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The Ravine’s Edge (in progress)


IMG_3495 My client purchased the empty lot adjacent to their home several years ago and put up the bamboo fencing around the perimeter. More recently, they added the French doors visible on the side of their house, in anticipation of the new garden. The lot was originally overgrown with Echium, Eucalyptus saplings, Blackberry vines, Poison Oak, various grasses and other invasive weeds. The first 35″ of the 50″x 100″ lot was level, the rest inclining steeply into a deep, Eucalyptus-filled ravine, leading to the decision to only landscape the level portion.




IMG_3516 The crew mostly hand cleared the lot, though used a bobcat to pull out the eucalyptus stumps and to do some slight grading. Slightly visible in this image, at the back of the lot, is the beginning of the gopher wire installation. (& to the left, off the French doors, the start of construction for the landing and steps) Once the lot was cleared, the large slabs of “moss back” rock were brought in and placed at the edge of the ravine, to delineate the human-tamed landscape from the wilds of the ravine. Under and between the rocks is the only area of the new garden that doesn’t have gopher wire and sheet mulch because the slabs were so heavy that as we positioned them, they tore up anything in their way…



Several years ago, the slope leading into the ravine had been cleared of a mature Eucalyptus grove to give a fire break to all the homes that backed onto it. Once they were gone, the native plants very quickly grew back- primarily Rhamnus californicus (Coffeeberry) with Poison Oak and Coyote Bush interspersed. In the above picture, these lovely natives are visible, along with a couple stubborn Eucalyptus saplings that are, and will continue to be, a maintenance issue. I also decided to leave a few Echium, as long as they were low enough to not block the view. Visible on the slope up the other side of the ravine is the complete coverage of Eucalyptus trees that had come up to the back of these lots and houses before the fire break clearing.



The path is layers of drain rock, gold fines and multi-colored pea gravel- all compacted really well over a lining of gopher wire. In fact, 95% of the project area is underlayed with high-grade gopher wire and then a double layer of corrugated cardboard sheet mulch. Using sheet mulch is a great way to be able to landscape over a weed-filled lot or a existing, healthy lawn, without having to dig them up. This potentially saves labor and landfill space, and also the decomposing plant material helps improve the soil. (at the bottom of this image, a bit of the cardboard is visible) The native soil on this site was almost solid decomposed granite(low organic matter, good drainage), so I brought in richer soil and built it up over the wire and cardboard, planting primarily smaller plants so we didn’t have to cut through anything. The plant palette will be mostly natives and adapted plants, with a small percentage of ornamental (“fluffy”) plants closer to the house. Within a year, after having received a good start with the richer soil, the cardboard will be decomposed, the roots will grow through the wire and they’ll do fine in the native soil, as most are native or low water use plants.


IMG_3528 IMG_3519

Next post will be after planting. Stay tuned!

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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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Getcher Earthworms Here!

Yes, I know one can buy ladybugs, lacewings, earthworms and the like from hundreds of different catalogues and websites, but seeing a tub of them in the store got me to thinking.

I was standing in line at my local Ace Hardware store, looking at the display near the register of ladybugs and earthworms, and thought, “Have we come to this? Our soil is so dead that we have to buy worms and put them in the ground?? Right after that, I thought that  even if your soil wasn’t void of all life, if you were starting a compost pile that tub of worms just might come in handy…

After listening to my ranty ramblings, my husband had a little fun with me and I found this in my compost bin!

But seriously, when we use pesticides to kill garden pests, the good guys go away too! When I dig in my garden, in which I don’t ever use pesticides, I’m constantly trying to not decapitate (which end is the head??) all the worms that turn up. I’m always reminded of that movie, Seven Years in Tibet, where they relocate each and every worm discovered during a construction project. I’m afraid I’m not that patient or diligent and once in a while I think I get one. (and no, it’s not true that each piece can continue to live- if you chop a worm in half, it dies)

So, if your soil could use some life, go ahead and purchase a tub or two of worms at our friendly, local hardware store, but make sure you don’t use anything in your garden that could kill them- and if you’re lucky enough to have lots of worms in residence, yay for you…. just watch that shovel!

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Building a Dry Stack Stone Wall

Here’s proof that I don’t make others do all the labor! I actually really love building small walls, paths, patios, etc. myself. This was a fun project for an intimate courtyard right off a master bedroom. I had fun tucking tiny Sedums into the nooks. One side of the fence surrounding this garden is glass, allowing for a breathtaking view of the ocean.

Once the plants grow in, I think this will look quite nice!

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Asian Inspired Garden- before & after

I just recently revisited a garden I designed & installed last year. It was time for a bit of fine tuning and, most fun of all, a little lesson with the garden owner while I was at it. We worked together and I explained what I was doing and why, and also what would need to be done in the coming months. I was extremely pleased at how the plants have grown in and how the overall look & feel of the garden is coming together just as I had envisioned! Yay for a plan coming together!!


