Local Christmas Gifts for Humboldt County Gardeners

Helleborus-Cinnamon-Snow-makes-a-great-gift.-Image-courtesy-Skagit-Gardens.jpgHellebore photo courtesy of Skagit Gardens What’s that, my fellow Humboldtians? Time’s gotten away from you yet again, with no gifts purchased and only a short time until Christmas? Never fear, I’ve got you covered. I called up a variety of local shops to find out which gift they’d most recommend for the gardener on your list. Whether you’re looking for a hostess gift for that kind somebody who keeps inviting you over and stuffing you full of delicious flavors, or something special (and oddly-shaped) to put under the tree of a loved one, these eight gifts are sure to rack up bonus points with your favorite muddy-booted pal. [Read more...]

What I’ve Been Doing (When I Haven’t Been Here)

Pruning-grasses.jpgIt’s been a busy summer with a lot of new adventures, and while I haven’t been blogging as much as I would like, if you’ve kept a sharp eye out you’ve probably seen me in some other publications. If you’ve been missing your North Coast Gardening fix, here are a few of my favorite articles that have gone live recently!

Fine Gardening magazine

Fine Gardening October 2013In my landscape maintenance business, pruning ornamental grasses is one of the things I get asked about most. Ornamental grasses come in such a wide array of varieties, shapes, and habits that the same pruning technique doesn’t work for all of them. However, there are a few simple rules of thumb to keep in mind when approaching your grasses to make sure you’re pruning them properly, and I cover those concepts in the latest article I’ve written for Fine Gardening magazine, entitled “Stop! Don’t prune that grass”. The article splits each general type of grass (large and goes dormant, large and evergreen, small and goes dormant, etc.) into its own section and covers the techniques to use on each. Not only are there ample photographs of me pruning different types of grass, there are also illustrations which make it easier to understand how to approach each type of plant. It’s out on newsstands now in the October 2013 edition, and the rest of the issue is no slouch, either, with some great articles by Niki Jabbour, Billy Goodnick, and others on designing with hydrangeas, getting your edible garden set up now for an abundant winter harvest, using vegetable raised beds in a designer way, and more.

Garden Design online

garden designI was unsurprised when Garden Design magazine folded earlier this year, and felt a combination of sadness and irritation that the magazine had never really lived up to its promise. With a name like Garden Design, I always expected to get tips and ideas that I could benefit from and present to my clients – but the old Garden Design featured a lot of giant estates full of lawns and hedges, profiles of historical figures that didn’t have any practical takeaways, and things that were kind of fun to read, but didn’t really apply to my own garden or my work as a designer. That’s why I was so thrilled to learn that Garden Design is under new ownership and is being reinvigorated as an online publication. There’s a spirit of approachability and helpfulness in the new direction they are taking with the articles, and I’ve found a lot to love there already. Check out the interview with Karen Chapman of Fine Foliage fame about designing successful container combinations, or this fun profile of a Washington garden. My contribution? I was honored to get to interview Debra Yates and Benjamin Burle to learn more about their signature style, a colorful yet restrained look they call subtropical modernism. Yates and Burle are true artists, and since interviewing them I’ve certainly been thinking about color and shape in the garden in a much different way. And that’s what Garden Design magazine should be about! Inspiring ideas from professionals and real people that you can use to think about your own landscape with a fresh set of eyes. I’m excited to see the metamorphosis occur, and I’m thrilled to be a part of Garden Design’s new beginning.

The North Coast Journal

gen x and yOur beloved local author Amy Stewart (you’ve read The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants, right?) has had a gardening column in the Journal for some time, but as she’s moved into the cocktail and other realms, her writing has shifted away from gardening and onto other fun topics. So when I heard the Journal was looking for a few good gardening geeks to pick up the torch, I was happy to join up. While the first few columns will be reprints of some of my most popular articles here on North Coast Gardening, beginning in November “Down and Dirty” will have a variety of gardening tips and rants, plus a monthly to-do list for those of us right here on the North Coast. My first column is live now, and is entitled, “Gen X- and Y-Gardeners: Can we quit worrying about this, please?“.

What else I’ve been growing

new little oneLastly, while many of you already know my news, my biggest new adventure is this: Trevor and I are expecting our first baby in about a week, a son! I’ve been used to working happy 12-hour days on my landscape maintenance business, landscape designs, and all of my garden writing projects, but being pregnant has given me a bit of a wake-up call about knowing my limits and choosing projects and priorities carefully (it’s also given me a new understanding of why flowering and fruiting plants need a base of good health and energy to create all of that abundance!). While having a newborn probably won’t affect what I want to write about, I’m looking forward to having a new member of the family to enjoy the sunshine, fresh peaches, and chicken antics in the backyard with me, and in a few years perhaps I’ll have a gardening sidekick who enjoys bug watching and getting muddy just as much as I do. If posting is a little sporadic over the next few months, I hope you’ll forgive me, and know that I’ll be back to regular writing as soon as the little one learns all about napping and how fantastic it is.

