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.

The whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Although the tree-shaded entrance to this Great Falls, Virginia, garden was elegant and restrained, I knew the owner would be a gardener with a sense of humor. How? Because at the driveway’s end I spotted, atop a pilaster, a statue wearing actual sunglasses. It was the first sign of a playfulness with garden art on display throughout Ellen Ash’s 2-acre garden.


The bus I was on, during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, was running a little late, and other bloggers were already exploring the back garden’s extensive paths. I had the serene front garden nearly to myself. It must be a riot of color in spring, when the now-quiet azaleas, rhododendrons, and flowering trees are in bloom. Following this intriguing stone-and-moss path…


…I entered the enormous back garden, which, near the house, slopes gently down to a swimming pool and a swooping, mod pool house and patio.


A closer look at that fabulous pool house and large swimming pool. You could throw some big pool parties here!


In the garden between the house and pool, a small pond shaded by a parasol-like Japanese maple is home to a school of flashy goldfish…


…protected from raccoons and herons, I imagine, by a panel of crisscrossed wire laid on the water’s surface.


At one corner of the house I spotted this aluminum chaise in the shape of a lounging, space-age woman — a futuristic odalisque? A crossroads-style sign points toward cities that perhaps have special significance to the owner.


But to my mind, here’s where the garden really starts: with a sweeping, curvy lawn bordered by a stone strolling path and wood’s-edge garden beds.


From the lawn path, mossy woodland trails wind under the trees in all directions, offering a boggling number of choices to the visiting blogger with limited time to see everything.


At every turn, Ellen’s whimsical garden art coaxes a smile or a laugh.


She has a special affinity for cats, which appeared in all guises throughout the garden.


One-of-a-kind found-art pieces…


…or kitschy flamingos — Ellen doesn’t discriminate with her garden art and clearly is having fun with all of it.


One of the most stunning pieces of art in her garden is this stone moon gate, which welcomes visitors from along a back stretch of the driveway. It perfectly frames a focal-point statue, which draws the eye across a mossy glade as you enter.


Looking through from the other side


I was fascinated by all the beautiful mossy paths, and wondered about their fragility while walking along them.


Most, however, were laid with large stepping stones…


…or a combination of cut stones and brick…


…or even footprint-shaped steppers!


One path led to a stone monolith fountain in a small clearing…


…with benches placed around a circular cut-stone patio around the fountain. Flat, gray beach pebbles neatly skirt the fountain and “flow” along the edge of the patio like seeping water.


I heard that Ellen does almost all of the gardening herself, which is impressive considering the size of the place. I really enjoyed wandering the paths and discovering the surprises, like this cloud of blue hydrangeas, and fun garden art along the way.

Up next: The harmonious garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz. For a look back at the natural log and twig art of designer Debbie Friedman’s garden, 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

Book Giveaway! I’m giving away a copy of a fun new book, Potted, that’ll inspire you to DIY your own uniquely cool garden planters for porch, patio, or deck. Just leave a comment on my giveaway blog post to enter (click the link and comment there), and good luck! The giveaway ends Friday, July 14, 2017.

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.

Lucinda’s Dia de los Muertos garden


My friend Lucinda Hutson celebrates Dia de los Muertos like no one else I know. Her colorful, Mexican-inspired home and garden in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin grows even more vibrant for Day of the Dead, and inside she stages elaborate table displays and beautiful altars around mementos and photos of her departed loved ones.


Lucinda invited me over for a visit on Saturday morning, as she was finishing up her decorating. She’s adorned her purple casita, as she calls it, with Day of the Dead grocery bags from HEB — clever!


In a ginkgo tree, colorful papel picado banners with skull imagery flutter in the breeze.


Fluttering throughout her garden, monarchs are fueling up for the last leg of their winter migration to Mexico.


They love the orange and yellow cosmos standing tall on leggy stems. To keep it from flopping, Lucinda has tied bunches of stems together and staked them upright.


A bed of yellow chrysanthemums makes a good lounging spot for four skeletons.


Purple mums fill round pots on her new brick patio, which replaced a small front lawn that was struggling.


Along the gravel driveway, potted vegetables on limestone blocks make a pretty border.


Chard and other edibles are easy to harvest here.


A long raised bed contains more vegetables. In the background, a butterfly skeleton hangs under an arbor of sky vine, with scattered blossoms arrayed by Mother Nature at her feet.


Lucinda found the dress, wings, and other costume elements in thrift shops and put it all together with the help of her longtime garden assistant Ernesto.


The wings catch the morning light.


On the old driveway in the back garden, a raised vegetable bed is edged with colorful salad plates.


Our Lady of the Bathtub is a permanent fixture in the garden.


As is the handmade gate that reads El Jardin Encantador: the enchanting garden.


Peeking in the back door…


…you see what Lucinda calls her “stairway to heaven” — a mosaic tiled back stair.


Along the purple wall of her detached garage, she stacks low tables dressed with Mexican oilcloth for a pretty succulent display space.


Her tiny front porch is all decked out too.


A Day of the Dead skeleton head greets visitors at the door.


Inside, the first thing you see is Lucinda’s Dia de los Muertos altar in her sherbet-colored living room, adorned with decades’-old (but amazingly fresh looking) sugar skulls, candles, family photos, and little mementos of things her loved ones enjoyed.


Lucinda lost her mom recently, and she pointed out old photos and items that remind her of her mother: queens on playing cards, a bottle of Dewar’s.


On her dining table, which she was setting up for a small party later on that evening, Lucinda had arranged a Day of the Dead display of skull plates and bowls, candles, wine bottles, sugar skulls, and skeletons.


Sugar skull and sugar caskets


So many fun details wherever you look!


A quick peek in Lucinda’s kitchen reveals strings of chili lights and and Dia de los Muertos cards with lights.


Another altar is set up on the dining room buffet.


More photos of her beautiful mom along with sugar skulls and lustrous silver containers and spoons.


Tiny skeleton musicians with spring necks, legs, and arms dangle from the chandelier.


Lucinda’s festive home and garden — and her own festive spirit — could brighten any dull day. My thanks to her for sharing her beautiful garden with me again!

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

I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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