Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Tabletop Ghoul's Garden

Oh my gosh,  I'm excited beyond words about these Halloween centerpieces I just finished for a client's party on Saturday.  It's amazing what a little Spanish moss and fishing lures can do!

The Corokia cotoneaster (the tree-like thing) was a new find for me- not a California native, but quite striking.  If I have time tomorrow, I think I'll fill these empty spots with more purple Aeoniums.

I added a couple of muskrat skulls and some dried Clarkia seedpods. The muskrat looks like he's having a grand time!

The brown bottles strayed from the gray and purple theme, but they do add a little mystery.

Dyckia, a bromeliad (think pineapple plants and you get the general idea) might have to be added to my "I only plant California natives except...." list.
This was ridiculous fun to create.  Happy Halloween!

Delicious, Nutricious, and ...Decoractive?

Harvest time leaves little to be desired for those of us who enjoy cut flowers inside.  So wanting to make lemonade out of the remaining lemons we have left in the season, us gardener/florist types are getting creative with non-traditional plant material.  Edibles to be exact.  Persimmons on a Heath Ceramics tray provide an understated yet colorful composition.

Cabbages abound, as discovered by my design detective friend Olivia (who will probably be embarrassed that I'm using her picture phone picture, but I think it's still lovely).  This particular one looks like an old English posey all by itself, but I'm sure it could be successfully paired with a halo of English Lavender or Snowberries.
Design*Sponge recently posted about this brilliant use of carrots as a base for an arrangement.  Other inspired choices for arrangements might include Rainbow Chard, the frosty purple leaves of Kale, Apples, or Chestnuts.  Head over to your Farmer's Market and see what grabs you.  When you tire of it, make it into a tasty snack!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Plant of the Week: Deer Grass

What a sexy grass you are, Muhlenbergia rigens!  This native grass stole my heart at the Late Show Gardens in the exhibit created by Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture and Gary Ratway, pictured above.  It makes me so happy to see designers use native plants in modern settings, but I digress.  Muhlies (as I affectionately call them) tie the garden together, adding a contrasting texture and will fill in fast. In fact, it can help stabilize slopes with its deep, coarse root system.  But in all honesty I love the way it looks and couldn't let my garden go without a few. 

Soil:  I think it might prefer a light clay, but I don't think it's super picky.   Mine is in medium clay.
Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Plant:  Sow seeds now or plant now through to the spring
Buy it:  Try propagating it yourself by going through Larner Seeds, I also think I saw some at East Bay Nursery the other day.  For those down south, try Las Pilitas.
Good for:  Native American basket weaving (as if you needed another random hobby, right?), filling in a new garden, adding texture and drama, giving those caterpillars and mule deer something to chew on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Insert Expletive about Oxalis pes-caprae Here

Google "oxalis weed" and you will find a slew of frustrated gardeners.  Oxalis makes nuns spit and pushes even the hippiest of hippies to search for nuclear arms in order to destroy it forever..  And for good reason:  Oxalis has a long, fragile taproot with the tiniest of bulblets at the end.  Pull out the root and I swear the next day you will find the same plant smiling back at you defiantly.  Let it flower and seed and the sucker will throw the seeds 6 feet away, distributing new nurseries of evil sulfur flowers. 
Some people go to the trouble of carting away the first few inches of their soil and starting fresh.  This usually doesn't work because the bulblets are typically deeper.  Some people break down and use Roundup.  This might not work as Roundup works in hot weather and Oxalis is a cool-season grower.  Some folks sift their soil and get rid of the bulblets that way!  Besides being backbreaking, the bulblets can be pretty tiny and clay soils would be difficult to put through a sieve!  Even I'm not that crazy!

