Plant Secrets You Can Use from Fox Island, Washington


deer_Japanese_mapleA year or so ago I planted a special kind of Japanese maple in my sister’s landscape. I traveled up to her house recently to celebrate our birthdays which are only 2 days apart and to check on the maple’s progress. Prized for their their brilliant salmon red bark which is much brighter than the regular coral bark maple, my sister’s Beni Kawa Japanese maple is coming along fine. I forgot to buff the bark with a soft cloth to polish it which keeps the color bright but I’ll be sure to remember that next summer when I visit again.

I also wanted to check in on her neighbor’s organic garden that I wrote about last summer. Bob was happy to show me what’s in the works for this year. Although he was fighting a cold -you can’t keep a good gardener down- he shared a few tips he is trying out this year.

Raw sawdust is his magic weapon in the strawberry patch. Sprinkled between the strawberry plants it is said to prevent annual weeds from germinating. He’ll get back to me with the results later in the season. His grapes were nicely pruned, the raspberries just starting to bud and the garlic which he planted last fall was about a foot high. The raised veggie boxes have been planted with lots of peas. Inside the green house, several types of kale and lettuce were just emerging in their flats.

Bob told me that this year again everything seems to be about 3 weeks early- sound familiar? As I walked the neighborhood enjoying the various blooming plants and taking in the sights of majestic Mt Rainier and the Puget Sound I admired many plants that also thrive here in our neck of the woods. A plant that grows in a multiple of growing conditions is always a winner in my garden. Here are a few notables from Fox Island.

What could a plant that is iconic of Scotland have in common with erica_canaliculata_Rosea.1600our area? Easy to grow heather and true heath look great in the garden at any time of year. Although both belong to the Ericacaea family, they are botanically different and are divided into the Calluna genus and the Erica genus. In the garden, however, they are nearly identical in color, shape and growing habits.

I love their colorful foliage and flowers and have seen the true heath, Erica canaliculata ‘Rosea’ blooming now also in gardens in our area. It is tolerant of winter lows a bit less than 25 degrees and will thrive in soil that is more alkaline than the calluna vulgaris heathers. Calluna types need more organic matter in the soil to really do well. Our acidic mixed redwood soils provide this and calluna cultivars are very cold tolerant. All need good drainage.

pieris_Valley_Valentine-closeup.1600Another shrub that I admire where ever I find it is Valley Rose’ Lily-of-the-Valley. The other vivid rose variety which grows a bit taller is Valley Valentine. It seemed most gardens on Fox Island had at least one of these beautiful plants in full bloom including the stunning white flowering forms. Books might tell you they require average water but established specimens are remarkable tolerant of drought.

Although it wasn’t blooming yet I came across a lovely choisya Sundance choisya_ternata_Sundance.1600also called Mexican Orange Blossom shrub which describes the fragrant orange blossom-like blooms. The new growth of this fast growing, evergreen, deer resistant shrub is colored bright chartreuse and provides year round color to the garden.

To round out my tour of local rhodie_pink_early.1600landscapes on Fox Island many of the early rhododendrons were starting to bloom. Covered with vivid pink flower trusses they looked great planted with viburnum davidii, daffodil and narcissus, iberis and black mondo grass. All grow great in our area too. We have a lot in common despite the distance between us.



Will Any Plants Thrive in Dry Shade?


daphne_odora_AureomarginataLooking out the window on a rainy day I forget that spot way back in the shade in the back of the garden will be bone dry come summer. It’s too far away to water conveniently very often with a hose and extending the irrigation for just that one area under the trees in the shade is not practical. I sympathize with clients when they ask me what will grow in a problem area like this. Believe me I know it’s a challenge to bring in some colorful foliage, texture or might I be so bold as to want flowers, too? Take a tip from one who lives in a similar area with the same problems. We’re in this together.

At this time of year when the plums are blooming and the flowering pears are clothed in white blossoms, I want something to extend this look out in the garden. There are several plants that bloom early in dry shade and fortunately they are also deer resistant. Later in the season when soil moisture all but disappears there are other plants that will take over center stage.

But first here are the candidates for early spring color and fragrance in shady gardens.

Fragrant Winter daphne is a handsome evergreen shrub and I especially like the variegated foliage of the variety ‘Aureomarginata’. This small, deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. This is usually about once per month. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year. Cut them to bring inside with hellebore for a pretty bouquet.

For fragrant May flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

Another powerfully fragrant plant for dry shade is commonly known as sweetbox. Sarcococca may not be showy enough to give to your Valentine but the sweetly scented flowers attract hummingbirds and fill the winter garden with a delicious fragrance for weeks starting in January.

Sarcococca ruscifolia forms an upright bushy shrub about 4 feet tall. Another variety called sarcococca hookeriana humilus makes a great ground cover as it rarely exceeds 1 1/2 feet tall. Both plants have dark green leaves, attractive berries and are deer resistant.

helleborus_orientalisHellebores are another winter blooming plant with foliage that looks great, too. I have several varieties including orientalis, argutifolius and foetidus. My Golden Sunrise has large, canary yellow flowers. It’s been blooming for almost a month and will continue for several more weeks. Hellebores are often still flowering during the Christian season of Lent from which they get their common name, Lenten Rose. They are good plants for naturalizing under trees as they are low maintenance, survive with little water and are disease free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Other plants that bloom at this time of year and require only moderate summer irrigation include Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, clivia, bergenia, mahonia and Pacific Coast iris.

As summer approaches other plants and shrubs will lend their color and texture to the dry shade garden.

Western Wild ginger and Pacific Coast Iris are great ground covers. Good shrubs include deer resistant Osmanthus fragrans or sweet olive. Their white flowers are tiny but powerfully fragrant. Bloom is heaviest in spring and early summer but plants flower sporadically throughout the year. This compact shrub grows at a moderate rate in full sun to partial shade and reaches 10 feet.

Heavenly bamboo are work horses in the shady garden. For a different look try growing nandina filamentosa or Thread-leaf nandina. This evergreen small shrub grows to 2-3 ft tall with very lacy, almost fern-like growth. New foliage is reddish in color and during the fall the leaves turn orange or purplish red. Pinkish-white flowers bloom in clusters in late spring and summer.

There are lots of other shrubs and plants that require only occasion summer water for those shady spots. Email me and I can share even more ideas and suggestions.



What Landscape Designers Grow in their own Gardens


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.



