Tag Archives: southern california

Pergolas For Summer Shade


Encino-10There is nothing quite as relaxing as sipping a gin and tonic (or your favorite beverage) with friends, sitting in the shade of a vine-covered pergola, on a late summer’s afternoon. I have just completed the construction of two pergolas that are designed for this very purpose, although it may take several years before their vines provide the requisite shade.

During their construction, one of my clients asked me where the term “pergola” came from. I wasn’t sure; I said, “I believe it’s Italian but I’ll check and let you know.” I did and found a lot of very interesting information not only about the derivation of the name “pergola” but where the design was first used and how it has evolved over time.

I was right with my guess as to pergola’s derivation; it comes from the Late Latin word “Pergula,” which refers to a projecting eave; and the English term was borrowed from the Italian “pergola,” which means “a close walk of boughs.”.

According to Wikipedia, a pergola, arbor, or arbour is a garden feature forming a shaded walkway, passageway, or sitting area of vertical posts or pillars that usually support crossbeams and a sturdy open lattice. As a type of gazebo, it may also be an extension of a building or serve as protection for an open terrace.

 To continue reading … Eva’s Notes & News


Plant Hardiness Zone Maps – Southern California


USDA_Zone_Map_CA_SOne of the many services the US Department of Agriculture provides are Plant Hardiness Zonal Maps.

These maps include: state, region and country and come in a variety of resolutions from 72 ppi for viewing on a screen to 300 ppi for high quality printing. They also provide interactive maps that can tell you what the plant hardiness is for your particular zip code and audio for the hearing impaired.

Whether you’re just curious to know what plants can live in your neck of the woods or someone who is planning on putting in a vegetable garden or a residential or commercial landscape, this is an invaluable resource that you might want to check out before you start purchasing plants or digging holes in your garden – and don’t forget to  included it in your gardening bookmark file.

Knowledge is power, particularly in plant selection.  Here is where all this valuable information resides: USDA Agricultural Resource Service

“But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardner.”
    – Thomas Jefferson


A suggestion for the New Year: Replace Your Parkway!

Parkway with grass – water consumer

Since 2014 is upon us, I thought I might offer a suggestion for the New Year that could save you money, improve your property’s “curb appeal” and help bend the curve of Southern California’s water usage downwards by just a tad, and given our ever vanishing water supply … every tad does count!

It involves taking a look at one of the most obvious but most overlooked pieces of property on every block—that strip of land that lies between the street and the walkway, known as the “Parkway.”

The parkway and walkway together make up the sidewalk, which is part of the public right-of-way. But that doesn’t mean it’s the city’s responsibility for it’s maintenance. The adjacent property owner is responsible for maintaining all of the parkway except the street trees, which are maintained by the city: responsible (we hope) for their planting, trimming and removal.


Parkway with succulents – water conserver

Parkways are important to individual property owner and the city as a whole for the following reasons:

  • Parkways enhance the visual quality of the city.
  • Parkways improve the curb appeal of your home, potentially increasing its value.
  • Parkways provide soil volume that street trees need to grow into healthy, mature trees that provide shade, consume carbon and provide other environmental and health benefits
  • Parkways help collect storm water and irrigation runoff and return it to the groundwater table.
  • Parkways provide a buffer between pedestrians on the walkway and cars in the street

To continue reading … Eva’s Notes & News


Green Thumb vs. Brown Thumb or Seven Ways to Successfully Kill a Plant


images-1Why do some folks seem to have nothing but success growing plants (the “green thumb”) and others barely look at a plant and it dies (the “brown thumb”)? I can assure you it has nothing to do with their DNA, and everything to do with their understanding of what makes plants grow. More importantly, if you really want to turn your brown thumb green, you have to be willing to take a little time to learn what the light, soil, water and feeding requirements are for the plant or plants that tickle your fancy.

