Low-Maintenance Garden Themes

Designing a garden bed around a theme yields practical and aesthetic benefits.

The aesthetic benefit of thematic garden design rests on the relationships among the plants: they are linked by being members of the class defined by the theme. In that respect, a thematic group is more coherent, aesthetically, than the ever-popular “grab-bag” approach to plant selection.

The practical benefit is a plan for selecting plants from the hundreds of thousands of available varieties. Once the gardener has chosen a theme, he or she has reduced the universe of possible plants to consider. This one action narrows the selection task and supports close evaluation of options.

A garden design theme is simply a concept to which plants relate. This definition embraces a very wide range of possible themes, which could be a single color or combination of blossom colors; a plant genus, e.g., rose, iris, daffodil; size, e.g., miniatures; bee-friendly, etc.

For today’s topic, consider a progression of four themes for low-maintenance gardening.

Theme #1: Zone-appropriate Plants. Every gardener should know the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone in which his or her garden exists. The Monterey Bay area is in USDA Zone 9b, where minimum temperatures are in the 25–30 degree range; plants marked for Zone 9 should survive cold spells in that range. A great many plants are that hardy, so this theme excludes only plants that are vulnerable to cold and therefore high-maintenance. Nurseries also use UCDA zones to indicate the preferred zone for given plants. Plants that are rated for Zones 10 or 11 usually will thrive best in very warm climates, not in Zone 9.

Theme #2: Mediterranean Climate Plants. These are plants that have evolved to grow well in the world’s areas that have dry summers and moderate winters. These areas (again) are native to the central coast of California, the central coast of Chile, the southwestern coast of Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean basin. A large number of plants are suitable for this theme, but this category still is significantly smaller that Theme #1.

Theme #3: California Native Plants. This theme is within Theme #2, of course, but it stands apart from the others because includes plants that are both suitable for the Mediterranean climate and the soils and fauna of this state. Soil chemistry and symbiotic relationships with birds, mammals, insects and microbial life contribute significantly to the growth of plants, and, ultimately, the success of the gardener.

Theme #4: Native Plant Communities. A great variety of plants are native to California, and many have evolved to grow best in specific environments within the state, and in communities with specific other plants. An oak woodland plant community is certainly different from one that occurs naturally on coastal bluffs and cliffs. For the ultimate in low-maintenance gardening, adopt a thematic design for a California native plant community that would be appropriate for your garden setting.

Consider a thematic design for each garden bed or each large area of your garden. Plant selection will transform a random process to a purposeful activity.

Books for Thematic Designs

Zone-appropriate Plants
The New Western Garden Book (Sunset, 2012)

Mediterranean Plants
Plant Life in the World’s Mediterranean Climates (Dalman & Ornduff, 1998)

California Native Plants
California Native Plants for the Garden (Bornstein, Fross & O’Brien, 2005)

Native Plant Communities
Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens (Keator, Middlebrook & Faber, 2007)

 

Planning Garden Stairways

My garden includes a slight slope with a few stairs, made with 8” x 8” x 48” wooden highway ties. Earlier, garden stairs might have been made with railroad ties, which were often soaked in creosote as a preservative. Today, highway ties are pressure-treated with chemical preservatives, many of which are too toxic to be used near edible plants.

Happily, my short flight of aging stairs was not treated with a preservative, but consequently it is deteriorating and needs replacement. Wood is suitable for stairs that do contact soil, but in this case I will avoid rot by using flagstones or other natural stone. There are manufactured stone-like materials that also are available for such a project.

When planning garden stairs, first determine your preferred dimensions for the risers and treads. A six-inch riser with a fifteen-inch tread is a recommended combination, but other combinations also can work well. A steep flight of stairs might have seven-inch risers and eleven-inch treads, while a gentle flight might have four-inch risers and twenty eight-inch treads. See on gardening.com for the range of other good combinations.

