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It’s Raining!

March has definitely come in like a Lion! It was iffy for a while when we went a few weeks without rain and the temperatures were up to 70 degrees F! What this means is that we will have a beautiful blooming Spring!
In my area of Northern California historically (the last few years anyway), we’ve had a short spring and then we are blasted into summer…a long, hot, dry summer.
Our summers have NO rainfall. What does this mean? It means that if you want a colorful landscape you’ll need to use shrubs and perennials that not only can take the heat, but enjoy it! Which plants are these? Some of the plants that I use again and again are: Crape Myrtles – which come in ALL sorts of sizes so check the container to make sure you are buying the appropriate size for your planting area; Palo Verde (Cercidium), native to the Southwest, Kniphofia – Red Hot Pokers; different types of Yucca, dwarf Agaves, Achillea (Yarrow), Lavender, Rosemary, Rudbeckia – Black-Eyed Susans, Penstemon, Echinacea, Ground Cover Roses, Santolina, Abelia (I like using ‘Kaleidoscope’); some of the Carex grasses: ‘Frosty Curls’ Bronze, Comans, Buchaneii’; and just about all of the ornamental grasses. This is just a partial list, I have not mentioned the evergreen screening shrubs. But it possible to have an English Garden look in the dry heat of summer when you choose the right plants!
Now is the time – while it’s raining and wet outside, to browse your plant books and start making lists of plants and combinations. When spring comes you’ll be ready to go!

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Compost tea


Soil is the key to the life of your garden or landscape. As a landscape designer, I don’t have to time to do soil tests on my individual client’s soil… and normally my client’s don’t either. When it comes time for the new plants to be planted, the contractor brings in a soil/compost planting blend to give the plants a good start. But what about after that? Years down the line? How do you add back into the soil the nutrients that the plants have absorbed? You do it by composting and mulching. A year ago I bought a leaf chipper and it’s the most wonderful way to recycle all of those fall leaves! Imagine: these trees spread their canopies of leaves over our heads and homes protecting us from the heat of summer and also providing shelter for birds and small animals. In the fall, the leaves dry and fall…and if you gather them and chip them, they work again by adding nutrients back into the soil! It’s the perfect recycle system!
Recently I read about Sherilyn Powell’s Compost Tea. She is based in Los Angeles and has a service that services folk’s soil, and she is does it with compost tea. Want to find out more about this? Her website is: Above is an article she wrote about what is in the soil…all the little helpers that make your garden soil healthy! Just click on ‘Soil’.

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Another Before & After

Imagine your landscape looks like the first photo. You drive up every day to this patch of grass and a tree, a couple of shrubs. Every weekend you haul out the lawnmower (or have your mow and blow guy come by). It’s not very inspiring, but you do it to keep things maintained. Now look at the second photo…color, texture, birds, butterflies! The landscape changes with the seasons. The maintenance is some pruning a few times a year and a periodic checking of the drip system. It’s beautiful and inspiring. When you drive up to your home and see something inspiring instead of something that’s just there to maintain, something wonderful happens…inspiration works on many levels; let’s say that you’re not be in a great mood, but then you pull up and see the beauty of nature – in your OWN yard. Now that’s something that is not quantifiable! By making the change from lawn to no-lawn, you’ll not only be conserving water, creating a new habitat for the local flying habitat, but it will make you FEEL GOOD!

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Before & After

Let’s study the before picture…the yard is narrow and deep. The door that you can see in the photo is a second unit. When I was asked to do a drought tolerant landscape design for this house (and granny unit), my client wanted something with color but was easy to maintain. She wanted to create a natural border between her and her rental unit. The focus from her living room became the Basalt fountain in the foreground. This type of fountain is my favorite…the water recirculates from a basin below ground, is covered by a screen, and cobbles hide the basin and pump. Whether you use drilled stones, pottery or build a natural waterfall, having a below-ground basin is much easier to maintain. Very little light penetrates to the water below, so growing algae is not a problem. Also, there is no standing water, which means that mosquitos are not a problem either! The top dressing, instead of bark, is a small type of crushed rock. It sits on top of weed fabric, and the overall effect is not only clean looking,  but the plant’s roots stay cool and moist in the soil, plus the rock can easily be blown with a blower to clean up fall leaves, without the stones blowing away too!

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What to do in fall/winter

Showing these pictures is like showing you a picture of myself when I first get out of bed…not pretty!

This is what my garden looks like at the moment; it’s fall and we’re heading into winter. So what’s to do in the garden?

