While living in Atlanta, one of the garden design tips that I took to heart was the element of surprise. Many of the gardens I visited in the South weren’t just backyards, but gardens with pathways and arches to lead you into new areas, focal points and sitting areas to draw you into the garden, always keeping you intrigued to see what was around the corner. And this was exactly what I experienced at the Gardens of Petersonville on this drizzly, humid July morning.
I was honored that Sheila Peterson graciously opened her San Juan Capistrano garden to me. What a welcome I received from this fountain dripping with succulents and popping with color.
We started our garden stroll in the Moonlight Garden which surrounds their lawn and is layered with plants of various green shades and textures, a common theme throughout Sheila’s garden. White azaleas, agapanthus, shasta daisies, roses, hellebores all add a sparkle of white throughout the Moonlight Garden.
My favorite botanical discovery of the day was Sheila’s collection of ligularias. These variegated ligularias planted in mass were just bursting in her garden. This one on the right is often referred to leopard plant, ligularia tussilaginea.
Ligularias are sometimes referred to as big leaf ligularia, and these guys were about 12-18 inches wide! They like wet soil in the shade, so Sheila grows these since hostas don’t do well here in Southern California. Oh and how I miss my hostas in my Atlanta garden, so I’m very excited to add a few of these in the shady spots in my garden.
This grand walkway, Sheila appropriately named Palm Alley, led us into her back garden. Rubber snakes and baseballs are just a few treasures you’ll find throughout her garden, remnants from her grandchildren visiting. What wonderful memories they will have growing up in this magical garden.
Glancing back after walking through Palm Alley, you see one of Sheila’s many archways. This one draped with grape vines creates a beautifully framed view back to the Moonlight Garden.
Purple blooms from the duranta shelters Buddha from the heavy drizzle, and moss is slowly making a home on his lap.
I love how Sheila’s garden art blends naturally into her garden. These little bird pieces reflect all of the real birds that make their home here.
When Sheila first moved here, there were no birds. She added feeders, provided water and shelter for birds to breed and hide from predators, all requirements to make her garden an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
It’s incredible to think that this garden is only eight years old. These large Brazilian and California pepper trees give you the feeling that this garden has been here forever.
In the back garden, boxwoods frame the garden beds and grass pathways, adding a bit of formality, allowing the plants in the garden bed to get a little wild. Sitting areas are essential and I imagine this spot is a perfect place to relax and breathe in the fragrance of the flowers.
A few of her garden art collections….
Sheila and I share the love of purple and chartreuse in the garden, so naturally I loved this spot. With a beautiful white birch as a backdrop, she uses various shades of lime green and chartreuse to brighten up this shady area by weaving together creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia) and Japanese forest grass (hakonechloa). The purple fountain grass adds a touch of burgundy next to her John Seeman sculpture.
Enchanting is the word that came to mind when I toured the Gardens of Petersonville. I left inspired and dreaming of new ideas for my garden. Sheila is a Master Gardener, blogger and author, so I just had to ask a few extra questions before the tour ended!
Q: What is your favorite plant?
Q: Most difficult plant?
A: Plants not meant for our area (lilacs, peonies, Japanese Maple)
Q: Biggest failure in a garden?
A: The Laguna garden. After years I hated it, I didn’t consider design and just stuck plants in the ground that I found on sale at Home Depot.
Q: What are the ‘musts’ to be an organic gardener?
A: Feed the soil, bugs will detect weak plants, and feeding the soil makes them strong. Attract birds, you need seed eaters. No need to use fertilizer, I use only compost. Good diversity in the garden such as different smells and textures make it harder for bugs to find favorite plants to eat and lay eggs.
Q: How has being a master gardener helped you?
A: It hurts me by being over inspired! But it exposes me to things outside of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t normally learn about.
Q: Advice to new gardeners?
A: Always work your soil, and take the time to research and understand requirements of plants. Find plants you like and stick with those.
Q: My garden mentor is/was…..
A: My Grandmother. Also Pat Welsh, I still read her Southern California Gardening book every month and Hortense Miller.
Q: My garden is….
A: A place I created to make the world more beautiful.