Category Archives: shrubs

Creating Atmosphere in the Garden

Pride_of_MadeiraSummer may be winding down but we still have lots of great outdoor weather to enjoy for several more months. This means more time to spend outdoors in the garden relaxing, entertaining and cooking on the grill. I like the relaxing part most of all so it’s important to me that what I see and feel when I’m out in the garden have an atmosphere that appeals to me. Here are a few ideas that I’ve used in my own and other people’s gardens I’ve helped to create.

Outdoor spaces are just more inviting if they feel like a real room with a ceiling, walls and attractive flooring. An arbor or pergola is a good way to provide a lid on your outdoor space. If you have natural trees in your garden they can shield you from the sky in some areas and open up other areas to passing clouds and sun. You can achieve a similar effect with groups of potted trees that shade your sitting area. Japanese maples, ornamental plums,cherries or crabapple are just a few of the trees that do well in pots. If you like to grow edibles plant a fig in a pot to provide some shade.

The sounds you hear while in the garden are part of the experience, too. The atmosphere just wouldn’t be the same without the sound of rustling grasses, wind chimes or birds splashing about in the bird bath or fountain. Auditory elements can come from the sound of gravel crunching underfoot as you walk or the wind in the trees.

Create the atmosphere you like by using the colors and textFlowering_Mapleures you most admire in your garden. I use to live in a lot of shade so white, silver and gold foliage and flowers were really important to bring life to the garden. I still love these shades but cool blue, baby pink and soft yellow also appeal to me.

Texture in the garden refers to the overall visual texture of the plants. Large and bold foliage like Flowering Maple, Pride of Madeira, rhododendron, viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea or hosta make a large garden appear smaller. Soft, fine foliage will make the garden appear larger by giving it the allusion of more space. Examples of finely textured plants include ornamental grasses, Breath of Heaven, ferns and asters. You might use different textured plants in different parts of your garden to get the affect you like.

Blur the garden’s boundaries to make it more interesting. You won’t be able to see the whole Breath_of_Heavengarden at one glance if you curve the path behind some shrubs, tall plants or sheer, see-through perennials. Leave some wild areas for the birds and bees to join you. Garden organically and mix in native plants wherever you can to keep the garden healthy.

Creating atmosphere in the garden is the art of combining space and time, light and weather to make a garden that we feel reflects who we are. It’s different for every gardener. One person might like straight rows of vegetables while another scatters poppies and nasturtiums randomly. Whatever appeals to you it should be close to your heart and that’s the atmosphere in your garden that’s right for you.

A Ben Lomond Garden Coexists with Deer

One of the perks of writing this gardening column for the Press Banner is being invited to visit beautiful gardens. I  recently had the honor to tour the garden of fellow columnist, Colly Gruczelak, writer of Plain Talk About Food, at her home in Ben Lomond. I've known Colly for many years going back to when she moved here in 2004 from Thousand Oaks.  If you know Colly it will come as no surprise that she is just as enthusiastic about plants as she is about good food. She gardens with a resident deer population and had lots to say about this dilemma.

When she first moved to the Ben Lomond property there was "nothing in the garden but bottlebrush and bare ground" she said. Not wanting to fence the property she has come to know what the deer are not interested in eating for dinner- in her garden anyway. Located right on the San Lorenzo River, her garden blends perfectly with the natural woodland setting.

A huge Fragrantissima Improved rhododendron poked its beautiful white flower trusses through an ornamental low fence. A Sally Holmes rose bloomed atop the fence, too. Colly explained she has included several roses in the garden and will spray them with a bitter repellent if the deer become too interested but often surrounding a rose with plants the deer don't like is enough to keep the buds safe.

A beautiful purple Grand Slam rhododendron bloomed nearby. Colly keeps plant tags in her Sunset Western Gardening book so she can look up a plants name when necessary. Given the hundreds of beautiful specimens in the garden this is no easy task.

I was surprised to see so many azaleas blooming in the garden. I knew rhododendrons are deer resistant but it surprised me to learn that her azaleas thrive also . Colly grows Encore azaleas that bloom continually throughout the season. They border all the garden paths and this first flush of flowers was spectacular.

She has an Iceberg rose intertwined with a Jackmanii clematis. The buds of the clematis were not quite open but I can imagine how stunning this purple and white combination will be. I love Iceberg roses. They scent the air with honey and vanilla. Colly doesn't worry about pruning the clematis according to the book. She "leaves it alone" and from the looks of the many buds about to burst with color it's doing just fine.

Another gardening tip Colly shared with me is her use of bungee cords to quickly hold up a plant until she has the time to tie it up properly. She buys 5 of these cords for a dollar and swears by their usefulness.

We stopped to admire a Cherokee Brave dogwood in full bloom. Underneath,  blue violet columbines covered the ground. As they reseed the patch grows larger and larger. The blue and pink made a breathtaking  combination blooming at the same time.

As we strolled through the garden I saw many other plants happily growing in spite of the deer. Fragrant daphne, fuchsia thymifolia, Australian fuchsia, Jack Frost brunnera, Mt. Tamboritha grevillea, lily-of-the-valley and Cape plumbago were all untouched. It surprised me to hear that she is replacing a large stand of white rockrose with Kaleidescope abelia. Seems her deer loved this rockrose and "ate it to the ground". Go figure about rockroses. Along her road there were lots of the dark pink variety not even nibbled in the slightest.

