Friday, June 26, 2020

After three months away...

Back in March I was still actively serving as a docent at South Coast Botanic Garden and involved, along with two other docents, in a project to resurrect the dahlia garden there.  When all volunteers were furloughed in mid-March as part of the garden's response to the coronavirus pandemic those activities came to a relatively abrupt halt, although the garden itself remained open to visitors (with advance reservations, masks, and physical distancing).  I finally decided to pay a visit on my own this week.  I reserved an early morning slot, grabbed my face mask and camera, and headed on over.

Even following all the safety guidelines, I still felt as if I was engaged in some transgression, like trespassing or playing hooky from school, but then I feel much the same way every time I go to the supermarket.  There were other visitors but the garden is 87 acres so it wasn't hard to keep my distance.  Still, I spun through my visit in about an hour, clicking photos as I went.  This post covers what I thought worth sharing.  I should mention that the garden employs only four gardeners and a lot of maintenance is normally performed by volunteers.  After an absence of over three months, it's showing the impact of their absence in many areas but I've generally focused on the positives.

This is the courtyard at the entrance of the garden.  In the past, plants offered for sale filled the area showed in the central photo.

This is the only decent photo of the Japanese Garden but it and the Fuchsia Garden beyond looked pretty good

Shortly before the lockdown, SCBG had leveled this large section of the Volunteer Garden to prepare a new formal garden (if I remember the plan correctly).  Now it's a dust bowl.

This is the Dahlia Garden.  Another docent and I dug up the beds to clear weeds and add planting mix before the lockdown.  We delivered 49 dahlia tubers and labels and a suggested planting plan to garden staff in early April, leaving the garden's staff to plant and tend the dahlias.

We don't know when the tubers were planted or whether they were all planted at the same time but I counted just 24 sprouted tubers when I was there.  I'm not sure what the large-leafed plants in the central bed are but they're not dahlias.  The garden installed a drip system but I'm not sure they've done any pinching to encourage the plants to bush out.  Nothing is in place to support the larger plants yet but they may be waiting to see what else sprouts before placing these.

The remaining sections of the Volunteer Garden are very weedy but the tree-sized Tithonia diversifolia (aka Mexican sunflower tree) was good to see

With the exception of this nice seating area, the Vegetable Garden was also a little sad but, with only 4 gardeners, I'm sure they have to set priorities

The Living Wall, comprised of a combination of succulents and ferns, has held up remarkably well

Sadly, the Desert Garden was very weedy.  This was the nicest shot I got.

This area of the Desert Garden was one of the worst I saw.  I'm not even sure what those tall weeds are but they're obscuring the succulents here.  Clearing weeds around spiky succulents is never easy but I shuddered at the effort required to clean this up.

The newer succulent area is still relatively bare but it had fewer weeds!  Shown from left to right: a noID Aloe, Cussonia paniculata (aka mountain cabbage tree), and Pseudobombax x elliptica (aka shaving brush tree).

This is the garden's amphitheater, which I don't think I've ever featured before.  The white Brugmansia (aka angel trumpets) are in full bloom and, even after 9am in the morning, their scent was strong.

The Rose Garden offered plenty of color, even if a lot of shrubs are in serious need of deadheading

I was pleased to see a lot of parents with children in the garden

Top row: Rosa 'Julia Child' and 'Sparkle and Shine'
Middle row: 'Lady Emma Hamilton', noID, and 'Oh My!'
Bottom row: 'Love Song' and 'Twilight Zone'

Non-roses in the Rose Garden included: Agave attenuata (perhaps 'Kara's Stripes'), white-flowered Lagerostroemia indica (crape myrtle), and a bloomed out Salvia clevelandii

Just beyond the Rose Garden is the Garden for the Senses, which my friend Kay had taken on as a major project when she joined the volunteers.  Someone has been keeping it up nicely in her absence!



The Aloysia citrodora (lemon verbena, top) was most done blooming but still looking good.
The photos below highlight Pelargonium 'Copthorne' and 2 kinds of chocolate daisies (Cosmos atrosanguineus and Berlandiera lyrata), most of which Kay grew from seed.

This bed, also in the Garden of the Senses, looked spectacular!

