Don’t Bug Me! How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes in the Garden

get rid of mosquitoes.jpg

Ahhh, the joys of summer. . . Sunshine, apple crumble, fresh berries, and – bzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz – oh yeah, mosquitoes. While theoretically I am glad that mosquitoes exist as they form a valuable food source for birds and bats, I would tend to feel from the number of itchy welts on my skin that perhaps my garden has just a few more than are strictly necessary. Just last week I was bit no fewer than 19 times in a period of about five minutes, which I believe is a personal record. While normally I don’t form vendettas against insects for doing their thing, I think anyone would agree with me that 19 bites in five minutes would warrant some manner of defensive action. If that defensive action is taken on with a spirit of grim glee, well, maybe they shouldn’t have bitten me so many times. Without further ado, I present:

Six tips to banish mosquitoes from the yard naturally

[Read more...]

Gardening Trend Predictions for 2014

Flora-Grubb.jpgThere are useful color trends, like this one above, and less “sticky” trends, like this year’s Radiant Orchid. Even a timeless activity like gardening is subject to the ebbs and flows of trends. Though I’m constantly reminded that there’s nothing really new in the world, a cleverly written book, new product, or a general societal trend can breathe new life into something that’s been around for a while. In previous years, edible gardening, succulents, and vertical gardening have been huge trends, while in 2013, indoor gardening with terrariums, air plants and houseplants, as well as fairy gardening were on the upswing. Here are my predictions for what’s going to be big in 2014. [Read more...]

Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Tips and Best Plants

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscapes.jpgLast week, I talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks of edible landscaping in “public” spheres such as commercial/ business landscaping or in a multifamily residence such as an apartment complex. This week, I want to talk more about how to actually succeed with this. Though there are a number of settings in which edible landscaping simply isn’t appropriate, by knowing how to do it right you’ll find it easier to judge when you can and can’t use edibles successfully. (And if you’re a homeowner, the plant choices at bottom will serve you well in developing a low-maintenance edible landscape.) [Read more...]

Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Benefits and Drawbacks

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscaping.jpgDoes edible landscaping belong in the public sphere, which is to say in the landscapes owned by cities, businesses, and in multifamily housing like apartment buildings? It sounds like a great idea, and if asked, I think most people would give an unqualified and enthusiastic “yes”! However, there are a lot of considerations with edible landscaping that actually make it really challenging to do well under industrial circumstances, and edible landscaping has the potential to cause problems in these types of settings if it isn’t implemented thoughtfully, particularly for businesses. [Read more...]

How to Make Your Own Christmas Wreath

Rustic-Collection-Wreath.jpgNow that Thanksgiving is properly over, we can start thinking about Christmas without everybody groaning. This is especially good news to me, since I love whistling Christmas carols year-round. Finally! The one month of the year I can whistle my rousing rendition of Jingle Bells without causing raised eyebrows. There is so much that I love about this time of year – baking Christmas cookies and doing top-secret present-related things among them. But one of my favorite traditions is making my own Christmas wreath. They’re pretty, they smell fresh, and every time you walk up to the door it gives you a bit of a smile. [Read more...]

Arcata’s Pastels On The Plaza 2012


For Humboldt locals, the first October weekend of every year means one thing: Pastels on the Plaza. This event pairs artists and businesses to raise money for the North Coast Children’s Center. Each business sponsors a sidewalk square on the Arcata Plaza, and the artists volunteer their time to decorate a square in honor of their chosen business, all for a good cause.

This is our fifth year taking part, and I couldn’t be prouder of my artist, Trevor Shirk. Every year I wonder how he’s going to manage to surpass his previous year’s effort, as I’m always blown away by his work.