Winter Plants that Flower even in the Rain


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.



The November Garden


Cercis_Forest_PansyOutside my window, the Forest Pansy Redbud has started to display its spectacular burnt orange fall color. There’s a suet feeder hanging from the branches so I get to enjoy the antics of the Pygmy Nuthatches, Purple Finches and the Chestnut-backed Chickadees all day long as I watch the changing colors of the foliage. Out back I have a Catawba Crape Myrtle also starting to show fall color. Its leaves are turning a rich butterscotch shade which is lovely but not the reddish-orange described in the books. What causes fall color to vary from plant to plant? How does location in the garden, weather, climate and growing conditions affect what you see each fall?

The brilliant fall color we see in the leaves of trees and plants is always there. It’s just masked by Japanese_Maple-fall_color.1280chlorophyll during the growing season as the plant is busy making food while the sun shines during photosynthesis. Come autumn, shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the trees to switch into energy-storage mode, at which point their leaves stop producing chlorophyll. For the few weeks before the leave fall to the ground, they are colored only by their natural pigments. It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins and yellow and orange carotenoids that make fall foliage so glorious.

Some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights. A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent. Freezing temperatures or winds meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly denying them opportunity to enter their slow, colorful dormancy. Finally, trees that are under stress because of pests, disease, injury or drought may drop their leaves with no color change at all.

Japanese_Maple-fall_color2.1280So if your garden becomes shady early in the fall this may result in less vivid fall foliage. If your trees are stressed by drought like this year you may not get the usual colorful fall display. These and the above factors all affect the intensity of fall foliage colors.

Now is a good time to shop for plants and trees that can punch up the color of fall in your garden. Seeing your new addition in person will show you exactly what color you are going to get. Sure Autumn Gold Ginkgo will probably always color up bright yellow and Sango Kaku Japanese maples will show off their characteristic golden foliage but the fall color of Purple Smoke Bush, Katsura tree, Witch Hazel, Pomegranate, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Blueberry, to name just a few, can vary.

First Frost
I received an email from someone new to the area about when to expect our first frost. I’ve kept a weather Japanese_Maple_Sango-Kaku_fall_color.1600journal since 1992 and based on my records occasionally we get a light frost at the end of October. Mostly though, the earliest frost has occurred about second week of November with late November being the most common. Be prepared by moving frost tender plants under overhangs if possible or having frost blankets (not plastic) ready to cover delicate plants.

Transplanting in Fall
Need to move a plant or install plants out of containers and into the garden soil? Now through February offers the best time to do this. Soils are still warm at this time of year which helps new roots get established quicker than in later winter.

Prepare the new location first before excavating any plant. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball, but just the same depth. Use a sharp spade to make clean cuts through roots. Cut roots will form new, dense and healthy roots.

Before replanting, especially from a container, check for roots that have circled the interior of the pot. These must be tugged loose and straightened when planted. Don’t be shy about loosening roots. When replanting be certain to keep the rootball at the same level it was and don’t add soil over the rootball. Most plants need oxygen at the soil level.



Ormanental Grasses Take Center Stage


phormiumThroughout the year I am asked for design help and plant suggestions but it’s at this time of year that I especially hear the request, “I’d love to add more grasses to my garden”. There’s no doubt that the movement and sound of grasses in the landscape adds another dimension to our experience. Many grasses and grass-like plants use less water than other plants, too. This is the time of year that grasses say “Fall is here”.

There’s an ornamental grass for every type of garden. Whether you are striving to create the perfect perennial border or have a hot dry slope, grasses can work in harmony wherever you place them. There are some that are made for the shade, some that are perfect additions to a small water feature and many that are invaluable in container gardening.

Most grasses require little care, minimal fertilizer, only occasional grooming and just enough water to meet their needs. Diseases and insect pests are rare. They have succeeded because of their adaptability and have evolved to suit almost every environment and climate on earth.

Grasses are distinguished from other plant families by their growth habit. They grow upward from the base of a leaf Orange_libertiaor shoot and can regrow from the crown when cut back. True grasses generally have extensive root systems which help control erosion. There are other grasslike plants that resemble grasses in their growth habits and are often some of the best companions for interplanting with grasses. These include New Zealand flax, carex family sedges, chondropetalum-a restio, kangaroo paw, lomandra, montbretia, liriope and their cousins ophiopogon.

So let’s say you are putting in a new patio and want a few low grasses as accents between some of the pavers. A variety like Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass, with it’s creamy white foliage that turns pink in cold weather, would look great here. You could also use Ogon sweet flag for dense clumps the color of buttery in a shady spot, black mondo grass or blue fescue grass for even more color.

If you are trying to create a focal point or destination in your garden and think the texture of a grass with light and movement would be perfect, look to taller varieties to achieve this. Miscanthus purpurascens or Flame Grass grows 4 to 8 feet tall in the sun. Their magenta leaves turn to milky white in winter. Maiden grass sports narrow upright leaves 5 to 8 feet tall and creamy flowers. Their seed heads float and bounce in the the breeze. Planting them just above the horizon allow you to enjoy their swaying and dipping backlit at sunset.

Japanese_Blood_grassBesides texture, grasses provide color for your garden, too. Who hasn’t admired the burgundy foliage of red fountain grass? it’s one of our most popular grasses with it’s fox-tail like coppery flower heads. Another favorite of mine for color is Japanese blood grass, You’ll love this grass when you place it so the sun can shine through the brilliant red blades. This grass spreads slowly by underground runners and grows in sun or partial shade forming an upright clump 1 to 2 feet tall. Pink Muhly grass will stop traffic when in bloom.

Are sections of your garden hot and dry? Grasses are survivors and are good choices for sunny spots that get little irrigation. Good drainage is a must for these plants so OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAamend the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. Combine drought tolerant grasses with companion plants and a few accent rocks to complete your dry theme. Good combinations for these areas are Pheasant Tail Grass with the sky blue flowers of Russian sage. This grass is extremely drought tolerant once established. Giant Feather grass looks great with the purple flowers of penstemon ‘Midnight’. If you like blue foliage, try ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue grass with Amazing Red flax for a show stopping combination.

For a touch of whimsy, you can’t beat fiber optic grass. This grass-like sedge from Europe and North Africa looks like a bad hairpiece. You can grow it at the edge of a shallow pond or display it inside in a pot on a pedestal to show off it’s flowering habit. Seeing is believing with this one.

