For me, the past year has been a collection of great gardens, friendly gardeners and public and private landscapes.  Gardening triumphs, as always, were interspersed with a few failures, in my own garden as well as beyond.  A few of my thoughts on the past gardening year:

In public spaces several developments were encouraging.  The beginning of what should be Orange County’s greatest gardening resource took its first steps, on October 25 at a luncheon in Irvine.  The Great Park Botanical Garden, a 21st century garden, led by Teddie Ray and Rick Hume, was introduced by the Great Park design team, including lead designer Ken Smith, landscape architect Mia Lehrer, environmental artist Mary Miss, and ecologist Stephen Handel.  Much work lies ahead, but the seed was planted and our county will soon be home to a world-class botanical garden.

Orange County’s public spaces present a legacy of grassy parkways, unimaginative plantings and climate-unsuitable plants.  Nonetheless, repetitive overuse of a handful of plants continued to give way slightly in 2006.  Within the county, a few of public parkways and streetscapes have been planted that are inspiring and imaginative.  These new and innovative public landscapes also show us how we can conserve our precious resources.

Specific examples of imaginative and appropriate plantings can be seen on Jeffrey Road between Trabuco Road and Irvine Blvd in Irvine or on Aliso Creek Road near Summerfield in Aliso Viejo.  These streetside plantings give us a glimpse of what is possible with our public funds.  Good job!  Unfortunately, the same opportunities were missed during the enormous thirty-two million dollar upgrade of El Toro Road; an odd yet routine mix of junipers, bird-of-paradise, crepe myrtle, daylilies and turfgrass.  An opportunity missed.

The most progressive and forward thinking landscapes in the county are taking place at the Shady Canyon development in the hills between Newport and Irvine.  The public areas, entrances roads, clubhouse and community center are noteworthy.  The remarkable landscapes at Shady Canyon connect nature, gardens and people.  On a scale never achieved before in Orange County, these landscapes actually seem to “fit” our climate and lifestyle. Bravo!

Three other public happenings during 2006 deserve mention.  Close to home, at Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar, a stunning new succulent planting by Cal Poly student Matthew Maggio was unveiled.  It is a must see.  The Fullerton Arboretum’s new two million dollar Visitor Center opened in March as one of the first “green” buildings in Orange County.  Further north, the internationally acclaimed Huntington Library and Gardens continued progress toward a fall 2008 opening of its 12-acre Chinese Garden.  600 tons of limestone boulders from China are an impressive sight and the lakes are already filled with water.

Sadly, we lost two significant west coast nurseries in 2006, both famous for rare and new plants.  Heronswood, near Seattle, was my favorite nursery in the U. S., but in late May it was abruptly closed by new owner Burpee.  Three weeks earlier, Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, CA finally gave up the battle and closed as well.  Plants from these nurseries will live on in mine and others gardens, a living legacy to these pioneering companies.

Back at home, as with any gardener, the year offered success as well as failure.  Additions during 2006 to my eclectic array of plants were 675 plants and 288 unique varieties.  At this point in my gardening life the plants I crave are those that are likely of interest to only a handful of people.  For that handful, some of my 2006 additions included Acis nicaeense, Aeonium smithii, Albuca spiralis, Arum discoridis philistaeum, Bessera elegans, Bulbine mesembryanthemoides, Calostemma purpureum, Dichelostemma ida-maia, Four Echeveria’s, Eryngium eburneum, Eustephia darwinii, Greenovia aurea, Heuffelii sp., Three Jovibarba’s, Musschia wollastonii, Six Sedum’s, Ten Sempervivum’s, Sinningia aggregata, Strobilanthus gossypinus, Symphyandra zanzegur and Wollemia nobilis.

My personal plant obsession has grown beyond sanity to border upon addiction.  My current plant heroin is an obscure selection of tiny plants known as Oxalis, specifically those from a small area of South Africa.  Much to my wife’s dismay, my Oxalis collection continued to expand in 2006, numbering over 150 varieties.

Blooms that appeared for the first time in my garden during 2006 included the stunning flowers of Echium boissieri, Eucrosia bicolorEucomis vandermerwei, Lapageria rosea and a white form of Brunsvigia parkeri.  After finally receiving a selection of one of California’s native orchids, Epipactis gigantea ‘Serpentine Night’, I was again unable to coax any flowers.

Plants will always fluctuate in popularity.  2006 continued to see big gains in the popularity of low-chill blueberries, succulents, and Mediterranean plants.  Meanwhile, other trends declined; noticeably cottage gardening, water gardening and lawn care.

Gardeners generally enjoy seeing the efforts of others and I was blessed in 2006.  The year began with gardens along the Mendocino Coast, then Berkeley and the Monterey Peninsula.

Spring was spent in local gardens, especially in Laguna Beach, and some fabulous gardens in the hills above Tustin.  Summer was occupied with gardens in Portland, Salem, Corvallis and Eugene.  A July trip to six botanical gardens and nine private gardens from Seattle to Vancouver was spectacular (including Cistus Design, Van Dusen and Butchart).  But the highlight was standing with Linda Cochran in her famous garden on Bainbridge Island – wow!

September brought me again to England for return visits to the world famous gardens at Kew and Wisley.  Professionally, dozens of garden centers were visited, but the year’s highlight was to Trentham Garden Centre, the brainchild of Alan Roper.  Two hours north of London, this stands as the finest garden center I have ever seen.

Finally, two more notes.  First, was the long awaited publishing of my friend and mentor Dave Fross’ book, Native Plants for California Gardens.  Lastly, was the retirement of John Lenanten as a professor of horticulture at Orange Coast College.  A horticulture instructor for 47 years, 36 at OCC, his enthusiasm, guidance and compassion for all things growing has influenced thousands, myself included.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar