Gardening with Succulents

The continuing popularity of succulent plants is based on several kinds of appeal, beginning with drought tolerance and including interesting shapes and an amazing range of colors.

This diversity occurs because plants in many genera have developed the capacity to store water in their roots, stems or leaves. Their common characteristic is that they live in areas where drought conditions happen often enough to make water storage essential to survival.

Succulent plants have a reputation for being easy to cultivate, relative to other perennial plants. In addition to needing water only occasionally and in small amounts, these plants are have few problems from pests and diseases.

The native environment of a succulent plant can be important to its cultivation. Most gardeners know that succulents need fast-draining soil to avoid root rot, and grow well, if slowly, in nutrient-poor soil. These plants have evolved under such conditions, and now depend upon them.

Another consideration is the elevation of the plant’s native environment. Succulent plants that have evolved on mountains are accustomed to those environmental conditions, and could have unique leaf anatomy and photosynthetic characteristics.

Good gardening practice often involves matching—or approximating—the plant’s native environment, but changing the elevation of one’s garden is not among the options. Happily, most succulent plants from high elevations can grow well at lower elevations.

Succulent plants grow in many areas of the world, and an important issue of native environment is the hemisphere in which the plant evolved. This determines the plant’s dormancy, which influences the gardener’s cultivation practices.

Succulent plants that have adapted to the northern hemisphere  are Winter Dormant:
they rest from November through February and grow from March through October.
Many plants also will rest for a few weeks of hot weather in the summer, and grow
again in September and October. Popular succulent genera that are Winter Dormant include Agave, Echeveria, Euphorbia, Lithops and Pachypodium.

Succulent plants that have adapted to the southern hemisphere are Summer Dormant, which also means that they are winter growers. Their rest period continues from May through August; they grow slowly during the winter months, and then grow actively during autumn and spring. Examples of Summer Dormant succulent plants include these popular genera: Aeonium, Aloe, Cotyledon, Crassula, Dudleya, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Haworthia, Kalanchoe, Pelargonium, Sanseveria, Sedum and Senecio.

The gardener should avoid disturbing succulent plants during their dormant periods. So, repotting, pruning, or taking cuttings should be done in March for Winter Dormant plants and in August for Summer Dormant plants.

Watering succulent plants is another practice that is dormancy-related. When plants are dormant, they stop growing but continue to transpire, and therefore need replacement moisture. Not watering succulent plants while they dormant is the most common cause for failure.

The amount of moisture needed during dormancy depends on the dryness of the particular environment. Winter Dormant plants might need watering once or twice per week. Summer Dormian plants, which rest during the hottest time of the year, could need more frequent watering.

Also, remember to group plants with similar water needs. Such grouping can be important when combining succulent plants in containers: keeping Summer Dormant or Winter Dormant plants together will enable more convenient and more appropriate irrigation.

Mixed Succulents in Pot

Mixed Succulents in Container
(click to enlarge)

These guidelines could need adjustment for individual species; as always with the plant world, general rules are subject to variation.

Lose the Lawn

One the best gardening strategies to prepare for future droughts—and achieve additional benefits—is to replace your lawn with any of several landscape designs.

Lawns, and especially front yard lawns, began as a mark of affluence, because mowing a lawn was once a labor-intensive (and therefore costly) session with a scythe. A skilled scythe-wielding worker can be impressively efficient, but for most workers, including the homeowner with an up-to-date lawnmower, mowing a lawn is a tedious and repetitious task. The homeowner’s reward for a well-maintained lawn can include pride of ownership.

A lawn does more than display the homeowner’s wealth. It also serves as the base for widely accepted front-yard designs, the principal one of which has been called the Contractor’s Landscape. This consists of a shallow bed of reliable small shrubs next to the house, followed by turf grass to the curb. This design is quick and cheap to install, and inoffensive.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the lawn provides a resting place for the eye as the viewer focuses on individual trees, shrubs and blossoms. The lawn is a neutral swatch of greenery, contrasting carpet-like with the relatively busy landscape.

But consider the negative aspects of the lawn.

