Highlights and Lowlights from the 2011 San Francisco Garden Show

crazy-lettuce-display.jpgJust got back from the San Francisco Garden Show, and man has it ever expanded since the last time I went (in the old Fort Mason days). I scored some cool swag, met so many amazing movers and shakers in the garden world (and everyone was so SWEET!), and got to make both horrified and delighted faces at the display gardens. [Read more...]

Celebrating Vertical Gardening with Garden Up!

Garden-Up-Book-Cover.jpgTwo of my favorite bloggers, Rebecca Sweet and Susan Morrison, have just released a book on vertical gardening called Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces. When I heard they were writing it I was so excited, because gaining height without adding width is a design challenge that is present in so many situations. Whether you have a skinny bed with a big blank wall that needs softening, or a balcony garden needing interest and screening without taking away floor space, these ladies have got us covered with DIY projects, plant suggestions, and design tips for tackling any area that could use a vertical boost. The purple wall! By Garden Up! One of my favorite chapters was Garden Secrets. I’ll let them describe what it’s all about: [Read more...]

Using Color Echoes to Work Edibles Into Your Landscape

Front-Yard-Food.jpgIvette Soler’s new book, The Edible Front Yard, tackles the question of how to incorporate edibles and veggies into your landscape without having the whole thing look messy, or rigidly planned like a farm. How do you do that? She explains:
The successful edible front garden all comes down to the right plant in the right place. We have to be brutally selective, following the same kind of rules used by ornamental gardeners, when choosing which edibles to plant out front. Yes, these extra generous plants do us the honor of feeding us, but when they are placed out front and center they have another set of standards they need to meet.
Ivette has four criteria that edible plants must meet to make it into her landscape:

Ivette Soler’s Rules For Front Yard Edibles

photo copyright Ivette Soler
Photo from The Edible Front Yard
1. The entire plant must have a pleasing form – it cannot stand on the merits of its flowers (or vegetable or fruit) alone. 2. It has to give me at least two reasons to plant it (such as the color and form, or texture and seedpods). 3. Its leaves must hold up for the entire growing season. Some edibles have leaves that are susceptible to mildews, or are such heavy feeders that the foliage is just worn out by the end of the season. In the backyard, you can deal with it. In the front yard, plant something else. 4. If you must plant less ornamental edibles in the front yard because you have no other suitable space, pay extra attention to your hardscape. It’s a lot easier to overlook wilted cucumber leaves if they are supported by a beautiful trellis.
photo copyright Ivette Soler (3)
Photo from The Edible Front Yard
If you have an existing landscape, one of the easiest ways of introducing edibles into the garden is by looking for themes in the plants you already have, and choosing edible plants for your garden using the same criteria you would use with ornamentals – see Ivette’s advice above. Do you have a lot of plants with purple foliage? If so, try Redbor kale, red Swiss chard, purple cabbage, purple basil, or Sunshine Blue blueberry which has a hint of purpled bronze to the leaves. By echoing a color found elsewhere in the garden, you can bring a sense of continuity to your garden and make the edibles seem an integral part of your landscape.
Incredible Edibles author Ivette Solar's garden.
Photo from The Edible Front Yard

Here are some examples of using color echoes with edibles:

Golden oregano:

Nepeta and Golden Oregano, May Night Salvia and Rosemary, Japanese Forest Grass Golden oregano, Oreganum vulgare ‘Aurea’, is a natural partner with catmint, Nepeta faassennii, because catmint helps attract pollinators to your veggies (which means more yield!), as well as beneficial insects that prey on aphids. Even though the oregano is golden, it tastes every bit as good as the usual kind, and the catmint can be used in tea to help you sleep. Meadow sage, Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’, is another that attracts beneficials and pollinators to the garden, and it has a great color echo with the catmint. Lastly, Japanese forest grass or Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is an easy-to-grow grass with a soft texture and golden color similar to that of the oregano.


Ivory Correa, Artichoke, Glacier Blue Euphorbia Artichoke, Cynara scolymus, has an architectural habit and silvery-blue foliage color that looks great with a variety of plants.  To help it fit into your landscape, try planting it among white Australian fuchsia, Correa ‘Ivory Bells’. The light silvery sheen to its leaves echoes the artichoke’s foliage, and the flaring bellflowers have a shape like an upside-down artichoke plant. Blue Spurge, Euphorbia characias ‘Glacier Blue’ has an architectural habit of its own, with great alien-like blooms in cream and blue. The foliage, seen above, is edged in cream and shares a blue-silver tone with the artichoke.


Stones, Kiwi, Carex Kiwi, Actinidia spp, vines are crazy, rampant things that will eat your home, your shed, and your fenceline if you’re not careful. But if you have room for two of these giants, a male and a female, you can have this gorgeous, tropical-looking vine AND more fruit than you and all your acquaintances can eat. It’s seen here with bronze sedge, Carex testacea, and a cool container “planting” of stones. Both echo the color of a kiwi’s fuzz.


Actaea, Huckleberry, Chondropetalum Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, is a native to the Pacific Northwest which produces shiny black berries. The berries are tart but have a fun flavor for jams or pies if you add a truckload of sugar. Here it’s paired with black snakeroot, Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’, a hardy perennial that shines in the part shade locations huckleberry prefers. Cape rush, Chondropetalum tectorum, echoes the dark huckleberries with the deep brown papery bracts along each stem.

Ready to plant some edibles among your ornamentals?

