new to the forum/advice on flowers to plant?

Kristi1931(9)February 29, 2012

Hi All,

This is my first post to the forum. We moved into a new home about 6 months ago and my ultimate goal is to achieve a cottage garden look in our front garden beds, and eventually the backyard as well. I have many pictures on my new photo blog and any advice would be appreciated! I want it to be primarily perrenials, biennials, or annuals that are known to reseed. I'm also trying to think of a good bush/tree to plant on the empty left space.. maybe a rose bush? Some of the flowers/plants are already established and I'm not sure what they are. Any help on identifying names would be appreciated as well!



Here is a link that might be useful: Live, Laugh, Garden

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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)

Welcome to Cottage Garden forum. This is a great "family" of folks.

There are several here from CA, soyou might want to tell what area of CA you are located.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 6:40PM
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I am from the SF Bay Area zone 9. :)

Here are the two garden bed areas in our front yard that I would love some advice on suggested flowers to add to these to start! Preferably perennial or self-seeding. Especially the area to the left in the first picture where you see some empty space.Maybe a rose bush there? I am also considering hollyhock.

Currently I have:
English Daisies, Nemesia, and Diascia, A tiny Bit of Dianthus, and Alyssum. I am not sure of what the ornamental grass is behind the first daisy on the left but I like it!

Currently planted from left to right are: Geraniums, English Daisies, Some kind of iris,english daisy hibiscus, geranium, another iris, calendula, margherite daisy, and a smaller hibiscus


    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 8:45PM
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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)

My try lasagna gardening post was supposed to be here. I am not quite sure what happened.
Anyway, read that post.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 5:32PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Just FYI, you should put your Sunset zone. USDA zones are pretty useless in CA. The Sunset Garden Book is the acknowledged "Bible" of all Western gardeners.

It doesn't look as if any of your beds are very deep - they all look around 12-18" or so. Consider that you don't want to block your shutters, even if they're only decorative, I'd do a shrub pelargonium, such as this one (to those that have seen my recent February Flowers slideshows in the Gallery, you've seen this photo before). It stays about 18" H/W. They're very floriferous in our climate and don't take too much water, either. You do have to be careful; there is a lot of variation between pelargonium hybrids; some get to a gangly 6' tall. But this one stays neat and compact:

I would warn you in that second photo, that spiky leaved clump looks suspiciously like Fortnight Lily, aka Cape Iris, Dietes iridioides (there are two, one white, one yellow-flowered). If it is, once established it gets a full 3' or more around (big, round clump) and takes an axe to remove. It will behave itself if you starve it for water, but if you've got lawn sprinklers, there will be no holding it back.

I have narrow beds on both sides of a walkway on the south side of our house. It isn't easy to keep those plants from sprawling outwards. The following plants are ones that have proven well-behaved/upright in these beds in our Oakland hills garden:

- Dwarf cannas (variegated ones need some shade or they'll burn)
- Kalanchoe
- Shasta daisies (deciduous, however)
- evergreen bearded iris (in fact, if you live within driving distance of me, I will GIVE you some rhizomes. Mine is an heirloom dark purple iris that multiplies like the proverbial rabbit; if it were edible it would solve world hunger in two years flat)
- Aeoniums, some sedums and crassulas
- Some of the upright, smaller perennial salvias
- Mini or smaller shrub roses, like J&P's Ladies in Waiting.
- Liriope (for foliage, but once a year it has very pretty purple flower spikes)
- Hellebores: the newer colorful hybrids only. They stay small and neat; like partial sun only.

When a bed is not very deep, it's important that you consider a couple of things:

1) It's difficult to "layer" a shallow bed. Normally an interesting garden grouping is done with subtle layers: High/Tall, Medium height, and Low/Short, with each layer providing visual interest for color, shape and texture.

2) Because of this difficulty, you are very dependent upon the ***basic background colors*** of your site. This means the house color, trim color, permanent shrubs, and lawn color. Too many people think of flowers, and forget that flowers are transitory. Here in coastal CA, leaves are EVERYTHING. The most boring beds are those where the flowering plants have green leaves the exact same color as the lawn and/or shrubs. This means that except for the 6 weeks or so your plants are in flower, the rest of the time they fade into one big sea of grass-green.

