OYO Design Blog
On Your Own Design (OYO) is a special brand I've created for enthusiastic gardeners, aspiring design DIYers or anyone ready to take their garden to the next level. New articles are posted twice monthly on Sundays. If you'd rather not check back, sign up via the pop-up form and new articles will be delivered straight to your inbox. As a thank you, I'll send you a PDF of my favorite perennials!

And the answer is…chartreuse!

As the cover scan shows, I stole this week’s title from the latest issue of Fine Gardening magazine, which choose to highlight this versatile, hardworking foliage color in the February edition. As it also happens to be one of my personal favorites, how could I not make it the star of my first newsletter of the new year?

Existing on the spectrum between green and yellow, chartreuse adds vibrancy and contrast to traditional garden greens, without hogging the spotlight the way red-foliaged plants and flashy flowers often seem to do (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Here are three ways chartreuse can wake up your own garden.

Make plums and burgundies pop

If your climate is hot and dry like mine, you probably look to silver foliage when choosing plants to highlight the reds in your garden, as so many silver-hued Mediterranean plants like lavender and lamb’s ears are both well-adapted and readily available. For a warmer alternative, consider instead combining chartreuse with some of the burgundy plants in your garden. Red and green are complimentary colors, making this combination more eye-catching and memorable than the more expected red and silver. Pictured in this combo: Ninebark (Podocarpus ‘Diablo’) and Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’)

Reinvent an old favorite

Bringing in chartreuse doesn’t mean you have to trade in proven garden staples for temperamental unknowns. Many of your favorite gray and silver-foliage plants also boast a chartreuse cultivar, including Catmint (Nepeta ‘Limelight’) and Lamb’s Ears (Stachys ‘Primrose Heron’). Pro tip: many plants such as the Licorice Plant (Helichrysum ‘Limelight’) pictured here, are considered full-sun plants, but will generally boast a softer, more subtle hue closer to green when planted in part shade.

Brighten a shade garden

And speaking of shade, chartreuse kills in the dimmest corners of your garden. Plants like Carex ‘Everillo’ and Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) act as the missing sunshine, creating bright focal points while adding zing and dimension.

And as long as I’m on the topic of Fine Gardening, you can listen to my tips on designing foundation plants on the latest edition of their podcast Let’s Argue About Plants. I start at minute 31.

A core principle of my design philosophy—that morphed into the title of my latest book—is doing more with less. Whether your garden is big, small or somewhere in between, we all have planting beds that we want to showcase for as much of the year as possible. To avoid swaths of bare ground while waiting for your warm season plants to be reborn, why not try a seasonal layering strategy?

Interplant ornamental grasses with daffodils

One of the easiest ways to do this is to interplant ornamental grasses with winter-flowering bulbs. I find daffodils to be one of the best choices, as they are tough, naturalize easily and are large and colorful enough to create a prominent winter display. Smaller flowers like crocuses don’t have the mass to distract the eye from the brown clumps of grasses. It is KEY that you choose the earliest bloomers that work in your area, such as February Gold or Rijnveld Early Sensation.

Pro tip: early bloomers are the fastest varieties to sell out, either at your local nursery or online, so order early.

My Garden in February

My Garden in August

Maintenance

Around the time the flowers are spent and leaves have begun to turn brown, your grasses will have already begun fleshing out. Once the daffy leaves are about half brown and half green, I tie them into tidy bundles where they are ultimately covered by the grasses, making them much less unsightly than when planted out in my garden’s more open spaces. Even though there is still green on the leaves when the grasses begin to shade the dying foliage out, in my garden they still seem to get enough sun to return the following year.

It’s All in the Timing

I generally tell my clients they can trim their grasses anytime between December and the end of February, but for this strategy, I recommend cutting back no later than mid-January. As soon as I do this in my own garden and expose their leaves to the sun, the daffodils put on explosive growth, blooming 3-4 weeks later.

This strategy is much easier to implement if you plant your daffys the same year as the grasses. Grasses grow fast, and most varieties have a graceful fountain shape. That means once your grasses have been in the ground for a year or two, you’ll need a plan to push the leaves aside in fall in order to plant your bulbs. If (like me) you like to add more bulbs every year, I strong advise taking photos of your garden in winter while your plants are still dormant and the daffodils are blooming so you know where to plant. Because if (again, like me) you imagine you will remember where exactly your current daffodils are come fall, I guarantee you won’t.

 

 

How to Preserve Lemons

Preserving and canning usually reserved for summer bounty, but if you grow your own lemons, did you know there is a way to enjoy their lemony goodness year round?

