Monday, February 22, 2010

Want your own California native plant garden?

A California native plant garden is a tough thing to peg down: what do people really mean when they say native plants anyhow? Certainly, definitions fly from once-upon-a-time-it-grew-in-California-somewhere-but-has-been-bred-by-the-nursery-industry-for-twenty-years, to the purists who insist that it must grow in San Diego county without additional water or care once established.

If you fit into the purist category, most of the typical gardening tricks (such as soil amending, fertilizing, or watering during the summer) will not apply. California natives are adapted to our alkaline soils and would typically only be exposed to rain in the winter (and not much at that).

Because of this, if you want to go for a full native garden, I recommend working with a contractor who specializes in native gardens. My local favorite is Wes Hudson with North Park Native Plants. He is easy to work with and his prices are very reasonable. His goal: gardens that require no additional water after the first two years. Here are a few things he lists on his website as the benefits of gardening with native plants:

1) Local plants become a native plant community
2) Gardens with local native plants conserve water
3) No fertilizer is necessary
4) Native gardens are low maintenance/save money
5) Native gardens attract local wildlife
6) Local native plants look good together
7) Native gardens reflect the seasons
8) Many native plants are very long-lived
9) Native gardens foster a connection to nature
10) Local native plants promote a sense of identity

Friday, February 12, 2010

A really drought tolerant fountain

I came across these wonderful fountains today at Cordova Gardens in Encinitas, and I was so charmed by them, I had to share. Joe Cordova, the nursery's owner, plants precast concrete fountains with a variety of succulents. The result manages to tread a fine line of being playful and whimsical without being cute or tacky. Generally running from around $500-$1000 (fully planted and including the fountain itself), these would make a wonderful focal point. I feel like they make a very timely statement (almost a pun, really) about conserving water.

Cordova Gardens is also a great place to buy planter pots (in a large variety of styles) and all sizes of succulents. If you want Joe's artistic touch on a smaller scale, he also sells quite a few pre-planted pots with his iconic blend of succulents.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fire Pits and Fire Bowls

There are so many examples of terrible fire pits out there (if you google the words "fire pit" you will see what I mean. If you want to add to your pain, try googling "modern fire pit" or "pre-cast concrete fire pit"), but in my searches, I have had a hard time finding a collection of good examples. So I set out to collect a gallery of beautiful fire pits, and this is the result. (Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for poured-in-place concrete and clean lines.)

To give credit where credit is due, here are the designers and manufacturers of all of the fire pits shown here, starting from the top left:

1) Custom design by architect Barbara Bastor
2) Poured in place concrete monolith from Sunset Magazine's website (not credited)
3) Precast concrete half sphere by Solus Decor
4) Custom fire pit by Molly Wood of Molly Wood Garden Design
5) Precast concrete fire bowl, also used by Molly Wood
6) Custom fireplace (or perhaps fire wall?) by Joan Grabel of Park Slope Design
7) Custom fire pit faced in Cor-Ten steel by Jay Griffith
8) Precast concrete fire bowl by Charles Swanson
9) Example of Aquatic Glassel fire pit spheres from Moderustic

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dave's Garden: possibly the most useful plant website

If you spend a lot of time Googling plants, you have probably already come across the Dave's Garden website. If you haven't, it is well worth a visit. The website is an incredible resource for information and images about an astounding number of plants. I use it to go one step beyond the Sunset Western Garden Book.

Dave's Garden is built by its users, so the information you'll find there has been entered in by other plant and garden enthusiasts. Because of that, there is a wealth of information on it.

In fact, it is so all encompassing, it can be quite hard to navigate. Instead of trying to find your way around on the site, try doing a Google search for a plant and add the word "daves" after the plant name. The first page to come up will probably be the Daves Garden PlantFiles page for that plant. The image above of one of my favorite grasses, Calamagrostis 'Overdam', is pulled from its PlantFile.

The PlantFile will typically have many images of the plant, a section of basic information such as plant height, and a very useful section called Gardener's Notes. Here, gardeners have entered in their own experience with the plant (and you can see the city they live in to know if their observations might be true for you, too). Read these notes! They tell you wonderful things like whether the plant is invasive, if it is easy to grow, or if it needs to be cut back in the winter. In the Gardener's Notes, one gardener calls Calamogrostis 'Overdam', "a great upright grass that does not fall apart," and another notes, "As with most grasses, looks great with backlighting of a.m. or p.m. sun. Flower heads move in the slightest wind." Now that is good information.