  • Maintaining a good-looking lawn requires much more effort, water, chemical fertilizers and herbicides than alternative landscapes.
  • Two-cycle lawnmowers pollute the air about ten times as much as a car, and add noise pollution as well. Electric mowers are better, but they also impact the environment. Push mowers are best for the environment, the lawn and the homeowner.
  • Lawns are the homeowner’s version of monoculture, growing just one crop over an area. This practice might seem efficient, but to the wildlife, it’s a wasteland with very little food or water and no shelter at all.
  • Lawns might be valued for recreation, but in reality often have minimal use (except for maintenance). Other landscape designs could be more inviting and supportive of outdoor activities.

If these factors encourage you to consider losing your lawn, it’s time to look into the many possible alternatives. Begin with Sunset magazine’s “21 Inspiring Lawn-free Yards” <www.sunset.com/garden/earth-friendly/lose-the-lawn-low-water-landscaping>. This webpage offers a slideshow of attractive options to contemplate.

For more in-depth information, visit Evelyn J. Hadden’s extensive website, “Less Lawn, More Life,” or look for her book, “Beautiful No-Mow Lawns: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives’ (Timber Press, 2012).

Another fine resource on this topic is book by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien: Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices andDesigns (

Another helpful resource is the Lawn Reform Coalition, which is “all about reducing or replacing lawn, water-wise lawn species and eco-friendly care for all lawns.” Visit the Coalition’s website for information on all aspects of lawn alternatives.

“Lose the lawn” emphasizes the loss of a familiar element of the landscape. “Lawn alternatives” suggests a more appealing idea, one that opens our thinking about creative approaches to the landscape and new resources in the home environment.

Think of the possibilities!

Rain at Last

As an impressionistic meteorologist, I’m very pleased with our recent rains and even more so with the promise of more rain in the near future. Some areas of northern and central California could actually reach normal levels of annual precipitation. The Santa Cruz area is during fairly well, but this happy future might not extend throughout the area: portions of Monterey County are receiving lighter precipitation.

What have we learned?

My first reaction to the overdue rain is that we can now anticipate fresh new stems and leaves and a great floral display in the spring. Our plants are responding to the moisture by extending their roots and drawing in nutrients, preparing for a new season of growth.

Then, I flashed on the idea that the drought is over for good, and we’re back to the Monterey Bay area’s historical weather pattern, with a dry summer and the onset of the rainy season around mid-October. This thought didn’t last long. Realistically, our climate is changing in ways that will change our gardening—and our lives—in significant ways.

This change is happening at a fast rate, not with the very slow arrival of the Ice Age (approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago or the Little Ice Age (1550 to 1850), which developed relatively more quickly, over a period of about 200 years.

Politicians are debating a range of responses to today’s emerging problem. Clearly this is a global issue that requires global action, but as individuals, we can respond in small ways. The most constructive action for individuals is to elect those who accept the reality of climate change and support long-term solutions.

As gardeners, we can pursue three basic strategies:

First, retire plants that require summer irrigation and that suffer under drought conditions. The single most widespread plant in this category is lawn grass, which achieves it aesthetic potential only with frequent irrigation, applications of nitrogen fertilizers and broadleaf herbicides, and regular cultivation, including mowing, aeration and pest control.

In a future column, I will describe alternatives to traditional turf grasses.

Tropical-climate plants compirse another category to avoid for drought-tolerant gardens. Examples include the hibiscus (H. syriacus is the most popular ornamental species) and the banana (Musa acuminata, M. balbisiana and others). In general, avoid plants with large glossy dark leaves, which tend to absorb more heat, require a lot of water and transpire a lot of water.

For the water needs of specific plants, Sunset’s Western Garden Book provides useful guidelines, with briefly descriptive terms from “ample water” to “little to moderate water.”

The second basic strategy is to favor plants that will survive in your garden under drought conditions. Generally, as often mentioned in the column, these are plants that are native to coastal California and other Mediterranean (or “summer-dry”) climates. These plants will do better with a little moisture during a prolonged drought, but they have evolved to withstand dry periods, using such methods as growing small leaves, that minimize water loss.

