Gardens of Chelsea Best In Show

grand prize slice

 New MoZone Series:  Gardens of the Chelsea Show At the end of May each year, the horticultural and design world turns its eyes to the greatest garden show on earth.  Sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society in Chelsea, the flower show is the trend setter for the current year and perhaps the next five years of garden design trends.             The Daily Telegraph Garden entry that earned Best In Show is a study of contrast and harmony.  More on this garden later.  Thankfully the Show has put its spectacular gardens online at After perusing them all I’ve decided to feature some of the best entries in an ongoing series at the MoZone.  My choices will feature real ideas that you can use and apply rather than just marveling at the stellar works of construction.  There is SO MUCH to see, analyze and discuss that the gardens must be taken one at a time!  So for awhile, Thursday is Chelsea Flower Show day at the MoZone.

Desert Garden Corn Songs

man hoe

 Dot’s ancestry among the wild dingoes of dry Australia and her life here in Palm Springs gives her a special affinity for the arid landscape.  She is enamored with the poetic language of Pueblo harvest songs of the American Southwest… Great is a ripe sunflower, and great was the sun above my corn-fields.  His fingers lifted up the corn-ears, his hands fashioned my melons, and set my beans full in the pods.  Therefore my heart is happy, and I will lay many blue prayer sticks at the shrine of Ta-wa.  Until you have tried to garden in a desert, you can’t come close to understanding the great sense of accomplishment people must have felt when they had a good crop ready to harvest there.  The Pueblo songs are among the most beautiful of all Native American prayers, and this one dedicates the successful harvest to Ta-wa, the Creator who makes things grow.  There is also an example of how the gods are honored at harvest time with a thousand different ceremonies around the world.  The blue prayer sticks represent through color the spiritual qualities of sky, water, and plants.  Click here to find our link to Native Seed/SEARCH, the best online source of heirloom Pueblo corn strains:

Wildfires Grass and Sagebrush

wildfire landscaping

August rolled in this year with sixty wildfires raging over the western states.  This seems a good time to explore the unique relationship of western native plants to wildfire both in the past and now.  These stories of plant and fire show how vital fire is to the vitality of our natural wildlands. Grass is a plant naturally adapted to fire.  In prehistoric times, late season lightning strikes touched off blazes in the dry prairies and meadows.  This fire burned away the chaff of the previous season leaving ash to stimulate new growth from the living root crowns in the spring.  In these dry areas sagebrush, various species of Artemisia are woody plants become the dominant cover where the soils are thin.  They offer limited wildlife value but provide vital soil holding roots on dry hills and slopes.    Given the chance, sagebrush will also colonize the richer soils inhabited by grasses. Year after year the sage will creep into the edges of the grassland, infiltrating until it becomes the dominant species.  But sagebrush is oil rich and highly vulnerable to fire.  When  it is burned, unlike grasses, the entire sage plant dies.  Therefore Nature in her wisdom uses these late season fires to renew the grasses and to burn away any sagebrush seedlings that have taken hold since the last burn.  Such a system ensures the grasses remain dominant where soils are deep and rich, thereby providing plenty of cover and forage for many wildlife species.   When fire is excluded altogether from these ecosystems, the grasslands grow smaller while sage becomes more extensive.  Fire is vital to grassland survival. Click here to read more about wildfire and western natives: California Wildfire Landscaping by Maureen “Mo” Gilmer

The Best Day Fishing…


In an alpine lake on the eastern High Sierras away from cell phones and computers is some of the best fishing in California.  But to catch fish you must purge your mind of all work related thoughts.  You must settle down to take in all the minutiae of the surrounding land and water.  If you are lucky like we were a bald eagle will fish those same waters right in front of you.     Some years ago I used to swim in the deep pools of the Yuba River in the western Sierras.  Using a diver’s mask you could see the wild trout in those pools and better understand how they behave.  Never do they swim out in the open water, instead choosing to follow ledges and edges in their continual hunt for food.  If I was to swim too close they might even mock charge me, proving their territoriality.  The big lunkers are more often found at the bottom of the deepest holes where it is cool and dark. On this trip I found a ledge evidenced by a change in water color at the drop-off.  Cast just beyond that and the bait falls into the edge shipping lanes for trout.  You sit down and wait, not reading or playing video games or even listening to the radio.  No, this is the beauty of it all, you merely exist, mind at rest, body warmed by the sun and cooled by a slight breeze. And if the trout gods are smiling as they were on this trip, you will have the time of your life and rekindle something too often lost in us these days…true peace.

