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Beautiful Borders
Beautiful Borders

Planting a compelling border is often intimidating. Questions like what plants to plant, colors to combine and how to plant come to mind. But, if you take it one step at a time a stunning border can be planted without stress. The first step is to decide where the border will be planted and what plants to plant taking into account the lighting conditions of the site. Always plant varieties that will take sun in a sunny location and plants that need shade in a shady area. 


The second step is deciding upon the color scheme. Creating a color palette can be determined by using favorite colors or hues already existing in the garden. Monochromatic color themes, shades of one color, make the job simple. If you do not need to incorporate the border color with other colors in the garden, select just two or three complementary colors to create a dazzlingly border. Color palettes can also be decided by what's available at the nursery and season of planting. 


Another very important factor when planting borders is selecting plants varying in shape, texture and height. Tall plants are needed for the back of the border with medium height varieties in front of them and finally, shorter plants will be planted in front. 

With all the above in mind let's get started.


Here is a goof-proof, step by step introduction for planting a beautiful border: 


Draw a border plan: On a piece of paper, simply sketch out the size and dimension of the border. Make a simple drawing of what plants will go where. 


Shopping for Materials: With plan in hand go to the garden center. Some gardeners like choosing larger, more mature plants. However, planting small cell pacs, 4-inch pots and 1-gallon containers works well too. Smaller plants are not only less expensive, but they grow faster than larger ones. 


Turning the soil: With a shovel or rotary tiller, dig up the soil about 10 to 12-inches deep. Amend the soil with aged manure or rich compost. This way, all plants thrive and flourish. 


Here's the fun part: Again, with plan in hand, simply arrange all the plants on top of the plot. Don't plant yet. This method allows the Good Gardener to rearrange plants to come up with the most desirable planting scheme. Remember, the tallest plants should be backdrop to lower varieties. Importantly too, read the individual plant tags for suggested spacing requirements. 


It's time to plant: Plant from back to front. Tall plants are planted first, next the medium height varieties and finally, the shorter ones. Take the plants out of their containers as you plant them. Loosen the root ball and plant. Most plants are planted so that the top of the rootball meets the top of the garden soil. There are exceptions, read the individual plant tags for planting instructions. 


Planting bulbs: If seasonal bulbs are part of the plan, plant them between perennials and shrubs. Try planting some annuals on top of the bulbs. The bulbs will burst through the annuals and between other varieties, which further adds interest to the border. 


Adding Mulch: Mulch is important for keeping plants cool or warm, depending on the season. Mulch also helps control weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. A 2-inch layer of mulch is generally sufficient. 


Water: When the border is first planted water about 3 to 4 times per week. This will insure that all the plants get established in their new home turf. The soil should be moist but not soggy. A soggy soil can cause root rot and gardening efforts will be for not. After about 3 weeks give the border enough water so that the soil feels damp, but again not waterlogged.

Tuberous Hanging Begonias
Tuberous Hanging Begonias

Tuberous hanging begonias (B. tuberhybrida 'Pendula') are what a friend of mine likes to term "roses for the shade." Hanging begonias grow in a vast array of dazzling colors and their rose-like blossoms will bring color throughout the summer season until early fall. Like roses, tuberous begonias require a bit of TLC. Flower and Leaf Colorations: Hanging begonias grow waxy solid colored flowers in varied hues of pink, red, yellow, orange, white, scarlet and pale rose. Some varieties are even two-toned- apricot, coral or scarlet with white or creamy edges. The leaves of hanging begonias are also varied in shape and color, adding additional appeal to the plants' overall look. Some are serrated others are asymmetric heart-shaped or have angular leaves. The colors of the leaves, depending upon variety, are either deep green or bronze. The contrasting leaf colors compliment and set-off a begonia's showy flowers. 


Sun Exposure: These beauties do best in filtered sunlight and never like being exposed to direct sun. Tuberous begonias are considered tender succulents and if exposed to the sun's heat for long periods of time their leaves and blooms will sunburn and die. Experts suggest a north or northeastern exposure, which offers filtered shade. Growing them under a lathe, tree or other structure that gives them a shady home is also acceptable. Keep in mind morning sunlight is much more forgiving than the heat of afternoon sun. 


Water: Never let your hanging begonias dry out. However, they will not endure soggy soil either as this can cause root rot, wilt or even death. It's a good idea to check the soil each time before watering. Simply stick your finger into the soil to see if it is wet. If the soil is damp, wait to water. Try to avoid getting the leaves and flowers wet when you do water, as mildew will form quickly. It's also a good idea to keep begonias away from other plants as this also causes mildew on their leaves. 


Correct Containers: Most hanging plants dry out quickly. That's why many containers for hanging plants are made of plastic or other non-porous materials. The exception is a wood container, which do well for begonias. Another suitable container is a wire basket, where the soil is held in place with coconut fiber or moss. In general, containers that are light in weight are good choices for all hanging plants. That way, the weight is created by the plant and soil vs. the container itself. Always make sure any container purchased provides excellent drainage! 


Soil: There are many, many potting soils on the market today, and hanging begonias love a "soilless" mixture. "Soilless" mixes contain high levels of organic matter, such as peat/leaf mold/cocopeat etc; there really isn't any regular ol' soil in 'em. These "soilless" mixtures maintain good drainage and retain water better than garden ground soil. "Soilless" mixtures bought from the garden center are also weed, insect and disease free. Soil from the garden bed is not recommended, as there may be pests etc. in garden soil that can harm your lovely begonias. 