What To Do To Keep A Plant Healthy

Unless you’re buying a plant for someone else (housewarming, hospital visit, birthday) or are adding a basket of mums to the dining room table for Saturday’s dinner and feel no obligation for its long-term health, I would suggest educating yourself before you buy.  I think it would be fair to say that, “impulse purchases most often lead to death.”

Seven Ways to Successfully Kill a Plant.

For a brief overview on what I feel are the most successfully ways to kill a plant, I offer the following:

  1. imagesOverwatering:  This is, without a doubt, the number one cause of most plant tragedies. Because, strange as it may seem, since plants are usually buried in dirt, most plants’ roots require oxygen in order to survive. If you compulsively water your plants you will successfully kill them by preventing air from circulating and encouraging root rot. Unless you have a moisture meter, and if you do, you probably don’t need to be reading this, I suggest sticking your finger into the soli up to your knuckle to see if it’s dry.  If it is, you probably need to water, if it isn’t, you probably don’t. And don’t “tea-cup” water them. A plant should be watered thoroughly so that water drains from the pot and then allowed to dry out. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t allow the plant to sit in water or this too will lead to death by drowning.
  2. Underwatering: A sure sign that a plant needs watering is if its leaves begin to wilt and it looses its look of vitality. By underwatering you cause it to become stressed, which lowers its natural defenses and allows insects and disease to infest it. While some plants prefer most soil and other like to dry out, most prefer to be kept “evenly moist.” This information should be available on the plant’s label or, if not, make sure and check with the garden center or Google the name of the plant. There are any number of website devoted to plants that can provide all the information you’ll ever need to know.
  3. pest-problems Ignore Intruders: There are all kinds of pests just waiting for you to ignore your plant. Plants should be examined at least once a week for scale and a variety of bugs, particularly when there’s a lot of new growth.  And make sure to look under the leaves where a whole host of creatures like to hang out. If you discover an infestation, there are a number of remedies including insecticidal soaps. If infestation is significant, the only solution may be to dispose of the plant and make sure that none of your other plants, particularly of the same specie, are infected
  4.  It’s Either Too Bright Or Too Dark: If the label says that it’s a shade plant, it probably means it doesn’t like to sit in direct sunlight. And if the plant’s label has the Sun on it, you can rest assured that it needs to be sitting in sunshine the majority of the day. The amount of sun a plant needs may change during the year, but if your sun deck is actually bathed in sun the better part of the day, chances are it would not be the right location for a large fern regardless of the time of the year.
  5.  Soil and PH: If you’re potting or repotting a plant either in the ground or a container, good quality potting soil that is appropriate for the plant is important. For example, if you’re planting succulents or citrus in pots, it’s important to use a cactus mix, so that the soil drains easily and there’s no chance of root rot.  Also, there are a number of plants that prefer acid (pH 4.5 to 5.5) soil. They include ferns, African violets, Azaleas, Begonias, Cyclamens, Dieffenbachia, Gardenias, Hydrangeas, Spruce, Birch Heather, Rhododendrons. Soil additives are available either to mix in with the potting soil or can be added after planting.
  6. Plant Depth Can Mean Plant Death: As mentioned above, a plant’s roots need oxygen. If you place a new plant too deeply in the ground you may kill it by suffocating it. A plant’s root ball should be approximately 10% above the soil level.
  7. To Mulch or Not Too Mulch: A two to three inch layer of mulch, particularly during the dry months, will help retain moisture and retard weed growth. However, too much of a good thing can be deadly and function much like too much water, depriving the roots of the necessary oxygen, with the resulting root rot and death.

Like almost everything in life, knowledge is power. If you want to turn your brown thumb green try doing it one plant at a time. Find a plant you like, do a little research and if what you can provide and what it needs to survive mesh, take it on and make sure that it grows and flourishes. If successful, you have the blueprint for future successes.


Weingart Center Garden & Worldscape


See what happens in three years!

