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Garden Designers BlogLink: Celebrating Regional Diversity, or – “If You’re Not In The Climate You Love, Love The Climate You’re In !!!”

by germinatrix | January 6th, 2010

this never was the garden of my dreams...

this never was the garden of my dreams...

Longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill famously said “All politics is local”. Well, to take a tip from Tip, I’d like to proclaim that All Gardening is Regional! Today I am joining several bloggers from across the country to celebrate regional diversity, a subject that is near and dear to my heart, since I believe I became a ‘real’ gardener only when I finally accepted the limitations of my climate.

I wanted something very different...

I wanted something very different...

See, as a baby gardener I was in severe zone denial. My idol  was Penelope Hobhouse; I looked to English gardens like Tintinhull, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter as models of what my small suburban garden in Los Angeles, California should look like. Talk about being defeated before I even began!

I wanted the texture and color I saw in books...

I wanted the texture and color I saw in books...

And the nursery industry didn’t help me much either! Back then, I shopped at larger garden centers, and they had no problem at all selling me plants that would never thrive in my climate – plants that were grown in other parts of the country and shipped in, with accompanying tags that said ‘full sun’ or ‘part shade’, and little else. Of course, when I put my Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland’s Gold’ in full sun, it frizzled up and died within days. I couldn’t grow a peony here to save my life – but they were sold to me, over and over, as were so many of the other plants that made up the English Garden of my dreams,all of them doomed to failure in my LA heat.

I wanted beautiful flowers to thrive and grow wild

I wanted beautiful flowers to thrive and grow wild

flowers going wild...

flowers going wild...

I had to re-think. I had to open my eyes to where it was I actually lived. A desert! But I didn’t WANT a desert garden, I’d silently whine, full of petulance and stamping an imaginary foot. I wanted lush, I wanted color, complexity and passion – I wanted expressiveness. I didn’t want to be restricted! What I NEEDED, however, was to re-educate my eye. It seems so obvious to me now to put foliage and form above flower in my garden – but back then all I wanted was … HYDRANGEAS! The very fact that nurseries in SoCal sell hydrangeas makes me LIVID! Our biggest challenge here – in a city that has all of its water piped in from far away- is DROUGHT! Selling a plant with the latin word for “water” as the beginning of its name is just plain mean. This was a big realization for me. I stopped buying plants at garden centers and and large retail nurseries and began prowling local growers and plant brokers.

no, it's not a hydrangea - but I like it even better, now...

no, it's not a hydrangea - but I like it even better, now...

My re-education meant to stop looking to a climate so very different from mine for inspiration. If you live in Long Island, then you can use Tintinhull as a template for your garden, but I needed to look to Australia, South Africa, the mountains of Mexico, and the Mediterranean- regions with similar climates to the one I live in. I couldn’t use many of the plants I craved, so I tried to pinpoint what I loved about those plants and then replace them with plants  I could use – case in point, the hydrangeas. What I really loved about them were those big, cone-like blooms, so I decided that the odd, dome-shaped blossoms of Euphorbias would substitute nicely. I ADORED the palmate leaf of Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland’s Gold’(my one attempt long ago dead and composted), but I found that the intensely cut leaf of Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ satisfied my textural desires. Agaves and aloes have become such an important part of my garden palette I now find myself feeling badly for those who can’t use them! And the COLORS – echeverias and sedums, with their awesome variety of colors are as satisfying as any of the cottage-y flowers I used to crave.

blooming aloes, blooming agaves, blooming grasses- this is the garden I have...

blooming aloes, blooming agaves, blooming grasses- this is the garden I have...

I wanted something very different...

I wanted something very different...

Now, my garden is firmly rooted in the reality of Southern California. It is drought tolerant, full of grasses, succulents, and cactus, but the eclectic spirit of California is fully represented. There are flowers, but they are here to attract birds and bees rather than stares and gasps. It took me a while, but I learned to love my climate so much that I can’t imagine trading it in for that erstwhile dream cottage in the Cotswolds. Give me my little Spanish bungalow where the days are hot and the nights are cool, and where landscaping for the occasional fire is a reality. This region has refined my eye and defined my style, and for that I embrace it. I still love the look of dramatic English gardens, and if you look at my garden and squint, you can see a teensy weensy bit of that old Tintinhull dream – but I have to admit … I like the reality better!

... but my climate knew better! Thanks Sunset zone 23! You ROCK!

... but my climate knew better! Thanks Sunset zone 23! You ROCK!

Now have a ball blog-hopping around the country, celebrating regional diversity with this great group!

