Category Archives: groundcovers

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

What to Do about Invasive Plants

bull_thistleWe can't control those pesky weed seeds that blow into our gardens and take hold. There are ways to keep them from taking over, however. But what about those invasive plants that are already in our gardens like ivy and vinca major? What's the best way to deal with them? Then there are plants we buy ourselves that can invade natural areas. Are there better plants to use that are just as attractive and useful? Here are some solutions to make your garden happy.

One invasive thug that can take over is bull thistle, a relative of the edible artichoke. The seeds of this vigorous exotic take hold in disturbed areas including your beautiful garden soil and if not controlled can become a solid mass of impenetrable thistles in just a few seasons. Bull thistle only reproduces by seed so removal of the flowering stalks at this time of year will prevent them from spreading. The flowering heads must be discarded in a plastic bag and destroyed to keep them from forming viable seed. Because this weed is biennial you also need to dig out the first year plants that have not formed stalks. You can also mow thistles close to the ground a couple of times before they form stalks to reduce the population over time.

As a landscape designer and consultant I'm often called upon for advice for an area covered with vinca major or ivy. Both of these invasive species are too successful for their own good, smothering native plants and harboring pests such as rats and snails. Vinca major also serves as a host to the bacteria that causes Pierce's disease in grapevines. For your information, vinca minor has not been found to be invasive in California so far

You can choose organic methods to control vinca and ivy rather than chemical herbicides. Hand vinca_majorremoval is labor intensive but the results are good if all the root nodes and stolons are removed. Work inward from the perimeter of the patch and pull the plants back. You will need to do this every 3 months during the first year to remove resprouts but native plants may recolonize the area and reduce the chance that other weeds will move into the area following the disturbance caused by the removal activities.

Replanting with another more desirable groundcover is another solution. For shady areas, try planting wild ginger  (Asarum caudatum), Catalina perfume ( Ribes viburnifolium), creeping snowberry ( Symphoricarpos mollis), yerba buena ( Satureja douglasii ), bear's foot hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), winter saxifrage (Bergenia cordifolia), pachysandra, Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) or Asian jasmine.

Good substitutes for vinca or ivy in sunnier spots include groundcover types of manzanita and ceanothus. Also attractive are Taiwan raspberry (Rubus pentalobus), California fuchsia (Zauschneria), or beach strawberry (Fragraria chiloensis ).

Some plants even though purchased from a nursery can cause problems. You wouldn't buy a Scotch or French broom knowing how invasive they can be. Forsythia, Japanese kerria, golden currant and Jerusalem sage all provide that beautiful spring butter yellow color in the garden.

The licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) gained popularity for its deer resistance and foliage color many years ago. Unfortunately, it self sows wildly and the spreading branches will root at any point of contact with the ground. Try instead better behaved plants like California natives salvia leucophylla or eriogonum giganteum. Teucrium germander or Powis Castle artemisia also work well in the same area.

Another good plant gone wrong is cotonester  lacteus (parneyi).  The red fall berries are spread by cotoneaster_lacteus_Parneyibirds and with their rapid growth and competitive roots they can overtake the garden and wild areas. Fortunately there are many other plants to use instead that provide food for birds and are beautiful, too. Try planting toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) a California native with delicate white flowers and large clusters of brilliant red berries. Pineapple guava is another good substitute as is strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

These are just some of the suggested alternatives for invasive garden plants for this area. Don't give an invasive an inch, it can take over your garden, the neighbors and our wildlands.
 

Colorful Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Fall is the perfect time of year for many things– long drives, walks in the forest, beautiful sunsets. It's also a great time of year to transplant those plants in your garden that aren't in quite the right place and to create new exciting combinations of foliage, color and texture that are just perfect.

I"m always newly inspired when I see common plants combined in ways I hadn't thought of. Some vignettes are simple repetitions of just two plants while others might include 3-4 plants with different characteristics. A recent meeting of APLD ( Association of Professional Landscape Designers ) of which I am a member, showcased fabulous ideas for plant combinations. In addition to these plants looking great together visually they share the same cultural requirements which is a must. No sense planting a water-loving partial shade plant next to a low water use plant that requires full sun.

