Lessons from my mother’s fall garden & another holiday giveaway!

My motherIf you’ve read many of my past posts on this site or heard me give one of my presentations, you probably know that I think my mother is an amazing gardener.

I’m always telling her she’s one of the best designers I’ve met (which she never really believes).

Even after I show her why a certain planting combination in her garden is pure genius, she still just shakes her head and says “hmm…..if you say so, dear.”'Red Eye' rhododendronMy parents live in Meadow Vista, CA  (USDA zone 8a).   They regularly experience temps in the low teens (including a bit of snowfall each winter) followed by blistering hot temperatures in the summer.

On top of that, there’s a giant volcano top lying just under the surface of their entire 1 1/2-acre garden, making digging holes an inconvenience most of us could never image.  Think tractors with strong engines just to plant a small tree.  Or, one broken shovel tip after another when hitting a surprise lava layer hiding just under the surface of perfectly amended soil.

You can’t have a beautiful garden in this area without having extraordinary determination with no fear of hard labor and a strong back.  Luckily my mother has all of these.peoniesOver the years, I’ve used photos of her garden in both of my books, in many articles and here on my blog.  One of my friends, Pam Penick of Digging, recently sent me a note asking if I’ve ever written anything specifically about her garden as she’d like to see more of it.  And when I thought about it, I realized I never had!

So I thought I’d write about my mother’s garden over the next year and how it looks through the different seasons – starting with the fall.

Last month I spent Thanksgiving with my parents and couldn’t believe how good her garden looked despite having already gone through a few early frosts preceded by one of the worst droughts California has seen in decades.

variegated foliageAs I walked around her garden, it dawned on me that while my mother is certainly talented with combining stunning flowers in her garden beds (as you can see in the above photos), she is equally skilled with her creative use of foliage.

In fact, I’m beginning to think foliage is her specialty and have decided to write about how she uses it in her garden to help extend year-round interest once those blooms have long faded away.

heuchera and pulmonaria


In my latest book, Refresh Your Garden Design, I write about the importance of using the various aspects of foliage to create interest in the garden that lasts well beyond spring and summer’s show of flowers.  Now that I look at my mother’s garden, it seems clear where I found my inspiration!

Here are some of the lessons I’ve taken away from my mother’s fall garden:read more

Previous Articles:
Planting bulbs in a warm climate plus a HUGE Cyber Book Party!
I'm honored to be participating in Fran Sorin's Cyber Book Party (complete with two grand giveaways!) celebrating the updated 10th Anniversary Edition of her groundbreaking book Digging Deep - Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening. I've had the privilege of getting to know Fran personally over the years, believing our styles of gardening, designing and the way in which we view life to be in lockstep with one another. I've read her book several times and each time I re-read her chapters on Sparking your creativity, Giving shape to your dream, The act of nurturing, Enjoying what you have sown, read more
S.F. Conservatory of Flowers, Aquascapes, Pitcher Plant Bonanza and a HUGE Giveaway!
This past weekend my husband, Tom, and I spent an afternoon wandering through the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, enjoying the rare chance to sneak away and visit a different world for awhile. I have a confession - while I've been there at least a half dozen times in my life and, yes, it's truly a jaw-dropping historic building (the oldest public glass & wood greenhouse in North America, built in 1877), I've never really been a huge fan of tropical and exotic plants. But maybe it's the fact that my world has been turned upside down the past few read more
Jewel Box Courtyard
I'd like to introduce you all to my friend and client, Judy Minium.   Three years ago our local newspaper ran a story on our (then) new book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces.  Within 24 hours I received a phone call from Judy, who was in desperate need of transforming her tiny, overgrown courtyard into one that appeared spacious, bright, lush and tranquil. Judy had always loved gardening, but didn't quite know how to tackle one that was quite this small (27'x 21') and brimming with so many challenges. 'Years ago, I had a fabulous, well established read more
Spooky South End Cemetery
While visiting New York this summer, I spent a glorious weekend touring the Hamptons.  Oh my.  I've never quite seen anything like it- the estates, the gardens, one charming town after another, the pristine beaches.  It surpassed everything I thought it might be - pure heaven on so many levels. One day, while touring the historic Home Sweet Home (you can read about it here) I noticed the most picturesque looking, ancient looking graveyard just down the street.  And since Halloween is just a few days away, what better time than now to share this with you? read more
My garden, my refuge
A few years ago my good friend, Patty Craft, invited me to attend Northern California's Heirloom Exposition.  It's a glorious event centered around the pure food movement, with gardeners of all walks of life enjoying the displays and the vast array of information (you can read about my visit here). One thing has stuck with me over the years, though, which was a comment made by two fairly smug women.  Patty and I were handing out complementary copies of Horticulture Magazine to people and when these two ladies walked over to us, instead of taking a copy they sniffed "Oh, read more
A slight lump in the road…
One of the things I look forward to each year is the moment when fall finally shows up, usually announced by the arrival of the The Great Glass Pumpkin Patch.  This year was a little earlier than usual as my hometown got a jump on things and had their own glass pumpkin festival a few weeks ago.  I've always found something magical about these beautiful pieces of art, their different shapes, sizes and colors all making it virtually impossible to choose which treasure to take home. This year, however, the choice was simple.  The pretty pink pumpkin tucked in among read more
NYC summer wrap-up
As summer comes to a close, I thought I'd share with you the last gardening tidbits from my summer in New York. They might seem a little random, but they're interesting nonetheless! 1.  Guy Wolff Pottery I've long been a collector of Guy Wolff Pottery, but when Smith & Hawken closed their doors (moment of silence, please) it became much harder for me to find the pots. So while visiting my friend in Connecticut, she insisted we stop by his studio. It's darling and everything I had imagined it would be: an old, cozy cabin converted into a studio, filled to read more
Central Park’s Conservatory Garden