The bed shown above features, clockwise from the upper left: Rudbeckia hirta 'Irish Spring', 3 Echinacea, Helichrysum italicum (aka curry plant), Melissa officinalis (I think, aka lemon balm) and Tanacetum parthenium (aka feverfew)

Moving beyond the Garden for the Senses, I entered the Lavender Fields, in full flower and looking better than I think they ever have before

I think that's another crape myrtle in the center and beyond that you get a glimpse of a sculpture positioned in the Mediterranean Garden, which is never at its best in mid-summer

This end of the Lavender Fields is bordered by 2 desert willows (hybrids of Chilopsis I think)

If they weren't so absolutely huge, I'd want a desert willow in my own garden

I took a quick peek at the Banyan Forest, one of my favorite parts of the garden but I didn't venture more deeply into SCBG than this, which means I covered less than half the property during my visit.  I think the white flowers you can make out in the photo on the left are those of a Eucalyptus positioned just outside the banyan area.  The photo on the right shows the roots of the Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla).


As I wrap up this post, here are a few other random shots I took in different spots of the garden.

This is a neat flower-covered tunnel, which as I recall leads back to the Garden of the Senses.    I believe the yellow flowers belong to Cassia leptophylla, a flowering tree.  I can't identify the blue flowers off-hand but the orange ones belong to Leonotis leonurus (aka lion's tail).

The little boy on the left is taking photos of the giant Dahlia 'Mystic Spirit' plants grown in a bed opposite the Rose Garden

The lovely purple-flowered plants here are Lycianthes rantonnetii (aka blue potato bush) and a smallish Jacaranda

One of the Fuchsias blooming in the Fuchsia Garden (noID)

Pink-flowered blooms include, top, mimosa trees (Albizia julibrissin), looking MUCH better than my own specimen.  On the bottom row are: Osteospermum 'Berry White', Rehmannia elata (aka Chinese foxglove), and a mix of other flowers I can't identify (one of which may be Phygelius).


As I headed out, I noticed that the garden has made arrangements to sell sandwiches and other food since I was last there.

Frankie & Elaine's had a coffee/drink stand open near the front entrance before the lockdown but I don't remember this booth featuring salads, sandwiches and other finger foods


Other than a brief exchange with a staff member who recognized me shortly after I arrived, the only one I spoke to before I left was this fellow.

He actually didn't say much - he just wanted me to move along and leave him to his digging


I went home and pulled some weeds.

That's it from me this week.  I hope you enjoy a pleasant weekend.  Stay safe.  The virus is still present and running wild, at least in the US, and it isn't time to let down your guard - or stop wearing masks to protect others.


All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


25 comments:

  1. It looks like a most beautiful and serene place to visit, even if not weeded. Just sitting anywhere there would be relaxing with beauty in every direction. I most especially like the mimosa tree. You rarely see them here in Ohio, and they remind me of my years of living in Maryland where they were common.
    Happy weekend Kris!

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    1. Those mimosa trees made me realize what poor shape my own is in, Cindy. Mine was attacked by shot-hole borers and half the multi-trunked tree died so we cut out the dead front section. The remaining tree leafed out and has some flowers but the comparison to these healthy trees is dramatic.

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  2. I bet it felt wonderful, if odd, being able to get out and stretch your legs and eyes in another garden. You know you are needed that is for sure. I was surprised to see the people in the picture with a sweater/jacket on. You must be having a cool spell.

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    1. Our marine layer (what we call "June Gloom") has returned, Lisa, so mornings are cool and damp, and depending on how long the marine layer stays in place, afternoon temperatures are lower too. I was at SCBG between 9 and 10am. However, I should note that what we think is cool enough to warrant a jacket (low to mid-60s) may not mesh with what you'd consider cool ;)

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  3. Other than the desert garden, it looks pretty great. Those 'Mystic Spirit' dahlias remind that in your climate, they're beefy perennials. Stunners! Thanks for the delightful visit.

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    1. Weeds were the big issue but some areas were definitely worse that others, Nell. We had a wetter than usual spring so more weeds developed, which complicated matters on top of the shortage of wo/man hours focused on weeding.

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  4. Lots to enjoy! Especially that being able to step out and take deep breaths.

    FB shows me Kirstenbosch staff hard at work (there volunteers do guided walks and school groups, also help with propagating)

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    1. The hard-line prohibition of volunteer support is a little perplexing given that California's government leaders have actively encouraged volunteers in places like foodbanks but I suspect the ban reflects a liability concern on the part of the garden's management team. That noted, in that the volunteers performing maintenance activities are generally well versed in performing those activities without supervision, I find it hard to understand why the garden can't employ the same spacing constraints for volunteers as they have with respect to public visitors.