Then, use a straight board and a carpenter’s level to measure the change in level from the bottom to the top of the slope. For a longer slope, use a garden hose, taking advantage of the fact that water seeks it own level. Hold the hose in a U-shape, with one end near the top of the slope and the other end near the bottom. Fill the hose with water, and adjust it so water is at the opening of each end. When this condition has been met, the two ends will be at the same elevation, and the distance of the lower end to the ground, minus the distance of the upper end to the ground equals the change in level. See ongardening.com for an illustration of this method.

Divide the change in level by your preferred height for the riser to determine the number of steps needed for that particular slope.

Then, measure the horizontal distance from the bottom of the slope to the top. Your preferred dimension for the tread times the number of stairs should equal that distance. If it does not, modify the riser and tread dimensions (using one of the good combinations) or include a curve in the flight of stairs or reshape the slope.

The width of the stairs is the next design issue to be addressed. The narrowest width could be two feet, which might be sufficient for a utility stairway. A one-person stairway should be four feet wide, which is generally considered the minimum for a garden path. A two-person stairway should be five feet wide.

Wider stairways, in scale with the landscape, can provide a visually striking appearance. This stairway at Les Quatre Vents, an estate near Quebec, is designed for grand entrances. (Click to enlarge)

Grand Staircase

Staircase at Les Quatre Vents, near Quebec, Canada

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Gardens as Tools

Following recent surgery, I felt too fatigued and sore for even light gardening. Those limitations lasted about one week, after which I could again put in several hours on easy—and overdue— tasks: weeding, installing small plants, pruning, all of which helped a lot in my recovery.

This episode stimulated thoughts of the garden’s many functions beyond pleasing the eye, feeding the stomach and providing regular light exercise.

Without minimizing the direct benefits of ornamental and edible gardening, consider the types of therapeutic gardens: healing, meditation, contemplation, and restorative.

“Healing” means helping individuals to overcome physical, mental, emotional or spiritual challenges.

“Meditation” involves deepening personal knowledge and attaining inner peace.

“Contemplation” involves thoughtfully examining issues larger than oneself, perhaps in a religious or mystical manner.

“Restoration” refers to returning to an ideal or normal state from a stressed or agitated state, or from boredom or difficulty in focusing.

A garden designed to help individuals to overcome physical challenges is described as an accessible garden. The design typically emphasizes raised beds, tall enough to provide easy access to the gardener who cannot kneel, or finds it difficult to do so. (Rising from kneeling could be just as challenging.) There are also convenient tools, e.g., rolling seats, tools with long handles, telescoping pruners, for gardeners who have grown to be less than spry.

Other kinds of accessible gardens are designed for gardeners with partial or complete loss of sight, emphasizing blossom fragrance or plant texture over appearance, to favor smell or touch.

No garden, however accessible or well intentioned actually effects any healing or restoration. Only the gardener who desires to be healed or restored can achieve such outcomes. In this perspective, the garden is not the cure, only the gardener’s tool.

The focus on the gardener is the same for meditation and contemplation gardens, which offer only nature’s calm environment to invite the gardener to forget for the moment personal stresses and the busy world’s demands, and to consider issues greater than “why snails?”

There’s one more type of therapeutic garden: the motivational garden, which helps those who may be bored or having difficulty in focusing.  Once we have begun gardening, and experienced the satisfaction of seeing plants grow under our hands, even a brief visit to the garden stimulates the urge to pull a weed, deadhead a faded blossom, or move a misplaced specimen to a better spot.

Gardens are valuable tools for many special purposes; many gardeners find them therapeutic on all occasions.

More

The American Horticultural Therapy Association provides its definitions and positions regarding therapeutic gardening.

The American Society of Landscape Architects offers an interesting essay, “The Therapeutic Garden— A Definition.”

Pinterest (which collects photos on various topics from many sources has several unorganized groups on topics related to therapeutic gardens. A search on “horticultural therapy ideas” yields this collection, which demonstrates the wide range of ideas that people associate with “horticultural therapy.”

 

Renovating the Garden —Good and Bad Views

Renovating the Garden – Good and Bad Views

Tom Karwin

In recent columns on garden renovation, we have focused on planning, removing unwanted plants and hardscape, and analyzing the garden’s soil. This column takes a closer look at objectives for the landscape.

Earlier, we wrote, “Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.”

The intended uses are basic in landscape planning, but more specific objectives might be relevant to a given property. Here are two examples.

Block an Undesired View

Many homes are close to other homes, public buildings or commercial establishments, and garden renovators might wish to block the view of adjacent structures or activities. Blocking a view has creating privacy as its corollary.

This objective can be accomplished by installing one or more shrubs or trees to interrupt a sightline between a favored spot on the landscape and the undesired view, or between a spot where privacy is wanted and a place where an off-site viewer might be.

This strategic act will succeed most quickly if the renovator installs large plants, but that can be very expensive. The garden renovator should be patient enough to install plants of affordable size, and savvy enough to select shrubs or trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Resist any inclination to install a shrubbery wall to block the view to and from the public sidewalk and street. This landscaping device announces, “A recluse lives here.” Adjustable window coverings are better alternatives.

Frame a Desired View

The viewshed of some homes might include a field or forest or mountain or ocean or some other scene that pleases the eye. It might be the natural environment or a built structure. In such happy situations, the first landscaping objective should be retain or reveal the view. This might require removing poorly placed trees or shrubs, and not installing plants that would grow to obscure the view.

The second objective should be to develop landscaping that draws attention to the viewshed and to its best features. This might involve framing the view from a selected observation area, which might be inside the residence or on a deck or patio. Just as a picture frame separates a picture from it surroundings, carefully positioned trees can highlight a desired viewshed.

In time, an undesired view could become unobjectionable, and new construction could block a desired view. Whatever happens, your view shed rights stop at the property line, so manage your landscaping accordingly.

More

Trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Proving once again that the Internet provides access to a vast store of information, Clink this link to the website Fast-growing Trees. There are three pages of trees that are fast-growing and suitable for USDA Hardiness Zone 9, which includes the Monterey Bay area.

When selecting a fast-growing tree to install in your particular garden, consider (in addition to the hardiness zone) the mature height and width of the tree, appearance, and any other factors that are important to you. Some of the trees listed on the Fast-Growing Trees website are too large for a smaller property, and some are too small to be useful as a screen of an undesired view.

Here is a link to This Old House on Fast-Growing Shade Trees.

In my own garden, several years ago I planted three seedlings of Pittosporum tenuifolium fairly close together, to screen a nearby property. The seedlings, which had sprouted in another part of the property, grew rapidly to over 30 feet, which is taller than I expected, based on the available information. This shrub (also called P. nigricans, because of its dark branches) is evergreen and trouble-free, so it has been a very successful screen.

Here are those three large shrubs in my garden. doing a good job of concealing the house beyond (click to enlarge).

 IMG_0302

Finally, here is a link to SF Gate for more information about this large shrub.

 

Behind Schedule in the Garden

The garden does not wait for the gardener, but goes about growing, reproducing, aging and eventually dying whether or not the gardener meets the schedule of seasonal tasks.

My garden has proceeded this year on its natural cycle. As the weather has warmed, even the plants for which I should have cut back last year’s growth are producing abundant new growth

Salvias exemplify this failing. Best practice with salvias is to cut them to the ground in the late winter or very early spring, when new growth first appears. This practice rejuvenates the plant, and gives it a youthful look. When the pruning is done too late, it is very difficult to avoid cutting off the new growth and setting back the seasonal growth.

I cut back a few of the salvias in my garden, but left many more with their tired branches from last year.

Fortunately, perennial plants really do not depend on punctual gardeners. Salvias perform better when treated well, of course, but they will survive nicely even when neglected.

I was able to prune my roses at the right time. It is possible to let rose shrubs grow without annual pruning during the dormant season, but they will have a more compact form and produce more blossoms when cut back about one-third each year.

