Category Archives: Design trends

Rethink the Lawn & Save $

This garden sitting area looks inviting after the old lawn was removed.

Water is a precious and vital resource. Our bodies are about 60% water and our brain – a whopping 70%. Less than 1% of the water on the Earth, however, is suitable for human consumption. With the population increasing and the water supply staying the same, water conservation indoors and out is important. A well planned landscape makes water conservation outside the home even easier. Since up to 70% of summer water use comes from landscape irrigation it’s a good place to start.

Both San Lorenzo Valley Water – http://www.slvwd.com – and Scotts Valley Water Districts – http://www.svwd.org – offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. Scotts Valley Water District is even having a limited time offer to double your Lawn/Turf Replacement Rebate from $1 to $2 per square foot when replacing with low water-use alternatives. All sites must have a pre and post inspection completed my June 30, 2021 so don’t miss out on this great opportunity. You can apply on their website by requesting a pre-inspection lawn measurement before April 15th.

The fun part begins when you redesign the area where you took out the lawn or modify the plantings in other beds to include same water use plants. It doesn’t make much sense if you have some plants that require more water than others in the same bed. You have to water to the highest water-use plant to keep everybody happy.

Hydrozoning is the practice of clustering together plants with similar water requirements to conserve water. A planting design where plants are grouped by water needs improves efficiency and plant health by avoiding overwatering or underwatering. And as you move farther away from the water source your plantings should require less water.

An edible garden replaced the old lawn.

When redesigning your landscape start with simple things. Rock, stone, and permeable paths and driveways add visual interest to the landscape and don’t require irrigation. Improving your property’s soil quality aids in saving water regardless of the plants grown there. Organic materials added to the soil help establish a strong root system for plants. Nutrients in the soil allow the plants to become stronger, too. Adding a layer of mulch increases the plant’s efficiency by retaining moisture and keeping the soil temperature stable.

Choose the right plants for your location. California natives or plants from similar climates in the world are low maintenance, low irrigation plants and usually need less tending, fertilizer and pruning. Your choice of groundcover can make a big difference, too, in how much water the landscape saves. Keeping grass areas to a bare minimum reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape looking green and fire safe.

Your method or irrigation helps conserve water. Hand watering where possible, especially new plantings, directs the water exactly where it needs to go and you can shut off the hose as soon as the plants receive enough water. A soaker hose is another efficient option that reduces evaporation during the watering process. An automatic irrigation system with a rain sensor, weather based controller or soil moisture sensors is the newest way to save water.

There are lists of drought-tolerant plants and water smart grasses, as well as replacing lawns with drought tolerant or native plants on the Scotts Valley Water District website. Permeable landscape materials such as mulch, decomposed granite, permeable pavers are other ways you can keep your yard looking beautiful and also be water efficient.

Now is the time before it gets hot to look at your irrigation system, plant choices and rebate options to save water and money and recharge our aquifers.

Planting Bare Root Edibles

Cherry trees live 30-35 years bearing fruit in 3-6 years. The Black
Tartarian is a good pollinator for other dark, sweet cherries.

Now is the time to add ornamentals and edibles like fruit, nuts, berries and vegetables while they?re available in bare root form. They are easy to plant, economical and establish quickly.

How delicious does a Sweet Treat Pluerry sound? This is a first of its kind combination with the sweetness of a cherry and the zing of a plum resulting in colorful fruit that hangs on the tree for over a month. Or how about planting a Cot-N-Candy Aprium from a bare root? This white flesh apricot-plum hybrid fruit tree has incredible sweet and juicy flavor.

Aprium Cot-N-Candy A sweet and juicy apricot_plum hybrid available now in bare root

Shop for your plants in January or February while they are still dormant. Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell, roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing new permanent roots in their final home. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put in the ground soon. Fruit trees like pears and apples wake up later so you can wait a bit longer to plant those varieties.

What fruit tree varieties can you grow here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. Most of us get 700-900 chilling hours per winter. What does that mean? Well, many fruit trees, lilacs and peonies need a certain number of hours during dormancy where the temperature is 45 degrees or less. You can give the plant more chilling in the winter but not less. Those in coastal Santa Cruz can grow Fuji apples as they require only 300 hours of chilling but not Red Delicious. We can grow both.

What if you don?t get full sun where you?d like to grow fruit trees? Apples, pluots and plums are good choices for an area that gets some sun- at least 5 hours a day during the growing season. The ideal is full sun but these trees will still set and ripen some fruit in partially shaded conditions. With peaches, nectarines or apricots it?s a different story. These fruits need hot sun to develop sweet, tasty fruit. Too little sun and they will not deliver anything close to what you have in mind.

What?s the correct way to plant a bare root tree? According to research, amending the soil is no longer recommended. Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has a great web site with all the information you need to get your new fruit trees off to a good start including pruning, staking, mulching and care as they mature.

Don?t plant in heavy saturated soil with a high clay content, however. If your soil drains poorly it?s best to place your bare root tree at an angle in a trench, cover with soil and water in. Wait to plant until the soil is crumbly and friable with plenty of pore space. Digging in waterlogged clay soil is one of the worst things you can do for your soil?s health.

With a little planning you can have fresh fruit 7 months of the year. By growing your own fruit you’re not at the mercy of mechanical harvesters and shipping practices. You can grow fruit and harvest it when the time is right. Homegrown fruit is a world apart from agribusiness and much less expensive than the Farmer?s Market.

Controlling Diseases & Pests on Fruit Trees

Beside dormant spray, good sanitation is one of the best ways to control
diseases in fruit trees

I love it when a nice reader takes the time to call me to suggest a topic they?d like to see me write about or remind them what needs to be done at a certain time of year. Take Helen, who lives in Spring Lakes in Scotts Valley, for instance. Helen told me several years ago that she grows tomatoes in the summer and has 4 fruit trees including a satsuma plum, an espaliered apple and a tangerine. Helen battles peach leaf curl on her plum and coddling moth larvae inside her apples and would like to know exactly what to use and when to control these problems.

I know we?ve had a lot of rain which makes gardening and spraying difficult. You can prevent or control many diseases and overwintering insects by applying a dormant spray this month. This can be the most effective spray of the season. Fungal diseases such as peach leaf curl, fire blight, scab and anthracnose as well as insects including aphids, San Jose scale, bud moth, leaf roller, whitefly larvae, mealybugs and mites can all be controlled by dormant spray and horticultural oil.

There are several types of dormant sprays and all three types are considered organic. Lime-Sulfur or copper can be mixed with horticultural oil which smothers overwintering insects and eggs. This spray is good for all fruit trees except apricots which should be sprayed in the fall with copper and this month only with horticultural oil.

Apply dormant spray when the temperature is above 40 degrees. Make sure you cover every nook and cranny of each branch and trunk until the tree is dripping and spray the surrounding soil. Spray only plants that have suffered from pests or disease. Sprays, even organic, can kill beneficial insects as well. Even though they’re organic, dormant sprays can be irritating to skin and eyes, Wear long sleeves and gloves and eye protection.

Spinosad has been shown to suppress fungal diseases. Do this when the buds swell but before they open. Do not spray 36 hours before rain in predicted. Be sure to spray the ground around each tree.

Spray dormant fruit trees this month before they leaf out to control fungal diseases and insect pests. Coddling moth control starts Mid-March to early April.

Coddling moth control requires a different approach. The larvae of this particular moth is one of the few caterpillars that are likely to be found inside pear or apples. University of California Integrated Pest Management website has complete information about controlling this pest.

The website is http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7412.html

The bottom line for coddling moth control is the timing of insecticide spray applications, especially with newer, less toxic pesticides like spinosad. The coddling moth overwinters as full grown larvae within thick silken cocoons under loose scales of bark and in soil or debris around the base of the tree. The larvae emerge as adult moths mid-March to early April. To be effective your spray application must be timed for when when they are active.

Starting three to four weeks after bloom, check fruit at least twice a week looking for the first ?stings? or any mounds of reddish-brown frass. If you scrape the frass away you will see the tiny entry hole where the newly hatched larvae has just entered the fruit. Spray the tree as soon as you see the first sting after removing any fruit with stings as the insecticide won?t kill any larvae that have already entered the fruit. Coddling moths can have three or four generations per year.

According to the website, for most backyard situations, the best course of action might be to combine a variety of non chemical methods and accept the presence of some wormy fruit. Be sure to cut out the damaged portions because they might contain toxins generated by mold.

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.
 

Houseplants that Fight Indoor Air Pollution

Areca palm- one of the best houseplants to fight indoor pollution.

Its amazing how many potential pollutants can be found in a home. For most of a winter day, our homes are closed tight with no windows or doors open to let out pollutants and let fresh air circulate. Toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene can be released from furniture upholstery, carpets, cleaning products, paint, plastics and rubber. Carbon monoxide from the incomplete burning of wood and nitrogen oxides from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and smog can also be present in indoor air.

Then there are airborne biological pollutants. These include bacteria, viruses, animal dander and dried cat saliva, house dust and pollen. House mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp warm environments. Mold and mildew grow in moist places like central heating systems and are just one more source of indoor pollution.

Bromeliads clean the air inside your home and are safe for pets

Many common houseplants help fight pollution indoors. They are able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. The first list of air-filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of a clean air study published in 1989 which researched ways to clean the air in space stations. As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as all plants do, these plants also eliminated significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other studies added to the list of chemical pollutants and the best plants to remove them.

NASA researchers suggest that the most efficient air cleaning occurs with at least one plant per 100 square feet. Even the microorganisms in potting soil remove some toxins. Yikes, who knew all that was going on right under our noses?

Easy to grow pothos

Some of the easiest houseplants to grow are some of the best to have in the home. Just about all the potted palms are good. Also rubber plant, dracaena Janet Craig, philodendron, Boston fern, ficus, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, snake plant, pothos, English ivy and phalaenopsis orchids are high on the list of plants that fight indoor pollution.

If you have a cat of dog that you share your home with most of the above plants arent safe for them if they are chewers according to the ASPCA website. While all plants clean the air only ferns, spider plants, areca and parlor palms and phalaenopsis orchids from the above list are safe.

Other houseplants toxic for dogs and cats according to the ASPCA are asparagus fern, lilies, cyclamen, jade plant, aloe vera, azalea, begonia, ivy, mums, coleus, sago palm, kalanchoe and rubber plant. Keep your pets safe by keeping toxic plants out of reach.

There are many houseplants that are safe for cats and dogs and every plant photosynthesizes and cleans the air to some extent. Some of the common ones include African violet, aluminum plant, bromeliads, peperomia, areca palm, polka dot plant, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, chenille plant, creeping Charlie, false aralia, Tahitian bridal veil, wandering Jew, goldfish plant, piggy-back plant and the succulents, donkeys tail and hens and chickens.

With a little planning you can clean the air in your home while keeping the pets safe.

