Gardening by Trial and Error

Much of gardening is learned through experience – by working in the soil, getting your hands dirty and being open to make changes.

The inmate gardens on the west side had much to teach us about gardening on the Rock. Restoration of these gardens started in the fall of 2008 and by the spring of 2009, the overgrowth had been cleared, pathways rebuilt and new gravel added. The beds were amended and new plants were chosen. Plants were selected to give the look of the 1940s-1960s gardens that the prisoners created and tended. The original gardens resembled English cottage gardens and so we worked at finding plants that would fit, but that would also be drought tolerant.

The inmate gardens in early summer. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Plants such as Armeria maritima, Coreopsis, Dianthus, Oenethera, Cosmos, Gaillardia, Scabiosa, Linaria and Huechera sanguinea were some of the plants that we tried. The gardens looked gorgeous in the spring but by mid-summer, the unrelenting wind of the Pacific was taking a toll. Even the rainwater catchment that was installed was not enough to help all the plants through the dry summer.

We took this lesson to heart and looked for plants that could provide the historic look, be drought and wind tolerant and look really good well into October. A tall order, but not impossible.

Salvias seemed a likely candidate. While not known to have been on the island previously, they were likely to do well on the island and still give a cottage style look. This past January, we planted several different species of salvias and they are all doing well. Salvia clevelandii filled

Salvia clevelandii. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

an exposed corner of the garden. The very fragrant leaves and blossoms held on until this past week, when they were cut back to encourage new growth. Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage, is very common in San Francisco and it has done well on the island too. Salvia nemorosa ‘East Friesdland’ has done well at the front of the border and has bloomed twice this year with cutting off dead blossoms. Salvia chiapensis, Chiapas Sage, while from the cloud forests of Chiapas, Mexico has done surprisingly well under the fig tree in the shade. Salvia microphylla hybrid is continuing to bloom and has not needed any pruning at all; autumn is actually its peak bloom time. And lastly, we also chose Salvia ‘Waverly’ for the constant pale white blooms.

Salvia chiapensis. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

We also planted low growing evergreen perennials and shrubs at the front of walkways and tucked in annuals behind, to hide the annuals as they died back. We propagated a surviving white hebe to hide the calla lilies during the summer; and planted dwarf agapanthus and heliotrope to cover columbine, foxgloves and homeria leaves when they passed their prime.

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