Weingart-6In May of 2010 I began designing and building the Weingart Center Garden. The Garden is adjacent to the Weingart Center, in the heart of the skid-row section of downtown Los Angeles. I wrote about this experience in one of my first newsletters entitled, “A Little Bit of Country on Skid Row.” That newsletter detailed my experiences and it has become the basis for an article I wrote for an up-coming issue of Worldscape.

Worldscape is a Chinese publication, in both English and Chinese, that focuses on global landscape design. The editors requested an article describing one of my projects and I thought the design and construction of the Center’s garden was ideal. It demonstrates how a public/private partnership (the Weingart Center, AmeriCorps and me) can make a major contribution to one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

The article is to appear in Worldscape’s September publication – I’ll update you when it comes out. In the meantime, these photographs were shot for the publication and show how the Garden has grown in three years. If you want to see what it looked like in 2010, here is a link to a video showing the Garden’s construction:  Video.

I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to tell the Weingart Garden’s story. I hope it inspires other public/private partnerships and will help introduce “a little bit of country” to desolate pieces of property all around the world.Weingart-4 Weingart-8 Weingart-3 Weingart-2 Weingart-1


Dwell on Design – LA Convention Center – Saturday (6-22) 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.


8B6EB5BCFB0B77072AEDC6CE2AAD060F_9124973This Saturday, I’ll be at the LA Convention Center offering free consultations on Landscape Design from 1:00- 3:00 p.m. This gathering is sponsored by APLD’s Focus on Design and the magazine Dwell.

So come on down and introduce yourself and learn how you can improve you landscape, garden and home from advice given by one of the five Best Landscape Designers in Los Angeles.


The Monthly Gardner – February 2013

Where to prune a rose.

This has been an unusually cold and wet winter, which means that while January is the ideal time to prune, February is still a good time to get those shears out and prune what you probably did not do last month. But don’t wait till March, particularly if the weather turns hot and dry. And keep up with the harvest of cool-season crops, such as peas, lettuces, and spinach. It will encourage more production.


Roses can still be pruned. Take out all crossing canes, dead canes, or any that look diseased. If any canes have grown below the graft union or bud union, get rid of them. And prune mature bushes to around 18 to 20 inches in height.

Cut back woody and overgrown perennials. If in doubt, look at the base of the plant. If it is sending up fresh growth there, you can safely cut off the dead or old plant material now. Cut back old foliage from ornamental grasses, liriope (monkey grass) and mondo grass to just a few inches high. And evergreens may still be pruned, but avoid pruning them later on this spring and summer.

 Bare-root Planting

Now is the perfect time for bare-root planting (plants without a root ball) There’s a whole host of bare-root plants available through mail order, but if you’re buying locally, roses, berry bushes, artichokes and ornamental trees should be available. For information on how to go about planting bare-root stock, also know as dry-root, check out my January 17, 2012 blog on the subject.


Fertilize roses and perennials at the end of the month and keep them watered. You can use chemical fertilizers (follow package directions on amount and frequency) or organic fertilizers, such as compost, fish emulsion, and others.

In the low desert and other hot areas, feed citrus, avocado, and deciduous trees now, but wait till next month in cooler coastal or higher zones.

Weed Killer

To greatly reduce weeds, apply a pre-emergent weed killer to beds and borders. It works by preventing seeds from germinating, so don’t apply anywhere you’re planting seeds.

And for more information, check out February 2012,  Monthly Gardner.


Sunset Plaza Makeover – Completed


In August’s “Notes & News,” I introduced you to a “A Sunset Plaza Makeover,” the landscape I was designing and building for an international film produce and his family. In November, I followed up by showing you what was involved in creating the garden’s “Wall of Water.” And now, after eight months, the planning and designing has come to an end, the construction is over (and aren’t my clients thrilled), all the trees, hedges and plant material have been installed and the cushions, pillows and other accessories are exactly where they should be.


