I am a landscape designer and consultant in the Santa Cruz mountains in California. I write a weekly gardening column for the Press Banner newspaper. I am also a Calif. Advanced Certified Nursery Professional and managed The Plantworks Nursery in Ben Lomond, Ca. for 20 years.
The first “landscape emergency” call came from a homeowner in the Felton Grove neighborhood. She lost 100 feet of fencing this winter during four separate floods. ” I need plants to screen the new wire fencing from the road and I need it fast,” she said.
The next call came from Boulder Creek. A row of pesky acacias had recently been cut down exposing the house to road traffic. This homeowner wanted plants that would fill in quickly, be low maintenance and have low water requirements. Every landscape situation calls for a different solution and there’s one for every garden.
When you plant new shrubs that you plan to turn into a hedge, know what to expect and then let each plant develop in its own way rather than trying to make it into something its not. Any plant can be pruned and trained into any shape but that creates more work than if you selected shrubs than naturally grow into a form that pleases you.
Good shrubs for screening that naturally stay between 6-15 feet include California natives such as ceanothus ‘Concha’ or “Julia Phelps’, California coffeeberry and mahonia. Other good performers are westringia ‘Wynabbie Gem’, New Zealand tea tree, oleander, pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’, purple hopseed and escallonia.
Many times a screen may start in the sun but end up in mostly shade. For your sunnier spots why not mix in a few dwarf fruit trees to enjoy, ceanothus and Pacific wax myrtle for the birds, barberry for the beautiful foliage and fall color, spirea, rockrose, escallonia and quince for their bright flowers and fragrant lilacs for cutting in the spring?
The shadier side can include Oregon grape for fragrant, yellow winter flowers, snowberry for those striking white berries in the fall, oak-leaf hydrangea, viburnum and native mock orange for blossoms in the spring. Loropetalum have beautiful flowers and burgundy foliage while variegated mint bush ( prostanthera o. ‘Variegata’) sport lovely purple flowers and fragrant foliage. Mixed hedges appeal to bees, butterflies and songbirds while also providing flowers, berries and color throughout the year for you to enjoy.
Bare spots in a hedge are caused by old age and repeated shearing without allowing the hedge to grow. The problem can be alleviated by cutting away dead twigs, branch by branch and then shearing outside the last cut next time you prune.
To keep down maintenance, mulch around your plants and install drip irrigation. There won’t be any pruning to do if you choose plants that grow to the height you want.
How close should you plant a mixed hedge? Depending on the mature size of the plant, spacing could be from 3-5 feet part If you want a quick, thick screen.This gives them room to breathe and develop their own shapes. Fast growing plants can be space 5-6 feet apart or more and will usually fill in within 5 years.
Provide the best growing environment for the fastest results. By this I mean amending the soil at planting time if your soil is not very fertile. Cover the soil with mulch and fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer. Water deeply when needed especially during the first three years when young plants put on a lot of growth. Formal hedges are fine for some gardens but think of all the added benefits you’ll get planting a mixed hedge.
I’ve seen my share of spectacular gardens and always come away with new ideas and inspiration. It’s part of the fun to imagine how one might incorporate a unique type of path or a water feature into your own garden. Maybe a particularly breathtaking plant combination would look just right next to your patio. It’s even better when the beautiful gardens are in your own neck of the woods. What could be better than to see what fellow gardeners have created nearby?
Recently I was able to preview several local gardens that will be featured on the Enchanting Gardens in the Valley garden tour on Saturday, June 24th from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. As a fundraiser benefit for nonprofit Valley Churches United there are seven beautiful, unique and inspiring gardens in Felton and Ben Lomond that shouldn’t be missed.
Dappled by the morning sun the pond and waterfall in the first garden I visited was even more enchanting after the owner, told us an interesting story. Seems that one spring she looked out her office window and saw a live blue heron strutting and displaying, trying to get the attention of the metal heron sculpture. “He was really doing his thing”, she laughed. The pond is surrounded by grass-like plants like lomandra and carex that provide movement in the wind while the upper bed where the waterfall originates features flowers of bright orange, red and magenta along with the blue foliage of a weeping Atlas cedar and blue oat grass.
Other highlights in this garden include raised veggie beds, a rose and cutting garden and a special fire hydrant garden for the dog. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Several gardens on the tour allow visitors to walk through the main living and kitchen areas. It’s a treat to see how the outside reflects the interior design from a gardener’s perspective. Under massive native oaks one such garden will keep you exploring for hours. With red as the primary color accent along with touches of yellow and blue every nook and cranny has been tastefully decorated with hand made glass collectables. An antique baby’s bed has been converted to a planter, a vintage stove overflows with ferns, ivy and begonias. The English cottage look is complete with mature boxwood hedges and a large white pergola with wicker furniture. There are sitting areas at every turn throughout the garden, however, the owner confesses she sits for about 15 minutes before the urge hits her to trim or re-arrange something. Sound familiar?
