10 ways to kick-start your spring garden

What to plant now for a garden full of beautiful blooms, abundant edibles--or both

Treat a trellis as art

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Treat a trellis as art

Anything but ordinary, this circular trellis is a sculpture you can walk through. In Sunset’s test garden, our “moon gate” entrance to veggie beds is also an ideal support for scarlet runner beans. Vine-covered or bare, it makes a big statement. The rustproof steel hoop measures 80 inches across and comes in seven vivid colors (we chose Kumquat). Each structure is handcrafted in Los Angeles by a sculpture and design studio. $840; terratrellis.com

Triple-duty beauty: We’re big fans of scarlet runner beans. The fast-growing vine (it covered our trellis in two months) pumps out gorgeous, hummingbird-attractive blooms that develop into tasty young edible pods and shellable beans later.

Grow it: In spring, sow seeds 1 in. deep, 4 to 8 in. apart, in full sun. Provide poles or trellis for support.

Pack in the veggies

Photo by Erin Kunkel; written by Julie Chai

Pack in the veggies

“I call it my front-yard grocery store,” says Elaine Uang of her kitchen garden, in Palo Alto, California. Although small, the space gets lots of sun, which is why she and her husband, Mike Greenfield, chose to grow edibles alongside their driveway. They harvest more fruits and veggies here than they imagined possible. The keys: good design, raised beds, and espaliers.

When they started the garden, Greenfield, a longtime gardener, focused on planting as many crops as possible; Uang, an architect, wanted to make sure everything looked good. She came up with an overall plan, then brought in collaborators to complete their vision.

Now the couple can harvest something whenever they’re hungry‚ whether peppers for lunchtime salads or melon for dessert; even their 18-month-old daughter helps with picking. And by having edibles in front, they’ve met neighbors who grow food too, so they now swap crops. “Every season is a learning experience,” Uang says. “It doesn’t matter what you grow as long as you give it a try.”

Info: Metalwork, planting plan: BaDesign, Oakland (badesignlab.com). Planting and care: Star Apple Edible + Fine Gardening, Oakland (starappleediblegardens.com)

Anatomy of a hard-working kitchen garden

Photo by Erin Kunkel; written by Julie Chai

Anatomy of a hard-working kitchen garden

Raised beds: Densely planted steel beds, each 3 by 6 1/2 ft., produce an amazing amount of food. The harvest, from May to October: eggplant (3 types, 40 lbs.), lemon cucumbers (30 lbs.), peppers (3 types, 7 lbs.), squash (2 types, 70 lbs.), plus 3 cantaloupes and 20 onions.

Espalier: Serving as a fence at the property edge, a 30-ft. steel espalier supports 6 fruit trees: Asian pear, ‘Bearss’ lime, blood orange, cherry, European pear, and ‘Pixie’ mandarin.

Other materials: River rock, decomposed granite, and concrete pavers keep the space tidy and easily accessible for tending.

More: 10 raised bed garden ideas

Taste a big-hit baby bell

Photo by E. Spencer Toy; written by Johanna Silver

Taste a big-hit baby bell

The ‘Miniature Yellow’ bell pepper has delighted visitors to the Sunset test garden in summer. Its bite-size fruits are just over 1 inch long—perfect for kebabs. But its yield is anything but mini: This baby cranked out lots of very sweet peppers on 18-inch-tall plants all summer long. Shop nurseries for seedlings, or start it from seed. territorialseed.com

Grow it: Plant seedlings 18 to 24 in. apart in full sun, in rich, well-draining soil. Or plant in a container at least 8 in. deep and 16 in. wide.

Give herbs instant style

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Give herbs instant style

Try growing herbs in pots whose color matches the leaves for a totally sophisticated look. Chives and ‘Genovese’ basil fill the lower (8-inch diameter) container at right, while ‘Argenteus’ silver thyme and ‘Genovese’ and ‘Dark Opal’ basil grow in the taller (12-inch diameter) pot behind.

Grow it: Plant seedlings in a container at least 8 in. deep and wide, filled with fresh potting soil. Display them in a spot that gets full sun.

More: 18 indispensable herbs

Savor special berries

Photo by Michael Kevin Daly / Fall Creek Farm & Nursery; written by Johanna Silver

Savor special berries

Landscape-worthy blueberry 

Whether planted in a container or as a low hedge, new ‘Peach Sorbet’ blueberry adds drama to your garden. It grows to just 2 feet tall, but its summer berry crop is abundant. brazelberries.com

Grow it: Plant in full sun; give it moderate water. Fertilize in early spring with a granular or liquid acid fertilizer. Prune to shape in winter.