Plant Tough American Prairie Flowers

colorful coneflower collection

 They say the the only truly undisturbed remnants of the American tall grass prairie exist in graveyards where the land was fenced off from livestock and the plough. Blended into the native grasses of the upper Midwest were perennial flowers that grew and bloomed vigorously every year.  These cold hardy coneflowers, liatris, Joe Pye weed and so many more are better adapted to our climate and the patterns of our seasons.  As natives they are pest and disease resistant.  These plants thrive in a wide range of soils.  These perennials grow larger plants with each passing year, offering ever more blossoms.  Best of all, coneflowers are downright hard to kill.  Among the greatest of this perennial prairie palette are the coneflowers.  Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea is today the darling of perennial gardeners because of its great willingness to grow and flower.  Even after flowers fade its extraordinary central cone shaped center becomes quite attractive in fall and winter when its seeds mature.  They draw a host of local and migratory birds which feed on the seed.   Leave them standing into snowfall and these sculptural seed heads offer even more late season interest. Breeders have been busy with coneflowers.  In the past five years a variety of new cultivars have been developed to improve the size of flowers and widen the range of color.  You can get a sampling of coneflowers to plant this fall through Park Seed Online Catalog (See Cool Links).    Parks Colorful Coneflower Collection This collection of three outstanding perennials are hardy to Zone 4 and grow in virtually any garden soil provided there is full sun.  Included are varieties Doubledecker, a deep Vintage Red and golden yellow Harvest Moon.  Plant this fall to give them time to acclimate before the big bloom push next summer.

Spiral Topiary for Winter Gardens


One of the percs of being in the media is seeing many of the garden industry leaders first hand.  Thanks to the generous folks at Monrovia, I was fortunate enough to see their fabulous topiary operation first hand.  At the Dayton, Oregon nursery, the beautiful conical junipers spread out in perfect geometry over many acres.  Monrovia’s best topiary sculptors gave us a demonstration on how they create the fabulous spirals that are among the most outstanding elements in winter gardens.  Two double spirals at left, a single spiral at center and to the right a still un-sculptured juniper. For ideas on how to use spirals in your garden, click here to read my Yardsmart article “Multiplicity” at I couldn’t help but think how they might look under holiday lighting in front yards.  The single and more complex double spirals are perfect for this kind of decor and make an exceptional form under snow.  These spirals in containers are exceptional indoors and out when decorated with fruit, fresh or faux.  Flanking a porch or front door, and even used inside as a living Christmas tree, this is one super purchase that fills a dozen roles indoors and out.  Topiary has its roots in the parterre gardens of 17th and 18th century France where the art of sculptured hedges reached its zenith.  For more information on Monrovia’s fabulous juniper topiaries and to find a dealer near you log on to  

Dot on Cats and Garden Ecology


  What is a man without the beasts?  If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit.  For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man.  All things are connected.  Dot found this piece on connectedness in a letter from Chief Seattle to President Franklin Pierce.  In posting this she knows she’ll get a lot of bad press from cat people, but she’s not big on felines in her garden.  She believes cats disturb the natural order of things by killing the lizards and frogs and birds that help keep insects at bay.  Dot remembers that before the foxes ate our barn cats, she and her predecessors were plagued with fleas.  In those days I often found lizard heads and piles of bird feathers attesting to our cats’ hunting forays.  After the wild foxes ate the cats a funny thing happened.  We began to see the lizards and frogs and birds return to the garden.  Then the fleas went away.  Dot thinks that these reptiles were consuming the fleas and their larvae, and many other unwanted pests such as earwigs and slugs.  She decided that we’d forgo replacing the cats in the event that the return of this natural balance was behind the new flea-free life.    For more information on the problem of cats and wildlife click here