Hardy Winter Plants

    PROMISE YOURSELF  to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
    To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. 
    To make all of your friends feel that there is something in them. 
    To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
    To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. 
    To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. 
    To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
    To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
    To give so much time to the improvement of yourself, that you have no time to criticize others.
    To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of        trouble.
                                             Christian D.  Larson

   
 Sure has been cold the past few weeks.  Many of the perennials in my garden have suffered from frost and will need to be cut back later in February or March.  After strolling through Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco recently, I’m newly inspired for the coming season.


At the arboretum you can experience unique gardens created with California natives or drought tolerant plants from Australia.   Other gardens have plants from New Zealand or So. Africa.  Meandering paths bisect each garden.   It is a marvelous place to explore and discover what plants appeal to you as each is clearly labeled.  Be sure to take your camera.  It’s a great way to see what a mature specimen of a plant or tree looks like. Those descriptions on a nursery can don’t compare to seeing a plant in person.

While you’re up in Golden Gate park  don’t miss the new museum of natural history, planetarium, tropical rainforest and aquarium.  Green technology is used and explained throughout, including the green roof.  Last summer I wrote about visiting Rana Creek nursery in Carmel and talking to the grower of the native plants that cover the roof.  The  plants selected, eight drought tolerant California natives, include  prunella, armeria, stonecrop, goldfield, lupine, poppy,  plantain and beach strawberry.  I didn’t see seedlings of the spring wildflowers on the roof when I visited but the stands of prunella and beach strawberry were thriving.  Also beach asters seemed to be doing well although they weren’t listed.  Seeds may have blown in.  If you’re thinking of replacing your traditional lawn in the spring with drought tolerant ground covers, consider these plants.   They are not only survivors but will flourish under adverse conditions. 

As I write this, I’m spending the holiday in the Seattle area near Lake Washington.  Here you can really see plants that know how to survive the elements.  Actually, it’s hard to identify most of them as they are totally covered with snow.  It snows everyday.  Beautiful white powder blankets the trees and landscape. My sister’s  perennial planters will not be joining her this spring.   So pretty to look but not that great when you venture out  to get last minute presents.  Snowplows are scarce up here.

What plants bloom in the winter where we live?  A little color at this time of year is always welcome.   Native mahonia are just coming into full and glorious yellow flower.  The hummingbirds love their flowers as well as hellebores, sasanqua camellias and strawberry trees.

Oregon  grape ( mahonia ) are deer-resistant shrubs with large, prickly leaves.  Long sprays of fragrant, yellow flowers rise above the foliage in January and February.  Blue fruit follows which is also attractive.   Mahonias grow best in partial shade but will take full sun if given occasional, deep watering in the summer.

Sasanqua camellias are valuable for their massive display of large flowers in fall and winter.  If you’re driving along and see a shrub covered with dark pink, white, lilac or red flowers, most likely it will be this plant.  They are often called the roses of winter.  Many are fragrant and can be espaliered on a trellis.  Sasanqua camellias are easy to grow in partial shade and need only moderate water. 

Another wonderful plant for winter color that I saw so many of at the arboretum is winter heath.  Heaths and heathers love acidic soil so combine well in sunny areas near rhododendrons and azaleas.  Ground cover types are smothered with lilac, pink or rose flowers starting in December and last into April. 

Don’t forget Iceland poppies, violas and cyclamen for small color accents.  Happy New Year  from The Mountain Gardener and may your garden flourish this year. 

 

Rx for Sad Houseplants

Also called the Prayer Plant, the red maranta folds up its leaves at night.

Tucked on window sills and tabletops my houseplants clean the air and provide indoor beauty while the landscape outdoors is mostly resting. They are easy to keep healthy if I follow a few tips during the dark days of winter. its their time to rest.

A typical houseplant lives in the understory of a tropical rain forest where it gets filtered light. They’re used to warm rain and perfect drainage. We put them in pots inside our homes where they have much different conditions to contend with. Most houseplants will tolerate darker conditions if you adjust your watering to accommodate the slower growth rate.

Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry allowing oxygen to move back into the root zone. Let the soil in a 4-6 inch pot dry half an inch down between watering then water with room temperature water. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer of water or the roots will rot. If your plant is in a larger pot let the soil dry a couple inches between waterings. A moisture meter is very helpful for larger plants.

The Peace Lily tolerates low light -blooming sporadically throughout the year.

Move plants into the best light you have. Even a table lamp will provide light for a plant growing underneath. Remove dust with a moist cloth or place the entire plant under lukewarm water in the sink. Dust blocks light from reaching leaves.

Fertilize less often skipping December and January and starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February. Houseplants are essentially dormant in winter needing fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Don’t re-pot a plant in winter when they are slow to grow new roots. Replant when the growing season resumes in March or April. Choose a pot only two inches bigger than the old pot each time you transplant. Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing and watering during the growing season.

Avoid placing plants in cold drafts near high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway. Ficus trees are notorious for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

If you have medium to low light conditions in your house some of the best upright plants are philodendron, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, cast-iron plant, schefflera, arboricola, ferns and palms. Hanging plants that grow well in low light are heart-shaped philodendron, pothos and grape ivy. Most of these houseplants grow naturally in low light areas of the jungle. Dont over water and theyll be happy.

If you do find insects on your plants, a spray of mild insecticidal soap for houseplants usually does the trick if you do a follow-sup spraying a week later. Horticultural oil works well, too, by smothering insects and their eggs. If you have tiny black fungus gnats flying over the soil you are watering too frequently. They feed on the algae growing on moist soil. Scrape off the surface, spray with insecticidal soap and let the soil dry out.

Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year

The soft yellow of clivia combines well with gray dusty miller.

Apparently there was some controversy in 2019 over Pantone choosing Living Coral as their Color of the Year because healthy living coral is in short supply. I thought the color coral worked just fine in the garden but then Classic Blue won the top honor last year. For 2021 the Pantone Color of the Year is a warm grey and a warm soft yellow. Kinda reminds me of a 1950s kitchen but hey, what do I know? In the garden they work just fine and heres why.

Many of our low water use plants have grey or silver foliage. Thats to enable the leaf to reflect the heat of the day to preserve moisture. Plus gray and silver combines with both warm and cool colors so its easy to place. It’s an effective peacemaker between colors that would clash if placed side by side. Plants like dusty miller, blue oat grass, leucophyllum, westringia, santolina, pittosposrum Silver Queen all look great in the garden.

While it still has the cheeriness of other yellows, pale yellow is a much more gentle color. Plants with soft warm yellow flowers might include Lady Banks roses, clivia, yellow-eyed grass, daylily, peony, narcissus, yarrow, verbascum, primroses and canna lily.

Primroses bloom throughout the cool season.

Warm colors tend to be more stimulating, dynamic and noticeable from afar than cool hues which are more calming and understated. Warm colors advance visually, cool ones recede. So to make a small garden appear larger use cool blues and lavenders in the back with just a touch of scarlet, orange or yellow up close for contrast. Do the opposite to make a large space more intimate – position warm colors at the back, cool colors in front.

Garden colors aren’t static either. They vary with time of day, the season, the weather and the distance from which we view them. Also color perception varies among people and not all people with normal vision see color the same way. Since color and light are inseparable, white, yellow and pastels seem more vivid in low light. In overcast or fog, soft colors like pink, creamy yellow, pale blue and lavender come alive. As night approaches and the earth is bathed in blues and violets, those colors are the first to fade from view.

Have fun with color. don’t be afraid to try new combinations. I often hear people say “I like all the colors except orange”. Orange naturally combines with blue as these ‘sunset’ colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Think how nice bright orange California poppies look with blue marguerites or peach Iceland poppies with blue violas.

Foliage is a rich source or garden color. You can find plants with yellow, red, purple, blue or gray foliage as well as shades of green with variegated, marbled or streaked leaves.

Plants grow and gardens change over time. Realize that you’re embarking on a journey that may take many years. Don’t be afraid to play with color even if you don’t get it right the first time. Just learn from your mistakes and make adjustments. And have fun getting there.

The Dog Days of Summer

Despite how hot it’s been,  the "dog days of summer"  just came to an end August 11th.  Where did this expression come from?

Some say it signifies hot sultry days not fit for a dog, but the dog days are defined as the period from July 3 through August 11 when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction ( or nearly so ) with the sun.  As a result, some felt the combination of the brightest luminary of the day (the sun) and and brightest star of the night ( Sirius) was responsible for the extreme heat that is experienced during the middle of the summertime.  Since Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky it’s reasonable to guess that it adds some heat to the earth but the amount is insignificant.

The name "dog star" came from the ancient Egyptians who called Sirius, the dog star, after their god, Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog.  They called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction "the dog days of summer"  because it coincidentally fell at the time of  year when it was very hot.  We now know that the heat of summer is a direct result of the earths tilt. Now you know… the rest of the story.  

 

 

Containers

If your deck or patio needs some perking up about now, plant up a new container or add to your existing ones.  Almost anything goes when it come to combining plants in containers and nearly any type of container looks good with the right plant.  I have over 250 in a sprawling garden of containers arranged like a border on my deck, under trees, around my front door, down my driveway… places  where planting in the ground just isn’t possible.  I can move them farther apart, up, down, to the front or to the back to create a display that is always evolving.  I add spots of vivid color where I need it and texture where I want it.  I have the flexibility to remove anything past its prime or bring forward a fragrant plant when I want to really enjoy its scent up close.

So what looks great in containers?  One simple strategy I use a lot is to put just one plant in a pot.  A single perennial like a flowering maple looks good year round.  My asparagus meyeri really looks dramatic in a low ceramic pot. The princess flower and my enormous hosta sieboldiana (which I’ve named Bob) can be hidden behind other pots in the winter when they are dormant.  Succulents, like a large hen and chicks, are always real standouts in a pretty container as are grasses.   I have a Sango Kaku Japanese maple in a large cobalt blue glazed pot as the thriller in one vignette with chartreuse green barberry  and a fragrant heliotrope as fillers and lysimachia aurea and purple calibrachoa as spillers.  I like burgundy foliage so Sizzling Pink loropetalum  is one of my favorite background plants.  It looks great with Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass.  The purple leaves of oxalis triangularis works well in this color scheme, too.  My displays change every year and also as the summer progresses.  I live in partial shade but if you live in the sun try the rich colors of canna lily, black-eyed susan, kangaroo paw, aeonium and old fashioned variegated geraniums.

Although I take a more-is-merrier approach to container gardening, numbers alone don’t mean much.  Five pots are enough to create a dramatic composition on a porch or patio.  The trick is not how many pots you have, but what you do with them.  I use overturned nursery or clay pots,  boxes and plant stands to stage my plants so short but showy plants can be placed up off the ground at eye level.  Containers of plants placed in front hide the risers from view.  By elevating pots with various props, I create combinations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.  

Staging can also be an effective way to display garden art like sculpture , fountains and handsome empty pots.  It’s easy to place ornaments where they look best -a place of honor – by raising them up in your grouping.

 
When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough.  That doesn’t count green, unless it’s lime.  Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you’re done.  You want the pots to look good right away.  Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.  

Whatever plant or container you choose, you’ll enjoy the results now that the dog days of summer are over.

