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!

Small Gardening

The gardening world has been buzzing about small gardens. The current interest in this topic might reflect a trend toward small-scale properties or 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)

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

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, African bulbs, aquatic plants) or any other theme of interest. A theme provides coherence to the garden and a rational 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.

More

Here is a link to an article with additional thoughts about small gardening: “Big Help for Small Gardens.”

Paths to Garden Success

One of my projects during this past week was to install a maintenance path through a deep garden bed, to provide access for weeding, deadheading, organic spraying, irrigation maintenance, and whatever else.

(By the way, my recent call for alternatives to the term “deadheading” yielded an intriguing suggestion: “bloom boosting.” That term is more descriptive than my relatively technical term of “rejuvenation,” and the best one I’ve received. It could catch on!)

A very deep bed should have a maintenance path every four feet, which effectively divides the larger area into beds that are four feet wide and accessible from both sides. That maximum width enables the gardener to reach all parts of the bed without stepping into the bed and compressing the soil.

To avoid fragmenting the appearance of a deep bed, the gardener could form maintenance paths with twelve-inch (round or square) concrete pavers. These are available for as little as ninety-nine cents each, and, when placed behind taller plants, can be unobtrusive.

Maintenance paths could be simply unplanted areas, to be sure, but unpaved pathways could become overgrown and difficult to find. The use of pavers or natural flagstones avoids such problems.

The creative gardener could cast unique (or semi-unique) pavers using purchased or homemade molds. That might satisfy a creative urge, but seems like overkill for something intended to be invisible to visitors.

Pavers also could be used for a walkway for gardeners and their visitors. Such walkways should be at least four feet wide, so the casual visitor could stroll through the garden without watching every step. In larger gardens, wider paths might be well proportioned and would accommodate side-by-side strollers.

There are many possibilities for the surface of a garden path, too many to review here. My paths are not constructed with paver, but with three or four inches of decomposed granite (“DG”) on landscape fabric, with Sonoma fieldstone rocks as edging. This design can be achieved at low cost per foot, but weed seeds, delivered by the wind and the birds, will germinate in the DG. Regular applications of corn gluten, an organic pre-emergent herbicide, can reduce the continuing need to weed the walk.

This use of DG (a coarse sand) resembles a path material called hoggin, which is a mix of gravel, sand and clay that binds firmly when compacted, yet allows water to drain through it. A hoggin pathway (more popular in the United Kingdom than in America) looks attractive and is easy to maintain, just requiring occasional weeding.

Well-designed and well-constructed pathways support both the maintenance and enjoyment of the garden. Planning and building a good path will add greatly to the long-term success of the garden.

More

For a good selection of garden path designs, see “35 Lovely Pathways for a Well-Organized Home and Garden.”

The Web has lots of technical information and video clips on building a garden path, including the selection of materials and the actual construction. Search the web for “design a garden path” or “build a garden path.”

We focus here on the route for a garden path.

When planning the route of a new path, consider both its function and its aesthetics.

The path’s basic function is to support comfortable, efficient and safe movement around the garden, by both the gardener and visitors. The path should connect the garden’s entrance and its exit, and provide good access to the principal features of the garden, e.g., patio, seating area, tool shed, garden art, greenhouse, pond, compost bin, nursery, irrigation controls, etc.

Safety considerations include the following

  • running grade no greater than 4%, i.e., elevation changes no more than one foot for each twenty-five feet, or about one-half inch per foot. (Use steps for greater slopes);
  • cross-slope no greater than 2%, for pedestrian comfort and safe use of wheelchairs;
  • ramps should not exceed 15% (8% for wheelchair use); and
  • surfaces should provide good traction under wet, snow or frost conditions, and should be kept reasonably clean of organic materials, e.g., leaves.

Aesthetic considerations are more subjective.

The appearance of the pathway, determined by the materials used, should relate well to the style of the garden. For example, a pathway of concrete, clay or natural stone pavers will be best in a formal garden environment, while a pathway of sand, gravel or hoggin will look “right” in an informal garden. A pathway of poured concrete would be most appropriate in a public botanical garden or arboretum, where high levels of use by pedestrians, shuttles and maintenance vehicles would be anticipated.

The aesthetics of pathway design also includes subtle issues. Generally, avoid straight-line pathways and right angles, both of which suggest formality and seem incompatible with the experience of strolling through a garden.

Then, ensure that each part of the pathway leads to a destination, e.g., a seating area, an exit, or one of the garden’s features, as listed above. A looping segment of the pathway should be intended clearly to support viewing of all sides of a larger bed. The pathway should neither meander aimlessly or lead to a dead end that requires the visitor to retrace his or her steps.

Finally, the pathway should not expose the entire garden to the visitor’s view, but should be designed to “conceal and reveal” in a managed process. Use the curves of the pathway, in combination with larger plants, to create a series of small mysteries that entice the visitor to discover what lies just out of sight. Then, as the visitor advances along the pathway, reveal the “prize,” which could be one of the garden’s features, listed above, or a specimen plant, nicely presented.

The layout of a garden pathway that addresses both functional and aesthetic concepts successfully can be a challenging exercise, but also can add greatly to the overall success of the garden. Just about all pathway designs can be revised on the basis of experience, so the gardener should feel free to experiment.

When Less is More

My garden is doing well. Perhaps too well.

Several plants in established planting beds have grown to merge with adjacent plants to create a lush effect that I have often admired. Garden magazines often feature residential landscapes with masses of plants in close proximity, so that their colors and textures blend visually to provide an impressionist picture.