Cat Stuck in a Tree? Call These Tree-Climbing Heroes

image.pngCat stuck in a tree? We all have a friendly mental picture in our minds of a firefighter rescuing a stranded cat from the topmost branches of a tree, but the reality is that most fire departments won’t even attempt to rescue a cat due to liability issues, and the concern that a call involving human lives might come in during a cat rescue. And police officers aren’t trained to climb trees and don’t have the right equipment to attempt a rescue. I didn’t know any of that this past weekend, when I saw an online article in my local newspaper entitled, “Situation Catical for Tree-Stranded Kitty”, about a local cat who had been stuck 50 feet up in a tree for the last 3 to 5 days. After rejections from the local police and fire departments, I was distressed to find that nobody involved was actually doing anything to help the cat – just standing around and waiting for it to fall. I became deeply upset and began calling around to see who might be able to help. [Read more...]

Monday Miscellany: Prince Harry’s Chelsea Garden, Fine Foliage, Modernica Giveaway and a New Blog to Follow

prince-harrys-chelsea-garden.jpgKicking things off, the UK’s Daily Mail reports on the Chelsea garden show display that was codesigned by Prince Harry in honor of his charity work with AIDS orphans. While I hardly think of the partying royal ginger as a landscape designer, and would give most of the credit to the garden’s creator Jinny Blom, the fact remains that it’s a rather gorgeous and exciting display. A lot of times, people confuse a naturalistic theme with one that is random and lacking in shape. This garden is a beautiful example of how simple geometric shapes can frame and bring polish to a planting scheme that might otherwise appear disordered or frenetic. I mean, just imagine all of those scruffy grassy things and wildflowers without the square frame, circular patio, and other permanent features. It wouldn’t work nearly as well. [Read more...]

Monday Miscellany: Cost of Landscaping, Fave Shrubs, and Fine Landscape Maintenance

landscaping-network-logo.jpgSpringtime is always good for gardening, but it’s often not so great for finding rad articles around the web, since most of us gardeners are out and about actually gardening, rather than talking about it. I know that’s been the case for me! But a few sites have bucked the trend and put out some amazing stuff lately that’s been worthy of adding to my bookmarks list and Evernote stash.

How much does backyard landscaping cost?

landscaping-network-logo Landscaping Network just put up a fantastic resource page about how much backyard landscaping will cost to have professionally installed. They have tabs across the top which show you some of the things you can get done in your landscape for $5000, $10,000, $25,000 on up. Below that, there are a ton of links to articles about how much specific elements like patios, decks, pergolas, and lawn care cost in different regions and with different materials or styles of construction. I confess I may be a bit biased, since I helped interview landscaping professionals from around the country to compile these articles and lists, but I think they did a superb job of putting it all together in a way that is easy to use and answers people’s questions quickly. Go on over and check it out.

Garden bloggers’ favorite shrubs

Clianthus puniceus I’m a little late in posting about this, but my pal Erin over at The Impatient Gardener asked some garden bloggers to share their favorite shrubs and enthuse over the deliciously fine qualities of these plants. She did this last year with perennials, too. I was honored to be asked to contribute and was delighted to have a chance to rave on one of my favorites, Clianthus puniceus, which has been merrily blooming away in my garden for a number of months and shows no signs of letting up. It’s one of those plants where when people see the flowers, they think you’re growing something wildly difficult and exotic, but really it’s an easy grower once established. See which shrubs everyone else recommended here.

Get a Job: Chad Smiley profiled on Garden Rant

Chad Smiley Lastly, I was so proud of my landscape maintenance foreman Chad Smiley for his interview over on Garden Rant. Amy Stewart started a series on Garden Rant called “Get a Job” where she interviews people who are actually out in the field every day doing horticultural work. It’s a great idea. So many people romanticize horticultural professions because they love gardening as a hobby, so it’s not only a good reality check for people considering changing fields and going into horticulture, but it’s also inspiring to see the wide variety of jobs and opportunities available in horticulture nowadays. That’s definitely what I love best about our field, is that there’s really no opportunity for boredom. If you get tired of doing one thing in the green industry, there are a number of related opportunities which give you a chance to expand your knowledge and try something a little different. In any case, I’m happy to see what we do, which is fine landscape maintenance (pruning and skilled care in the beds, as opposed to the mow ‘n’ blow type of work most people think of), getting a little more play, and I’m thrilled to have Chad get some recognition for the fantastic work he does. Go on over and read the article. That’s it for this week, folks. Have you seen anything cool around the web? Let me know in the comments below.

