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Posts from the ‘container gardening’ Category

5 Tips for a Dog-Friendly Garden

Wingnut is always helpful when testing plants in the garden

Wingnut is always helpful when testing plants in the garden

The first thing I say when a client asks me to design a dog-friendly garden is: “Tell me about your dog.” And “How will Sparky use the garden.” Basically I want to know the same things about the dog as I do about the people I design for. A spastic dog that is prone to jumping and escape is going to require a much different garden design than a more mature dog with hip problems. Some people are interested in creating dogruns, or designated areas for their pups, while others want their furry family members to be part of the entire garden. If the latter is true, my next question is, “Can you live with imperfection?” Even the mellowest canine will invariably cause damage to a garden either with urine, a fondness for laying on your favorite bedding plants, or some other undiscovered behavior. The main goal in designing a dog-friendly garden or dogrun, or a dog kennel is to ensure the happiness and safety of your furry best friend.

If you can’t live with imperfection, and you have the space, designing a comfortable dog run for Fido might be your best bet. I’m currently designing a dogrun, or home dog kennel, for a family with dogs that enjoy the entire dog-friendly garden while their humans are outside, but have a little too much space when left to their own devices. The fenced dogrun will be under a perimeter of oaks, so they’ll be able to enjoy dappled shade and sunny areas for lounging on pet-friendly an artificial turf like SynLawn as well as two gravel areas for doing their business. They’ll also have a “dogport” covering their dog house area for full weather protection against the extremes.

SynLawn play area for dogs in a rooftop garden in San Francisco

SynLawn play area for dogs in a rooftop garden in San Francisco

Dog-friendly gardens are near and dear to my heart. I have two dogs (big dog, little dog) who enjoy my little postage stamp of a garden with me. For the most part, they’re perfect gentlemen; they have a few sturdy agaves on which they like to leave their marks, but the agaves don’t seem to mind; and they’d much rather do their other business on a walk than in their garden so any mess is technically due to my laziness. Neither of the beasts are chewers of things, except their squeaky dog toys, so I don’t worry about toxic plants, but it should be taken into consideration. My big dog has an occasional and unpredictable digging problem, but it’s always in the same place. After years trying to fight his compulsion with physical barriers I finally put a bench in front of his dig site with room for him and his dirty obsession. An abutilon fills out the fence above the digging spot so there are no obvious holes in the planting area. And now I can revel in his cute dirty nose rather than wonder which of my favorite plants he destroyed. I’m also conducting an experiment with real sod lawn and SynLawn, a fancy artificial turf (it’s not your grandma’s astroturf), to see which my dogs prefer. So far it’s about 50/50, with the added bonus with SynLawn that there is no maintenance, and the doggone raccoons aren’t digging it up every night. One challenge to consider with artificial turf is that it can get quite hot if you live in a hot summer climate. So far, my San Francisco dogs aren’t having any trouble.

Zeke after a fight with a raccoon - in my bedroom... the green part in his eye is a cut

Zeke after a fight with a raccoon – in my bedroom… the green part in his eye is a cut

My other major problem is raccoons! I won’t even get into the trouble (or vet bills) we’ve seen from these critters, but my biggest dog-related challenge is that the raccoons clearly have a regular route through my garden, and it’s right through my little tropical oasis – and where those little bandits go, so go my dogs. On a rampage. A herd of raccoons and dogs stampede through my elephant ears on a regular basis. This is living with imperfection. Let the fencing commence!!!
This raccoon is not dog-friendly.

This raccoon is not dog-friendly.

If you’re designing your own dog-friendly garden, here are five things to consider:

dogs will stay on a path - berms can be a deterrentPaths – dogs will oftentimes stay on designated paths. I designed one dog-friendly garden with a series of paths based on the dogs’ existing paths. Once installed, they were literally able to run circles around the garden – and the people had two seating connected by the patios to enjoy the show. Keep in mind that many dogs like to patrol the perimeter of the garden, so if space allows, consider leaving an open space between your planting borders and the fence.

sokolow-branca 020Shelter and water – whether your dog is strictly outdoors, or frequently unattended, make sure you provide adequate covered space (even beyond a dog house) to protect Rover from the elements. If your dog is alone for longer periods of time, consider a faucet waterer so Buffy never goes thirsty. If you can teach Chester to drink from these handy faucet waterers, and you have an extra hose bibb (consider a splitter attachment) it’s a low-cost solution to ensure constant hydration. The if you can get Max to drink out of the self-waterer, it might be safer than filling bowls with a hose. Research suggests that there may be toxins in your garden hose.

