Posts from the ‘container gardening’ category

Cloud Pruning – Part Two


In April of 2014 I wrote a blog about the history of Cloud Pruning and offered some basic guidelines.  Shortly afterward, I had the good fortune of designing a front yard in which the client ask me to include the English Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa” , into the design.  The final intent would be to create several boxwood “clouds”.

The first thing I did was to source the various sizes of round shaped Boxwoods available.  I found the following sizes –

5 gallon – 18” wide

7 gallon – 26” wide

15 gallon – 30” wide

The larger the boxwood the more convincing and dramatic the final outcome will be.  By using the three different sizes, I was able to create a “get the look quick” scenario.  I took great care in placing the boxwood so that the groups appeared to be natural or “cloud like”.  The billowy boxwood “clouds” are now the back bone of this garden and take center stage.  Too often boxwoods are relegated to a hedge along the property line or along the edge of a colorful flower bed.









I carried the boxwood theme to the three extra-large Zinc planters purchased from Restoration Hardware.  The boxwoods in the containers and in the front yard planting beds relate to the curved walls of this modern home.  The containers also give a classic and clean look to the unique front door.








The new planting also includes Lavender “Lavandula intermedia “Grosso”, Santolina chamaecyparissus “Nana” and Leptospermum scoparium ‘Snow White”.  These three plants were purposely selected due to their nature of accepting annual pruning.  With time, they will be hand pruned into soft grey-green pillows.  The lavender will maintain a “sphere” shape even when in full bloom as seen in the photo below of another garden three years after installation.









A mix of textures and the play of light on the carefully shaped shrubs will create a peaceful and meditative space.  I will compose a follow up blog later in the year as the garden grows and include growing and pruning advice.

Succulent Christmas Tree

Rainy Day Fun

Rainy Day Fun

The weather outside is frightful, but we’ve found a way to work with plants. A succulent Christmas tree is a fun indoor DIY project that keeps our hands and minds in the garden.

We started the Christmas tree by forming a cone out of chicken wire. We had big ideas of creating a template to make the cone, but ended up free-handing it. Chicken wire is very easy to manipulate by hand.

freehand cone

The next step is filling the cone with moistened sphagnum moss. Really try to pack it in.

sphagnum cone

We thought it would be fun to string the tree with battery-operated LED lights. So festive!



After you have the base, it’s time to start filling it with your succulents. We had a surplus of Sedum confusum, so decided to create a monochromatic tree – though there is great beauty in using a variety of succulents with lots of different colors. It helps to have a sharp, narrow tool – like a crochet hook or little screwdriver – to create space in the sphagnum moss to insert the succulent stem. Once you get the hang of things, it really goes quickly.

finished tree

After we finished the tree, we decided to decorate it!

This is a really fun DIY project for a rainy day. If you don’t have succulents in your garden, you can typically find groundcover succulent flats at your local nursery.

An update on my veggie garden













Well I am happy to report that my veggie garden is growing quickly! I must say the past rain (wish there was more in our future) really helped my watering schedule and I think was the key to getting our garden established.  We’ve also grown our garden since we last talked – we added a poblano pepper plant and I potted a couple blueberry plants. The blueberries are already producing; in fact I better go out and check tonight! I bought two varieties of blueberries because even though they are self-pollinating – they do better with another variety close by to cross pollinate resulting in a healthier crop, so far they are delicious! I was also just gifted two more tomato plants so it looks like I need to get a few more pots for them – because if you got ‘em grow ‘em and I’ve run out of room in my raised beds!



In the garden right now my tomato plants are full of flowers and have at least quadrupled in size. I just noticed some grape tomatoes are already starting to sprout – It’s so exciting. It’s definitely time for me to get out there and do some pruning on the tomato plants. When you look closely at a tomato plant you see the stem and its’ branches – which hopefully have flower buds popping now- but you will also notice some additional branches sprouting between the stem and branch. These branches only grow leaves and are referred to as suckers. They are not fruit producing and the plant uses a lot of energy to produce them, so my cutting them back you encourage more energy and growth to be directed to the branches that are tomato producing, resulting in a healthier crop. So that’s definitely on my garden to-do list this weekend.


My zucchini plant has grown so much – I think it’s more than quadrupled in size. And this weekend, while watering, I noticed a blossom on the zucchini plant – hopefully a sign of zucchini to come!  Even though watering is considered a chore, it really gives me the opportunity to see what happening in the raised beds and I have totally enjoyed it.  It’s really exciting that not only are the plants growing – they are showing signs of what’s to come. 


Our red pepper plant and the banana pepper plant both have flowering blossoms on their stocks, while the jalapeño shows signs of blossoms to come and the poblano is just a little behind since it’s a more recent transplant.


Finally, I’m also quite impressed that the cilantro seeds I planted.  I couldn’t find any cilantro plants so I decided to start from seed.  I was unsure how it would go because starting from seed seems like daunting task to me, but they are thriving! The person who gifted me the tomato plants grew all hers from seed – and most of them sprouted, which is why she had extra to share.  I’m so impressed, maybe that will be my goal next year – to start everything by seed.  We haven’t used any cilantro yet, but we are already regularly using our basil plant and it is delicious!


If you haven’t planted your veggie garden yet– there’s still time!   Even if all you can do is get out there and plant a few tomato plants in pots to tend to – it will be totally worth it!

My raised vegetable beds

Are you ready for it? Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to get your veggie garden growing! Whether you just have a few pots to get started with, or raised beds to fill, get your tomatoes in the ground now to enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner rather than later.

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When searching for raised vegetable bed inspiration online a couple years ago we discovered a local company, Art of the Garden, trying to make it easier to install raised beds in your garden. Their product, the M-brace, is a set of four metal braces that hold your stacked redwood boards in place, up to 14” tall, and that’s it – no tools required! They have fun designs, or come in solid pieces and they are made locally from recycled metal. It’s an awesome concept and after installing them in many of our clients’ gardens I always knew I would be using them once I was ready to build my raised beds. Last year I planted some tomatoes and herbs in pots to test my success with vegetables. This year I have bigger goals, so I contacted Art of the Garden to get my project started.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear they are developing a new product line that allows you to build veggie beds up to 24” tall, the only difference being some tools required. I have always wanted to do two foot high raised beds because we have two small dogs that tend to get in whatever they can. This seemed like the perfect solution and I was so happy they would share the Garden HighRiser prototype with me. Very soon they will be launching the product line and I can say I highly recommend using them in your garden. We were able to construct our beds in one weekend, really one day with some extra help and I am so pleased with the results!

The extra help is always a bonus - it's great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The extra help is always a bonus – it’s great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The tools and supplies required to construct raised beds using the HighRiser is the HighRiser braces, 2” thick redwood boards (you can use different heights of boards, we went with stacked 2 x12s to get our 24” tall), #12 lumber screws, a drill, gopher wire and soil and plants to fill the beds once they are constructed. To make things easier we bought our redwood at Lowes where they will cut the wood for you. I decided I wanted to make two 4’ square veggie beds in my space as opposed to one long one. I just thought it would look cute and be easy to garden in.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

The upper boards don't fit debacle photo.

The upper boards don’t fit debacle photo.

We had to start our project first by clearing away the rocks where our beds would go and measuring everything out. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be from the start. Working with the HighRisers was really easy. We were able to assemble the braces to the first round of 2x12s and still move the beds around into position. For extra stabilization we buried the frames a little and checked our levels before committing to their final location. We did run into a little trouble at first because we tightened the braces to the lower 2x12s all the way and we couldn’t fit the next boards on top. Finally, by my friends genius advice, we realized if we loosen the braces on the lower boards a little we could then fit the top boards on, level and secure it all together at once. Thanks Jess, we needed that. Needless to say the second veggie bed we constructed went a little quicker than the first one we built, but I think that is totally normal when doing projects for the first time (think about when you first put something together from Ikea haha). And just like that we had our Raised beds built.

The "hey we got this figured out!" photo

The “hey we got this figured out!” photo

Next we added gopher wire to the bottom of the beds before filling them with soil. Although, knock on wood we don’t seem to have a gopher problem, it would be a bummer to not have put it and then run into a big problem later. We decided to by bags of soil to empty into the beds as opposed to getting yards of soil delivered. We needed 64 cubic feet of soil total (4’ wide beds that are 2‘ tall), 32 cubic feet for each raised bed. Luckily Lowes was having a sale that weekend to kick off spring so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, because that is a lot of soil!

On soil patrol.

On soil patrol.

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

We are going to hand water our raised beds. I watered my tomatoes by hand last year and I feel comfortable I will be able to handle the watering schedule. I figure if you find something you love to do, why wouldn’t you want to do it every day. Plus I hear Zucchinis can happen out of nowhere so you should be diligent.

The final product!

The final product!

I said I had bigger goals this year with my vegetable gardening and I meant it! I’m hoping to share my trials and tribulations in veggie gardening with you all season. Since I had such success last year with growing tomatoes I’m doing more of those this year including – Roma, Grape, Celebrity and an Heirloom variety. I’ve also added Peppers to the mix – I hear they like the heat and it’s hot at my house so I’m attempting to grow Jalapeños, Banana and Red Peppers. I’ve also got a Zucchini plant and various herbs. It’s been about 2 weeks since we built and planted our raised beds and the recent rain has really helped my watering schedule and the plants seem to be happy and growing, so far so good. And I seriously could not be happier with my HighRiser Veggie beds they have completely transformed my yard!

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain.  Can't you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain. Can’t you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Ornamental Grasses

Today’s garden differs from gardens of the past.  This is partially due to the fact that in today’s garden so many varieties of plants are available to the designer.  One category that has risen in popularity is Ornamental Grasses.  The fact that ornamental grasses offer so much and ask for so little may be the reason. Ornamental grasses have a way of bringing motion, beauty and softness to garden beds and borders.  Ornamental grasses can play a supportive role to other plants or be the star of the garden and provide the focal point.








There are many ways to use grasses in the garden.  Here are a few suggestions.


Grasses can be used in containers and planters.  Grasses mix well with annuals, perennials and succulents adding texture and movement to the arrangement.  Used alone, in a large container, grasses will create a dramatic effect.










As a ground cover grasses provide neat little tufts.  Mixing low grasses, such as Pennisetum, Carex and Festuca, with natural looking “umbilifers’ such as Yarrow (Achillea Sp.), Chelsea Cow Parsley (Cenolophium denudatum) and Queen Anne’s Lace ‘Ravenswing’ (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) creates an interesting meadow effect.










Use grasses as hedges and screens.  Tall grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Forester’ or Miscanthus sin. ‘Morning Light’ create wonderful seasonal screens that catch the light and move gracefully in the wind.









Ornamental grasses can be companions to perennials.  Medium height grasses, such as Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) or Blue Oat Grass (Helictotricon sempervirens) mix well with perennials such as Euphorbias, Lavenders, Salvias and Sedums.  Grasses will give the perennial flower border greater depth and color.











Now that we are officially in the midst of a drought, grasses are the perfect choice.  Weekly irrigation is sufficient for most established grasses.  Another benefit is that grasses don’t require fertilizer and look better left on their own.  In fact, pest and diseases rarely affect grasses.

What grasses do require to look their best is cutting back once a year in the late winter or early spring.  Cut the clumps back to just a few inches when new growth appears at the base.  You should also divide grasses when they outgrow their area or develop bare centers.

Finding grasses in the nursery was difficult to do 25 years ago.  Today most nurseries carry a wide variety of grasses.  The popularity of grasses has risen because they require low maintenance, have a long flowering season and are rarely bothered by disease and pest.  Today you can find a dramatic array of grasses for many landscape uses.

What to do with all those herbs!

From my tiny little 4” plants I have a plethora of herbs. I just started by growing 3 kinds this year, but they have really taken off – I guess regular water is a good thing! I try to use them all on a regular basis, but I think I have to start really using them. I figured I’m not the only one who finds themselves in this predicament so I thought I’d share a few ways to use your herbs!

This year I am container gardening - here's my herb pot!  Next year I'm hoping for a raised bed!

This year I am container gardening – here’s my herb pot! Next year I’m hoping for a raised bed!

My basil has really taken off. I bought an Italian variety just from my local Trader Joes during a shopping trip. The moment you touch it, you smell it and its heavenly. I’ve been pinching back the flowers to keep producing more leaves, and cutting it down to use it for cooking and like any basil plant it keeps producing more and more. This week I have decided I need to do something major with it, because let’s face it, then I’ll get even more!

Basil up close and personal.  This will make great pesto!

Basil up close and personal. This will make great pesto!

I found this great recipe for pesto so that’s definitely on my weekend to do list – I’m sure I have enough! I got to thinking about pesto because I was recently at an engagement party that had some great appetizers, including turkey sliders topped with tomatoes, cucumbers and pesto. I found out all those things were made with veggies and herbs from their amazing garden. As the host put it, you got it you use it! I even left with a cucumber and zucchini, so I guess my personal freak out of what to do with my little herbs is not alone, even serious vegetable gardeners find they have such large crops they have to share. Makes me so excited to do more! My cousin started her own vegetable garden this year and has been producing like crazy! She also had a great tip for the plethora of basil you produce. Chop some garlic and basil and place portions in an ice cube tray, then add olive oil and freeze for future use. How easy is that to have on hand for cooking!

My other garden herb that has taken off is my mint. It does have a reputation for doing so. But I have a BBQ to go to and it’s supposed to be warm so I think it’s time for some infused water!! I’m thinking cucumber – lime – mint or Strawberry – orange – mint. Sounds refreshing, huh! I have some cucumbers left over from the farmers market so that may win out. Also, mint could be added chopped up and placed in your ice cube tray with water to help chill some infused drinks. Just another little tip from my wonderful cousin.

Now I said I started growing 3 herbs this year. I can’t seem to produce enough of my 3rd, cilantro, because we keep making tacos – fish, chicken, bean – we just can’t get enough! I guess having excess of 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, we love cooking mexican food I guess! It is really nice always having a little cilantro on hand.

mmm, tacos are one of our favs!

mmm, tacos are one of our favs!

Stay cool this weekend. And remember if you simply can’t eat or use all your own crops share your bounty from your garden with friends and family – I’m sure they will always appreciate it – I know I do!

Charming Bungalow Garden

just planted!

just planted!

One of my favorite gardens of the year is the little front garden of a charming bungalow in Albany. It wasn’t a complicated or large project – in fact it’s mostly planting. But it combined three elements that make me love my job so much: though the project was small in scope, the budget was realistic for the vision; my clients are fantastic people who were extremely fun to work with; and the house is just as cute as a button.

When I first met with my clients, they had already cleared the weeds from their otherwise barren front garden, and covered it in thick black plastic. This is a non-toxic method called solarization that basically increases soil temperature to levels that kill simultaneously kills weed seeds (any kind of seed, really), plants and pathogens. Another benefit is that heating the soil helps organic material break down faster and release nutrients that are valuable to new garden plants. Another benefit is that the demo was done – which made way for more exciting budget choices.

napa basalt wall with succulents

napa basalt wall with succulents

The design consisted of drystack rock garden walls to address the gentle slope from the house to the sidewalk, simple gravel path (mostly for the letter carrier) that we jazzed up with tumbled beach glass, and plants that played with the color pallet of that charming bungalow. An iron rail is soon to follow.

My client had a lot of input about the general direction she wanted the garden to take, but trusted me to understand her vision and create the planting plan. I selected plants that can take the relatively harsh conditions of sun and wind, while still providing color and order. A forest pansy was a must-have in the garden. The beautiful stained-glass quality of the heart-shaped burgundy leaves combined with the colors of the house and painted concrete walkway drove the colors in the garden to pinks and yellows and chartreuse. Succulents and Mediterranean shrubs and perennials are massed throughout.

a short 90-days later!

a short 90-days later!

I have to say the solarization was a tremendous success – particularly in plant growth. It’s hard to believe the rapid growth rate of the plants in a short period of time. Though weeds are attempting a comeback, I have rarely seen such weed-pulling diligence as what the homeowners exhibit. The little postage-stamp garden is a stunner.

