It was a fun Easter weekend with the kids, a happy dog, horses, calves & cows, chickens, Easter bunny, eggs and lots of flowers & veggies in the garden. Enjoy!
Our second class was about turf removal and landscape design. Depending on if you have cool season lawns or a warm season lawn, turf removal can be easy or with warm season, more difficult. I’m not going to talk about warm season here because I am already writing too much.
Fortunately, I have a cool season lawn (which pretty much means it is green year round). The great news is that you don’t have to dig it out like I did. You can basically smother it with newspaper and cardboard and mulch to kill it. If you don’t want to wait until it is entirely dead (which takes 3 to five months or even 6 to 8 weeks) you can dig holes through this smothering layering and plant new plants in the soil below. For people on deadline with water rebates, this is a tremendous help.
Here’s the formula for sheet mulching: First cut out three inches of turf along the edges or hardscape. Then right on top of your old grass, overlap newspaper or cardboard by 6 to 8 inches. Water. Add 1-2 inches of compost; water, then add a top of 3-5 inches of soil building mulch (brushy mulch); pull compost and mulch away from leftover plants and tree trunks. Don’t plant in the mulch. Dig through and cut holes in the cardboard to get to dirt (if you must plant). Otherwise, let this bake and decompose and you will have great soil for your new garden.
The process of layering actually improves your soil as the mulch, newspaper and old grass decompose and re-enter the “soil food web” our fearless teacher/landscape designer Sharon Lowe told us about. If you can enhance this process and enrich the soil, you won’t need to use fertilizer because the plants will find the food they need in the soil. She calls it the “chocolate cake” recipe for soil improvement. I found this one of the most interesting topics of the class.
Next we talked about plants–ooo goody, plants. We learned about balance, color, contrast and unity in our choices. This is something I’ve learned from hiring a plant designer previously and I have tried to implement these good practices over the years. The problem is sometimes plants die and then I go nuts trying to find the right thing to grow. I think, “I will plant one, and if it grows them I will know to get four more or two more, so I have a pattern of three or five plants, etc.” But you forget what your plans were and something will live or die and you find another pretty thing to add in. So I’m a big like a bird collecting shiny objects….
Oh well, not doing that this time. Next class, I have to turn in a map of the front yard and a bubble plan with use areas and plantings. If you want to take it to the next level, you can draw in hardscapes and plants you want. Then you meet with a design coach for 30 minutes to review your plan. They will fill in suggested plants for you and create a legend of plants showing you what goes where. Of course, you can come in with this done already…what do you think I will do? Is it hard to guess…of course, I’m going to draw all the plants!
The one thing that changed from my original idea for the yard is from the advice of my nine year-old. In class, you are taught to really think about how you would use the area and throw out pre-conceived notions of how your yard looks. You need to think of the function of the yard and these ideas should influence the form. I knew I wanted a path to the back yard (function) and a full cottage-y effect (form), but my daughter, who was unhappy we took our the grass, said, “Where will Cleo (our dog) run in circles when we get home?” She was looking at the mulch-covered yard–and thinking of function.
And I thought, she’s right. There is no where for us to throw the dog a ball in the front yard any more, or a place for the kids to play. So we decided to add a “bubble” for kid playing and dog playing. Right now, we plan to make a flagstone circle with some chairs on it but maybe it should be decomposed granite (like in the picture above)–that’s one question I have for the design coach at our meeting. I also want to make sure it won’t be weird to make it too symmetrical with the other side of the yard which has a flagstone circle with a fountain in it (see below).
So yes, that’s how we celebrated our anniversary. My husband was a good sport about it and we are well on our way to a new yard.
My garden is in full bloom from the spring-like weather we are having. It is nice to sit and looked out on all the colorful nasturtiums growing on my hill, filling in many of the dirt spots. I spent a few hours weeding then digging up the little Bill Wallis geranium seedlings that had grown in on our path up the hill. I transplanted them to the edge of the retaining wall on the second part of the hill. I hope they grow there. They have a good chance because I can easily water there with the hose in the summer. You can see the strip of growth where that water reaches.
I mention the Bill Wallis geraniums because they are some of the most thrifty and thriving plants in my terrifically difficult clay hill. They came in the mail from one of my favorite places to shop for plants Annie’s Annuals and Perennials. I circle plants in that catalog the same way I used to circle all the toys I dreamed of in my mother’s Sears catalog at Christmas.
