Boxwood, garden problem-solver

boxwood in a box at filoli

I don’t know if the gardeners at Filoli were going for a visual pun here, but I do love the look of these planters. Something like this would give you structure and some greenery and height wherever you need it.

There are endless varieties of boxwood so it can fill just about any need in your garden. It’s endlessly versatile IF you take care of it. Boxwood needs some maintenance to keep it looking its lush, leafy best. Otherwise, plant something else. Trust me, I have seen some pretty sorry looking boxwood around here.

I sometimes see boxwood referred to as drought tolerant. It’s not California drought tolerant. Here, it needs regular water and food.

Boxwood needs to be clipped regularly. Infrequent, hard pruning gives you sharp edges and lots of brown stem ends showing through. Here is a great pruning guide.

Boxwood is at its best when it’s neat, structured, and symmetrical. Don’t let it turn into some weirdly pruned, misshapen orb.

Below boxwood is used on the left as to edge low border and on its own as a taller hedge on the right:

boxwood edged flower border

Here giving structure to a tiny, formal garden:

small difficult spaces

And here in a small supporting role:

courtyard garden at Filoli

How to use Pinterest to define your garden style

pinterest as a design tool

Until recently, my gardening style could be defined as ‘short attention span’ or ‘easily distracted.’ Every time I read a garden book or magazine, saw a new garden, or even stopped by the nursery, I’d end up going off in some new direction. And it showed in my garden. Impulse buys awkwardly placed, clashing containers, Asian style in one corner, English in the other, high maintenance planting schemes gone awry.

Pinterest has been huge for me. At first, I pinned everything I liked. As the novelty wore off and I became more selective, I noticed my boards were telling me something. Now, I can look at my Garden board (or my Clothes board) and see a fairly consistent look, and a garden design tool to boot.

If you want to use your Pinterest board as a design guide vs. simply inspiration, here are some guidelines:

  1. Impose limits. Your garden is full of limits: size, climate, soil, budget. Use those to focus.
  2. Pin what you can afford. I don’t have thousands of dollars for furniture or fountains, tens of thousands of dollars for new hardscaping, or a vast country estate.
  3. Pin a garden that’s out of your reach, IF there is an idea, plant, or element that is within your reach.
  4. Pin what grows in your climate. I live in the bay area, so technically I can grow almost anything. But it literally does not rain from May to October, so California natives or Mediterranean climate plants are the way to go around here.
  5. Pin what grows in your soil. I love desert gardens. But I am far too lazy to amend my heavy clay soil.
  6. Pin plants and gardens at the level of maintenance you can handle. For me that means no English perennial borders, intensive pruning, or containers that need daily watering.
  7. Pin only those images you truly love, the ones you can’t stop looking at. You may not gain as many followers that way, but you will see your style emerge pretty quickly.



doorway topiaries

Anything in pairs is exponentially better: dogs, candlesticks, topiaries… Symmetry in the garden is like punctuation. It says “look over here, this spot is important.” Symmetry at an entrance or transition point hints at even cooler things beyond. It’s a simple, perfect solution.

Above, the matching small potted trees make the massive wall of a cathedral in Melbourne, Australia feel softer and less imposing, and keep the doorway from getting lost.

cottage doorway

A cottage in Hobart, Tasmania. The symmetry here is soft and inviting, drawing attention to the balance and charm of the victorian woodwork and turquoise door.

pots and doorway

A courtyard and entry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Beautiful and timeless.

Easy garden design idea: underplanting trees

tree underplanted with grasses

This is the easiest garden design idea ever: underplant your trees with lots of one thing. You see a lot of trees underplanted with grasses in contemporary gardens, but as you can see by the above photo, this looks just as great in traditional gardens.

tree underplanted with helichrysum

Helichrysum petiolare always looks good, can take some shade and a whole lot of neglect, and only needs water once a week at the most.

sidewalk garden

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), another easy keeper.

lemon tree underplanted with pineapple salvia

Some trees don’t like other plants growing in their root zones, so it’s worth doing a little research on your trees first. For example, I don’t plant anything under my native oak. However, everything I’ve read tells me not to plant under citrus. And here is my lemon tree with a pineapple salvia happily growing underneath. They’ve been together for at least ten years, which seems like a bizarrely long life for a salvia.




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