2013 Garden Trends Prediction

Native-sweat-bee-on-Checkers-photo-courtesy-Genevieve-Schmidt.jpgWhile most trend reports depict their trends as being the next new thing, really most trends come from ideas that have been around for a while, and have just been gathering steam. There’s very little that’s new in the world, especially in something as connected to natural rhythms as gardening, but everyone brings their own twist to gardening and so there are always innovations popping up that can turn solid concepts such as “low-maintenance gardening” or “sustainable gardening” into an actual trend that people would want to put energy into. Here’s my take on which gardening movements are up-and-coming, still going strong, or starting to lose steam for 2013.

Up-and-coming trends:

Indoor gardening

Even the most passionate of gardeners still has to work, and usually that work involves us sitting in front of a computer or in an office all day. However, I can say from experience that having something beautiful and alive to rest our eyes on in between projects is not only conducive to creativity, but makes us feel great. There are a lot of elements converging to create this trend, from the beautiful air plant displays at Flora Grubb and other nurseries, the Wardian cases and glass terrariums that have been so hot, to the books about selecting unusual picks for houseplants, fairy gardening, and terrarium decor. I personally love this trend. There’s nothing like a little greenery to class up a joint, and I have a purple Crinum growing indoors, four air plants, and a cute little H. Potter Wardian case which I decorate according to the seasons.

Enabled gardening

I’m a tool geek, so I’m always delighted to see new advances in ergonomics and other technology which makes it easier for people to garden. Now that many of the boomers are getting arthritis or just having some of the simple aches and pains of aging, we’re seeing an increase in garden tools which require less force to use, raised bed and patio gardening supplies which make it easier to garden without bending over or kneeling, and lots of tricks and techniques coming out about how to garden safer and with more ease. It’s not just the boomers who benefit from this trend. The tool advances help everyone, and a lot of those cool raised patio planters have a fresh, modern look that work well in both city and suburban gardens. arthritis gardening tools Some examples are those hand tools with the fat handles that are so easy to grip, ratcheting loppers which let you prune with less force, and telescoping hedging shears which make it possible to trim a small hedge from a seated position or a larger hedge without getting up on the ladder.

Insect ID

One of the main arguments of using native plants, which has been a strong trend/movement for the last two years, is that native plants provide unique habitat and support for our native insects. Many of our butterflies simply can’t reproduce unless they find the exact right variety of native plant that the caterpillars have evolved to eat. Plus, insects make up the base of our food chain, so if we want to see birds in the landscape, we need to encourage some of the native insects they are used to eating. So many of us have been trying to plant more natives, yet without some knowledge of our local insects, we have no idea whether we are hosting a cabbage moth or swallowtail. In the last three months, I’ve been asked a number of times both by fellow landscaper friends and by clients to give an insect ID for a bug they found on a native. This is definitely a new phenomenon in my circle, and I’ve been enjoying digging out Peter Haggard’s book, Insects of the Pacific Northwest, for answers.

Water features replacing lawns

While this isn’t a low-budget trend, I’ve been struck over and over by the number of beautiful water features used as a lawn replacement in small spaces. Most of the examples I’ve seen have had a rectangular or otherwise geometric-shaped pool, and the open surface of the water has the same effect as lawn in terms of providing “negative space”, which allows the garden beds and other landscape features to pop. pond as negative spacePhoto above by Huettl Landscape Architecture Though water features take about the same amount of maintenance as a lawn, that maintenance can be hired out to a pond care service just as lawn care can be hired out to the mow and blow guys. There’s an added benefit to a water feature however, in that while a lawn is a total dead zone to wildlife, a water feature, properly constructed with wildlife in mind, has the potential to add greatly to the wildlife interest and biodiversity in your front yard. While this isn’t a trend that I expect to see popping up all over, I do think we’ll be seeing more and more of this in design magazines and high-end neighborhoods. More examples here, here, here, and here.

Still going strong:

Photo-based social media and inspiration

Pinterest has totally changed how people expect to get design inspiration. Nowadays, we all want to see lots of juicy, delicious photos illustrating how other people have done what we want to do. Don’t get me wrong, clear text is still critically important, because once you have some idea of what you want to do, you need to learn in an in-depth way how to go about it and what pitfalls to avoid. Pinterest But I think the popularity of Pinterest has changed the order in which people get inspired. Now, I start by looking for photographs, then look for the accompanying text which shares why the projects are so effective. If you’re looking for inspiration, try Houzz, which has a way of saving photos to “ideabooks” to keep project inspiration in one place, or Landscaping Network, which has sorted thousands of landscaping photos into clear categories so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for. You can easily pin photos from both sites to Pinterest to create inspiration boards for your own projects.