Transplanting: Transplant hanging begonias carefully as their stems and flowers break off easily. Remember to use a container that offers good drainage and of course, plant up your begonias with a "soilless" store-bought potting soil. 


Fertilizer: Feed your begonias approximately every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer. Time released pellets are also recommended for hanging begonias. A regular feeding is important because nutrients wash out of the soil each time the plant is watered. This is especially true during the growing season. (Follow the fertilizer directions on the packaging.) 


Pinching: Begonias usually grow in pairs with one large blossom and another smaller one right behind it. To get a big burst of blooming color on the largest blossom, pinch off the smaller second flower. Deadheading spent blooms is also beneficial. Both pinching and deadheading encourages continual flowering and enhances the overall look of your gorgeous hanging begonia. In this Good Gardener's opinion, it is well worth the bit of time it takes to cultivate blooming hanging baskets of begonias. The reason: these "roses for the shade," (pendulous hanging begonias) will always lift your spirits!

Planting Spring Bulbs
Planting Spring Bulbs

This season's sleeping giants are spring blooming bulbs. Plant them now and then forget about them. Come springtime, the garden will burst into bloom. 


Bulbs are a gardener's dream come true because all that is necessary for success is planting them. No experience required! Once planted, the bulbs do all the work. 


Tulips and daffodils probably come to mind when thinking of spring flowering bulbs. Besides these "true" bulbs, brownish things that resemble onion bulbs, there are corms, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots. All are also loosely classified as bulbs. The various types of bulbs look quite different from each other but each is a self-contained powerhouse, literally full of life. 


Much more can be learned botanically about bulbs, but most important is understanding when, where and how deeply to plant them. 


The perfect spot for bulbs is where you want to see them. Although most bulbs enjoy full sun to partial shade, a bulb can be found for almost any situation. 


A small balcony or deck can accommodate containers of colorful bulbs, and perennial beds filled with low growing ground cover or annuals will benefit too. Just imagine fragrant freesia clustered under the canopy of a deciduous tree. A meadow effect is guaranteed when daffodils are planted in the lawn, and generous drifts of narcissus give perfume to floriferous rose gardens long before the roses first bloom. 


Tulips are one of the most popular bulbs and creating a site to tiptoe through is remarkably simple. Just plant tulips in full sun at a depth of about 7- to 8-inches. The general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth equal to 3 times their diameter. 


If annual return is the goal, try planting daffodils, freesia, grape hyacinth or snowdrops. Amazingly, these "naturalized" bulbs often get better and bigger year after year. 


The difference between tulips, daffodils, freesia and grape hyacinth is that tulips need a freeze prior to planting, whereas the other varieties do not. In areas of the country where the ground freezes in winter, tulips will naturalize. 


Some Northern California gardeners can get tulips to re-bloom, but the flower is never as stunning as the first year's blossom and eventually the bulb poops out. 


Caring for bulbs after they are planted is simple. Just plant them, serve them up a big gulp of water and leave them alone. 


If the need to fertilize is overwhelming, wait until the bulbs' second fall. Bone meal used to be the fertilizer of choice, but times have changed and so has the bone meal. Today most of the nutritious value in it has been processed out. Instead, spread a thin layer of cow manure or organic compost over the area where naturalized bulbs have been planted and then water. 


The goof-proof nature of bulbs makes planting them a perfect first gardening project for kids. The process of planting them in containers (see Containing Spring below) is fun and rewarding. Children wait with anticipation for the first bulb to push through the soil. A container of mixed bulbs is most impressive, with each variety blooming at slightly different times. 


When buying and selecting bulbs, size and condition are critical. The flower bud has already developed inside the bulb before it is sold, so the condition of the bulb is an indication of the quality of the flower. For the best selection, purchase bulbs now, early in the fall season. 


Basically, the bigger the bulb, the larger the bloom. A bulb should feel heavy for its size and be firm, not mushy. The thin papery skin should be intact, although it can be loose. Stay away from bruised or discolored bulbs and bulbs that are shriveled. Ideally, bulbs should not be sprouting at purchase. 


The question comes to mind: "Should I buy bargain bulbs?" The answer: "You get what you pay for." Very small, bargain bulbs often do not flower. 


The only problem with bulbs is that squirrels love them too. They are particularly fond of tulips and crocus, but won't touch daffodils or narcissus. 


A great way to protect tulips, crocus and other bulb delicacies from these cute, but hungry pests, is to lay chicken wire on top of the bed. This prevents squirrels from getting to them easily. Flowers will grow through the wire mesh. 


Finally, after a bulb's bloom begins to fade resist cutting the foliage. Let it brown and dry completely, only then pull out the brittle stems from the soil. 


Flowering bulbs are a universal symbol of spring. Their gorgeous and sometimes fragrant blooms are among the most popular and best-loved flowers in the world. Try planting some spring today, you just can't go wrong!

Containing Spring

Get kids gardening by planting layers of spring blooming bulbs in a container. It is an easy way to bring a theater of drama to the spring garden. 




  • Container, 10-inches in diameter x 14-inches deep 

  • Clay shard to cover drainage hole 

  • Gravel, enough to cover bottom of container 

  • Potting soil 

  • 6 daffodil bulbs 

  • 15 to 17 grape hyacinth bulbs 

  • 12 to 14 anemones 

  • Approximately 5 4-inch ornamental kale 




  1. Set in full sun or partial shade. Enjoy the kale while waiting for the bulbs to burst through. Each variety will bloom at different times throughout the spring season.