Then I occasionally buy a lot–probably too much. Some of the plants I have bought haven’t lived as expected. I find little sticks around my yard with Annie’s name on them marking where I tried to grow things: a cigar plant–it looked so much bigger in the picture; clarksias–they were awesome until they died; verbena bonariensis–I loved those but they died in the drought last summer, etc. Some of the most enduring plants from Annie’s have been these great re-seeding, low water geraniums. They are the native type of geraniums and are purple. Annie calls them”floriferous, fast and easy.” They are heat tolerant and self-sow. The other reseeding favorite of mine is the rare geranium maderense or as Annie’s calls it “ginormous geranium.” Unlike Bill Wallis who hugs the ground and mounds, the maderense is tall and has dark green leaves and pink blooms when you can coax it into blooming. I like it for its dark green foliage and dramatic looks. It needs water and a cool, shady spot.
I have been trying to go to Annie’s for a couple of years because the catalog is so enticing. I wanted to see her gardens and the place where all my plants came from.
So when we flew into the Oakland airport on our way to Sonoma, I knew Annie’s was nearby in Richmond, CA, and I planned a morning stop there on our way back home. It was literally “across the tracks”– two train tracks and back in an industrial zone. My husband said it was built on a parking lot, but I didn’t notice. I was so excited and so bummed that I couldn’t fly home with a couple boxes of plants. If I had been driving, I would have loaded up the car!
Here is the front entrance. Oh so exciting!
Here are some of the beds of plants. Everything is arranged by type of plant: “Rarities,” “Annuals,” “Natives,” “Vegetables,” “Drought-tolerant,” etc.
This is a verbena that does really well in heat and drought:
I liked this succulent display:
One of the planted beds is below. I was a little disappointed by these demonstration gardens because in the catalog, they look huge. But this was a serious nursery with a ton of green houses where everything is grown right there. You can’t go in a lot of them. Since the plants are typically sold in small container (4 inch pots for $7.95), Annie has big pots planted at the end of each row (like the verbena I showed above) so you can see what the plants will look like when they grow.
One of my favorite plants that does well in my yard is below: the majestic Geranium Maderense.
Something I wanted to buy…I am really into purple and orange in my garden right now.
I walked around with my mouth hanging open and I could barely ask the salespeople any questions. It was a bit overwhelming and it was probably for the best that I could not load up my car and drive them home eight hours to San Diego. I would have bought way to much and then been in a panic to plant it all!
Finally, one of my Carpenteria has bloomed. I planted these plants up on my back hill almost two years ago–here’s a picture of it when I first planted. I don’t know if the warm, dry winter encouraged it or not, but I’m glad it finally bloomed. I noticed little pods forming all over the bush a few weeks ago and finally they opened to reveal a white flower with a bright yellow center. I see one of my other Carpenterias now has pods too so another one will bloom any day.
This California native has dark green leaves. They are shiny and waxy looking. The plants are shrub like but mine grow taller than wider. You might say they are a little spindly, but they are a nice bright spot of green in the landscape. They are supposed to grow 4 to 8 feet high and five feet wide. (Mine are maybe two feet wide.)
The blooms are pretty and almost look like roses. I think in a few days, the shrub will be covered with blossoms.
I don’t even water it! Very drought tolerant! Keep that in mind! (They were very hard to find at a nursery. I think I had to order them and no one even knew what they looked like.)
The soil up on the top of the hill is not too bad, but not too good either –patches of clay everywhere. The description of this plant says it lives in clay or loam soil, tolerant of sun or shade. Flowers May through August–yipee! And they are supposed to be fragrant.
I guess I better go smell the Carpenteria Californica!
Note: of course, I started writing this last week and now that I have time to finish, it is raining :-0
I heard the governor on the radio the other day, and it made me realize my yard might not get much water this summer.
This is serious stuff. And it is likely to continue into the future. I might as well face the facts.
I have decided to delay planting our front yard. Why plant, if I can’t water or shouldn’t water? I am going to wait until the fall when it is cooler.
That said, I am also going to plant even more drought-tolerant plants. This poses a problem for my style of gardening — I love cottage gardens. I am not a fan of a cactus or succulent garden; I have seen enough of those growing up in the desert!
I am going to search for cottage plants that don’t take water. The one that comes to mind is lavender. My lavender on the “hell strip” by the street never gets water. I spray it for a second or two once in a while to wash off the salts. I think the morning mist waters it.