Happy New Year 2021

Seems like 2020 lasted for longer than just one year. I, for one, am hoping for a less eventful year in 2021. As the calendar turns to a New Year these are some of my thoughts for 2020. Well maybe theyre the same thoughts I have every year but this year they seem to have even more significance.

You, fellow gardeners, are unique. I can’t imagine any group of people more diverse and feisty and independent than gardeners. Yet we have such a connection. We love and are fascinated with nature. We find our deepest satisfaction in coaxing plants from the earth, in nurturing their growth. We are enduring pragmatists.

Enjoy your garden. Set realistic goals. After all, who cares if there are a few weeds here and there when you’re sitting under a shade tree next July? Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will still be there tomorrow.

Allow some empty places for new plants, transplants or garden art. Make a garden your own. Add whatever makes you happy and your heart soar when you’re in your garden. Pay attention to the size that a plant will attain. It will save you lots of problems later. Weed often but not when youre enjoying that beverage.

Dreaming is more than an idle pursuit. It’s good for you and improves the quality of your life over the long haul. We gardeners are eternal optimists. Why else would we plant a tree, a seed or a garden?

New Years resolutions for gardeners should be mere suggestions. Don’t worry if you don’t get to everything you hoped to accomplish. It’s all in the baby steps. Your wish list will serve you well during the cold, wet days of winter even if you don’t get them implemented. Sure planning a landscape that conserves water will benefit the environment and your budget and ordering seeds for the spring garden is great therapy for winter blues but there’s always next year or next month or the summer after next.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning.

Accept a few holes in your plants. Walk around the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and you need to break out an organic pesticide. This is a good time for to have that beverage.

Plant more edibles if you can. Edibles in the garden feed both the body and the soul. More than just vegetables and fruit, growing food connects us to the earth and to each other.

When you grow something you are being a good steward of the land as you enrich the topsoil using sustainable organic techniques. You connect with neighbors by trading your extra pumpkins for their persimmons. Knowledge of how and what to grow can be exchanged, seeds swapped. Do your best even if you only have a few containers to grow an Early Girl tomato or some Rainbow chard.

Pansies get their name from a French word meaning to think.

Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.

Happy New Year from The Mountain Gardener. May your tomatoes be sweet and your roses as fragrant as a summer’s eve.

Affordable design trends

We spend more time relaxing, playing and entertaining outdoors at this time of year. Your wish list might include a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and a pool with built-in spa but with todays gas and food prices those additions may be on hold for the time being. So what landscape design features can you implement on a budget to make your time outdoors really count?

Affordable design trends

  1. Water features – relaxing self-contained fountains are easy to set up. Some styles incorporate child-safe pond-less fountains. What about a simple outdoor shower with a Mexican pebble floor and vine covered lattice for privacy?
  2. Fire pits – you can warm your family and guests around a simple fire pit while you wait to install the pizza oven and outdoor fire place next year. Fire pits can be purchased ready-made or you can construct you own with fieldstone or concrete blocks. Either way they’re a fun addition to your patio or sitting area.
  3. Outdoor lighting – you’ll be amazed at how beautiful your garden looks when you add some lighting and how much you’ll want to stay outdoors after dark. Light a path or uplight the trunk of one of your trees. Back light a plant with interesting foliage or wash a wall with light. Todays solar lights are getting better and better and low voltage lights are more affordable, too.
  4. Stone in the garden – whether you want a seat wall to surround your patio or a permeable flagstone patio, stone lends a sense of permanence and elegance to your property.

Consider adding some new elements to your garden so that you can spend more time outdoors both in the evening and throughout the year.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garden,
The creatures were stirring, the deer got a pardon.
The hummingbird feeders were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the Anna’s soon would be there.

The flowering cherries were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of spring glory danced in their heads.
The summer vegetables were harvested and beds put to nap,
The compost’s a brewing so next year’s a snap.

When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I ran into the garden to see what was the matter.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a big flock of chickadees and eight black-tailed deer.

They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
The chickadees devouring aphids with amazing teamwork.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the deck,
Prancing and pawing, the deer making a wreck.

A hydrangea here, an abutilon there, this gardens a feast,
With edibles and perennials at the very least.
We love this garden, they whispered to themselves,
With any luck, they’ll think we’re the elves !

Beautiful flowers and nectar and fragrance abounds,
We’ll include this forever on one of our rounds.
The birds can sing and fly in the skies
But we have the charm with huge brown doe-eyes.

We get a bad rap, it’s not all our fault,
Most of our feeding grounds are covered with asphalt.
Just give us a sleigh and we’ll make you proud,
We’re good for more than eating roses, they vowed.

Call us Dasher and Dancer and Comet and Vixen,
Or Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
Then maybe you’ll forgive us for our past mistakes,
We can’t help that we eat plants, we just don’t eat steaks.

Now if you’ve been good this year, do make a wish,
And then when you see us- welcome us, dont banish.
All of us creatures will give our best shot,
To nourish your garden with nary a thought.

So everybody listen carefully on Christmas Eve,
And maybe you’ll hear and then you’ll believe.
You may even hear us exclaim as we prance out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

My thanks to Clement Clark Moore who wrote the original poem in 1822 in New York. I’d like to believe that he would enjoy my version for gardeners everywhere.

The Meaning of Our Holiday Traditions

An evergreen fir tree decorated from nature combines several traditions.

We all celebrate the holidays in a different way. Each family has their own traditions and warm memories from years gone by. Some of us celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah, some Kwanzaa. Many of our traditional Christmas customs originate from Winter Solstice celebrations. The plants associated with each are an important part of tradition and symbolism.

Winter solstice is the 21st of December. Solstice literally means “Sun Stands Still’ and for a few days around this time of year the sun appears to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. They have been with us for thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on the return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the plants from traditional winter solstice celebrations into our own- holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary and mistletoe. How did this come about?

Holly remains green throughout the year when deciduous trees like the oak shed their leaves. Decorating with it throughout the home has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland since holly was one of the main plants that was green and beautiful with its red berries at this time of year. Norseman and Celts planted a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of holly leaves gave rise to its association with lightning and in fact holly does conduct lighting into the ground better than most trees.

Like other evergreens, ivy symbolizes immortality and eternal life. In England it is traditionally used in kissing balls with holly and mistletoe. It has also stood for fidelity, healing and marriage. Ancient Romans thought it brought good luck and joy. It was worn as a crown or fashioned into a wreath or garland.

Evergreen trees play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar, pine boughs and wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from the branches. This may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree or Yule tree in December originated. Other sacred trees of the solstice are yew, birch, arborvitae and ash.

We often see rosemary plants trained into a Christmas tree shape. Rosemary is evergreen in the winter and blooms at the same time making it the perfect plant for the holidays. Traditionally rosemary was spread on floors at Christmas as people walked over the herb releasing the fragrant scent and filling the home with blessings and protection.

How did our fascination with mistletoe get started? From earliest times it has been one of the most magical, mysterious and sacred plants of Greeks, Celts, Scandinavia, England and European folklore in general.The Druids believed the mistletoe’s magical powers extended beyond fertility. It was believed to cure almost any disease and was know as the “all healer”. Sprigs fixed above doorways of homes were said to keep away lightning and other types of evil. Because the plant is parasitic and shas no roots it was believed that it grew from heaven.

Kissing under the mistletoe probably came from the Greek/Roman belief that it bestowed fertility and had life-giving power. In Scandinavia it was considered a plant of peace under which enemies could declare a truce or fighting spouses could kiss and make up. However this tradition originated, it’s a good one.

The Yule log dates back to the Saxons and Celtics. Oak trees represented strength, endurance, protection and good luck. It was the most sacred tree of Europe. On the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, people would keep a huge oak log burning for 12 hours. They would toss oak twigs and acorns into the fire, shout out their hopes and resolutions for the coming New Year and sing Yuletide carols. A piece of the Yule log was saved to start the fire the following year.

It’s traditional for us to have some poinsettias in the house for the holidays but they don’t have a very long history of European tradition like other plants because pointsettia is a native of Mexico. In the 1820’s President Andrew Jackson appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett as the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red “flowers” growing next to a road. He took cuttings and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Because the leaves or bracts turn bright red around Christmas time they have been used as decorations for the holidays ever since.

Traditional plants symbolic of Hanukkah are the citron, myrtle twigs, willow twigs and palm fronds. The Four Species are waved together along with special blessings as part of the synagogue service or at home.

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means first and signifies the first fruits of the harvest. With ears of corn, fruit and nuts it is observed during for seven days during the last week of December and celebrates the “fruit” or accomplishments coming out of the year of labor. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry readying and a large traditional meal. Observed by people of all faiths it is a celebration of African roots.

Around the world, holiday celebrations have their own special meaning. So whether you Zoom with friends and distant family or celebrate with your Pod, embrace your own traditions and have a wondrous holiday.

Holiday Wreaths Made Easy

This wreath features hydrangea, holly and Chinese pistache berries.

You can have chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose but what would the holidays be without a beautiful wreath to decorate the door? Maybe you want to put together a swag for the mantle or candle holder for the table. All of these traditional holiday decorations are easy and fun to make. They cost virtually nothing and make wonderful gifts for family, friends and neighbors, too.

Look outside your door for different shades of foliage and spent flower heads. You can make a stunning wreath yourself from most anything you find around your garden. Youll be amazed at what you can find right outside your door.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreen shrubs and trees to use in wreaths and swags. Cuttings from fir, redwoods, pine, holly, mahonia, strawberry tree, toyon and cotoneaster parneyi make fine additions to your wreath. Just don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s naturally handsome form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach into the plant.

Dramatic leaves like Southern magnolia stay fresh for a long time in a holiday wreath.

Some of the plant material that hold up well in a wreath include conifers like cypress, deodar cedar, redwood, arborvitae and fir. Broadleaf evergreens such as camellia, bottlebrush, variegated pittosporum, variegated holly, green holly, silver dollar eucalyptus, boxwood, oleander, acacia. melaleuca and abelia are also good. For color, try snippets of leptospermum Ruby Glow, leucodendron Safari Sunset, camellia, rose buds and dry hydrangea flowers. Favorite berries are myrtus communis, texas privet, pepper berries, holly berries, nandina and Chinese pistache.

If youre thinking of getting together with others in your bubble or pod to make wreaths or swags, start by having each bring a couple grocery bags of greens to share with other wreath makers. It helps if you can borrow a couple tables and have a few extra clippers on hand in case someone forgets theirs. Each person brings their own wreath frames of wire or grape vine and some thin gauge wire on a paddle to attach the bundles to the frame. Wire coat hangers work just fine, too.

Everyone makes a slightly different style wreath choosing greens, berries, seeds pods and hydrangea blooms or flower clusters of eucalyptus, acacia, pittosporum and Ruby Glow tea tree. Hollywood juniper, deodar cedar, red cedar, black pine, boxwood, camellia, oleander with long, slender seed pods and red flower buds, California bay, privet with berries and bottlebrush are just some of the plant material that Ill be looking for this year.

