Daylilies and other perennials thrive after being separated Photos Melinda Myers, LLC

Garden Corner

Revive Overcrowded and Struggling Perennials

Fall is the best time to divide spring and summer blooming perennials that are overcrowded, dead in the center, failing to flower or flopping open. Wait until spring to dig and divide fall or summer blooming perennials that were not moved the previous fall.

These are guidelines that increase success, but most gardeners have found that the best time to divide is when you have the time and can provide good, proper post-transplanting care.

Use a sharp-edged shovel to dig the perennial, roots and all, out of the ground. Lift the clump out of the soil and use a linoleum, garden knife or drywall saw to cut the plant into smaller sections.


Don’t be alarmed if your peony or other perennials fail to bloom the year after transplanting. The transplant often spends the first year establishing a healthy root system instead of flowering. Just be patient and you will be rewarded with flowers the following year.

Some gardeners prefer to use two garden forks placed back to back in the center of the clump and then pry the perennial apart into two pieces. Continue the process until the desired size and number of divisions is achieved.

Discard and compost the dead center. Divide the remaining plant into four, six or eight pieces. The smaller the divisions, the longer it will take for the plants to reach mature size. Larger divisions may quickly grow, fill the space and need to be divided sooner.

You can plant one of the divisions back into its original location. Use the others to fill voids, expand existing gardens or start a new bed or border. Just make sure to match the plant with its desired growing conditions.

No matter how you plan on using the divisions you should prepare the soil first. Add compost, peat moss or other organic matter to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Plant the divisions at the same depth they were growing in the garden. Water thoroughly at planting and throughout the fall or subsequent growing season whenever the top few inches of soil starts to dry. Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch over the soil surface. Be careful not to bury the stems. Mulch helps moderate soil temperatures, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and improves the soil as it breaks down.

Regular dividing can also help eliminate other garden tasks like deadheading, staking and replacement. Divide repeat blooming daylilies every few years to keep them blooming throughout the season. Do the same for threadleaf coreopsis.

Divide asters every year or two in the spring to keep them vigorous and control their spread as needed. Increase the vigor and compactness of Shasta daisies by dividing them every 2 to 3 years.

Peonies, on the other hand, seldom need dividing. They can remain in the ground undisturbed and blooming profusely for decades. Fall is the time to dig and divide peonies if you need to move or want to divide them to make more plants (propagate).

Don’t be alarmed if your peony or other perennials fail to bloom the year after transplanting. The transplant often spends the first year establishing a healthy root system instead of flowering. Just be patient and you will be rewarded with flowers the following year.

Take advantage of the warm soil and cool air of fall to dig, divide and transplant overcrowded and struggling perennials. Your efforts will be rewarded with better looking and more floriferous gardens.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series Myers’ website,, features gardening videos, podcasts, audio tips and monthly gardening checklists.

November 2019

From the Border

Wednesday At A Time

By Hilary Gordon©2012/Photos: Blair Randall

One day at a time is a slogan used by many ambitious people, such as athletes, business entrepreneurs, and politicians. It conveys the wisdom of breaking up a difficult or prolonged task into manageable parts. Many religions and philosophies also emphasize that the present moment is all we have to work with.teachin group at the Garden for the Environment

At the Garden for the Environment this phrase takes on a special meaning, since we have really only one day to do the basic maintenance of the garden areas and vegetable beds. On Wednesday every week, a dedicated group of volunteers and interns show up by ten in the morning and for the next four hours, we break into crews to weed, prune, compost, and fertilize. This is the day that sets the stage for the school field trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for all the wonderful Saturday programs, from the adult classes and class series to the harvest program.

Today was a typical Wednesday in the garden, and by ten the crew was ready to work. One group went up the hillside to the newly improved native plant pathway. Here they weeded and mulched the native plants, and watered the newly planted ones. Many of the plants on this pathway now have labels thanks to the work of this crew, so visitors to the garden can see native plants blooming and beautiful, and take home the inspiration to plant natives in their own backyards.pruning at the garden

Another crew broke out the big tarp and turned the compost pile. Our middle bin was up to about 110 degrees, full of happy red worms, but it had cooked down to half it’s original size. Compost decomposes fastest in a large pile, ideally about a 3x3 foot cube. So we incorporated the newly chopped, unprocessed compost into the hot pile, in order to get them both cooking faster. Now we have an almost empty bin to start building a new pile in!

Another crew took a walk around the garden to see what work needed to be done in the veggie beds. Some winter greens were bolting and had to be pulled and composted. Many spring planted starts were ready for fertilizer, and the squash seedlings in the greenhouse were calling out to be planted. One of our irrigation valves hasn’t been working properly, so we pulled out the hose, and hand-watered. There was some dog damage and some theft of plants to be dealt with as well. The beauty and the challenge of caring for a public garden is that everyone can use it!planting

Suddenly here comes a preschool field trip, and the kids are full of questions. What are you doing? Why are you pulling those plants? I want to hug you! Next thing you know, an intern is getting multiple kid hugs and beaming like spring sunshine!

Throughout the day individuals, couples, and small groups of friends wander though the garden. “Can you believe I’ve lived here for ten years and never come inside the garden?” “I saw the article in Sunset magazine and I thought this was the garden they meant.” “How close can you plant strawberries?” “What is the name of that purple plant?” Next comes our neighbor, the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, who politely asks if we can prune the giant bush that’s starting to block his driveway. Loppers and wheelbarrows and away we go!

Suddenly it’s two o’clock already and folks are starting to head home. The garden quiets slowly as the tools come back into the tool shed and get cleaned. The tarp is folded up and the compost education center is tidied. The greenhouse seedlings get a last watering, and we turn the water off. Traffic is picking up on Seventh Avenue as the afternoon commute starts. As the garden empties of volunteers, the birds begin hopping in the paths and feeding in the shrubbery. One final sweep of the native hillside turns up a few tools that got left behind, and I stand for a quiet moment, entranced by the rich bloom of Ceanothus and the buzzing of so many different pollinators nectaring in the fragrant drifts of blossom.

One Wednesday at a time, it somehow all gets done.

Hilary Gordon A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question? Meet her in the garden Wed 10-2 and Sat 10-4.

June 2012

The April Gardener Is June-Minded

Spring is here, and the long-awaited rains are blessing the garden. By the south gate of the Garden for the Environment, I can look with satisfaction at the bright bursts of color from Harlequin Flower and Spring Star Flower blooming on one side of the pathway, while colorful grasses, rockroses, and irises light up the other side. But this is no time for a gardener to rest on her laurels.

