One of the perks of writing this gardening column for the Press-Banner is being invited to visit beautiful gardens. I recently had the honor of touring the garden of fellow columnist Colly Gruczelak, writer of “Plain Talk About Food,” at her home in Ben Lomond.
I've known Colly for many years, going back to when she moved here in 2004 from Thousand Oaks. If you know Colly, it will come as no surprise that she is just as enthusiastic about plants as she is about good food. She gardens with a resident deer population and had lots to say about that dilemma.
When she first moved to the Ben Lomond property, there was "nothing in the garden but bottlebrush and bare ground," she said. Not wanting to fence the property, she has come to know what the deer are not interested in eating for dinner — in her garden, anyway. Located right on the San Lorenzo River, her garden blends perfectly with the natural woodland setting.
A huge Fragrantissima improved rhododendron poked its beautiful white flower trusses through an ornamental low fence. A Sally Holmes rose bloomed atop the fence, too.
Colly explained that she included several roses in the garden and would spray them with a bitter repellent if the deer became too interested, but surrounding a rose with plants that deer don't like is often enough to keep the buds safe.
A beautiful purple Grand Slam rhododendron bloomed nearby. Colly keeps plant tags in her “Sunset Western Gardening” book so she can look up a name when necessary. Given the hundreds of beautiful specimens in the garden, that is no easy task.
I was surprised to see so many azaleas blooming in the garden. I knew rhododendrons are deer resistant, but it surprised me to learn that her azaleas thrive, too. Colly grows Encore azaleas that bloom throughout the season. They border all the garden paths, and this flush flower was spectacular.
She has an Iceberg rose intertwined with a Jackmanii clematis. The buds of the clematis were not quite open, but I can imagine how stunning the purple-and-white combination would be. I love Iceberg roses — they scent the air with honey and vanilla.
Colly doesn't worry about pruning the clematis according to the book. She "leaves it alone," and from the looks of the many buds about to burst with color, it's doing just fine.
Another gardening tip Colly shared with me is her use of bungee cords to quickly hold up a plant until she has the time to tie it properly. She buys five cords for $1 and swears by their usefulness.
We stopped to admire a Cherokee Brave dogwood in full bloom. Underneath, blue violet columbines covered the ground. As they reseed, the patch grows larger and larger. The blue and pink made a breathtaking combination as they bloom at the same time.
As we strolled through the garden, I saw many other plants happily growing in spite of the deer. Fragrant daphne, Fuchsia thymifolia, Australian fuchsia, Jack Frost brunnera, Mount Tamboritha grevillea, lily-of-the-valley and cape plumbago were all untouched.
It surprised me to hear she is replacing a large stand of white rockrose with Kaleidoscope abelia. It seems her deer loved the rockrose and "ate it to the ground."
Go figure about rockroses. Along her road, there were many of the dark pink variety, not even nibbled in the slightest.
We finished our tour at the new sitting area she has created for the evening with her husband. It seemed the perfect way to end the day.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at email@example.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.