These are just a few of the places where grasses can enhance and add beauty to your garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant a new one.



The Mountain Gardener’s Favorite Plant Combinations


combination_loropetalum-pieris-dianellaI love my smart phone. I can’t imagine a day without it. A friend of mine told me that I would discover uses that I could only have imagined when I first got it. One of the simple things I use it for is taking pictures. Since I always have it in my back pocket I can whip it out in gardens, nurseries, in the wild or in any landscape that catches my attention.

It wasn’t until I started photographing gardens that I realized the importance of combining plants. So now when I design a grouping of plants that look good together I’m thinking of strong foliage plants, colorful flower spikes alongside soft mounds of foliage and delicate flowers alongside bolder blooms.

With the first day of fall next week I’m thinking of ways that will have any garden bursting with interest for the next few months. These are strategies for combining plants that are adaptable to all types of garden conditions whether you live in the sun or the shade and will also look good in other seasons of the year.

A vignette is a small group of plants that make a pleasing scene because of theirplant_combo2-phormium_CreamDelight-blueFescue-sempervivum complementary and contrasting features. I have several lists of good plant combinations that I regularly refer to when designing a garden. I usually start with a strong foliage plant then add other plants that have interesting texture, form or color.

When you look at a garden that you admire it’s usually the dramatic form of one of the plants that draws you in. When you use a plant with a bold, architectural form it makes a statement. The spiky foliage of Cream Delight phormium alongside a Burgundy loropetalum would make a good combination. Or how about creating a vignette of Festival Burgundy cordyline with Annabelle hydrangea and Cream de Mint pittosporum?

During the next few months plants begin to show soft, fall colors. Combine the fading foliage of these plants with plants that complement each other. The reddish fall color or Oakleaf hydrangea along with the pinkish-tan color of their fading flowers looks wonderful when combined with Japanese Forest Grass as it turns pink before winter. Another complementary fall combination is Royal Purple Smoke Tree surrounded by a bed of Autumn Joy sedum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStrong colors sometimes contrast instead of blend when plants change colors in the fall. I like to tone down a combination with silver foliage. An example of this would be a plant grouping of Evening Glow phormium, sedum Autumn Joy and Glacier Blue or Tasmanian Tiger euphorbia.

Another way to create a great plant combination is by blending textures. Coral Bark Japanese maple and Plum Passion nandina work well together. Cistus Sunset with Spanish lavender and rosemary is another good combination. I also like a large mass of Blue Oat Grass and Salmon salvia greggii planted together. Santa Barbara daisy goes well with Red Fountain Grass.

My list of potential plant combinations is pretty long as I’ve made notes over the years. Each garden has its own personality and growing conditions. A hot, dry garden might depend on a ground cover ceanothus along with lavender while a shadier garden might use natives like heuchera maxima, iris douglasiana, yerba buena and salvia spathacea. Whatever plants you choose, let them work together to make exciting vignettes in your garden.



Treats & Tips for the September Garden


salvia_m_Hot-LipsYou can feel the weather changing as summer winds down. It’s more than just the passing of the Labor Day holiday and the school year starting. The nights are longer and cooler. The days are not quite so hot and the flowers in the garden seem brighter and more colorful. I look past the soft blue and lavender blossoms and am drawn to the warm shades of gold, rust, orange, hot pink and red. They shout autumn is on the way.

There’s nothing quite like adding a few new perennials to brighten up the garden. There are many that don’t require a lot of water after they become established. I recently visited a garden where the irrigation was reduced to the point that that most of the plants were barely hanging on. But there among the crispy plants were two Hot Lips salvia blooming as big as you please. This plant is popular for a reason. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it and it blooms for a long time. It stays compact and is a great carefree shrub for water wise gardens.

Daisy flowers always bring a smile to my face. As members of the composite family they have echinacea_Wild_Berrya flat landing surface for butterflies to land on. Coneflowers are one of my favorites. When they start blooming in the early summer I enjoy them both in the garden and as cut flowers inside. Some have a slight fragrance. Hybridizers have introduced beautiful shades of gold, yellow, orange, burgundy and coral in addition to the traditional purple and pure white. Because they are dormant in the winter they are good candidates for the garden that has summer sun but winter shade. They are not attractive to deer and are good additions to the low water garden.

gaillardiaAnother perennial that blooms throughout summer and fall is gaillardia also known as blanket flower. I’ve seen this tough plant grow in neglected gardens that the owner swears does nothing to keep it going. They are covered with dozens of large reddish-orange flowers with yellow edging and bloom over a long period. This plant also attracts butterflies. You can start perennials from seed at this time of year for next year’s bloom.

Don’t overlook the color of other foliage plants like Orange Libertia, Abelia ‘Kaleidescope’, New Zealand flax, red fountain grass and Japanese bloodgrass in the garden.

Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like agapanthus, coreopsis, daylily and penstemon that are overgrown and not flowering well. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart but sometimes they don’t bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves.

Another thing to do while out in the garden this month is to cut back berries vines that have produced fruit. Canes of the current season should be trained in their place.

Spider mites are especially prolific during hot, dry weather. Sometimes you don’t even know how bad the infestation is until all your leaves are pale with stippling. Periodically rinse dust and dirt off leaves with water. Spray the undersides of infected leaves with organics like insecticidal soap switching to neem oil if they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides.

Soon it will be time to start cool season veggies or plant cover crops in the garden. It’s never too soon to start planning for erosion control in those areas that caused you problems during last spring’s storms. But for now add some early fall color and have fun in the garden.



Creating Atmosphere in the Garden


Pride_of_MadeiraSummer may be winding down but we still have lots of great outdoor weather to enjoy for several more months. This means more time to spend outdoors in the garden relaxing, entertaining and cooking on the grill. I like the relaxing part most of all so it’s important to me that what I see and feel when I’m out in the garden have an atmosphere that appeals to me. Here are a few ideas that I’ve used in my own and other people’s gardens I’ve helped to create.

Outdoor spaces are just more inviting if they feel like a real room with a ceiling, walls and attractive flooring. An arbor or pergola is a good way to provide a lid on your outdoor space. If you have natural trees in your garden they can shield you from the sky in some areas and open up other areas to passing clouds and sun. You can achieve a similar effect with groups of potted trees that shade your sitting area. Japanese maples, ornamental plums,cherries or crabapple are just a few of the trees that do well in pots. If you like to grow edibles plant a fig in a pot to provide some shade.