Tasty white strawberry

Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Johanna Silver

Tasty white strawberry

It’s hard to believe that white berries could taste good. But trust us, this alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca albocarpa) is a little morsel of heaven. The harvest is light, though; buy five plants to start. raintreenursery.com

Grow it: Plant in sun to light shade, in rich, well-draining soil; space plants 8 to 12 in. apart. Water regularly.

Space-saver raspberry

Photo by Howard Rice / Getty Images; written by Johanna Silver

Space-saver raspberry

Even patio gardeners can now include raspberries in their bounty. ‘Raspberry Shortcake’ stays a tidy 2- to 3-foot-tall mound—perfect for pots. Yet the berries are full-size, and very sweet. Find it at nurseries.

Grow it: Plant in full sun in well-draining soil; moderate water. Fertilize in early spring with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Plant a nectar bar

Photo by Jeffery Cross

Plant a nectar bar

A vibrant garden needs pollinators. Grow any of these plants for the sweet nectar, pollen, and flat landing surfaces that butterflies and bees love.

Grow them: Set out plants in a spot that gets full sun (Buddleja can also take light shade), in soil that drains well. Once roots are established, most take moderate water; give sunflowers regular water.

More: 21 best plants for pollinators

Grow a game-changing bloom

Photo by E. Spencer Toy; written by Johanna Silver

Grow a game-changing bloom

Grow them: Set all these plants in full sun. Give regular water to start; once established, most thrive with little water (‘First Yellow’ geranium prefers regular irrigation). Grow ‘Baby Sophia’ bougainvillea in a container filled with fresh potting soil; give it moderate water and feed regularly with an organic fertilizer.

More: 5 game-changing flowers

Go big with foliage

Photo by Stacie Crooks

Go big with foliage

A great foliage border gives a garden a rich, layered look that doesn’t depend on flowers for dramatic effect. The key to success: Pick the right blend of shrubs and small trees whose leaves and branches create contrasts in color, texture, shape, and size. To make each plant stand out, set big-leafed plants beside fine-leafed ones, and spice up a mostly green palette with variegated plants that provide hits of gold, bronze, and purple.

More: 12 great foliage border plants

Design a mini landscape

Photo by Aya Brackett

Design a mini landscape

Plum-colored foliage is a rich accent against soft greens in these easy-care containers. Arrange taller plants in the center or back, trailers near the pot’s edges. For immediate effect, choose large plants and big pots (shown above left: 10 in. across, 14 in. tall; right: 16 by 18 in.). Start smaller for a less pricey combination. Design: Daniel Nolan, Flora Grubb Gardens (floragrubb.com)

Grow them: Pick pots with ample drain holes and use fast-draining potting soil. Set in full sun. Water well, then only when top several inches of soil are dry.

Container at left (clockwise, from bottom left corner of pot): Aloe humilis (6 in.); Phormium ‘Guardsman’ (5 gal.); Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ (5 gal.); Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Echeveria pulvinata (4 in.); Aeonium leucoble­pharum (6 in.).

Container at right (clockwise, from bottom center of pot): Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Sedum adolphii (4 in.); Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ (1 gal.); Chondopetalum tectorum (1 gal.); Echeveria ‘Coral Glow’ (6 in.); Kalanchoe ‘Fantastic’ (6 in.); Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (1 gal.).

More: 45 cool container gardens

 

Dream up a meadow

Photo by Marion Brenner; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Dream up a meadow

In the bright spring sunshine, this Bay Area backyard--featuring California poppies, blue-eyed grass, white meadowfoam, Pacific Coast irises, and magenta-flowered Salvia--looks as vibrant as the wildflower fields of Southern California’s Antelope Valley after a rainy winter. California poppies blaze in shades of orange; splashes of white meadowfoam and pink checkerbloom fringe the paths. Bees buzz and butterflies dance among the petals.

Owner Melanie Cross, who converted a lawn into this wildflower fantasia, has opened her garden to visitors on a Going Native Garden Tour. Armed with notepads and cameras, would-be native gardeners gather ideas and information for fall planting in their own yards. Fortunately, Cross is an enthusiastic evangelist. “I love native plants,” says Cross, who found inspiration for her garden in the fields around her childhood home in rural Southern California. “Wildflowers have evolved in this place. They’re important to birds, butterflies—the web of life. We humans take away from the natural habitat. I wanted to give back.”

Get inspired: Visit dozens of Bay Area gardens on the Going Native Garden Tour (free; gngt.org; at some sites, you can buy plants). For other tours, visit the California Native Plant Society (cnps.org).

More: 8 knock-out native flowers

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