I hesitate to put this in the trends department, because wildlife gardening, using less lawn, choosing natives, selecting plants that need less water and care, raising chickens, and growing your own food all fall under the sustainability umbrella and all seem to reflect a deeper movement -in other words, it’s not just a trend. But the fact that so many books are being published on these topics right now and people are still learning how to design and garden this way means that it’s a really hot topic at the moment. While I don’t see this movement disappearing anytime soon, at a certain point people will probably slow down talking about it because many of these concepts will become second nature. They’ll fall under the category of regular good design, rather than feeling new in any way.

Cocktail gardens

Edibles have been a big trend for some time, but the problem with edible gardening is that a lot can go wrong. You need to water the plants, check on them, pick bugs off or use organic sprays, and plant and harvest at just the right times. It all feels a bit like work, and I don’t know about you, but I already have a job. Cocktail gardening, by contrast, is meant for the cheerfully distracted crew that comes home at dusk each day and just wants to grab a few leaves of something to enhance their nightly tipple. It includes undemanding fruit and herbs which need little fussing, and since you’re mostly growing flavorings or garnishes for your cocktails, not a whole dinner-plate of food, success is a lot easier to achieve. drunkn botanist While cocktail gardening has been around for a few years, it never really reached a critical mass. However, this year Amy Stewart’s new book The Drunken Botanist is coming out, and I predict that her simple advice, awesome recipes, and engaging stories about the plants and people involved in making whiskey, tequila and more will bring this trend to life in a much bigger way. (For a taste of Amy’s cocktail-inspired wit, check out Put a Berry in It. Sorry Amy, you’ll pry my bubblegum vodka from my cold, dead hands.)

Losing steam:

Time-consuming vertical gardening

While gardening upwards is still way hot, a number of people have tried out those fussy vertical gardening planters and pockets and had trouble getting their plants to survive more than a season or two. Common sense would tell us that whenever you plant things in a small container, those things are going to need a lot of water, care, and occasional repotting to perform well. It’s the kind of thing I like to see at a restaurant, museum, or other locale where a beautiful art installation like a vertical garden draws visitors and sets the tone. But all that work is kind of exhausting, and most home gardeners don’t have the time for all of that. While simpler forms of vertical gardening like training plants upwards, creating hardscaping features that provide screening, or using tall containers will never go out of style, most gardeners are into projects that don’t need constant revisiting. I will say as a caveat that succulents used for vertical gardening are still pretty popular, and rightfully so. My own experiments doing vertical gardening with succulents have been largely successful, and the plants have survived despite my general gardening philosophy at home of benign neglect.

Weird fruits

I enjoyed the weird fruit trend thoroughly. While I haven’t planted any medlars or found a good source for blue honeysuckle, we have planted and eaten aronia berries, Chilean guava, Alpine strawberries, black passion fruit and Carolina allspice. While some of these have been a total hit, I found obvious reasons why these plants are not more commonly used. Alpine strawberries, for example, are absolutely delicious when eaten fresh right off the plants. However, if you pick them into a bowl and try to eat them even 20 minutes later on your pancakes, you’ll find they’ve grown mushy and significantly less appealing – they are a garden-only snack. Our aronia berry makes astringent fruits that are tasty when sugared, but the plant itself has grown about 2 inches in the last two years, and isn’t much to look at. The seeds of black passion fruit are crunchy and unappealing, and while Chilean guava is a fun snack the first time or two, the juniper flavor and leathery skin isn’t something you want to sit down and eat handfuls of. While I’ll certainly continue planting things that fruit or are useful in some way, the days of spending hours pouring over exotic fruit books are over, at least for me. Clients and friends that I’ve spoken with also seem to be feeling the same way.

Succulents for chicken gardeners

wave gardenNo, no, I’m not saying that succulents are going out of style. Please don’t take away my gardening credentials. All I’m saying is that there are two trends out there right now that really don’t mix. A few months back, I brought home about $150 worth of beautiful succulents and was getting all excited thinking about where exactly in the garden they would go. Unfortunately, Esther, Ethyl, and Beryl, my observant hens, were just as excited to see the crispy snacks I’d brought home for them and began pecking enthusiastically. “Hey – HEY!!! STOP THAT,” I shouted, shooing them vigorously. “Do you know how much those things cost?” A few of my new pretties now had beakmarks along the edges. One succulent groundcover that I’d set out deeper in the garden and forgotten about was later found, eaten to the ground. In fact, a few days later I noticed the ladies congregating around the now-empty pot, taking exploratory pecks at the bare soil, wondering if the tastiness might have returned. If you have chickens in the garden, and you want to play around with succulents, see the aforementioned vertical gardening trend and get those suckers planted up high.

What say you?