The sounds you hear while in the garden are part of the experience, too. The atmosphere just wouldn’t be the same without the sound of rustling grasses, wind chimes or birds splashing about in the bird bath or fountain. Auditory elements can come from the sound of gravel crunching underfoot as you walk or the wind in the trees.

Create the atmosphere you like by using the colors and textFlowering_Mapleures you most admire in your garden. I use to live in a lot of shade so white, silver and gold foliage and flowers were really important to bring life to the garden. I still love these shades but cool blue, baby pink and soft yellow also appeal to me.

Texture in the garden refers to the overall visual texture of the plants. Large and bold foliage like Flowering Maple, Pride of Madeira, rhododendron, viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea or hosta make a large garden appear smaller. Soft, fine foliage will make the garden appear larger by giving it the allusion of more space. Examples of finely textured plants include ornamental grasses, Breath of Heaven, ferns and asters. You might use different textured plants in different parts of your garden to get the affect you like.

Blur the garden’s boundaries to make it more interesting. You won’t be able to see the whole Breath_of_Heavengarden at one glance if you curve the path behind some shrubs, tall plants or sheer, see-through perennials. Leave some wild areas for the birds and bees to join you. Garden organically and mix in native plants wherever you can to keep the garden healthy.

Creating atmosphere in the garden is the art of combining space and time, light and weather to make a garden that we feel reflects who we are. It’s different for every gardener. One person might like straight rows of vegetables while another scatters poppies and nasturtiums randomly. Whatever appeals to you it should be close to your heart and that’s the atmosphere in your garden that’s right for you.



How to Design a Perennial Border


rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.



Winter Flowers that Use Less Water


In our neck of the woods we could change the iconic saying inscribed on a New York Post Office that reads  “Neither snow now rain nor heat nor gloom of night…”  to “neither drought nor freeze nor wind can stay the coming of spring”.  Spring is everywhere whether we are ready or not. The birds are announcing their presence in anticipation of the breeding season. Early blooming Saucer magnolia are covered with huge pink and purplish flowers. Daffodils are already opening.

There’s not a more important time of the year to have flowering plants in the garden. The restorative benefits of growing things is astonishing. They soothe the soul and refresh the spirit. Here are some plants I like to plant in my own garden as well as recommend to others.
clematis_armandii4
Scented flowers are nature’s way of rewarding pollinators with nectar and people with smiles. One such plant blooming now is the vine, Evergreen clematis or clematis armandii.  Most books say it can thrive on occasional summer water, defined as every 10-14 days during the dry months, but I’ve seen established vines bloom in spots that receive no supplemental summer water at all. The vanilla fragrance of the creamy white, star-shaped flower clusters is fabulous, their heady scent filling the air. This vigorous, cold hardy, evergreen vine has foliage that emerges bronze colored and then matures to a glossy dark green. It’s a great choice for filling a large space.

We’ve had a little rain but I still think it’s a good idea to concentrate on plants that need only daphne_odora_Aureomarginataoccasional water during the summer months or drought tolerant species that can thrive with water 1x per month. A good plant choice that fits the bill is Variegated Winter Daphne. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is evergreen and wonderfully fragrant. This deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year.  Cut them to bring inside with hellebore and euphorbia for a pretty bouquet.

For May fragrant flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

helleborusHelleborus is one tough plant. Also called Lenten Rose this extremely cold hardy, deer tolerant perennial blooms in the dead of winter. It looks especially good planted under winter and early spring flowering deciduous shrubs like witch hazel, viburnum, red or yellow twig dogwoods. Cut foliage to the ground in December so that flowers are displayed unobstructed.

Other drought tolerant plants in this family include the Corsican hellebore which is the largest of the hellebores. Creamy, pale green flowers float above leathery, evergreen foliage. This hellebore is tough and long lived if left undisturbed. It will grow in sun or shade and prefers a well drained or sandy soil but will tolerate clay if drainage is good. Once established it is fully drought tolerant.

Helleborus foetidus is also called Stinking hellebore but don’t let the name fool you. Only if you crush the leaves or stems do you get a strong chlorophyll smell which makes the plant unattractive to deer. The flowers last throughout the winter. This unique plant is the only plant discovered to date that uses yeast to produce heat.

Rounding out the short list of low water use, winter flowering plants are vine maple, berberis thunbergerii, euphorbia characias wulfenii, iris pallida, ribes sanguineum, huckleberry, forsythia, witchazel, azara microphylla,  western wild ginger and rosemary.



Beneficial Gardens in a Small Space


waterfall_2He told me that his was a one-of-a-kind garden, unique in such a small space and would I be interested in visiting some time? I love being invited to tour all types of gardens but I had an inkling that the garden of Rich Merrill, former Director of the Horticulture Dept. and Professor Emeritus at Cabrillo College, would be something special.

It was a beautiful morning when I arrived at Merrill's garden overflowing with flowering plants, small trees, edibles and water features. Many large boulders, surrounded by pebbles, caught my attention in such a small space. All part of the design to attract beneficial insects I was told. His organic garden is teeming with small beetles, spiders, predatory bugs, syrphid flies, parasitic wasps and lacewings. It's the ideal method of pest control, environmentally safe and free of cost.

While admiring his lovely garden, Merrill shared his knowledge of beneficials- from insects to birds to spiders to frogs and beetles. They are all part of the ecology of a successful habitat garden. I could barely keep up, writing down notes on my yellow legal pad as he weaved a story about how each of the elements in his garden contributes to its total health. I was never able to take one of his classes at Cabrillo College so this was a real treat. My own private class.

The wide diversity of plants in Merrill's garden provide moisture, shelter, prey and nutrition in the form of santivalia2nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein. His plants are "beneficial" plants because they foster beneficial insects. It just so happens  that many of these plants are also beautiful in the garden. Some of his favorites include composite flowers like sunflowers, marigolds buckwheat, scabiosa and santivalia or creeping zinnia.  They have flat  flower clusters with accessible landing platforms and small nectar and pollen to make it easier for insects to feed. They in turn eat the tiny eggs of the bad bugs in your garden. His is a complete ecosystem.