Another garden on the tour features a Newport Fairy rose as big as a van. A rainwater catchment system designed by the owner/engineer waters his orchid greenhouse with pure rain water. The rhododendrons in this garden are 20 years old and all the hydrangeas are from cuttings his wife has propagated. There are many great tips and ideas to take away from this garden.
A study in sustainability and permaculture, one of the gardens is a mega food source for the owner’s family. From grapes to vegetables to recycled wood arbor and decks with fancy railings, this garden is a certified wildlife habitat and pollination garden for bees and beneficial insects. Using organic practices and water conservation techniques it’s brimming with life.
If your space is small, you’ll want to visit a garden nearby, Designed by a landscape architect and her creative husband the garden rooms surrounding the compact home feature a koi pond, meditation garden, galvanized water tank with wall fountain, outdoor dining table re-purposed from old deck and vegetable garden. The outdoor experience connects to the interior with large open doors at both the front and the back.
So whatever type of garden appeals to you there’s sure to be one to please at the Enchanting Gardens in the Valley garden tour. Tickets are available at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, several other local nurseries and from Valley Churches United office in Ben Lomond. Contact them at 831-336-8258 for more information.
I didn’t get everything done in May that I had on my to-do list. Who ever does? Anyone who tends a garden knows how fast plants grow with the longer, warmer days and nights. So this month I continue to work on my own garden tasks as well as help others renovate their gardens to look great, support native pollinators, wildlife and habitat.
If you battle dandelions and don’t want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. Then poke a bunch a holes and drop in some grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won’t remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.
Many plants, both vegetable and ornamental, are bothered by aphids and other sucking insects as well as foliage and flower eating bugs. From cucumber beetles, flea beetles, stink bugs, weevils, curculios to borers, the list of trouble makers is endless. To help deter them mix up some pepper spray in your kitchen.
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart warm tap water
Let stand I hour, strain and spray plants either in the morning or evening.
When the last flowers of your rhododendron, azalea, camellia, weigela and spirea have finished it’s time to prune them. If you prune too many months after flowering your risk removing the flower buds forming for next year. Basically it’s best to prune lightly each year to shape plants that have become too leggy. The rules apply to most plants. Prune to the next whorl or set of leaves. To increase rhododendron bloom next year, break off any faded flower trusses just above the growth buds being careful not to damage the new buds.
Apply the second fertilizer application for the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The final one for the season should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water in well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.
Another garden to-do this month includes summer pruning of wisteria. To increase flowering next spring and keep these vines under control cut new growth back to within 6″ of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.
Another maintenance tip is to shear spring blooming perennials to keep them full and compact. Candytuft, phlox subulata, aubrieta and other low growing perennials benefit if you cut off spent bloom and an inch or two of growth. Other perennials and shrubs that benefit from the same treatment to keep them compact are erysimum, lavender and Pink breath of heaven.
I didn’t have much of a gopher problem during the dry years. All my plants went into the ground with nary a thought as to the danger they would one day find themselves in. Now it’s a different story and it’s war. I”m not giving up and I’m not giving in. Here’s my story and what I’m doing about the destructive critters.
As you know there’s nothing, well almost nothing, as heartbreaking in the garden as losing a favorite plant you’ve nurtured and enjoyed for years. Whether the death comes from fungal problems, insect infestation or a rodent, you feel a loss. And so it was with me just recently when I discovered one of my prized Zebra iris eaten by a gopher. Then a couple of years ago my birch tree keeled over in the driveway, roots mostly eaten off. I saved the birch by replanting it in a huge gopher basket. Thankfully it was dormant season so the tree had time to recover the next spring. The jury’s out on whether I can save the iris.
Did you know that gophers usually live alone within their burrow system except when females are caring for their young or during breeding season? They are nocturnal, territorial and active year round. All those mounds you see are created by one animal as the female will drive off her young just a few weeks of giving birth. If you dispatch a female before she gives birth in the spring you can often solve your problem. Don’t give her the chance to have another litter in June. She can live for 3-5 years.
I don’t advocate using poison baits as those anti-coagulant toxins can be passed on to pets, hawks and other predators that might eat them. Each morning I do look for any signs of fresh activity and I’ll set a cinch trap with a flag after probing for the tunnel direction. I also discourage them by flooding the tunnels and stomp hard on any new surface tunnels.
There are no gophers in the Northeast but the Golden gopher of the Midwest is twice as large as our Pocket gopher who got it’s name as they love to store food in side pockets inside their head. Gophers love sprouts and apples and will gorge themselves to destruction if they are plentiful.