Fruit trees are another matter. Happily, I pruned my apple trees in a timely way: I cut back last year’s growth just before blossoms appeared on the trees. There are just four dwarf apple trees in my garden, but skipping this annual task would allow sprawling growth and reduce the yield.

I did not, however, spray my trees as recommended to discourage codling moths. I did read about the life cycle of those pests, and made life a little harder for the over-wintering larvae by raking the mulch away from the base of the trees.

Weeds also are responding well to our limited rain and the warming weather. They are growing very nicely! I haven’t identified all the several weeds that make my garden their home, but I can always spot the bright yellow flowers of sourgrass, which expands its territory in my garden each year.

Wikipedia (always helpful) has this comment about sourgrass: “Indigenous to South Africa, Oxalis pes-caprae, the ‘Bermuda buttercup,’ is an invasive species and noxious weed in many other parts of the world, including the United States (particularly coastal California)…”

Ideally, gardeners should pull this weed when it first appears, before it produces countless tiny bulbs. Sadly, I am behind schedule again this year.

This experience yields clear lessons for gardeners:

  • Strive to keep pace with Nature’s rhythm
  • Appreciate the ability of plants to thrive despite neglect, and
  • Take satisfaction in the seasonal tasks you do complete.

Enjoy your garden!

More

Several books on year-round gardening are available through your public library, your bookstore or online. For example, a search of the Amazon.co website for “gardening year-round” yields 45 pages of books to consider. Many of the books listed focus on edible gardening; several also include ornamental gardening.

Before investing your time or money in a gardening book, make sure that it has information for your gardening environment. The most useful gardening information for gardeners in the Monterey Bay area will be specific to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9. Information in books oriented to “northern California” or “Pacific Northwest” will need interpretation for gardeners in Zone 9. Books intended for other parts of the United States or the world could still be helpful, but should be treated like exotic materials.

Still, given that awareness, some classic books on year-round gardening written by English authors can be very much worth reading. Examples, include books by Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Whether written by American or English gardening experts, the date of publication is not important: Nature’s seasonal patterns have not changed significantly.

Here are suggestions:

The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color (A Rodale Garden Book) (1994), by Susan A. Roth (Author)

Golden Gate Gardening, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California (2010), by Pamela Peirce (Author)

Gardener to Gardener: Almanac & Pest-Control Primer (2000), by Vicki Mattern and Fern Marshal Bradley (Eds)

A Yardscapes Year: Ideas and Plants for Bay Area Gardeners (1999), by Mia Amato

The Western Gardener’s Journal: A Three-Year Almanac (1998), by Margaret Moulton

Planting Succulents in Circles

Succulent wreaths are easy decorations for your own enjoyment or gifts.

Well-made wreaths can be very attractive. They can be bought or made in various sizes, with a selection of succulent plants, and an endless variety of designs. In addition, a wreath’s appearance evolves interestingly as the plants mature.

Evergreen wreaths are traditionally displayed during the Christmas holiday season, and we recently have added succulent wreaths to that tradition. There is nothing particularly seasonal about succulents, but why not establish a new tradition?

These items can be costly to buy because they take time to create. The required skill level is not great, however, so succulent wreaths are good candidates for do-it-yourselfers. Many people treat making such wreaths as a craft project, but I see it as a gardening project. Ultimately, it involves the propagation of succulent plants by planting cuttings.

Start early to have your wreath ready when you want to display it. If you want create your wreath for the holiday season, start now.

The basic components are the circular metal wreath frame with a nylon mesh tube filled with sphagnum moss. These items are often available in a choice of diameters in garden centers and craft stores.

I saved a fourteen-inch diameter frame from a long-gone evergreen wreath and found 12 x 48 inch green plastic floral netting in a craft store. I could wrap the netting around sphagnum moss or coir (coconut fiber) and secure it with copper wire to fabricate a tube for rooting succulent cuttings. I should soak the base in water to prepare it for the cuttings.