Here are some of the awesome plant combinations from gardens I have designed and from fellow designers that I think are particularly appropriate for our area.

In a sunny garden colorful flowers surrounded by soothing green foliage creates a space to linger. The hummingbirds and butterflies attracted to the nectar of the flowers are an added bonus. The plants that create this beautiful scene combine strong, linear leaves from phormium 'Amazing Red'  with the golden foliage of abelia 'Kaleidescope'. Bright red and white flowers of the hummingbird-magnet salvia 'Hot Lips' combined with the soft green needles of grevillea lanigera 'Mt.Tamboritha' and the salmon pink flower spikes of phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) invite you to sit awhile in this garden.

Plant combinations that echo each other in color work well together. Think of the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in England. Phormium 'Cream Delight' looks great with so many plants the combinations are nearly endless. Consider growing it with Elijah Blue fescue grass and surrounding the group with a hardy groundcover like the succulent semperviven ( Hens and Chicks ).

Silver or grey foliage always looks smart when paired with pink shades.  Again that go-to plant that adds architectural interest, Phormium 'Evening Glow', provides the pink element with bronze edged leaves with red centers as does the dusty rose color of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flower clusters.  Add the silver foliage of euphorbia wulfenii ' Glacier Blue' and Russian sage to complete the look.

Another group of plants that combine well have flowers of similar color. Hardy geranium 'Rozanne' with violet blue flowers pairs well with the soft blue ground morning glory, lavender-blue flowering catmint and penstemon 'Blue Bedder'. These perennials all grow in full sun but can tolerate some shade and like moderate watering.

Other combinations that might look great in your own garden include natives mimulus, juncus patens and deer grass with Pacific wax myrtle.  Or try growing Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' alongside the blue tones of festuca californica. Under native oaks, heuchera maxima along with iris douglasonii won't require much summer water which will make the oaks happy too.

At this time of year I'm always drawn to combinations with warm, rusty tones. Purple smoke bush fall foliage pops when combined with gold flowering rudbeckia Goldsturm and purple coneflowers. Or how about Apricot Sunrise agastache growing with Spanish lavender and Big Ears lamb's ears?  Then again you might like the gold flowers of Harmony kangaroo paw blooming for months alongside Carex testacea (Orange Sedge).

Shady spots needing some pizazz could look to the huge leaves of bergenia 'Bressingham Ruby' with their brilliant magenta late winter flower spikes and combine it with golden yellow sweet flag (Acorus 'Ogon'). Another combination I like for the shade is asparagus spregeri and blue flowering Dalmation Bellflower groundcover.

Whether you're transplanting existing plants in new exciting combinations or creating new ones, fall is a great time to spend time in the garden.
 

Ahbkazi Garden – Victoria, BC.

How many beautiful gardens can one visit on one vacation? I spent a whole day at the spectacular Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. a couple of hours at St. Ann's Academy heritage garden and the lovely Empress Hotel rose garden is a nice place to watch the sunset over the harbor.  But I wanted more and on the outskirts of Victoria in a residential neighborhood I found the perfect garden.

Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offers a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees if you put your mind to it. Now owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the property was bought in 1946 by Peggy Pemberton Carter who recognized the possibilities on this last undeveloped lot in the neighborhood. This independent minded woman traveled to the west coast after WW II from a prisoner of war camp in Georgia, using funds she had hidden during the war in talcum powder. She married Prince Abkhazi, a Russian fellow prisoner, when he joined her in Victoria and they began to build the summer house and lay out the garden together.

Over the next 40 years, Prince and Princess Abkhazi  designed, planted and maintained the property. Peggy had lived in Shanghai before the war and it was this influence that plays out in the garden. Chinese gardens are essentially places of meditation, places to withdraw from worldly cares. This must have been very appealing to the Abkhazi's  after their experiences in prisoner of war camps. Nothing in a Chinese garden is hurried or blatant. Paths are not just a way of getting from one point to another, instead they are a way of exploring changing views that slowly shift as you walk through the garden.

