Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Garden Designers Roundtable: Top Landscape Plants

Welcome to this month's Garden Designers Roundtable, where we are talking about the plants that we turn to again and again in our designs. My working palette is pretty vast, but these are the ones special enough to be used in my personal gardens as well.

Easily the most-used small tree in my repertoire is Arbutus 'Marina' a hybrid of our native Madrones. This was the first thing I planted in my last garden, and in four years that small shrub became this shapely specimen, with peeling red trunks, clean evergreen foliage and a long season of bloom. I also use it extensively in the standard form, and would love to see it used more as a street tree.

One of my favorite groundcovers under Arbutus is Elijah Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca). It appreciates a little shade and water to look its best; and makes a wonderful 18" mound of blue that is tough, soft, and looks great year round.

A good companion to blue fescue in a grassy landscape is the lovely Carex testacea. Its blades shift from olive green to coppery orange and back again throughout the year. This one will reseed freely if you don't keep its long flowing seed stems trimmed; you've been warned!

Soft, friendly Coleonema 'Sunset Gold' looks great planted near orange sedge; its golden plumes (and in the spring, small pink flowers) are a bright spot in any garden; it needs sun for best color.

A relatively new addition to my palette is Dianella; I use several varieties, like this Dianella caerulea (Blue Flax Lily). It's wonderful in a pot and happy in those spots that aren't quite sun and not full shade. The little blue flowers on airy stems are charming.

Somewhere in the background of my gardens you might find Dodonea purpurea (Purple Hopseed Bush). I adore the deep burgundy of the leaves in winter, and the graceful shape of the leaves and stems. They tend to be a little shallow-rooted and can tip over in wet/windy weather; firmly staking them until they are past their youth will keep them safe. In time makes an interesting small tree.

I really appreciate plants that look great in winter and early spring, when the rest of the garden is resting. Euphorbias, like this "Helena's Blush" fill the bill nicely. I would use them even more if they didn't smell, well, stinky. Ah well, nobody's perfect!

Except, just maybe, Nandina 'Firepower' a short, large-leafed variety that is simply gorgeous all year round. Happiest in part shade, with just enough sun to bring out the peach, red and copper tones in the leaves. Doesn't need much water, stays compact, with no pests to speak of.

Another contender for little Mr. Perfect is this variety of Pittosporum tenuifolium called "Golf Ball." Naturally neat and compact, looks shiny perfect all year round with little or no pruning. Those black stems and soft green leaves are killer, and if I were to make a small hedge, THIS is what I would use...

...not this. I am not a fan of boxwood usually, but this is my bright, shining exception. I like to dot variegated English Boxwood around a landscape (often zig-zagging along a path at wide intervals). Their leaves have a particularly luminous quality that just lights up the place, especially in shade. It is slow growing, tough, and needs only an occasional pinch (never sheared, thank you) to look great.

And of course, Succulents are like sprinkles for the landscape...bright, colorful, sculptural, undemanding and now available in SO many varieties that the possibilities are endless. They are often that perfect missing color or texture, especially in dry corners.

So now you know my short list...but don't stop here! My fellow Garden Roundtablers are spilling their secrets too, including guest blogger Nan Ondra; such an honor to have her here today. Enjoy!

Nan Ondra : Hayefield : Bucks County, PA
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An EnSeven Kind of Spring...

YES, it's spring! The leaves on "my" Liquidambar tree are unfurling at a rapid pace. I recently played tree-hugger to make sure the company doing tree maintenance at my complex didn't remove these graceful branches that are the only thing between me and a blank stucco wall. The foreman was sympathetic, so no particular heroics were required...

Another sign of the season: Western Mourning Doves on the lookout for precarious and/or ridiculous places to make their nests. I love these birds; their plaintive call is part of the soundtrack of my life. But they haven't quite grasped the whole "location location location" idea yet...

Moving on down the food chain, I was delighted to see the Praying Mantis egg case that I brought from my house spring to life a couple of weeks ago. The infants kind of pour out the front enclosed in a protective shell, which they quickly wriggle out of. As the first-born get their bearings they can be seen hanging around waiting to make a snack out of their younger siblings! I dispersed a few around the balcony and will be interested to see if any of them hang around; they are very territorial and if happy will spend a whole lifetime in a single bush. Stay tuned...

This was the first spring in almost 25 years that I haven't had a garden to wake up and get ready for the season. It seems very strange. No piles of weeds to the compost pile, no prunings piled in the street, no mulch to buy, no heirloom tomatoes to covet. My big tasks were switching to a lighter throw for the love-seat and vacuuming the sisal rug. I didn't even need to get dressed for that, let alone put on sunscreen, gloves and hat. Strange, I tell you.

But still, there are delights. I love how this cutting of Corylus avellana 'Rote Zeller' (European Red-Leaf Filbert) from my friend Alice Joyce's garden is coming along; those pleated purple leaves! In the garden it would be a massive shrub; I will enjoy it on a smaller scale.

Talk about a great container plant for a shady garden; this Dianella caerulea (Blue Flax Lily) is evergreen, low-maintenance, and is just getting ready to bust out in luxurious bloom. It is a good choice for my balcony because it can take full shade to full sun; depending on the time of year (or the time of day) it can be either.

And of course, there are the succulents, like my favorite Aeonium 'Sunburst.' These are another kind of plant that does surprisingly well in part sun or shade; they will be looser and lankier with less sun, but no less pretty. I find their leaves stay fresher and they grow slower...both good attributes for a small-space garden. And in a low-light situation they need even less water.

This plump fellow has been growing in shade for several years with just an occasional sip of water. My kind of plant!

Dwarf jade plant (Crassula argentea 'Hobbit') is another sun to shade winner: growing about an inch a year it may reach an eventual height of 2 feet, maybe! As the sun gets higher my balcony will get shadier...it will be interesting to see what thrives this season. I don't really miss all the work of a big garden, really I don't. And it's nice to be able to concentrate on the small details of a more intimate space. Thanks for joining me...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wild Spring in Copperopolis

After a wonderful week working at the SF Flower & Garden Show, I went for a little R&R in a less accustomed direction (like, AWAY from the ocean). I needed a simpler, wilder landscape to rest my mind in for a bit, and I found it in Copperopolis.   (click any photo to enlarge)

Cool name, huh? The locals call it Copper. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this little corner of Gold Country was actually known for its thriving copper mines. Copperopolis was founded in 1860 and produced copper from the Civil War to World War II (the town boomed during wartimes due to the demand for munitions).

The mines closed in 1946, and this sleepy community tucked into gently curving oak woodlands two hours east of San Francisco is now largely a vacation/resort town for nearby Lake Tulloch; bustling in the summer, somewhat deserted in winter.

This is a fleeting season in the Sierra foothills, before the fresh greens of early spring turn to the dry golds of a hot summer. It is my favorite time, with all the promise of the season to come.

Two of my favorite things about this area are the fantastic rocks and the wonderful trees. Here fantastic meets wonderful in an interesting (if slightly disturbing) way.

Just your plain old everyday outcropping next to the driveway...

Well, hello little fella!

The view from the deck. Now, before you snort, that's NOT an overwatered fairway below. It's actually the aeration ponds and spray dispersal system used by the Copper Cove Water Treatment Plant (there are fairways nearby, though). As nice as any lake view, I think!

It was glorious to soak up the sun under broad, blue skies after a long, rainy winter. It felt just how this oak tree looks.

All lit up from inside.

Sun's going down...

More tomorrow!

Out for a morning walk to the lake; nice view of the distant Sierras near Yosemite National Park.

 I heart rocks!

Two undeveloped lots west of Lake Tulloch. Guess someone's been hitting the Round-Up pretty hard...

Well, hello deer!

Oak blossom.

Around the lake, the view is everything. And with many houses tucked together on narrow, sloping lots you need to get creative with space. I liked how this homeowner has turned a spot at the end of the driveway into an airy retreat for outdoor cooking and watching the boats go by...the fan and curtains are a nice touch!

 The colors of a California spring...

Back at the house I was reminded how much wild creatures enjoy a really good brush pile, like this cute yellow-rumped Warbler.

And this Western Bluebird.

And, another sunset means my short vacation is over. Time to go home. Thanks for joining me on another California adventure!