I don’t want to only credit the solarization in the success of the garden. I firmly believe that lovely, generous people generate abundance and life all around them – so it goes that it would evidence itself in my clients’ bungalow garden.

Ok – there is a fourth and very important reason I loved this job. One of my awesome clients is a professional baker. Two words: almond torte. Not just any almond torte – a perfectly chewy, light where it should be, dense where it should be, almondy all the way almond torte. They were gifts to my crew and I for working on the project, and I will remember it always.





Flowerland Nursery – This Land was Made for You and Me!

FLOWERLAND FLOWERLAND I don’t know what it is about places that end in “land,” but I love them. I’m talking about places that name a thing that I love and end it in land, which equals the land of the thing that I love. When I was a kid and just started driving, I spent $600 on a 1960 American Rambler. We called it the Pambler. It was a giant hunk of steel – all bench seating. I could fit nine of my friends and I pretty comfortably – and we rambled. A lot. We often rambled past a place called Donutland. You see – one of my favorite things turned into a land! I never got to go, but Playland by the beach in San Francisco, but I imagine it was everything I would want a land of play to be.  So imagine my delight when I walked into Flowerland Nursery last week. It’s a land of nursery enchantment!

nursery and store signFlowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany has been a nursery forever. The architecture suggests it opened in the 1950s or 60s. The original signage is such a treasure, you can’t wait to see what’s inside. And, wowie! what a fantastic experience once you go in. Before I talk about the wonders of this little east bay nursery, I have to say I tried going to Flowerland when I first started working in the east bay a million years ago, and it seemed like it was in decline – my coworker described it as random and rundown. I thought then that someone with a vision should take over and bring it back to its original glory. I never went back until now.

Lo and behold, new owners took over Flowerland nursery about four years ago – and I didn’t get the memo. I’m sorry I was late to the party, but I plan on going back to this east bay treasure regularly. It’s hard to say what I like most about Flowerland because I didn’t see anything I didn’t like, but I’ll give it a go.

tomatoes make good friendsFor starters, you’re walking around in a little piece of local history. It’s harder and harder to find original, neighborhood nurseries, especially any this awesome – and this one is right on Solano Avenue. I already mentioned the original signage. The folks at Flowerland have fine tuned the design of the nursery seamlessly around the awesome original details. The nursery and store are designed well and you just get the feeling that everything is where it should be. Café lights have been added to the original metal shade structures – it seems like they close at 5.30, so I’ll have to wait until winter to see them all lit up.

coffee trailer and chairsNeed a coffee or a snack? The Local 123 airstream has a permanent spot in the nursery and the airstream fits in flawlessly with the vibe of the nursery. Who doesn’t want to make their garden wish list while sipping a latte?

soil amendment signfruit trees 2vine signsucculents






I really love the organization of the space. It isn’t a huge nursery by any stretch of the imagination, but they cover all of the bases. There is a focus on food producers, from veggies, to herbs, to fruit trees. They have one of the best selections of heirloom tomatoes going. This is the year I decided to try growing tomatoes in San Francisco again. I planted the tried and true early girls, but I couldn’t resist heirloom tomatoes with names like ‘Bloody Butcher’  Lots of varieties that are particularly well-suited to the zone 17 east bay climate. The in-house signage is informative and vintage-inspired.

fuchsia procumbensThe plant material is great! They have an eye for interesting and unique They also have a large selection of 4” plant material – and all are reasonably priced. My favorite scores of the day were a 4” Fuchsia procumbens and a 4” Rhodochiton astrosanguieum, two plants I’ve been searching for FOREVER. Also, a big shout-out to Annie’s Annuals for growing funky plants!

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The “store” portion of Flowerland nursery is darling, and hosts a bevy of begonias, bromeliads and other interesting houseplants. They have great gardening tools and organic fertilizers. And if you’re into terrariums, this is your place. They have lots of miniature plants – and miniatures to create your own scenes.  So much fun. They appear to have an olive oil program – bring your own bottle and they’ll fill it for you. I’m not sure of the origin of the olive oil – but how awesome is that? The shop is a perfect place to shop for the green thumbs in your life. I haven’t even mentioned the perfect, omnipresent nursery dog!this guy

If you find yourself in east bay and are in the mood for retail therapy of the flora variety – head on down to Flowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany. You won’t be disappointed!

