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Posts Tagged ‘plants’

You know the stand-by sitcom joke that when dating someone new, you should let the crazy out only a little bit at a time?  Well, I’ve been writing this blog a while, so here’s a little piece of my crazy made just for you!

Sometimes I get something stuck in my head like a bad craving and MUST have it.  You know what I mean, yes?  Ever want chocolate really Really REALLY badly?  So much so that it felt like a biological need?  Yeah, like that, but for colors, color palettes, plants, and so forth.

150424 North Country Daylilies 1Today, my mail brought me a daylily I’ve been coveting for years and could never obtain (darn you, Martha Stewart Magazine!).  But, thankfully I now have Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’.  I’ve planted it in the garden and hope to grow it up big and fat.  I bought it from the generous folks at North Country Daylilies in Buskirk, NY.  Hemerocallis ‘Milk Chocolate’ is the little guy all the way on the left in the photo above.

See, the growers here in California who grow daylilies don’t seem to grow this particular cultivar (or at least not list it online).  Some growers list it but didn’t actually have any or wouldn’t return my calls and emails – after looking for this thing  for years, I was thrilled when North Country said they had one.  ONE.  Not only that, they were willing to ship it to California – another stumbling block I’ve run into before.  BUT, they sent me a 3 fan plant, more than most mail order companies would send.

I bought ‘Milk Chocolate’, ‘Third Witch’ and ‘Vatican City’ to make the most of the shipping.  I stole the images below from the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) webpage:

Milk Chocolate:

Milk_ChocolateThird Witch:

Third_WitchVatican City:

VATICAN CITYNorth Country sent me the biggest danged plants, I am completely delighted.  In NY where they are, the snow has just melted away and the dormant daylilies are beginning to stick their heads up.  Out here in Northern California, it is warm and spring is old news.

One of the ways I hone my professional knowledge is to order plants from mail order companies and see what happens – I look at accuracy, plant quality, packaging, and customer service (bonus: an excuse to buy plants).  I’ve had some wonderful surprises as in this daylily order.  I’ve also had some really unfortunate and problematic orders (I won’t be ordering from Wayside or Easy to Grow Bulbs again) that surprised me the wrong way.

I’ve found that generally the growers who love their plants and specialize in certain kinds of plants have the best stock.  The big business companies send the smallest, least healthy plants, the most poorly packaged, and have the most errors in order accuracy.  I once got a box of dead plants from Wayside and they never did return my inquiries.  So, when something goes right like this, I like to crow about it.

Do you see these roots on H. ‘Vatican City’ and the extra fans on ‘Third Witch’?!  Mail order plant droolworthiness:

150424 vatican city huge roots150424 third witch several fansI have a few other daylilies that I will tell you about another time – that will be fun – there’s more crazy to share there.

Thanks for reading!

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You’ve heard that you should water trees deeply and infrequently, right?  I take that approach a bit further and use it for everything – trees, perennials, roses, everything.  I’m careful with my water anyway having grown up in Los Angeles during the 70’s drought when we let our yellows mellow, removed or reduced lawns, and collected shower water.

See, we’re in for some serious growing pains while we struggle to understand and adjust to mandatory water restrictions now in 2015 – I don’t need to repeat the advice, you already know it (ditch the lawn, add compost and mulch, etc).  But what we need to be doing is more than just using less water, we need to use water more wisely – to help our plants fend for themselves better.  I see water as a training tool and my plants as smart, but slow.  They can’t fetch and training them to do much of anything takes years.

As of my last water bill, I’m down to 36 GPD (gallons per day) including landscaping.  Before you bow in awe to this amazing feat, you should know that I irrigate my garden a little differently than most and I’m not watering anything I don’t want to keep.  Let the rest die, they’re out of here anyway.  april 2014 Magnolia installedHere’s where I water differently:  I bought a 15 gal. Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ (that baby green tree in the background left-side).  It is rated as having “moderate” water needs in Oakland by WUCOLS.  Moderate isn’t exactly water-wise, but I’ve got a theory…..  and so far, so good.  I planted the tree a year ago this month.  At the same exact time, my client in Mill Valley had three planted (guess whose idea that was).  Their landscape contractor did exactly what they usually do – they amended, fertilized, and watered the hell out of those trees.  My client’s trees bloomed and grew and leafed out beautifully, gained stature nicely.  Mine didn’t.  Luckily for them, theirs are next to a lawn that I’m sure they’ll keep as long as they can, where I have no lawn.  Below is a better shot of mine last May (1 month after planting).

may 2014 MagnoliaI planted mine with a bit of compost, watered it in well that first day, and walked away.  It looked fine for a while, then it got all stressed out and started dropping leaves.  I watered it again, a nice soaking, and it threw out some new leaves.  We did this all summer:  I kept an eye on it, watering only when I found signs of stress in the leaves, but then not again until I saw more stress.  It was nerve-wracking.  The tree did not visibly thrive, and it sure as heck didn’t get much bigger.  I’m pretty sure it would slap me if it could…. but it survived.  While it was dormant over winter and I held my breath to see how it would do come spring.  This spring when it started blooming, I was delighted with how many (albeit smallish) flowers there were on my young tree, and now it is leafed-out for the season.   I’ll be doing the same this summer, soaking the presumably larger root-zone, but as seldom as possible.  I’ll also be adding more compost on top (not working it in, that’s the worms’ job) and maintaining a good layer of mulch over that.

