Design | Satori Garden Design - Part 5
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The Undeniable Effects of the Sun

Artemesia pycnocephala 'David's Choice' demonstrating how important the sun's rays are

Artemesia pycnocephala

Okay, I’ll admit it…sometimes when I’m designing a garden I’ll have in mind the perfect plant for the perfect spot.  In fact, I’ll get so fixated that I’ll want to fudge a little on what I know that plant wants in terms of water, sun, space, etc….  There are so many ways to fudge, I’m afraid.  Fortunately, I usually do snap myself back into reality and quickly get “unwedded” to my choice if it’s just not working.  Thomas Hobbs calls this condition “Zonal Denial.”  I love that!  Pretty much anyone who has planted a citrus tree in shade or a Hydrangea in full blasting sun has fallen prey to Zonal Denial.  We’ve all done it and it’s okay – after all it’s only human to want to grow something even if we don’t have the right spot for it.

I thought I’d share this photo of my California Native front yard to illustrate why we should generally listen to those experts of Sunset Western Garden Book and all those other great references.  This garden went in about 4 months ago.  That’s a buffalo grass lawn (not native, but very low water using) and behind it are little fluffy mounds of Artemisia pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’.  Artemisia is a sagebrush and it appreciates the sun.  Due to my roof line the plants to the left get at least an hour or more of hot afternoon sun (this photo was taken at 2:30pm, late September).  With each plant getting incrementally bigger as you look to the left, you can see the undeniable effects of the sun.  Now I have a visual reminder right out my front door whispering “right plant in the right place.”

A Plant Geek’s Favorite

amazing Euphorbias

amazing Euphorbias

Like any self-respecting plant geek, hardly a day goes by when I don’t fall in love with a new plant or revisit an old favorite.  In fact, for me, the challenge of designing landscapes is more what plants to leave out than which ones to put in.  BUT… if you where to aim a garden hose at me and force me to decide I would say Euphorbia’s were my all time favorite.  They are a huge and varied genus ranging from ground hugging Euphorbia myrsinites to striking succulent forms E. canariensis.  There are euphorbia’s with very soft, textural qualities like E. dulcis ‘Chameleon’ and there are stiff, oddly beautiful forms like E. resinifera. I have placed the E. characias ‘Portuguese Velvet‘ in a cottage garden and used a E. tirucalli (sticks on fire) in a very clean-lined modern design.  And as far as blooms are concerned, well few last as long as the fused bracts (which form around the true flowers) of the E. characias wulfenii.  And with striking colored foliage like the blue of Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’ or the copper wine of E. continifolia, euphorbia’s look good year round.

In general euphorbia’s are tough, pest resistant, water thrifty plants.  Their milky white sap is known to be irritating so take care when pruning.

Here’s a great article on Euphorbia’s if you want to know more about this amazing plant.

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San Miguel de Allende

naturalistic rill at Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden

rill at Charco del Ingenio

returning to our cool courtyard for siesta

returning to our cool courtyard for siesta

I took my husband to San Miguel de Allende in January to celebrate his 50th. We had been wanting to go for so long and finally we could justify leaving the kids at home and getting away for nearly a week. The beautiful Spanish colonial town in the mountains did not disappoint. Up until now, all of my Mexico experiences had been coastal towns with more new architecture than old. Since San Miguel de Allende is an UNESCO village, it is gorgeously preserved. We walked the narrow streets, peeking behind immense wooded doors into the shaded courtyards with huge potted plants, trickling fountains and cool stonework. Another treat we experienced was the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden, a 167 acre nature preserve. Besides the stunning specimens of Agave, Dasylirion and Euphorbia, I especially liked this naturalistic water feature cut into the hardscape.

The Best Design Comes Naturally

a spring hike in Topanga reminded me that Mother Nature is the very best at design

a spring hike in Topanga reminded me that Mother Nature is the very best at design

I was on a spring hike in the amazing Santa Monica mountains when I snapped this photo.  I loved how the branch of the Manzanita was delicately arching over the pathway.  The smells of all the native plants at that moment were intoxicating as well. How many times have we all gazed upon a meadow, or mountain lagoon or anything that has naturally formed and thought “wow, that can’t be improved upon.”

This vision and other ones like it of nature remind me of a book I read by Piet Oudolf, a huge name in landscape design worldwide.  Anyway, the book was Designing with Plants and it really spoke to me because above all I’m very plant focused when I do designs.  One of the messages in the book was to focus on flower and plant form over color and to appreciate that form in all it’s phases.  Forms could be spires, buttons, umbels, etc… I like his idea of playing with the relationship of color and form (either related colors and forms or different shapes with related colors) to create a natural harmony in design.  Piet Oudolf goes into much deeper discussion but really it’s about creating something that looks natural — something you’d see in a big meadow at the height of it’s bloom or on a winters hike when things are dormant and waiting to burst forth in the spring.

Your Vote Counts

Satori Garden Design Entry for Garden #3

Satori Garden Design Entry for Garden #3

Your vote really does count in the Santa Monica Demonstration Garden Contest…and I’m thrilled to announce that SATORI GARDEN DESIGN, is a finalist! There are three gardens that the city will build to demonstrate to visitors what a sustainable garden can look like. There will be sample plans and plant palettes provided as well.  The challenge of the contest was to create a garden that is (1) something a homeowner can replicate, (2) sustainable in the use of water and materials, (3) utilizes edibles.  But first things first…winners need to be determined. That’s were the public at large comes in. Online voting will continue throughout May 2010 so check it out and cast your votes. You can vote for your favorite garden for each of the three garden plots.

You’ll see my entry is in the garden #3 grouping. Thanks for your support.

Go to: to cast your vote.