Plant Natives in the Side Yard

IMG_6222.jpgIf you’ve been wanting to incorporate more native plants into your garden, either for the wildlife benefit or simply for that touchpoint with your natural surroundings, it can feel like a challenge when you already have an existing garden. But the side yard, an often neglected area with tough conditions, can be an ideal place to get started with native plants. Read more about how to design a native plant side yard at the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog. I shared some photos and gave some tips from a lovely local garden I just visited. Want to read more about native plants? Here are a few fun recent posts: Planting native plants on balconies Really, insects prefer exotic plants? Carole Brown’s journey to become a wildlife gardener

Why Yes, I Do Talk About Non-Native Plants

native-iris.jpgJust, um, not lately. I’ve been on a bit of a native plant kick in recent days, given that so many of my loveliest natives have been putting on a crazy spring show lately. Anyway, if you’re not sick of hearing me bang on about regional character in landscape design, and supporting wildlife, and how critical native plants are to both aims, them pop on over and read two articles I’ve written for other sites lately. Over at the newly launched Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog, of which I’m a member, I posted The Planting Pyramid: Adding Wildlife Value to Your Garden. It’s all about how to find a good balance in your garden between plants that nurture wildlife and contribute to the environment, and those that nurture humans (food, sentimental plants, and just plain eye candy). Then, over at the Christian Science Monitor blog Diggin’ It, I posted Garden Design Using Native Plants. After reading Douglas Tallamy’s section on native plants in The New American Landscape, I was inspired to talk about the most compelling reasons why designers and gardeners should turn to native plants more often in their planting schemes. (If you haven’t seen The New American Landscape yet – go, get a copy right now – it’s some of the most innovative and interesting thinking on sustainability in landscaping I’ve read in years.) IMG_5527-1 In other news, Humboldt County locals should reserve this Sunday afternoon (May 22 from 1-4pm) for a stroll through local legend Cindy Graebner’s old rose garden. I’m not a fan of spraying, and neither is Cindy – she runs a spray-free rose garden and has almost zero disease issues with her sturdy, old-fashioned, romantic roses. (Is her happy bug photo above not the most adorable thing you have seen in days?) If you’re a fan of roses and looking for some low-care beauties that don’t need any spraying, then her Open Gardens are a good chance to see which roses are your favorites. She’s at 282 Fickle Hill Road in Arcata, and she reminds those of us who can walk well to park on Bayview or Hill Streets, and leave the onsite parking for those who can’t walk the 50 yards up the hill easily. It’s this Sunday the 22nd, 1-4. If you go, be sure to tell me which roses were your favorites! (You can follow Fickle Hill Old Rose Nursery on Facebook here.)

Gardening Under Redwoods: Dealing With Dry Shade, Acidic Soil, and Root Competition

Plants-for-under-redwoods.jpgHumboldt County’s known for its majestic redwoods, and many of the gardens that I design and care for have a few towering specimens setting the scene. But lovely though they are, gardening under redwoods presents some serious challenges.


For one, redwood trees cast some fairly dense shade. This isn’t such an issue if you only have one or two, but if you’ve got a bank of redwoods, it can be hard to grow your usual landscaping plants in that area. The solution to this is to STOP PLANTING ROSES under your redwoods. Seriously, incongruity anyone? Do some meditations about your attachment to certain types of plant, and go plant those things someplace else if you have to have them. Don’t hack at your redwoods in the vain hope that if you “let in enough light”, your roses will thrive there. I am very sorry, but they won’t. Embrace what you’ve got (the rest of the world envies you!) and move forward. [Read more...]

Regional Flair: Bring it Home With Native Plants

native-Douglas-iris.jpg***This is a bit of a local rant, but I do have a point that relates to designers and anyone who expresses themselves artistically in the garden.*** I’m lucky: my college town’s somehow managed to stay funky, cool, small and walkable, and above all, different from any other town in the world. Because us Arcata peeps are a bunch of hippies (or, ahem, forward-thinking individualists who appreciate eco-friendly living), we tend to reject that corporate sameness that’s endemic to so much of the US right now. We limit our chain stores, and most locals go out of their way to support local businesses who have tailored their wares to what WE want. That’s not to say that big box stores are all bad; rather, that they bring with them a sense of scale that’s not always in line with what’s comfortable for people to live around. The sprawling Wal-Marts and open malls of chain stores tend to discourage the slow, human process of strolling to town, since there’s not much to look at for the ten minutes it takes to walk past. [Read more...]