This year he took on the ambitious project of transferring our kitten’s sweet personality and fluffy good looks to a sidewalk square in honor of my landscaping business. This is nothing like sketching on a piece of paper, either. The sidewalk is bumpy, uneven, has little pebbles that don’t take color well, and is nearly impossible to color on with any level of control. Well, that’s how I feel about it, anyway. I did the lettering, and after an hour of meticulous work I was ready for a nap. Trevor sketched from 730am to 2pm to create his masterpiece. And yeah, I’m probably biased, but I think it was the very best one there! Smile

Some other pics from the event:

Pacman! Duane Flatmo
pastels T at work
  If you want to see more of the finished squares, Trevor has a write-up of the whole event over at his blog. Can’t wait for next year!

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Plant in Masses

Wildlife-friendly-gardens-with-good-design-3.jpgThink native plants and wildlife-attracting gardens look messy? It doesn’t have to be that way. In this series, we’ll talk about the techniques involved in designing a beautiful wildlife garden. Many native plant enthusiasts and wildlife gardeners start out by trying to replicate the randomized “design” of nature, by planting a lovingly-curated collection of individual wildlife-attracting plants throughout the garden. But the effect of this just isn’t right next to a home. A home is large and its design speaks heavily of human involvement, so going from the clean lines of a building straight to a replication of wilderness seems out of scale (wrong size) and out of place (wrong feeling). While a home landscape should provide a connection to nature, wildlife and the seasons, it should also reflect elements of our architecture, provide comfortable places for us to spend time, and soften the strong lines of a home with plantings that feel in scale with the surroundings. A well-designed garden is in harmony with both the human world and the natural world. One of the simplest ways of integrating home and garden is to use large groupings of individual varieties of native or wildlife-attracting plants. By using plants in drifts or masses, we set a scene that draws the eye through our landscape in an organized way and makes our home seem more in tune with the surroundings. When we go for the one-of-this-one-of-that approach, our eyes wander from spot to spot, which feels unsettling. Larger groups of plants “read” as one, so they feel more right-sized next to the home. And by using natives, you’re reflecting the natural beauty of your region as well as attracting local wildlife. Drifts or masses of plants:
  • Give natives instant design appeal
  • Lead the eye through the garden
  • Create a sense of flow and enhance the shapes in the landscape
  • Have a billowing effect which is more like a grand, far-off view of nature than a close-up
  • Move with the wind in a graceful way that is fun to watch
  • Reflect the scale of the architecture
  • Integrate home and garden
Of course, all this “reflecting the architecture” business may have you feeling worried if you go in for a softer design style. I’m not saying your plants should be planted in a straight line just so they go with the home. A meandering swathe of native grasses or perennials can emulate natural shapes such as that of a stream, yet the bold nature of the design would still fit in nicely next to a building. Neither do you need to feel bound by a naturalistic design style just because you’re designing with natives or with natural processes in mind. Native plants can be planted in traditional or formal gardens, and can be pruned or shaped appropriately to fit in with the surroundings just as other plants can. Loads of our natives are bright enough to go in an English cottage style, have architectural forms suitable for modern landscapes, or can be pruned and manipulated to show man’s influence in a Japanese-style landscape. There’s a horticultural benefit to planting in masses, too. Many plants use a type of chemical warfare (allelopathy) to stunt the growth of other types of plant growing nearby. By planting in drifts, your plants will cooperate with one another rather than wage war on their neighbors, and your garden will thrive with less care from you.

Here are some native and wildlife-friendly gardens that use massing effectively:

Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (5)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (9) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (7)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (2) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (6)
Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (4) Wildlife-friendly gardens with good design (8)
  Next up: Choosing a Color Palette

A Designer’s Take on Wildlife Gardening


Though recent polls show that using native plants and attracting wildlife are big priorities for gardeners, these types of landscapes have a terrible reputation for being messy and poorly-designed.

It’s gotten to the point that many landscape designers I’ve spoken with shy away from mentioning native plants to their clients, even if they plan on including native plants in their design. Worse, some short-sighted neighborhoods have taken the extreme step of banning native plants (which attract wildlife) even as they mandate front yard lawns.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is nothing inherently messy about either native plants or gardening for wildlife – we just get that idea because many of the proponents of wildlife gardening focus more on the wildlife aspect than the gardening aspect. Gardening enthusiasts compound the problem when we give in to negative stereotypes of what a wildlife-friendly garden looks like.