As the following photographs will show (all by Luke Gibson of Luke Gibson Photography), this has been an extraordinary project. Defined by a series of descending terraces, my client’s new backyard includes a large living area and fire place, a dining area and outdoor kitchen, our famous wall of water, as well as a pool and spa and a charming entertainment room adjacent to the pool.

It has also been a wonderful experience – my clients have been terrific to work for and with – and the result, a collaboration of intent and execution, will provide them, their family and friends with a beautiful and livable landscape for years to come. As a landscape designer, this is as close as I come to perfection.

To continue reading … Eva’s Notes & News


It’s Nice To Fool Mother Nature – Forcing Bulbs


Forcing bulbs to bloom is all about fooling Mother Nature into believing that spring has sprung. It’s not difficult or time consuming and the results can be extraordinary.  All it takes is the right bulbs, a glass vase or pot, some rocks, water or potting soil and a few minutes of your time.

Forcing Bulbs

The process of getting bulbs to grow (forcing) occurs when you create a situation inside that replicates what Mother Nature does outside. If you decided you want to bring some garden beauty indoors, make sure you select the appropriate bulb.

The most common bulbs for forcing are narcissus, hyacinths, tulips, crocus and amaryllis. Generally, irregularly shaped bulbs (tulips, freesias) force best in soil, while regularly shaped bulbs (paper whites, crocus) do best over water. Forcing in soil is more foolproof than water, and all bulbs can be forced in soil. You can buy special vases for forcing hyacinths and amaryllis. You can also buy complete kits. Once you know how it’s done, you’ll want to find unusual containers for forcing bulbs.

Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, because the worst that can happen is that the bulb won’t bloom or it rots, but the joy of seeing a plant grow and blossom is well worth it. So be brave and fool Mother Nature, she won’t mind!


  • Ethanol alcohol, which is found in most hard liquors, can act as a growth regulator and keep paper white narcissus shorter and more compact during forcing. Use plain water the first seven to 10 days. Once the green shoots are 2 to 3 inches tall, replace the water with one part alcohol to seven parts water. Foliage will be more compact, but with blooms just as large and long lasting as usual.
  • Pre-chill bulbs (except amaryllis) in bags of damp sphagnum moss or damp potting soil in the refrigerator. Label bags.
  • Choose firm bulbs with no soft or rotten spots.
  • Plant tulips with the flat side of the bulb facing outward. Choose single early tulips. They are easiest since they are programmed to bloom early anyway.
  • Pot amaryllis two weeks apart for a succession of blooms. With amaryllis, the bigger the bulb the better.
  • Discard bulbs after bloom or plant them outside.
  • Change out the water weekly if it becomes murky.

Instructions For Forcing


  • Force in water in a forcing vase. Fill water to just below the bulb. Never let a bulb sit in water.
  • Chill 12 weeks in the forcing vase until roots fill the vase and shoots are 2 to 3 inches tall. Remove from the refrigerator and place in a sunny location.
  • Weeks to bloom: Two to four.
  • Tips: Chilling period is critical for hyacinths to bloom. You don’t have to choose the largest bulbs. Flower spikes can get top-heavy, so be careful vases don’t fall over.


  • Force in soil. Cover bulbs with 1/2 inch of soil. Water.
  • Chill 10 to 15 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Weeks to bloom: Three to five.
  • Tips: Pack bulbs tightly together with the flat side facing outward. Single early varieties work best. Tulips are the most time-consuming to force.


  • Force in a special vase in water. Don’t let water touch the bulb.
  • No chilling necessary.
  • Weeks to bloom: Four to six.
  • Tips: Start in a warm, dark place, then move to the light when the stalk is 2 to 4 inches tall. Flowering stalk can be top-heavy, so add pebbles to the vase. Choose the biggest bulbs.


  • Force over water in special vases or on a bed of coarse gravel. Plant pointed side facing up.
  • Chill 12 to 15 weeks in a paper bag or forcing vase.
  • Weeks to bloom: Two.
  • Tips: Pack corms tightly together in a low vase. (Corms are technically swollen, underground stems, but are also known as bulbs.) Hybrid crocus perform better than the smaller species types.