Without a doubt, one of my very favorite places in New York is the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. This was my first time visiting this garden, and I wasn't in much of a hurry to do so as I mistakenly thought it would be yet another formal garden filled with the predictable evergreens, fountains and acres of lawn.  Pretty, but probably not the most inspiring. Wow, was I ever wrong.While, yes, it is a formal garden (complete with lush lawn, intricate topiaries, splashing fountains and the most beautiful wisteria covered pergola I've ever seen), once I realized it read more
Celebrating Community Gardens
One of the many things I love about New York is the surprising amount of community gardens tucked in here and there just waiting to be discovered.  Some are small, some large, some created for children, some for quiet contemplation.  They're everywhere! As I've mentioned in the past, as much as my daughter enjoys hanging out in my garden she's not inclined to actually work in the garden.  sigh.  And I'll be honest in admitting she was getting a little tired of me constantly stopping to take photos every time we'd stumble upon, yet another, little garden.  In turn, I read more
The Heather Garden & The Cloisters
After spending two months in Manhattan, it would be an understatement to say I was in dire need of a bit of nature. So one day last week, I hopped on the subway to the very edge of the city to explore The Cloisters (a branch of the Metropolitan Museum dedicated to Medieval art). While I’m not necessarily a die-hard for this era of art, I did want to see the two Medieval gardens located in the center of the museum. Once the long subway ride ended, I trudged up the flight of stairs and instantly felt like Dorothy read more
A luscious, lawn-free rock garden in Denver
Don’t you love the feeling you get when pulling up to someone’s home for the very first time, and the moment you see their garden you just know you’re in for a treat? That’s how I felt when my taxi slowly crept along the street, looking for the address of Sheila Schultz. This past May I spent a week in Denver filming an instructional video for Craftsy (click here if you'd like to watch it!) and was lucky enough to spend a few days with Sheila.  If her name sounds familiar it’s because she and read more
Flowers and Fireworks in the garden
I'm a sucker for good ol' American holidays, with the Fourth of July being right up there at the top of the list.  But with California's severe drought amplifying threats of wildfire you won't be seeing many firework shows this year. But that's okay.  This summer I've been organizing my zillions of garden photos and am seeing exploding fireworks everywhere.  Whether they're grasses, flowers, seedpods or succulents all seem to shout 'Happy Fourth of July!" So enjoy my version of fireworks this year and have a safe and happy Independence Day! read more
The High Line highlights
  I'm spending some time in New York City this summer and am thrilled to have finally visited the High Line public garden. Ever since its grand opening in  2009, I've been dying to see the transformation of this abandoned, defunct elevated railway into one of the city's most inspiring and innovative public gardens. First, though, to help you fully appreciate the genius behind it here's a little background. read more
Mixing edibles with ornamentals
No longer relegated to the back of the garden, hidden away from sight, edibles are finally getting the respect they deserve.  Whether mingling with showy perennials and annuals in traditional ornamental beds, tucked into a patio container, or (gasp!) featured as a focal point in the front of the garden - edibles are at home in every part of your garden. And why not?  With so many varieties offering unique colors, textures and forms there's certainly one that will harmonize beautifully with a non-edible neighbor.  And let's not forget about the delicious thrill of harvesting from your own garden.  I read more
Goodbye Lawn, Hello Garden –  Part 3 (plus a giveaway!)
  Here we are at the end of May and I'm happy to share with you the final phase of my front garden re-do! As you may recall, in January I finally decided to remove my little-used front lawn and replace it with a low-water garden (you can read about it here and here). After moving around my new little plants at least a half a dozen times each, most of them have finally found their permanent homes.  Going back to my first post, I wanted to see if I actually followed through on my original intentions - to use read more
My day with P. Allen Smith
I am filled with gratitude this morning as I wait for my airport shuttle in the beautiful lobby of the historic Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve just spent the past few days at Moss Mountain, the beautiful home and farm of P. Allen Smith. Twenty three bloggers from around the country were invited to participate in this 3-day event, called Garden-to-Blog, with the purpose of meeting industry leaders, discussing new gardening trends, becoming inspired with new ideas and to take a step back from what we do day-in and day-out. As P. Allen says 'It’s my read more
The French Laundry’s culinary garden and a sweet little house
Rounding out my Napa weekend, the Tanners treated us to a morning of impromptu garden tours.  The first stop, a visit to the incredible culinary garden of the valley's crown jewel - The French Laundry. Located directly across the street from the deceptively demure looking restaurant is this impressive 3-acre garden.  Open to the public, the garden not only supplies a large part of the restaurant's produce, but also acts as the chef's test site. Even though spring had barely sprung, the neatly laid out blocks of earth were overflowing with colorful produce - heirloom radishes, kale, lettuces, leeks, potatoes read more
The art and soul of Freeland Tanner
What do you get when you combine a pile of twigs, sticks and old fencing with collections of sprinklers, watering cans and gardening tools with the right side of the brain that just won't quit?  It's not what you get, it's who you get - Freeland Tanner. I've written about this exceptional man and his equally impressive wife, Sabrina, many times before (here and here), as well featuring their garden in both of my books.  Some of you might even think I'm a bit of a stalker (debatable).  But in this post, instead of focusing on their glorious, skillful and read more
Spring in my garden
While walking around my garden the other day my friend excitedly commented 'I totally get what you're doing here - you write all about this in your book!'  Curious as to what she meant, I asked her to elaborate.  She then began to excitedly tell me how I combined this texture with that, placed this color to echo that color, put the upright form here, etc. It was definitely a pinch-me moment to have someone not only explain the thought process I used in my own garden, but to also use passages from my recent book as a guideline.   read more
Proven Winners Spring Trials
I love attending the annual Spring Trials, as it's a chance to see firsthand the latest and greatest from well-respected growers around the country. And even though the plants won't be available for purchase until 2015, it's exciting to know what we can look forward to.  The temptation to grab a few and run is sometimes overwhelming, as I can't stand to wait an entire year to try them in my own garden.  It's sort of like peeking under your parents' bed to see what you'll be getting for your birthday.  Hands off - you'll just have to wait! This read more
Book roundup + giveaway!  The 20-30 Something Garden Guide, The Plant Recipe Book & Sunset’s Western Garden Book of Landscaping
Spring has arrived! And along with the sweet scent of jasmine, the bursting blooms of tulips and rosebuds just beginning to open comes a new crop of gardening books.  Luckily my mailman remembers that, around this time each year, his load gets a little heavier with all the books I'm sent to review.  I thought it might be fun to tell you about a few of my favorites, each distinctly different from the next, as well as offer a fantastic prize package to one lucky winner.  Here they are: read more
Texture reigns supreme in the Testa-Vought garden
Welcome to Andrea Testa-Vought's garden, a textural paradise designed by the amazing Bernard Trainor. As you'll see, this garden is truly a feast for the eyes.  But more importantly, it's also a lesson in the subtle but powerful effects texture can have in the garden. I first visited this garden in December, on what was one of the coldest days of the year.  After experiencing a week of unrelenting, below-freezing temperatures, I thought Andrea's garden might look a little worse for wear.  But as you can see from this photo, that wasn't the case at all. While I appreciate the read more
Spring’s One-Hit Wonders:  Flowering Quince, Forsythia & Spirea
The other day I overheard two women talking about their spring gardens and one of them stated matter-of-factly that she'd never plant a flowering quince since it blooms for such a short period and then just sits there the rest of the year.  While its true that it blooms only once, in my opinion that's not reason enough to ban it from the garden. Or forsythia, for that matter, or bridal wreath spirea, or any other of spring's magnificent 'one hit wonders'. It's important to remember that not every plant in our garden has to perform and look good every read more
Festina Lente – Filoli’s winter garden
 Festina Lente.  Powerful words used since ancient times by the likes of emperors, military commanders, authors, artists and even Shakespeare himself. Translated, festina lente means 'hurry slowly'.  Personally, I think  my neighbor's bumper sticker says it best -  'Hurry up and slow down'. Out of the corner of my eye I discovered this plaque placed high up on one of Filoli's many garden archways.  I pondered its meaning as I slowly wandered through the garden on this cold and quiet winter morning. It was one of those magical days as I was not only scheduled to speak at this breathtaking read more
Goodbye Lawn, Hello Garden – Part 2
Phew - I've been busy!  As promised a few weeks ago, here's the next phase of my front lawn-removal project. After deciding on the materials and final shape of the pathways, the next step was to remove the lawn.  A physically grueling task to be sure. Enlisting some help from one with a much stronger back than I, we (the British 'we', that is) removed it by hand, making sure to dig deep to remove any stray lawn roots that might be left behind.  The last thing I want is grass to appear mysteriously in my new planting areas. Using read more
Pyracantha Pandemonium
It started out just like any other January day. For the past week, I had been admiring one of my favorite shrubs growing in my side yard - the humble pyracantha. I had been wondering to myself why more people didn't love this shrub as I do.  Didn't they realize all the seasonal beauty it freely gives to the garden? In the early spring, I’m rewarded with a show of slender branches cloaked in cascades of dainty white flowers. Yes, I’ll admit they smell ever so faintly like old socks, but their month long show of beauty certainly read more
Goodbye lawn, hello garden  – Part 1
It's a new year and with it comes the oh-so-familiar new year's resolutions.  And while I rarely keep the ones I make (lose weight, exercise more, blah blah blah) this is a resolution that's long overdue and one that I'm thrilled to undertake: getting rid of my unused front lawn. With California's lowest recorded rainfall in its history (that's over 160 years!), the timing is perfect to practice what I preach.  Even though I remove lawns for many of my clients (here, here, here and here) I just haven't been able to find the time to take care of my own read more
Five ways to warm winter garden
A few days ago I spoke to my friend who lives in Boston, and when I complained that my garden was taking a beating during a recent week of unrelenting 28-degree temperatures, he was shocked - in California?   Yes, even in the land of sunshine it often dips below freezing on a cold winter night, surprising out of town visitors as much as it surprises our succulents, bougainvillea and citrus. One of my favorite vignettes in my garden is this tough old Octopus Agave (agave vilmoriniana 'Variegata') planted in this urn, with a soft and billowy abelia 'Kaleidescope' nestled at read more
The Great Christmas Tree Chop
 Note:  This post is rated 'R' for violence Sometimes it seems my family lives to torment me - especially when it comes to choosing Christmas trees. It wasn't always be this way.  But one year, when the kids were young, I decided to surprise everyone by bringing home a beautiful living Christmas tree, in hopes that a new family tradition would be born.  I imagined the year-round delight the kids would experience as they nourished our little tree throughout the year, excitedly noting each inch of new growth. Yeah, right.  What I got in return was lots of tears.  And read more
Tantalizing Tillandsias
There's something about tillandsias that makes my heart sing.  Even just saying the word is fun.  Maybe its due to their seemingly endless array of colors, shapes and textures.  Maybe its because of their somewhat freaky appearance.  Or maybe its because they're one of the easiest ways to make a really creative statement in your home. Actually, for me it's all of the above - plus the fact that I'm a sucker for anything that asks so little from me.  I've got enough in my life demanding my attention and the last thing I need is a fussy, high-maintenance houseplant! read more
Looking at your garden with fresh eyes
As a designer and a consultant, I'm often asked how I go about deciding how and where to begin when it comes to transforming a garden bed.   I understand where this question comes from.  While visualizing where to begin is relatively easy for me, I realize that's not necessarily the case for others.  In fact, I experienced this feeling myself during my kitchen remodel.  I was amazed at how helpless and overwhelmed I felt when I walked into the tile shop and looked around at row after row after row of gorgeous tiles just waiting for me to decide.  What read more
Create longer-lasting fall color in the garden
There's something magical about fall colors in the garden, isn't there?  My favorite time of year is the moment I open my front door and see my Japanese maples and Crepe Myrtle trees have turned their fiery shades of yellow, red and orange - signaling the calm before the storm (the storms from both winter as well as the holiday crush!) While it's easy enough to get fall color from the occasional maple, burning bush or viburnum in your garden, but why not take things up a notch and create a longer lasting, colorful tapestry of layers instead?  I'm not read more
Refresh Your Garden Design Virtual Book Party!
I'm officially announcing the birth of my new baby...I mean book, Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture & Form, and to celebrate you’re all invited to attend my Virtual Book Party – with some very ‘refreshing’ party favors (yes, pun intended).  Six garden blogging friends and I are hosting 7 great giveaways this week, all related to the theme of refreshing your garden! I wrote this book after years of consulting with one frustrated gardener after another.  Why the frustration?  Because more often than not, they've experienced a feeling of helplessness as they look around, not knowing how (or read more
Shades of Gray in a No-Lawn Front Garden
I'm thrilled to announce that one of the gardens I designed for a client is featured in this month's Sunset magazine (if you don't subscribe, you can read about it here in their online version). While the folks at Sunset did a fantastic job capturing the drought-tolerant aspects of this garden (the homeowners reduced their water bill by 40%!) I thought I'd go into a little more detail about using the very-gray colored Dymondia margaretae as a lawn substitute, and the tricks I use to keep the color looking lush. But first, a little background and a few before & afters... read more
Without a doubt, fall is my favorite season of the year.  And once I spot the first signs of pumpkins and squash adorning grocery stores and farmers markets  I'm like a kid in a candy shop.  And don't even get me started on my obsession with glass pumpkins! I've admired succulent-topped pumpkins ever since I first saw Laura Eubanks' to-die-for gorgeous creations. So,  when I was asked to lead a workshop for the Polk County Master Gardener's Fall Fling, of course I jumped at the chance!  We had so much fun that day, everyone sitting around chatting, catching up on read more
I’m a caladium convert
I'll admit it - I've never given much thought to caladiums, perhaps subconsciously dismissing them as an uninspired, old-fashioned stalwart. But having trialled several dozen this year (thanks to the good folks at Classic Caladiums) I can proudly say I was dead wrong - there's nothing uninspired with these plants.  I'm officially hooked! Similar to coleus in that they come in a psychedelic array of color combinations, caladiums somehow have more of an air of elegance about them. And when planted closely together in a container, they're simultaneously light and delicate while making quite a visual impact. read more
Transforming a side yard from Blah to Beautiful
In honor of my new book, Refresh Your Garden Design, I'll be spending the next few months writing about the many different aspects of color, texture and form.  Whether its gardeners I've met who have embraced these design principles to the fullest, simple solutions you can use to transform your own garden, or perhaps  specific plants that serve double (or even triple!) duty in the landscape - my goal will be to inspire while showing how the smallest changes can have a lasting impact. I'm pleased to introduce you to one of my favorite gardeners, and very good friend, Lisa read more
I'm over-the-moon with excitement to announce that my new book, Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form is officially finished and will be available in bookstores next month - Oct. 20th, to be exact! After seeing a review copy for the first time last week, I can honestly say that I'm immensely proud of this book for many reasons.  Not only did Christy, the book designer, do an incredible job making it stunningly beautiful, and not only were my editors a dream to work with, but to hold something in my hands that is a culmination of my read more
In just a few days I'll be saying goodbye to my daughter as she embarks on a new adventure in her life as she goes away to college.  And while I'm proud, thrilled and excited for her, I can't help but quietly mourn each passing minute, knowing I'll soon be face-to-face with the giant hole that will be left in my heart, home and garden. My daughter has never been one of those kids that have naturally taken to gardening, never bounding out of bed saying "what are we going to plant today, Mommy!" or "of course  I'd love to read more
Captivating Coprosmas
Time and time again I've had astonished clients ask me 'What IS that plant?' when spotting the smooth and shiny foliage of a colorful coprosma.  Commonly known as a 'Mirror Plant', coprosma's foliage looks as if tiny little elves snuck in and meticulously shellaced each perfectly shaped oval leaf. Yes, they're that shiny. Finding foliage with smooth and reflective surfaces isn't always easy, which is just one of the reasons why I'm such a fan of these evergreen shrubs.  Contrast the mirror-like foliage with a nearby rough and crinkly Leatherleaf Viburnum or Rodgersia and the result will be a read more
If you're like me, you've probably returned from a supposedly quick and casual stroll through the garden with your shirt flipped up in an attempt to to hold all the tomatoes, plums or apricots that were just begging to be picked. After dirtying umpteen clean shirts, I don't know why I venture outside any longer without a small basket or colander in hand to pick the daily harvest.  Yet I still do. read more
Mixing flowers and succulents
There's no doubt about it, Debra Lee Baldwin certainly knows her succulents.  But when visiting her Escondido, CA garden again a few months ago, I was struck by something else - the flowers.  Not the flowers of succulents (which are amazing enough), but regular ol' perennial, annual and native flowers that casually grow throughout the garden. My very favorite gardens tend to have a creative and unusual mix of 'styles', filled with unexpected, unique and breathtaking touches - which is one of the reasons why I love Debra's garden so much. Yes, she's known as an expert and authoritative figure read more
Euphorbia euphoria
This weekend my garden will be one of several featured during the 5th annual Garden Bloggers Fling Garden Tour.  Am I nervous having my personal garden shown to 75+ of our country's most amazing, talented and influential garden bloggers?  Uh...YES!  So every day this week I've been working in my garden, trying to keep up with what Mother Nature has been dishing out (crazy winds, rain and 100 degree temps - all within a single week)!  While my roses are now shriveled by the heat and my delicate annuals have been blown to smithereens, my euphorbias look fantastic - seeming read more
Using white flowers in the garden
My garden has been on a few different garden tours this past month which, despite the work involved in getting everything cleaned up, is always a fantastic opportunity to see my garden through others' eyes.  Its always interesting to see which plants are a hit, and which ones seem to go unnoticed, and I'm often surprised with the results. While I tend to think of my garden as colorful (sometimes a bit too much?) it was surprising to hear from more than just a few visitors that they liked my use of white in the garden.  Hmmm. White?  Not my read more
