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More Confessions of a Delinquent Gardener

I can’t believe how this month is rushing by. The good news is that I’ve been so busy in my garden, I haven’t been updating my posts. I haven’t achieved my goal of 20 minutes a day in the garden, but i have good reasons! In addition to seeing friends and live music some nights, and being really busy here at work, we went to a great presentation by the good people at, and another great presentation by The Splinter Group at the Moraga Barn. To make up for it, I’ve been spending hours outside on the weekend with my husband and our dogs and the one million (slight exaggeration) hummingbirds that have come to call our garden home. Did I mention I’ve inadvertently created a garden chock full of hummingbird food? More good news: We’re mostly on track to meet our October 6 (San Francisco staple) Hardly Strictly Bluegrass garden party – check back for pictures of our garden party.

So what is considered hummingbird food in my garden? Almost everything. I have Tecoma stans, two cultivars of Abutilon, Iochroma ‘Sunset’, Cuphea salvadorensis, Pandorea pandorana (much more fun to call it by its common name: Wonga Wonga Vine), Thunbergia alata, three cultivars of Cannas, Fuchsia boliviana (both straight species and alba), lovely Meyer lemon blooms, and the giant flower spike of my Agave vilmoriniana while it was blooming (more on that later). It’s also amazing to see hummingbirds fly up into the depths of the giant tubular throat of the Brugmansia.

With all of this natural hummingbird food blooming almost all year long in San Francisco, who needs hummingbird feeders? I didn’t design my garden to be a haven for hummingbird food, I guess we just like the same kind of flowers! Regardless, if you’re in Sunset Zone 17 (areas influenced by the ocean, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley), try any combination of these plants to provide hummingbird food for your fine-feathered friends. My next venture is to see how many hummingbird species actually frequent my garden. I know we have lots of Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) for sure. And I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a ruby-throated hummingbird, but i have to admit (this is a confessional after all) that I’m not the most experienced birder. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Just what have we been up to over the past 24 days, you might ask? A giant garden clean-up and reorganization of the tool shed. Reorganization and a lot of replanting of all of my container garden. I’m most excited about my new, lovely Meyer lemon tree. It’s absolutely loaded with fruit, and Meyer lemons are a staple in my cooking. Planting up some herb pots to enhance my kitchen garden is on this week’s agenda. We’ve also focused on weeding, weeding, weeding – with all of the animals in my garden, both domestic and wild, I have to keep things organic. Fortunately, I actually enjoy weeding. I also spend A LOT of time removing spent Brugmansia flowers. We also retrofitted our irrigation. One of my favorite things this weekend was spray painting my rusty garden chairs. They’re going to look great if we switch our gravel to basalt.

We have two looming questions: 1) Do we change out the gravel in our garden or just top dress our existing? And 2) Do we go with real or synthetic sod?

I REALLY hate our gravel. From the moment we poured the first wheelbarrow-full out I hated it. I believe my first question was, “Did we just create a giant litterbox?” We kinda did – but at least it’s easy to keep clean. I do love the gravel for its crunchy sound as we sit around the fire pit on those chilly San Francisco nights. I think I’ll love it more if we switch to black basalt gravel. I just need to decide how MUCH more I would love it…

If you asked me two years ago if I would even consider artificial turf you would have gotten the hairy eyeball. But my thoughts have changed – at least for my garden (and many San Francisco gardens) requirements. First of all, I have very limited space. We mostly use our garden to entertain at the picnic table or around the fire. I like the idea of a flat soft space, and I currently don’t have a space to recline, relax and enjoy the circus of hummingbirds flitting about the garden (I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve counted no fewer than 15 buzzing around at one time). I’m embarrassed to say it, but this is my confessional, we have already installed real sod lawn, wait for it, THREE times. Here are my sod problems: My garden is pretty shady – mostly from a beautiful, prolific and extraordinarily messy giant Brugmansia. There are dogs. I love to let my plants to grow into the lawn area. I want to keep my lawn chair on the lawn. And this last should be no surprise, I’m a lazy mower. Artificial turf technology has improved by leaps and bounds, especially for residential homes. The artificial turf is lush and green – my dogs even enjoy laying on it. One major complaint is that it’s much hotter to walk on than real sod, but we rarely have that problem in San Francisco. It still seems kinda crazy, though. Artificial turf can also be cost-prohibitive, at least at the time of installation. It promises to pay off over time with maintenance and water savings.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. If you actually made it this far, check back in October to see the results!