I believe that what I am doing will be better for my tree’s long-term durability.  I believe that I gave it reason to throw energy into its root system in search of water, and that I rewarded deep root growth instead of fast, exciting foliage and gains in stature.  Over the winter, its root system likely continued to dive and while I watered, soaking further and further down but less and less often, we’re working together to train this “moderate” water needs tree to survive more like a drought tolerant tree.   Here it is today, not much bigger, but doing just fine:

150413 magnolia tree 015I don’t water fast enough that it trickles off, doing by hand what irrigation designers call “cycle and soak”, making sure that the water goes into the soil and nowhere else.  I’m also taking advantage of the few light rains we had to water further than the rain itself went = deep watering every time.

I can’t tell others to do this, the tree looked like hell that first year of establishment and I think most people wouldn’t watch closely enough nor would they enjoy the experience (even I was a bit nervous).  We’ll see how things go this summer, but I can tell you that I don’t water much, maybe once a month?  I avoid watering if it is overcast or cool outside.  I look closely at my plants in the most stressful times – when it is blazing hot, sunny, and/or dry and windy.  If I see stress, I’ll water.  If not, forget it.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go this summer.

150413 roses and MagnoliaThe most impressive thing, though, is what I noticed in putting together this post – look how much my roses LOVE this treatment – they get watered only when the tree gets watered and I have yet to see them look even a little stressed.  You can see the change best between the second photo and the one above.  They’re the hybrid tea ‘Stainless Steel’ (my favorite).  Here’s the original one (now on the right in the photo above) blooming in my old garden in Alameda in 2010 and again in 2012:rose 'stainless steel' jun 2010Rose 'Stainless Steel' full on 2012

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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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Artichoke plants can be real stunners.  Their soft, enormous, sculptural bluish foliage is a real treat in a garden, especially in contrast with more subdued looking plants.  These big dudes can make a real statement.   One of my practices as a professional (which sounds better than ‘I can’t go to a nursery without buying something’) is test growing plants and watching what happens over time.  This summer I trialed Zinnias, Artichokes, several ferns, Marigolds, Scabiosa, Cosmos, Calendula, several roses, Gardenias, Heucheras, a few grasses, Daphne, a handful of Penstemons, a Magnolia, an Albizia, Sweet peas, and Lupines among others (this list is the survivors).

The Artichokes, though, held a lesson.  Googling Artichokes didn’t tell me much about them.  I found oodles of photos of the flower buds (the bit we eat) and foliage, tons of recipes and so forth… I found websites about how to grow them, where to get them, I even watched a video about growing them, but in my searches and plodding through books, I did not find anything about their life cycle.  The best information I found was in Golden Gate Gardening, which talks about how to grow them in decent detail, tells you what to do, but does not give a complete picture of what the plant is doing while you’re busy taking care of it.

So, darling readers – here are my chokes from their glorious youth through that first awkward phase:

140507 ArtichokesMay 7th:  Here they are a few weeks after I put them in the ground – I bought three 4″ pots of them and also three clearance rack 2″ pots of dying plants.  All of them grew so FAST!  There really isn’t much point in spending a lot on an artichoke plant, the little sad ones will do just fine if you get them in the ground where they really want to be.  Sorry, I did not record when I planted them nor did I take photos of the sad little dudes.

140708 021 140708 Artichoke FL 140708 artichokesJuly 8th:  Two months later, I’ve got several flower buds starting (above).

140728 artichoke flowers 1 140728 artichoke flowersJuly 28th:  I let a few flowers open just to follow what they do.  Out of the six plants I grew, despite being in partial shade, I had more artichokes than I could possibly eat.

140801 artichoke starts awk phaseAug 1st:  I had taken the chokes off one of the plants (delicious) and it repaid me by doing this.  It is a sad looking stemmy misshapen thing.  Welcome to the Awkward Phase.  I know they’re perennial, some say they’re semi-perennial, living only 5-6 years, others claim they can live much longer.  I don’t give a rat’s patoot when getting a replacement plant can cost less than buying an artichoke for dinner and they grow so well.