When we follow the parallel with fine art, the impressionist approach to garden design contrasts with the realist approach. The impressionist focuses on the overall elements of light, color and movement (all important in a garden) while the realist features the botanical characteristics of individual plants (also important in a garden).

The difference between these approaches could be just a function of time. Plants in a new bed are widely spaced, to provide room to grow, and plants in an older bed will have reached their mature size and occupied the spaces from their neighbors.

Let us agree that both approaches are valid and can be aesthetically pleasing.

Still, we can ask, “What circumstances make the impressionist approach successful?”

First, the choice should be intentional rather than an uncontrolled result of plant growth. This relates to the basic rule, “right plant, right place.” If a plant has grown to overshadow its neighbors or intrude on the walkway or simply become too large for its place in the garden, it no longer contributes to an impressionist ideal. It’s just a garden thug.

Second, the plants should be compatible with each other. They should flourish under similar conditions of light exposure, moisture levels, soil texture, site elevation, wind force and any other contributors to growth and health.

Third, the plants should be complementary in appearance. This could be an elusive criterion because of differing opinions on plants that look good together. The important variables for most gardeners are blossom color, leaf texture and overall size.

Whether any given pair of plants “look good together” is a personal preference, and, any two plants could be regarded as a good combination. I have rarely if ever read that any two plants look really bad together. Instead, their combination will be described as “dramatic” or “surprising” or “bold” or even “shocking” (but in an approving manner).

We might ask this question of the realist approach, but plants are farther apart from each other, by definition, so they it is less important that they look good together. Gardeners who prefer this approach are those who appreciate the natural forms of plants and have interest in their unique qualities.

Successful impressionist designs can be challenging.  I admit that areas of my garden are undeniably overgrown, and have already begun a long-term process of removing or relocating the thugs and featuring the prizes.

Enjoy your garden.

More

The most famous impressionist gardener was Claude Monet, whose garden at Giverny, France is well known and greatly appreciated. The New York Botanical Garden has a current exhibit in a conservatory environment, continuing to October 21, 2012. The exhibit includes photographs by Carmel artist and gardener, Elizabeth Murray, whose best-selling book, Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painter’s Garden, has been republished in a 20th anniversary edition (Pomegrate, 2010).

Information about the Monet exhibit is available on the NYBG website.

Contemporary garden designer Piet Oudoulf has created many lush “gardenscapes.” Several of his designs are available for study here. Look, in particular, at the Pensthorpe garden for a good example.

Finally, for examples of bold plant combinations, see Thomas Hobbs book, Shocking Beauty (Periplus Editions, 1999).

Rock Gardening

In the garden, one thing always seems to lead to another.

I began by thinning one plant that had begun to crowd a bed in my garden. The plant is the Rain Lily (Zephyranthes candida), a low-growing bulb in the Amaryllis family, native to South America. It has grassy foliage, evergreen in the Monterey Bay area, and six-petal blossoms, white with a pink wash. (Pink blossoms are more common in the genus.)

After a few seasons in the ground, the Rain Lily generates many small bulbs and spreads happily. My original one-gallon clump expanded to fill nearly half of a semi-circular bed about thirty-feet in diameter.

I gathered hundreds of bulbs to share on June 23rd through the Garden Exchange at The Garden Faire (thegardenfaire.org).

That project created open space in that prominent front yard bed, and the opportunity to rethink its design. A rock garden seemed an obvious choice: the bed is already mounded and has a few largish boulders.

My preliminary inquiries into rock garden design revealed that this bed doesn’t qualify as a rock garden, but is instead a “rockery.” A rock garden has particular soil, rocks, and plants; a rockery is simply any planting bed with decorative rocks.

Serious rock gardeners study instances in which plants grow in a rocky environment. This occurs typically in a mountainous region, which will have high elevation, rocky ledges on sloping sites, rock outcroppings on more level land, and crevices, which are narrow, soil-filled spaces between rocks. The soil in such regions typically will be poor in nutrients and fast to drain. The climate usually will be windy and marked by much sun exposure.

The plants in a natural rock garden will have evolved to survive in those relatively hard conditions. The classic rock garden plants are called “alpines,” meaning plants that grow in The Alps, one of the great mountain range systems of Europe. These plants could be herbaceous or woody, and grow up to about one foot high.

Another category of rock garden plants includes small rock (“saxatile”) plants, which grow in rocky sites at lower elevations. These plants are easier than alpines to grow in most residential gardens because the gardener doesn’t need to recreate the uncommon conditions of a mountainous environment.

A popular feature for rock gardens is the scree bed, an area of loose rocks and stones that might occur at the bottom of a slope, perhaps deposited there by a landslide. A larger rock garden might have a sand bed, an acid heath bed, an “alpine meadow, or a boggy area beside a pond or stream.

A rock garden could succeed in a small setting as well, making this interesting naturalistic design concept adaptable for placement in gardens of all sizes.

More

A small rock garden could be created in a container. An appropriate container would be a hypertufa trough, which you can build yourself. Here are instructions from Fine Gardening magazine.

If you have larger project in mind, take the time to research the basic concepts, to be sure you are on the right track and won’t end up with a rockery instead of a rock garden. There are good books on the subject. Here are three that are available on Amazon.com:

Rock Garden Design and Construction, by North American Rock Garden Society (2003)

The Serious Gardener: Rock Gardens (New York Botanical Gardens), by Ann Halpin and Robert Bartomonei (1997)

The Rock Garden Plant Primer: Easy, Small Plants for Containers, Patios, and the Open Garden, by C. Gray-Wilson (2009)