December 5, 2017
The Garden Chronicles
A monthly newsletter from the California School of Garden Design

No. 55



I'll start off with the announcement that my latest book - "
The Fundamentals of Garden Design" is now available on Amazon.  With 160 pages and full of color photos and designs along with the forward written by my friend and colleague David Stevens, this book is a step-by-step guide to designing the residential landscape.  

It follows the curriculum of my Beginning Design Course offered through the California School of Garden Design and is available online at

To celebrate the publishing of the book my online course is being offered for only $15 through Dec. 8.  After that date I'm offering 100 coupons at 75% off the normal price of $125.00 through December 31st.  Simply use the coupon code DISCOUNT75 when registering after Dec. 8.

Today is Dec. 4th and the sky is a brilliant blue after a cloudy, stormy weekend.  Temperatures are dropping into the mid - '30's and low 40's overnight and with the falling leaves it really does start to  feel like late fall/early winter here in the foothills.
As is our morning routine, we walk our dog Brisco around what we call "the mountain"  - about a two mile loop that takes us near the edge of the American River canyon where we have the occasional sighting of deer, coyote - even a bobcat has crossed our path.
Although others have seen mountain lion and black bear we've never encountered these inhabitants of the canyon, at least not yet.

Still, even with the cold and so many of the trees and shrubs going dormant there is still a lot to do in the garden and life is returning to many of the native shrubs we see each day. 

As we took our walk this morning I couldn't help but notice how bright red the toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries are this year and of course it's always fun to experiment with new recipes.  Toyon berries can be collected while still fresh and be made into fruit leather for snacks and later in the winter the dried berries can be gathered and a delightful toyon cider can be brewed.  These native, wild food recipes will be listed below under the Recipe of the Month heading.

What did surprise me is that the manzanita (Arctostaphylos visida)  are already setting flower buds that will bloom in the next few weeks.  It's so easy to think of winter as a time of total dormancy in the plant world and yet berries are abundant, flowers are either blooming (think narcissus) and shrubs are setting buds.  Even the Oso Berry (Oemleria cerasiformis) is swelling with new leaf buds down along Coyote Creek near where we live.

As I headed out on a second walk in late morning with the camera I was thinking to myself - "what is there to see this time of year?"  The answer being "I won't know until I get out there"  And that's the whole message in this month's newsletter - yes it's cold and often wet and frosty, but there is so much in nature to explore any time of the year and you really don't know what you'll find until you explore.  The bright reds of toyon and holly berries, pure white snowberries (Symphoricarpos mollis) hanging on leafless branches, the rich amber brown of the native buckeye nuts laying in new sprouting grass.  There really is a refreshing feeling when walking in brisk cold air with a light wind blowing - leaves falling and swirling around your feet.  
It's a great time of year - I hope you get out and enjoy it!


I've had good luck rooting cuttings of my milkweed plants (Asclepias curassavica 'Silky Deep Red').  Currently I have 8 well rooted cuttings (4" pots were almost $9.00/pot!) in the greenhouse.  I started them in small mason jars with water and once they rooted (about 2 weeks) I let them develop and then planted them in seed starter mix. Using my seedling heat mat to keep the soil warm has been a big plus.  By spring we'll have 8 more milkweed plants ready for the garden and any visiting Monarch Butterflies (and I've saved over $72.00 in plant costs!) 

We've had almost 13" of rain so far and some of the rainfall has been pretty heavy.  Unprotected soil will be compacted from the impact of rain, harming soil structure and increasing runoff and erosion.  With winter coming on be sure to mulch your garden beds with straw or leaves to protect the surface.  In the ornamental landscape, leave those leaves (or at least most of them) in place to protect the soil from heavy rains and frost.  A layer 3 - 6 inches deep may seem like a lot, but you'll be surprised by how much will be decomposed by spring and how much happier your landscape and vegetable beds will be by keeping this organic blanket on for the winter.  What you do have to remove you can simply pile up to decompose or run through a chipper.  I chip all my landscape and garden trimmings to use as a mulch wherever needed, being sure to keep it at least 6 inches away from the trunks of any trees or shrubs.  Depending on where you live you may still have time to seed a cover crop in the garden to be turned under later as green manure.   It's been shown that by increasing your soil organic matter (SOM) just 1% on one acre of land can help the soil retain over 20,000 gallons of water!
Finally, capture or slow down rain water as much as possible to allow it to soak into the soil, re-charging the groundwater, filtering pollutants and greatly reducing runoff.  Did you know that one inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof can generate 620 gallons of water?  If you have the means to capture this water for future use then look into this option.  If you can't actually capture it you may be able to divert it, slow it down and give it the chance to infiltrate the soil, helping to Toyon Cider reduce landscape irrigation needs later in the spring.  There are lots of books, classes and landscape professionals available that will guide you in creating a more sustainable garden and landscape.


Recipe of the Month

Use dried berries as they are sweeter than fresh berries.
Collect dried berries in late winter - 3-4 cups
Cover with water and bring to a boil, simmer for 20 - 30 minutes while crushing the berries
Strain and sweeten with honey or sugar to taste
Collect the fresh berries in winter
4 cups fresh toyon berries
½ cup water
Lemon juice
Sugar or honey
Rinse the berries and remove the stems
Place berries in a pot and cover with water
Simmer for 15 minutes
Add sweetener, lemon juice and spices to taste
Cook 5 minutes longer
Process in a blender or food processor until smooth
Pour a 1/8" layer onto a cookie sheet and let it dry in the oven set on very low heat, in a food dehydrator or in the sun (if in the sun cover with cheesecloth)
When dry cut into strips

   On-Line Classes Available

The comments below are from three of my students:

"Very informative, great lecturer"  Izabela K.

"The presentation felt like I was in a real class with a live instructor"                                                                                                            Patricio Q.

"Extremely good information. The author shows you a proven step by step method and explains it very clearly"  Peter R.

( I received the following comment from a student)

"Hi Rob!
Great program! I am an irrigation contractor and came across your course in an advertisement. I think the information is very timely and well put together. I came away with a few new ideas to include in my proposals and designs for 2016.
I am currently reviewing new irrigation design software, and I am curious which program you use during your presentation.
Thanks again for the information!"
Chad E.

And don't forget

Healthy Soils - Compost, Mulch and the Soil Food Web   (I've received the following reviews from students who have finished this course)

"Great Course
This course gave me a great starting point on improving my soil, composting, and just all around ideas to get me started. Will be getting that soil test done as soon as I can, though I know that my soil is not the best already, but will give me an idea on where to start. The instructor was engaging and had some great slides on the information provided as well as other resources to go over. This course is well worth taking for anyone trying to build a healthy soil and going organic as much as possible." Dawn W.

"Huge amounts of information, really interesting, will listen to it again to get more out of it. :D Thanks, exactly what I was looking for".

So, as always, stay tuned and... 

 Thanks for reading!