What do you think is hot or not in 2013? What trends have I missed? Other people’s thoughts: Pantone Nesting Place Valerie Easton Thomas Rainer The Telegraph (UK) Garden Media Group Garden Media Group’s Pinterest board on 2013 trends

Best and Worst of 2012: Trends, Colors, Books, Tools, and the Most Popular Articles

shovel-of-purpleness.jpg2012 was a great year for gardening in many ways – the sustainability movement made for some beautiful, fresh ideas (like the insect habitat art introduced by Flora Grubb) and the continuation of the less-lawn movement gave designers an excuse to go bold with the front yard, skipping the usual lawn-with-foundation-plantings in favor of water features, semi-enclosed patios, and wildlife-friendly plantings. Love it! Of course, there were some parts of the year I’d just as soon forget. Without further ado, here’s my take on the best and worst of 2012.

Garden trends:

Ceanothus California Lilac Native sweat bee IMG_4684 a wide shot of the urban planting.
  Best: I loved seeing the popularity of native plants, and how so many of my fellow designer pals this year were gushing over newly-discovered natives that work beautifully in the landscape. Usually we’re all about the weird new foliage aberrations, like all those silly Heucheras  Terra Nova keeps spitting out (do we not have enough funny-colored Heucheras yet? Really, we need more?). So it’s been such a refreshing change to be gossiping about our latest score at the native plant sale or the differences between our local native grasses. It just feels more real somehow, like as an industry we’re getting back to something deeply important that feeds our souls and gives back to the world. Breeders may enjoy the challenge of creating ever-weirder plants, but I’m glad to see designers giving that a collective eye-roll and getting back to the basics of good design, regional sensibilities, and a connection to our natural world. Those things never go out of style. Worst: More and more organic pesticides coming out. So, I’m torn on this one. I’m glad people are reaching towards a healthier way of life, and are thinking about the effects of pesticides, both for our own health and for the health of our gardens (earthworms, honeybees, soil microbes, and frogs are all integral parts of a healthy garden that are harmed by the most common pesticides). Yet the solution isn’t found in spraying something that is less harmful or derived from nature, much as that’s a good start. Pest problems in ornamental plants are caused by poor plant choices or underlying issues in the health of the landscape, so solving those issues is a much more direct way of dealing with pest problems than is spraying something. I think most gardeners “get” this, but it’s easy to use these products as a crutch. A philosophy of treating the symptom (with spray) rather than the cause (with compost or a new type of plant) is also a lot more profitable for manufacturers, so I doubt we’ll see an end to this trend anytime soon.


radius tool purple flower Dramm sprinkler purple garden tub
  Best: Purple! In every shade! On garden tools, in flowers and foliage, in décor items and cushions and everywhere, purple! I think I bought a lifetime supply of sheets, towels, garden tools, shirts, sweaters and even purple pants this year. While I don’t see a ton of purple on the horizon for 2013, it’s certainly not out of style. I think people are realizing that shades of purple can add a fun pop of color to nearly any style of landscape or home décor, and so unlike some trendy colors which are never seen again after their surge of popularity, purple seems like it may be sticking around for a while. Thank goodness. Worst: Tangerine Tango, 2012’s color of the year. I admit an initial rush of enthusiasm for a color that is so bright and vivid in the garden. But that particular shade is just a hair too obvious, too glaring. While I’ve seen it used successfully in very small doses (like on cushions, or décor accents), the color seems to scream out – “look at me!, look at me!” – it feels self-consciously gaudy wherever in the garden it’s placed. Give me a gentler shade of orange, one which plays well with its neighbors and will look perfectly in harmony for years to come. Tangerine Tango was such a strong statement that it felt almost instantly dated, and I’m glad to move on.


