Mosaic Gardens Journal

news, photos and inspiration

Harvest Season – Mosaic Newsletter #5 August 31, 2009

Filed under: friends,garden design,Newsletter,our garden,photos,Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 9:15 pm
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Fall harvestOur fall harvest

We love the harvest season! Of course, we treasure each broccoli floret and baby carrot of spring, but there’s nothing like bringing armloads of fresh summer and fall veggies to the kitchen. In honor of this season’s bounty, we’re sharing a few design ideas for vegetable gardens and some of the resources that help us grow beautiful food.

Before we get started, we should mention that Joy Gregory’s garden is catching some notice on It’s the first garden in an online article about lawn-less front gardens. Cool!

Beautiful Edibles

The primary goal of veggie gardening is buckets of produce, of course, but many of us work hard to make our outdoor spaces beautiful, and see no reason to stop with the ornamental garden. The character and requirements of the plants present a few challenges, however, which is where good design comes in.

All vegetables have their moments of glory, but planted perfection is rare in a veggie garden. There is almost always an empty patch or browning leaves or something digging up the baby spinach or something chewing on the broccoli foliage…. not to mention the considerations of crop rotation, adequate spacing and cultivation. Without carefully layered, full plantings to fall back on, structure and hardscape design are paramount.

River rock borders frame the water feature at the heart of our veggie garden.

River rock borders frame the water feature at the heart of our veggie garden.

At first glance, the geometric structure required by the way most of us garden (rows of vegetables in rectangular or rectangular-ish raised beds, surrounded by straight paths) may seem limited, but a little thought and creativity offers a range of solutions and feelings from formal and sculptural to whimsical. We consider the necessary rectangular forms and pathways a jumping off point for design, rather than a limitation. Once we’ve got the basic form in mind, we consider materials for borders or retaining. Stone, metal, and wood all present a variety options for finishing the structure of a garden.

We planted our first veggies before the rest of the garden was complete.

We planted our first veggies before the rest of the garden was complete.

In our garden, the best space for the veggie garden was in a lower, sunny corner of our property. The straight lines of the paths and circular “roundabout” continue the overall design of the ornamental garden, and the pea gravel paths and surrounding corrugated, galvanized fence emphasize an overall continuity of materials. Rather than continuing to use the rough, straight edged basalt that forms the borders, walls and stairs of our ornamental garden, however, we bordered our raised beds in large, round river rock. The river rock softens the lines of the veggie garden, and playfully frames the herbs, strawberries and other low plants that spill over the borders. The aesthetic center of our veggie garden is the Vietnamese urn water feature at the intersection of our main paths. The urn is visible from the upper garden and punctuates the long axis of our narrow space. The circular space around the urn cuts into the straight lines of our raised beds, at once playing off of and playing with the surrounding, mostly rectangular, geometry.

Our space reflects our desires and priorities (cohesiveness of design and maximizing usable space, among others). The veggie gardens we have created for clients vary with their goals. One client was a busy mother with a strong design sense. She wanted to involve her young boys in growing some food, but she was more interested in having a “sculptural” garden that was easy for her and the boys to work than in maximizing planting space that she would not have time to maintain. We built three long, narrow, rectangular raised beds from dry stack basalt. Their unusual forms look great even in winter, and grow gorgeous peppers and other heat-loving crops in the summer.

These long, narrow raised beds are perfect for our client who wanted a small, sculptural garden to work with her sons.

These long, narrow raised beds are perfect for our client who wanted a small, sculptural garden to work with her sons.

A simple, portable ipe and steel framed veggie box

A simple, portable ipe and steel framed veggie box

Another client wanted a simple, contemporary box for their veggies. The catch was their request for a portable design they could take with them if they moved. We bolted ipe (a sustainably forested tropical hardwood) to rusting metal corners, which extended below the wood and doubled as stakes to hold the box in place.

There are so many more ideas and materials to try, and we love the challenges and rewards in designing vegetable gardens. Just the ideas for retaining (vertical flagstone, rusting metal, how about a mini-gabion wall?) seem endless. Each space and lifestyle offers challenges and inspiration for design well outside the ubiquitous cedar box.

iA Little Help

We love growing food. Our veggie garden and orchard take a third or so of our usable garden space, and we dream of having more space to grow all of the things that we can’t cram into our little property (brussels sprouts! pumpkins!). That said, our expertise is in landscape design and construction, not in producing food, and what success we have in growing fruits and vegetables is due in large part to research and strategic questioning of farmers and home gardeners many times more experienced and knowledgeable than we are. Below are a few of our favorite resources. We’d love to hear about yours!

