Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: Colorful perennial and heather gardens


I was not expecting this. None of us were. As we made our way up Highway 1 along the coast of Northern California in early August, naturally I’d planned a few garden stops, including a visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, expecting little more than an hour or two of pleasant diversion from the road.


Had I paid better attention to the garden’s tagline on its website — “47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean” — I would have been better prepared to be blown away by the gorgeous displays.


Botanical bliss indeed


On this summer afternoon, with the usual fog rolling in off the Pacific Ocean just half a mile distant, the light was perfect for photographing the rich hues of the perennial garden, which greets you as you enter.


My family membership to the Wildflower Center in Austin got us a big discount on our admission tickets, which was nice. When I asked the staff member what she recommended we see, she urged us to close our eyes and pass quickly through the perennial garden and head straight for the ocean trail. “Most people never get that far,” she said. “Why close our eyes?” I asked. “Because otherwise you’ll get dazzled,” she said.


Well, I’ve never been able to shut my eyes to botanical beauty, and I wasn’t about to pass up perfect light for photography, so we wandered through the perennial garden two or three times, all of us dazzled. I especially love this combo of smoke tree, ‘Mardi Gras’ helenium, and tall verbena.


An ornamental grass and black-eyed Susans


I tried to find the name of this sculpture online but came up empty. What is she doing — dribbling two invisible basketballs?


Alstroemeria and poppies


Hypericum androsaemum ‘Albury Purple’


The perennial garden was designed by Gary Ratway, whose own remarkable garden I’d just visited at his and his wife Deborah’s Digging Dog Nursery, so I should have realized it would be spectacular.


As the garden’s website explains, “Our mild coastal climate allows herbaceous plants from all over the world to thrive….Frequent fog acts as a cooling and humidifying blanket, reducing the intensity of the full sun, while trees shield the perennials from strong ocean winds and form an attractive backdrop.”


European weeping purple beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Pendula’) and, I think, a purple geranium


Mounded beds mitigate wet soil from a high water table, ensuring that even dry-loving plants like thyme and sedum thrive.


‘Elfin’ thyme, ‘Red Carpet’ sedum, and Scleranthus biflorus Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’). (Thanks for the correct ID, Evan and Loree.)


Sedum, Scotch moss, and other low groundcovers make a colorful tapestry.


Weeping beech leaf and Scotch moss


Rich color contrasts


The bigger picture


Wonderful foliage


Stone herons fish at a small pond with pitcher plants.


Herons and fairy wand flower (Dierama pulcherrimum)


Cordyline ‘Jurred’ and Salvia transsilvanica, with a smoke tree echoing the cordyline’s rich color.


A wider view shows tall verbena and a coppery red yarrow.


Salvia transsilvanica and New Zealand burr (Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’)


Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’


Anyone know this one? Update: It’s Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’. (Thanks to everyone who commented on it!)


Yarrow echoes a golden conifer in the distance.


Pink yarrow too


Lovely color echoes and contrasts


Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’


Red tussock grass (Chionochloa rubra)


Persicaria and amsonia Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ (thanks for the ID, Evan and Lynn!)


I love this long view of twisted tree trunks and mounds of low foliage.


With fuchsia


Pink anemone


Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)


A stunning Dacrydium cupressinum (Rimu) from New Zealand


Here is where the garden’s acclaimed Heath and Heather Collection begins. “Heaths and heathers are beautiful, undemanding plants that require full sun, and cool soil with perfect drainage. Our mild maritime climate and sandy, acidic soils create an ideal environment for them,” the website explains.


“Heaths (Erica) have needle-like foliage blooming early winter through the summer. Heathers (Calluna) have tighter, overlapping scale-like foliage blooming late summer through the fall.”


‘Pat’s Gold’ heather (Calluna vulgaris) is on the right.


Set amid the mounding plants, Phoenix Tree, a welded-steel tree-like sculpture by Diego Harris, was for sale for $6,000. I saw another of his works on this trip, Time Killer at Sonoma Cornerstone.


‘Sister Anne’ heather (Calluna vulgaris) in the foreground


Moving on…


Green santolina (Santolina virens)


Gray New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum brevipes)


Giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea) and an unknown but beautiful dark-leaved tree — anyone know it?. Update: It’s peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’) from Australia. (Thanks for the ID, Evan and Kris!)

Up next: Part 2 of my visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, including the stunning Dahlia Garden. For a look back at dramatic coastal views along Highway 1 in Northern California, 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.

Pink flower ka-power


Several rosy-cheeked flowers are standing up to the Death Star during this hot midsummer. The ones I’m enjoying most, because the plant is new in my garden, are these satin-petaled, carnation-pink flowers that appear every couple of weeks on a mammillaria cactus.


