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...]

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...]

Low-Maintenance Planting Design: More Than Just Plant Selection

low-maintenance-planting-design.jpgThere are a lot of misunderstandings about low-maintenance planting design. A lot of people think that in order to have a low-maintenance landscape, you just need to choose low-maintenance plants. But the way you design your planting beds is as important as the plants you select – maybe even more so. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when planning for low-maintenance planting beds. [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Use Less Lawn!

No-mow-landscaping-ideas.jpgWhen talking with another designer recently, she said something that stuck in my head: “Lawn? We call that “green concrete”. Sure, sometimes you need a bit of it here or there, but it brings so little to the table that we try to avoid it!” And it’s true! I love sunning myself and playing with the cats on my small lawn, but I’m pretty cognizant of the fact that every inch of lawn is taking up space that could be used for something more productive. Even an organic, no water, manually-mowed, unfertilized lawn like my own, is simply doing no harm. But it’s missing an opportunity to do good. [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Focus on Shape

wildlife-landscape-design-11.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. At left, landscape design by: Shades of Green Landscape Architecture, Sausalito, CA. Recently, Rachel Matthews wrote a guest post here about what she sees as the most important aspect of landscape design: Shape. I want to follow up on that concept because this is something so critically important to wildlife gardeners. When we’re gardening for wildlife, we’re often thinking about planting specific plants to host caterpillars/ butterflies or providing a certain type of shelter or habitat. Sometimes, we can get so focused on the details of attracting wildlife that we lose track of the bigger picture, design-wise. The shapes you use throughout your garden give it a sense of structure and beauty that allows even disparate garden elements to feel like they “fit”. The shapes of what, you might ask? [Read more...]

Wildlife Garden Design Tip: Choose a Simple Color Palette

Wildlife-garden-photo-courtesy-American-Beauties-Native-Plants.pngThink 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. Today’s tip goes well with my last piece of advice, which was to plant native and wildlife-attracting plants in masses: The tip? Choose a simple color palette. This is one of the biggest differences between professional designers and home gardeners: restraint in color selection. And don’t think I’m giving you a lecture here, because I’m talkin’ to myself too! Everything I know about good design goes right out the window when I’m planning my own home garden. But when we’re creating a native plant or wildlife garden, doing something that looks cohesive and attractive to visitors is one of the key ways we can multiply our efforts for wildlife and become an ambassador, if you will, for this type of garden. Imagine the benefits your wildlife garden will bring if you can act as inspiration for your neighbors to do something similar for wildlife! [Read more...]

Backyard Landscaping Not Looking as Good as You’d Like? Here’s Why

Landscaped-Garden.jpgGen here – today’s article is a guest post from my friend Rachel Mathews of Successful Garden Design. Rachel’s an established landscape designer in the UK, and I’ve been been enjoying her landscape design eBooks and courses for some time. Today she’ll share one of the biggest secrets to success in designing a landscape: [Read more...]

Luxurious Stone Fountain Table for Wine Country Gardens

McKenna-wine-table-4.jpgMcKenna wine table (3)There was so much inspiration from the 2012 San Francisco Garden Show that I am still sifting through it all weeks later. One of my favorite pieces in the entire show was this stunning table and fountain made of a solid piece of stone from McKenna Landscape. It has a recirculating pump which allows a gentle sheet of water to cascade over the top of the fountain and down the sides. Since the surface tension holds the water against the sides of the table, you’re not getting splashed as you enjoy sitting there. They displayed this innovative table/ fountain hybrid with stone coasters and glasses of wine. As soon as I saw it, I just wanted to dive into having that kind of life where you get to come home after work and enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine and such a beautiful centerpiece. McKenna wine table (2) Here was the designer’s sketch, showing some of the repurposed elements used in the landscape: McKenna (4) Shockingly, the fountain wasn’t even that expensive given what it was. I believe the McKennas said that it would be around $3500 to purchase and install a unique table fountain like this. Given that this is the sort of piece that can make the entire garden surrounding it feel special, it seemed like kind of a bargain to me. McKenna Landscape won all kinds of awards at the show, and their young designer Leslie McKenna (she’s only in her mid-twenties!) was beaming ear to ear with all the much-deserved attention. It makes me feel fantastic to see someone so obviously passionate about innovation at such a young age. Can’t wait to see what else she and her family’s landscape business will create in the future. Read more about the innovative stone work at the 2011 show and the 2012 show.

Rockin’ It: Innovative Use of Stone at the San Francisco Garden Show (2012 Edition)

sf-garden-show-2012-stone-and-hardscape-ideas.jpgAs I pointed out last year, garden shows are a place for designers to do all the crazy shiznit that’s over-the-top stunning, but also completely impractical, hard to maintain or otherwise unsuitable for life in the real world. But the wonderful thing about the hardscape and stonework at garden shows is that it’s full of great ideas that you can steal and put to work in your own home garden, like, tomorrow. Think about it. These gardens are put together in a matter of days, and since most of the material is borrowed from local suppliers, the designers really don’t want to mortar, cut, or do anything too permanent to the stone. This means that as a DIY-er, you can buy materials and mess around with them until either your back gives out or you perfect the look. (Hopefully the latter happens first.) So without further ado, here are some of my favorite inspirations from the 2012 San Francisco Garden Show. [Read more...]

Contemplative Spaces: Key Elements To Include

native-iris.jpgWhen creating a space for calm contemplation, what you leave out is much more important than what you put in. It’s as true in the garden as it is elsewhere; clutter isn’t soothing. Whether you’re creating a small nook for restful solace or overhauling an entire garden, these essential elements will keep you on track when designing a space for serenity. [Read more...]