Gardens are for Healing, Kids and Pets


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden is the perfect example of the circle of life. A garden is nature’s way of taking and giving back life to the earth.  A garden represents the infinite nature of energy. I am reminded of this as my best friend lost her dog to cancer recently and within a day my niece gave birth to her first child. A garden holds hope. And it can heal our sorrows.

I am in a garden every day. Sometimes it’s the garden of friends I’m enjoying or helping a client with theirs or strolling a public garden and of course, I am in my own garden daily. Wherever I go I receive something from the experience and try to leave some positive energy there. The events this week have me thinking about what makes a garden that heals? And on the other side of the circle of life what’s important in a kid and pet friendly garden?

Through our history gardens have been used to aid in the healing process. Japanese Zen Gardens and Monastic Cloister gardens are good examples of this. Viewing natural scenes helps us reduce stress and negative emotions and replaces them with positive feelings.

To make your garden look better and make you feel better when you’re in it pay special OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattention to plant selection. Allow the plants to dominate with a minimal amount of hardscaping. Choose plants that are fragrant, colorful or soft to the touch. Plants that attract wildlife make a garden a happy place. Simple, bold mass plantings are more comforting than a wild mix of many varieties. Leave that to the cutting garden. Enclose the space to keep your thoughts inward and peaceful.

It’s just as important if you have children and pets to create a garden that is calming and relieves stress.

Picking plants for a backyard that is shared with dogs is especially important if your dog naturally nibbles on greenery or berries. Some plants are lethal while others can cause OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAillness or vomiting. I was surprised to see so many common plants on the ASPCA website that could cause problems like carnations, primroses and geraniums. What’s safe for us like grapes and avocado are not good for dogs. Check the list to make sure the plants your are considering are safe for your dog.
http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants?plant_toxicity=toxic-to-dogs

Plants near paths should have soft foliage without thorns and spines which can cause eye injury.  Brittle plants like salvias should be in the center where they’ll be protected.  Densely planted areas are usually avoided by dogs but planting in raised beds or mounds help, too. Pieces of driftwood placed at the front of a border will discourage them.  Start with one gallon or larger plants that can stand up to a little roughhousing.

Kid friendly gardens should not contain plants that are poisonous. Sounds like a no brainer but even some of our common natives like the berries of snowberry and the leaves of Western azalea are poisonous.  Non-toxic plants include abelia, abutilon, liriope, butterfly bush, Hens and Chicks, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis and black-eyed Susan. Better to check the poison control website if in doubt.
http://www.calpoison.org  and search “plants”.

What makes a great experience for a kid in the garden? In a nutshell, you can teach children of any age about beneficial insects in a garden and other wildlife.  Older kids can identify and nibble edible flowers like calendula, dianthus, nasturtiums, pansies, peas and beans. Grow flowers that kids can cut like zinnias and snapdragons and plants to touch that are soft and furry like lamb’s ears.

Kids, even older ones, like hiding places, so grow one in the garden.  You can plant tall growing sunflowers in a circle, leaving a space for a “door” that kids can crawl through once the flowers have grown.  Or build a simple teepee out of fallen branches or long gardening stakes and plant bean seeds around the outside.  Scarlet runner beans are also good and have tender, young pods like green beans in addition to bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds.  Beans grow fast and soon make a great secret hiding place.

Make your garden one everyone can enjoy.



Express your Garden Style with Paths and Good Design


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI get a lot of calls from homeowners who need help seeing their property through new eyes. Maybe they’ve lived there for a long time but the landscaping needs an update. Or maybe they’re just moving in and the landscaping has been neglected for a while. Whatever the reason, there are techniques I use to bring out the best in a space. This is the time of year when all things seem possible. Take a few moments to really look at your garden. Look at the view from inside the windows and from the driveway as you enter. Then imagine all it could be with some simple changes.

The elements of garden design, like arrangement of paths, planting beds and open spaces, shape your garden.  Have you ever noticed how your eye is drawn along a path through the garden?  The plantings along the sides serve to frame but it’s the style of the path itself that enhances your experience in the garden.

The materials you choose for a path determine how fast or slow your walk will be.  A casual path OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof gravel or bark chips lends itself to slow meandering around bends in the path.  Flagstone pavers set in sand with spaces left between for low growing ground covers are good choices for both major access walks and smaller paths.    Be sure to space the stones no further than a comfortable stride apart.  Other materials that make good paths are brick, cobbles and pressure-treated lumber.

A curved line or offset sections of paving slows movement inviting you to notice the surroundings.  Curves should look as if they are supposed to be there.  Place a large plant, rock or sculptural feature at a turning point so that you must walk around the object.  Remember a lightly curved path makes a nice entrance walk or a stroll through the garden but stick with straight lines for a path to take out the trash or get fire wood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalkways should be designed for comfort and accessibility.  A walk that leads to your front door should be 4-5 feet wide, enough to accommodate 2 people walking in opposite directions at the same time.  Smaller paths, 24″ wide, are OK for one person to stroll through the garden further out from exits and entrances.

If your garden is small, a tapering path edged with curving flower beds will seem to converge on the horizon, giving the illusion of depth and distance.  Plantings of grasses in the beds will create a sense of movement.

You can separate plants and people by designing seating along the walkways.  A good spot to place winding pathseating is at a fork in the path or where two types of paving meet another.  Any object you can comfortably sit on is a possibility.  Besides wood or ornamental iron benches, rocks, tree stumps, seat walls and planters can also double as seating.
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The best gardens include focal points other than plants and trees.  The art you place in your garden reflects your style as much as the art you have in your home. A ceramic pot placed as a focal point can add drama to your space.  A metal sculpture or wall hanging can do the same.  The great thing about making a garden is that you don’t have to do it all at once.  And gardens are easy to alter as your ideas change.  A garden is never done.

Creating interest outside a window depends not only on plant choices but also simple design solutions. Keep the garden simple and restful. Editing some of the plants will make the garden lower maintenance, too. Plants that have overgrown the space need constant pruning. Move them to a better spot.

Limit the number of elements in the garden. Rather than trying to include everything in the garden try for a unified look with the fewest number of things. Make each one count.  Place objects to define a space. This doesn’t mean creating separate garden rooms necessarily but more like a set of boulders to signify distinct parts of the garden.

Another tip that makes an area more restful visually is to limit your plant palette. Plants that you can see through make a space seem larger. Some plants like Japanese maple, nandina and dogwood are naturally airy while other plants like camellia can be pruned for openness. Low growing, mounding ground covers help unify the garden. Plant soothing greenery for year round appeal with seasonal color from perennials and shrubs.

With a little planning your landscaping can express your own style.



Beni Kawa Japanese Maple


Last fall my sister lost her favorite tree in a windstorm. She lives on Fox Island in the southern part of Puget Sound. I remember hearing about the extraordinary Pacific storm on the national news shattering records in the Northwest. Gusts up to 76 mph closed bridges, falling trees hurt 2 people and thousands lost power. Her Silk Tree didn’t stand a chance.

Won_Yang_JanWhile visiting over the Christmas holiday I thought it would be a nice present to replace her dearly departed tree. Several nice ornamental trees made the short list including the Katsura tree with leaves that smell like vanilla in the fall and Forest Pansy redbud with magenta spring flowers, burgundy heart-shaped summer leaves and reddish-orange fall color. We also considered the native Pacific dogwood but she already had one in the yard. Driving around we started to notice the beautiful color of the Coral Bark Japanese maples in many landscapes and the decision was made.

I knew we would have no trouble finding a good specimen in the Pacific Northwest and I was right. Close Won_Yang_graftsby in Gig Harbor we found Yang’s Nursery and I walked into the realm of a Japanese maple expert. Owner Won Yang opened the nursery to give us a tour of the grounds.  We walked between rows of hundreds of maples and marveled at the huge bonsai specimens of Weeping Katsura tree, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, several different conifers and a very impressive, beautifully pruned Oshio Beni Japanese maple all over 20 years old.

Won showed us his greenhouses where he propagates the maples himself. He has been in the business for 30 years so he knows his stuff. Starting with a small green maple seedling with a half inch stem that is cut off 6″ above the ground,  he carefully grafts a tiny tip of new growth from the desired specimen onto the larger stem. It will take at least 3 years before the new tree will be big enough to sell. Won’s pride in his work was apparent as he smiled at the rows of newly grafted maples.

Acer_palmatum_Beni_KawaBack out among the maples, I had my eye on the rows of coral barked Sangu Kaku maples when I saw them. Lined up alongside were several trees with bark so bright I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are these”, I asked? Won just smiled and told me they were called Beni Kawa Japanese maples and were a cultivar originally developed in 1987. They are prized for their brilliant salmon red bark which is much brighter than the regular coral bark maple. I was hooked. How could I not plant this gorgeous tree in my sister’s yard?

I learned that the bark of this tree can be polished to keep the bright color. Lichen often grows on older trees hiding the salmon red bark of the new branches. I’ll have to try using a soft cloth on my coral bark maple and see how it turns out. The Beni Kawa is a fast growing Japanese maple that will eventually reach 10-15 ft tall and 5-12 ft wide. It is hardy to 15 degrees.

Won grows his trees in a 50/50 mixture of top soil blend and fine crushed bark. He fertilizes with a balanced granular fertilizer and prunes in the winter. The 6 ft tree I bought my sister will not need to be pruned for a couple of years allowing it to establish a strong root system.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the new tree evolves as it grows especially since I know where this Beni Kawa Japanese maple was born.



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.

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