November 26, 2013
Looking for ways to use up summer’s bountiful zucchini & summer squash harvest? Try our options for freezing your crops & enjoying them in lower carbohydrate latkes come Hannukah (or anytime)!
Original article published 8/23/2012
When I played garden sitter for a friend last weekend, I was rewarded with a big harvest of veggies. If I’d left them intact, much of her garden would stop producing soon. So, I picked half a gallon of cherry tomatoes, a few green beans and a couple of enormous zucchini. That was the same day our CSA box came with zucchini and the same day our patty pan squash started coming in. So, what to do with all those extras?
Freeze them, of course! (more…)
December 14, 2011
Inherited a garden filled with prior inhabitants’ bizarre choices intact? Yeah, me too.
Our house is rapidly approaching its 1ooth birthday. Back in the day, they thought 12-18″ wide, straight-lined paths slammed within two feet of the house itself made sense. They don’t.
Rather than walk so close to the house that it feels as if the giant structure may bump into you, most homeowners with paths like this end up walking on adjacent lawns. It’s a personal space thing, I suppose. I got rid of that awful pathway years ago, replacing it with wider, meandering walkways made of permeable gravel and flagstone. Whew, much better. And, yeah, we got rid of all that lawn, too.
These brilliant designers also had a habit of building front garden retaining walls with a small, 8-12″ deep, planting beds at their foot. This creates a very difficult space to fill with the right plant. When we bought the house, our strip was filled with a toupee of lawn (h/t to my friend Cath for dubbing tiny, stupid lawns with the toupee appellation.). When we began eradicating lawn, this stuff had to go.
First, I filled the space with cheap primula. At the time, I thought colorful polka dots looked cute. They really didn’t, but what did I know?
Then, I tried dividing and transplanting mixed perennials in the space. That was a big fat failure. And, as the wall continued to age and my gardening skills grew, I resolved to grow something to hide the ugly concrete. The problem though: what’s evergreen, drought tolerant, dog-pee tolerant, cold tolerant, grows to 3′ tall and no wider than 1′. Answer: Not much.
First, I tried a hedge of Hebe buxifolia. I knew this lovely evergreen would tolerate the full sun and any drought. Plus, it blooms beautifully and withstands shearing. Unfortunately, every third plant would die each year (or a part of a plant would die from dog pee or weather or “just because”), and the hedge looked like plant mange had gone on the attack.
Then, knowing the plant could exceed my space parameters but also tolerate heavy pruning, I installed several inexpensive David Viburnum. With broad, evergreen leaves, this plant isn’t a good choice for shearing. Why? Slice a big leaf in half and it looks chopped up. (If you slice tiny leaves, it doesn’t show as readily.)
Fortunately, the Viburnum worked out fairly well. It took a few years to fill out the space, and then it began to overtake the adjoining sidewalk. But, with a good pruning at the right time of year, this hedge is in check. It requires very little supplemental watering in the dry season while tolerating hot, baking sun. And, it withstands winter just fine.
Here’s how and when we did the pruning:
- Timing: Prune the viburnum as it is blooming or right after. You may lose out on some of the pretty blue berries, but only where you cut. We pruned ours in late May. Do not do your pruning in fall.
- Tools for the job: Have a pair of bypass shears and folding handsaw for your plant cuts. A pair of loppers may come in handy for chopping up larger branches into the compost or yard waste container.
- How to cut: Remove all the dead material on the plant first. Then, work like a mechanic, removing lower, longer branches first — assuming you want your “hedge” to look taller rather than wider. Make your cuts at points where branches meet other branches. Or, if your goal is to get an otherwise bare area to fill out, make cuts just above a strong, sprouting bud; cut incorrectly, you may seriously damage your plant. And, do not remove more than 1/3 of the living material from each plant.
- How Often: How often you prune will come down to your plants’ needs. Our hedge was pruned in May 2010 and may require a small supplemental pruning by May 2012.
November 30, 2011
Unfortunately, I’ve been stuck inside sick lately, so garden design is about all I can do. Viewing the garden from the inside out is a good design reminder. Yes, a garden should be fragrant and beautiful and experiential when you’re in it. But, it designed right, it should be equally delightful to someone trapped in bed in need of some earthly healing. Fortunately, for me, I’ve got rooms with garden views that — even in on a bare, wet, wintery day — brighten my outlook no matter how crappy I feel.
Need tips to get a better outlook on your garden? Consider these simple ideas:
- Attract Wildlife: Build good soil that worms and beetles love, and you’ll have birds scratching away for them. Add in a water feature, birdbath or dish stone, and they’ll come to bathe and drink. Provide berry-filled bushes like Cotoneaster, and once those berries ferment, the robins will provide hours of goofy, drunken entertainment. Plant fall and winter bloomers like Arbutus unedo and Witchhazel, and you may see hummingbirds year-round.
- Don’t Block Your Views: Remember to think about how big a plant will get as it grows. Don’t plant a big shrub right by your picture window, or soon enough you won’t be able to see your picture view. Instead, build your privacy by planting bigger things further from the house.
- Balance Privacy and Light: While you may want a big, full, leafy garden in spring and summer to provide privacy at times when you’re in the garden all the time, remember that you may want some spaces open in winter to allow in light. Keep this in mind when mixing evergreens and deciduous plants in the garden. A well-placed evergreen will give you winter interest but not block views or precious winter sun. A poorly placed one may leave you in the dark all winter long.
- Art & Structure: A well placed, freeze proof container, a beautiful stone or even some all-season furniture can give the garden substance and an inviting sense of place even on a frigid winter day, viewed from the warm comfort of your favorite reading chair. In summer, when perennials are tall and the garden is full, these artistic elements may disappear from view, hidden by glorious foliage and flowers. But, that’s okay. Forgetting them during summer will only add to your appreciation of them after the leaves have fallen, the perennials go dormant and the snow sprinkles them with crystalline highlights.
Every home and garden has its own set of special challenges. There may be other things you can do to make sure your garden is as equally beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to schedule a Garden Mentors session or buy a holiday gift for someone else to figure out how to make your garden as appealing as possible — from every viewpoint, every day of the year!
January 18, 2011
Wondering how to tell if your plant is dead?
(original post from January 18, 2011)
There’s nothing like a defoliated evergreen in January to make our gardens look especially awful. Quite frequently evergreens are selected specifically because they add winter interest to the garden. So, when they decide to follow the lead of their deciduous cousins and go naked for the winter, our gardens become particularly unappealing. And, sadly, many a new gardener wonders what in the world they did wrong and how in the world they’ll afford to replace all those dead twiggy things throughout their beds.
I’m here to give you hope & ways to determine if your plant is actually alive and what to do when to reinvigorate it.
When we had an early November freeze in Seattle, client calls and emails began rolling in desperate for help understanding why their gardens were dying when we had selected plants that typically do just fine in really cold weather.
In many cases, I found myself reminding clients that some shrubs are semi-evergreen in our climate. Shrubs like Lonicera ‘Lemon Beauty’ and Abelia ‘Confetti’ will hold foliage and look fantastic through our milder winters, but when we get hit by an early cold snap or several successive freezes they’ll shed leaves fast, protecting their inner assets. When these guys lose their leaves, I don’t much worry.
But, when plants like Sarcococca and Nandina begin a big leaf drop mid-winter, I get a little more worried. As I mentioned last week, my own Sarcococca has defoliated quite a bit, but the plants are fine & smell lovely. My Cotoneaster lacteus is another story. Every leaf and every berry was severely burned in the cold; the birds got nadda to eat from it this winter, and I’m beginning to wonder what it’ll look like come spring bud break. Will it be an opportunity to try something new in its spot? My Nandina has taken a bit of a hit, dropping a few leaves but holding its skeleton-like petioles. My client’s description of her Nandina, on the other-hand, had me concerned. (more…)
January 13, 2011
Winter Bloomers are a salvation this time of year when everything else seems to be some shade of dreary gray. In addition to injecting color back into our worlds, they attract colorful birds and bees and quite often pack a powerfully fragrant punch. So when they don’t, well winter’s just that much more of a bummer. Wondering why your winter bloomers are failing to please this year or looking for ways to remedy future problems?
November 29, 2010
Last week Seattle came to a frigid halt. I managed to fly away to sunny Los Angeles just as Seattle was icing up. Alas, my garden and yours stayed put — out in the icy cold — fending for itself in record cold, ice and wind. Did all of our plants survive?
Like Dara in Seattle, you may be asking:
“(It snowed) on my potted lavendar!! It is too big to move, so it got snowed on… it is now brown and wilty looking. Is it dead for good?? “
Until spring comes our plants likely won’t put on much new top growth, which quickly lets us know if they’re still alive. Truly, we don’t want them to leaf out now – let alone put on lovely blossoms like this apple tree in the kitchen garden at the Getty Villa in Malibu, CA. There its running around 60-70F during the day. Here, we’re lucky to reach 45F for daytime high temperatures, and it’s probably going to get even chillier if the weather people are on target this year.
It’s just the end of November, so winter hasn’t even really started yet — at least according to the calender. So, here’s a quick trick to help you determine if your plants are still alive even if they look dead — and you can do this now! (more…)