Here’s the 3rd installment to my earlier series of out-of-the-ordinary fence and gate designs. Look at these creations – aren’t they amazing? I found those on my recent trip to Missoula MT – and as you can see, there is no limit to the ideas and materials that can be used for diy landscape design projects – “re-purposed” or brand-new. I don’t think the creators here have thought too hard about “sustainability” or longevity – these are unabashedly temporary, ephemeral, fun. If you feel inspired to build your own creation and like to share a photo of it, I’d be more than happy to post it here.
Here’s the 2nd part of my recent post where I showed photos that give testimony to the creativity and playfulness that some people have invested in their front yard enclosure – either for safety, or more privacy, or as noise screen… As you can see, anything goes – if it works for you!
Good fences make good neighbors – and private gardens, too!
Although blessed with a good amount of rain this past winter in San Diego, more and more people, in their desire to continue to conserve water, are deciding to retire the lawn in their front yard and are wondering how to landscape this area. (See also my post about lawn removal at The Lawn Needs to Go, But What Then?)
When I am asked to help with this, I inquire about the basic purpose: Is this for security? Noise screening? Or is it for a use that the homeowner until now didn’t have room for? I can think of many uses for this front yard: A play area with a tree-house or swing; a spa–refuge; a plant collector’s garden; an outdoor breakfast nook; a quiet retreat for reading; a vegetable garden…
Boundaries are very useful to denote the special character of this outdoor “room”, and it can be achieved in different ways: Lacey shrubs like a sort of “see-through” curtain are sometimes all that’s needed, or one or several trellis lattices, placed between the use area and the public. If more privacy and seclusion are preferred, I design a wall, a fence, or a hedge, or a combination of man-made and natural elements.
On the visits in my clients’ communities I started to notice quite a few imaginative enclosures that I recorded with photos. Based either on the preference of privacy that in my case has its roots in the memory of a romantic, hedge-enclosed childhood garden, or on the need for greater safety as in some urban and suburban neighborhoods, more and more front yards are being enclosed, and people are investing their creativity, talent and playfulness into original and attractive fences and gates.
By now I have assembled a very nice collection of examples that I’d like to share here with you – it’s a cool reference library where you, too, will perhaps find ideas for your own project. In the next post, I’ll be sharing more photos with you.
At the heart of my considerations for this container display was my desire to create a composition of beautiful yet tough plants that would delight their owners for a long time without being too fussy or difficult to replicate. They would need to tolerate exposure to drying winds, intense sun, month-long temperatures in the upper nineties or low hundreds and occasional light frost, periodic neglect (and no watering), and a lot of competition for space, both above the soil level as well as for the roots. And they would have to like living in my hypertufa troughs (see my previous post), at least for the next 2 or even 4 seasons, to be “sustainable” (at least as far as a container-existence is concerned).
I already had a few suitable plants: Leucadendron discolor, Aeonium Sunburst, Firecracker Broom, Crown of Thorns, String of Pearls… These are all drought tolerant shrubs, perennials and succulents whose adaptation to prolonged container life on my deck in Ramona I had been admiring for a couple of years. I only needed to find complementary plants that would offset or enhance their qualities and allow me to juxtapose textures, forms and colors.
Although my intended “pièce de résistance”, the Leucadendron discolor, had clearly proved that it can survive a container-existence (mine is now some 6 ft tall and 3 years old) it was too big for my trough. I chose instead a close relative, the Pincushion Yellow Bird, Leucospermum cordifolia ‘Yellow Bird’ that drew lots of admiring comments at the fair. This beautiful South African shrub is related to Proteas and reminds me of the flowers of thistles – without the bristles. Sunset gives the growing zones as 15-17, H1 and 21-24. It grows to 4 ft tall and wide and can take several degrees of frost; the side buds will produce flowers even if the main flower buds freeze.
The nodding Pincushion is the best species for cut flowers with blossom clusters that are about 4 inches across, borne at the branch tips. The bloom peaks in late winter or early spring and can last for 6 months but can start earlier in mild winters. It is supposedly difficult to grow because it needs perfect drainage, protection from drying winds but good air circulation. It requires full sun, regular water only in the beginning until establishment (several months to a year depending on planting season) when it needs water only every 2 to 4 weeks. Selections of this plant in other colors include ‘Flame Spike’ (salmon red) and ‘Red’ (orange red).
Because of the Yellow Bird’s gawky and gangly form I decided to place a “counter weight” next to it, and the appropriate one had to be the Sunburst Aeonium. This succulent grows leaf rosettes at the branch tips that reach a foot across, to form plants that can be about 2 ft across and of about the same height. The fleshy leaves have a delightful variegation that makes the plant very attractive. It blooms after several years only and will then die, but the new “pups” or side shoots will replace the mother plant. With age, these plants become leggy but you can keep them bushy and encourage branching by cutting back branches several inches below rosettes. These cuttings can then be used for easy propagation: let them dry for a couple of days, then set in sandy soil kept barely moist until new grow emerges.
With its low watering requirements and equal sun tolerance it will make a good companion to the Yellow Bird.
Now, on the side of the Protea, I needed something softer, preferably in a complementary color, and draping over the edge of the container. For this I chose Setcreasea pallida (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’) or Purple Heart (also called Purple Queen): This creeping plant has only moderate water requirements, is tolerant of some frost that might kill the tops but recovery is fast in warm weather. It will reach 1 to 1 ½ ft height and about 1 ft wide, and needs to be pinched back after bloom. The stems tend to flop which makes a good container plant if combined with an upright ‘partner’. (In parts of this county it can be unattractive in winter, but it seems well worth the try.)
In the rear container one you can see the red and purple companions: Crown of Thorns, Coral Fountain (also called Firecracker Broom), Geranium ‘Vancouver Sentenniel’ and Statice. The Firecracker Broom, also aptly called Coral Fountain, is a good container plant: Here it keeps a much neater and smaller form than in the ground where it can reach to 5 ft high and wide; if the green, almost leafless stems of my container get too long they are easily shortened without loosing the graceful drooping form. On my deck in Ramona it has continuously produced a profusion of bright red, narrowly tubular flowers since last year that attract hummingbirds. This shrub needs regular but small applications of fertilizer to keep blooming. It tolerates partial shade or bright indirect light and needs only moderate to regular watering.
Next to it, producing an attractive contrast with its sturdy, upright form I planted Crown of Thorns Euphorbia milii. It, too, hasn’t stopped flowering since I planted it in the previous container about 2 years ago. It doesn’t seem to mind that I uprooted it from its previous home… It’s a bit thorny but can be handled easily with leather gloves that will protect your hands also from the milky sap that can cause skin rashes and is toxic if ingested.
It also requires excellent drainage and has very low water demands. It grows 1 to 4 ft high and about 1 ½ ft wide which makes it an excellent upright narrow accent in a container. Many varieties and hybrids of this one exist in colors of yellow, pink and orange. In windy or frost-prone area it is best grown against a sheltered wall. Salt tolerance makes it ideal for seaside plantings! It tolerates partial shade or full sun, and as indoor plant it needs bright light.
All these plants are set into a fast-draining succulent soil mix. The two troughs, displayed at the fair back to back, are now back at my house and adorn my front door and my deck. I doubt that I will need to keep an eye on them for the last days of “winter” and a possible frost. And for next winter I’ll keep an old bed sheet handy in case a strong frost is in the forecast. From now on my main concern will be not to overwater, and to not forget to feed the plants occasionally, and to keep the ants from raising a colony of aphids on them.
And if you need sources and would like to share your own container-stories with me, please let me know!
How exhilarating it was today to put my plants into the hypertufa troughs that my husband and I made (he did help me with this – see my earlier post on this subject). It was a sunny day, and we worked, together with a few other designers and their hubands, sons or ‘significant others’, at the entrance to the Del Mar Spring Home Garden Show that starts tomorrow, fitting one plant after another into our containers, critiquing our friends’ creations, moving pots and screening plants back and forth to find an angle that would most enhance the display. There was a very congenial atmosphere, and we were all stoked to be showing off our creations as “design experts” of APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers) that were invited to create a display of containers for the entrance to the fair. We’ll also be on-hand to answer questions about plants, design, gardening, and how to save water in the landscape. Check us out – the creativity and talent of these people is contagious, and I hope it will infect and inspire many.
Mine is a collection of ‘dry climate’ plants, all sun-lovers, low in maintenance requirements and unthirsty, perfect for our sunny region where water is so precious. It’s amazing how satisfying even a mini-garden can be, and when I was putting together my selection for these two containers, I noticed that it is reveals where my heart is: A profusion of textures, vibrant colors, plants in close proximity contrasting or complementing each other. All evoking the warmth and richness of perennials, grasses, trees and privacy hedges in my mother’s garden where I spent so many beautiful summers.
To see so many exceptional plants close up is exciting, again and again. (The word is getting a bit overused – but I haven’t found another one that expresses what I feel when I see beautiful plants). The sunny, warm colors, the contrasts of foliage and form… A balanced design can enchant for a long time.
Here the plants that I used (it’s difficult to see – but there are two containers – one in front of the other):
Tricolor Geranium Pelargonium hortorum ‘Tricolor’
Protea Yellow Bird Leucospermum cordifolium ‘Yellow Bird’
Statice Limonium perezzii
Purple Queen Setcreasea pallida
Crown of Thorns Euphorbia milii
Firecracker Broom Russelia equisitiformis
Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Sentenniel’
‘Flambe Yellow’ Chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Flambe Yellow’
Zwartkop Aeonium Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’
Crassula perforata N.C.N.
Portulacaria afra’ variegata’
String of Pearls Senecio rowleyanus
Check in for photos of these plants to comes soon! And here a link to the fair:
And a link to APLD: http://apldca.org