  2. Plant the top of the container with ornamental kale, then water thoroughly. 

  3. Finally, plant grape hyacinth on top layer, cover with an inch of soil and tamp down. 

  4. Next, plant anemones 3-inches apart; lay them on their sides, as it's nearly impossible to tell top from bottom of these tubers. Cover with approximately 2-inches of soil. 

  5. Place 5 daffodil bulbs with their pointed ends up, 1-inch apart. Cover with approximately 2-inches of potting soil. 

  6. Fill container with 3- to 4-inches of potting soil. 

  7. Fill bottom of container with approximately 1-inch of gravel. Gravel is important for good drainage. 

  8. Place clay shard over drainage hole in container. 

  9. Soak anemone tubers overnight or for several hours in water. 

California Natives
California Natives

Many gardeners are continually seeking the answer to the eternal question, "How does your garden grow?" I learned long ago that the answer lies not in "Silver bells and Cockleshells," but in the proper selection of plants. The most successful plants are often times those native species that have developed and evolved to thrive in our diverse California climates, California native plants!


We Californians are very fortunate to have a myriad of native species growing naturally in our surrounding areas. We have found these same species not only thrive in our personal gardens, but also often require less care than many of the non-native transplants. If established correctly, native plants virtually tend themselves. California natives are known for their drought tolerant qualities. Unfortunately, the most difficult aspect of gardening with native species is finding a local nursery with a large enough selection of California natives. 


To the rescue, and planted right in our backyard, is Woodside's Yerba Buena Nursery, solely devoted to growing and selling California natives and ferns! Yerba Buena Nursery is the oldest specialized retail nursery in the United States.


Not only can you purchase California natives for your own garden, but a two acre botanical garden will encourage creativity and allow Good Gardeners to see mature California natives in their natural setting. A walk through the grounds will point out many possibilities and inspire even the most casual gardener. 


Perhaps a more convenient venue is Merritt College. Their annual native plant sale is happening October 4-5, 2003! Tom Branca, the horticulture department chair, says, "there is a big selection of plants, including some that are hard to find in the average nursery." Branca also reminds us, "if you plant in the fall, the rain will water the plants for you, which saves a lot of work and water in our dry climate." (See end of article for plant sale details.) 


Many California natives are known for more than their beauty and ease of care; in fact, different varieties can either attract or discourage wildlife. For instance, if deer are chewing up your garden, plant a barrier of Oregon Grape, but if butterflies and hummingbirds are your passion, plant California Fuchsia. There are natives that will suit any style of garden in any location. A flower garden is very attainable when gardening with natives. Imagine a fresh flower bouquet of Aquilegia Eximia (Columbine), Lilium Humboldtii (Tiger Lily) with St. Katherine's Lace! If you're a wildflower fan Eschscholzia Californica, native bunch grasses and Clarkia, may be just the right touch. 


From Fritillaries to Ferns, Huckleberry to California Coffeeberry, California natives will flourish in your private plot.


Fall Plant Sale at Merritt College
October 4, 9am-3pm
October 5, 9am-1pm
Admission is FREE 


Merritt College
12500 Campus Drive
Oakland, CA 94607


Yerba Buena Nursery
19500 Skyline Blvd.
Woodside, CA 
Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am to 5pm

Growing Colorful Chrysanthemums
Growing Colorful Chrysanthemums

It's no secret that chrysanthemums are one of the most popular fall plants. Planted in ground or in containers their flowers bring a blast of color to the autumn garden. There are 160 species of mums which are native to Japan, China and Europe, but of course thrive in our Northern California fall climate. Buy plants that are just beginning to bloom and pay special attention to what type of mum you are selecting. Some mums purchased at grocery stores or florists are greenhouse grown. Greenhouse grown mums are called 'florists' mums' or 'pot mums.' These mums tend to have larger flowers and leaves than garden mums. 


Another way to tell pot mums from garden mums are by their names. Pot mums are often named after places, towns and cities; garden mums are generally given women's first names. 


Both garden mums and pot mums ultimately need the same care. They enjoy full sun, well-draining soil and lots of water. Do not allow mums to dry out between waterings. If the plant 'flags,' the neck of the flowers goes limp, it can cause a kink in the stem which is not desirable. 


After blooms fade in the fall, cut the mums back to approximately 6-inches in height. This presents a neater bed and makes it a whole lot easier to watch for spring growth. 


Come spring, when growth is about 5-inches tall, cut off one inch of foliage. After 3 more weeks, give them the same hair cut. For taller mum varieties, repeat this process a total of 4 times. 


Why all the cutting? Simply put, it signals the plant to branch at the cuts, which creates stronger foliage to support the flowers. This cutting also promotes lots of smaller flowers which keep blooming and blooming. 


Spring is also the time to start the fertilizing process. Mums planted in the ground like a balanced 'meal' of 14-14-14 food. Feed them again in mid July. Later in the season, when the flowers begin showing color, give them fish emulsion or another low nitrogen fertilizer. If planting chrysanthemums in containers, mix the soil with time released fertilizer. 


Mums grow in practically every shade of the rainbow, bronze, orange, purple, burgundy, white, yellow and red, and reflect the colors of fall leaves in tall trees. Bring these colors to ground level by planting these hardy beauties today.

