Mosaic Gardens Journal

news, photos and inspiration

Newsletter #3 June 27, 2009

Filed under: garden design,Garden Profiles,News,photos,Tricky spaces — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 12:07 am
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What a wonderful June! We’ve had perfect working weather, fun projects and a terrific garden tour. Thanks again to everyone who came out to support the Symphony Guild at the Music in the Garden event. We hope you had as much fun as we did!

In this newsletter, we’ll share the transformation of one of the trickiest spaces we’ve ever seen, offer a few ideas from the resulting garden, and give a summer reading list of five of our favorite garden books. Be sure to scroll through the main journal when you’re done. In the last month, we’ve posted some great pictures, a guide to building simple and great looking tomato cages, a little about how we use metal in our designs and more.

i The Dobson Garden

Ted and Nancy Dobson are determined perfectionists. Everyone in their College Hill neighborhood watched with delight as they scraped, painted and pounded a neglected former rental house into an attractive home. Once the house met their exacting standards, they turned their attention to the yard, expecting to whip it into shape with substantially less effort and time than their house had taken. And then they called us….

Ted and Nancy Dobson's garden this spring.

Ted and Nancy Dobson's garden this spring.

All They Wanted Was a Container Garden


Ted and Nancy's garden "before."

In our initial consultation, Ted and Nancy requested an irrigated container garden in their small back yard. The problem was hiding the irrigation. Previous owners had finished the basement of the house and poured concrete over the entire flat space behind the house. A steep hillside required a tall, cinder block retaining wall. Add in narrow dimensions and a stellar view of the heat pump, and, as you can see below, the space was irrigation-proof and less than attractive.

The contrast between dark, geometric wood and round river gravel strengthens the impact of both materials.

The contrast between dark, geometric wood and round river gravel strengthens the impact of both materials.

We used four main hardscape elements to create the Dobsons’ garden: gravel, ipe (a sustainably forested hardwood) decking, stepping stones and bamboo screens. In a tiny space, everything needs a purpose, and each of these elements blends form and function. A large, local river gravel covers the concrete and irrigation while still allowing water to freely enter the drain system, but visitors only notice its cohesive, subtle texture. The ipe decks give the Dobsons a place to enjoy their garden, and its rich color and strong lines contrast with the lighter, more natural feeling of the stone elements. We borrowed the excellent Japanese concept of using large stepping stones as both a stable walking surface and a way of focusing attention on the journey, rather than the destination, thus keeping energy in the tiny garden. Finally, simple bamboo screens frame an enticing view between separate two garden rooms – the seating area and the pathway or journey garden – and, oh yeah, hide the heat pump from the seating area.

Our design surprised the Dobsons, who had expected a quick meeting about irrigation, but it captured their imaginations. We installed the hardscape of their garden in spring of 2006. At the time, they were casual gardeners, planting a few annuals here and there and keeping a very tidy lawn. However, something in their new space set their prodigious energies and curious minds to work, and they elected to plant the new garden themselves. In the intervening years, Ted and Nancy have created a thoughtful, Japanese-inspired planting, which meshes perfectly with their cool, quiet space.

The gardening didn’t stop there, however. The front garden, which expands by the season, is a colorful contrast to the understated space in the back. Today, the Dobsons are regulars on garden tours and make long day trips to check out new nurseries. Every season finds them mulling over a new project and perfecting the existing plantings.

Bamboo screens frame an enticing view of the next room.

Bamboo screens frame an enticing view of the next room (this is almost the same view as the "before" shot!).

Three Ideas to Borrow

The Dobsons’ tricky space is a terrific illustration of some of our core design concepts. Below are three ideas that can help turn a difficult space into an inviting garden.

Think big, even in a small space. Ample hardscape makes a tiny garden more welcoming. Approximately 2′ wide stepping stones are an eye-catching invitation to stroll and the 8′ x 14′ ipe deck is a perfect spot for a glass of wine with friends.

