Southern California 1

BY JUDY WIGAND / San Diego, California, USDA Zone 10


Western Hills Nursery

16250 Coleman Valley Road Occidental, CA 95465 707-874-3731

While in Sonoma County, pay a visit to Western Hills Nursery in the coastal redwood town of Occidental, only 60 miles north of San Francisco. This superb three-acre botanical garden and specialty retail nursery is jam-packed with more unusual Mediterranean perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees growing all together than in any other place I know.

Between the Vines

Wouldn’t it be nice to visit gardens that had no strings attached, no calling ahead or appointment necessary, no fee required, leaving visitors entirely free to roam at their leisure? Well, I found such a paradise when my husband and I celebrated our anniversary in Napa and Sonoma counties—northern California’s wine country. I went with a gardener’s interest, seeking not just to taste fine wines, but to find the wineries with more to offer than a lovely entry planting leading to the tasting room.

Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa grows one of the largest lavender fields in northern California, with some four thousand impeccably maintained plants. Nearly two acres of terraced rows host two classic cultivars of lavender: ‘Provence’ and ‘Grosso’, chosen to produce the winery’s line of lavender products. The surrounding grounds hold their own with informal displays of ornamental and native grasses, herbs, shrub roses, and shade plantings covering several more acres.

Just north of Santa Rosa in Fulton is an incredibly elegant garden on the grounds of the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center (pictured). Even the entry drive leading to the parking lot is picture perfect, lined with standard roses, underplanted with masses of white evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), and set off by neatly clipped boxwood hedges. The main gardens, located on the far southern side of the winery and almost hidden from view from the tasting room’s entry, are a blend of formal and informal plantings. They employ Mediterranean perennials, including ornamental grasses, herbs, and roses. Yellow kniphofia, red penstemon, and purple-flowered Russian sage (Perovskia) add upward movement of color throughout the tapestry of lawn-covered paths and well-placed Italian cypress. This is a feel-good garden of vivid color and strong design.

Don’t visit Napa without stopping in at the estate of Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena. The grounds are lovely to stroll through, with an entry garden that was designed to be viewed by numerous visitors at a time. Repetition is a key element in the planting along each side and down the center of the terraced stone stairway. Bright red Penstemon ‘Firebird’ and six-foot-tall, purple Verbena bonariensis make a perfect combination as you climb the earth tone stairs. Drifts of yellow-striped Yucca ‘Color Guard’ highlight the plantings, as do white gaura and soft yellow-flowering phlomis.

At several wineries the transition areas between gardens and vineyards are planted in unique ways. At Kendall-Jackson, waves of Verbena bonariensis and a carpet of California poppies give a country farm appeal as the garden ends and the vineyards come into view. At Matanzas Creek, the use of tall ornamental grasses, shrubby Teucrium fruticans, and Achillea ‘Moonshine’ make a transition most fitting to the garden’s style. I found an unusual transition planting at Peju Province, a fairly new winery in Rutherford. Numerous mature sycamore trees line the extensive driveway, with gardens on one side and vineyards on the other. During the winter, while the sycamores are bare, their branches are pruned to the nubs. As the trees leaf out, they give an extreme vertical display of bright green foliage, a graceful partition from the lovely gardens to the vineyards beyond.

Napa and Sonoma is a big place. We filled a week with our winery and garden visits. But when you go, be sure to make time to break away and head north into Mendocino County, to the expansive “no strings attached” gardens of Fetzer Vineyards in Hop-land. Look for the little sign that says Garden leading away from the tasting center—you’ll be glad you did. H


Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’

‘Provence’ is undoubtedly one of the most loved and cultivated lavenders today. Its showy lilac flower spikes are ready for harvest in early summer. With minimal fertilizing, it reaches maturity within a year, growing about three feet high and wide. Give it excellent drainage, preferably planting it on amended, raised mounds of sandy loam in full sun. ‘Provence’ is most effective when planted in mass. Sources, page 96.

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