Jocelyn Chilvers, Wheat Ridge, CO – The Art Garden

Susan Cohan, Chatham, NJ - Miss Rumphius’ Rules

Michelle Derviss, Novato, CA - Garden Porn

Tara Dillard, Stone Mountain, GA - Landscape Design Decorating Styling

Dan Eskelson, Priest River, ID - Clearwater Landscapes Garden Journal

Scott Hokunson, Granby, CT - Blue Heron Landscapes

Susan L. Morrison, San Francisco Bay Area - Blue Planet Garden Blog

Pam Penick, Austin, TX - Digging

Laura Schaub, San Jose, CA - Interleafings

Susan Schlenger, Charlottesville, VA - Landscape Design Advice

Genevieve Schmidt, Arcata, CA - North Coast Gardening

Rebecca Sweet, Los Altos, CA - Gossip in the Garden

29 Responses to “Garden Designers BlogLink: Celebrating Regional Diversity, or – “If You’re Not In The Climate You Love, Love The Climate You’re In !!!””

  1. I knew you’d knock this one out of the park, Germi! Bravo! I tried Peonies, as well, for years before I knew better…trusting those darn nurseries to know what was best for us beginning gardeners. What a laugh!!

    Your garden is absolutely representative of California – fun, kinda crazy, as diverse as it can possibly be, and totally unique – there’s not another one like it around.

  2. Germi, what luscious photos and a story I think most CA gardeners can relate to. I’m in a rainy climate so water conservation isn’t such a big deal here as it is pretty lush naturally, but I think in any climate we have our bugbears and with TV and big box stores subtly and not-so-subtly encouraging the “traditional” garden with roses, lilacs, peonies, Hydrangeas, etc, it can be hard to find out what really works in our own region.

    As for my bugbear, it’s rot. All that lush rain makes for a lot of rotting stems and roots of plants that other places grow well. We do great woodland plants, though, as most of them are happy enough with dampness much of the year.

  3. As always you make your points beautifully and EXHUBERANTLY! But while part of me was nodding my head at all the wonderful points you made, another part of me was thinking “hmm maybe it IS warm enough for me to have Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ in my Northern California garden.

    It’s not.

    Zone denial is a life long addiction.

  4. Ivette,
    Fantastic photos . Love the size of them, makes me want to switch blog platforms!
    I loved learning about how your style and plant palette has evolved.

    The Hortisexuals are planning a trip down to LA this summer and I hope that I might have a chance to swing by your garden to meet you and see your fantastic garden.

    In the mean time, I’ll keep admiring your planted paradise from the web.

    Thanks for the tour.

    Michelle

  5. Scott Hokunson says:

    Ivette, the transformation from what you first wanted to what you ended up with is amazing, and your designs stunning! Looking to other parts of the world with similar climates is something more reality challenged gardeners should do. Love the pics!

  6. Ack, zone denial, zone limitations?! You’re killing me, Germi. I love those cool, lush English gardens too, but I REALLY love those hot, spiky, dramatic, mysteriously out-of-this-world L.A. gardens. You’ve certainly come 180 degrees from where you started, and you give us drool-inducing pics every time you post. Thanks for a wonderful post on regional diversity in the garden.

  7. Susan spoke for me: Zone denial is a life long addiction. I fail miserably at this “Love The Climate You’re In” idea. I wonder will I someday come around or will I move to the climate I love?

  8. OMG your plants and garden are AMAZING! Now I have zone/plant envy for sure. But seriously, some great tips on how to break out of the rut…thanks!

  9. Ivette…love your philosophy and how you make it even better than those English dreams. I too love the gardens of those famous British ones, yet what you have done and the way you explained your journey is heartwarming….and beautiful! Thanks for a great post and lovely photos.

  10. Germi–I want what you have in ‘Something very Different’ but can only have it in pots two months a year. Hot colors, exotic foliage and year ’round interest are but a dream here. I don’t have Zonal Denial…I have Zonal Envy Syndrome and only an Agave or an Aeonium will heal me! I’ll trade my peonies any day…but alas I love my history and old buildings and lush summer days too. What’s a poor designer to do?

  11. Thanks for your post, Ivette,

    You had already won me over in a previous email as you described how you “wave your arms” as you describe your design vision to clients – very cool, and a vision that I must pursue as an isolated, somewhat introverted designer.

    BTW, I grew up and learned to garden not too far from you, in La Canada…right across the street from Descanso Gardens. I look forward to returning one day to stroll through the gardens during Camellia bloom.

    BTW, I have added your blog link to my Blogroll.

    Thanks again for your excellent post.

    Dan

  12. Wonderful, wonderful, and I would argue that your garden must attract JUST as many stares and gasps as it does birds and bees! As Susan M mentioned, zone denial is alive and well, even in zone 8…how many Brugmansia do I have to lose before I get a clue? I am SO looking forward to you bringing your EXUBERANCE up here to NorCal for the SF Garden Show; you will light up the place!