Despite the good advice we get from spiritual teachers to live one day at a time, a gardener’s mind must be on this question, “What will be blooming in this border three months from now?”

The flowers that are blooming today are the result of work done in fall and early winter. And today’s work must plan for the up-coming months. Next to the South Gate a lovely New Zealand Tea Tree is in full bloom, loaded with pinkish buds and white flowers. But what will be beautiful here in late June when the tea tree is finished? Now is the time to clear some spaces, removing plants that didn’t do well last year, pruning and shaping things that we do want to keep, and cutting back hard at things that bloomed in early winter and are now finished. Once some space is opened up, we can make some new choices.

path plantsWhen I think of summer blooming choices for the summer-dry garden, I think of grasses, daisies, and sages. Verbenas and lavenders are also on the list. So now it is time to take an inventory of what will be happening here in June. The answer is, not very much. This particular bed, running along Lawton St., is full of plants which are winter and spring bloomers. By June, this bed will be full of dormant plants, resting in the dry season, and waiting for the first winter rains.

lavenderTwo exceptions are a French lavender and a Copper Canyon Daisy bush. Both of these could be looking good and full of flowers in June, especially if I give them a good haircut today. That way they will be gleaming with new growth and fresh flowers several months from now. I don’t have to worry about cutting them back, even though they do have flowers on them right now, because so many other things are blooming at the moment. It’s a small sacrifice for a big reward when it is needed later in the summer.

Now is also my chance to fill this border with some plants which will go off in June and July. I have so many purple African daisies blooming now, I could sacrifice a few of them to make room for some drought-tolerant, summer blooming grasses. Tufted-Hair grass would be a good choice. It forms a neat, colorful clump followed by airy flowers in early summer. As an added bonus, these fade to buff and stay attractive until fall. Chances are, at this time of year I can find them in four-inch pots. One advantage to planning the border ahead of time like this is that it is often possible to purchase your plants in smaller, and therefore somewhat more affordable sizes. Your new plants will have a chance to get their roots in the soil and toughen up a little before they are called upon to bloom.

New Zealand FlaxHere’s another important thing to keep in mind now. Our dry summer is naturally a resting time for most climate appropriate plants. To keep the border colorful and interesting during the quieter summer months, it is a good idea to include some plants in your nursery list which will rely on texture or foliage color for their beauty rather than on flowers. So along with my Tufted-hair Grass, I will be on the lookout for some small, colorful New-Zealand Flax, a neat, vigorous strappy plant that comes in a rainbow of colors. One word of advice. Check the label to see what the ultimate size of your plant will be. These flaxes are different cultivars which range from one to two feet at maturity right up to the ten-foot giants which are planted by our seventh-avenue gate. Make sure the plant you get is one you will still love several years from now, because it will not get too big for your garden.

With my new grasses and flax, and my refurbished lavender and daisy bush, I can rest in the knowledge that as the current crop of bud and blossom opens and celebrates and finally fades, something else will be waiting in the wings. The babies I plant today will step onstage when today’s stars retire, and keep up the vigor and beauty of this section of the border throughout the dry summer months.

Hilary GordonHilary Gordon A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question? Meet her in the garden Wed 10-2 and Sat 10-4.

May 2012



harlequin On Wednesday morning I was standing rapt in the early morning garden. The sun was touching the first, highest branches of the trees, but the night’s moisture still beaded the spiderwebs in the rosemary. The fingers of sunshine were closely followed by groups of little grey birds, hopping and chattering as they cleaned tiny insects off the plants. Handsome white-crowned and yellow-crowned sparrows foraged under shrubs and in the pathways until the shadow of a red-shouldered hawk sent them scattering. Although the traffic on seventh avenue jostled and complained only a few yards from where I stood, I was in a magical world apart. (Harlequin flower / Sparaxas)

The word garden, like the word yard, comes from ancient linguistic roots meaning an enclosed space. The garden is a protected place, set apart from current dangers. In the countryside, the garden might be protected by a deer fence. In the city, our garden is protected by layered foliage of established trees and shrubs from the noise and smoke of traffic.

In the raised vegetable beds, the tender plants and rich soil are protected from foot and wheelbarrow traffic in the pathways. In the greenhouse, our seedlings are protected from the elements and the foraging birds and snails.Current / Ribes sanguineum

On the steep sandy hillside, a thicket of native plants guards the shelter and nesting spots of birds and insects, and provides cover for the possum, raccoon, and skunk families that call Twin Peaks and the nearby reservoir their home.

(Current / Current / Ribes sanguineum)

The garden is also a guarded place for people. Our outdoor classroom, compost demonstration area, our greenhouse, and our lunch spots provide habitat for learning and growing. Kids and grownups have held their first worm, and tasted their first snap pea straight off the vine. They’ve watched the foraging honeybees loaded with pollen, and seen the steam rise from the compost pile as it is turned.

Our city is rich in culture, diversity, innovation, and creativity of all kinds. But as urban dwellers, we are also deprived of the simple connection to nature which human beings need. We need to find the place where we belong in a fierce and fecund natural world.

roseEach school garden, each classroom with a worm compost bin, each family with salad and Swiss chard growing in barrels on the fire escape, or with bees or chickens in the backyard, weaves back a little of the broken thread of nature’s web. Our food, our water, our seasons, the wild animals and birds we share our city with, can be tended and understood, watched and protected. (Rose)

The Garden for the Environment, and the many other community gardening projects here in San Francisco, create space for people to belong to nature rather than just long for nature. And by guarding nature and our connection to her, perhaps we can open wider the garden of our hearts.

Hilary Gordon A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

April 2012



plum tree in bloomWhen the sunlight begins to feel warm and the first pink blossoms on the plum trees trumpet spring, it’s time for a new gardening year to begin. For my family members in New England, this moment is still months away, but for us in the lucky Bay Area, it’s already here.

This year more people than ever seem ready to start growing at least some of their own food in their gardens or on their decks and balconies. Never have we at the Garden for the Environment had more interest in edible gardening classes.

For gardeners in San Francisco, and especially here on the west (read foggy) side of town, food gardening doesn’t follow the rules in most gardening books or on the backs of seed packets. The weather is rarely cold enough to stop all plants from growing, so we can harvest food from our gardens all year round, even in December and January. On the other hand, it doesn’t ever get warm enough for many crops which other regions can grow in the summer time, especially that hallmark of backyard gardening, the tomato.veggies

If you would like to start growing some edibles in the garden, here are a few simple steps to help you get started.

