Mosaic Gardens Journal

news, photos and inspiration

Plant Sales – Saturday, May 8 April 27, 2010

Filed under: events,friends,News — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 4:18 pm
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Make a date with your mom or your best plant buddy!  Eugene’s two biggest, baddest plant sales are coming on May 8.  Both sales will have an incredible selection of plants from fantastic nurseries.  The best plants go fast, so arrive early and work fast!  Click on the links for more information.

The Oregon Plant Fair, hosted by the Avid Gardeners, takes place at Alton Baker Park

The Willamette Valley Hardy Plant Sale will be held at the Lane County Fairgrounds

Sadly, this is our last chance to buy the exquisite plants grown by Hedgerows Nursery, from McMinnville.  David and Susie are moving “back east,” and will be sorely missed.  They have provided us with some of the best, boldest and weirdest plants in our garden.  They’ll have a table at the WVHPG sale but you’ll have to arrive early to get the best selection….


More Spring Cleaning – Food for Thought April 24, 2010

Filed under: garden design,our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 6:18 pm
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Broccoli seedlings in our garden this morning.

In our most recent newsletter, we promised to offer ideas to make gardening more fulfilling.  For us, nothing is more fulfilling than bringing in the harvest from our orchard and veggie garden.  The size of the harvest – buckets of apples or a handful of fresh herbs – isn’t as important as the connection to our garden and our food (although the food itself ain’t bad).  We talked about designing veggie gardens in an earlier newsletter, but not everyone has the time, sunny space or inclination to devote to a full-on orchard or veggie garden.  Whether you’re a serious veggie gardener or an aspiring gardener in an apartment, here are a few ideas for incorporating food into busy lives and small spaces.

Herbs – Anyone with sun can grow culinary herbs, many of which are pretty ornamentals.  Trailing rosemary and thyme can spill over borders, walls or the edge of a container, and other herbs, like upright rosemary can be sheared into cones or other shapes.  Bay is an attractive broad-leafed “foundation” for an herb or veggie planting (ours even survived the single digit temps!).  Consider foliage texture and color in placing your herbs, and you may find that your herb garden is a year-round beautiful corner of your garden.

Alliums – One difficulty with growing vegetables and fruits is that so many are high-maintenance plants.  The little divas want to be staked, watered, thinned, and otherwise coddled more often than many busy people can handle.  Alliums, such as garlic and onions, on the other hand, are low-key, low-maintenance, and low-water.  They only require attention two or three times a year, and they rarely or never need additional water.  They can be harvested throughout the season and dried, letting all of your “hard work” last into the winter!  (Question – Has anyone planted edible alliums around deer?  We know ornamental alliums are rarely, if ever, browsed by deer, and we’ve heard that edible alliums are often ignored as well.  What’s your experience?).

Artichokes and cardoons make dramatic container plants.

Containers – Some veggies and fruits make beautiful container plantings.  The striking silver foliage of artichokes and cardoons, for instance, are beautiful with annuals (as in the photo at right) or with trailing herbs, nasturtiums and purple basil.  If your sun or space limit you to a container veggie garden, consider arranging your pots with an eye towards foliage combination, and perhaps add a few low herbs or annuals to spill over the edges.  One of our friends had a container veggie garden on the deck of her second floor apartment.  With peas climbing the railing and lettuce in hanging baskets, she packed a lot of food and beauty into a tiny space.

Thanks for reading!  We hope you’re enjoying your gardening (veggie and otherwise) and the nice weather.  We’ll be back with a post-mortem from the hard winter freeze and another spring cleaning idea.


Ron Lutsko – rainy day inspiration April 20, 2010

Filed under: garden design — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 7:45 pm
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A drought tolerant planting by Ron Lutsko. Photo by Marion Brenner.

We often turn to our favorite designers for inspiration.  We discovered the work of Ron Lutsko in Page Dickey’s amazing book, Breaking Ground.  If you’ve ever visited the wonderful California Native Plants Garden in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, you have walked through his work.  His studio is known for creating projects that balance clean lines in hardscape with flowing, drought tolerant and native plantings.  A few minutes spent browsing their website reminds us of the importance and potential of simplicity.


More Spring Cleaning – Tools of the Trade April 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 2:23 am
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Good tools can make developing a garden a joy, rather than a chore.  Through years of work in gardens, we’ve developed our ideal tool box, as well as some strong opinions.  It seems like sharing some of our favorite tools, as well as some tool-keeping advice is a great follow-up to the last newsletter’s ideas for improving not just your garden, but your gardening.

Before we get into lists and suggestions, we should stress that the most important part of selecting tools is how they feel to you.  Take the time to handle the tools and move them more or less in the way that they will be used.  The best tools for you will feel balanced, comfortable and relatively light in your hands.  A heavy, unbalanced tool will cause you more fatigue in repetitive tasks, which means the job will take longer and be less fun.