I don't typically read fashion magazines, but living with a teenage daughter means a stack of them are usually lying around the house in one room or another. While I can usually pass them by without feeling the urge to read about 'The Top 10 Must-Have Heels For Summer', I'll admit I'm a sucker for titles such as '10 Ways to Wear 1 Dress'. So with a slightly different twist, here's my version where the star isn't the little black dress, but a copper and iron window box. read more
As many of my readers may know, I adore chickens and have had several grace my garden over the years. Note the past tense. While I love them dearly, I've finally realized they're best enjoyed in other people's gardens.  I can't bear to keep them cooped up (no pun intended) in a chicken run, so I would end up letting them free range to their heart's content in my fairly small garden.Yes, they're as picturesque as can be, but these charming garden ornaments can turn a healthy Japanese Forest grass into a shredded mound of green in 15 seconds flat. read more
Indoor Plant Decor – Book Party, Review & Giveaways
To celebrate the release of Kylee Baumle and Jenny Peterson's new book, Indoor Plant Decor, you're all invited to participate in their cyber book party (complete, of course, with loads of prizes!) I'll be honest, when I was asked to review and join this event I was a little nervous as I'm one of those people who struggles to keep indoor plants alive.  There - I've said it.  Yes, I'm a landscape designer and yes, I love nothing more than working in my own beautiful garden, but when it comes to houseplants it's a whole different story.  I just sort read more
My impromptu succulent cutting tower
Last month I completely dismantled one of my favorite garden beds so we could finally finish painting the house.  Last fall we had our house painted, but I wouldn't let them paint one remaining wall as my bougainvillea was in full bloom and there was no way I was about to cut it back prematurely!  Luckily, I had the world's best painters who fully understood how crazy we gardeners can be, and were willing to come back in the early spring to finish the job. Anyway, back to my story. Dismantling my garden bed was easy enough, except I had read more
Last year my friend (and gardener extraordinaire) Shawna Coronado traveled to the Netherlands to spend a little time with the folks at the DeWit Tool company.  Shawna had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of not only designing, but making the prototype of her ideal version of a potting soil scoop.  The scoop has since been such a success that now it's part of their regular tool line-up. In fact, the DeWit company kindly sent me two (one to have, and one to give away to a lucky reader), and I must say, I've really been enjoying using it while assembling some of read more
The other day I sat down with my father and we were laughing about the time when I decapitated my parents' very first little garden.  I was only two years old, and my dad was anxiously waiting for the day when the new 'seed mat' they had carefully tended over the past few weeks would transform into the promised lush and bountiful garden.  Apparently it was nothing more than a rolled up strip of coir and soil with common flower seeds pressed within it. All one needed to do was unroll it, tack it down at the corners, water - read more
I'm a huge fan of the latest edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book (read my review here), and to say I'm over the moon with excitement at the big news of their new garden app is an understatement. A few weeks ago I was honored to be invited to Sunset's Headquarters where I was treated to a personal demonstration of this most amazing garden app by the folks who developed it.  For someone who's a bit app-challenged (like me) that's like having Martha Stewart show up in your garden to show you how to prune a rose.  I was read more
Color in the Garden – without the plants
You can always tell when people are sick and tired of winter when flashy accessories start popping up throughout the garden! This past week, while visiting Sunset Magazine's test gardens and those of the San Francisco Garden Show, I was struck by the amount of vibrant colors everywhere. And also, interestingly enough, how the color didn't necessarily come from plants but from various hardscaping elements - walls, dividers, arbors, trellises, furniture or artwork. read more
I just returned from a quick trip to Boca Grande, a tiny little island off of Florida, where I spoke about vertical gardening to the island’s local garden club.  Without a doubt, one of the perks of my job is the chance to see new things and meet new people – something I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Whether it’s a local group or one as remote as this, I always leave feeling more enriched than I did when I arrived. I’m writing this to share this mostly unknown island with all of you in hopes that read more
Lawn Gone!  Book Party, Review and Giveaways
To celebrate the release of Pam Penick's new book, Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, you’re all invited to attend her Lawn Gone Book Party – with some very cool party prizes! Six garden blogging friends and I are hosting 7 great giveaways this week, all related to the theme of – drumroll please – lawn alternatives. Lawn Gone! is, of course, about alternatives to the traditional lawn: all kinds of ground-covering plants, functional and appropriately scaled hardscape, and fun features to draw you outside.  If any of you are re-thinking your lawn, you will appreciate this book not read more
Having three good friends and two of my favorite clients going through various stages of cancer right now, I'm particularly aware of kindhearted people and companies who are making an effort to help others.  Which is why I've become a huge fan of Glassybaby. While very well-known throughout Seattle (seen on the tables of at least half of the restaurants I visited, and on countless windowsills everywhere) these little candleholders are making their way throughout the entire country. And I'm honored to add a few to my own windowsill.While recently visiting Seattle, I was lucky enough to tour this read more
Kiss My Aster – Book Giveaway
For those of you looking for a totally different kind of gardening book – one that’s fun to use and that will definitely make you laugh out loud, all the while giving you down-to-earth practical advice then this book is for you. Seriously – Amanda is awesome. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Amanda Thomsen (aka: Kiss My Aster) you should to do a little homework first.  First, rush on over to her website here, to 1) see her flaming pair of Felco pruners tattoo, and 2) read all about her latest thrift store finds and how she’ll read more
There's something magical about a winter garden, and I never pass up an opportunity to visit one - especially one that's known for looking it's best during the bleakest months of the year.  While attending a family wedding in Seattle this past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the J. Witt Winter Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum.  I can't emphasize enough what a treat it was to see such unexpected beauty on a cold and drizzly day. The timing couldn't have been better either, as I'm just now finishing the manuscript for my new book 'Creating Harmony in read more