First, choose one crop which would make a difference in your cooking and in your grocery budget. Do you buy a bunch of green onions, or a bag of salad greens every time you go to the store? Was your New Year’s resolution to start eating kale once a week? Do you wish you could chop fresh herbs for your salad dressing instead of shaking dry ones from a bottle?

Cooking greens like kale and chard, salad greens, green onions and garlic, and woody herbs like thyme and rosemary, are among the easiest and most successful crops here on the west side of town. They are also crops that can be grown and used year round. If any of these appeal to you, you are in luck! If you want to choose something else, please check in Pam Peirce’s wonderful book Golden Gate Gardening to see if it will grow well in your neighborhood, and at this time of year.

plantingOnce you have chosen a crop to begin with, choose a spot in your garden, or on a deck or patio to begin your culinary project. You need to find a spot that gets plenty of sun, at least six hours of sun during most of the year. If your veggie spot can be close to your entry into the garden so much the better. It’s easier to give food crops the attention they need if they are right by the back door, and not a hike away through the garden. Last but not least, you want a spot that is close to your water source, so that watering your plants is fun and easy and doesn’t become a chore to be avoided.

If you don’t have a yard or garden, don’t despair. Most vegetable crops are happy to grow in containers, so get yourself a big pot or half-barrel and get to planting! You still want to think of the same factors when deciding where to put your container(s). Locating your containers where they can get six hours of sunlight, close to your entry, and close to a water source will give your project the best chance of success.

You may be wondering why I am not advising you to build raised beds with wire protection from gophers, install a drip irrigation system, start a vigorous home composting program, and plant a dozen crops in rotation. All of these are good ideas, and if you decide that vegetable gardening is for you, you may want to undertake some or all of these projects. But for people making their first foray into food gardening, the most important rule is to keep it simple.

Years ago, I asked Brooke Budner, a long-time friend of the Garden for the Environment, and the co-founder of Little City Gardens what her advice would be to someone just starting out growing food. I have never forgotten her answer, and I often refer to it as “Brooke’s Law” when teaching beginning gardening classes. She said, “Start small, observe closely, and keep it joyful.”

By starting small, observing closely, and keeping it joyful, food gardening can become a precious, healthful, meditative part of your day, which helps you connect more closely with the cycles of nature and our proper place in a world. The garden is a place where we can remember that our lives depend on natural processes which are sturdy and abundant and free.

If you can, please drop by the Garden for the Environment and take a look at our vegetable crops growing. Or you might want to take a class to help you get started. We offer a Grow Your Own Food class every month of the year; (look us up at Maybe you will always remember 2012 as the first year of growing your own food!

Hilary Gordon A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

March 2012




An early winter Sunday recently found me hip deep in an old, bedraggled summer flowering perennial and shrub border, with my pruners trigger-happy and my heart full of indecision. The tall stems of Verbena bonariensis bent all around me under the heavy weight of their ripening seed heads, crossing and tangling in the fluffy seed pods on the long, browning milkweed branches. Bog sage stems taller than me still held a few little sky blue flowers, but most of the seed heads were spent, and tiny black seeds rained to the ground when I brushed into them. (Photo above: Verbena bonariensis)

During the summer months, this had been a butterfly garden, full of dozens of different pollinators. The buzz of all the many tiny jewel-colored wasps, flies and bumbling bees filled the hot afternoons, while different sizes and colors of butterflies drifted and fluttered through the blossoms.

Now, with late fall turning into winter, it was time to cut back and shape the garden for next year’s pleasure. One of the Verbenas needed to be moved out from under the shade thrown by a huge Salvia karwinskii. A one gallon Leptospermum which never took root and simply died very privately under the teeming mass of flowers above it needed to be dug up and tossed in the brush pile. I wanted to try another Leptospermum in this garden, but needed to clear some space for it. There was never a better day for a sharp pair of pruners.(Photo below: Salvia karwinskii)

salvia karwinskiiAnd yet, only this morning I had seen fat juncoes feasting on the Verbena seeds which goldfinches also love. Hummingbirds were still visiting the bog sage during the brief hour that the winter sun struck it, and nectaring in the remaining flowers. I felt like the grim reaper with my wintery scythe, making an end to all the last bits of the past season.

Many people think that gardeners make plants grow, and that we love to nurture all the little living things with the powers of our green thumbs. But in fact, gardeners can’t make anything grow. Only mother nature can do that. We usually restrict our activities to various forms of murder. Lopping off unsightly branches, exterminating slugs, aphids and caterpillars in various gruesome ways, uprooting and beheading weeds, these felonies are our daily grind. And I was getting ready to begin a real crime spree.

I finally ended with a compromise. The butterfly garden did get a complete haircut, with transplanting and new planting included. But the hummingbirds got a reprieve when I left the sprawling, overgrown sages on the other side of the path with their last few flowers untouched, and the juncoes can still stuff themselves on verbena seeds in the backyard.harlequin (Photo below: Sparaxis [harlequin])

We are approaching the hungry time of year for our little wild birds, and gardeners can help by choosing some plants for the garden which provide nectar in January and February for our resident hummingbirds. At the Garden for the Environment, we have divided out our Tree Aloes, and now have several dozen plants all of which will be full of bright orange-red flowers during midwinter. Hummingbirds love them. We also let many of our big salvias stand even after they start looking bedraggled to provide a few extra sips of nectar for our hummingbirds. Allowing some plants to go to seed or berry and stand during the winter, also provides for seed-loving birds. Each gardener must find his or her own balance between tidying up the garden and providing for the wildness of seed-set and fertility, as fallen leaves decompose in untidy heaps to add life to the soil.

In last month’s article I wrote about the new weed season, and what local gardeners can do to minimize their weed problems for this year. We talked about Oxalis in detail, and I promised that this month I would write more about the dreaded Erhardta grass.(Photo below: Ornamental Grass)

erhardta grassErhardta is an invasive exotic grass that appeared in the Bay Area fairly recently. You may not have seen it yet in your garden. It arrived in mine about five years ago, from a neighbor’s neglected yard, and I didn’t know right away what a beast it was going to be. If you see a new weedy grass with long arching seedy stems covered with hundreds of tiny seeds, beware. Do not let these seeds ripen and fall. Immediate eradication is in order.