Although this is a wider bed (3' deep, shady side), you can imagine these foliage plants in back of a green lawn and understand how height, texture, leaf shape and color still allow them to show up in contrast to grass:

Roses love the Bay Area but many, even in tree standards, grow "out and around". This makes them unsuitable for narrow beds unless you have the "head room" - you don't want to fight rose thorns when you're mowing the lawn, trust me! Roses lean towards the sun; the only tree rose I have that stays quite upright is partially shaded by the plants along the fence so it naturally seeks to grow up and not out like the others do. It's "Intrigue", and as you can see, it has spread over 4' across seeking the sun:

As mentioned above, plants lean towards the open spaces, like this long view. The bed on the left is 18" deep; on the right it's 12" deep. The "Intrigue" rose shown above is about 3' past that big flowering pink "Delany Sisters" standard on the LH side:

Here is a closer look at the top of the 18" bed against our tan stucco house. L-R, top layer: Variegated golden euonymus, "Double Delight" tea rose, "Delany Sisters" floribunda tree rose, J&P "Ladies in Waiting shrub rose.
L-R, bottom layer: green-leaved shrub pelargonium, black flowering Aeonium ("Rubrum", I think), yellow kalanchoe, variegated Iris pallida, ceratostigma groundcover (which I would never plant again, it's impossible to remove):

Opposite this stucco wall is a 6' dark wood fence. This is a great backdrop for lighter colored or variegated plants, like the following ones. L-R shows a variegated rhamnus (nice narrow tree, gets to no more than 12') shading orange-flowering clivia (shade plant) at its feet; fancy-leaf pelargonium hybrid "Vancouver Bicentennial" with its reddish-orange flowers; silver liriope; variegated English boxwood:

HTH, and good luck!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 8:48PM
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Thanks everyone for the great pics...I am trying to figure out why I am unhappy with my gardens and am sure it is because they are only 3ft deep and straight lined(fence borders...This info has helped me to realize that I want Curves somewhere!!! I am thinking of adding some more depth where I can so I can do some layering plantings. I am a very hodgepodge gardener...sticking a plant here and there and so learning from all of you on how to plan a bed is also helpful! Kristi: Love that boxwood! I need to add evergreen to my beds and love the boxwood! JKom51: So Beautiful/Inspiring!!!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 10:21PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I'm not a cottage gardener by choice (not that I have anything against cottage gardens, I love them). But I have a cottage gardener result, because I grow multiple plants for the butterflies and birds which results in the crazy, somewhat messy seeming beds that resembel some cottage gardens. When I look at what you have currently, I feel like you need more height variation. I'd love to see hollyhocks to the left of that bush. I was actually wondering if you might want to remove the bush, to make room for more flowers. Or you could extend the bed forward to make room for more plants. I'd love to see a larger picture of the whole yard to get a better idea of what you options and limitations are. You've certainly got a good start. You just have to wait for your plants to fill in.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 12:14PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Living in a Mediterranean zone like the SF Bay Area means that the garden should and can look good 365 days/yr. Here we plant in Nov-April, and never worry about the ground freezing.

Hollyhocks are very pretty, but they will not fill the space all 12 months of the year.

The colors in my garden shift and change, but the overall look of the beds is the same in January as it is in August. I'm just as likely to be putting roses in a vase in December as in June.

Hence, the emphasis on foliage. You cannot build a year-round garden in coastal CA on a few pretty flowers. We garden year round and winter is the busiest season of all. Spring starts in February and ends by April.

For example, this is a photo from February 2011, last year. Just in this one bed, in bloom are calla, leptospermum, osteospermum, salvia, iris, rose 'Margaret Merrill', limonium, euryops, alyssum, erysimum, iberis, and rosemary:

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 5:21PM
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Very pretty photos and thanks for the suggestions! I will follow up in the next couple of days! This will be an extremely "Mini" cottage garden limited to our flower beds which yes, are very small! I agree that they should be extended out a bit to allow for more layering. Right now the brick is nicely laid out but a good plan for the future. Thanks for the ideas on the foliage, you are right that we will need contrast and flowers alone wont' be enough. What are your thoughts on lavender? We have some in our backyard and it is quite lovely. I have attached a overall view pic of the yard. It gets plenty of direct sunlight.

It looks like we are zone 17 (San Jose). It's been in the 30s at night in the winter but today it got up to 73 or so. The bees are definitely liking it.

You are right, it's fortnight lily. I'm not huge fan of it and definitely would like to hack it up and replace it with some other kind of bush or foliage at some point. I thought maybe rosemary might be nice. I do like the height but it is hard to manage (we have lawn sprinklers) and a total snail haven!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:11PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Yes, that whole "little plants all in a row" layout is the antithesis of a cottage garden style. This is especially true in coastal CA where plants very often exceed the listed size/height on the nursery tags.

I think you must first decide how much water and how much effort you want to put into your garden overall. A small garden can be very lovely and with good planning, relatively easy to maintain and thrifty with water. The key is PLANNING.

For one thing, it's doubtful the soil is in good shape underneath that lawn. It probably needs serious amending if you enlarge your planting area. And what kind of grass is this? Bermuda was extremely popular in the 50's through 70's. It's horrific trying to keep it out of other plants (we used to have it and our neighbor still does; I constantly battle to keep it out).

