Because Venice was literally built on a forest of tree trunks driven into the mud of a marsh, its geography is unique. In a city built on water, plants have historically been highly valued and nurtured on terraces and courtyards. There is a longing for natural settings, and this is clear in the Renaissance painters’ work. Mediterranean plants from the mainland were carried over to grace the houses of the wealthy. Laurel trees, signifying purity and chastity, are often depicted in these masterpieces.
What a great gift one of these paintings would make! But what if you don't have millions to buy an original?
The landscapes depicted in many of the paintings inspired me to work on my personal Christmas list. I'm a gardener starved for color, life and greenery. It was 29 degrees in my garden in Felton the morning I wrote this, and I know many of you experienced even colder temps after the brightness of the stars in a clear overnight sky.
Thick frost finished off this year's garden — what was left after the windstorm, anyway. Even the more sheltered places look a little winter weary this year. Winter is here a tad early for our California gardens. Take the opportunity to make the most of those empty spaces in your garden, and those of the fellow gardeners you'd like to remember during the holidays.
Are your containers looking a little sad about now, a little bleak and bare? Then so are everybody else's. Go beyond cabbages and pansies and give some inspiration with colorful textural combinations that will last through the darkest days of winter:
- Native plants grow well in containers. Sure, most are great drought-tolerant additions to the garden, but have you thought about putting them together in a container to give to someone on your list? Any of the cool blue succulents in the Dudleya family looks breathtaking planted in blue-glazed container.
- Manzanita, such as the Dr. Hurd varietal, looks quite dramatic in a large pot. Don't worry about whether the plant might outgrow the container eventually. You are essentially planting a giant bonsai, and root pruning every few years will keep both of you happy and healthy. Drainage is the most important aspect of planting most natives, so be sure to add pumice or lava rock to your planting mix.
- What else would make a good gift? There's always a new pair of gardening boots for that special gift, but if you're thinking smaller, maybe a dried arrangement of seed heads, pods and foliage from your garden in a thrift shop container would fit the bill.
- Leaving dried perennials and grasses to overwinter in the garden is a present for our birds, who appreciate the banquet. There's no need to tidy up, unless they've collapsed in a slimy heap. Take advantage of the excuse to kick back over the holidays and enjoy yourself.
Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.