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mendocino coast botanical gardens california heather garden conifer collection coastal bluffs headlands of pacific ocean

In the Garden of Sensuous Delight

by Mary Jasch

In the Heather Garden at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in coastal Fort Bragg, California, hills of heath and heather undulate and mound amid the native Bishop Pines. Nearby, blossoms of tender species rhododendron from the Himalayas and Southeast Asia perfume the air. Sculptures adorn the gardens but play third best to the plants and settings in this primordial-looking landscape.

Walking to the Conifer Collection I pass rhododendrons laden with felted, sprightly new growth and then a multitude of camellias. The Conifer Collection is enclosed by woodland, as are many of the garden areas, and in its center a low-growing Abies fabri glows with the deepest blue upright cones.

White poppies, yellow poppies, orange and bi-color are eye-catchers along the trail but I detour for fragrance. A pale pink Rhododendron maddenii, 10 feet tall and covered in pink trumpets drowns me in perfume. I stay awhile to sniff and sigh. Then, I spot white lychnis!

I take the North Trail to the headlands. Here, along Fern Creek Canyon, the view is prehistoric and the mood changes to wild. Bishop Pines rise through big leaf rhododendron. I walk through ferns as tall as me, mahonia, rhodies, pine and tanoak and a 10ish-foot rounded camellia blooming red all over. Was the Jack of Hearts here?

The scent turns to grasses, earth and its microbes, and wood. I envision a new cologne for men: “Pacific Woodland.”

Up to the headlands tall foxglove blooms in forest gaps and salal flowers everywhere on the ground. Salal is a shrubby, native groundcover in West Coast forests, but it is harvested for East Coast florist “greens.”

I reach the headlands above the Pacific Ocean and suddenly, sky, rock and sea fill my vision. Wild flowers spill down the bluffs, the reason I have come. Magnificent!

A subspecies of the native yellow poppy on the headlands has flattish, silvery leaves and bright yellow flowers with an orange throat. Eschscholzia californica ‘subsp. californica var. ‘maritime’ is usually described as being farther south, but it is here, too. There is disagreement regarding the subspecies and varieties of E. californica.

Standing inches from the edge, my legs weaken and heart races. Survival instinct makes me quickly wonder: can I back up without tripping or should I turn around when I want to move?

Back on land without edges, I head to the cultivated part of MCBG for the Heritage Rose Garden and discover Rosa ‘Sally Holmes,’ fragrant with clusters of white blossoms almost the size of soccer balls. Families brought these roses from far away to their homes on the Mendocino coast so long ago. I think of two local sisters who rescued the roses from the long-abandoned homesteads and highways where they were, as time went by, left behind. With many of them, the sisters founded the Heritage Rose Garden.

In the Perennial Garden, designed by Gary Ratway (owner of Digging Dog Nursery with his wife Deborah), grass paths flow around island beds. A stream of raspberry arctotis fronts purple Turkish Delight Hebe and, nearby, a silvery mat of New Zealand Scab Plant begs to be touched.

On another trail, furry boughs of larch drape against Red Vulcan rhododendron and Yunan pine with monster candles in a garden of large evergreens. Camellia ‘Curtain Call’ and others huge with trunks the size of a man’s torso tower over spreading Camellia tsaii var. ‘tsaii’ with small pointed, reddish leaves and Camellia cordifolia, a groundcover. Fragrant Rhododendron parryae is a show stopper with peeling red bark and red bud scales.

Rhododendron maddenii is my new luscious favorite. Although I am not near it, a light breeze brings it to me like a spritz of delicate perfume. Pale pink poppies mark the edge of a bed of tall, dark, Slender Tea-tree from Australia.

The Succulent Garden contains over 150 species of succulents, cacti and euphorbia including South African Cape Aloe and a mound of the bromeliad, Dyckia brevifolia with orange spikes. Colors abound: lemon “Wheel Cactus” flowers, cream poppies, orange aloe on dark leaves like lipstick tubes, orange torch lily and big white beards of tall Old Man cactus framed by purple cushions of ice plant.

Into the other side of the prehistoric jungle we go. Pines so tall with bare boles take my breath away. Pink-purple fuschia, planted by fuschia fans decades ago, grow four feet tall in the shade. Eucalyptus as tall as the pines…

The trees lead the way to a hilltop vegetable garden. In an opening in the primeval wood, a garden of sensual delights appears, bedecked by flowers. White roses flounce over fences by fragrant yellow phlomis. Hummingbirds and swallows hover and zoom between the trees and over raised beds of veggies. Fruit trees and blue flowered shrubs that mimic hydrangeas decorate other fences. Hills of nicotiana, dark-leaved yellow-blossomed mustard, foxglove, alstromeria, borage, dahlia, euphorbia, calendula – all in the vegetable garden.

On the way out of the garden, still the scent on the breeze of pink trumpet maddenii. Coast banksia with thick trunks rise gracefully with silver leaves and yellow-flowered cones. A hummingbird comes to check out the native grass gone to golden seed but finding nothing it chirps away to a white azalea.

A Few Interesting Plants
Big Leaf Rhododendron - Rhododendron macrophyllum
Broom Restio - Ischyrolepis subverticillata from South Africa.
Coast Banksia - Banksia integrifolia
Faber’s Fir - Abies fabric
False Heath - Fabiana imbricola ‘Violaceae’
Ice Plant - Drosanthemum floribundum
New Zealand Scab Plant - Raoulia australis
Old Man Cactus - Cephalocereus senilis
Salal - Gaultheria shallon
Slender Tea-tree - Leptospermum brevipes
South African Cape Aloe - Aloe ferox
Tanoak - Notholithocarpus densiflorus
Wheel Cactus - Opuntia robusta
White Rose Campion - Lychnis coronaria

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens:
** Mary Jasch photos

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published July 28, 2014

Photos to enlarge

Sound Tree by Diego Harris in the Heather Garden at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Faber’s Fir, Abies fabri

Tender, fragrant Rhododendron maddenii

Pacific Coast Iris and Salal flowers, Gaultheria shallon

The North Trail to the headlands and bluffs of the Pacific Ocean

Lavender ice plant on the edge of the cliff

Eschscholzia californica ‘subsp. californica var. ‘maritime’

On the edge of the continent with dried seed heads of wild flowers.

Kelp on the rocks, anyone?

Rosa 'Sally Holmes' in the Heritage Rose Garden

Surrounded by tall Bishop Pine

Yellow roses and yellow phlomis perfume the vegetable garden at MCBG.

Grass paths through island beds in the Perennial Garden.

Arctotis, dark hebe and art in the Perennial Garden

White New Zealand Scab Plant - Raoulia australis

Cacti and Succulent Garden

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