Urban myths to control gophers include Juicy Fruit gum and laxatives but they are not effective per studies at UC Davis. Putting glass or dried rose cuttings with thorns down a hole is effective as gophers are hemophiliacs and will bleed to death if cut. Castor oil is effective for a short time as is coyote, cat or any other urine. Fish emulsion or meat products are deterrents as gophers are committed vegetarians.
Are there plants that gophers won’t eat? They seem to avoid lavender, sage or salvia, rosemary, thyme and oregano. As a designer I have a slightly longer list of gopher resistant plants but always recommend planting in stainless steel gopher baskets anyway. You can’t be too careful.
I have to chuckle at a list of plants supposedly not on a gopher’s menu that I found in a magazine several years ago. Apapanthus was on the list. I can assure you that a gopher will burrow right underneath an agapanthus in order to get water from the roots.
I’ve hiked the trails of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve for many years, even before the 2008 Martin Fire. Since then we’ve had wet and dry winters but I was amazed at the amount of regrowth this year when I visited recently. The trees are getting huge, the shrubs robust and the flowering perennials took my breath away.
Everything is green and lush now around our homes and wild areas but summer is right around the corner and with it comes the increased danger of fire. What should we be doing to keep our homes safe? Is there a landscape that is safer in a wildfire than another? Which plants burn more readily?
Fire safe landscaping is a term used to describe defensible space. It can look like a traditional landscape. The idea is to surround the home with things less likely to burn and place them to provide separation between canopies and avoid creating fire ladders. Highly flammable plants should be placed, whenever possible, with low-growing and/or low fuel plants.
The three basic rules that Cal Fire advocates to make your home and community safe are to remove dead vegetation, thin out live vegetation and prune up your trees within 100 feet of your home or at least to your property line. There are guidelines for each area within that 100 feet but that’s a good rule of thumb to follow.
Your landscaping should be well-spaced, watered appropriately and the plants fire resistant. Plants should be low enough around the home that if they do catch fire they won’t give the flames a ladder to the eaves of a structure or lower branches of trees. Replace flammable plants with fire-resistant plants. Fire-resistant plants have watery sap, little flammable material and open, airy growth. Plants that provide fruit or flowers for bouquets are usually fire-resistant.
Even green plants will burn and several such as rosemary, lavender, large ornamental grasses, Japanese honeysuckle and juniper are actually extremely flammable. Some drought tolerant and native plants like sagebrush, baccharis, toyon, deer grass and buckwheat contain large amount of pitch, resin and dry flammable twiggy material. Keep these low and full of fresh green growth with frequent trimming. Remove dead limbs and twigs from manzanita. If you have these plants on your property yearly pruning and maintenance is important.
Prune pine, cedar, oak and other trees. Thin and separate clumps of brush to reduce their flammability and slow the spread of fire.
Plants with the ability to hold the soil in place and have value for wildlife and their habitat include some drought tolerant, California-friendly, fire resistant plants like western redbud, monkey flower, ceanothus, yarrow, California fuchsia and wild strawberry. Also consider coffeeberry, flowering currant, bush anemone, snowberry, California wax myrtle and evergreen currant. Non-native fire resistant plants from areas include rockrose, strawberry tree, Chinese pistache, barberry, escallonia, oleander, pittosporum, bush morning glory, dwarf pomegranate and wisteria to name just a few.
Groundcovers for areas closest to your house include ornamental strawberry, red fescue, and sedum. Perennials to try include bush morning glory, coreopsis, fortnight lily, hens and chicks, daylily, penstemon, santolina and society garlic. Vines that resist fire when maintained and watered occasionally include pink jasmine, white potato vine, cape honeysuckle and star jasmine.
Many people think they have to clear everything within 30 feet of their house to truly have a defensible space. This is unnecessary and actually unacceptable due to soil erosion and habitat destruction reasons. We want to retain the character of this beautiful area we live in, provide the food and shelter that our native wildlife are accustomed to but also reduce fire risk.
In areas 30-70 ft. away from your house plants should be trimmed and thinned to create well-spaced groups and help prevent a fire in the wildland from spreading to your home. Be cautious with slopes. If you have a large lot, the fringe area should be inspected and maintained regularly to eliminate any build up of dry brush and litter. This reduces the chance of surface as well as crown fires.
For example, grasslands mowed to leave 4-6″ of height allow insects, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals shelter, food and a place to reproduce. Leaving 4-6″ standing also provides some erosion protection and shades out some of the weeds that follow disturbance.
All vegetation, including native plants and ornamentals in a residential landscape, is potential wildfire fuel.Vegetation that is properly pruned and maintained, however, can slow a wildfire and reduce the amount of heat around your home.
Irrigation is vital in a fire safe landscape to maintain plant moisture especially within 30 ft around your home. Choose the right irritation system. While all plants can eventually burn, healthy plants burn less quickly. Consider drip irrigation and micro sprays for watering most of your landscape. Use sprinklers and micro spray for lawns and other groundcovers or turf. Even drought adapted species and natives will benefit from watering every month or so during the dry season. Unwatered landscapes generally increase the risk of fire.