Fermenting versus Canning

Long a staple of Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, preserving lemons is one of the easiest DIY garden-to-kitchen projects. All you need are lemons, salt and a jar. Unlike canning, which requires multiple steps, hot water baths, etc., this method relies on fermentation. Fermentation requires creating an anaerobic environment, so as long as you are careful to ensure the lemons are completely submerged in their own juice, this process is super-easy. From a flavor and nutrition standpoint, fermenting fruits and vegetables intensifies their flavor and not only preserves peak nutrition, but also enhances it. Ferments like kombucha and (unpasteurized) sauerkraut have exploded in popularity due in part to their high probiotic content, known to support a healthy gut. Although generally eaten in smaller quantities, preserved lemons offer similar benefits and as an enthusiastic home fermenter, I can attest that lemons are probably the easiest project to tackle if you are a fermenter newbie.

How To

To preserve lemons, simply cut each lemon into quarters, almost but not quite all the way through, so that the fruit opens like a flower. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt onto the fleshy insides, and firmly press cut-side down into a quart-sized jar. Press the lemon cut-side down into a quart-sized canning jar and sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt onto the rind. Repeat this process with additional lemons until there is an inch or two of space in the jar. If the amount of juice that is released by pressing down on the lemons is not enough to submerge them completely, add additional lemon juice to the jar, and weigh down with a weight or sauerstone if lemons won’t stay submerged. Seal tightly, and leave on the counter for two to four weeks—the rind should begin to become translucent. Stored in the refrigerator, the lemons should last for six months to a year. You can find a more detailed tutorial including photos here.

Enjoy!

Preserved lemons are terrific in soups, stews and entrees. Great recipes are easy to find online, but one of the best known dishes is Chicken Tagine. Alana Chernila, author of Eating From the Ground Up, shares some wonderful recipes on her blog here. Preserved lemon martini, anyone?

 

P.S. Preserved lemons make a terrific hostess gift!

 

As a designer and writer, I’ve contributed to multiple garden trend articles over the years. (See my favorite here) This year, instead of coming up with my own predictions of how our relationships with our gardens will evolve in the coming year, I dove into some of the top research sources and websites to find out what they believe 2019 holds for us. Here are three winning forecasts I can definitely get behind.

Sanctuary

Courtesy of Garden Design, sanctuary speaks strongly to me, as I consider my own garden to be a refuge. Backyards often fulfill many functions, but even in the busiest of gardens, carving out a space that serves as a special retreat just for you is something worth exploring. It can be as simple as a chair tucked into a quiet corner with an intimate view of the garden. I’m seeing this trend with my own clients. At the top of her design wish list, my client Karen included a hidden nook where she could read and watch her garden in peace (and as she also wants a zip line from the playhouse to the patio for her grandkids, I’m not kidding when I encourage you to believe a garden can fulfill multiple functions).

Homegrown Tisanes

Per The Middle-Sized Garden, growing edibles may be nothing new, but growing herbs for more than just cooking is. Tisane (pronounced tea-zahn) is a type of botanical infusion, but unlike dried herbal teas, the ingredients for leaf and flower tisanes can be grown in your own backyard and thrown directly into a pot of boiling water for a light and refreshing drink. Popular herbs for this include lemongrass, mint and French verbena. I’ll never forget visiting my friend Maureen for lunch in her garden and watching enthralled as she gathered handfuls of lemon balm and lavender, then nonchalantly tossed them into a piping hot teapot to steep for us. An awe-inspiring hostess moment I have yet to match myself.

The “ME” Generation is now the “SHE” Generation

The Garden Media Group notes that today’s “social clock” is online 24/7. The ensuing stresses and demands from a society that never takes a break have encouraged many to search out the ultimate antidote: interacting with the eternal “she”—Mother Nature. They predict that in 2019 we will do a better job of tempering our relationship with ever-present technology by finding more and better ways to interact with the natural world. In his book The Moth Snowstorm, author Michael McCarthy believes that thousands of years of evolution has created “a link to the natural world, which really gets to the essence of who we are…it’s where, really, we are most at home.” Of course this won’t come as news to the engaged gardeners who subscribe to my newsletter, but isn’t it wonderful to think the rest of the world is catching up?

 

Like many gardeners, I love container gardens. Although I’m not afraid to go wild with the color of a container, it took me a while to realize the containers themselves could be their own standalone design element. As in, why does a container have to be a pot or a planter at all? Why not think outside the pot?