One of Robin's photos of the farmer's market

One of Robin's photos of the farmer's market

  • The Lane County Farmer’s Market and other local farmer’s markets – Local farmers know what, when, where and how to plant, cultivate and harvest, and most of them are generous with advice. Two of our favorite farmers at the market are Grateful Harvest and Ruby and Amber’s (they cultivate by horse power!). The market is also the place to buy starts in the spring – try Ruby and Amber’s tomato starts next year….
  • Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Salomon – Everything from planting calendars to best varieties for our area…. This is the Willamette Valley veggie geek’s best friend. It has awfully high expectations for those of us on smaller lots, and we would quibble with a few particulars, but our copy is dirt smudged and dog-eared for a reason.
  • Territorial Seed Company – Seeds and starts grown in Oregon, with many organic options available. One of our greatest early season joys is the March delivery of the year’s seeds.
  • The Oregon State Extension service – lots of information on fruits, vegetables, pests, and regional differences. We just found this cool pdf with information and planting calendars for different regions of the state.
  • Robin Bachtler Cushman’s photographs are terrific inspiration. She chronicles our local farms and vegetable gardens. If you happen to be on the LCC campus before September 21, her work is part of a show, “Markets,” at the David Joyce Gallery.

These are just a handful of the terrific local and regional resources, including many exceptional home gardeners who are happy to share their experience and advice with the rest of us.

Thanks for keeping up with us! Fall is a wonderful time to be outside, and we hope the next month brings plenty of beautiful weather for gardening and other adventures.


Rebecca & Buell


Check out the Gregory garden at August 27, 2009

Filed under: friends,News — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 1:55 am
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Gregory Meadow

Joy Gregory’s garden is on the first page of a article about lawn-free front yards! Cool, hunh?

If you’d like to learn more about the Gregory garden, check out our first newsletter and some fun articles about the space on our press page.

Check back soon – the next newsletter is in process and should be up tomorrow or Friday. [Edit:  Make that this weekend!  Site work took most of our time for the week, but we should have time to wrap up the newsletter in the next couple of days.  Thanks for staying tuned….]


Tough plants August 19, 2009

Filed under: our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 9:22 pm
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Hi there! We’ve been working long hours in the field, but we’re hoping the next few weeks should bring more pictures and ideas to the journal. With the hot weather (again!) this week, it seems like a great time to share a few observations about reducing our summer irrigation.

We’ve irrigated less frequently this summer than in previous years. This summer, our irrigation system runs every 6 days most of the time, with an extra cycle on the weeks when temps are above 95. While some of our plants show signs of stress, quite a few seem to tolerate dryer conditions quite well. Below are a few notes from our experience that may help you in planning or expanding your lower-water-use garden. We’ve linked to images for a few of the plants worth noting.

Eucomus 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Eucomus 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Among the toughest sun perennials are some plants with tuberous or bulbing roots, like our Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (pictured at left), lillies, and dahlias. I’m sure they would all suffer with no water, but it seems like they could handle even less frequent irrigation…. The Kniphofias (torch lillies) are beautiful, too, and our Molinia ‘variegata’ looks so terrific that it is our new favorite ornamental grass.

Among larger plants, most of our conifers have held up well, although a few, like our Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ burned during the hottest weather. On the whole, “shrubby” plants like Cotinus, Sambucus, and Rhododendron have held up well, although the gold foliaged shrubs look a little scalded. The Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ may be one of the bigger surprises, as it wilts readily when first planted, but seems to handle much drier conditions once established.

In the shade garden, many of our ferns seem hardly to have missed a beat. As a very loose rule of thumb, the ferns with glossier, sturdier looking fronds seem to tolerate the dryer conditions better than the more delicate ferns. The Helleborus hybrids are holding up quite well. They seem to droop a little towards the end of the dry period, but perk up with each watering. Two standout drought-tolerant shade plants are our Bletilla striata ‘Alba’ – a lovely terrestrial orchid with a long, pin-striped leaf – and the white variegated Eleutherococcus (used to be Acanthopanax) that we got from Roger Gossler. It seems like they could not care less!

We haven’t lost many plants, but quite a few aren’t as attractive as they would be with more water. Heucheras, astrantias, and rodgersias all show signs of drought stress, but we expect them to bounce back over the winter. If we decide to further reduce our irrigation frequency next year, a few of them may have to find new homes….

For what it’s worth, there are many gardens that use much less water than ours. We didn’t set out to create a drought tolerant garden (what we *did* set out to create is another post entirely), but we hope that our experience with lowering water use in our little space may help a few people plan or edit their own gardens to achieve a graceful balance of resource-consciousness and beauty.

Hope your gardens are faring well!


Lillium! August 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 6:24 pm

Lillies are beautiful, easy splashes of summer color. Their only drawback is the difficulty of finding a good selection. Our favorite source for bulbs in the fall is Buggy Crazy at the Saturday Market. They grow everything from our native tiger lily to gorgeous, HUGE Asiatics. Keep an eye out this fall for their carefully cultivated and hand selected bulbs.

Want to learn more about growing lillies in our area or Buggy Crazy? Lucky for us, our dear friend Rachel Foster wrote a terrific article for last fall’s Eugene Weekly!

A few photos from our garden to kick start your fall planning: