collective, whose co-founder Stefani Bittner is a fellow Ten Speed Press author. She’s co-author of The Beautiful Edible Garden, a terrific book about designing edible gardens that not only taste good but look good year-round.


The Sunset gardens consist of 5 distinct spaces: Flower Room, Farm, Cocktail Garden, Gathering Space, and Backyard Orchard. I explored the Farm garden first, drawn in along a basil-lined path through round trellis arbors by TerraTrellis. A wood-framed greenhouse stands at the end of the path, with meadowy plants visible through its glass walls.


Inside, a few simple pots of succulents adorn the airy space.


Along the path, sour gherkins dangle enticingly from one trellis.


A double axis means that when you look back, you enjoy an enticing view that way as well. This way the path leads to…


…the ready-for-lounging Cocktail Garden: “In this drinkable garden, everything growing can be mixed, muddled, or blended into tasty libations. Culinary bay, pineapple guava, pomegranates, and lavender make the foundation plantings, and a hop vine (whose dried flowers add the bitter note to beer) makes a beautiful, robust trellis climber. Potted specialty citrus and mints show our readers who are short on space that they can still grow a bounty in containers.”


Pomegranate against blue sky


Leaving the edible gardens, I admired prairie-like flowerbeds of grasses and pollinator favorites like Echinacea purpurea (this cultivar is ‘White Swan’) and Verbena bonariensis.


‘White Swan’ echinacea and tall verbena. The grass looks like bamboo muhly, but I’m not sure.


A burgundy-leaved crepe myrtle stands out against bright greens and yellows.


A classic and crowd-pleasing combo of purple coneflower and tall verbena.


A serpentine decomposed-granite path leads through the flowers and grasses to the Backyard Orchard garden, where a beautiful galvanized-wire sculpture of a tree makes a striking and appropriate focal point.


Tree of Life, the creation of New Zealand sculptor Regan Gentry, represents a California chestnut and was originally the centerpiece of a Cornerstone garden called Ecology of Place.


When that garden was removed to make way for the new Sunset gardens, the sculpture was left in place, glinting in the sunlight above verbena and surrounded by the orchard’s new fruit trees.


There’s a sense of movement in those swirling silver wires.


Next is an easy-care foliage garden in Gathering Space, “an updated take on an outdoor living room, inspiring us to move the party outside.”


This looks like a distinctively California garden to my eyes: upscale picnic table on a golden decomposed-granite patio, olive trees, and silvery and chartreuse low-water plants. ‘Platinum Beauty’ lomandra (I’m planning to trial this one soon!) edges the bed behind the picnic table. I think that’s ‘Beyond Blue’ fescue around the olive tree.


I wonder if this could possibly hold up in our climate. Our unrelenting hothouse summer is often the deal-breaker for those dry-loving and high-country plants I covet.


Here’s a pretty touch: star-shaped Aloe striata (hybrid) planted amid the blue fescue.


This, however, could be an autumn scene in Austin: Gulf muhly in flower with purple coneflower and tall verbena. Beautiful! We won’t see flowering like this in Austin for at least another month, starting in early October, so it was a treat to enjoy it in August.

Up next: Gary and Deborah Ratway’s garden and acclaimed nursery Digging Dog in Albion, CA. For a look back at the remarkable conceptual gardens of Cornerstone Sonoma, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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