Category Archives: garden design

DIY Landscape DEsign Ideas

On a lovely spring day recently I spent some time in Palo Alto enjoying local gardens. It’s amazing what can be accomplished on a small lot where every foot counts. If you are looking to add some pizzazz to your garden and not spend much money, one of the gardens I visited will be right up your alley. Here are some take-a ways for your own landscaping.

Using driftwood collected from remote Santa Cruz beaches the owner of one amazing garden created a gate, several fences, flower bed borders to keep the dog out, an arbor and even a gazebo. He found used bricks and stones to build paths and also a patio but it was all the driftwood creations that caught my eye.

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.

A hand made driftwood arbor

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 of 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.

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.

Used brick tapered path in a small garden

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.

A redwood slab bench invites one to pause to enjoy the meadow.

You can separate plants and people by designing seating along the walkways. A good spot to place seating 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.

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.

A short driftwood fence to protect a planting bed

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.

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.

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.

Garden Tour & English Tea in Scotts Valley

Path to Heaven tall bearded iris

I know where I’m gonna be on Saturday, May11th. St Phillip”s in Scotts Valley s having their 17th annual garden tour and English tea fundraiser for local charities including their own food pantry and community shelter. This year St.Phillip’s has chosen the Teen Kitchen Project as a special recipient for funds. I’ve previously visited two of the gardens on the tour and am looking forward to the others. Here are some highlights of what you can expect on tour day.

The full High Tea Luncheon includes home made scones with jam and cream, a delicious and light soup, sausage rolls and finger sandwiches plus sweet treats such as English toffee and shortbread cookies.

Doc Hencke’s entry garden

One of the gardens on the tour has been featured several times in my column. Richard Hencke’s garden – I call him Doc – in Scott’s Valley is one not to be missed. From his roots in Oklahoma and Texas he describes himself as the “Hillbilly Gardener” but with his extensive knowledge of trees, vines and just about anything that grows he is one of the most successful and enthusiastic horticulturists I know. Wear your walking shoes to truly enjoy this garden and the changes he’s made in his landscape over the past few years – before, during and after the drought.

Richard redid his pond a couple years ago. He was tired of fighting the raccoons and algae. Steeper sides will deter the raccoons and deeper water will help to prevent algae growth. He was forced to remove a curly willow that shed leaves into the pond as their natural salicylic acid was poisoning the pond.

Below the patio the golden Mexican marigold and blue Pride of Madeira should be in full bloom along with a gorgeous stand of weeping leptospermum. Among Doc’s passions is creating visual boundaries with flowering vines that grow up into the trees. Richard will be the first to admit that some are growing better than others. Sound familiar in your own garden? Even this expert propagator is sometimes stymied by Mother Nature.

I love to hear Doc Hencke’s stories as he shows me around. Stopping at a China Doll houseplant that has now grown into a tree he tells me he thinks it’s one of the tallest specimens ever. Richard’s new desert garden along the driveway is growing in nicely although he told me that the excessive rains and cold snap this year has caused come havoc. I”m not sure about the yucca he and his brother dug up in Texas that finally bloomed a couple years ago. “I’ve only waited 52 years for it”, he laughed.

Watering can collection on vintage wagon

The other garden I’ve had the pleasure to visit is the tall bearded iris farm of Jim and Irene Cummins. Also in Scotts Valley, the iris farm has been so successful that this year when the National Convention is being hosted by Region 14 their garden will be one of the host gardens on the tour.

When I asked Jim for the growing tips last year that make his iris so spectacular he told me he mostly uses lawn trimmings and tree leaves along with the native sand to break the soil down. “Iris don’t seem to care much as to soil type, they just need good drainage”, he said. He fertilizes with a balanced granular 15-15-15 fertilizer, using only an 1/8 cup or less sprinkled around each clump around Valentines Day and again in August or September. Another tip he told me was to be sure to plant the rhizomes very shallow with only the tops showing and about 12-18 inches apart. They water every 2-3 weeks although he says they can go longer between irrigations.

Among the beds of prized bearded iris there is an impressive antique farming implement collection. This historic property dates back to 1849 when an older house was built as a stagecoach stop. Everywhere you look the Cummins’ have created an interesting vignette of plants and artifacts. On the old barn there is an impressive vintage wrench collection as well as dozens of spigot handles. Antique tractor seats, watering cans, washing tubs, rusted bed frames, wagons, old kiddie cars- you name it, Jim and Irene have collected it.

All this and more can be yours when you purchase a ticket for the tour online at http://www.stphilip-sv.net or by calling their office at 831-438-4360.

Interesting Plants to Update your Garden

Tired of seeing the same plants in your garden and everywhere else? Feel like changing things up a bit? With this question in mind I’ve turned to my fellow landscape designers to see what plants they are using these days so that every garden they design doesn’t look the same. You can have too much of a good thing.

One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to recommend a plant that hasn’t been shown to be a reliable grower in a variety of conditions. Sometimes the latest and greatest plant introduction turns out to be a dud. Other times a new cultivar of an old favorite hits a home run. Here are some oldies but goodies and new plants to add to your garden.

 

Loropetaum ‘Jazz Hands Dwarf PInk’

Loropetalum ‘Jazz Hands’ is getting the nod from everyone who’s grown it. If you love the deer tolerance, low maintenance. moderate watering and toughness of regular Chinese Fringe Flower this showy dwarf variety is even easier to grow. Staying low and tidy Jazz Hands Dwarf Pink has cool purple foliage with a cranberry undercurrent and hot pink blooms. It looks great combined with Jazz Hands Dwarf White. Local wholesale nurseries are growing it so it’s readily available.

Speaking of local sources for plants, we live in one of the prime growing areas for landscape plants. I recently learned that one of my favorite plants Canyon Snow Pacific coast iris is going through a difficult time. Seems it’s become less vigorous than the other colors in the Canyon series and the growers are working to improve their stock. We need to count on a plant’s performance. There’s enough other issues to deal with in our gardens without starting with a wimpy plant.

Cistus variegata ‘Mickie’

Rockrose have always been favorites in the low water use garden. There’s one with a low, mounding habit that hugs the ground and creates a super colorful accent to the sunny garden. With brilliant gold leaves splashed in the center with green this variegated cistus hybridus called ‘Mickie” is hardy in winter, grows only 14-18 inches tall and spreads to about 2 feet wide. Perfect for containers or smaller gardens.

If you like to include California native plants in your garden Woolly Blue Curls or trichostema lanatum has been shown to be reliable in the garden if given full sun, good drainage and little fertilizer or amendment. Group similar plants and forget about them. They bloom from late spring through summer and make a good cut flower. Another common name for this plant is Romero or California Rosemary which dates back to the Portola expedition in 1769.

If you want to make a big splash in your garden or container try growing Salvia ’Amistad’ or Friendship Sage. With fast growth in the warm months to 4 or 5 feet tall, the rich royal purple flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. It will grow in light shade with medium water requirements and remain evergreen in warmer parts of your garden.

Cousin Itt acacia

Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ continues to be a favorite for many of us. This lovely small plant with emerald green, feathery foliage that stays small in the garden and has low water needs. Not to be confused with the bully acacia tree seen around here, it’s one of the good guys. Plant in full sun to partial shade.

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what landscape designers use or grow in their own gardens.

Tranquil Blue in the Garden

With the heat of summertime upon us I’m drawn to those areas in my garden that have blue, white and lavender flowers. A hot day just seems cooler there.

Washed out magenta is nature’s favorite go-to color and the shade that hybrids will revert to it if allowed to go to seed. Among gardeners, red is a favorite color. Orange and yellow come next, then pink and purple with blue and white both comparatively rare in nature last on the list.

geranium ‘Orion’

So naturally, most of us gardeners want the elusive blue flower in our gardens. Knowing that cool colors recede, place them around the edges or at the back of a garden to make your space appear wider or deeper.

True blue flowers are rare. We use words like cerulean, azure, cobalt, sapphire, turquoise, electric blue or steel blue when describing blue flowers. Hybridizers have tried for years to produce a true blue rose or blue daylily. Blue plant pigment is hard to manipulate. It occurs in the daylily as a sap-soluble pigment and is difficult to segregate. Lilacs, purples, orchids and mauves we have and working with them hybridizers may eventually get near blue, but pure blue probably never. Recently, some companies have found a way to insert some blue in the center of their daylily flowers but a totally blue daylily has never been produced.

Rose hybridizers striving for true blue have come close by

hydrangea macrophylla

crossbreeding lavender hybrid teas in order to produce offspring having optimum amount of cyanidin, the pigment that imparts purple or magenta tones and flavone, the pigment that gives light yellow tones.The results have been more of a silvery lilac or mauve. A blue rose is still in the future although labs in Australia and Japan are genetically modifying the pigments from petunias to produce a blue rose. Their results are not yet perfected and these roses are more of a lilac in color and can not survive conditions outside the lab. It is apparently very difficult to isolate the pigment cyanadin. Delphiniums have a monopoly on it.

omphaloides

The color blue is calming and tranquil. It is the color of serenity and peace and is said to slow down the metabolism and reduce the appetite. When brightened with white or combined with yellow or orange in a complementary color scheme the results of blue in the garden are breathtaking. The great English gardener Gertrude Jekyll used plants with golden leaves or clear yellow flowers to spice up blue gardens. Just remember that blues and purples are the first flowers to fade as darkness falls so be sure to have those whites and yellows to carry your garden into evening.