This 800 square foot garden happens to be in a mobile home park but any small space could be designed to be as beautiful and full of life as Merrill's. Most of my clients ask for a garden filled with color, hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies and wildlife so I came away with lots of great ideas.

blue_thunbergia2Once a teacher, always a teacher. Merrill gave me a handout he'd prepared for Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, explaining in more detail why he lets the broccoli go to flower to attract beneficials and why he allows aphids on his cruciferous vegetables to feed the beneficial insects when prey is scarce so they are on hand should he have an outbreak of bad insects that might ruin his flowers and plants.

As we strolled within a border of palms, olive trees, phormium, bottlebrush, Marjorie Channon pittosporum and cordyline, Merrill showed me his philosophy of right plant in the right place in action. Asclepias curassavica, commonly called Mexican Butterfly Weed, has self sown on its own in unexpected spots. One happened to come up next to the gorgeous blue thunbergia by the pondless waterfall making an awesome combination. Both monarch butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar.

Next to a red salvia, a red and white bicolor Rose of Sharon made it's home. Merrill lets all his plants intertwine and the pink flowering Heckrottii honeysuckle was already inching up into an olive tree. Other salvias in his garden include Hot Lips, San Antonio and San Jacinto. There isn't room to grow any of the larger salvias, Merrill explained. He swears he doesn't know where the brilliant blue one came from. Must be from the "fairy dust" his wife, Dida says he sprinkled over the garden to make everything grow so lush.

She loves flowers for fragrance and cutting so in several beds they grow gardenia, lemons, roses and alstroemeria among the alyssum which is a prime syrphid fly attractor. Several bird of paradise, obtained from different locales in the hopes one will be hardier grow beneath a tall palm.

Merrill grows only the vegetables that do well and are the most nutritious like kale, onions, garlic, broccoli and collards. He enjoyed growing cucumbers this year and has a large pumpkin in the making for his grandson. The rest he gets from the farmer's market. He had developed his own strain of elephant garlic which is actually a leek and has a milder flavor than garlic. I left his garden with a gift of elephant garlic and lots of inspiration.



Lessons from the Sierra Nevada


Lake Mary2Maybe we can't improve on Mother Nature but can we learn from her to make our own gardens more beautiful. My late summer travels this year took me to Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes area where I began to get ideas. This small Sierra lake formed in a depression in the glacial moraine below majestic Crystal Crag. Dozens of small streams keep the meadows blooming with wildflowers even in August. Granite slabs and obsidian domes the size of small states create an impressive landscape. Everywhere I looked I  saw how the plants, stone and water came together to make a combination that would look incredible in a regular garden.

Horseshoe Lake nearby was particularly fascinating for another reason. Back in 1990 the pines near the lake began to die off. Drought and insect infestation were first suspected but were found not to be the cause. It wasn't until 1994 that a soil survey revealed an exceptionally high concentration of carbon dioxide. The trees were being killed by CO2 in their root zone.

What caused such high concentrations of this gas? A swarm of earthquakes in 1989 allowed magma to push up from deep within the earth into tiny cracks causing limestone-rich rocks beneath Mammoth Mountain to be heated and release carbon dioxide gas. We also live in earthquake country. Thankfully this has never happened around here.

The art of bonsai involves creating nature in miniature. The Eastern Sierra does it on an immense scale. The boulders are huge beside the trail, the conifers towering above you as you hike. You can take this same look and scale it down to garden-size.

Evergreen conifers are often overlooked as additions to the landscape. If a white fir or bristlecone pine won't fit into your backyard there are many smaller types that provide year round structure. Maybe a 4 foot golden Feelin' Sunny deodar cedar would look spectacular in a small border, rock garden or container. Or how about a dwarf Wilma Goldcrest Monterey cypress against a backdrop of trees or shrubs with red or purple foliage? Don't overlook these elegant workhorses in the garden.

Pink Sierra Currants, adorned with shiny, translucent fruits were ripe for the picking as I walked along the trail on the way to Box Lake in the Rock Creek area. This currant is similar to our familiar red-flowering currant but is a smaller bush. I found it growing in moist areas as well as dry spots and would do well in any garden.

Blue Sierra lupine, Crimson columbine, blue Sierra Fringed gentian, pyrola or pink wintergreen and spice bush or calycanthus occidentals are just a few of the wildflowers still blooming in profusion. Given similar conditions all these beautiful flowers will grow in your garden. Tucked next to an accent rock you can have the Sierras right out your own window.

The diversity of plants on the eastern side of the Sierra is made possible by three vegetative communities: the Sierra Nevada range, the Great Basin and the North Mojave Desert. Our own area is rich also in plant species. Our cool moist coastal conditions and warm dry chaparral allow us to grow an amazing number of different kinds of plants. Enjoy all that your garden can be.
 



A 100 Year Old Garden near Quail Hollow


lawn_perennial-bordersVisiting gardens is one of my passions. Wherever I travel I take time to enjoy an arboretum or a historical garden wherever I find them. Local gardens can be just as exciting and recently I was invited to stroll and marvel under majestic oaks in a beautiful garden near Quail Hollow.

This 25 acre property was first developed by an Englishman in the very early 1900's. After building an Italian Mediterranean style house featuring plenty of earthy materials such as terra-cotta paver floors and patios, red clay tile roof, stucco walls, rustic wood beams and enclosed outdoor spaces, he set out to landscape the property.

A spring fed creek provides water to a woodland garden with 40 foot rhododendrons still thriving and in full  bloom during my visit. Western azaleas scented the air and the horsetail, columbine and white calla lily rhodie_bicolor2grew lush in the moist soil. The original owner built Japanese inspired stone bridges over the creek, the remnants still poking through the ferns.

Huge stands of black bamboo and golden bamboo border the creek in another area making me wonder if perhaps he became interested in these exotic plants after the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition that showcased plants from all over the world. The current owners have installed a 3 foot barrier to keep the bamboo in check. Now towering 25 feet tall, the black bamboo shades the house on the south side with stems 2" thick.

The property passed from the original owner to a concert pianist who lived there until she died. The current owner bought the property in an estate sale in the early 1970's. When he married Nancy 23 years ago the garden again came to life. The front yard which had been a flood-irrigated horse pasture was transformed into the magical place it is now.

Nancy is the perfect steward of the land. Interested in all growing things she has surrounded the lawns with shrubs, perennials, grasses and flowers of every type. Sunny borders bloom with trellised Cecile Brunner roses, pink clematis montana and purple Jackmanii clematis along with lots of bright red climbing roses. By providing support, Nancy has even coaxed Apple Blossom and other carpet roses to bloom off the garden floor.

