garden design

Garden Design Workshop full of DIY tips and techniques to create a beautiful landscape yourself …

Don’t miss my garden design class this Saturday from 8:30 to 12:30 for creative garden tips & techniques to help you transform your own garden. Comment now to register & I’ll honor the pre-registration price of  $199 at the door!

It’s at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, 4892 Highway 290 West, on the westbound 290 access road between Capitol of Texas Highway and Brodie Lane.

Come learn all about the basics — plant combinations, color coordinating, xeric gardening and garden style.
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We’ll have drinks, snacks and prizes…and, most importantly, lots of inspiration!

Hope to see you on Saturday.

By | March 24th, 2016|Blog, Sharing Nature's Garden|0 Comments

Use water-wise tips to create a low-maintenance, beautiful, xeric garden

It’s back. As of last week, we are officially back in drought status. Our unseasonably warm and dry winter (what happened to the wet and cold forecast of El Nino?), means it’s probably time to make some serious changes in your landscape.

Not watering your garden at all isn’t much of an option since everything will die and look awful. Your neighbors will hate you and your home value will tank.

Pouring concrete or removing everything except rocks to cover your whole landscape isn’t much of an option either. But there are many choices short of those two dramatic reactions that can and will work for you if you do your homework.

This is the crux of what we call Xeriscaping. Not “zero” scaping, as some mistakenly call it, but, using xeric plants and water-wise practices to create a landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions.

It doesn’t, however, mean never having to water or care for plants – it means developing a water-efficient landscape through the use of good planning, appropriate plant and lawn selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulch and proper maintenance. I often laughingly tell people, “it’s not carpet!”

So, what are the steps to developing a xeric landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions?

Seven principles of Xeriscaping

There are seven fundamental garden design principles that define that define what we call xeriscaping, water-wise gardening or drought tolerant landscaping. They serve to maximize water conservation through a simple set of steps that are easy to undertake. They include:

  • Proper planning
  • Soil improvement
  • Fitting plant selections
  • Practical lawn choices
  • Efficient Irrigation
  • Correct use of mulch
  • Proper maintenance

Plan your space

There are many options for reducing the need for water in your landscape. You can replace lawn with sitting and entertaining space – using paths of mulch, decomposed granite or flagstone, patios of native stone or bricks, wooden decks and gazebos, creating an inviting garden space when combined with planting beds. Dry creeks can be added to meander through your landscape – to address drainage issues or simply for aesthetic use as a textural contrast to plants and mulch. Water features – from ponds to disappearing fountains in ceramic pots can add a focal point and invite wildlife into your garden. Play scapes, hammocks, washer pits and fire pits or chimenarias can also be placed on a variety of hardscape materials in lieu of grass.

Enhance your soil

Whether you’re fighting black clay or limestone outcroppings and caliche, it’s sometimes challenging to garden in Central Texas. Creating raised beds will encourage give your roots something to hold onto in rocky soils and will create better drainage in clay soils.

According to Travis County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Daphne Richards, it’s good to occasionally add organic matter like compost to your soil, but says native plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer.

“Organic matter breaks down slowly, providing nutrients and helping to improve our soil structure as well,” said Richards.

Mulching beds is also important to help insulate plants, keeping soil temperatures lower and cutting down on evaporation. There are a variety of good mulches from which to choose, including: Native Texas Hardwood mulch (highly recommended), shredded cedar, pine needles, and other shredded barks. Several inches of mulch should be applied to ensure sufficient insulation. But never pile mulch up against the trunks of trees or shrubs like volcanoes as that can cause rot. Mulch should be placed around plants like a donut ring, with very little mulch touching the trunk and a raised ring around the plant to encourage water to remain inside the circle.

Water wisely

Many methods used to irrigate landscapes are inefficient. Most sprinklers – both automated systems and hose-end, waste a great deal of water to evaporation, particularly when run during the day. The most efficient hose-end sprinklers throw large drops of water close to the ground, rather than high into the air. Watering is also best done in the very early morning hours to prevent scorch and to minimize evaporation – even before sun-up for early birds or those with automatic systems.

Overwatering is also a problem. Watering for shorter periods of time too often encourages plants to keep shallow roots. Longer, less frequent, deep watering, develops deep roots away from surface heat that will require less water.

