I am a huge fan or Rebecca Sweet. I love her garden design style and her blog, Gossip in the Garden, is a delight. I met Rebecca several years ago at a garden writers convention and we have become friends. She is incredibly knowledgeable and accomplished, while remaining enthusiastic and accessible. She has a great gift for making her expertise equally interesting and informative to all levels of gardeners.
Her garden design company, "Harmony in the Garden," located in Northern California, specializes in "California Fusion" style.
Her book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, which she co-wrote with Susan Morrison, is fantastic and instructive. Rebecca also writes a column for Horticulture Magazineand gives talks and workshops around the country.
NOTE: Click on photos to see them larger.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your website?
Like many garden designers, I’ve been in love with gardening since I was a young child. And lucky for me, I’ve spent most of my life traveling down a very rewarding garden path! For the past 11 years, I’ve been designing gardens in Northern California with my landscape design firm, Harmony in the Garden. In addition to designing, I write about all things garden related in my latest book, Garden Up!, my column with Horticulture magazine and my blog, Gossip in the Garden. And as if that weren’t enough I also travel throughout the country speaking at various garden clubs and garden venues.
2. Would you tell us about your climate and how you deal with its challenges?
3. How would you describe your container design philosophy or style?
My favorite types of containers are big and bold with a single, healthy plant in them – sort of a one plant per pot philosophy. I like to keep the containers and plants simple, so the attention can be focused on the different elements the plant has to offer. Sometimes containers can look too busy and each plant’s individual qualities tend to get lost.
Also, since we have a year-round climate here, I try to include plants that remain evergreen throughout the year. With a little planning, it’s easy to have containers that look as good in the winter as they do in the summer.
4. Do you have favorite plant combinations that you use again and again?
Cold-hardy succulents are one of my favorite plants to include in containers, such as certain varieties of agave, yucca or sedums. Those, combined with an evergreen grass, such as lomandra ‘Breeze Mat’ or a tall and spiky phormium make a beautiful (and tough!) grouping. I also try to include ‘under plantings’ in these containers, something small and colorful that will drape over the edges, such as thyme or sedum.
5. Do you have any general container gardening tips you would like to share?
Don’t forget to add a little ‘bling’ to your containers! I often use marbles, shells, pretty rocks, and deconstructed (and outdated) resin grape clusters as unexpected treasures in containers. The sky’s the limit with what you can add, just remember to have fun with it!
6. What common mistakes do container gardeners make with in your climate?
7. How do you use containers in your landscape designs?
I like to place containers within a garden bed - elevated if possible. I find this is a great way to add vertical interest, as well as add a bit of surprise, in the garden. This is especially effective when the container’s plants mimic the plants in the garden bed.
I also like to use a large container as a focal point in the garden – planted or not. Sometimes a beautiful container can stand alone in the garden, acting more as a sculpture or piece or art. When strategically placed, these types of containers are an excellent way to draw visitors through the garden.
8. What advice do you have for beginners about container design?
I’d advise new gardeners to first and foremost read those plant tags! It’s important to understand the lighting and water requirements of the plants you’ll be placing together in the container. While it’s certainly okay (and fun) to stretch the limits of what a tag says a plant will tolerate, understand that you may not get the desired results.
And remember, your plants will be living together in a container so they need to have similar requirements. Don’t plant a shade-loving plant next to a full-sun plant!
9. What advice would you give on choosing containers?
Generally speaking, the bigger the better! Not only will the containers make more of an impact in your garden, but the soil is less likely to dry out on hot days. And when there’s more soil, there’s more space for a plant’s roots to fully develop, resulting in healthy and happy plants.
I’m also a big fan of using non-traditional items as containers, such as shells, old minnow-buckets, watering cans, etc. Sedums work particularly well in these typically shallow vessels. This is an excellent way to start injecting a little personality into your garden, too!
10. What kind of fertilizer do you use in your pots and how often do you add it?
I’ll admit I’m not the best at fertilizing my pots. Which is why I use larger pots with really high quality, organic soil. That way, the roots have a better chance of supporting themselves until I get around to feeding them! When I do remember to fertilize, I use two products - one called Marine Cuisine and organic compost teabags from Authentic Haven Brand.