Articles on Gardening
One of the fun aspects of being a professional garden addict is testing out plants. I recently was offered the opportunity to test out three new varieties of carpet roses developed by Tesselaar plants. This is an international grower headquartered in Australia with the U.S. head office located in California. It’s easy to forget that all those lovely plants you buy at your favorite garden center were sought out from native plants discovered growing in some part of the world, tested and often bred for more reliable and showy performance, then trialed over and over for years by breeders and other experts until they are finally produced in large enough numbers to be sold to the public. Testing can continue even after being released to market.
When I received my three carpet roses to test, I was pleasantly surprised to see how strong and healthy they were when they arrived by mail, packaged in clear plastic bags. They were good size, well rooted and in excellent condition. Many shipped plants arrive looking less than their best and I was pleased to see robust plants to test. The roses also came with complete and thorough instructions – including several packets of rose food. I was given every opportunity for success. My plants were the Flower Carpet® Amber, Scarlet, and Pink Supreme varieties and I chose a part of my garden where each of the colors would blend well with existing plantings.
I’m not doing a scientific testing (as growers do), but take the role of the average home grower. Since working with living things is never an exact science, I like to choose a variety of locations in my garden to see which plants are happiest where. Plants are living things and each is an individual so there will always be some variability and there can always be an issue with the spot chosen – a nibbling underground pest or a spot of previously damaged soil. That’s why it’s important to test samples in slightly different areas to get a better read on how happy that plant will be in your landscape.
Following proper instructions each plant was set into an ample hole, bare roots spread around a cone of soil inside the hole, filled and watered thoroughly. Soaking the bare roots of the plant before planting and keeping soil regularly moistened after planting are essential to success. Here you can see the process of planting.
Early spring is the best time for planting, but these carpet roses can be planted pretty much year round in warmer climates and during frost-free months elsewhere. They are very versatile plants; adaptable, neat, disease resistant, long flowering, low–growing (2 -3 feet tall), easy to care for (no fussy pruning) and drought-tolerant. When I design gardens, I want to know I am selecting not only the best look for the effect I want, but choosing plants that the homeowner will find easy to maintain.
It’s been only two months, but the Amber are already well leafed out and bushy. They should be flowering shortly. The pinks are also doing well with one a bit smaller after being pruned by an unwelcome rabbit. The Scarlet have been much slower than the other two varieties, but are finally beginning to leaf out.
All roses were planted in similar conditions and similar exposures. All six plants arrived in fine condition so it seems the color variety does make a difference. I will be interested in seeing if the speed of settling-in remains consistent with the quality of mature growth. I’ve found sometimes a slow starter can make up for lost time once it’s established.
The fact that all the carpet roses are doing fine leads me to feel the testing of these Tesselaar plants has been a resounding success. As a landscape designer, that means I can feel confident about designing the Flower Carpet® Amber, Scarlet, and Pink Supreme roses into my client’s gardens.
Look for these super plants at your favorite garden center, home stores and regional chains.
One very popular style of gardening all over the world is the “English garden”. An English garden is simply a garden that is designed to look like it grows in the British Isles. The usual image is either of a somewhat wild, flower-filled cottage garden, or a carefully manicured formal estate garden. You can design an English garden along either of these lines. To get the effects you want, choose plants, materials and decor that not only follows the theme, but will do well in your own backyard climate. Immitate the effect you want but adapt it to the local environment for ease of maintenance.
For a cottage garden, plan an informal design.
Choose plants that mix mounding, sprawling and vertical growth habits and offer plenty of colorful flowers or foliage. Again, make sure these plants will do well in your own garden or you will have to continually replace dead or poor performers. Set plants closely so they form big garden bouquets rather than singly with space in between. When planting young plants, leave space for them to grow and fill in the surrounding area with annuals that will provide temporary fullness.
Add one or more of these features:
- Meandering pathway
- White picket fencing
- Stacked stone walls
- Rustic Bench
- Stepping stones
- Cottage styled shed
Go more stately for a formal English design.
Ssketch out a design that is more controlled, with well defined edgings, neat lawns and optional symmetrical or geometrical layouts. Set plants neatly in groups of the same color or habit of growth so the effect is like painting larger swathes of color or neat outlines. Keep trees and shrubs properly pruned or clipped into shapes.