Nothing like starting from scratch! Actually, before this picture was taken, there was red lava rock about 4 inches deep and an old wooden path along the wall of the house. (left side of pic) After the lava rock and the old path were gone we rototilled the rock hard soil and then continued on…


The path was replaced with sand colored flagstone (all the way to the left) and a nice selection of lower maintenance plants were planted. Throughout the garden are several decorative stone and gravel borders (like the one above) to visually divide the long narrow space into different ‘garden rooms’.


This garden is located where it actually gets warm in the summer, and this beautiful Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm) provides the only source of shade in the garden. Inspired by necessity, I decided that this is where the sitting area had to go!

…and so….




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Finding Peace in your Garden

When you’re in your garden, do you feel peaceful? happy? at ease? inspired? possibly even invigorated? Or does being in, or thinking about, your garden bring up feelings of stress, anxiousness, guilt or avoidance for you?

These negative feelings can be caused by thinking that there’s so much to do that’s not getting done, or because you don’t like the way it looks- maybe it embarrasses you, or it simply doesn’t reflect your personality or sensibilities. I know at different times I’ve felt all of the above emotions in regard to my garden, though I’m lucky enough to have experienced the “good” emotions much more often because I’ve created an environment for myself that makes me happy on a very deep level.

Another reason I feel lucky is that I’ve had many opportunities to create such gratifying outdoor spaces for my clients. Since I only have one home (so far!) with a finite amount of garden, if my clients weren’t so accommodating, I would have to re-do my garden several times a year to be able to express this creative urge! So, because I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, I get to do what I LOVE- creating uniquely beautiful garden spaces for others- AND get paid for it! (Whoever thought of that was a genius.)

Getting some of these yummy good feelings from your own garden needn’t be a daunting task, if you don’t want it to be. Anything from reinventing your whole garden to carving out a small, secluded niche can deliver the goods. In fact, for many clients, I’ve drawn the garden of their dreams, to be ooh-ed and ahhh-ed and dreamed over until some future date when they could actually realize it. They’ve told me that even this- a drawing on a piece of paper- brought them a measure of peace and happiness.


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Late Summer in the Garden

We’re now coming into what I call the “Dregs of Summer” in the garden. Dregs being what’s left, or, the remnants of… In my experience, this last part of Summer is a tough time to keep things looking fresh in the garden, so I just don’t. I usually put in about as much effort as I do during the rest of the summer (aside from a mid-summer refreshing) and so the result is that about now things will start to get a bit leggy, a bit blown out, or just pain tired. I’m ok with that. I like seeing the different seasons in the garden. On the temperate Coast here, the seasons are stingy with their changes, and the ones we do get are subtle. I try to pay attention to the rhythm of the garden and I don’t try too hard to force things into looking permanently like it’s late Spring or early Summer. (prime-time around here)

August in the garden

I trim things back if they’re in the way (of me or other plants), I keep up with my watering & weeding and I continue to harvest the food we’re growing. Aside from that, I also do a lot of thinking about what to do next- what changes I want to make in the layout of my garden for next year, what plants will need replacing, which ones I want to plant more of or try for the first time, etc. Mostly what I do, though, is wait for the sun to appear so I can go out and enjoy it! As garden seasons go, it’s one of the more relaxing ones.

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A Different Perspective

Hi, I’m a sweet little weed! I’m earnestly growing toward the sun so I can get big and strong! When I’m bigger I’ll flower and then make seeds to ensure the survival of my species! Look at how green and healthy I am! Wait…. what’s this giant hand coming at me for?? It’s pulling me!! I’m hanging on for dear life with my little roots…. but dammit, I feel them breaking away…. nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

The End

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The Front has Arrived

For ten months of the year, I’m waiting for this patch of my front garden to look like THIS.  After it peaks (July/Aug) it looks a bit bedraggled for about 3 months (Sept/Oct/Nov), before I cut it back. Then I have about three months of trimmed back tidiness (Dec/Jan/Feb) before it starts to ramp up for the year. During this time of growth (Mar/April/May/June) I weed a lot and watch every new leaf and bud with excitement. You might be thinking, “That’s a lot of work and waiting for such a small reward” (or something like that!), but to me, it’s totally worth it. It’s like Lilacs, most of the year they’re either sticks or green bushes, but oh my god, when they’re in bloom, as brief as it is, don’t you just want to smash your face (gently…) into them?? Well, I do and I love my little postage stamp-sized patch of Olea,Lavender, Teuchrium, Thyme and Cerastium (Snow-in-Summer) just as much!


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