Feb 242014
 

by Avis Licht

A curved path creates wonder and surprise. You can't see what's around the corner

A curved path creates expectation and surprise. You can’t see what’s around the corner.

When designing your garden, in addition to the obvious considerations of sun, soil and site, you want to make it beautiful  with harmonious color and form and movement . To this I want to add Expectation and Surprise.

I was happily reminded of this when a friend took me on a new hike. She said it was special.

We went to an ordinary looking trailhead and walked up the dirt road through the trees and across the hills.  At a certain point we came to a place in the road that had recently been worked on, with very large stones laid at the edge of the road. Two small seasonal creeks came together and went under the road through a culvert as is common here. Before going across the road my friend turned hard right down a trail.

“Where are you going?” “Just follow me,” she said. So I did.  After just a short walk down into the woods, we turned around, looking back to the road – excuse the phrase – Lo and Behold! we saw the most amazing stone egg sculpture set under the road and surrounded by a 360 degree circle of stones.  The sculpture was more than 6 feet tall.

The surprise was enormous and added to the joy of the vision in front of us. It was so out of the ordinary and so unexpected that we couldn’t stop exclaiming.

Andy Goldsworthy Egg

The Surprise in the Culvert

Although we cannot all present a surprise of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture on our property, we can surprise our visitors with unexpected beauty and form. A fragrance, a place to sit, a view that is slightly hidden and then unfolds is a sweet gift.

Imagination and Surprise

Imagination and Surprise

 

Jun 032013
 
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Morning dew on poppies

Morning dew on poppies

Guest blog by Charlene Burgi from Marin Municipal Water District

I enjoyed Charlene’s post so much that I asked her if I could use it in my own blog and it turns out she and MMWD are happy to share her writings.  I hope you  enjoy it also.

Early this morning, Jack and I observed the prairie dogs scampering across the donkey’s pasture. The morning sun found the droplets of last night’s rainfall sparkling like diamonds clinging to the plants surrounding the deck. I was at peace as our two darling golden retriever puppies, Sassy and Misty, slept at our feet.Golden retriever puppies

During those quiet moments, my mind drifted to a conversation recently shared with Wendy, who I used to work with at MMWD. She had come up for a visit and driven off minutes before, but her words about what a healing place the ranch was for her reverberated in my mind. I have heard these words before from other visiting friends and wondered what healing elements found here might be captured in other gardens.

It is quiet here. In fact, I was once told it was “too quiet.” Nonetheless, as we savored the morning I found peace with the chirping birds flitting to the feeding stations set within the trees. Fragrance wafted through the air from the peonies in bloom. The spires of deep purple, sunshine yellow and pure white iris captured my attention as they gently swayed in the breeze. Below were shades of lavender and purple flowers from the sage and catmint. It was these elements that set the stage for the peace found here.

I thought back to meditation gardens I had designed in the past. What were the commonalities within those plans? Serenity was the primary thought. A quiet sitting area was essential, as well as exposure to the sun and shade to meet the varying needs of the garden visitor. The focal point of a bird bath, small fountain, or garden art always found its way into the design.

A simple bird bath can be an important design element as well as good for your birds.

A simple bird bath can be an important design element as well as good for your birds.

Plants in these gardens were chosen to offer year-around interest. Spring, summer and fall color and fragrance provided a sense of peace, attracted beneficial insects, and offered a place for our feathered friends. Winter elements included an Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku,’ better known as coral bark Japanese maple, which impressed the winter visitor with its magnificent red bark; or a Corylus avellana ‘Contorta,’ better known as a Henry Lauder’s walkingstick, whose growth twists and contorts to capture the attention of anyone viewing this uncommon aberration.

Sassy and Misty soon broke my thought process as they ran in a “ring around the rosy” chase through the lavender and flopped down on the daffodils that once added to the grace of the garden. The pups seemed to know those bulbs had completed their cycle for the year, as they avoided the daylilies planted amongst the daffodils.

Are you in need of a quiet place to recharge your batteries at the end of the day, but hate the thought of another work pill of maintenance? Consider finding a quiet place in your garden. For ease, choose a native plant palette that offers low maintenance, beauty, fragrance and color. You will be one step ahead if a large tree exists. If not, consider planting a cercis redbud. Add drifts of Pacific Coast iris, various heights and shades of blues found in ceanothus, or the diversity and subtle pinks of arctostaphylos. Include mimulus, cistus rock rose, salvias, ribes, poppies and Carpenteria californica. While it is from Chile, consider adding Berberis darwinii to provide winter berries for the birds and a thicket for their protection. Include a few well-chosen boulders, garden art, or a simple shallow garden bowl for a water feature. And don’t forget that bench or seat to provide a place to unwind.