Jill's Chrysantheumum Containers



  • 1 Container, 16-inches in diameter x 14-inches deep 

  • Clay shard 

  • Time released fertilizer 

  • Potting soil 

  • 1 to 2, 6 pacs 'Raquel' garden mums (burgundy color) 

  • 1 to 2, 6 pacs 'Ultima Baron Red' pansies (burgundy and gold color) 

  • 3 4-inch white kale 




  1. Place clay shard over drainage hole. 

  2. Fill container with soil and create a mound by building up a dome of soil in the center of the pot. The mound should rise approximately 4-inches taller than the rim of the pot. 

  3. Plant 4-inch kale very low and space them evenly around the pot. The tops of the kale should come just slightly above the rim of the pot. 

  4. Between the kale plant pansies. 

  5. Carefully keeping the mound shape, plant the mums. 

  6. Fill between plants with potting soil. 

  7. Sprinkle time released fertilizer between plants. 

  8. Water and set in full sun. If using florists' mums, set container in partial shade for about 2 weeks. This will acclimate these more tender greenhouse mums to full sun.




  • 1 Container, 10-inches in diameter x 10-inches deep 

  • Clay shard 

  • Time released fertilizer 

  • Potting soil 

  • 1 - 1 gallon orange colored Iceland Poppy 

  • 1 - 6 pac peach or orangy garden mums 

  • 1 - 6 pac 'Clear Orange' pansy 




  1. Place clay shard over drainage hole. 

  2. Fill container with half full of potting soil. 

  3. Plant Iceland Poppy in center of container. 

  4. Plant mums and pansies around the rim of the container and to fill in between Iceland Poppy. Intersperse their varieties. 

  5. Fill between plants with potting soil. 

  6. Sprinkle time released fertilizer between plants. 

  7. Water and set in full sun. If using florists' mums, set container in partial shade for about 2 weeks. This will acclimate these more tender greenhouse mums to full sun.

Containing Clematis
Containing Clematis

Authority Raymond Evison gives low-down on the high-climbing vine Climbing evergreen or deciduous clematis clamor over garden fences, trellises, trees and shrubs, but a large garden is not necessary to grow these versatile vines. Containers of blossoming clematis enliven small decks and patios or graciously greet guests at front doorways. 


There are more than three hundred clematis species and cultivars, so weeding out the best varieties for our Northern California gardens could be daunting. Fortunately, Raymond Evison, world-renowned clematis authority, takes the mystery out the selection process and also shares his expert knowledge on how best to grow clematis in containers. 


"Growing clematis in containers is sometimes thought of as being modern or new, but people did it back in the Victorian era," says Evison. His picks for our climate include, late spring flowering C. Anna Louise™ which sports glistening 6-inch diameter violet blossoms, and, C. Josephine™ bursting into bloom in early summer with lilac colored double petaled, 5-inch wide flowers. Both varieties are deciduous and last well as cut flowers. 


Evison encourages home gardeners to buy younger, smaller plants. However inspect these 5 and 6-inch clematis carefully. "Make sure there are plenty of stems, three to four stalks coming from the base. Buying large plants is fine, you're buying time," says Evison. 


Small plants are not to be planted in small pots however. Both C. Anna Louise™ and C. Josephine™ require large containers. The reason: these smaller plants grow to 8 feet, and while the foliage and flowers enjoy full to part sun, clematis roots must stay clear of it. Evison recommends large stone or terracotta pots that are at least 15 to 24-inches in depth and diameter, the bigger the better. Plastic containers are discouraged, as plastic does not insulate the plants' tender root system from the heat of the sun. 


Growing clematis in association with other plants further protects their fussy roots, especially when planting in hot southern exposures. Evison suggests under-planting clematis with shallow rooted bedding plants. "We take this lesson from the wild, he says. Clematis growing in the wild, both in China and California, root themselves under a rock or underneath the shade of tree or shrub." 


During summer, under-plant clematis with annuals such as petunias, lobelia, impatiens or dwarf dahlias. At the season's end, replace the bedding plants with shallow rooted perennials, like winter flowering heather, tulip bulbs or the gray foliage of artemisia. Placing a stone slab over the root area is an alternative to under-planting. 


All plants thrive in good soil and drainage; clematis is no different. Use premium quality potting soil, and create excellent drainage by layering small pebbles in the bottom of the container. 


Here's one of the most important lessons to take from Evison: plant clematis an extra two inches deeper than it was planted in its' original container. Not only does this help the plant establish more easily, but the plant will also grow a crown of buds below the surface of the soil. Buds below soil level make it possible for the clematis to grow back if, for instance, pests or mistakes in pruning cut off the top of the plant. Furthermore, large flowered cultivars that are susceptible to clematis wilt (a disease that kills the plant practically overnight) will regenerate themselves. 


Caring for newly potted clematis is quite simple. Clematis are thirsty plants, so make sure to give them plenty of water. Evison suggests one gallon of water every other day, especially if planting in warmer weather -- late spring or early summer. 


Additionally, clematis are light feeders, so only feed established plants one time per year during early spring. That's when clematis need additional nutrients to grow and flower. Evison suggests an all-purpose fertilizer, or rose or tomato fertilizers. Careful not to use high nitrogen fertilizers, as the plant will produce lots of green growth but few flowers. 


Clematis vines need something to climb up and cling to. Train them to grow upward by tying their vines to a trellis purchased at the garden center or create a teepee shaped support with bamboo canes. A teepee is easily made by deeply inserting four 8-foot bamboo canes in each quarter of the pot. Bring the canes together at the top, and fasten them together with twine. 


Alas, we must talk about the dreaded pruning of clematis. There are three pruning groups, but thankfully Evison has made it pretty simple. "The first spring after you plant, no matter what pruning group, prune it back to 12-inches above ground level. This will make it bushy at its base, which very very important," he says. 


Both Anna Louise and Josephine belong to pruning group two. "In February or March, look at the plant and cut out any dead or weak growth. Cut it back to a strong pair of leaf axle buds. These buds are swelling and they very clearly denote, this is where to prune," states Evison. 


Containers of clematis are found ground in the smallest of gardens, but bring a wealth of color and drama. The varieties suitable for Bay Area gardens are sure to be a focal point in your "neck of the woods." As for Raymond Evison, he continues to search the world's forests for wild clematis that thrive out of their native habitats. To date, this gentleman is responsible for discovering and introducing 70 clematis species and cultivars to the gardening world. 


Gardeners Resources

Clematis for Everyone
The Gardeners' Guide to Growing Clematis

Both books by Raymond J. Evison
Available at major bookstores

Other Clematis Varieties for Northern California Gardeners

All can be grown in containers or in-ground 

  • Clematis viticella 'Polish Spirit' 

  • Clematis viticella 'Madame Julia Correvon' 

  • Clematis 'Gillian Blades' 

  • Clematis 'Will Goodwin'

Cultivating Clivias
Cultivating Clivias

Part of my backyard is full of shade and it's always been a challenge to get both color and interest to this part of the garden. Like all of you, I'm busy with work and family and don't have a lot of time to be constantly fussing with the backyard. If plants don't perform or are not able to look beautiful without a lot of work, they are given away. 


This mantra has led me to Clivias, otherwise known as Kafir Lilies. Few plants have the few requirements these South African natives enjoy. That is: bright or low light in a soil that is a slightly moist to dry. They are draught tolerant. Most shade varieties want lots of water and sunshine. Clivias bloom and survive in just the opposite and are great houseplants too. Who could ask for more? 


The reason clivias are able to survive with little water is due to their incredible root system. Their roots are fat and fleshy and hold a lot of water. That's why a constant source of water is not needed. 


Clivias can be planted in ground or in containers. In containers their roots like to be crowded. Only repot clivias into larger containers when the soil begins tumbling out of their pots. This is the clivias' sign that the roots are too constricted and the plant is literally growing out of its container. 


Clivias are part of the amaryllis family of plants, however unlike amaryllis are not true bulbs. When comparing amaryllis leaves to clivia foliage Good Gardeners can see the similarities. They are both long and strapy and grow in perfect symmetry directly opposite from eachother. Gardeners describe mature clivia foliage as "formal and creating a vase-like appearance." 


The flowers of clivia are orange or yellow. Yellow flowers are the newest hybrids to hit the seen. To get clivias into the flowering spirit, keep plants on the dry side during winter. Low winter temps also encourage flowering. At the time of flowering increase the water volume and then keep the soil evenly moist through spring and summer. 


The ideal light for clivias is bright and diffused. In solid shade they rarely flower. However, clivias are evergreen so they always make great foliage plants. 


To make (propagate) more clivias cut an offset off a mature plant. An offset is three to four leaves growing from a mature plant. Cut the offset, making sure to include roots in the cutting. Then plant it in its own small container or in the ground. 


What plants to combine with perennial clivias? Well, honestly, because clivias enjoy the shade and little water, (unlike most shade varieties) I plant multiple clivias together, either in ground or in containers. This allows Good Gardeners to enjoy the full impact of their green strapy green leaves and bright orange or yellow lily-like flowers.

Growing Cymbidium Orchids
Growing Cymbidium Orchids

Who would think that outlandishly beautiful cymbidium orchids would flourish in most Bay Area backyards? They look extremely delicate and their intricate blossoms makes them appear almost impossible to grow. Luckily, nothing could be farther from the truth. These blooming plants love our Northern California climate and for the most part take little TLC. Grow cymbidiums in very bright light outdoors, although keep them out of direct midday sun. Light green leaves are a good sign there is correct sun exposure, but dark green leaves can indicate not enough light. Without enough light many cymbidiums will not bloom. Cymbidiums prefer daytime temperatures of 60 to 90 degrees and 40 to 50 degree temperatures at night. When frost is forecasted cover the plants and locate them under a sheltered area, or move them indoors over night. 


Cymbidiums come in all different colors and bloom sizes. The size of their blooms reflects their labeling. 'Standard' cymbidiums have larger flowers, 4-to 5-inches wide and reach 4-feet in height. 'Miniature' cymbidium varieties produce smaller flowers, 1- to 3-inches across and in general, are not as tall as 'standards.' 


Both 'standard' and miniatures' are wonderful performers. In general, 'standard' varieties bloom from January to the middle of May, whereas 'miniatures' bloom November through March. Both 'standard' and 'miniature' flower spikes last approximately 1 to 2 months while still growing on the plant, and as cut flowers, vase life is about 2 to 3 weeks. When cymbidium plants are in flower they can be brought indoors, otherwise leave them outside as patio plants. 


Cymbidiums need little babying. Keep the plant moist, not drenched, but do not allow them to dry-out completely between waterings. These orchids love humidity. To accommodate this need place buckets of water near them or set plants on water filled pebble trays. However, do not allow the bottom of the pot to touch the water. 


Good Gardeners can make fertilizing very easy. Simply feed them year round with a liquid 20-20-20 blend. This should create a plant that grows and blooms very well. 


There are several other orchid species that will grow outdoors along with the cymbidium; these include Masdevallias, Australian Dendrobiums, Zygopetalums and Epidendrums. Although these orchids require slightly different care, they are good partners with cymbidiums.