  13. What a great argument for embracing plants that our climates support! Your plant combinations are gorgeous Ivette.

    I fell into the same trap as you did early in my gardening days. I longed for the English garden and then realized, “I ain’t in England..or back East, for that matter!”

    I love the options we have as your garden so eloquently represents!

    Shirley Bovshow
    Garden World Report

  14. WOW! What an amazing garden. Thanks for giving us a peak into your world.

  15. Enjoyed reading your post. I do think you are lucky with being able to grow cactus and succulents and have them all look good year round. We went to the Huntington yesterday and I just drooled over the cactus garden. Then Descanso and Rancho Santa Ana today. What a contrast but we loved the manzanita in flower and so many kinds. I think I’ll be taking a new look at my garden when I get home as frigid temps. will have put paid to many plants this year.

  16. Germi – such a fabulous post. As all your other commenters have said, your photos are truly drool-inducing (where’s my napkin?). I *do* love my region… but I’d still love your agaves and cacti, if only for a season. Trade you for a Japanese maple?

  17. I can’t believe it! I can sooooo identify with your post!

    Love gardening and totally subscribed to all the magazines–you know the ones–showing all the fabulous and fine gardens east of the Mississippi and maybe NORTHERN California. Continual bloom, continual color, easy to grow, plant in full sun, etc.

    I would order these things non-stop for years and wind up with fricasseed flora by the time Summer sizzled out with a final Fall stomp of 100 degree weather in late September.

    I finally came to the really, really reluctant, but unavoidable conclusion that Southern California is not east of the Mississippi nor is it England, sigh.

    So, like you, I had a change of heart and mind. I settled on plants that love decomposed granite, heat, full sun, and almost no care. Stuff like Mexican Sage, Mexican Marigold, artemisia, geraniums, society garlic, rosemary, ground cover morning glory, daylilies, coreopsis. I kept some roses that I love, even though they are constantly saying, “I’m hot! I’m hungry!” So they are the only things I baby along and it’s not overwhelming!

    Thank you for the inspiration and some new things to consider for my garden–succulents!

    Blessings
    Sindy

  18. so well said, and such an amazing garden to back it up! is the photo of the stipas at your house? to die for! don’t you love living in southern california?!! :)

  19. WOA! Okay, settle in everyone – this is going to be a MONSTER of a reply, cuz you all know how I LOVE to go on (and on, and on…)!!!

    Sweet Rebecca! (I will ALWAYS reverse your name, like your twitter handle. I’s just TOO perfect!) Nurseries… ARG! I have a fantasy of opening one so I can have EXACTLY what I want! And of #1 importance – only plants that thrive in the local climate! Wait, that is a lie – of #1 importance is a Cappuccino Bar, who am I kidding? BTW, I have to say that I SO agree with you about really disliking the topiary bashing thing! I find them whimsical and fun! I don’t like being mean about something that has obviously taken though. The ‘default’ shearing of all shrubs into boxes is another thing – but I loved you bringing up topiaries on your post! Kudos, Brain Twin!

    Gen! Hi! I can’t even IMAGINE not worrying about water! Wonder it must be to have ROT as a concern! Having grown up in South Texas and then moving to Southern California, I really only know dry. The first time I went up to Northern California and went for a hike I almost had a seizure! I swear I’d never seen those colors of green – intense, bright, vibrant GREEN! It was like my eyes were drinking. Lucky you – gardening where you do. This bloglink has made me realize that we are ALL lucky that we garden where we do!

    SusanChick! HAhahaha! You are right – Zone denial will NEVER go away! I’ve been doing the same thing as I’m looking at everyone’s posts – Tara’s photo of the hydrangea! The familiar feeling was tickling at the edges of my brain…
    Not even a teensy Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ up there? Sigh!

    Michelle D., let me know when the Hortisexuals are planning their visit, and you and I will probably end up talking plants forever! My crazy travel schedule should be letting up, so the timing should work. Thanks for the comment about the pictures – I wish my photo skills were better, but it takes a while to get to the level of someone like Pam/Digging! I admit to loving garden photos big, I like to feel like I’m almost IN the garden!

    Thank You so much Scott, and thanks for wrangling this Bloglink! So fun, and I am really broadening my horizons! Internet magic!

    Pam dear! You know, when I moved to LA, I never even THOUGHT about gardening! For me, gardening opened my eyes to just about everything – before that, I was strictly verbal/emotional (Like most actors) and rarely really LOOKED at anything. My whole adventure in gardening has been about sharpening my eye – now I feel like I am REALLY looking. Seeing things regionally is a big victory! We are so alike, but you had the regional revelation much earlier than me. I’m stubborn. But aren’t we so happy we had these epiphanies? And with the help of my fabulous blogfriends like you, I am still learning! XO!

