The Sky’s the Limit

June 12, 2010

Over the years, as my garden has matured, I’ve found I’ve had fewer and fewer gaps to fill. The good news: the garden looks lush, the weeds are at bay and maintenance is what I decide it is.  The bad news: if I want to put in something new, something has to go. This was certainly the case last year when I wanted to put tomatoes into the sunniest corners of the yard.  Out came the lavender in the front and out came the pots for the back.

I’m apparently not the only one with space challenges. I open up the flood of garden catalogs coming in, and to a one, they are showcasing ways to plant vertically.  There are vertical solutions for …everything: poles with bags for planting “upside down” tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, you name it; vertical bags to hang on fences for lettuce and strawberries; window boxes and rail-sitting hay basket planters for herbs.  And the nice part is they can all be seasonal. Once the harvest is complete, the bags and boxes are down and stored (unless you want to plant them with annuals).   Remember: just as with your ground dwellers, make sure you have a reliable water source for your aerial garden. One vacation without regular water and all your work is for naught.

An additional trick I’ve discovered with my pots is to “refresh” the dirt each year before planting again. Otherwise I find myself buying bags and bags of new dirt, while looking for hidden corners of the yard to dump the old dirt. To refresh, I empty the dirt from my planters into my wheelbarrow; add worm castings, green sand, time-release fertilizer and water crystals and mix it all up together. If it’s moist, I let it bake in the sun to dry out.  (Note: If there is obviously a fungus problem in a particular planter, don’t reuse that dirt.)

If you have comments or your own vertical planting solutions you’d like to share, please visit the blog on my website and let us all know!

Let the Planting Begin!

May 22, 2010

Although we are blessed with year-round wonderful weather in the Bay Area, fall  through spring is the optimum time to plant.  In fact, most woody plants should be  planted as early in fall as possible to ensure good root establishment.  Winter rains,  moderate temperatures, natural soil moisture and the plant growth cycle all contribute to  fall planting success.

Where to begin? In preparation for your new plants, make sure you know your soil. Is it  sandy? Clay? Acidic? If you know what you have, you can either plant plants that work  well in it or bring in new soil, replacing what you have or building raised planting beds.

And great news on the budget front: studies have shown that planting both a one- and a  five-gallon size of the same species at the same site at the same time can produce  surprising results: in three to five years, both plants will be the same size!  Even better, in  seven to ten years, the one-gallon plant will be more drought-tolerant than its larger  companion.

If your landscape looks a bit bare using one-gallon plants, use ground covers, perennials  or annuals to fill in the gaps. Avoid the temptation to plant your shrubs closer together,  since that will make for higher maintenance down the line when they grow up.

Getting Started with Your Landscape

May 22, 2010

Having difficulty visualizing your ideal garden? Try taking this survey to help clarify your thoughts and get your creative juices flowing.

To start, think about the style of garden you’d like. I’ve described just a few popular garden styles below. Of course, your final garden doesn’t have to include every item listed in the style description. And it’s OK to mix and match features from different categories. That’s a style, too!

Mediterranean: Gray green plants. Olive trees, rosemary, lavender, herbs. Italian tile accents, blue-tile fountains. Citrus in terracotta pots.

South West: Sculptural cactus, succulents, bougainvillea. Crushed gravel, flagstone, adobe tile, stucco. Dry riverbeds.

English Country Garden: Roses, lavender and clipped boxwood. Lots and lots of flowers. White picket fences and arbors. Brick.

Japanese: Maple trees, bamboo, azaleas, rhododendrons, ferns, moss. Quiet and calm. Simple water features and striking natural accents.

Tropical: Lush deep greens. Banana plants, cannas, palms, tropical vines, gardenias. Hot colors. Jungle fragrances.

Native: Plants and trees indigenous to our area like manzanita, ceanothus, oak, salvia, blue-eyed grass, penstemon. Drought-tolerant. Butterflies, hummingbirds, other wildlife.

Once you’ve got some ideas about your preferred garden style, ask yourself some practical, non-style questions as well like these: Besides looking good, what does your garden need to do for you? That is, do you want to fit in entertainment areas, play areas, a vegetable garden or fruit trees? Are there any views that need blocking? Any that deserve enhancing? Do you have any specific plant allergies? How much maintenance are you willing to do or have done? Do you have particular objects that you want to incorporate into your design like a
stream, a sculpture or a hot tub? Do you have any particular problems with pests like deer, squirrels, gophers or neighborhood pets?

This survey is by no means exhaustive, but by getting some of your ideas down on paper, you’ll be a step closer to the garden you want.

Let Your Garden Take Flight

May 22, 2010

When you’re looking to add pizzazz to your garden, think beyond simply introducing more colorful flora to introducing colorful fauna as well. Birds add movement and color and interest to your yard, and the first step in attracting them is “just add water.”

Incorporating a birdbath into your garden design is good. Adding moving water with a fountain – or a stream if you’re lucky enough to have the space—is even better. It doesn’t have to be grand. My two-tier, 3’-diameter lion’s head fountain maintains a constant parade of birds from dawn to dusk. It’s that easy.

If you want to take your avian floorshow to the next level, you can add food sources. I like my food sources to be natural, growing ones, so I don’t have to feel guilty when the feeders run empty (and the birds don’t leave me for greener pastures!). The hummingbirds love the year-round Callistemon (bottlebrush) buffet, dwarf citrus, Jasmine polyanthum (pink jasmine) and the salvia. My other winged visitors head for the pyracantha, viburnum, cosmos and, of course, the sunflowers. You can find more bird-feeding plants for your garden on

Once the water and plants are in, the birds take care of themselves, and all you need to do is pull up a chair and enjoy the show!