  • Force in water on pebbles or in soil. Fill the container with water to just below the bulb. The bottom of the bulb should just be in contact with the water. In soil, pack bulbs in tightly for a nice display of flowers.
  • Chilling period: None required.
  • Weeks to bloom: Five to seven.
  • Tips: Use a container that is twice as wide as high. Place in a cool spot until buds show color, then bring to a sunnier spot to bloom. They can get top-heavy, so be prepared to tie floppy leaves to a bamboo stake.


  • If bulb rots: Water level is too high. The water should just be touching or barely below the base of the bulb and not covering it.
  • If bulb fails to bloom, bud doesn’t develop properly or flowering spike is very short: Not enough chilling. Most bulbs, except narcissus and amaryllis, need to be kept at 40 to 50 degrees F for several weeks.
  • If foliage gets too tall: Bulbs have been kept in the dark too long or did not receive enough sun when growing. An east or south-facing window is ideal.

For more information about forcing bulbs, Google, “forcing bulbs California, or check out California Bountiful – one of the resources for this blog.


Growing Tomatoes In A Southern California Winter

Heirloom Tomatoes

I’ve been asked by several of my clients about the possibility of growing tomatoes during the winter here in Southern California. This is a doable proposition since our climate rarely has frost.  For planting instructions and plant selection there are a number of sites on the Internet that will provide you with this information. The following comes from, How to Grow Tomatoes in the Winter in Southern California.

Tomatoes grow as annuals in most of the cold-winter areas of the United States. The plants grow, bloom, bear fruit during summer and die at the first frost. However, in hardiness zones 10 and above, where there is little chance of frost, tomatoes are perennials. Southern California is one such area. Plant tomatoes in late summer and enjoy them all winter.


  1. Buy an “indeterminate variety of tomato,” because indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit over the course of a season while “determinate tomatoes” produce a bumper crop all at one time. There are a number of Indeterminate varieties including heirloom. When shopping for your tomato plants, you will be looking for “indeterminate” on the label, or the abbreviation “IND” (or, less commonly, “INDET”).
  2. Locate the tomato where it receives a minimum of eight hours of sunlight per day. Planting the tomato against a stone wall or the side of the house gives it an extra boost of warmth. Make sure the tomato isn’t shaded by the wall.
  3. Dig up the ground to a depth of 24 inches. Add a bucket or two of compost or other organic material to the soil and work in well for each tomato plant. Tomato roots go as deep as 36 inches.
  4. Plant the transplant so its root ball is covered, but don’t lay the tomato on its side and bury the stem as you might have done in the early summer, suggests Robert Smaus in his article “August: Map Out a New Design, Sow Seeds, Try Winter Tomatoes,” published on the LA Times website.
  5. Caged Tomatoes
  6. Fertilize once a month per package directions.
  7. Water if the tomato doesn’t receive 1 1/2 inches of rain each week. Winter is the rainy season in Southern California so you might not have to water very much.
  8. Remove blossoms until the tomato plant is 24 inches high so energy is directed at producing a strong healthy plant rather than fruiting.
  9. Cage the tomatoes with stakes and string or a wire tomato cage if you wish to keep the tomatoes off the ground. This will protect the plant from the many slugs and snails in Southern California. Place empty tuna cans filled with beer at ground level. Slugs and snails are attracted to the smell, fall in and drown.
  10. Cover the cages with bird netting when tomatoes start to blush. A few tomatoes on the outside may be still be ruined by the birds because they can sit on the cage and peck inside. Most of the tomatoes will be safe.

Tips & Warnings

Protect young plants on cold nights by covering them. Use a gallon water or milk jug with the top cut off placed over the seedling. Frost is rare in SoCal.

Tomato plants are toxic. Keep away from children and pets.

Additional Resource, About.com