Category Archives: Design trends

Great Plants for a California Garden

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Leucospermum with chondropetalum

Our local UCSC Arboretum is a place everyone can enjoy. You can marvel at the dozens of jewel-tone hummingbirds darting about feeding on nectar of colorful flowers while strolling the gardens for new plant ideas.

There are still lots of dramatic leucospermum in bloom as well as California native plants that flower mid to late summer. The rainfall last December helped many of the drought tolerant plants grow more foliage and put on a better show this year. The hummingbirds couldn’t get enough of the erica blooming in shades of pink, orange and red. There must have been a dozen darting about feeding and chirping between the shrubs.

If you are looking for some inspiration for new low water-use plants you haven’t tried the nursery at the Arboretum has a good selection. They replenish the stock from their growing area on a regular basis so there’s always something to catch your eye. Here are some that I plan to grow myself or recommend to others.

Hemiandra pungens

Color in the garden is something we all relish. One of the plants that caught my eye is called Hemiandra pungens. Pretty lavender-magenta flower clusters cover this small one foot plant. It’s drought tolerant although it looks better with occasional summer water.

This bright little shrub is another of the plants from Australia being trialed at the Arboretum. The Koala Blooms plant introduction program is a joint venture which include growers here and in Australia. Plants are evaluated for their beauty, durability and sturdiness with regard to drought, weather extremes and variations in soil types. Out of the trailing process new plants are selected and offered for sale to the public. Visit the Arboretum website for info on other great plants you might want to try in your garden. www.arboretum.ucsc.edu/koala-blooms

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Pimalea ferruginea ‘Bon Petite’

Another showy perennial that’s sure to make it’s way into the next appropriate garden I design is Pimelea ferruginea ‘Bon Petite’. Bright pink umbel blossoms cover this small plant for many months starting in the spring. It’s hardy down to 25 degrees and requires little water once established. Also originating in Australia it looks great in a native low water-use cottage garden.

The common name for this plant is pink rice flower. The pot in the arboretum nursery happened to be placed near a red mimulus but it looked great even though you might think the color combination would be all wrong. Nature has a way of making things work despite the rules of the color wheel.

Several varieties of correa – also called Australian fuchsia – caught my eye. Although the flowers of this plant resemble fuchsias they are not related. Some do best with regular watering during the summer but the lovely correa pulchella ‘Pink Eyre’ is drought tolerant once established. Grow this three foot compact evergreen shrub in partial sun where it will bloom from fall through springtime and provide nectar for hummingbirds during the wintertime.

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Salvia guarantica

I was also drawn to the brilliant cobalt blue flowers of salvia guarantica. This plant is worth growing – in sun or partial shade – even though you might need to cut it down to ground level after each winter like Mexican bush sage. Growing four to five feet tall it starts blooming in early summer and continues till frost. They also do well in containers and are a favorite of hummingbirds.

Prostanthera was well represented with three varieties – ‘Poorinda Bride’, ’Purple Haze’ and my personal favorite, the Variegated Mint Bush. They are all good choices for colorful, easy to grow, hardy shrubs that require only occasional irrigation.

Among other choices at the Arboretum nursery were stand-by’s such as lion’s tail, Mexican marigold, Germander sage, Copper Glow New Zealand tea tree and giant buckwheat. This local resource offers a cornucopia of inspiration.

Tips for New Landscaping after Replacing a Lawn

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santonlina, euphorbia, phormiun – low water use plant grouping

Tired of looking at that brown patch of lawn and trying to convince yourself it’s a badge of honor in these times of drought? You tell yourself “It greens up in the winter so I’ll water just enough to keep it from totally dying now”. But wouldn’t a beautiful, sustainable, low water use garden be a more inviting place to spend your free time?

Replacing a lawn that is not used anymore can be the first step in a whole new kind of landscaping-a landscape that looks like it belongs where you live. Here are some very good reasons to lose the lawn and benefit the planet at the same time.

Even in years where we have normal winter rainfall we always have a seasonal drought. It’s called summer. Without our usual winter and spring rains, though, even native trees and shrubs are struggling. All the more reason that plant selection now is even more critical than before.

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libertia peregrinans

You’ve see pictures of some not-so-great looking lawn replacement projects. A drought tolerant plant here, another there, add an accent rock and that’s supposed to thrill you when you come home for the day? What’s missing is a garden designed to enhance our natural environment. When you remove your lawn, it’s a wonderful opportunity to not only create a garden than conserves water but also provides habitat for wildlife including birds and butterflies and improves the soil.

A living landscape does as much for our own pleasure as it does for the environment. It increases biodiversity of plant, animal and insect populations. It fosters healthy soil which can hold more moisture by supporting microbes and insects. Healthy soil can filter pollutants and improve water quality.

Think of using native and well-adapted, non-natives that connect with the natural landscape. Use tough plants on the edges and group greener, low water use plants closer to the house. Here are some good plants to use in a lawn-less landscape that won’t break your water budget.

When planting time rolls around this fall consider a green carpet of blue grama grass. This native sedge can provide a green carpet on much less water and can be mowed or not. It’s on the list of approved water-wise grasses eligible for rebates from our local water districts.

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dymondia groundcover between flagstones

Another ground cover eligible for lawn replacement rebate is dymondia. I love the grey foliage of this low ground cover. It fills in nicely between stepping stones or can take light foot traffic in larger areas.

For a taller look that you don’t need to be able to walk on, the ground cover forms of ceanothus, manzanita or creeping rosemary are good very low water alternatives to a lawn. I have a very low Hearts Desire ceanothus that hasn’t been watered yet this year and it still looks green and lush.

Native yarrow, penstemon and salvia are the work horses of the garden needing little water once established and attracting all sorts of insects and birds. Other natives on the 800+ Approved Low Water Use Plant list include Pacific Coast iris, helianthemum, libertia, santolina, California fuchsia, rockrose, lavender, myoporum, coffeeberry, teucrium, verbena and kangaroo paw to name just a few. You can download the list from www.sv.org or www.slvwd.com.

