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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Colfax gardens express individuality
A late-summer invitation to visit
by Carolyn Singer
August 27, 2011

Petzing garden's whimsical touch in Peardale CAIndividuality is the element tying together the Colfax gardens open today. I will be wandering, camera in hand, absorbing the artistic and whimsical touches of each gardener, each setting. For those readers who have often expressed a desire to see more personal landscapes, and especially vegetable gardens, this is a tour you should not miss.

Two gardens in the Cape Horn area outside Colfax offer totally unique expressions.

Little garden near Cape HornMike Little's garden includes strong artistic elements, with his stained glass integrated into a beautiful fence protecting a small vegetable garden. He is a collector of plants, playing with arranging them into a personal landscape that is inviting. One of the most striking plants in Mike's garden is the Cornus canadensis 'Forest Pansy' with its purple foliage. While a Missouri native, it is thriving in a perfect location in this garden. This is a dogwood of the same species as the bunchberry we often see naturalized as a low groundcover on Banner Mountain.

The Dove garden is a community garden. The focus is the square-foot vegetable garden. While small, the larger setting for this inspiring garden adds an awareness of how special the natural landscape of the foothills can be. Looking back at the vegetable garden from across the nearby pond, you will have the full view of rolling hills with a small mountain beyond. And now that a beehive has been added on the cable that crosses the pond (no bear access here!), pollinating flowers has intensified. Visitors will learn how dedicated the gardeners are to educating the public about organic gardening and healthy local foods.

On a very sunny site on Norton Grade, the Rapini garden is filled with beautiful ornamental grasses, certainly in their height from midsummer into fall. If you have hesitated to integrate these plants into your own landscape, this garden should inspire you to expand your own landscape creativity. The grasses are just one strong element in a landscape of water-efficient plants tied together with dry creeks that are functional for winter drainage and quite beautiful as an artistic element.

Closer to Colfax, the Bigley and Mathe gardens are both in the same family, side by side. The Bigley garden was started in 1956, so there are many interesting mature plants, and deer do wander through. The Mathe garden was designed and built by George Yamasaki in 1956, a traditional Japanese garden with stone terraces on the slope below the house. The water feature has aged and the old plants surrounding it, including a Sargeant's hawthorne draping gracefully over a moss-covered lantern, remind us that thoughtfully created landscapes deepen in beauty as time passes.

Monroe garden in Chicago ParkSave the Monroe garden in the Chicago Park area for the afternoon. This lovely woodland garden is peaceful and very shaded. Paths invite exploration while sitting areas, including the tea room, invite lingering. Water features add another cooling element.

Finally, the Petzing garden in the Peardale area has so much detail that it should not be a hurried visit. Eclectic touches include a wood pile garden (what else could she do with all those large stumps?), a friendly scarecrow, a stepladder garden, and even a suitcase garden. But this gardener's real passion is for roses, and close to one hundred are adding color.

I am drawn to gardens created as a painting might be, with a theme, balance of color and form, yet unique to the creator. Small gardens and edible gardens are my admitted favorites. This tour offers all of this and more. Hopefully, I will cross paths with many of my readers. Tickets for the tour ($15), which begins today at 10a.m. and ends at 4p.m., are available in Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Colfax nurseries.

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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