As far as I know, pulling the weeds out by hand before they can flower might help if you're tenacious enough or sheet-mulching every few years can help, too.  Sheet mulching is a back-saving way of taking care of weeds.  Simply throw down cardboard or layers of newspaper, making sure to overlap seams sufficiently and cover with at least 3" of mulch.  It works with the mulch to suppress the weeds, but also disintegrates after awhile and fertilizes the soil beneath.  You can't say that about that weed barrier cloth. 
Use unwaxed cardboard and be sure to remove any tape or staples.  I've also used this technique to remove lawns to great effect.  You get some funny looks, but it's an opportunity to teach your neighbors about more sustainable methods of gardening.
I however, have already mulched and planted my little bed and will hand-pick the Oxalis until I lose my resolve.  The spoils of this morning's battle are above.  Wish me luck and may Oxalis never find you!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Portrait of the Artist in Her Wood Period

Way down in the comments somewhere, Michelle aka Deviant Deziner asked about my work while I was in the Wood/Furniture department at California College of Arts and Crafts.  So that explains this post!  The photo above was my senior thesis:  a bed fully enclosed by woven mohair yarn to provide a  place for metamorphosis.  I'm still obsessed with the major themes of this piece:  repetition, lush materials, pattern and its psychological effects, and of course the life cycle of moths.  (And yes, I sleep in it!)

This project also deals with pattern, as underneath each candle concentric circles bleed into their neighbor's.  The candles were hand-dipped and hand-braided and the candle holders were from an apricot branch pruned earlier that year.  I like it when people see different meanings in the same piece, but for me it discusses the odd combination of brotherhood and competition in the studio as we all toiled away in an attempt not to "burn out."

These tokens busied my hands to give my mind a rest while trying to get over designer's block when making my senior thesis project.  I love how they fit in the hand and the rings that appear during the sanding process.  It makes you think they have a higher purpose than just the output of nervous energy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sneak Peak: Halloween Centerpieces

Thought I'd give y'all a sneak peak of a Halloween centerpiece I'm working on.  It includes a selection of black/gray/purple plants such as Dyckia, Aeonium, Ophiopogon nigrescens, and muskrat skulls.  AAAHHH!  Scary!  I'll plant them in tarnished silver serving dishes, top with oodles of spanish moss and viola!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bending Wood Without Superhuman Powers

I'm noticing that my photography skills are pretty much limited to extreme close-ups of flowers, but I had to share this project I just finished a test piece of.  It's going to be a line of skinny trellises- bent lamination S-curves to gently help your vines get a leg up in the world.

The mock-up went surprisingly well and I only had a few cracks and snaps during the glue-up.  The last time I attempted bent lamination I was in school at California College of Arts and Crafts, which sported a gorgeous vacuum bag and clamps galore.  Not quite the situation in my shop, but still quite fun!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plant of the Week: Santa Barbara Daisy

I  have to admit, I used to despise Erigeron.  It just seemed so... everywhere!  I've since realized that everyone uses Erigeron because it adapts to just about anywhere and takes an experienced plant killer to do it any harm.  And yet it's one of those mysterious "natives" you've heard things about!  It blooms pretty much all year round with it's innocent white and light pink eyes, keeping pollinators happy and filling in those expanses of empty mulch space.  It can also give the native garden a cottagey look, if you're into that kind of thing.  There are many varieties, one commonly seen and pictured here is a young Erigeron karvinskianus.

Soil:  Just go for it.  I'm sure it won't care.  (Well, within reason- don't torture the poor thing with hardpan or standing water)
Sun:  Full sun to part shade, although I've seen it very successful in mostly shady gardens as well.
Plant:  Any old time.
Buy it:  Seriously, if every nursery doesn't carry this then they are really behind the times.  However, support your locally owned/specialty nurseries and buy from them!  They might have cool varieties that will make your planty friends do double takes, like this Erigeron glaucus at Las Pilitas Nursery!
Good for:  Filling in blank spaces, adding a creeping element to containers, black thumb gardeners, cottage gardens.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Edible Gardens as Urban Renewal in Flint, MI

There's no coffee in the house and I'm moping about this morning.  So it was a great little perk-up to read this article in the New York Times to give me a little energy.  Flint, Michigan seems to have seen the worst of what the economy can do to a town, so it's inspirational to see people adapting to the changes and doing what they can to make their town and neighborhoods better.  Hooray for edible gardens!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Apple Pandowdy

Despite the erratic weather, Fall always gets me itching to make apple pandowdy.  Apparently, there are very different variations, but I like the one made with pie crust, because butter makes it better!  I find it ironic that I post recipes here from time to time as I rarely follow any to a "T", but here goes my own adaptation of the version in Joy of Cooking.

