Garden ideas: succulents in window boxes

echeveria blooming in window boxes

This is Echeveria ‘Imbricata’ in planter boxes under one of my front windows. Succulents are a great choice for your summer window boxes (or year round window boxes in mild climates like mine). All they need is weekly water and the very occasional cleanup. I wanted a uniform look (and a mass of flowers this time of year), but you can mix succulent types to combine colors and give you some height. Echeveria ‘Imbricata’ is probably my favorite succulent. The rosettes can grow to the size of plates, they can take some shade, hummingbirds love them, and they give you tons of babies. All of these are from a single plant I bought a few years ago.

Here are some large planters with Echeveria and Aeoniums. I love the blue and black tones in the blue planter. The Aeoniums (the black ones) will become tall and branching. If you want to keep them low, just break them off and stick them back in the dirt.

echeveria and aeoniums

Garden design ideas: an entry with a sense of welcome and progression

larnach castle garden

Entering the gardens at Larnach Castle in Dunedin New Zealand. You pass through formal, structured beds and containers, but already you can see the curving path and looser plantings beckoning.

larnach castle garden

Eventually, you make your way back to these very informal perennial gardens.

Garden ideas: gates and passageways

stone gate

Gates, arches, hedges invite you in and at the same time create as sense of depth and mystery, partially obscuring what’s next and making you want to see more. They tell you what’s next is important. They’ll also make your garden seem larger by defining spaces and creating a sense of progression.tall hedges flanking stairs

The top photo is a cottage in Hobart, Tasmania and the bottom photo is at Larnach Castle gardens, Dunedin, New Zealand.

How to plant a cottage garden

cottage garden

A cottage garden in Hobart, Tasmania.

Cottage gardens…

look good in small spaces,

don’t need flawless hardscaping,

have so much going on that no one can tell if your yard is a mess,

don’t leave room for weeds,

look better with variety: if you are one of those people who always leaves the nursery with plants that were not on your list or can’t resist cuttings from your friends, this style is for you


  1. Start with a bit of structure with trees, evergreen shrubs or hedges, and paths or small paved areas for seating.
  2. Keep your paving informal: old bricks set in sand, gravel paths, pavers edged with ground cover
  3. Plant everything: if there is a fence or a pillar, grow a vine up it. If there is a paved area or a gap in the garden, put a pot on it. If there is a window, put a box below it.
  4. Forget the rule about repeating just a few varieties of plants. More is more. And more flowering plants is more.
  5. Use 2 or 3 of the same plant together so they don’t get lost in the mix.
  6. Plant things close together and let them sprawl all over each other.
  7. Fill in with smaller annuals and ground covers. You don’t want to see any dirt!
  8. Grow some herbs and vegetables among the flowers
  9. You need some stuff: bird baths, bird feeders, garden junk, found objects. The more worn the better.
  10. Go traditional (or secondhand midcentury modern) with your garden furniture.
  11. Let plants reseed and grow where they show up.

Tough and beautiful: the gardens at New Zealand’s Larnach Castle

larnach castle garden, new zealand

This is one of the gardens at Larnach Castle in Dunedin, New Zealand – but it could almost be here in Northern California. Everything here is beautiful, tough, low maintenance, and drought tolerant.


  1. Palette: orange, yellow, purple, burgundy, black, silver and green.
  2. Winding crushed stone paths create structure and force garden visitors to slow down and enjoy the gardens.
  3. Place plants slightly closer together than their full size. This gives a lush look and you won’t need to prune.
  4. There is some layering going on here – you can see that the Iris are not blooming yet.
  5. Plants (sorry, I don’t have a full plant list from this garden!): Cordyline, Heuchera, Chocolate cosmos, Cinquefoil (potentilla), Coreopsis, Iris, Asiatic lily, Cineraria senicio, Artemesia, Alstromeria, Geum, Echinacea, Stipa gigantea, Rudebeckia, Podocarpus, Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

larnach castle garden, new zealand

larnach castle garden, new zealand

larnach castle garden, new zealand

Garden ideas: tropical plants in traditional gardens

tropicals in a traditional garden

Tropical plants aren’t just for mediterranean or modern houses. Tropicals can work in any garden setting. The Victorians were passionate about tropical plants and used them in their traditional style gardens to great effect. So much more interesting than a purely tropical garden (which can look a little ‘hotel’ if you’re not careful) or an English style border.

These are all easy to grow in the bay area:

Zantedeschia (calla lily)
Strelitzia (birds of paradise)

Campsis (trumpet vine)


Above is the Larnach Castle garden in Dunedin, New Zealand. Below are two of the cottages at the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.

tropical cottage garden

tropical cottage garden

tropical cottage garden

Garden ideas: how to use art and found objects in the garden

sculpture in the garden

A bull’s head sculpture adds interest to a lush border. Below, a bright orange chair punctuates the end of a fern garden path. Both of these photos are of the Larnach Castle gardens in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Fern path

A single, special object can have the biggest impact. Try a piece you love in the place of an accent or structure plant, or to fill a blank spot. Or paint an old chair, trellis, or gate in your favorite color or one of the colors in your garden scheme.

If you like a more-is-more approach: here’s an artist’s garden packed with art and found objects.

Curb appeal: ideas for sidewalk gardens

sidewalk garden

Think of sidewalk gardens as a public service. You’ll be making your garden more beautiful for everyone in your neighborhood (and everyone who passes through), helping the environment (more habitat for birds and insects and sidewalk gardens decrease run off), and increasing property values. This is where you use your toughest plants. Don’t be afraid to keep things simple: massed plantings are easier and always look great.

Alstromeria and shasta daisies soften a fence which is transparent to let the green of the hedges come through (above).

Daylilies and salvia.

sidewalk garden

A garden wall softened with vines and low shrubs.

sidewalk garden

Maples underplanted with blue oat grass.

sidewalk garden

A mediterranean garden

mediterranean garden

Low maintenance, drought tolerant, stunning plants: what’s not to love about a Mediterranean garden?


  1. What’s growing: Honey Bush (Melianthus major), Pheasant’s Tail Grass (Stipa arundinacea), Giant Burmese Honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandiana), Goldfinger Grass (Libertia peregrinans), Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina), Olives (Olea), Euphorbia, Roses, a Banana tree…
  2. Place plants a little closer together so the garden looks lush and flowing.
  3. Let plants grow in their natural forms. No heavy pruning here.
  4. Limit your plant list and repeat plants.
  5. Limit your color palette. Here they’ve used green, gold, silver, and burgundy foliage and pale blue, peach, and burgundy flowers.
  6. Hardscaping materials are all in soft, pale, warm tones.
  7. Paved courtyards and decomposed granite pathways vs lawn

mediterranean garden

mediterranean garden path

mediterranean garden bed