Weekend Project: Container Gardening

Looking for a quick weekend project to spruce up your patio, deck or even you front porch? Container gardening is a great, easy project to do just that. Whether you are sprucing up some pots you already have, planning to buy new containers or creating a specific container garden, you will be pleased with your results.

Have some boring clay pots? Add some interest by sprucing up your old pots with paint! Spray paint can be used on clay pots; even plastics can now be painted with spray paint. Think about creating a design on your pot, use painters’ tape to create color blocking details or stripes. When purchasing new pots you can be a little adventurous with color depending on the selection available to you. One thing to consider when deciding on container colors is the plants you are going to plant. Make sure the plants and the pots are complimentary to each other and you’ll get more bang for your buck.

This red garden pot compliments this modern garden space, which is accented with red Japanese Maples, as well as the heuchera plants filling below the sphere shaped boxwood centerpiece.

When picking out plant species for your container garden, don’t forget the simple phrase thriller, filler, and spiller. You want to select one main plant species for the focal point, the thriller. Fill in around the thriller with some filler plants, these plants shouldn’t get as tall, but offer texture or color in the arrangement. Lastly, for your container add a spiller, or trailing plant that will spill over the edges and create a soft, lush look. Container gardening is that easy!
Container gardening successes following the simple phrase thiller, filler and spiller.

Container gardening could also be specific and not just ornamental. Always wanted a vegetable garden? Do it all in one container, big or small. A planted pot with assorted herbs could be the perfect compliment to your kitchen. Or next year consider planting tomatoes, with basil and chives for your summer salads. Have a love of succulents? Looking for a small ornamental planted centerpiece? Consider creating a gorgeous succulent bowl as a centerpiece for your outdoor dining table.

Whatever your container gardening style, you’ll enjoy your creation for many more weekends – just don’t forget to water regularly!

Landscape Terminology

I’ve noticed that I have developed a bad habit. I employ certain terminology that is commonly used amongst my colleagues and other landscape professionals when I’m meeting new clients, assuming they know exactly what I mean. I’ve realized that some people may have no idea what I’m referring to when I say ‘hardscape’ or ‘swale’ or ‘perennial.’ Sorry about that! I’m a work in progress. At least I don’t say ‘expresso.’

Over the next several months, I’m going to be regularly blogging about landscape terms, in an attempt to clarify for our clients and friends what all this terminology means. Have a term you’re confused about? Ask me! I welcome your feedback! Today, we’ll start with some of the most commonly used terms when we’re discussing landscape and landscape design.

This is an umbrella term that covers everything on your property, outside of structures like your home or garage. Your patio, your pool, your trees, your lawn, your vegetable beds, even your low voltage outdoor lights are all part of your Landscape- and all can be incorporated into your Landscape Design.

Basically, hard stuff. Usually refers to flat paved areas with materials like stone, concrete, or brick, but we even consider gravels to be ‘hardscape’, even though they are permeable. There are a lot of materials that can be used to hardscape an area to make it more useable. Check back here for more on that topic.

The soft stuff. Lawns, trees, shrubs, flowering perennials, grasses . . . basically anything that grows outdoors can be considered softscape. The word Landscape is often used interchangeably with Softscape, to describe any planted material.

When I was a kid, I thought ‘evergreen’ referred to plants like Pine or Spruce trees- plants with needles or cones that don’t shed their leaves every fall. As it happens, evergreen plants can be trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, or groundcovers- any plant that keeps its foliage all year round. Broad Leafed Evergreens (BLEs) are plants that have foliage broader than a needle. Camellias, Boxwoods, and Hollies all fall into this category. Furthermore, conifers (needle-leaved plants that produce cones) can be deciduous, losing their foliage each year. Crazy, I know.

This word refers to plants that die back once a year, usually in fall or winter. Basically they look dead and you get really annoyed with your landscape designer, but then a few months later, tada! They come back looking refreshed and go through the whole cycle again. Many of the plants with the most spectacular show throughout the seasons are deciduous – flowering cherry and Japanese maple trees, Hydrangeas, Black-Eyed Susans, Crape Myrtles, Dogwoods, Poppies . . . . these plants all take a nap in winter and come back the next spring.

Stay tuned. My next blog post will explore the oft-confusing but thrilling world of annuals vs. perennials!

How to hire the right landscape contractor for the job

Beginning a landscape project can be a little overwhelming – What do you want to install? How much do things cost? Who will design it? Who will build it?

