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Mountain retreat or coastal dell?

A GROVE OF WHITE-barked birch trees protects and shades Sonja and Jack Sperry, s house, so that on hot summer days their house and garden can feel as much as 20 [degrees] cooler than the neighbors'. Although the verdant garden has the look of mountain country, it's in California's hot-summer, low-elevation Central Valley where daytime temperatures usually hover in the 90s.

To create the forest, the Sperrys began with an exposed, flat site that had areas of heavy clay soil. They created level changes with low berms of sandy loam, and excavated a long pond, which they contoured with sand and sealed with a vinyl liner.

Then they planted seven European white birches (Betula pendula) and a few cut-leaf weeping birches (B. p. |Dalecarlica'), and began building the garden. They developed one area at a time, adding berms and an irrigation system for each zone. They used drip, mister, or impulse sprinklers depending on plant size, and the slope and exposure.

Now, 15 years after planting, the birch forest has grown; it surrounds the house and is thicker--several hundred offspring have come up from those original trees.

As in a true forest, this one has a rich green carpet of undergrowth beneath the birches' protective mantle. Ornamental strawberries, baby's tears, nandina, and dwarf agapanthus fill much of the garden in summer months. Palms, ferns, daylilies, succulents, and small Japanese maples appear in different areas as well. To make the garden seem as natural as possible, the Sperrys added tree stumps and rocks, now overgrown by the ground covers.

A free-form deck projects into the forest from the rear of the house; the deck skirts some trees and lets a few rise through it. Only 16 inches above ground level, it is at the right height to serve as a broad bench.

Birch trees can be water hogs, but in this garden they combine with underplantings to shade and cool the soil. In summer, each zone in the garden usually gets a 15-minute irrigation every morning. Periodic spraying protects against aphids.
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Title Annotation:garden
Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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