Monday, June 29, 2015

Art and Nature in Turtle Rock (Beverly's Garden)

Beverly's garden looks superficially like other manicured yards in the Turtle Rock neighborhood of Irvine.  Closer inspection reveals whimsical ceramic art installations all over her yard, and native plants masquerading as suburban staples.
Natives camouflaged against a backdrop of Association run-of-the-mills.
The garden, six years old, was designed by Diane Bonanno, who has since moved to northern California.  She and Beverly invested much time debating plant choices.  Beverly laughs at it now; native plants have a way of sorting themselves out, coming and going as they please.

Beverly has a large variety of plants, harmoniously blending in a pattern that has evolved over the years.  A gardener weeds and trims under Beverly's close supervision, so she has more time for her ceramic studio.
Colorful damp-and shade-loving natives include Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), and Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa.) Those violets might be native Viola adunca.
She keeps a firm hand on the sprinkler controller: most zones will be watered once every eleven days.  She did not redo the irrigation when she went native, a decision that she now regrets.  Areas that were shared with a few higher-water vegetables or ornamentals now get watered once every five days, and contain damp-loving natives only.  As many of these are ephemerals that reseed or spread by stolons, the composition of those beds is ever-evolving.
Beverly showed me up on plant labeling for the CNPS Garden Tour.  Mine are laminated; hers are ceramic.  This Artemisia prospers; another ten feet away died.  Maybe poor drainage?  (It is after all a beach plant.) So it goes with natives.  
I was struck by how her natives so closely mimic the tightly trimmed style one sees in her neighborhood.  But not closely enough, it seems.  A couple of years back she received an ominous letter from her Homeowner's Association architectural committee demanding that she "remove her dead flowers!" (She thinks they were talking about the decorative seed pods of her sages.) God forbid that a seed pod should be allowed to ripen sufficiently to provide food for birds, or to reseed for another season.  She did submit to the Neatness Police.
One of the tidiest native gardens I've seen.  I can't believe the Neatness Police went after it.  The center shrub is faithful 'Howard McMinn' Manzanita, the yellow flowers are nearly native Sundrops (Calyophus hartwegii), and the tall bush is Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). 
Beverly's is the only "native lawn" I have seen that looks much like a lawn.  She chronicled her struggles to create a viable lawn that is watered infrequently, and neither seedy nor choking out the rest of the garden (still some weeding required...)
The lawn is far right, low and smooth, but a golden color that would outrage the neighborhood busybodies if it were in the front.  The hedge is a great example of Lemonadeberry's potential.  The art is ubiquitous.
The moral I take is this: beware of people claiming you can have a "native" or "low water" lawn without far more diligence that I can muster, and it still won't pass inspection with the Neatness Police.  This lawn lies low in the backyard.  It is currently a mixture of cool-season Red Fescue bunch grass (mowed so the seed doesn't disperse) and warm-season UC Verde Buffalo Grass.  Her daughter loves to sunbathe in it, because it is very soft and itch-free.
Beverly's not sure which ground covers grow amid the art; they have wandered, disappeared, and reappeared too many times.  I covet that pot.
I adore Beverly's ceramic pieces scattered through the garden.  They include butterfly stepping stones, incredibly textured urns, richly detailed larger-than-life pomegranates, and totemic poles with evocative abstract shapes and colors.  You can visit her website at Despite her labors and setbacks, Beverly is glad she went native, and believes that the garden is a fabulous backdrop for her art. I agree on both counts.
At the entry, a totem is anchored by (non-native) Pink Evening Primrose and an Island Morning Glory vine (Calystegia macrostegia) on the left, and Maidenhair Fern behind.

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