Repurpose and Recycle

In my first book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, my co-author Rebecca and I shared garden inspiration from Emily, a twenty-something apartment dweller hoping to bring some edible magic to her complex’s shared courtyard. Not only passionate about growing her own food, she is also a firm believer in repurposing and recycling. With a knack for ingenuity and some modest carpentry skills, she successfully transformed an old filing cabinet destined for the landfill into a wall-mounted herb planter!

Make it Personal

When I’m working with a client to transform her garden, I look for ways to marry my professional expertise with her own personal taste and history. To make her garden feel like a relaxing retreat, my client Deb wanted her tiny courtyard to remind her of Hawaii, her favorite vacation getaway. While working on the design, I came across an old bird feeder in her storage area and voila! A charming accessory helps transform this container garden into a personal space.

Add a touch of whimsy

I spotted this clever way to showcase shallow-rooted lettuces while visiting Orchard Nursery, one of my favorite local garden centers. No worries if you’ve run out of space in your vegetable garden—just grab a chair from the dining table, plop down a toolbox full of arugula and you’re good to go!

If a non-traditional container isn’t your cup of tea…

you can always get creative with what goes inside. After all, plants aren’t the only things that appreciate a cozy home.

 

If you’ve been to one of my presentations, you may have noticed the gardens are almost always photographed in spring, summer or fall. But that doesn’t mean I ignore winter when I design a garden!

In fact, a garden should honor every season by including at least one plant that captures its unique beauty. In warmer climates, the characteristics I look for in a great winter specimen are berries, blooms or fragrance.

Sweet Box

That’s why I love Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). With blooms, berries AND fragrance it’s a winter standout. Sweetly-scented, small white flowers appear in late fall and are followed by shiny blue berries. To top it off, it is low water and evergreen, so it not only looks good year round, but thrives in drought-adapted landscapes.

Now let’s talk design!

Incorporating Sweet Box into your garden is easy. Its evergreen leaves and manageable size (4-6’) make it an excellent foundation plant around the front or back of the house. Be aware that its growth pattern tends to be a little untamed. Sweet Box can develop a few long branches that shoot out in all directions ahead of the pack, so be patient while this plant grows up and expect to do some shaping.

It prefers a spot that is at least partly shady, and makes a gorgeous, evergreen backdrop along a fence in a shade garden. Bonus pick if you like Sweet Box but want something smaller – its little cousin Sarcococca hookeriana makes a great, low mounding ground cover.

But my absolute FAVORITE spot for this workhorse shrub is by the front door. What better way to get a jolt of happiness every time you walk in and out of the house than to admire its delicate flowers and small that heavenly fragrance? Sweet Box is welcome bright spot during the greyest months of the year.

Bonus Plant! Berberis darwinii

If you’ve got more space, consider Darwin’s Barberry. I snapped this photo at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in February, where it really lit up the winter landscape. Visit their site for more photos and information.

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A while back when I told a friend I was thinking of a driving visit to the Northeast, she began to enthusiastically list the gardens I should visit. But the reality is, when I’m on vacay, I don’t necessarily WANT to visit a lot of gardens. This is partly in difference to my husband, who already tolerates a LOT of shoptalk around our house when my gardener friends drop by. Beyond that, a vacation is supposed to be a break from work, even when it is work that you love. So a garden or park has to be pretty special to earn a spot on our itinerary.

A perfect example is Stanley Park, where we spent the day on a recent visit to Vancouver. This park has it all, and one of the things that makes it so special is its diversity.

We started out on the water side, where we admired beautiful views of the bay and city skyline, interspersed with small, scenic beaches.

We started out on the water side, where we admired beautiful views of the bay and city skyline, interspersed with small, scenic beaches.

As we climbed higher, the topography changed to a woodsy scene, but the views over the trees were equally beautiful.

Stopping for lunch at Prospect Point restaurant meant more views…

…complemented by the lush landscaping on the restaurant grounds.

After refreshing ourselves, we headed back via the interior of the park, where a dense canopy shading a dense, fern-dominated undergrowth made us feel we were in a totally different place than the breezy, ocean view trek we’d enjoyed on the way in.

As we got closer to the city, the park changed once again, as we ambled through wide lawns complemented by carefully curated plant beds.

We ended with a stroll around a small lake, which brought us back to the city proper.

So what design lessons did I walk away with?

Landscapes have the ability to feed our senses in numerous ways, whether that way is…

thoughtful and cerebral,

meditative and calming,

or cultivated and curated.

A visit to a place as diverse as Stanley Park reminds me of the power landscapes and gardens have, and while a suburban backyard is a far cry from a world-renounced park, great design reflects the power of nature, no matter how humble the canvas.

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