berm supremacy


Above is an Italian cypress planted in a berm.


And another, purchased at the same time, from the same source, planted directly in the ground. I sang the praises of berms earlier here. That was before the observation came up that a berm, before planting, looks like a burial ground for an elephant. Good for a laugh, but a comparison of the two trees gives you some idea why this gardener remains committed to berm-building.

firsts: sumac…you sucker


Looking pretty good here, where it has, at long last, taken on some fall color. Still, it totally fails to live up to my expectations, and stands as an example of what can happen when one fails to research with Latin names in hand. A sumac in our back yard was a fond childhood memory. It put on a spectacular show each fall, and the fuzzy, antlerish branches were endearing. I found this one at Recycled Gardens for $4 with no ID other than Rhus. As far as I can tell, it must be Rhus trilobata, or ‘Skunkbush’. In other words, it displays all of the drawbacks (suckering, smelly, no fuzz) and little of the charm I sought. Lesson learned? I hope so.

dish gardens

Gardening in miniature can be pretty cool. Being unable to pass by a display of succulents, be it Trader Joe’s or a high end plant boutique, I have quite a few dish gardens in the making, and a handful that have reached a point where they are worthy of sharing. Just like in the garden at large, a composition may limp along for months or even years, then suddenly come together.


I showed you this one in my last post, but it is also a good example of a planter that has finally found its plants. A friend gave it to me with a resident miniature rose…kind of like housing a diva in a yurt. A number of transients passed through, but finally these three compatible roomies settled in and took root. Sorry…I can’t tell you the names of any but the Kalanchoe. They got together before I started to be more conscientious about keeping records, as is the case for most things in this post.


I love the way these fleshy little rosettes cozy up to the rough looking character at the lower edge of the pot and then spill over the edges. When this one comes in for the winter, some judicious pruning will result in a whole new crop of starts.

The fine textured filler here is Dasyphyllum a volunteer that pops up everywhere. Everything else is from cuttings. The variegated rosettes started out with a rosy blush that I liked, but doesn’t seem to hold.


This one is just beginning to look interesting. It is also a good example of the sassy ways of plants. One of the most vigorous of these came from Home Depot, and replaced a sickly brother from a high end shop that shall remain nameless because they sell lots of really good stuff too. We live dangerously situated between Joy Creek and Cistus nurseries. Both of these have well-earned reputations for high standards, knowledgeable staff and unique plant material. If I am looking for a standout specimen and the information base to care for it, one of these places is it. Closer by is a mass-market type nursery, much maligned by horthead friends, where real bargains can be had. We have found 10′ trees for $10, priced to move and make way for new merchandise. Nobody on the staff, as far as I can tell, knows diddly-squat about plants, but their stock is the nuts and bolts; the supporting cast in the garden that hardly requires arcane knowledge.

But I digress. Let’s take a look at an “over-the-hill” example.


For about five years,I moved this garden outside for the summer, inside each autumn, and it grew in loveliness with each passing season. This summer it began to shed along the lip of the dish, and two of the companion plants all but died. Time to suck it up and perform major surgery. Whatever will I do with all that plant material for repurposing? Can’t bear to throw it away, and the winter invasion of our living space is getting out of hand.


There is a wonderful little shop called Life + Limb that specializes in these kinds of plants. They also carry appropriate planter, mediums, etc., and will pot things up on the spot. I indulged in just such treatment for this Euphorbia tirucalla. Love the way it becomes ever more Medusa-like. PS: Loree @ Danger Garden just informed me that Life + Limb has shuttered. Sure enough, when I clicked on their link, I got closing sale information. So sad. Do you suppose they were too specialized, or just a victim of today’s economy?


Do you suppose this is all just an overblown case of California Envy? Possibly brought on by a visit to The Germinatrix for the first time this morning? And yes, that is indeed a huge plant snapped in the garden of a Southern California friend…Thanks, Loree, for making me aware that I was unclear on that count.



Zinnias are sooo satisfying to start from seed. They emerge in a matter of days, so even with a late start, they are ready to be settled into beds after a few weeks.


I posted earlier about the disappointing results of my tulip bed project. Apparently all that work didn’t go completely to waste. The zinnias are happy there, as are some lemon cucumbers (a variety which I love, but have had little success with in the past).


I decided to try the low-growing ‘Profusion’ variety this time. Their happy little faces are sweet at the edge of the border. I do miss the tall ones. Next year…always next year.

tulip or not tulip

I find tulips hard to resist, even though they tend to peter out after a few years. In the past, I’ve potted up a few each year to enjoy on the deck, then moved them out into the landscape to fare as they will. Here, where voles rule, it hasn’t been a pretty sight. Last fall, I decided to give the Kaufmanias a try, since they have been said to not only return year after year, but to increase in numbers. I ordered 50 of the charmingly named ‘Shakespeare’ from my favorite bulb source, John Scheepers, Inc., and decided to put some real effort into giving them a fighting chance.


Step one: lay down a thick mat of newpapers.


Step two: lay wire mesh over the paper.


Step three: cover with soil, arrange the bulbs and secure with a rock border. Pile high with good soil amended with compost and bulb booster. Sit back and anticipate the glorious display, come spring.


Sigh…yes, here it is, spring, and here are the disappointing results of all my work and planning.


To end on a more cheerful note, these ‘Vanilla Cream’ tulips from Breck’s are in their second year, and it would be hard to ask for a more knockout performance. If there is a moral to this story, it might have something to do with “best laid plans”, and what gardener has no story to tell about those?

to berm or not to berm

…is not even a question. I love berms, and everything seems to grow bigger and better in a berm than in flat ground.


The moles are industrious little fellows. Whenever it rains, or wherever we water, this is a typical scene of their work. I might scoop up the light, fluffy soil as many as four or five times, only to have them push up another mound. I could grind my teeth and hurl expletives their way, but instead I praise my little crew for providing me with a steady supply of material.


Above is a shot of a berm in the early stages. I know, at this point it looks like a burial mound. Weeds, clippings, hunks of dirt from edging beds, etc. get dumped here until it reaches a height and shape that appeals to me, bearing in mind that it will settle over time and flatten to maybe half its height. It will then get a thick mulch of newspapers. I work with about ten layers at a time, watering thoroughly so they will lay down and stick together. There must be wide overlapping, or else grasses and weeds will find their way through the mulch. I extend the papers a couple of feet onto level ground, then border the mound with rocks. Cliffs line the roadway from our place into town. I hailed a highway patrolman one day to ask him if it was permissible to pick up fallen rocks along the verge. His bemused reply was that he didn’t see why not, as long as my car was parked well off the traffic lanes. I now stop frequently to load up the floor on the passenger side with the largest rocks I can find.


So that is a berm ready for planting, with just a couple of plants in place. The rock border does double duty: it holds the newspapers in place, and holds back the soil from migrating into the paths. Here’s where those molehills come in. Each time I get a wheelbarrow loaded up with mole dirt, I add a couple shovels full of corn gluten meal to counteract the weed seeds I know are lurking in there. The mixture is spread over the newspapers until nary a headline is visible. When a plant goes in, I just poke a hole and cut away enough to dig a proper hole. Eventually there will be little sedums and such creeping between and over the rocks. Cedar shavings cover the paper mulch outside the rock border to create a path and prevent surrounding grass from encroaching on the berm.


The above berm is further along, with plants beginning to fill in. I am experimenting with ground covers here, but even with quite a bit of bare ground, the weeding is much easier to manage than in the in-ground beds. The few weeds that do appear are usually shallow-rooted (catch them before they penetrate the paper mulch) and easy to pull out.


The first berm, on the east side of the house, is beginning to get a little crowded. It has been promised a round of dividing and pruning come spring. Restraint is a hard lesson, and that new, currently bare, berm is bound to fill up fast…especially with the HPSO fall plant sale coming up.

So there you have it: my formula for berm building. Best of all, all materials discussed here were absolutely free. More money for plants!

the lavender walk

The first project we undertook when we moved here four years ago was this line of lavender leading from the house to Richard’s studio.


