DIG THIS! Green Musings from GBG

Plant Propaganda: Interview With A Designer

Gardens by Gabriel asked Kaveh Maguire, a horticulturist and new resident of Los Osos, to elaborate on his techniques and strategies as a garden designer. Kaveh graduated alongside Gabriel from the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. 

1. How you know where to begin your projects?

Generally I take whatever input the client gives me (type of garden they want, type of plants they do like or don’t like) and make a list of plants that fit that scheme and that are currently available at the wholesalers we buy from. In terms of design, I like to pick a few high-impact specimen plants from the list I created and place them in the design first.  Then I sketch the drifts of smaller plants around them.
2. What are basic design techniques that you employ when creating a space?
Playing around with color is my favorite thing. Trying to find harmonious, complementary, or contrasting colors is really fun and is great for creating moods in the garden.  Repetition of a plant or a color is a neat way to draw your eye around different areas of the garden.  If you put a grouping of one plant at the entrance to a garden, try putting grouping of the same or a similar plant on the far side. Striking a balance between specimen plants and large drifts of plants is also very important. Too many specimens and it can become a bit of a circus; too many drifts of the same thing can be dull.
A simple trick: In school I was taught “the rule of three.”  i.e. Always use at least three of the same plant and always plant in odd numbers. (I sometimes find myself falling back on this out of habit but over time I’ve actually learned to go without it.) “The rule of three” is most important when the plants are young and small because it’s easy to see how many there are. Since plants don’t grow in a uniform pattern and will generally meld together, after a few months it is almost impossible to tell how many are there. So plant some things in large drifts but don’t be afraid to have ones and twos of larger plants. Also, remember that doing everything in large numbers isn’t very helpful for the person with the small garden.

3. How do you know which plants to put next to one another?
This takes some knowledge about the cultural requirements and origin of the plant.  For example, you might not want to put something that is a water-loving, big-leaved tropical next to a silver-leaved Mediterranean-climate plant. (There are of course exceptions to that rule.) Once you have all that sorted out and have a list of plants you want to work with, color and texture become important.  I have an art background so I am pretty good at mixing colors, but sometimes the unexpected can work really well together even if you think it might be jarring. Some of the most beautiful combinations might just be happy accidents–don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
After color and texture, shape is very important. e.g. Having three upright spiky plants in a row might not be very exciting.  Try replacing one of those with something that has big, round flowers
and the other one with a plant with soft, arching stems that blow in the breeze. Getting all these combinations right on paper is not as simple as it may seem. After I have drawn my initial concept, I like to do an imaginary walk-through of the garden through each path and walkway to observe the views from specific vantage points, or look out windows of the house.
Remember: A well-grown plant in full bloom is always lovely to see in a garden, but the gardens that really make an impact, the ones you remember later, are the ones with thoughtful plant combinations.

 4. Is there a way to reflect your personality in the garden?  
There absolutely is. Many long-time designers have very specific planting styles or specific plants that they use in almost every design.  There are definitely people that disparage this as being lazy and formulaic but I think it is rather clever.  There is something to be said for walking into a space and immediately recognizing the designer.
Myself, I’m still at the stage in my career where I want to try something different in every garden I design, but I do have a few plants that I really like to include when appropriate. Dierama pendula in herbaceous gardens, Euphorbia resinifera in succulent gardens, and I haven’t used it much yet but I am leaning towards Grevillea ‘Long John’ as my go-to shrub. I know Gabriel has some favorites, too, so I like to include those as well so the garden has that “GBG feel” to it.
5. What elements do you consider to be crucial in designing a garden?
I think the most important thing is giving the client a garden that they will love spending time in.  At the initial meeting I really try to get an idea of what they will respond to.  Whether it is a style of garden they want, a specific plant they love, or a color that sets their teeth on edge.  Of course I would love it if they just said “Oh we’ll be happy with whatever you think looks best” but of course this isn’t always going to be the case.  So being a good listener and communicating with the clients is probably the best trait a designer can have.
6. What small steps can someone take to make their garden more ecological?
Here on the Central Coast, the smallest step is a big step: Get rid of your lawn!  Water is a precious resource in California and we generally have complete drought for at least half the year (and more this year!).  A well-maintained lawn is a high-maintenance water hog and requires fertilizers and other chemicals that are bad for the environment and your family’s health.  If you must have that lawn, there are several more ecologically sound “no-mow” alternatives. For your plant choices, keep in mind that even though we can grow almost any plant doesn’t mean we should. At the top of your list should be plants that are from a Mediterranean climate like ours. i.e. Plants that are tolerant of wet winters and dry summers. You aren’t limited to just California native plants (though there are many beautiful ones to choose from); other Mediterranean climates include plants from Mediterranean countries themselves, central Chile, western South Africa, and parts of western and southern Australia. These five areas have some of the most beautiful and diverse plant genera in the world. Of course succulents are another great choice.