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  5. Always nice to see this garden at different seasons. It must be hard to take care of 87 acres with only 4 people working and probably fewer paying guests to pay the bills. I really feel for such places dependent on volunteers and public giving. Are they going to open to volunteers again soon?

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    1. One of my fellow docents told me that the garden only has 3 full-time gardeners at present, as one was redeployed by the County and hasn't been replaced! The notice we received on June 1st said they don't expect to reactivate the volunteer program until the fall. No specific date was provided. I have to wonder if/when the docent program will return, especially given that so much of the docents' time is dedicated to supporting school tours and we still don't know what the schools will look like when the fall term starts. It would be interesting to know if other public gardens in SoCal are employing the same limitations.

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  6. Oh my, 87 acres of goodness. Too bad you had to sprint through... with such large and almost empty space it seems volunteers should be able to get back, if common sense rules are adhered to.
    The Dahlia display looks really good: I love the elevated beds. You'll have to return once the collection is in bloom. I'm off to research Dahlia 'Mystic Spirit': I love dark leafed dahlia. In my garden I grow Bishop of Llandaff (or is it mystic Enchantment?) and Bishop of York (or is it Mystic Illusion?). I can't tell... except for loving the black leafs.

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    1. I think we included 'Bishop of Llandaff' in our mix. While we repeated 10-12 varieties (because one vendor only sold tubers in bags of 2), we selected a large variety as our purpose was to introduce visitors to the range of flower colors, sizes and shapes available among dahlias. I'm a little concerned that only half have sprouted but hopefully that's because some were planted later than others (and not that they rotted due to excessive water before the sprouts emerged). We'd planned to put up informational posters and even talked about painting the shed behind the beds to make it recede but the lockdown put an end to all that.

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  7. Weren't you tempted to pull some of those weeds? What a shame that things are sort of deteriorating, it's going to take so much effort to get them back into shape!

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    1. Actually, I was kicking myself after the fact that I didn't pull some of the weeds in the dahlia garden, although they weren't particularly bad there. The weeds in the desert garden were just overwhelming, Loree.

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  8. Loree beat me to it - it would have been hard to resist making a few piles of pulled weeds. The lavender is spectacular and in pictures at least the garden is lovely.

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    1. The garden has been very clear that the volunteers are not to do any work. I probably could have picked a few weeds out in the dahlia garden as it's tucked away but the desert garden is readily visible and, as I mentioned above in response to Loree, the weeds there were just overwhelming. Ditto in the case of the volunteer garden.

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  9. It looks pretty good despite. (Well, not the Desert Garden.) Must be nice to have that so close you can volunteer. It would be a dream to have the Huntington within walking distance, but homes around there are in the upper 7 figures.

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    1. Well, SCBG isn't The Huntington but it is nice to have it close by. The land is owned by LA County and County personnel do the gardening but operating decisions appear to be largely in the hands of the Foundation. That makes it confusing to know who's in charge of setting priorities, managing expenses, etc. Even who's in charge of the volunteers has been an issue, which may be factoring into the limbo the volunteers currently find ourselves in. The hang-up has been the need to adhere to unspecified LA County health orders and Foundation "risk mitigation procedures" in supervising volunteers.

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  10. The NOID aloe might be Aloe tomentosa. I saw it blooming there last year, I think. Too hot for weeding now! Other than that, everything looks wonderful. I agree, what a wonderful place to have so close. 4 gardeners just isn't enough!

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    1. I think that's a good guess on the Aloe. Thanks Denise.

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  11. This might be the year that home gardens look better cared for than public ones. Except for the few really weedy areas the plants are still looking lovely. Just a bit on the wild side.

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    1. There were more weedy areas than I chose to show, Elaine, but with only 4 dedicated gardeners, they're doing the best they can. However, the evidence of just how dependent the garden is on volunteers was abundantly evident.

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  12. I enjoyed seeing this weeds and all. Some of those gorgeous flowering shrubs were unknown to me. I don't see why volunteers can't work in the garden as long as they stay socially distanced, it looks big enough.

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    1. I don't really understand the delay in returning volunteers to work either, Chloris (except in the case of the docents who lead tours). The garden is 87 acres in size.

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  13. Amazing detailed post . I liked the living wall the most .

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