My original intent was to have it on both sides of the walkway. After getting one side into the ground and mulched with gravel, other projects beckoned and side two never materialized. Now that it has reached maturity, I can see that it would have overpowered the walk, had I followed through with the earlier plan. Design by neglect rules often around here. The bed is three feet wide, and the lavender plants (Lavendula ‘Melissa’) are three feet apart. Puny and pathetic for the first couple of years, it now looks like this when in full bloom. After the bees have finished with it, I will prune each plant back to a neat little globe. The gravel mulch needs refreshing about every third year. I put down a thick layer of newspapers under the mulch last time, and am happy to report a sharp drop in weeding chores as a result.

broken dreams?


My thrifty tendencies lead me to gluing broken pots back together if the break is clean. This time, I decided to use a fairly large broken clay pot in another way. Not an original idea, but I quite like the way the golden baby tears seem to be spilling forth, mingling with the sedum and washing around the black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’). It took a couple of years to achieve the effect I was after. I began by half burying the pot towards the top of a gentle slope. One 4″ pot of baby tears went in the middle of the pot, with another above, one to the side and a third below. One 4″ pot of sedum was planted above and to the right. One mondo grass went in at the lip of the pot and has now become three. The baby tears and sedum both multiply rapidly, so that now nearly the whole slope is carpeted.

floral series


Budding© was the first pictorial banner I made. Next to Spinnaker© it has been the most popular. One client bought one of these and then wanted three more to go with it and a series was born.


I decided to carry over some of the colors from banner to banner, and stick with the abstracted floral imagery. This one, I call FloraFly©.


Upsy Daisy© introduces yellow to the mix. I think I will also offer it with pink replacing the yellow. What do you think?


If you got here through my home page, you have already seen Pistil©, but I will include it here just in case.

When I started making banners, I did so with the intent of getting as far away as possible from the bunny and duckie genre of garden banners. The early pieces were very geometrical, with the exception of the occasional wavy edge. The sewing techniques I developed early on have been adapted here, and play a role in how the images evolve. As a gardening nut, I had a great time dreaming up flowers suggested by nature, but never found there.

not so fast, deer


By and large, we take a live and let-live attitude toward the deer. They provide endless entertainment from our dining room windows, and in return, they are allowed to browse at will. I will buy strawberries at the Farmers’ Market because the deer nibble the flowers before they can begin to develop into anything humans deem edible. Trees are a different matter. After the deer stripped a young eucalyptus of every trace of foliage (who knew that they would go for something so aromatic?) a remedy became necessary. Richard drove metal pipe into the ground to support deer netting that would surround each tender young tree. It proved effective and not especially unsightly. Still, those poles seemed to be begging for adornment.


This picture shows a hose guard made by a local ceramicist. I bought three of them several years ago because I fell hard for them. I don’t know about you, but try as I might, I just can’t make hose guards work for me. These beauties sat around waiting for the deer fence epiphany. The stake, meant to go into the ground, fits snugly into the top end of the metal pipe. Cute, huh? The first picture (above) features glass electrical insulators (hope I got that right) slipped over the tops of the pipes. These things always appealed to me, so whenever they popped up at garage sales, I would buy them. Never had a clue as to their fate until now.


I ran out of stashed goodies before the corralled trees ran out, so off to the local craft store for me. These 3″ wooden balls were intended to become dolls’ heads. With the application of red spray paint and a big long screw to slide into the top of the pipe, they become a variation on my post cap theme.

Visiting gardens and nurseries is a sure way to fill one’s memory banks with ideas . They might mingle in there for years before they pop out disguised as your own brilliant brainstorms. One garden owner (wish I could remember, so as to give full credit) had taken a paint pot to some poppy pods left standing after the petals fell. The result was a surreal parade of sculptural unflowers in an array of colors alien to most gardens. At Dancing Oaks Nursery they had crafted special stakes to hold their collection of electrical insulators, which spring, flower-like, from various beds. In other words, truly original ideas are few and far between, but out of the stew of influences we can often pluck a tasty morsel or two…and, in this case, deprive the deer of a few tasty morsels until the trees get big enough to fend for themselves.