One of the very best days I spent on my California trip was an outing to Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria. Why? Because it isn’t often at all that you find a retail nursery that devotes more than three-quarters of its space to a demonstration garden creatively highlighting the plants it sells by their geographic regions!
In fact, having seen just the African garden the day before on my way north from LA, I decided to drive back south from Santa Barbara to spend several hours there. I went back into the African garden and surprised an Anna’s hummingbird nectaring on the Aloe maculata.
In the Native California garden designed by Tim Doles, California irises look lovely with lilac verbena (V. lilacina).
And naturally, since it was late March, there were huge drifts of shimmering, orange California poppies everywhere (Eschscholzia californica).
I was entranced by the flowers of the California plane tree (Platanus racemosa) with their dangling, red button flowers. A riparian species, it was sited appropriately along the wetland area.
In the Asian garden, a photinia (Photinia x fraseri) was attracting bees to its white flower clusters, and I was struck by how a plant one normally sees pruned into a tight hedge can redeem itself by appearing so beautifully au naturel.
As I walked on, I passed a woman walking her dog. “Do you come here often?” I asked. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Yes, I do,” she replied with a smile. “I’m the owner.” I had just bumped into Dr. Linda Wudl. Both she and her husband Fred are prominent scientists and philanthropists, and Seaside Gardens is her retirement project. I mentioned I was on a self-designed California garden tour and had returned to Seaside to spend more time photographing the plants, which seemed to delight her. She made sure to praise the staff — “it’s their hard work” — and then resumed her walk, adding over her shoulder: “Just look at the Chinese fringe tree – isn’t it lovely?” It certainly was.
There was a charming cottage garden, with lots of old-fashioned flowers and some new takes as well, like this pretty combination of Chinese ground orchids (Bletilla striata) and irises alongside white azaleas.
Hours of bliss later, I suddenly realized I was hungry and it was time to drive back to Santa Barbara for a late lunch. But I wanted to find a gift for my dinner host for that evening.
In the end, I selected four $3 pots of succulents and a pretty aquamarine ceramic dish and assembled my own creation at a handy potting table, using Seaside’s free container soil mix. What a great, generous idea, from a great, generous nursery! And what a wonderful visit I’d had, learning all about the myriad plants that flourish in California’s benign climate.