Add one or more of these features:
- A formal gazebo
- A knot or herb garden
- Wrought iron or cement bench
- A formal sculpture, fountain or topiary
- Big classic pots or urns
Other things you can do in either kind of English garden is to construct a ‘garden within a garden’. Add a rose garden or an herb garden as a special area either enclosed by fencing, shrubs or delineated with an edging in a private part of your garden.
Surrounding gardens look good filled with typical English garden plants like these:
- bellis daisy
If you live where conditions are not ideal for these plants, look for locally happy plants that have similar looks. Most of the short-lived annual plants will grow in a wide range of climates since they will only last for the spring or summer seasons anyway. But make sure you give plants the soil, sun or shade that will allow them to thrive.
A good mix of permanent features (hardscape) and living plants (softscape) garnished with some English garden decor should turn your landscape into the kind of English garden you will enjoy using for yourself, your family and your friends.
Old windows can be difficult to throw away. They are dangerous for landfills and awkward to move. But there are better ways to use those unwanted windows. Here are some suggestions how you can use old windows to create a more beautiful and useful landscape.
- Integrate the windows into outdoor walls for a look-through effect.
- Hang windows from an overhead beam to build an ‘invisible wall.
- Use old windows to construct a glassed-in patio.
- Construct a cold frame with old windows like a mini-greenhouse.
- Create a fence or gateway with a single window that can be slid back and forth on a track. Be very careful with this design idea. It should only be used in an area where there is little or no possibility of breakage. Toughened or tempered glass is best to use. Covering the glass with a screen of metal or other material is a good idea to make the glass visible and to contain any pieces should the glass breakage.
- Paint a used window with stained glass paint and hang it as an ornamental panel.
Always be careful when working with glass. Wear gloves and move carefully. All panels should be set in securely to frames and flimsy frames should be reinforced. Make sure any structure you build is easily seen (remember glass is supposed to be transparent!), and firmly attached to any and all supports.
Whether you are cleaning up your home or working on renovations, old windows can be bulky and awkward to handle. Use some of these suggestions to recycle windows creatively in your garden. You can turn trash into gold and make your landscape a work of art.
Can you come up with some ideas of your own to turn old windows into design elements rather than waste junk?
Despite the odd and changeable weather all over the globe, spring is coming and the gardening season is beginning. Every year there are new gardeners who discover the magic of growing and experienced gardeners who renew their fascination by trying new plants, products or designs. Novice, expert or anyone between, of all the different kinds of gardening possible growing edibles seems to be going viral for everyone.
Vegetables, fruits and herbs offer not only opportunities to experiment with gardening, but can be decorative and pay back with healthy, tasty food. Whether you grow your edibles in a small container, in a raised garden, integrate them in a flower bed or design a whole edible front yard, fruits and vegetables are showing off everywhere with the flexible roles and big payback they offer in today’s landscape.
One of the most common concerns I hear from gardeners is that they won’t be able to grow fruits, vegetables or herbs if they don’t have a planting area with full sun. “I don’t have a lot of sun. Can I grow vegetables and fruits anyway?” I’m asked. Happily, the answer is that you probably can.
A rule of thumb is that most edibles grown for edible flowers and fruits will need plenty of sun: tomatoes, squash, melons, peas, etc. Those grown for foliage and roots: spinach, rhubarb, beets, carrots and lettuce, for example, are more tolerant of shade.
The brighter the light and, of course, the more sun, the better. If you live in a very hot summer climate, many edibles – even the sun-lovers – can appreciate some relief from scalding sun. Last year a particularly hot summer week burnt most of my vegetables badly.
A little shade would have rescued them. But deep shade can be more difficult for growing fruits and vegetables even in hot areas.
Check out your growing space and find the brightest spot for growing your edible plants. A half day of sun or even some speckled shade will usually produce adequate leaf and root crops. Many herbs are also happy with less sun. Growing fruits and vegetables is so rewarding it’s worth at least giving it a try – even if you don’t have a lot of sun.
When I was young, I remember my mother wandering around the house burbling “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is”. Well, spring is springing and the grass is rising. Some gardens across the country are budding out with flower color. But do you know where the best flowers can be found? Check out the flower and garden shows. These are blossoming all over the country in late winter and early spring. There are local shows and big national shows. If you want to get your imagination revved up for the spring, this is where to get the very best ideas for what you can grow and how to grow it in your own garden.
