Smart & Sustainable, Green Garden Design, Coaching & Seasonal Maintenance

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

I was born on my dad's birthday. So, that made it mine, too. The night before I was born my parents had dinner with friends. The hostess served a birthday cake. They only ate the part that had "day" on it, leaving "Happy Birth..." intact. The next morning I was born. It was our birthday. It was our cake.

Last year I wrote a bit about my dad the gardener,  Remembering Dad. This year I wanted to include a silly story. My dad could be grumpy. But I could charm him out of it. I was his twin. One of my ways of doing this was to play the piano ... especially, Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody, made popular by Al Jolson in the days of the black-face and the talkies. My dad would arise out of his bad mood, come over by the piano and go down on one knee... "...rockabye your baby with a Dixie melody, when you croon, croon a tune, from the heart of Dixie..." Love you dad, this is for you!

Happy Father's Day Everyone!

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Whether you need garden design, coaching, seasonal maintenance or planting, Geno's Garden can help! Call me at (916) 764-5243, or email

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have you killed a plant lately? Join the club!

Oftentimes people say things like, "I don't have a green thumb", and then describe how they have trouble keeping plants alive. Well ... every gardener I know has killed many a plant. So, get over it. So, you killed a plant. That's one of the ways you learn about plants! Here's a real example:

Heteromeles arbutifolia

I have been fascinated with Heteromeles arbutifolia, aka Toyon, ever since I found out it was the inspiration for the name of the place we know as "Hollywood" (Toyons are native to the Hollywood area, and have holly-like berries in the winter). I determined to have one, but, to date I have killed 2, neither of which ever got in the ground. They died in their can. Both were purchased at Windmill Nursery. Was I watering too often, too little, were they finicky? I asked Windmill how they keep their toyons alive. "No big deal, we water them daily." Above is the one I bought in early May. Dead.

Heteromeles arbutifolia

This one is it's replacement. They're probably the same age. Difference? Probably more consistent watering. Label says that "once acclimated, toyon is quite drought tolerant." I think I ignored that "once acclimated" part. So, I'm trying again. Also the owner of Windmill advises customers to only buy what they can plant now, because the sooner the plant gets into the ground, the better its chances of making it. I sometimes have a problem with this, because I love the promise that a new plant holds, and am willing to overbuy and pretend that I have a little nursery of my own. Or pretend that I'm doing research trials: which plant can take the most neglect! I end up having really rugged plants that survive and a graveyard for the rest. My kill rate is rather embarrassing.

Another example:

Salvia guaranitica
Still alive!

This is another I've had trouble with, Salvia guaranitica, Black and Blue Salvia. I saw it in full-blown glory in the WPA Rock Garden (William Land Park) several years ago. And, wanted it! Well, seems like every year I purchase one, mistreat it, and again, it dies in the can. I still want it, and so far, this one is still looking good. Salvias tend to be low water requiring plants, but until it's established in the garden it does need to be watered regularly. A few times I've neglected it and it starts drooping, but I've caught it before I caused permanent damage to its leaves (leaves dry up, no more energy production = dead). I also have it in a partially shady area, which it will prefer once I get it planted as well.

So... rather than quit when you kill a plant and label yourself a "Black Thumb", find out what you did wrong and keep at it. And, realize, you've "Joined the Club"

Whether you need garden design, coaching, seasonal maintenance or planting, Geno's Garden can help!
Call me at (916) 764-5243, or email

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Inside the Garden Designer's "Brain"

I quote the word "brain" because I don't really believe it's taking place in there ... how 'bout you? Do you create in that meaty space? Ha! Ah well, I digress...let's get on with it. Back to business! I recently turned in my last project for my C.A.D. (computer-aided design) landscape design class at American River College. We putzed along for awhile this semester doing little tutorials, and then, Bang! A big job... designing a big space on campus for the president of the college.

ARC president shows horticulture CAD students the mock-up for the front entry

We met our "client" over by the music/theater buildings and took a look at the space he wanted us to transform. It's at the back of the music building. Approximately 8,000 square feet of nothing, except 2 walkways and a large back-flow prevention device. While he talked, my concept started to take shape. My daughter received her AA degree in theater at AR, my sister and I sang in the Jazz Vocal group. I know the hallways, the teachers, the students. I knew what they wanted .... to perform!!!

The next class meeting consisted of site measurements. We buzzed around with our measuring tapes. That was a drag. Four million measurements, what the heck? But my friend, Darlene, and I bonded over the hectic confusion, and met again to re-take them in a calmer moment. Eventually I realized I didn't need most of the measurements ... I wasn't keeping those walkways, or much of anything else.

ARC CAD students taking measurements
25 students with tape measures and notebooks

I dare you to make sense of this!
we all contribute to the measurements on the board

Eventually my vision arrived on paper ... an amphitheater where students could rehearse, children's theater productions could be staged, impromtu performances could spring to life. Also, a place to hang out and do homework, a classy place for theater patrons to wait for showtime and spend intermission ... a place that would celebrate the arts, and the artist. That's the beauty of design ... the imagination of what's the very best that might happen here.

I added a feature I saw in a demonstration garden at Green Acres in Sacramento ... a raised bed with beautiful stonework and a rill at the base, fed by copper tubes. I think everyone should have one of these!

Green Acres retaining wall with rill

The rill was my favorite part of this garden, the three rivers stone was also gorgeous, and, the raised bed - it created a lovely enclosed space. Kudos to the designer!!!

Green Acres nursery demonstration garden
another picture of this demonstration garden from Green Acres

The deadline was approaching and I wasn't ready! I had been busy creating a display garden for the CA state Flower, Food and Garden Show, and missed a few classes (ahem). But was able to finally get my design done, and the color rendering figured out, albeit a bit late (ahem), and turned in to the president before spring break. I'm proud of my design and think it perfect for the setting ... functional and polished enough to do credit to the college, but with the exhuberance of a renaissance faire, to match the spirit of these arts students.

color rendering of my conceptual design for a new ARC Fine Arts amphitheater patio

I learned how to do CAD design. Not perfectly, but that was never the expectation. The expectation was that we'd achieve a professional-level competency that could then be improved upon. I feel like we're all off to a great start! Thanks as always to Paul MacGowan, head of the Hort program, for his humor and guidance.

Whether you need garden design, coaching, seasonal maintenance or planting, Geno's Garden can help!
Call me at (916) 764-5243, or email