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Pretty Garden by the Sea

by germinatrix | July 29th, 2009

Over the July 4th weekend, I was visiting The Denkers in Baywood/Los Osos, CA – such a beautiful part of the California coast … and Jan and I stayed in one of the most charming hotels ever – the Back Bay Inn. I had no idea when I booked the room that I’d be staying in a loft overlooking the freshest, frilliest little garden I’d seen in a long time!

the view from our balcony - gorgeous!the view from our balcony – gorgeous!

When we picked up the keys to our room, we’d just driven five hours through 4th of July weekend traffic (the drive usually takes three hours!), and even though it is a wonderful, scenic trip – we were exhausted and a little bit over each other, to be frank! We just wanted to shower – so we headed off in the direction the friendly woman at the front desk pointed out, and strolled right into this little patch of prettiness!

flowers! grasses! cannas! and more!flowers! grasses! cannas! and more!


ah, to sit on a little bench, contemplating beauty...

ah, to sit on a little bench, contemplating beauty...

I was THRILLED. Jan had to take all our stuff to the loft without my help, because I had to run around like a terrier on crack, snapping pictures and calling out unexpected plant combinations.

It was a very young garden, possibly under two years – the structural elements were still small and it was very annual-heavy … but it was exactly that exuberant use of annuals that delighted me!

capturing the breeze, this nassella is working it!capturing the breeze, this nassella is working it!

‘Bones’ are very important in a garden. It is well chosen, carefully installed hardscape, and purposeful planting of strong, evergreen shrubbery and perennials that gives gardens their year-round structure. In the baby stages of a garden, however, annuals can be a big asset, because their ‘thing’ is to grow quickly – they are born, they mature, and they die and set seed in one season (as opposed to perennials that need time to establish and ‘get their roots under them’). Annuals can fill in the holes left by the proper spacing of  young plants, and they give the garden an almost immediate sense of fun and accomplishment – all for pennies and no long-term commitment. Later, as the perennial, shrubbery, and tree layers grow in, the flowery frilliness of the annuals can be edited, and the garden moves into its more mature life.

could these poppies be more seductive? I think notcould these poppies be more seductive? I think not

Of course, it’s all in the choice of the annual.

this daisy border reminds me of a petticoatthis daisy border reminds me of a petticoat

The Back Bay Inn garden is a raucous blend of  poppies, zinnias, bachelor buttons and cosmos popping up between salvias, lavender, leucadendron, fan palms, and lavatera. It shouldn’t work for me! I am a HUGE stickler for plant architecture – if I don’t see repetition of strong form and a distinct visual through line, my eye gets tired and all I see is garden A.D.D. But here I looked closer.

little frizzy puffs of blond hair grass- it's a good look!little frizzy puffs of blond hair grass- it’s a good look!
mmmm... nice... mmmm… nice…

I saw that there WAS a through line; and continuity, and repetition – but it was soft. Daisies were used with abandon, stitching together the main strolling garden and the seaside paths. And then, there was the elegant use of my favorite grass, Nassella tennuissima. This beauty really comes to life in when tickled by the breeze – it dances and sways and captures the sun like nothing else. Here, Nassella was perfectly deployed to take advantage of the winds coming off the bay. I was absolutely on board with the soft architecture of the garden at The Back Bay Inn, and while I can’t see myself going as far into flowery flowerdom, I am definitely going to use some of the combos in future plantings.

Unexpected inspiration! It’s often right in front of your eyes!


this is such a fresh, tough combo - sold!this is such a fresh, tough combo – add an agave, and it’s me!

12 Responses to “Pretty Garden by the Sea”

  1. Isn’t it great when we get to slow down and find inspiration in something that your eye first dismisses or overlooks? I have to admit I’m having a hard time seeing past the daisies to really embrace the look but if you are seeing it Germi then I have no doubt you will make it fabulous!

  2. Hi Loree! Hahahaha! Its true! Sometimes the things that you react AGAINST can be valuable. It’s hard, but I try and look twice at things that ‘rub my fur backwards’, garden-wise. This garden has that “LOOK AT ME – PRETTY FLOWERS!!!” thing going on hardcore … and my instinct is to plant for foliage and form, NOT flower. But something about the fresh innocence of it all got me, and I wondered how I can incorporate a bit of the vibe – the cleanest, central idea – and use it to brighten up and freshen my own work. I have NEVER used a daisy (other than gazania or arctotis – tough guys of the daisy clan) … but could I? I can’t deny the strength of the mass of daisies by the sea. And it doesn’t have to be daisies … Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Helenium … they can all stand in for the daisy – but what a challenge – to use the frilly, silly daisy in a cool way. I’m going to TRY!!! XOXOXO!

  3. First of all – there is some structure, provided by those awesome cypresses in the background. I kind of like how the view to those is unobstructed.

    Second of all – nature does it all the time; some of it’s going to look good. Admittedly a natural prairie isn’t quite so floriferous.

    Third of all – a little fluff can be a great contrast to more structural elements. In some book or other I saw this awesome photo of an agave surrounded by a froth of pink evening primroses. The effect was pastellish but really cool; they both sort of had the same bluish leaves. You’d need fairly massive structural plants to compete with that many composites, but it could work…

  4. Summer! Yes, those cypress are key – since the garden really has no gravitas yet, the trees provide a sense of mystery that balances out the super-cheerful sunshine-y thing going on below. It is beautiful what the wind does to those trees.

    yes – nature does do this floral tapestry … but I’m really looking at the hand of the gardener here – this wasn’t a wildflower scatter garden (funnily, though, about 4 years ago, that is EXACTLY what was here – a scattergarden of wildflowers, and it was MUCH more successful in an obvious way. I blogged about it for Domino – I wish I could re-post it. Maybe I will!), somebody made these choices and for me, they shouldn’t have worked – but I found delight in this garden. I want to know why I liked this one – and others like it leave me cold. Maybe you have a point – the trees and the bay CAN’T be separated from this planting – they provide the most incredible backdrop!
    I’ve always loved planting fluffy next to structure – my favorite combo in my garden right now is my sharkskin agave and erigeron karvinskianus (santa barbara daisy) – but frills and fluff on THIS scale need something more, I agree – like 7 huge Agave fransozinii! Yeah!

  5. You know I like flowers, Germi. I adore those daisies but usually go for echinacea myself. Add an agave to that last picture, and it’s totally me too! I like your point about the softness of this garden and its repeated elements–different from the architectural plants we favor, but totally charming.

  6. Love any garden with those flat topped cypresses….my fav! Anyway, put a link to this post up on my web site. Your photos are very nice, it’s like you can almost smell the salt air.

  7. Thanks for the enlightening, and explicit, discussion of philosophy of garden structure — what works, doesn’t and why.

  8. Suasoria says:

    Thanks, now I want to get out of town so badly I could cry. What a charming place. Room rates aren’t on their site…I guess if you have to ask, you can’t afford it!

    In other news, I hate Yahoo’s blog reader, which is supposed to email me when there is a new post. Bah.

  9. Suasoria says:

    Never mind, I found the rates. Reasonable!

  10. Looks like you caught the garden at it’s peak week.


  11. What a trip down memory lane for me! I lived about 10 blocks from this hotel and loved going on long walks along that particular stretch of coastline. It’s so nice to see these charming hotels finally taking advantage of their incredible climate and planting gardens! Thank you for taking the time to ‘dissect’ this garden in such a beautiful way, breaking down the elements & explaining WHY it works so well!

    p.s. did you get a chance to go down the road to visit Los Osos Valley Nursery? It used to be a great place for unusual varieties + awesome views…..

  12. What a beautiful scenery. Loves the wonderful views.