Landscape Design Tips You Can Use


When do art and science come together to make your life more beautiful? If you thought of garden design you'd be right. Recently I was treated to a garden tour by fellow designer and good friend, Joy Albright-Souza, who has combined her love of art as a hobby with her degree in science and her passion for the environment to create beautiful spaces for people to enjoy. "It was natural to combine the two interests into garden design", Joy says.

Last fall several of her design ideas were featured in a DYI book called 'Landscape Ideas You Can Use'. Understanding garden design is the goal of this book and offers specific information on plants and hardscaping options. Fountains, rock gardens and landscaping for play are three of the categories that Albright-Souza Garden Design provided examples.

I have been to Joy's garden many times enjoying a game on the petanque court during a barbeque. petanque_court2Petanque is a game similar to bocce but can be played in a smaller backyard. It's a great way to get the whole family involved in a game together. I've heard Joy laugh that she'd like a petanque court in every yard- it's that fun.

Located on the outskirts of Scotts Valley we visited one of the gardens she designed that features a petanque court. Replacing a lawn with drainage problems, the court recently served as a dance floor for a wedding. The property is located on the site of an old quarry and the granite walls conveniently provide crushed gravel to top dress the petanque court.

As we walked around this garden at sunset the back-lit grasses sparkled like jewels. Locating plants to achieve this effect was no accident on this designer's part. She carefully thought out every aspect from the deer resistant plant palette to the water fall prominent from the dining area inside the house. Even the fenced veggie garden is on a grand scale to protect the owner's roses and hydrangeas from the deer.

Some of plants that are not bothered by deer in this garden include the lavender flowering prosanthera or Variegated Mint Bush. Both beautiful and fragrant this small shrub makes a good hedge or accent plant in deer country. Another blooming plant and favorite of mine, Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea shrub, looked great paired with a helianthemum called Mesa Wine Sun Rose.  The Pink Muhly grasses will bloom in the fall. The new, fresh Japanese Blood grass glowed in the late afternoon sun.

We talked about the accent boulders in the garden as we walked around. Joy explained that when the accent_boulder2rocks were delivered she ear marked the largest and most interesting for particular spots. One is at the corner of the petanque court and looks to be an invitation to sit a while. Another flat topped boulder marks a junction of two walkways and begs one to try it out, too. Others were placed reminiscent of Japanese garden design.

A large dolphin sculpture was moved from a driveway location where few could enjoy to a spot in the upper garden where it serves as the focal point in a widening of the cobblestone paver path and can be viewed up close. Placing garden art in prominent places that can be seen from different parts of the garden is part of a good garden design.

dolphin_fountain2If you are ready to transform your own space, consider some of these ideas. Understanding landscape styles, materials, structures, lighting and plants is part of the fun. Joy writes a blog as part of Albright-Souza Garden Design called per joy that is informative and entertaining. This spring get inspired to transform your own garden.



The Hillbilly Gardener of Scotts Valley


anemone_clematis_vineThe self -described "Hillbilly Gardener" lives In the banana belt above Scotts Valley Civic Center. Technically, Richard Hencke says he is 1/4 German, 1/4 irish, and 1/2 hillbilly from his childhood in Texas and Oklahoma. A true gardener at heart, Richard spends much of his time as an emergency room doctor at a local hospital and the rest of his time tending his garden. With trees and plants collected in his early  days as a Boy Scout in Port Arthur, Texas, as well as plants acquired from the far corners of the earth he has created a spectacular landscape surrounding his home. "They'll carry me out of this property in a pine box", Richard says. He clearly loves his personal arboretum.

On a clear spring day recently, Richard gave me the royal tour. I visited this garden 2 years ago and I couldn't help but be impressed with incredible growth he has coaxed from his many blooming trees, conifers and vines.
The Pride of Madeira spikes glowed in the sun, some cobalt blue, others vivid purple. Early spring blooming shrubs and perennials offered color at every turn.

One of his passions is allowing flowering vines that grow up into the canopy of his trees which adds one more dimension to his landscaping. A Blood Red trumpet vine is happily inching up a redwood trunk while a butter yellow rosa banksia scrambles into an oak. On a fence along a walk a spectacular blooming double white pandorea vine has found a home in a Butternut tree he got in Pennsylvania. A rose colored anemone clematis nearly covered the trunk and branches of a dormant catalpa.