I could plant my whole fountain area in lavender and have a few of those succulents that have the hot pink flowers–Calandrinia spectabilis. It is supposed to be indestructible, which is good.
Sage (the herb), salvia, alstoemeria, moonshine yarrow and a native verbena like De La Mina also might be good. I rarely water my alstoemeria once established and it still blooms. I also think artichokes would be nice–of course, they will likely need a little more water. That is one thing I have learned that can be difficult about mixing low water plants with ones that need more water–if you water too much, you kill the drought tolerant ones and if you water too little, well you know. I think you have to pretty much go whole hog with drought tolerant! At least zone your plantings to match your sprinklers so you can have a low water area, and if you need it, an area that needs more sprinkling. Usually the plants will live without water but they just won’t bloom. I have found this true with day lillies. They like water to flower.
Of course, grass falls into this category. We have a tiny figure eight of grass, which is ugly anyway due to other grasses mixing in and compacting of the dirt (and holes the dog dug). We could brick it over or try a native grass–no more mowing. Another option is to make the grass even smaller and edge each border with a gravel or river stone then have the grass. I have seen this in larger yards and it looks beautiful.
In the shade, I like drought-tolerant ferns: here is the article I have been searching for in Sunset Magazine on ferns that like it dry. And this article has some other ideas for “wild and romantic” drought tolerant designs. Some of those look pretty.
Better Homes And Gardens has some other good garden ideas for drought-tolerant plantings. This page for Intermountain Nursery has a lot of the plants I like. You can see moonshine yarrow, mimulus, and other plants here, including Carpenteria Californica, which is planted on my hill and is about to bloom for the first time. (Maybe it needed a really dry year to bloom.) I am really excited to see it and will post a photo.
Looks like I will have time to plan this new drought-proof garden all through the hot, long summer.
This past weekend we were stuck inside because of the rain. This never happens here so I went a little stir crazy . I know we needed the rain, but it seemed to last forever. One day I went out in it and scatter snail bait just so I could be outside.
Like gardeners everywhere who have to endure winter weather, I turned to gardening catalogs. How handy they arrived right when the rain did.
High Country Gardens had some really interesting plants and pre-planned designer gardens you can order. They sold me on Russian Sage. It sounds good for the hill because it is low water and likes clay soil, plus it is blue in color. I am going to order some.
I also really like the “garden in a box” packages they sell and I’m really tempted to get one. I’m thinking about Habitat Hero Birdwatcher pre-planned garden by designer Lauren Springer Ogden. All the plants are for sun, low water and clay soil. I’ve never ordered from them so I’m thinking of testing out a few plants first. Since they are based in New Mexico, the plants also withstand cold weather but I don’t know if they will take humidity. Also, they will have to travel from New Mexico here so there is a possibility they won’t last through the mail.
The mail order plants I highly recommend–like a broken record–are from Annie’s and this catalog is full of wonderful temptations.
I know Annie’s plants arrive healthy and ready to grow. My upper hill is full of Annie’s wonderful Bill Wallis geraniums. They flower almost all year and are reseeding. My verbena bonarensis are also amazing and pretty well adapted to the hill, although the ones with full sun have done better than the others. A few things died from the dog trampling them like a tiny fragile cigar plant (which I should not have ordered!) and a heleborous or two. Oh ya, I also killed my beautiful Geranium Maderense when I over pruned it, but it is reseeding too and I still have one big one left, which I hope blooms this spring. (My post called “Easter Greetings” from March 2013 shows both Geraniums.) And my post here, shows another geranium that I bought from Annie’s–it is a more typical geranium with a heart shaped flower. You can also see the verbena boneriensis behind the alstromeria on the hill but it isn’t blooming yet so it looks a little stick-like. It definitely needs to be planted with lower-level plants growing in front of it. But once it blooms, it will bloom all summer.
Anyway, I know you can’t go wrong with Annie’s recommendations. She grows her plants in the Bay Area so they don’t have to travel far in the mail.
I am looking at her “indestructibles” collection and the orange alstroemerias on her web site. She sells out fast so create your wish list on the site and you will get an email telling you when they are in stock and you can order! Then plants arrive in the mail. How great is that! (Just make sure you are home when they get here so you can unpack them and plant them in 24 hours. They usually arrive within two days, I think, but check their website to make sure.)