Drip irrigation is a good option to reduce water use. By keeping the water next to the plants and using little pressure, there is almost no evaporation and the soil is able to absorb and use all the water, whereas sprinklers often saturate soil and the water runs off the landscape. But drip has its drawbacks as well, requiring the lines to circle your plants’ root zones which can make planting and moving in an existing drip system cumbersome. Drip lines and emitters can crack or get clogged, but since they are under a thin layer of mulch, it’s often hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and you have dying plants.

Collecting rainwater (when we are lucky enough to get it) is another way to conserve. From simple rain barrels placed under downspouts to large commercial systems, using this “free” water is always a good choice, especially since plants prefer natural rainwater to tap water that is chemically-treated.

Plant for success

Seasoned gardeners know that using a variety of native and well-adapted plants will consistently give you the best results under difficult conditions because those plants are used to surviving with what nature provides. They simply don’t need as much watering or maintenance.

Central Texas boasts a long list of native and adapted plants that, once established, can survive our rigorous conditions with less watering. When first planted, they will require regular watering for several months to get them started, but will then be less thirsty than other non-native or adapted plants.

Plants with similar water needs should also be planted together, so you aren’t over or under watering some of the plants in the same bed.

Turf grass is usually thirstier than the rest of your landscape. Reducing the amount of grass in your landscape can be the first step to significantly reducing your water needs. For Central Texas, Bermuda, Zoysia and Buffalo grass are the most drought-tolerant. Bermuda and Zoysia are commonly used in area lawns. St. Augustine requires a lot of water. It tends to grow better in light shade than most other grasses. Turf grass should be mowed high, allowing the longer blades to help protect the roots from the heat and to hold in moisture when there is some. Clippings left on the lawn help return nitrogen to the soil, so they don’t need to be collected.

Now, maintain it

Proper pruning, weeding and fertilizing will help keep your landscape healthy. Prune plants appropriately and remove weeds so they don’t compete with other plants for water.

Where to start

It may be hard for some to visualize a drought-tolerant garden that doesn’t scream desert. It can be so much more than using only cacti and agaves in a rock bed – unless that’s the look you want. There are many lush, green, and brightly blooming xeric native and well-adapted plants from which to choose when creating a water-wise garden.

In Pam Penick’s newly released book, The Water-saving Garden – How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water, she provides homeowners with both practical tips and beautiful water-saving design options in the garden.

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Penick, a blogger and author who gardens in Austin, has traveled extensively to learn about drought-tolerant techniques and styles across the country.

According to Penick, there is no single “right way” to plant a garden that saves water. Her focus is on planting thoughtfully, using drought-tolerant plants, grouping plants by water needs, and making the most of the natural rain you have in your garden.

Penick believes the most difficult aspect of promoting water-saving techniques is changing public opinion.

“The biggest challenge is changing people’s ideas of what a water-saving garden looks like,” said Penick. “People who’ve always gardened a certain way can be resistant to change, and they may have the idea that a water-saving garden is filled with cactus and rock, and they don’t like that look. I want to show that water-thrifty gardens can be just as beautiful as water-hogging ones, so that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, however virtuous, to make one.”

The book centers around Penick’s objective to “hold that liquid gold.” Viewing rainwater as something precious to be saved, stored or redirected, it includes detailed information about the use of rainwater barrels, cisterns, dry creeks, terraces and rain gardens.

The book also outlines the practical aspects of healthy soil, use of mulch and efficient irrigation.

Penick focuses on how to use the right plants and create ripple-zones in your garden to group plants by water needs. This will allow you to keep the thirstiest plant close to your house where you can water them more easily, and perhaps design the farthest ripple to be a more natural, non-irrigated area if your yard is large.

What makes this book stand out is Penick’s designer’s eye. It is filled to the brim with wonderful color photographs of water-saving gardens in every imaginable style. Gardeners will find plenty of inspiration to transform their own gardens.

Chapters focus on attractive shading options, permeable patios and paths, container gardens and water features. She even includes an inspirational chapter on water-evoking plants, highlighting ways to design the look and feel of water into your garden with “cascading or fountain-like form, or through color that, when massed, brings to mind a river or a pool.”

The book is capped off with a final section with 101 plant recommendations for water-saving gardens.