There are two main pushes in the garden for me: Fall and Spring. It’s fall that I’d like to speak about now. Preparing your garden for winter is like getting a child ready for bed; you make sure they are bathed, teeth brushed, pajamas on, and then the bedtime story and off to sleep. In the morning the hope is that they are refreshed and ready for the day. With the garden, there are many perennials who have blossomed and shined, and now have dried stalks and bases that need cutting back. Ornamental grasses will need hair cuts as well (make sure they are all straw-colored before you cut). After you do the major pruning and cleaning (roses will wait until January for their cutting), I usually prune back shrubs that have gotten too big. Next I deal with the weeds, and when everything is clean and cut, I spread mulch, in this case I’m using the leaves that have fallen that I have shredded, to blanket them, and tuck everything in for a winter’s sleep. I know that by taking care of the garden like this, it will awaken again in the spring happy and healthy!

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My Favorite Drought Tolerant Plants…

Many years ago I created a list of the plants that I use most often in my landscape designs. When I design a landscape, I need to make sure that the plants I choose will thrive in our climate and region. Some of the plants on this list would not be considered ‘drought tolerant’, and yet they survive with the heat and cold and thrive on a drip irrigation system. I use combinations of these plants over and over again, creating a bold, textured, sustainable palate.
It’s amazing how, when these plants are planted, immediately butterflies and other insects are attracted to them!
It’s time to make the change with our landscapes…and here are some wonderful plants that thrive in our California climate!

Silver Color

Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’/Silver Mnd.
Cerastium – Snow in Summer
Convolvulous – Bush Morning Glory
Grevillea ‘Penola’
Lavender – all types
Santolina – chamaecyparis
Senecio cineraria
Stachys – Lamb’s Ear

Non-deciduous shrubs

Agapanthus – all varieties
Callestemon – ‘Little John’
Cistus – Rock Rose
Coleonema – all types
Correa – Australian Fuschia
Dietes – Fortnight lily
Euphorbia – all varieties
Grevillea – all varieties
Helianthemum – Sunrose
Hemerocallis – Day Lily (there are evergreen varieties)
Pittosporum – all types
Santolina – Viridis
Zauschernia – California Fuschia

Perennial Color

Achillea – Yarrow
Anigothanzthus – Kangaroo Paws
Brachycome – Swan River Daisy
Coreopsis – all types
Echinacea – Purple Cone Flower
Erigeron – Santa Barbara Daisy
Ground Cover Roses
Kniphofia – red Hot Poker
Nepeta – Catmint
Perovska – Russian Sage
Rudbeckia – Black-Eyed Susan
Salvia – ‘Hot lips’ ‘Maynight’, etc.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Shasta Daisy

Ground Cover

Arctostaphylos – ‘Emerald Carpet or Uva Ursi Cotoneaster – prostrate varieties
Delosperma ‘Cooperii’ Erigeron – Santa Barbara Daisy
Gazania – trailing types Ground Cover Roses
Juniperous ‘Wiltonii’ & other prostrate varieties Myoporum
Rosemary – prostrate varieties Thymus – Thyme
Verbena – ‘Tapien’


Aloe Vera Echeveria – Hens & Chicks
Agave ‘Paryii’ Sedum ‘Autmn Joy’, ‘Angelina’,
Agave ‘Americana’ – Dwarf varieties ‘Dragon’s Blood & ‘Cape Blanco’
Sempervivum – check on cold hardiness (916) 485-4769

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Before & After

I love transforming a yard…look at the before photos. Imagine coming home each day and walking the narrow concrete path and stepping up the dull concrete steps. And then look at the after photos…the concrete walk is gone and a flagstone path that is gently curved now takes you to the door. The steps are beautifully curved and also of flagstone. There is a new small courtyard area and a water feature, and now the entry to your home is peaceful, colorful, and a joy to be in!


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Vines in the Garden

Hey look!

…Thumbing through the new September Sunset Western Garden magazine I read an article (page 54) addressing readers’ questions regarding vines that can be planted near the house, and lo and behold, a picture of my very own rose arching over my front door was pictured!

I have a few thoughts on vines:

First of all, the rose over my front door is a Cecil Brunner. It is lovely when it blooms, really showy, but it only blooms once a year in the spring. During the rest of the year I have to prune back the new wandering branches and stocks as they will completely obstruct my entry if I let them! But this rose is merely child’s play when it comes to vines. For instance – Wisteria, Trumpet Vine (Campsis Radicans), Passion Flower (see picture), Ipomea (Morning Glory) and the Lady Banks Rose can all grow 30 feet high or wide! Be careful not to plant them close to other trees because they will climb and overtake their foliage.

Wisteria will eventually grow a trunk the size of a tree, as will the Trumpet vine. Make sure that you have strong supports, and preferably metal (any wood support will eventually rot, not to mention it’s practically impossible to manage with vines growing on it).

Ipomea, or Morning Glory, is beautiful in bloom but it will go dormant in the winter, looking weedy and dead. Also once you have it watch out – it’s hard to get rid of!

Great all ‘round vines are: Solanum jasminoides (potato vine), Hardenbergia and many of the Jasmines. Carolina jasmine too, but keep in mind that this vine gets very big and full – make sure you have enough space.




Trumpet Vine

Ladybanks Rose