The only difficult thing about geraniums may be knowing how to spell their name or to remember that all geraniums belong to the species of Pelargonium. There are some 250 Pelargonium species of annuals, perennials, and subshrubs, all of which are native to warm regions like southern and eastern Africa. Geraniums, because they are so easy to grow, are the ideal plants for novice gardeners. They enjoy part shade or full sun, can be grown indoors or outside, and give a garden color, fragrance and interest for many months, especially spring through fall. 


Most geranium varieties are grouped by their appearance. The most common are Fancy-leaf, Ivy, Regal, Scented, Stellar and Zonal geraniums. 


Zonal geraniums are the most common. If you've got a window box, geraniums may be just the right touch. Zonal varieties are known for their showy flower heads of white, pink, orange, red and purple. These are bushy erect plants that range from dwarf (5-inches tall) to over 2-feet. They tolerate shade or sunny areas well. 


Fancy-leaf geraniums are generally grown for their colorful foliage and are part of the zonal group with similar colors. The foliage is generally green, white, yellow, coral, burgundy, and bronze in color. They may even be spotted, or edged in contrasting colors. 


Ivy geraniums have ivy-like shaped leaves and trail, just like trailing ivy. They are terrific for hanging potted baskets. Ivy geraniums seem to tolerate shade better than other varieties and will spread up to 3-feet across. They have flowers of white, pink and purple. 


Regal, or Martha Washington geraniums are propagated for their large ruffly flowers. These bushy perennials prefer part shade and flower in white, red, orange, purple and burgundy. 


Scented geraniums are grown primarily for their fragrance. They have petite flowers and tend to be shrubby plants. Fragrant geraniums include, peppermint, nutmeg, lemon, rose, citrus, mint, apple, balsam, and more. 


Stellar geraniums, like fancy-leaf varieties belong to the zonal group and usually have colorful foliage. They are relatively small, bushy plants and they have airy star-shaped flowers and pointed star-shaped leaves. 


How To Grow Geraniums

In the garden geraniums thrive in part shade to full sun. In warmer climates part shade is best, in cooler climates full sun suits them. Northern California grown geraniums will do well in full sun. The colors on variegated plants will be more intense when given full sun or at least dappled light. 


Geraniums grow extremely well either in garden beds or containers. They like fast-draining soil and good air circulation. Water plants thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch, but do not allow them to sit in water. Feed plants with a balanced fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks from spring through mid summer. (High nitrogen fertilizers will result in a lot foliage growth, but flowers will be less prolific and fragrance is decreased). 


To keep your plant in good shape (nice and bushy), dead head or pinch faded blooms and leaves. 


Indoors these plants should be set in a sunny window year-round. Care for them as stated above. 


Gardeners Resources

Geraniums are simple to grow so it's nice to share them with friends or make new ones for yourself. Use a sterilized knife or clipper by cleaning the instrument with bleach. 




  • 2-inch pot 

  • Course sand 

  • Peat Moss 

  • Clean clippers 

  • Rooting hormone




  2. Fill a 2-inch pot with one-half part coarse sand and one-half part perlite. This porous medium helps the plants take root. Pack the medium firmly. 

  3. Using a sterilized tool, carefully cut off a 3 to 5-inch piece of geranium that includes 3 to 5- nodes (a node is the growth point on the stem where leaves originate). Trim the cutting to just below the last node and remove all but the top 2 leaves. 

  4. Dip the bottom of the stem, including at least one node, into liquid rooting hormone and then plant. (Use the tip of a sharpened pencil to make a hole for planting). Place the planted cutting in indirect light, water well, and keep it moist during rooting. If you like, cover the newly planted cutting with a plastic bag to create a greenhouse environment. 

  5. When new growth appears, you'll know your cutting has rooted. It is then time to transfer the cutting to a 4-inch pot with fast-draining potting mix. Water thoroughly after potting and place the transplant in a sunny location.

Growing and Designing with Gladiolus
Designing with Gladiolus

Striking and colorful are blooming Gladioli! They give summer gardens height, drama and long lasting blooms both in the garden and as cut flowers. If you want a summer season of gladiolas, now's the time to start planting them. Borders and beds of gladiolus are simply stunning when glistening glads begin blossoming. They mix especially well with other tall varieties such as delphinium and then work as a backdrop against shorter flowering and green plants. 


The gladiolus is a bulb or more correctly, a corm, which is a kind of bulb. The corm is a shortened and thickened section of the stem that appears at the base of the plant. It is solid and covered with dry husks that are actually the base of old leaves, referred to as "tunics." 


Select and purchase gladiola corms with high-crowns. High crowned corms are simply more productive than older corms that are more flat and larger in nature. Glads are also sold by their size: No. 1's are the largest, No. 2's are medium sized and No. 3's are the smallest corm. In general, the larger the corm the larger the blooms. 


However, more important than corm size is buying glad corms that are disease free. The greatest enemy of the glad is the very tiny gladiola thrip. Although thrips are small they cause much damage. Thrips lay eggs and puncture the tissue underground, which cause gladioli to turn brown. Thrips also cause deformed flowers and may even prevent the main flower spike from flowering. Good Gardeners can dust the corm with a fungicide/ insecticide prior to planting which will help eliminate this nasty pest. 


To grow glads successfully full sun is required. And, because glads grow deep roots, they require well-draining fertile soil. They're also thirsty buggers and desire lots of water. Although rain is helpful, normal rainfall is usually not enough to grow them successfully. Start watering when five leaves appear on the plant. 


