Tired of Spraying? You Might Just Need a Dose of CTFD

CTFD for Gardeners.jpgNew gardeners, like new parents, tend to be a bit overprotective of their charges. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking a fancy new shrub from the garden store, or our firstborn little darling – too much hovering can lead to, well, not-so-great results. There’s a new parenting trend floating around the internet called “Calm the F*** Down“, which is exactly as it sounds. The idea being that a playful spirit and another martini might just lead to better kids then a stressed-out ‘tude and a stack of the latest parenting books. [Read more...]

Redefining “Low-Maintenance” Landscapes

high-maintenance-garden.jpgIn my landscape design practice, it is rare to find a client who does not ask for a low-maintenance garden. However, the way people define low-maintenance varies so wildly that the term has almost lost its meaning. While the generally accepted definition of a low maintenance plant would be something that you do not need to maintain more than once per year, you could still put together a planting plan based entirely on plants that fit this definition of low maintenance, and have it be a yard where you have to be outside fussing with something almost constantly. (I’ve written more about that here.) In addition, even plants which fall under that definition vary in how much time and trouble they take. Large grasses like Miscanthus are commonly thought of as low-maintenance, yet each one needs to be trimmed almost to the ground each winter, which involves tying it up, using electric or handheld hedgers to cut it back, filling a quarter of a pickup truck with the detritus from just one grass, then raking up all the little bits that inevitably scatter into the surrounding mulch. Is that low-maintenance? If time is how we’re defining the term, I’d prefer planting a perfectly-sized shrub in that spot, since most shrubs would need only 5-15 minutes of gentle shaping once per year and can be ignored for some time once an appropriate form is established. Yet maybe time isn’t the only factor in how we feel about maintenance, because the definition of low-maintenance seems to differ from person to person. Recently, on a private forum for garden professionals, we had a discussion about low-maintenance landscaping where some of these differences popped up. Here are some of the definitions of low-maintenance these professionals personally espoused: [Read more...]

Fall Leaf Raking: Finding the Middle Ground

Gottahavesomefunbeforegettingdowntoactuallyraking_thumb.jpgAll gardeners evolve. There is something about being outside and working hard in nature that inspires learning and growth. The issue of fall leaves is one I’ve been struggling with lately. Last year I wrote about why you shouldn’t let your fall leaves stay, and all of those reasons are still true, but… This year as I’ve learned more about the importance of insects in our ecosystem (they feed the birds, pollinate, eat other “bad” bugs, and generally play an important part in the natural cycles that keep our food growing and our world pleasant), I’ve also learned that many insects overwinter in our fallen leaves. If you use plants to attract birds, or put out a feeder, but you rake your leaves up, you are kind of sabotaging your efforts to care for wildlife, because the birdies love to eat bugs! In addition, leaves add nutrients and softness to the soil, and can be good protection from the frost in cold climates. The problem? Leaves can also rot perennials, shade out sections of lawn or groundcovers, and can overwinter BAD bugs too! Not to mention, the wilder aesthetic of leaving the leaves where they fall isn’t right for every garden. So what’s the conscientious gardener to do? I do think it’s possible to care for wildlife and the environment while still having a clean-looking garden and taking care of our ornamental plants. Here’s some of the middle ground I’m finding in the to-rake-or-not-to-rake debate: [Read more...]

Why Gardening Matters

therapyandhealing.jpgWhen I was in my late teens, I ended up in the hospital for over a month with lungs that kept collapsing. The glare of the fluorescent lights and the constant beeping and thrumming of the various machines invaded my consciousness, and seeing the great outdoors again after a month of sterility was overwhelming – equal parts glorious and alarming. Barely able to stand after a month of laying down, one of my first obsessions became tending my small container garden. I’d totter out, deadhead a few annuals, then sit back down to catch my breath. Plunging my hands into the damp soil, smelling the fresh duskiness of leaf mold and the soft sweetness of my violas – the world came alive again with brilliant colors, textures and smells. [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...]

When Your Garden Isn’t Going Right…

RIMG0031.jpgThe most common reason I’m called in as a garden coach is that the person I’m meeting with needs an outside perspective. It’s really, really hard to evaluate our homes and gardens from a logical, clear place in our minds and hearts. Sometimes, we’ve had arguments with our spouse or kids about what we’ll do when. Often there have been friends and professionals who gave advice that almost fit, but… You still felt that crazy tangle of feelings in your mind and heart about what you should do. Not clarity. Not certainty. [Read more...]

How Fabulous, Interesting and Unusual Plants Keep People From Becoming Gardeners

BoroniamegastigmaHotChocolateCoprosmaDaphneandChrondropetalum.jpg
In Humboldt County, two of these plants will be dead by 2013. Do you know which ones?
Was reading a post over at The Blogging Nurseryman where Trey discusses what gardeners really want to see in independent garden centers. (Go read it, I’ll wait. You don’t want to miss Amy Stewart‘s rant on the topic.) She brought up that Garden Rant’s reader survey indicated overwhelmingly that passionate gardeners want to see more “fabulous, interesting, and unusual” plants. [Read more...]

Should Plant Nurseries Offer a Guarantee on Plants?

DeadLeavesphotobyantaeanonFlickr.jpgI read an interesting post from my friend Debbie Roberts in Connecticut about her experience with a nursery that did not offer a guarantee on perennials, and it really made me think about the business of plant selling, how much responsibility us gardeners should take when we buy a plant, and whether offering guarantees on plants is good or bad business. [Read more...]

Organic Gardening 101: Learning to Love What You’ve Got (How to Stop Spraying and Start Seeing Beauty Everywhere)

We’ve been talking about how to prevent pests on roses and flowers, and how to treat them organically if you do end up with problems. Today I want to talk about one of the biggest things that keeps us from gardening organically – our expectations and attachments to a specific kind of garden or plant. Expectations are a funny thing – there is so much incredible beauty in nature and the plant world, but sometimes our desire for a certain kind of garden or plant makes the flaws we percieve in our gardens really stand out. Take lawns, for example. I have a wonderful gardening friend who lusts after a perfect, flat, weed-free chemlawn. The problem with that? She has a casual rolling lawn with apple trees and bird feeders dotted through it, and naturally sloping beds around the edges.  All organic. Her lawn is a lovely natural place where she watches the birds and wildlife, and attempts to flatten it out and remove every weed would make it feel out of step with the rest of her gentle country garden. She’d spend more time than she wants to keeping every last weed out organically, and she’d have to get rid of or put concrete under the bird feeders to keep them neat. She knows in her head that a “perfect” magazine lawn wouldn’t fit her lifestyle or the rest of her garden, but… she still dreams of that lawn, and was shocked at my suggestion that she might embrace what she has, and introduce some tough stepable groundcovers to flower within her lawn area – chamomile, or blue star creeper – and run with the meadow-like theme. It’s not just perfect lawns we get attached to, either. Many of us are in love with the idea of a certain kind of flower. Maybe you grew up back east and dream of lilacs in spring, but live in such a mild climate that they don’t really thrive. Perhaps you love roses, and want to grow all the latest hybrid teas, but despair of the black spot come August. Whatever it is for you, coming to terms with what your garden supports and letting go of those things which simply aren’t working will bring you such peace, and will make organic gardening so much easier. A healthy plant that loves where it’s been placed won’t need spraying.

Here’s how to stop chasing the things that aren’t working, and start loving what is:

[Read more...]

An Old Stereotype, or a Shining Example? My Tribute to Older Gardeners

I keep hearing it around the internet – an indignant exhaustion with the stereotype of gardeners as elderly ladies, puttering about their rose gardens with flowered gloves on. Maybe the sensitivity comes from the fact that most gardeners are in the over-40 crowd, and don’t want to be prematurely aged by their passion. I can understand that. But speaking for the younger crowd here, I LOVE the stereotype of the elderly gardener! I admire my older clients who have stayed vital and fit through gardening, and any association with those silver-haired charmers is OK by me. Seriously, who doesn’t have a soft spot for those energetic older ladies with a keen eye for pruning, and a wicked zucchini-chocolate cake recipe to hide some of those bazillion zucchinis we end up with each year? I think it’s fun to imagine myself someday in an outsized gardening hat, wrinkles aplenty, with beautiful mature shrubs and a trail of grandchildren racing about my lawn. That’s why I came up with:

Five reasons I adore older gardeners!

1. They are open to trying new things, but not swayed by the latest trends unless they actually work. Older gardeners often have enough money to try the newest plant introductions, but they are ruthless about ripping them out if they don’t perform. They haven’t got forever to mollycoddle that delicate beauty into being happy – and why should they, when they’ve discovered so many sturdy plants over the years! [Read more...]

The Enabled Garden; Gardening For Those With a Disability

accessiblegardening.jpgI read an inspiring post by Fern over at Life On The Balcony this week with some tips for how to enjoy container gardening with physical limitations. She covers some great ways of training your plants to suit your needs, reducing watering, and choosing tools to make gardening easier. Fern makes an excellent point; containers are usually tall enough to by SDCDeaCerteaccommodate people in a wheelchair, and their height also reduces the strain of stooping and bending for a gardener who stands. I remember years ago visiting a nursing home in San Francisco which  featured a gorgeous raised-bed garden area for their residents. It was wonderful to see how the residents lit up with joy outside, planting flowers and veggies. The kitchen staff used the lettuce and other produce in their meals, and there were lovely homegrown bouquets cheering the desks and rooms. Do you know someone who’d like to garden but finds it too difficult? [Read more...]