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The Transplanted Gardener in the Big Valley, distracted by little landscapes

Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black.

(Read caption) In back of Kimberly Pfendler’s mountaintop home, a curtain of flowers on an imposing bottlebrush buckeye.

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The discovery of a new (to me) plant causes so many emotions: an appreciation of the part nature plays in making this a more beautiful world, a better place. Also lust and greed.

I found ColeonemaCalifornia Sunset’ (Breath of Heaven) (second photo above) while on a weeklong return to my old haunts in the Golden State. And I would say, “Gotta have it,” if only it were winter-hardy in the harsh climes of the heart of the Heartland.

This golden evergreen takes summer heat and drought like a champ. It grows up to 6 feet tall, is deer-resistant and has tiny pink flowers in spring, though it is gorgeous all year.

Alas, it is hardy only to Zone 7. And I live in Zone 5. Figures.

I encountered this glowing subshrub on the grounds of the Calistoga Ranch, a tony resort that is part Boy Scout camp, part nature preserve, and all pampery spa. Grounds manager Steve Ferrini gave me the particulars on this signature plant in his landscape. Between hiking the grounds’ craggy mountains, spying on blue herons in its wetlands, and taking the landscape tour at the ranch, you can get a full upload of indigenous NoCal gardening info.

Another plant I encountered gave me a fuller appreciation of its appeal as a specimen. I had a bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) – see first photo above -  when I lived in the wilds of the fog-tinged Oakland hills (I used to go up to Napa and Sonoma on summer weekends to get warm!), but never have I encountered one so grand and so fully loaded.


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