    Oh, Loree! But I TOTALLY support you in your zone denial! EVERYONE, listen up! Loree is allowed to have zone denial, because she has FABULOUS taste in plants! And your zone denial doesn’t cause you to waste water and use chemicals, it just gives you more work (I’m sure … “just”!) – and if you didn’t have to cover up your phormiums, you wouldn’t have that super-cool space-age front yard bondage garden!

    Thanks Jocelyn! Yes, these posts have ignited my zone denial, too! What are we going to do? Gardenswaps? One week out of the year, we get to switch gardens to the zone most coveted? Hmmm…

    Thank you for the sweet words, Susan! (You get to be Susan, SusanCohan is Susancohan, and Susan Morrison is SusanChick for the purposes of this reply) The desire for English gardens is powerful, isn’t it? I hope, one day, to be free of it – but I doubt it! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Likewise!

    Susancohan! You instigator, you! Regionality’s ears must be burning today, thanks to you! About Zonal Envy Syndrome, what CAN we do? Sigh! All I can say is THANK GOD for pots! MWAH!

    Oh, DAN! The CAMELLIAS at Descanso! Very soon, they are going to start in earnest! I must say, you opened my eyes in the biggest way – that waterfall was incredible!
    If you are going to start waving your arms around, make sure that your clients are standing far away from you, because once I caused a client to spill coffee (iced, thankfully) on themselves because I suddenly had to make a crazy gesture. (adding you to my blogroll, too!)

    Laura, Sister, you know I’ll be there at SFGS, Video Minion in tow!

    Hey Shirley! Thanks so much for stopping by! I wonder if all of us who fall hard for garden design go through the English Garden Lust? How could we not? Until recently, almost all of the books were all England, all the time! Thank goodness things have been changing for the better, right?

    Oh Jenny! You’re here! Are you enjoying the aloe blooms? They start right now, with the huge clumps of Aloe arborescens looking like they are on FIRE! You are getting a great hit of SoCal – the weather has been gorgeous! I trust your Agave desmettianas are sheltered, and I hope the freezes in Austin aren’t hurting that garden of yours I adore so much!

    YAY Andrea! Hi Doll! Thanks for drooling – I accept all forms of compliments! And I’ll take a Japanese Maple anytime – but – sigh … you know… climate issues. Oh well! I’ll just look at YOUR pics and get my kicks that way! XOXO!

    Sindy, stop by ANYTIME! I loved your comment! “fricasseed flora”! Hahahaha! Our journeys have totally mirrored each others- thank goodness we came out the other end not so much worse for the wear (although the same thing can’t be said about my bank account!) Your plant palette sounds scrumptious – and i think babying along a couple of whiny- but- beautiful plants is totally acceptable! We cant be ALL good, that would be boring! Please come back and keep on commenting! You’re a riot!

    Hi Vanessa! The stipas are great, aren’t they? I LOVE a stipa meadow! Thank you for the lovely comment, and YES! I ADORE living in SoCal!

  20. Katharine says:

    What an excellent post. I so identify with the zone denial. I am happy to say I am pretty much over it now. I am very lucky that I shop at small independent garden store that is organic and grows and sells plants that will actually thrive where I live (West Texas)! I have learned to embrace euphorbias. Please, what are those gorgeous purple things in the second photo and in what zones do they grow!

  21. Uhhh, do great minds think alike, my sweet, enchanting Germi?!?

    Over at Teza’s blog, we’ve got a new forum going as of the 7th of January, and Teza assigned ‘Zonal Denial’ as our first topic.

    We’re already one week into the New Year… time is flying by.
    Your videos are looking to be one of the best things about 2010.

    Can you drop by Marin County on Thursday, when I giving a talk?
    Wouldn’t that just be too cool. xoxoxxox tendril

  22. Your place looks beautiful Ivette! while you swooned at Sissinghurst I was swooning at Lotusland. That’s what makes traveling and visiting gardens so much fun.

    You’re right. When we first start out we gardeners want to replicate everything we admire out there no matter whether it’s suitable or not. I believe that as we gain experience and maturity we realize we don’t have to own it, we can always go pay a visit and still be enthralled (and satisfied).
    xo

  23. Oh gosh, it took me years to get over moving from Iowa to South Tx. Of course, the fact that so many gardening books are published in the Midwest didn’t help at all, and of course, the big box growers were pushing their wares on us.

    Next problem: moving from South Tx to Houston. We have a bit more rain and really really bad drainage. Fortunately, we also have places that sell very large pots so I can have a few indulgences.

  24. Oh Ivette! your hydrangea comment made me laugh out loud. It is mean to seel them in LA. You can come up and visit mine anytime. I have two oakleaf ones!

  25. This s just too beautiful

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