Succulents are another category of drought-tolerant plants, which have developed structures for storing water in their leaves, stems or roots.

The third strategy for drought-tolerant gardening is to use water wisely, through drip irrigation and regular mulching. These water-conservation methods complement the two preceding strategies for plant selection, and help the gardener to cope with water restrictions.

Use the next clear days to assess your garden for drought-tolerance. However much we enjoy the current rains, preparing for future droughts requires long-term planning..

Top Ten Tasks for Fall

Our gardens have had some rain—and a promise for more this season—so we can now pursue “regular” gardening and think other good thoughts!

There are no exciting new developments or flights of imagination in this week’s column. Instead, here’s a review of steps to take in the fall to ensure gardening success in the spring.

  1. Feed your soil. As plants grow, they consume the soil’s nutrients, so the gardener should restore the soil by adding partially decomposed organic material. For an inactive bed, dig in a three-to-four inch layer of compost; for an active bed, provide the same layer as a top dressing.
  2. Mulch your beds. Cover any bare soil in the garden with organic or inorganic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth. For large areas, call your local tree service for a load of coarse wood chips, which break down slowly and are typically free.
  3. Plant spring flowering bulbs. There’s still time to create a delightful display. Online sources and garden centers are running low, but look for bargains. Even second-choice bulbs produce fine spring flowers.
  4. Wait to do clean up until spring. Leave faded perennials and grasses in place for now to decorate the garden and provide habitats for beneficial insects. Cut them back when you see signs of new growth in the spring.
  5. Plant perennials. Continue adding plants to the garden any time before frost. To avoid compacting the soil, let any rain soak in well before working or walking on the soil .
  6. Sow wildflower seeds. If you have enough garden space for even a patch of wildflowers, sow a small packet of mixed wildflower seeds. If you have a larger space, sow more seeds! This project is easy, inexpensive and very satisfying for the gardener, and great for the wildlife.
  7. Make notes on planting for fall color next spring. A little planning during the quiet days of the fall could support next spring’s installation of plants that will provide fall color and seed heads for the birds. A beautiful garden in the late summer and early fall requires a bit of study to identify and locate plants that will fit well into the landscape and put on a pleasing show.
  8. Control slugs and snails. The fall presents time for defensive action against the brown snail (Cantareus asperses), a significant pest in many gardens. Snails can reproduce on a year-round schedule, so the fall is a good opportunity for control only because other tasks are less pressing, and we want to give the new spring growth a chance to flourish. A reliable approach is picking snails by hand and dropping them into water with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Other methods: lure them into shallow pools of cheap beer, or send your pet duck after them.
  9. Compost your tree leaves. Leaves that fall from your trees are not trash, but “gardener’s gold,” an excellent and free source of pre-compost. You might feel the need to rake your leaves into a pile (not everyone does), so the next steps will define your gardening priorities. One option is to wrestle them into trash bags, which is not a simple step on the way to the landfill. The preferred option is to shred the leaves to speed decomposition and add them to your compost pile. To shred the leaves, use a bagging lawn mower or a purchased or rented leaf shredder.
  10. Collect seeds. Watch for seed heads to form on your favored plants, cut the flowering stems at the base, drop them into a paper grocery sack that you have carefully saved, and let them dry for a week. They are then ready to sow in the garden, with or without the stems. If desired, separate the seeds from the chaff for storage or sharing.

You might know additional tasks that would ready your garden for winter, but these ten steps would be good preparation for a glorious spring season. Gardening is about the future.

Propagating Plants

Plant and cutting exchanges, which are popular in the Monterey Bay area, invite gardeners to bring plants or cuttings from their garden to swap for plants or cuttings offered by another gardener. These exchanges work because plants propagate naturally on their own: the gardener does not incur a significant cost, and still reaps the satisfaction of giving something of value to another gardener.

Cheap thrills!

Propagating plants for sharing require a significant investment of time: growing plants from seeds or cuttings and then giving them away could amount to a generous gift of the gardener’s time. However, opportunities exist for sharing plants with little effort.

