Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Discovering Kirby Park

A recent sunset at Kirby Park, which runs along the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, CA. So simple, so gorgeous, so peaceful...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Garden Designers Roundtable: Lawn Alternatives

Welcome to the Garden Designers Roundtable! This month's subject, "Lawn Alternatives" is near and dear to my heart, as my regular readers know! And a special welcome to our guests from the Lawn Reform Coalition, who are joining us today.

As usual, I'm being quite literal with this topic; drawing heavily from gardens I've designed for myself and others. What ARE the alternatives to a lawn? Got a minute? I'll toss you a few! Each example is a bit of garden that used to be (or could have been) a lawn.

Instead of a lawn, you could have a meditation garden with bamboo and a bubbling water feature. We're not against GRASSES you know!

You could have a vibrant, colorful front garden that the whole neighborhood adores. It's private without a fence, and requires only monthly maintenance to look wonderful.

How about a paved sitting area that nestles right up to the garden? I smile to think how many hours I spent in those chairs, talking into the night with friends and family. Not to mention tiptoeing out to catch the sunrise with my first cup of tea.

If your lawn is on an awkward slope, you could turn it into a terrace for dining or sitting by the fire. Surrounded by garden on all sides, this adds valuable living space, especially on a small lot.

This creekside clearing could have been a patch of lawn, but how much nicer to have a dining room with a huge plank table? No need to worry about too much shade, damage from furniture (or to it).

Instead of a front lawn you could add layers of interest with ornamental AND edible plants (yes, those are artichoke leaves!)

Or a kitchen garden in a sunny spot, with herbs, espaliered fruit trees, and flowers. Raised beds make raising healthy veggies easy when space is limited.

A healthy lawn needs sun. Without a lawn, you can turn a hot, dry corner of your garden into a shady oasis. Think about it! On a hot day I'd like to be sitting in this corner, not mowing it!

On the other hand, make use of the sunny spots you can reclaim: plant a rose garden!

Or a sea of thyme...

Or a sturdy border of hardy shrubs and grasses as a sidewalk buffer. Adding elements like a low wall and a curved fence (taking full advantage of a slight slope) breaks up larger expanses and gives structure and purpose to plantings.

The view from my old front porch. Before it was lawn down to the sidewalk. After it was a private garden centered around this water feature. I never missed the lawn for one moment.

So I guess what I'm saying is that your alternative to a lawn To garden, to live, to dream, to tuck your latest nursery treasures. You aren't limited to a 3' bed against the fence any more. Good design, thoughtfully applied, will give you so much more to work with. Where will you start? Which patch of scruffy green in your life is getting the stink-eye? What could go, right now? That's where you begin.

Thanks for visiting! But don't stop here, oh no. There is sooo much more, as the other Knights and Ladies of the Roundtable AND the Rock Stars from Lawn Reform Coalition have a few things to say as well:

Lawn Reform Coalition
Susan Harris : Garden Rant : Takoma Park, MD
Susan Harris : Gardener Susan’s Blog : Takoma Park, MD
Billy Goodnick : Cool Green Gardens : Santa Barbara, CA
Evelyn Hadden : Lawn Reform.Org : Saint Paul, MN
Saxon Holt : Gardening Gone Wild : Novato, CA
Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA
Ginny Stibolt : Florida Native Plant Society : Green Cove Springs, FL

Garden Designers Roundtable
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber : Bristol, UK
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden, Life, Home : Atlanta, GA

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Which Havoc is Wreaked Upon My Balcony Garden

Recently I was told to be careful about describing something as "blooming," because by doing so you must also see it as something ephemeral, destined to fade, sooner than later. So, given that life is ephemeral enough, it should really cease to amaze me when I lose a garden!

Last December, during the darkest days of the year, I moved into a lovely, sunlit apartment, and built a charming little balcony garden that was fun to write about. I love my apartment, and when I saw how bright it was during winter, I also knew how dark it would be in summer. I decided the trade was worth it. 

Sun in winter is a prize beyond measure for me. Total shade in summer is another thing; great for keeping things cool, difficult for plants. Things were starting to suffer a bit, inside and out. But it was still charming, and the ivy that I had twined around the railings was really taking off. And I had recently spotted a praying mantis, so my streak could hit its...12th year? 

Then the notice came that my apartment building was to be painted, and that everything would have to come off of my balcony for 2 weeks.


Everything. Into my dark, dark apartment. For two weeks. Coinciding with a busy, delightful visit from my daughter, who I see way too seldom, AND some new adventures. It was doomed...

To make matters worse, this came precisely at that time of year when I get bored with a garden anyway. I'd much rather think about going somewhere else and getting recharged by the change of scene.

So this garden is REALLY doomed. I'm not being melodramatic; the casualties are pretty severe. I won't even show you. Everything is sitting out there right now, wilting. The love seat is still in the living room. Only the truly stalwart will survive (I'll write about them, next time).

I've gotten pretty good at not getting attached to things or places. It's sad, but that's life. I prefer to focus on the opportunity that loss presents: to try again. Things are changing in interesting ways, please stay tuned!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Discovering The Pot Stop at Little Baja

For as long as I can remember there has been a big pottery yard in Moss Landing (on coastal Highway 1, about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey). It used to be called "Little Baja" and specialized in (you guessed it!) inexpensive pottery from Mexico. Current owners Bob and Polly have renamed it The Pot Stop, and created something quite remarkable; you will not find this particular mix of product anywhere else in the world.

That's not just hyperbole. Bob and Polly buy most of their pottery personally, rather than through a broker, and have many exclusive relationships that ensure you will ALWAYS find something unique here (and y'all know how much I like THAT!) I mean, just look. Water bearers, Buddhas, classical columns, a big stone shell and the promise of an endless aisle of more? Let me show you around...

Um, so really cool or just a little bit creepy? I think it's bothering me that they are missing their brains. What would you plant in this pot? Pittosporum Golfball would add a nice cranium (they are about two feet tall). Perhaps a bowler hat with a green apple on top...

Have you noticed how this narrow-necked urn shape isn't as common at many large pottery distributors? It's because you can't nest them, darling. If you are trying to fit as many pots as you can into a container, these things take up a lot of room. I supposed you could fill them with something else (I'll let you use your imagination here!) but suspect that most ship empty. I love these for fountains.

OK, these are new...and very interesting! Nice and architectural, love the two heights. Maybe on a Craftsman-style porch with a couple of matching Hinoki Cypress or something... everything about this; click to see the detail on those center pots with the shell pretty.

Look at those copper glazed pots. They are big. Just look at them. Near a pool? Are you with me? Planted with some choice Palm...

Those are my favorite brown bonsai-style pots in the back (the little feet make it SO much easier to install drip irrigation) and they come in some really interesting shapes. The urn in the foreground would look good all by itself in a meadow or shrubbery...

Killer water feature potential here...those ridges might do interesting things with the water as it flows down. But can we talk about the stink-eye imp from hell? It reminds me of something that Amanda Thompsen would have gladly used for gnome bowling, back in the day...

I know! I know!

So, a warning, as we reach the heart of the Pot Stop, things can start getting funky. Loved the red fountain on the green pedestal!

The Three Amigo Musketeer Mariachis?

"You can never have too many deities in the garden." I overhead this once at a nursery. You have to imagine it said in an impeccable, clipped Indian accent to get the full effect...

Even the local fauna are color coordinated (lucky shot, this was a loong zoom!)

I repeat, you can never have too many deities in the garden...

The fine folks at the Pot Stop can help you turn any of their pots into a fountain. These can be tricky, so let them help you with all the bits you need for a clean, low-maintenance installation.

The best advice I ever got about working effectively with exceptional pottery is to not be limited by what I can carry to the car by myself.
Go big or go home!
They deliver!

One last find; loved this beautiful modern interpretation of classic terra cotta. Lemon tree in that tall one, right?

This was fun! Thanks for joining me. Which are your favorites?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Redwood Grove Landscapes, Part 2

Just a few yards down the private drive from the garden in my last post is a newer garden that I was seeing for the first time at nicely-grown-in-maturity. It was a spectacularly moody day in late June, and little do you know, when you see the small moose guarding the entrance, what awaits you! (click any photo to see detail)

OK, it's just a simple side path from the driveway to the back garden. House on one side, tall wooden fence on the other. It's all in what you do with it, right? This is a textbook-perfect example of how I like to use Azara dentata. With form similar to a Japanese Maple, it's a natural small evergreen tree for narrow spaces. They are zig-zagged along the path, alternating with deciduous shrubs and trees.

A few steps in, looking back to the driveway, and the first of several interesting details within this space. My clients had several lovely, contemporary granite benches that had been used elsewhere; dispersed along the path (thick, stone steps and natural mulch) they lead the eye and provide private resting/viewing spots along the way.

From the end of the path you can better see the gentle slope it travels. Another Arbutus 'Marina' stands sentinel next to the final bench. Halfway up the path there's a third bench on the left, opposite a simple basin on the right. You can see the first bench in the distance.

Yes, this garden actual does have a lawn, but much reduced in size and appropriate water-use wise to to the rest of the garden, which is in cool, damp shade next to a creek, with a high water table. This isn't a particularly low-water landscape, mainly because redwood biomes are naturally moist environments.

Just beyond the edge of the lawn is a not-very-attractive sandbag retaining wall, marking a several foot drop to the creek bed below. Not wishing to fence (as their property partially includes the creek, which runs quite low in summer) we chose a mixed border of interesting plants, sturdy enough to protect from falls, and a nice addition to the landscape.

This is a good place to mention "borrowed" views...I mean, those trees on the opposite bank are as much a part of the experience of this garden as those in it, and they are stunning. The local homeowners have taken good care of their shared views.

