Friday, February 22, 2013

Gardens open but not a Yellow Book in sight!

Well I'm back in a very chilly and grey UK and more about that in a later post. But just the day before my exile from the USA, I spent a pleasant afternoon on the Palm Springs Gardens Tour. This is organised as part of Modernism Week, a celebration of Mid Century Modern Architecture, although most of the gardens have little relevance to this, probably explaining why this year it was just called the Modern Garden Tour. If you want a quick overview, the gardens were interesting but the organisation was awful! In the UK gardeners sometimes knock the National Gardens Scheme who arrange so  many open gardens on a weekly basis but by comparison their procedures are exemplary. For those of you that are baffled by the title, the NGS gardens open in the UK are published each year in the 'Yellow Book'. I'll let you enjoy the gardens first and you can read my criticisms later if you wish.

The first garden owned by Messrs Young and Wong was a beautiful small garden, clothed mainly with cacti and succulents set amongst bold groups of stone. I particularly liked the unique bottle-based garden seat in the front. At the side of the house was a paved area incorporating a surprisingly attractive use of broken concrete. I realise I didn't take an overview of this garden which was mainly filled with the pool which is such an essential part of so many Californian gardens.

Arriving at the first garden
Nice young Echinocactus

Some lovely specimen stonework

A unique seat and fun gathering the building materials!
A surprisingly acceptable way of using broken concrete - work in progress
Water feature behind the main pool

Simple but dramatic planting of Agave stricta

The Grace Miller House is a traditional Mid Century Modern House with a garden refurbished to its original plans. Sadly photography was not allowed (why I ask?) but as the garden was tediously boring you haven't missed anything!

The third garden, La Casa di Uncello Bianco was a dramatic landscape around a restored mid century modern house, lovingly explained by its owner. It is described as a modern translation and hybridization of a Japanese garden. The front courtyard is mainly concrete but divided up into circular and square shapes by ribbons of aggregate. Circular blocks of planting, palms and a fire pit complement the design. In particular the circular block of concrete that comprises the driveway is quite unique. Such a simple idea - why does a drive have to be rectangular? The back garden is narrow and again dominated by the pool. There is a small amount of striking landscape and some very inviting seating areas.

The owner explains the garden
Circular driveway
Great patterns but possibly more planting needed?

Nice details

Rear garden and ever present pools
Outdoor living space
The Japanese influence?

Not sure if this pic is the right way up!

 At the fourth property, the front garden only was on show, actually quite a plantman's garden with a wide range of species. Individually built seats, some dramatic garden urns and a cascade of succulents adding interest to this garden.

Packed with plants

Colourful detail

Sense of humour!
Pleasant wall mural

Love the vibrant colour of this!
Just love the positioning of these urns

On the opposite side of the road we were invited to walk by the frontage of 256 Palo Verde Ave. The arid planting here is pleasant enough, although by no means spectacular. I did however rather like the classical post box! One day I must do a blog on post boxes as there are many different styles from the mundane, through the elaborate, to the humorous.

Yes - its a post box!

The final garden at Ma Kettle's house was a wonderfully exuberant Mediteranean landscape around a 1931 residence. A colourful mix of plants fills the garden and attracts wildlife and many bird species. I loved the huge bush size poinsettia which seemed to be thriving and sheltered enough to have avoided our frost a few weeks ago.There are two koi ponds, one of which is also home to a a small group of very tame turtles.

This pic is for Mark and Gaz!

What makes you think people drink a lot in Palm Springs?

Late Christmas colour!

Now I'll tell you why I was critical!  Initially its a bit of a mystery tour as one has no idea which gardens are open - all top secret! (By the way - many thanks to Marty for acquiring this ticket for me after the event had been sold out!) One has to buy a ticket in advance, having no idea what will be on show, turn up at a registration point on the day and only then does one get a list of the locations. Each garden is only open for a specified hour, so all the gardens have to be done in the same order with most of the 140 ticket holders arriving at the same time! Good planning!

The first garden was over-run with docents in orange tee-shirts. At the second garden, photography was forbidden - so sorry no pics! This meant I was early arriving at the third garden which wasn't yet open, so I and a crowd of others had to wait in the street as the docents hadn't arrived from their previous allocations. Finding the fourth location was a challenge as the map provided was incorrect and indicated a continuous road that didn't exist - good one! Once again we all had to wait in the street and the garden owner finally deigned to open 15 minutes after the designated time. Overall I got the distinct impression that as visitors we were generally not wanted and there under sufferance - so unlike the warm and generous welcome at so many NGS gardens. Were these really the only six gardens in Palms Springs that would open to visitors? Were they really the best or at least unique? Was this really the neatest way to organise this event?

And of course so unlike NGS gardens, there were no cream teas on the way, although there was a reception at the Saguaro hotel which I will tell you more about in the next post!


  1. Wow that all sounds chaotically horrid! Thank you for bravely facing the experience for our voyeristic pleasure. I loved this circle garden most of all but agree there could have been a lot more plants.

  2. We may have to go through your photos several times, so many beautiful ideas to be had, those gardens are inspirational!

    Shame about the chaos but they are very, very nice gardens! And thanks for the fish pic, I was drawn to it even before I read the caption :)

  3. Your comments on the NGS system again make sense compared to how this tour was done, secrecy included. The 3rd w/ circular forms really was sterile to me...way to graphic and nothing living. The 4th was spectacular in plant use. The 256 Palo Verde Ave frontage - not into the planting, as that's varied on too much in the SW, but that gate and overhead is of the nicest hardscape elements you showed. Overall, the gardens could have been better, but I think that time will come on MCM home renovations...just not there yet.

  4. David - you are right to comment on the gateway at 256. the guidebook we were provided showed a before and the altered gateway is one of the main improvements. I got a glimpse inside, showing a wonderful desert-tropical landscape but it all looked rather overgrown, presumably why the owners didn't want us inside. Pity!