Planting glads is pretty straightforward. Space the corms approximately 6-inches apart and 4- to 6-inches deep. If an entire summer of blooms is desired, plant glad corms every fifteen days or so, through the month of May. This planting schedule will bring a succession of beautiful blooms all season long. 


Katherine Grace Endicott, a prominent Northern California gardener and garden writer, recommends digging in a balanced fertilizer of 5-10-10 or 4-12-12 at planting time. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in direct contact with the corms. She also suggests fertilizing them again when six leaves appear on new plants. Simply scratch in the fertilizer several inches away from the young plant and then water thoroughly. 


Flowers are ready to harvest when the first flowers on a spike are open. When cutting the spike, it's important to leave a minimum of five leaves at the bottom of the plant. This gives nourishment to the corm for next year's flowers. Condition the cut flowers for several hours or overnight in a bucket of cold water with flower food; then start decorating your home with fresh cut gladioli! All garden flowers like to be cut in the morning when they are full of water and not stressed by the sun's intense rays. 


To succeed with a new glad crop the following year, it is necessary to dig up the corms. Do this approximately four weeks after the plant blooms or when it begins to turn yellow. Cut off the tops just above the corms. Allow the corms to dry in a cool, well-ventilated area for about three weeks. At this time use a bulb dust to prevent insects from getting to them. Store corms in a dry place, such as the garage, in a vented container in a single layer.

Jill's Floating Gladiola Arrangement

Most folks use glads to make tall arrangements. There's nothing wrong with that, but for a more novel design allow them to float. 




  • Water proof container at least 2-feet long and 6-to 8-inch wide 

  • 4 to 6 stems of glads (of the same color or complimentary color), purchase enough stems to fill the container 

  • (Optional) Waxed florist string or raffia Floral food




  1. Fill the container with clean, cold water that has been treated with floral food. 

  2. Cut glads 1-to 2-inches shorter than the length of the container. 

  3. Float glads lengthwise in the container, alternating the flower stalks in opposite directions. (That is, the non-flowering part of the stems meet in the middle of the container) This way, both sides of the container are decorated with blooms. Another way to insert the glads in the long container is by criss-crossing 2 glad stems. The flower heads should be at opposite ends of the "X". To keep them crossed, tie them together with floral string or raffia, where they meet in the middle of the "X".


*Note: Other options for this unique centerpiece is to combine the glads with several stems of either bear grass or green Bells of Ireland. Have fun and be creative!

Ivy Topiary Techniques
Ivy Topiary Techniques

The art of topiary dates back to 1000AD, old documents describe animal shapes growing in formal gardens. Today we use topiaries both inside and out to decorate. However, topiaries can be very expensive so instead try growing your own. 


Topiaries cultivated with ivy are particularly beautiful, easy to grow and fairly fast growing. The most challenging aspect of growing ivy topiaries is not "killing them with kindness." Many Good Gardeners have a tendency to over water them. Fortunately growing success is simple if you know a few basics. 
Deciding what shape to grow an ivy topiary may be daunting, as there are a lot of shapes to choose from: heart, triangle, ball, wreath, globe, cone, diamond, even airplanes, sailboats and alphabet letters. You name it the shape is available. The simplest forms for beginners are generally geometric shapes. Check out the 'Internet Resources' guide below for sites that sell all topiary forms.

Make and Grow an Ivy Topiary



  • Ivy plant, any size (small leaf varieties work well with smaller topiary shapes) 

  • Decorative container to fit the ivy's existing pot 

  • Topiary form- Select either a stemmed topiary wire form, a form that has a vertical wire several inches long with a decorative shape sitting on top of it, or one without a stem. Make sure the size selected is appropriate for the size of your plant. Select a form that has a fork or prongs that push into the soil.




  1. Insert the ivy into your decorative container. Leave the ivy in its original container. 

  2. Insert topiary form into the center of the plant. 

  3. If using a stemmed topiary form, strip the leaves from the part of the ivy strand that will wrap around the stem of the form. Wind strands tightly in one direction around the topiary stem. Leave the ivy leaves on the part of the ivy strand where the shape begins. Forms without stems are a snap, simply wind the ivy strands around the form. 

  4. As the ivy grows continue the same process. In just several months the topiary will take shape and fill in.


Basic Care:


  • Ivy topiaries do not need much water. Over watering can cause root rot which will kill them quickly. Learning how much your topiary weighs when full of water is very important. When your topiary seems light in weight water it, but only then. Water your ivy topiary by submerging the whole plant (foliage etc) in water. Leave it submerged until bubbles stop coming from the soil. Standing the topiary upright in a large bucket of water works well when watering. 

  • To keep the shape of the topiary, wind new growth around the topiary form and pinch off dried dead leaves or unwanted growth. 

  • Ivy topiaries flourish in either bright or partially shady locations. Most do not tolerate full sun. Although most ivy varieties grow better outside, bright indirect light indoors is also, in general, suitable. 

Internet Resources

Lavender Libations
Lavender Libations

The blooming season for lavender is from the middle of April through the end of October (depending upon variety). So, it's time right now to pick and use up their blooms for fresh or dried bouquets, mixtures for eating or drinking and concoctions for the soul. The word 'lavender,' or 'lavare' in Latin, means 'to wash.' Their flowers fresh or dried are fragrant and potent for many potions in which to re-nourish and replenish a tired body and mind. That is why we associate lavender with tranquility and relaxation properties. 


Some of the simple recipes below are borrowed from lavender loving authors who make lavender an integral part of their lives. I hope you will enjoy these lavender libations as much as I do, for lavender, as you will see, is one essential herb, not only for the garden, but also helps to comfort and reinvigorate drained spirits.

Luscious Lavender Lemonade
  1. To a quart of boiling water add ½ cup dried lavender flowers. 

  2. Steep for approximately 15 minutes. 

  3. Let the lavender water cool with the lid on the pan, otherwise the fragrant oils will evaporate. 

  4. Next, strain the lavender water and use part of it to blend into frozen lemonade (pink of yellow) purchased at the grocer. (Growing and using Lavender, Patti Barrett)

Luxurious Lavender Bath
  1. To two cups of water, simmer a big bunch of lavender for 5 minutes. Use a lid while simmering. 

  2. With the saucepan lid still on, allow the lavender water to cool. Keeping the lid in place keeps all the fragrant oils within the water and lavender solution. 

  3. When the lavender water is completely cooled, strain it, keeping just the water. 

  4. Add an equal amount of white wine vinegar to the lavender water. 

  5. Store this soothing solution in a cool dark place and add it to bath water for a perfumed and relaxing cleansing.(Book of Lavender, Jackie French)

Lavender Salt & Butter
  1. Using a mortar and pestle add a bit of dried lavender flowers to rock salt or butter. 

  2. Use just a small amount of dried lavender flowers, as their flowers and very flavorful. If too much lavender is added, a soapy taste is created instead of a mild lavender flavor. 

  3. Lavender salt is great for poultry, lamb and beef. Lavender butter is a wonderful additive underneath the skin of chicken.(Nigel Walker, Eatwell Farm) 

Using Lavender Fresh


  1. Cut lavender flowers early in the morning when the plant has the most amount of water in its fragrant blossoms. 

  2. Arrange the lavender stems in a simple vase paired with mint and even perhaps fragrant roses. 

  3. Where you place the bouquet also affects the longevity of the arrangement. All cut flowers, herbs and foliage live longer in a cool location.

  4. Set the arrangement in a place where all can enjoy the enticing and pleasing fragrance of the two herbs and luscious rose buds! 

  5. To keep the lavender, mint and roses fresh for an extended period of time, re-cut all the stems and change the water as often as possible. The water may be a bit oily, as the lavender stems exude the flowers' natural oils. The bouquet will last up to 10 days, depending on how often the water is changed and stems re-cut. 

How to Dry Lavender
  1. Gather the stems in a small bunch and then band them together with string or a rubber band. 

  2. Hang them upside down in a warm, dark location such as your garage. 

  3. Ventilate the room daily for about an hour to get the moisture out and prevent mold. 


*Lavender takes about 1 week to 10 days to dry thoroughly.

A Good Gardening Idea

Set your dried lavender in a clothing closet or drawer. The fragrant dried lavender stems can be hung or set between sheets of cotton fabric or placed in a bag of loosely woven fabric. (These bags can often be found in natural foods or craft stores.) If storing lavender in a sachet bag, pop the individual lavender flowers off the stems by running your hand across the flowers' stem. Then fill the bag with the dried flowers. Your clothes, closet or drawer will be basted in a mild scent of soothing and sensuous lavender.

Pruning Lavender

Prune your lavender plants after each harvest. Nigel Walker, from Eatwell Farm, suggests a heavy pruning, so that only about one-quarter of the length of the season's growth is kept intact.


Eatwell Farm 
Dixon, CA 
800-648-9894 or

Sensational Succulents
Sensational Succulents

The colors of succulents vary from reds and greens to grays. A fabulous pot that corresponds nicely to the particular succulents' color really makes an impressive difference. 


My favorite succulents are the Echeveria and Sempervivum varieties. I love their rose-like shapes, varied sizes and again, sumptuous colors. With so many different varieties it almost seems silly to list what I've potted up for television. However, Echeveria 'Dondo', Echeveria 'Hoveyi', Echeveria 'Lola', and Echeveria 'Dudleya' are among the most common found at garden centers. Look for Echeveria 'Arlie Wright' too. This one has big blooms and its stem curls and twists interestingly. Sempervivum spathulatum is another one of my favorites, as its stalks grow tall and add dimension to any planting. 


Aloe is another very popular succulent. When at the nursery recently, a woman saw me selecting Aloe and couldn't resist telling me about it's healing properties. The gel like sap from Aloe is used to treat many different ailments such as burns, dry skin, and much more. Of course we see Aloe in many store bought products touting its ability to heal. 


So, with all that said, go out and plant some sensational succulents!

Tom McNally's Crassulaceae Potting Mix
  • 3 parts pumice 

  • 1 part compost 

  • 1 part coarse sand 

  • 1 part perlite

Succulent Crafts

Succulents are versatile and hardy which make them perfect for crafting choker necklaces and small boutonnieres or corsages. All that is needed is ribbon, a hot glue gun and small succulents. 


For a succulent choker cut a piece of half-inch ribbon long enough to tie around your neck. Next, hot glue a small succulent onto the center of the ribbon. Once the glue is dry, tie the ribbon on your neck for a unique choker necklace. 


A small boutonniere or corsage is simply made by cutting a ribbon approximately 6-inches in length. Cross the ribbon over itself to make a loop at the top of the ribbon. Hot glue the ribbon where it crosses itself. Finally, hot glue a small succulent over the part of the ribbon that is glued in place. Now pin this succulent accessory on your favorite outfit.

My best,

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