Social Distance XIII: Landscape Design Concepts

Salvia + Achillea

This column’s garden photo shows a swath of the Friendship Salvia (Salvia ‘Amistad’) as background for Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’). These plants have good traits in common: both are summer-blooming perennials, upright in form, and propagate each season by spreading. The Yarrow needs support while the Salvia stands on its own, but they work well together in multiple ways. This photo illustrates useful concepts in landscape design, which is the focus of this column as we continue to explore accessible and productive gardening activities while we are social distancing.

Care for Your Garden

Gardening by walking around can be worthwhile just for meditating on Nature’s wonders, but it can also be an opportunity to consider ways to refine your garden landscape.

Landscape design involves a multitude of issues and ideas and deserves college-level study and extensive reading, but a short list of basic concepts can support significant improvements in garden vistas.

This column addresses three concepts in aesthetic landscape design.

Concept #1: Place tall plants in back. This concept is primarily practical: it simply protects the visibility of shorter plants. The shorter plants might also hide the less attractive stems of background plants. This approach leads to installing a series of plant layers in the garden bed, providing an attractive display.

As with all landscape concepts, this rule can be broken. For example, some “see-through” plants such as Angel’s Fishing Rod (Dierama pulcherrimum) or Brazilian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) could be placed in front of shorter plants without obstructing the view.

Concept #2: Plant in groups. Having multiple specimens of a favored plant provides visual continuity in the landscape. Too often, when gardeners see an attractive plant in a garden center, they purchase and install just one plant and the landscape develops an eclectic or scattered appearance. A more effective method from a design perspective is to install at least three plants in a grouping. Some plants, e.g., Salvia ‘Amistad’, will spread on their own through runners, and soon create an attractive cluster.

A related concept, repetition, also provides continuity in the landscape. A plant that grows well in the garden and reproduces over time could form a clump that is larger than wanted in its location. This situation inviting transplanting divisions of the plant within the garden, ideally within sight of each other so they are visually linked.

Concept #3: Arrange Plants by Form and Color. The garden landscape looks best when it has been arranged intentionally. When selecting plants, envision their intended location in the garden to consider whether the new plants will look relative to existing plants in size, color and form of foliage, or color and form of blossoms.

Size relationships go beyond the “tall plants in back” concept. A landscape generally gains visual interest from plants of various sizes, but adjacent plants should not differ greatly in height or width.

Also consider foliage texture and color: which can vary over a wide range. When a given plant is grown in a grouping, there will be continuity in the foliage, but when installing different plants together, the garden design often will be enhanced by juxtaposing different foliage textures and colors. For example, pairing a red foliage plant with one that has silvery foliage could provide a striking effect, while putting two different plants with similar foliage could look like a design blunder.

Blossom colors, which are often emphasized in garden design, present challenges and opportunities. Again, intentional combinations look better than randomness.

One of the world’s most famous garden designs is Vita-Sackville-West’s white garden at England’s Sissinghurst Castle. This landscape favors white shades in both blossom and foliage color.

A comparably monochromatic effect could be developed with any of several other colors, but the more popular approaches use analogous or complementary color schemes. Such design approaches could be applied to larger garden beds, or smaller vignettes of just a few closely positioned plants.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Analogous color schemes typically involve three colors that are close on the color wheel, e.g., red, orange and yellow, while complementary color schemes involve two colors that are opposites on the color wheel, e.g., violet and yellow in this column’s photo. These schemes can expand into complex ideas for fine artists and fabric designers, but gardeners can accomplish effective displays by applying the basic schemes. Learn about developing this aspect of your garden landscape by searching the Internet for “analogous color scheme” or complementary color scheme” or “color wheel.”

Enrich Your Gardening Days

As you stroll by gardens in your community or public gardens, or search for “private garden tours,” look for examples or violations of the three landscape design concepts outlined in this column.

Look also for creative and successful departures from these basic concepts. Even the best rules can be broken!

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative, and enjoy your garden.

Social Distance XII: Garden Books

Our botanical highlight for this week is the Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’). This native of the Mediterranean basin area grows well in the compatible environment of the Monterey Bay area. Its stalks grow up to five feet tall, and its large flowerheads are so tightly packed with individual blooms that the plant needs staking to keep from flopping. The bright colors are worth that extra management.

Fernleaf Yarrow

As we strive to keep our emotions positive and our viruses negative, we continue our exploration of accessible and productive gardening activities.

  1. Care for Your Garden

Seasonal maintenance tasks provide plenty to keep gardeners involved while sheltering in place. Unless you have a special strategy, weeding is likely to be on the “to-do” list.

A longer-term weed management method is to remove large weeds from an area, cover the area with a layer of cardboard, wet it down, and then cover the cardboard with three or four inches of organic mulch. This will smother weeds while the cardboard deteriorates.

Cardboard in rolls can be purchased for this work, but recycling cardboard cartons is less expensive and good for the environment. It is necessary, however, to remove any packaging tape, which doesn’t deteriorate.

Previous columns in this Social Distancing series describe various ways to care for your garden during these difficult times. If you wish to review those columns, browse to my “ongardeniing” website. Here’s a list of topics:

  • Chelsea Chop
  • Moving Plants
  • Seasonal Care of Rose
  • Garden Photography
  • Walking the Neighborhood
  • Gardening Curriculum for Kids
  • Gardening by Walking Around
  • Readiness for Wildfires
  • Gardening with Kids
  • Garden Maintenance

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Gardeners can both advance their gardening knowledge and enrich their gardening days by reading garden-related books.

Gardening interests, fashions and tools evolve from year to year, but the basic concepts have been with us for generations. The best books on gardening continue to be informative and enriching, even decades after their original publication.

The Society’s annual Book Award Program began in 1997 with a list of 75 Great American Garden Books. Each year since then, a distinguished committee of garden communicators selects the award recipients from among the year’s new books submitted by publishers. Books are judged on qualities such as writing style, authority, accuracy, and physical quality.

Here are the award winners for 2020:

  • Fruit Trees for Every Garden:  An Organic Approach to Growing Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, Citrus, and More. by Orin Martin with Manjula Martin  \
  • The Melon by Amy Goldman; photographs by Victor Schrager
  • The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance by Ken Druse; botanical photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp

The American Horticultural Society is also an excellent online source of information on earlier high-quality books about gardening. Browse to the AHS awards webpage and click on the link to 75 Great American Garden Books. Then scroll to the bottom of the page to the link to List of Previous AHS Book Award Winners.

A good plan to draw from your choice of these thoughtfully selected books begins by creating a comfortable reading nook in the garden, for occasions for rest and reading between weeding sessions. Find the book or books of your interest in a local, reopened library or bookstore, or through ever-present

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance in Gardening, Part XI: Chelsea Chop

This week’s botanical feature is the large white crinkled blossom of the California Tree Poppy (Romneya coulteri), also called the Matilija Poppy (referring to a canyon in Ventura County, where it is abundant). It was once a contender for state flower, but the California Poppy was given that title. The California Tree Poppy grows six feet tall, and once established will spread to eight feet or more. We cut this plant to the ground in the early spring, and it is now back to its full size and flower.

California Tree Poppy

While we are social distancing, gardening keeps our emotions positive, and our viruses negative. Thinking about these objectives, we continue our exploration of accessible and productive gardening activities.

1. Care for Your Garden

Right now, late May, the “Chelsea Chop” is a useful gardening practice. This technique gets its name from Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, held around this time of the year. This exemplifies very British gardening, but it also works quite well for us colonists.

The Chelsea Chop helps control the size, shape and flowering time of certain summer-flowering plants. It applies to herbaceous perennial plants that flower in the early summer and particularly those that tend to flop.

The Chelsea Chop involves pruning back all the stems on a clump, which delays all the flowers by four-to-six weeks, or just half of the stems, which extends the plant’s flowering period further into the summer. Full pruning could be accomplished by shearing the perennial clump, while selectively pruning the clump could be done best with garden clippers.

This method encourages the production of a greater profusion of flowers. After “chopping,” fertilize the plants and provide a thorough watering.

