The Transplanted Gardener in the Big Valley, distracted by little landscapes

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    In back of Kimberly Pfendler’s mountaintop home, a curtain of flowers on an imposing bottlebrush buckeye.
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The discovery of a new (to me) plant causes so many emotions: an appreciation of the part nature plays in making this a more beautiful world, a better place. Also lust and greed.

I found ColeonemaCalifornia Sunset’ (Breath of Heaven) (second photo above) while on a weeklong return to my old haunts in the Golden State. And I would say, “Gotta have it,” if only it were winter-hardy in the harsh climes of the heart of the Heartland.

This golden evergreen takes summer heat and drought like a champ. It grows up to 6 feet tall, is deer-resistant and has tiny pink flowers in spring, though it is gorgeous all year.

Recommended: 10 Timeless backyard games for warm weather fun

Alas, it is hardy only to Zone 7. And I live in Zone 5. Figures.

I encountered this glowing subshrub on the grounds of the Calistoga Ranch, a tony resort that is part Boy Scout camp, part nature preserve, and all pampery spa. Grounds manager Steve Ferrini gave me the particulars on this signature plant in his landscape. Between hiking the grounds’ craggy mountains, spying on blue herons in its wetlands, and taking the landscape tour at the ranch, you can get a full upload of indigenous NoCal gardening info.

Another plant I encountered gave me a fuller appreciation of its appeal as a specimen. I had a bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) – see first photo above -  when I lived in the wilds of the fog-tinged Oakland hills (I used to go up to Napa and Sonoma on summer weekends to get warm!), but never have I encountered one so grand and so fully loaded.

At the 1,000-acre estate of grape grower and onetime actress Kimberly Pfendler, seven of us dined (and quite well, thank you) under its floriferous boughs. Heck of a view from on high, too.

One more vista to point out: Moving down valley, I stayed at Rancho Caymus, a small Spanish mission-style inn in downtown Rutherford. Like many houses of this style, it encompasses a central courtyard, this one quite lush,  shady, and protective.

Do I covet the plants therein? Well, of course, but that’s not the point. What I hanker for is the courtyard itself. (See photo at left.) Can’t you just picture it tacked onto a three-story Victorian surrounded by corn and soybeans?

What else I’m into this week: “Web Site Story,” wherein the Sharks and the Jets deal with the inequities of Facebook, Twitter, and eHarmony in somehow familiar song and dance.

Editor's note:  For more garden articles – at least two new ones daily – click here. To locate more Monitor garden blogs – including a number by the Transplanted Gardener – click here.

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