Landscape Design: Seven Tips for Beginners

I ran across a great article about landscape design for beginners.  It’s a quick read and has some important tips about things to consider while planning your garden:

An Hour to Garden
The completed backyard garden of An Hour to Garden – and then we removed the aviary…

Adding my 2 cents:

“Make a list of needs and wants.”

Get the whole family’s opinion. Look at your garden from the point of view of a guest. Remember to make things easily accessible, like the place you store chair cushions or gardening tools.  If you have to carry them back and forth to the garage on the other side of the house, you aren’t going to use them.

“Study the sun and wind patterns.”

This is especially important if you get the Santa Ana winds trying to blow your house down every autumn thru spring.  Also, know how much sun and shade your flower beds will receive.  It isn’t unusual for some areas to have all day sun on the edges, but deep shade in the middle – or visa versa.  Both the wind and the amount of sun/shade make a huge impact on your choice of plants.

“Live with it for a while.”

Essentially, don’t jump in and finish building and planting in a weekend or two. Think on it awhile because there will be things you missed, like making a seating area for the fire table away from the house.

“Start small.”

Instead of starting small, I would say to relax and work slow.  It goes hand-in-hand with “Live with it for a while.”  Once you start putting in hardscape and a few structural plants, you’ll start thinking of things you want to include or change, which is great.  If you finish everything right away, you’ll sit back to admire your new garden and think “Dang, I wish we would have…!”

“Work around a focal point.”

You’ll want a place for the eye to settle, or destination to walk to.  There’s a tree tucked into the corner of my yard that people tend to migrate to. It’s not far from the seating area on the patio, but it would be nice to put a bench and small table under the tree, or maybe a swing. Instead, we fenced it off and created a veggie garden – something we had no plans to do just a couple years ago.

“Focus on scale and pacing.”

Keep the size of your space in mind.  If you have a small area, you will probably want to stay with one or two colors (other than green) and repeat most of the plants you’ve chosen in order to keep the space feeling clean.  The larger your space, the larger your plants can be and the more variety you can have. An English garden on an apartment balcony will be busy and messy, not the romantic stroll through a private park it was intended to be.

“Be open to change.”

A garden is an ever changing project.  You as a person will change, your family’s needs will change, the plants will change. Expect to make changes. It might be something relatively simple, like moving a bush 8″ to the right or relocating a bird bath. Or it could be something big, like removing a 10′ aviary, which throws off the balance of the structural plants and requires a whole new planting scheme for the garden.

Relax and enjoy the process. It can take a few years to get your garden just right… and then you’ll remove the aviary.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


Weeds – Common Mallow

Common mallow (Malva neglecta) is a broad-leafed, bushy weed.  They can grow all year, though I usually see them in the spring and summer.  They are deep-rooted and hard to pull once they’ve grown, so it’s best to pull when they’re young. Mallow reproduces by seed, which can lay dormant in the soil till the shell is nicked enough that water can get in – essentially, when the core gets enough moisture to begin growing.   “If allowed to mature to the point of producing seed, the amount of seed in the soil will cause increasing problems in future years.” (per UC Davis)

weeds - mallow plant

The most widespread of the weedy mallows in California are Malva neglecta (common mallow or cheeseweed), and M. parviflora (little mallow, which is also called cheeseweed). These two varieties look very similar. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the flower and fruit, which looks like a wheel of cheese, hence the name.

Mallow causes problems with farming equipment, houses pests and diseases that are harmful to crops, it can accumulate nitrates in such high quantities that it is poisonous to livestock, and poultry that consume the leaves or seeds can lay low quality eggs.

According to UC Davis, “There are no chemical controls available for home use that are effective for controlling mallows.”

Some mallow plants are grown with a purpose – these include cotton, hibiscus, and okra.



