Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Archive for March, 2009

Deer Deciduous

Mission olive

Mission olive

“All I know is that I don’t know.” Operation Ivy

Now that the terms stress deciduous and drought deciduous are somewhat established, I want to coin another phrase: deer deciduous. A lot of the deer-resistant plants get browsed for the first couple of years, periodically losing some or all of their foliage. Sometimes they grow out of it, sometimes they don’t. The plants don’t die, many are able to keep growing and get their foliage out of reach or they develop harder less-palatable leaves as they age and require less water, but it seems like a big percentage of the plants on deer-resistant lists will lose some foliage during their first few seasons. Deer deciduous.

This olive would be an example. I really didn’t think it would go so completely deciduous, poor thing. Though, now that I check, I do find a few sites on the web saying that the deer will eat them. Sunset has them on the deer-resistant list, but that list is probably the least reliable thing in the whole book. We ended up bringing the olive back to our place for the summer because of a change in construction plans at its new home, and it’s now carefully putting out new leaves. It’ll recover completely, and when we replant it we’ll spray it with Liquid Fence, which is somewhat effective, or we’ll cage it until it’s taller than the deer. It’s an olive; they’re survivors. I’m surprised that it got eaten, but probably I should just be surprised that I am surprised.

I like the Las Pilitas rating system and list of ratings for deer, though his list is for a different part of the state and our deer population disagrees with him on certain points. We’ve never had heavy browsing from anything that he rates a 9 or a 10, though, so that’s been reliable. The list only includes California natives, but some comparisons can be made for non-natives. Toxic is best along with grassy or spiky, scented foliage is next, tiny hard leaves are pretty good, followed by larger hard leaves sometimes being good, sticky or very fuzzy might work, and after that you better have your fingers crossed.

Update: As Daffodil Planter and the author herself, Carolyn Singer, pointed out, the two volumes of Deer In My Garden are a good print resource for gardening with deer.

ryan 3/31

Stone Bistro Table

Cold Springs Slab Table

Big Springs Stone Table

It’s not quite April, but we already feel safe to move our cushions outside and get our front porch ready for summer. The table on our porch is new for us this year, assembled from a slab and a block of granite. The stone’s called Big Springs, from somewhere in Utah, boulders cut into slices that are perfect for tables and benches. The stone has a beautiful grain, as if it were wood, and the sides have bluish and yellowish lichen. This table didn’t take any skill to assemble; I just put the flat stone on the flat-topped granite block. It didn’t need mortar or even a shim. The slabs aren’t particularly expensive, so I don’t understand why they aren’t more common. Doesn’t everyone want a three-hundred pound bistro table?

There’s another photo showing the grain of the stone below. (more…)

The True Future of Garden Design

Design Improvisation with Sand and Succulents

Sproutopia Display Garden

I’ve noticed that mainstream media articles like to describe flower and garden shows as a sneak peak at the future of outdoor garden design. Personally, I think it’s more of a sneak peak at what will be showing up in garden shows, rather than the overwhelming majority of actual gardens.  For instance, I read two articles talking about how all the colors at the northwest show were hot colors, especially oranges and yellows, and that there were no blues, and that this signals a move towards bold hot colors in the future, but I remember reading the same articles last year and I think it just represents that the designers have an understanding of what looks good at the garden show. I can say from experience that orange and yellow are the two colors which show up best in the indoor lighting at the shows, and that blues completely disappear. Last year we had some Nemophillas (Baby Blue Eyes) in full bloom, but they were invisible in our garden, while a rather garish red Alonsoa meridionalis suddenly became the plant that everyone wanted to have, once the plants were indoors and the lighting had dialed down the colors several notches. Anita and I’d never attended a garden show before, or we’d have used more oranges and yellows and hot reds and pinks ourselves, and if I ever do one again you’ll see a a lack of blues, even though they include many of my favorite flowers. It’s a testament to how much influence site will always have on a design, even when the site is a complete blank slate like in a garden show.

In any case, my skepticism aside, in the spirit of offering a sneak peak at the true future of garden design, I present several design improvisations from Sproutopia, the garden show playland where tomorrow’s garden designers explore their design ideas today. As you will see, the best of the displays show an acute sensitivity towards site and material, a love for mixing different hardscape elements including stone, an interest in the architectural forms of succulents and conifers, and that the concept of “outdoor rooms” seems to have caught on with the next generation of designers. My apologies to the designers for not doing a better job of photographing their work, and a salute to whoever at the garden show is responsible for Sproutopia. The kids I saw were having a really good time. Enjoy.