Mulching around your plants will preserve the moisture in the soil. Plantings beyond 30 ft. should be irrigated occasionally but to a lesser extent. As you get 70-100 ft from the home, native plantings that require little or no irrigation should be used.
Many homes may not have 30 ft. between their house and the property line but following these guidelines will help. Plants in this area need to be the slowest to ignite and should produce the least amount of heat if they do burn. There are plants with some fire resistance which include drought tolerant California natives and Mediterranean climate selections. The key to fire resistance, though, is maintenance and keeping the moisture in the foliage high.
Plant arrangements, spacing and maintenance are often as important as plant types when considering fire safety. Group plants of similar heights and water requirements to create a landscape mosaic that can slow the spread of fire and use water most efficiently. Use plants that do not accumulate dead leaves or twigs. Keep your landscape healthy and clean. On a regular basis remove dead branches and brush, dry grass, dead leaves and pine needles from your yard, especially within 30 feet from your home and at least 150 ft if you’re on a hill. Keep trees spaced at least 10 feet apart with branches trimmed at least 10 ft away from your roof. It’s best, however, to keep trees further from your house. Low shrubs can be closer in and herbaceous perennials and groundcovers can be nearest the home.
Using fire resistant plants that are strategically planted give firefighters a chance fighting a fire around your home especially within the 100 foot defensible zone. Each home or property is different and you will need to look at the unique qualities of yours in planning your firescaping. Some of the info for this column was obtained from two valuable booklets, ‘Living with Fire in Santa Cruz County’, prepared by Cal Fire and available free from any fire department or online and another booklet published by the Calif. Department of Forestry.
A sweet fragrance permeates the air as I step out my front door. Could it be the white flowering wild ceanothus cuneatus blooming now on the hillside and smells of plum blossoms and roses? Maybe the scent is coming from the fragrant sarcococca with those tiny white flowers you can barely see but can smell a mile away. Or could it be the sweetly scented lily-of-the-valley flowers blooming on the back patio? Make fragrance a daily delight with plants that release their perfume at different times of the day and the year.
The word fragrance comes from the 17th century French word fragrantia meaning sweet smell. A garden’s fragrance can be as unforgettable as its appearance. The scent of a particular flower can make you remember past times and places. Plant them along a garden path to enjoy as you stroll, in containers to scent a deck or patio or locate them beneath a window and let their aroma drift indoors.
Several easy-to-grow shrubs have fragrant flowers as an added bonus. Mexican Orange or choisya ternata blooms most of the year. Pittosporum eugenoides, tenuifolium and tobira all have tiny blossoms that also smell like oranges. The tiny flower cluster of Fragrant Olive or osmanthus have a delicate apricot fragrance.
Then there are the perennials. My garden comes on a little later than most and the buds of the fragrant variegated Zebra iris are just opening. They will smell like grape Kool-aid when the sun allows the scent to develop.
Last year Chris and Rick Moran over at Brook Lomond Iris Farm gave me a couple Zebra rhizomes and they are growing quite nicely. Every year the Moran’s have a tall bearded iris show and sale over two weekends in the spring. This May 13th and 14th is the second weekend and the show takes place at their garden located at 10310 California Drive in Ben Lomond. The Iris Farm is educational, too, as the Moran’s are well-versed in organic gardening practices.
Chris told me a scented flower story about an iris called Scented Nutmeg. Seems that when the long awaited flower finally opened she bent down and smelled nothing. The blue flower was pretty anyway. Later when working out in the garden she smelled cookies baking. As none of the neighbors were home at the time she was puzzled. Sitting down the smell hit her again and she realized she was right next to the Scented Nutmeg. They just needed the sun to warm up the flower to give off the scent.
Other fragrant plants include California natives Philadelphus lewisii or Wild Mock Orange. Calycanthus occidentals or Spice Bush is native to our Central and Northern California mountains. Their fragrant burgundy flowers smell like red wine. Ribes viburnifolium, carpenteria californica and rosa californica are mildly scented, too.
In spring there may be nothing quite as spectacular as a wisteria vine, loaded with fragrant purple, pink, blue or white flower clusters, covering an arbor or pergola. Pink jasmine is another vigorous vine with intensely fragrant flowers as is Evergreen Clematis.
I can’t leave out the old fashion border carnation or dianthus. Their clove-scented flowers are born in profusion making them a nice addition to the mixed flower border and containers.
The list goes on and includes scented plants such as nemesia, wallflower, Japanese snowbell, hosta, coneflower, daphne, vitex, viburnum, Oriental lily, gardenia, nicotiana, phlox, rose, sweet pea, hyacinth, lilac, flowering crabapple, heliotrope, lavender, sweet alyssum, peony, moon flower, southern magnolia.