Archive for Garden Tips

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.

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.

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

NW Portland Hillside Garden design by Landscape Design in a Day

Himalayan Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum venustum creeps through rockery. Photo is from one of my Willamette Heights Landscape Designs in Portland, Oregon.

Ferns for Portland Landscape Designers

I’ve been following Judith Jones and her career as a fern expert extraordinary before social media existed.  She’s been my fern guru for 20 years and I’ve tried to catch her lectures when she comes to Portland at Joy Creek Nursery, HPSO plant sales and garden shows.  My favorite Judith sighting was at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show when her show garden as the set for the Flintstones.  She was dressed as Wilma complete with a bone in her hair.  There was a dozen or more 8’ tall tree ferns and a 20’ tall volcano.  It looked like a real tropical fern forest.  It’s still my favorite show garden of all times.  She and her nursery Fancy Fronds have been my source for ferns in my designs.

She gave a special program for ANLD Portland Landscape Designers the other evening. She has continued to evolve and had new plants for me to consider as well as highlighting my old favorites.   It was such a pleasure to see her and learn more about ferns for landscape designers.

Client Charmer – Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x tracyi

photo by Fancy Fronds

Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x Tracyi

Is it possible to have a new fern?  This maidenhair was discovered in the 1900’s instead of 2000 bc which makes it new in my book.  Tracyi is a natural cross between two California native deciduous Maidenhair ferns and oddly enough it is evergreen.  Clients like a plant with long seasonal interest. The leaf or pinnae is cute, it has little dimples in the edge of each leaf.  The plant is a foot tall and like many Maidenhair ferns, the texture of the plant is what people notice most.  The best place to buy it is Judith herself at www.fancyfrondsnursery.com   I will list it in the shade category but many maidenhair fern can take some sun and become low water plants over time.  Typically, they are listed for moist shade.

Peacock Moss Modern Landscape Style

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella Kraussiana is a low ground cover fern that is underused. Some think it isn’t cold hardy for Portland, Oregon. Not true! I have it growing outdoors in a container where it’s handled many winters. It’s thriving in boulder crevices up in Willamette Heights. Plant it where it will have good drainage and light shade.

Kraus’ Spikemoss – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’ 

My descriptive words for Spikemoss are baby chick fluffy, with evergreen piles of adorable pettable  texture.  Judith feels it is underused and recommends it for Portland designers.  Don’t get confused and purchase Peacock moss, Selaginella uncinata because they are devoured by slugs.  I’ve been using Spikemoss for years at garden shows to dress up my pottery which is how I know that the millennial generation loves it.  They come running into my booth to pet the moss and ask if it is real. Spikemosses are not true mosses and are classed with ferns because they have a vascular system and moss doesn’t.   I’ve used Spikemoss in between boulders and I love the effect. My advice for boulder plantings is plant twice as much as you need, use a mix of compost, clay and sphagnum moss in the crevices. Don’t plant them at the base of boulders; they won’t get enough light.  Where it succeeds, it is eye catching with chartreuse fluffy fans against gray boulders. It has succeeded planted under my  (containerized) Dwarf  Vine Maple for 6 years so cold isn’t an issue.

Narrow Planting Beds

Photo credit Fancy Fronds, Judith Jones Narrow fern fits urban gardens (Scaled Male Fern Dryopteris 'Stableri Crisped')

Scaled Male Fern – Dryopteris ‘Stableri Crisped’ – Grow this fern in front of a long fence to make the fence subordinate to the landscape instead of the most prominent feature.

Ferns for Narrow Planting Beds – Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern-Dryopteris affinis ‘Stableri’ which has no crests and ‘Stableri Crisped’ which has curled and crimped pinnule margins.  Think amazing texture!   Judith suggests these for narrow planting strips in general and in front of tall fences in particular.  My experience is that builders and concrete contractors often create front walks that only leave a skinny strip for plants.

Imagine a  6′ tall fence with, you guessed it,  about 15” to plant in.   It’s a problem for homeowners and even designers struggle finding plants that fit this situation.  Jack hammering out the front walk and starting over with a new one is the best thing if there is space for other options and budget.  The rest of the time we find the right plant that will fit that location for years without our clients needing to do much.  Can you imagine a fern trimmed into a lollypop?  We are trying to avoid that sort of business!!  Sigh…….. These handsome ferns could live for decades in that narrow area as long as the soil drains reasonably well.  These ferns are also my favorite for visually making the fence subordinate instead of prominent. The narrow vase shape also makes them perfect contrast partners to plants with large leaves like Hosta or Fatsia in larger planting beds.

Foundation Plants

Sword Leaf Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum  and Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’  

These two ferns could become your new regular use plants in designs.  They are evergreen, not as tall as many ferns and look good in foundation plantings.  Place them in partly shaded and shady areas.

Olive colored foliage makes this fern unique for Portland Landscapes

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum ‘Makinoi’

Sword Leafed Holly Fern – Polystichum xiphophylum is neat and small at 15″ tall.

Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’ –  Olive, straw gold and russet fern with lustrous fronds is beautifully different than other ferns. Judith says it like this: “There is a reptilian sheen to the olive-green linear-lanceolate fronds which blends subtly into the varied straw to chestnut colored scales cloaking the supporting framework.”   It’s typically a 2-footer and evergreen or ever olive.  Some filtered morning light is okay but this fern is not for sunny areas.

Shade Garden Combination of fern and hosta

ANLD Member Rick Hansen design Arachniodes Standishii – Upside Down Fern in 2015 Designers Garden Tour. Note the color echo achieved by matching the mid green of the fern with the mid green leaf edge of the hosta.  See the contrast from the ruffled texture of the fern with the smooth hosta leaf.

 

 

Big Drama Fern

Upside Down Fern – Arachniodes Standishii  –  It’s not an upside down plant but the way the little pinnae are organized is opposite of all the other Arachniodes ferns in the world.  What I  care about is that it is cold hardy here (native to Korea and Japan), has an over the top lacy pattern and is easy to grow.  It’s semi evergreen.  It can take a little direct morning sun, typically place it in filtered shade with some deeper afternoon shade.  Plant it in front of other plants for a peek through the lace curtain effect.  It can eventually get large (4′ tall and wide) and I am trying mine on the north side where it will get sun until noon in mid June.  I’m pushing my luck a bit so we will see if it scorches and if so how long it takes to recover.

After the lecture, I bought plants. Even in my near senior status I felt that good old plant lust rise to the surface.  I usually don’t indulge in buying plants at lectures.  Managing all aspects of my landscape design business doesn’t leave me a lot of time for my former hobby of gardener and plant enthusiast.  I must be careful that I don’t kill plant material purchased in a state of amnesia about the reality of my life.  I bought these 5 ferns:  Tracys Hybrid Maidenhair – Adiantum x traceyi, Narrow Golden Scaled Male Fern  Dryopteris x complexa ‘Stableri Crisped’, Arachniodes Standishii, Upside Down Fern, Makinoi’s Holly Fern – Polystichum  ‘Makinoi’, and have lost the tag on the last one.  It’s clearly a Holly fern of some kind.

Buy ferns from Judith

My clients and I buy ferns directly from Judith off her web site or via an email. I like buying from her and get loads of advice and information when I need it. They arrive in great shape and are mostly sized between a 4” plant and a quart.  If you want bigger sizes, contact her before the spring or fall HPSO plant sale and she can bring them down for you.  Your clients can buy directly from her too.

My Spring Veggie Garden

My Spring Veggie Garden

I’m trying some new things to improve my early spring garden this year.

Carol standing at the entrance to community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina 7 23 2014

Community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina

Early Spring Garden

Overall I’m happy with my edibles  garden experience but I miss out on the early spring garden because I don’t get my plants into the ground soon enough.  My landscape design work is seasonal and by February I’m so busy it’s too late for me to get organized for my personal garden. I’ve been vague about planting start dates.  Is it still too cold?  What is the last frost date?  This year instead of wondering about it, I’m using the Portland Nursery calendar to get out of vague and into organized.

Buying veggie starts

I called my favorite place to buy starts so I’ll know when I can purchase.  Turns out they use the same calendar and will have my starts for mustard greens, kale, collards and more by March.  My grandmother was very thrifty and every penny counted.  Her huge vegetable garden was one of the ways she contributed to her family income.  I’m playing.  The amount of greens I go through in my kitchen is significant but would not break the bank if I bought them.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I buy 80 percent of my plants as starts  in 4 and 6 packs.  I don’t have room in my house for setting up seeds and starts provide instant gratification and cover my soil quickly.  My neighbor Betty grows a lot of interesting plants from seed for fun.  I often benefit.  I grow spring greens from seed in my tabletop salad garden and I can start seeds for my favorite smoothie green, arugula in late February.  If it’s too cold I’m out the cost of seeds.  I sow spring greens seeds every two or three weeks until mid June.  I will purchase veggie starts for my summer garden and plant them in May and do starts again in late summer for my fall garden.

Soil Test

I’m doing a soil test this year which I’ve not done before.  My root vegetables don’t do well and I’m curious about lead.  I understand that adding certain nutrients can help lock up some of the lead in the soil.   I hope to dig out one of my beds, lay down a weed barrier and a metal grid.  Why?  One reason is to keep the ground soil which probably does have some lead in it (the garden is below Hwy 30), separate from my nice new clean soil, and the 2nd is to keep the gopher or mole from bringing that soil up into my garden and keep them from moving the soil around and messing up the roots of my plants!!  It’s a lot of physical work so I’m only going to do one bed, probably with help this year.

That’s my plan, we will see what happens!

grafted tomatoes

My husband Bob harvesting tomatoes on our floating home.

My favorite place for vegetable starts is City Farm on N. Lombard.  They grow their veggie starts in a nearby greenhouse. New Seasons often has great veggie starts.  Cornell Farms is serious about their veggie starts so you can expect a good selection.  Portland Nursery, Garden Fever, Livingstone……..lots of choices for every part of town.