The next ingredient is a collection of small un-rooted cuttings, perhaps 100 for a 12-inch wreath. Popular choices are rosettes from such succulent plants as echeverias, graptopetalums, aeoniums, sempervivums and others. For contrasting forms, good choices include sedums, crassulas and kalanchoes.

The least expensive source of cuttings would be your own garden or a friend’s garden, but you could to seek them out at garden center or nursery. A good local source: Succulent Gardens—The Growing Grounds, in Castroville (http://sgplants.com/).

Insert the cuttings into the moss or coir, then keep the wreath still and shaded for several weeks while the cuttings develop roots. Keep it moist with occasional soaks. With very basic care it could last for several years.

For more detailed advice, search the Internet for “how to make succulent wreaths.”

The ultimate challenge is to make an interesting design for your wreath. Combining random cuttings is fairly easy, but creating a recognizable pattern involves more planning.

More

Here’s Martha Stewart’s instructions for making a succulent wreath.

Here’s the Living Succulent Wreath Tutorial by Succulents and Sunshine. This website includes lots of images and a time-lapse record of wreath development.

Another example—with good details—by Pretty Prudent.

Debra Lee Baldwin, author of fine books on succulents, favors buying a succulent wreath instead of making your own, mostly because of the retail cost of cuttings. Here’s her advice on maintaining a wreath.

Notes from the Field

Gardening often resembles a random walk in which every turn in the garden reveals another opportunity to pursue or problem to solve. Today’s column follows that pattern with three current topics, unrelated except for being “on gardening.”

Sulfate of Ammonia

While clearing out “stuff” I found two 20-pound small bags of sulfate of ammonia fertilizer, which is 21% nitrogen, 24% sulfur and not much else.

Sulfate of ammonia is a long way from a complete fertilizer. It provides a rapid flush of growth and green color in foliage, and is often used on lawns. (I removed my lawn about twenty years ago.)

This special-purpose fertilizer also can be used to promote the growth of other plants, shrubs and trees in the garden, but it can over-stimulate plants, encourage tender foliage that insects particularly like, and in time acidify the soil. It should be used sparingly or not at all.

Another possible use of sulfate of ammonia would be to speed up decomposition in a compost pile: Washington State University researchers found that it would also lower pH (acidify) and raise available nitrogen. However, this is an inorganic salt, produced by combining ammonia with either sulfuric acid or gypsum and calcium carbonate. My garden is strictly organic, so I will either donate my stash to a lawn lover or dispose of it as toxic waste.

Seed & Bulb Exchange

Marina Tree & Garden Club will hold a Seed & Bulb Exchange at the Marina Farmer’s Market (at Reservation Road and Vista Del Camino) on Sunday, October 20th, 10:00–2:00.

Bring seeds, bulbs, tubers or root divisions to share or find something new for your own garden. The event welcomes both home-collected and commercial seeds, flowers, vegetables and California native plants.

Bring your offerings between 10:00 and 12:00. If possible, include the plant’s common or botanical name, blossom color and other information that gardeners like to know.

The Exchange is free and open to all, with or without items to share.

Bring a friend!

Swapping Flowering Vines

Years ago, I used half-inch copper tubing to build a trellis six inches wide and twenty feet high and attached it to an elevated deck. On this trellis I grew a common Woodbine Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), a woody twining climber. I became tired of this plant, but removing it was a daunting task.

Fortunately, a tireless student came to work in my garden and soon put the honeysuckle in the green waste. Then, at a Berkeley Botanical Garden sale, I found a Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa), a climber with beautiful, slightly fragrant blossoms and more than enough exotic appeal for this prominent trellis.

mandevilla_laxa_annie

This image of the Chilean Jasmine blossom is from Annie’s Annuals, a nursery in Richmond, California that supplies retail garden centers, and also offers plants by mail.

Change can be refreshing!

Ten Things to Know About Pots

Our thoughts about garden pots are mostly opinions, and gardeners can give opinions only as much weight as they deserve.

  1. Containers may be the most important part of a small garden. Invest time and resources for the best choices.
  2. Designers like big pots better than small pots. Not all designers have the same view about anything, but often, small pots produce clutter and big pots add focal points.
  3. Plants like big pots better than small pots. Small pots are fine for small plants, but larger plants hold moisture longer, and provide roots room for larger plants and plant combinations.
  4. Non-porous pots are better than porous pots. Containers need a soil mix that drains well, but it’s also important to avoid leaving the plant with no moisture. Terra cotta pots evaporate moisture through their sides; glazed pots and other non-porous containers hold moisture longer.
  5. Pots without drain holes are OK for some plants. Succulent specialist Debra Lee Baldwin says that containers that don’t drain can be used for succulents when limiting water and monitoring soil moisture.
  6. The pot’s color should work with the plant’s color. Containers with neutral colors: white, black, concrete gray and earth tones (terra cotta = “baked earth”) won’t compete with colorful blossoms or foliage. Distinctively colored glazed pots invites for analogous or complementary color combinations with plants.
  7. Pots with brightly colored patterns should be used carefully. They can compete visually with the plant, rather than leaving the plant as the center of attention. Traditional Talavera pottery from city of Puebla and nearby communities in Mexico can be featured as artwork, without a plant.
  8. High-fired pots are better than low-fired pots. Earthenware, like Mexican pottery, is fired to temperatures below 2100°F, is not strong and chips easily. Stoneware, like some Chinese garden containers, is fired to temperatures from 2200°F to 2350°F, is very strong and durable. Stoneware is often large and heavy, but over time is worth the higher cost.
  9. The depth of the pot should work with the plant’s roots. Shallow containers are suitable for bonsai and some succulents, but most containers are intended to accommodate the roots of monocot plants, which have fibrous roots. Most dicot plants have taproots, and should be planted in a tall container. Examples include windflower, balloon flower, butterfly weeds, and Oriental poppies.
  10. Plastic containers are a matter of personal taste. The best plastic pots are well designed, attractively finished, light in weight and relatively inexpensive, but purists might insist on natural materials. Black nursery cans are for nurseries.

More

For inspiration on planting pots, visit Southern Living’s “101 Container Ideas”

Garden centers usually have a selection of pots available for purchase, but a wider range of choices can be found at retail businesses that specialize in garden containers, and perhaps also statuary and fountains.

Such businesses in the Monterey Bay area include

If you’re inclined to travel a bit for “pot shopping,” here are two places to visit:

For distinctive, hand-crafted garden pots, visit the website of Guy Wolff Pottery

Talavera garden pots can be found in many retail shops and also on online sources, such as Direct from Mexico and Talavera Emporium. To be certain you are getting authentic Talavera Poblana, verify that the item was created in City of Puebla or in the nearby communities of Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali.

Designing With Succulents

Gardeners who become interested in succulent plants might become a bit puzzled by their unfamiliar character. They often bloom, but their flowers are short-lived and less important than their forms and textures. They grow in unexpected ways, sometimes with branches and sometimes without. They might seem native to hot, dry environments, but some thrive in partial shade and are even subject to sunburn.

Confused?

Many books about succulents are reference works, focusing on genera and species, but providing little guidance on how they can be grown successfully, propagated, displayed in the garden, or incorporated in creative works of art and craft.

Enter the succulent gardening expert, Debra Lee Baldwin, and her new book, Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing and Crafting with 100 Easy-Care Varieties (Timber Press, 2013).

Baldwin describes this book as a prequel to her two earlier books, Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens. The new book is an overview and guide for novices in the world of succulents, and an introduction to design ideas from Baldwin and other specialists.

The book is organized in three parts. “Enjoying, Growing and Designing with Succulents,” begins with an appreciation of succulents’ shapes, textures and color, presents basic methods for the cultivation and propagation of these plants, and offers core concepts for designing succulent displays in containers and in gardens. This part alone will add greatly to the novice’s confidence in working with succulent plants.

The second part, “How-to Projects that Showcase Succulents,” includes step-by step instructions for eight imaginative craft projects using succulent plants or cuttings. Each of these projects could be varied by using different plants or accessory items, and thus does not constrain the crafter’s creative expression.

In the final part, “100 Easy-care Succulents,” Baldwin describes her 100 favorite succulent plants, based on her practical experiences in growing, propagating, and designing with succulents, as well as in teaching others how to succeed with these plants.

Large clear photographs show the plants, demonstrate design concepts and explain the development of craft projects. The photos, by the author and other succulent gardening specialists, are great resources for gardeners who learn from visualizing plants.

Baldwin expresses her enthusiasm for succulent plants, shares her extensive experiences in growing and designing with them, and provides ideas and tools gardeners need for enjoyable and successful work with succulents.

Succulents Simplified will be a valued addition to the gardener’s bookshelf.

More

The craft projects in this book are as follows:

Succulent Cake-stand Centerpiece – A display of succulent cuttings on an elevated plate

Succulent Squares – Symmetrical plantings in home-made shallow square containers

Living Picture Vertical Garden – Hanging displays of  succulents in boxes up to 18″ x 24″

Low-light Dish Garden – Succulents selected for low-light situations

Hanging Basket of Mixed Succulents – Using a wicker basket as a hanging planter

Succulent-topped Pumpkins – Growing succulents in a hollowed out pumpkin

Succulent Topiary Sphere – Techniques for a spherical planting of succulents

Special-occasion Succulent Bouquet – Using succulents in a corsage or boutonniere

Creative Landscaping with Bulbs

If you will plant spring bulbs this fall, there is time for design. Brent and Becky Bulbs says the ideal planting time is after the first frost and before the ground freezes. It will be a long time before Monterey Bay gardens freeze over, so you need not rush to planting. They also recommend ordering early and planting when the shipment arrives.

Disclosure: I met Brent and Becky Heath at meetings of the Garden Writers Association, which has named them to its Hall of Fame for their many good works.

Landscaping Ideas

Tentative vs. Bold. Sprinkle bulbs here and there in your garden to good effect, or create large swaths for dramatic impact.

Captive vs. Free. Bulbs are good in containers because they can be moved in and out of the spotlight as needed, but they grow best and look most natural in the ground.

Clones vs. Communities. Both large and small displays of a single cultivar are charming, while mixtures of cultivars of the same plant can offer interesting comparisons and complementary colors and forms.

Big Event vs. Extended Display. Mail-order sources often list the flowering times of spring bulbs, e.g., very early, early, mid, late, and very late. You could plan your display for a garden party or other special event, or orchestrate an extended-season display in a prominent bed.

Monochrome vs. Polychrome. Mass planting of different bulbs that flower in the same color or analogous colors can please; designing color combinations can be challenging but satisfying when the design succeeds. Search the web for “color theory” for color wheels and ideas. The website “Color Matters” is terrific. The web also has demonstrations of many color combinations, which might mix bulbous plants with other types.  For example, see the Better Homes & Gardens website:

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/bulbs/beautiful-bulb-combinations.

Botanical Garden. For an intriguing, educational and satisfying approach, group bulbs by their geographic origin.. There are bulbs from throughout the world, and very good choices from Mediterranean climate regions. South Africa is the home of a large number of bulbs, the Mediterranean Basin has many, and California’s native bulbs include Brodiaea, Calochortus, Triteleia and others.

Many mail order bulb nurseries indicate the origins of their bulbs, and some specialize in exotic choices. Good sources include Telosrarebulbs.com (international), californianative bulbs,com (California), thebulbman.com (South Africa), and www.bulbmania.com (international). Also visit the website of the Pacific Bulb Society (www.pacific bulbsociety.org ) and search for “species bulbs” for a list of suppliers of seeds and bulbs.

Enjoy your spring bulbs!