DIG THIS! Green Musings from GBG inc.

Making The Most Of The Rain

morro bay rain gaugeWe’re happy to say that our rain gauge was overwhelmed by our recent storms! No matter what the amount of rain we get this winter, we don’t want a single drop to go to waste. In order to replenish our precious underground aquifers, the rainwater must percolate through the soil rather than running off the surface. And while we cannot make it rain, we can make a difference in the amount of run-off.

Under natural conditions, soil acts like a sponge, soaking up and absorbing much of the rainfall. Vegetation and leaf litter break the momentum of falling raindrops, allowing the water to filter gently through the air spaces between individual bits of soil. When the earth is exposed, parched, and compacted, it’s as if the soil sponge has been squeezed dry. The pores and pockets shrink and close off, and it is more difficult for water to penetrate.

As much as possible, then, we work to direct rainwater into the ground. Mulching in the fall will protect the soil from eroding during our winter rainy period. The mulch slows the velocity and allows the maximum amount of water to collect and soak into the ground. Landscaping with swales and berms also helps intercept run-off and channel water back into the garden instead of into the street. Lengthening the time that the water remains on the land allows it to slowly seep into the ground, rehydrate the soil, and recharge our depleted groundwater basins.

Making the best use of any rain that does fall turns that water into a resource – one that we sorely need.

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“Mowing” The Drought-Tolerant Lawn

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Lawnmowing services exist to give homeowners a break from the tedium of hauling out the mower each week. The hassle, the sweat, the repetition–it seems worth it to shell out a few bucks to skip the mess of grass clippings and go right to the backyard barbecue. But even more convenient than paying someone to deal with your water-hungry lawn could be the brief task of clipping a native crop of Carex grass just once a quarter. 
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Gardens by Gabriel’s demonstration garden features a meadow of two types of Carex: Carex pansa (green) and Carex flacca (blue). Both were planted at the same time and have grown in happily with the help of low-flow drip irrigation. Six months later it was time for their first haircut. While we enjoy the look of a lush, flowering meadow, we like to clip younger grass clumps to encourage them to expand laterally and form a denser carpet. There are choices for how to cut grass, and we landed on hand pruning with a hedge shear because it avoids the need for a gas-powered machine as well as the burned edge left by weed-eating or weed-whipping.photo 2 copy 3photo 4 copy 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with mowing a lawn, mulching with the clippings is a healthy protocol (and a lot easier than gathering them into the greenwaste bin). We spread ours over the mulch and grasses alike with a metal rake and called it a day.

 

Tools: Shears, rake, funny hat.
Total elapsed time: 20 peaceful minutes on a Spring afternoon.

 

 

 

 

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The Dirt on Dirt

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It’s easy to be seduced by those inspiring before-and-after photos of a garden transformation. The juxtaposition of the expectant “before” and the dazzling “after” images persuades us that change can be effortless and instantaneous. But, in reality, landscaping takes time and the process entails . . . well, DIRT.

Constructing a landscape often involves digging up the ground, removing unwanted plants, trenching in irrigation, and bringing in mountains of new materials. Even if there isn’t demolition, the first third of a project looks like a disaster: soil is upturned, new piles of dirt and supplies arrive and appear to be stacked all over, and the site seems to be in chaos.

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Not to mention the temporary inconvenience for the homeowner that is unavoidable whenever a work crew is on your property. What began as a dream can start to look like a nightmare.  Nevertheless – banish those second thoughts and resist the urge to panic!

Building a sustainable garden depends on addressing grading, irrigation, and drainage issues before anything else. It is equally vital to the success of your garden that the soil be prepared thoroughly. Its texture, structure, and fertility will impact the plants’ ability to extract water and nutrients. Making a hospitable environment for your plants requires turning the soil, incorporating organic matter, and laying a thick layer of wood-chip mulch once plants are in the ground. Inevitably, the process of attending to these fundamentals produces a bit of a dusty mess. Rest assured, we finish every installation with a tidy cleanup and pressure washing the areas that were soiled in the process. Ultimately, your patience will be rewarded, and you will be the one enjoying the beautiful “after” result for years to come!

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California Native Plants and the Approach of Summer

san luis obispo native garden California native plants are known for their vibrant winter blooms, but also for their summer dormant season and for this reason are sometimes overlooked for Mediterranean gardens. It is possible to maintain a beautiful and water-wise garden year-round that includes California natives; all it takes is some strategy.

Planning:
When they’re young, California natives can be treated like other plants in a cultivated garden: They need regular watering to establish a healthy root system. As natives grow to maturity at 5-10 years, you have two choices.

1. Embrace Dormancy:
If you water them less and let them go dormant, your plants won’t be as stressed by root rot and fungal outbreaks, and in general will live longer. With that in mind, combine grasses, succulents, shrubs, and trees whose color and texture vary throughout the year. Design your garden with a plant palette diverse enough to feature the seasonal peaks of certain plants while covering for those that take a break.Mediterranean Meadow

2. Irrigate:
Many Mediterranean and California native cultivars are now adapted to well-placed and well-timed summer irrigation. In order to not stress the plants, however (because too much water or nutrition is just as stressful as not having enough), it is important to carefully place and test every drip emitter. Making sure emmiters are spaced out from the plant crown will encourage wide root growth into the native soil, and discourage rot due to stagnant water. With the consistent encouragement of drip irrigation, most native trees and shrubs will dig their roots deep into the soil, find water, and thrive year-round.

