March To-Do List in the Garden


Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month?  What a perfect time to get your vegetable gardens ready to plant your edibles. If you are using raised beds, get them built now or check and make sure they are in good shape.  If you have multiple beds and they are irrigated, I suggest having a separate shut off valve for each bed.  The beds are often in different stages of use and there is no sense wasting water if you can shut off the water to any bed not needing it.  

If you are in a temporary location, don’t have building skills or just want to try something different, try planting in a straw bale.  You will need about two weeks to prep the bale for planting.  First make sure you put them in the exact spot you want them because they will start to get too heavy to move.  

The sheared side needs to be pointed up, with the twine sides facing outwards.  It should be well watered daily and fertilizer added the first day and then about every other day.  Both of these will start the decomposition process, which creates heat, so you must wait for it to cool down to your ambient temperature before you can plant.  A compost thermometer can be used to check the temperature.  If you don’t have one, a meat thermometer should do.  Then have fun planting, using a trowel to create planting spaces.  Since there will be less soil and therefore less nutrients available, you should add fertilizer periodically through the growing process.

Plant tomatoes.  When picking your seedlings, look for vibrant green leaves on a plant that is wider than it is tall.  Gently slide the plant from the container to check the health of the roots, making sure they are bright white and not thickly matted.  Plant young plants deep to get the best root development.  Snap off the lower sets of leaves and plant deep enough so that you leave the remaining leaves above ground.  If you haven’t yet discovered Tomatomania, go to one of their events near you.  They sell so many different kinds of tomatoes, you are sure to find the perfect ones for your garden.  

Build a compost wall.  It can serve multiple purposes by being a space divider as well as a place to get rid of larger branches, twigs, etc.  Insects and other small creatures will be attracted to it and it is a wonderful living lesson for children.   

Descanso Gardens has planted thousands of bulbs and they are all starting to come out.  What a lovely and relaxing way to join with others strolling about the gardens and learning about what is in bloom at this time.  

The Correct Way to Cut Grasses

Wispy… billowy… airy…feathery… wavy…are some words we use to describe ornamental grasses.  So often, though, they are stripped of all these adjectives.   

When it comes to trimming, I find that grasses are one of the most mistreated plants, aside from trees.  So many people don’t understand the fine art of trimming grasses.  All too often they are just sheared up the sides and then across the top.  Bim, bam, boom, done!  Sometimes more care is given and they are then trimmed into little meatballs. Whichever shape you choose, the point is that grasses should not be trimmed into a shape.  

Although, in our climate grasses go completely dormant much less than in colder climates, most do start pushing out new growth around this time of year.  By trimming back the grasses we can easily freshen it up by removing any dead growth and we also have the opportunity to remove any weeds lurking beneath.  

By shearing a grass in the above manner, you are highlighting all the dead growth and robbing the plant of its personality. In this situation, it would be best to remove the plants that have spread too close to the curb and leave the others room to shine.

The ideal way to trim grasses is by gathering all the blades and holding them upright, much like gathering hair into a ponytail, then shearing them straight across.  If it is a large species of grass, you can tie it up with a rope to hold in place before cutting below the rope.  You can keep the rope on and compost them in bundles or you can remove the rope.  I have also seen this done using a 2’ length bungee cord.  The benefit of this is that it is easy to wrap around tightly and quickly hook in place. 

It is quite efficient this way.  By using this method, you are giving the grass a nice haircut.  How high to trim depends on the grass and how much new growth is showing and how high that new growth is.  It could be anywhere from a few inches to a foot. 

One of my favorite grasses is Canyon Prince Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’, Zones 7-10 ) This grass, like many others, has foliage that can be sharp and cutting.  

Before tackling this grass, be prepared with long sleeves, long pants and good, tough gloves.  It is not a bad idea to wear safety glasses as well to keep from getting poked in the eye. The Leymus has a tendency to lay down if it gets too much shade or water.  Trimming it is a good way to help it keep its upright form and take the opportunity to pull away the dead growth that like to gather in the center.  

If you are trimming back small grasses, like carexes, hand pruners do the job most effectively.  For larger grasses, you can use hand pruners, shears or a battery operated trimmer. 

Trimming time is also a good time to divide or transplant any new plants that have sprung up from rhizomes or seeds.     

January To-Do List in the Garden

The holidays are past and hopefully as much of your tree as possible has gone into your compost pile.  The same with all those live garlands and wreaths.  I love forcing Amaryllis bulbs in the house and, when they are done, they go right outside into the garden.  Honestly, they don’t need any extra care or attention.  This Amaryllis was planted in the ground over fifteen years ago and has multiplied and flowered profusely every spring. They do equally well in part sun to complete shade, in pots and in the ground.  

If your Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is still alive, you can transplant that out into the garden as well.  This plant is native to Mexico and can take full on sun here in Southern California.  It prefers well drained soil but I have seen it thrive in clay and sandy soil.  They do tend to get rangy and respond well to regular pruning to keep them more bushy.  

By now grape vines will have shed all their leaves and it is time to prune them.  Exactly how you prune them depends on the structure on which they are growing as well as the variety.  Don’t just throw away those branches, though.  I love to make up wreaths and adorn them with all sorts of goodies throughout the year.  All you need is a pair of clippers and some thin wire or string.  An abandoned hummingbird nest finds a place on this grapevine wreath.  I painted two pebbles and glued them inside.  

Take care of our feathered friends.  Now until the spring time is when they need our help the most, so keep your feeders stocked.  Discard any old, stale seed and replenish your supply.  Put out nesting balls for the birds to use.  You will find that they like to build their homes near the building supply store, so expect to find one or more nests in your garden.  You can find these online or you can make your own.    

Fig trees should have dropped their leaves by now and are ready to be pruned.  The wood is very soft and it could make for a quick and easy job.  Don’t rush through it, however.  As with all tree pruning, it is best to do a bit at a time, stepping back often to get a good feel for the shape you are creating.  You also want to maintain it at a size that is manageable for picking the fruit without risking life and limb (yours) on a tall ladder.  It is always good practice to clean your tools and I can recommend isopropyl rubbing alcohol as an easy and inexpensive disinfectant.  

Divide and replant perennials like Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus), daylilies (Hemerocallis) and Statice (Limonium perezii).  It is also a good time to transplant any offspring of grasses that have volunteered themselves into the garden, like Ruby Grass (Melinus nerviglumis) or Foothill Sedge (Carex tumulicola), for example.  

Edibles can be going all year round.  January is a good time to plant all kinds of lettuce and brassicas, spinach, chard, kale, peas, beans, garlic onion sets and shallots.  Too many choices??  How about planting a juice garden with your favorite things to put in your morning drink, like beets, wheat grass, carrots and ginger.  This lacinato kale is a highly nutritious choice for a juice garden.

Just like working in the ground, disrupt the soil in raised beds as little as possible by digging just what you need and gently moving the soil back after planting.  

Potatoes can be planted year round.  Cut them so each piece has two eyes on it and  leave the pieces to dry, or heal, for about a day before planting.  Space them about 8” to 1’ apart.  At this time of year, you can plant lettuce right on top and by the time the lettuce is done, the potatoes are ready to take off.  

I can always think of more to-do’s, but instead I would like to give you one “to-don’t”.  If we get a frost and any of your plants are damaged, resist the temptation to cut away the browned leaves.  These leaves are best left in place to protect the rest of the plant in case of another frost.  Be patient and cut back after all chance of frost is past.

Holiday Gift Guide/Wish List

If there is one thing I love as much as gardening, it is shopping. Shoe shopping tops the list, but honestly, any kind of shopping at all fits the bill. At the risk of bragging, I will tell you that I am a very good shopper and gift giver. My family always celebrates Christmas and at the peak of the gift giving I would buy presents all year long and have everything wrapped, beribboned and stockings stuffed by Thanksgiving. Now that everyone is getting older we have mostly done away with exchanging gifts. The only one left to exchange with is my husband who pretty much never has even the slightest clue what to get me. Since my birthday is in November, I make up a combined Birthday/Holiday list for him. The list is usually longer than necessary since I love to be surprised. He can pick what he wants from the list and I don’t know ahead what he will or will not get.