Penick says her inspiration for the book was practical, “I’ve always been interested in low-water gardens because I’m an inherently lazy gardener. I don’t like to have to stand out in the garden every day watering thirsty plants. Plus, we live where drought and watering restrictions are facts of life, and I want a garden that looks good with minimal babying with the hose. Other regions of the country are facing the same pressures, plus people are more interested than ever in living sustainably, so I wrote the book to share water-saving inspiration and techniques and to show that it’s possible to have a beautiful garden without having to pour water on it every day.”

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | February 27th, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

Build garden’s foundation with the right shrubs

Diana's Designs Austin Texas Foundation Planting Chinese Fringe Flower

Most gardeners find themselves captivated by beautiful blooms. Nurseries put those showstoppers front and center, designed to lure in homeowners looking for the brightest, longest-lasting blooms for their landscapes. But venture further back and you’ll find the backbones of the garden – evergreen shrubs. These are the tried and true performers in the garden, season after season, year after year.

Called foundation plants, shrubs are often planted against a house to hide its foundation. They originally hid basements or open crawl spaces under homes. But they also provide a structural design foundation for layering with the other plants in the landscape.

When well placed, shrubs can soften the structure of the house and provide a transition to the surrounding landscape. A carefully crafted blend of evergreen shrubs, flowering perennials and colorful annuals makes a great formula for a beautiful garden bed. Regardless of your personal garden style, this combination provides cohesion in the landscape, allowing each unique set of plants to aid the transition of colorful interest in the garden throughout the season.

In spring, bulbs and tender annuals provide fresh bursts of color against the backdrop of established evergreen shrubs. In summer, hard-working perennials come into their own, blooming for the long haul and providing a contrast to the reliable shrubs. And in winter, when perennials are sleeping for the season, it’s the foundation shrubs that look beautiful and colorful against grey skies.

While many shrubs do bloom, they’re most often appreciated for their beautiful foliage contribution to the garden. With careful selection and design, foliage-only plants can be used to create a neutral and serene landscape, to be appreciated more for their nuances than the bright pops of color in a vivid perennial bed.

Plants, liDiana's Designs Foundation Planting in Central Austin Texaske people, develop issues as they age. Many shrubs tend to get leggy, with little or no foliage on the lower branches – caused, among other things, by poor pruning or a lack of sunlight from above. Overgrown shrubs are a common problem faced by homeowners. Homebuilders often plant large, fast-growing shrubs in very small spaces along walkways and under windows. When the plants outgrow the space in a few short years, these colossal shrubs can obscure the beauty of the house, leaving homeowners to fight their way into their own house with a machete. Sometimes it’s just time to put them out of their misery.

Having seen too many instances of this, I’m always on the lookout for smaller varieties of my favorite shrubs. This ensures that the mature size of the plant is the proper size for the space, and saves homeowners from having to constantly prune a plant that’s just growing the way it’s supposed to grow. Certainly, gardening is work and requires care and pruning, but planting a 6-foot wide shrub in a 2-foot-wide bed just isn’t going to work.

Evergreen shrubs for Central Texas Gardens

There are many hardy shrubs that grow well in Central Texas. Here are a few of my favorite small to medium-sized shrubs.

Evergreen shrubs aren’t always green. One of my favorites is the Loropetalum family of shrubs which range in color from an olive green to burgundy and even deep purple leaves. It’s also known commonly as Chinese fringe flower and comes in a wide variety of sizes from 2-4 feet tall and wide to as much as 6-10 feet tall and wide. There are many different color options from which to choose. The color of the leaves on some varieties can also vary depending on the light and soil conditions where they are planted. The shrub’s beautiful wispy, fringe-like pink blooms appear at various times throughout the year. I have several varieties, the small, ground cover-like ‘Purple Pixie,’ and a medium-sized variety, ‘Daruma.’ I also have a larger, mystery variety, which I have pruned up as a small tree. I’ve found them to be fairly drought tolerant once established and pest and disease free.

There are several variegated varieties of abelia that are my go-to shrubs. ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘Twist of Lime,’ and ‘Hinkley’s’ abelias are great for adding contrast and light into a bed. With varying degrees of lime and cream in the leaves, and some with rust-tinged edges in the fall, these three varieties are small- to medium-sized shrubs that grow about 4-5 feet tall and wide. They have white blooms several times through the year. There are many other abelias – with glossy, dark green leaves, with pink blooms, and much larger varieties of plants as well.

