A Garden in Carmel
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Nestled in between the criss-crossing patterns of boxwood in Susan and Fritz Grau’s Carmel garden are small dishes of beer. Slugs and snails meet their fate in this non-toxic fashion.
“I’m very proud of the fact that the garden is entirely organic,” Susan says. “We’ve been totally organic for 10 years—there is nothing petroleum in the garden.”
The Graus spray water on aphids eating their roses rather than using insecticides (“The flowers don’t love it, but the leaves do,” Susan says) and use peppermint spray on plants to fend off other mites. An organic pesticide called Neem oil is ordered online.
The Graus also are big on reducing waste. As Fritz sits in the sunny, sheltered courtyard reading the paper, Susan leads the way to an area on the side of the house to show off worm bins and compost heaps. Shredded pages of the soy-based Wall Street Journal mix with grapefruit rinds and other biodegradable waste to create a rich soil to go back in the garden. Susan picks up some dark earth and sniffs it.
“There is no smell,” she says enthusiastically. “No smell.”
Although Susan says “everything grows in Carmel,” her plantings have been determined partly by trial and error.
“When you’re doing organic, it’s all experimentation,” Susan says. “But plants do get healthier.”
Susan has discovered that organic techniques often work better on plants that are naturally disease resistant.
“Species are heartier for organic gardens,” she says. “We have heritage roses because with hybrids you have to spray.”
The garden is also home to antique objects that the Graus have collected from around the world. A greeny-blue Vietnamese pot dating back 200 years holds lavender and salvia. “The hummingbirds love it,” Susan says. Planted in a bed near the pot is a newly-discovered salvia species from Mexico that has white blossoms tinged with red on the tips of the flowers.
“It’s called salvia hot lips, if you can believe it,” Susan says.
A finial from an antique French highboy straddles pieces of iron that Moss Landing-based iron worker David Jablonsky forged to train greenery over. Jablonsky also designed vertical iron structures called tuteurs for a “very rare” evergreen hydgrangea vine to climb up.
An old iron balcony from France leans up against the back of the house. Ivy planted in small pots below the balcony grow up the curving balustrades. Another pot from Fritz’s childhood home holds a thriving aloe plant.
Plants are regenerated here too: “I love to propagate,” Susan says.
Sedum echeveria that came from centerpieces at a garden show in San Francisco were chopped off and put in pots. Cuttings of a Sedum gotas from friends are growing in small pots.
Part of the interest of the garden results from the juxtaposition of organic practices with formal garden design elements.
The Graus, with the help of gardeners Grace and Ray Silva Santella, trimmed and shaped the yew trees that flank their courtyard garden gate. They’ve also trained two apple trees to cross each other, paralleling the criss-crossing theme of the garden, which is again echoed on crossing trellises. The depth and interest in the garden makes it hard to believe that it’s only 2 years old.
Susan, who is a member of multiple garden societies and is a flower arranging judge for the Garden Club of America, wants to see her organic fervor spread.
“I’m trying to push them to have specific classes go organic, like flower arranging and horticulture,” she says. “I drive everyone crazy talking about it all the time.”
Web sites for organic gardening that have received good reviews include www.organicgardening.com, www.plantnatural.com and http://home.vtown.com.au/dbellamy/contents.html; Silva Santella Gardening can be reached at 883-1861.