Saturday, October 5, 2013

Container Gardening!!

Gateway drug to gardening... Containers! ANY body can do it, it's easy, economical, manageable, less risky... and really, we can do a lot with pots. Containers are great for renters (not permanent / easy to take with you), condo/apartment dwellers (with lack of soil), and/or people wanting to jazz up their porches, patios and balconies. They are also wonderful for: adding depth, height and interest to a landscape, working with and creating microclimates for frost tender plants and, for water wise gardens, allowing us to still have our favorite water loving plants- just in their own happy zone... really pots are simply awesome. And don't even get me started on all the fantastical styles, colors, materials, shapes and sizes they come in. So here are some sketchy illustrated and wordy pointers on container gardening.

Make it Pretty. For cozying up and bringing lushness to an outdoor space with too much hardscape and bare walls- well yeah, containers can do that. As the design rules go, groups of odd numbers are best (unless they are flanking an entry way or focal point, in which case 2 works)- 3 being the golden number for a cluster of pots, especially in a corner- I like to go with similar or same exact style/color pots in three varying sizes- though varying colors in the same material and color story can have a fun impact as well. For choosing plants in a pot I usually stick with three (or 5) and like to refer to a term I WISH I coined, but heard from a nurserywoman, who surely heard it somewhere else (ah yes, the derivation has yet to be tracked down)... anyway, rambling aside, it goes like this: The Thriller, The Spiller and The Chiller (See sketchy and 100% original ADh+d drawing, right). Your thriller- she is the star of the pot- the tree, the specimen, the tallest and brightest. Then your spiller- she's a cascader- for example, your ivy, bacopa, campanula, creeping jenny, or sedum. Finally you got your chiller. He's, well... chillin... anchoring the pot-scape together between the pendulum swings. Together, when done right, the three sing.  Succulents are especially great for this as they do well with part sun and won't hate you if you neglect watering- a good succulent triad as illustrated on the far left is aeonium, echeveria and a cascading succulent, such as a sedum. Go-to "thrillers" include Japanese Maples, Citruses, Abutilons, and Cordylines/Phormiums to name a few. And remember When choosing plants be sure to select contrasting and compatible colors and textures (not all the same shade of green).

Make it Edible. Edibles will grow in your container like a boss. Some invasive ones like mint, you may
even prefer to keep strictly in the pot. Some tried and trues: Herbs, Lettuces and Chards (great for part shade), Annual Veggies (I grow tomatoes in containers every year with excellent tasty results), Berries, Dwarf Fruit Trees and Citrus, and Perennial Veggies (many peppers, including serranos are a great "perennial veggie" for containers in the bay area).

Make it Both. So long as plants are grouped by like-requirements and they all get along and are respectful of one-another, there's no reason we can't mix and match the cutting flower with the herbs, the fruit tree with the spilling succulent. Try it out and if something doesn't work, try something else. Nothing is permanent in container gardening.... although happy plants can last a whole lot longer potted up than you may think. I have a client with lemon and lime trees which have been planted in the same pots for over 15 years and still continue to bear fruit prolifically throughout the year. Plus there are bonsai plants that are FAR older than you and I living their lives in containers. Fun Fact: The oldest living bonsai is a 5 needle pine residing in the Tokyo Imperial Palace collection and is approximately 550 years old!

AND Since a picture is worth a gazillion words AND Miss AndiPlants is Miss SuperBusy + TiredofTypingPants, I'll leave you with these few drawings AND these short words of encouragement to throw some soil and plants in your pots this fall. What have you got to loose (except maybe a few plants?)!

Cheers, and happy gardening!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sustainable Materials 101: Urbanite

Urbanite. It's all the rage these days in sustainable design and I guess we can see why. Urbanite is simply a fancy word for broken up concrete, often times from old patios, driveways, etc. that up until recently was commonly hauled to the dump. What's so great about it? It's plentiful, economical, ecological and is an all purpose hardscape material. Thanks to recent trends and internet forums, craigslist, etc. it's becoming more and more common practice for construction companies to leave their urbanite from jobsite demolition to be picked up by sustainable landscaping companies or DIY home owners. And everybody wins- they save tons of money on dump fees, people get an affordable hardscape material and the earth gives a great big sigh of gratitude... also I'd like to think that the concrete is probably happy to be reincarnated into something lovely and have decades more use in a new garden. I've collected a few images below of creative uses of urbanite, although the sky is the limit. Enjoy.

Contemporary. Below urbanite and pea gravel are a perfect marriage. Left: industrial modern elements blend seamlessly with the ubanite and gravel patio. Right: Narrow saw cut concrete strips may seem an awkward shape to deal with and utilize in design, but this garden artfully paired and placed the urbanite strips with pea gravel to create a contemporary clean geometric design that looks as though the strips were intentionally poured in place!

Pathways and Patios.
Below the rough edges of broken concrete are softened and warmed with plant material. Sweet cozy and inviting.

Planters, Benches and Raised Beds.

 Left, urbanite is mortared and capped with poured concrete top to create permanent custom seating. Foundation Design in LA.

