In the Gardens of Land and Sea
High on the floodplain of the Russian River and Feliz Creek, Kate Frey’s house in Hopland, California, is covered in grape vines, wisteria and autumn clematis. Her garden is studded with funky buildings and architectural elements created by her husband Ben and guarded by gentle dogs. Ben built the house just seven years ago but, like Kate’s exuberant garden, it looks like it’s been there forever.
Kate, a landscape designer and educator, trains gardeners for other people, teaches Master Gardeners classes and co-owns Frey Gardens with Ben.
A bark chip path bisects experimental gardens where Kate can see what grows well in this inland climate away from coastal influence. Here, summers are hot and winters are cold, much like East Coast weather.
Past a hedgerow of black locust, Russian olive, wild plum and Atlas cedar, a new habitat garden for bees, pollinators, beneficial insects and birds tests the power of plants. Past a trellis covered in wisteria, trumpet vine and akebia, an abstract potager appears with flowers…purple tansy, fried egg plant and exotic honey bush. Kate’s favorite bee attractors include blue Rocky Mountain penstemon, feverfew, horehound, sunflowers and red hot poker among her 33 bird houses.
Kate participated in the Japan World Garden Competition, made a garden in Malaysia and one in Saudi Arabia, and took one Silver and two Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. She got into the Chelsea show while working for nearby Fetzer Vineyards. “Europeans thought everything we were doing here would appeal to English gardeners,” she says. “We wanted to talk about what we were doing here. The picture we wanted to create was a vineyard.” With 157,000 visitors, the show is the biggest media and social event attended by the Queen and celebrities. “Businesses like to sponsor gardens there. It is a huge media festival with high stakes and very expensive. Each of the 25 large gardens cost $1 million.” Her winning habitat garden included weeds, wild flowers, agricultural plants and Ben’s creative handiwork.
In nearby Philo, a meadow of Spanish heather spills down a mountainside in the garden of Jane Miller, horticulturist/educator, and husband Patrick Miller, landscape architect. The drive up is exciting, nature as you see it on TV – a steep, skinny dirt road up a mountainside, room for one car. As when standing on the edge of the headlands, I began to wonder about the logistics of fleeing if necessary.
The house is a converted barn, ultra modern lines inside with aluminum materials and lots of glass for great views across the valley of vineyards and coast redwood forest. But au contraire! Says Ms. Miller: " We had it (the barn) built from the ground up with all new materials - but always wanted it to fit in and look like it belonged in the valley, so we are delighted that was the impression you had!" Surround yourself in Spanish heather on the wooden steps down the mountain.
Native plants fill the rest of the garden as Nature intended. Manzanita, grasses, lichen-encrusted spreading oaks and wooden sculptures – modern made from old materials just as the house is, just as the entire garden is brought to civilization with old, modernized steps and a mountainside meadow of purple.
Right on the edge of the headlands and sea in Little River, the home of Olivia and John Hasty sets neatly among the rock of an ancient quarry. Its proximity to the Pacific Ocean offers drama, great beauty and expression. Almost vertical bluffs descend to the sea. Wild flowers drape their surface.
Beyond the house, on the leeward side, an enclosed formal, French garden offers energy equal to the crashing waves against the bluffs. Clipped hedges and walls of Leyland cypress, geometric boxwood-bordered beds, statuary on an axis enclose the visitor. The Land of Make Believe.
On the walk down to the garden, the drive is bordered by gardens – rhododendron, hellebore, roses, foxglove, alstromeria like I’ve never seen, iris until around the corner, the grand surprise. pale pink and white erigeron, aka Santa Barbara daisy edges lawn. It’s related to our wild fleabane. It entrances me.
A gaze upward reveals tall hedges, each made of three Leyland cypress and each with an arch to walk though cut out of them. Tiny, adorable purple flowers of Kenilworth Ivy grow among the boxwood.
Among the maze of beds and borders, over 290 dahlias of 260 varieties add colorful cheer during late summer.
Fried egg plant, Limnanthes douglasii
Purple tansy, Phacelia tanacetifolia
Blue Rocky Mountain penstemon, Penstemon strictus
Santa Barbara Daisy Erigeron karvinskianus
Kenilworth Ivy Cymbalaria muralis
Leyland Cypress Cupressus × leylandii
Rock Rose Cistus albidus
** Mary Jasch photos
All gardens are in the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program
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published August 20, 2014