If you want to create a native or low-water garden, do consider consulting with a designer for help. Especially if you are living in an area with lots of cookie-cutter green lawns and you don’t want your neighbors getting mad at you for putting in a weedy-looking mess that they think is an eyesore that will bring down the value of their home. (If it looks awful they won’t care that you are saving on your water bill and are attracting wild life.) A designer can help you create something beautiful and more ecological that your neighbors will want to emulate rather than complain about.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 I’ve already said too much!
Kaveh Maguire is a horticulturist and garden designer who blogs at http://plantpropaganda.wordpress.com/

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Cambria Nursery’s Secret Garden

Tucked into the pines off of Highway 1, Cambria Nursery is a welcome and unexpected surprise. Rooted on four beautiful coastal acres, Cambria Nursery’s inviting aisles and unexpected nooks encourage visitors to explore the plant selection, attend a class in their outdoor amphitheater, or simply enjoy a picnic amidst the beautiful surroundings. Becki Smith, the nursery’s manager, says, “It’s not your average nursery; it’s more of a destination.”

Becki is a gardener not by accident, but more like by reluctance. “I made it as a nurse up to the point of interning at a hospital, but I couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t have a passion for it.” Passion is an essential ingredient to working with plants, she says, and it’s a love she inherited–grudgingly–from her folks. “My parents used to make us identify plants by their botanical names as we drove around town,” Becki says. Now she puts this knowledge and motivation to good use, maintaining the nursery’s appearance and eclectic selection.

Not only does Cambria Nursery boast an extensive number and variety of plants (plus a handful of charming outbuildings full of products and gifts from local artisans), but they also illustrate how the plants will grow in their naturally elegant demonstration gardens. When you visit, make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy all the nursery has to offer. Pack a snack and enjoy a visit with the koi, or walk the meandering paths through established native trees and shrubs.  Explore their website at www.cambrianursery.com or chat with them on Facebook at Cambria Nursery & Florist.

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What Is Continuing Cultivation?

Why the switch? What’s different about Continuing Cultivation (and why the capital letters?)? 

Over the past 6 years of Gardens by Gabriel’s leafy existence, the range and depth of our services has grown and improved. While we aimed in the beginning to offer a simple, qualified maintenance service for gardens we have installed and those already in existence, it’s come to our attention that what we now offer is a little different from many maintenance outfits.

What we have developed is a skilled approach to keeping the appearance and health of your landscape at its best, from the inside out. We focus our efforts on plant vitality, fine pruning, and irrigation tuning to keep your garden tidy, healthy, and robust. We are proactive about looking for pests, irrigation problems, and soil health issues that lead to poor plant performance. Our work is focused on meeting your preferences for how you like your garden kept. It is not our intention to compete with everyday maintenance services because we offer a style of garden care that, while it is in its own class, is for landscapes with a strong horticultural flair, or that are in the first two years of their lives. Our goal, as always, is to continue to earn your business with the outstanding work we do.

Our Continuing Cultivation program was launched in March of 2012. Our 4-person crew provides the following services for the landscape:

  • Evaluate irrigation systems
  • Prune and shape perennials, shrubs and grasses
  • Weed and groom beds
  • Control and prevent pests
  • Maintain a general tidiness throughout the garden and walkways
  • Manage water usage throughout the seasons
  • Monitor and support plant health and vigor
  • Fertilize annually with organic fertilizer
  • Monitor mulch layer, soil health, etc to make suggestions for larger annual tune-ups
  • Schedule larger, seasonal pruning projects

As Gardens by Gabriel is growing as a company, we are always looking to improve the quality of our work, our commitment to our customers, and the strength of our team. By differentiating ourselves from mow-blow-and-go maintenance services (services which we respect and rely on!), we hope to hone our skills as cultivators of the finest that gardening has to offer.