A few of our favorite long-handled tools

Long handled tools

The shovels, rakes and implements of destruction at right are just a few of our favorite long-handled tools.  We have selected each one for its dedicated use, hand feel and sturdiness (given proper use – more on that in a moment).  We find that wood handles offer the best balance of comfort and durability for our home gardening.

Note that the t-handled tools in the photo are not for the sort of multi-taskers who are likely to pry at rocks or stubborn roots with whatever tool is most handy.  They are perfect for their jobs, but they will break under improper stress.  If you’re a pry-er, look for indestructible versions.

  • Sharp-shooters / perennial spades – these are from De Wit, and we know of no better tool for planting perennials.
  • Pointed shovel – nothing special, other than careful attention to hand feel
  • Wire rake – gentle on plants, excellent for raking gravel
  • Compost fork – perfect tool for moving loose mulch or compost into a wheelbarrow (something we’ve done a lot of lately).  Note that is quite different from a digging fork.
  • Flat shovel – for scooping soil, the edges of the mulch pile, and other loose material.

**Special request – if anyone finds this (exact) compost fork or flat shovel, please let us know!  We have other versions, but these are our favorites.

Small tools

Smaller tools should be just as tough as your larger tools, so choose wisely.  Our small tools get many, many “miles” in a year, but we can’t recall replacing any of them.  And, just in case it’s not obvious, we never use power cutting or hedging tools to shape or prune plants.

  • Pruners – or secateurs, if you’re an Anglophile. Almost every great gardener we know uses Felcos, and we’re no exception.  Be sure to try a couple of styles.  Both of us find the F-6 style, for smaller hands, to be the most comfortable.
  • Loppers – those giant, long handled pruning tools are great for bigger branches.

    A very useful tool with a silly name

  • Shears/hedge trimmers – for shaping shrubs, conifers and anything that benefits from a haircut here and there.  Can also be handy in cutting back grasses and perennials.
  • Saws – we have a selection of smaller hand saws with different blades and handles.
  • This little pointy thing – pictured at right.  The F20 Dutch Perennial Planter, also from De Wit, is unbelievably useful for weeding and planting small perennials and annuals.

Other handy tools

Of course, the list goes on and on, but there are a couple of other tools that we use too often not to mention.

  • Wheelbarrow – not all wheelbarrows are created alike.  Look for a wheelbarrow that’s light enough to maneuver easily or even lift, and small enough to weave in and out of plants in a bed.  Most wheelbarrows are too big and heavy to be useful for many tasks.  If the frame allows you to move over ledges or stairs, all the better!
  • Gloves – we’re big fans of Nitrile garden gloves.  Before we found these, we had to remove our gloves for weeding or other tasks that require good hand feel.  Now we can weed and even tie knots with our gloves on!  They’re available almost everywhere and they can handle several trips through the wash.
  • 5 gallon buckets – the perfect size for toting materials in and out of tight spaces in the garden.  Unlike larger containers, you don’t have to leave them in the paths, while you run in and out of the beds.

Care and feeding

The right tools are a wonderful asset, and with a little TLC, they will perform beautifully for years, if not decades.

  • Sharpen!!! – *the* most overlooked, easy-to-fix issue most gardeners have.  Not just your cutting tools, but your shovels and sharpshooters will dramatically benefit from a regular sharpening.  We run an angle grinder with a metal blade across them several times a year (at about a 45 degree angle).  A good blade on your pruners or your shovel, will make old tools work like new again.  This is so important, we’re putting it in red. ; )
  • Keep them dry – nothing kills tools, especially hinged tools, faster than being left out in the rain.
  • Oil the hinged tools – a little WD40 will make those old Felcos feel like a million bucks.

We hope these ideas will help you make the best of your gardening toolbox, and, in turn, make gardening a little more productive and fun this year.


Arizona Spring April 10, 2010

Filed under: friends,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 12:11 am

Our friends, David and Ginger Starck just sent pictures of their young “winter” garden in Yuma and some beautiful desert wildflowers, and we thought we’d share!  Gorgeous, hunh?

These two are great gardeners…. Their wonderful, rambling “summer” garden near Creswell deserves a post of its own – maybe this summer when we’re all wishing our garden were as cool and shady as theirs.  For now, you can get a taste here (and if anyone can find a link to the terrific Oregonian article, please send it!).


Spring Cleaning – Mosaic Newsletter #7 April 7, 2010

Filed under: Newsletter,our garden,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 12:19 am
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Happy Spring!

The weather can’t seem to make up its mind right now, which must mean it’s spring….  Clear and warm!  Wind and rain!  Snow in the hills!  Hail and sunshine!  No matter what the weather brings, lengthening days and budding plants draw gardeners outdoors.  Once we’ve caught up with the weeds, pruning and other chores that keep our garden and our clients’ gardens tidy, we turn our minds to improving the spaces.  In this newsletter, we offer a few of the core concepts that help Mosaic develop, rather than just “maintain,” new and existing gardens.   Over the next few weeks, we’ll post more ideas that might improve your garden while making gardening a bit more fulfilling, so check back at the journal!  [Edit: Idea #1 – Tools of the Trade]


The vigorous dark mass of Heuchera to the left of the path...

