Dear Bonnie

  1. Johan V. of Gillette, WY asks “What kind of material would you recommend to cover the ground of a dog run? Gravel? Barkdust? Other?

Bonnie says, “My go-to for dog runs is always cedar chips.  They have an inherent aromatic fragrance which discourages fleas.  They do not splinter and do not change the PH of the soil. Look for a medium size wood chip (the large chips are rocky to walk on and the small chips break down too quickly).

  1. Isabelle T. of Bennington, VT writes, “I have a powdery white coating on the leaves of my roses. What is it and how do I get rid of it?

Bonnie says, “What your roses have is powdery mildew, which is not uncommon to roses especially if a plant does not have much air circulation around and through it. A very organic treatment is to spray the leaves with a dilution of milk and water (approximately 1/3 milk to 2/3 water) until the spray drips off the leaves. You may have to repeat this 2-3 times about every 3-4 days to clear the plant of mildew.  It is the lactic acid in the milk that helps to prevent mildew from returning. And then early next spring be sure to prune the rose and open it up so this doesn’t continue to occur.

Have you got questions about gardening as well that you’d like me to answer? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Melissa S. of Oklahoma asks “My front yard doesn’t get much direct sunlight, thanks to two giant oaks. I’d like to plant some shrubs around the front of the house, but don’t know what will grow in the shade. Any suggestions?

Bonnie says, “You don’t say exactly what kind of oaks you have in your yard which might help to better understand how deep the shade is there.  Nevertheless, one of my favorite plant combinations for open shade environments is a Japanese Maple named Acer palmatum Sango-kaku or Coral Bark Maple paired with an evergreen grass named Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’ or Japanese sedge.

The Coral Bark Maple is a fabulous plant giving you 4 seasons of interest. Fresh green leaves in the spring maturing to a deeper green in the summer, followed by brilliant fall leaves and coral colored bark on the newer branches in the winter.  With the lime green sedge planted at its feet it is a knock out combination both for texture and color all year round.

Both plants will need some summer water even once established but they are not water hogs. Hope that helps!”


Sandra O. of Idaho writes, “I see fall crocus blooming everywhere!  When do I plant them?”

Bonnie says, “Actually, what you are seeing in bloom is a family of bulbs named Colchicum autumnale.  They resemble crocus but unlike crocus they are NOT edible (crocus provide the spice saffron). All fall blooming bulbs are planted in the spring so look for Colchicum in your garden centers and nurseries in March.”

That’s all for now folks. Don’t forget to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening hacks as well.

If you’ve got questions about gardening, feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Judy A. of Staunton, VA writes: “Dear Bonnie, when is the best time to mulch your garden?”

Bonnie says, “Many folks think mulching the garden is for weed control but it is just as useful to keep plants dormant during the winter months.  I recommend applying 11/2” to 2” of organic mulch once the ground starts to get cold. In my side of the world that is just after Thanksgiving.  Using that timing, the mulch keeps the plant cold so if there is a false spring in February they will not break dormancy and get hit by a killing frost.”


Andy L of Billings, MT writes: “Dear Bonnie, some of the branches on my Japanese maple are dying.  What could be the problem?”

Bonnie says, “Die off of selected branches could be the first signs of verticillium wilt. Maples are particularly susceptible.  I’d recommend taking a cutting to your county extension service for a clear diagnosis. IF it is verticillium wilt, there is no cure and the disease will remain in the soil.  You need to remove the infected plant, do not compost it but dispose of it in the trash. And do not replant another plant in the same spot which is susceptible to VW.”


Alice M. of Nampa, ID wonders: “Dear Bonnie, we are thinking about removing our lawn but still want something green in that spot. Something that doesn’t require constant mowing and needs less water. Any recommendations?”

Bonnie says, “Yes! Green spaces can take many forms. There is a whole world of very cool ground covers in the plant world.  Picking just one will be your challenge not finding one you like. If you want a grass look-a-like without the maintenance of turf grass there is a little, dwarf mondo grass that works well (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’).  It has short, blade like, green leaves. It requires less water than turf grass and NO mowing. Planted 6-8” apart it will grow together and create a mat that will resemble grass.”

Have you got questions about gardening as well that you’d like me to answer? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected].


Taylor H. Vermont asks ” We want to get rid of our lawn altogether and use that area for planting beds but we don’t want to use Roundup. Is there a good way to do this?”

Bonnie says, “Yes. The method is referred to as “lasagna mulching“. It is easy; all you need is lots of newspaper or cardboard sheets, water, and organic mulch. Cut the grass short so you have a somewhat level, even surface. Lay the paper (cardboard or newspaper) down on the lawn so each sheet overlaps another 4-6”. If you are using newspaper you will need to apply 3-4 layers of newspaper 6-8 sheets thick. Wet each layer down thoroughly (this is an important step so the paper will break down and not form a water-resistant barrier). Lay down 2″ of mulch on top of the wet paper and let it sit for 3 months or more. The grass will be smothered, the paper will decompose, and the area will be relatively weed-free, ready for the next chapter.


Farah J. of Nebraska wonders, “What is compost tea? Where do I get it and what is it good for?”

Bonnie says, Compost tea is the next best thing for your garden as sunshine is, in my book. Your grandparents used to dump a couple of handfuls of manure into a bucket of water, let it sit for a day or so and water their special plants with it. Today compost tea is made using an aerating blender, organic worm castings, a few nutrients, and water. By forcing air through the batch for 20-24 hours research has shown that the tea becomes super inoculated with microorganisms and is rich in nutrients that improve the health of plants. It can be sprayed on the leaves of a sickly plant or used as a drench. It is an organic, simple, “magic elixir”. Some of the better garden centers make their own compost tea and sell it by the gallon. but note: you must use it quickly because after the bubbles are turned off the microorganisms start to die over the next 24 hours.”

That’s about it for 2019. Michael and I both wish your homes to continue to prosper in the upcoming year.

Stay tuned for more “Dear Bonnie” answers and don’t forget to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening tips as well.

If you’ve got questions about gardening, feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.


Jackie A. of Vermont writes, “We have a hillside of English ivy which is encroaching into the rest of our yard. How do we get rid of it?” 

Bonnie says, “There are many things to thank the English for but one of them is not English ivy. This is one tough plant and invasive in many areas. Herbicides sold in garden centers rarely put a dent in the plant because its waxy leaves resist an herbicidal assault. There are a few commercial herbicides out there that do damage but you must have an Herbicide Applicators License to buy and handle those bad boys. And the plant is a challenge to eradicate by hand because it spreads by runners so there is back breaking digging involved.

My best recommendation is one word…Goats. Cute and social, a small herd of goats will beat back plants so you can get a handle on the field of ivy. And as they work, they fertilize as well! But please note, this is not a permanent solution it just buys you time to dig. Contact your local Goat herder to ask about rentals.”


Vivienne O. of Maine asks, “I just moved to a new property which has a nice, established garden (one of the reasons we bought the place). But I am seeing what I think are mole hills!!! Eeeck! If we have moles how do we get rid of them?”

Bonnie says, “You can recognize the difference between gophers and moles by their diggings. Gophers create hills that are crescent shaped and moles form mounds which are dome shaped and are evenly formed in all directions. Both do their share of damage in a garden but I consider the damage gophers do as intentional and the havoc moles reek to be unintentional. Gophers are herbivores that eat the roots of plants and have been seen pulling a plant down into their hill (a tragic sight for a gardener to watch!). Moles on the other hand are insectivores and eat grubs and worms around the root zone of plants and s they do create air pockets and disturb the root biome of the plant. Both kill plants. There are traps tailored to both nuisances which are lethal if you know what you are doing (best to call a Pro). There are subterranean sulfur bombs you can buy, which I have personally used and never seen evidence of a kill, but the bombs may deter the pest to move to our next door neighbor’s garden.

And then there is our cat who is 12.5 pounds of undeniable, unflappable, killing power with the stoic patience of a hungry lioness and a purr like an angel. Lima Purrrru brought in an all-time catch of 5 moles in one day, each one accompanied with a celebratory “cat dance!”

So you can choose to eliminate those pests by technical mechanical or chemical means or throw in a little rousing entertainment of the feline kind and still get the job done.”

There are more “Dear Bonnie” to come so stay tuned for future emails. Be sure to pass this along to your friends who might need some useful gardening tips as well.

Got questions about gardening of your own? Feel free to send them directly to me at [email protected] and I’d be glad to address them soon!.



Plan Now, Plant Later

It may seem ill-timed to think about designing a garden project this time of year but if you have a project that you want to tackle the next growing season NOW is the time to do your planning NOT in March or April when the sun comes out.

Why Fall and Winter?  The landscape trade has seasonal highs and lows – Take advantage of it!

Designers’ availability:  Fall and Winter tends to be the slow season for Designers.  They will typically have time available to work with you.  As Spring hits they get busy and may not be able to address your design needs for several months.

Get Bids when times are slow:  If you have a landscape design ready to go by January or February it is likely you will first in line to talk with Landscape Contractors.  And you will not only get bids back faster but you will you may very well get a less expensive bid in late winter or very early spring than in June when everyone in the landscape trade is swamped with work.

More Plant Material is available in the spring: Being ready with a finished design and contactor on board in the early spring means plant material will be more available and will be easier to find. This ultimately means there is less of a risk that substitutions will be necessary and you will get the design you want.

Allow Time to Design: 

Every design takes time but rarely do folks consider that in the scheme of things.  Whether you are doing the landscape planning or you hire a professional to design with you.

Expect to spend a minimum of 2 perhaps 3 months perhaps longer to produce a completed design start to finish – not including the installation.

Typical Design Steps if you are working with a professional designer:  

  • Initial meeting on site
  • Creating the Fee Proposal/ time for the client to review it and accept it.
  • Scheduling the project into the designer’s work schedule (which may vary depending upon the current client load)
  • Site Measuring, photographing the site, creating a base plan (+/- ½ a day)

ALL the steps just mentioned are BEFORE ANY DESIGN TAKES PLACE

  • It will take time for a designer to Create a Preliminary Design
  • Then you meet to discuss the Preliminary design – which would include both overall landscape layout and plant suggestions –sometimes that takes a couple of meetings
  • Then there’s Revisions to the Preliminary Design — this might take 1-2 rounds of revisions and meetings
  • Once the Prelim. Design is approved the Final Design documents are begun – depending upon the size and complexity of the project Documentation can take a 40 hrs or more of time on the designer’s end.
  • A Final meeting with the designer to deliver and explain the documents.

THEN CONTRACTORS  ARE CONTACTED AND THE BIDDING BEGINS – The bidding process can take to 2-4 weeks.  


 Show a set of completed documents:  Explain each piece.

Not all designers produce documents alike and the final product will vary in what it looks like but the information should be the same.

  • General Notes
  • Demo Plan (sometimes this not needed)
  • Hardscape Plan (if the design is simple sometimes this can be combined with the Planting Plan)
  • Plant Plan
  • Plant List
  • Lighting Plan
  • Irrigation Plan or sometimes this is handled as a description.
  • Conceptual structural Elevations of any structures (fences, gates, decks, trellises)
  • Plant images for the client

My clients get:

4 hardcopies of the drawings –1 for their records, 3 to give to bidders.

1 color copy of plant images for their records

And Electronic copy of the plant images and if they request it a pdf of the drawings too.

>>Talk about Negotiating with one contractor early in the design process rather than bidding. Explain the difference


Bidding vs. Negotiating

  • Bidding takes time —  Negotiating takes interviewing contractors for the best “fit”
  • Bidding doesn’t always mean you get the lowest price & sometimes the lowest price is not the best price — Bringing a contractor in early develops a relationship and a team so they have your best interests in mind.
  • Negotiating with a contractor means you and your designer can use their expertise during the design process (the best material for a rock wall// keeping the design in line with the budget)

If you use a landscape designer you should expect that professional to not only be available to answer questions from you and the contractor as the job is installed but ALSO be on site a minimum of once for a meeting with the contractor or project manager as the job begins.

I typically include 1-2 PERHAPS 3 site meetings during the installation in my proposals.  A meeting as the job begins// Another as the plants are installed and IF there is a lot of hardscape (patios, decks, paths) one more visit during that process too.

When you are doing your own design the process and steps are just about the same ESPECIALLY IF YOU PLANNING TO USE A LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR. 

  • Measure the site locating existing property lines, buildings, paths and driveways, and existing plants to remain. Use this information to create a site plan drawn to scale for yourself so you have a base to sketch over.
  • Decide which functions you want in your garden.
    • A place to entertain?
    • A spot for the dog?
    • A play area for the kids?
    • A hot tub or fire pit?
    • A pea patch for veggies?
    • A place to meditate?

What is important to you?       Most urban properties are not large enough to incorporate everything we all dream of in our gardens soooo CHOOSE 3 FUNCTIONS AND PLAN FOR THOSE.

  • Create some preliminary ideas and discuss them with your family.
  • Once you have narrowed down your options and expectations, draw up a final plan and a list of the plants you want to use.
  • Include images of elements you like such as the
    • style of fencing,
    • gates and arbors,
    • lighting ideas,
    • water features etc.

To share with a contractor.


Warnings and Caveats:

If you ask contractors to bid on your project the only way to get accurate numbers from each bidder is to have drawings so nothing is forgotten and each contractor has the same information.

If you use a contractor remember BIG changes in the middle of the job will cost you money.  So take time to think through your design.

If you are doing the installation yourself design drawings will keep you on track and focused.

If you are doing the installation yourself, carefully think through what needs to be installed first, second, third etc. so you will not take 3 steps forward only to realize you have to back up a step and undo what you have already done!

DO NOT BUY PLANTS BEFORE YOUR DESIGN IS FINALIZED.  You may be limiting your ultimate design and regret it later

A good primer on garden design is Understanding Garden Design (Timber Press) by Vanessa Gardner Nagel.  She takes you through the process step by step.     QUESTIONS???



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Japanese Gardens PDX Style — Talking Notes

Intro: (First slide) Welcome!
Who am I? Many yrs. experience as a commercial interior designer, a gardener and plant nerd.
8 years ago stepped over the threshold and now designing on the other side.
I find I can apply all the design principals I used in architecture to the landscape and also use the skills I developed as a gardener. I am a Master Gardener, a prof. member of APLD (Asso. of Professional Landscape Designers) and there are a few other letters behind my name. But basically I am a plant-aholic and design is part of my DNA.

I have always admired the restraint and deliberateness of Japanese Gardens AND last summer I participated in a training that took me to another level of understanding of Japanese design.
(1 slide)
The Waza to Kokoro (Hands and Heart) experience —
Put on by the Portland Japanese Garden
12 days total, 6 lecture days, 5 days hands on work and a tea ceremony nearly every morning.
Participants were from all trades and all over the US. Landscape contractors, designers, curators of other Japanese gardens and even a college student.
We came from Illinois, N. Carolina, Washington state, California, Oregon
Teachers were staff from the Japanese Garden, 3 Professional gardeners came from Japan with their translators and others were scholars in the community.
The training contributed volumes to my basic knowledge of designing through the lens of Asian influence.
This is an annual program. There are still spaces available for this year’s training sessions at both the Beginner and the Intermediate levels. Contact the Portland Japanese Garden to find out more.

Before I start — if you are interested my talking notes they will be posted on my website about a week from now. Beware they are somewhat abbreviated. Look for them under the NEWS tab.

Let’s begin….When we think of Japanese landscapes we often use words like:
(1 slide)
 Minimal, rectilinear, clean, deliberate, calm & contemplative, green, retreat. Etc.

There are 9 recognized design principals in Japanese Gardens but for the sake of time we will talk about 4 of the major design principals here today:
Enclosure & Entry, The Path, using Void as an accent and Balance.

If you have been to our Japanese Garden in since June, you know there is a new entrance – a meandering path that takes you up the hill to the garden itself.
This is premeditated.
It is a devise to help the visitor transition from daily life and the rush of the city to the tranquility of the garden. It takes time and effort to climb the path and as you rise you metaphorically leave the busy world behind. In Japan gardens are designed to do the same.

1. Enclosure & Entry – In Japan the urban environment is very densely populated therefore gardens are framed for privacy and to control the view and treated as a work of art.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Garden Gates are significant because each gate represents a transition point where increasingly you leave more of the everyday world behind…. Distancing yourself from the noise and stress of the city and preparing yourself psychologically to experience garden. Usually there are 3 gates – an outer gate, a middle gate and an inner gate.

Gates are also used to control views and movement. The outer gate is typically the most imposing and densely built, often roofed.
The middle gate is lighter, lower and made of bamboo. The inner gate is the lightest and most welcoming and sometimes is just a suggestion of a gate – in some cases it is a gate which you could walk around rather than through. But of course no one would do that!
(4 slides – traditional and contemporary)

2. The Path – paths are not just for wayfinding and traffic control in a garden. They also control the cadence of motion and views of vignettes and specific garden elements.
Traditionally there are two types of paths.
Stepping stone paths which are informal are made with irregular stones and meander.
And more formal, rectangular, wider, elongated paths called Nobedans.

Small stepping stone paths force the visitor to look down, pay attention to where you place your feet and slow the rate of travel. When a large stepping stone is placed in the middle of a path of smaller stones it offers a spot to pause and view a plant or object. OR a large stepping stone placed strategically at the intersection of 2-3 stone paths will cause the visitor to look up, pause and decide which direction to take.
(3 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Nobedan paths often look like a tatami mat. The stone used in Nobedan is cut and fit and sometimes mortared together. They are straight and level which lets the walker forget about foot placement and look at the surroundings and walk more quickly.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

And when a path is closed to visitors a Barrier Stone = sekimori-ishi is placed in the middle of the path. A very civilized way to signal “no entry” …
(1slide – traditional and contemporary)

3. Void As Accent – Japanese use the term “ma” to describe a defined open space or void. It is used as punctuation, as in a pause in a dance movement or moments of silence in music or the space in a painting intentionally left empty.
It is a place for the eye to rest in a garden in the midst of a jumble of plants, textures and color. That is “ma”.

Traditional gardens use dry gardens to create void– Raked sand or gravel gardens …these are open landscapes perhaps punctuated with boulders or dense plants. Or pools of water create “ma” Or “ma” can be created with a carpet of moss
In a contemporary garden this could be a stone patio with plantings at the edge OR a large pond OR the ubiquitous lawn.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

4. Balance – Balance in combination with “ma” are the two most important design principals which give a garden Japanese character.
In Japanese gardens Balance is asymmetrical – no matching columns placed on either side of a gate. Garden elements are weighted differently — a tall narrow plant might be balanced by a low dense boulder nearby.
Straight paths are used sparingly and paths tend to wander.
Groups of elements are used in uneven numbers – 3 boulders, 5 pines.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

So to review 4 important design principals are
1. Enclosure and Entry
2. The Path
3. The use of Void or “ma”
4. Asymmetrical Balance
Thoughtfully incorporating these 4 principals and a few other minor principals will help your Portland gardens to be truer to the Japanese style rather than “Japaneseque”.
It is more than images of a laughing Buddha and stone lanterns….

2 books which I find very valuable ….both by the same writer, Marc Peter Keane
Japanese Garden Design goes into detail about design and how it originated culturally, historically and politically. And more about design principals, techniques and design elements
Japanese Garden Notes is a more visual display of Japanese garden design – being a very visual person this book is my first “go to” as a reference.
Order them on Amazon for best pricing.


Classes and Publications

Alternatives for Greenspaces

2016, 2017;
Plan Now, Plant Later

Article in Oregon Home Fall issue (October 2015) “Great Plants for Tiny Gardens”
Featured in Oregon Home Spring issue (March 2016)

Climate Change is Coming, Is your Garden Ready?

2013, 2014;
Perfect Bedfellows – Interplanting Edibles
The Real Dirt on Dirt
Get your Feet Wet – Rain Gardens and Swales
Lawn, What a Yawn – Alternatives to Green Spaces


The Great Tomato Debate

Some of you may have noticed a new kind of tomato began to appear on the shelves of

Nurseries in the spring of 2010.  These are grafted varieties.  Grafting is a method of growing the top of a plant (the scion) onto the rootstock of another plant.  It is done to achieve hardiness, manage the size of a plant, increase production and disease resistance.  In the 19th century the wine industry in France was saved from devastation by phylloxera by grafting grapes on to disease resistant rootstock.  Dwarf fruit trees are often grafted onto different rootstock to ensure their size will be small.

With those successes in mind, a local grower, Log House Plants, began introducing grafted tomatoes into the retail market.  This year, they hit pay dirt.  The plants flew off the retailers’ shelves even though they carried a hefty price tag — three times the cost of a regular tomato.

After a year of standing by, watching the action, fielding questions from clients and talking to people in the nursery business, I have to admit I was as curious as I was skeptical.  So, I set up my own less than clinical but credible experiment.  I bought two tomato plants of the same variety, an heirloom tomato named “Brandywine”, one grafted and the other non-grafted.  I planted them side by side in an amended bed with the same exposure to sun and the same watering patterns and stood back and waited…

A bit of background would be handy here:  Heirloom tomatoes typically bare fewer tomatoes than their other contemporary hybridized cousins.  So grafting heirloom varieties could be a really fine idea if one of the outcomes was more luscious fruit.  The other point of interest was the claim by the grower that this method can extend growing time because the wild rootstock the plant is grafted to is significantly more robust and cold hardy.  Well, that got my attention since we live in the Pacific Northwest where we are starting to count our summers in days instead of months!

The harvest mostly in, the votes counted and the findings are:

  • When I finally did harvest a ripe tomato, it came from the un-grafted plant.  The grafted plant had significantly more fruit but the FIRST tomato, the one we all wait for, came from the “Plain Jane”.
  • The grafted plant was about (remember this is not a clinical study) 20% bigger and fuller than the non-grafted tomato which is both a blessing and a curse because current grooming protocol calls for pruning the side shoots (the unproductive greenery) from tomatoes to focus the plants on fruit not leaf production.  This meant I spent at least 20% more time pruning the grafted plant and frankly in early September, I gave up keeping up.
  • The sizes of fruit from the grafted tomato were all approximately 30% bigger than those from the regular Brandywine with thinner skin.  The color of the fruit was pinker and lighter, not the red/orange of the “regular” Brandywine.
  • But, here’s the most important outcome…taste.  Taste testing the fruit with a few brave gourmands, picked simultaneously and hauled into the kitchen and eaten without accompaniment, the non-grafted Brandywine tomato won hands down.  TA DA!  The grafted Brandywine’s taste was diluted and watery in comparison.  It lacked that wee bit of acidity we all crave in a fresh, sun warmed tomato and the texture in contrast, was mushy.

There you have it.  Grafted Tomatoes are larger and more robust but the crop they produce pales in comparison to the non-grafted tomato in the taste test and will cost you three times more.

So…Why bother?  Next year save your money or spend it on a few more regular, old, non-grafted, tried and true tomatoes with exotic names like Green Zebra or Black Krim.  Take a bite out of a tomato, not your wallet.  


Hell Strips and Other Unmentionables

There are always “problem children” in every garden.  You know where yours are…those locations that never are quiet right, the areas that try as you might, just don’t support plants well.  They may be too boggy and wet or have poor soil or be bakey and hot.

Typically the parking strip—that area between the sidewalk and the curb is one place that is a challenge for gardeners.  These spots are referred to as “Hell Strips”, they are so called for a reason.  More often than not Hell Strips are hot spots, filled with compacted soil and subjected to pollutants because of the proximity to the street.  They are often forgotten and neglected, left to default to a boring strip of lawn or a swatch of river rock collecting weeds.

There are alternatives to the default approach.

With lot size growing ever smaller as urban density increases capturing the “Hell Strip” and making something of it is becoming more attractive to gardeners.  Hell Strips are being planted with everything from drought tolerant plant material to evergreens and edibles (although I question if it is smart to plant things you want to eat within inches of traffic and pollutants).

The first step in re-claiming a Hell Strip is amending the soil properly.  There is no point of investing in plants if the soil is so poor that it won’t support plants well.  Most soils in the Portland area are clay which means compaction is rampant, you won’t find an earthworm for miles and water runs off without penetration.  Digging in a mixture of topsoil, compost and gravel or course sand will give you a good start (at a ratio of 40:40:20).  I recommend digging the amendments in by hand but if you must rototill, show restraint and do not over till the plot.  The goal is to separate the clay and combine the amendments NOT powder the soil into a fine dust the consistency of cake flour. Whatever method you choose, hand or machine, wait to dig until the soil is not muddy or you will do more harm than good to the soil structure.

Irrigation is the next consideration.  It is not always necessary to have permanent irrigation in the Hell Strip but consider where your nearest water source is and how easy is it to access.  ALL plants (even the most drought tolerant species) need water for two to three summers until they become established.  If the source of water is difficult or complicated to use, you will find yourself inadvertently avoiding watering the new plantings. It only takes one hot day to lose your investment of time and dollars.

Now, make your design decisions about this new bed.

How should it function?  Remember this will be a very public planting.  It is at the edge of the street.  People will tend to treat it for what it is…a public place.  They may feel free to pick the blooms, eat the fruit, and walk through the plantings on the way to the street or the car.  Be prepared for all these events because they will happen.  So choose plants that are tough and not fussy.  Choose plants that will look good for at least three seasons of the year because this will create the “curb appeal”.  Choose plants that are just fine if they are walked near (or on).  And lastly choose plants that are not rare or expensive so if one disappears you will not be heartbroken.

What’s the character?  Will this be mostly edible landscape?  A Mediterranean look—lean and spikey?  An ode to Northwest Natives?  An English cottage garden?  What is your vision?

These are questions and issues to answer BEFORE you take a trip to any nursery, not AFTER you return home with a car load of “must have” plants and no plan.

Happy planting!

Bonnie Bruce is owner of Celilo Gardens, a Portland landscape design studio.  For more information: