Posts Tagged ‘planting’

just fun colorsBack here, I talked about the conceptual design process, where I developed and sent over design concepts with a memo full of notes to the Owners.  I sent all this via email because they live in Southern California and I live in Northern California, about a 6 hour drive away, so in-person meetings aren’t always feasible.  I also know the Owners pretty well – the husband is an Architect I have worked with, and the wife has a background in Interior Design – so I trusted that they’d be able to read the memo alongside the concepts and make an informed selection of their favorite.  They did exactly that, sending me back comments on their preferred designs and I will now start to draft the designs for use in preparing construction drawings (so hang tight…)

The next thing to do is develop the Schematic Design.  In Schematic Design, I will make sure that the Conceptual Design evolves to have elements represented at actual size while I strive to hold true to the concept and incorporate their comments.  For example, I will make sure that any paths are an appropriate width, furnishings are represented at their real measurements, gates, paving patterns, fencing, materials, etc will begin to be discussed, but I won’t change the overall intent.  I’ll try to remember to share that when it is accomplished…. for now, one of the elements that needs discussion is a planting palette.  In every phase of design, I imagine the feel of the place, and few things have more impact on that than the plants!

What I’m trying to get at here is that in addition to designing for plants that will thrive in the same sun exposure, watering practices, soil type, climate zone, etc there’s an importance to gathering plants that want to be seen together.  The plants bring more than just leaves and color, they bring personality (and seasonality!) to the place.  The plants and the concepts (at least for me, others may work differently) are not separate discussions, but both part of a larger vision.  For this project, I made a huge list of plants I thought would work in San Gabriel as well as plants I thought the Owners would like.  I imagined the designs as real spaces, re-imagining them repeatedly with different planting palettes until I had edited the lists down into a concept for the planting palette.

Now, this does not represent the layout of the planting palette, and any plant geek can see that I’ve got some hydrozoning to do (putting low water use plants together and irrigating separately from higher water needing plants).  That will happen in future phases, but for now, I am playing with a planting palette as a preliminary concept.  For the rear garden, I chose lots of green foliage plants with what I equated to a “Hollywood / tropical” palette with many plants that could also grow in Texas (the Owners are from Texas, which is where I know them from).  I did the same exercise for the front, but without the Hollywood / tropical aspect to it.  Don’t ask me why, that’s just the direction it went.

150114 front garden mosaicThe front garden and the rear garden for this project are imagined with different vibes, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use some of the same plants in both and we should!  Having the two be completely distinct runs the risk of making their property seem disjointed.  Take a look at the preliminary palette for the front garden (above) in contrast with the preliminary palette for the rear (below):

150114 rear garden paletteThey seem very different at first, but both have the same Honeysuckle vine in common and the same Agave.  Each of the little square photos shows each plant at the same size, and of course we also aren’t demonstrating how much of each plant there will be, nor giving a complete idea of their forms…. their impact in real life based only on visual impact could look much more like this for the front:

front impact paletteand like this for the rear:

rear impact paletteSee how they relate but take the same impact plants in different design directions?  isn’t that trippy?!  I’ll repeat this exercise with materials and furnishings, and the hope is that the whole mess will come together and become more than the sum of its parts.

Years ago, when I worked on a pro-bono project with this Owner and had a conversation where he explained to me that the building he had designed had to be white.  It wouldn’t be the same building if it was not white (I was vehemently against it being white, I thought it was unsympathetic to the landscape).  We had what must have been an amusing and fervent “discussion” for any flies on any nearby walls, and in the end, he convinced me.  The color was not just a tacked-on thing at the end, it was integral to the spirit of his design.  What I’m describing here is that lesson brought forward in my career and applied to my own work.  In designing the outdoor environment and making connections to indoor spaces and people, one shrub does not always do the same job as another, and plants are not so interchangeable as one might hope.  So stay tuned for the results – between me and the Owners, their home, and the process of refining the design, the end result is always a little bit of a surprise.  I will be excited to see how the process progresses with them, and then to see it installed?!  holy heck, I can’t wait.


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I was just sent two new photos of my project in Italy (mentioned before HERE) now that it is fall.  The garden looks fantastic, which is a real testament to the Owners taking such wonderful care of it!  That is such an important aspect of any garden’s success, and I’m delighted to share these images with you:

growing in grasses 2growing in grasses 1

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Filoli Again, in August Again

I’ve talked enough about Filoli – so I’ll just post the photos from last weekend:  a 140830 078 a 140830 080 a 140830 105 adjusted a 140830 147

Something I did not know was that they had a ton of sculptures installed – with price lists in the gift shop, apparently.  I like the new additions.

a 140830 151 a 140830 150I love catching people in my photos right when they’re wondering if they can possibly escape before I click the shutter.  Sorry, I was too quick this time, but holy crap – lookit those Hydrangeas!

a 140830 052 a 140830 050 a 140830 049The Cleome were incredible – again, people in the shot to show just how BIG they are (the Cleome, not the people)!

a 140830 164 a 140830 162Love the pond, there are fish in there too – I don’t know what kind, but I could sit and watch them for a good while, goofing off in the waterlilies (not sure who would goof off more, the fish or me).

a 140830 122 adjustedHere I thought I was taking pictures of Magnolias, but these two are so sweet.

a 140830 118 a 140830 053…and again, Filoli manages to make even ordinary Pelargoniums look amazing!  I bought one at the gift shop, just could not resist, so don’t be surprised if you see them in future posts…

a 140830 048 - adjusted a 140830 161 a 140830 138as usual, the intense exuberance of the plantings are utterly breathtaking.  Vigor and vibrance around every corner.

a 140830 134 - adjusted a 140830 132and of course, a trip to Filoli wouldn’t be complete without photos in the Olive Grove.  Talk about a sense of place!


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The front of my new place is awash with purple Lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  It is lovely stuff if you are both color blind (unless you’re into this sort of purple, nothing wrong with that!) and an admirer of wildlife.  There are butterflies, bees, spiders, and lizards all over it.  It is absolutely marvelous for year-round blooming and needs no supplemental water once established (at least not here, I turned the irrigation off last fall).

lantana HQ 043

The flowers are the pepto bismol of purples – not my favorite, though maybe someday I will find a companion plant with a color that mitigates the pepto purple hue.  Meh, maybe not.  A dear friend of mine said that the overwhelming amount of purple Lantana in my garden made my place look like a retirement home.

lantana HQ 044

As much as I’d like to be able to retire (I’d still spend my time designing gardens – I love it that much), I am not ready to live in a dadgum retirement home!  Talk about death by association; I can’t look at it anymore without thinking about retirement homes.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my lovely boyfriend thinks the foliage smells like poo (the flowers smell nice at night).  Charming: a poo scented retirement home.

lantana HQ 039Here’s my vexation:  as much as I intend to remove the Lantana and put in other stuff, it is happy, healthy, requires no water, and supports oodles of critters.  So for now it stays…. providing food and shelter for all those bugs and lizards, but lookout, Lantana!  You’re living on borrowed time.  Wanna know what I think might fill the space above?  I’m considering a collection of spineless Opuntia that my friend Melinda sent me from Texas along with a few I’ve collected on my own here.  The ones from Texas are rooting in the shed right now – cross your fingers that they all take!

IMG_3647So there’s my dilemma – removing the Lantana removes habitat, but goodness gracious, there’s so danged much of it, I don’t really like it, and the new design/plants aren’t ready yet.  Patience….

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One of the things I love about visiting places over and over again is that I learn something each time.  As I hinted in the previous post, I went to Montalvo Arts Center and Filoli this weekend.  Visiting beautiful places makes my head swim with enchantment, and I have to force myself to slow down enough to enjoy them.

a 140830 036 Montalvo has been busy renovating their Great Lawn and installing a low retaining wall and steps at the base of it.  Check out the difference in the photos from my previous post to see the differences.  A wedding was in rehearsal while I was there, so I tried not to be in the way, and just barely managed to avoid taking photos of the wedding party.

a 140830 040 a 140830 028 I stayed just long enough to take snapshots of the changes, check out the progress in the gardens, and to make the decision to visit again in softer light.  I was out in bright sunlight – a perfect summer day for most people, but way too much for my 12 year old digital camera (bless its heart, it tried).a 140830 001 a 140830 034a 140830 017They’ve got a new art installation in place, and I discovered that the pond and waterfall have also been repaired since the last time I was there.

a 140830 030One of my favorite things about the Italianate Garden is how dramatic the Italian Cypresses are – seriously, look at how big they are!  those teensy tiny people in the middle are full grown adult humans – the cypresses dwarf everything.

a 140830 039Seen from another angle, they don’t seem so big, in this photo, but remember that the roses at their base are shoulder height on an adult.  I love how their linear planting as seen in the first photo changes when viewed from other angles.  Too many people disregard this dynamic part of planting design, or just don’t notice it.

a 140830 004and remember last post when I pointed out the pool behind the Villa?  Oh, how I wish I could remove those stairs, brick path and lawn and re-fill that pool.  I’d love to know what it looked like – the tops of what I assume were fountains are still there just begging to be unearthed.

So what did I learn yesterday?  Dramatic plant forms can make even bad photos look good (I’m talking to you, Italian Cypresses!)  Here’s to looking forward to a new camera soon!

140830 016


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(c) Jennifer de GraafI went to Filoli AGAIN!  I know, I know, I don’t put up any new posts for practically a year, then I go to Filoli yet again, and start a fourth post on how awesome it is.  Pretty lame, but I have a new friend (and an observation about the nursery industry) because of this particular trip.

Filoli is awesome and the people watching (really, people overhearing) can’t be beat.  Best line of the day came from an elderly gentleman to his wife  near the parking lot: “would you like me to carry your bag?”.   There were some ladies settled on a bench behind the main house talking about something that sounded very personal. I also enjoyed the murmurings of tour groups as they responded to their tour guide’s proclamations, and a few occasions where people were clearly seeing something new to them (a double flowered daffodil confounded one woman who wondered aloud if it was really three flowers that had grown together).  One visitor was wearing a pretty lavender scarf that was perfectly in tune with this planting of bulbs behind offices (near the gift shop).

(c) Jennifer de Graaf

So – while I was over here near the gift shop, I did a little poking around their plant selections and I just had to buy something that was new to me!  I found a dwarf Wisteria called ‘Kofuji’.  It is supposedly a shrub form wisteria that will stay within 2-3′ ht x sp (height by spread).  I googled it and found very little information on it, but the label was from a wholesale grower, so there’s hope of finding it again.  I am going to stick it in a pot outside my back door and see what happens.  Here’s my new friend:

(c) Jennifer de Graaf

Here’s what I’m getting to:  I’ve had my own garden on my mind lately (as well as those of clients), and have been visiting local nurseries to see what is interesting.  I depend on nurseries to carry a wide variety of plants including the newer introductions so that I can take pictures for my clients (especially of certain plants together!) and test grow stuff in my patio, see how they do, get to know them personally.  I like to think that through this process, I can not only suggest the exact cultivar I would propose for their project, but also have a reasonable expectation of being able to secure that plant when the time comes.  Unfortunately, even though my new Wisteria friend originated at a well known wholesale grower, I had to go all the way across the bay to Filoli to discover it.

Sadly, nurseries have been struggling along with the rest of the design and construction industries for the last few years.  Last year, I noticed that they were under-staffed, under-stocked, and had extended seasonal closures.  This year, what I am noticing is a lack of variety and larger materials.  They’re selling old standbys in smaller sizes and have reduced or eliminated the expense of ordering from a wider number of growers and also are not putting as much effort into creating big displays that I am sure ate up some money for them in the past (but was probably worth it when people were buying!).  They seem to be avoiding the riskiness of bringing in less commonly known plants.  I can’t usually leave a nursery without buying something, but this spring, I’ve been through several – the Wisteria is the first plant I bought this year – which is saying something!

So please – go and show your local nursery some love (not Home Depot).  Buy a small plant or some seeds, let them know you’re still out there.  Your community and your garden will thank you.  Meanwhile, here’s some more of the wonderfulness that is Filoli:

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My poor Dahlia of unknown cultivar (above) died.  My mom gave it to me, she said it would be easy to grow.   I put it in a pot and it grew, then I thought it might like more consistent watering, so I planted it in the ground thinking ‘hey, all plants prefer the ground to pots!’.  Wrong-o.  I have to admit, this is one plant that even I won’t argue is “low maintenance”.

Rot.  I learned how I killed my Dahlia when I went to Flora Grubb Gardens over the weekend to hear a talk given by the gregarious Mike Schelp of The Dahlia Farm (cut flower grower) in Half Moon Bay.  What follows are my notes, posted here to help keep more Dahlias safe from harm:

Climate and lifting:  In colder parts of the country, Dahlias need to be lifted because they are frost tender.  Where frost isn’t a problem, they should still be lifted and divided because their tubers are both incredibly prolific and prone to rot.  They don’t like too much heat, either, so mild coastal climates are really great for them.

Sun Exposure:  Since they’re not keen on very high temperatures, if you live in a warmer area, consider protecting them from full sun (or at least afternoon hot sun).  The color of the flowers can be “bleached out” by strong sun exposure, so if a normally deeply colored cultivar is not living up to your expectations, this might be the culprit (or it could be any number of other things as they can be pretty variable).

Soil:  Dahlias like a light, slightly acidic soil that is well drained (so raised beds, containers, or in a well drained location).  Containers should be at least a 5 gal. size.

Water:  Dahlias like moderate water when they are actively growing, but will rot out easily.  In the container, mine had pretty good drainage, but one wet spring in the ground was enough to kill it.  Mr. Schelp grows his in semi-raised beds for this reason, and he usually does his dividing in January (so they get lifted and divided EVERY year!).  Be aware that if you grow yours in a container, that moisture can collect at the bottom, causing (you guessed it)….rot.

Pests:  They’re susceptible to all the bad bugs and also to mildew.  There was a lively discussion of mildew which I won’t bore you with, but let’s just say it can be a serious problem for some cultivars and any affected leaves should be removed immediately.  The tubers are gopher candy, so he recommends that if you have gophers, plant the tubers in a wire mesh “cage” about 15″ diameter with an un-attached bottom for easy lifting.

Air Circulation:  oh my!  Mildew can be such a problem that he recommends a few things to keep the air flowing.  Pinch off leaves in the bottom 6″ of the plant to allow air to flow at the base.  Take away stems or leaves that make the plant too bushy for air to circulate.  Plant tubers 30 inches apart to keep the air flowing between individual plants.

Feeding:   This is one place where I did not entirely agree with the presenter.  He is a cut flower grower, so his needs are different from mine.  He uses chemical fertilizers (which kill good microbes in the soil).  I wrote down that he recommends a high Nitrogen fertilizer beginning when the plants start coming up.  That application should be applied, diluted, throughout the season, not at once, and taper off towards the end of the season or the Nitrogen will rot your tubers.  He also switches to a higher Phosphorous fertilizer when the plants are starting to bloom.  I will be experimenting with not doing this, opting instead for an organic approach (coffee grounds, anyone?).  Dahlias are surface feeders, so apply nutrients accordingly, but be careful not to use too much to avoid scorching them chemically.

Propagation:  Dahlias can be propagated by several methods, too many to go into detail here.  So I found someone else who covered this information HERE.  A happy Dahlia tuber can multiply ten fold in one growing season, provided you don’t rot it.  Plant tubers 2-6″ deep, but DO NOT let the “neck” break.  A tuber with a broken neck is toast.

Availability:  Most garden centers sell Dahlias as tubers between winter and spring or as green plants during the summer.  You can find them by mail order between (give or take) December and March, tubers should be back in the ground around April.

Cut flowers:  If you are still brave enough to grow them, you can keep cut flowers for about a week.  I was impressed that his cut flowers are delivered to a local florist no more than two hours after being cut on the farm.  I only wish he had said what florist!  Here’s how you can do it: cut the stem and dip immediately in hot water for about an hour (hot so you could wash your hands in it, but not boil an egg).  Re-cut the stem at least every other day and place in tepid water (doesn’t have to be hot anymore).  Remove browning petals as flowers fade, keep flowers away from produce (ethylene gas from ripening produce speeds the aging of the flowers!).  Keep your flowers in a cool room, away from direct sun.   If you are cutting flowers for general enjoyment in a vase, cut them when the bud has begun to open but the center is still tight – an unopened bud will not open in the vase.  If you are cutting for a specific event, wait until the flowers are at their peak before cutting.  They won’t last as long, but they will be gorgeous.

Still not dissuaded from wanting to grow Dahlias?  Me neither.  This fall I plan to order a Dahlia tuber or two and try again, this time in a bigger pot with better drainage and more understanding.  To find my new green friend, I will attend the 2011 American Dahlia Society show at the Santa Clara Convention Center this August.  Show admission is free to the public on the 20th and 21st.  I will write down the names of the cultivars I like and use the Colorado Dahlia Society’sBig List” to find a supplier for my favorites.

At the end of the discussion, Mr. Schelp added what seemed to be a very personal note.  He asked the audience to give away their extra plants and flowers.  If grown well, you are bound to have extra and sharing is the best way to pass around some good vibes.  He asked that we give our flowers to hospice centers and old folks homes, friends and neighbors.  His voice quavered just enough that I could hear it in the front row, and I believe that this was a very personally meaningful message he was trying to send, so I repeat it here.  I plan to do the same with my new Dahlias and I urge you to do the same.

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