Friday, 9 April 2010

A San Francisco post script

Back in London; fuzzy with jetlag; delighted to find that spring has arrived. Too busy out seeing stuff to blog more than twice from SF,  I'm already looking back nostalgically at some of the people and places (and trees) I encountered.
At the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, I got my first taste of the California obsession with succulents. Planted in frames, wreaths and whole carpets of them, they are perfect for the dry climate and a good gardening antidote to the astronomic cost of water, which is making Californians
seriously reconsider their love of  thirsty lawns.
The show was a great taster session for the gardening scene in North cal, which is thriving. Bumped into stateside bloggers and gardening entrepreneurs Jayme Jenkins and Theresa Loe and was flattered to find myself given minor celebrity status thanks to my contributions to the much revered Gardens Illustrated. Edible and native plants are also big gardening themes in SF. Great to see nurseries like Annie's Annuals and the excellently named Digging Dog; and I loved the Dan's Dahlias display. Also a big fan of the hypertufa pottery made by Urban FarmGirls - not least because it is so light I was able to bring a piece home with me and not pay excess baggage. 
Flora Grubb is, I'm told, quite a San Francisco character. And very big in the world of succulent walls. I didn't have the pleasure of meeting her, but I did go to her wonderful garden shop. Every city should have a Flora Grubb - it's what urban gardening needs. Great plants, containers and ideas for rooftops, terraces and the smaller plot - and great coffee and cake too: you need sugar when you're shopping.
Another SF icon is Ruth Bancroft who started her succulent garden in the 1970s. Now aged 102, she is a good advert for the benefits of gardening and an inspiration for starting her garden so late - and for being way ahead of the game. She uses cacti and succulents on a large, garden scale, like Gertrude Jekyll used perennials, grouped for shape, texture and colour. It's strange, fascinating - and spiky!

I also went out of town to visit Cornerstone. It's a very entertaining and fascinating collection of garden installations a la Chaumont, up in Sonoma. The passionate patron Teresa Raffo is intent on driving this project forward and I can't wait to see the new installations coming up this summer. It brings the gardens/art debate/condundrum up and makes a great day out - it's a very hands-on show garden experience and you get to see the work of some of the top US landscape architects all in one place: John Greenlee, James Van Sweden; and Topher Delaney to name a few.
Further north, the charming Silvina and Eric Blasen showed me a spectacular project they have been working on up in the hills around Healdsburg. It sums up California gardening beautifully - stunning views and planting combined with surrounding native oaks that dripped picturesquely with lichens: a precision planned garden in a dramatic natural setting. We travelled with the equally charming and very entertaining Marion Brenner, the west coast gardens photographer, who knows everyone there is to know in the world of landscaping.
It's fascinating how dynamic their gardening world seems: it's at the forefront of design, commanding respect and passion on many levels. Gardening California style is bold and forward thinking - we could do with a bit of that American oomph back home.

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