For example, if your daffodils or irises need dividing, you could very well end up with a surplus of bulbs or rhizomes that you could share.

Another example: plants might self-propagate in your garden to the point that you have more than you want, and would prefer to reclaim the space for other plants.

Plants have many ways to reproduce, and gardeners can support those natural processes successfully, and with both botanical creativity and economic efficiency in developing the garden and sharing with friends.

For an introduction to this topic, visit Wikipedia website <en.wikipedia.org/wiki> and search for“Plant propagation.” This site provides very brief descriptions of sexual propagation, which involves growing plants from seeds, and asexual propagation, which encompasses several methods:

11-21-14 Cotoneaster berries CU

Cotoneaster lacteus

Cotoneasters produce seeds copiously, perhaps as an adaptation to the many birds that find them tasty. This specimen is C. lacteus, called Pareny’s Cotoneaster or Red Clusterberry. The name for the genus, native to China, is derived from ‘cotone’, an old Latin name for the quince plant, plus ‘aster,’ which means “resembling” indicating that this plant looks like a quince.

 

10-21-14 Anemone blossoms - fading

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica,

Japanese Anemone blossoms are fading about now. These plants are best propagated from root cuttings taken in the late fall or early winter. When we lifted them, we saw vigorous new white shoots on the roots, and knew that they would re-root quickly in a new environment. This plant produces beautiful pink or white blossoms, and grows so readily that it’s almost invasive.

 

 

Another approach can be found on the website Plant Propagation, which offers both brief definitions and basic “how-to” information for these methods:

  • Budding
  • Bulbs
  • Corms
  • Cuttings
  • Division
  • Grafting
  • Layering
  • Offsets
  • Rhizomes
  • Runners
  • Seeds
  • Plant Tissue Culture

Another excellent resource is the North Carolina State University website (search for plant propagation). When drawing upon information from distant places, consider climate differences. This website has more detailed Articles and bulletins on propagation techniques.

If you learn best from practical demonstrations, YouTube offers several short video recordings (often simply produced) on aspects of his craft. Browse to the site and search for “plant propagation video.”

The fall season is a fine time to try propagating your favorite plants.

Small Gardening

The gardening world has been buzzing about small gardens. Interest in this topic might reflect a trend toward a preference for smaller properties or a growing desire among gardeners to limit the time and energy they commit to gardening.

A small garden could be the entirety of a small property or an area within a large property. A large property might include several small gardens (sometimes called “rooms”) or one small garden plus undeveloped space, or something between those extremes.

In either case, the goal for small gardening should be quality gardening.

“We would do well to follow a common rule for our daily lives—do less, and do it better.” — Dale E. Turner

(I don’t recognize the person who said that, but I agree with the sentiment.)

When developing a small garden, all the usual criteria for plant selection and cultivation apply: ensure that the soil is fertile, friable and well drained, and choose plants that are appropriate for the garden’s climate, sun exposure and prevailing winds.

Basic landscaping design ideas are important in a smaller garden.

  • Repeat a limited number of plant varieties, and just two or three flower colors. A random collection of plants and a rainbow of blossoms can be confusing, in a design sense, while repetition provides a coherent an ultimately more pleasing effect. Carefully planned combinations of foliage colors also can work well, especially when planting succulents, which are available in many interesting colors.
  • Place the taller plants in back. This is my favorite — and simplest —landscaping design concept. Following it requires care in plant selection. The first level of research is to read the label, which should indicate the plant’s mature height and width. If necessary, use the plant’s botanical name to look it up on the Internet, or in Sunset’s Western Garden Book, or another plant reference book.

If a plant grows beyond your expectations, move it to a more appropriate location. If it’s too big to move, it may be time for “shovel pruning.” Replace that overgrown treasure with a better choice.

  • Use curves and different elevations to add interest. If your small garden space is basically an uninteresting flat rectangle, consider introducing a curved path around a naturalistic mound.

In addition, three broad guidelines come to mind.

