Email Vesta
Blog Home Page

Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gardening in Sonoma County - Winter Gardens

Wake Up Your Winter Garden

Greetings Sonoma County Gardeners! I am Gail Fanning, your new garden columnist at the Gazette: I am so happy to be writing this column for you and Vesta; I hope it will be a long and lasting association. I have been a gardener all my life, inspired by my grandmother, a passionate gardener with a wonderful bamboo jungle irresistible to me as a child. I have lived and gardened in Sebastopol for twenty-five years.

As a professional garden designer, I specialize in helping the “do-it-yourself” homeowner develop practical, economical plans for their personal outdoor spaces. I believe that we can all have beautiful, pleasing outdoor spaces, even on a limited budget. I hope to inspire you to enjoy the your garden more: time spent in the garden is a restorative for the soul and spirit, as well as good exercise.

Today I would like to talk about the process of developing a garden which is beautiful year round. Here in coastal California, unlike much of the world, we are blessed with the possibility of a garden which is alive and changing right through the winter. I delight in designing gardens full of interest, color and structure in all four seasons. In a well planned garden, you will be able to walk out any day of the year and pick a lovely bouquet. My Thanksgiving table featured bright pyracantha and cotoneaster berries, golden yellow buddleja blooms, the glowing reddish-orange foliage of leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, glossy green ceanothus leaves, and the final buds of one of my favorite roses ‘Hot Cocoa’.

So, if you are looking out your windows over a bare and boring ‘winter’ garden, don’t despair: here are a few tips for energizing your landscape. Grab your Sunset Western Garden Book (a book that no gardener should be without) and turn to the page on Shrubs, then look for the section titled “Winter, Evergreen”. This is an excellent starting point for developing a list of plants for your garden that are beautiful year-round, and also bloom during this dreary time of year.

Old garden favorites on this list include camellias and daphne; I also love the Australian grevillea ‘Noelli’, the viburnums (Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ is my favorite), and the heaths (my Erica canaliculata is covered in pink at this moment). All of these do well in our area with proper care (see your Sunset for specific needs).

Now that cooler weather has come and the rain is starting, California natives are coming out of their summer dormancy: my Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’ is already covered with gorgeous blue blossoms! The coyote brush (Baccharis) is blooming, the cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) is producing loads of glowing silver leaves, and the berries on the toyon are spectacular now. All of these native shrubs will add winter interest to your garden; just be sure to give them well-drained soil in full sun (if you have heavy clay try them in a raised bed).

As you consider these possibilities for creating a winter beautiful garden, be sure to keep in mind the micro-climate in your garden: is it sunny or shady, windy or protected, wet or dry, clay or sand, in the area where you will be planting? How much space do you have: can you use a toyon that will grow to 15 feet, or would a low mounding salvia be better? Aim to put the right plant in the right place so that both you and the plant will be happy!

Are you inspired to add a few shrubs to your garden now? Take your list in hand, read the plant details in your Sunset book, then head out to the nurseries to see the real thing. Or, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the choices, call me for a consultation!

Join me on Saturday mornings at 10:30am for free gardening classes at Bassignani’s Nursery in Sebastopol. The next class is Saturday January 10: I will teach about selecting and pruning roses. If you have a topic or question you would like to see addressed in this column, e-mail me at I hope to hear from you!

Check out Gails's web site at

Labels: ,