Heather Nicol grew up without so much as a houseplant. Montreal, Canada was her home until 1970 when she moved to California, and everything changed. For the first time she saw the diverse and exotic plant palette that was possible, and her curiosity was piqued, to say the least. Initially, Heather lived in rentals where all that she was only able to water existing landscapes. As she moved around the state and ultimately bought her own home in Grover Beach, she was sufficiently inspired and informed to create a garden of her own.
With experience and time to prepare, Heather came to us with a folder full of ideas. Rich texture and color were essential. “Color?" she says, "Color’s my thing.” This is most certainly true: Heather's shop in Grover Beach, Beads Beads Beads, is a testament to her love of diverse shapes, ornate centerpieces, and most of all, to exciting colors. Along with these essentials, Heather wanted an oasis reminiscent of her favorite far-off locations: Mexico, Greece, and Egypt. Heather is captivated by the striking blues and whites of Greece’s coastline, the curling plant leaves on Mexican Talavera pots, the heady history of Egypt. Tying together colorful and structural elements in a lush, drought-tolerant Californian garden became our mission.
Our plant selection needed to incorporate Heather’s existing collection of brightly-colored pots (Talavera and otherwise), and her brown Grecian-inspired pergola, while also creating screening for herself and her neighbors. The plants needed to allow for adjoining patches of strong sun and deep shade, while maintaining the rich texture she desired.
We started with fragrant night-blooming jasmine, papery crimson bougainvillea, and the delicate stalks of Egyptian papyrus, all for their towering potential to provide privacy for her space. Almost immediately the Papyrus shot ahead of the others, filling the corners of the back yard and providing a backdrop against which showier members of the ensemble now flash their colors.
These include 'Wendy's Wish' sage, with its dime-sized black-green leaves and vivid magenta flowers; the muted ruby leaves of an echeveria 'Afterglow'; and leucadendron 'Blush.' Cana 'Pretoria' offer papery papaya-colored blooms during the warm months, and contribute bold, lime-striped leaves. ‘String of Pearls’ senecio trail over the lip of Heather's bright turquoise blue pot, which simultaneously holds a magenta-flecked mangave agave. Electric pink Calandrinia sports silky blooms at the end of dozens of leggy stalks.
With the Central Coast’s limited water supply, maintaining a water-wise garden was one of our less colorful goals. Drip irrigation rather than sprinklers accomplishes a lot, as does Heather’s new rain barrel (bright orange, of course!). A helpful water-saver, it’s a now favorite feature of hers. “In my day, everyone had a rain barrel. Now I tell people, ‘If you want to do something really good for your garden, get a rain barrel.’”
Not only a beacon of water conservation, Heather’s garden is abundant with jewel-box color, sensuous texture, and elegant drought-tolerance. Its bright foreground foliage leans comfortably against taller backing plants, creating a lush stage setting just waiting for a statue of a Greek goddess. Clusters of Heather’s eclectic pottery gather in the lees of shielding plants. With her garden in place and evolving, Heather is at home propagating her own succulents and plucking the occasional weed. “I love it,” she says. “It’s my own little garden center. I love going out into my paradise every day.”
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