As a licensed and bonded member of the California Landscape Contractors Association for more than 30 years we know the importance of hiring the right contractor for the job. We found this great article posted on the CLCA website – 4 Steps to a Professional Landscape – outlining the process from deciding on a budget to why hiring a licensed professional landscape contractor is the best choice. Enjoy the article here

Collecting Garden Books Outside of San Francisco


Collecting new, vintage and antique garden books is a passion of mine.  Currently I have over 600 garden books and the collection is growing like a weed.  Since the subject of gardening covers a wide range, so do my garden books.  In my library you will find garden books dealing with garden history, botany, maintenance, garden design and garden designers.

Finding garden books in San Francisco is never a problem.  We have an abundance of great local bookstores and I am familiar with most of them.  In fact I can tell someone how to get from the front door to the garden section at most of the local vendors.


Finding garden books outside of San Francisco has become a habit of mine.  With a little research on the internet, shopping for garden books out of town can be productive.

Three cities that I enjoy shopping for garden books are Miami, New Orleans and New York City.

In the Miami area I have had success at Robert A. Bookseller and the museum gift shop at Vizcaya.

Robert A. Bookseller is located in Fort Lauderdale.  This is a three-storey store filled with an amazing selection of used books.  If you are looking for garden books on tropical gardens this is the place.

While in Miami be sure to visit Vizcaya, the former home of agricultural industrialist James Deering.  The grand house and garden were built in 1916.  After wandering around the ten acres of formal gardens on a warm muggy afternoon, I found refuge in the museum’s bookshop.  Cooling down while skimming interesting garden books is a great way to end the house and garden tour.


In New Orleans I visit three shops in the French Quarter.  They’re all within walking distance of each other.  The three shops are Beckham’s BookShop, Faulkner House Books and Cresent City Books.  Cresent City Books is my favorite, not only because of the great garden books available but also because they have a nice selection of old prints of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.


Now for the Big Apple, New York City.  When I am shopping in Soho and I need to relax I head to Housing Works Bookstore Café.  This is a great place to enjoy a strong cup of coffee while browsing the shelves of garden books.  I would like to see this combination of coffee and books in San Francisco.

The New York Botanical Garden is always on the top of my  “must see” list while in town.  After being amazed with the Irwin Perennial Garden I head over to “Shop in the Garden.”  Shop in the Garden offers a large selection of new, vintage and antique garden books.


I leave the best for last, Strand Bookstore near Union Square.  Strand’s tag line is “home to 18 miles of books” and is a treasure trove for New York City booklovers.  Like Manhattan, navigating Strand Bookstore can be a bit unnerving.   Nonetheless, once I get to the garden book section I pull up a stool and then make the painful decision of how many books will fit in my suitcase.

As any collector of garden books will tell you, there is always an opportunity to add to the collection regardless of where you may be.  In addition, reading a recently purchased garden book while at the airport or on the flight home to San Francisco is always a great way to end a trip.

Easy Access to your Garden

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When we moved to San Francisco, I chose to live in the top unit and my sister chose the bottom. Six years later, I realize now, how maybe I should have put more thought into that decision.

To get to the garden I have to walk down 2 flights of narrow side stairs, through a dingy, dark, damp basement, and up five more steps to our garden oasis. The end result – I barely use the garden.

My visions of drinking hot green tea, sitting on my backyard patio in this carefully concocted fragrant garden oasis, with the cool San Francisco breeze on my face has yet to happen. Instead, in the chaos of watching my sisters’ children, I longingly look at the double doors that open right out onto the deck and the mere three steps down to the lawn. Poof! Magically, I am in the garden smelling the sweet blossoms of the lemon tree, feeling the San Francisco morning dew on my toes. It makes such a difference being IN the garden rather than viewing it from above.

Bottom line, decks and patios that allow easy access between your house and the outside make a huge difference. This is especially important for postage stamp sized gardens, with limited space, which are very common in dense urban areas like San Francisco. The seamless flow from a public area inside, like the living room or kitchen onto a substantial deck or backyard patio really increases the useable space and blurs the distinction between the inside and out. Convenience is key! Perhaps I’m lazy, but just the thought of making the trek to the garden stresses me out.

My goal is to save up a mini trust fund to build a balcony and a spiral staircase down to our backyard patio. For now, I will begin to research the building codes for my San Francisco block so I can figure out what the setbacks are for spiral staircases and where it will have the least impact on my sister’s view downstairs and can easily connect to our backyard patio.