Trust me, you cant make a bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful.

When Good Plants Go Bad:Toxic Holiday Plants

With the holiday season upon us I like colorful plants on my tabletop and window sill. How safe are holiday plants for pets like my cat Archer and dog Sherman or for small children?

I have a beautiful poinsettia on the table and soon Ill be getting other holiday plants such as cyclamen, paperwhite narcissus, maybe a pink jasmine wreath or one with holly, ivy and evergreens. I also like those rosemary topiaries that are trained in the shape of a Christmas tree and have already started one of those huge showy amaryllis bulbs. Christmas cactus grow in several locations.

The classic plant to decorate our homes at this time of year is the poinsettia. Are poinsettia poisonous? Ohio State University conducted extensive research and concluded that although poinsettia sap from leaves and flowers might give you a stomach ache if you ate them they wont seriously hurt you. The sap may cause a rash if it comes in contact with the skin on some people. With this in mind, you should keep poinsettia plants out of the reach of curious pets and small children.

Poinsettia hold up well either as a cut flower or a living plant. Mostly its too cold here in the mountains for poinsettia to survive outside at night being native to Mexico but they thrive in the warmth of the house. They need a bright spot and the soil should be allowed to dry slightly, but not completely, between watering. Deprive them of either of these requirements and the lower leaves will yellow and drop. Also be sure they aren’t sitting in water at the bottom of the container. Poinsettia are brittle and if you break off a branch, sear the end of the stem with a flame and it will hold up quite well in a vase or arrangement.

The other pet in my household, Sherman, the Welsh springer spaniel. doesnt usually pay attention to the plants but if they have plastic wrapping hes been known to get into mischief. I usually put a couple red and white cyclamen on a table in the house. Are cyclamen safe around the dog or cat?

According to the Pet Poison Helpline cyclamen are mild to moderately toxic to dogs and cats if ingested but its the root or corm that is especially toxic if ingested in large quantities. Pets and people react differently and it is unlikely that children) would eat the corm and be affected.

My beautiful amaryllis flower and leaves are safe but the bulb is toxic. Amaryllis bulbs contain the same alkaloid that is found in narcissus and daffodil and is the reason deer know to leave them alone. Keep them away from pets and small children although ingesting a small amount will produce few or no symptoms.

Azalea leaves and Christmas cactus are toxic and should be kept away from pets and small children. Holly berries are also toxic if eaten in large quantities. Same for ivy.

Mistletoe contains multiple substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats, It can cause severe intestinal upset as well as a sudden and sever drop in blood pressure, breathing problems and even sometimes hallucinations. If a large amount of mistletoe or ivy is ingested, seizures and death may follow. The leaves and berries of holly and mistletoe plants, even dried, should be kept well out of your pets reach.

While serious complications arent likely with most holiday plants its still best to keep them away from small children and out of your pets reach.

A Thanksgiving Poem by The Mountain Gardener

Once upon a time when our area was under water
there were no parks or trails or trees or gardens.
I’m thankful that our mountains rose from an ancient ocean
so we could enjoy this beautiful place we call home.

I‘m thankful for the Bigleaf maples
that shower me with leaves as big as saucers
as I walk in Henry Cowell along the river trail
and for the giant redwoods that sprouted long ago
at the time of he Mayan civilization.

I’m thankful for the Five-fingered ferns that grow lush along
the lower parts of Fall Creek
and for the canyons, hiking trails and small waterfalls
that feed the year-round creek.

I’m thankful for the sweet music of the violist
who practices inside the Felton Covered Bridge
and for the sound of children laughing as they play in the park.

I‘m thankful for the pond and western turtles who live at Quail Hollow
and for the unique sandhills, grasslands and redwoods, too,
and for the plants and other small creatures that live only there.

I’m thankful for Bonny Doon where you can see both the Pacific Ocean
and the San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley
and for the resilience of the people recovering after the fire
on the mountain made of sandstone and shale.

I’m thankful that California’s oldest state park, Big Basin, with its waterfalls and lush canyons
and slopes covered with redwoods sorrel, violets and mountain iris
will recover in time as will the salamanders, banana slugs, marbled murrelets
and red-legged frogs who make it their home.

I’m thankful for the whisper of the wind blowing across the water at Loch Lomond
and for the gentle whir of fishing reels at the edge
of thick tanoak, redwood and madrone.

And finally, I’m thankful for friends and family and neighbors who share all this with me.
Theres always something to be grateful for. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Ornamental Grasses in the Garden

For gardens that dont receive heavy frost you cant beat Red Fountain Grass for color and drama

Throughout the year I am asked for design help and plant suggestions but in the fall especially I hear the request, Id love to add more grasses to my garden. Theres no doubt that the movement and sound of ornamental grasses in the landscape adds another dimension to our experience. Many grasses and grass-like plants use less water than other plants, too.

Grasses are versatile plants and come in all sizes, from ground-huggers to shrub-like clumps. Some form upright tufts, some look like mop-top mounds and others form arching fountains. They easily adapt to the same conditions most garden plants thrive in, rarely needing any special soil, preparation or maintenance. And more subtly, their gentle movement and soft whispering sounds can bring your garden to life as no other plants do.

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

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

In addition to true grasses plants like lomondra and phormium are beautiful year round.

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

If you are trying to create a focal point or destination in your garden and think the texture, light and movement of a grass would be perfect, look to the taller varieties. Stipa gigantea (Giant Feather Grass) is a semi-evergreen grass which grows 4-6 feet high and makes a stately specimen with narrow, arching foliage and shimmering gold panicles that reach even taller. The flowers open early in June silvery-purple and mature to shades of wheat. Large plants in full flower are a spectacular sight. Their tufted, clumping form makes them suitable as accents anywhere. They take drought conditions once established but also will grow with regular garden watering. The beautiful flower spikes are good in dried arrangements.

Pheasant Tail grass is another easy to care for ornamental grass

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

Pennisetum foliosa takes a beating and keeps on ticking.

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

Caring for grasses is easy. As a rule of thumb, if it browns in winter then cut it back before new growth starts. If it’s evergreen by nature just clean up outside leaves. Most like well drained soil and are tolerant of a wide range of garden conditions. You shouldn’t fertilize heavily because an excess of nitrogen can lead to lush, soft growth that tends to flop. Mulching with 2 inches of compost yearly will keep the soil and your plants in good shape. Water grasses regularly during their first year to help get a good root system established. Even grasses that are normally touted as drought-tolerant require a season or two to become fully established.

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

Japanese Maples in the Fall

This Coral Barked maple used to live in my garden.

I used to have several very large Japanese Maples in containers. Starting from small specimens they grew over 15 years into beautiful trees. Each fall I would look forward to how each would color up and every year was different depending on the weather. Unfortunately they did not survive the fire that burned my home in Bonny Doon. Unlike redwoods, madone and Doug fir they are a non-sprouting species. Ill be getting some new trees soon to plant in containers but for now I look to others trees for that neon fall foliage.

Many of you readers were evacuated during the summer and your garden did not get watered. Others have limited water available even now. So if your Japanese maple has suffered from hot weather, smoke and just plain tough conditions have heart. Your maple will come back next year as good as ever.

Other things to consider regarding fall coloring is that it can be disrupted by wind and rain coming at the wrong time. Japanese maples have a more delicate leaf than some of other trees and are more susceptible to the elements of nature at this time. Rain and wind during the display will put a quick end to the autumnal display.

A fine example of a large mature Coral Barked maple.

At a local wholesale nursery recently I walked through their 36 inch box Japanese maple specimens getting ideas for future projects. Several that caught my eye included the variegated Butterfly and Oshio Beni with its orange and crimson fall coloring. Other notable maples that display vibrant fall coloring included Seiryu, an upright laceless variety which turns bright gold, yellow and crimson in the fall. Also beautiful, the Autumn Moon maples promised varying shade of gold to red.

This Bloodgood Japanese maple in fall color used to live in my neighbor’s garden.

Leaves change color when they are going into winter dormancy. When nights get long enough, leaves develop a corky layer of cells between the leaf stalk and the woody part of the tree. This slows the transport of water and carbohydrates. The manufacture of chlorophyll is slowed and the green color of the leaves begins to fade, allowing the other pigments to show through. Since the transport of water is slowed down, food manufactured by the remaining chlorophyll builds up in the sap of the leaf and other pigments are formed which cause the leaves to turn red or purple in color depending on the acidity of the sap.

For example, sumacs and California wild grape almost always turn red because red pigments are present and their leaf sap is acidic, while many of the oak and sometimes ashes will get a purplish color because the sap is less acidic. Trees like birch don’t have much orange pigment, so they appear mostly yellow in the fall. Others don’t have much yellow pigment and turn mostly orange or read. Some trees have a balance of pigments and look pinkish. The brown color or many oaks can be attributed to a buildup of tannins which is a waste product in the leaves.

Years ago after my sister on Washingtons Fox Island lost a tree in a windstorm, I visited a local nursery up there looking to find her a replacement for her prominent accent spot. I had my eye on the rows of coral-barked Sango 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.

So dont miss out on Japanese maple season. You wont regret getting a new one for your yard or patio.

Gardens Change with Time

Whether you want them to or not all gardens change with time. Its part of nature that the fittest survive. Possibly you have different ideas of what you want your garden to look like but its hard to fool Mother Nature. Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a special garden in the Gilroy area that has evolved with time. This garden of California native plants truly demonstrates how nature can decide the best plants for birds, butterflies, wildlife and people.

It was one of those classic mild autumn days when several fellow landscape designer friends and I were treated to a tour by the enthusiastic owner of 14 acres of land. Located at the base of Mount Madonna the property is called Casa Dos Rios. Jean Myers, the owner, loves to share her property and especially the journey that has transformed it from a formal landscape with lots of lawn to the present truly native wild garden. She loves that the landscape now supports all sorts of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.

A few of the native plantings have been more successful than she would have liked. Jean laughed as she pointed out the California rose thicket that has taken over the entry garden. She wishes she had planted the native wood rose instead which doesnt spread as much. Her new plan is to remove the wild rose to make room for other native plants that arent so aggressive.

At this time of year a native garden is at rest. There was a quietness to the landscape as the wind blew the grasses. Deer grass has naturalized in garage swaths. Originally, Jean planted many varieties of native grasses and some still remain but the deer grass have been particularly successful. Jean explained that this grass was used for making baskets by the Ohlone Indians that used to live in the area. To keep this grass fresh looking she cuts them back to 6 inches from the ground in late winter.

California aster are butterfly and pollinator magnets

The California aster was still blooming along the path as we made our way to the frog pond. This plant is well liked by the native moths and butterflies, Jean said, as it provides a late source of nectar. The lavender flowers make perfect landing pads. The two species of butterfly weed bloomed earlier in the season and had already spread their seed for next year.

The frog pond consists of basalt columns that drip water into a deep pool filled with rocks that cools the water in the heat of the summer. Jean said the area is usually alive with birds but they were keeping their distance during our visit. Lots of time for them to bathe later when we werent invading their space. She said Pacific tree frogs and Western toads call the area home, too.