Sunset Western Garden Book

UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website:


Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


Weeds – Purslane

Every spring I spend hours and hours planting annuals while pulling up the grasses and weeds that have encroached on the flower beds. Our budget doesn’t allow for annuals this year, so I’ve been rather lax in pulling the weeds.  We ultimately decided to let the chickens free-range in the back yard and focus on planting shrubs the hens and tortoise (read: miniature elephant) won’t destroy. They’ve done a wonderful job keeping the ground of the flowerbeds under control, but there are a few plants they don’t care for – purslane is one.

2014.06.12 AHTG - photo of purslane Portulaca_oleracea

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a prostrate, broad-leafed weed with fleshy leaves and small yellow flowers.  The leaves are often tinged in red, with a darker line of red along the back, top edge of the older leaves.  It reminds me of a succulent ground cover, though it doesn’t grow as thick as succulents usually do.  It thrives in damp or dry conditions and grows in warm weather.  Purslane pops up everywhere in the garden, but pulls easily from the ground so it isn’t difficult to control.

This year I had the chance to see purslane in flower and it’s very pretty.  I’ve battled with trying to grow a nice, lush ground cover in my flower beds for years.  Cinquefoil is beautiful and low growing, but it’s picky and doesn’t like the heat of my yard.  Thyme didn’t really take of last year and the chickens and/or tortoise have taken care of most of what did manage to grow.  And here pops up purslane – low growing, pretty flowers in the color I want, it’s low maintenance and loves the soil, water, and heat of my back yard. I’ve found my ground cover in a weed.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


Local Farmers’ Markets – Ventura & WSF Valley

In the process of  looking for craft shows to sell our magnets at, I’ve run across a few good websites listing local Farmers’ Markets.


If you don’t live in the Ventura/LA county area (or even if you do), the USDA has a searchable list that is easy to use.  Scroll down to the pre-populated list and type in your zip code and how many miles you’re willing to travel. When you have your list, there is a small box to the left of the market’s name (in the Info column).  Clicking this little box will give you a pop-up containing the address, contact info, whether or not the market is Certified and usually a website to the market.

There are several lists for Ventura County and our area of Los Angeles County – I’ve included a few at the end of this post.  To save you some time from having to search and organize all the info on these sites, I’ve made a list for you:


  • Midtown Ventura 9:00am – 1:00pm at Pacific View Mall (3301 N Main St, Ventura)
  • Pleasant Valley 3:00 – 7:00 at Camarillo Community Center Park (1605 E Burnley St, Camarillo, at the corner of Burnley and Carmen) ** Pleasant Valley FM also has a Crafter’s Corner for crafters and artisans to peddle their wares. **
  • Northridge 5:00pm – 9:00pm at Northridge Mall (9301 Tampa Ave, Northridge, between Plummer and Nordhoff)


  • Thousand Oaks 1:30pm – 6:00pm at the east parking lot of The Oaks Mall (near Wilbur Rd and Hillcrest Dr, close to HWY 101)
  • East Ventura FM 3:00 – 7:00 at Ventura Community Park (corner of Telephone Rd and Kimball Rd) ** it looks like there are craft booths at this FM **
  • Downtown Oxnard FM 9:00am – 1:00pm at Plaza Park (N 5th St and C St, off HWY 1)
  • Moorpark 2:00pm – 7:00pm at Los Angeles Av and Miller Pkwy in the Staples/Petco parking lot.  (I stopped here once in 2013 and they had craft booths)


  • Simi Valley 11:00am – 3:30 at Civic Center Plaza a.k.a Regal parking lot (2757 Tapo Canyon Rd, next to TGI Friday’s)
  • Simi Valley 4:00pm – 8:30pm at Simi Valley Town Center (a.k.a. Simi Mall) at Center Court
  • Thousand Oaks 8:30am – 12:30pm at The Lakes at TO (2200 E TO Blvd)


