A Glimpse of Paradise


Streptocarpus saxorum

Visitng Sherman Gardens is like spending time in a great museum.  After an hour or so, you reach a saturation point and sigh, “There are just too many treasures to absorb in a single visit.  I’ll just have to come back again to fully appreciate everything that’s here.”

Nestled at the end of a row of shops, you could spend a significant portion of time examining planters in the surrounding streets and in the parking lot, replete with exotic botanical fare, before you enter the gardens themselves.  All are maintained by the staff of Sherman Gardens.

Just before the entrance, you encounter a planter with eye-popping lupines.  At first glance, you might mistake them for snapdragons with their unflappably vertical spikes of silky blooms.  Lupines not only show gorgeous flowers but they produce edible seeds as well.  These seeds are among the oldest cooked foods – raw lupine seeds are toxic – and were consumed thousands of years ago by inhabitants of the Middle East, the Andes Mountains, and the Southwest corner of this continent.

Once you go inside, your eyes are immediately dazzled by two bright golden ground covers.  The first is Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ which is wonderfully complemented by a collection of glowing orange Gerbera daisies, purple lupines, and pink foxgloves.  All of the above are in a narrow planter that surrounds a pool with gently splashing jets of water.

The other golden beauty is a feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’) cultivar.  It surrounds a bed of dahlias that have just begun to bloom and I can only imagine what the planter will look like two weeks down the road once the flowers are open. In fact, if I were you and contemplating when to visit Sherman Gardens, I would call ahead to make sure the dahlias were in full bloom before making the trip.

Feverfew, for the uninitiated, is kind of a wonder plant, both in and out of the garden.  It contains pyrethrin, a natural herbicide that deters insects.  Its botanical name, Tanacetum, is derived from a Greek word for immortality and references its long-lasting, daisy-like flowers, eminently suitable for dry arrangements.  It self-sows freely and will quickly naturalize in your garden.

Feverfew contains parthenolide, a compound known primarily for relief of migraines, lesser headaches, and fever, but is thought to heal a wide variety of other ills, too.  Consumption of two or three small leaves on a daily basis, mixed with food due to their bitter taste, has been shown to prevent headaches in some people.

One of the most attractive features of Sherman Gardens is the spectrum of plants cultivated in a relatively small space.  There are a dozen different gardens, including succulent, California native, fern, perennial shade, Mediterranean climate, and bromeliad gardens, as well as a tropical conservatory and a specimen shade house.  A tea house contains the largest hanging baskets you will ever see, filled mostly with seldom seen fuchsia and begonia varieties.

I am partial to purple and so I could not take my eyes off a hanging basket of Streptocarpus saxorum.  This plant is strictly for shade and, as a ground cover, self-sows with alacrity.  Close by were some phenomenal specimens of a yesterday-today-and-tomorrow – named for flowers that change color, in three days, from purple to lavender to white — cultivar (Brunsfelsia pauciflora ‘Macrantha’) whose flowers were at least twice the size of those commonly seen.  Brunfelsias are known for their hallucinogenic properties and for being highly toxic to dogs.

At Sherman Gardens, the unusual plants on display are far too many to mention.  The new growth of a flamethrower palm (Chambeyronia macrocarpa) is a striking burgundy.  This palm should be more widely grown since it is hardy down to 25 degrees.  Two gold and green leaved plants caught my eye.  One was a giant umbrella tree (Tupidanthus calyptratus ‘Variegatus’) and the other a scallop-leaved, lemon-scented geranium (Pelargonium crispum ‘Cy’s Sunburst’).

I asked Tim, one of the five full-time gardeners on site, if any special fertilizer was being used.  He informed me that a mixture of Dr. Earth and Osmocote was mixed into each planting hole and that Osmocote was used as a topical fertilizer as well.

Sherman Gardens (tel. 949-673-2261) are located at 2647 Pacific Coast Highway in Corona Del Mar.  Admission is $5, daily hours are 10:30-4:00, and lunch is served al fresco, by reservation, in the restaurant.  You can also schedule your wedding or other special event at Sherman Gardens if you so desire.

Tip of the Week:  A reception area outside the library attached to the gardens has been planted with a hybrid strain of kurapia (Lippia nudiflora), a ground cover that is touted as the ultimate lawn replacement.  In a UC Riverside study, 19 types of turf (lawn) grass, along with kurapia, were tested for drought tolerance and kurapia finished in first place, followed by kikuyu grass.  Kurapia received the highest scores on appearance throughout a summer of water deprivation.  A significant bonus of growing kurapia, which spreads by stolons or runners but not in an overly aggressive manner, is that it does not exceed one inch in height and never needs to be cut.  It sports white flowers from May to November but you can mow them off if you demand a solid green look.  Kurapia’s drought tolerance is facilitated by a root system that may go down as far as ten feet and kurapia bounces back after partygoers cavort on it although heavy everyday foot traffic is not advised.  You can order it at kurapiaplugs.com. 72 plugs cost $144 and, once they fill in, will cover up to 164 square feet.  If you want immediate coverage, kurapia sod is available at $2.85 per square foot through westcoastturf.com.

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