Sprinklers are great for lawn but real water wasters. After such a dry winter as we've had, we all have to seriously hope that the 2012-13 winter is a really wet one or we will go right back to water rationing again for summer 2013. For this summer, at least, the reservoirs are still full from last year's rains but we're all on (pardon the pun) very thin ice when it comes to water rates and rationing. This is especially true for where you live; San Jose is like most of CA - without water it's actually desert.

I like lavenders - have both Spanish and English lavenders, but sprinklers will drastically shorten their lives. Figure 5-7 years max with summer watering and even less if the drainage is poor. However, I don't think they have enough "presence" on their own to be good focal points in shallow beds and/or small groupings. They need to be en masse or as specific 'filler' between other more interesting plants. You also need access to them to clip back spent flower spikes or they'll look messy very quickly.

Rosemary is similar to lavender both visually and in water liking. I'm not fond of the trailing rosemary, and my upright "Tuscan Blue" has been a disappointment overall, but some of the smaller shrub rosemarys are quite nice, with good dark green color.

I love roses and actually, they get by with a lot less fuss and water than most people think. But roses differ so widely in shape, growth behavior, vigor, and suitability that when your site has limited space, you need to be very careful not to 'fall in love' with a rose variety that isn't going to work well for you. Your area has the great advantage of being warm and sunny enough for the classic David Austin roses, should you ever want to splurge on one. However, outside of "Zephirine Drouhin", you always need to consider that roses, like bougainvillea and many citrus, are highly anti-social, with nasty thorns that must be kept away from children, passersby, and walkways. I have ripped clothes on roses while weeding; a rose scratch is more likely to go septic than any other plant-caused scratch.

I strongly suggest you look into getting a copy of EBMUD's (East Bay Municipal Utilities District, the EBay water service) classic book for our entire Bay Area: "Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates" - link is below. You can get away without the Sunset Garden Book, but planning a cottage garden (which by definition is comprised mostly of high-water-use plants) here in CA really requires some thoughtful research to come up with a workable design that you will be happy with. This is the acknowledged ultimate drought landscaping book, with lots of photos for a look that is lush and amazing without using daily watering.

It is always a great mistake to "fight your site". We cannot grow everything here, but we can grow many plants that substitute quite well for traditional CG plants, as well as literally hundreds of others that gardeners in other regions would kill to be able to grow in-ground outside, year-round.

HTH! If you are ever in the Oakland Hills area, where 580 and 13 meet, I'd be happy to show you our garden. We have about 2000 sq. ft. of garden beds, all mixed plantings, no lawn, with low water usage.

Here is a link that might be useful: EBMUD: Plants/Landscapes for Dry Summers

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 12:26AM
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Thanks will let you know if we are ever in that area! We moved in a half year ago so not fully sure what the grass is - pretty sure it's mixed bermuda/something else. It is invasive but stays out of the beds which is good. Our soil is super rich clay - lots of earth worms. Hard to shovel when it's dry but all the flowers I've planted so far seem to do well with it.

The bermuda grass doesn't require as much water as other lawns which is a positive, but yes will definitely have to be careful about not wasting water. Next year we will be headed for a drought at this rate. I also want to get some rain barrels.

I've thought about doing a mixed clover lawn which wouldn't be as water intensive but my husband doesn't like it. Our front lawn is pretty small, but it would be good to extend the beds out more with a bit less lawn.

Thanks I'll check that book out. I have a few random Sunset ones that my dad gave me, but not sure if I have the main one you are referring to. It would be great to have as drought tolerant a garden as possible. When I plant new flowers I water every other day, but once they are established I just do it here and there. We kept the sprinklers off all winter. Our mums and violas seem to be pretty hardy with minimal water. The mums were planted in September and bloomed through December. The violas have been blooming since October and the mums make a nice bushy foliage (only one died). The clay soil helps because it retains a lot of moisture.

When we moved in, the front of our fence was lined with roses that would grow out near the sidewalk. We removed those and now have an arbor with roses growing around it. I like to keep the sidewalk clear as I have come very close to cutting myself on neighbors rose bushes growing too far out.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 12:54AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

You might want to consider mulching. It makes an enormous difference in water usage.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 1:55AM
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Yes I want to make my own compost at some point. Right now I just mulch with old leaves - there's a natural mulch in the backyard of droppings which is probably why the flowers do so much better back there. We have some tanbark so I should add that in there as the weather is getting warmer.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:24PM
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newbiehavinfun(7a - Southern NJ)


It's great that you have some established shrubs to build on, and I love the look of evergreens as the backdrop for flowers in the cottage garden. A great resource for cottage gardens in your area is Annie's Annuals (link below). She has some really cool ideas for annuals that might work well for you, and she's located in Richmond, CA (not sure how far that is for you) so you might want to tour their gardens.


Here is a link that might be useful: Annie's Annuals

    Bookmark   March 8, 2012 at 4:17PM
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