Gardening team shares secrets for keeping plantings beautiful year-round

Sisters Brenda Gousha and Barbara McFadden founded their landscaping business six years ago with the mission to create and maintain flower gardens in Southern California’s Rancho Santa Fe area. Gousha, who has a degree in ornamental horticulture, and McFadden, a Master Gardener, pooled their talents to select their clients’ plants, position them, and keep the beds and borders looking beautiful. They called their business Sisters Specialty Gardens.

Making the rounds of high-end homes is nothing new to the sisters; as kids, they tagged along with their father, who cofounded San Diego’s Weir Bros Custom Homes. As demand for Gousha and McFadden’s services increased, they sought additional help, recruiting Patrice Longmire, an honorary sister with a great eye for floral design.

Most of their clients want year-round flower color, lush greenery, and no bare spots or dead blooms. Such perfection takes time, effort, and gardening savvy, so it’s not surprising that the women learned to streamline their techniques for garden design and maintenance. Follow their guidelines in your own garden and you can’t go wrong.

Groom plants often. When cutting back perennials and annuals to clear sidewalks or paths, trim the plants at a 45° angle (cutting downward toward the path’s edge), rather than perpendicular to the ground. “It looks better,” Longmire says. Use the right tools. Matching the tool to the job eases garden chores. Each woman has her preference.

  • Longmire: “A small hand rake from Smith & Hawken. It lets you maneuver under shrubs to clear leaves and debris.” (Gardena Hand Rake: 800/981-9888 or
  • McFadden: “A French pruning knife for weeding. It has a hooked blade ― perfect for getting at roots.” (Bahco P20 pruning knife: Rittenhouse, or 877/488-1914)
  • Gousha: “Joyce Chen garden scissors. They have long, tapered blades, which make cutting flowers quick and easy.” (“Unlimited” Garden Scissors: or 812/238-5000)

Raise pots on posts. Place bowls filled with cascading plants on stone pedestals. The pot pictured at top contains lime green sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’) and Helichrysum petiolare ‘Variegatum’.

Train vines on walls. Star jasmine, trained into a diamond pattern, spreads a green tapestry across an 8-foot-tall, 10-foot-long stucco wall above a trickling fountain in the garden pictured above. The vines grow from planting pockets on either side of the fountain and spread along stainless steel wire attached to eye screws in the wall.

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