And no list of evergreen shrubs in Central Texas would be complete without Dwarf Yaupon Holly. This tough-as-nail plant doesn’t even miss a beat in our hot, dry summers. Compact and a nice medium size of 2-4 feet tall and wide, dwarf yaupon holly rarely needs pruning as it grows naturally into a very orderly-shaped orb.

Dwarf ‘Cream De Mint’ Pittosporum adds another interesting element to the landscape – a different form than many other common shrubs. This pale green and cream leaf is larger and somewhat rounded. Its growth habit is dense and compact and requires little upkeep. This can also be pruned into an interesting understory plant.

I’ve been growing the Leatherleaf Mahonia in my garden for quite some time now. It’s a spiky, upright shrub that’s right at home among cacti and agaves and yuccas and produces cool yellow bloom spikes in winter, followed by tiny, bluish black berries. Several years ago I had an opportunity to trial a different variety, the ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. They couldn’t be more different. The “Soft Caress’ looks like its name. Fine leaves drape delicately from this small shrub, providing a soft look in a shady garden. While it produces similar blooms and berries, it’s welcome and inviting, offering a beautiful contrast to woodier shrubs with waxy or stiff leaves.

I often mix in shrubs with variegated leaves, interesting forms, or colors other than green, to provide contrast in the garden. When landscape beds contain several layers of shrubs, all with medium-sized, glossy green leaves, none of the plants can stand out and shine it’s just a wall of green. When the combination contains one such shrub, but the other shrubs or plants are variegated or have dramatically different leaves, colors, leaf finish, forms or textures, it adds depth to the entire bed, enabling you to distinguish each unique plant from the others.

Once established, most of these shrubs are average to low water users. That means they will need a little more watering in the beginning to get them going, depending on the time of year in which you plant.

So, if you’re thinking of refreshing your landscape this spring, start with some unique foundation shrubs as the building blocks to enhancing your curb appeal.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | January 23rd, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

March tip: Crafting a beautiful landscape design requires planning

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Chances are you’re heading to the nursery to replace last year’s annuals, pick up more drought tolerant plants, and fill the holes in your spring landscape.

While you’re eager to ramp up the color in your garden, remember that your dormant woody perennials are about to burst forth from the roots.  With some rain and sun, they should be back to their previous year’s size in no time. So, don’t start planting new plants all around them or you’ll soon face an overcrowding issue.

It’s hard to resist, with all the beautiful blooms calling to you from the nursery tables.  But if you troll the isles, filling your cart with one of these and one of those, you’ll soon find yourself with a smorgasbord.  Once you’re home, you realize that you don’t have the right shady spot for this plant or the color in that bed doesn’t work with that plant.  What do you do?

You start plopping. This highly technical term applies to gardeners lacking willpower and a plan. And, it applies to collectors who want to have it all. But, come July, you’ll find yourself shielding your eyes, wondering what to do with the red Turk’s cap next to the orange abutilon next to the pink pavonia.

This doesn’t mean you can’t add individual plants into the right places in your landscape; it does mean planning ahead. After you’ve thought about adding complementary colors and mixing in interesting textures and forms, think: repetition.

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By | March 27th, 2015|Tips|Comments Off on March tip: Crafting a beautiful landscape design requires planning

Repetition in the garden adds harmony, interest

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Chances are you’re heading to the nursery to replace last year’s annuals, pick up more drought tolerant plants, and fill the holes in your spring landscape.

While you’re eager to ramp up the color in your garden, remember that your dormant woody perennials are about to burst forth from the roots.  With some rain and sun, they should be back to their previous year’s size in no time. So, don’t start planting new plants all around them or you’ll soon face an overcrowding issue.

It’s hard to resist, with all the beautiful blooms calling to you from the nursery tables.  But if you troll the isles, filling your cart with one of these and one of those, you’ll soon find yourself with a smorgasbord.  Once you’re home, you realize that you don’t have the right shady spot for this plant or the color in that bed doesn’t work with that plant.  What do you do?

You start plopping. This highly technical term applies to gardeners lacking willpower and a plan. And, it applies to collectors who want to have it all. But, come July, you’ll find yourself shielding your eyes, wondering what to do with the red Turk’s cap next to the orange abutilon next to the pink pavonia.

This doesn’t mean you can’t add individual plants into the right places in your landscape; it does mean planning ahead. After you’ve thought about adding complementary colors and mixing in interesting textures and forms, think: repetition.