Sarcococca and Daphne – the stars of my February garden
Here we are February 1st, and my garden couldn't be smelling any sweeter!  I wanted to share with you two of my winter superstars as they're some of my favorites for adding heavenly fragrance to this typically cold and bleak month.  In my temperate Zone 9 garden, there's still a few random leaves hanging on to their deciduous stems for dear life.  But with each gentle breeze they're quickly losing their grip, leaving behind one skeletal shrub after another.  Thank heavens for my evergreen plants, as now is the time when they take their turn on the stage, no longer read more
The Backyard Parables – Book Giveaway
For those of you who read my blog, you're probably aware that I'm very photo-driven.  I can't get seem to get enough beautiful garden photographs and have to use restraint when writing a new post.  I love taking them, I love looking at them, and they're often the only way I know best how to communicate (or at least reiterate) what I'm thinking and trying to say.  That being said, I rarely read a garden book that doesn't have its own hefty dose of photos.  So when I received an early copy of Margaret Roach's The Backyard Parables, cracked it read more
Hooray for Heucheras! An interview with Terra Nova Nurseries
Heucheras (aka: Coral Bells or Allum Root) are one of my favorite perennials in the garden, whether adding spots of color in the front of the border, massed together in drifts or nestled into a container.   I'd be lost if I couldn't use these little treasures in my designs, as their foliage comes in just about every color imaginable, they reliably return year after year and they're even somewhat deer resistant. The folks at Terra Nova Nursery (located in Canby, Oregon) have long been regarded as some of the top heuchera breeders in the country, introducing us to some read more
This month my office is being featured in Sunset Magazine (my copy just came in the mail yesterday and I’m so excited I can hardly breathe!) I’ve literally grown up with Sunset in the house, whether it was magazines, how-to or garden books lying around my mother’s and grandmother’s house.  So imagine the pride that I feel seeing one of the most meaningful places in my life featured right there on page 49!     And imagine how honored I am to have one of my close friends, and someone whom I greatly admire, Debra Lee Baldwin, read more
Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?
I'm thrilled to introduce one of the best books to hit the stands this year - Why Grow That, When You Can Grow This, by  my good friend Andrew Keys (Timberpress, 2012). Now you may be thinking "Oh - she's clearly biased, no doubt, since she just said they're good friends."  Fair enough.  But if that were the case, I would just say something polite, like "enter now for a chance to win!" and not gush on and on like I'm about to do. First, let me tell you the main reason why I'm such a fan of this book. read more
My garden-watering meltdown had been brewing for years.  It finally came to a head this past summer when I had finally had enough of the hoses in my garden constantly kinking every time I moved a few feet. My husband would try to help, buying me ‘the best’ the big box stores had to offer (promising me they wouldn’t kink) yet they always did.  While I generally have a pretty high tolerance level for irritating things, when I’m in the middle of hand-watering my garden (something I don’t relish in the first place), the last thing I read more
We all tend to collect our memories somewhere - scrapbooks, journals, photo albums, memory quilts, recipes or family movies (just to name a few).  But for many of us, our gardens are what carry us through the years, bringing back fond memories through sight, scent, touch and taste. Personally, I can't help but think of my grandmother whenever I see a towering delphinium.  And the sound of palm fronds 'clapping' in the wind instantly transports me to one of my favorite beaches in Hawaii.  In fact, just last week I was at a client's garden, picking some of her Concord read more
The Layered Garden – Book Giveaway
You know when you see a book and you just know it's gonna be good?  Well, that's how I felt about The Layered Garden, by David L. Culp, and photographed by the talented Rob Cardillo.  And I knew I held a gem in my hands when I read the glowing forward, written by Lauren Springer Ogden - one of my very favorite garden designers and co-author of Plant Driven Design. I love the concept of creating a layered garden as its something I strive to create for all of my clients. Due to our mild California climate, it's relatively easy read more
A Colorful Garden in Tucson
While visiting Arizona last month I couldn't wait to tour a few private gardens to see first-hand how these determined and creative gardeners deal with All. That. Heat. Driving through Tucson's wide suburban streets, where the homes and landscaping tend to blend together, my heart skipped a beat when I noticed this garden's 'fence'. Not your typical suburban garden. Welcome to Alan Richard's colorful paradise!   Walk inside the front courtyard and you're immediately hit with a blast of brilliant color. Not just any color, but deep, rich shades that counteract the sun's tendency to create a sea of washed read more
Top 10 Favorite Orange Plants
It's that time of year again when our homes and gardens are decked out in orange and black, and mine is no exception.  And what better occasion than Halloween to talk about one of my favorite colors in the garden - orange!  Last year I wrote about my favorite black plants, so it's only fitting that this year's post is all about orange. In all the years I've been designing gardens, it goes without saying that orange is, hands-down, the color that gets picked on the most.  Time and time again new clients request that I not use the color read more
There's something alluring about beautiful plants that have a bite to them. In fact, I just attended a fascinating talk by desert-designer-extraordinaire Scott Calhoun, who believes our fascination with plants that make us bleed is akin to the Stockholm Syndrome - ha! While I don't go out of my way to design gardens that will intentionally impale or poison people, I also don't go out of my way to avoid plants that might have potential for pain.  Just like lots of people I know, sometimes the most fascinating characters have a prickly or acidic side to them.  All you have read more
Earlier this week I wrote about my visit to Cornerstone Gardens and showed you the Red Lantern garden created by the amazing duo Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot. Today I wanted to introduce you to their other installation titled 'White Cloud'.  You would be correct in saying I've found my new favorite contemporary artists. read more
Cornerstone Garden Grasses
Sonoma's Cornerstone Gardens is one of my very favorite public gardens to visit any time of year.  In my opinion, though, the fall is the best time of all. Not only are the summer crowds long gone but the colors of fall are just beginning to explode.  No longer filled with grapes, the surrounding vineyards shimmer with shades of gold and red, and fall's soft and slanted sunlight peeks through the olive trees. And to top things off, the grasses (which have remained a steady source of green and gold throughout the year) are blooming and in their full glory. read more
