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I am leaving. My belongings are in the car, the route is mapped and the tank is full.

 rvanderhoff

As soon as the nursery closes tonight I’ll be gone, the pedal to the metal as we make our way North. We’ll drive through the night and get to San Francisco by Sunday morning.

During the next seven days we will be a hop scotching our way back to Orange County, stopping along the way for visits to some of our state’s greatest public botanical gardens and some of nature’s great natural gardens.

Some folks like lazy vacations. Check into a hotel, get up late, hang out by the pool or on the beach for a couple hours; maybe a little window shopping, then dinner at a nice restaurant and back to the room. Argh! That’s fine for some, but I’d quickly go crazy. I need nature. I need plants. I need to hear birds, see hills, touch soil and smell earth.

lotusland

So off we’ll go. Our first stop will be the San Francisco Botanic Garden in Golden Gate Park, formerly The Strybing Arboretum. I’ve visited this garden many times and keep coming back for more. The American Cloud Forest will be my first destination; I am always fascinated by the unexpected plants there. Then to the native garden, the Mediterranean area, the New Zealand garden, the succulent collection. . . I could spend a week never leaving this place.

But the new green roof at The California Academy of Sciences, just a short walk away, is calling me. California’s largest and greatest living roof debuted here almost three years ago and I still haven’t seen it. I can’t wait. After taking in the rooftop we’ll continue on to the 132 year old San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. At this Victorian era greenhouse we’ll revisit tropical wonders like the huge Amazon waterlilies, rare orchids, vireya rhododendrons and collection of bromeliads.

Next day our road trip will arrive at what may be the most diverse collection of plants at any garden in the state, The U.C. Berkeley Botanic Garden. Ohhhh, I could spend another week here. In fact, I could spend a week in the South African section alone or in the arid house where a diverse collection of plants is meticulously cultivated. Wow!

This is a plant trip - and I’m not much for hotels anyway. So we’ll be camping each night under stars and trees; redwoods some nights, oaks or cypress on others. Our nighttime home will be Mt. Diablo, the Big Sur coast, wooded streamsides and sandy beaches. Every so often I like being “in” California; in its presence when I close my eyes at night and again when waking in the morning. What could be more glorious that awakening in nature’s garden?

We will spend a day in Big Sur and The Monterrey Coast, hiking the trails, touching the waterfalls and with a little luck, maybe even seeing a California Condor gliding overhead.

No trip along the California coast would be complete without a stop at The U.C. Santa Cruz Botanic Garden. This often overlooked garden houses the greatest collecting of Mediterranean climate plants in North America. The protea collection is especially noteworthy, as is the assembly of Australian plants. I’ll photograph the rare Silver Trees and I will want to check in on one of the first purple-leaved Peppermint Trees ever planted in the state. It’s been a couple of years. How large will it be? I’m anxious.

The Carizzo Plain, two and a half hours east of San Luis Obispo has been called “California’s Serengeti”. The grassy plains here are spilling with wildflowers, Pronghorn Antelope roam the savannah and thousands of Sandhill Cranes visit each year. Camping and hiking here will be primitive but stimulating; no shade, no running water, no toilets, no amenities. There are no five star hotels on The Carizzo Plain. This is California’s real Four Season’s experience.

We’ll squeeze in visits to Cal Poly’s Leaning Pine Arboretum, a great presentation of Mediterranean climate plants and gardening. Then, to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, lending its soils exclusively on our native flora. I am anxious to see its recovery from the devastating 2009 fires that devastating parts of the garden. Finally, the eccentric and entertaining Lotusland will again impress us with grotesque euphorbias, huge dragon trees, picturesque vistas and enough curiosities to keep us talking on the drive home.

Seven gardens, seven campgrounds, many wild places, three wilderness hikes and whatever other natural delights we might come upon. Ahhhh, that’s California. See you, gotta go.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar and his profile can be seen at www.themulch.com/my-profile/609-ron-vanderhoff.

Questions from Readers May 28, 2011

Question:

My blueberry plants have done terrific. I think I picked about two gallons last year. But this year the plants look sickly, with only a few leaves. I think I’m watering too much so I’m backing off. Any suggestions?

Kelly, Newport Beach

Answer:

With the introduction of new varieties bred for our climate, many people are adding blueberries to their gardens. Blueberries love two things: water and acidity. It’s unlikely you are over-watering your plants, since they can almost live in standing water. I suggest you water more, not less, and feed them periodically with cottonseed meal or a similar organic fertilizer to keep the soil acidic. Unfortunately, blueberries don’t like poor water quality, which most of us cannot avoid. During the non-rainy months, periodically leach the soil around your plants with an extra long watering. This will flush some of these impurities out of the root zone.

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