We finished our tour at the new sitting area she has created to enjoy with her husband in the evening. I'm sure it's the perfect way to end the day.

Progating Heirloom Veggies, Fruit Trees & Christmas trees

‘Tis the season. No, not that season but the time to propagate and increase the number or your plants. Maybe you want to save seed from your heirloom vegetables or start more shrubs inexpensively. How about getting more fruit trees or even trying your hand at starting your own Christmas tree?

Let’s start with saving seed. When your vegetables start to produce this summer, you may want to save some of the seed of plants that produced the best-tasting, earliest ripening fruits. These will be strains that are particularly adapted to our climate.

You can only save seed from open-pollinated varieties– those vegetables that are bee or wind pollinated. All . You cannot save seed from F1 hybrids as their unique traits, such as specific disease resistance and early maturity, are uniform only in the first generation of seed. Seed saved from hybrids they will not come true when replanted.

Hybrids have their place in the garden especially if you have a very short or cool season, not many hours of sunlight as you’d like or a serious nematode problem.

If you enjoy saving seed, it’s fun to identify your best plants to save and use every season. Become a backyard breeder and develop your own unique cultivars for your garden.

Propagating fruit trees involves more than saving seed because 99% of all seedling trees bear fruit inferior to that produced by the parent. It may be the same species but it is unlike that of the parent in flavor, color and date of ripening. To obtain a true-to-type fruit tree that is a clone of the parent tree, it is necessary to graft or bud on a desired rootstock. The graft wood, called a scion, should be collected in January so you have lots of time to ask the neighbor for a small, pencil-thin branch of their peach tree to add to yours or to get a branch grafted onto your tree that would pollinate your cherry, apple or whatever you might need. You can even graft different trees together if they are compatible such as an apricot on plum rootstock or almond on peach.

Mid-July to early September is the best time to propagate broadleaf evergreen shrubs. The growth flush is complete, the wood is firm and the leaves have matured. Using cuttings 3-6" long and rooting hormone they will root in 4-6 weeks. Ceanothus, manzanita and camellia are just a few of the shrubs that can be rooted this way.

And what about those visions of starting your own Christmas tree? It’s difficult to start a tree from a cuttings unless it’s a very fresh cut tree and the cutting is taken from currents seasons growth near the base of the plant. Most evergreen trees used for cut Christmas trees start their lives from seeds. These seedlings grow 1-2 ft in a year or two. After transplanting, they become 6 footers in 5-8 years. So if you are patient you can grow your own from one of those started seedlings. Doug fir, Scotch pine and Noble fir are popular varieties.

There are so many types of plants and methods to increase your collection. Perennials, houseplants, berries and grapes all lend themselves to propagation. I f you have a favorite plant or just want to increase your plants inexpensively there’s a way to do it. 

Great Shrubs-not the ‘usual suspects’

Everybody has them. Some are burgundy, while some are variegated with fragrant flowers. I’m talking about shrubs that provide reliable good looks without a lot of work. Plants that have high impact, are low maintenance and contribute year-round interest should be the stars of your garden. Perennials are pretty but shrubs provide long term beauty without all the work. Here are some shrubs that I use often in designs. Shrubs I couldn’t live without.

Shrubs can be problem solvers. Let’s say you have a bare spot between you and the neighbor next door. The neighbor is nice and all but still you’d rather they didn’t look right into your kitchen window. You want a shrub with some pizazz as you will see it daily when you’re doing dishes. You’d like something different than the usual suspects for screening.

A wonderful plant for this spot would be Lophomyrtus Sundae. This evergreen, myrtle relative grows in full sun or partial shade and requires only moderate watering. Showy, creamy variegated leaves on burgundy stems make this narrow 8-12 ft tall by 4-8 ft wide shrub really stand out in the border. Small white summer flowers are an added bonus.

Need a fast growing, deer resistant, drought tolerant evergreen shrub for a sunny spot? Luma apiculata reaches 6-8 ft tall in no time and can even be trained as a small tree. Dense, deep green leaves, beautiful smooth bark and white to pinkish late summer flowers all make this plant valuable in the landscape. Birds will like the blue-black, half inch fruits although they are not especially tasty to us.

What tolerates considerable shade, blooms with fluffy yellow flowers that smell like chocolate or vanilla and is dense enough to make a good screen or informal hedge?  Azare dentata grows to 15 ft tall, 12 feet wide and can also be trained as a small tree if you want. It would combine well with other tall shrubs in the shady border like Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, podocarpus Maki, hydrangea, Japanese aucuba, mahonia and rhododendron.

Another shrub to ignite a border with smoldering shades of burgundy and purple is the Royal Purple smoke bush. Their stems grow straight up which makes them a useful addition to any border in need of diverse forms. Growing up to 15 ft tall and wide, you can keep this drought tolerant plant in check by cutting back hard each spring after the first leaves break out. They will send up new growth year after year. If left unpruned, wispy, smoky flower clusters appear in spring. Even the youngest specimens turn a striking burnished orange-red in fall. They grow in full sun or partial shade.

There are so many  interesting, easy to grow shrubs. Any one of these will earn its keep with good foliage, interesting form and low maintenance.