I've been wanting to write about this garden for a long time, and have finally found the perfect opportunity with today's Garden Designers Roundtable topic 'Focusing on the Details'.  (Warning:  lots of photos for this one!) While touring gardens last year with Debra Lee Baldwin, she insisted I meet her good friend, Jim Bishop.  And, if I was really lucky, I might even get to see his garden.  Thank heavens it was my lucky day.  Jim Bishop is pretty amazing - he's not only an incredibly talented garden designer, but he's also the President of the San Diego Horticulture Society. read more
Yesterday I met my good friend Patty Craft (with Horticulture Magazine) at the National Heirloom Exposition in Sonoma, CA.  What exactly is the expo?  Their website says it best:  The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism. The show runs for 2 more days, so if you're considering attending you're in luck - you still have time! read more
The natives are coming, the natives are coming!    Each passing year brings more and more native plants to our California nurseries, and I couldn’t be more pleased. In response to this growing demand, even the smallest nursery these days seems to have a section dedicated to native plants. However, there are some clients who are still a little hesitant whenever I suggest using a native plant for fear their garden will begin taking on an different aesthetic, look ‘too messy’, ‘too grassy’ or ‘dead in the summer’. While it's true that some native plants go dormant in the summer ( read more
Every day he's perched high upon his throne where he guards his kingdom below. read more
I've been traveling a lot this summer and am so glad to finally be home!  But after nearly five weeks away you can imagine the state of my garden. Fortunately (for my garden, not for me!), my husband was home for most of the time so he was able to keep it watered and somewhat under control - but you know how it is.  While most everything survived, there is an overwhelming amount of staking, pruning and dead-heading to be done. One of the things I was really excited about was to see the progress of the Japanese eggplants that read more
One thing I've noticed about many areas of Los Angeles is that if someone is lucky enough to have a garden at all, quite often it's located in front of the house.  The houses either back up into the surrounding hillsides, or are on super tiny lots with neighboring houses crowding them on all sides. The front is sometimes the only place to find space and/or sunshine for a garden. One of my very favorite surprises is a garden located on a corner of a very busy street, with cars and buses whizzing by at all hours. I couldn't read more
As a landscape designer and garden writer I see lots and lots of gardens. And while I’m a huge fan of personalizing your garden with whatever art captures your heart, lately I seem to be drawn to selectively placed, oversized sculptures. I think this is because my own life is so hectic right now, and I crave the calming effect  these sculptures have on my whirling and tired brain.  My favorites are those larger-than-life sculptures that are strategically situated in the garden, without distraction from nearby plants, structures or any other elements. read more
While driving around Pasadena early the other morning, I had a few hours to spare before the Huntington Gardens opened. Imagine my surprise when, while looking for a coffee shop, I accidentally stumbled upon this treasure!  Tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood is one of the most exciting public gardens I think I've ever seen. This 3-acre garden (open every day of the year) is a collaboration between the McKenney family, the City of Pasadena and Pasadena Water & Power.  Designed by Mayita Dinos, it's inspired by Jan Smithen's book Sun Drenched Gardens: The Mediterranean Style with read more
For the next few weeks I'd like to invite you to join me on my adventure in Los Angeles.  West Hollywood, to be exact.  Why am I here?  My daughter and I are touring colleges and getting to know the town she'll call home in a year. What’s that have to do with gardening, you may ask?  Not much, really.  Except that, as you no doubt already know, a gardener can’t really go anywhere without noticing the plants and gardens around them. I’m probably the only tourist in Hollywood who takes more pictures of plants than actors. read more
Landscaping for Privacy – Book Review
When meeting with new clients for the first time, the issue of privacy almost always tops their list of 'must-haves'.  Whether gardening in sprawling estates or in tight residential quarters, gardeners everywhere crave a sense of tranquility, privacy and seclusion from their neighbors. Which is why I was thrilled to receive a copy of Landscaping for Privacy, by Marty Wingate (145 pages, Timber Press, 2011,  List Price $19.95) I can't think of a single garden that I've designed where privacy hasn't been an issue, including my own. As I read her book, I found myself not only agreeing with everything I read more
Welcome to the Garden Designers Roundtable, where designers from around the world participate in monthly discussions about all things gardening. The topic for this month is Texture. As many gardeners already know, gardening appeals to all the senses.  Not only do our eyes visually benefit from our creative efforts, but equally important are a garden's tastes, delicious scents and gentle sounds.  The sense of touch, while equally important, is often ignored.  Why?  Many gardeners aren't exactly sure how to use texture in their gardens.  Sure, anyone can plant a soft and touchable Lamb's Ear along a border, but  I'm talking read more
I love Oxalis in my garden. No, not the horribly invasive oxalis that has taken over my lawn, but the colorful and well-behaved hybrids available in nurseries everywhere. Come and take a look.... read more
Okay - you're in a hurry to plant your tomato plant...here's the quickest way to do it! read more
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at The Oregon Garden, located in the stunning Willamette Valley town of Silverton. I am so fortunate that I had booked an extra day for this trip as I was completely unaware of the sheer magnitude of this impressive garden. More than just a beautiful space, this garden consists of 80 acres of teaching and demonstration gardens, all seamlessly flowing from one to the next. Conservation is a theme that runs throughout the gardens, from teaching about the importance of local water eco-systems and forestry to helping gardeners create their own read more
In this month's Garden Designers Roundtable, we have the honor of writing about our own personal gardens. While this may seem like an easy post to write, it’s actually been quite difficult for me.   How can I possibly share my garden with you in a way that conveys all that it means to me? While trying to think about what I'd write I was suddenly overtaken by the need to lie down on my soft and comfy patio sofa for a while to take a nap  help me think. As I lay there with my eyes closed, I could read more
