A low maintenance silver, purple, and black garden

silver and black garden tended.wordpress.com

At Sunset’s Menlo Park gardens: a low maintenance, low water garden with year-round color interest.

Here, they’ve used bronze Phormium, Variegated Pittosporum, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Lorapetalum ‘Purple Diamond’, and silver Thyme. These plants won’t need much more than the occasional light pruning.

The Aeoniums are a nice touch here – their forms are stunning, they add color and height, don’t take up any square footage, and soften the transition between the purple and silver. The cement, steel and celadon ceramic containers continue the color theme and can be moved around as needed.

Succulents planted in bands of color

agaves and echeveria tended.wordpress.com

Try planting succulents in huge swaths of a single color. There are so many varieties that you can choose almost any color combination you want. Your garden will look like a jewel box.

This is Echeveria Agavoides ‘Purple Pearl’ and Agave attenuata ‘Nova’ (Blue Fox Tail Agave). When these echeveria fill in, the effect is going to be stunning.

Another low maintenance, low water, front or side garden

low water front garden tended.wordpress.com

This beautiful, lush garden fills an awkward spot between a fence and the street. Mediterranean Fan Palms (Chamaerops humilis) are underplanted with Agave attenuata and a swath of silver-blue Senecio mandraliscae. Once the plants are established, this needs virtually no maintenance, just infrequent cleanups and very occasional watering.

Unexpected fall color

fall persimmon with plumbago tended.wordpress.com

Orange and light blue are one of my favorite color combinations. This is my 4 year old Fuyu persimmon tree wearing its fall colors, in front of a cape plumbago (Plumbago auriculata).

The persimmon had several weeks of  brilliant fall color which overlapped with the plumbago’s very long bloom time. The plumbago fills up a back corner of the yard where it doesn’t need pruning, or water, and it’s still in full bloom. Because it’s almost always in full bloom.

The persimmon has been in the ground about 4 years and is finally starting to take off. It even gave me a few persimmons this year. It seems not to mind the heavy clay soil or me neglecting it. Persimmons are truly the easiest fruit trees to grow.

More on plumbagos, easy fruit trees, and fall color

A garden for lazy gardeners at Filoli

low maintenance garden tended.wordpress.com

Filoli is kind of known for those formal English style gardens, but there are plenty of ideas for us lazy gardeners, too. Everything in this border is low maintenance and drought tolerant. No deadheading, pruning, or cutting things back. And the foliage mix here is so good that even after most things are done blooming, the garden is still totally stunning.

low maintenance garden tended.wordpress.com

Repetition of purple-black shrubs as a transition between the trees and the low growing perennials at the front of the border.

black and silver tended.wordpress.com

Black and silver. Berggarten Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’) and purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria). In a smaller space you could use Loropetalum chinense ‘Purple Diamond’

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides tended.wordpress.com

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. This was growing all over the place. It just flows in around everything and gives you a low dense mass of green with the most intense blue flowers.

More useful stuff:

October planting list

coreopsis mango punch

Fall is the one time of year I can plant things in my garden and they won’t die of neglect. New plants get the entire winter rainy season to get established so they can withstand heat, drought. This time around I am going to tackle my garden in chunks and get one area looking good before tackling the next area. And I’ll be going to my favorite nursery with a plant list (I’m sure I’ll still come home with a bunch of randoms).

In the spirit of picking my battles, I’m ceding part of the back garden bed to my dog for her dirt baths (for now). I’m also going with low maintenance, proven, plants I can’t kill. Here’s my list – I’d love to hear what others are planting!

Brass band rose (pictured below in my garden) This one might have to wait until the bare root roses come in. This is a big healthy rose covered with long lasting orange-peach blooms. It’s past its peak now, but will keep blooming through November. I’ll replace a couple of sub par roses with one of these.

Proven plants that I can’t kill:

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) I’ve got one now. It’s easy, it’s stunning, and it’s a fall bloomer. The leaves smell like pineapples and there’s always a hummingbird in there somewhere.

Bog Salvia (Salvia uliginosa) to weave into the Pineapple Sage. I love this combination so why not repeat it?

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) I have several varieties but this one smells the best and honeybees love it. I wish it reseeded like my Spanish Lavender but it doesn’t so I guess I’ll have to buy more.

New ones to try:

Corepsis ‘Mango Punch‘ (pictured above) I like these simple, graphic flowers and you can never have too much orange. I’m going to try this one under my roses. It’s supposed to be tough, so I’ll plunk a few in other parts of the yard and see how they do.

Geum chiloense Small hot colored flowers on tall spikes are striking and see-through to add some depth. I’ll try these in a couple of places as well.

Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa) I’m planning this one as an alternative to Helichrysum petiolare which I love but is invasive so it’s off the list. I want a tough, silver-leafed, low water plant to fill in some difficult areas. According to the Marin Master Gardeners, it attracts beneficial insects, bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

brass band rose tended.wordpress.com

A tale of two salvias

salvia elegans and salvia uliginosa tended.wordpress.com

One of my favorite things about this time of year is for a few short weeks, my Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) and Bog Salvia (Salvia uliginosa) are in bloom at the same time.

Pineapple sage can pretty much deal. Drought tolerant, heat tolerant, grows in clay soil… And it gets nice and big: 5’x’5. The leaves smell like pineapples. The red flowers start at the very end of summer and last all fall.

Bog salvia likes a lot of water (and Pineapple sage happily adapts). It can get to be 6′ tall but probably not more than 3′ wide. The cool thing that I’ve discovered is that it will flow in around your other plants and you get this beautiful effect of the blue flowers weaving in through other flowers or foliage.

These are growing in a raised bed where they have completely filled in around a lemon tree, a rosebush, and a columnar apple tree. I cut them both down almost to the ground the first week of the year when I prune my roses and don’t touch them the rest of the year. Butterflies and hummingbirds love them both.

salvia elegans and salvia uliginosa tended.wordpress.com

salvia elegans and salvia uliginosa tended.wordpress.com

Top ten reasons you should try container gardening


A touch of silver makes all that hot pink really pop.

Top ten reasons you should try container gardening:

  1. It simplifies your gardening. You can keep everything in your garden simple and green, and add color with your containers.
  2. It’s easy to experiment with new plant combinations. You can combine things in one pot, or just move different pots next to each other.
  3. It’s good for commitment-phobes. You only need to stay with a look for a single season, or weekend.
  4. You can have a garden in even the tiniest space.
  5. It’s budget friendly. Container gardening is the equivalent of using high-end fabric on pillows instead of the entire sofa.
  6. Instant gratification. You can go the nursery, try plant and pot combinations right in the store, and come home and style your space in time for your friends to come over for afternoon cocktails.
  7. You can take a risk and try something new or difficult to grow.
  8. It’s forgiving. Instead of ending up with a dead patch in your garden bed, you can just pop in a new plant or put the pot off to the side for a while.
  9. Children love it. Your four year old wants those hideous bubblegum pink petunias? They’ll look great in a container. Or give him some vegetable or nasturtium seeds: they’ll grow big, fast.
  10. You can use anything for a container: vintage pottery, driftwood, tea tins, tree stumps…


Orange makes everything better.


Line a basket with a plastic insert or saucer.


Pair similar forms in different sizes.

Read more posts on container gardens

Sidewalk gardens: climbing roses on a low wall

sidewalk garden with climbing rose tended.wordpress.com

This sidewalk garden had climbing roses underplanted with low shrubs, evenly set along its entire length. The great thing about doing something other than a hybrid tea is you get a plant that looks great even after you’ve cut flowers or deadheaded. Here they’ve used mixed pittosporums – this is a shady street with lots of very large old trees. If you had more sun, you could do low growers like helichrysum, santolina, australian fuschia… anything where the foliage, not the flowers, is the star.

A succulent garden

agave, kalanchoe and echeveria tended.wordpress.com

Agave, Kalanchoe luciae ‘Flapjack’, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’, and Baby Jade (also called Elephant Food or Portulacaria afra). Here, the Agave is used as a focal point and the other succulents are planted in drifts. I love this treatment and it really shows off the beauty and uniformity of their forms.

Make sure you really want an Agave before you put it in the ground, because it will grow to be a big, heavy, thorny monster. It’s beautiful, easy to grow, and hard to kill. They tolerate most soils, including heavy clay. Although they don’t need much water, they will happily survive a wet California winter without rotting.

Kalanchoe will rot if it’s overwatered. It dies after flowering, but its offsets will regrow in its place. It will die back from frost, but usually regrows. If you’re planting this one in the ground, you may want to amend your soil a bit so that it’s got some drainage.

Echeveria and Portulacaria are pretty straightforward. Interestingly, Portulacaria is native to South Africa and is being used for habitat restoration. It’s not a true jade (Crassula) but the cuttings root just as easily.