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In the Garden

Mediterranean flora


Locate Eureka on the globe (it's easy -- Eureka is always labeled on globes, I don't know why), put your finger on the spot and turn the planet until you come to Europe. Where do you end up? Spain. The south of France. Italy. It's always astonished me that we think of ourselves as living in a northern climate, but in Europe, the 41st parallel represents warmth, the south, the Mediterranean Sea.

Continuing with this little globe exercise, take a look below the equator. The northern coast of Chile, South Africa's Cape, and western Australia also have a few things in common with northern California and the Mediterranean basin: they're on the western coast of continents, and they're within 30 to 45 degrees of the of Mediterranean climate zone

Why would these geographical facts change how you garden? Because gardening is all about perspective. Gardeners deal in possibilities, and when you think about your Fortuna or McKinleyville or Trinidad garden as existing in a climate like that of Barcelona, Rome, Santiago or Perth, new possibilities present themselves.

Start with the obvious. Lavender and rosemary are classic Mediterranean plants, almost clichés, really, but they're also deliriously fragrant and gorgeous sculptural perennials. It's easy to take them for granted, but the fact is that nothing smells as good as a lavender hedge on a warm summer day. (Try a Lavendula intermedia like `Grosso' or `Provence' for a south-of-France feel.) Even in the dead of winter, a rosemary bush will produce an abundance of branches so that you can fill your house with that sharp, mouth-watering fragrance any time of the year.

You might also consider herbs like catmint, oregano and fennel, all of which bloom brightly in the summer and don't demand much water or special care. `Hopley's Purple' is my favorite ornamental oregano, and `Six Hills Giant' catmint will sprawl along a path or border and stand up to wet winters and dry summers alike. Informality and drought tolerance are the hallmarks of Mediterranean plants -- after all, Mediterranean climates typically get little or no rain in the summer, so the best-loved plants for these regions tend to be those that can bloom, and even offer up intensely fragrant foliage (think about thyme and scented geraniums), during dry months.

The list goes on. Succulents do well in a Mediterranean garden. I particularly like great overgrown aloes and the reddish-tinted aeoniums that thrive in containers or in dry, gravelly soil. Ornamental grasses contribute to a natural, coastal look (try a bronze fountain grass like Pennisetum alopecuroides `Cassian,' but keep in mind that they can self-sow and spread), and the many varieties of salvia keep hummingbirds and butterflies interested. A big bushy chartreuse euphorbia provides a solid backdrop of color, and in this part of the country, a couple of lemon or olive trees probably offer all the shade you'll need.

But don't take my word for it. The Humboldt Botanical Garden Foundation is hosting its annual Speakers' Day Symposium this weekend and they've invited four experts to speak about "Gardening with Plants from the World's Five Mediterranean Climates." The speakers are:

Mary Barber, plant buyer for Miller Farms and graduate of Humboldt State University with a degree in range management, who will provide an introduction to the plants of the Mediterranean Basin;

Jeff Hogue, chair of HBGF's Education Committee and College of the Redwoods professor, who will discuss California's plant diversity and the flora of central Chile;

Mary Gearheart, landscape and garden designer and owner of Design/Work in Arcata, will talk about South African and Australian plants that work well in Humboldt County;

Sean O'Hara, co-chair of the Northern California Branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society, will present the keynote address for the symposium and will also explore the work of Impressionist painters who were influenced by the quality of the light in Mediterranean climates.

HBGF has recently broken ground on their site at College of the Redwoods. You'd think that building a botanical garden would be enough of a challenge for the group, but they've managed to put on wonderful educational events for gardeners while they were busy raising money and sketching plans for the garden. This year's symposium comes at just the right time -- many of the perennials that will be featured can go in the ground now, before the rains hit and the soil becomes too wet to work.

The symposium will be held on Nov. 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Humboldt Bank Plaza at 2440 Sixth St. in Eureka. Registration is $25 for members and $30 for non-members, and Roy's Club Italian Restaurant will provide lunch for $5 if you register in advance. Proceeds benefit HBGF, and those who attend the symposium qualify for six hours of continuing education credit under the University of California at Davis "master gardeners program." To register, call 442-5139.


garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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