A spiny stoic cactus, just enduring. And then — boom! A crown of pink flowers with golden stamens appears overnight like a floral halo. Hello, you beauties!


The watermelon-pink crepe myrtle in the back garden is blooming its heart out too. True, a parade’s worth of confetti-like flowers litters the deck stairs below it. But the mess is worth it, to have something looking so happy about our 101-degree days.


A few in-ground bouquets of candy-pink rain lilies (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) have also popped up lately, starry-eyed over trace amounts of rain, or maybe just the smell of it in the air.


These pinkies are helping me get through summer. What color is your summer garden?

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 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.

Color-blended garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Opening the summer issue of Country Gardens magazine a few days ago, I felt an immediate jolt of recognition at seeing, on pages 10-13, one of the gardens we toured during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s the garden of Bethesda, Maryland, designer Barbara Katz, one of the first private gardens we toured and one of my favorites.


Barbara’s front flower garden, a deep curving border around a small oval lawn, is a traffic-stopper — or at least a stopper of 50 eager garden bloggers. But just wait until you see the back garden!


But before we head to the back, let’s explore the front. My eye went straight to variegated yuccas (‘Bright Edge’?), their lemon-yellow stripes echoed by yellow yarrow, yellow-and-white lantana, and tawny Mexican feathergrass (I think) — a combo that would be at home in Austin.


A curving stone walk leads past shrub plantings to a front porch with red Adirondack rockers…


…and two plant stands with eye-catching succulent combos.


A variegated spineless prickly pear and Agave desmettiana fill one planter.


In the other, a spiny euphorbia stands tall with a paddle plant and Portulacaria afra (thanks for the ID, Diana!).


There was much to see out here, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on the back garden, so I headed along the side-yard path. No throw-away space here but rather a golden shade garden with hostas, sedge, and a redbud tree (maybe ‘Hearts of Gold’). Dark-green shrubs in the background make the golds pop.


Foliage detail


A few blogger friends stopped here to admire the plant combos too, including Gail, Tracy, and Jennifer.


Entering the back garden, where a generous stone patio bridges house and garden…


…you’re led to a small pond and waterfall…


…that stair-steps down from the top of a 12-foot slope, where a gazebo roof entices you to climb up and explore.


What an oasis…


…and not just for goldfish.


Barbara told us that she’d created this garden for clients who later decided to move. Spontaneously, she and her husband purchased the home in order to acquire the garden. She laughingly told us that in this way she was able to get a professionally designed garden — her own — without having to pay for it.


I doubt she ever sits down in her garden, but this comfortable seating area in the shade of a tall tree is inviting.


Barbara pays careful attention to color combinations, both flowers and foliage. One side of the back garden is planted with an orange, white, and purple color scheme.


Caramel-tinged heuchera, New Zealand sedge, and an orangey peach echinacea. Update: Barbara kindly identified the sparkly white flower as a catmint (Calamintha ‘White Cloud’).


Rusty orange coleus matches a rusty orange planter.


Even the garden art plays into the color scheme.


The other side of the garden features yellow, pink, blue, and maroon plants.


Which is your favorite?


Purple-leaved loropetalum and a purple-pink daylily


Now let’s climb the steps up the slope…


…stopping to admire the falling stream, which looks completely natural…


…and beautiful planters on the steps.


I enjoyed Barbara’s playful garden art, like this lizard seemingly sunning himself on a boulder…


…and this “bottle fly.”


You enter the upper garden via a perfect circle of emerald lawn, a calm counterpoint to the lush garden beds. Behind the pink hydrangeas on the far side of the circle (near owner/designer Barbara in the orange tank top)…


…a path leads to a nearly hidden stone patio and bench. Here are Garden Design publisher Jim Peterson and his wife, Val, chatting with Barbara’s husband.


Tucked amid the hydrangea blossoms, a woman’s face peeks out.


A more-traveled path beckons across the top of the slope…


…leading to a woodsy gazebo.


From here you enjoy a view of the house and lower patio and an upper pond with a bubbling fountain.


This plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) stands tall in a pot near the gazebo (see the gazebo picture, above), so pretty against a burgundy Japanese maple.


Stokes’ aster ‘Klaus Jelitto’ in full bloom alongside a shady birdbath. On her Facebook page, Barbara recently wrote that the aster is “still going strong after 22 years in the exact same spot, with zero maintenance.”


A closeup


A lilac-and-blue lacecap hydrangea harmonizes…


…as do these cute little plants growing in the cracks of a mossy stone path — rose campion?


Looking back to the circular lawn — what a stunning space!


There’s not an inch of this garden that didn’t wow me. I’m thrilled to have been able to visit.

Up next: Scenes from Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture. For a look back at the whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash, 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.

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