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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
Every year after attending the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show I'm exhilarated by the creativity of the display gardens and the fresh use of familiar plants. Don't even get me started on the new plant introductions I want to use in my next landscape design. This year the world-class show celebrated its 25th anniversary.
A Flower and Garden Show is a huge and complex production. Creating the 20 display gardens is a demanding task and planning for them begins many months before the show opens. By the night before the show opens 1,200 cubic yards of sawdust and mulch ( that's about 150 dump truck loads ) have been spread and 280,000 pounds of rock stacked in undulating walls and water features.
The flowers and plants for the garden come from all up and down the West Coast. Many plants are forced into early bloom for the show as Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate. Even flowering trees are sometimes kept in greenhouses so that their buds can be timed to open the week of the show. It's not a perfect science. One display garden creator who garnered 5 awards told me that hundreds of daffodils she had planned to use in her garden bloomed a week early due to warm weather.
This year the theme of the show was "Gardens for a Green Earth". There were tips for edible gardening at home including containers for herbs and veggies on the patio and small space gardening, too. One of my favorite gardens combined tomato and flowering vines cascading over the edge of a stone vaneer wall. Raised vegetable boxes bordered the deck for easy access and a stone water fall splashed into a huge half oak barrel.
Another interesting garden was the Low Impact Bay Friendly Garden. Modern in design, this low water-use garden featured tall raised beds surrounding a pervious concrete stepping stone patio set in a gravel base. Pervious concrete is said to be able to take in storm water a a rapid rate of over 5 gallons per minute per square foot of surface area. That far exceeds the flow rate needed to prevent runoff in even the most severe rain events.
The rainwater is temporarily stored in the course gravel layer underneath while it is allowed to naturally percolate into the underlying soil. This could be a good solution to solve site drainage problems.
Most of the display gardens featured water in them. Some were large affairs with cascading boulders while others were small and understated. In one, a length of copper tubing delivered a shower of drops in front of an aged corrugated iron panel. Another consisted of a simple stacked flagstone ledger waterfall flowing into a flagstone pond- a DIY project? Even used tires were used as the base for the flagstone edging around a pond although frankly, I couldn't picture this water feature in anybody's backyard. One I did like was a simple flume of water pouring into a small metal rectangle lined with Mexican black pebbles. A little feature with lots of impact.
Fire pits were prevalent, too. From ornate fireplaces to glass filled affairs to simple metal rounds filled with cobbles outdoor living is enhanced with fire and water.
I had to laugh when a man asked me at one of the gardens what I was taking a picture of. Well, I explained, I take photos of paths and steps and how they're put together and the materials they're made of for future reference. "Oh, that's a good idea" he said, and started taking pictures, too. All in a day at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.
The rain last week was welcomed by all of us who like to watch things grow. There's a patch of grass growing beside a creek where I live that is the brightest neon green I've ever seen. Whether you call it apple green or lime green or chartreuse it shouts spring officially started on March 20th, the vernal equinox.
Spring weather here in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be warm and sunny one day, gray and rainy the next. Strong winds often blow last years crop of oak leaves all over the deck you've just swept but none of us would live anywhere else.
Now that daylight savings time has started we have more time to spend out in the garden. One simple addition that makes being outside in the cooler evenings more enjoyable is a fire pit. For ideas search Google images to be inspired. You can install a simple metal fire pit for burning wood or get fancy with a stone pit surrounded with gravel and stone seat walls. I guarantee you'll be happy you set aside a space for this addition to your garden.
What other to-do's are there in the garden in March?
Fertilize – 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. Your citrus may be looking yellow from lack of nitrogen which has leached out of the soil through the rainy season and they may be lacking in iron. Feed them with citrus and fruit tree fertilizer. I like to put out a granular or time release fetilizer before a storm and let the rains water it in for me. Make sure you keep fertilizer off the foliage and crown of the plants. Wait to feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons until after they bloom.
Prune – Clean up winter damage on perennials, vines and shrubs.
Transplant – 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.
Divide perennials – To increase your plantings, lift and divide black-eyed Susan, gaillardia, catmint, coreopsis, daylily, diascia, geranium, ground morning glory, lamb's ears, penstemon, shasta daisy, society garlic and yarrow. Also I see my hostas are just beginning to come up so dividing them or transplanting them at this time is easy and you don't risk ruining their georgous leaves later after they unfurl.
Weed – Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time.
Houseplants – Now that the days are getting longer and temperatures are inching up your houseplants can be repotted if roots are poking out of the bottom or are matted on the surface. Houseplants rest in the winter and don't require much fertilizing. You can resume feeding now with a balanced fertilizer. Your plants will benefit also from leaching the accumulated salts from the soil. Take them to the sink and run room temperature water through them several times. Houseplants clean the air.
Our last estimated hard frost of the season is approximately March 15th. Sometimes we get light frosts into April so have frost blankets or any blanket or towel ready to protect seedlings. Even a cardboard box over frost tender new growth will work fine.