Below drystacked urbanite vegie beds are super fantastic... what better thing to do that rip out the concrete, keep it on site and reuse it to GROW FOOD. What's not to love about that. Dry stack beds below are by Terra Nova Landscaping here in Santa Cruz. You gotta love their keyhole planter (bottom)

So there you have it, a lite crash course in urbanite.

To find creative ways to re-use materials in your garden contact your local landscape designer, or hey- how about me, Andrea Doonan Horticulure + Design at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

7 things better than your lawn

It's a new year and it's a new chance to rethink our garden spaces and what we're getting out of all that square footage beyond the front and back doors all the way up to our property lines. I'm always shocked at how many people spend hours a month watering, fertilizing and mowing a lawn they never use that provides no benefit to the environment (quite the opposite in most cases), and is so visually UNinteresting it makes the street trees yawn in indifference. And on top of that even more people are letting the backyard go to weeds- putting off enjoying their outdoor real estate another year. I'm here to tell you that there are lots of design options to reclaim that water loving, mower demanding, often unused space of yours. Here are just a few thoughts on taking back the lawn... and trust me there's much more where this comes from.

1. NO MOW GRASS. Now true, this is still technically a lawn- but this is the best option for those of you who still want the low open airy mono-swath of green without any deadheading, trimming or mowing. No mow blends require much less water, especially since the water you'd be removing from regular mowing is allowed to percolate and absorb. Depending on your micro-climate and the chosen blend, one could get away with anything from weekly, monthly or as needed in the summer. The texture of no mow lawns are much softer, finer and airy and I think look especially great in part shade landscape dotted by trees. Imagine this: a simple grove of interesting white barked trees, a soft no mow lawn and a few large boulders. Simple elegant and aside from supplemental summer watering and fall raking, low maintenance. There are also native grass blend sods and eco-lawns (blends of yarrow, grasses, clover, etc) available that are mowable but cut water use in half if not more- for those that have reason to keep a piece of lawn in their yards. I've worked on projects where lawn was replaced with groundcovers such as low growing thyme chamomile, dymondia, yarrow as well as projects where the lawn size was drastically reduced and replaced with  a "hard as nails" turf blend to keep a space for children and dogs to roll around.

2. MIXED MEADOW: NATIVE GRASSES, WILDFLOWERS & PERENNIALS. Imagine hiking through our native grasslands, chapparal or coastal sage scrub- now imagine a slightly more tidy tame version in smaller scale in your front or back yard. Native grasses of blues, golds and greens, orange poppies, monkey flowers, lupine, etc. This is a less manicured look for a garden, but can be made more streamline by creating groups of similar plants in repetition and  tidy borders. Initially it can take some work establishing a native mixed meadow, but once it's established it will take care of itself, aside from the occasional weeding and deadheading. I always say we don't have to get STUCK on all natives. Personally I think it's fine to throw in other Mediterranean region (Australians and South African included) plants with similar water and soil requirements such as lavender, rosemary, etc. Benefits include- little to no water required once established, attracting pollinators, butterflies, birds, and lots of color.

3. MIXED PERENNIALS, SHRUBS, AND TREES. Great for front gardens especially. Do people EVER use their front lawns? Plenty of us have use for back lawns with children, dogs, croquet, soccer, etc- but FRONT lawns? The sky is the limit when redesigning the front yard for curb appeal- depending on style, use, function and climate. This photo of a Ventura garden from an article in Sunset is a great example of a lawnless front yard design.

4. GROW SOME FOOD. Sheetmulch over that lawn and put in some raised vegetable beds, spiral gardens or how about a mini orchard? If you're willing to put in the effort, the reward will be bountiful. Get your community involved and see if your neighbors want to help in exchange for some of the harvest. And contrary to popular belief, edible gardens don't have to be unsightly. With a little thought and planning (possibly from your local landscape designer / horticulturist) your edible garden can be a beautiful space to not only garden in, but sit in, entertain in, etc.

5. ENTERTAIN SPACE. I'm all for enjoying the garden. Reclaiming our unused lawns is ALL about that. I live for a client calling me to tell me how grateful they are that they're actually spending time in and enjoying their garden. Lawn is negative space- but sometime we need negative space for a firepit and adirondack chairs, a bbq, outdoor bar and dining table or maybe a bocce ball court (see DIY bocce court link). Or how about a covered party deck/porch with twinkle lights and lounge seating to enjoy wine on the evenings? I say do it where the lawn is and replace with a flagstone patio or gravel- preferably a surface that is permeable- then surround that new space with awesome plants.

6. SECRET GARDENS. Other thoughtful uses of spaces is carving out a portion of the lawn or planting areas for seating and secret garden areas- different vantage points as to enjoy the garden, or little play structures- such as cloth tents or bean teepees for the little ones to explore their imaginations. Secret garden spaces are also great for retreating from our day- such as a meditation / prayer space, possibly including inspirational statuary or lighting. 

7. OTHER OR ALL OF THE ABOVE. Landscaping is like cooking, not baking. You can add a little bit of this and a touch of that. So take some from all columns stir and enjoy- If it tastes good, it works. It's all about getting the right balance. I just encourage you to NOT default to lawn.

For further ideas and design consulting, contact Andrea Doonan Horticulture + Design.
For more information visit