Here are some of the herbaceous perennials that benefit from this treatment: Achillea; Asters; Campanulas; Echinacea; Heleniums; Helianthus; Nepeta; Penstemons; Phlox; Rudbeckias; Salvias (herbaceous species) and Sedums. Your garden could include some of these or other plants that would respond well to being “chopped” in late May.  

This technique does not apply to woody perennials, which require different treatment. Roses, for example, should be deadheaded regularly at this time of the year to promote blooms.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Assign yourself to a study one of your favorite plant genera and search the Internet for information to study.

Online sources are quick, easy and free. Wikipedia, for example, has detailed articles about roses and many other garden plants. To get started, browse to and search for “List of garden plants.” It’s impressive.

You could also get a book from the public library, a local bookstore, or an online shopping service, e.g., Amazon, depending on what is available in your community.

Depending on your level of interest, you could extend the study of your favorite plant genus by learning about other plants in the same botanical family. The Abelia, for example, is a member of the Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), which includes forty-two genera. Learning about your favorite plant’s relatives will broaden your understanding of its cultivation.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Gardening can be an ideal pursuit while social distancing, but it is also a highly social activity, as evidenced by the hundreds of societies that gather like-minded gardeners to share ideas, experiences, and plants. These societies are now in hiatus, but in most cases their websites are running, and freely available for interested gardeners.

To locate a society for plants of your interest, search for your selected plant genus and “plant society.” For example, search for “rose plant society.” Other approaches start with the state, e.g., “California plant society,” or a plant category, e.g., “indoor plant society.”

A brief search could lead you to information from others who share your gardening interests. You don’t have to join a society to scan their online information. If the first search doesn’t yield helpful results, try a different search.

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance X: Moving Plants

This week’s featured plant, Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, is a succulent plant growing to 2 feet by 2 feet and producing clumps of rosettes to 8 inches tall by nearly 1 foot wide with broad bronze and pink leaves. This is a 1946 hybrid cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria, both of which are natives of Mexico. The cultivar name honors one of the founders of England’s National Cactus & Succulent Society. It’s a beautiful and durable summer-growing plant that is a mainstay for succulent garden beds.

While social distancing, gardening keeps emotions positive, and viruses negative. With these goals in mind, we continue our exploration of appropriate gardening activities.

1. Care for Your Garden

We have advocated “gardening by walking  around” as a productive gardening activity while practicing social distancing. Today, we consider the value of “gardening by moving plants around” as another productive activity.

There are numerous reasons for moving plants within the garden. Providing more favorable growing conditions for the plant could be important. A plant might need more sun or more shade, or better drainage, or higher quality soil. Plants might have been planted in the wrong place, or nearby plants might have grown to block sunlight or crowd the plant in question. When a plant appears to be struggling to grow, consider moving it to more hospitable site.

Another reason for moving a plant is to keep it from crowding other plants or encroaching on a walkway. Too often, gardeners install a small new plant without considering its mature size.

Finally, moving a plant might refine the landscape design. A plant might be moved to relate better to other plants in terms of height, foliage form, blossom color, or overall size. A garden vignette might “come the life” after moving a plant from a background location to a starring role.

An old gardening aphorism states, “Plant after May, you better pray.” As with many generalities about gardening, this advice needs examination.

It really doesn’t apply to installing new plants, when done correctly. When a plant is moved from a nursery container to the garden, it benefits from gaining root room and (presumably) an appropriate growing environment.

Moving an existing plant in the summer, however, could challenge the plant’s health because transplanting an established plant unavoidably disturbs its root structure. The usual recommendation is to transplant during the early spring or late fall, rather than during the heat of the summer.

Still, if you have been gardening by walking around and seeing a plant that really must be moved, following good practices that could result in a successful move. The primary goal for most plants is to minimize loss of moisture. This is less of a problem when moving succulent plants, which store moisture quite effectively.

Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area’s temperate climate have a clear advantage over gardeners in California’s central valley, where summer heat makes transplanting problematic. Here are good practices.

  1. Schedule the move for the evening or a cool, overcast day.
  2. Water the plant thoroughly the day before the scheduled transplanting.
  3. Dig the hole for the plant‘s new location and fill the hole with water before proceeding to lift the plant.
  4. Water the subject plant again, to keep the roots intact.
  5. Lift the plant and install it promptly in its new location. Use a tarp to move a larger plant.
  6. Fill the hole halfway with water and let it settle, then fill the hole with soil and tamp it lightly around the transplant. 
  7. For the next several days, shield the plant from direct sunlight and water regularly. 