I am not a big fan of artificial lawns. They do not provide habitat for wildlife, beautify our environment or improve the soil. They get significantly hotter than the surrounding air temperature contributing to the heat island effect by increasing air temperatures. Also artificial turf is a synthetic material with a relatively short lifespan ranging from 10-20 years and will eventually end up in a landfill. They can not be recycled. There are many other beautiful, low water use options that result in more sustainable and beneficial landscapes.

Water and soil management as well as plant selection are key to water conservation in the landscape.

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.

Add Drama to the Garden with Large-Leafed Plants

philodendron_selloumGardens have different personalities. Some gardens mimic nature with plants that attract birds and butterflies and other wildlife and look a bit wild. Some are neat and tidy with perennials lined up evenly along pathways and clipped hedges under the windows. All gardens are a reflection of their owners.  When I visit a garden to help the owner change, add or “take the garden to the next level” I know which ideas will resonate with that person and which will just not work for them. Sometimes it’s easier for someone looking at a garden for the first time to visualize what’s needed.

Regardless of your style I often recommend one simple solution to update a garden. Many gardens end up with too many small-leafed plants. Nature is the master at this survival strategy. Small leaves are often more efficient at retaining water in drought conditions. When all your leaves are the same size, however, the garden gets boring. Using large, bold architectural plants allows the eye to rest on a focal point rather than try to take in everything at once, scanning back and forth.

Plants, like people, come in all sizes and shapes and so do their leaves. Some have huge and dramatic leaves while others are just showy and outsized enough to work well when viewed up close or at ground level. Some plants look tropical and others are right at home in the redwood understory. Some require regular water while others are able to withstand some drought. There’s a bold, breathtaking plant for every garden.

Because they reflect light, glossy leaves look even larger than they are. Make those leaves variegated or wavy with a dimpled texture and the effect is even more striking.

Here are a few large-leafed plants that work well in our area.

In partial shade try Fatsia japonica also called Japanese aralia. It’s deer resistant with bold foliage thatfastia-japonica looks tropical but still at home in the forest. Philodendron selloum with its huge, glossy leaves is also easy to grow. Oakleaf hydrangeas have it all: bold foliage that turns red in fall as well as huge white flower clusters in summer.

Tasmanian tree ferns are hardier in our winters than the Australian variety and are about as dramatic a plant as you will find. Bear’s Breech require only moderate water and serve well as a focal point in the garden.

hosta_Sum_and_SubstanceIn my own garden, I’m finding the chartreuse leaves of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ can take more sun than I originally thought. The deer walk right by their thick, dimpled leaves which is a definite plus. I like all hostas for their bold leaves whether variegated, glossy or wavy.

At ground level, some of my favorite large-leafed perennials that require only moderate water include hellebore, aspidistra, bergenia, coral bells and the dry-shade California native. wild ginger or asarum caudatum.

If you garden in more sun you can add pizzaz to your garden by planting something with large-leaves inasarum_caudatum front of those tall ceanothus, manzanita and toyon. Matilija poppy is a show stopper if you have room for it. Rhubarb, windmill palm, smoke bush and Western redbud also have huge leaves as do canna lily, banana, sago palm, loquat and angel’s trumpet. These are just a few of the many plants with big leaves that work magic in gardens around here.

Adding plants with dramatic foliage instantly makes-over the garden.

Gardening Projects and Ideas for a Rainy Day

As I looked out the window at the rain coming down I thought of all the things I should be doing in the garden. “Where does the time go”, I thought to myself. “Why did you frolic in all that sunshine last month instead of transplanting and moving plants to better spots”?  I could tell from the conversation going on in my head that I needed some inspiration so off I went to visit a local garden store. I knew I was in trouble as I explored and wanted to buy nearly every cool plant I saw. Here are some of the plants that really caught my eye.

tillandsia_on_apple_branchLast month for my birthday a friend gave me a collection of tillandsia attached to an gnarled, mossy apple branch that had fallen from a tree in her garden. There are many kinds of these bromeliads or air plants as they are sometimes called and they can be displayed in lots of ways. At the garden store, I saw miniature hanging terrariums that looked awesome with several tiny tillandsia specimens, glossy pebbles and moss bits arranged inside. The humidity inside the glass as well as the bright light from a window is just what they like.

Other tillandsia were mounted on bark, some on driftwood, some in table top terrariums and some displayed in beautiful baskets. Tillandsia, like their relatives, Spanish moss and pineapple, have tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes which serve as very efficient absorption systems to gather water. They are very tolerant of drought conditions and will grow with just a spritzing of water although I like to run mine under lukewarm water to mimic the showers they might get where they normally grow in tropical tree limbs. They prefer the light from bright window but not direct sunlight and are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain.

I’m always on the lookout for ideas for landscape plants that might be perfect in an edgeworthia_chrysanthaupcoming design. Often what is needed to complement a house or view from a window is a plant with interesting foliage color or  branching pattern and bark in the dormant season. Showy, fragrant flowers make a welcome addition to the front entry at any time of year but I found one new to me and it’s blooming now.

Tucked among other plants with soft yellow and green foliage I saw my first Edgeworthia or Chinese Paper Bush. Also called yellow daphne, this daphne relative is grown mainly for its flowers. Tubular, bright yellow flower clusters fade to creamy white. The showy display is memorable. They definitely possess that weird appeal that collectors love. In China this plant is used to make paper and medicine.

Edgeworthia chyrsantha are hardy to 10 degrees and prefer half day sun or afternoon shade during the hot summer sun. They grow to about 6 feet tall and a bit wider. The tropical looking foliage is attractive during the summer but it’s the overwhelmingly fragrant display of pendent, golden yellow flowers that will make you want to grow this shrub in your garden. I’m looking forward to planting it next to a fragrant daphne.

pittosporum_tenuifolium_Irene_PattersonAnother plant that caught my eye was an Irene Patterson pittosporum tenuifolium. With speckled frosty green leaves this shrub will really light up a dark area. It can take full sun but it’s the shady areas I have in mind. Hardy to 15-20 degrees it will survive our winters and is adaptable to most soils. I think it would look great paired with the variegated huge green and white leaves of ligularia argentea.

