Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 23, 2009

Wistful, joyful gardener’s soul

“Gardening is the purest of human pleasures.” ~ Francis Bacon

You know you’re a gardener when a tree can make your day or can make you wistful.

I still miss the Keith Davey pistachio tree — purchased in 2002 from the bargain bin at the much-missed Saratoga Horticultural Foundation in San Martin — that stayed behind at our old house when we moved in late November. I left the new owners with instructions that if they ever decide they don’t want that quirky tree to call me and I’ll dig it out myself. That probably makes me weird. It definitely makes me a gardener.

One of the unexpected stresses of moving for me was the sudden disconnection from all of my beloved plants, and the lack of connection the existing ones at our new house. I wonder how my giant fuschia by the back door is faring. I wonder if the new owners appreciate the world’s happiest sage plant in the middle of one of the two raised vegetable beds. Does the potato vine bloom as reliably for them as it did for me? Will the butterfly bush and agapanthus blooms in late June and early July remind them of fireworks, too?

When we moved in, our new house had a completely unlandscaped back yard and a 1,100 square-foot lawn in the front. When our lawn mower died and the grass began to wave in the wind, I decided it was time to replace the lawn with low-water, no-mow plants. Now the lawn is gone, and in its place are molate red fescue (festuca rubra molate), the same plant that’s growing to the west of Morgan Hill’s library, and a few varieties of thyme, most notably caraway thyme (thymus herba barona).

Although these plants will need little attention from me or their new eco-friendly drip irrigation system after they’re established, they’re still special to my gardener’s soul. I spent a lot of time researching deer-resistant, low-water, no-mow plants. Choosing a variety of thyme, especially, took a lot of time. I settled on caraway thyme because it’s supposed to be excellent for covering large areas of ground, unlike other thyme varieties that are better suited to smaller areas, like between flagstones, and it’s also supposed to better withstand foot traffic. It was a challenge for my landscaper to locate caraway thyme in a local nursery (is Santa Cruz local?). With my daughter’s help, I mulched every plant in that 1,100-square-foot former lawn. Now, when I scan the area, I check to see how my green babies are doing instead of cursing the need to mow.

However, the back yard — naked when we bought the house save for a photinia hedge, but soon sporting a bountiful crop of weeds thanks to winter rains — was still crying for help. I gave a landscape designer my wish list — lots of space for raised beds that are built to a comfortable seating height, several citrus trees, low-water, low-mainteance plants that enhance our beautiful valley view — and went through the process of coming up with a plan. As of Tuesday of last week, work to bring that design to life was under way.

It was gratifying to see the weeds that ranged from a several inches to several feet tall removed. But it wasn’t until the trees arrived that I began to truly get enthused. Two tall, graceful jacaranda trees took their places along the southern edge of the yard. I spent a pleasant lunch hour with my landscaper at a local citrus nursery selecting trees: a Roberston navel orange, a Washington navel orange, a Bearrs lime, a Rio Red grapefruit, a Lisbon lemon and a Eureka lemon.

But with the arrival Friday of a huge, beautiful Bloodgood Japanese maple (acer palmatum Bloodgood), the gardening passion that I felt for the pistachio tree began to return. The roughly nine-foot tree with a huge crown was contained in a 24-gallon wood planter box. I’m used to seeing Japanese maple trees that are a few feet tall with slender trunks. In addition to its unusual height, this tree sports a sturdy trunk. When the wind blows, the tree’s burgundy leaves turn over, revealing their green-hued undersides. When the late afternoon sun backlights the tree’s canopy, it shimmers with a lovely orange glow. I look forward to watching it — and the rest of my new garden — change with the seasons.

“A garden is never so good as it will be next year.” ~ Thomas Cooper

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