Golden Retrievers are an energetic breed that need lots of walks and/or room to run

Golden Retrievers are an energetic breed that need lots of walks and/or room to run

Know your dog’s habits – Many traits are breed-specific. If you have an energetic dog, obviously the more space the better. If you have a Houdini escape artist, you may need to fortify the bottom of the fence to prevent him from digging under, and may need a taller fence, or even a covered dogrun for a jumper. If Milo likes to chew on things, make sure he has plenty of weather-resistant dog toys and avoid toxic plants. For all dogs, never use cocoa mulch as it has proven fatally toxic to some dogs.

ornamental grassesPlant Wisely – When planting, try to plant larger- sized container plants in masses. Use sturdy plants like ornamental grasses and phormiums especially along borders. Large agaves and aeoniums work as convenient barriers in my garden, but spines at the tips of even the smoothest agaves may pose potential danger. Stay away from toxic plants, particularly if you have chewer. This is why it’s important to know your dog. Borders, either temporary or permanent, can be very helpful in keeping Spot out of your beds. Depending on your garden style, this can include low fencing, boulders or other garden ornament – make it work with the paths. If you have specimen plants, or enjoy vegetable gardening, consider raised beds.

Fire hydrant marking posts in a San Mateo dog park combine function, upcycling and whimsy

Fire hydrant marking posts in a San Mateo dog park combine function, upcycling and whimsy

Designate areas for your dog – most dogs and puppies can be trained to use specific areas for their potty needs. I’ve designed several dog-friendly gardens with gravel and and artificial grass like SynLawn spaces for dogs to do their duty. SynLawn is a great lawn alternative if you like the idea of perfection – the artificial turf won’t get yellow and patchy, and you can easily wash it down if it gets soiled. You can install extra drainage – and add an odor-reducer. If you have a male dog fond of marking, consider a marking post. There is a dog park in San Mateo that a large expanse of dirt dotted with fire hydrants. Let your whimsy run wild. If you go for a marking post, it’s helpful to have a water source close by to keep smells from building up. It also helps if you have good drainage underneath If you have a digger – find Lola a space to have at it. In one garden I designed, we inadvertently created a lookout for the pup to maintain his neighborhood vigilance. It’s his favorite spot in the garden.

Zeke in the mist

Zeke in the mist

Use these tips whether you’re planning a specific dogrun or thinking about incorporating these main ideas into your dog-friendly garden. They will ensure many happy days in the garden with your pooch. If you need help designing or installing your dog-friendly garden, or want to share your dog-friendly garden, feel free to drop me a line. And don’t even get me started about my custom dog house and dog washing and dog splash ideas!

January maintenance tips

Winter in the Bay Area can be a forgetful time in the garden. Since we aren’t necessarily spending our days and evenings outside it’s easy to forget about your garden. However, there are chores that are necessary during the winter months to keep your garden thriving. There are also plenty of fun gardening and enhancement opportunities this time of year too – consider them a bonus! You can ensure a stellar spring garden if you follow these winter gardening tips.

January Maintenance Tips:

Trees and Shrubs: Most shrubs and deciduous shade trees can be pruned now (flowering trees shouldn’t be pruned until after they’ve bloomed) to promote healthy structure and growth during spring time months.
Bonus: Now is a great time to plant fruit trees – bare root trees are now available at many nurseries are typically less expensive than those potted in soil. Dormant fruit trees, like apple, cherry, plum and pear, require a certain amount of hours below 45 degrees to break winter dormancy and produce a healthy crop. Make sure you find the right tree for your microclimate.

Shop early for spectacular bare root rose varieties!

Shop early for spectacular bare root rose varieties!

Roses: For your existing roses, prune no more than half of the new growth from the last growing season. Pinching and pruning encourages vigorous new growth.
Bonus: January and February are the best months to plant new roses, and bare root stock is now showing up in Bay Area nurseries. This time of year the stock should be full with desirable varieties.

Be sure to rake and clean up leaves from planting beds before they cause damage!

Be sure to rake and clean up leaves from planting beds before they cause damage!

Raking: Stay on top of it. Fallen leaves can damage lawns and choke perennials if allowed to sit for too long.
Bonus: Got kids? Consider it a fun day raking the leaves into piles and playing in them. Got (pre -) teenagers? Make them earn their allowance and assign them the weekend chore.

What does a healthy lawn mean to your family?

What does a healthy lawn mean to your family?

A Healthy Lawn: This is a great time of year to aerate and fertilize your lawn. Aeration is a simple process that improves drainage and opens the thatch so water and oxygen can reach the roots. This helps microorganisms thrive and break down accumulated thatch build up. It also helps to reduce compaction which occurs naturally over time. All of this combined improves water absorption, produces deep root growth, and encourages a healthier grass that chokes out weeds. Once aerating is complete, fertilize your lawn to ensure a speedy and healthy recovery.
Bonus: A healthy, well-tended lawn improves the value of your property and the aesthetics of your neighborhood, not to mention the enjoyment a lawn can provide for your family.

Tired of looking at a vacant veggie bed? Plant now there are plenty of veggies to tend to!

Tired of looking at a vacant veggie bed? Plant now there are plenty of veggies to tend to!

Bonus! Veggies! Lots of vegetables want to be planted in fall and winter for spring harvest- it’s not too late! Some of the best to plant now: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, peas, spinach and turnips. Year round vegetables like carrots, beets and radishes can be planted now too. Maybe this is your year to create the kitchen garden you always wanted – stick to the resolution to eat more locally and garden more frequently!

