Monday, June 29, 2009

Grafted gardenias bring the gorgeous flower back to San Diego gardens

Gardenias are one of the most spectacularly scented flowers in a summer garden, but they have a well earned reputation for being hard to grow. Many do-it-yourself gardeners have tried them again and again only to have them yellow and die after a few months, or squeak along but never produce flowers.

Grafted gardenias have come a long way towards changing that reputation. Grafted gardenias use the root stock of Gardenia thunbergii, a tree gardenia from South Africa that is more vigorous and much more drought tolerant. It is also more resistant to disease than cutting grown gardenias. Gardenia thunbergii does grow in San Diego but it is very hard to find. If you come across an old garden in Bankers Hill or one of the other old communities in town and you see what looks suspiciously like a gardenia flower on a 10-15' tall tree, that is G. thunbergii. They tend to have a fairly unattractive shape, though, and long leggy branches.

Monrovia nursery makes my favorite grafted gardenias. A few I like to use are G. 'Vietchii' (above) for its reliability, G. 'Aimee' (aka First Love) for its large peony-like flowers (below left), and G. 'Mystery' (below right) for their profuse flowers.

Gardenias prefer acidic soil, and the soil and water in San Diego are both alkaline. That means that your gardenias, even grafted varieties, will require fairly consistent care. If you have a rainwater collection system, consider using that to water your gardenias. To make sure the soil is acidic, add a cup or two of fish emulsion or another acidifier to the soil when you plant each gardenia shrub. The acidifier will be sold as a gardenia-camellia-azalea fertilizer. Dress the soil with another 1/2 cup to cup every month to keep your gardenia green and flowering. It does like more water than the xeriscape plants, so keep a close eye on it. Browning of the leaves or branches with very sparse leaves are a sign it isn't getting enough water.

So are they worth all the effort? Absolutely! There is no smell more elegant than a gardenia. I've noticed that the smell only travels for a few feet, so I try to plant them directly under bedroom windows or close to an outdoor dining area so you can be sure to catch the sweet scent.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Geraniums are great color for a hot spot in your garden

Pelargoniums are ivy-leafed geraniums. It is a misnomer since they aren't actually related to geraniums at all, but when you hear people talking about geraniums, they almost always mean pelargoniums. Think of red flowers in window boxes in Tuscany, and those will be Pelargoniums. Lately there has been a resurgence of wonderful pelargoniums in nurseries because of the release of a few new color series. They are very drought tolerant and can stand a lot of heat, so they are perfect for a waterwise garden. Try the Blizzard series (such as Blue Blizzard) or the Balcon series.

The above photos of pelargoniums are:
P. Bacon red
P. Red Blizzard
P. Salmon Path
P. Blue Blizzard
P. sidoides (has very attractive grey-green fuzzy foliage)

So if Pelagroniums aren't "real" geraniums, what are real geraniums? They are often called cranesbills, and one of the most common is a groundcover called Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'. Here is a photo of it:

You can also find very short (2"-3") geraniums for groundcover between stepstones or for use in rock gardens. They are perennials, so I typically replace G. 'Johnson's Blue' every third year to keep it from getting leggy and messy looking.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunset's Lose the Lawn provides inspiration

Want to get rid of your lawn but not sure what other options there are? Sunset magazine's article 'Lose the Lawn' provides some great inspiration. Here are a few images from the article of lawnless gardens that I loved. I especially like their emphasis on curb appeal and outdoor living.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

May Greys

In San Diego, in the early summer we often have a marine layer of clouds over most of the coastal areas. We call it May Grey and June Gloom. Maybe it is the weather that has me into plants with grey foliage right now.

Grey foliage works as an elegant addition to drought tolerant gardens, making the foliage of the other plants appear more green by contrast. Try them in mass plantings or as single specimens.

Here are a few of my favorites. These are all reliable growers in San Diego county. The blue flowered variety to the left is Teucrium fruticans 'Azuruem' by Monrovia nursery. It is a compact shrub to 3' high, ideal for a low hedge or mass planting. For contrast, try planting it with a mass of Rosemarinus 'Tuscan Blue'.

The clouds of lavender purple flowers is Leucophyllum frutescens, sometimes called Tezas Ranger or Texas Silverleaf.

The groundcover is one of my favorites: Dymondia margaretae. It forms a very dense matt tight to the ground and takes a fair amount of foot traffic and even occasional car traffic.

The brilliant white flowers belong to Convovulus cneorum. It has brilliant silver foliage and a low round growth habit. Below is Artemesia 'Powis Castle' with its soft fluttery silver-blue foliage. Let it drape over a low wall.