I was also inspired to plant up my own succulent garden after seeing the display planted in recycled wooden boxes, old tins, antique cheese boxes and weathered boots. Whatever you have on hand with a drainage hole will look   succulent_garden2great with a succulent or two planted inside. Succulents in containers can be moved out of winter frost and rain which increases the variety that can survive in our area. I have a vintage Swift’s Silverleaf pure lard tin that’s just waiting to provide a home for some new succulents.  I’m looking forward to going back to the garden store to choose just the right specimens for his special container.

It’s fun to have some gardening projects that I can do indoors. There’s lots of time to plant those new landscape plants that caught my eye on a rainy day.

A Succulent Wall Like No Other

succulent_wall.1280I designed other parts of this garden but this area was all hers. She’d been interested in cactus and succulents for a long time before deciding to combine her passion for these plants and her love of gardening to a problem spot in the garden. The results are jaw-dropping impressive and I was honored to visit this garden and get a private tour. My friends live on the river in Ben Lomond and working as a team have created a living wall on a slope that runs the length of their driveway rising steeply up to a road on the upper side.

Most people would have built a block retaining wall and added a few low water use plants for erosion control and called it a day. But not this couple. He’s a rock hound and has collected specimens on every vacation and job site for a very long time. “His rock collection became so large we needed to bring them out in the open and put them in a place where he could see them daily”, she says. My eyes were riveted on a mosaic of colors as the various stones of jasper, jade, granite, graptopetalum.2048serpentine, travertine, chert, sandstone, obsidian, lava and limestone intertwine. “The wall has been quite an adventure”, the couple says casually as my eyes darted back and forth, up and down admiring each vignette. Almost all of the succulents and cactus plants were obtained for free from discards and generous friends and the garden art in the wall was found on construction sites and recycled. The wall itself is an ongoing labor of love. Starting just a year and a half ago with a short block wall as the base, this living succulent wall has been built with mortar, rebar and dry laid stones and even has a sturdy set of stairs, a flagstone and pebble path and several places to sit and take in its beauty.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful rock walls and colorful succulents that filled every crevice and cascaded down the rocks. How do you make it so stable I asked? “A good mason handles a rock only 9 times”, he said with a laugh. Seems there’s a story that accompanies every little section. An unusual black ornamental lion_fountain.1600iron railing surrounds a tiny slate patio at the top. It consist of typical sunflowers on the sides but in the middle of each section is a bat with wings extended. Really gets your attention I have to tell you. I was told that Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame used to live in Ben Lomond. He had a patio made for his aging mother and this was the surrounding railing. It arrived via some friends who now own the house and said they could have it as long as they never sold it. Along with some rocks from Tarzan’s old garden it is permanently installed in the succulent wall. At the top of the wall along the road lives a red rose that’s been in the garden a very long time. Story goes that a neighbor distributed these roses to many in the neighborhood and they originally came from Eleanor Roosevelt when she visted the area. Succulents for the wall are part trial and error, part research.

Drainage for any succulent is a must so first a mix is created using pumice, gravel and sand. This is used for the pockets in the wall and also for containers which are filled with rocks and only a few inches of the mix is added to the top. They have found that by using frost blankets over only the most frost sensitive varieties their collection survives our winters. The first winter they did protect them while getting established but now they are on their own. Even if some turn to mush, I was told, they are cleaned up in the spring, replanted and grow back just fine. And being succulents they multiply and there are even more to tuck into crevices the next year.

The wall contains hundreds and hundreds of plants, both succulents as well as other plants that my_garden_rock.1024provide colorful foliage and contrast to the rock. A new section is being developed with dark green serpentine and orange jasper rocks. Blue chalk stick (Senecio vitals ‘Serpents) is just one of the succulents growing here along with several varieties of crassula, echeverria, graptopetalum St. Ives, agave, sempervivum and aloe. There is a pink and blue section and a chartreuse and burgundy section, too. Every color of the rainbow is represented. Every succulent garden is unique and the owner’s of this one have created their own astonishing living wall. From fossil rocks shaped like hearts to slate pavers chipped into a heart shape to Hens and Chicks growing in the rock crevices and forming a heart, this garden shouts love.

Chocolate in the Garden

Chocolate_Flower_Farm_perennial_beds 2Gardeners are always on the look out for new plants. I recall when I worked at a nursery looking over the showy dahlia shipment for the one that was a deeper, more vivid shade than all the rest. One color that always gets my attention is chocolate.  Whether I find it in the foliage of a plant or the flower itself it's one of my favorites. You can imagine my delight when I discovered the Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley on Whidbey Island while I was visiting the Puget Sound recently. I was a kid in the candy store.

As a landscape designer I often get requests for certain colors to be included in the plant palette. Mahogany,burgundy, deep magenta, midnight blue, eggplant often make the list. Many people like dark flowers or foliage paired with ivory, others prefer peach or chartreuse. I marveled at all the combinations at the Chocolate Flower Farm.

Some plants are the color of chocolate and some smell like the real thing. Chocolate cosmos looks and smells chocolate_colored_flowers 2just like a dark chocolate bar. The warmth of the day releases this delicious fragrance. A favorite flower for the perennial bed it's always a winner with kids.

In addition to chocolate cosmos, a wildflower called chocolate flower or berlandiera lyrata grew at the farm. I also enjoyed the fragrance of warm chocolate in the flowers of chocolate akebia, chocolate mint and chocolate snakeroot.

Strolling the grassy paths at the Chocolate Flower Farm  I admired a Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily. The foliage, nearly black, glistened in the sun growing next to a white-flowering Nine Bark called Summer Wine.
Nearby a clump of two-tone chocolate and ivory daylillies bloomed. With grazing horses nearby and a dozen ducks taking turns bathing in a kiddie pool the scene was idyllic. At every turn a different pairing of chocolate flowers and foliage caught my attention.

One section featured plants for a kid's chocolate garden. Easy to grow chocolate pincushion flower, chocolate viola, chocolate nasturtium, chocolate snapdragon, chocolate sunflower and chocolate painted tongue would be fun for any child to have in their own garden.  

I loved a penstemon called Chocolate Drop as well as a Mahogany monarda the color of deepest magenta. Blooming black sweet peas grew up and and over an old bed frame. A dark purple-black clematis from Russia called Negritanka intertwined with lime green hops covering an arbor. Toffee Twist sedge, Royal Purple smokebush, Chocolate Sundae dahlia, Sweet Hot Chocolate daylily, Chocolate Plant and Hot Cocoa roses grew in many of the flower beds.