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Gardeners have ready access through the Internet for advice and demonstrations, when they are necessary or helpful. We can all learn from a quick search through Google or YouTube before tackling a significant gardening task. Phrase your inquiry with natural language and the Internet will interpret your interest. If you don’t get the results you expected, try restating your inquiry.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Here’s this week suggestion for an entertaining garden-related online resource.

Laura Eubanks’ website offers photos of her designs and installations of succulent gardens in southern California. The homepage also includes a link to her many “Succulent Tip of the Day” video recordings on YouTube. She gardens with confidence and enthusiasm, and thus encourages bold gardening.

Enjoy your garden.

Social Distance in Gardening, Part IX: Seasonal Rose Care

Rosa ‘Iceberg’

Roses are in a fine display at this time. They received just enough rain earlier in this season to develop nicely. The rose featured in today’s column is a long-time favorite, ‘Iceberg’, bred in the 1950s by Kordes in Germany. This rose produces large clusters of double-white flowers and has earned many awards, including the World’s Favorite Rose (1983).

We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.

1. Care for Your Garden

During short trips in the community, I’ve observed many healthy roses in bloom. Given the season’s pleasing growth of roses, today’s garden care notes have a timely focus on roses.

Roses need routine attention every year, but gardeners seeking worthy tasks while social distancing should consider fostering the growth and productivity of their roses.

During their spring growth, roses benefit from fertilization. Garden centers offer organic rose food mixes that are preferred over chemical fertilizers that can accumulate salts in the soil. About a week after an initial spring feeding, following package directions, some gardeners follow up by giving each rose a handful of Epson salts and a handful of Kelp meal. Your roses will thank you!

Regular irrigation is also important during this growth period. Roses grow best with two or three gallons of water for each plant. Whether you use drip or hose irrigation, provide adequate water each week.

Regular rejuvenation pruning of roses (weekly, perhaps) supports the gardener’s contemplation and encourages the roses’ productivity. This is a low-energy, low-stress activity (some call the rather grim term, “deadheading”) that improves the look of your rose plants and promotes new blossoms. It also provides opportunities to refine the overall shape of the rose bush. The basic practice is to remove old blooms to just above the first five-leaf or seven-leaf junction. With some plants, the first bloom to fade is between two buds; in those cases, prune the faded bloom and let the buds develop.

At this time of the year, you should also protect your roses from the Western Rose Curculio (Merhynchites wickhami). These pests are red and black, hard-bodied, snout beetles (weevils) about 1/4 inch long. They emerge from the soil in the spring and lay eggs in rose buds, preferring white and yellow roses. The eggs hatch and the larvae chew small holes in the buds. They are very damaging to beautiful roses! The pests eventually fall and bury into the ground, to emerge in the following spring.

Recommended management is to examine roses regularly for signs of the pest, and removal and proper disposal of the affected buds and blossoms. This can be done in the course of rejuvenation pruning.

Another approach is to hold a wide-mouth container of soapy water below where pest damage can be seen and shake the plant to drop the pests into the water, where they will expire. They are not tough customers.

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Gardeners who want or need more detailed advice for seasonal care of their roses should draw upon the Internet’s resources. A Google search for fertilizing, irrigating, rejuvenation pruning (or deadheading) roses will yield helpful recommendations. A search for Rose Curculio also will provide additional details about the life cycle of this pest, and methods of control. Toxic sprays are not needed; direct action is easy, safe and effective.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

The Internet also offers many enrichment opportunities for gardeners to explore. One category of these opportunities is comprised of blogs by garden designers. Deborah Silver is an award-winning designer in Detroit who is particularly generous in sharing her ideas, opinions, and examples through the Internet. Visit “Dirt Simple” to draw upon her design installation and garden accessory experiences. She describes very upscale projects, so she’s not about planting petunias, but there’s a lot on her blog site to see and appreciate, and a flow of ideas that any gardener could adapt. Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.