Mosaic Gardens Journal

news, photos and inspiration

The Mosaic Gardens Journal has Moved! August 12, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 9:56 pm

We are delighted to reboot the journal as part of our redesigned website!  Please visit to see the site and to keep an eye on the latest Mosaic news, landscaping ideas and project photos.  Thanks for visiting and see you there.

Rebecca and Buell


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.


Grateful for Gosslers November 29, 2009

Filed under: friends,Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 6:44 am
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Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday for many reasons, from time with loved ones to mountains of mashed potatoes. In addition to our gratitude for our foundation of good health, family and friends, we are thankful for our creative, trying, engaging, intricate, brute force, dirty, rewarding, nitpicky, joyful work of building gardens. So many people, from our wonderful clients to the nice folks who deliver our soil, make Mosaic possible. In honor of the season, we’d like to highlight one nursery that has been a source of support, information and, of course, plants since we started planting in Oregon.

Roger, Marj and Eric of Gossler Farms Nursery are Renaissance plantspeople. They know something about almost every plant we can grow in the PNW, (as well as quite a few that we cannot), and they have forgotten more than most of us will ever know about Magnolias and deciduous shrubs. We discover new plants every time we walk through their greenhouses, and rely heavily on their detailed knowledge of each variety’s habits and cultivation. Thanks to their mail order prowess, they’ve even selected and shipped plants to our mothers on the East Coast (Hi Moms!). Our moms were thrilled and the plants are still thriving.

If that weren’t enough, they’ve now published a beautiful book, The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs, which features well-researched, insightful, amusing text, terrific photos, and one of our absolute favorite plants. This plant is gorgeous, rare, and an absolute showstopper throughout the growing season. Intrigued? You can buy a copy online, or better yet, get a signed copy and some personalized advice at the nursery. The plant is discussed and beautifully photographed on pages 58-61.

We hope you’ll take the time to read the book, stroll through the nursery, or order a couple of plants for your mom. If nothing else, don’t forget to thank the Gosslers and other great plantspeople for sharing their passion and knowledge with all of us.

Last, but not least, thanks so much for keeping up with us. As you may have noticed, our journal writing has slowed down this fall We’re taking a much-needed break right now, but will return in a few weeks with an idea that we hope will keep the journal moving through the shorter days.

Rebecca & Buell


Allium October 26, 2009

Filed under: Deer,Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 11:27 pm
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AlliumFor those of you who are already (or always) thinking about next year’s garden, there’s still time to plant Allium bulbs – ornamental relatives of onions and garlic – in your sunny beds. The flowers of the most common ornamental Alliums are a whimsical, spherical burst of pink, lavender or white at the top of a tall stalk, but there are low varieties with gorgeous foliage, as well as bizarre starburst and hairy flowers for those of us who can never have enough weird plants. Alliums show their stuff right after the big spring show and before the summer flowers are in full swing.

We love to tuck Allium bulbs in small spaces between plants. You only notice them at their best, and they seem to disappear after they are deadheaded. A dozen or more look terrific sweeping above and through lower plantings.

If that’s not enough to inspire you, Alliums are deer resistant, drought tolerant and make great cut fresh or dried floral arrangements. Cool!

Take a moment to gain a little additional inspiration from the Google images pages, and add a few Alliums to your fall garden to-do list!


Sit. Stay. Mosaic Newsletter #6 October 14, 2009

Filed under: garden design,Newsletter,photos,Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 10:44 pm
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Happy fall! The weather switch has flipped, and the days are growing shorter. It’s a perfect time to consider garden goals for next year, and in this newsletter, our last for the year, we’ll share a few ideas for creating a well-used and well-loved seating area. A little time measuring and drawing now, with plenty of time to ponder, may help you build your own beautiful outdoor room by next summer.

When sketching our first concepts for a space, we often start by pondering the location and design of seating areas. Of course, each element influences the others, but outdoor rooms for entertaining, eating or just relaxing are the heart of many gardens. Below are a few rules of thumb to help you design your perfect seating area.

A courtyard dining room, just outside the kitchen, maximizes human space while maintaining a little distance from the neighbor's cedar fence.

A courtyard dining room, just outside the kitchen, maximizes human space while maintaining a little distance from the neighbor's cedar fence.

Function is key to a successful, well-used seating area. From beginning to end of your design process, return to the questions of how you will use the space. Do you want an intimate dining room for two to four, an area to barbecue with a crowd, or a cozy nook for meditation? Have you chosen materials that will make the space easy to use and care for? Great design matches form to function, and focusing on your practical goals for a space will answer more questions than any article could.

The cantilevered ipe bench in the right size of this photo is a private, shady spot to relax.

The ipe bench on the right side of this photo is a private, shady spot to relax.

Location, location, location. Consider how the area will relate to the house and the rest of the garden. Areas for eating and entertaining are best located with easy access to the kitchen. If you think about how many trips you take to and from the table before and during a dinner party, suddenly the cozy, shady spot at the back of the property seems like a long way away. Conversely, a short journey through the garden and a little privacy can make a quiet bench seem like a world of its own. In any space, a great view of the rest of the garden (or the greater landscape, if you’re that lucky) is always an asset.