Olea 'Little Ollie' is a shrub form of an oliver ideal for low hedges. It is very drought and heat tolerant. Lavenders, like this Lavandula 'Hidcote Blue' offer a wonderful variety of grey foliage.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home highlight: ornamental grasses

As part two in our Home Highlight series, I would like to show off this beautifully done water wise garden in Northpark, San Diego. There is so much that is well done here that it is tough to focus down to a single issue. The use of color is fantastic, but since we have already looked at that in a previous listing, I'd like to focus on the integration of ornamental grasses. Many are drought resistant, and they can add a lot of color and movement to a garden.

This garden uses two of my favorites: Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass) and Pennisetum setaceum rubrum (Purple Fountain Grass). Here is a closeup of the grasses:

Stipa tenuissima is one of the lightest grasses, so you will see a lot of movement in even a gentle breeze. It works best in mass plantings.

Grasses integrate very well with other drought tolerant plants. Consider cacti and succulents, such as the Agave shown here, or flowering plants like the Kangaroo Paw (I think it is Anigozanthos 'Bush Ranger') and Gazania in this garden.

Before we leave this garden, I do have to mention that it also coordinates wonderfully with the house. Notice how the colors (olive green, gold, and burgundy) in the house paint are mirrored in the garden. The effect is very cohesive.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Feature: Casablanca in Kensington

We are very proud of our latest feature article in San Diego Home and Garden Lifestyles magazine's July issue entitled Casablanca in Kensington. It highlights the garden of Tom and Karen Capp, co-owners of the online fine art dealers Studio Avo and Oopsy Daisy. This Moroccan style oudoor living spaces uses rich color, beautifully patterned tile, and rustic materials to create a warm and inviting space for entertaining. You can see more photos of the project on the Sage Outdoor Designs website.

Interested in a waterwise garden of your own? We'd love to help! Please go to and fill in the contact us form.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reduce water without compromising style

Xeriscaping has the reputation of being wild looking, but a few classic types of landscape designs have always been drought tolerant. If these styles work with the architecture of your home, they could be the key to reducing your water bills without having to compromise on style.

- Spanish Colonial: this classic style originated in Spain but has been a historic style throughout all of California's history. It has clean lines and a lot of geometry. A few great xeriscape plants for this look include Bougainvillea, Kniphofia, and Rock Roses.

- Moorish: this style was born in the Middle East but can be seen throughout Spain and North Africa. Gardens in this style feel like exotic oases. Pattern is used frequently, particularly in beautiful mosaic tile work. A few waterwise plants for this style: Kangaroo Paw, Germander, succulents, Aloe, and Grevillea.

- French: this style saw its peak with the design of the palace at Versailles. It is a very regimented style that appeals to people who want order in the garden. The most common element is known as a parterre, a pattern created with carefully clipped short hedges that is typically viewed from above. The parterres are typically made from Boxwood hedges with a contrasting interior planting with either grey foliage, such as Licorice Plant, or colored flowers.

- Montecito: the Estates in Montecito are dotted with stately California Live Oaks, a tree species so drought tolerant that they are most frequently killed by overwatering. The Montecito style is a blend of classic geometry and a more natural integration with the California chaparral. Consider classic forms close to the house and a more wilderness aesthetic at the edges of the garden. Ornamanetal grasses are a wonderful accent in this style of garden.

Since many Estate Gardens in California existed long before irrigation on the scale we practice today was feasible, returning to a classic look can cut your water bills without cutting your curb appeal.

(Image) Alhambra-style garden at L'Ecurie, Hunting Valley, Ohio, the home of Iris W and Thomas V H Vail Sr, publisher of "The Plain Dealer"; designed in 1978.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Local waterwise garden

If you haven't already taken a trip to the Cuyamaca College Water Conservation Garden, it is well worth a visit. They have a variety of display gardens showing off beautiful xeriscape design options. Their demonstration gardens teach about composting, how much water different varieties of turf use, and how to attract birds and butterflies to your garden. The garden is large, kid friendly and handicap accessible, so it is agreat day trip for the whole family.

My favorite thing about this garden: it is a great place for people to see that drought tolerant plantings can be beautfil! Most of the plants are tagged, so you can collect ideas about what species you like. The different gardens show off plantings from Meditteranean climates around the world. Want to see what a California native plant garden can look like? Or plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa? They have an area dedicated to plantings in pots and anoher to common groundcovers.

They also have many classes and festivals throughout the year. See their schedule for more information. Or just check out their web site.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Home highlight: great color is key

In an effort to destroy the misconception that all drought tolerant gardens have to be "deserty", colorless, and full of tacky 1970's lava rock, I am going to start a home highlight series showing off great local drought tolerant gardens. I'll try to pack the series full of photos and great ideas for personalizing your xeriscape garden.The first in the series is a wonderful front garden in Northpark.

This garden is artful for so many reasons that it is difficult to find one to point out, so I'll chose color. Many of the plantings were chosen for unusual foliage color: burgundy, ice blue, variegated, orange. The right and left sides of the yard are carefully balanced so that the burgundy/purple from the smoke tree on the right shows up in the colorful prickly pear cactus on the left. It is repeated again in the purple hopseed bush and the Tradescantia.

Another wonderful element in this garden is the use of detail: note how one stone in the dry streambed has the word "imagine" carved into it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Small fountains for dry gardens

Lately fountains have been getting a bad reputation as water guzzlers, but a small fountain can add life, sound, and movement to a garden while losing very little water to evaporation. This is especially true if the recirculation basin is underground as the exposed surface area of the water is quite small. Here are a few small fountains we love:

We love this small precast concrete fountain by Charles Swanson Fountains because of its clean lines, vibrant color and modern aesthetic.

These natural carved granite fountains by Stone Forest are carved locally in a large variety of shapes and sizes. They come in a range of very rustic to very contemporary designs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What to replace your lawn with

We liked this article from Earth Easy so much, we wanted to publish it in its entirety:

What to replace the lawn with

A good place to start is with foundation plantings. They can be expanded in width and include ground covers, xeriscape plantings, perennial flower beds, and tiered shrub plantings. Soil depth of 12 - 18" is best for larger shrub plantings.

ground covers

These are plants which spread across the ground but do not grow tall, so no cutting is required. Areas planted in groundcover need little to no maintenance. Ground covers are usually chosen for texture, density and how well they spread and choke out the weeds. They enhance the soil by acting as a mulch, and some groundcovers are nitrogen-fixing.
- many varieties are available, including flowering groundcovers which offer color and add emphasis to the seasons.
- although groundcovers are usually perennials and evergreens, annuals make excellent groundcovers as well, but do require more work each spring.
- during the first year, new plantings of groundcover will require weeding and mulching, but once established, little care is needed.
- groundcovers usually need an edge barrier to contain them.
- not as durable as grass for high traffic areas.
- your garden center can recommend local groundcover varieties and their characteristics.
- visit Eartheasy's page for more information about the use of ground covers.

deciduous shrubs

The most common method for reducing lawn size is to replace the turf with beds of perennial shrubs, often bordered with flowers. Shrubs can be expensive, but using local varieties can be very inexpensive (or free), and local species will be easiest to grow and encounter fewer disease problems. Local species also provide food, in many cases, for local wildlife species. Deciduous shrubs:
- give seasonal color and texture to the landscape.
have few serious insect or disease problems.
- tolerate difficult growing conditions better than most ornamentals.
- many grow rapidly and may require some yearly pruning. Pruning is done just after the shrub flowers, regardless of the time of year.
- tiered plantings may allow passive cooling in summer while letting in light in winter.
- visit Eartheasy's page for more information about planting with shrubs.


The term 'xeriscape' refers to drought-tolerant landscaping. Originally developed for areas with severe water restrictions, this method of landscaping is becoming widely popular because water conservation has become more of an issue for homeowners in many parts of the country. Xeriscapes do not have a single look - almost any landscaping style can be achieved. Visit Eartheasy's page on Xeriscaping to learn more about how this method can benefit your landscape.

Permanent mulches, such as bark chips and gravel, can be used to replace lawn under trees and areas not to be planted in shrubs. (Mulches which biodegrade quickly, such as leaves, sawdust, seaweed, grass clippings are not suited for this purpose.) Mulches such as bark chips and gravel:
- require landscaping cloth to be placed on the bare soil; the mulch is then added on top.
- may require some weeding. Weeds can sprout from small pockets of soil which accumulate on the mulch. If the weed root goes through the groundcloth, be sure to water the weed before pulling. This makes it easier to pull and reduces the damage to the groundcloth. Some people use hot water to killl weeds which poke through gravel mulch, however this should not be done if tree roots are directly below the groundcloth.

* photo is of the Freymiller garden in Rancho Santa Fe (It was not designed by Sage Outdoor Designs but we highly encourage this method of drought tolerant design)

Mandatory water cuts make xeriscaping more appealing

The City of San Diego will begin enforcing its new water conservation policy today. The policy has left a lot of people either confused or completely in the dark so here is the cliffs notes version:
  • residents in odd-numbered houses can water their lawns on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Even-numbered houses would be permitted to irrigate Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • Businesses, condos, apartments and homeowners associations would be allowed to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
On your designated day, spray irrigation systems can be on for 10 minutes before 10 am or after 6pm (at Kate Presents, we like 6-8am waterings because it cuts down on evaporation but also reduces the mildew and fungus problems you can get watering at night).

But the good news is: low water use irrigation systems like soaker hoses and drip irrigation are exempt! That means all of us who are already saving water will not be punished for being ahead of the curve.

And yes, the City does plan to enforce the new regulations. They have hired 10 water enforcement agents to patrol the city looking for water hogs. 30 minutes a week will push many lawns right to edge, so if you are in a hot or dry area, consider taking out your lawn (yep, we do have a previous posting about how to go about doing just that).