Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape – Bad Grass Good Grass

Xeriscape Planting Landscape Design in a Day

Good grass like Pennisetum Alocuroides ‘Little Bunny’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus Pracox ‘Elfin Pink’,  a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Hate Weeding?

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say they dislike weeding over all outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some new cute plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stippa Tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stippa Tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital G may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much over time, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Edited blonde ambition

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

Low Maintenance

Cut it down in February to two inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill Blue Grama Grass, plant it in heavy clay and over water it.  I’m excited about adding this good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

Boulders Create Opportunity in Portland Landscape Designs

Bright blue Navel Wort Omphaloides cappadocia graces this stacked boulder wall in NW Portland's Willamette Heights.

Bright blue Navel Wort – Omphaloides cappadocia ‘Cherry Ingram’ graces this dry stacked boulder wall in NW Portlands’ Willamette Heights. Clients love this plant!

Boulders create opportunity in Portland landscape designs.

As a Portland landscape designer I love boulders. They are so versatile and especially helpful with complex small urban properties. New construction properties in the city are always on difficult lots now unless they are a tear down. The lots are either very narrow, an unusual shape or steep. The easy lots were built on years ago. They are a good challenge for experienced designers. Clients are often completely baffled about their options.

Usable space

One of  the big issues with these properties is creating usable space for my clients. A pretty landscape that can’t be used for entertaining even 4 adults is not functional in my opinion. Boulders help the designer create level, functional and usable areas.  Boulders also bring nature into urban environments and add visual drama to the views from the home. A well placed boulder brings a sigh of relief to me, it’s hard to explain but I think it is the touch of nature that I feel.

Designer directed boulder placement for this new construction home in NW Portland.

I loved directing the boulder placement and designing the stairs for this Willamette Heights home in NW Portland.

Boulders retain the hillsides to allow the designer to carve out interesting walkways, stairs and planting areas above them. The spaces between the boulders create planting pockets which when thoughtfully planted result in layers of softening greenery. Planting the pockets creates another way to balance the proportions of hard surface to plant material.  I love being able to use plants that are fussy about drainage in boulder crevices that I cannot use without copious soil preparation in flat properties.  The bonus of being able to stand and tend the low maintenance plantings cannot be praised enough as my older clients will attest to.

Landscape Design in a Day water feature in Raliegh Hills SW Portland

This water feature with a large drilled Montana Mud boulder has a dry return so it is safe for a front yard with no child proof fence.

Water

Boulders and water are natural partners and I love to create simple low-maintenance water features using drilled rock and echo chambers. It’s an easy way to offset traffic noise and provides water for birds, bees and possibly your dog too.  With a dry return instead of a high maintenance pond there is no mud so Fido won’t get to roll in the mud and bring it in to share w your sofa or carpet.

Proportional curb appeal

When the front yard is small we need strong visual impact to offset tall facades and large driveways. There is little plantable space and often the maximum hardscape allowed by the city or county.   We need to be visually bold to offset this situation.   Raising the soil with a few well placed boulders and adding complementary dramatic plant material can give us the impact we need.

 

Garden Design for Gardeners

Japanese Maple – Acer Palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ in Westmoreland neighborhood SE Portland Landscape Design in a Day.

Boulders solve soil problems

Here’s an example….Planting a hot colored foliage Japanese maples up in a boulder planter create excellent drainage and helps avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which is a good example of solving multiple problems with one solution.  Flat lots with heavy clay soil can severely limit the selection of plant material that will survive.  Supporting the raised soil with boulders gives me a wider selection of plants that will thrive without fuss.  It’s not as easy to be dramatic with a limited plant palette.

Sword Fern in Sun

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

NW Natural Style

Boulders work beautifully with nw natural landscape style but it is easy to use them in modern landscape design too.   The caricature of modern design can be harsh, bleak and boring.  Paths, patios, entries and retaining walls must be carefully shaped and proportioned. Boulders bring in the relief of nature made versus man made and create an inviting atmosphere.

 

Read more about hillside landscape design.

 

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

 

Drought tolerant low maintenance front yard

Drought tolerant Portland landscape design example. This front yard shown in winter is gravel, stone and plants.

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

In recent years, droughts have made it harder to maintain your property’s landscaping, especially with water restrictions that make it almost impossible to maintain lush, green natural grass. While it may be tempting to throw up your hands and just let it go brown, you do have many other options for increasing your property’s eye appeal. Knowing about these four drought resistant landscaping ideas gives you the perfect starting point for transforming the look and usability of your lawn.