... was once some puny Euphorbia

For many gardeners, spring brings opportunity to add to their gardens – all those colorful, promising pots at the nursery, a piece of garden art, or that new idea from Sunset.  For us, it’s the perfect moment to subtract.  We look for plants that are overgrown, declining in old age or are just-not-right, and off they go to a new home or the yard debris bin.  One of our greatest design assets is our willingness to start over, on one plant, a whole bed or a whole garden.  There are almost always better solutions waiting to earn their place in a garden.

Subtraction doesn’t need to stop in your planting beds,  Our clients are amazed at how much better their yards look after the demolition phase, when we’ve removed not just non-performing plants, but low borders, unnecessary hardscape, and crumbling garden art.  While “demo” doesn’t need to be extensive, an empty palette is a relief and an opportunity to create a better, simpler, more beautiful space.


Simple planting, simple path, from Buell's work in Austin

“Sometimes you have to think and think to get something simple” – Ron Lutsko

Filling a hole in a bed can feel a little daunting.  In our plantings, we’ve don’t look far for our first ideas.  We consider what plants in that bed, or similar nearby beds, are thriving, and work from there.  Often, we’re able to incorporate and expand on a nearby success story.

In new beds or just filling in, planting in groups of three to forty creates a coherent, rich palette with the added bonus of lower maintenance.  You can create waves of year-round color and texture by selecting the best performing plants for your space.

Beyond planting beds, we believe in simple features and clean, strong lines in the hardscape (a concept that needs its own newsletter or three).  Simplifying the “hard” elements of a garden doesn’t require a complete remodel, however.  Most spaces have elements in which a little simplification would go a long way.  The edges of lawns are one place to consider. Could a straight or curved line make the lawn a simpler, more pleasing shape?  What if you were to cut out that  peninsula of sod, and connect the surrounding beds?

The before and after shots of this deck show the benefits of simplifying lines and removing distracting details

Consider paring down or reorganizing anything that adds clutter to your space.  From pots to garden ornaments, we sometimes just have too much stuff.  Did you know that some good gardens never make it past the magazine editors, because they have too many little distractions in the beds, around the seating areas and everywhere else?  Removing a few things and concentrating others into an higher impact feature will focus attention on the best parts of your garden, rather than distracting from them.  The collection of pots in the photo of our bench, below, “works” because we clustered them together at an important spot.

iMake room for people

The bench on our front porch is one of our favorite spots to enjoy the garden and watch the sunset

We often describe ourselves as a garden design/build company, but we really think of ourselves as creating outdoor spaces for people.  Building a space that lets you, your family and friends spend more time in your garden is our primary goal.  Of course, building a comfortable, human scale space can be a major undertaking, but it can also be as simple as improving a path, so you walk through the garden more often, or adding a bench with a pretty view.  We have many ideas about creating seating areas and other people-friendly spaces, but the fundamentals are simple:

  • Comfort – make sure seats and benches are comfortable, substantial and stable.  Take time to level the seats and their foundation.
  • Breathing room – broad paths and open seating areas are more inviting and don’t get lost in the summer jungle.
  • Quality – do your homework and prep work before laying a path or any hardscape.  Solid footing is vital, as unstable, uneven surfaces can keep people away.

iA little less water goes a long way

This drought tolerant garden was watered once every two weeks in its second summer

When we first planted our garden, we gave our plants a running start with great soil, a little food and plenty of water.  As the plants established good root systems, most showed little stress in hotter, drier periods.  A few plants, however, would wilt and crisp at the tips if we didn’t increase the irrigation.  For awhile, we watered enough to keep those plants, if not happy, then not miserable or dead.  But somehow it didn’t feel right to irrigate an entire garden to accommodate a few plants.

Eventually, we decided to water less frequently.  If an established plant couldn’t handle the drought, it died or found a new home.  Today, our garden is full, diverse and lush, and we’re thrilled to use a little less of a precious resource.

We wrote about using less water in another post, which we hope you’ll read, but the concept is simple.  Most of us water more often than most of our plants require.  Try waiting an extra day or two between watering cycles this summer.  While a few plants will decline, you will probably be surprised at how many plants are up to the challenge.  You may even find that some plants, like ornamental grasses and some conifers, prefer less water.

Thanks for reading!

We hope we’ve offered a little inspiration for your spring cleaning.  Over the next few weeks, we will share a few more ideas for developing your garden, so stay tuned.  If you’re ready for more ideas now, take a look back at our fourth newsletter.  Spring always brings lots of ideas, photos and news, and we look forward to sharing them with you!