This ground cover is fire wise native and has high quality nectar favored by hummingbirds

Another late blooming plant, the California fuchsia, covered a slope alongside massive granite boulders. You could barely see the foliage through the hundreds of flowers of this red blooming variety. These plants spread easily and with a bit of late winter pruning look great late into the season.

Native iris tolerates sandy, clay and serpentine soils and seasonal flooding

Jean loves all her native plants. From the butterfly garden to the bog garden she had a story to tell about each area. In the spring, Jean said, the native iris steal the show. She rounded up 600 of these from nurseries all over California when the garden was first planted. Grouping each type together she says was half the fun to keep the colors pure in each stand. I was amazed to see them in areas of full sun as well as part shade locations.

We picked late blackberries and raspberries as we walked around this amazing 14 acre property that benefits all wildlife. She is an avid birder and she and her husband manage two creeks, the Uvas and the Little Arthur that support hundreds more bird species, including bluebirds, swallows and owls. Theres so much for them to eat here. said Myers. She lets nature feed and attract all the native wildlife that visits.

It was a privilege to listen to Jean share her enthusiasm for gardening with California natives that attract wildlife and conserve water. I left with my pockets filled with seeds from native wild grape and clematis so I was hoping to always have a bit of Casa Dos Rios in my own garden.

Enriching the Soil with Cover Crops

Every drop of rain that hits bare soil is destructive. Over 3000 years ago the Chinese protected their soil from erosion and increased fertility by planting cover crops. Early Nile Valley inhabitants also practiced this method of agriculture as did first century Romans. Lupines were planted in poor soil when no animal manure was to be had. Planting a cover crop is another way to improve and retain your soil. One of these days winter rains will come so be ready.

A cover crop is really anything that covers the soil and protects it from rain, trapping nutrients and preventing them from leaching downward. Cover crops can increase the tilth of the soil. Quick germinating grasses easily loosen the top foot of soil with their root mass. Legumes have a tap root, a bio drill, that penetrates 30″ downward while alfalfa roots can grow even deeper.

Orin Martin of UCSCs Alan Chadwick Garden shows the extensive root system of bell beans.

Cover crops like bell beans, vetch and fava beans are especially valuable as they increase nitrogen levels in the soil in two ways. Atmospheric nitrogen can be “fixed” and left in the soil to fertilize subsequent crops. This is in addition to the nitrogen left from the foliage of the legume. Growing a cover crop also increases beneficial soil bacteria.

Fava beans, when grown as a cover crop and tilled into the soil in spring, increases soil fertility.

Cover crops are called green manure when they are chopped up and turned into the soil in spring before going to seed. The planting of legumes like peas and beans can actually increase nutrients in your soil giving you a net gain which is needed to offset what you take out of the soil when you harvest fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Late September to the end of November is the best time to sow cover crops. You will need to irrigate lightly a couple times per week if it doesn’t rain. You can also wait to sow just before the rains start. Be careful about working overly wet soil, however, as you can ruin the structure of your soil.

Recent research now recommends planting a mixture of grasses and legumes. Annual cereal grasses such as oats, rye and barley germinated quickly to hold and shield the soil until the legumes take hold. Bell beans, fava beans and vetch, which are the best legumes for our area, grow slowly the first 3 months then take off growing 70-80% in the last 3 months. The ratio of grass seed to legumes can vary from 10% to 30%.

There are other legumes that fix nitrogen but nowhere near as efficiently as bell beans. Crimson clover seed is more expensive, needs lots of water to sprout and competes poorly with weeds. Mustard causes competition with the fruit trees as bees will concentrate on the mustard flowers instead of the fruit tree flowers.

You dont need to use an inoculant on legume seed. Our soils have a native resident population of good bacteria that will break down the seed coat and encourage the plant roots to fix more nitrogen especially after cover cropping for a few years.

Work the soil lightly with a metal bow rake then broadcast 8-10 seeds per square foot. Weeds should be already cleared but this step doesn’t have to be perfect. Afterward the area should be raked again lightly 1-2 inches down and covered with 3-4 inches of straw. Wood chips would be fine, too. Mulch heavier if you have bird competition. Cover crops are vigorous and will come up through just about anything. Water in lightly.

If you plan to let your small vegetable garden lie fallow over the winter instead of planting it with a cover crop you can cover it with manure and straw and Ill talk about that in another column.

Fall Color & Climate Change

Although its a bit early around here to see fall colors its happening at the higher elevation. Or is it? Have the wildfires affected the changing of the leaves? And what about the effects of ongoing climate change? How is our planet changing?

Ebbet’s Pass

Quaking aspen (Populua tremuloides) is the most widespread tree species in North America. They generally grow in high altitude areas but also exist at sea level in places like the state of Washington along the Pacific coast where climate conditions are ideal. Quaking aspen provide food for foraging animals and habitat for wildlife. They also act as a fuel break retaining much more water in the environment than do most conifer species.

High mountain systems, such as the Sierra Nevada, are uniquely sensitive to global climate changes and act as “canaries in the coal mine” providing early signals of significant climate-driven changes. Research in the Sierra Nevada by Pacific Southwest Research Station, a USDA Forest Service research organization, shows how vegetation has responded to climate in the past and indicates changes that might be coming in the future over the next decade.

Climate has a profound influence in shaping our environment and natural resources. By looking at tree ring records of living and ancient wood and pollen lake sediments present, climate can be compared to historic patterns to show climate changes.

Research indicates a complex, unpredictable future for aspen in the West, where increased drought, ozone and insect outbreaks will compete with carbon dioxide fertilization and warmer soils with unknown cumulative effects. Aspen are vulnerable in the face of climate change. Hopefully, we will not lose this wonderful tree in California.

Weather conditions play a major part in the intensity of fall color. The time of year is nearly consistent but some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights.

Recent wildfires have had an effect on changing leaf color. Not much had been studied in this field prior to the 2018 fires that ravaged our state. Researchers measurements have shown that the total amount of sunlight available to a plant for photosynthesis decreased only slightly – about 4% – compared to the previous summer. The smoke didnt block the light but scattered it. Direct sunlight might fall mainly on the upper foliage but diffuse light can reach greater number of leaves throughout the canopy. So smoke can have some affect on photosynthesis but not much more than a cloudy day. Oxidative stress levels can occur during expended smoke exposure, however, so for the health of your plants be sure to wash the leaves off after a smoky day.

Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

California native Western redbud turns yellow or red in the fall if conditions allow. This plant is truly a four-season plant starting in spring with magenta flowers, then leafing out with apple green heart shaped leaves. Colorful seed pods give way to fall color. This small native tree or large shrub does well as a patio tree in gardens with good drainage.

Other native plants like spicebush and Western azalea turn yellow or gold in the fall. A native vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that needs covering quickly this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Edibles that turn color in the fall include blueberries, pomegranate and persimmons.

Trees and shrubs that do well in our area and provide fall color include Chinese flame tree, ginkgo, Idaho locust, Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, witch hazel, all maples, liquidambar, katsura, dogwood, locust, cherry, crabapple, oakleaf hydrangea, barberry and smoke tree.

More on our own fall color later.

Plant Bulbs Now

This fall Im at a new garden in Ben Lomond. Ive brought down every potted plant from my property in Bonny Doon that was showing signs of regrowth after the fire. I figured if they were trying to survive after 6 weeks with no water, some in melted plastic pots and tops burned off who was I to deny them a chance to live? I had 250 potted plants. Yes, I know, what was I thinking? Anyway, with lots of empty glazed empty pots here Im looking forward to planting bulbs this fall.

Daffodils and narcissus are are toxic.

There are a lot of squirrels here in this garden. Ill have to outsmart them. Squirrels, mice and moles are observant and crafty. Once they discover newly planted bulbs, they’ll assume it’s food. Just disturbing the earth is a tip off for them. Daffodils and narcissus bulbs are toxic but if they dig them up then leave them exposed with just a nibble taken, so much for any spring flower display. Protect your bulbs with wire baskets or spray them with foul tasting repellent, letting the spray dry before planting. You can also bury the bulbs with ground up egg shells. Another way to foil squirrels is to plant the bulbs deeply, This only works if you have good drainage, however. Next year, if the squirrels start nibbling the foliage as it emerges try spraying it with hot pepper spray.

Forest Lily – long lived bulbs that bloom for a very long time.

One of the more unusual bulbs I grow in pots is Forest Lily (valthemia bracteata). I got several bulbs over 25 years ago and fortunately divided them last year to give as gifts. If the burned ones I now have dont come back I can ask one of my friends to divide theirs and give me a few. The bulbs are enormous and bloom for months. The handsome foliage lis thick and wavy, looking somewhat like a succulent but its the huge, showy dark pink flower spikes that bloom from February to May that I love. Grow them light shade and allow them to go summer dormant. Valthemia are native to the northern Cape area in South Africa where it grows on rocky slopes along the famous Namaqualand Flower Route.

I love those huge, showy tulips as well as the new colors of daffodil and narcissus coming out each year. Ive wanted to plant Spring Starflower or Ipheion for a long time. Their starry white flowers bloom over a long period in spring and they naturalize easily. Spring Snowflake ( leucojum vernum ) will also naturalize in the garden. The flowers are small and bell shaped, white with a green or yellow spot and have a slight fragrance. And I want to include some species tulips. They will re-bloom year after year just like they do in the wild in Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Another bulb I’ve wanted to grow for a long time is Ixia viridiflora. They need to be completely dry in summer so planting in pots will be perfect for this most striking and unusual bulb. Few plants can beat it for sheer brilliance of flower. Each flower is a brilliant turquoise green with a purple-black eye in the middle. The dark eye is caused by the deep blue sap of the cells of the upper epidermis. The green color is due to the effects of light being refracted from the cell wall and granules embedded in the pale blue cell sap. Amazing flower.

Tulips can be grown in sun or light shade.

What about bulbs in the shade? Bulbs that will bloom in light shade are crocus, scilla, tulips, grape hyacinth, leucojum, snowdrops, chionodoxa and lily of the valley. Many from the daffodil clan, including jonquils and narcissus will grow, bloom and naturalize year after year under tree canopies or other lightly shaded areas.

Whatever you bulbs you choose to try this fall, you will be happy you planted some bulbs come spring. And to help them bloom again the following year fertilize them at the time of planting with bulb food or bone meal worked into the soil a couple inches at the bottom of the hole. Mature bulbs respond to an early spring feeding with the same fertilizer.

Sweet Peas in the Garden

There is so much clean up to do around the garden in the fall but I think we should all do something fun. A couple years ago I got an email about when to plant sweet peas. This reader had collected seeds from the wild pea, lathyrus latifolia, and wanted to know when to plant them. Although the flowers of this perennial sweet pea are not fragrant, the culture is the same as all sweet peas. Nows the time to plant.

Everlasting sweet peas are super easy to grow.