Make your pie crust (any basic recipe will do), roll it out, wrap in plastic-wrap and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Cut about 4 apples in 1/4" slices
Toss around with a very scant 1/4 cup of maple syrup or dark brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, some dashes of cinnamon, dash of salt or so and any other appley spices you'd like represented.  Sometimes I just want to keep it simple, but go right ahead.
Stick the apple mixture into a buttered loaf pan.
Dot the top with a few tablespoons of butter.
Get the pie crust out of hiding and lay it over the top.  Hmmm, doesn't fit, does it?  Tuck the excess around the insides of the loaf pan, effectively wrapping the apples.  It doesn't have to look pretty, unless the Queen is coming.  In that case, make something else!
Bake for about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and smash down the top of the crust with a fork or spoon.  Try to submerge the top with the apple juices a bit. 
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and put the pandowdy back in for another 30 minutes or so.
You're supposed to let it cool for 15 minutes, but I'd rather suffer a burnt tongue!  You can try to extend your patience by busying yourself with making bourbon whipped cream to go along with it.
Don't plan on sharing it with more than 4 people- it goes pretty quick and you'll want a smidgen the next day for breakfast!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Plant of the Week: Fairy Cups

Malacothamnus fasciculatus doesn't have a common name, so I've decided to give it one.  This seems like the ultimate tea party plant as she gives the garden a kind of kid glove and ribbons appeal.  Why do I not see this more often?!  Malacothamnus is a shrubby evergreen (gray) that can become quite hedgy at about 8' high.  Her gray leaves provide an excellent foil against the house or greener plantings (mine's behind a Manzanita) and she will host many a butterfly and hummingbird.  I think I'll experiment with pruning mine and make two open and airy and use another for screening. 

Soil:  well drained to clay, doesn't seem too picky
Sun:  full sun to part shade.  This lady is from So Cal, so make sure she gets her suntan
Plant:  when, you ask?  Well, right now would be a good time!  Be careful when transplanting, the roots seem of the fragile variety
Buy it:  I got mine from a wholesale nursery, but you can certainly ask your local nursery to stock them for you.  I've seen some at Cactus Jungle
Good for:  wildlife, a backdrop for tea parties, adding a touch of gray to your garden, creating a hedge between you and your noisy neighbors.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Rains Came Down & The Floods Came Up

Yet another reminder that we need a new roof!  The glass on the right is currently 3/4 full after about a half hour.  But now I know why I keep saving yogurt containers, and at least I got most of my planting done.  I think the new grasses will fare much better than this window frame!  Batten down the hatches, guys!  Prime planting season is waiting for us after the storm!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Show and Tell

Couldn't help but show off a planter and planting that I did the other day.  I wouldn't call it native, but it is quite fetching (if I do say so myself!).  We're going for a sun-drenched minimalist Mediterranean theme here, and the photo above shows a transition.  The Festuca idahoensis towards the back will ring this bed while the Sage and Aeonium will be transplanted into the back garden.

In the planter I've got an olive, some Hidcote lavenders, a few Erigeron and a purple potato vine thrown in for good measure.  The plants are a bit new, but they should fill in in no time!

CNPS Plant Sale: So Good, the Cops Came

Not sure why a police officer was patrolling the plant sale, but there he was.  Do plant geeks really get that deviant?!  Regardless, the plant sale was tons of fun and even being the native plant nerd I am, I learned about a few new plants I'd never seen before.  I was really surprised how many of the plants offered were riparian (or growing near water) species.  Because I focus so much on drought tolerance, I tend to weed out the others (ok, that pun was intended).  A few newbies (to me)...

Scirpus acutus, or Common Tulle.  These can grow to 10 or 15 feet high!  But unless you happen to have a stream running through your urban jungle, you might be stuck watering them quite frequently.  Bummer.