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As we embark on our passage through Spring and the last months of our unique growing season, enjoy your thriving garden and the natural landscape around us. Take in the lushness of the grasses, enjoy the vibrant colors in the succulents, watch the poppies and other annual flowers express their beautiful colors–and get ready to dial in your irrigation timers!

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Designing For Success With Succulents

With their reputation for hardiness, it’s easy to think that succulents need only blazing sun, rocky soil and the occasional raindrop to survive. Fortunately for our earthy endeavors, that’s not the case! In fact, across the diversity of our coastally-influenced Mediterranean zone, from Cambria to Arroyo Grande to San Luis Obispo itself, San Luis Obispo County is home to many thriving succulent gardens.

It’s important to keep in mind that succulent gardens immediately on the coast will have different requirements than those just a few miles inland, which experience more sun and higher temperatures year round. With their warmer temperatures, succulents in San Luis Obispo will love the warmth but need a shady break from the intensity of the afternoon sun. These gardens will yield plants with rich color and bountiful blooms. Immediately on the coast, the same plants will have less intense coloration and a smaller stature, but be just as stately and beautiful.

Succulent Design Tips:

  • Inland, in San Luis Obispo, your succulents will benefit from some shade to provide relief from the hot afternoon sun.
  • The plants that want full sun on the immediate coast/want afternoon shade in San Luis Obispo include these species: Echeveria, aeonium, crassula, and kalanchoe.
  • Hardier varieties that can take full sun all day are the aloes, agaves, dyckias,  dudleyas, and sedums. (They’re adaptable to both a little shade and the full brunt of the sun’s heat.)
  • In the more extreme North County climates with hard freezes and days in the 100s,  your plant palette is limited to the hardiest of agaves, aloes, and dudleyas.
  • Succulents are even more dazzling backed by the texture of grasses, reeds, or striking Red Hot Pokers (kniphofias). They are brought to life by the echoing colors of neighboring perennials, or by the vibrant foliage of leucodendrons and the other-worldly flowers of pincushions (leucaspermum). We suggest blending in your other favorite water-wise plants with your succulent design for the greatest effect!
  • Above all, remember that succulents are highly adaptable, so have fun experimenting with them in different conditions!!

 

 

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500 Visitors!

This year’s AAUW Tour was a smashing success! 500 people toured through one of the five gardens on the tour, that of Vince and Janet Marino, a garden that we created. The euphorbia were blooming, the variegated yuccas and agaves were radient, and the pincushions had held their blooms for a remarkable 8 weeks. Many thanks once again to the Marinos who were gracious enough to invite hundreds of plant enthusiasts into their garden.

 

 

 

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Morro Bay Marinos: The AAUW Garden Tour

Vince and Janet Marino’s Morro Bay garden is making waves! Their Gardens by Gabriel landscape, installed 2 years ago in the spring of 2010, was featured in an article we wrote for the Tolosa Press; highlighted by the SLO Tribune in November of 2011; and is now one of the five gardens in 2012’s AAUW (the American Association of University Women) spring Garden Tour.

“The AAUW is a great organization,” says Vince Marino, “and the proceeds of this tour are going to do a lot of local good.” The Marinos became involved with the garden tour through a number of channels: One of the Marinos’ neighbors is a member of the AAUW; another neighbor’s garden was in a previous year’s tour; and the SLO Tribune’s garden writer, Sharon Crawford, put in her recommendation as well.

Vince and Janet are preparing their garden for an influx of guests. “We’re trying to be as ready as we can!” says Vince. “We’ll have a welcome table set up, and a route for people to follow to best see the space.” The Marinos have enjoyed their garden since its installation, and have equally enjoyed caring it. “This place is a botanical garden,” Vince says, “with plenty of natural flavor and attention to detail. Janet works out here all the time, keeping it healthy and beautiful.” For all her hard work, however, Janet says, “The garden belongs to God and Gabriel; I just work in it!”

As for their motivation for sharing their space with 500 visitors, Vince says, “We’re both so proud of this place. Everyone says ‘Wow!’ when they see it. Since we’ve learned a lot by visiting other gardens and nurseries, we’re looking forward to sharing our creation with other people. We feel that people can enjoy our garden, learn from it, and get a sense of what’s possible.”

This year’s tour begins at 12:00 on April 29th, 2012, and continues until 5:00 p.m. that afternoon. Five gardens in Los Osos and Morro Bay will be displayed, and the price to enjoy them is a mere $10. Tickets are available at Miner’s Hardware stores, Volumes of Pleasure Bookstore in Los Osos, and Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay. The tour is self-guided; take the time to enjoy the plants at your own pace. Vince and Janet will be waiting for you, ready to answer questions and show off their incredible views and enchanting landscape.

 

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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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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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