Fragrance and color as well as good "bones" or structure make Richard's garden breathtaking. He nurtures each seedling with the same care he gives to the large trees. I laughed as he pointed out a 15 ft tall aralia elata that was transplanted from a tiny dish garden received many years ago as a gift. One of his favorite trees is a white pine gleaned from his grandmother's place in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. A black cottonwood he picked up in New England, 2 maples hail from New Orleans and the sisal agave grew from tiny pups he found at a rest stop on Hwy 280 in case he ever wants to make rope or twine.

Richard likes to naturalize Hawaiian native plants starting them mostly from seed collected while on vacation. He has several Sacred Koa or A'ali'i growing on the property. Since this dodonaea species grows at 5000 ft elevation up Moana Loa they have adapted nicely to his Scotts Valley climate. I wouldn't be surprised if Richard goes into the canoe or lei making business when his trees grow up.

A small portion of Richard's garden is fenced but most is open to the deer. So far the branches growing eutaxia_obovatathrough the fence of his bright golden pea-like Eutaxia obovata have not attracted them. Also known as Egg and Bacon shrub this plant is a compact shrub originating from Western Australia. It's graceful fountain shape really shows off the thousands of flowers adorning the branches.

Like all devoted gardeners, Richard likes to share plants with others. A couple of years ago he sent me home with one of his F-2 hybrid Douglas iris and this year a dendrobium orchid. I'm hoping more of his cuttings of the Sacred Flower of the Andes ( Cantua ) take and maybe I'll be lucky to get one of these, too. A day in Richard's garden is always a magical experience.



Native Plants for Winter Birds in the Santa Cruz Mts.


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.
 



Down the Garden Path


You can be led down the garden path, get off the beaten path or take the path less traveled. Everywhere are references to paths in literature and philosophy. Paths make a garden more interesting, too. Simply by changing the shape of your path or the materials underfoot or adding a focal point at a bend, yours can change the look of your whole garden. Consider some of these ideas to update your path.

On my recent excursions to Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, Filoli Garden in Woodside and our own Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon, I fell in love with some of the wonderful paths that I found underfoot.

Every garden path begs you to wonder where does it lead? It's the journey as well as the destination that makes it so alluring. As you walk, the garden should slowly reveal surprises, maybe architectural accent plants appear, a wonderful scent greets you, a distant view opens up or drifts of colorful flowers at the edge beckons you to stop and enjoy the scene.

In the front yard you want a solid path directing visitors from a parking area to the front door. It should be wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side with interesting views along the way like low walls or plant materials to create a sense of enclosure. You want a person to feel they are walking through a defined space and although you may alter the direction of the entry walk to make it more interesting the purpose of the path is to find the front entry area.

But what about all those other paths that wind around the house and in the back garden? Here's where you can get creative.

Paths can be designed to slow people down. Plan pauses along the way- a widening here, a sitting bench nestled beside a bird feeder there,  a beautiful piece of garden art next to a tree with interesting bark or a view of distant mountains. You can route them in ways that direct your sight toward beautiful things and away from compost piles and trash cans. Good paths have entries easy to see and pull you in.
 
When I design a path in a garden I think about how it will fit into the rest of the landscape and the look of the house. Flagstone, brick or pavers are great for paths you're likely to travel on barefoot. You can soften the path's look by planting low groundcovers between pavers. Allow at least 2" of soil between flagstone or pavers and amend the soil so it won't pack down with foot traffic before planting.  

Bark or gravel looks great for natural looking paths and a gently curving path invites you to stroll among the plants. If it leads you to a small circular patio all the better.

How wide should you make an informal path? If you want to soften the edge with low plants, allow 3 1/2 to 4 feet. Small grasses, aromatic herbs, fragrant flowers and colorful foliage plants look natural beside a path.

I've seen articles about creating a garden path in a weekend if you're starting from scratch. You can update one of your existing paths easily, too, in about the same time.

An interesting path I encountered once was created from materials found onsite. Old untreated redwood timbers were cut and installed at an angle every 6 ft or so along a packed decomposed granite path. In between were small pieces of flagstone connected with bands of 2" Mexican black pebbles. The look was interesting and inexpensive to achieve.

Look around your own yard for found items that would give your path that personal touch. Old bricks and broken concrete will find new life and you'll save the expense of having to haul it away.

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