Another plant for my future rotations:  Ninebark or Physocarpus capitatus.  Why didn't I learn of this sooner?!  Pretty leaves, gorgeous flowers, fall color and that peeley barky thing that I adore natives for...  what's not to love? 

It was a festive atmosphere, but I swear- folks were on a mission!  And tons of volunteers were helping educate local gardeners on the wonderful world of going native.  Next year, I think I'll finally get my stuff together and join them- it looked like they were having such a grand time!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CNPS Plant Sale!

Put on your running shoes, plantophiles!  The California Native Plant Society East Bay Chapter's Native Here Nursery is having their dreamy plant sale in Tilden Park this weekend!  I love how this nursery is organized by areas in the East Bay so you know exactly what grows where.  Although I don't usually garden that way, it's a great reminder of the importance of using plants that are made for your soil, weather, etc.
See you there!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plant of the Week: Idaho Fescue

Let's start with full disclosure:  I have never actually planted this guy, but am really excited to get started by using it in my fall planting!   So you can see why I don't have any photos of the real thing (the imposter above is Festuca ovina glauca) and not feeling like "lifting" from other nice folks on the web, I have links under the "Buy it" category to happy nurseries that will gladly tell you all about it and show you some pretty pictures and I'm sure sell you one or two. 
Festuca idahoensis is a native grass (we share this native with other states in case you couldn't tell) that has blue-green blades in spring and puts on a great show in the summer of dried flower stalks splayed in the breeze.  Trim the grass a bit when your Felco trigger fingers get itchy  to encourage new growth and you've got a magnificent blue makeover in the springtime.

Soil:  Well-drained light clay is probably best, but it's not too picky
Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Plant:  Now!  Throughout the winter and into spring wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
Buy it:  Larner Seeds offers the seed and speaks lovingly about this grass being perfect for napping in and both Las Pilitas' nurseries carry them as well.  Yippee!  Native Here Nursery carries a few, too.
Good for:  Contrasting textures and colors with other plants.  Try pairing it with a hot pink salvia or some plump succulents.  You could also go minimalist and line them up in a grid or combine them with other native grasses. Apparently, it's good for grazing, so plant some for the neighborhood cows!

Folks that have grown it, please put your two cents in the comments and help the rest of us out!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Garden Tour: Euphorbia Gardens

I'd like to think I've inherited my design sense, but my Aunt Joyce's garden proves I have a long way to go.  Her garden at the base of Mt. Diablo hosts birds, birds, birds.  Deer come for a nightly buffet, too but that's not always a good thing!  An owl emerges from his tree in the evenings as the flocks of quail scurry amongst the shrubbery.  The turkey vultures slide through the air, down the mountain after a day of scavenging as the whirlwind of yellow finches get their last bits of seed.
What I love about it, however is that it wasn't designed with just wildlife in mind.  It's people friendly, too.  Pictured here is a sweet little terrace for late summer dining or the perfect place to celebrate the coming spring with an afternoon tea.


Paths wind around grasses and perennials, guiding  you past ornaments that bring strange questions to mind.  Is it art?  Is it found?  Is it the coolest thing ever?!  Ummm.  .  .  yes!


It's a large space, but the paths, sculpture and planting beds make you feel like you're on an adventure and create areas that have their own intimate identity.  I always come away refreshed and inspired.  .  .  and closer to getting my own back garden started!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Picnic on Putah Creek

Went on an impromptu picnic with my aunt Joyce the other day for yummy treats and bird-watching along the banks of Putah Creek in rural Vacaville.  A tangle of grape vines seemed to keep some of the birds occupied, while the woodpeckers kept the tree branches company.  Plenty of fisherman, but no fish to be seen. 
Usually when I think of Vacaville, I immediately groan about the traffic on I80, but this is quite a different experience!

Here you'll see our picnic site, inches from the water.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't Compost Them Quite Yet!

It's that time of year when you don't have much to do in the garden except dream of spring and keep yourself from pulling out all the things that are slowly creeping towards decay.  My perfectionist habits tend towards order, but these Clarkia seedpods will provide food for migrating birds and can later lend themselves to an autumnal flower arrangement or Christmas tree bauble.