You, too, can find that healing place right in your backyard—and a native garden can help heal a strained summer water bill from an otherwise thirsty landscape. Give it a try—you won’t regret it!

spring flowers

Bearded iris in Spring

May 212013
 
Edible landscaping

by Avis Licht

Bamboo poles for climbing plants

For a front yard, make sure your structures are ornamental as well as useful.

 

Edible landscaping has become more popular than I ever thought it would or could. Every day we hear about some new project in cities all over the world. We’re seeing gardens that are both beautiful and have delicious, healthy produce. I mean, it only makes sense.

In Marin County the municipal water district has been encouraging people to conserve water by planting low water use plants as well as food gardens.  In May they have a tour of the best gardens that use principals that they call “Bay Friendly”:  organic, drought resistant, permeable surfaces, habitat friendly for beneficial birds and insects, and lovely to look at.

On the tour last weekend I took some photos from a few of the gardens that incorporated some good edible landscaping ideas.  See if anything inspires you for your garden. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Artichoke, plum, alstroemaria

Raised vegetable box

Raised vegetable boxes define an area and let you put good growing soil into a small area. It’s also easy to maintain.

California native plants

These California native plants look good, are low maintenance, provide flowers and habitat. They go beautifully in an edible landscape.

Native California plants

Another view of the same yard. This shows that the native plants create a small patio area and the vegetables are at the far end of the yard near the fence.

To read more about designing your edible landscape, read this post. 

 

Be sure to leave a comment or shoot me a question by going to the Ask Avis page.

Container Gardening

This suburban backyard is all raised beds and container plantings. Easy to maintain and very productive.

Chicken coop

This tiny chicken coop in an unused side yard provides fresh eggs for the owners.

Fruit trees in containers

I’ve never seen this many fruit trees in containers. Lots of varieties but also a smaller harvest from the containers. When growing in pots, be sure to give plenty of water and nutrients. It is easier to find the right growing conditions when you can move the pots to the right micro climate. Since they will be dwarf simply by being in pots you can grow more trees in a smaller area.

 

To find out more about growing in containers read my post on self watering planters.

Cauliflower

This huge cauliflower was in a raised planter. You can get huge results when you have the best soil and perfect growing conditions.

 

 

tower of strawberries

This tower of strawberry pots is fun to look at and certainly easier to harvest the strawberries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about growing strawberries read this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Back yard garden

Path, flowers and bird bath highlight the backyard garden. This yard has many fruits and vegetables, yet is entirely enchanting. At least I think so.

 

 

 

 

The Entry Patio

Entering the garden, you are led by a curving path, under fruit trees, by flowers, herbs and native plants.

Vegetable Garden

I love that this vegetable garden looks like a garden garden. It’s not just utilitarian.

 

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California Native Plants

California Native Plants

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Tower of strawberries

Tower of strawberries

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Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Garden

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2013-05-18 14.59.222013-05-16 18.13.572013-05-18 14.29.102013-05-18 14.30.05Manzanita and Ceanothus are easy to grow and use very little water2013-05-18 14.56.122013-05-18 14.56.512013-05-18 14.57.432013-05-18 14.58.30the water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom.  Great use of space and water.IMGP2597Vegetable GardenIMGP3917IMGP3906IMGP5998IMGP6000
Jan 022012
 
After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

by Avis Licht

After sheet mulching - beauty and bounty

It’s possible to have a backyard that is both productive and good looking

Winter is a good time to think about designing, changing or tweaking your garden.

Instead of being knee deep in garden projects, you can sit back and take the time to consider changes to your garden. Your changes can be big or small, but make sure they fit into the grand scheme.

Curving path on steep hill

Using plants and curving path for hillside erosion control

Your parameters will be:

1. Your site: Whatever you do has to work within the givens of your site. These include your climate, soil, sun/shade, slope, existing plantings that you won’t change, buildings and hardscape: paths, stairs, retaining walls, driveways and fences.

Welcoming entry

A well laid, flagstone path, sturdy yet still informal

2. Your finances: New landscaping can be exceedingly  expensive or fantastically frugal – it depends on how much of the work you do yourself, and whether you use new, used or recycled materials.

Redwood Picket Gate

Gate and Arbor from recycled materials

3. Your desires: What you need and what you want may not always coincide, but at least you can consider them and prioritize them. Not everything needs to be done at once.  Have a plan, then build it over time as you can afford it.

4. The sustainability factor: So hold on here, I have a couple of different definitions of sustainable. Hear me out. On a personal level, your garden is only as sustainable as you can take care of it.  If it takes more work than you can keep up with, then it is NOT sustainable on a personal level.  If it takes more money than you can afford, that too is not sustainable. If you put in plants that require more water than you have available both from nature or from finances, that won’t work either. Your personal input has to coincide with what you can afford on an ongoing basis.