  • Main Street Canoga Park 9:00am – 1:00pm at Owensmouth Ave. between Sherman Way and Wyandotte St
  • Downtown Ventura 8:30am – noon at the corner of Santa Clara St and Palm St
  • Ventura 1:30pm – 6:00pm at Johnson Dr and Northbank Rd
  • Newbury Park 9:00am – 2:00pm at Newbury Library (Borchard Rd and Michael Dr)
  • Calabassas 8:00am – noon at Calabasas Rd, west of El Canon Av (across from Sagebrush Cantina)


  • Santa Clarita 8:30am – noon at College of the Canyons on Valencia Dr (Parking Lot 5)  ** The Santa Clarita Street Fair is in an adjacent parking lot the 4th (weekend) of every month, from 10:00am – 5:00pm. **
  • The Channel Islands Harbor Farmers’ & Fishermans’ Market 10:00am – 2:00pm on Harbor Blvd, adjacent to the Marine Emporium Landing (Fish Market??  How awesome is that??!) **they also have craft/art booths **
  • Westlake Village 10:00am – 2:00pm at Village Glen (2707 Agoura Rd)
  • Ojai 9:00am – 1:00pm at 300 E Matilija St, near N Montgomery St
  • Agoura Hills 9:00am – 2:00pm at Agoura’s Famous Deli parking lot (5835 Kanan Rd)
  • Malibu 10:00am – 3:00pm at Malibu Civic Center (23519 Civic Center Way)

Farmers’ Market Websites:

Ventura County Food and Farm Map

California-Grown Certified Farmers Markets:

Ventura County Certified Farmers

Coastal Pacific Farmers

USDA Farmers Market Search:

There are plenty of other Farmers’ Markets, so be sure to search USDA or Google for ones that might be closer to you.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


In the Garden – Daisies

The daisy was once an emblem of fidelity and innocence. The Celts believed daisies were the spirits of children who died at birth.  In some areas, stepping on a daisy or uprooting a plant would prevent a child from flourishing.  Still others believed putting daisy roots under your pillow would either bring on dreams or bring back an absent lover.

Daisy - photo from Wiki Commons
Daisy – photo from Wiki Commons

In Elizabethan times, the daisy was a used as a remedy for gout, rheumatism, and migraine.  Poets love the daisy for its tradition of modesty and sweetness, while farmers curse it because the roots give off toxic substances that damage crops.  Cattle avoid the daisy because of its bitter flavor.  It’s curious that I have run across both culinary and medicinal uses while researching for this post, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume that all parts could be poisonous.

The daisies we know today, the oxeye daisy, or margarite, and the shasta daisy got their name from the Old English daeges-eaye, or “day’s eye”, referring to the way the flower opens and closes with the sun (except on cloudy days).

The oxeye daisy (Chrysthanthemum leucanthemum) was brought to America by the colonists.  It is an easy plant, needing little care once established.  It grows approximately 2″ high and about a foot wide.  It has bright green foliage, clean white petals and a yellow center.

The Shasta daisy (Chrysthanthemum maximum, C. superbum) was created by Luther Burbank when he crossed an oxeye daisy with a Japanese “daisy”.  He named them after the snow-capped Mt Shasta he lived near.  (Luther Burbank has no connection with the naming of the city of Burbank in southern California.)  There are several varieties available, including some that grow smaller than the oxeye, some that grow larger, some with a more yellowish flower and some with shaggy flowers.


The Country Diary of Garden Lore by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer (1989)

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells (1997)

Sunset’s Western Garden Book (1997)

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


California Drought 2014 – Did You Know?

Did you know that California is in “possibly” the worst drought in recorded history?  I didn’t.  Our water company hasn’t sent any literature or notifications with the bill and I don’t read the news online or watch it on TV, so I’ve missed any notifications there.

SierraNevada_tmo_2014018 2014

NPR has an article with pictures of Folsom dam at 17% of its capacity.  The photo above shows the the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada 10-30% of what we need.