Gravel and Stone

This landscaping option requires no watering, and it can last for years. However, too much gravel and stone can look stark. There is also the risk of gravel and stone being displaced during times of heavy foot traffic or inclement weather. For this reason, it is best to limit the use of this ground covering to smaller accent areas. Filling in the area around a fire pit or lining a walkway with stones and pavers reduces the amount of grass you need to create a lovely outdoor space. Yet, you will still need to consider other options if you prefer some green in your landscaping plan.

Garden path with stone stairs in Portland Oregon

The new stairs are complemented by easy care artificial grass.

Artificial Grass

Gravel and stone may do the trick, but they still lack the soothing quality of staring out at a lush, green space. Artificial grass is a great option when you prefer the look of natural blades since it has a similar appearance and texture, and it offers additional benefits for drought conditions such as requiring no water to maintain its look. You will also find that installing artificial grass eliminates the need for other forms of energy wasting such as mowing and weeding, and it lasts for years with little more than an occasional wash down with the hose.

Succulents

These hardy plants require very little watering to achieve gorgeous growth. While succulents are low-maintenance, it does take some know how for selecting the types that will work best in your climate. Therefore, you will want to do some research before planting to find the right mix of colors, textures and hardiness for your outdoor area.  Hen and Chicks – Sempervivum and Sedum Spath ‘Voodoo’  are two popular options for adding succulents to drought-prone areas.

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

Perennial Flowers

Life in a drought state is hard for flower loving home owners. However, there are some options for brightening up your outdoor space even when the rain has yet to fall. Consider adding low-water blooms such as Russian sage and lavender to your garden. Ideally, you should choose flowers that can be planted in pots so that you can keep them out of the heavy sun and put them out anytime that you need a splash of color for your décor. This option is a great way to add a touch of life by combining it with other ground coverings such as artificial grass.

Keeping your landscaping in top condition may seem harder when you are dealing with drought conditions. However, water restrictions may be the impetus you need to explore other options that offer far greater benefits than natural grass. For best results, consider mixing it up a bit by adding a few succulents as accents to your artificial grass, or define a small space with gravel. By being willing to experiment, you will find the perfect design for transforming your lawn into a gorgeous oasis that frees you from the dreaded parts of regular lawn maintenance.

 

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Growing a new Perspective on Mental Health

Tending the land to grow your own vegetables is an exceptional way to improve your diet, but access to unprocessed food at your doorstep isn’t the only reason to dig in the dirt. A recent study published by ScienceDirect clearly outlines the fact gardening has a positive effect on both physical and mental health.  As a Portland landscape designer  I often hear my landscape design clients talk about how good it  feels to engage in growing edibles, putter with plants and relax in their landscapes.  Maria Cannon is my guest blogger today and explains more about the mental health benefits of gardening.

Gardening reduces stress and anxiety

It is well accepted that sunlight is one natural element that can help keep depression at bay. However, gardening offers a double whammy where feel-good chemical production is concerned. Certain studies have found that Mycobacterium, which is found in soil, can actually trigger the brain to release serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for mood stabilization.

Tip: A home garden is the perfect place to grow cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, blue potatoes, and oregano, which are all known to contain compounds that help fight depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Gardening can decrease a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease

Gardening is a physical activity that can be enjoyed by people of virtually all fitness levels. A 150-pound woman can burn nearly 300 calories working in the garden for an hour. This type of work offers the body the opportunity to build muscle and sweat, both of which are important for overall health. The combination of eating fresh, organic vegetables and the added physical activity can help decrease the risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Chronic illness such as these are also linked to mental health issues like stress and depression.

 Working outdoors encourages family time

Working the land is a labor of love that can be instilled in children from an early age. And, since gardening affects the brain, spending time outdoors with the kids is not only good for parents but can help prevent depression in their smallest little landscapers. Another positive side effect of growing a vegetable or flower garden is that it encourages family time which can also help boost mood and ward off signs of depression and other mental health issues.

Tip: Gardening with children promotes positive communication skills which will last through adulthood and improve social function.

Gardening can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Depression is one of the least discussed concerns of aging, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Engaging in horticultural activities can help keep the brain sharp and potentially slow the progression of dementia in elderly patients. A recent study found that physical activities, including gardening, can help cut a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 50%.

Low Maintenance Itoh Peony

Itoh Peony variety, ‘Cora Louise’

Tip: Plant a flower garden to create a bright, colorful, and fragrant environment that will help treat the mind, body, and soul.

The act of harvesting releases dopamine

While society today no longer has to rely on hunter/gatherers for food, the brain continues to release dopamine during the harvest. It is hypothesized that this response evolved more than 200,000 years ago when ancient peoples saw large stores of food, which meant the survival of their community. This biologic function lingers on today, even when harvesting small gardens. Additionally, the harvest creates a feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment which can go a long way for someone battling depression.

