Form and Foliage Takes a Road Trip: First Stop, Sonoma County CA

By Sara Malone
Western Hills We've been silent for a couple of months as we've been visiting landmark gardens in the Pacific Northwest and California. Working backwards in time, we will begin by sharing some images of California gardens that we toured with the American Conifer Society's Western Regional Conference, held in Sonoma County, CA last weekend. 50 conifer enthusiasts from around the country gathered to visit two iconic gardens--Western Hills and Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a private garden--Circle Oak Ranch, and Cornerstone Gardens--a multi-garden 'installation' by a variety of notable garden designers, landscape architects and artists. Color combinations of conifers Western Hills was our first stop, and the new owners, Chris and Tim Szybalski, have done a wonderful job of restoring this legendary garden. The trees are now roughly 50 years old and have turned what was originally a sunny plot into a shade garden. An enormous Cupressus macrocarpa 'Conybearii Aurea', for instance, shows no golden foliage on its lower branches where it grows in the shade of the other trees. From a choice viewing spot across the garden, however, its golden crown glows amidst the green and blue foliage. Note the blooming Erythrina in front - a rare specimen that doesn't often attain significant size here in Sonoma County, where it is occasionally subject to freezing. color wheel combinations In a broader shot taken from the same spot, the enormous variety of foliage colors, textures and forms is evident. The Cupressus torulosa 'Cashmeriana' (center right) provides weeping interest and the Loropetalum with its purple foliage contrasts smartly with the dominant green theme. Interesting bark The Western Hills of old was far more floriferous than today's garden. During the troubled years of foreclosure and neglect, maintaining the perennials became difficult and the volunteer brigade concentrated on saving the trees and shrubs. Rather than succumbing to the tendency to mourn the passing of garden's illustrious past, we viewed the garden with a fresh eye, and it is a beautiful place, full of a wide range of interesting specimens that display more form and structure than in prior years. In the photo above, for example, the shining bark of the cherry on the left and the bold spikes of the Dasylirion on the right make strong statements amongst shades of green. Western Hills The Abutilon 'Dwarf Red' in the above photo is one of the unusual plants that Western Hills Nursery had featured--it has a densely branching habit that makes it much more compact and well-behaved in the garden than most Abutilon. We are happy to say that we have several here at Circle Oak, all from the original plant purchased at Western Hills 15 years ago. Our last shot of Western Hills Garden features an Acer p. 'Sango Kaku' in fiery orange fall foliage, set off by a plummy Cordyline, with Dasylirion, Euphorbia and Cotinus in front to provide texture. For anyone in or visiting the Bay Area, Western Hills Garden is now open on Saturdays or by appointment: American Conifer Society Our next stop was our own gardens at Circle Oak Ranch. Since we have featured this garden in virtually all of our posts, Jan concentrated on shots of the American Conifer Society members enjoying themselves in the garden. Although this was a Western Region conference, conifers lovers came from all over the country to enjoy the Sonoma Wine Country in the mild autumn weather. Accompanied by Phormiums, Leucadendron and Leptospermum, the conifers took on different personalities than those from colder zones were used to seeing! Asian plants, plant conservation We spent a gorgeous afternoon at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen. Quarryhill is dedicated to the preservation of Asian plant species, and the vast majority of the garden's plants were grown from wild-collected seed in China, Japan, India and other parts of Asia. Quarryhill has received international recognition for its efforts and is a must-see for any serious plant lover. Asian plants For conifer lovers there was much to admire, including a witch's broom in a large Pinus densiflora. The garden is replete with deciduous trees, as well, making the fall foliage display here one of the loveliest in the Bay Area. Asian plants Since the plants at Quarryhill are from wild-collected seed, there are virtually no named varieties (the majority of the conifers that we plant in our gardens are named varieties, or cultivars). It was fun to see all of the species, many of which have attained significant size in the garden's 25 years. The conifers in the Pinetum are all labeled, making it a great learning spot for anyone interested in comparing and contrasting the different genera. The trees at Quarryhill dominate in autumn, when most of the flowering plants are dormant. The dramatic bark on this China berry makes a striking statement even when the tree is leafless. Perhaps even more important than Quarryhill's worldwide significance, however, is that it is a simply glorious place to spend an afternoon: Next stop: Notable gardens of the Pacific Northwest, including Coenosium Gardens, Buchholz & Buchholz, Iseli and The Oregon Garden
Copyright 2012 by Sara B Malone and Janice M LeCocq