The perennial or everlasting sweet pea we see growing wild is not native to our area. It has naturalized throughout the United States and Canada after having been introduced from the Mediterranean area in the 1700s. It can be invasive but if its growing in an out of-the-way spot where you can enjoy the bright pink blossoms they require little care.

Who doesn’t love old-fashioned sweet peas? A small bouquet will perfume an entire room with a delicious scent. They remind me of my Aunt Ruth who grew them every year and let me pick a bunch each spring whenever I went to visit. There are many new varieties and colors these days but back then her sweet pea vines were covered with the classic mixed colors of violet, blue, pink, peach and white.

Mixed bouquet of spring flowers including sweet peas.

Sweet peas have been around for a long time and many different countries claim that they originated there. One story is that a monk, Father Cupani, first harvested them in the wild on an island off Sicily in 1695 and sent the seeds to the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, a Scottish nurseryman named Harry Eckford began hybridizing and introducing larger varieties in a wider range of colors and they became quite a sensation. The most famous and perhaps the most important use of this flower was the extensive genetics studies performed by Gregor Mendel. Since peas self-pollinate, their characteristics such as height, color and petal form could easily be tracked. But whether they came from Ceylon, the modern day Sri Lanka, China or Sicily, heirloom sweet peas are as exquisite in the garden as they are in the vase.

Pant early blooming types of sweet peas in October or November. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer’s at the same time to extend your harvest time.

Highly fragrant Black Knight sweet peas make good cut flowers.

My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance of orange blossoms and honey is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. But maybe its Black Knight thats my favorite sweet pea with those dark maroon strongly scented blossoms. You can’t go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer generally ignore sweet peas. Sweet peas are not edible and may cause stomach upset.

Enjoy Fall in the Garden

Bearded iris can be divided when they become crowded and unproductive

Fall is a favorite season for many people. The heat of summer is just about over and our gardens can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, actually Ive never heard any plants sigh but I know they can communicate with one another. For us up here in the Santa Cruz mountains, this is one of the best times to be outside. Here are tips for early fall in the garden.

Late fall is not a good time for major pruning so if you have some shrubs that need a tune-up do it soon. Wounds heal slowly later in the fall, leaving them more susceptible to disease. As a general rule, don’t prune when leaves are falling or forming. Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or in late spring after leaves and needles form. To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature. Fruit tree summer pruning should have already been done when growth ceased.

Refresh perennials, such as butterfly bush, salvia and yarrow by cutting a third to half of their growth later in the fall.

Rake leaves- compost or put in your green can. If large leaves are left in place they will mat down and set up fungal problems come spring.

Remove dead and diseased leaves from under camellias, rhododendrons and roses.

Divide perennials like alstroemeria in the fall

Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials that are overgrown and not flowering well. Alstroemeria, agapanthus, coreopsis, iris, daylily, yarrow, rudbeckia, calla lily, aster and penstemon fall into this category. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart although they don’t always bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves. If you’re on a roll out in the garden, though, go for it now. You never know what other projects you may be working on next spring.

Start perennial flowers seeds now so that they will be mature enough to bloom next year.

Fertilize shrubs lightly one last time with an all-purpose organic fertilizer or layer of compost. Use compost only on California natives.

Plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussell sprouts, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6 inches of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients.You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground. Planting early ensures your plants get a good start before cold weather sets in and growth mostly stops until spring. Youll be able to start harvesting in just a couple months if you start now that the weather has started to cool.

If you aren’t going to grow vegetables in the garden this fall consider planting a cover crop like bell beans, fava beans and vetch after you’ve harvested your summer vegetables. Next month I’ll talk about how to go about doing this and how this benefits your soil.

Cut back berry vines that have produced fruit. Canes of the current season should be trained in their place.

Spider mites and thrips are especially prolific during early fall. If some of the leaves on your plants are pale with stippling, spray the undersides of infected leaves with organics like insecticidal soap switching off with neem oil as they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides. Plan to spray with a horticultural oil in the winter to kill overwintering eggs.

Man’s Best Friend

Sherman wishing he could be a Detection Dog.

Dogs are amazing. They can do incredible things. Well maybe not my dog, Sherman, who is more likely to get into mischief than save mankind but weve all heard stories about detection dogs sniffing out drugs, explosives, cadavers and disaster survivors. In the mid 90s, handlers started training them for conservation tasks such as sniffing out scat from endangered species and detecting trafficked ivory. Now their olfactory prowess is being used in the fight against invasive plants and insects. And this year dogs are being trained to sniff out Covid 19 odor with 82% accuracy. The list of how mans best friend is helping us just keeps getting longer.

It was my friend Cindy who told me about this latest use of detection dogs while we were walking on the beach. Her rescue dog, Sienna is obsessed with retrieving a ball thrown into the surf so shed be the perfect candidate for a detection dog, assisting conservationists in the fight against invasive species.

Although I come across more French broom than Scotch in our area detection dogs can be trained to sniff out all invasive broom. Theyre doing this in New York where Scotch broom is just starting to invade and land managers hope to eradicate it before it becomes widespread like it is here and all along the Pacific Northwest. Broom displaces native plants with thickets impenetrable to wildlife and changes the chemistry of the soil around it so that native plants cant grow there. Broom grows quickly as it is able to fix nitrogen from the air giving a competitive advantage to other non-native weeds. It poses a serious threat to birds, butterflies and biodiversity. Broom contains a high amount of oil, which is flammable and increases the fire hazard. Its also toxic to livestock and dogs depending on the amount ingested. And those are just some of the reasons why New York wants to keep broom away.

Our field in the last 15 years has just exploded. said Pete Coppolillo, executive director of the nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation in Bozeman, Montana. The organization partners with government agencies, researchers and nonprofits on five continents to provide trained dogs and handlers for conservation projects. Besides helping to detect New York broom they have provided trained dogs to find invasive knapweed in Montana, Chinese bush clover in Iowa, yellow thistle in Colorado as well as invasive zebra and quagga mussels on boats here in California.

Working Dogs for Conservation trains shelter dogs for detection work, screening 1000 dogs for every one they put to work. To make the cut, the dogs have to be not only good sniffers and high-energy, but also seriously obsessed with toys so theyll stay motivated to work for a reward – the chance to play with a ball.

Because I eat a lot of oranges and lemons I looked up recent papers to see if dogs were still being used to detect citrus greening disease. Sure enough what started 5 years ago with just a few dogs has increased dramatically and many dogs are now being trained. Tim Gottwald, a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture plant pathologist, said during a recent presentation in Riverside that dogs in Florida have been 99% accurate and in tests just this last December and February in Southern California backyards, they were more than 92% accurate even when distracted by the homeowners. Because dogs can actually smell the bacteria that causes greening disease within a few weeks after infection well before lab tests can confirm, their work is vitally important.

Detection Dogs are the saints of the dog world.

So when youre petting mans best friend tonight appreciate all the great things he does for you and for our planet.

These are a Few of my Favorite Plants

While staying at a friends house during the evacuation I was able to stroll through her garden. Shes also a landscape designer and her garden is as beautiful as youd imagine. Shes addicted to plants and keeps adding to her megs collection on a regular basis. Among the blooming perennials I came across were some of my person favorites. All three are wonderful low water, wildlife and pollinator friendly plants.

Epilobium ‘Everett’s Choice’

The first plant that caught my eye was an epilobium Everetts Choice. The name Epilobium is considered current but this group of sub-shrubs used to be called Zauschneria and are so different from the other epilobiums like Fireweed that many California native plant enthusiasts and even the experts often still refer to them as Zauschneria.

This low-growing vigorous ground-hugging shrub remains under 6 inches tall by up to 4 to 5 feet wide with fuzzy gray-green leaves that are covered with long whitish hairs. Vivid red-orange tubular flowers are produced in profusion in the late summer into fall. It does best in full sun but will tolerate some shade. Quite drought tolerant, but remains a fuller and more attractive plant with an occasional summer watering. It likes well-drained soil best but will do OK in heavier soils if not over watered. California fuchsia are deer resistant and attractive to hummingbirds.

Echo Mango kniphofia

The second plant that caught my eye is also a hummingbird magnet. Kniphofia, also called Red Hot Poker blooms spring into summer with torch-like clusters that open from the bottom up. The selection at my friends garden was probably Echo Mango. Whether the cultivar blooms with red, yellow, orange or mango colored flowers this perennial grows to about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide in full sun. It is evergreen and requires little summer water. Deer dont like this plant either so thats a plus and its hardy to below 15 degrees.

Sdum ‘Autumn Joy’

Many of you already grow sedum spectabile Autumn Joy. A succulent perennial to 1-2 feet tall it has wide cabbage-like rosettes of pale blue-green leaves and rich, dark pink flowers that put on a spectacular show above foliage in summer and fall. Plant in sun in a dry well-drained soil and water however much or little you want. The foliage dies back in the winter but is root hardy to below -30 degrees. This group of sedum was given the prestigious Royal Horticultural Societys Award of Garden Merit in 1993. Beautiful in the rock garden, perennial garden or spotted into a natural meadow setting it attracts bees and butterflies and is deer resistant. The seed heads can be left for winter interest as well as a food source for birds but stems should be removed prior to the new buds opening in February.

Any one of these plants would be a lovely addition to your garden if you dont already grow them.

Remembering 9/11

My sister Evan and I on the ferry to San Juan Island

I got off the ferry at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island with my sister back in 2004. It was the day before 9/11 and we were visiting a family friend who used to live across the street from us. The next morning we walked to the downtown area and found ourselves immersed in a memorial parade commemorating the 3rd anniversary of that terrible day – 9/11/2001.

We certainly didnt expect to see a full on memorial parade complete with marching band, bagpiper, banners, American flags and finally taps being played mournfully by a lone bugler. We had tears in our eyes. A couple weeks ago I came across the digital photos and videos I captured of that moving day. I dont have them now as the original CD was burned in the fire. I will always have that days experience captured in my mind, though.

Lavender Sisters

Later that day my sister and I visited Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Seemed fitting to walk among soothing lavender fields. Spread over 25 acres with lake and Olympic Mountain views it is lovely. The fragrance from the oil of the lavender plant is believed to help promote calmness and wellness, reduce stress and anxiety – a good thing on a sad day.

Even the old Lime Works is beautiful heere.

For years when my sister was still here, we visited many islands in Puget sound touring destination nurseries and public gardens. Roche Harbor is a picturesque sheltered harbor on the northwest side of San Juan Island and this was our next stop on 9/11. This harbor is world all its own. Exploring the historic Hotel de Haro we walked among the blooming perennial beds. It was drizzling by then making the colors of the flowers pop even brighter. So many beautiful perennials – roses, anemone, heliotrope, tibouchina intertwined with coleus and lime sweet potato vine. Lovely. Even the Roche Harbor Lime and Cement Co. which dates back to the 1880s and is now a tourist destination is landscaped beautifully.

