Monthly Archives: December 2012

Courtyard Makeover

This is how it looked the first time I saw it. With almost no direction (which works pretty well for me), I was asked to design a makeover for this courtyard.


So, faced with a blank slate that was crying out for *something*, here’s what I came up with. Please keep in mind that I hadn’t done a perspective drawing in a few years. (it’s not perfect, to say the least…)


The client loved the design and gave the go-ahead. Yipee! Now, usually the finished product varies from the conceptual drawing  in varying degrees. Either the client requests changes mid-stream, I suggest a change because reality didn’t allow for something on paper, or any of several other possible reasons. But this time, the results matched the design with uncanny preciseness.



With the exception of the Wisteria not yet covering the arbor, this is definitely a plan that came together well!


Filed under Montara

Keepin’ out the Joneses

I recently had my lovely privacy hedge in my back garden pruned. It’s mostly made up of Rhamnus alaternus and needs to be pruned about 2-3 times a year. I planted the shrubs about 7 years ago and if I had just let them grow unfettered, they’d all be as big as the very bushy plant on the left in this picture:


The hedge goes around 2 of the 3 sides of the fence in the garden (the south-facing fence is covered in roses!) and it makes my small, downtown rose garden an oasis of calm for me and a secluded haven for the local birds. The only problem is keeping it just the right height- tall enough to block out the neighboring buildings and short enough to let enough sun in for the roses!


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12 Landscape Words You Probably Don’t Know

Sure, you probably know what an estuary is- also a bayou and a stalactite. Well, I hope that at least you’ve heard of them, but here’s a few that I’ve just discovered that I bet are new to you too!

  1. erg– Otherwise known as a sand sea. It comes from an Arabic word for any vast area covered with sand. The only erg in North America is the Gran Desierto of northern Sonora, which extends into southwestern Arizona and southeastern California.
  2. chine– A deep and narrow ravine cut into soft rock by a stream descending steeply to the sea. Now that’s pretty darn specific.
  3. guzzle– Used in New England to describe a natural spillway across a beach, affording a temporary connection between the sea and the marshes behind the beach.
  4. ait– or eyot, as it’s sometimes spelled, is a tiny island, especially one in a river, but also in a lake.
  5. freshet– A species of flood- a relatively sudden surge, brought on by heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt, or the two together, that sends streams and small rivers over their banks.
  6. catstep– A narrow, back-tilted terrace or bench on a grassy slope, formed when a hillside slumps beneath it’s own weight- sometimes forming one on top of the other, close together- a staircase fit for a feline.
  7. cowbelly– Extremely fine particles of sediment along the banks of slow-moving creeks- silt as soft as a Holstein’s belly.
  8. bight– A long gradual bend or gentle indentation in the shoreline of an open coast or bay.
  9. drumlin– a Scottish term meaning a “narrow hill” or “long ridge.”
  10. hell– In 19th century America, hell was generic term for a rough or difficult stretch of country.
  11. pokelogan– In the northeastern U.S., what lumbermen called the stagnant backwaters of lakes and rivers.
  12. toe slope– what forms when soil and rock move downslope and come to rest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your vocabulary lesson for the day. Happy 12/12/12!


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Making Sweet Garden Compost


Ahhh, the sweet smell of compost!…..

“Sweet??”, you say?

Yes, actually. A healthy compost pile should never smell bad, but should have a nice earthy smell- and when it does, I and many of my garden zealot friends can often be found running our fingers through the finely aged compost. (I’m not kidding!) Anyway, eccentricities aside, a compost pile can be not only a recycling facility for your kitchen and your garden waste, but also a highly efficient processing plant- ran by earth worms and other critters- that produces a first rate soil improver- compost.

No garden should be without it!


If you are one of the many people that are intimidated by composting, fear not. It really is easy. There are a few basics everyone need to have, like a space for the bin or pile- usually out of plain site, but not so much that it’s out of mind, some time (not very much) to tend it, and some simple ingredients. The main ingredients will likely be fallen leaves, weed and grass clippings, other garden waste and fruit and veggie scraps from the kitchen. You can also compost paper (without dye), egg cartons and bread (without butter, etc.)

The part about composting that usually stops people from actually doing it, is fear of not “adding the right ingredients”. The solution to that can be broken down into one simple statement:

If the contents of your pile tends to be wet and smelly, mix in more browns; if they are dry, mix in more greens.

“What”, you say, “the heck are greens and browns??” Well…


– Comfrey leaves

– Grass clippings

– Soft garden cuttings

– Nettles

– Kitchen scraps, incl. coffee grounds, tea bags, spent cut flowers (cut up small)

– Fresh (herbivore)animal manures


– Old straw

– Tough vegetable stems

– Herbaceous stems

– Cardbord tubes, egg cartons, paper bags – all crumpled up

– Dry fallen leaves

– Aged (herbivore) animal manures

If you’re interested in more info on composting and/or help in creating a composting system for your garden, contact me here, or at I don’t mind at all getting my hands dirty!


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Filed under food gardens, me in the garden

Growing Fruit on the Coast


More and more people are growing their own food these days (how quaint ;-)) and some of us are getting a bit serious about it. Planting fruit trees or hedgerows of berries is taking it to the next level, in my opinion. That’s not to say that growing seasonal veggies like greens, squash, tomatoes, etc. isn’t a big commitment, because it is, but when you plant food-producing trees and bushes, they start to take up some space! Granted, once they’re planted there is less overall labor involved, as compared to a vegetable garden, but most of us just don’t have the space sitting around waiting to be turned into an orchard. So now we’re talking real commitment and dedication. What part of your existing garden are you going to rip out??

If you’ve got to the point where you’re ready to make space, you really want to make sure that you plant the right varieties so they’ll actually produce fruit here on the coast.

First, find out if the variety you want is self-pollinating (1 plant will do) or if it needs cross-pollination (you’ll need at least 2 different varieties). Also, many types and varieties of fruit need a certain minimum number of chill hours (temp. between 32 & 45 deg.) in the winter and a sustained period of warm weather in the summer that we just don’t get in our temperate coastal climate. You can find out these requirements from either the tag at the nursery or from the catalog you’re ordering from. Here’s an important bit of info that you’ll need: we get an average of 500 or less “chill hours” here on the San Mateo County coast, so it’s usually safe to plant something that requires 400 hours or less and is early ripening (again, catalog will indicate).

Here’s a list of what we can grow, might be able to grow and probably can’t grow:


– low chill apples & pears

– most plum varieties

– strawberries

– most blackberry varieties

– figs

– Meyer lemons


– low chill blueberries & raspberries

– low chill nectarines

– kiwifruit

– avocado


– peaches

– pomegranates

– cherries



Filed under food, food gardens, victory gardens