A Tropical Oasis in Palo Alto

I was recently invited to do a “refresh” of a property in Palo Alto that I first designed in 2006. This small garden is used intensively by a busy family of four. There were a few frayed edges, along with opportunities to fill in little problem spots. The homeowners had also decided they wanted MORE. …

Structure in a Country Garden

How do you create open space for fun and play, while keeping maintenance low? Creating structured spaces with raised beds and gravel can meet several design challenges at once. This country garden is located at the entry to a three acre property on the coastside. Most of the property is open grassy area or pasture …

Tea in a coastside ranch garden

These photos are from last summer, taken when I stopped by for tea in a garden planted earlier last spring. Since moving out to the coast a few years ago, I’ve been invited to work on several local gardens. The microclimates are quite different on this side of the hill (as opposed to the SF …

On location in Michigan

I’m taking a quick break from designing a *completely* native California garden to fly out to Michigan! Visiting Suzhou last fall gave me a whole new sense for how important a unique sense of place is to the soul of a garden.

To help my clients feel at home in their new house, I want to combine a few elements of California style with a local Michigan plant palette. We’re going to do a little exploring!

Gravel is Gorgeous!

My first video on a design topic, let me know what you think!

I Get Tips on Flower Arranging at the Flower And Garden Show

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show Gallery

Welcome to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

The Humble Administrator’s Garden Video

Even after years — perhaps a lifetime — of living in California, people still have trouble really understanding that nature does things differently here. Because the weather tends to be cold in Winter and warm in Summer, it’s easy to think that we have just a milder version of other people’s climate. So they buy into the classic idea of weather. We all know what that’s supposed to be. We’ve seen the calendars and read the books. So we think we know how plants develop. Every basic plant and gardening book describes how they start growing when the ground warms up in Spring, mature to fullness in the Summer, and after a blaze of color, die down in Fall. In Winter, everything is dormant except the evergreen trees and a few bushes, which are invisible anyway under snow, ice or spat- tered mud. We are reinforced in our thinking that this is the way things are when we grow exotics. The vast majority of Californians who garden engage in truly epic struggles, nursing exotic garden plants that don’t belong here, trying to cope with lack of water, fighting disease and insects, fertilizing endlessly, and never recognizing how the process works for plants that evolved here. It’s only obvious when you have the facts in hand and look around. If you’re new to natives, put those preconceptions aside and imagine you are preparing to land on another planet. Someone gives you a briefing book about the ecology of your new home. The rules are strange, different, you read. The plant life begins growing (mostly underground) with the first rain and chill of Fall. All Winter plants gather their resources and prepare for the glory of Spring. In Summer they slow to an amble or go entire-ly dormant, staying that way until the cold and rains return in Fall. They’re fussy, too, not having experienced decades of hybridization. They resent having their roots handled roughly, seldom appreciate trimming, don’t like to be transplanted or watered out of season and are likely to up and die on you if you violate their requirements. The soil harbors many bizarre fungi, and only the long dry season keeps the pathogenic forms — which thrive on a combination of heat and water — in check. But they’re tough when it comes to environmental hazards. They thrive in rocky, infertile soils, handle freeze and drought with aplomb, provide hundreds of edible and/or medicinally active species, and often offer very attractive displays of line, form, foliage, bloom and fruit — all with no attention from so- called higher forms of life. That other planet, of course, is California. Louise Lacey, Growing Native
We are embarked upon a great adventure, just beginning to learn how to live with the natives. Like the bunchgrasses, we each want a little space around us so as to leave room for the flowers. And like the bunchgrasses, when we grow together we are each a small wave on a spreading pond. --Louise Lacey, Growing Native

The Joy of Wandering

It’s been nice to take a few weeks after the craziness of the holidays to really mull over what I’ve learned from my trip to China. As I return to the massive virtual pile of photos I took, it’s easier to put some of the thoughts and reactions together into patterns. If you had told …

"In garden design there are rules but no fixed formulas and what is important is the inventive application of these rules. The "use of the setting" (adaptation to local conditions, and borrowing scenery) as Ji Cheng said, is the rule." On Chinese Gardens, "Implicitness and Appropriateness" [caption id="attachment_1335" align="alignleft" width="900"]The Humble Administrator's Garden View of the Hanshan Temple from The Humble Administrator's Garden[/caption]

Is it finally time to say goodbye to your lawn?

Don’t let this week’s forecast for heavy rains fool you! Bay Area gardeners are still facing a severe drought this year. The San Francisco Chronicle had a great article today about replacing thirsty lawns. For the full text, follow the link. Or just skip down to the important bit about the cities currently offering rebates …

"Making a distinction between large and small gardens, between in-position and in-motion viewing, country and city gardens, is known as doing what is "appropriate". --Chen Congzhou, On Chinese GardensImplicitness and Appropriateness
"In garden design there are rules but no fixed formulas and what is important is the inventive application of these rules. The "use of the setting" (adaptation to local conditions, and borrowing scenery) as Ji Cheng said, is the rule." On Chinese GardensImplicitness and Appropriateness
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