Pick up a copy of Ivette’s new book, The Edible Front Yard, for her inspiring take on how you can grow your own food without sacrificing beauty. For more on this topic, check out the other posts in this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable: Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT » Shirley Bovshow’s Eden Makers Blog

Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People

postimagefordesigningalandscapeforcolorblindpeople.jpgPeople who are color blind make up about 8% of men and .5% of women, and of those people, the vast majority aren’t actually color blind, it’s more that they see colors differently. Though we think of color blindness as seeing the world in black and white, the most common form of color blindness is where people have a weakness in the green receptors of their eyes. What would it be like to experience color that way? Bob Davis, a dear client whose landscape I designed last year, described it by asking me to imagine a continuum of yellow, green and blue. Along that continuum, most of us see any number of subtle shades of yellow, yellow-green, green, green-blue, and blue. Bob sees yellow, green and blue, period. So all those gently contrasting greens rolling through the garden? It’s all pretty much the same color. [Read more...]

The Evolution of a Gardener: Finding the Middle Ground Between Neat and Natural

Frog.jpgDebbie’s post over at Garden of Possibilities was a catalyst for me to really think over an issue I’ve been having a lot lately – the Neat VS Natural debate. It’s not a debate I’ve been having with anyone else, it’s more been an internal struggle. You see, the more I learn about gardening, the more I want to garden in a way that’s a little more natural, a little more wildlife-oriented. The problem I encounter is that so much of what I’ve been learning to do for wildlife just looks messy to me. I’m sorry, but it does. Fallen leaves piling up, masses of brown flowerheads and dead foliage scattered about… You don’t spend nearly 15 years running a landscape maintenance company without developing a bit of a neatness fetish in the garden. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a bit of intentional leaving it be – the artfully-left seedpods, the carefully-chosen flowerheads that stand brown and proud, and the fallen leaves that are still a lovely array of colors. But when it starts to veer from artfully-placed into the realm of out-of-control, I kind of lose my appreciation for it. But I haven’t lost my appreciation for native bugs, for the songbirds they feed, the butterflies they become, or the happy thrum of native bees in the summer garden. [Read more...]

Are You a Drifter?

HydrangeaandHeathers_thumb.jpgAs a garden designer, many of my design requests from clients come with a list of plants as long as my arm that I must somehow cram include in the garden plan. Being an inveterate plant addict lover myself, I always find it fun to help these folks fit each of their plant friends into the garden. I mean – plant fanatics – those are my people, you know? But every so often a client requests something different. I had a client recently who couldn’t care less about flowers, told me she’d not be doing any garden maintenance if she could help it, and just wanted things to look green, lush, and fresh – with interesting structural and textural contrasts in all that greenery. The plants, in other words, were to play a supporting role in the landscape, with broad swathes framing the patio and the house. [Read more...]

Review of The Nonstop Garden by Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner

9780881929515.jpgIs the word “garden” a noun or a verb? If much of the joy you take in your garden is that you get to play, experiment, fiddle, and tend to it, then this is the book for you. Stephanie Cohen has put together a thoughtful design primer for gardeners who love to garden, and want a garden that flows from season to season with nonstop color and interest. The book starts out with a straightforward chapter of advice that will get you fired up to create a gorgeous garden. She gives you an easy, but not simplistic, overview of what concepts to remember as you renovate your existing space or plan your new one. [Read more...]

Book Review: The NEW Low-Maintenance Garden by Valerie Easton

NewLowMaintenanceGardenbook.jpgYou’d think that a landscape designer who also does landscape maintenance would be dismissive of the whole low-maintenance gardening thing. After all, there’s a negative impression of low-maintenance gardens as being dull, static, lifeless places devoid of wildlife or any personal character. But there is a balance in a well-designed garden between hardscape (the patios, walkways, raised beds, and other permanent structures), the shrubs and trees that require little care beyond formative pruning and appropriate watering, and the flowers, grasses, veggies and bulbs that invite your personality to shine yet do require more care to keep up. [Read more...]

Bringing Some Semblance of Order to Your Crazy Busy Garden

R0015778.jpgIf you’re a plant geek, you’ve probably fallen prey to the “one of this, one of that” style of gardening. You know how it is – you walk out into your garden one day and realize that your beloved plant friends are all clamoring for individual attention (Look at me! No, look at ME!), with not a team player among them. But if your idea of a fun day is going to the nursery and finding some new plants to bring home, then the usual garden designer suggestion of using drifts and multiples might be hard to stomach – much as you know it’d be gorgeous. The problem is, you love all of your plants and would have trouble choosing just a few plants or themes to replicate. Even if it seems like your plants and garden elements don’t have much in common, I bet there’s more continuity in your garden than you think, and moving a few plants around or buying a select few new ones can help create some combinations that draw the eye and bring harmony to your cacophony. Here’s the trick: Look, really look at each of your plants and find those tiny splashes of color that may have slipped by your notice. Then scoot your plants around so that they’re close to something that highlights those subtler elements. Instant continuity. High-fives all around. Take a look at this Rhododendron ‘Madame Cochet’. You might initially think it’s purple, or maybe purple with white. But really look, and you’ll see the rusty, golden speckles on each bloom. Rhododendron 'Madame Cochet' [Read more...]

Selling Your Home? Four Steps to a Fast Garden Makeover

IMG_3011.jpgThinking of selling your home, or having a party? While a garden makeover may seem like an overwhelming task, if you know where to focus your energy you can get great results without having to fix everything. Use these four tips in the garden areas most likely to be seen first – near the front door, areas visible from windows or the patio where you might entertain, and next to pathways.

Focus on the edges

Most people don’t see the details of a garden; they notice the overall effect. If you have lawn creeping into your garden beds, or weeds growing along the edges of your garden beds, cleaning up your borders so that you have a clean, simple, flowing line is an easy action that can make a slightly unfinished or messy area of the garden look tidy and cared-for. [Read more...]