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Fellow Plant Lover Jeff Krasner Will Be Missed

 

As head gardener of the children’s wing of LA’s Huntington Botanical Garden, Jeff Karsner’s enthusiasm for plants was equal to his enthusiasm for helping children learn. His work with the Huntington meant he helped tend one of the most impressive collections of cacti and other succulents in the world. Jeff was a member of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry where he created characters made out of living succulents. One in particular, “Sen the Centennial Senecio,” he constructed solely from 9 different varieties of senecio. His goal with his own business was to promote landscapes that thrived with low-water conditions. Jeff will be remembered for so many things, but his beloved Children’s Garden at the Huntington Library will be a constant reminder of his passion and love for nature.


Dirt’s For The Birds

 

...And even they will find it hard to swallow! 

I’m a stickler about using the word “soil” when others may feel content to say “dirt.” Simply put: Dirt gets on your clothes and coats your car. Soil feeds your plants through a complex system of living and dying organic matter. Soil is practically worth its weight in gold. In fact, I call one of the major components of good soil, compost, “black gold.” A new-to-me garden blogger, Greg Seaman, wrote a piece for his blog recently that will help explain the importance of this essential garden nutrient. Read it here.

Remember: Soil is what you use to build your garden, and dirt is what you track through your house when your garden is done.

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Nick Wilkinson: A Little Farther Down The Garden Path

The image of a plant enthusiast is easy to conjure: A kindly bearded gent, ankle-deep in mulch, puttering in the garden from dawn til dusk, trusty trowel in hand. Here to break the mold, however, is Grow Nursery owner and plant fiend Nick Wilkinson. We featured Grow itself in December of ’11, but this time we’ll delve a little deeper into the man behind the rare and unusual succulents.

GBG: Were did you grow up? Why did you decided to move to the Central Coast?
NICK: I grew up down on the border, 100 miles east of San Diego. It was really hot: The town’s motto was “Where the Sun Spends the Winter.” I moved here from San Diego 6+ years ago with my wife to buy a nursery and have been able to make that pay the bills.
GBG: How would you describe yourself?
NICK: Forever full of energy, yet constantly out of money.


GBG
:  What is your favorite plant or flower?

NICK: SO SO SO hard. You know I love them all! I guess the plant I have the most of in my collection is Operculicarya decaryi. I could have 100 of them and be happy, but that is true of so many…

GBG: How did you get in plant business?
NICK: After years of finding myself spending every last bit of money I had on succulents and vintage pottery, I got the idea to buy a nursery.
GBG: Which succulents would survive the apocalypse?
NICK: Sempervivums- With a name that in Latin means “Semper (“always”) and vivus (“living”), there isn’t much else to say.
GBG: How did being an artist influence your career as a plantsman?
NICK: You know, this is what I think makes me different from most plantsmen. Instead of coming at this from a plant-first outlook, I come at this profession from a perspective rooted (no pun intended) in form, shape and design. I’m constantly bending plants over, torturing them and looking for the right planter to make them into a sculpture.
GBG:  When you were growing up what did you want to become?

NICK: Anything but a farmer which is what my father, grandfather, and lots of other family did for a living. Turns out that instead of farming alfalfa, I’m farming succulents.

GBG: Do you like to travel and where have you been?
NICK: YES! I’ve been all over Europe and more recently been traveling a bit in Mexico, especially Baja the past few years. I’d travel more but my family is young and it’s just not in the cards for me to be gone for long stretches. Luckily, I get asked to give lectures several times per year on various topics so to travel and document the trip can pay off… at least that’s what I tell my wife and accountant.
GBG: If you were an animal then what would you be?
NICK: (see below)

 

 

 

 

 

GBG: Would you rather have super strength or super intelligence?
NICK: Luckily, I was blessed with both.

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Water Conservation Sweeping The Nation!

…Starting with our own KCBX!

Many thanks to Mike Bush of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden who, during his January 25th, 2012, interview on KCBX, mentioned a garden we completed with water conservation champion Mary Wilhelm. We were happy to be able to feature Mary’s garden in an article with the Tolosa Press, highlighting that due to her efforts to reduce her water usage, she hadn’t watered her garden at all during 2011. Take a listen to the SLOBG’s Executive Director as he discusses upcoming SLOBG events, signature qualities of Mediterranean climates, and the future of our inspiring local garden:

Mike Bush SLO Botanical Garden KCBX Interview 

 

 

 

 

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Bare Root And Beautiful

As we button up our coats and wrap our scarves against the winds, Summer may seem like a distant memory–but try, for a moment, to recall last year’s array of sweet summery produce. Remember the delicious fruits: juicy plums, crisp apples, plump berries, and more? The way to get a head start on these summer crops is by planting your own fruiting trees now. How? With bare-root trees! Bare-root trees and berries are cultivated and nurtured throughout the year by growers around the country. Then, as the plants go dormant, workers gently remove dirt from the roots and wrap the root ball in sawdust, newspaper, or other insulating material, and prep it for shipping.