Fit the size of a seating area to its function. Even a modest dining area, for instance, needs room for table, chairs, and a comfortable flow of traffic. Likewise, a quiet spot for a couple to enjoy the sunset should be small enough to feel intimate, but with enough space to not feel overgrown or cramped. These are simple concepts, but they can be overlooked in a challenging space. In the courtyard garden pictured at the beginning of this article, we transformed a tight, rarely used space, hemmed in by the house, the neighbor’s fence and a thick laurel hedge, into an outdoor dining room. We had to be creative with other aspects of our design, from planting in narrow beds to screening for privacy, but making room for people came first. The stone patio is the perfect spot for an al fresco dinner for four, with room to serve and mingle.

The ipe deck is our most used garden room.

The ipe deck is our most used garden room.

Think outside, around and through the box. It can take time and lots of creative thought to discover a solution beyond obvious, flawed options. When we moved into our house, there was no good location for an outdoor dining area. Every obvious place was too exposed to the street or too out of the way. We weren’t willing to settle however, and after what seemed like ages, we came up with the idea of adding a sliding glass door off of our bedroom onto a house-level ipe deck. The deck is such a success that we hardly eat indoors in the summer. Don’t give up when finding the perfect location or layout takes a little head scratching or a minor remodel!

Consider the desired “feeling” of your space.
A warm, open space with a view over the garden feels very different than a cozy, shady corner. Surrounding plants and hardscape will strongly influence the ultimate feeling your seating area, but the unchangeable conditions of a space, such as exposure and elevation relative to the house and the rest of the garden color its character.

We used a rusting steel wall and plantings to separate and screen the Gregory garden's seating area from the neighbors.

We used a rusting steel wall and plantings to separate and screen the Gregory garden's seating area from the neighbors.

Mind the edges. When possible, leave at least a narrow layer of surrounding plantings between a seating area and the nearest fence, hedge or property line. The aesthetic softness will make a seating area feel more comfortable and part of the garden. When that is not a possibility, as in the Gregory garden at right, creative selection of screening materials makes all the difference.

Materials matter. There are many options for the “floor” of a seating area, and no one option is right for every circumstance. Pea gravel can be a soft, cohesive, inexpensive solution, but it requires regular maintenance and is rarely the right choice for a dining area where chairs will displace the gravel each time they are moved. Well-laid flagstone can be a beautiful, solid surface for a dining area, but may be overkill for a simple bench.

A custom metal bench anchors one end of this simple, pea gravel terrace.

A custom metal bench anchors one end of this simple, pea gravel terrace.

Finishing touches.
When you have created your beautiful space in the perfect spot, treat yourself to some good looking furniture. Sometimes a great seating area is rarely used, just because there is is not a comfortable, attractive place to sit. We sometimes design furniture to fit one of our gardens, but there are many fun options, from retail to resale to repainting an old chair a fun new color.

Thanks for keeping up with us! We hope you enjoy all of your fall adventures in and out of the garden. We look forward to checking in on the journal and in our next (spring 2010!) newsletter.


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


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:





water saving advice July 3, 2009

Filed under: photos,Uncategorized — Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens @ 2:40 am
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It’s hot! Or hot for Oregon, anyway…. As native Southerners (Suthnurs), we’ve seen hotter temperatures, but we still can’t help but feel the heat of those first days above 90 degrees.

The plants are feeling the heat, too, and on these warm summer afternoons, many of them look a little wilty or dry. Before you pull out the hose or turn up the irrigation, take a moment to read a few short and long term tips for reducing water usage. It’s easy to water, and especially easy for experienced gardeners (ourselves very much included) to fall into old habits. Below are a few short and long term water-saving ideas. We welcome your ideas in the comments!

Buell watered his Austin, Texas garden once a month.  Photo from 2001

Buell watered his Austin, Texas garden once a month. Photo from 2001

  1. Short-term: Don’t water every wilty plant! Especially in the first hot days of the year, some plants wilt in the warm afternoons, but bounce right back when the temperatures drop.  Check the soil around dry looking plants for moisture – not just at the top, but feel around a couple inches below the surface.
  2. Short-term: Water at night or in the very early morning when humidity is high and evaporation rates are low.
  3. Short-term: Don’t “set it and forget it.” Irrigation systems can be a great part of reducing water usage, but it’s very easy to set a schedule and not think about it again. Turn the cycle down or off in cooler periods and up in warmer periods, rather than setting it to water as often as “might” be needed.
  4. Long-term: Mulch at least once a year. Mulch feeds the plants as it breaks down, looks great, insulates roots and reduces evaporation from the soil. We love the Garden Compost from Lane Forest Products.
  5. Long-term: Plant for your desired watering schedule. One or two thirsty plants can mean that a whole bed of hardier plants get more water than they need. Buell reduced his Austin, Texas garden to a once-a-month (yes, month) watering schedule by letting his watering schedule guide his plantings, rather than the other way around.

There are lots more tips and ideas out there, but these are a few easy ideas that we revisit every summer.

Stay cool!


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!