Himalayan_pheasant_berry 2What makes dark foliage or dark flowers pop?  At The Chocolate Farm each bed pairs the deep rich chocolate color with another contrasting shade. I don't know which was my favorite. One area featured peach, pink and silver to offset the darker shades. Pink dahlia and fairy wand, blue oat grass and rose colored sedum 'Autumn Joy' made a lovely vignette. Another bed paired the yellow flowers of phygelius 'Moonraker' and digitalis grandiflora with white anemone and ivory dahlias set among Chocolate Baby New Zealand flax.

Not to be ignored the dark chocolate shade of black sambucus growing next to a golden Himalayan Pheasant Berry made an impression. All-gold Japanese Forest grass at the base of dark leaved Tropicana canna lily was also a show stopper.

If you are up on Whidbey Island, the Chocolate Flower Farm is a great place to spend an afternoon. If your vacation plans don't include the Pacific Northwest, plant some chocolate in your own garden.

 

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.
 

Saving Water in the Garden

With so much rain this winter it's easy to forget just how precious water is. Globally, water is the new oil. In our own Santa Margarita aquifer everything we can do to replenish the groundwater is vital for our own survival and for that of generations to come. Water cost money – to buy, store, collect, pump, filter and distribute. It just makes good sense to be water wise in your home and garden.

Scotts Valley Water District has been offering a free information series during January about water conservation. Each Wednesday night from 7:00-8:30 a different subject is presented. They are open to the public. I've attended two so far- Storm Water Management and Rainwater & Greywater Harvesting, lots valuable information about ways to save water and money.

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When it rains it pours. Think about ways to slow this free water from the sky and prevent it from running off your property. Allow it to spread and sink into the ground. Easy ways to do this can also make for a beautiful landscape.

Design your patio using permeable pavers that allow storm water to percolate into the soil. Whether you choose flagstone over a gravel base, pervious concrete, interlocking pavers with spaces between or crushed gravel all enable rainwater to seep into the soil, recharge the aquifer and prevent runoff into streams and storm drains.

Pervious pavement for driveways can capture runoff , recharge the groundwater and keep pollutants in place in the soil. Large volumes of runoff causes serious erosion and siltation in rivers and streams. Naturally occurring micro-organisms digest car oils, leaving little but carbon dioxide and water. Turf block (concrete blocks with holes) is a good choice for areas that don't receive a lot of heavy traffic and can also be used for paths with gravel or groundcover between.

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Plants and trees also slow water runoff. They help stabilize slopes and prevent erosion of valuable nutrient-rich topsoil. They create wildlife habitat and act as a natural pest control. A beautifully designed landscape using California native or drought tolerant plants reduces the need for fertilizers, pesticides, excessive watering and overall maintenance requirements.

You can design a rain garden to capture stormwater runoff from roofs, driveways and other impervious surfaces and allow the water to sink back into the ground. A dry creek bed can also be a good way to slow runoff. Some utilize drain pipe underneath to capture the rainwater so it has time to percolate into the ground.

Using vegetation or mulches to cover bare soil is a key ingredient to slow down runoff. Mulches are a good choice for areas with less than 33% slope, Vegetation works well on areas with less than a 50% slope. Mulch can be organic-such bark chips, straw or grass clippings or inorganic gravel or cobbles. All protect soil from erosion, conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth. It's all part of the plan to slow, spread and sink water back into the ground.

Installing a rain barrel is a simple way to catch rainwater runoff from your roof. If you have room you might consider a large water tank above or below the ground to collect water. A friend of mine operates a small nursery on her Watsonville property. Sherry and her husband, John, decided to collect the rainwater runoff into a series of tanks to save money and utilize this resource. The 4500 sq.ft roof of their barn provides enough water to fill 3 large tanks. Last year they collected enough water to irrigate their nursery, Terra Sole, for quite a bit of the year. They eventually plan to install solar panels to offset the energy required to pump the water. Every little bit helps

If you'd like more information and ideas about how to beautify your landscape and save water, maintenance costs and time  please come to the last Water Wednesday presentation by Scotts Valley Water District on Jan 30th at 7:00 pm at their office on Civic Center Drive. LeAnne, the water conservation coordinator, and I will be showing slides of landscapes, some of which I designed, that feature low water use plants, lawn replacement ideas and California natives. There's a solution for every family and lifestyle.
 

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.
 

Ahbkazi Garden – Victoria, BC.

Ahbkazi garden path
How many beautiful gardens can one visit on one vacation? I spent a whole day at the spectacular Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. a couple of hours at St. Ann's Academy heritage garden and the lovely Empress Hotel rose garden is a nice place to watch the sunset over the harbor.  But I wanted more and on the outskirts of Victoria in a residential neighborhood I found the perfect garden.

Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offers a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees if you put your mind to it. Now owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the property was bought in 1946 by Peggy Pemberton Carter who recognized the possibilities on this last undeveloped lot in the neighborhood. This independent minded woman traveled to the west coast after WW II from a prisoner of war camp in Georgia, using funds she had hidden during the war in talcum powder. She married Prince Abkhazi, a Russian fellow prisoner, when he joined her in Victoria and they began to build the summer house and lay out the garden together.

Over the next 40 years, Prince and Princess Abkhazi  designed, planted and maintained the property. Peggy had lived in Shanghai before the war and it was this influence that plays out in the garden. Chinese gardens are essentially places of meditation, places to withdraw from worldly cares. This must have been very appealing to the Abkhazi's  after their experiences in prisoner of war camps. Nothing in a Chinese garden is hurried or blatant. Paths are not just a way of getting from one point to another, instead they are a way of exploring changing views that slowly shift as you walk through the garden.

As I made my way between massive glaciated rock outcroppings and under mature native Garry oak trees gorgeous views of the snow-covered Olympic mountains and the Straight of San Juan de Fuca could be seen.
Each garden "room" utilizes the natural lay of the land and has a welcoming bench for sitting and taking in the flowers. Lots of birds and butterflies were busy feeding and going about their daily activities.