Now that you’ve acquired the taste for Summer, selecting the trees is the fun part! San Luis Obispo County residents have a huge diversity of trees available to them via local purveyors such as Bay Laurel Nursery and Farm Supply, and can easily plant themselves a kingly orchard. For the homeowner with less-than-ample growing space, consider multiple-budded trees, which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto them, meaning that one apple tree can provide you with early-, mid-, and late-season fruit.

Once you’ve picked out some favorites, it’s important to confirm that your choices will do well in your particular micro-climate. In much of the country, as air temperatures begin dropping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the Autumn, trees loose their leaves and enter a dormant period. Many fruit trees originate from these colder climates and need enough “winter chill hours” to send them fully dormant in the winter. The required number of hours that the tree spends at 45 degrees is considered its own personal “chill hours.” Fortunately for us, plant breeding has introduced trees that are “low chill” and do well with the reduced chill hours that our mild winter climate provides. Therefore, look for trees that are rated at 400 chill hours or less for best performance if your garden is in San Luis Obispo County.

Immediate coastal climates will require varieties with even fewer chill hours to do well (i.e. 1-200 hrs). Good selections for the foggier coast are figs, pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis, lemons, pineapple guavas and berries. If you’re gardening in North County, you have plenty of chill hours and need to be concerned more with winter hardy varieties that don’t mind freezing temperatures.When your trees and brambles arrive, take extra care with their delicate roots since they won’t be protected by soil and will easily dry out or freeze. Have some good compost on hand to amend the soil, and give yourself time to plant the trees the same day you bring them home. If you can’t plant them the same day, dig them partially into the ground or cover the root ball with layers of moist, insulating material. Come springtime, the plants’ well-established root system will provide you with happy, healthy fruit and flower production!

 

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Just Try To Keep Up With Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin photoIn the past several years, succulents have become a mainstay in drought-tolerant gardens throughout central California. Their practicality aside, the geometric shapes and colors ranging from sublime to electrifying create a definitive sense of place in a garden. One woman in particular has made a career of illustrating how to creatively plant and care for them. Best-selling author Debra Lee Baldwin has written books, penned countless articles, createdilluminating websites and blogs, excelled at photojournalism, and perfected watercolors–all in support of succulent plants. Through her books and lectures she has brought the succulent movement to established gardeners and curious novices alike. Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) allowed homeowners and professionals to see the many applications for succulents in gardens. Her popularity grew, as did that of the plants themselves, and Succulent Container Gardens (Timber Press, 2010) was born, encouraging plant-o-files in any location or climate to cultivate these remarkable plants.

Debra is a one-woman bibliography of plant wisdom and beauty. One of her websites, http://www.succulentchic.net (dedicated to these “fascinating fat-leaved plants and exploring their design potential”) features beautiful images of co-mingled succulents, channeling the love of plants into creative designs that are easy for anyone to execute. Her main website, http://www.debraleebaldwin.com/, describes Debra more thoroughly by listing her blogs, links, and CDs; sharing the progress of her own garden; and lists where to catch this prolific potter’s next presentation.

More personally, I’m truly inspired by the tireless way in which she has unified the leaders of the plant world and brings exposure to their work. She has captured and crystalized the succulent movement with her lectures, networking, and drive to promote these remarkable plants.
(Photos used with permission from www.DebraLeeBaldwin.com)
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Plant Puzzler Revealed!

Happy New Year to all! Gardens by Gabriel is happy to announce that our winners of last week’s Plant Puzzler were Madeline, Kaveh, and Greg, who correctly guessed Kniphofia rooperi.

Sadly, this brings our 6-week Plant Puzzler to a close. Thank you for your willingness to guess and share, and to pit your wits against some of my Mediterranean favorites! We’re pleased to be able to make a donation to the SLO Botanical Garden on your behalf, for each of your guesses. We’re rounding up to the nearest Benjamin for an even $100.

It was a close count to determine the top two guessers, but after tallying the totals we have two clear winners:
Madeline and Greg, who vyed for first place with four and five correct answers, respectively. The prize for each of these winners is a bare-root tree, locally sourced and hand-selected. We didn’t make this easy on you, so we’re mightily impressed with all of you.