New Look for the Water-Wise Garden

New Look for the Water-Wise Garden

As environmentally responsible gardeners, one of the most important advocacies we can engage in is to create change in the predominant garden aesthetic. The thirsty lawns, clipped hedges, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, roses and annual beds which defined a beautiful California garden since the dam-building era cannot define beauty for the future.

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Winter Beauty

Winter Beauty

What makes a garden beautiful in winter? Although our mild climates let some blossoms from late summer and fall hang on plants into January, it is not flowers that make a beautiful garden in the dead of winter. In winter, the shape and structure of the garden is unclothed. Here are some factors to consider as you look out your window at the wet or chilly garden this month.

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GFE Walks Its Talk: Tough Choices in the Border

GFE Walks Its Talk: Tough Choices in the Border

Sadly, part of winter work this year at the GFE includes removing our beautiful Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima or Nassella tenuissima). This lovely, mobile, golden grass has been a signature plant in our border, framing our gates and stairways. But we have learned that this grass, while well-behaved in our garden, has become weedy and invasive in neighboring wild lands.

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Climate-Wise Spring Bulbs

Climate-Wise Spring Bulbs

Tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses need a frosty winter to bloom successfully. Here in our mild winter climate, those who really want to see these flowers in the spring must buy the bulbs early and chill them for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator before planting in order to get a successful show. In our climate, but the real gangbuster spring bulb shows come from bulbs which have their ancestry in climate zones similar to California’s.

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Generosity of Nature

Generosity of Nature

Every year I bring the inspiration from my annual trip the Eastern Sierra back to my own gardens, and try to create on a small scale a reminder of this generosity and strictness. To create a natural feeling in the garden, it’s important to resist the temptation to plant one specimen of each of your favorite plants. Instead, repeat the most successful and best suited plants. This way you can create the same feeling of ordered wildness we loved in the mountains.

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What We're Hungry For

What We're Hungry For

Why do I care about flowering plants? If I were a bee or a hummingbird, I’d have a practical answer. These would be my food plants. And as an organic gardener, I can give a practical answer, too. The flowering borders around GFE stabilize soil, build the water table, add organic matter to our soil, attract pollinators, and beneficial insects. The list goes on.

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Art and the Garden in the Summer

Art and the Garden in the Summer

In garden like in art, colors and textures repeat themselves, drawing me into the space, and there is a rhythm and order to the pathways my eyes follow through the visual field. The difference between a good garden design and a lovely canvas is that the garden is constantly changing. Each week of the year some of these effects will fade as others emerge, because the garden is made up of living plants going through their cycles of weather and season. 

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Butterflies in the Garden

Butterflies in the Garden

As summer brings warmer temperatures and some sunny afternoons, one of the most enjoyable sights in the garden is a variety of butterflies flitting from plant to plant, seeking nectar and egg-laying opportunities. Look for butterflies congregating in open, sunny spots with some wind protection. To make garden areas more attractive to butterflies, plant some of their favorite nectaring flowers.

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The San Francisco Peninsula from Long Ago

The San Francisco Peninsula from Long Ago

Deer grass, coyote bush, hummingbird sage, sandhill sage, sea thrift, even the names of our native plants sound like a poem. They conjure up a time not so long ago when the San Franciscan peninsula was a mix of dunes, low hills and valleys, where seasonal creeks threaded between shrubby, windswept slopes until they fed into the few year-round creeks running to the bay.

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Newborn Spring Meadow at GFE

Newborn Spring Meadow at GFE

Last fall during the Get Up! program, one of the class projects was the removal of our small turf lawn. Although only 9 feet by 12 feet, our lawn demonstration has become obsolete in the 21st century. Even a small turf lawn requires more water than we want to commit. After some experimentation, we decided on a water-wise meadow as a replacement for the lawn area.

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The Nutritious Solitude of Gardening

The Nutritious Solitude of Gardening

Gardening is an odd combination of solitude and company. Many of us do the actual work of gardening alone for hours. This is when gardening books and garden writers become important allies. The best books scold and strategize as well as inspire and encourage. They remind us of what is possible as well as saying “I told you so.” They become good friends, whose humorous critique and encouragement are as useful as any other garden tool.

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January Showers Bring January Flowers

January Showers Bring January Flowers

One of my favorite things about our climate is that even in January we get a new generation of bloom arriving in the garden. Some of the fresh January treats are familiar in old San Francisco gardens, such as the tall, sexy calla lilies with their lush curves, and the bright tree aloe, whose dramatic red-orange flowers support hummingbirds through this hungry time of year.

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