When weeding out Erhardta, the pale pinkish crown of the plant is your target. Right where the roots of the plant meet the top, there is a single whorl of pale stems, and you have to get all of them. This grass loves to break apart, and you may get a lovely big chunk of it only to notice that it has left one little bit of root and a small bunch of stems behind. Each plant may take several tries to remove all of the crown.

Please make sure to put the weed directly into a bucket or onto a tarp when weeding. If you toss this weed onto the ground or into a path, or carry it through the garden to your green bin, tiny grass seeds will be raining down all around you, and your problems will be multiplied next year.

December will bring rainy cold days if the weather gods love our watershed, and many days when we can only look out the window at our gardens. These are good days to spend with seed catalogs, imagining the heirloom varieties of yummy summer vegetables and new and sophisticated arrangements of blossoms in next year’s border. Spread some newspaper on the table or counter and get after those garden tools with some oil and a sharpening stone. Or curl up with a good gardening book. My favorite winter reads this year are Vita Sackville-West’s “In Your Garden” and “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate” by Wendy Johnson.

Happy Holidays, and many muddy returns of the season. See you next year!

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present.

Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

February 2012



Indoors, it's time to get ready for daylight savings and Halloween candy. Outdoors, the changes come more slowly. Each day the sun is a little bit lower, the night is a few moments longer, and the plants in our Mediterranean, summer-dry climate, breathe a sigh of relief.

San Francisco already has recorded more than an inch of early rain, and the newly moist soil, the clear sparkling days, and the release from fog and wind mark a new beginning. Our long growing season lasts from now (with a brief pause for cold weather around the Winter Solstice) until late May or early June when the soils dry out for next summer's drought.Borago officianalis

With the beginning of a new season, gardeners also change gears. Fall clean-up accelerates, as more plants finish their blooming cycles and can be cut down in preparation for a new season. Plants like Shasta daisies, which we have been selectively deadheading to prolong the blooming season, can now be cut all the way back to their basal leaves. The tall blooming stems, while they still may have a bud or two on them, will never look good again until next year.

As we move through the garden like the Grim Reaper, it's also a good time to selectively remove those plants which didn't do well enough to earn their spot in the garden. Some plants may be chronically troubled by insects or diseases, some may never have adapted to the spot they occupy, some may just be the wrong color or size. By removing the stragglers, the shape of the garden becomes clearer. Sometimes the newly opened space is welcome, allowing surrounding plants to expand freely. Sometimes the new space calls for a good soil amendment and a new planting. When choosing new plants, consider repeating a species that has done well in your garden and delighted you. Gardens often look more abundant and natural when successful elements are repeated.graphic

Borage The new growing season also means an abundance of seedlings in the garden soil. In well-tended old gardens, many or most of these seedlings will be desirable plants, cool season annuals emerging from last year's seeds. After a few more good rains our gardens will be full of seedlings from Forget-me-nots, California poppies, Red Lychnis, Borage, Cineraria, Sweet Alyssum and Honeywort. All these plants return reliably year-after-year from seeds.

Just as reliable are the weedy seeds. Dandelions, Dock, Mustard, Cheese weed, Petty Spurge and annual grass weeds, including the dreaded Erharta grass, will also be popping up everywhere. Good gardening calls for an organized strategy to combat the new weed season.

The first step in regaining control of your garden from weedy invaders is a positive identification of the weed that's driving you crazy. Once you know the identity of the naughty little plant, you can do a little research and find out what its reproductive strategies are. Different weeds respond to different control methods, and the smothering mulch that eradicates one weed, might make the next weed multiply and spread everywhere. Many of our most common garden weeds can be found in Pam Peirce's Golden Gate Gardening, which includes an encyclopedia of weeds along with pictures and eradication strategies. Once you've identified your weed, it's time for action.

Oxalis One weed in particular haunts my Halloween dreams. Oxalis pes-caprae is perhaps the most common weed in San Francisco's gardens. It has three-leaf clover type leaves and a yellow five petalled flower in late winter. Because the plants disappear completely during the dry months of summer, it can almost be forgotten as it sleeps underground in the form of tiny brown bulbs. But with the first rains it emerges, ready to devour your garden and mine.oxalis

Ideally, this weed can be removed by digging out the bulblets. Heavily infested soil can even be screened to remove the bulbs. Both these approaches are labor intensive and difficult to rely on because the chances of missing some of the tiny bulbs are so great. The first year I worked at the Garden for the Environment, we tried to dig the Oxalis, and the Oxalis was the clear winner that year. The digging was time-consuming and we simply couldn't move fast enough to get ahead of the Oxalis. The next year we tried another approach.

Each Oxalis plant has the same anatomy. From a tiny brown bulb a white stem emerges underground. As this stem reaches the light, it forms a single node from which leaves emerge, followed by a flowering stalk. Instead of trying to dig deep enough to reach the bulbs, we just pulled the top off each Oxalis plant, being sure to get the node from which the leaves emerge. Then the little bulb has to start all over producing another white stem from deep underground. If we are thorough about removing the tops (which we can do much faster than digging the bulbs) we will eventually exhaust the bulbs and they will die. This has actually been working, and the last two years have seen us the clear winner in the Oxalis battle.oxalis

But winning a battle and winning a war are two different things. We have to keep at it each year, because as the days shorten and the Jack-o-Lanterns emerge, so do the first little green Oxalis leaves, and they are just waiting for an opening. If we ignore them, they will take their evil revenge on us, and cover our garden beds in clover-leaved triumph.

Next month, From the Border will give some tips on controlling the dreaded Erharta Grass, also rightfully known as Panic Grass.

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the Garden For the Environment. A life-long gardener, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984. Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden at 7th and Lawton, Wed. 10-2 and Sat. 10-4.

December 2011



Last month, this column covered some tips on design and care of the late summer garden. A month later, and we are still in the same late summer weather pattern, with mostly foggy days on the western side of the city, dry soils, and cool temperatures. As each week of late summer passes, the summer-dry garden looks more and more disheveled and dreary, unless the gardener follows a few simple rules.

# 1: Plan for this time of year, which is the most challenging for the summer-dry gardener. There are a few special plants which are at their blooming best this time of year, and they are precious for us fog-dwellers.Bugle Lily  (Photo: Bugle Lily)

Because many San Francisco gardens are small, vertical space is very important when filling a garden visually. Some of the brightest performers at this time of year are vines. Semi-tropical Bougainvillea vines are blooming brilliantly now with great splashes of crimson and purple, and Blood-red Trumpet vine adds to the bright scarlet medley. Both these vines need some summer water until they are established, and then can go dry, especially near the coast. Give them some support with a sunny fence to climb, and they will delight the late summer garden for years to come.

