Showing posts with label Design Ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Design Ideas. Show all posts

Friday, July 29, 2011

Attracting Hummingbird "Tweets"

Long before there was the social media phenomenon called "Twitter," there were avian wonders called hummingbirds, who chase each other through the air, happily "tweeting" at each other. If you would like to "follow" the antics of these charming little creatures, you don't need a computer, a smart phone or a Twitter account. You just have to offer them a few good reasons to visit your neighborhood.

You could set up hummingbird feeders, of course. But it is much more fun to add plants to the garden that will attract the "hummers."

Here are a few suggestions:
Hummingbirds like tube-shaped flowers and apparently are partial to the color red. So this cape fuschia (Phygelius sp.) is a popular choice for hummingbird gardens. Don't confuse this sun-loving plant with hardy and annual fuschias (see below) which are rather more shade-tolerant and belong to a different family, botanically speaking.
Here are the blooms of a hardy fuschia (Fuschia magellanica).

Alstroemeria, also called Peruvian lily, is another favorite.

As is Crocosmia 'Lucifer.'

I don't want to give you the impression that only red flowers attract hummingbirds. They are curious little creatures and seem (at least from what I've observed) willing to visit anything colorful. Then, quick as a flash, they streak across the sky and "tweet" about what they've discovered.

Here are a few more of the long list of plants that will attract hummingbirds: honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), trumpet vine (Campesis radicans), strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), Ceanothus, Penstemons, lupines, coral bells (Heuchera sp.), elderberry (Sambucus sp.) and many others. The Sunset Western Garden Book has a detailed listing of plants for hummingbird gardens in its Guide to Plant Selection at the front of the book.

To learn more about attracting wildlife to your garden, I recommend Russell Link's book, "Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest."Link is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who also happens to have experience in landscape architecture. Although his book is specific to the Pacific Northwest, the general principles he offers can be applied in other regions, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Designing Gardens with Foliage Color

If you want color in your garden all year around, I suggest that you think in terms of foliage colors first and then use flower colors as accents.

Why not plan around flower color? Because the flowers of perennials and woody plants don't last very long. You wait all year to see those beloved peonies or rhododendrons or daylilies open up. When they bloom, the flowers last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks and then that's it for the year.

You can add color to the garden for a longer period using annuals, but replacing them every year and keeping them looking good can be an expensive and high maintenance project. 
To get ideas, look at gardens in your neighborhood. Here you see a lot of color and not a flower in sight! 

Visit public gardens, too. This photo was taken in the Coenosium Rock Garden at South Seattle Community College. The garden features an outstanding collection of conifers and look at all that color! There's the blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), the kelly green of the dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea g. albertiana 'Conica'), yellow green of deodar cedar (Cedrus deodora), and pines (Pinus sp.) in various shades of green.

Foliage color may be deciduous like the purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), or evergreen like the heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Moon Bay') shown above. 

Look also for variegation in foliage, like this iris.
Many plants have colored edges on their leaves, like Daphne 'Carol Mackie' or Hebe 'Red Edge.'

And don't forget grasses. Here you see Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) on the right and bronze leather leaf sedge (Carex buchananii) at the left. If you want more blue in your landscape, look for blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) or blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue').

Need more ideas? "Consider the Leaf: Foliage in Garden Design," by Judy Glattstein goes much more in depth. She writes in a comfortable, conversational style, making it enjoyable to learn from her about how to bring lots of color with less effort into your garden. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rockery Plants - Part 2

OK, here's Part 2 of our virtual plant identification tour of Seattle rockeries.
This is Bergenia crassifolia, or winter blooming bergenia. It is also called "pig squeak" because the leaves make a squeaking sound if you rub them when they are wet. This is an evergreen perennial that requires little care. Just cut away old or cold-damaged leaves and faded flowers to keep it tidy.

These chartreuse flower heads belong to Euphorbia (I'm guessing this is a young specimen of E. chariacias wulfenii) a large genus of plants that includes the poinsettia (E. pulcherrima). Be careful handling these plants. They have a milky, white sap that is very irritating to the skin - I always wear rubber gloves when working with them, having been burned (literally!) in the past.

Along with them, a collection of English bluebells have taken up residence. Rarely planted on purpose, you'll find these cheerful blue flowers in gardens and rockeries everywhere in Seattle.

Speaking of blue flowers, these are grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) These also happily multiply wherever they are planted. The red plant below them is a variety of Sedum.

Of course, rockeries are not all planted with ground covers and small perennials. When the planting pockets are large enough, small trees and shrubs can do quite nicely. Here at the top of the rockery is a weeping Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'), below it is David's viburnum (Viburnum davidii), and at the bottom, lavender (Lavandula sp.) is blooming.