Finally, A Welcoming Entry Garden to Match Its House


The first time I saw this beautiful California Mission style inspired home, there was definitely a disconnect between the entry and the architecture. My clients and I worked to make the garden entry just as detailed and as welcoming as the house. The front was a hodgepodge of materials built up over time. Pink slate was flaking off and encrusted with dirt, while there were at least three different level changes from the front door to the driveway and entry steps, creating tripping hazards and chopping up the space.

While we couldn’t alter the size of the entry steps that much due to the constraints of the existing cedar tree and driveway location, changing the material of the entry helped dramatically to create a cohesive and welcoming entry. The sandstone we chose was lighter than the former pink slate, with warm shades of yellow and brown running through. The paving stone, as well as warm Kennesaw ledgestone walls replaced the dark moss rock that was there before and immediately brightened up the ground plane beneath the dense shade of the cedar trees. We were able to increase the treads of the stairs, and reduce the riser heights for a more comfortable journey down to the front door, rather than having to focus on the precarious steep stairs that funneled visitors to the front door. A short three foot high retaining wall was built just in front of the arched entry window, creating a resting place for visitors and a safe transition spot to travel down the new side stairs.




2Estates10Replacing the cracked concrete driveway that was flanked by a structurally questionable deck helped tremendously to finish off the front of the house. The colored concrete driveway is a nice tan that complements the warm brown in the stone and rests peacefully in the background. This allows the architecture of the house and the stone to shine, while the driveway remains subdued.


Short ledgestone columns with an ornamental pot above calls attention to the entry stairs and a third accentuates the middle of the grand arched window. Wrought iron handrails and gate pick up details from the original ironwork inside the house and complement the black iron details in the exterior lighting fixtures.

Fragrant blooming white plants help to brighten the shade beneath the cedars. A sarcococcoa hedge creates an informal barrier along the road, while silver astelia and limelight hydrangea complement existing pink camelias. Variegated foliage such as dianella and winter blooming daphne also help to lighten the shade all year long. Burgundy cordylines planted above the columns create accents of bold color in key areas that contrast with the light stone.

Before, the entry was disjointed and distracting.  While the layout of this front garden entry did not change drastically, the change of materials from dark to light and the details in the finish work really make the architecture of the house pop.


Public Planting in Seattle

Hosta planted outside Seattle's Link lightrail system

Hosta planted outside Seattle’s Link lightrail system


Climbing hydrangea crawling up fence outside Seattle’s lightrail system

On a recent trip to Seattle I was amazed at the health and vigor of the landscape around every corner. Most shocking were plants being used in public spaces. Who would ever expect to see hostas or climbing hydrangea planted outside our BART stations? I know it rains a lot in Seattle, but I saw the benefit of all this water on my latest trip as the plants were about to explode into Spring. Everyday was refreshed with a sprinkling of rain that cleaned off the buildings and sidewalks and plumped up all the plants to create a lush and verdant landscape, even in the crack of a sidewalk. Plants I am used to seeing around the Bay Area, like Heuchera and Iberis were triple and quadruple the size! Red and yellow tulips were in every front yard and being used in container planting at the nearby shopping center. The container plants didn’t seem to be suffering from container syndrome…scraggly plants that struggle to find enough water and nutrients in their confined prisons.



Hanging gardens adorned even simple metal rails dividing pedestrian and vehicular traffic that looked so indulgent. It was apparent that a lot of care goes into the public planting spaces in Seattle. But the plant selection and vigor come from the heavy doses of water Seattle is known for. I won’t change my watering times or start inserting Hostas frivolously into Bay Area gardens, but I will try to visit Seattle more when I need a dosage of guilt-free planting indulgence.


Pedestrian and vehicular traffic are separated by a metal rail dripping with plants


Iberis (Candytuft) smothering a stone wall