My brother is moving this week, and while it's always exciting to move on in life, it can also be very bittersweet.  He had a large, beautiful garden but I think my favorite part of it was the potting shed tucked in the far corner. While his family was busy at their new home, unpacking and trying to make order of their new surroundings, I spent a quiet evening in their garden  saying goodbye. read more
With Mother's Day fast approaching, I've been giving a lot of thought about what to give my own mother.  My mom is an incredible gardener but can be pretty picky, so finding the perfect gift is always a bit challenging. Which means I'm always on the look out for something a little out of the ordinary. While I'm not going to say what I plan to give her (she does occasionally read my blog, after all) there are a few things I've found over the past few months that I bet the Mama in your life might appreciate. read more
Kniphopfias (aka: Red Hot Poker or Torch Lily) are one of my very favorite flowers to add vertical interest to the garden.  Seeing their snake-like stalks rise from a clump of grass-like leaves is always a joy to behold as they stretch their long necks what seems like several inches a day. I don't know why, but they're really not planted enough around here (IMHO!) While visiting a client's garden a few days ago, I was amazed at the size of these kniphofia uvarias.  I planted them last year from tiny little 1-gallons and now they're at least 3-feet tall!   read more
The topic for this month's Garden Designers Roundtable is Garden Travel/Best Gardens.  While I immediately thought of the many beautiful gardens I've seen on my travels, there's one that I've recently had the pleasure of visiting, and one that I can't get out of my mind.  It's a private garden here in Northern California, created by Jarrod Baumann, a most talented young landscape architect with his firm Zaterre Landscape Architecture. read more
I was talking with another gardener last week, when she told me she never plants rosemary in her garden because it's so common. Huh? Of course everyone has their own opinion of what they like and don't like, but not planting something just because it's common?  Oh well - we all march to our own beat. I happen to loooove rosemary in the garden and incorporate it into as many designs as I can.  Whether it's the upright 'Tuscan Blue', mid-size 'Ken Taylor' or the creeping groundcover 'Prostratus' (and everything in between) I can't get enough of this plant. And read more
 I'll admit it - I haven't included annuals in a design in a long, long time. Maybe even never. I'm not talking about the drool-inducing annuals over at Annie's Annuals.  I'm talking about the tried and true (some might say 'boring') ones that have been used over and over and over again. Now, it's not because I'm a plant snob, but simply a result of living in a mild climate.  Here in Northern California, many perennials are actually semi-evergreen, and overall it's much less of a challenge to have a garden that looks fantastic year-round than it is in many read more
Last week I spent a few days with Jeanette Sinclair (of Woodside Images) in Southern California's charming little town of Santa Paula, visiting Ball Horticulture's Spring Trials to see what new treasures they had to offer the plant world. For those of you who aren't familiar with Spring Trials, Jeanette compares it to New York's Fashion Week.  And if that doesn't clarify things, then maybe their website's description will help: During the course of a week, the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts present, share and discuss the floriculture industry's bounty at several open read more
Last week I was invited to have breakfast at Sunset magazine’s headquarters, along with a few of my favorite fellow gardeners.  The event was to welcome the new Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook, which will be released next week, as well as to tour the grounds and the test garden. While of course I was thrilled to be included, I'll admit I was a bit hesitant about the breakfast.  Why?  Because breakfast has always been sort of a letdown for me.  I hate eggs.  There – I’ve said it.  I love chickens, I love cooking, and I even love to read more
Many years ago I lived in San Luis Obispo, along the central coast of California, and loved visiting the tiny nearby town of Harmony.  And by tiny, I mean tiny! I found this photo the other day and it really struck home how much the word Harmony has been woven through my life since those long ago visits. The name of my garden design business is Harmony in the Garden, which is something I strive for, not only in my garden, but all aspects of my life.  It's also the impetus behind all of my designs, no matter their style. ‘ read more
I was having a conversation with a new client the other day, and she was asking me how I go about designing a garden.  As we walked through her existing garden, she was afraid it was too early in the year for me to really get an idea of what it looked like, since so many of her plants were still dormant.  She was surprised when I told her that the timing was actually perfect, for it was now that I can really get a good look at what her garden looks like before her mass of bulbs and annuals read more
The New Sunset Western Garden Book – Book Review
I have been dying to get my hands on the 9th edition of the New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Oxmoor House, 2012. List Price $34.95). Well, it’s finally here and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been given a copy to review.  And as if that weren’t enough – Sunset is letting me give away FIVE copies, too! Like many gardeners, I’ve had several different editions of the Sunset Book throughout the years, my oldest dating back to 1967 (‘borrowed’ from my grandmother).  But this one is, hands down, Sunset’s finest effort yet. There’s read more
  Hellebores are typically pretty easy to grow here in Northern California, requiring partial shade, well-draining soil and moderate irrigation.  They come in a staggering range of colors, from the deepest maroon to the palest ivory.  They're usually categorized as either having upright blooms on tall stems  (aka: caulescent) or no stems, typically with downward facing blooms (aka: acaulescent). The tricky part, in my opinion, is placing those with downward-facing blooms where they can be best appreciated.  One solution is to plant them in containers to help elevate the plants to better view their gorgeous flowers. Even though nursery tags read more
One of the benefits of speaking at different garden clubs is the chance to meet their members and visit their beautiful gardens.  One such person is Bonnie Manion, whom I met at the La Jolla Village Garden Club last fall. After a morning of touring gardens, we ended our day at Bonnie's home where we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in her vineyard.  Part of the fun was meeting her two chickens, Charley (short for Charlotte) and Dahlia. read more