140925 artichokes faded 140925 artichokes faded 2 140925 artichokes faded 1September 25th:  The stems and leaves continued to fade and look like total crapola (read:  turn brown and sticky) until about mid-september when the next growing season’s leaves began popping up at the base of the plant.  I left the flower on to watch it go to seed, and seed it did!  I was tracking these big globs of brown fluffy seeds into the house and they were blowing around the yard.  Rather than let artichoke babies take over, I took this opportunity to finally break the old stems off most of the plants at their bases and chuck them in the green waste bin, I left one alone to do its thing for another two weeks, when I bought a new camera….

141014 artichoke new foliage 1 141014 artichoke seed heads 141014 artichoke seed heads close …. and in Mid-October, my new camera helped me get a better photo of the fluffy seeds on one plant and new foliage on another.

So what is my point?  Artichokes are cool.  What is even cooler is how dynamic they are.  Many people don’t have the patience to let a plant do awkward unsightly things in their garden, and that’s okay – but you can’t really understand your plants unless you understand their lives.  Books don’t do enough, web-searches will give you tons of beautiful photos, but nothing compares to growing something and being observant.

Thank you!!

 

 

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Two years ago this month I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Az.  Even though I was in Phoenix for the ASLA conference, I think I was more excited about visiting this garden than anything else.  This year, they’re celebraing their 75th anniversary – SEVENTY FIVE YEARS!

8 Desert Botanical Garden 52The Desert Botanical Garden, despite being in the desert, has beauty, drama, softness, and life.  There’s a word that I hate (it starts with a “x” and ends in “scaping”) that makes most people imagine a particular layout and use of plant materials that just makes my head hurt.  Things have changed, though, and design of water wise planting has evolved!

1 arborThe folks at the Desert Botanical Garden have done a beautiful job with the materials they use.  Most of the arbors, gates, trellises, and things like that are made with raw steel and rebar.  They’ve oxidized into being gorgeous rusted pieces that are both crisp in their design and rustic in their finish.  2 Desert Botanical Garden 41Next up is the use of concrete – oh yes, concrete is wonderful stuff!  This board-formed concrete wall with the wood bench attached to it is so nicely detailed!

5 Desert Botanical Garden 23 6 Desert Botanical Garden 247 Desert Botanical Garden 25 There’s this lovely seat wall with a green stone inlay that becomes a very discrete water feature at the other end.  The water aspect of this would be easy to overlook, it is not showy or loud.  Water, of course, is important for many reasons, but a big gurgling fountain would be out of place here.  Tempting, but not appropriate.

3 Desert Botanical Garden 1 4 Desert Botanical Garden 10I only recall one other water feature, also a nice quiet, appropriate piece.

12 Desert Botanical Garden 54Nearby were some very cool butterfly chairs with white slipcovers – they even looked refreshing – which caused me to realize that even if you don’t sit or touch the water, the visual cue of taking a break is still a powerful (refreshing) force.

10 Desert Botanical Garden 45 11 Desert Botanical Garden 51Above you can get a real feel for the place – materials retain their integrity; for example, stone is used like stone, and it isn’t just veneer.  The colors belong here, and boldness is introduced sparingly.  Here, the planting not only steals the show, it IS the show thanks to strategic restraint in all the other materials.  Take a peek at the next several images – notice how the materials are used honestly, With color and a sense of place in mind, here are more of my favorites:

9 Kornegay cast conc container 13 Desert Botanical Garden 72 14 Desert Botanical Garden 12 15 Desert Botanical Garden 16 16 Desert Botanical Garden 05 17 Palo blanco trunk 18 Desert Botanical Garden 26 19 Desert Botanical Garden 93 20 Desert Botanical Garden 7 21 Desert Botanical Garden 9 22 Desert Botanical Garden 71 23 Desert Botanical Garden 86 24 Desert Botanical Garden 44 25 Desert Botanical Garden 87 26 Desert Botanical Garden 88 Last, but not least I leave you with the parking lot (that’s right, the parking lot) and a bunny with two quail (the quail blend, just behind the bunny to the right, in front of the succulents).

29 Desert Botanical Garden parking 1 28 Desert Botanical Garden bunnyBotanical gardens and arboreta are a big influence in my life and someday I hope to work on another one.  In fact, I really should buy a lottery ticket because if I ever won, I’d buy some land and …. oh, do I have ideas!27 Desert Botanical Garden 92

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I love the internet, I really do.  Seriously, I rely on it for all sorts of things.  None of this is new information for you, savvy reader, but here’s something that drives me absolutely bananas (you know it’s serious because I don’t even like bananas!)

Here’s a screen shot of Helleborus ‘Onyx odyssey’ from an internet image search: Helleborus 'Onyx Odyssey' screenshot

The majority of the photos above are a black or slatey near black color.  From a collection like that, the black-flower-hopeful would expect that this plant was a true black or at least so ridiculously dark flowering that it didn’t matter.

