By: Nan Sterman
Photography by: Bill Robinson
Center is Garden to an
Astonishing Variety of Hard-to-Grow Shrubs
the late 1800s, the Butterfield stagecoach ran through Valley Center,
connecting Vallecitos to the Pala Mission. In the mid-1900's local
ranch owner John Wayne rode his horse down the old stagecoach route
on Sunday afternoons accompanied by Loretta Young. Today, the same
thoroughfare is known as McNally Road and runs right through the
heart of avocado country.
Tom Krumholz came to McNally Road in the 1980s when he bought one of those avocado orchards.
After 20 years of growing avocados, Tom, and his wife Cindy retired and built a home on an isolated knoll
overlooking their former grove. It is a lovely, comfortable and unpretentious house, with a view of the
ocean on a clear day. Surrounding the house, however, is one of the most unusual gardens around.
Tom and Cindy have a protea garden.
Gill typically works with commercial protea growers, he saw the
Krumholz property as an exciting prospect.
first time I walked to the top of their hill, I could see that it
was a fantastic place to plant protea,” Gill says. “There is good
air movement and excellent drainage. I thought about how it would
look over time. I could see that it would be pretty spectacular
if we planted a diverse collection of proteas right where you came
up the driveway. Sitting around the pool, you could look up at the
rocks and see proteas.
are not easy to grow. In fact, Sunset Western Gardens describes
proteas as “definitely not for beginners.” What the Krumholzes
have going for them is excellent growing conditions and the willingness
to try something unique.
am interested in proteas for their rarity and beauty. It’s something
that the average person doesn’t have,” Tom says.
require excellent drainage, somewhat acidic soil, a constant breeze,
dry conditions and no freeze. These drought-tolerant plants do poorly
when planted in a traditional, mixed garden bed. Instead, Gill recommends
growing proteas separately or even en masse on a bank or hillside
as the Krumholzes do. That way, you can control the water, which
is a very important factor in protea culture, too much water will
kill a plant. Or, as Tom says, “proteas thrive on neglect.”
Krumholz garden is on an automated-drip irrigation system. Each
protea has a single emitter that waters directly to the root of
each plant. In years with normal rainfall, Tom runs the system only
in the summer months. When temperatures reach 100 degrees and the
sunlight is intense, the irrigation runs for an hour every other
day. Earlier in the summer, it runs less often. Each massive plant
gets at most 3.5 gallons of water for the four hottest weeks of
the year. Unless we have drought conditions, the plants survive
on ambient rainfall from Oct. 1 to June 1. Even with tight water
controls, the Krumholzes lose about 5% of their plants each year,
a fairly low rate of loss compared to most traditional gardens.
Tom simply replants with other proteas, which start to bloom in
the first year and reach maturity within about four years. Gill
recalls that not long ago, he counted 1,500 orange blooms on just
one of the Krumholzes' mature pincushion plants. Flowers, after
all, are the reason for growing proteas. Bloom starts in late summer
and peaks from March to May. At peak the garden, "absolutely looks
like a florist's shop." Tom and Cindy do more than just admire all
those flowers. "Tom loves to give flowers to the ladies wherever
he goes," Cindy says. "Every time he goes to a bank, he brings a
nice bouquet of flowers." Tom described how to get the longest life
from cut protea flowers. "Flowers last for several weeks if you
cut the stems at a 45-degree angle and trim them a half inch or
so every other day. Add 1 teaspoon of bleach to the water in the
vase. Change the water when it gets cloudy."
dry the flowers, hang them upside down in the garage for two weeks
or more. While proteas are the main actors in this garden theater,
there are other players as well. Tom has an impressive cactus garden
that includes two planters made from 100-year-old ore carts from
the Silver King Mine in Park City, Utah. Around the pool are buddleia
and ocorillo, which, along with some hefty feeders, attract hundreds
of hummingbirds -- so many that they are as dense as a swarm of
honey bees. Butterflies, coyotes, and even a roadrunner, visit the
house on a regular basis.
Krumholz Protea garden is home to more than 50 varieties of spring-blooming
cacti and at least 35 different plants in the protea family.
Krumholz came to McNally Road in the 1980s when he bought one of
those avocado orchards. After 20 years of growing avocados, Tom
and his wife, Cindy, retired and built a home on an isolated knoll
overlooking their former grove. It is a lovely, comfortable and
unpretentious house, with a view of the ocean on a clear day. Surrounding
the house, however, is one of the most unusual gardens around. Tom
and Cindy have a protea garden.
are large evergreen shrubs from South Africa. While the foliage
is not remarkable, the flowers are some of the most unusual in the
world. Protea flowers look something like colorful, over grown artichokes.
They have multiple layers of bright-colored, tube-shaped flowers,
often surrounded by additional layers of bright-colored bracts.
The tube flowers and bracts together form a ball or a cone, 2 inches
to a foot in diameter.
Krumholz garden is home to at least 35 different plants in the protea
family - king proteas, which are the national flower of South Africa;
Leucospermum, commonly known as pincushion flowers; Banksias; and
of their plants are unusual, even among protea growers. "I have
more varieties of protea, I've been told, than anyone else in the
U.S.," Tom says. "I've had visits from people who have been in the
business for 25 years and they say, 'I've never seen one of those.
I didn't know they existed in this country.'"
Leucospermum vestitum (right), yellow-flowered Leucospermum 'Yellow
Bird' (above) and Leucospermum 'Scarlet Ribbon'.
has been experimenting with proteas since the early 1970's when
he found some in a nursery and planted them at his home in La Mesa.
When he and Cindy built their current home, they faced a significant
gardening dilemma. The home sits on a pile of rock, 1,840 feet above
sea level. Clearing a building pad required dynamite and patience.
After hauling away tons of rock, Krumholzes took a hard look at
the thin, rocky soil, the constant breeze and the 360-degree exposure.
What could they grow? According to Ben Gill, owner of California
Protea Management in Valley Center, the Krumholz garden is suited
perfectly for growing proteas. Gill worked with Tom and Cindy as
they planned the garden, selected and sited the plants, and installed
the irrigation system.
article was previously published in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles.