What Landscape Designers Grow in their own Gardens


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alstroemeria_Inca-Ice.1600It probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that I have a lot of friends that are also landscape designers. We get together to talk plants, garden design challenges and plant problems while enjoying good food along with a little wine thrown in for good measure. Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of these friends and although I was only there briefly to pick up something I couldn’t help but ask about several of the beautiful plantain her own garden. Some of her favorites include those with interesting foliage and texture and that flower over a long season. Maybe some of these plant ideas will work in your own garden.

Being winter and all I was immediately drawn to the hundreds of soft apricot and creamy yellow flowers covering a 3 foot wide Peruvian Lily. This selection of alstroemeria, called Inca Ice, is much shorter and compact that the taller ones that can be somewhat floppy in the garden. Alstroemeria were named by Carl Linnaeus, often called the Father of Taxonomy, for his friend and student Klaus von Alstroemer. Native to South America, the summer growing types come from eastern Brazil while the winter growing plants are from central Chile.

Peruvian Lily spread slowly outward from rhizomes and grow in full to part sun. They are hardy to 15-20 degrees and can tolerate dry conditions although they look best with irrigation. The Inca series grows 2-3 ft tall and can be covered with flowers from spring to late fall or winter if the weather is mild. The flower stems are long enough for cutting. This variety also comes in light orchid, pale yellow and white with red and green markings. What’s not to love about this plant?

Tucked next to the blooming Inca Ice Peruvian Lily, a clump of bright, Festival_grass-leucodendron.1600burgundy red Festival grass complemented the soft yellow of a Leucodendron discolor and a variegated Flamingo Glow Beschorneria. I was not familiar with this variegated agave relative with its soft-tipped chartreuse striped leaves. I found out this beautiful plant is drought tolerant, hardy to 15 degrees and will bloom with 5 foot pink stalks with reddish pink bracts.

Other plants that boast more foliage color than flowers brought this winter garden to life. Several varieties of helleborus just starting to show pink, white and rose color were surrounded by the brilliant chartreuse-yellow foliage of sedum Angelina ground cover. A variegated Japanese Lily-of-the-Valley shrub grew nearby getting ready to bloom soon.

Beautiful bright pink, cream and green variegated Jester Leucodendron bordered the driveway. I’ve seen this plant also called Safari Sunshine in nurseries. With its smaller size of 4-5 feet this evergreen shrub has showy, rich red bracts that sit atop the branches now in late winter and lasting into spring. Drought tolerant like Safari Sunset and deer resistant, too, leaucodendron are hardier than other protea.

Every interesting garden has good bones. It has focal points, texture, repetition and unity among other elements. My friends garden is no exception. A lovely caramel colored New Zealand Wind Grass dominated another area allowing my eye to rest for a while. I wish they would quit renaming this plant that used to be stipa arundinacea but is now anemanthele lessoniana. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but the effect is beautiful in the garden. I’ve always called it Pheasant Tail grass but I could find no reference as to why this common name is used. Life used to be simple before DNA sequencing!

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what a landscape designer grows in her own garden.



Yosemite: Fire, Water, Renewal


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Yosemite ValleyI spent my holiday in a most remarkable place. I drove through miles of the Stanislaus National Forest devastated by the Rim Fire a couple of years ago. It was the 3rd largest wildfire in California history. I played in the snow at Crane Flat before descending into Yosemite Valley where water flowed freely after several years of drought. Nature is renewing herself as she always has. At this time of year it’s especially relevant to look the process of rebuilding. Take a lesson from nature.

There is much controversy about the dams and reservoirs that supply Hetch Hetchy reservoirdrinking water. Should some, like the Hetch Hetchy reservoir that sits within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, be restored to the pristine valley that was there originally? It’s a complicated question, one that I pondered while hiking over the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the way to Wapama Falls. With a storm brewing I made my way along the rim of this breathtaking, glacier carved valley surrounded by towering granite cliffs much like Yosemite valley.

newt.1600Bright orange Sierra newts waddled across the trail looking for a crevice in a rock or log. Their skin secretes a toxin which is a hundred times more deadly than cyanide and is being studied at Stanford University as a pain medication. Under some burned Black Oaks, I found a lush stand of Tufted tufted rock ferns.1280Rock ferns described by John Muir when he hiked and camped in the area in 1873 as having “rare beauty”.

Hetch Hetchy is a lesson in the value of a watershed, this one being supported by the Upper Tuolumne River. With much of the forest and chaparral destroyed by the Rim fire the forest surrounding the reservoir is starting to come back with succession plants like the resprouting of California black oak, ceanothus and manzanita in the lower elevations and Ponderosa pine, dogwood and incense cedar in the higher areas.

Forest rejuvenation began immediately after the Rim fire went out. Native burned forestwood-boring beetles rapidly colonize burned areas while black-backed woodpeckers depend on them as a high-protein food source eating over 13,000 beetle larvae every year. Remote sensing satellite images indicate that virtually all the vegetation is dead on nearly 40% of the burned area. Chaparral and oaks will resprout but ecologist say it could take 30 to 50 years for the forest to reestablish itself. It scorched some of the last remaining old growth in the Stanislaus National Forest and 78,000 acres of Yosemite National Park.

Merced RiverRecent rains and snowfall have been welcome in all of California but it is especially important in a burned forest. Yosemite valley was spared the brunt of the fire but not the effects of the drought of the past several years. Water is flowing in the Merced river and the waterfalls are spectacular but the light dusting of snow on El Capitan, Half Dome and other famous peak are mostly picturesque. It’s the snowpack in the Sierra that provides so much of the drinking water for Californians and the snow has mostly been falling at the higher altitudes so far this season. Still the reservoir levels are increasing with each storm and if Mother Nature can keep up the good work between now and April we’ll be in better shape than the last couple of drought years.

The California Dept of Water Resources has published electronic readings of the snow survey which show that its water equivalent is only 54% of the average statewide so far. The winter’s first manual measurement of the snow pack is set for December 30th. They will publish the findings on their website. Reservoir levels and precipitation levels can also be found on the CDEC website.

We gardeners approach the New Year with optimism and hope. Here’s to 2015 and all that it brings.



Winter Plants that Flower even in the Rain


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flowering cherryBetween holidays and storms I’m spending more time looking out the windows at the garden than I am actually outside in it. We have been fortunate to have received so much rain. We welcome it. We embrace it knowing that the trees are getting a deep soak and the aquifer rejoices. I’m impressed and amazed how many flowering plants are blooming despite being pounded by 33” of rain up here in Bonny Doon. These plants are my heroes and you might just consider including them in your garden too.

One of my favorite small ornamental trees that blooms several times in my garden during the year is the Autumnalis flowering cherry. I am not exaggerating when I say it blooms in the spring, a little during the summer, again in the early fall and now in December. I’m not sure how it got the name Autumnalis ‘cause it sure can’t read a calendar. I was afraid I would loose the December show with so much pounding rain but the pale pink blossoms have mostly come through just fine and and chickadees who land in it before going to the feeder remind me that spring will be here before I know it.

Another tough plant that can take weather extremes is the Lily-of-pieris_japonica_variegatedthe-Valley shrub (Pieris japonica). There are many varieties of this early winter bloomer. Some have pure white flowers, other sport various shades of pink or dark rose. Mine is the smaller variegated foliage model with dainty, drooping clusters of pure white flowers in early spring. Right now it is covered with flower buds so dense that you’d think it was already blooming. The new growth in the spring has a beautiful pink tint. This shrub will hold up to the wildest weather. Another plus for the Lily-of-the-Valley shrub is that is useful for fire scaping in the landscape and it isn’t on the menu for deer either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACamellia flowers, thick, tough and full of color, easily sail through winter weather. Camellias bloom for a long time and with so many types you can have one blooming from October all the way through May. This showy evergreen shrub is drought tolerant once established. Yes, with some mulch and a deep soak every so often they require much less irrigation than you’d think. There are fragrant varieties, such as Pink Yuletide, a sport of the popular red Yuletide.

Camellias are easy to grow in containers. Even if you only have a small space, a variety like Fairy Blush only reaches 4-5 ft and has a delicate fragrance also. Like other types, camellias make wonderful cut flowers. With short stems they work best floated in a low bowl or container. Group them together for a beautiful display of color inside your house.

A favorite of birds and indoor floral arrangers is the evergreen mahonia.1600mahonia. They are already blooming with cheery, bright yellow flower clusters that will last for months. When each flower sets a purple berry they look like grape clusters. The edible berries make good jelly, too. There are 70 varieties of mahonia including our own native Oregon Grape which grows in the understory of Douglas fir forests. Mahonia aquifolium is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soil and doesn’t create a lot of leaf litter.

Other tough winter blooming plants include witch hazel, edgeworthia, michelia and grevillea. Enjoy color in the garden regardless of what Mother Nature brings this winter.



Holiday Wreaths from the Garden


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holiday wreath.2048After a hiatus last year I again had the pleasure to join my neighbors at their annual wreath making party. This is the 11th year this group has gotten together “rain or shine” according to hosts Barb Kelly and Martha Radcliffe.

The wreath making extravaganza lasts for over a week and friends and relatives come from far and wide to create the most amazing wreaths. But it’s the work of Barb, her husband Reggie and neighbor Martha who make it all possible. This year pouring rain didn’t stop them from seeking out their favorite plants to snip. For a week or so they cut and prune and piled everything up for those of us who drop by to use freely as we create our wreaths.

One of my fellow wreathers this year came all the way from Roseville as they wreath display.1920always do. Her sister and niece Jaelyn had a wonderful time making their wreaths but hers was well over 2 feet across and weighed about 30 pounds. “I like everything big”, she said with a laugh, “including big wreaths and big hair.” You hear the description “this one’s a Kardashian” in the group. These amazing creations are created from so many bundles of greenery, flowers and berries that they end up weighing more than you’d think.

Barbs_wreath2Barb, who’s house and garden we invade, creates lots of wreaths, the bigger the better. She holds the record for making the biggest wreath while Martha holds the record for the most wreaths. Both use them in their own homes and to give away as gifts to friends and neighbors. Used to be Barb would give one to her secret pal in her bunco group but they all come now and make their own wreaths these days.

Barb says this year she thinks the one she made for her front door is one of her best. It’s not the biggest but features dark pink camellia buds and tiny red roses in addition to the deep red flowers of New Zealand tea tree. She added an ivory bow to complement her door.

Little Amanda was there with her Mom and one her friends Anastasia. I met Amanda a couple of years ago when she posed with her own creation for me. The kids will be making their own wreaths later in the week. One of these small fry is only 4 yrs but all are going to make wreaths too with a little help.

One gentleman made several square wreaths which were unique. Each wreath maker creates a different kind of look when choosing the plant material for their bundles. Some are meticulous in combining the exact same mix as they go around the wire frame. Others gather with abandon from conifers, variegated shrubs and other favorite plants that are piled high along the edges of Barb’s deck.

You can make a stunning wreath yourself from most anything you find around your garden. Barb, Reggie and Martha have favorite places they have scoped out to collect greenery including neighbor’s yards. They get permission from the homeowner first but have several people who look forward to the free pruning of their shrubs each year.

Some of the plant material that they harvest include conifers like cypress, deodar cedar, redwood, arborvitae and fir. Broadleaf evergreens such as camellia, bottlebrush, variegated pittosporum, variegated holly, green holly, silver dollar eucalyptus, boxwood, oleander, acacia. melaleuca and abelia are also good. For color, try snippets of leptospermum Ruby Glow, leucodendron ‘Safari Sunset’, camellia and rose buds and dry hydrangea flowers. Favorite berries are myrtus communis, texas privet, pepper berries, holly berries and nandina.

Take a few minutes to create a wreath or swag for your own home or to give away to friend and neighbors. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays.

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