Raised Beds in Your Bay Area Garden

Looking around the San Francisco Bay Area these days, raised beds seem to be everywhere. We couldn’t be happier. The Slow Food movement and increasing interest in growing our own food has made them a valuable tool in a lot of local gardens, where the soil is, well, awful. It can be devoid of organic matter, which is a requirement of successful edible gardening. As an avid gardener myself, I spend a lot of time wondering what happened to all my topsoil. How can soil erosion be that bad on a relatively flat lot? And why I don’t start my own pottery business since everything I turn out of the ground is CLAY? Trying to establish plant roots in that environment feels like fighting a losing battle. How can you make the most out of your garden space and ensure that your soil has necessary organic matter?

If you want to grow your own, raised beds could be the answer.


Having your vegetables above ground means control- not easy to come by when you’re dealing with Mother Nature. You can more easily address pest or disease issues. You can handpick the soil and amendments that are most appropriate for what you want to grow. Based on the height of your beds, you could potentially eliminate crouching, kneeling or stooping to harvest or weed- which we all know can be tough on our backs & knees. Further, you aren’t limited to growing areas defined by your existing garden layout. You can install raised beds on top of stone, concrete or gravel patios, decks, some roofs, even along asphalt driveways. In smaller gardens, this ‘square foot gardening’ tactic can create a layering effect utilizing both edibles and perennials to make the most of your space.

In my garden, a large section is partially shaded by Pittosporum trees. Not much sun is a problem I can handle. But the soil underneath is full of tree roots, devoid of nutrients and hard as rock, even in winter after substantial rains. My solution? Raised beds. The soil in my raised beds is ideal for my plant roots. I’ve found a few vegetables that can thrive in part shade (Kale! Radishes!) and even customized my beds by painting them, creating a colorful backdrop in the darkest part of my garden.

So what else can raised beds do? Designed properly, raised beds perform double duty: a wall of your bed can serve as a retaining wall, preventing soil erosion while providing ideal soil conditions for growing vegetables, perennials and flowering shrubs. We all know that planting can help control soil erosion, and if you construct a structural wall to delineate the back of a raised bed, you can reduce the possibility for soil erosion even further. For those of you with steep slopes, disturbing the soil or existing planting can actually increase the chances of soil erosion. Carving out an accessible area to focus planting with a combination retaining wall & raised bed leaves the remaining slope above undisturbed, and create a flat space below for you to easily access your beds, relax, and enjoy the view.


There aren’t many. Installing raised beds can be more costly than planting the old fashioned way (i.e. holes in the ground). But even with extensive soil amendment in traditional planting, essential nutrients will eventually leach out of the compost and the soil will revert to its prior condition. With raised beds, you can replace or amend soil with organic matter much more easily. We’ve done a lot of planting at Lazar Landscape in the last 30 years, and have seen firsthand the amazing difference in growth rate with plants grown in native soil versus raised beds. Plant roots are so much more easily established in the nutrient rich, aerated soil of raised beds, and the resulting growth can be spectacular.

You don’t have go strictly edible with raised beds either. We recommend mixing perennials with your edibles. There are many colorful perennials that are not only beautiful, but attract beneficial insects to help you combat pests. They create a cool contrast to leafy greens, bold squashes and sweet strawberries. They also keep portions of your beds looking pretty when you’re changing crops, as recent harvests can leave all-vegetable beds looking a bit sad. As many of you Bay Area gardeners have discovered, a kitchen garden featuring fresh herbs is wonderful to have on hand. Added bonus? Deer and gophers leave Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Chives and Parsley alone. On that note, individual beds are much easier (and less expensive!) to protect from wildlife than a whole garden. Simple welded wire screens over or around raised beds can keep deer and gophers out, not to mention raccoon, squirrels, birds, or Tucker (my neighbor’s Springer Spaniel. He likes to dig around my sweet peppers).

Not interested in an urban or suburban farm? Raised beds aren’t just the realm of vegetable gardeners. There is a raised bed for any garden style. Raised beds can be built out of concrete, brick or stone- whatever style best suits your garden aesthetic. The important things to remember are making sure your beds include appropriate drainage, and if you are growing edibles, you should steer clear of pressure treated woods- the metals used to treat the material can leach into your soil, and your edibles. This is a great time to get started. Have questions or need help with your own raised beds? We’re here!