Purple allium flowers the size of grapefruit caught my attention. Growing nearby, pale yellow

Candelabra primula
Candelabra primula[/caption]Japanese iris bordered one of the paths. Fragrant dianthus, several varieties of campanula and euphorbia, lady's mantle and candelabra primula were all blooming and the weeping Crimson Queen Japanese maples were pruned to perfection.

More than just a collection of plants, this garden flows with the natural contours and blends the house with it's surroundings. it is a stunning example of West Coast design. The garden flows around the rock outcroppings, taking advantage of deeper pockets of soil for conifers, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The original Lily-of-the-Valley beds still carpet a slope. Alpine plants are placed like little jewels around the boulders and woodland plants border the undulating lawns.

A small waterfall flows into a pond where 2 large turtles sunned themselves on the rock edge while a third rested on a waterlily pad, it's red ear markings picking up the dark pink color of the waterlily flower. A stand of stately white calla lilies emerged through a piece of drifwood near a resting spot. The garden is magical. One that you could imagine on your own property if you had the next 40 years to plant and maintain it.
 
It would have been  a terrible loss if the property had not been purchased in 2000 by The Land Conservancy. After the death of the Abkhazis the land was slated to become a townhouse development. This unique garden
is truly a place of wonder. a place to meditate and to withdraw from worldly cares.
 

Trials & Tribulations of a Test Garden

Lemon Fizz santolina and friends
While at the Watsonville Terra Sole Nursery recently, owner's John and Sherry Hall shared with me their experiences growing and experimenting with plants in their own landscape and nursery. From these personal trials, they decide what to propagate and sell in the small, independent nursery they operate on their property.

With a philosophy to share what they learn with their customers, they grow native and unusual plants and other drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. Sherry told me that they grow their plants as sustainably as possible, hand pulling weeds and collecting snails by hand. They said they propagate and grow their plants without growth regulators or dangerous chemicals. I saw many birdbaths both in their own landscape and in the nursery. Sherry told me they encourage feathered friends like the Western Bluebird to live in the garden to eat bugs. It's a win-win situation.

Sustainable doesn't just get lip service at this nursery. They don't use labels on their containers making it easy to recycle them. And John makes his own succulent garden boxes from 100 year old barn wood. They looked awesome planted up with a collection of various succulents propagated in the greenhouse.

I commented on the hardy geraniums and other plants coming up through the gravel on the nursery floor. John and Sherry both laughed as they told me "it's the best place to propagate some of the plants. Our son works at a big grower nearby and can't propagate some of these plants even in his $10,000 greenhouse".

What were some of my favorite plants that I saw on the tour and which do they think are the best performers?  
In the test garden, a Lemon Fizz santolina, with foliage so brilliant it looked like a lit light bulb, nestled at the base of a burgundy phormium. A blooming euphorbia completed the vignette. Santolinas are drought and deer tolerant. One important thing Sherry has learned from the test garden is how close to plant things. "They get a lot bigger than you'd imagine from seeing them in that cute little gallon can".

They have an extensive coral bell or heuchera collection that they have been testing for the past 4 years. Starting with 80 plants of different kinds, 90% have survived. The fancy hybrids do need some summer water and compost to look their best. The variety Pinot Gris, with molasses colored foliage, really stood out among the rest.

The echinacea were just emerging from dormancy and will bloom during the summer.  They are very dependable in the garden unless the gophers get them, I was told. Agastache is another one of their favorites and the hummingbirds love them, too. They grow many colorful cordyline from clumpers to tall types. They are doing great, Sherry said. "Maybe a little too great" as they get big fast. Gaillardia have been disappointing but maybe they received too much water at the wrong time, she confessed.

In the nursery, I was drawn to the hardy geranium, 'Bill Wallace'. Loaded with purplish-blue flowers, this mounding perennial blooms for a long time. In another spot, I couldn't miss the rich, dark burgundy flowers of the camellia "Night Rider". "It's the only camellia we grow", the Hall's explained. A very slow grower, it's perfect for containers.

At the Spring Trials they bought a flat of a new acacia called 'Cousin Itt'. This plant is very different from the invasive tree we see blooming each winter. A well behaved 30" mound of soft, emerald green foliage it's drought tolerant and would look great near a dry stream bed.

With so many plants to talk about, we ran out of time and ended with the "under-used, under-appreciated" Beschorneria.  This genus of succulent plants belong to the subfamily agavoides and is native to Mexico. The Hall's are concentrating on propagating a variegated variety in their nursery. A tall blooming red spike had emerged from one of the green species.

This is just a taste of the many plants I learned about that day at Terra Sole Nurseries. From drought tolerance, disease resistance, cold and wildlife compatible the experiments continue.

You can find out more about this small nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Terra Sole Nursery Trials New Plants

Cordyline
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own little nursery on your property? What would you grow? How would you decide?  Over the years, I've been asked by home owners with a bit of extra property what would be good to grow. What is there a market for? So I decided to ask some friends who trial plants on their Watsonville property and operate a small nursery there how it all works.

Terra Sole Nurseries was founded in 2004 by John and Sherry Hall with the goal of experimenting and growing native, unusual and drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. "We push the limits on water use in our test garden until we fall too much in love with a plant and can't bear to see it die with our tough love approach", Sherry said as we talked about the their operation.

Just back from attending the California Spring Trials,  Sherry and John were excited to share how they decide what to grow In their nursery. Their focus is to grow a large variety of native and unusual plants, some of which are old-fashioned, some are hot new introductions. What treasures did they find this year?

During the course of a week at the Spring Trials,  the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts share the latest and greatest at several open houses throughout California. The robust plant varieties of today are a direct result of the countless hours and decades of study from the dedicated professionals spending their time observing, testing and experimenting the new varieties that are more disease resistant, more floriferous, the best performers and are easy to grow in ordinary landscapes and gardens.  

How does a plant get from an idea in a breeder's mind to your local nursery? It all starts with the breeders who might cross pollinate thousands of plants to select maybe a hundred of the best ones. Then the growers buy an unrooted cutting or the seed or plugs of rooted plants and grow them onto a larger size. This is where the finish growers buy the plugs and liners to put into bigger pots growing them to retail or sellable size. Terra Sole Nurseries bought some of the newest plants on the market this year themselves.