Though I won’t be able to plant much in the flower beds this year, I can still plan what will go in when we have the budget.  I’ll share what I learn about drought tolerant plants.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


The best way to control weedy grasses is to eradicate as soon as you see young plants.  If they become established, it is best to dig them out, being careful to remove all the roots and stems as they can regrow from pieces that are left behind.  Spraying with regular house-hold vinegar may kill some of the weeds – please avoid using herbicides (especially Roundup) as they leave chemicals in the soil.

Continue reading “Weeds – Grasses”

It’s Spring Time in Southern California!

I bet your seedlings are beginning to peek up from the soil, your catalog orders are placed, and your gardening books have a hundred colorful tabs sticking out from between the pages.

Mine aren’t.  Well, that’s not completely true, but I have much less done that I wanted.  I swear I was so much more productive when I worked full time.

We gave the plum a good pruning this winter, removed a couple brush cherry trees the wind tore apart, and made some preliminary plans to redesign the flower beds.  Since I’m not working and my only paycheck comes from etsy, we’re extremely limited on what we’ll be doing in the garden this year.  Veggies are worth the expense, replacing roses with regular bushes is not.   I also want the flower garden to be more chicken-friendly, which means bigger bushes and stronger perennials – they can devour a flat of alyssum or pansies before you realize they’re out of their yard!

Buff orpington, light brahma, backyard chickens, urban farm chickens in the garden
The Girls

Fred and his dad remodeled the greenhouse this month.  It is now down to just three bays and two aquaponic ponds (YA!!)  We’ll start rebuilding the raised veggie beds this weekend, using CMU blocks instead of 2x4s.  The blocks are less expensive and termites won’t eat them.  I’m concerned about the extra heat the concrete will generate, but since the veggie garden is on the east side of the house, it shouldn’t be too bad. (NOTE we removed the blocks the following year and replaced with 2×4 boards)

It’s tempting to line the beds with pond liner to help conserve water and keep the gophers out (maybe!), but it’s a huge expense for an experiment.  We had originally lined the wooden raised beds with chicken wire and white plastic sheeting, but the plastic degrades pretty quickly (and who knows what kind of chemicals it leaches into the soil), and the chicken wire eventually rusts away to leave behind tetanus-laden splinters for unwary hands.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden


Companion Planting

Most of us who have gardened for a couple of seasons have heard the term “companion planting”.  Although there are numerous definitions of this term in books and all over the internet, the simplest, and to my opinion the best explanation of the term is “the practice of planting crops in a way that will create a harmonious and mutually beneficial environment for the focal plants.”


What that means is that for every plant you are trying to grow, there is a plant that can help it grow better.  The most common and well known pair of companion plants are tomatoes and basil.  Not only do they go well together in Italian cousin, but they also do well together in your garden.

There are different ways plants can benefit each other in  different ways.  Some help by producing chemicals that repel the pests from the focal plant.  Others help by breaking down nutrients so your focal plant can absorb them better and faster.

Companion planting is a very old practice.  Long ago, farmers must have noticed that when certain plants grow next to their crop, their crop grows better or is less in danger of being attacked by harmful insects.  They tried multiple combinations of crops and companion plants and over the years, creating a list that is still used by many gardeners around the world.

The list below is put together from a combination of information from around the internet.  Keep in mind that gardening in California is not the same as it is for the majority of the US.  Lettuce is a winter crop for us, so planting it with tomatoes would not work.    Please share your experience and the plant companions that work for you.


Plant Type

Compatible For Companion Planting






Bee Balm

Tomatoes, Peppers


Tomato, Squash, Strawberries





Turnips, Eggplants, Peppers


Tomatoes, Carrots, Grapes, Roses

Peas, Beans

Cilantro / Coriander

Beans, Spinach, Peas



Onions, Lettuce, Cucumbers

Carrots, Cabbage, Tomatoes


plant by itself if possible.



