Using edibles incorporated into a design has always intrigued me. This blog will discuss just that. Creating a green landscape that looks as good as it tastes!

Where to start?
Deciding on where the best place in your yard is the first and possibly, the most crucial step in the design process.

Most herbs and veges as well as fruit trees require at least 6 hours of full uninterrupted sunshine. Survey your potential sites and see if afternoon shade is an issue.  Neighboring trees and structures are some examples of things to avoid when selecting a site.

Soil and Slope
Got clay? Heavy soils are not the best to grow vegetables in, because  they hold on to water for far too long. The opposite is true of very sandy soils; they dry out too quickly. Both situations usually possess little organic matter,.  A good way to remedy these poor soil issues would be to build a raised bed planter.  Raised beds are easy to construct, and will make it easier to reach down and work the garden. Fill them with a good, well drained soil mixture with plenty of compost, sandy loam or other topsoil, mix in a small amount native soil (dug from the site; just inside the bed frame about 2 inches deep) and you will be on the road to a great harvest.  Use pressure treated wood - it will last longer, or redwood, if available.  Raised beds are easy to create, and posses a level surface for more efficient watering.  Plants on a slope will require slower irrigation method to minimize run-off. One could also use large pottery or wooden planters to do the same task as a raised bed, but on a smaller scale.

All plants require regular that water and nutrients makes their way to their root zone.  Seedlings that have been newly transplanted may require watering 2-3 times a day in warm weather. Two methods of flood watering are the furrow and the basin.  The furrow is a small channel running along the side of row crops, and the basin is like a ring depression creating an island look around larger bush type plants.  Once the plants establish themselves, water deeply letting the soil to go almost dry at the surface before watering deeply again.  Water is best applied in the morning, but will be useable by the plants anytime during daylight hours.

Once you have figured out how big an area to use, its time to design.  The plot could be made out of several rectangular shaped zones separated by a walking paths. (Usually wide enough for a wheelbarrow or hand cart to squeeze through)  Keep the planted ares no wider than 4 feet so one can reach into the center and work, maintain, stake or harvest easily from each side. The area could be completely free-form as well. Accent pottery, benches and arbors can all be used to add detail and interest to the area.  Planting climbers on fences maximize the space too.

French Method of Close Spacing
One method that was started around the mid 1800's requires double digging a site.
Cover the site to dig with 1-1/2 inches of compost and a small amount of organic fertilizer as per the manufacturer's directions. I prefer using a fertilizer (5-10-10) with some humic acid and other natural products.  Start digging a trench to one shovel or spade depth by turning the soil and compost layer over into the hole just previously dug. Continue on like this from left to right and down to the next row. Repeat the process at 90 degrees the other direction to complete the double digging process. This gets easier every year you double dig.

Now that the soil is ready one can plant more closely with bigger yields. Planting closer together than normal crowds out any weed seeds from blowing in and taking root.  The close rows also look intriguing and can be very showy by planting light green next to bronze leaves and so on. Also large textured red-leaved chard planted next to fine textured foliage like fennel creates interest too.




Any outdoor space that one can accessorize either as an useable space (for an activity) or more simply as a visual focal point.

Know the area you are designing for. . . the sun aspect, shade factor, existing trees, slope, drainage and amenities.  How close to the house, garage, outbuilding or shed, neighbors fence or wall are all important things to consider.  You wouldn't want to design a quiet reading room next to the neighbors swing set, or facing the setting sun if you read mostly then, etc.

Each room has its own character, but need to be unified by the walls that contain it. Using the same plant for a hedge as well as a free-form background shrub in another area will accomplish this. Fences and low walls work well as visual barriers, and can add interest by the materials and colors selected, but will become accent elements and should be used as such. Too much going on in this scenario creates visual overload.

Treat your outdoor room as you would your living space inside your home.  The only difference being that items one uses there need to be able to endure the weather.  Some rooms can be designed to be used actively for a short time and still look good when not in use; storing the furniture, umbrella or canopy when not in use.  One could design an outdoor reading room, under a nearby tree with a gravel floor and an Adirondack chair. The room could be delineated by a clipped hedge, a low wall or decorative fence - all depending on your own style of landscape. 

Plan out your garden room by creating combinations of spaces linked by pathways.  The sizes and shapes should vary to create interest.  I usually like to maintain a line of sight or partially obscured vista of another 'room' in the distance to keep one moving to the final destination. Keep in mind that you never want to see the whole garden at once.  It's fun to be surprised and have different views as one goes through the garden.  Rooms in the garden don’t have to be very large either. You can make a very small space (10 x 10 foot area) appear to be larger by using elevation changes. A simple step up or down to a room creates drama and a sense of volume in the room. Adding levels with tables and pottery or statuary accents add to this feeling, as well as giving the space a completed look

Define your spaces to fit your personality.  Weather tis a quiet reading room, an area to stretch out on a hammock, or a place to set up a rustic table for a twilight dinner party, its completely interchangeable. 

Limit the kinds of plants used in each room. Try to use 5 or less in one area, and repeat some of the background plants throughout the entire garden.

Create focal points that can be seen or partially seen to add intrigue.  Pottery groupings, statuary, lights or a planted arbor are some examples.


Take a look at Ground Covers

With the coming of rising water rates, people are realizing that the 'old front lawn' is nothing more than a maintenance hog.  A common response I get from my clients and friends regarding their love affair towards their lawn is that, "I like my lawn, it makes my house look nice."  That is, after paying a gardener to weed-n-feed, mow, edge and water continuously.

Ground covers, not only look nice but use less water, and in some cases very little trimming needed.  If you live in an area that doesn't get enough rainfall to support turf grass most of the year, you should consider using ground covers.  They are versatile, come in a wide range of colors and textures.  Some can even take foot traffic, just like the old lawn!

Mid to late autumn is the best time to plant ground covers like California natives or Mediterranean perennials. Planting in the fall allows the root system to become better established, while the soil temperatures are still warmer, but after the heat of the summer weather. Planting at this time accelerates the plant’s ability to produce new root growth before winter comes.

Create a plan before beginning work. This includes gathering not only information about
the plants, and the site's characteristics, but about how best to irrigate them as well.
Knowing what type of soil, how much sun or shade an area gets throughout the year, and if an area drains well or is on a slope are all important constraints that will shape your designs. 

Keep in mind the size of the plants at maturity when creating your planting and irrigation layout. Don’t let the small size of young plants fool you into planting too closely or too densely. Likewise, make sure the irrigation system is installed with future growth in mind. Make sure to have the irrigation system complete before the planting begins.

"The closer the plant is to a seedling, the better it will grow" is a good motto to follow.  Avoid the temptation to purchase large container stock.  Plants started from seed, ground cover flats, 4 inch pots, 6-packs, or quarts establish themselves much quicker, and fill out nicely in one growing season, and are much less work to plant than those planted from gallon containers. 

Start with healthy, vibrant looking plants from a reputable, local nursery. Nurseries that specialize in California native and Mediterranean species can be a great source of water-wise plants, and have more variety than most home centers.

Mulch the area after planting. A layer about 2 to 3 inches deep, will help minimize the need for weeding and help retain moisture in the soil.  Mulches made from recycled green wastes (lawn clippings, leaves, chipped tree trimmings) are inexpensive, readily available, and
help divert products destined for the landfill back into creating healthy landscapes.


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