Rather not get your hands dirty? Call our maintenance department at (510) 444 -5195 to set up an annual maintenance visit. We can get your garden all spruced up for a spectacular spring.

Bonus! Considering design changes in your garden?! Now is the perfect time to have our designers complete your landscape design plans. Depending on the size and scope of your project a design could take 4 – 6 weeks, giving you plenty of time to design and build your garden for enjoyment this year, as soon as this spring!

A Green Roof for our Chicken Coop

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After many months of pondering, I finally planted up the empty void atop our family chicken coop and turned it into a beautiful green roof. Even though the roof is fairly small, I see it everyday from our second story home, so it is very important to me. I considered wanting a green roof with a natural meadow look that would just turn golden in the summer months or a collection of California native wildflowers interspersed amongst creeping sedum. In the end, I chose a mix of succulents and fescues, all very hardy and requiring hardly any maintenance. I am happy with the end result because it is extremely easy to care for, requires very little water, and looks good throughout the seasons.

I chose the succulents because I needed something that could withstand the shallow four inch depth of the roof. I know the groundcover sedums are very popular for green roofs for the very fact that they spread wide without a lot of water and have considerably short root structures. But since I would be looking at the green roof everyday, I wanted something with bolder leaves and more texture. I chose seven different varieties for the green roof including: Echeveria, that has rosettes ranging from one to five inches in diameter. They are different hues of grey-blue, mauve, and burgundy. Interspersed are some Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’ to set off the bold leaves of the Echeveria. Along the edges I put in a few draping purple flowering plants, Convolvulus mauritanicus. to soften the edges.

I chose all of these plants for their durability and low water requirement, important aspects to consider when planting a green roof. I will use the spray hose to water them a few times a week, until they get established since I did not set up an irrigation system. I think the succulents will flourish with the temperate San Francisco climate and ability to survive with little water.

One thing I did not anticipate was the chickens eating the succulents when left to freely roam the garden. I went a little overboard at the nursery and bought some succulents to plant at ground level, only to discover the chicks, and my daughter, love to pluck the fleshy leaves off! For now, I am keeping my favorite varieties on the roof to divide and live on so I can root them in the garden beds later on and not care if they get plucked.

Goodbye to My Agave vilmoriniana

Last weekend I said goodbye to a fixture in my San Francisco garden, my gigantic Agave vilmoriniana, or Octopus Agave. It was a tattered, spindly castoff when I rescued it from a client’s garden about eight years ago – and it developed into an architectural wonder before exploding into bloom. We’ve actually had an ongoing dialogue here in the office about the preponderance of blooms we’ve been noticing from agaves and phormiums. Agave americana is called Century Plant, alluding to the lack of frequency of bloom time. It’s a bumper crop year.

If you know agaves, like the Octopus agave or the Century plant, you’ll understand that the beautiful bloom is also the death knell of these amazing plants. One morning in early June, I made my way down to the disaster zone of my garden to see the spike of the bloom begin. It was about 15 inches tall when I first noticed it – and from then until it reached its maximum 18’ height you could practically watch it grow with the naked eye. A neighbor a backyard block away even commented on the fast-growing, incredibly tall Octopus agave bloom. He could see it from his backyard deck.

This is where it gets interesting. Agave vilmoriniana is not a native to our region, nor is the moth that pollinates it in San Francisco – but agaves are resourceful. If you leave the stalk intact and allow the plant to die, and endure the dying blooms, it miraculously begins to produce pups, or bulbils. Upon my inspection, it looks like there are two pups where each bud once bloomed. I believe in their native environment, as the agave bloom topples, the pups that reach soil will root and continue to grow. Since the native regions of most agaves are so harsh, it makes sense that they would need to produce many plants in order that a few survive.

In an ideal world, I would let the bloom fully mature and topple back to earth and the bulbils continue to mature. But this delinquent gardener is not that patient. It’s time to get this garden in proper order! I hacked the not-so-wilty bloom down this weekend, and have begun to harvest the bulbils. I also yanked the dying Agave vilmoriniana plant from the soil – only to plant another in its place. It’s such a lovely spot for the curving Octopus arms. Let me know if you want to try some bulbils. I have thousands!

Succulent Garden Extravaganza

Our design department field trip to the Succulent Garden Extravaganza was super fun. The folks over at Succulent Gardens put on a real nice shindig. We enjoyed the presentations, our fellow succulent lovers, and good barbecue – and we all came back with lots of new plants for our gardens. Here’s a collage of some of our favorites from the day. Stay tuned to the next “The Delinquent Gardener” for garden photos.

Can you believe it is October?!?

Happy October – can you believe it?!? Only three more months left to 2012. There are lots of things you can be doing in your garden this month to continue to enjoy it throughout the fall and to get it ready for the upcoming new year. Check out this great article from our friends at Houzz – Northern California Gardener’s October Checklist – reminds us how lucky we are to live in such a great climate where we still can enjoy our gardens.

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!