As I made my way between massive glaciated rock outcroppings and under mature native Garry oak trees gorgeous views of the snow-covered Olympic mountains and the Straight of San Juan de Fuca could be seen.
Each garden "room" utilizes the natural lay of the land and has a welcoming bench for sitting and taking in the flowers. Lots of birds and butterflies were busy feeding and going about their daily activities.

Purple allium flowers the size of grapefruit caught my attention. Growing nearby, pale yellow Candelabra primula[/caption]Japanese iris bordered one of the paths. Fragrant dianthus, several varieties of campanula and euphorbia, lady's mantle and candelabra primula were all blooming and the weeping Crimson Queen Japanese maples were pruned to perfection.

More than just a collection of plants, this garden flows with the natural contours and blends the house with it's surroundings. it is a stunning example of West Coast design. The garden flows around the rock outcroppings, taking advantage of deeper pockets of soil for conifers, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The original Lily-of-the-Valley beds still carpet a slope. Alpine plants are placed like little jewels around the boulders and woodland plants border the undulating lawns.

A small waterfall flows into a pond where 2 large turtles sunned themselves on the rock edge while a third rested on a waterlily pad, it's red ear markings picking up the dark pink color of the waterlily flower. A stand of stately white calla lilies emerged through a piece of drifwood near a resting spot. The garden is magical. One that you could imagine on your own property if you had the next 40 years to plant and maintain it.
 
It would have been  a terrible loss if the property had not been purchased in 2000 by The Land Conservancy. After the death of the Abkhazis the land was slated to become a townhouse development. This unique garden
is truly a place of wonder. a place to meditate and to withdraw from worldly cares.
 

Tips for Vegetables, Pests and Plants with Bad Behaviors

Summer is officially almost here although we all know it actually starts on Memorial Day weekend. What fun stuff should we be doing in the garden? What problems should I be on the lookout for? What troublemakers should I avoid planting?

June is a busy time for plants. Some are just finishing up early spring flowering like rhododendrons, azaleas. camellias, lilac and wisteria. Prune off spent flowers and shape plants if needed. Other plants are just beginning to flower and would like a dose of organic fertilizer to really perform well.

Plant corn, lettuce and basil continuously to keep a steady supply. Speaking of basil, if yours died recently showing brown spots or streaks up the stem,  fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus, is the culprit. Carried by either the soil that affected basil plants have been grown in or by seed from an infected basil plant it's a common problem. There is no remedy for fusarium wilt. Destroy infected plants and do not plant basil or other mint plants in that area for 2-3 years.

Night time temperatures should be consistently above 50 degrees for basil. As long as you provide it with a hot, sunny location and plenty of water, it's among the easiest of herbs to grow in the garden or in a container. Steady, slow growth is the key to good taste, so amend the soil with compost and forgo the fertilizer. Basil contains the most oils when harvested before the flowers occur. The best way to delay flowering, as well as to encourage branching and new growth, is to harvest regularly by snipping of the end of the branches.

The best time to harvest is midmorning, right after the dew has dried, but before the afternoon sun bakes out the oils. At some point later in the summer, flowering will begin in earnest. Then it's time to harvest the entire crop, as flavor will go downhill soon afterward.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it's the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend who's rose shrubs were really hit by these. It's discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too.

During the winter they pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil at any time will break up the cocoons.

Finally, think twice before planting rampant growers that are hard to control unless you use a deep edging that will keep them confined where you want. There's nothing wrong with a plant that spreads out in the right places, but let it overgrow that area and it quickly wears out its welcome.

Plants like chameleon plant ( Houttunyia cordata) , lamium, it's close relative lamiastrum and hypericum are  great plants in areas that are not close to your other planting beds. The deceptively delicate looking and impossible to ever get rid of Japanese anemone falls into this category also. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Plan ahead.