First, specify a theme beyond “small size.” The garden might focus on a genus (rose, iris, clematis, etc.), a category of plants (succulents, white blossoms, herbs), a plant community (California natives, South African bulbs, aquatic plants) or any other theme of interest. A theme provides coherence to the garden and a systematic approach to plant selection.

Second, provide a story line for visitors. The garden planner could guide a visitor’s attention by establishing a focal point: a well-placed, exceptional plant, a piece of garden art, or a water feature, etc. After that initial impression, the gardener or discrete signs might encourage a visitor to examine a series of specimen plants. A rose garden, for example, might showcase several hybrid teas or species roses for comparison.

Finally, plan the maintenance of the small garden for close inspection. No garden looks good when unkempt, but a neglected small garden can be particularly unsatisfying to both the gardener and the visitor. While fallen leaves, a forgotten watering hose and a few weeds can be tolerated in a large, sprawling garden, a small garden should be raked and pruned and tidied regularly. By virtue of being small, it should also be manageable.

The small garden is to a large garden as a sonnet is to free verse.

A small garden can yield big enjoyment!

Low Maintenance Gardening

There are two ways to achieve a low-maintenance landscape.

In the Anti-gardening Approach, the garden owner covers the soil with an inorganic material. Concrete has been widely used for this purpose; permeable concrete, which allows water to seep through into the ground, is gaining popularity. Other possibilities include asphalt concrete (“blacktop”), brick, flagstones, and other materials that provide a firm surface. Pebbles or lava rock over landscape fabric might be used for a loose surface.

But to enjoy a display of living plants, it is necessary to engage in actual gardening.

The Low-maintenance Approach describes a living garden that requires less time for repetitive tasks like watering, mowing, edging, weeding, replacing failed plants, etc. Here are four important steps toward low-maintenance gardening.

  1. Know your garden’s soil

Soil chemistry. An important measure of soil chemistry is pH, which indicates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Soil pH influences the solubility of nutrients. It also affects the activity of microorganisms responsible for breaking down organic matter and most chemical transformations in the soil. Soil pH thus affects the availability of several plant nutrients.”

Soil pH is measured on a range from 0 to 14. The highest acidity earns the lowest rating. In the Monterey Bay area, most soils test around 6.5 to 7, a neutral rating that is best for most plants. Some plants, e.g., rhododendrons, prefer a slightly acidic soil and would need special fertilizers and soil amendments to thrive. Changing soil chemistry even a little can be difficult, so a low-maintenance plan for neutral soil simply would not include “acid-loving” plants.

A laboratory test could reveal a garden’s other soil chemistry issues, like a lack of important nutrients, but in this area the soil chemistry usually will be within a neutral range and not a problem.

Soil Composition. The inorganic part of an ideal garden soil, or loam, would be about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. This composition balances water drainage and water retention, and supports the development of plant roots.

In addition, this ideal soil will have organic material, i.e., decomposed animal and vegetable matter, amounting to 3 to 5% of the total volume.

If your soil has a higher percentage of any of the inorganic components, try digging in generous amounts of organic material, i.e., your choice of compost. Avoid adding sand or clay! If adding compost doesn’t help, consider building raised beds or creating mounds and importing topsoil.

Some plants will thrive in relatively poor soils. Coastal plants, for example, often will do well in sandy soils, so a low-maintenance response to less-than-ideal garden soil would be to select plants that are adapted to the soil that is native to the garden.

  1. Know your garden’s climate and microclimates.

A typical garden could have shady areas and sunny areas, low areas that are often soggy, and spots that seem to catch whatever winds might be blowing. The gardener should become familiar with each of the garden’s planting beds. These microclimates will vary predictably with the time of the day and the time of the year, and contribute greatly to plant development. The gardener cannot modify these conditions, so the low-maintenance strategy is to select plants that are adapted to the conditions that exist in a given planting bed. This is the essence of the “right plant in the right place.”

  1. Know your area’s seasonal rainfall and temperature patterns.

Gardeners who have lived through the Monterey Bay area’s seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall might note variations from normal patterns (like this year’s rain deficit), but still need to coordinate their gardening plans with those cycles.