I had the honor of doing a couple of seminars at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show — the third largest show in the world — at the end of February. The demo gardens were breath-taking. (Those are the photos I’m including in this article.) There were hundreds of booths with products and information brimming into the labyrinth of isles. And, yes, there were plenty of bargains to be found, too. You could find art for garden or walls, rare and fun plants, imaginative decor and furniture, the latest in ecological garden innovations, and a plethora of handy tools, foods and other items to make your garden thrive. Most of all there was an endless stream of information about anything you could ever want to know about gardening and landscaping. And creative ideas galore.
I know the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is coming up at the San Mateo Event Center on March 20th – 24th, and the Southern California Spring Flower and Garden Show at the South Coast Plaza in Orange County on April 25th to 28th. (Okay, admittedly I’m speaking at these, too.) There are also shows large and small in the East, the Midwest and all over the country this spring. If you really want to know how ‘You Can Grow That’ and spend a delightful day wandering through a magical world of all the garden can offer, check out the flower and garden shows in your area. Most are well publicized and all can be found quickly online.
If you love gardening, you simply can’t miss checking out whatever shows are in your area. Chances are you’ll have a fun-filled day and leave with an armful of plants, trinkets and treasures and a head brimming with new ideas for your home garden.
Spring bulbs in the garden
Here’s a little video showing you some of the smaller, early spring bulbs blooming in the garden. These bulbs were planted in the autumn to bloom in late winter or early spring. The ones shown here are Iphion, Oxalis, and Narcissus (Daffodils). There are hundreds more you can plant depending on the color, height and habit of growth you want.
Design with bulbs in masses to make a bold statement, spot them between other plants for color and texture, or naturalize the smaller varieties in lawns where they can create an informal look. Although bulbs tend to bloom for a relatively short time, you can find so many different varieties that you can keep them blooming throughout the growing season. As these early bulbs come into flower, you can start planting bulbs to bloom later in the growing season.
In areas where moles and gophers are a problem, plant your bulbs in wire baskets for protection. If squirrels tend to dig up your bulbs, lay some metal hardware cloth or chicken wire over the top as a flat piece until the new growth starts to grow through the holes. You can then lift the protection off. Most squirrels and other diggers (including cats) will be discouraged by the wire.
Bulbs give some of the showiest displays of flower in the plant kingdom. They are easy to plant and grow. If clumps become over-crowded, simply pull some of them up with a fork and plant the divisions elsewhere.
Also consider some edible bulbs:
This is one of the best months for Southern Californians to get outdoors and get gardening. School’s getting out, summer heat hasn’t fully arrived and the longest days for garden work happen in June. Here’s a quick to-do list of some of the things you can get to work on this month.
- Real estate prices are likely to take their time coming back in most parts of Southern California, so why not make your home a comfortable place to ride out the economic woes. June is a perfect time to add some comforts to your garden. Consider adding a swimming pool, a barbecue area for entertaining, or a golf putting green for practice in your own backyard.
- With all the rain we got this year, it could be a serious year for wildfires. So get out there and clean weeds, gutters and cut back branches that come too close to the house.
- Enjoy the cooler weather for digging and planting. Soon it will be hot for both you and new plants making the job that much more difficult. This could be a great year for adding a raised vegetable garden if you don’t already have one.
- You can still seed root crops like beets and radishes, beans, corn, squash (for later season cropping) and some of the hot-climate spinach substitutes like Malabar spinach. Slow-growing edibles like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are best set out as small plants in June.
- Pay attention to water. The drought may officially be over, but our water bills are going up anyway. Efficient watering and drought-resistant planting will save you maintenance labor as well as money on your water bill.
- Save lugging waste into bins by building a compost heap. You can construct your own or buy one ready-made.
- If you do have a vegetable garden, check over fruits and vegetables daily for anything that is ready to crop and for incipient signs of insect infestation or disease. Supplement with hand watering and spray any insect invaders hard when watering to dislodge them. Insecticidal soap should handle remaining pests.
- Re-set sprinkler systems and check for low-volume and drip irrigation alternatives. Consider installing smart irrigation controllers to take the guess work out of watering.
- Check ponds and fish regularly. Spring is when disease is most likely as the water warms and fish become more active. Treat at the first sign of white spots, lesions or parasites.
- Consider redesigning your landscape or reducing lawns for lower water consumption. Check into artificial lawns before buying. There are pros and cons you might not know. And consider re-designing lawn so you get the most out of what you have and make the rest of your property more productive and attractive.
- What about starting a cutting garden? Grow your own cut flowers rather than buying them.
Enjoy the few days when June gloom creeps this far inland! Summer heat is coming!