Tip: Engage in a harvest celebration with friends and family to amplify the enjoyment received from the picking process.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy has been used successfully since Dr. Benjamin Rush first discovered a link between gardening and mental health. Therapeutic gardens are used across the nation to help rehabilitate people suffering cognitive disorders and a host of other physical and mental health concerns.

Natural Slug and Snail Control In Your Portland Landscape

California Brown Snail in Portland, OR

Slugs and snails do a lot of damage in Portland gardens.

Slugs and Snails in your Portland Landscape

My history with slugs in the garden

I was never thrilled with my options for dealing with slugs and snails.  In the 80’s we had the typical little gray French slugs and snails in our gardens and they were pesty enough.   I had often just hand picked them and kept the numbers down.  Then in the 90’s we started seeing California Brown Snail and they added significantly to the total damage.  It was too much for me to manage organically.  The beer bait didn’t work for my garden on a city sidewalk in NW Portland’s Nob Hill District.  Dogs would drink the beer which is NOT good for them and the traps looked tacky too. Using the snails for escargot doesn’t work as a pest management practice since the typical serving is six 1 ½” snails per person.  My family would  never go for Escargot anyway.  They are not adventurous diners.

 

Slug Bait Problems

NW Native banana slug does not damage living leaves

The banana slugs only eat leaves that are decaying or broken. They also pollinate native spring flowering plants on the forest floor. I did not like leading them to slaughter.

I started using the “pet safe” iron phosphate slug bait.  It was an easy method to cut down the population compared to beer baiting or hand picking them. The problem with slug bait is that it does not discriminate. It would lure innocent NW native banana slugs to their death along with the real culprits that did the damage to my plants.

Another problem with slug bait is it doesn’t protect your plants immediately.  Slug bait lures the slugs to the bait but does not kill them right away.  They have time to do a lot of damage before they sicken, stop feeding and then die.

Worms die from iron poisoning

The major issue is the iron phosphate remains in the slug’s body and breaks down and ends up in the soil.  This iron residue left behind in the soil created a toxic environment for worms, the creatures who keep our soil healthy.

I didn’t notice it myself until I got raised beds in my community garden.  I noticed a steady decline in the population of worms in my beds.

Copper wire around vegetable bed deters slugs

Daizzie inspecting the copper wire which keeps slugs out of my veggies by producing an electric shock.

 

There is an inert ingredient in the pet safe slug bait that combines with an active ingredient to kill earthworms.  They die from iron poisoning.  The combination was also causing harm to wildlife and to small domestic animals so it was time for me to make a big change.

Slug Bait Alternative-Natural Slug Control

Ann Lovejoy is a trusted resource and treasure for Pacific NW Gardeners.  She is the one that made the connection between the iron phosphate “pet safe” slug bait and the harm it was doing.   Read more about how slug bait kills worms. 

She made several suggestions for what to use instead of slug bait.  My favorite is using liquid caffeinated coffee sprayed onto plants as a repellent.  I tested it this past fall to great success.  I was able to protect my kale crop from slugs.  I purposely sprayed coffee on only half the plants as a test.  The plants I did not spray were missing half their foliage.  The plants I sprayed had no holes or missing foliage.   I sprayed at least once a week during the fall rains.  Ann says a direct spray of coffee will kill the slugs but I could not tell if this was a success.   I sprayed the coffee directly on slugs but when I came back the next day the sprayed slugs were no where to be seen.  They may have crawled off and quietly expired but I was not sure. Maybe my coffee wasn’t strong enough. I will do more testing now that the soil has warmed up enough for new slugs and snails to hatch. I’ll post again and share what strength of coffee it takes for an obvious demise.

I can’t wait to share this with my landscape design clients.  Many clients have pets.  The fact that pet safe slug bait is toxic needs to be shared.

Another option to deal with slugs in raised beds is to line the edge of the bed with copper.  I used a copper ground wire but you can use sticky copper tape available at most garden centers and it will last maybe one garden season if you are lucky.  It is easy to buy and apply to your raised beds, pottery and containers.

Slug or Snail?

What’s the difference between slugs and snails?  Slugs and snails are pretty much the same animals according to Robin Rosetta, Associate Professor at OSU.  Over time slugs evolved out of a hard shell so they could move through cramped spaces and allow them to get down into the soil to find food and protection.  Apparently, there is still sort of a shell under their hump like mantle.  Snails still have a shell and so are restricted to above ground activities.  They use their shells to survive inclement weather and are protected from some enemies and predators.