The early spring, when plants produce fresh green growth and colorful blossoms might motivate trips to the local garden center to collect new annuals and perennials and a surge of planting activity. While spring can be a delightful time in the garden, low-maintenance gardening has two other seasons of greater importance.

The summer months are important because central California has a “summer-dry” climate, which has also been called a Mediterranean climate. During the summer, plants that are adapted to this climate will become dormant and survive the dry spell naturally, but plants from many other climatic areas will need supplementary irrigation. The low-maintenance approach for this area is to favor plants from summer-dry climates.

The most readily available and ecologically appropriate plants in this category are those that are native to coastal California, but many more good choices are plants from other summer-dry climates: the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, the southwestern coast of Australia and the central coast of Chile.

An alternative collection of, for example, tropical plants would necessitate a high-maintenance approach to gardening. Some gardeners might be willing to take on additional work to enjoy exotic plants.

The rainy months are the second season of importance to the low-maintenance gardener. In the Monterey Bay area, this season normally runs from mid-October to mid-April. The low-maintenance strategy is to install new plants just before the onset of the rainy season so that Nature will keep them irrigated as they establish roots and prepare for above ground growth when the temperatures rise.

  1. Know your plants

Good familiarity with the planting bed’s soil and microclimate, and the garden’s annual precipitation and temperature cycles helps the gardener to select and install plants that will succeed in a specific location with minimum of effort.

There are more strategies in low-maintenance gardening, of course. Effective control of weeds, for example, can reduce significantly the gardening workload. The four strategies in this column can help you to make good progress in that direction.

Enjoy your garden!

Sidebar

Most local garden centers and nurseries offer a selection of California native plants. For a helpful list, visit the Water Awareness website.

On the web, visit Native Again Landscape and scroll down to the link for California Native Plant Nurseries.

The California Native Plant Society is a great resource for gardeners. Clink on “Local Chapters” for links to the Monterey and Santa Cruz chapters.

Tour Offers Insights to Growing Citrus


The Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers recently organized a members-only tour of a local citrus nursery’s growing grounds, in Watsonville.

Aaron Dillon, our tour guide, shared the history of Four Winds Growers, which was started by his great grandparents. He described the current operations and the pests and diseases that are challenging the entire citrus business.

10-17-14 Aaron Dillon

One threat to citrus trees is the citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella), a very small Asian moth that lays its eggs in the tissue of citrus leaves. The eggs hatch into larva that feeds on the leaf, leaving a clearly visible, serpentine trail just below the surface of the leaf. Leafminers disfigure the leaves but rarely cause serious damage.

A greater threat is the Huanglongbing disease (HLB), which is known by the common names “citrus greening disease” and “yellow shoot disease.” HLB kills citrus trees.

A tiny insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, transfers this disease from tree to tree as it feeds. Because there is no cure for HLB, the control strategy is to find and stop the insect from spreading the disease. This pest has greatly reduced southern California’s citrus nursery industry, and has very recently been spotted in the San Jose area.

The citrus industry has developed regulations and procedures for propagating citrus trees in greenhouses, while keeping Asian citrus psyllids outside. The tour group entered an enormous greenhouse through an antechamber, in which a large fan produced positive air pressure to exclude any psyllids. The outer door closed, the fan was turned off, and an inner door opened to allow the group to enter the working area of the greenhouse.

Inside, a greenhouse worker, Alicia, expertly demonstrated the process of grafting a citrus scion to a robust rootstock. A skilled worker can graft 1,000 plants in a single day.

10-17-14 Grafting Orange Scions

Aaron Dillon engaged the interested visitors with a wide-ranging presentation of many aspects of growing citrus trees. He demonstrated the extensive facilities in a large greenhouse where roses had been grown previously, and proudly showed an even larger new greenhouse now being readied for an expansion of propagation activities.

10-17-14 Visitors in the Mist

Four Winds Growers propagates popular varieties of orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and kumquat. For details, visit the nursery’s website <wwwlfourwindsgrowers.com> and click on “Our Citrus Trees.” Dillon listed three interesting varieties that consumers will enjoy in the future:

  • Vaniglia Sanguigno (acidless sweet orange)
  • Lee x Nova Mandarin (88-2 mandarin hybrid)
  • New Zealand Lemonade (sweet lemon hybrid)

For information on these and many other varieties, browse to the amazing Citrus Variety Collection website, maintained by the University of California, Riverside <http://www.citrusvariety.ucr.edu/>.

Many varieties of citrus trees grow well in the Monterey Bay area, and local nurseries have many choices in stock currently. Growing information is readily available on the websites of the California Rare Fruit Growers < www.crfg.org/> and Four Winds Growers. Pest control advice for home gardeners is offered by the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program www.californiacitrusthreat.org/.

Garden Decor

Gardens can be more than artful displays of plants: they can also include arts and crafts that reflect the owner’s tastes, interests and creativity. Collectively, such items comprise the garden’s décor.

The selections that we might encounter in gardens range from stunning works of fine art to found art to  “junktique,” with items such as plants growing in worn-out boots. This range could be defined in terms of cost.

For many home gardens, the most prominent décor consists of plant containers, which offer many opportunities for artistic expression. The more successful of these expressions present an interesting relationship between the container and the plant(s) it contains.

The less successful involve uses of nursery cans, which are typically black plastic. Such containers could be seen as an exercise in utilitarianism: they are valued for their usefulness and low cost.

Gardeners often acquire their décor often on the open market, but they gain the most satisfaction by making their own pieces. This requires creativity but doesn’t necessarily require artistic skill.

As an example, this “garden path medallion,” one of four in my garden, is a unique product that required care to build, but inexpensive materials and only a modicum of artistry. The medallion is four feet in diameter. My rabbit, Harvey, is sitting in to indicate the scale.

Pathway Medallion

Click to Enlarge

An important component of this project is a circular strip that retains the circle of bricks. I found this product on Amazon.com, marketed as the “EasyFlex No-Dig Tree Ring Kit.” This strip retains the bricks with a 1.5-inch high edge, low enough to hide under the pathway surface.

I purchased common bricks for the four medallions, each of which required 34 bricks. We installed the steppingstone and bricks in a bed of decomposed granite (also called path fines), which has angular grains that lock into a firm yet permeable surface. Beach sand has more rounded grains that stay too loose for such applications.

Common bricks are too large to form a tight ring around the steppingstone, so we used black, oval-shaped stones, sold as Mexican pebbles, three-to-five inches long. We installed them on edge, and used a rubber mallet to level them with the steppingstone and bricks. The last step was to sweep decomposed granite into the gaps and water it to settle it around the hard materials.

The costs for each medallion include the tree ring $10; 34 common bricks: $34; Mexican pebbles $16; cast concrete steppingstone $20, more or less, for a total of about $80 for a near-permanent feature.

Decomposed granite costs $40-to-$50 per cubic yard, but the amount required for this project would depend on the length, width and depth of the pathway.

A relatively new product for filling the gaps between stones is polymeric joint sand, which includes a water-activated polymer that forms impermeable joints. This product, available from masonry services, costs $15-to-$20 for a 60-pound bag.

For pictures of many do-it-yourself garden arts and crafts projects, visit Pinterest.com and search for “steppingstones,” “garden crafts,” “garden arts” or related topics of personal interest. You might be inspired to adapt someone else’s idea or come up with your own unique creation.

However you proceed, décor could bring interest to your garden and provide creative opportunities fvor the gardener.

***

Because we are bulb-planting season, I will share a link with a recently discovered webpage, Tulips in the Wild, that presents a map of Europe and the Middle East, showing where various species of tulips grow, with photos of each species in its natural habitat. This website was developed by the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and the U.S. bulb seller, Colorblends. Browse to <tulipsinthewild.com> and click on “Interactive Map.”

If you enjoy tulips, this page provides a fascinating and informative display of the origins of many different tulips. If you thought that tulips come from the Netherlands, the truth is that only hybrid tulips come from growers in Holland. This webpage shows the real origins of this popular garden plant and could suggest a new idea for plant collecting.