The wild cucumber (Marah fabaceus fabaceus) is an enthusiastic native plant that happily covers any large object it can ramble over. It will scale trees, smother sheds and carpet the ground with its fast-growing wiry stems. The plant sends out curly tendrils to attach to anything within its grasp. And after showing off its clusters of white flowers, the wild cucumber will explode into bright green porcupine like inedible cucumber fruits. Explode is a good word for this plant as these fruits can burst open and shoot out the seeds. The wild cucumber survives extreme heat and drought by growing huge underground roots often referred to as ‘man roots’ due to their size. If you want one growing in your wildflower garden, just be sure you like the location. Once established, digging out that root is a major project! The Marah fabaceus fabaceus is native only to Southern California.
The wild cucumber is not edible (though looking at the spiny fruit, I don’t suspect many people would find it tempting, anyway).
This is a lush, green shrub that will only take light frost. But if you live in a warm sunny climate where you only get mild frosts occasionally in the winter then you can grow the ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant. It will not only catch the attention of passers-by when it flowers in three stages of flower colors, but it can be kept trimmed to offer handsome green in either a semi-formal or informal garden. The Latin name for this fascinating bush is Brusfelsia pauciflora.
The Yesterday Today and Tomorrow is a plant with glossy leaves that grows to about three feet tall. It likes a rich soil, but is tolerant of a wide range of less than ideal soils. It is mildly drought tolerant but prefers regular water with good drainage. Give it full sun except in hot desert areas when some shade would be in order.
The plant gets its name from its changing flowers that were deep purple ‘yesterday’, lavender ‘today’ and finish white ‘tomorrow’. These sizable open-faced flowers fill this evergreen bush during its long blooming period with three different colored blooms all at once.
The Yesterday Today and Tomorrow bush is not difficult to grow and blends in well with other plants. Use it in a cool-colored garden with blues, purples, pinks and whites, or use it for contrast with bright colors. It also fits in nicely with pastel shades. Although the plant looks best trimmed lightly with a slightly rangy habit of growth, it will accept more harsh, formal shearing, but you are likely to remove the best attributes of the plant – those multi-colored flowers – if you insist on cutting it back this way. There are plainer shrubs that would probably be a better choice for this kind of highly controlled treatment. Instead, use the Brunsfelsia paudiflora where it can show off its unique beauty in a natural-looking border, as a backdrop for other flowers or a stand-alone focal point. The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush is also an excellent choice as a specimen plant to grow in a container.
For a number of years, rosemary Christmas trees have become popular as replacements for the traditional Christmas tree. Little wonder the idea works well: these plants are small and fit comfortably on a tabletop, smell delightful, are studded with little blue flowers, and you can even pinch off a few leaves for seasoning tasty dishes in the kitchen.
But a rosemary Christmas tree is not a tree at all. It is simply a carefully pruned shrub. So, unlike the living Christmas tree bought in a large pot, it will not grow into a tree if planted outdoors. It will also be difficult to keep in a neat, conical shape over the coming year so you can use it again next year. You can do it, if, after the holiday season is over, you grow it on by placing it outdoors in full sunshine and make sure you keep it carefully pruned on a monthly basis. It will essentially be a topiary in a pot like a boxwood or other sculpted shrub.
On the other hand, rosemary makes a wonderful sprawling shrub for a sunny part of the garden where the soil is not too rich and you have excellent drainage. You can grow it outdoors in a large pot in full sun if you don’t have the proper drainage, soil, sun, or protection from hard frost in the garden itself.
During the holiday season give your rosemary Christmas tree the brightest window you have for good light. Don’t over-water. Let the soil dry fully down to an inch or two before watering again. Use a tray beneath to catch water when it drains through but don’t leave the pot standing in water.
After the holidays, set your rosemary Christmas tree outdoors in a shaded area for a week or two before moving it into sun if you are going to grow your rosemary on outside. If you live where winters are likely to fall below the 20′s Fahrenheit, you will have to keep the rosemary indoors in the sunniest spot you can find until temperatures outside warm in the spring.
Rosemary is a natural shrub with a somewhat sprawing habit. It accepts some severe pruning when it is young, but as it grows, it becomes woody and rangy. Enjoy your young plant as a Christmas tree, then let it grow on to its natural form. Rosemary is not only an attractive evergreen shrub, but it is perfect in the herb garden. Snip off branches to make pot-pouries, add to sachets or collect leaves to season meats, potatoes or other favorite dishes year round.
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