What are some of the newest trends that we might see in our neighborhood nursery this year? The breeders of impatiens have developed a variety that appears to have a gingerbread man in the center. Called Patchwork this  impatien has a bigger flower and comes in six bi-colors.

Grafted vegetables, higher in antioxidants, are being developed. Non GMO vegetable varieties are grafted onto vigorous rootstalks to produce a plant disease resistant higher in nutrients. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers. peppers and lettuce are just some of the vegetables being grown.

Biodegradable pots made from wheat are another of the new trends being offered for sale at the Spring Trials. The pots look like plastic yet breakdown after being used and can be recycled in your compost system. They hold up to the normal environmental pressures of heat, water and cold.

Sunset Western Gardening and HGTV are both offering their own branded plants that are available this year. Patented varieties coming out include a compact hardenbergia called Meena, two upright. compact nandinas- Flirt and Obsessive with bright red winter color and a compact mahonia called Soft Caress with non-prickly foliage. A cold hardy salvia named Amistad that has a very long bloom time will also be coming out soon.

To simplify choices for gardeners, better dahlias, calibrachoa, petunias and pansies are coming on the market this season. Several types are grown in the same pot so the buyer need only to plant one of these in a basket or container to get a combination that will look good and grow happily all season.

With so many plant choices which ones do Terra Sole Nurseries trial in their own garden and grow in their nursery? Next week I'll talk about what Sherry and John have their eye on, which plants they grow and the results of their own plant trials. You can find out more about the nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show 2012

Every year after attending the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show I'm exhilarated by the creativity of the display gardens  and the fresh use of familiar plants. Don't even get me started on the new plant introductions

Water feature at SF FGS
I want to use in my next landscape design. This year the world-class show celebrated its 25th anniversary.

A Flower and Garden Show is a huge and complex production. Creating the 20 display gardens is a demanding task and planning for them begins many months before the show opens. By the night before the show opens 1,200 cubic yards of sawdust and mulch ( that's about 150 dump truck loads ) have been spread and 280,000 pounds of rock stacked in undulating walls and water features.

The flowers and plants for the garden come from all up and down the West Coast. Many plants are forced into early bloom for the show as Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate. Even flowering trees are sometimes kept in greenhouses so that their buds can be timed to open the week of the show. It's not a perfect science. One display garden creator who garnered 5 awards told me that hundreds of daffodils she had planned to use in her garden bloomed a week early due to warm weather. 

This year the theme of the show was "Gardens for a Green Earth". There were tips for edible gardening at home including containers for herbs and veggies on the patio and small space gardening, too. One of my favorite gardens combined tomato and flowering vines cascading over the edge of a stone vaneer wall.  Raised vegetable boxes bordered the deck for easy access and a stone water fall splashed into a huge half oak barrel.

Another interesting garden was the Low Impact Bay Friendly Garden. Modern in design, this low water-use garden featured tall raised beds surrounding a pervious concrete stepping stone patio set in a gravel base. Pervious concrete is said to be able to take in storm water a a rapid rate of over 5 gallons per minute per square foot of surface area. That far exceeds the flow rate needed to prevent runoff in even the most severe rain events.
The rainwater is temporarily stored in the course gravel layer underneath while it is allowed to naturally percolate into the underlying soil. This could be a good solution to solve site drainage problems.

Most of the display gardens featured water in them. Some were large affairs with cascading boulders while others were small and understated. In one, a length of copper tubing delivered a shower of drops in front of an aged corrugated iron panel. Another consisted of a simple stacked flagstone ledger waterfall flowing into a flagstone pond- a DIY project?  Even used tires were used as the base for the flagstone edging around a pond although frankly, I couldn't picture this water feature in anybody's backyard. One I did like was a simple flume of water pouring into a small metal rectangle lined with Mexican black pebbles. A little feature with lots of impact.

Fire pits were prevalent, too. From ornate fireplaces to glass filled affairs to simple metal rounds filled with cobbles outdoor living is enhanced with fire and water.

I had to laugh when a man asked me at one of the gardens what I was taking a picture of.  Well, I explained, I take photos of paths and steps and how they're put together and the materials they're made of for future reference. "Oh, that's a good idea" he said, and started taking pictures, too. All in a day at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.

The Mountain Gardener’s Hot Plant Picks for 2011

It’s not just another garden show, it’s the world renowned San Francisco Flower & Garden show and it was the perfect start to spring. Sure the show gardens are part theater and part reality but you can’t help but come away with inspiration, ideas and spring fever. One of my favorite parts is the display of new plant introductions from Western Horticultural Society. These are great plants destined to become favorites in the garden.  Well, I have my own Top 10 Hot Plants for 2011. These selections do not include California natives because Native Plant Week is coming up soon and I’ll focus on our valuable natives in an upcoming column.

I’m often asked for plant recommendations for our unique set of gardening conditions-extreme weather, heavy clay or sandy soil and limited water resources in the summer months. The following plants are easy to grow, have few or no problems with pests of diseases and posses valuable qualities such as color, fragrance, winter interest or support wildlife and beneficial insects. Try something new this year in your garden.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. This low spreading shrub grows 1 ft tall by 4-5 feet across and blooms year round with pink and white spidery flower clusters. Great for attracting nectar feeding birds and gophers don’t like their taste. Full sun, evergreen and drought tolerant -this is a great groundcover.

Kaleidescope abelia
This evergreen shrub is a kaleidescope of color as it’s name implies. Variegated foliage is bright yellow and green in spring, changing to golden yellow with bright oranges and fiery reds in fall. Its grown habit is densely compact and rounded. The beautiful foliage doesn’t scorch in the sun either.  It’s a beauty 2-3 ft tall and 3-4 feet wide. What more can you ask for?

Loropetalum Pipa’s Red
Also known as Fringe flower this shrub sports rich burgundy foliage in a fountain shape with tiered branches. Raspberry flower clusters are heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape-looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy color can add color to a woodland garden and it even does well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer. 

Karl Foerster feather reed grass adds a vertical element to your summer and fall garden. It provides wonderful contrast among low shrubs and perennials. Named after the famous landscape architect and photographer with a love for all aspects of perennial plants, Karl Foerster  lived in Germany from 1874 to 1970. This grass won the 2001 Perennial Plant of the Year and although it’s not new on the market it’s an  easy to grow ornamental grass that won’t overpower your space.

Cordyline Electric Pink
This show stopper lives up to its high-voltage name. It surpasses other grass-like plants with boldly striped leaves of maroon and shocking pink. This well-behaved cordyline is clump-forming and reaches only 2-4 feet in height and width. Place in large mixed container or flower borders to instantly add an exciting look.

Pennisetum Fireworks
With arching leaves striped with white, green, burgundy and hot pink this grass is beautiful in the garden. Purple tassels rise above the foliage in late summer. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the purple flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container for protection but it’s worth the extra effort.
 

Leaucadendron Safari sunset
Fiery red bracts on densely covered tall stems are sure to draw oohs and aahs. This is one of the most popular Leaucadendron available. It’s a vigorous, erect grower to over 8 feet tall and tough enough to handle frost and clay soils. The flower is actually an insignificant cone surrounded by large colorful bracts which are excellent for cut foliage harvesting.

Belinda’s Find red hook sedge
This red sedge is a two-tone delight of bright cherry red leaves with a green stripe running down the center.  Its loosely tufted, upright form grows 12" tall by 15" wide in part sun. Tiny bulrush-like flowers, from June to August,are elevated above the tidy, low growing evergreen clump. Use in the front of the border, in masses or mixed containers.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost blooms continuously with clouds of white flowers that float above finely textured apple-green foliage. This delicate looking perennial may be small in stature, reaching 12-18 " tall and wide, but is easy to grow and surprisingly tolerant of drought and heat. Combine this airy plant with bright colors for a dazzling border.

Phormium Jester is a New Zealand flax cultivar that grows to 3 feet making it a better fit in the garden than some of the larger phormiums. It can tolerate fairly dry conditions but looks best with occasional to regular irrigation. This strong color combination of green and pink doesn’t revert to the parent plants coloring. It’s hardy to 15-20 degrees. You might find this plant also listed as Jubilee.

 

Garden Tips for March

Spring is in the air. It’s always exciting to see the plants in the garden come to life. I’ve been invited to tour a  garden in Scotts Valley in April when many of the early flowering plants will be in bloom.  I’ve been to this garden before and there’s always an interesting tree, shrub or flower to enjoy.

One of my long term goals is to view the great gardens in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you have a garden that you think others would like to hear about and you are willing to share it with me, please contact me. I’d love to spend time with you in your garden.

There’s so much to do now in the garden. If you are feeling overwhelmed here are some suggestions for the more important to-do’s.

* Check drip systems for leaks or clogged emitters. Flush sediment from filters and check screens for algae. You may need to add emitters if plants have grown significantly.

* Finish pruning and clean-up of trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. This includes fireblight die-back on pears, apples, hawthorn, pyracantha, photinia, crabapple quince and toyon., Prune out and discard diseased branches making the cut at least 6-8" below blighted tissue. Clean the pruning blades with alcohol or a 1:5 solution of household bleach to prevent spread of the disease. Also finish pruning and cutting back perennials and ornamental grasses. Go ahead and give grasses a 3-5" crewcut so fresh growth can emerge. Cut back old foliage of maiden hair ferns to allow new growth to take center stage. If you have Western sword ferns or another type that has winter or thrip damage, remove shabby looking fronds. Even if you have to cut back the entire fern it’s OK. It will regrow in just of couple of months.  Prune any other frost damaged plants when you see new growth begin.

* Spread fresh compost around all your plants. Good soil is the secret to successful gardening. The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil and it will feed the plant. Remember that all gardening used to be organic. Layer compost and or mulch on top of the soil and let it slowly decompose and filter down into the earth.

* As you plant new additions to the garden add organic matter to the soil. If your garden’s soil is sandy, organic matter enriches it and allows it to hold water more efficiently. If your soil tends toward clay, organic matter will loosen it up and improve drainage. In well-amended soil, plants grow deep roots, are hardier and more resistant to disease. Organic matter, such as compost, planting mix and well-rotted manure, boosts nutrition and improves soil structure.

* Fertilize if you haven’t already done so. Citrus, shrubs and fruit trees just emerging from dormancy are begging for their first meal of the season. Lawns begin their spring growth now also and benefit from a boost of nitrogen. You can also spread a thin layer of composted manure over you lawn. Leaving you grass clippings on the lawn will benefit it by shading the roots as it get warmer and as they break down they help feed it, too. Perennials benefit from both a fresh layer of compost or manure and a light application of balanced fertilizer. They respond to phosphorus especially in the spring for root growth, stem sturdiness and flower development. Wait until azaleas, camellias and rhododendron have finished blooming before feeding them.

* The most important to-do for March is to take time out and enjoy your garden and our beautiful surroundings. Those last few weeds will be there tomorrow but you’ll never get another today.

New Plants for 2011

I know this gardening season isn’t over yet, but I’m already . Some are already being grown on a limited basis by the wholesale growers while others won’t become available until 2011. Recently I had the opportunity to view up-close and personal some of these new unique perennials, shrubs and grasses. It’s exciting to envision these in our own gardens.

It’s no secret our weather is just about perfect here. That’s why so many of the wholesale nurseries have operations in this county. They know the growing conditions are excellent here for annuals, perennials, grasses and woody ornamentals.

Many of the plants we buy start life as small plugs and liners. Some of these are produced in tissue culture labs located in places such as India, China, Guatemala and Holland. These are then grown on to sellable size by other wholesale growers before they eventually arrive at your local nursery. If you have a Black Mondo or carex grass or a cordyline, hellebore or heuchera it may have been started from a tissue culture somewhere on another continent and has more frequent flyer miles than you do.

Plant tissue culture consists of taking a piece of a plant, such as a stem tip, and placing it in a sterile ( usually gel-based ) nutrient medium where it multiplies, It’s similar to taking a cutting of your favorite houseplant and growing it to share with a friend. The production of plants in sterile containers allows the propagator to reduce the chance of transmitting diseases, pests and pathogens.

One of the new plants that I saw that really caught my eye is the grass,  Pennisetum Fireworks. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the pink flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container but it’s worth babying this one, it’s so beautiful.

You may have bought a bright orange Begonia Bonfire this year and were impressed with the hundreds of flowers that it easily produced over the season. Well, next year you’ll be seeing the Sparkle series begonia which is similar. This tuberous begonia is nothing like the classic you are familiar with.  One plant will grow to about 24" in the ground or a container and depending on which color you choose, will be covered with scarlet, white blush, rose or apricot flowers.

And don’t even get me started on all the new mimulus colors that are going to be available next year. The Jellybean series comes in classic orange and gold but also red, purple, pink, light pink, lemon and terra cotta. Remember these are deer resistant, too.

Also there are new hummingbird favorite agastache flavors out now.  Picture in your garden, flower spikes in colors that look like fruit- grapefruit, apricot, grape and orange nectar.

I haven’t even touched on new introductions like Green Jewel echinacea or dwarf butterfly bushes in magenta, violet or pink. How about a bush form of the vine, HardenbergiaMeena will grow 36" tall and have purple flowers in winter.

Look for one of these new perennials next year. It’s going to be a colorful year in the garden.
 

Landscaping Tips for Great Gardens

By this time of the year, you probably have planted some new perennials for color in your garden. But if you look around and still feel something is missing the answer may be that your landscape needs more than color. As a landscape designer I am often called upon for ideas to create richer landscapes that provide four seasons of interest. Here are some tips I pass along.

A more sophisticated appeal and enduring quality in your landscape can be achieved if foliage color is used to complement, or contrast with, other plants within the design. This technique unifies the overall look while offering appeal throughout the season. One plant that would make this happen is Rose Glow Japanese barberry. Their graceful habit with slender, arching branches makes a statement by itself but it’s the vivid marbled red and pinkish foliage that steals the show until they deepen to rose and bronze with age. In the fall, the foliage turns yellow-orange before dropping and bead-like bright red berries stud the branches fall through winter.

Abelia Confetti is another small shrub that can be used to unify your landscape. Growing only 2-3 ft high and 4-5 ft wide with leaves variegated white, their foliage turning maroon in cold weather. Abelias are adaptable plants, useful in shrub borders, near the house or as as groundcover on banks. White, bell-shaped flowers are plentiful and showy during summer and early fall.

Texture in foliage is very important in good garden design. Varying the size and shape of leaves creates diversity and variety among neighboring plants. Striking visual interest can even be achieved when working with two different plants with similar shades of green.

An example of this would be combining Gold Star pittosporum tenuifolium with grevillea noellii. The first has dark green oval foliage on 10-15 for dense plants while the latter is densely clad with narrow inch long glossy green leaves. Clusters of pink and white flowers bloom in early to late spring and are  a favorite of hummingbirds.

Using the same plant shape throughout a landscape can create and tie the entire design together. Forms and shapes of plants and trees can be columnar, conical, oval, round, pyramidal, weeping, spreading and arching. A loropetalum with its spreading tiers of arching branches could be repeated throughout your garden to create visual interest and balance. A dogwood tree could also repeat this same form as their branches grow horizontally.

Consider also layering plants to create a beautiful garden. From groundcovers all the way up to the tallest tree, natural looking designs mimic nature.

Don’t forget about focal points. This could be a Japanese maple cloaked by a wall of dark evergreens or a statue or pottery at the end of a long, narrow pathway. Focal points draw attention and even distract the eye from an unsightly view.

There are many solutions to make your garden complete. Consider using some of the above design elements to make your landscape beautiful. 

New Plants for the Garden

Every season new varieties of colorful flowering annuals and perennials are introduced by hybridizers. These new plants are field tested and bred for better performance, disease and insect resistance, flower size, color and heat tolerance.  Where does this happen?  What goes into that gorgeous vivid red geranium you see on the bench at the nursery?

Over 30 breeders of flower seeds and perennial starts each spring showcase their new varieties in trials held throughout the state.  Professional growers visit the trials to choose which new varieties they will grow this year and offer to local nurseries and garden centers.  Goldsmith Seeds in Gilroy is one of the locations that hosts the colorful spectacle.

Fragrant, wisteria-covered arbors shade paths that wind throughout the landscaped grounds . The grounds are open to the public to enjoy throughout the summer.  Also on site are the greenhouses where breeders work on creating new and better flower varieties.  It was interesting to see several acres planted with fava beans as a cover crop. Soon the fields of this flowering legume will be cut down and tilled into the soil to add nitrogen. Legumes attract soil dwelling bacteria that attach to the plant’s roots and pull atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and soil, storing it on the roots as nodules.  When the plant is cut down and chopped up to decompose that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed new plants. After a few weeks of decomposition the energized soil will be ready for planting test flowers that Goldsmith seeds will further evaluate.

All of the seeds are actually grown in greenhouses in Holland and Guatemala. Cool season flowers like primroses, cyclamen, violas and pansies are produced mainly in Holland while warm season flowers like dahlias, geraniums, gazanias, and verbenas are grown at different elevations in Guatemala. I learned Goldsmith Seeds has been developing and growing seed in Guatemala for 40 years.

What new cultivars really impressed me at the trials?  There’s a new geranium that combines the best features of ivy and zonal geraniums. I liked the amazing color of Calliope Dark Red but all the colors were show stoppers. They would be perfect for baskets or beds in full sun or part shade. And you should see all the colors that calibrachoa now comes in-light blue, dark blue, deep yellow, peach, orange, even white with rose veins. These have now been bred to bloom earlier in the season which is why you’re seeing them in nurseries now.  There were many fragrant flowers like . I always looks forward to them when they arrive at the nursery. 

Try something new in your garden this year. There are so many good choices.
 

Planning this Summer’s ‘Staycation’

Picture yourself this summer with your family outdoors  during your  "staycation" – relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard.  Now is the perfect time to plan while the yard is still a bit bare and you can see the space for what it really is.  Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.

Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable in the hot summer. We usually get a heat wave in May so be prepared early.  National Arbor Day in the last week of April but each state sets its own day of celebration. California celebrates this week, March 7-14, as the week to plant a tree.

There are so many good choices for our area.  First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions.  Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak.  Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple.  If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.

What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, with brick or pavers?  If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.

How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden.  Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.

After you’ve planted your tree and planned your hidden getaway take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden .  Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start.  If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time.  Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time. The last frost of the season is approximately March 15th.  Spring is on its way.