San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Sing! by Mariposa Gardening and Design

Sing! by Mariposa Gardening and Design

We went to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show (San Mateo Flower and Garden Show?) yesterday. This freestanding dry stone wall, by Mariposa Gardening and Design and John Shaw-Rimmington of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada, was the coolest feature in the show in my rather stone-oriented opinion. There’s something very cool about walking under a dry-stacked stone arch. They said about thirty people gathered around to watch them remove the form from underneath the arch during setup, and I saw a ton of people pose for for photos underneath it during the show.

Cool Living by Fiddleleaf Fine Gardening and Design

Cool Living by Fiddleleaf Fine Gardening and Design

I also really liked the living wall by Fiddleleaf Fine Gardening and Design. The other green walls looked to me like they were grown horizontally and then put vertical for the garden show, but you could tell the Fiddleleaf wall was grown vertically from the way the plants oriented themselves. The construction details made me confident that it would actually be sustainable in the effort and resources to maintain it, and that it could evolve over time instead of being static. Green walls certainly seem to be the newest latest greatest; there were three of them in the garden show this year and it’s obviously an intriguing interesting idea, so I want to do some research into them. A lot of them seem to trade on the same novelty that makes Home Depot customers want to try growing a tomato plant hanging upside down in a bag, but I thought the Fiddleleaf living wall was the real deal, a beautiful sustainable feature for a small urban space.

Sky's the Limit by Rebecca Cole Designs

Sky's the Limit by Rebecca Cole

“Look at this!” a woman beside me exclaimed when she saw the green walls in Sky’s the Limit, by Rebecca Cole, and I thought that captured the effect of seeing the tidy geometric mats of living wallpaper. Tons of novelty value, plants growing in a different way than you normally see. It’s impressive how well the shape in the painting matched the shape on the curtains, which matched the custom cushions, which matched the custom tiles. The garden swept most of the awards in the show, and it is the exemplar of a certain type of garden, the all-at-once garden, everything designed simultaneously so that everything matches, a perfect garden for the client who wants to write a check and then never change a thing.

The Return of Paradiso by Quite Contrary Garden Design

The Return of Paradiso by Quite Contrary Garden Design

Similarly or in contrast to that garden, I’m not sure which, Quite Contrary Garden Design used found materials to make a cohesive whole. The materials all matched, but with the more casual roughness of flagstone, rather than tile. You could see that the designer collected the items, rather than designed them. I didn’t get to try out the wooden lounger, but I really liked how it looked.

There are photos already up on many of the designers’ websites, found through the garden show’s list of garden creators. BayAreaTendrils has photos, and I’m sure there’ll be more on other Bay Area blogger sites.

The show goes on for one more day, and the word at the show was that this won’t be the last year after all, that there’s a contract for five more years. Duane Kelly, the apparently-soon-to-be-former owner, has an interview at NestInStyle, talking about how the show needs to attract a new generation of visitors. It’ll be interesting to see what the new owners do to try to accomplish that.

ryan 3/21

White House Vegi Garden

All those online petitions do sometimes work. The White House is going to take out 1,000 square feet of lawn and plant a vegetable garden. I remember when people were criticizing the San Francisco victory garden as a photo op, my thought was, well, maybe, but it’s exactly the kind of photo op we need. It will be great to see photos of the U.S. president weeding the White House vegi garden.

Here’s a link to Michael Pollen’s long NY Times Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief from last October, which includes a call for the next president to make a vegetable garden.

ryan 3/20

SF Flower and Garden Show

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show runs from tomorrow through the weekend. I traded some plants yesterday to one of the garden creators, Mariposa Gardening and Design, our partner in the show last year, and I felt really glad it’s my plants in the show and not me. It’s a lot of work and stress. I like the new venue, the San Mateo Expo Center; it feels brighter and more open. The Cow Palace felt to me like a pit of dark, subterranean garden cavern, but maybe that’s just me projecting.

The garden show website has a cool time-lapse video of garden show setup.

The New York Times has an interesting article about flower and garden shows nationwide. The company that does the SF and Seattle show is up for sale.

ryan 3/17

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