sunset privacy kiss my aster soils
  Best: The Sunset Western Garden Book – need I say more? With most encyclopedias and reference books, I figure I don’t need to get every single updated version, since the differences will be minimal. However, if you’re gardening in the West, The Sunset book is THE book, and this latest edition has a major upgrade in the form of actual photographs of the plants covered (finally!) as well as expanded plant lists that cover some of the modern movements like using edibles in the ornamental garden or attracting beneficial insects. And their “how to garden” sections in the back have some seriously inspiring shots of succulents, native plants, and herbs used within the landscape. Definitely worth the upgrade. Runners-up for best book include Niki Jabbour’s The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, Marty Wingate’s Landscaping for Privacy, and Jessi Bloom’s Free-Range Chicken Gardens. Picks for new gardeners include Amanda Thomsen’s crazy-cool choose-your-own-adventure gardening book Kiss My Aster – fully illustrated, wickedly funny, and gives clear design and how-to advice for gardeners wanting to get started. Katie Elzer-Peters’ book The Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening is the more straightforward version of the same, with super-clear photos and text that you’ll refer back to for years. A geekier pick is Phil Nauta’s excellent book Building Soils Naturally, which has everything you will ever wonder or need to know about building a healthy organic soil with the perfect balance of nutrients for growing any type of plant. It’s not for everyone (how many people do you know who want to read an entire inch-thick book on soils?), but if you’re interested in the topic, Phil’s your man. A friendly, depthy read for organic gardeners. California Native Gardening by Helen Popper is another geeky fave. It’s a gentle read taking you through all of the cycles and seasons in a native plant garden. I was initially disappointed in this peaceful little volume, since I was expecting a quick reference manual, but as I read I became enchanted with the author’s understanding of the natural cycles of our native plants in the garden, and have picked it up just for fun on numerous occasions. Worst: Instead of picking on any one book, I’ll just say that 2012 has been a disappointing year in garden publishing for me. Though there have been some real gems as evidenced above, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the masses: The photos have stunk. While it’s shameful to admit this as a writer, for me the initial draw when picking up any gardening book is the photos. I see an innovative idea portrayed in a picture, and I feel drawn to read the author’s text explaining how that concept can be used to its best advantage. Even better is when there is a sense of continuity in the photos, which happens when a single photographer works with the author to create photos just for the book, or in rarer cases when the author is involved and insightful enough to select photos that all have a similar feel. Some excellent examples of successful books in this regard are Jessi Bloom’s Free-Range Chicken Gardens and Fern Richardson’s Small-Space Container Gardens. However, shrinking budgets seem to be taking their toll on garden book publishing, and most of the books I’ve gotten this year have had a terrible hodge-podge of poorly-cropped plant close-ups that merely decorate the book, rather than properly illustrating its concepts. And on most of the books, the photos haven’t held together as a unified whole. Instead, the photos have felt like a mixed-up assortment of whatever the harried author could beg from friends or bloggers on a severely limited budget. I think if we look at our shelves of classic, well-beloved gardening books, we’ll see a common thread that those books that stand the test of time all have effective photography. I sincerely hope 2013 will see an end to this disrespectful treatment of garden photography, because there’s nothing I love better than to spend copious quantities of money snapping up books that are as beautifully-photographed as they are carefully-written.


purple shovel saw soil knife Green Top Hori Hori
  Best: Oh man, where to start? First, I gotta give a shout-out to Radius Garden for making purple (PURPLE) gardening tools. All of their amazing spades, shovels, digging forks, etc. come in purple now! I am collecting a whole set and letting my employees use my (still perfectly attractive and wonderfully ergonomic) lime-colored ones. Next, this 12.5” Professional Pruning Saw with the optional-but-much-beloved leather scabbard made my other half into a pruning enthusiast. It’s perfectly balanced, has a curved blade that cuts into wood with little effort, and both of us, with our respective small and extra-large hands, felt as though the handle was made just for us. If you have any tree-pruning ahead of you this winter, definitely consider a saw upgrade. This sucker even cut through dense, dead juniper wood with ease. Saving the best for last, the Professional Gardener’s Digging Tool from Garrett Wade is my new favorite hori-hori. The rounded handle is much more comfy than the rectangular handles of the Japanese kinds, and the offset blade gives you a boost in leverage that makes getting the job done that much easier. After lending it out to my landscaping foreman to get his thoughts, I was only able to get it back after promising to buy new ones for the crew (the first one was mine, dammit!). It’s $60, but if you’re a pro or you just garden a lot, you’ll find it’s definitely worth the cash. Worst: GrowTech hori hori. This cheap wannabe soil knife masquerades as a fine, stainless steel hori hori. Yet in less than a year, the three I purchased for my employees all rusted, and one actually broke. I have never broken the metal blade on a hori hori before, and my employee said that he wasn’t even doing anything weird with it, just going after a deep taproot. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Though these are sold by a few different companies, you can tell it’s the shoddy GrowTech one because of the way the metal is bent into the handle – it even looks poorly-made. If you like this style of hori hori, go for the Joshua Roth or Nisaku stainless steel one (Joshua Roth and Nisaku are identical except for the name stamped on the blade). They never rust and last forever.

Most popular articles here at North Coast Gardening:

chickens-are-helpingThis was the year of the rant – my top three articles of the year all involved some level of snark. I am relieved to find that my natural state of cheerful sarcasm does not go under-appreciated on this blog. Without further ado, the most popular articles of the year: Don’t Do This: Horrible Landscaping Blunders Gen X and Y Gardeners: Can We Stop Worrying About This? Please? Why I Hate Landscaping Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look At Weed Cloth Wildlife Design Tip: Use Less Lawn! And you guys don’t seem to share my fickle feelings towards Tangerine Tango, as my post showing some seriously Bright! Orange! Flowery-business! for deer-resistant gardens was among the top five: The Color of the Year, Adapted for Deer: Tangerine Tango in the Landscape Lastly, with some level of humor I present my look at 2012’s Garden Trends, which was also among the top contenders. I wasn’t actually that far off on most of them – I definitely called the Pinterest trend. Coming up next – my take on 2013’s trends – both the up-and-coming and the so-over-it lists.