Multitasking hardscape. Combining simple form with multiple functions keeps the garden cohesive and uncluttered. The Dobsons’ bamboo screens frame the view of their path, separate the garden rooms, provide a striking backdrop for planted arrangements, and screen the heat pump.

Limitations as framework. More often than not, careful and creative thought can turn an apparent disadvantage into a guideline for great design. The concrete floor of the Dobsons’ original “yard” is still under the layers of rich materials. What seemed at first like an unsightly, insurmountable obstacle became the inspiration for a terrific garden.

Summer Garden Reading

Here are five of our favorite garden design books for some summer inspiration. If you can’t find them locally (I’ve seen several of these available used), we’ve linked to online sources.

The Modern Japanese Garden – This book by Michiko Rico Nose is as much a study in simplicity, honesty of materials and effective use of space as it is a review of contemporary Japanese gardens.

Breaking Ground – The first garden book we loved, and one to which we regularly return for inspiration. A thoughtful introduction to ten contemporary garden designers by Page Dickey.

Gardens in the Spirit of Place – Page Dickey explores gardens that look to the surrounding landscape and culture for their inspiration.

The Essential Garden Book – As close to a “how to” as you can get in garden design, by Terrance Conran.

In the Company of Stone – Daniel Stone is a master in the art and craft of stonework, and this beautiful book by Dan Snow should be on every rock geek’s shelves.

Thanks for reading!

We’re already brainstorming for the next newsletter. In the meantime, bookmark the journal and check back every few days. In the next month we’ll share some process photos of the gorgeous, dry stack stone wall we’re building, and, hopefully, some new portfolio shots. If you want to be the first to know about the newsletters and Mosaic news, join our mailing list! We write once or twice a month at most, and we’ll never share your contact information.

Happy summer!

Rebecca & Buell


Sun dogs June 22, 2009

Filed under: friends,our garden,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 10:21 pm
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Who says dogs and gardens don’t mix?



Metal June 18, 2009

Filed under: garden design,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 4:07 am
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Our corrugated fence captures everyone's attention.

One of the first things that people notice in our garden is the galvanized metal. There’s the corrugated fence, stock tank pond and deck planters, custom table frame, deck railing… heck, even our garage door and gutters! In our garden, metal is a clean, bright theme throughout the garden. It is the perfect foil for plants and offers a welcome lightness on drizzly days.

In our clients’ gardens, rusty, galvanized and painted metals typically play a more subtle role, but they provide the final details that complete the space. We love the strength, clean lines and exceptional durability we can achieve with metal. While the steel arbors, furniture and features we design will last for many, many years, it is nice to know that if and when they are removed, they are completely recyclable. Below is a small sampling of the metalwork we have designed.


This fountain is a classic Mosaic feature - big, simple form.

We designed these table and chairs to add color and brightness to this small space.

We designed this metal table and chairs to add color and brightness to this small space.

Metal is a strong, but visually light solution for an arbor.

Metal is a strong, but visually light solution for an arbor.

The famous screen.

Of course, the famous screen....


Fremontodendron! June 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 2:45 pm

On every tour there are a few plant names that escape our minds. Usually, the names come back to us before the curious tour-goer leaves the garden, but there are always one or two that take a day or two to return. This year’s top forgotten name was Fremontodendron ‘San Bernardino’ (link to Google photos – we don’t have a good one). It’s a big, gangly shrub with a fuzzy, bronzy leaf and an incredible show of orange-yellow flowers in spring. Ours is in the narrow bed next to the driveway.

I hope whoever asked checks in at the journal!


Thank you for a great day!

Filed under: our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 12:22 am

The shady pathway at the back of our garden.

Thanks so much to everyone who organized and attended the Music in the Garden tour. We were delighted to share our space with so many lovely people, and we hope you had as much fun as we did.

Our summer promises to bring lots of posts and new photos, so be sure to check in at the journal now and then! Many of our updates are spontaneous, but there are a few semi-definite posts to look forward to. We are taking a photographic series of the gorgeous stone wall we’re building right now, we should have some great new photos coming in early summer, and, of course, our next newsletter is due in about a week and a half.

We look forward to sharing more of our work with you!

Rebecca & Buell


Perfect tour weather June 13, 2009

Filed under: events,our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 8:45 pm
A pretty shot of our garden from a cloudy day.

A pretty shot of our garden from a cloudy day.

Garden photographers live for forecasts like tomorrow’s – mostly cloudy with a high of 73. The plants will love the comfortable, but not-too-warm temperatures (us too!), and gardens look their best under a little cloud cover. It’s shaping up to be a great tour.

See you tomorrow,

Rebecca & Buell


A brief photo history of our garden June 9, 2009

Filed under: events,News,our garden,photos,Tricky spaces — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 4:08 pm
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Our front path from above

With the Eugene Symphony Music in the Garden tour coming this Sunday, it seems like a good time to share a short photo history of our space! We began hardscape construction in fall of 2002, put the first plants in the ground in 2003. The ipe deck we installed in 2004 completed the garden’s structure, but a garden is never finished. We make large and small changes to the plantings every year.

Our garden has been featured in Garden Design, Sunset, Pacific Horticulture and Fine Gardening magazines. A few of those articles are available on the press page of our main website and offer a much more complete account of the design of our space than we can offer here. For now, we just hope to entice you to visit the garden and support a great cause this Sunday!



Click on the images below to enlarge.


Mosaic’s tomato cages June 7, 2009

Filed under: our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 7:57 pm
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[Edit: Hi!  This page gets a lot of traffic, so we thought we’d make sure you knew about the rest of our journal and our other veggie-related posts.  We update regularly during the growing season and hope you’ll check back in.  Thanks for stopping by!  Mosaic]

Our ornamental garden gets most of the questions on garden tours, but our take on tomato cages always catches the attention of dedicated veggie gardeners. These cages allow us to support a whole row of vigorous tomatoes at once and collapse into flat panels when not in use. Best of all, they are as sturdy, straight and good looking as the first time we used them six years ago!

One of our tomato cages, ready for the summer

To make Mosaic’s tomato cages, you’ll need:

  • two strong galvanized welded wire panels (bull wire or some tough hog wire from the farm supply store is a great choice)
  • strong wire cutters or a grinder
  • 4 pieces of rebar (concrete reinforcing bar), with at least two pieces approx 5-6′ long (depends on how deep you can drive them into your soil)
  • twine

First, cut your bull wire panels to size with the wire cutters or grinder. Our panels are the length of our veggie rows and about 4′ high. We cut at least the bottom wire off the panels, so that the bottom vertical pieces form lots of little “stakes” to help secure the panels. We make sure that the ends of the panels are trimmed off, so no one can get caught or scraped.

Next, stick the panels in on either side of your tomatoes at an angle and then drive rebar into the soil, outside of the panels. Make sure the rebar is firmly in place, because it is the primary support for your structure and will hold everything together under high winds and heavy tomato loads. Tie the rebar securely to the panels with the twine.

Finally, string twine in a zig-zag pattern through the middle and top of the wire panels. These layers will help support the plants and fruit as they grow up through the cages.

At the end of the year, the cages are quick and easy to disassemble and store. We use a smaller version of these cages for peppers and eggplants and single panels of the same wire for climbing plants like peas and cucumbers.

Happy gardening!

Tomatoes overwhelming our cages on right.  Photo courtesy of Robin Bachtler Cushman.
Tomatoes overflowing our strong cages on right. Photo courtesy of Robin Bachtler Cushman.


New portfolio photos – June 09 June 6, 2009

Filed under: garden design,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 3:59 am
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Here’s a preview of the new photos we’re about to add to our portfolio….






Spring Veggies June 3, 2009

Filed under: our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 5:14 pm

IMG_2203I love planting our veggie garden. It’s hard to believe that tiny seeds and transplants will produce so much beautiful food! Two photos from this morning and one from last fall. IMG_2205