Thursday, April 29, 2010

Michelle Obama tours San Diego community garden

This month Michelle Obama took time during her trip to San Diego to visit the New Roots community garden in City Heights, as a step in her effort to fight childhood obesity. She made the point that increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in some of our urban communities could help slow the increases in diabetes and heart disease in urban areas, and community gardens are an excellent resource in that fight. (Photo by Howard Lipin - Union-Tribune). Here is a link to the article in the Union Tribune.

Want to find a community garden close to you? Here is a listing of the community gardens in San Diego, but most of the gardens are full with waiting lists. Sounds to me like more community gardens in our urban areas are in order... after all you can't argue the merits of locally grown fruits and vegetables, and the sense of community that can crystallize around one of these gardens is also an undeniably good thing. Are you a fan of your local community garden, or do you know if any of them have space available? Post a comment and I'll spread the word!

Rock roses add easy drought tolerant color

This is certainly the season for rock roses. All over San Diego, they are cheerfully blooming away in that happy, drought tolerant way that they do. Rock roses are one of the most floriferous of the low water use plants, and they come in a wonderful variety of sizes and colors, so there is almost certainly a spot for one in your garden somewhere. Just keep in mind that they love warm full sun.

The ones I have here are:
Cistus 'Victor Reiter' (above) to 3' height and width
Cistus skanbegii is covered in smaller pale pink blossoms, 2' tall and wide
Cistus purpureus, deep pink blooms with red centers, 3' tall and wide
Cistus 'Sunset' is low growing like a tall groundcover, to 12" tall and 24" wide with silver foliage
Cistus landifer, to 3' tall and wide with white flowers that have deep red spots
Cistus salvifolius: low spreading to 18" tall and 24" wide with white blooms and golden centers

I think rock roses are just one reason why a drought tolerant landscape design does not have to be wild looking or colorless! Have other low water use plants that you depend on in your garden? Leave a comment- we'd love to hear your favorites! (You can do it by clicking on the 1 Comment in blue below).

Want to save water but still have a garden that is overflowing with blossoms? Go to the contact us page at and ask us to help you make over your outdoor space!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh where, oh where, have my little trees gone?

This week I found out that I lost one of my favorite citrus options: ultra dwarf (or super dwarf) citrus. I loved these tiny trees! With a mature height around 4' (and that is after many years), they were ideal for small gardens (like almost every garden in San Diego, that is) and patios. So what happened?

It seems that my local producer, Durlings, has abandoned the dwarf root stock, called 'Flying Dragon'. They say that they aren't dependable enough to be practical in cultivation. I have seen in the field that they sucker frequently, strangely thorned suckers, so I guess it wasn't a complete surprise. But it has left me without an option I had come to rely on.

Does anyone have an alternative source or idea for tiny fruit trees? If so, leave me a comment and tell me where! Until then, I'll be mourning the loss of all the tiny trees.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A question for today

Today instead of an idea, I have a question: what's so wrong with decomposed granite?

I have no luck getting anyone to use it as a paving material even though it has so many advantages! It is cost effective (about a quarter of the cost of concrete). It drains well and is a permeable paving option, so from the perspective of stormwater management, it is ideal (and therefor pretty "green"). And, it is classic. To me it looks wonderfully rustic and elegant. I think of the south of France, or villas in Italy. I think of quaint courtyards and a certain patina of age that gives a garden mystique. To my clients, it seems to look messy. What do you think? I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this one....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Designer tip: planning your outdoor kitchen

An outdoor kitchen is often the focal point of an outdoor living space, in the same way that your indoor kitchen is often the focal point inside. Think of how all of the family gathers around your kitchen- wouldn't you love it if that happened outside on a warm spring evening? Before you pull the trigger on an outdoor kitchen, here are a few do's and don'ts to inspire you:

1) Do start with well-made equipment. Some people chose to cover their equipment, but for the times when you forget, you'll be happy that you chose a well-made grill. I encourage clients to start at a showroom like Barbecues Galore, where you can see a variety of brands. The one I recommend most often is Lynx. They are well made workhorses: made to last and mid-range for price. The top photo is a Lynx outdoor kitchen from their website.

2) Don't overdo it with the equipment. Ask yourselves which elements you will really use so the island doesn't become a clutter of stainless steel. The most popular options are the grill, side burner, fridge, and sink.

3) Do think of your outdoor kitchen design in the same way you'd think of your indoor kitchen design. Unfortunately, most outdoor kitchens get stucco siding and a tile counter. Would you do that inside? I wouldn't! Think about stone counters, a creative backsplash, or hidden cabinets. Think about the style you want and then worry about picking materials that will hold up outdoors. (This is something a designer can help you with.... hint, hint).

4) Don't skimp on counter space. A great kitchen island can serve so many roles if you design it to be flexible: it can be a bar or buffet for serving at a party, it can be slightly raised to accommodate bar stools and even replace the dining table. It can be extra storage space for outdoor cushions. But for all of these things, it needs to have enough free space (another reason to chose the equipment wisely). Think about the things you might want on the counter while grilling like tools, ingredients, or platters. Make sure you'll have enough counter space!

5) Do make sure that the outdoor kitchen fits in with your house. If your house is tiny, go for a more modestly sized outdoor kitchen. If it is a Spanish Colonial, consider using Malibu tile accents or wrought iron handles. The lower photo is an outdoor kitchen I designed to go with a Craftsman cottage in La Mesa. Since it is pushed up against the wall of the house, we faced it in aged cedar shingles (instantly aged for us by Pattengill Finishes) so that it looks like it has always been there.

6) Don't forget about shade. If the kitchen is going to be located in a hot part of the yard, consider a shade arbor, umbrella, or shade sail.

7) Do consider taking a barbecue cooking class. The flagship Barbecues Galore store in San Diego is in 4S Ranch. They offer a great selection of classes where you not only learn from a professional chef, you get to eat what he makes! I was amazed at how much I took away from even a single class. Plus, when have you ever seen ten full sized grills installed indoors?! Here is a link to their selection of upcoming classes.