On a more global level, sustainability is about the energy and materials you use to build, maintain and grow your garden. Whether it means reusing the wood from your old fence to build a new one, or using permeable pavers instead of concrete for patios and paths, every time you make a decision on what you will use in your yard, be sure to consider the larger impacts.

Brick step with Wood Edge

Using recycled materials we built a brick step

These bricks were taken from an old job and used by me at my own home.  You don’t have to give up on beauty when you reuse or recycle materials.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about specific designs for edible landscapes for small yards.

 

Sep 282011
 
Fountain provides the sound of water

Fountain provides the sound of water

When designing  a garden, you want to consider all your senses.  In this  post on landscape design I talk about landscaping for all your senses:  sight, smell, hearing and taste.

The first sense is visual. What looks pleasing can vary widely between people.  Some people prefer clean, formal lines, some prefer the wild and wooly chaos of a natural setting.  And there’s everything in between. When designing your own yard, be sure to look at magazines and books with gardens.  You’ll find that certain styles will really appeal to you.  You’ll keep coming back to the same type of garden.  Take these design elements and work them into your  landscape.  You may live in Portland and love the Southwest desert look, and in that case you’ll have to make some real adjustments in plant choice. But you can still get the Feel of the southwest.

Paths leading you into the garden

An informal garden with paths leading you through the gate

Designing for smell let’s you consider plants  that have wonderful  fragrance.  Many vines such as jasmine, clematis and roses can transport you to another world as you walk under an arbor.  Bulbs such as narcissus can naturalize in informal areas and provide cut flowers.  Night scented plants such as Datura and Nicotiana will do their work after the sun has set, and while you’re sitting quietly on your deck.

A trellis planted with fragrant vines

A trellis planted with fragrant vines is wonderful to sit under

Shrubs such as Daphne odora, Mock Orange and Citrus can be reliable evergreen shrubs that look good all year long in the garden and when they bloom provide heavenly smells.

Be sure to find places in the yard for fragrance, but don’t put competing plants in the same place.  Some folks find too much odor overwhelming.

When thinking about the sense of hearing there are different kinds of sounds to consider. For some folks, sounds of cars, traffic, trains, trucks can be a problem and the challenge is to mask these sounds.  To do this you can create dense hedges, walls or build a fountain with moving water.  These methods can help, but not always completely hide your problems

The sounds we want to encourage are bird song, wind rustling throughsoft leaves and sometimes the sound of moving water. When planting, be sure to create habitat for your song birds with shrubs and trees that encourage them to feed and nest nearby.

Finally, we come to the sense of taste.  For the Edible Landscape that surely should rise right to the top of our list.  The other day one of my sons came home after a long time away and started eating his way through the garden, starting with an apple from the tree along the path, then in delight he looked down and saw some ripe strawberries. He headed further along and started right in on the heirloom tomatoes.  I mean it was really funny watching him load up before he ever got in the front door.

Strawberry

Who can resist a ripe strawberry?

Food in the garden doesn’t always mean going into the vegetable garden.  With beautiful edibles in the landscaped portion of your yard, folks slow down to look and taste what’s there.  It’s fun and excuse me for adding, healthy too!

A quick review reminds you that when designing your yard, put in plants that feed  ALL your senses, eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

 

Jul 122011
 
mulched garden

 

The Edible Backyard

The Edible Landscape

Edible landscaping is the type of garden design I’ve been doing for 35 years.  I’ve been gardening and designing gardens for all those years.  And boy do I have stories.  With landscaping ideas based on the principals of organic, sustainable and beautiful, I will pass on my hard earned lessons to those who are ready for the edible journey.

I will share garden tips, favorite plants, and how to easily and simply design and implement your own bountiful garden.

Some of you may be wondering “What in the world IS edible landscaping?” It is combining the best of both worlds of gardening and landscape design.  It is a way for you to get deep satisfaction out of growing healthy, tasty foods for you and your family AND make your yard look beautiful.

Bright and Beautiful- the Sunflower

I take the elements of good landscape design and infiltrate them with plants that we can harvest year round. The trick is putting the right plant in the right place.  Of course, we know that not all plants are created equal and some are more beautiful than others and some are just too darn good not to plant.  I will teach you how to skillfully incorporate those plants that look good with those that provide great food, but are too homely to be seen front and center.

A healthy plant is a beautiful plant.  We’ll be talking about how to keep all your plants healthy and productive, using simple organic methods.  But it’s still good to remember to always plant a little extra for the birds and others that come to the table to taste.

Who can resist a ripe strawberry?

What I will do with this blog is set out in a straight forward and simple way, how to help you move forward with your plans to turn your own yard into a beautiful and productive paradise.

 

 

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