As the days begin to shorten, the beautiful Princess Flower begins to perk up. A large shrub or small tree covered with big brilliant purple flowers at this time of year, Princess Flower is looking good in the late summer garden as other plants are fading. In small San Francisco gardens with dry summer soils and lots of shady spots, Princess Flower can be a problem-solver. It prefers to have its roots in a shady spot, and then grow up until its crown is in the sun, so it is an excellent choice in the shade from a north facing fence. It needs some summer water to help it get established, and then mature plants can weather our dry summers, especially near the coast.

Another beautiful accent in the late summer garden comes from ornamental grasses. Many of these are very comfortable in dry soils, and bloom in the late summer adding their graceful or erect textures to the garden scene. Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum rubrum) is blooming now, as is Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis). The flowers of both these grasses are beautiful enough to cut for flower arrangements. (Photo: miscanthus)miscanthus

Rule # 2: Finish any leftover clean-up from winter and spring. Last month's column covered dead-heading, or removing faded blossoms to lighten the visual load of brown, grey, dying and fungus affected plants in the garden. Another tip to help open up the late summer garden visually is to finish cutting back cool season plants which are dying back, in some cases removing everything that's above ground.

During the rainy season, many garden plants complete their vegetative growth, and then bloom in spring as the rains are ending. Plants with this seasonal pattern may be completely dormant and resting in the soil now, either as bulbs or corms in the case of perennials, or as seeds in the case of annuals. In these cases, it is safe to remove all the withered leaves and stems from last winter and spring, creating more freshness and space in the late summer garden.

Some examples of summer-dry bulbs which follow this pattern are Watsonia (Bugle Lily), Chasmanthus (Adam's Rib), and Sparaxis (Harlequin Flower). Last year's leaves and stems can be cut right down to the ground once they have turned mostly brown. Many gardeners have already done this, but if the faded plants are still taking up visual space in your yard, now is the time to cut them down, before the new green shoots of next year's plants begin to emerge. (Photo: Sparaxis)Sparaxis

Traditional spring bulbs, such as tulips and crocuses are available in nurseries now. But these bulbs which have to be dug out, refrigerated, and replanted every year are not a permanent solution in a sustainable garden. They simply are not a match for our climate, because they grow best where there are cold winters. This year might be a great time to at least try some of the less well-known bulbs, like those in the preceding paragraph, which thrive all by themselves in our climate, and come back more vigorously year after year. There's nothing wrong with getting a few tulips, too, for old time's sake.

Rule # 3: Some cool season plants do not need to be removed entirely, but they will benefit from being cut back hard at this time of year. Many perennials that grew during the rainy season and bloomed in winter or spring, are now faded, over-grown and sprawling. By cutting these plants back hard, and leaving only a few sturdy branches with a few leaves on them, the gardener can both prepare these plants to do their best in the coming rainy season, and also clear up the fading jumble of the late-summer garden.

Some examples of plants that can benefit from being cut back hard now as we head into the shorter days of fall include Forget-me-nots and Primroses on the shady side of the garden, and African Daisies on the sunny side. If given a good haircut now, these plants will delight you with fresh, full leafy growth in winter followed by bright flowers in February and March.

Cutting back cool-season perennials will also clear and clean the late summer garden, and let your Japanese anemones, Tritonia, Lantana, and other late summer and fall blooming perennials stand out. (Photo: Anemones)Anemones

Rule # 4: Feed the soil where you have cut back hard and removed lots of debris. Organic gardeners know that you cannot keep removing bucket after bucket of garden debris and trimmings without putting something back into the soil. Ideally, our garden debris goes into the compost pile, and recycles back into the soil as finished compost. But for many home gardeners, the garden debris goes into the city green bin, is composted by the city, and ends up building the soil in a vineyard in Sonoma instead.

Composts, manures, and other soil amendments are available in nurseries bagged, and adding some form of organic soil amendment or mulch to the garden after a big clean-up is simply part of the cycle of gardening. Fall is a great time to add mulches and soil amendments in the garden, because winter rains will help carry the nutrients deep into the soil. Purchased soil improvers can become expensive, though, and so we often tend to use less than is really needed.

Sometimes it works to go in with neighbors, and get a big delivery of compost or manure and share it between several gardens. It's more affordable that way. Some stables will deliver manure for free if they can drop off a whole truck-load. Mushroom compost, (my personal favorite) can be delivered by the cubic yard or sometimes half yard. Try American Soil in Richmond, Ca. Mar Vista Stables in Daly City or Sea Horse Ranch in Half Moon Bay. These are just a few starting points; there are many more resources out there to be discovered.

By following these few simple rules, the late summer/early fall garden can be turned from a dreary, cluttered and unhealthy place into a little paradise, just waiting for the first drops of autumn rain.

October 2011



For summer dry gardens, August begins to separate the fabulous gardens from the rest. It's relatively easy to make a garden gorgeous in the late winter, spring, and early summer. There are a multitude of plants to choose from, all of which thrive in the cool moist soils and sunny warm days between rains. But by August, our foggy season is well advanced, and plants have already suffered through weeks of cool moist air and warm dry soil. This is the opposite of what most plants need. And there's nothing ahead but more of the same.salvia (Photo: Salvia)

Most San Francisco gardens have a big let-down at this time of year, when unhealthy plants and spent flowers compete visually with the few that are still blooming. But there are a few simple tricks of the trade which will allow you to rejuvenate your garden this August, and allow you to look forward to the late summer and fall garden in future years.