Roses, Cabbage, Raspberries, Tomatoes, Eggplant

Peas, Beans



Lemon Balm

Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Turnips, Rutabagas


Cabbage, Tomatoes


Tomato, Corn, Asparagus


Beans, Cabbage, Carrots, Sage


Rosemary, Cabbage, Carrots

Cucumbers, Beans


Beans, Cabbage, Onions


Cabbage, Eggplants, Potatoes, Tomatoes


Potatoes, Peppers, Eggplants



beans, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers,
squash, pumpkins


melon, pumpkin, squash


Dill, Carrots


Blackberries, Beans, Peas

Radish, Cabbage

Melon (Honeydew, Cantaloupe, Watermelon)

Sunflower, Radishes, Beets, Corn



Borage, Peach Trees

Possibly Cabbage


Tomato, Parsley, Basil, Lettuce

Beans, Bush

Potato, Celery, Cucumbers, Corn, Strawberry, Summer Savory, Carrots

Onions, Fennel, Sage

Beans, Pole

Corn, Summer Savory, Radish, Tomato

Onion, Beets, Kohlrabi, Garlic, Chives, Sage


Bush beans, Lettuce, Onions, Kohlrabi, Cabbage, Mint, Carrots

Pole beans, Mustard


Marigold, Sage, Beets, Nasturtium, Lettuce


Brussels Sprouts

Aromatic Herbs, Carrot, Dill



Celery, Onions, Potatoes, Aromatic Herbs, Beets, Chamomile, Spinach, Chard

Strawberries, Tomatoes, Pole beans, Dill

Cabbage, Chinese

Celery, Onions, Potatoes


Lettuce, Radish, Onions, Tomatoes, Peas, Rosemary, Sage, Leeks, beans

Dill, Anise


Sage, Thyme, Mint



Leeks, Tomato, Beans, Cabbage


Onions, Tomato, Cabbage, Bush Beans, Nasturtium, Leeks






Pumpkins, Sunflower, Peas, Beans, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Squash



Corn, Peas, Radishes, Beans, Sunflowers, Cabbage

Aromatic herbs, Potatoes, Sage


Beans, Marigold, Lettuce


Roses, Cabbage, Raspberries, Tomatoes, Eggplant

Peas, Beans


Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower

Tomatoes, Beans, Strawberries


Carrots, Onions, Celery

Peas, Beans


Onions, Strawberries, Beans, Carrots, Radishes, Peas, Cucumbers, Cabbage, Broccoli. Tomatoes


Marigolds, Eggplant, Peppers

Onions (& family including, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives)

Lettuce, Beets, Carrots, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Summer Savory

Peas, Beans, Sage


Peas, Beans


Carrots, Cucumbers, Corn, Turnips, Radishes, Beans, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Aromatic Herbs

Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Shallots, Gladiolus


Tomato, Basil, Parsley, Petunias, Carrots, Onions, Okra, Marigolds, Cilantro, Catnip, Tansy, Nasturtium

Fennel, Kohlrabi, Beans


Beans, Corn, Cabbage Family, Marigolds, Horseradish, Lettuce, Radishes, Scallions

Pumpkin, Squash, Tomato, Cucumber, Sunflower, Chard, Raspberries


Corn, Marigold, Beans, Sunflowers

Potato, Raspberries


Beets, Carrots, Spinach, Parsnips, Cucumbers, Beans, Lettuce, Peas, Kohlrabi, Nasturtium, Peas

Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Turnips, Hyssop, Grapes


Mint, Sage, Thyme, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage

Grapes, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Pole beans, Dill


Celery, Eggplants, Cabbage, Peas, Onions, Brussels Sprouts, Peppers


Radishes, Cucumbers, Corn, Nasturtium, Mint, Aromatic Herbs

Potatoes, possibly Tomatoes


Carrots, Onions, Nasturtium, Asparagus, Cucumber, Aromatic Herbs (Parsley, Dill, Lovage, etc.), Spinach, Basil

Cabbage, Cauliflower, Fennel, Potatoes, Black Walnut, possibly Squash


Peas, Brussels Sprouts, Beans


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