I am happy to share with you some of the things on my list.

What do you get for the gardener who has everything? A solar-powered garden gnome, of course! You might be expecting him to light up, but instead he is powered to wave at you non-stop. This little guy will put a smile on your face every time.

For digging, I love a nice large trowel, really more of a scooper. I have a collection of them scattered throughout the garden. This particular one, made by Bond, is a great size with a comfortable handle. It even has a ring on the end if you are the organized, hang your tools type. I find that with this extra large head or “deeply dished blade”, if you will, you can move more soil while you’re in there nice and close up.

For snipping herbs, cutting small succulents or doing any kind of delicate pruning, these Joyce Chen Unlimited Scissors are the perfect tool. I lost a pair of them to TSA security (grrrrr!!), so am in the market for a replacement pair. They are available all over the internet, Amazon, Sur La Table, you name it.

For those cool nights when you can’t get quite close enough to the fire pit, how about these super-fun  blankets? They are washable and, what I really love, artisan-made from repurposed materials. This one is the “Positive Vibrations Blanket”…and we could all use some positive vibrations right now.

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Who doesn’t appreciate an item that knows how to multi-function? This spiffy watering can also doubles as a mister. The “2 in 1 Sprayman” comes in an assortment of fun colors and is available on Amazon

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I usually manage to remember to put gloves on right after I have completely ruined my manicure. This is despite the fact that I have a pair on the potting bench, in the garage, in my car…in short, all over. I have different kinds, but these these “Foxgloves” are, hands down, my favorites. They are easily washed, super comfortable and mold to your arm so they don’t slouch down and no dirt is allowed to get in there. They come in nine different colors. So far I only have three of those colors.

Happy Shopping!!

My favorites from Dwell on Design 2015

It was another great Dwell on Design this year.  Our APLD booth was very popular – we filled every available slot with homeowner consults.  A Big Shoutout of Gratitude for all the APLD designers who volunteered their time.

I have to say that my favorite take away from this year’s Dwell was David Bromstad’s ‘glamping’ exhibit.  It was right next door to our booth and it made us easy to find because we just kept telling people to look for the double teepees.

IMG_3346Here is the inside of one of the teepees.  I believe all these fun pillows can be purchased on

IMG_3434I found a faucet I want for my kitchen and one for when we redo the guest bathroom.  Here’s the one for the guest bath (Brizo)…

IMG_3461There were some other really cool faucets…

IMG_3437IMG_3439Loved this Kitchen hood…

hoodAnd how about this for a carport?  It has solar panels and charges your car.

IMG_3424And then my favorite plants of the show – tough choice since Mountain States brought in 4 semis full of plants…the Pedilanthus bracteatus and Penstemon superbus .

pedilanthus bracteatusIMG_3426





Capturing Rain Water


This week I attended a meeting put on by the DWP to outline to the community their plans for the new Stormwater Capture Master Plan.  My impression was that they have come a long way in recognizing the importance of capturing storm water and not just letting it all run out into the ocean.  But they still have a long way to go in order for southern California to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on imported water .

As designers and homeowners, however,  we can certainly do our part.  As homeowners, we can look at our own property and try to capture as much of the water that falls on our little slice of heaven as possible.

As designers, we should be looking at every landscape and implementing rain water capture in our designs.  APLD will be holding a series of programs this year, “The Sustainability Series”,  to learn more about irrigation, grey water and rain water capture.  There is always something new to learn…exciting, isn’t it???

The New Normal


Everyone knows that here in California we are in a drought.   It has been difficult convincing people of that over the past several years, but nobody denies it any longer. One thing that I keep hearing, though, is that these things are cyclical, the drought will be over at some point and then we can go back to normal.

There is no “going back to normal”. This is now the New Normal.

Have you driven along the Ventura Freeway and seen the new reservoir being built by Forest Lawn? It looks like they are building a Costco, but it will be two fully enclosed side by side holding tanks. As a recent appointee to RWAG – the Recycled Water Advisory Group – I was given a private tour of that Headworks Reservoir.

This new reservoir will be replacing the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs, both of which will go off line when the new one is completed. The Headworks will hold 110 million gallons of water. Sounds like a lot of water. It is, in fact, about one seventh of the capacity of the two reservoirs it is replacing. The question was posed “How will the DWP make up the difference and be able to deliver the same amount of water to its clients?” The answer is that they will not. All the water saving measures that we are implementing now will set a standard for the reduced amount of water that we will be using into the future.

There is no “going back to normal”. This is now the New Normal.

The New Normal means using climate appropriate plants, permeable surfaces and efficient irrigation in our landscapes. We all can do our part in keeping as much water as possible on our properties and not send it out into the street. This will help replenish the aquifers and keep our river and ocean cleaner.

The New Normal also includes other means of building our potable water supply, one of which is Recycling Water.

Isn’t all water recycled and hasn’t it been so for billions of years? Already a portion of the potable water we use has been recycled upstream from us.  More on recycled water in the future after I get to see the Edward C. Little Recycling Facility.

California Native Garden Coming to Life

It always brings me such Joy and Satisfaction to see a New Garden coming to life.  I visited a garden today that was created in the fall.  Before we added any plants, the only thing growing in the entire back yard was weeds and one monster Wisteria that the homeowner’s grandfather had planted years ago.  That poor thing needed to get cut way back in order to build a new pergola to support it but it is growing back with enthusiasm.



We planted mostly California native plants, succulents, and eight trees, including two citrus.  Rainwater is captured from the house and the garage into two dry creek beds.


A recirculating fountain has attracted birds from the first day it was hooked up.

bird on fountain


Butterflies are everywhere!!!

monarch burbank

Nassella tenuissima: Tenacity in Motion

There is no arguing that Nassella tenuissima, otherwise known as Mexican Feather Grass, is a very pretty grass.  It was recently featured in Sunset Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.  Unfortunately, they were featured in a positive light and have sparked a lot of conversation among my fellow designers and horticulturists.

The problem is that this Nassella is very invasive and will soon follow the path of the Pampas Grass that is overtaking our protected areas.  I have been following the progress of one particular planting in the neighborhood where I regularly walk.


Here are some pictures that show how the grass seeds itself, runs up the street … IMG_2500

IMG_2502 IMG_2504




…and plants itself literally feet away from the border of protected parkland under the auspices of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.  Ok, maybe it has taken a few years to make its way up the street.  But it has surely done so.   How much longer do we have to wait before this plant starts taking over all of the protected park land?


There are so many grasses on the market.  So many wonderful alternatives to this Nassella.  There are even native California Nassellas.  I would urge anyone considering this plant, whether you be designer or homeowner, to please consider the consequences…and then consider using instead any of the many alternatives.

Here is one of my favorite alternatives…  just for starters…Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’IMG_1701


My favorites from Dwell on Design

My time at Dwell on Design last weekend was crazy busy but I did steal steal away from the APLD booth a few times to wander the floor.  Here are some of my favorite attractions from the show: The first thing I liked right off the bat was the staircase leading to the convention hall.  This was plastic, but I can imagine copying any picture or photo onto metal, slicing it up and attaching to the risers of a staircase, be it indoors or outside.  IMG_2216 An outdoor shower, especially when you have kids (or husbands) and a pool (or not), is such a great and affordable idea.  Here is a ready made one from Fermob.


How about this mini camper for travel or the backyard? IMG_2306                   These bicycles were sturdy-looking and colorful, but what I like best of all is the basket integrated into the handlebars and body. IMG_2238 How about this for color?  Sue Fisher King makes custom french enameled lava stone tables and countertops in a huge assortment of colors. IMG_2243 Look closely at the curves in the wood from old oak barrels IMG_2303   And speaking of wine….what do you do with the four bottles of wine that you opened last night and were not able to polish off by yourself? IMG_2284