All in all, that day on September 11, 2004 will always be etched in my memory. It was a day to remember

What a Long Strange Trip Its Been

Robles Rd, Snata Cruz Ca
Devastated area along Robles Road in Santa Crus Mountains

Like all of you, Ive lived a lifetime in the past week and a half. With my power out for several days after the lightning storm in Bonny Doon, I was out of the loop without media or even water from the well. On Tuesday afternoon my friend Colly provided me with a place to shower and a delicious shrimp Louie salad. My dog Sherman and I went home later that afternoon. Power was back on and I was able to water all my plants and went to bed early. I knew nothing of any fires except the 35 acres on Monday north of Davenport. That didnt seem out of control to me. So when my neighbor drove up my long steep driveway at 11pm and told me he had just driven by Crest Ranch and saw flames I started gathering pet supplies for Sherman and Archer the cat. Reverse 911 call had come in and also the Code Red Mobile Alert but I wouldnt have heard them if not for the neighbor waking me up. And then I see Collys face on my cell about midnight when her call came in. Come on down, Sweet Pea, she said. I left my house shortly after and took very little. After the Paradise fire I knew that 2 miles away was nothing for a wild fire out of control.

At Collys we settled in about 1:30 to get a few hours sleep. Mid afternoon we were evacuated from her house in Ben Lomond and a close fellow designer friend and her husband took us all in. They have been self isolating since March so to open their house to us was a big thing and we will be grateful to them for the rest of our lives.

I was hopeful that the fire maps showing spot fires only around my house were accurate but Thursday late afternoon a neighbor walked down my road before the hard road closures and texted me this picture he took from the bottom of my driveway. Its hard to tell what remains of my brick house in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The detached garage, gardening shed and wood shed are gone as is the 5th wheel with sturdy awning on the lower right. I dont know what remains of the 100 or so redwoods on my property. I think of my chipmunk families, owls, songbirds and hummingbirds that might not have been able to outrun the flames. Nature will heal itself and so will I.

Gardening in Clay Soil

“The soil is made of butterfly wings, dinosaur teeth, pumpkin seeds, lizard skins, and fallen leaves.
Put your hands in the soil and touch yesterday, and all that will be left of tomorrow shall return
so that new life can celebrate this day.” -Betty Peck

California fuchsia tolerates heavy, clay soil.

Soil is a wonderful thing. It grows our food, anchors our trees and provides a foundation under our feet. But it sure can be hard to work with when it’s not the soft, crumbly loam that many plants prefer. It’s amazing that anything grows in some of the soils here in the Santa Cruz mountains. Some folks near Quail Hollow garden in an ancient sea bed of sand and there are others who have such heavy clay in their gardens that you wonder how anything survives.

I used to live up under the trees in Felton where the soil was heavy clay. Now in Bonny Doon, I garden in gritty soil. Both soils have their challenges but I think clay soil is the hardest to deal with. Soil that doest drain quickly during the winter is especially challenging. Wheres that perfect loam when you need it?

Some soils in Boulder Creek requires a pick ax to break up enough to plant. Sound familiar? Although rich in nutrients, clay soil requires compost to provide the environment necessary for beneficial microbes, worms and other critters could do their work and aerate the soil. A thick layer of mulch spread over the soil helps to preserve soil structure and prevent it from packing down again.

Arbutus unedo growing at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

There are plants that are tolerant of clay soils but California native plants wont tolerate standing water for any length of time. Theyll die from either root rot or suffocation as saturated soils prevent oxygen from getting to plant roots. You can plant on a slope where the water is unlikely to saturate the ground around the plant.

Search for native plants that will survive slow draining soils at Calscape- https://calscape.org. Using the Advanced Search tool you can see which plants tolerate different conditions. Enter your address to find plants for all kinds of sun, moisture and drainage situations. I found 48 plants native to Boulder Creek that tolerate slow drainage on the website. From ceanothus to manzanita to California fuchsia to Douglas iris youre sure to find plants that look great and perform well.

Bergenia cordifolia – a useful groundcover for difficult soil.

There are plants from similar environments in other parts of the world that would also do well if you garden in heavy soil. One of my favorite trees for these conditions is the strawberry tree. Also hackberry, ash, gingko and paperbark trees work well also. Shrubs to try include flowering quince, bottlebrush, Australian fuchsia, smoke tree, escallonia, pineapple guava, mahonia, osmanthus, Italian buckthorn, elderberry and vitex. Easy perennials for clay soils are yarrow, bergenia, carex grasses, fortnight lily, coreopsis, echinacea, nepeta, salvia, teucrium and verbena to name just a few.

If you’re not familiar with some of these plants it’s easy to see what they look like by Googling images. It’s what I do to see a plant full grown and not just a line drawing or a close-up of the flower.

So you see, there are plants that will be successful even in heavy, clay soil, you just have to pick the right ones.

Gardening Solutions for Shade

Shade is lovely on a hot day with a lemonade or ice tea in your hand. But what if much of your garden is shady most of the day but then gets blasted with several hours of intense sun during the hottest part of the day? If youre like me you are always on the look out for plants that can survive these tough conditions. So if your garden falls into this no mans land of not enough sun for the sun lovers but too much for most shade loving plants heres what I recommend.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Rubrum’ or ‘Ever Red’

Looking around my own garden one of the plants that does well in sun or shade is Fringe Flower (loropetalum chinense). This handsome evergreen shrub comes in two versions- green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year. You can prune loropetalum 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.

Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’

Lily Turf (liriope) is another deer resistant perennial I use a lot as a ground cove or at the edge of a path or mixed border. Evergreen grasslike leaves form tufts 18 inches tall. Liriope do well along streams or garden pools and can compete with the roots of other plants like at the base of trees or shrubs. Flower spikes, usually purple, are quite showy. Big Blue is a popular variety that does well in dry shade. Silvery Sunproof has green strappy leaves with gold stripes that age to white.

Heachera ‘Citronelle’

Coral Bells (heuchera) can survive in the shade but can also take that short blast of afternoon sun. There are so many varieties of this perennial these days I hardly know where to start. Whether native or a hybrid their flower spikes are a hummingbird favorite. Colorful foliage, often ruffled or variegated, can be silver, amethyst, caramel or lime green. Combine a tawny variety like Caramel with the chartreuse foliage of Citronelle in front of taller perennials or as a border edging. Coral Bells grow well in containers, too.

Lily of the Valley shrub (Pieris japonica) looks good in shade or sun. An evergreen shrub with year round interest this plant blooms early in late winter though early spring and is covered with little bells for several months. Starting in fall when reddish flower buds appear through summer as the new foliage emerges with a red tint there is always something attractive happening with this plant. Its deer resistant also.

Hydrangea quercifolia

Oakleaf hydrangea (hydrangea quercifolia) also looks good in shade or sun. Showy leaves resembling oaks, turn bronze or crimson in the fall. Huge white flower clusters bloom in late spring through summer and turn pinkish as they age. They are attractive if left on the plant for the rest of the season.

Among my other favorite plants for these tough conditions are Flowering maple, nandina, Chinese Ground orchid, billbergia, flowering currant, hummingbird sage, spice bush, philadelphus, carpenteria, osmanthus, daphne, hellebore, campanula and hardy geraniums.

Dont give up if your garden is like mine. Theres a solution for everything.

Fragrance in the Garden

This dwarf butterfly bush called Buzz Hot Raspberry attracts butterflies and smells delicious.

Last year I bought a dwarf butterfly bush and planted it in a pot near my entry. Im not sure if its a Buzz Hot Raspberry or a Lo & Behold Pink Microchip but its in full bloom and will continue through fall if I keep it deadheaded. The swallowtail butterflies love it and the scent is so sweet and so strong I can smell it through an open window. In this time of hanging out more at the homestead it brings a smile to my face.

Fragrance in flowers is nature’s ways of encouraging pollination. Just as it draws you to take a deeper whiff, it lures insects to blossoms hidden by leaves. Some flowers are fragrant only at night and attract night-flying pollinators like moths, while others are more fragrant during the day and attract insects like bees and butterflies. The fragrance itself comes from essential oils called attars that vaporize easily and infuse the air with their scents.

Aroma chemistry is complex and the smell of any flower comes from more than a single chemical compound. These molecules are present in different combinations in different plants, but often they are markedly similar which is why there are irises that smell like grapes and roses that smell like licorice. Our noses can detect those chemical compounds that have a major impact on the aroma. Often a particular molecule will make a large contribution.

Some roses, for instance, derive their scent from rose oxide and others from beta-damascenome or rose ketones. These molecules are detectable by our noses at very, very low concentrations. Carnations, violets, lilies, chrysanthemums, hyacinth- all have their own set of compounds that contribute to their scent.

Its interesting also that as we become accustomed to the same smell our brain phases it out. A compound called ionones, found in violets and rose oil, can essentially short-circuit our sense of smell, binding to the receptors. This shut down is only temporary and the ionones can soon be detected again and registered as a new smell.

Place sweet-smelling plants where you can enjoy them throughout the season. The potency of flower scents varies greatly, so consider the strength of a fragrance when deciding where to put a plant. Subtle fragrances such as sweet pea. lemon verbena, scented geranium and chocolate cosmos smell wonderful right outside the back door. Add stronger scents by your deck, pool, spa, dining area or gazebo. Stargazer lilies, jasmine, lilacs, daphne, citrus and peonies will make you want to stay awhile.

Several easy-to-grow shrubs have fragrant flowers as an added bonus. Mexican Orange (choisya ternata) blooms most of the year. Pittosporum eugenoides, tenuifolium and tobira all have tiny blossoms that smell like oranges. too. The tiny flower cluster of Fragrant Olive (osmanthus fragrans) have a delicate apricot fragrance.

Other fragrant plants include California native Philadelphus lewisii (Wild Mock Orange). Calycanthus occidentals (Spice Bush) is native to our Central and Northern California mountains. Their fragrant burgundy flowers smell like red wine. Ribes viburnifolium, carpenteria californica and rosa californica are mildly scented, too.

In spring there may be nothing quite as spectacular as a wisteria vine, loaded with fragrant purple, pink, blue or white flower clusters, covering an arbor or pergola. Pink jasmine is another vigorous vine with intensely fragrant flowers as is Evergreen Clematis.

I can’t leave out the old fashion border carnation or dianthus. Their clove-scented flowers are born in profusion making them a nice addition to the mixed flower border and containers.

The list goes on and includes scented plants such as nemesia, wallflower, Japanese snowbell, hosta, coneflower, vitex, viburnum, nicotiana, phlox, rose, sweet pea, hyacinth, lilac, flowering crabapple, heliotrope, lavender, sweet alyssum, peony, moon flower, southern magnolia.

Angels Trumpet grow well in containers. Their dramatic, fragrant flowers scent the evening air.

Be sure to include fragrant plants that release their scent in the evening, especially in the areas of the garden you most frequent after dark. Since the majority of night-scented blossoms have white flowers, these plants also light up the landscape at night. Angels Trumpet (brugmansia) is one such plant as is flowering tobacco and night blooming jessamine.

Plant vines for fragrance in your garden. Evergreen clematis (clematis armandii) bloom with showy white fragrant flowers clusters above dark green leaves in the spring. Clematis montana is another variety of clematis thats covered with vanilla-scented pink flowers in spring also. Carolina jessamine’s fragrant yellow flower clusters appear in masses from late winter into spring.

Ideally, when you’ve finished, your garden will smell as intriguing as an expensive perfume. The top note will be floral- jasmine, honeysuckle, rose. The middle register will be spicy, such as the vanilla of heliotrope or purple petunias or the clove of dianthus. Finally underneath, the tones that give perfumes their vigor, like artemisia, sage and santolina.

Not every inch of the garden needs to be fragrant but a waft or two of fragrance from the right plants can turn a garden from ordinary to enchanting.

Watering 101

This combination of Safari Sunset leacadendron, Guardsman phormium and succulents has low water needs.

Is your garden starting to look a little bedraggled? After a few hot spells, have the plants in your yard gotten a taste of whats to come for the rest of the summer? After youve chosen climate adapted plants how much water do they really need? Heres how can you keep everything happy and not waste water.

All plants need water- even those that are tolerant of our summer dry conditions. Water makes up 90-98% of every plant we grow. It’s needed for photosynthesis, as well as reproduction and defense against pests.

With summer water bills arriving this is a good time to re-visit how often and how much to water that landscape youve spent so much money to create. Basically, youre wasting water if youre not watering deep enough to moisten the entire root ball or if youre irrigating too often.

Photosynthesis is one of the most remarkable biochemical processes on earth and allows plants to use sunlight to make food from water and carbon dioxide. At temperatures about 104 degrees, however, the enzymes that carry out photosynthesis lose their shape and functionality. A garden that provides optimum light and water but gets too hot will be less vigorous.

Plants have natural systems that respond to heat problems. Plants can cool themselves by pumping water out through the leaves for a kind of swamp cooler effect. They can also make heat-shock proteins which reduces problems from over heating. All these strategies can take resources away from a plants other needs like growth, flowering and fruiting.

So how much water do different types of plants need during the heat of summer?

Be sure that you water trees and shrubs deeply, checking soil moisture first with a trowel. Established small to medium shrubs should be watered when the top 3-6 inches of soil is dry. Water large shrubs and trees when the top 6-12 inches is dry.

As a rule of thumb, trees and large shrubs need deep but infrequent irrigation. They should be on a separate valve than your smaller shrubs and perennials. Water ornamental trees 1-3 times per month depending on the type and soil. Tree roots grow 24-36 inches deep or more and require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter.

California native mimulus auritanicus

Apply water with a soaker hose, drip system emitters or hand held hose with shut off and soft spray attachment according to your water districts restrictions. Dont dig holes in the ground in an effort to water deeply. This dries out roots even more. Be sure to water the root zone to the indicated root depth every time you water. Watering deeper than the root zone only means you are wasting water. You can test how deep you watered by pushing a thin, smooth rod into the ground soon after you irrigate. The soil probe should easily slide through the wet soil but become difficult to push when reaching dry soil.

The roots of smaller shrubs reach 12-24 inches deep in the soil. Established native shrubs may need only monthly watering to keep them looking their best while other shrubs may need watering every 7-10 days during the heat of the summer. Perennial roots only go down 12 inches or so and may need watering once or twice a week depending on type.

When is the best time to water? Watering in the morning is the most efficient whether you water by sprinkler, drip system, soaker hose or by hand because the water soaks deep in the soil without risk of evaporation. This bolsters the plant for the day and has dried from leaves by evening reducing the risk for foliar diseases like mildew. Plant roots are also more receptive to watering in the morning.

Is it true that water droplets will scorch leaves in the midday sun? According to a study, fuzzy-leaved plants hold water droplets above the leaf surface and act as a magnifying glass to the light beaming through them so there is a very slight chance of scorch.The study also reported that water droplets on smooth leaves, such as maples, cannot cause leaf burn, regardless of the time of day. But no matter the time of day, a plant that needs water should get the right amount.

Knee High by the Fourth of July

A black-tailed deer celebrating the Fourth of July.

Who doesnt love corn on the cob fresh either from the garden or farmers market? But this column isnt about growing corn or about patriotic deer, its about climate smart plants that hold up to the heat. So lets get started.

All this talk about drought tolerant plants or water smart plants is misleading in some ways. What really matters for the success of a plant in your garden is that they are climate smart. You can call the new California garden climate tolerant or climate adapted but it all comes down to the same thing. The plants you choose to grow in your garden should be able to naturally tolerate periods of lower than average water. This doesnt mean no water during extremely long dry periods. No plant can live without water.

I have two books that I look to for plant ideas when called upon to design a garden in our area. This first was published by East Bay MUD in 2004 and is called Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates. The other book I refer to regularly for ideas and information is California Native Plants for the Garden. Both are invaluable in these times of water conservation. One of the best tips each of them offer is to garden where you live.

All of us live in a summer-dry climate. Summer-dry gardens are naturally dry for long periods. Knowing which type of plant community you live in can make the difference between success and failure in your garden. Choose the right plant for the right place whether its a California native from an area with similar soil and exposure or a plant from another Mediterranean-like climate with growing conditions like yours.

Plant communities have evolved over time with geologic changes in climate, topography and soils. We have several district areas here- mixed evergreen forest, redwood forest, chaparral and sandhills.

If you live in a mixed evergreen forest you garden with trees like coast live oak, tan oak, madrone, bay and buckeye. Understory plants include ceanothus, coffeeberry, hazel and poison oak. Your soil contains serpentine and granite. Many other unthirsty plants like salvias, lavender, santolina, society garlic, giant feather grass, rosemary and rockrose do well here. California natives such as western mock orange (philadelphus lewisii), wild ginger and western sword ferns grow here also.

Mixed evergreen forest may also be found along canyon bottoms near streams where big leaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, and western sycamore trees grow. Most plant here grow lush in this deep soil. If you are looking to add something new to your garden here consider giant chain fern, aquilegia, dicentra, Pacific Coast iris and fuchsia-flowering gooseberry.

Found in the sandhills, silverleaf manzanita is perfectly suited to its environment.

Chaparral areas are the hottest, driest slopes of these mountains. Dense thickets of manzanita, coyote brush, chamise, coffeeberry, ceanothus, monkey flower and sage are native here. These plants are adapted to little water and often have tiny, thick, waxy, light green or grayish leaves. Soils tend to be rocky and shallow with overlaying rock or a subsoil that is mostly clay. Plants here need to have an extensive root system that reaches widely and deeply for water. If you live here a classic combination would be the spring blooming western redbud and Julia Phelps or Dark Star ceanothus. The combination of magenta and electric blue flowers is unforgettable.

The sandhills near Quail Hollow and Bonny Doon around Martin Rd. are part of an ancient sandy sea floor that was uplifted, eroded and exposed. These sandy soils lack organic matter and nutrients and their white color magnifies the temperature of the summer sun. Unique, native plants like silverleaf manzanita and Ben Lomond wallflower live here. Buckwheat and sticky monkey flower do well here. You might also try growing Lewisia, a pretty little plant native to northern California, thrives in sand and gravel soils with good drainage. This 8″ tall hardy perennial blooms from spring to early summer with extremely showy flower clusters in colors ranging from apricot to pink, rose and bright cherry red. Mulch them with gravel or crushed stone.

Remember right plant-right place. Dont try to force nature although most gardens do look better with some summer water. Closer to the house we expect a fuller look. Combinations Im going to try this season include leucospermum paired with blue echium or grey-leafed westringia planted with red-flowering callistemon Little John.

Ways to Make a Garden Interesting

Wheres your favorite place to hang out when youre at home? For many of us relaxing on the patio or reading under a tree is our go-to place. Grilling on the barbecue or sitting around a fire pit is another favorite outdoor activity. For kids and adults who enjoy sports or games its the play area that gets all the attention. And for veggie gardeners its harvesting and cooking up a delicious meal from produce youve grown yourself thats high on the list. Whatever you like to do in your yard there are simple ways to give your garden a makeover and make your outdoor area more inviting.

Recently I got lost in Boulder Creek looking for a clients house on the river. I peeked through an arbor and into a small garden surrounded by shade trees and flowers. A couple sitting at a bistro table were enjoying a late lunch. They were kind enough to direct me to their neighbors house which was right next-door. Seems I wasnt lost after all. Ill never forget the lovely table this couple had set on their small patio. With a bright tablecloth, colorful stemware and what appeared from a distance to be a luscious fruit salad the scene would have looked right at home in Sunset magazine. These people knew the importance of extending their living space into the outdoors. They told me they enjoy this every weekend.

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Pocket size sitting area

Create atmosphere in your garden. Make sure the entire garden cant be seen in one glance. A garden room is defined by borders and enclosure. Thats what made the secret garden I discovered by accident in Boulder Creek so effective. It was partly shielded by the canopy of a tree. Im not sure what the vine-covered arbor at the entry was made of but you could make a rustic arbor yourself from downed branches. Short fences with a gate can enclose your garden room also. Even just a gate between shrubs will blur the gardens boundaries as will a curved path that leads behind tall shrubs or sheer perennials.

Creating an outdoor room with vines will make your yard feel cozy. They readily provide the walls to enclose a space. Views from one part of the garden may be partially open, framed by vines or blocked entirely. Shrubs can also be used to create garden rooms but vines form a thin living wall that is quickly established. Creating boundaries with vines also adds vertical design elements to an otherwise flat landscape. By adding walls and a ceiling to your garden, youll be able to enjoy another dimension in addition to more color and fragrance.

Garden lighting is another easy way to add atmosphere to your garden. As inviting a space a garden might be during the day it becomes magical at night when lit. Solar lighting has come a long way. Walk your property and decide the most effective spots for lighting. Pathway lighting can illuminate the driveway, walkways and steps and mark the edges of areas like ponds and patios. Accent lighting can define a space and show off plantings, benches or illuminate a pergola. Spotlights direct the eye up into trees, show off garden art or accent a focal point.

Each of the senses comes into play in a successful garden. The sense of sight is an easy way to create atmosphere. Use the colors and textures you most admire and repeat them. A green framework holds the garden together but color creates the mood. Whether you like vivid saturated colors or soft pastels broad sweeps of color are more effective than dabs and patches.

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Urn fountain

Sound is important too. In my own garden I have several wind chimes. Ornamental grasses rustle in the wind and adding a fountain with running water is high on my wish list. An urn fountain with pebbles and plants at the base would be a simple choice. A drilled basalt column fountain or basalt dish fountain would look natural in the forest here. But until Santa comes Ill be content with adding another rustling grass to my garden.

Your sense of smell is important also to create atmosphere in the garden. In the spring the smell of ceanothus fills the air. Then the stargazer lilies start to bloom followed by lily-of-the-valley, daphne, flowering crabapple, carnation, iris, heliotrope, lavender, alyssum and a couple of roses. By enjoying the fragrance of both flowers and the foliage of salvia, lavender and breath of heaven as I walk the garden Im able to add another dimension to the garden.

Home is where the heart is. Theres no place like home so make yours even more inviting.