Category Archives: Design trends

These are a Few of my Favorite Plants

While staying at a friend’s house during the evacuation I was able to stroll through her garden. She’s also a landscape designer and her garden is as beautiful as you’d imagine. She’s 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 ‘Everett’s 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 friend’s 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 don’t like this plant either so that’s a plus and it’s 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 Society’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t have them now as the original CD was burned in the fire. I will always have that day’s 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 1880’s 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 It’s Been

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

Like all of you, I’ve 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t have heard them if not for the neighbor waking me up. And then I see Colly’s 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 Colly’s 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. It’s 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 don’t 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 does’t drain quickly during the winter is especially challenging. Where’s 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 won’t tolerate standing water for any length of time. They’ll 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 you’re 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 you’re 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 man’s land of not enough sun for the sun lovers but too much for most shade loving plants here’s 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. It’s 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.

Don’t give up if your garden is like mine. There’s 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. I’m not sure if it’s a Buzz Hot Raspberry or a Lo & Behold Pink Microchip but it’s 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.

It’s 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.

Angel’s 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. Angel’s 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 that’s 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.