Book Excerpt: Energy-Wise Landscape Design


Energy-Wise Landscape Design should be a required read for anyone going into the landscaping field. In this book, Sue Reed outlines a number of steps you can take to green your landscape. Some steps are easy and can be done right away; others take more time, energy, thought or care.

When I reviewed this book a few months back, I was impressed to see how actionable the information was. This excerpt, about how to reduce or tweak your lawn to be more sustainable, is a prime example of the type of tips and techniques included in the book. Enjoy! [Read more...]

Book Excerpt: Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies by Owen Dell

sustainable-landscaping-book-by-owen-dell.jpgA couple weeks back, I reviewed this deliciously funny and extremely useful guide to sustainable landscaping by Owen Dell. You can check out my video and written review here. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share an excerpt with you, so you could get a feel for Owen’s writing style, which is useful, practical, and off-the-cuff. Without further ado, here’s:

Ten Projects That Pay You and the Environment Back Big Time (an excerpt from Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies):

“In this chapter, I introduce some projects you can tackle right away (for relatively little or no money!) that make a big difference to you and the environment. They’re all easy, and most of them don’t require the use of heavy equipment, chiropractors, or bad language. Enjoy.

Make Your Lawn Smaller

Most lawns have parts that are never used for anything other than giving the lawn mower its weekly workout. Do what savvy sustainable landscapers everywhere are doing: Cut that lawn down to size! (Refer to Chapter 19 for the scoop on lawns and lawn alternatives.) Make a lap lawn — a phrase coined by a gardener I once met. Long and narrow, this type of lawn is still perfectly suited to hosting a friendly game of catch or a chase with the family pooch. After its midriff bulge has been whacked away, your svelte new lawn is ready for sustainable action. Consider a maximum size of 20 by 40 feet — a total of 800 square feet. If you can do with less, great. Tip: In making the lawn smaller, you create new borders. Plant these borders with useful, beautiful, climate-appropriate plants that need less care, water, and fertilizer than the original lawn did. Drip-irrigate and mulch the borders to save water. Don’t forget to move your sprinkler heads to the new edges of the lawn to save more water (and money).

Tune Up Your Sprinkler System

Out-of-whack sprinklers result in water waste and poor lawn performance, so you need to give the system a tune-up every so often. Turn the system on one valve at a time so you can test it and get everything working right. (See Chapter 10 to find out how to maintain your irrigation system.)

Reprogram Your Irrigation Controller

Conventional irrigation controllers have no idea how much water your plants need. They’re just timers, faithfully carrying out whatever instructions you gave them the last time you programmed them. Umm, you did adjust your controller at some point, right? If you haven’t, now is the time. Get out the instruction book for your controller so you can make sense of the simple-yet-often-obscure ways of programming these pesky beasts. Then read Chapter 9 of this book to discover how to make seasonal adjustments to your controller. Reprogramming your irrigation controller isn’t terribly difficult, and it saves you a bunch of money. Your plants will thank you, too.

Install a Smart Irrigation Controller

If you don’t want to reprogram the controller you already have (see the preceding section), yank that old clunker off the wall and put in a smart controller. A smart irrigation controller receives signals from — get this — outer space. These signals reset the controller’s program continuously, based on current meteorological data taken from local weather stations. To install and program a smart controller, you just have to answer simple questions about your soil, plants, and so on. You tweak it a bit over the first few weeks, and when you’re done, you probably never have to touch it again. These units have generated water savings of 25 to 50 percent, which means that your water bill will go down. Even better, you can gloat when the neighbors come over. Sustainability is just the coolest thing. See Chapter 9 for more on smart water management. Tip: Many water districts offer rebates for installing smart controllers.