In addition to her gardening successes, Nancy shared her ongoing nemesis. Every year she said she hand picks at least a hundred white gaura that have self-sown. Seems Siskiyou pink is not as prolific. The crocosmia Lucifer have overtaken one bed and she begged me to take some. I politely declined. Her white Japanese anemocourtyard2ne threaten to march into the lawn but the pink variety is better behaved. Nancy takes it all in stride. You can feel her love of gardening and plants at every turn.

Nancy loves perennials. The chocolate cosmos were just emerging but the double coreopsis, Spanish and English lavender, Moonshine yarrow, Japanese iris, douglas iris and columbine were in full bloom. In a shady spot by the old icehouse daphne, azalea and pieris had just finished their show. The hydrangeas were all budded and ready to take over the spotlight.

We walked through a lovely enclosed courtyard complete with formal fountain and Nancy pointed out containers of gardenias, Evergold carex grass, a deep red Bob Hope camellia and huge woodwardia ferns. She planted the rhododendrons bordering the courtyard over 20 years ago. A gopher did get 3 of the camellias last year but she's now replanted in gopher baskets. Her Japanese maples, started from seedlings, are now 6 ft tall with trunks over an inch thick.

I'll never forget the afternoon Nancy shared her garden with me and Sherman, the springer spaniel I was dog-sitting.  It's an enchanting place and I'm looking forward to visiting again.



Fragrant Plants for the Garden


Stargazer_lilyRecently I received a bouquet of Stargazer lilies. The spectacular flowers on each stem open in succession and the display will last for nearly two weeks if I take care of them changing the water regularly and re-cutting the stems.

Wish the lilies in my own garden would hurry up and open. Mine are always a little behind those in warmer spots.  When they do open later in the month they will scent the garden with an unforgettable fragrance. Some flowers are memorable for their beautiful color, some for the hummingbirds they attract and some have it all-vibrant hues, nectar and fragrance. I love them all. Perhaps you want to add a few new ones to your own garden. Try one of these.

Lilies are one of the easiest of bulbs to grow. Stargazers are the most stunning and perhaps the most celebrated of lily varieties. Curious about their origin I discovered a little intrigue among horticultural historians. Seems they don't like seeing history revised. The bottom line is this lily was not first bred in 1974 by Mr. Leslie Woodruff of California but rather by Robert Griesbach of Washington and named in his friends honor. When you have an established clump of Stargazer lilies it doesn't matter who first bred them.

The stems of the Stargazer can reach 3- 6 ft tall and have in excess of 40 flowers each when planted in full sun in loamy or sandy soil and the blooms will last for a month or so. You can still grow beautiful lilies in as little as 6 hours of sun per day so don't be discouraged if you don't have a spot that receives full sun all day long. The sunlight can even be accrued over the course of the day so if your garden get some morning sun then again later in the day it all adds up.

If you are looking for a fragrant vine other than pink jasmine I have two suggestions. The first is Evergreen clematis_armandii3Clematis ( clematis armandii ) Earlier this spring you couldn't miss their fragrance if you were anywhere near a blooming one. Covered with an abundance of highly-scented, star-like flowers in brilliant white clusters, this showy evergreen vine grows fast in partial sun. This vine is perfect as a patio, trellis or arbor cover and makes a great privacy screen. Give this vine support as it grows to 25 feet long and can become quite heavy. If you live among deer, it's a great choice for a fragrant vine.

Fragrant climbing roses trained on an arbor or fence are classic landscape design choices. One of my favorites for gardens I design is Climbing Iceberg because they are disease resistant and have few thorns. It's hard to find a better behaved rose that gives so much in return with no Iceberg_roseeffort on your part. They start blooming early with a lovely sweet rose fragrance and continue until frost. Two climbers planted on each side of a window make a stunning display. It's one of my favorite white roses of all time and grows in sun or partial shade.

If you think violas are only for the winter garden, think again. Viola Etain is a reliable perennial that blooms heavily spring through fall . Soft primrose yellow petals edged in lavender are sweetly scented and bloom easily in sun or bright shade and in containers. If you cut the plants back to 3" tall once in awhile to rejuvenate and top dress with compost they will reward you with 9 months of fragrance and become one of your favorite violas, too.

There are so many fragrant flowers that make great additions to the garden. Freesia, hyacinth and narcissus bulbs are good bets for early fragrance. Then come the nemesia in every color imaginable. Phlox, lilacs, tuberose, star jasmine, stock, citrus blossoms, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, daphne, carnations– the possibilities are endless. If you have a particular spot you'd like a suggestion for a fragrant plant, email me and I'd be happy to help.

Fragrance in the garden is nature's way of smiling.
 



San Francisco Flower & Garden Show 2013


flagstone_steps 2Every year I look forward to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show for inspiration and landscape design ideas. Held in March of each year, it takes all day to look at everything, inspecting each display garden for new plant introductions and new uses for familiar ones. Creative pathways and unique solutions for seating, arbors, water features, outdoor kitchens and patios greet you at every turn. Even the marketplace offers plants and garden objects that you simply must have in your own garden. This year was no exception.

I started attending the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show back when it started in 1986 and was held at Fort Mason in San Francisco. My father, a retired Army colonel, enjoyed it because he was already familiar with the army post. He accompanied me many times even after the show moved to the Cow Palace. I always think of him when I'm at the show as he nurtured my interest in gardening with those giant pansies in my first garden.

Now the show is at the San Mateo Event Center. It's still a huge and complex production using 150 dump truck loads of sawdust and mulch and 280,000 pounds of rock to create the display gardens. Even the drive up to San Mateo starts one thinking about plants as the ceanothus are covered with cobalt blue flowers at this time of year and the Western redbud are striking clothed in magenta blossoms.

Another native plant that caught my eye at the show was a yellow flowering cribes_aureum_gracillimum 2urrant, Ribes aureum gracillimum. Golden currants are native from Riverside county to the south Bay Area. Masses of yellow flowers in early spring are enjoyed by Anna hummingbirds, bumblebees and Monarch butterflies.  California thrashers and robins love the berries which are edible and taste like Thompson seedless grapes. It's a beautiful, low water addition to the garden along with the deep, pinkish-red flowering currant, 'King Edward VII'  ribes sanguineum.

