Debra Prinzing

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Pretty in purple

July 13th, 2008

July in Southern California dishes up a haze of purple in every hue. I recently snapped a few photos to capture the floral bounty around us.

It’s the weekend; time to be lazy and enjoy a little eye candy. So here we go:

Lavender-blue agapanthus cascades down the hillside in my neighborhood

This time of year, AGAPANTHUS takes over our “East Hills” neighborhood. Seattle gardening friends, eat your eyes and hearts out! When I first visited this neck of the woods, in spring 2006, I was blown away by the appearance — shall I say ‘explosions’? — of lavender-blue agapanthus blooms on every corner of town.

“Okay, I guess I can live here after all,” I thought. I mentioned loving this plethora of agapanthus to my friend Nan Sterman, a California native and author of California Gardener’s Guide, Vol. 2.

“Oh, Debra, they’re gas station plants!” she exclaimed.

As I’ve said before. . . one woman’s gas station plant is another woman’s rare collector plant. Imagine describing it as a commonplace “filler” for the corner convenience store! I know of a few passionate souls in Seattle who willingly forked over $15 for a 2-inch Agapanthus ‘Blue Heaven’ cultivar from Heronswood (or, elsewhere spent $20 to $40 for larger pots of this pretty purple South African native). And then. And then. Well, if my efforts were at all representative, there was the breath-holding that occurred through the wet, chilly winter months, as we pretty much realized the true-blue agapanthus wasn’t going to emerge in great shape the following spring. Like many tender perennials, well, they were pricey annuals. Or, they were in need of massive amounts of pampering, such as potting up the fleshy rhizomes and moving them indoors for the winter.

But other purple beauties grow well up and down the coast, so here are two:

VERBENA BONARIENSIS, one of those excellent ‘veil’ plants, to use a phrase coined by writer-friend Cathy Wilkinson Barash. The blooms are pinky-purple, small but effective en-masse, especially as they tower like little pom-poms on the tips of slender, but stiff 5-foot-long stems. Two of these Brazilian verbena plants growing together in a raised bed in our front garden create the perfect screen to hide me from the eyes of neighbors whenever I scurry outside in my PJs early in the morning.

And finally, LAVENDER is a happy camper here. Much happier with So Cal’s low-to-no precipitation than in winter-wet Seattle (although that never stopped me from growing lavender in my garden!). Feasting my eyes on swaths of lavender is really one of the joys of living. I recently had the privilege of touring friend Alisa Varney’s Ojai Lavender and Rose Co., where she grows upwards of 1,500 lavender plants.

What a beautiful scene: a stroll through Ojai Lavender and Rose Co.’s aromatic fields

The reason for my visit was to quiz this fellow writer and lavender expert on the best varieties and methods for our local Ventura and Santa Barbara county gardens. I profiled her in the July issue of 805 Living, a lifestyle monthly published in my backyard. In my ‘In the Garden’ column, I featured Ojai Lavender and Rose Co., along with New Oak Ranch, another cool source for locally-grown lavender.

Some of Alisa’s favorite lavender cultivars include ‘Provence’ (seen at left), ‘Grosso’  and ‘Alba’. The shrub-sized evergreen plants are long-blooming, resistant to deer and rabbits, and attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. She harvests armloads to sell to floral designers and wholesale clients eager for organic, field-grown, local flowers.

In 2003, when she first planted lavender in this former Valencia orange grove, Alisa was told that her loamy-clay soil had too much clay content for lavender to grow well. “But it is fine,” she says. “It only took two years for them to get really big.”

Nothing pleases her more than a morning spent gathering bundles of lavender, moving from one billowing row of scented plants to the next. “There’s something mellow about being here among the lavender,” Alisa confides. “I like to see all the bees it attracts.”

Her Ojai neighbors and fellow lavender growers Karen and Bill Evenden fell in love with lavender while sailing through the Mediterranean. They ended up in Ojai nearly six years ago, after searching for land that reminded them of the climate and culture of Croatia.

Among several crops at their 24-acre ranch, the couple grows 5,000 lavender plants, including ‘Provence’, ‘Grosso’, ‘Hidcote’ (an English variety) and ‘Buena Vista’.

On weekends from mid-June through late July, New Oak Ranch’s lavender fields are open for “u-pick” customers. For $5, you can grab a pair of clippers and harvest as much lavender as an 8-inch twisty-tie will hold. You might be drawn to the fields of ‘Buena Vista’ lavender, which Karen says holds its purple color longer than other varieties. “It’s very desirable for dried arrangements,” she suggests.

A self-described foodie and author of A Taste of Croatia, Karen admires lavender for its culinary uses. Her  favorite dessert involves just a few ingredients: Fold bruised lavender buds into sweetened whipped cream and serve over fresh strawberries. One bite guarantees a sublime summertime experience.


Thanks to an invitation from Shirley Kerins of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, I spent Thursday afternoon with an enthusiastic audience of about 150 “shedistas,” who attended my lecture on “Creating the Backyard Shed of your Dreams.”

These folks endured what I consider sweltering summertime temperatures to visit the gorgeous Huntington landscape and sit in on my talk. I loved sharing stories of the passionate shed owners who come alive in the pages of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, thanks to Bill Wright’s wonderful photography.

Increasingly, I find that people just need a spark of an idea to get them re-visioning, re-imagining, and even renovating a little building in their backyard. It is so gratifying to meet kindred spirits who understand the allure of having a small, but separate sanctuary, especially if it’s in the garden. To borrow the name of a San Diego area garden art and container business, I’m a “Grateful Shed.”



3 Responses to “Pretty in purple”

  1. Loretta Fischer Says:

    Debra…today there are probably new shedinistas in Austin Texas after seeing you and Bill Wright on our local PBS station KLRU’s very popular Central Texas Gardener show. The photos are definitely inspiring. The hard part is probably picking just one design.

    I’ll mail you the special section in this week’s The Austin Chronicle called SPACES with its cover photo by Bill Wright of our Mod Pod shed in color and inside is the fabulous review of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. This book just keeps on giving. I think it will become a classic.

  2. Lydia Plunk Says:

    Call this weird- I’ve always liked the plantings around gas stations. They seem so heroic in their defiance of what would otherwise be ugly barren patches. Society garlic- agapanthus- all the others that bloom where snottier plants would wither- these hardy beauties insist on being tucked firmly into the fabric of urban reality.

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