We’ve set up a false choice in our minds between gardening for wildlife or gardening for beauty, when we can absolutely have both.

Pollinator's paradiseWildlife gardeners - if we use good design principles to create a space that is as beautiful to people as it is to wildlife, we’ll find neighbors, friends and relatives lining up to hear more about how we did it. What better way of helping the cause of wildlife than to make others want to follow our lead?

Designers and plant geeks - Hey it’s cool, nobody’s telling us to back away from the plant catalogs. But we’ve gotta remember, wildlife brings beauty of its own to our gardens.  Nothing enhances the look of our high-end perennials like a few butterflies and hummingbirds, and that fancypants Brunnera looks way cuter when a salamander’s helping us keep it slug-free.

Can you have beauty and beasts in the same garden?

Yes, yes, yes! Over the coming weeks I’ll be talking about some of the ways you can support wildlife and the environment through good design and having a gorgeous garden. In the meantime, check out these articles to get amped up about some of the ways we can begin inviting wildlife into our gardens:

The Five Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening

Gardening for Wildlife: a Compendium of Tips

In this series:

Wildlife Design Tip: Plant in Masses

Wildlife Design Tip: Choose a Simple Color Palette


Wildlife Design Tip: Focus on Shape


Wildlife Design Tip: Use Less Lawn


Summertime Cooking: Mustard Butter Pasta with Fresh Garden Vegetables

5565429808_1914a34ce0_z.jpgWith summer’s toasty temps, I don’t want to be standing over a hot stove any longer than necessary. That’s why I love simple meals that can be made with a minimum of fuss and can be easily reheated, or even eaten cold. When I went to P. Allen Smith’s Garden2Blog event, one of the sponsors, Le Creuset, gave us each the opportunity to test a Le Creuset cooking dish of our own. While the classic colored pieces were calling me, I ended up choosing the minimalist, apartment-friendly Multi-Pot, which is a stainless steel cooking pot with a perfectly-fitted pasta insert and vegetable steamer insert. Not only can I cook a multi-course meal in one pot, but once I’m done the whole thing stacks efficiently to take up very little space. It’s even dishwasher-friendly. This recipe is one I adapted from a dear client, who gave it to me when I was planning what to cook for some vegetarian friends. It’s so good that meat-eaters won’t mind that it’s vegetarian, and it takes so little time to make and re-heat that I can spend time enjoying my guests instead of cooking. Best of all, it takes advantage of summer’s bounty with fresh parsley, sungold cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. Mustard butter pasta with broccoli and sungold tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. butter, softened (I prefer the rich flavor of butter from pastured cows)
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 3/4 lb. bowtie or other pasta (if using a gluten-free pasta, I’ve found corn pasta holds up particularly well)
  • a handful of sungold cherry tomatoes, or other fresh-from-the-garden veggie of choice
  • salt and pepper
Start by blending the softened butter with the Dijon, then add the minced parsley. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt and the Tbsp. of oil. Cook pasta, and either add the broccoli to the pasta in the last two minutes of cooking, or (my preference) lightly steam the broccoli separately once the pasta is done. Once pasta and broccoli are cooked, transfer them to a large skillet and add the butter mixture, heating over medium and tossing pasta until it’s coated evenly in the butter-Dijon-parsley mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add sungold tomatoes just before serving, so they have time to warm but don’t cook in. The best thing about this recipe is how easy it is to customize. You can use any non-soggy vegetables from the garden – peppers, corn, chopped celery leaves, fresh peas, etc. Add chicken for a protein-rich feast, or scramble leftovers with an egg for a warm breakfast. I love a few pinenuts or a grate of parmesan on top. Photo credit: aminaelahi via Flickr