Several display gardens featured a small tree with interesting contorted branches. Twisty Baby Dwarf Black Locust grows to only 15 ft tall and at this time of year bloomed with fragrant, white flower clusters. In the legume Twisty_Baby_Dwf_locust 2or pea family, the robinia species has nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its root system. For this reason it can grow on poor soils and is an early  colonizer of disturbed areas. They have been planted well beyond their native range of Eastern United States by settlers for fast homestead shade and hardwood fence posts. Early settlers of our area planted them also and they can still be seen along Hwy 9.

In the Marketplace of the show, I couldn't resist buying some metal sculpture birds hand crafted from cast off 55 gallon steel drums. Artists in Haiti create the garden art which is sold through Beyond Borders providing them access to global markets. The Fair Trade movement helps build sustainable trading partnerships that honor the value of labor and dignity of people.

Another booth offered pine needle baskets and trays created in the mountains of Mexico. Weavers in this area collect the long pine needles off the forest floor bundling them together. Many were trimmed with sand-cast polished nickel alloy trim which has the luster of silver but requires no polishing. These handmade baskets and trays were beautiful and functional.

Western Horticultural Society offered their Hot Plant Picks 2013 and several caught my eye. With silver foliage, the Spanish lavender, lavandula stoechas 'Silver Anouk', would make a great addition to any garden. Ditto for a new lavender flowering, variegated, deer resistant 'Wynyabbie Highlight' westringia. I also really liked a 'Lemon Light' salvia greggii new introduction as well as a dwarf leucadendron called 'Little Bit'.

It was fun and educational this year at the SF Flower & Garden Show. As they say "a good time was had by all" and I'll be using these new plants whenever I can in gardens I design this year.
 



Native Plants for Winter Birds in the Santa Cruz Mts.


berberis aquifolium
There's no way around it. January may signal the start of the new year but most of our plants still have the day off. I need inspiration on these cold mornings when most of my plants are asleep. This is the time of year when it's doubly important to include plants in your garden that can take a licking, keep on ticking and provide some much needed food for our feathered friends.

During the winter small songbirds and hummingbirds face big challenges, too. Just like us, they need to keep warm.  Our fuel might be a comfort food like hot stew, theirs are foods rich in antioxidants and fats or high octane nectar. Native shrubs with berries or nectar at this time of year will benefit them as well as providing hardy winter color in your garden.

Small flocks of Chestnut-backed chickadees frequent my garden regularly. I can hear their familiar chattering from quite a distance. I read in Audubon magazine that they weigh about as much as a dozen paperclips but their bodies are large for their mass. They have to ramp up the number of hours they devote to feeding. At night chickadees cram themselves into tiny cavities and shiver, burning the day's fuel to keep from freezing.

Other birds that I enjoy in my garden at this time of year are Lesser goldfinches, Townsend warblers, Ruby-Crowned kinglets, robins, brown creepers, Hutton's vireo, Dark-eyed juncos and Anna's hummingbirds.  These native plants will make both of you happy and it's not too late to plant.

Mahonia (Berberis aquifolium) is one of my favorites for winter color and spring berries. Fat cluster of golden yellow flowers light up the Douglas fir woodland understory. In the garden it has a surprising level of adaptability to tough conditions including low water, not-so-great soil and shade or partial sun. In the barberry family, they have gorgeous prickly foliage and powdery-blue, then black berries that the birds devour in late winter and early spring. Hummingbirds rely on the flowers as a source of nectar-rich food in wintertime when there isn't much else around. I saw them visiting these beautiful flower spikes in Seattle recently at Chihuly Glass Exhibit (got the spelling right this time). There are many cultivars of mahonia now available and they are all great.

Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus) is a native that starts its show in fall. It thrives in a woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. A background plant most of the year, the white berries on thie 4-foot shrub stand out when the leaves drop.  Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) can  provide both berries and nectar for local birds. Large, pink nectar-rich blossoms give way to red juicy berries in the fall and often hang on the vines during the winter. They are relished by birds. By pruning them a bit to get more branching they'll be denser and flower more. It's as deer proof as they come. They do well in clay soil in full sun and also shade. Snowberry, Hummingbird sage, toyon and coffeeberry are other natives that complement them.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is the official shrub of the State of California. Also called the Christmas berry shrub it's common in chaparral and open wooded forest. Many birds enjoy their bright red berries throughout the winter including cedar waxwing, bushtit, warblers, robins, flickers, finches and sparrows.  Toyon make a good screen as well as a beautiful specimen plant. They are drought tolerant when established but tolerate some water in the garden if drainage is good. They are relatively fire resistant, like full sun but will tolerate shade. They adapt to sand, clay or serpentine soils. Butterflies also are attracted to the flowers in the summer.

These are just a few great natives to plant in your garden. Other native plants for the winter garden are Pacific wax myrtle, Strawberry tree and Red-twig dogwood.  

By choosing plants that are native to our region birds spend less energy and time foraging for food as they more easily recognize them as a food source. You can have your beautiful berries and color and the birds can eat them, too.
 



Christmas Heather, Erica or Calluna?


Christmas_heather2
Any plant that blooms during the shortest and darkest days of the year is a sure bet to get my attention.  Even when the weather is cold and rainy a Christmas heather will brave the elements and keep on blooming. Along with their relatives the true heathers,  they are great additions to the garden. You often see this variety grown as a holiday gift plant because the flowers last for such a long time.

Technically Christmas heather is actually a heath from the family ericacaea  which includes our native Western azalea, gaultheria, madrone and manzanita. Sound confusing? Is there a difference between a heath and a heather?

Heath or erica are mostly native to northern and western Europe. There are a few varieties from South Africa but these are not as hardy for cold temperatures. Christmas heather ( erica canaliculata ) is an evergreen, deer resistant shrub reaching about 6' tall and 4' wide. They tolerate heavy soil with little to occasional irrigation and do best if not over irrigated in the summer. Rosea is a popular winter-flowering pink variety while Rubra blooms with deep pink flowers. They are good on slopes.

Scotch heather (calluna vulgaris ) generally start blooming in mid-summer. The buds

Scotch_heather
never open so remain colorful from August until hard frost. They are often grown close together in rock gardens making a colorful display of patchwork color.  Fields of mauve, pink and rose can be found all over Scotland and England where the shrub grows wild. There are over 700 cultivars now available with foliage colors of chartreuse, yellow, russet or grey being as showy as the flowers. Colors intensify in winter and provide as much visual impact as the summer flowers.