Get out and enjoy your garden. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to walk around your garden with a beverage of some kind and just look.

 

Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon

Enter the Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon with me as I preview several gardens that will be featured on the tour this coming weekend.  While some of our gardens have a few areas with a "wow factor" , the gardens I was privileged to visit have this element at every turn. I was amazed, impressed and truly honored to spend time in each of them.

First stop was a garden that took my breath away. Looking past the lush lawn, the view takes in all of Monterey Bay. It wasn't always this way, the owner explained. When she moved to the property in 1981, she didn't even know there was an ocean view. It was only after some judicious pruning that this stunning view was revealed.

We  ambled through the many paths that took us up close and personal with perennial beds overflowing with blooming iris, spirea, weigela, succulents, hardy geraniums, coprosma and coleonema to name just a few.

Rabbits are an ongoing problem in this garden. Seems they love her Angelina sedum, coprosma, and Rose Campion as much as she does. Little 12" tall fences surround several of the beds which looks comical but apparently works as the rabbits don't like to jump over them.

Stained urbanite has been stacked by the owner to make short retaining walls and the look is quite classy blending in the flagstone and gravel paths. She explained how easy it was to stain the broken concrete from the old driveway by slapping on some concrete stain. "Piece of cake", she told me.

Other flower beds she edged with Sonoma fieldstone, stacking them herself. At every turn you can see the personal touches that make a garden unique. An old rusty mailbox was tucked into one of the beds overflowing with blooming pansies and million bells calibrachoa.  I loved this garden.

Next stop was another garden 30 years in the making. You won't believe the "before" pictures when you see this garden now. I could barely see the potential in the old pictures but the owner could and started to build up the rock hard soil bed by bed. After many years she has created  an organic garden full of flowering rhododendron, roses, viburnum, herbs, vegetables, citrus, apples and a 5 year old  Staghorn fern that measures 4 ft across.

The owner explained that deer are not a problem because they won't jump the irregular picket fence. Seems the wide pickets confuse their eyesight. Unfortunately, the gophers have decided recently that after 14 years, her camellias are now on the menu and she has lost almost all of the original 40 in the past year. Instead of lamenting her loss, she sees it as an opportunity to add new plants. She has the optimism that all gardeners possess.

Chickadees nested in a box attached to the porch. Garter snakes and alligator lizards patrol the flower beds. A bathtub, sunk into the earth serves as "the poor man's hot tub". Old metal chairs are planted with flowers and ferns and other found garden art is sprinkled generously though out the garden. This is the garden of an artist whose studio is nestled back among the trees. At every turn you feel the peacefulness of this wonderful place. This is a garden to experience not just view.

The last garden I was lucky enough to preview, was an asphalt driveway just 6 short years ago. There are occasional unplanted spots that still show asphalt. What a transformation. With the help of lots of top soil and an auger this gardener has created a spectacular space.  "Everything grows like crazy here", she explained.

The front garden is open to deer and is planted with echium, leucospermum, arctotis, barberry, thyme, rosemary and New Zealand flax. One of her favorite plants is a huge variegated holly that buzzed so loudly with bees I thought the electrical line coming into the house was making all the racket.

In the back, a small orchard edged the fence. Blooming lilacs by the deck heavily scented the air. Succulents intermingle with peony, erysimum and gaura. This gardener explained she " she is one of those people who buys whatever she likes and then finds a place for it". Having had previous experience growing grapes and olives in Sonoma, she is a hands-on gardener who does it all herself. She's a self-described  "drip queen".

A ceramic artist, her sculptures are focal points though out the garden. There is a lot of other garden art in this garden, too.

Where do these gardeners find the garden art, water features and other items that give their gardens that personal touch? One explained, she is always on the lookout for estate sales as she drives around or sees advertised in the paper. "That's were you can really find the treasures", she explained. "Little old ladies have some great plants and other wonderful finds in the back of the garden".

The Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th. Don't miss it.