A low maintenance, low water front yard garden

low water front yard tended.wordpress.com

It was so cool to see this front yard garden in Montecito among the water-hogging tropical-esque gardens and the hidden, but no doubt spectacular, gardens behind walls and hedges. Simple, stunning perfection.

Sago palms, ponytail palms and agave all grow quite happily here in the bay area as do any number of drought tolerant evergreen shrubs. I’d need to substitute the cacti for varieties that can tolerate our cooler climate and wet winters. Prickly pear grows very well around here and can reach 6 feet tall. I’d also use an upright grower like crassula tetragona which can reach 3 feet tall.

Containers in the garden border

container in a garden border tended.wordpress.com

I love this. It’s so stunning and it has to be the easiest care garden ever. The plantings could not be simpler, and then you have a gorgeous weathered stone planter filled with succulents set right into the border. Garden minimalism that would work beautifully in a traditional or modern garden.

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

How to plant a cottage garden

cottage garden tended.wordpress.com

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 tended.wordpress.com

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 tended.wordpress.com

larnach castle garden, new zealand tended.wordpress.com

larnach castle garden, new zealand tended.wordpress.com