First and foremost, good garden design calls for a sequence of bloom, with new plants coming into their first flush of bloom in each season. There are not as many choices in summer dry gardens of plants just now starting to bloom, but the ones we have can be spectacular. Here are a few choice plants that are coming into bloom now at the Garden for the Environment, helping us keep the foggy doldrums away.

abelia grandifloraGlossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora) is a graceful, arching shrub with an open habit. Its shiny foliage has a reddish cast at the growing tips, which echoes the burgundy bracts holding the pendulous pink flowers. A tough performer, Abelia can take quite a bit of shade and dryness and still look lovely at this time of year as it begins to bloom. The arching shape of this plant can be maintained by pruning out one-third of the oldest canes each year, cutting them right down to the ground, to stimulate new canes breaking out at the base. (Photo Abelia granciflora)

Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) is a big, strong upright shrub and a vertical accent in the back of the border. It is just now beginning to open its dramatic, fuzzy orange flowers which grow in whorls up each vigorous stem. A big bright statement for late summer and fall, Lion's tail also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Many different sages (Salvias) from the littlest groundcover to eight-foot shrubs covered with bright flowers are either in full bloom or just now starting at the GFE. My personal favorite is Salvia mexicana "Limelight" which is at its best now, with bright blue tubular flowers blooming out of lime-green bracts, a dramatic color combo that explodes visually. Like other salvias, this one attracts hummingbirds.salvia mexicana (Photo: Salvia Mexicana)

Here is the big challenge for summer-dry gardeners at this time of year. It is a terrible time to buy and plant new plants, but now is the time nurseries have late-summer blooming plants in stock. Ideally, planting time for summer-dry gardens is in fall, when soils are still warm but the first rains are falling. Second best is early spring, with several rainy months still ahead. The worst possible time is now, with soils completely dried out and several months ahead without rain. As a result, many home gardeners have gardens well stocked with winter and spring blooming plants and very few late summer/fall blooming plants that have survived from previous years.

Even plants that are well-suited to dry summer soils can't survive if planted from a container into a dry garden when in full bloom. So to get late summer blooming plants established requires extra attention from the gardener. If you plant a beautifully blooming sage this week or next, it will need a generous planting hole, several times the size of the root ball of your new plant. The hole should be amended and watered so there is improved, moist soil all around and under the new plant's roots. Your newly-planted youngster will need plenty of extra watering this summer. A plant that usually prefers a dryish soil and performs best with weekly watering or less, may need to be watered every day or every other day, just for this first summer. After several weeks you can begin letting the plant go a little drier between watering, but do not let it wilt. The extra effort now will reward you with a plant that will thrive and surprise your garden with late summer bloom for years to come.

Having the right plants in your garden for late summer color is only half the battle. The other half is tidying up the parts of the garden which were so lovely a few months ago. Many older San Francisco gardens feature camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas, all of which may be covered with faded, brown flowers at this time of year. Even gardens with a more modern plant palette probably have many plants covered with spent flowers. Deadheading, or cutting off the faded flowers, is an important part of garden care at this time of year.

We grow ornamental garden plants for the beauty of the blossoms. But for the plant, the blossoms are just a means to an end. They attract pollinators with their colors and fragrance, and once the flowers fade, the serious business of ripening seeds begins. Most of your plant's energy at this time of year is going into the seeds, unless you remove the faded flowers to prevent seed formation. If you do so, the plant will put its extra energy into other tasks such a growing a stronger root system, a sturdier immune system to fight off pests and diseases, storing energy in woody tissue, and last, but not least, into forming buds for next year's flowers.

You will also be glad you did from a visual perspective. Deadheading can be tedious, but when you step back and see your newly groomed plants, it will be just as though you washed their faces and combed their hair. They will look sweetly fresh, and instead of distracting the eye with their forlorn disheveled look, they will step into the background and allow other parts of the garden that are lovely now to step forward.

Even with the fog and dry soils, our summer gardens can be beautiful and appealing. If you need a little extra inspiration, step over to the Garden for the Environment (7th and Lawton) and see how lovely and varied the late summer garden can be in San Francisco. If you come on a Wednesday or Saturday, you are likely to find us working there, ready to answer all your questions about sustainable garden practices in a summer-dry climate. Happy gardening, and may many hummingbirds visit your salvias!

September 2011



For me, every year there's a moment in May when the garden is suddenly just too much. All the irrigation has to be troubleshot and turned on after winter. All the weeds are as high as an elephant's eye. All the winter crops suddenly bolt so all the vegetable beds have to be turned over and planted for summer. All the spring blooming ornamentals need deadheading, while the cool season annuals, like forget-me-nots, are already finished and need to be composted. Yikes!

(Right:Ixia maculata Hybrid, one of the many summer blooms at Garden for the Environment.)

It only lasts for a minute, and then everything starts to fall into place for a new season. And May is also a time of great rewards. Several special plants at the GFE bloomed for the first time after three years in the ground (a Beschorneria yuccoides, and a Carpenteria californica for you plant geeks out there). The harvest box started to have more variety after the winter of kale, Swiss chard, and more kale. Our artichokes, now mature, have been producing like gang-busters this spring. Our college interns had to study for exams, and talked about how much they would miss the garden when the semester was over, but also about how much they learned. (We grow much more than plants at the Garden for the Environment. We grow gardeners!)

For me, May is also a time of reflection. At the height of the madness, ten days out from the last rain and four gardens worth of irrigation to check and start, I worked thirteen out of fourteen days, either in my own or someone else's garden. Granted, I'm a gardening fool, but what's it all for? (Especially since plenty of rain later in the month made it possible to turn all the irrigation off again!) Why do I put myself through all the madness of the season year after year? (Below: Ixia maculata Hybrid)

Ixia maculata hybredThere's something about gardening that makes all the work worthwhile. In a city full of hard edges and congestion, in a world where action increasingly takes place on a flat screen, the garden offers a three-dimensional experience. Actually, it's four dimensional, because timing, seasons, and weather are so important. The young fig tree may leaf out, but if gophers eat its roots, it will die. No one can reset it, reboot it, or give it another life like a video game. You have to wait until next year when the season is right for planting again.

At the same time, nothing is too serious in gardening. The dead tree's leaves can be stripped into the compost pile; its trunk can become part of a homemade retaining wall. Everything decomposes and returns as fertility.ablution Hybred

There is humor and humility in the right-sizedness of gardening. The task is just the right size for a person, not too big, like healing a polarized nation, or too small, like much cultural trivia. It is no coincidence that humor and humility share the same linguistic root as human. All these words come from humus—soil. (Right: Abutilon Hybrid)

Gardening is real in a way many things aren't. Either the rose blooms - or it doesn't. Either the lettuce tastes good - or not. Gardening roots us in time and place and into our own hearts and hands. We get to use all of ourselves; our imaginations, our observation, our intelligence, our physical strength, our teamwork, all play their role in gardening.

If you have a garden, you are one of the lucky ones. If you don't, there is a community or school garden project looking for your help as a volunteer. You can adopt a garden, and before you know it, you will be waking up on volunteer days and jumping out of bed, wondering if your carrot seedlings came up, and if the poppies bloomed.

Try it! Your head, heart and hands will thank you.

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present.

Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

July-August 2011


May Day is like Christmas for gardeners except all the packages are opening themselves simultaneously. There is so much to fall in love with. Here are a few of my heartthrobs this month.

The compost thermometer jumping up to 140 degrees…when compost is built right, it heats up so hot that on a cold foggy morning in the garden, you can warm your hands on it. If you dig in a little way, steam starts to rise in the cold air. Every single time, this generous miracle of fertility blows my mind. Thanks, Sir Lawrence and the intern crew, for building such a great pile.

Iridaeceae Douglissima (Wild Iris}The spring mix lettuces standing erect and gorgeous like Carnival marching bands, each group with different costumes on…snip, snip, snip, go the harvest volunteers, and the lettuces fluff into a bag of salad mix for our harvest box. Off they go to feed salad to youth at Larkin Street Youth Services.

Photo: Iridacea Douglassiana-Wild Iris is native to Bay Area forests.Caenothus

California wild lilacs (Ceanothus shown below) blooming in the Native Backyard, and buzzing with a dozen different pollinators and beneficial insects…the Garden for the Environment nestles under Mt. Parnassus in the watershed coming down through Laguna Honda reservoir from Twin Peaks. We are contiguous with some of the last remaining native chaparral in San Francisco. So we have some cool weird insects that even insect enthusiasts have trouble identifying.

Berschorneria yuccoides…three years we've been waiting to see it bloom. It is an unusual agave relative, which produces one gigantic and dramatic flower. It's worth a visit to the GFE just to see it blooming behind the big Ceanothus in the summer dry area (shown below).Berscchorneria yuccoides

Orchid Rockrose (Cistus purpureus)…I've always loved this summer-dry shrub, which explodes with big pink flowers marked with dramatic dark splotches in each petal. The tissue paper fragility of the flowers belies the toughness of the plant. It stays neat and green all year long when out of bloom, whether or not it receives any summer water. (shown below)Orchid rockrose

Bearded Iris! beautiful that the ancient Greeks named the rainbow goddess after them. Or maybe it's the other way around, and they are named after the goddess. Anyway, these guys also do fine without summer water, simply resting after bloom until next year.

Roses! I know it's old-fashioned of me, but I love roses. The GFE features several climate appropriate roses. (In this case, I mean that they can tolerate our cool foggy summers, not that they need no summer water.) My favorites are Altissimo and Mutabilis, both single roses…old-fashioned, like me.

Happy June, and see you in the Garden.

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present.

Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

June 2011


After cold deluges in March, spring arrived overnight at the Garden for the Environment. A visitor passing through asked me, ”What are those bright blue bushes up on the hillside? They are so amazing!” I stopped what I was doing to walk over with him. “Those are Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’. Listen!” As we stood quietly, you could hear the buzzing from the shrubs, heavy with flowers, their leaves almost invisible under the bright burden. “Look.” I told him. “The Ceanothus is full of honey bees, but if you look closely you will also see our fat bumbling native bees, and many tiny wasps, with flies of all kinds. It’s a pollinator party, and a loud one!”

Ceanothus is a California native plant, and part of our botanical heritage right here in the Bay Area. As you drive on local highways, you can see them blooming on dry hillsides in our wild lands. They come in all sizes and shapes, from flat growing groundcovers to big tree-sized shrubs. They bloom now, white through light blue and lavender to the vivid dark blue of ‘Dark Star’. Like all native plants, they are a perfect fit, not only for our soil and weather patterns, but also for the local wildlife, including all the players at the pollinator party. (Photo: Ceanothus)

From now through July the beautiful and vigorous native plants in our native garden will bloom in turn. This is their active season, with water in the soil from winter rains, and warm days ahead. By July, the soils are dry and the fogs roll in. Our native garden quiets down, because the dry late summer months are the dormant time for California native plants. Once the first rains return in the fall, they perk up again and start to grow through the mild wet winter, reaching their bloom time again as the first warm days of spring arrive.California Poppy

This year at the GFE there is more to see than ever. For many years, we’ve had a small demonstration garden which is landscaped entirely with native plants. Right next to it is the Victory Garden, where we demonstrate “all out food production.” Above these small fenced gardens, a steep sandy hillside rises to the street. This hillside is full of native plants, but difficult to access and difficult to maintain. The shrubs were getting raggedy, and blackberries were starting to arch up through the spent flowering stalks of last year’s Bee Plant. Just as we were scratching our heads about how to access and care for these native plants, unexpected and very welcome help arrived. (Photo: Poppy)

Patrick Haesloop and Spencer Honeyman, local landscape magicians and native plant lovers came to our rescue and donated labor and many plants to renew the native hillside. They created a path through the hillside, so that visitors to the garden can now walk among the blooming natives, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin headlands from the top of the GFE. To find the new native walk from 7th and Lawton, head up Lawton to the top of the garden, and turn left. Walk past the small fenced area, and enter the garden through an opening in the fence under the Monterey Cypress (the biggest tree on the block). Although some parts of the hillside are still being planted, there are many new and old California native plants here for you to enjoy. Many, many thanks from us to Patrick and Spencer of REvive Landscapes for their hard work on behalf of the native hillside.ribes

The garden is open every day of the year for everyone to enjoy, and staffed on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Come by to enjoy the best blooming and green oasis in town, have a picnic, admire our views, or pitch in and help us weed for half an hour. We’ll always be glad to see you! (Photo: Ribes)

Have questions on how to get involved? E-mail

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4 at the Garden, 7th and Lawton St.

May 2011


Maybe the best kept secret at the GFE is our harvest program. Every Saturday morning a small band of dedicated volunteers harvests fruits and vegetables from all over the garden, makes a beautiful bouquet and an herb bundle, and packs everything into a spicy fragrant box of freshness. Our much-loved Foodrunners volunteer comes before lunch to pick up the box, and trailing blossoms, drives it over to a shelter for homeless and at-risk youth. There the kids and staff unpack the box, read the newsletter, hang the herbs to dry, and cook the veggies. They empty out their old bouquet from last week, and fill their vase with fresh flowers. So far we have delivered over 400 lbs. of food through this program.vegies

Our harvest program is a powerful example of a win/win situation for urban agriculture. Everyone who touches that box in the course of a Saturday is inspired, and benefits from the wake-up for all the senses that comes from handling truly fresh and fragrant food and flowers.

We, on the other hand, benefit from the food production laboratory. We are now in the second year of production, and we have learned a lot about what we can reliably harvest year-round. Although we do take a break over the winter holidays, we can pretty much count on having cooking greens, like kale and Swiss chard, in every box all year. Salad greens, both whole lettuce heads and mixed baby salad greens, scallions and radishes go in the box all year long, as do some kind of legume. Our climate allows fava tops in winter, then favas and peas in spring, beans in summer, and peas again in the fall. This year we hope to expand our potato production, another crop that can be harvested virtually year round in our mild climate. Many other fruits and vegetables go in the box seasonally, everything from A to Z, artichokes to zucchini.crew

Now that our best kept secret is out, how can you get involved?

First and foremost, you can participate any week just by showing up in the garden in the morning, and joining the harvest crew. You can learn a lot about succession planting and year-round food growing specifically for Bay Area climates just by participating. Our staff, volunteers, and interns all love to talk and teach while we work.

Have questions on how to get involved? E-mail

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present. Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4 at the Garden, 7th and Lawton St.

April 2011

The Waterwise Garden

February arrived in a blizzard of plum blossoms, the fruit of a warm dry January. After deluges in December, the warm weather in January brought smiles to sunbathers and worried frowns to gardeners. Irrigation timers, turned off for the rainy season, were hastily re-booted. Rain brought relief at the end of the month . But for how long? (image: plum blossom)

Drought used to be an anomaly. When I first moved to California in the seventies we were learning not to flush the toilet every time, and to take short showers. But that was just for the duration; then things went back to normal. Normal at the time was virtually unrestricted cheap water. Plenty for everyone, we thought.

Now wet and dry years come and go, but drought is still the permanent model. California doesn't have enough water for everything everyone wants to do with it, and the pressure is not going away any time soon. In the future, people will look back at us and wonder at the way we irrigate our gardens and landscapes with perfectly good drinking water.

rock roseAs environmentally responsible gardeners, one of the most important advocacies we can engage in is to create change in the predominant garden aesthetic. The thirsty lawns, clipped hedges, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, roses and annual beds which defined a beautiful California garden since the dam-building era cannot define beauty for the future. Perhaps in a public park or a garden museum like the Arboretum these gardens can be remembered. But we cannot have this landscape in every back yard any more than we can drive cars that get 8 miles to the gallon, or bring home sixteen disposable plastic bags home from the grocery store every time. (image: Rock Rose)

Please don't think that cactuses and rubber plants are our only other choices. There are many beautiful plants which need little or no summer water. Names like Lion's Tail, Rock Rose, Bee's Bliss, Harlequin Flower, and Mirror Plant conjure beautiful surprises. Whatever your garden aesthetic; lush or flowery or dramatic or tropical or neat, there is a summer-dry plant for your purpose, from the tiniest groundcover to the towering cypress.

Creating many beautiful effects with summer-dry plants, and giving people opportunities to learn about them and fall in love with them is one of our goals here at the GFE.bugle lily

That's why next time you stop by the garden, you'll see something new. Now many of our beloved, gorgeous summer-dry plants are labeled! Soon we will have more complete and professional- looking signs courtesy of the SFPUC, but for now, you will see the plants in the Water-wise Demonstration Area at the South end of the garden labeled with their botanical names. (image: Bugle Lily)

Hopefully this will help gardeners, whether they are planting in a school garden, a community garden, a median strip, or their own backyards. If we learn to love and choose plants that don't need much irrigation for most of our planted spaces, we can save our precious water to grow food and save wild rivers.

Many, many thanks to Mark and Pilar, the dedicated vGCETUP graduates who turned our ID project from a dream to a reality!

HilaryHilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present.

Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden at 7th and Lawton on Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.

March 2011


Winter Beauty

What makes a garden beautiful in winter? Although our mild climates let some blossoms from late summer and fall hang on plants into January, it is not flowers that make a beautiful garden in the dead of winter.

In winter, the shape and structure of the garden is unclothed. Without the distraction of flower colors, and with bare branches exposed on deciduous trees and shrubs, errors in pruning or design are painfully obvious, while good pruning and design hold the garden's beauty firmly grounded.

Here are some factors to consider as you look out your window at the wet or chilly garden this month.

1. Shape: do the pathways, retaining walls, patios, and other hardscape features divide the garden into balanced, usable spaces with appealing lines for the eye to follow as it wanders through the garden spaces? (Hint: think in curves)geranium

2. Pruning: are the large trees and shrubs well pruned into graceful, open shapes that fit well into the spaces they occupy? (Hint: this might be a job for an arborist, but what a great investment)

3. Foliage Color: while your plants are out of bloom, most of the garden color comes from foliage. Does your garden include plants with silvery, golden, or red foliage? Even different shades of green are important. (Hint: lots of medium green plants together can be a visual jumble, but if each plant has a contrasting foliage color, their individual shapes and textures show up as beauty)

4. Texture: every plant has its own texture and posture; erect, rounded, weeping, tiered, or spiky. Does your garden create a harmonious whole? Does it match well with your home? Your personal style?ferny shapes

5. Repeated Elements: Nature designs landscapes with repeated elements. A grassy meadow may have hundreds of grasses, but only two or three varieties, each with a color and texture that repeats throughout the space. Repeated elements, whether colors, plants, or hardscape features like pots, walls, or paving, can help unify your design while resting and informing your eye.

This is a wonderful time of year to make changes in your garden; New Year's resolutions in horticulture! Add a half wine-barrel of salad greens, or a small sunny herb garden, and bring your garden into your kitchen. Or pick a plant that you really don't like, and replace it, finally, with something better. Maybe a favorite feature could be repeated once, or a hundred times. Maybe the plant whose fragrance reminds you of someone special could be moved to a more prominent location. January is a wonderful month for gardeners to dream big dreams, and sharpen their pruners!

Heads up! This month at the Garden for the Environment, is the beginning of a regular once-a-month tour of the garden, focusing on climate-appropriate garden design. Meet me in the garden (7th avenue and Lawton) on the second Saturday of each month at 1pm. See you then!

Hilary Gordon is Sustainable Landscape Education Manager at the GFE. A life-long gardener, trained at the City College Horticulture program, she has worked as a professional landscape gardener from 1984 until the present.

Have a question for Hilary? Meet her in the garden Wednesdays 10-2 and Saturdays 10-4.v

February 2011

More From the Border 2010, From the Border 2009