Grow Your Own Microbrew! How to Grow Hops

how-to-grow-hops.jpgAs an ornamental gardener, I’m used to growing hops as a summer screen for chicken coops, bare walls and other elements in the garden that can be unsightly. It’s easy to grow, but needs to be sited just right, as it has an eat-your-home style of rapacious growth that can be either exactly what you need or overwhelming – depending on the spot. Here in Humboldt, we’re known for our amazing microbrews (and have a lot of home-brewers), so when I connected the dots that this lovely garden vine was actually useful, it upped my enthusiasm for it even more. I love plants that do double-duty in the garden! Hops, or Humulus, is a great plant for Humboldt County. It’s related to our local cash crop, and you’ll know why when you see those sticky buds forming in late summer. Yet it’s not just for Californians – it’s hardy to zone 3, so people in much harsher climates can grow it successfully. Fern Richardson of Life on the Balcony joined me in making this video to show you how to grow your own: You can see it’s pretty easy – here’s what you need:
  • Hops plant (either bare-root or potted)
  • Stakes or trellis (remember to put up supports the day you plant it as it will grow FAST once it gets started)
  • High quality organic amendment to create a planting mound, as hops are heavy feeders and need good drainage
how to grow hops If you’re growing hops for home-brewing, you may want a few types. You’ll need both a bittering and an aroma hops, and maybe more just to have a variety of flavors. ‘Cascade’ is the classic aroma type, while ‘Nugget’ is the most common bittering variety. Or if you’re like me and just appreciate the fast summer growth and lush look of the hops vine, there are some lovely ornamental varieties, including golden ones. ‘Summer Shandy’ is a new dwarf golden vine (hardy to zone 5) which is much better-suited to small sites, as it grows only 5-10′ tall and 2′ wide. While it may produce buds, it’s been bred for its looks and small stature more than for flavor. ‘Summer Shandy’ could even go into a container for vertical interest. Of course, whatever variety of hops you choose – when you plant – don’t let Fern hold your beer! how to grow hops (2) Further reading: The Homebrewer’s Garden, a great book on growing fresh microbrew ingredients at home. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to produce this video with me, but opinions are my own (I’ve bought over $3K of their products in the last two months for my landscaping business, so you know I’m a fan of their soil and fertilizers!).

Got No Pot? Grow Tomatoes Right in the Bag!

Planting-tomatoes-in-a-potting-soil-bag.pngHere in Humboldt County, it’s time to plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and more. But some of us don’t have a plot of land to work, and sometimes, there’s not enough cash to buy a pot. I mean, have you seen the cost of pots these days? Some of them can run pretty steep. Planting high-yield crops right in the potting soil bag is a trick I learned when I worked at a nursery years ago. It’s cheap, effective and fast. Beyond the ease and the price, there is another advantage to planting this way. If you’ve ever gotten late blight or other diseases on your tomatoes, you’ll know that you’re not supposed to plant the same crop in that spot for three years to make sure the disease won’t come back. Planting right in a fresh, sterile bag of potting soil avoids all of these soil-borne diseases and allows you to have a great crop every year with little planning or expense. My friend Fern from Life on the Balcony is a container gardening expert (she literally wrote the book!), and we created a video together showing you how to do this: The most important elements:
  • Start with a high-quality potting soil, especially if you’re using plants that need a lot of nutrients like tomatoes or squash. I’m a Gardner and Bloome girl since I’m a totally organic gardener (their Eden Valley Blend feels like velvet!).
  • Choose varieties that will do well in a container (I love the ‘Sun Sugar’ grafted tomato from Log House Plants, as well as the ‘Astia’ patio zucchini seeds from Renee’s Garden).
  • You don’t need to fertilize for the first six weeks, as a high-quality potting soil has the nutrients to you get started. After that, one application of a granular organic fertilizer will get you through the rest of the season.
Beyond that, it’s pretty simple, as you can see from the video! If you haven’t gotten around to preparing a raised bed this year or you just don’t have the space, try this technique on for size and see how it works for you. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to create this video with me, but the reason they invited me is that I’ve been using their organic soils and fertilizers in my business for years (I just bought half a pallet of fertilizer for all the gardens I maintain!), so the opinions here are definitely my own.