Many neighborhood dogs are destroying our front grass. Do you know any variety of grass or plant we could put down so they won’t find this area attractive? Would prefer not to, but next step is to put down cement.
– Hilary Barry, Sherman Oaks
If your grassy area is in the sun, I would recommend kikuyu grass. It is the most dog-proof turf, although not as widely available as other kinds of turf such as fescue or Bermuda grass. However, if you conduct an Internet search, you will now find suppliers of both kikuyu sod and kikuyu seed.
You could also plant a thorny ground cover such as dwarf natal plum (Carissa species) if your location is full to half-day sun. For full sun, another spiny alternative is Bougainvillea `Raspberry Ice,’ which exhibits compact, almost ground-hugging growth. Once established, natal plum and bougainvillea will seldom, if ever, need watering.
If your exposure is dappled sun or partial shade, you could plant regular, as opposed to dwarf, mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus). Dogs tend to shy away from prickly plants. Mondo grass, which grows in rhizomatous clumps of slender and slippery leaves, can neither be pulled up nor pulled apart by canine paws. You can mow down your clumps of mondo grass to ground level with a weed eater (string trimmer) twice a year and clumps will knit together that much faster, taking on a more matted-down and smoother look.
No matter what you plant, though, install as many plants as you can afford so that the ground is completely covered within a reasonably short time. Less weeding and less irrigating will be required as the plants grow together and create a living mulch.
A final alternative would be synthetic grass, virtually indistinguishable from the real thing and suitable for any amount of sun or shade.
I saw three heavily blooming plants the other day: One is a perennial fall classic, another may be grown as an annual or perennial, and the last, thanks to recent advances in hybridization, is a dependable annual that blooms four months or longer without interruption.
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) is the fall classic. It is a heavy-blooming perennial that will give you many years of autumn joy. Chrysanthemum is derived from two words: chrys meaning gold, whether it comes from khrysos (Greek) or charutz (Hebrew), and anthemon meaning flower in Greek. Because of its etymology, I always picture the shiny golden yellow version of the plant when I hear chrysanthemum mentioned. I also think this brilliant yellow is the most vivid color in the chrysanthemum palette, which includes white, lavender, pink, orange, burnt red and bronze.
Scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) is another strong bloomer for the fall. While it typically does not appear in nurseries until the end of spring, it will bloom into the fall and beyond, and may even persist in flowering virtually nonstop for up to three years. Most often, scarlet sage is grown as an annual, for a few months at a time, being pulled from the garden the moment it stops blooming along with other annuals. However, if scarlet sage is fertilized when its flowers disappear, it will soon start blooming again. Typically, second and subsequent flower flourishes are longer than the first.
Thanks to hybridization, there has been a significant improvement in the flowering capacity of marigold.
Two marigold species are typically seen: French marigold (Tagetes patula), with small, flat flowers and the plant reaching around
6 inches in height; and African marigold (Tagetes erecta), with pompon flowers on a plant growing up to 3 feet tall. The problem with both species is that they must be deadheaded, or have faded flowers removed, in order to keep blooming.
Recently, though, hybrid crosses between French and African marigolds have been developed. Flowers have vivid patterns, may be attractively ruffled and, most significantly, they will bloom longer than either of their parents and do not require deadheading to keep blooming. Plant height is around 14 to 16 inches.
Hybrid marigold seeds, both Sunburst and Zenith series, are available through swallowtailgardenseeds.com.
Incidentally, despite their names, French and African marigold are both native to Mexico.
A surprise hedge
Sometimes you see a familiar plant used in an unfamiliar fashion and you think, “That works really well. I’ll have to try that some time.”
In this particular instance, I noticed English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) that had been recently pruned into a hedge. I had never considered growing lavender as a hedge due to its aversion for being regularly clipped. As sensitive as lavender is to excess water in the root zone, it is sensitive to overzealous pruning. At most, lavender should be pruned once a year, and sparingly at that, to keep it in bounds. Yet many gardeners just let it grow, aware of its propensity to die back where it is pruned.
However, it is apparent that if you plant a row of English lavender and give it an annual haircut in the fall you will have created a soothingly fragrant, and pleasantly elongated, cubic form to contemplate during its dormant winter season.
Tip of the week
If you are interested in learning how to cultivate an organic vegetable garden as part of a cooking and catering apprentice class, you can do so at the West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills. The fall class is now in session but another class will be starting in January.
Instructor Susan Holtz informs me that Swiss chard, beets, peas, radishes, turnips, lettuce, broccoli, bell peppers and tomatoes have been planted by her students in greenhouses and garden beds in the center’s vocational landscaping area. Seeds are started in greenhouses and young sprouts are transplanted to garden beds that have been roto-tilled and amended by the students.
Freshly picked produce has become an indispensable accessory to 21st-century cooking, and Holtz is enthusiastic about imparting this lesson through hands-on practice growing vegetables and greens that will be incorporated into the students’ culinary creations.
The class meets two days a week (13 1/2 hours per week) for 18 to 20 weeks; cost is $140. For more information, call 818-346-3540.