The Mountain Gardener: Keep it simple for interesting garden design
by Jan Nelson / Press-Banner
Mar 04, 2010 | 1895 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Pansy redbud is a striking garden focal point.  Courtesy photo
Forest Pansy redbud is a striking garden focal point. Courtesy photo
This is the time of year when all things seem possible. You might be planning improvements to the vegetable garden. Maybe you’re also thinking of adding a focal point, like a small accent tree or garden art to one of the perennial beds. And you really need to do something about that view outside the picture window. It needs more year-round appeal. After all, you spend a lot of time looking out there.

The solution might be simpler than you think.

Creating interest outside a window depends on not only plant choices, but also simple design solutions. Keep the garden simple and restful. Editing some of the plants will reduce maintenance needs, too. Plants that have overgrown their space need constant pruning. Move them to a better spot.

Rather than trying to include everything in the garden, try for a unified look with fewer things. Make each one count.

Place objects to define a space. That doesn’t mean creating separate garden rooms necessarily, but more like adding a set of boulders to signify distinct parts of the garden.

Plants you can see through make a space seem larger. Some plants, like Japanese maple, nandina and dogwood, are naturally airy, while others, like camellia, can be pruned for openness. Low, mounding groundcovers help unify the garden. Plant soothing greenery for year-round appeal, with seasonal color from perennials and shrubs.

Simple gardens can be beautiful all year, and low-maintenance, too.

It’s not too late to plant bare-root trees or shrubs. Except for plums, which emerge from dormancy early, most fruit and shade trees and shrubs are still available in bare-root form. Good choices include angel pomegranate and Texas scarlet flowering quince.

Lavender Lady lilac would provide delicious fragrance. Or how about adding an accent tree, like an Echtermeyer weeping crabapple with purple-red blooms? The birds love the wine-red fruit that hangs on the tree during the winter. Forest Pansy redbud also looks terrific in the garden. The burgundy, heart-shaped leaves that turn orange in the fall are an added bonus after bright magenta spring flowers.

If you like unusual additions to your flower arrangements, consider planting French Pink pussy willow. Long, silvery catkins covered with a showy pink caps are very colorful in winter before the plant leafs out.

Saturn flowering and fruiting peach continues to be one of the most popular peaches. You can’t beat the excellent-quality fruit, and the massive, double pink blossoms are breathtaking.

A small cherry that is easily protected from the birds is Compact Stella. You can have large, dark red, sweet cherries when the tree is still quite young, and it’s a good pollinator for all sweet cherries.

Whether it’s something edible or an ornamental tree or shrub you’re interested in, plant one now while they are still bare-root and so affordable.

• Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at

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