I recognize that cameras and monitors vary in their abilities to accurately represent color, I have no issue there.  My issue is more of an honor-code type thing.  Below are some photos I took of this same cultivar in my old apartment patio:

Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' 2Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' FLHelleborous 'Onyx Odyssea' in sun

I find it important to photograph plants and flowers in the shade and the sun, and with different kinds of backgrounds and other things in the shot like ambiguous planty backgrounds and also my own hand.  The camera automatically makes adjustments depending on what is in the picture – and then if I were to adjust the color in Photoshop, there are algorithms that make assumptions about what the color was supposed to be.

For my design work, the internet serves as a great starting point and a place to see as many different images of the same plant as I possibly can.  However, I’ve learned to mentally visualize colors of plants and flowers from web searches, and also to take into account the quality of the photos and the lighting.

I try to grow as many different plants as I can at home (more on that later) so that I can have the best possible understanding of a plant’s color and habit.  I keep an extensive collection of photos that I’ve personally taken so I can track the same plant under as many light and growing conditions as possible, and so that I have a mind’s eye recollection of each plant.

My complaint, if you can really call it that, is that clients can find color-adjusted and completely unrealistic photos online, and expect that their plants will look just like that.  Plants are amazing, gorgeous, living things…. but they’re not always the supermodels (also usually photoshopped) that some catalogs would have us believe.  Every once in a while, they become mere mortals like the rest of us.  Beautiful in their own right, but not exactly as depicted.

So please – don’t be taken in by a great photo.  Check them all.  Consider before you fall in love if you’re enamored with the image or the plant itself.  We all deserve to be loved for who we are, sans photoshop.

0-not used Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' ftf 1gal 4yr old

 

 

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While I was away neglecting my modern web-presence-building duties, I enjoyed working on a particularly wonderful little project…. a Bed and Breakfast in Italy!  I have never been to Italy, but when my good friend and talented architect Glenda Flaim showed me her work on Casa Incantata, I asked if I could take a stab at the planting design which had yet to be finalized.  Neither of us had any idea what would happen.  Come on, what do I know about plants in Italy?!  Niente.  The way we worked around that, and got the garden done was a genuinely collaborative effort involving Glenda, the Owners, their gardener, some dutch visitors, and me:

First, Glenda sent me a photo of the site with notes (in green) on her thoughts for the planting:

TOP-VIEW

We chatted about the decisions on the photo – why the hedge, what is the lawn for, stuff like that.  I studied snapshots of the building and tried to imagine what it would be like to be there in person.  Glenda mentioned that the house  had just won a national award for sustainable architecture, and was photographed soon after I started noodling with the design of the garden on paper.  You can see pre-garden professional architectural photos here and here.  She sent me a computer drafted file of the site and I gathered photos of plants that came to mind.

I started the planting design in June 2012:

120619 Flaim House Italy pltg concept001I mapped out the planting design in areas with palettes.  The areas got names:  there was “lawn”, “spicy”, “meadow”, and “hedge”.  I wrote a description of how each of these areas would be different from each other, what forms and colors I was trying to emphasize, and what colors I wanted to avoid entirely.  I wrote out how these plants would change with the seasons and the desired effects.  With lists of plants and their written intentions, the memos were translated into Italian and back into English through Glenda.

The Owners and their gardener started looking for the plants and sent word back what was available and not, and we figured out plants that might work instead.  More memos handling spacing and layout were translated back and forth, plant research was done on both continents.  Plants were purchased and installed as they were found; this took a few seasons to finish.  Some were purchased in Italy, some shipped from the U.S., and the last, elusive bulb was a gift from some visitors from Holland who learned of the missing bulb in discussions of the garden during their stay.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gotten a couple of photos a season so I could see how the garden was doing.  They had wasted no time getting plants in the ground.  Later that same year (fall 2012), the lawn (Hernaria glabra) which also extended between the pavers, was getting its start:

003

By the following Spring (2013) it had filled-in very nicely!

1

The other plants were coming along too:

25

By that Summer, you could see the different zones expressing themselves:

photo 5 photo 1

And just last month, I got another update:

2014 June

It is challenging to know how a garden will look when you’re designing it, and there were many anxious moments when I knew they were investing in my advice and I could only hope that the Owners would like the results.  I’m not sure it is possible to tell if the image in my head matches what the garden will become.  I can’t know ahead of time if the Owners will like what the garden will become, and yet it is dependent on them and everyone who takes care of it to continue to support the design’s intention as the garden is maintained.

I am finally able to share (two years later) how things are going here in this post.   I can also share that the owners are very happy with their garden, and conveyed to me this sentiment:

 Il giardino che ho sempre sognato!!!

(The garden I have always dreamed about!!!)

I couldn’t have asked for more.

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