Axe Your Overgrown Plants

Take note of how many hours per month you spend keeping plants from growing too big for the space they’re in. You could’ve spent that time enjoying a nice, sustainable activity, such as loafing. Plants don’t ask you how big you want them to be. If they’re programmed to get 100 feet tall, they always try to do so. So if you want an 8-foot-tall plant, you need to choose one that grows to 8 feet at maturity. Then you’ll never have to trim it. Plus, it looks better and is healthier when left alone. (And you’ll look so relaxed in that hammock.)

Pull Up Sissy Plants

Go around your yard with a shovel and perhaps a digging bar, swiftly and mercifully eliminating namby-pamby plants of whatever kind. Or at least move them where they’ll perform better, if location is the problem. Probably 80 percent of gardening problems are caused by 20 percent of plants. You know which ones they are. Go get ’em. My favorite sissy plant to weed out is the rose. I know the term may offend some people, but hybrid tea roses aren’t so great at taking care of themselves. It hurts me to ponder the rust, the leaf spot, the bugs, and all the other ills and ailments that plague these pitiable creatures. I consider it a public service to replace them with something a little more durable.

Dump Your Chemical Arsenal

Exactly what excuse does anyone have for holding onto that noxious-smelling collection of insecticide, weed killer, and fert-’n’-hurt? C’mon — you know you’ll never use that stuff again. You’re a sustainable gardener now! Put your old chemicals in a sealed container and then take them to your local hazardous-waste collection center for safe disposal. Then go home, perform a cleansing ritual or two in your garage, and get on with your life. Feel good knowing that you’ll probably never have to make the trek to the toxic dump again. Warning: Some of this stuff is truly treacherous to your health, so be sure to wear protective gear and be very careful not to spill anything.

Trade Your Power Tools for Hand Tools

Shop around for some truly good, lifetime-quality hand tools, and leave the power ones out at the curb for some other fool to struggle with. You’ll be glad you did. Power tools actually don’t save much effort. First, you have to work pretty hard to earn the money to buy them. Then you have to store them somewhere, do tune-ups and repairs, fuel and oil them, wipe them down and sharpen the blades, and adjust the dang carburetor over and over because nobody but the high priests of internal combustion can get it right the first time. Besides all that, think about the number of times you’ve pulled the starter cord with no result. Must be in the thousands, right? You could’ve had the lawn mowed with a simple push mower by the time you regained your composure and got that wheezy old mower running.

Mulch Your Beds

Naked beds don’t work. The soil dries out too quickly, root systems suffer heat and cold, weeds come up everywhere, rain washes earth away, beneficial soil microorganisms suffer, drip tubing shows, mud sticks to your boots . . . I could go on and on. In nature, organic material rains down from plants constantly, creating mulch and returning valuable nutrients to the soil. The sustainable landscaper mimics this elegant system by practicing chop and drop pruning (refer to Chapter 20) and by spreading some form of organic mulch on the surface of the soil. For more on mulching, see Chapter 16.

Grow Food

What better use can you have for your land than growing your own food? The list of advantages is a mile long (but I won’t bore you with the details). Plant a few crops that are easy to grow in your area and then devote a little time, money, and effort to reap the rewards. Flip to Chapter 18 for more information about sustainable veggie gardening.”

Want to read more from Owen Dell? Check out these recent blog posts:

Do Rain Barrels Really Work? Adversarial Horticulture The Attack of the Designosaurs Or, check out Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies on

Monday Miscellany: Pruners, Leaf Litter, and Attracting Pollinators

Misc.pngWas absolutely delighted to get this awesome comment from Heuchera on my Hand Pruner Showdown post comparing the different types of pruning shears:
Recently I lost my old Felcos and needed to find a new pair. I had owned a different model, so I decided to research the web to see if the No. 2?s were still considered the standard, as those were the ones I had really wanted way back. Then I came across your article. I was still a little apprehensive about trying a brand I never heard of so I ordered both the Felco No. 2?s and the Bahco PX-M2. I figured if I misplaced one I’d always have another to use. They arrived and we had some heavy pruning to do. My husband tried out the Bahcos and I used the Felcos. The next day I decided to try the Bahcos as he raved about them so much. What a difference! They cut with the greatest of ease and were a pleasure to use. They are now my choice of pruner and I’m afraid my new Felcos are sitting unused in my garden basket.
This was my experience as well, when I first tried my Bahcos. I got them as a gift from a dear landscaper friend, and reluctantly took them out for some apple tree pruning. In a couple minutes, I went from a snooty Felco evangelist to an oh-my-god-I’ve-been-fleeced-all-these-years, crazy Bahco fan. If you’re getting ready for some heavy fall and winter pruning, it might be a good time to read about the differences in each brand and possibly pick up some Bahcos.

