Mosaic Gardens Journal

news, photos and inspiration

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



Dog Gardens and Catios June 26, 2010

Filed under: garden design — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 4:00 am
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Moso & Faro sunning in the main garden

Like many of you, we love our garden and we love our pets, two big mutts, Moso & Faro, and we know that it can be hard to find the right balance between freedom for the dogs and a tidy, happy garden.  When designing spaces for other dog-lovers, we sometimes include a separate fenced area for the pooches.  The separate area to romp and… take care of other business… keeps the dogs contained and the plants free from pee-burn, trampling and munching (even well-behaved dogs *love* ornamental grasses).  There’s no reason to give up on good design in a dog area, however.  Our dog run doubles as an orchard, and we grow grapes on the bull wire fence that separates the space from the veggie garden.  The pea gravel is easy to clean, and it doesn’t track in on wet paws.

So far, we’ve only designed “dog gardens,” but judging from this New York Times article and slide show, we may get a chance to design a “catio” one day.  We find some of the enclosures in the photos a little aesthetically overwhelming, but we’re sure that there are more subtle options.  While the article focuses on the benefits for the cats, there are advantages for birds and other native wildlife, as well.

What do you think?

Our orchard & dog garden

For the Birds June 6, 2010

Filed under: garden design,our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 5:11 pm
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Cedar waxwings on our Kniphofia northiae flowers

Some of our favorite garden visitors are birds.  The garden moves with their hopping, fluttering and bathing and their songs and twitters are a soundtrack for our work.  Part of the fun of watching birds is that you never quite know what they’ll do next.  Yesterday, Buell saw a jay dive into our stock tank pond and paddle around, hop out for a moment and then do it again!  Kniphofias are usually a hummingbird thing, but two years ago, waxwings mobbed our Kniphofia northiae flowers.

There are a few plants that bring birds back year after year.  Many of them are well known, but here are three of our favorites that may not make the common lists.

  • Sambucus – Our ‘Black Beauty’ flowers and fruits reliably, and is absolutely covered in waxwings when the berries are ripe.
  • Eccremocarpus is a red-flowered vine that is a hummingbird magnet.  We can work and watch just a few feet from the vine in our veggie garden, and the hummers are too happy to mind.  If you thin the seed pods, you’ll find that the vine flowers through the entire growing season (if you don’t, you may find a few baby vines spread around your garden…)
  • Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ proves that hummingbirds aren’t complete color snobs.  Its deep blue flowers vibrate with hummingbirds throughout the summer.  Interestingly, we’ve found that while newer plants will die in a hard freeze their first winter or two, established plants survived even last year’s serious cold snap.

A last word on birds: our native bird populations are dwindling, particularly the species that forage on or near the ground.  There are many, many reasons for this, and there are many ways to help.  Planting bird-friendly gardens and using few or no pesticides (organics first, please) are a great start.  As far as the birds are concerned, the more bugs the better!  Another thing you can do is to bell your cat or find another way to minimize their bird kills.  We love cats, but a few of they are not native to our area and the native birds have not evolved the tricks to escape their efficient hunting.  We also minimize cat (and raccoon!) traffic in our garden by netting off their favorite pathways and blocking off the gaps under our fence.


Winter freeze postmortem May 2, 2010

Filed under: our garden — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 9:26 pm
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Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy' died in our warm garden, but is thriving in others!

Oregon had quite a freeze this winter!  Temperatures in most areas fell into the single digits, and the cold took its toll on our gardens.  Although we certainly lost some plants, others were tougher than expected, and a few are starting to sprout from the roots only now.  We suspect a few more may peek out before all is said and done.  Below are just a few notes from our observations.

One of the great mysteries of gardening is how a plant can survive one place, but not another.  Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ is emerging vigorously in an in-town garden and a garden off of Dillard Rd, but it is completely gone in our garden.  It was in a perfect, well-drained spot.  We’re thoroughly baffled, and planning to replant, but we’ll miss the big show this summer.

All Phormium were lost.  Last winter, many suffered or died due to cold, but I don’t know of any that survived this year.

We love bronze Carex, although most have a shortish attractive life span, even in mild climates.  This winter, we lost almost all bronze Carex in our garden and our clients gardens.  One notable exception was a well established mass of C. flagillifera that survived, looking great, in a cold garden in the south hills.

Many Miscanthus (maiden grasses) took a hit, especially those in newer plantings.  We’re trying to find further rhyme or reason for which lived and which died, but so far have not had much success.  In some cases, the failures were in a grouping of otherwise fine plants!

Most Gunnera froze back to the roots, but seem to be sprouting… slowly.  Given the mature size of Gunnera, we’re not sure that starting over is a bad thing.

Kniphofia were another mixed bag.  K. northiae froze to the roots, but seems to be creeping back in most cases.  Other varieties are hit and miss, with a higher percentage of misses among less established plants.

We had little hope for the Agapanthus in our gardens, but a few did pretty well.  Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’ survived reasonably well, but ‘Ellamae’ was a complete loss.

Here’s an interesting one – Salvia g. ‘Black and Blue’ does not survive most winters…. *but* the few that have managed to become established are quite alive and well this spring.

Phlomis russeliana

Phlomis russeliana seems a-o.k. everywhere.  P. italica and P. fruticosa were knocked back pretty hard, but survived.  We expect that the pretty, but tender P. lanata is lost again.

Many Ceanothus were just on the line… the ones in warmer areas made it reasonably well, while the more tender varieties suffered in the cooler hills.

Our shade plants seemed to be in great shape, overall, even those that are supposedly in the same USDA zone as sun plants that perished.

Two of our favorite evergreen shrubs, Viburnum awabuki and Trochodendron arailoides hardly missed a beat.

I don’t think we lost a single clump of bamboo (mainly from the genera Phyllostachys and Fargesia).

Herbs: At least some upright rosemary seemed to weather the cold fairly well where almost all prostrate rosemary are goners.  Too bad, as we prefer the prostrate for cooking!  We lost our thyme, but the sage, oregano and even bay (!) survived.

Vegetables: The kale and carrots have provided us some wonderful overwintered veggies, and our garlic is going strong, but the broccoli is long gone and our cover crop of small-seeded favas are nowhere to be seen.

Of course, there are a host of plants that seemed to almost thrive this winter, but those are the notes that leap to mind.  The only overall lesson that is obvious at the moment is the improved hardiness of established plants.  Now, if we could only figure out how to know if it will be a hard winter….  ; )

If we think of more losses and surprising survivors worth a mention, we’ll add them to this post.  Of course, if you have any additions or comments, we’d love to read them!


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.


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


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.


Veg out! May 21, 2009

Filed under: friends,our garden,photos — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 5:17 pm
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One of Robin's beautiful market photos!

Just a quick note to announce the photography exhibition of our friend, Robin Bachtler Cushman! Robin is one of four local photographers whose work will be featured in “Markets,” a show celebrating farmer’s markets in Eugene and around the world.

Stop by the David Joyce Gallery on the LCC main campus – Building 19, 2nd floor. Map at The opening is tonight from 5-6:30, but the show will be up until September 21.

Robin was the first photographer to shoot our garden, and we love her work. We hope you’ll find time to see the show (and check out Robin’s cool website).ig



Our veggie garden in 2004, as seen through the lens of Robin Bachtler Cushman