There are many blue perennials as handsome as they are durable that we can enjoy in our gardens today.
Some of my favorites are old fashioned hydrangeas, violas and campanula. Both are valuable in the shade garden along with omphaloides and brunnera. The blue spikes of a long blooming peach-leaf campanula just go together with the white and green variegated foliage of Jack Frost Siberian bugloss.

agapanthus africanus

In early spring we are dazzled by our native ceanothus which bloom with deep blue, sky blue or electric blue flowers. Emerald Blue phlox subulata carpets the ground in spring with clear blue flowers that top creeping stems. Penstemon Blue Springs, a California native hybrid, carries dense spikes of bright blue, bell-shaped blossoms.

Make sure your garden has a blue section to cool you on a hot day.

Designing a Garden Path

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

Cottage garden flagstone path

Every garden path begs you to wonder where does it lead? It’s the journey as well as the destination that makes it so alluring. As you walk, the garden should slowly reveal surprises. An architectural accent plant might appear, a wonderful scent greet you, a distant view open up or a drift of colorful flowers at the edge may beckon you to stop and enjoy the scene.

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

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

Paths can be designed to slow people down. Plan pauses along the

Abkhazi Garden, Victoria, BC, Canada

way, widening it at some spots while placing a sitting bench nestled beside a bird feeder at another spot. Place a unique piece of garden art next to a tree with interesting bark or a view of distant mountains. You can route paths in ways that direct your sight toward beautiful things and away from the compost pile and trash cans. Good paths have entries that are easy to see and pull you in.

When I design a path in a garden I think about how it will fit into the rest of the landscape and the look of the house. Flagstone, brick or pavers are great for paths you’re likely to travel on barefoot. You can soften the path’s look by planting low ground covers between pavers. Allow at least 2 inches of soil between flagstone or pavers and amend the soil so it won’t pack down with foot traffic before planting.

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

Bluestone path-mortared with accent boulders

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

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

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

 

Save Water with a Dry Lush Landscape

In all the years I’ve been a landscape designer I’ve never heard anyone say to me “I want my garden to look like the desert.”  Using California native plants along with appropriate low water use plants from other Mediterranean dry climate areas can save water and look lush at the same time. We live in an area naturally rich with trees and shrubs and wildflowers that survive on seasonal rainfall. Here are some ideas to give your landscape a lush look while saving water.

succulent_garden
Succulent garden in progress

There’s no better place that showcases a dry lush landscape that my friend Richard Hencke’s garden in Scotts Valley.  Doc Hencke has been at this gardening business a long time starting when he was a kid in Texas and Oklahoma. I am always inspired whenever I visit his garden and come home with a car full of plant starts from his greenhouse. He’s a propagator extraordinaire who loves to share and is a good friend.

succulent_collection
Judy’s succulent garden

On this day I also wanted to see his new raccoon-proof pond and surrounding landscaping. There calandrina starts are settling in nicely. They haven’t started blooming yet but will soon with those neon-pink flowers that sway above the plant on long stems. This spectacular Chilean perennial is long blooming and perfect for a dry garden or difficult spot like a parking strip or hillside. It will suppress weeds as it grows, quickly spreading into a dense groundcover. Nearby is another bed filled with aeonium, sedums, kalanchoe, baby toes and other succulents designed by his wife, Judy.

Doc Hencke’s garden is comprised of a couple dozen different areas or garden rooms. He’s been enjoying discovering new succulents and adding to the new dry lush hillside. He’s growing several varieties of aloe, cordyline and yucca along with douglas iris which are doing fine given the same irrigation as the rest of the dry hillside. Blue Chalksticks or senecio mandralis border the path and their long bluish-green fleshy leaves look great near the red cordyline.

dry_lush_landscape
Doc Hencke’s dry lush entry landscaping

The secret to a lush look is to group plants into a vignette of complimentary elements. A vignette is a brief but powerful scene. Garden vignettes can be more than just plants. Doc Hencke’s driveway garden is a good example. An array of textural plants is combined with a weathered teak bench, richly colored, glazed pots filled with the architectural strappy leaves of phormium and a recirculating water fountain to complete the scene. The blue stone retaining wall is the perfect compliment to the blue and gold succulents that grow in the nooks and crannies.

A dry lush plant palette could also include plants such as Little John bottlebrush, dietes ‘Katrina’, Festival Burgundy cordyline, Hot Lips salvia, Variegated dianella, Amazing Red phormium, Icee Blue podocarpus, phlomis, Southern Moon rhaphiolepis, Gulf Stream nandina and Cousin Itt acacia.

A visit to this amazing garden wouldn’t be complete without admiring Doc Hencke’s prized Sand plum which he swears is the tallest in the country. Also called Chickasaw plums they are found naturally on sandy prairies in Oklahoma and Texas where they are very effective in stopping blowing sand. Wikepedia states this early blooming plum grows to 20 feet tall and Richard’s is about 30 feet tall. Just another in his long line of horticultural successes.