Rockery gardening can be challenging because the planting spaces are often quite small and they dry out quickly in warm weather. Watering can be difficult because the force of the water stream can wash away some of what little soil is there. But after some trial and error, you will find a planting combination that will thrive with a minimum of care.

Missed the first part of the tour?
Go back to Part 1.

Rockery Plants - Part 1

As I said in my post on retaining walls and rockeries, Seattle is a city built on hills. Those hills are terraced with miles and miles of rockeries, which are planted, both accidentally and on purpose, with thousands and thousands of plants. Many of these plants bloom in spring, lining our streets with mini-explosions of color.

If you have ever wondered what any of these plants are, I'm here to help. In the next two posts, I'm going to take you on a little virtual tour of Seattle rockeries to help you identify some of the many plants you see blooming there this time of year.
This is a classic rockery plant combination: yellow Alyssum 'Basket of Gold,' paired with purple Aubrietia deltoidea. Aubrietia comes in both dark and lighter shades of purple; less common is a variety with deep rose colored flowers.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a tough perennial with a long bloom time. It's one of the true bright whites (along with shotweed flowers) that you see early in the season. If you have this plant in your rockery, be sure to shear it after blooming to keep it from getting leggy. 

The red and green succulent plant spilling out onto the stairs is one of the many varieties of Sedum available in our area. Sedums are particularly well suited to life in a rockery because they require very little in terms of water, nutrients and care. 

The pink flowers on the left are heather (Erica sp.), the medium blue flowers in the middle are Lithodora, and the light blue flowers at right are periwinkle (Vinca sp). As with candytuft, all three of these should be sheared or cut back after blooming to keep them compact. In the lower left corner, new fronds, called fiddleheads, are emerging from a fern. To keep ferns looking tidy, cut away old, dried out fronds in late winter/early spring.

Wait! There's more:



Friday, January 14, 2011

Northwest Flower and Garden Show

"There is a long standing rumor that spring is the time of renewal, but that's only if you ignore the depressing clutter and din of the season. All that flowering and budding and birthing - the messy youthfulness of Spring actually verges on SQUALOR. Spring is too busy, too full of itself, too much like a 20-year-old to be the best time for reflection, re-grouping, and starting fresh. For that, you need December." -- Vivian Swift
I love this quote. The only thing I would change is that I would replace the word "December" with the word "winter." Winter is that quiet, gestational season when we gardeners take stock of our gardens and make plans for the coming year. While our gardens sleep, we dream.

Fortunately, we folks in the Pacific Northwest have more than just magazines and seed catalogs to inspire our dreams. We have the Northwest Flower and Garden Show coming our way, February 23-27, at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

One of the largest of its kind in the US, this show features over 20 spectacular display gardens, more than 300 exhibitors in its Market Place, and offers an outstanding roster of free gardening seminars presented by gardening experts.

For complete information, visit the Northwest Flower and Garden Show website. While you are there, buy your tickets online -- and save $4!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ready To Take Out Your Lawn?

Have you been flirting with the idea of getting rid of your lawn? It is a big step to take, especially if you have no idea how to begin. You may have lots of ideas about what you want to do with the space currently taken up with grass, but how do you get rid of it so you can get started?

There are at least two methods of sod "abatement." One is to remove the lawn, roots and all, with either a sod-cutting machine or with a hand tool called a mattock. The second method, called sheet mulching,  involves covering the grass with newspapers or cardboard, layering over that with organic material and soil, and planting right over the top.

I've used both methods and have had success either way. Sod removal is definitely more labor intensive and you have the problem of sod disposal (trust me, it does not compost easily or quickly). Sod-cutters are big, heavy machines, which is why I've removed miles of sod with a mattock instead. But once that sod is gone, it's gone. No grass will be poking up through the new beds.

Sheet mulching is much easier, and for many people, more practical. Care must be taken, however, to be sure there is a thick, even layer of cardboard with no gaps between pieces where grass can shoot up. Sheet mulching also raises the level of the yard a little bit. In most cases, that adds a pleasing bermed effect. Just be sure the sheet mulch is not in contact with wood (a fence, deck or the siding on a house) or  you will have problems.

To get a look at how these methods work, here's a great series of videos showing the Urban Farmers Guild of Sustainable NE Seattle converting a homeowner's lawn into a food garden. The sod is removed in half the yard. The sheet mulching technique is used on the other half. The videos are taken over several months so you can see the process from sod abatement to thriving vegetable garden. Enjoy!





Thursday, October 28, 2010

Healing Gardens

When you hear the term "healing garden," what image comes to mind? If all you can imagine is a garden devoted to medicinal plants, consider this post an invitation to expand your definition.


In the broadest sense, all gardens are healing gardens. Working in a garden, strolling through one, looking out a window into a garden - all have a calming, restorative effect on us regardless of what is planted there. Beyond that, gardens can be designed for specific purposes and healing effects. In the future, I plan to write expanded posts on some of these individually. For now, here are some general categories for you to consider.

Pleasure Gardens. These gardens exist for one reason: to please the senses. They invite you to stop, rest and take in their beauty. They are an antidote to the high-stress, always-on, busyness of modern life. They bring the Feminine essence of "being" to balance the Masculine essence of "doing" in our world. A pleasure garden can be as simple as a single plant in a container that gives a person joy to behold. And it can consist of many elements including elaborate plantings, comfortable seating, and the sight and sounds of water. All that matters is the pleasure that the garden brings.


Renovated Gardens. Most of the time when I think of healing gardens, I think of what gardens can give to us. But with renovation, it's all about us giving back to, and thus healing, the garden. I can't tell you how many times clients have told me that they didn't want to put money or effort into a certain, neglected part of their yard. "We don't like that spot and won't use it anyway," they say. I suggest that they might if the space was more functional and something they could enjoy. Sure enough, with some thoughtful renovation, those neglected areas often become the family's favorite outdoor room.


Renovation typically involves restoring poor soil or paved-over "dead" zones and bringing them back to life. I'll never have a more dramatic "before and after" in my design career than the sunken garden we created in a space once occupied by a concrete, bunker-like structure. And anyone who has visited Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, has seen what can be done with a used-up quarry.

Medicinal Gardens. The science of pharmacology has its roots, literally, in the study of plant compounds and their effects on the human body. Relatives of these ruffly opium poppies, shown on the left, gave rise to an entire class of drugs, many of which are now produced synthetically, used to relieve pain. I'm not suggesting that you grow opium poppies. (I'm told that you would have to harvest acres of these seed capsules to get enough opium-laden latex to matter.) Just reminding you that the plant-medicine connection is a venerable one.


As a further example, herbs have been cultivated, for thousands of years, in kitchen, convent and monastery gardens to be used to heal the sick. That tradition continues today as gardeners grow mint, basil, chives, chamomile, thyme and many other herbs, to use in cooking and making tea. As Hippocrates said, "Let your food be your medicine."


To the category of medicinal gardens, I would add Therapeutic Gardens. In recent years, the value of gardens in the treatment of seriously ill patients has been recognized. Various studies have shown that patients who have a view into a garden recover more quickly, require less pain medication and, in the case of surgeries, have fewer post-op infections.


Hands-on therapeutic gardens are being used in facilities for people who are chronically ill. Raised beds and specialized tools make it possible for people in wheelchairs to have the experience of gardening. Spending that time in the garden has proven to slow the progress of disease and give patients a greater sense of well being.

Meditation Gardens. The health benefits of meditation have been well documented. And where better to practice meditation than in outdoor settings that are conducive to suspending the chatter that goes on in our heads? These places can be as informal as sitting under a big tree and staring out over water and as formal as a labyrinth designed for walking meditation.


Chinese and Japanese gardens are also popular places for meditation. (A scene from the Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, is shown here.) Their clean, uncluttered lines and simple planting plans evoke a sense of peace. These gardens also feature small, somewhat hidden spaces, that allow the visitor some quiet and privacy.


Community Gardens. Here in Seattle, perhaps the best known type of community garden is the P-Patch. Here people who have no place for a garden can rent a small plot and grow vegetables and flowers. Over the years, these p-patches have produced much more than food for the table. Friendships have been made, gardening tips exchanged and a sense of belonging to a community has been created. The healing effect is at least two-fold: gardeners benefit from the experience of gardening and connecting with the earth. And there is an additional healing effect that comes from building connections with other human beings.

Memorial Gardens. These gardens offer a place of comfort for those touched by sorrow or tragedy. These can be small and very personal; I've had clients who have incorporated the ashes of loved ones into certain garden beds. When my clients work in that part of the garden, they feel like their loved one is there with them, which of course is true. And there are gardeners with memorial plants in their gardens: roses, peonies, hydrangeas, etc. that belonged to their mothers and favorite aunties. When those plants bloom each year, their flowers mean far more than any others in the garden.


On the other hand, memorial gardens can be very large and carry symbolism for an entire nation. An example is the beautiful and moving Oklahoma City National Memorial, which commemorates the April, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The mission statement for this memorial states: "We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."
Take a virtual tour of this very moving memorial here.


I hope this overview of various healing gardens has given you a new way to look at gardens of all kinds. We humans need gardens. They, quite literally, ground us. They give us joy, pleasure, satisfaction and comfort. If you'd like to read more, I recommend "Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being," by Esther M. Sternberg, MD.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Retaining Walls & Rockeries

Seattle is a city built on hills. Our houses are arranged on these hills like a patchwork of theater seats, taking advantage of the remarkable views our part of the world has to offer. Of course, keeping all of these sloping properties from sliding to the bottom of their respective hills is a challenge. And rising to this challenge are thousands of retaining walls and rockeries. If you have a sloping property and need to build a retaining structure, Seattle is the place to explore for ideas. Here are a few of them.
For people who complain that concrete is too boring, this is a clever way to use the material. These walls form the front edge of a yard with a red brick house. The homeowners could have chosen masonry to match the house, but masonry walls would probably have been more expensive than these tinted concrete ones. A few bricks attached to the walls echo the brick of the house, making for a cohesive hardscape design.

Here is a concrete wall system that is clean and sophisticated. Finished with parallel grooves along the top and featuring built-in lighting for the steps (note the small rectangles along the wall), this is one of my favorites.

This type of wall, made of river rock, was popular in the Craftsman era. I doubt anyone builds walls like these much anymore. This one is in better shape than most I've seen and the plantings add to its charm.

Today concrete walls with a stone veneer, like this one, are more popular. These can be constructed more quickly, easily and affordably than walls built with stone only.

My landscape design instructor used to say, "The trouble with common plants is that they are used commonly." The same can be said of common building materials, like this concrete block. I know that these block systems are affordable and relatively easy to install. But aesthetically, they don't do much for me. Here, however, is a winning combination of planting and hardscape. The block walls literally set a stage for the plant material, which is what draws the eye.
[For more ideas, take a look at "Hillside Landscaping: A Complete Guide to Successful Gardens on Sloping Ground," from Sunset Books.]
Note also that instead of one very tall wall, there are two tiers, one set back from the first. From a design standpoint, this is good because it adds layers of color and texture instead of a monolithic and forbidding looking structure. From a legal standpoint, the design works, too. According to the building code in Seattle, any structure over 4 feet tall is considered a retaining wall and a permit is required before it is built. These tiered walls are each at or under 4 feet, thus avoiding the need for a permit.

Of course, no article on garden walls in this area would be complete without a mention of the classic Seattle rockery. Usually made of basalt, which is abundant in the Northwest, these walls are constructed without mortar. The gaps between the stones are perfect planting pockets for gardeners to fill with color, as you see below.



Sunday, June 20, 2010

Walkway and Driveway Materials

Our eyes are naturally drawn to walkways and driveways as we walk by the front of a house or look for a place to park. Because of that, the materials used for these paths are important elements in an overall landscape design. The best materials are those that both function well (right sized, safe and easy to maintain) and harmonize with the house. Here are examples of some good design ideas.

This is an interesting choice. This walkway (above) connecting the sidewalk with the front porch is made of weathered cedar, which matches the weathered cedar stairs and deck. The house has cedar siding, too - it all works together.

People often wrinkle their noses when I sing the praises of concrete because they think concrete is boring. It certainly doesn't have to be. It can take on any shape you can build a form for and it can be tinted, as it has been here, to go with any color scheme. Note how well this colored concrete harmonizes with the slate stairs.

The walkway in the foreground here connects the sidewalk to the front door of this house. Note how the expansion joints in the concrete give the impression of large, rectangular pavers. The walkway thus repeats the theme of this formal garden which has been laid out in a series of rectangles, emphasized by the concrete walls of the raised bed.


The concrete for this carport has been both tinted and stamped to give it a lot more character than a typical, plain slab of grey. Note how the rectangular pattern in the stamp repeats the rectangles you see in the shadow of the arbor overhead. Concrete stamps are available in a variety of patterns.

This long driveway combines concrete for tire treads, with grass down the center which allows rain water to soak into the ground rather than run off into the storm sewer. The metal 1/2 circles, which appear to be recycled from some industrial project, add a charming touch. 

If you are thinking of replacing a walkway or driveway, take a little time to walk around the neighborhood and see some of the creative solutions out there. There are no end to the possibilities.

Too rainy for a walk? Check out "Curb Appeal," from the editors of Sunset Books, for more inspiration. Before and after photos show how changes in exterior features, including walkways and driveways, plus paint, fencing,  lighting and other do-it-yourself projects can make all the difference in how you feel about that place you call home.