The creek meanders on through the redwood grove, which is a public park and quite busy, so it was important to partially screen views all around to protect privacy; being able to do so and still feel so open and natural was the trick.

That is Cercis canadensis "Lavender Twist" by the way...a particularly sexy specimen that Sam found. Yes, she's fabulous. Cercis do very well in this garden, as you shall see.

Here's the long few (I don't give you many of these, do I? Trying to protect privacy!)

Just look at those redwoods. And there are mature pines and cedars as well. It's a shady, acidic, water loving little corner of the world. A second Arbutus mirrors the first one; strong evergreen elements guiding you across the lawn. Deciduous understory trees and shrubs enclose the space seasonally. They (and the lawn) get lots of morning sun; the garden is dappled for the rest of the day.

The big idea for this project was (again) adding a second stairway from the existing deck.  The one on the right is original, and connects to the lawn (which was the only real "garden" area there originally). My clients wished to incorporate the wilder area around the existing redwoods, which slopes gently down to the creek from the lawn, into their landscape. Since this spot is subject to flooding and the closest area to the public, it needed to be designed thoughtfully.

The second stairway connects them more directly with the new garden, improves traffic flow and ties the garden to the house. The generous planting beds along the deck overflow with hydrangea, dogwood,  fuchsia and dianella.

Because of the slope, an identical stairway needed one more step to reach grade. I love how Sam used a single, large slab here (and indeed, for all the steps in this garden) instead of just adding another wooden one. This spot is very energetic; all outdoor activity moves through here (including small children) so that it looks this good is impressive.

Looking closer you can see how blue Isotoma (Blue Star Creeper) is used between the stones. In the sunnier area near the lawn, it blooms a little more profusely, and blends nicely with Sedum 'Angelina' a favorite, bright accent. If there is any succulent that appreciates some water, it's sedum.

Looking down the hill toward the creek. There was a 2'-3' grade change from the bottom of the stairs to the level area along the creek bank; this short set of stone stairs is one of my favorite parts of the design. It just does so much. And the two Cercis 'Forest Pansy' planted on either side? Quite possibly the stars of today's show...

Here it is, looking up. I love slopes, don't you? I like looking for them (not always apparent to my eye, but I'm getting better) and working them into a design.

And again, I can't stress enough how wonderful it is to build a garden like this with a skilled contractor. I started as a self-taught home gardener, and didn't much venture beyond what I could do with hand tools when building my own gardens. So to have the full resources of a contractor, in terms of tools, equipment, labor, skill, etc. is a wonderful thing, and to be allowed a guiding hand in the building is a really great opportunity to own your design.

Plans can always be improved upon, and frequently are. In fact, I get a little nervous when there are no changes during a build...certainly there must be something we can improve on, now that we can see how everything comes together! This job was full of such subtle upgrades and details.

The lower patio, as I mentioned, is nestled in the bend of a creek. And you know what that means: if the levee breaks, you got nowhere to go. Er., I mean, it's a flood risk. The existing retaining walls help control that, and we reinforced the perimeter with field stones and a chunky split-rail fence (so far, so good!) The large flagstones are set in decomposed granite for stability, with a few creepers around the edges. Water running over them won't do much damage.

We chose not to do groundcover between the stones here for a couple of reasons: first it's a frequently used living area with furniture, firepit, and lots of foot traffic. And second, this moist, shady area wouldn't be improved by irrigating the patio. I loved to see how nicely the gorgeous trio of native Redbuds (Cercis occidentalis) had filled in.

Don't just stand there, all tall and majestic, do something! Putting two of the redwoods to work. Originally the swing faced the opposite direction; this works better with the new patio.

See? The bed behind it is planted with hydrangeas salvaged from the original landscape. I like how the layers of trees block the view of the neighbor's house, which used to be perfectly framed by these trees.

The patio is divided into sitting and dining areas. The huge plank table found by the client was perfect in scale and style for this area. And I wish I could take credit for the simple framing element created by two posts, two redwoods, some wire and exuberant vines (click the picture to see it better) but I fully approve, so that counts for something!

The client also conceived this functional chandelier hanging over the sitting area, yet another subtle 'roofing' element that brings this soaring environment down to human scale.

The patio circles around to a smaller set of stone steps that lead back up to the deck. A simpler path to the left connects to the side yard, which was also included in our design.

A simple stone path meanders through a mulched work/dog/play area that mimics (and includes) natural redwood litter. It never looks messy!

A neat sandbox (protected by screens) comfortable adult seating and plenty of storage make this an enjoyable and productive corner for the whole family.

Back up the slope to the steps, and we've come full circle. Many thanks to Sam Whitney of Samscaping Inc. who installed (and now maintains) this beautiful space. It is wonderful to see one's visions made real, even better to enjoy the finished product years later (the ultimate test!)

As small moose greeted us, so big moose says goodbye from her grazing spot in the garden. Thanks for visiting!