The “to rake or not to rake” debate rages on….

Though the word rages might be the wrong word for such a mild-mannered and respectful discussion. Carole over at Ecosystem Gardening got me thinking about leaf litter here. Unbeknownst to me, she and Kylee over at Our Little Acre were having a discussion on Twitter (how did I miss that? Thank you delightful head cold!) about the pros and cons of raking, and each fleshed out their side of the argument on their own blogs. Here’s Kylee with The Problem with Leaves, and Carole with I am the Lorax, I Speak For the Leaves.

Regional guides for attracting pollinators

I usually feel like regional guides totally miss the plot – like they lump my rainy far Northern Cali climate with San Francisco’s or even LA’s warmer, drier temps. So I was completely shocked to discover these guides to attracting pollinators. They don’t suck! They’re actually, um – good! Go, get your own regional guide (it’s free), and then let me know if yours rocked your socks the way my guide rocked mine. See anything cool around the web this week? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday Miscellany: Wildlife Gardening

Butterfly.jpgFall is a great time of year to be thinking about the wildlife. If you can hold off deadheading, leave some fall leaves on the ground for overwintering insects, and make any fall-planting choices good for wildlife, you will have really amped things up for your local butterflies, birds, and other creatures. Here’s some reading to get you going.

Best California Native Plants

Butterfly This week I absolutely adored a series of posts over at Town Mouse and Country Mouse’s blog about the best California natives to plant for wildlife and why. [Read more...]

The Ten Best Native Plants for Coastal Northern California Wildlife by Peter Haggard

Ceanothus.jpgOn the heels of our recent Garden Designers Roundtable on Inviting Nature Into the Garden, I wanted to share a resource that I’ve been finding incredibly helpful in recent months. While we all know that planting natives is a good way to attract more life into our gardens, if we only have space for a couple of plants, it can be hard to know which ones will have the biggest impact. This list shares ten of the highest-impact natives you can plant to support multiple types of wildlife in your coastal Northern California garden. [Read more...]

Attracting Wildlife: Simple Things You Can Do

NativeDouglasIris_thumb.jpgRecently I was talking with a native plant aficionado, and she was telling me that the turning point for her in going native was when she looked around her gorgeous landscape, and realized it was barren of animal life. She had a garden simply brimming with flowers and beauty – but very little of the cheerful buzzing and chirruping that show someone besides humans are enjoying the space. Now, I’m not a native plant purist. I love ornamentals and don’t think there’s anything wrong with planting for our own appreciation and sense of beauty. And there are other ways of supporting wildlife than gardening exclusively with native plants, as I’ll get to.
Honeybee photo by Robert Davis
Honeybee photo by Robert Davis
But she brought up an excellent point, which is that beauty in a garden lacks soul without bugs and wildlife, and if we want to attract them in, we need to be intentional in thinking about what makes a good habitat. Even as a primarily ornamental gardener, there are a number of simple things you can do to invite more life into your garden. [Read more...]

Monday Miscellany: Birds and Bees Edition

Bumbles.jpgAs a happy chicken-owner myself (except when the ladies happen to lay a 6 A.M. egg and wake me up!), I’m always excited when I find some cool resources that help others learn to keep chickens. Really, they’re great pets, turn table scrapings into eggs and useful manure, and the eggs! Bright orange yolks and a fine flavor. You can’t compare supermarket eggs to them – no, not even the “free-range” kind. As for bees, I’ve always been a fan. In almost 14 years of gardening professionally, I’ve never been stung by a honeybee, bumblebee, or bee of any kind. Yellow jackets and wasps, yes. Bees are sweet, though – they only have one sting on them and while it hurts you, it kills them. Lots of incentive for them to be peaceful! [Read more...]