As you close your eyes and picture the garden of your dreams, make a list of the plants that you’d like to add – and then add two more, or four more – of each.

This is the rule of 3 – a basic design principle that objects that are arranged or grouped in odd numbers – 3, 5, 7 — are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered combinations. Odd numbers create harmony and encourage movement and visual interest. This principle applies to many other areas as well, including interior design, photography and graphic design.

Repetition in the garden helps create a unified planting scheme. When you plant multiples of identical or similar components, you add interest to your landscape design. Plopping generally conveys a hodge-podge approach, whereas incorporating repetition provides your design with greater impact.

With onesie-twosie planting, plants often get lost. There are so many different plants vying for attention that nothing stands out.  Instead, buy 3 or 5 of the same plant and create a vignette that allows the one or two other plants in the same space to shine against a uniform backdrop. You can also add different, yet very similar plants, or elements like garden art, or plants of the same color to create a cohesive design

Crafting a beautiful landscape design requires planning and forethought to ensure harmony and continuity. As you begin to plan and make your spring nursery list, think about how you can to add repetition in your landscape with new groupings of plants. Step back and analyze your beds as though they were empty – a series of blank canvases waiting to be filled. Don’t be afraid to move some plants – either to better locations or to make room to add the right combination of plants. Sometimes, you even have to let go of plants that don’t work anymore in your garden. Perhaps you have a friend with the perfect spot for it – don’t be afraid to clean house a little when you are planning.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at http://www.dianasdesignsaustin.com

 

By | March 27th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Repetition in the garden adds harmony, interest

Bringing indoor art and style outside

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dog sculpture in gardenThe current trend to create “rooms” in our gardens is opening doors to incorporating more art into our landscapes. Garden design has taken on a new sophistication in recent years, evolving from the traditional whiskey barrel planters and gnomes of old.

Today, art is being used to bring color, texture and contrast into our outdoor rooms. From gazing globes and bottle trees to metal sculptures and pottery, art can add interest and depth to your landscape. How magical it can be when visitors to your garden discover a small sculpture or stepping stone slipped in among your flowers and foliage.  Or when you can draw them down a garden path to a beautiful gazing ball.

dragonfly sculpture in gardenYou probably shop around to find just the right painting or pottery for that special place in your home. Now, the popularity of indoor decorating with items from nature also carries over and makes that possible in the garden. Home stores like Pier 1, World Market, Home Goods and other larger retailers are adding outdoor-themed decor to their shelves. Stone or ceramic irds, iron scrollwork and small statues have become staples, available for both indoor and outdoor use.  A variety of stores also offer all-weather paintings that can brighten up a fence or front porch. A few carefully-selected items and you can add a new twist to your garden rooms.

Gardeners are always looking for ways to extend the color in their landscapes as the seasons change. Colorful art in the garden can also add a pop of interest when plants lose their blooms or go dormant. A bright blue bottle tree will brighten up a brown winter landscape.

Bringing art into our landscapes is also another tool in the raging battle against the drought. Replacing grass or beds with hardscapes and art creates new focal points – focal points that don’t need to be watered.

How to find the right art for your garden, style and budget.

Sometimes finding the right accent for your garden is as simple as bringing your indoor decor outside. Perhaps you have some lovely metal lanterns or candleholders on your bookcase – a few more placed on your porch can create a cohesive feel.

Think about your personal style and think about traditionally-indoor home decor items for use outdoors if they are weatherproof or can be placed in a protected area. You may want to find a place for something that’s special to you, or you might want to find something for a special place in your garden.

mosaic artwork in gardenConsider areas in the garden that might need a special focal point or sprucing up.  And think about the point of view – do you want something to see when you look out your kitchen window or from the couch? Or do you want to place a little treasure in some secret spot in the garden to surprise visitors to the garden?

Be sure to choose an item or items that match the scale of your garden – a grand, life-sized sculpture might overpower a small cottage garden. Something too small could get lost, so think about the right balance for your space.

And, finally, art in the garden is intended to be the finishing touch.  Don’t overdo it – the objective is not clutter, but creating a sense of purpose. People should appreciate your garden, not your “stuff.”

Your choices should compliment your garden design and your personal style, and, most of all, make you happy.

By | December 28th, 2013|Articles|Comments Off on Bringing indoor art and style outside