$5 Magazine Deals Through December 3rd

organic-gardening-mag.jpgWhile I do most of my reading online, I still have a weakness for actual print magazines. My favorites are Fine Gardening and Urban Farm, though I read a wide selection of gardening rags just to keep up with the latest and greatest. Though my two top faves never ever seem to go on sale (grrr), a lot of my other regular reads do go on special from time to time – often enough to stay subscribed at very little expense. But I can’t say I have EVER seen Organic Gardening go as cheaply as it is right now – $5 for a TWO year subscription, now until December 3rd/ Monday. Holy moly. I jumped on that so fast I didn’t even think to charge it to my business account for the writeoff. A two-year subscription to Organic Gardening would make a fantastic Christmas gift to anyone who likes to grow their own food. Some other home/ health/ garden deals through Dec 3rd: Better Homes and Gardens $5 Whole Living $5 Elle Décor $5 Taste of Home $5 House Beautiful $5 The Family Handyman $5 Veranda $5 And shall I say it again? TWO YEARS of Organic Gardening for $5! If you’ve never ordered magazines through Amazon before, I’d highly recommend it. If you’ve ever moved or wanted to renew and ended up with some hassle related to that, you can see the appeal of being able to adjust and manage all your subscriptions from your Amazon account dashboard. Just go to Your Account –> Manage Magazine Subscriptions –> and you can see all the subscriptions listed with buttons to edit anything you want. It’s a one-click matter to turn auto-renew on and off, change the shipping address, edit or cancel subscriptions, etc. You can even add magazine subscriptions purchased elsewhere to your Amazon dashboard so you can manage them all from one place, which makes things so much easier.

Late-Breaking Halloween News: Defeating Zombies with Garlic and Soap (Not Garlic Soap)

Braaaaiiinnsssss.jpgThe zombie scourge has been ignored by the media for far too long. Why, I can’t say. The zombie apocalypse has all the makings of a perfect news story – guts, gore, and slavering undead. What more do readers want? So I’m delighted to hear that the trend-sniffing reporters over at HGTV are spreading the word by linking to my post about defeating the zombie hordes with garlic. While there are other successful strategies for dealing with zombies, garlic is among the best. I mean, if the zombies don’t arrive on schedule, you can always eat the stuff! To celebrate, I’m bringing that super-duper garlic giveaway back from the dead. Peaceful Valley has donated a second huge garlic prize package for one of you lucky readers. If you entered the first time, go on back and enter again. And if you haven’t entered yet, what’s the delay? Don’t let a lack of garlic lead to your untimely demise. Enter the contest here. And a second chance to win. Photo credit: dhollister on Flickr.

Defeating the Zombie Hordes (With Garlic)

garlic-prize.jpgEver since Plants VS. Zombies came out a few years ago, I’ve been increasingly aware of the effects of the zombie scourge on our landscapes. I mean, you could be enjoying a peaceful afternoon sunning yourself in the garden, and all of a sudden,  you hear the ominous sounds of the slavering undead coming closer. While they’re not terribly fast, they can be hard to deter. Bullets go right through them, and while baseball bats can be effective, who wants to get that close? Zombies don’t smell very good. Thank goodness for garlic. While we think of garlic as repelling vampires, it actually does a pretty poor job of that, a fact which True Blood fanatics will be aware of. Where our allium-licious bulbs shine however, is with zombies. You’d think the aura of dust and decay surrounding zombies would make them oblivious to the scent and flavor of garlic, but there you’d be wrong. Zombies are fascinated by garlic and feel compelled to taste it, and are then overcome with disgust and move on to the next garden. An example of zombie-repelling landscape design (photo from PCGamer magazine): Plants-Vs-Zombies-gardens So plant garlic around the periphery of your landscape, and give some to your nicest friends, family and neighbors. The zombies will move from garden to garden, sampling the fragrant bulbs, saying “blech!”, and moving to the next garlic patch until they come to an undefended parcel of land with no garlic defense system in place. This may belong to the nasty character down the street who gives out raisins at Halloween (not even the chocolate-covered kind), or the jerk who drives his noisy homemade scooter up and down the street at breakneck speeds, thinking that all the commotion and smoke belching out the back makes him more attractive to the ladies (as if). I’m not saying we want them to be eaten by the zombies, just that if we only have so much garlic to go around, let’s share it with the people who give out homemade Christmas cookies and have nice cats and call us “dear”. Anyway, with the zombie scourge in full effect, it may be difficult to find ample supplies of quality garlic. And you don’t want to stick with just one kind, either – zombies have surprisingly complex palates and may develop resistance to garlic if we all plant the same type. That’s where Peaceful Valley comes in. This company has loads of seed garlic all ready to plant, plus tips on how to grow it successfully, choose the best varieties, etc. The best part? Peaceful Valley’s an organic company, so if you are able to eat some of your garlic before the zombies ravage it, you can be happy knowing that cancer won’t get you before the zombies do. (I know, I’m a big bundle of cheer!) Anyway, Peaceful Valley has been kind enough to offer up a great big garlic prize package to one reader of this site: 1 pound of Russian Red organic seed garlic (Russian Red is a variety that thrives even in soggy soil, so all y’all in the rainy Northwest will be particularly happy with this one!) 1 quart of Liquid Kelp (for soaking the cloves overnight before planting) 10 gallon Smart Pot (to plant some in a container) 1 Garlic Twist (a clever kitchen gadget that minces the cloves when you twist it; easy to use and clean) 1 5×7 photo print of your garlic, so you can stand in honor of the plant that is keeping you and your family safe from the undead hordes just outside your home.  EDIT: Congrats to Maggie Wann, our winner! Disclosure: Peaceful Valley sent me some free garlic to write this post, but I think that’s just because their marketing director Charlotte likes me and doesn’t want to see me fall prey to the dusty undead. All opinions about zombies are my own.

