Friday, August 31, 2012

Modern design for your garden: plant spheres

There is something about a perfect sphere: so geometric, so clean, so mathematical, so sculptural. They can't help but dress up a landscape.

I love sphere shaped plants in a modern landscape in perfect rows with some space in between the plants so that you can really clearly see the round form. I also love them in planter pots that share their curves (especially if the pots are the most basic of colors: black or white, with smooth sides. You don't want any texture to draw your eye).

Here are a few of my favorite spheres, from top to bottom: Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), Hedgehog Agave (Agave stricta), Dasylirion wheeleri, Sedum 'Lemon Coral', Buxus sempervirens trimmed as a topiary sphere, and Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf Ball'. Golf ball stays very close to a sphere all on its own, so it is quite low maintenance. All of these will be happy campers in most parts of San Diego county.

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modern garden design using ornamantal grasses

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get a tour of the wonderful ornamental grass nursery, Green Meadow Growers, where I was reminded how much I love designing with grasses! The nursery has a huge selection of grasses to chose from (as well as a nice selection of perennials and succulents) and I think that many of them would be perfect for a modern landscape design, or a very naturalistic one. Here are a few of my old favorites, as well as a few I just learned existed:

 These little guys are Carex tumicola. They get about 18" tall and have a lovely emerald green color. I love these for Craftsman designs, as well as modern ones. They stay very tidy looking.

This is one of my all time favorites: Chondropetalum tectorum. I love its upright habit (it is about 4' tall, sometimes more) and the lovely blue-green color. It is a rush, so you'd think it needs a lot of water but think again! This guy is pretty drought tolerant. 
 This lovely little one is Deschampsia caespitosa 'Northern Lights', and you have to love its knock-out pink and yellow leaves. It gets about 14" tall.

This one is a biggie- Juncus 'Javelin'. It gets to be almost 7' tall, and it does have sharp needle-like tips so don't put it where anyone can brush up against it. But I think it is so sculptural and has a lovely blue color. 
 This sweet one is Melinus 'Pink Champagne' and I don't think you'll find a nicer grass to soften up an English garden or perennial border. I'd like to see them in a huge mass planting, as well.

This reliable grass is Miscathus 'Adagio'. I think it is just the right size, about 3'-4' tall usually, and I don't think anyone can resist its soft fluttery feathers, I mean seedheads. This is a grass that moves in the wind, so it adds a whole other dimension to the garden. 
 This is one of the smaller options, Muhlenbergia lindhamaerii, at about 24" high. It has feathers almost like a fountain grass.
 We all know and love the purple fountain grass, here is its sterile green cousin, Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'. This grass will make you want to run your hands through the soft seedheads. I would love to see this grass softening up a modern landscape.
 This is not a flax, oh no. And if anything, its colors are more rich and complex than a flax. It is Pennisetum 'Princess', and it gets about 3' tall. Or for more of a statement, try its 7' tall brother, Pennisetum 'Prince'.
 Who hasn't spent ages wishing and hoping to find a tiny bamboo to add to Japanese garden designs (no? just me, really?) but been scared off by the fear that they will spread and get out of control? Well, this baby is Pogonatherum paniceum, aka Baby Bamboo, and it won't spread out of control! It will make a nice 24" tall and round mass. Doesn't it look exceptional in a pot?
 This lovely little one is Sesleria autumnalis, and I think it is just the perfect grass for small spaces. It is less stiff than the other tiny grasses, like Festuca, and I think less formal looking since the seeds stand so tall above the leaves. It will get 18"-24" tall.
Isn't this one a knock-out? It is Spartina bakeri, Sand Cordgrass, and it will get 6' tall. In this image it is mass planted under ginkgo trees and I adore the look.

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Arabian lilac, a garden gem

Arabian Lilac, it even sounds like a gem, doesn't it?

Here is why the designer side of me loves this plant: it has remarkable leaves that are a soft green on top and a striking purple on the undersides. You don't have to wait for the flowers for this plant to make a statement, it looks as lovely as a flower all of the time!

Here is why the practical side of me loves this plant: It survives in our terrible soils! This plant can take clay soil like a champion, and still thrive.

Also, I like that you can train it as a medium sized shrub (~4' tall and wide) or let it be a larger shrub (~6' to 8' tall) or train it into a perfect tiny tree. And in the small gardens that most of us have, a perfect tiny tree is something I find myself looking for often.

Image credits: Flaming Petal blog by NZ Garden writer Jane Wrigglesworth, Monrvia Nursery's website (where you can get great info about this plant and many other excellent plants that they breed).

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Looking for something a little earthy?

I have always thought of Cepac tile as a company that made tile for commercial and institutional installations, so I never paid much attention to their line, until now. Have they gotten wildly more interesting recently, or was I just not looking hard enough?

These tiles are tiny mosaics- each tile is about a half of an inch long. The glazes are wonderfully mottled and the colors are lovely. They remind me of leaf litter and mushrooms, seashells and pebble beaches, cloudy sky and rain puddles. I'm especially fond of the herringbone pattern. Wouldn't they make a wonderful kitchen backsplash?I don't think I'd ever get tired of looking at the wonderful colors and wondering what exactly in nature they remind me of the most....

Cepac tile is distributed by the really helpful folks at DAL tile. Have you been to their showroom off Convoy to look at everything they have? DAL is a great resource because they often have designer tile at not-quite-designer prices.

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Like nature intended- Anthony Archer Wills

I'm going to tell you something absolutely unbelievable:  the stream in this photo is man-made. Really.

It was designed and built by an incredible and awe-inspiring English artisan, Anthony Archer Wills. He is the maestro of naturalistic water gardens. A wizard with rock, an artist with water, a painter with plants. This is taking the creation of a water feature to a whole new level. And I for one, and truly amazed.

Please take a moment to look at his website- it is very worth the visit!

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Monday, August 13, 2012

White gravel: not your grandma's garden

Please don't do this....

In a wonderful rant on Apartment Therapy this week, I came across Master gardener and author Margaret Roach's confession: she abhors red dyed bark mulch. As a professional landscape designer, I have to say I second that motion wholeheartedly!

After the article, readers were encourage to comment and I was surprised at how many people rose up to defend the stuff, claiming that it could look good in certain situations. I dare anyone to find one of those situations (and email me a photo- I'll post it!)

I was surprised, also, that so many people also tried to take black dyed bark mulch down a notch. Unlike its gawky red cousin, I think the black mulch can look wonderful, especially in a modern garden. Can you see it here to either side of the fountain? I love how it speaks to the inky black of the reflecting pond.

Another surprise was how many people objected to white gravel, saying it reminded them of their grandma's front yard. Okay, yes, I admit that I did like to steal the sparkly white gravel out of my septuagenarian neighbor's front yard when I was six, but it has made a real come back since then! It can be wonderfully clean and classic, like this elegant Mediterranean garden by AMS Landscape, or oh-so-minimalist-modern like this funky firepit/fireplace patio by Grounded (whose Mid-Century inspired work I just adore).

© Kate Wiseman 2012. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.