Heathers are not too particular about fertility but need good drainage. They are a good choice for the top of  retaining walls, banks or in raised planters where the soil drains well.  Acidic soils around the edges of a conifer grove would be ideal. They blend nicely with grasses for wild gardens and do well in large pots.

Where heathers grow wild they were used to create brooms and dusters. They were also used to pack crates of whiskey and other breakables for shipping and so were spread around early on and found their way to North America along with traditional brooms.

Flowers of all heaths and heathers make good cut flowers, lasting for weeks, whether or not the stems are immersed in water.

Both of these species have shallow root systems so be careful not to plant them too deeply. Good drainage is important and if your soil is heavy clay amend it with compost and peat moss or create a raised bed. Otherwise they prefer rocky or unamended soils and little fertilizer. Water regularly during the first year until the root zone has become established. Top dress with wood chips or other mulch.

To prevent them from becoming leggy and woody, prune right after they finish blooming be careful not to prune into bare wood but right below the dead blossoms.

By choosing varieties of both heaths and their close relative heather you can have color year round but the sight of the delicate blossoms in the drabbest months of the year is a most welcome addition to any garden.
 



Gift Plants for your Christmas List


I've barely finished eating leftover turkey a dozen different ways and already I find myself thinking of all things Christmas. I know I should relish Thanksgiving longer and not rush it but I can't help myself. I'm basically just a big kid at heart and there are so many fun gifts that come from the garden. Most of the people on my Christmas list live far from from here so I'm not giving anything away by sharing some of my gift ideas.

camellia_Chansonette 2

My Aunt Ruth is quite the gardener. I enjoy flowers of every kind whenever I visit her. There is always something in bloom.  She loves her neighbors who stop, talk and admire her landscape as she prunes or weeds. I'm going to give her a winter flowering camellia to spice things up at this time of year. Chansonette camellia hiemalis, a variety often classified with sasanquas will get heads turning. This easy to grow shrub is one of the most popular camellias for good reason. Rich pink, double flowers standout against the dark green foliage.  Spreading 6' tall and 8' wide this vigorous shrub is perfect to espalier on a trellis against a wall. They actually prefer winter sun and can tolerate more sun year round than other types of camellias. The beautiful flowers last a long time and will make my Aunt Ruth's garden the talk of the neighborhood.

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My Aunt Rosemary lives in Concord in the Bay Area where it gets hot in the summer. The border around her patio would be perfect for a tea tree as it blooms for a long time and requires little or no water when established. They are called tea tree because Capt. Cook brewed a tea from the leaves and gave it to his crew to prevent scurvy. Just in case deer jump her fence they won't devour its needlelike leaves leaving her to enjoy the small showy flowers from winter until very late spring. I especially like the double white flowers on the variety Snow White as they really pop when combined with stronger colors.

My Aunt Alba especially likes fragrant flowers. In her garden she grows roses, gardenias,

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lilacs, sweet peas and pinks to name just a few. Fragrant Star erysimum would make the perfect addition to her perennial border. It blooms from spring until early fall with bright lemon yellow highly scented flowers. Radiant, variegated green and yellow foliage will stand out among her other flowers. As a bonus they are butterfly magnets. I've seen swallowtails visit this plants again and again on a sunny afternoon.

For those on my Christmas list that love California natives a Common Snowberry would make a great addition to their woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Creeping snowberry is similar and makes an excellent groundcover. Few shrubs work as well

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as creeping snowberry when situated under the dense canopy of a coast live oak. When combined with Hummingbird sage, Fuchsia Flowering gooseberry and coffeeberry they create  a woodland garden that provides nesting cover for birds as well as protective shelter for other wildlife.

I'm also working on some garden and nature inspired crafts but if I tell you I'd have to…well, you know.



Thanksgiving Plants & Food


Have you noticed how many plants are named after food? At this time of year when we are thankful for friends and family and this wonderful place we call home, I can't help but think about food, too. It's the most important thing we share year round. We eat to celebrate, we eat to comfort ourselves. Surround yourself with plants that remind you to give thanks whenever you look at them.

Arctotis 'Pumpkin Pie'
What makes you think of Thanksgiving dinner more than pumpkin pie? Many versions have been created to appeal to just about any palate. If you grow Pumpkin Pie African daisy you can bring these recipes to mind whenever you admire the blooms in your garden. Flowering over a long season starting in the spring their showy, vivid orange flowers attract birds and butterflies.

Maybe you're a gourmet cook and desserts after Thanksgiving dinner are extraordinary at your house.  If you're not a fan of pumpkin perhaps a creme brulee  would be more to your liking. This classic dessert first appeared in cookbooks in 1691. Creme Brulee heuchera with its peachy-bronze leaves, Creme Brulee coreopsis with custard yellow blooms or a fragrant Creme Brulee shrub rose growing in your garden would remind you year round of this delicious dessert.

Someone often brings deviled eggs as an appetizer before Thanksgiving dinner usually sprinkled with a dusting of paprika. If you have several Paprika achillea in your low water-use, deer resistant garden you can think of these goodies every time you see them.

Who doesn't like chocolate any time of year? Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hot chocolate, white chocolate, they're all good. Plant Chocolate Chip ajuga groundcover  with its beautiful lacy blue flower spikes in spring in sun or partial shade. It really stands out. And who could resist a rose called Hot Cocoa? This award-winning floribunda rose with ruffled, very fragrant chocolate-cherry colored blooms was first introduced in 2003 and has remained popular ever since.
 
If you don't have a chocolate cosmos to enjoy on a summer day in the garden you're missing a rare experience. Very deep burgundy flowers really do have the scent of chocolate. They make a good cut flower, look great with green and white in a bouquet and the fragrance is good enough to eat.

There are many plants that remind us of Thanksgiving with family or a get together any time of year and they all soun

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d so delicious. Raspberry Sundae or Bowl of Cream peonies sound yummy as do Mango coneflower, Strawberry Candy daylily, Plum Pudding coral bell, Cranberry Ice dianthus, Lemon Swirl lantana, Watermelon Red crape myrtle, Tangerine Beauty bignonia or Wild Cherry azalea. How about Bowl of Cherries campanula, Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Lemonade mandevilla or Raspberry Tart coneflower?  I could go on and on.

My blooming Thanksgiving cactus says it all. Almost overnight it has burst into bloom reminding me of all the many things I am thankful for. Take the time to tell those around you how much you appreciate them and count your blessings every day.

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