My Great Outdoors: Rene's Therapy Garden

My Great Outdoors: Rene's Therapy Garden

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Janel Laban
Jun 26, 2009

Name: Rene
Location: San Francisco
Type of space: Garden

Tell us about your outdoor project and how you enjoy it: I call this my therapy garden. I was raised gardening with both my mom and dad, only my main job on weekends was weeding. Now that I have my own garden, I find it to be the most relaxing and creative thing I do. Being that I get very little frost here at sea level, I am able to grow many succulent plants along with perennials that bloom year round....

Many of the succulents I grow are native to Chilean cloud forests, so they do quite well in the SF Marina. However, I have a really warm little micro climate protected by surrounding houses, so things that require some warmth, like salvias, also thrive.

From what my neighbors have told me, the original owner of my 1923 home was a master gardener and a pharmacist. His greenhouse still stands in my yard and I actively use it for seed propagation. I find his relics throughout my yard. Some things I have found are mortar and pestles, a gong, glass gems, broken china, a blue plumb bob, and many tools. I am carrying on his tradition by burying my own relics for another gardener to find one day.

How did you create it?:
I am an avid collector of succulents. I like to mix succulents with perennials. I grow very few annuals, except in my cutting garden.

I have planted all of my perennials with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees in mind. I have over 25 different species of salvias for the pollinators along with buddleias, 3 species of lavender, and as many flowering natives as I can pack in. Oh, and I have Nepeta (Catmint) planted all around the garden for my cats.

I have divided my garden space (25' x 75') into distinct planting areas:
-A raised bed used as a production cutting garden
-A raised bed for veggies
-A pond with waterlilies, bog plants, and goldfish
-A pollinator's garden with salvias, lavenders, buddleias, melianthus, erigiums, and many other aromatics.
-I have 2 mason bee houses and 3 types of bird feeders
-Several raised mounds for my collection of echeverias, aloes, aeoniums, sedums, and sempervivums.
-A more formal area near the house consisting of a woolly thyme patio. My original intention was to use this area in the event that one day I decide to host a barbeque, but even as I write this I am planning on digging it up and turning it into more raised beds.

A few notes:
-For 3 years in a row now, a monarch butterfly migration comes through my yard in mid October. They hang around for 3-4 days, then move on. I have never seen them arrive and I have never seen them leave. I take this as a signal that I am doing something right.
-I don't grow any cacti
-There is nothing in my yard called a "hen and chick" or "chicken and hen"
-One should not pay more than $30.00 for an Aloe polyphylla. They are widely available in cultivation these days.
-If I don't like where something is planted, I simply move it, even if it only needs to move a few inches.
-If frost does damage to something, I look at it as an opportunity to plant something else.
-I am a garden maximalist. Minimal, modern, controlled gardens hold very little interest for me.
-I don't believe in lawns.
-I harvest rainwater off of my greenhouse roof. One or 2 storms fills up my rain barrel, which in turn I use to water the veggies.
-Everyone makes mistakes.
-Succulents need to be outside. I guarantee that the gorgeous picture you saw of the modern living room with succulents in it was staged. They took the picture then moved the plants back outside. They need air, light, and weather.
-Succulent walls and wreaths are lovely for about a month, but I have yet to see one that looks good a year after it was planted.
-I carry ziploc baggies around with me for random seed collecting.
-I am thinking of raising a few chickens.
-I make my own compost from kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. All earthworms are welcome.

Recommended store, site, product or resource?
I like to buy my succulents from their growers at plant sales. The Dry Garden in Berkeley is great for succulents and perennials. The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek is an inspiring garden planted over many years time. Sloat has lots of natives. Flowercraft nursery (used to be Floorcraft) on Bayshore is one of my favorites.

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