Monday Miscellany: Fearless Color, Purple Shovels, Pinterest and Becoming an Artist

Misc.pngKicking things off this week, Susan Morrison of the Blue Planet Garden Blog has a fantastic post about her visit to Keeyla Meadows’ garden, and all she learned. Meadows is, of course, the author of Fearless Color Gardens, a book that will help you loosen up, have fun, and personalize your garden to your true tastes and not someone else’s generic idea of what looks good. I loved the photos Susan took of the garden and all I was able to glean from them. Go on over and have a look. 178Next up, you may remember me raving on these Radius PRO and PRO-Lite shovels over at Landscaping Network. The PRO line is a heavy-duty, rust-proof stainless steel great for planting or dividing, while the PRO-Lite line is lighter-weight carbon steel for repetitive digging tasks like shoveling compost. Anyway, the whole line of digging tools just got cooler. While the line initially came in a stylish lime green, the problem with lime green is that it just isn’t purple enough. Radius cleverly fixed this with a new line of PURPLE FREAKING SHOVELS. And the tone of purple they chose? It’s perfect. When the box of purple goodness arrived, it felt like Christmas. Favorite shovel + favorite color = very happy Gen. (Oh, and for anyone suspicious of the O-shaped handle, you just have to try it to see how great it is. The wide O gives you room to get a solid two-handed grip. Love it!) Amy Stewart over at Garden Rant just got sucked into Pinterest with the rest of us, and she highlighted a few of her favorite boards to follow on Pinterest. Among the best are Jayme Jenkins’ garden cocktails, Debra Lee Baldwin’s gorgeous glass, and Dee Nash’s espalier ideas. Of course, Amy’s own boards are nothing to sniff at, with her cocktail-themed paint colors and cocktail garden ideas. If you want to connect with me on Pinterest, I’m NCoastGardening. I’d love to follow you back and see what you’re up to! Steve Asbell of The Rainforest Garden is a fantastic artist, but he doesn’t want to keep all the glory for himself. In fact, he thinks that every gardener can be an artist. He says,
“When it comes to art, talent is a bit of a myth. You know why I’m ‘talented’?  My childhood teachers told me I was a good artist, so with my new-found confidence, I continued to fill the pages of countless coloring books. My mom was also an artist, so she showered me with encouragement and guidance along the way. Artistic talent boils down to these things: Confidence, motivation and persistence.”
Read more from Steve about how you too can become an artist. He knocks down all of our excuses and even offers to give his own critiques and encouragement to all of us. And two last bits of breaking news: Phil Nauta, who did an awesome guest post recently about feeding soil microbes, has come out with a new book!  Building Soils Naturally is an in-depth primer on all things soil. While this isn’t summer beach reading, if you’re a passionate gardener, learning the chemistry and practical how-to behind how your soil functions is a critical step in creating a beautiful and healthy garden. Phil’s tips even promise to provide better-tasting fruits and veggies! (That’s worth $20 to me.) Go, check out his book. Carole Brown of Native Plant and Wildlife Gardens has a post about using design techniques to create a beautiful wildlife garden. With tips from Debbie Roberts, Vincent Vizachero and myself, the post is a good rundown of some of the basics involved. That’s it for this week. If you’re on Pinterest, be sure to leave a link to your Pinterest account so I can follow you!