Girl Power: An All-Female Gardening Team Shares Secrets for Keeping Plantings Beautiful Year-Round

By Baldwin, Debra Lee | Sunset, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Girl Power: An All-Female Gardening Team Shares Secrets for Keeping Plantings Beautiful Year-Round


Baldwin, Debra Lee, Sunset


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.

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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.

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Design tips for gardeners

Use perennials as backbones, annuals as fillers. Sisters Specialty Gardens uses flowering shrubs and perennials as mainstays in beds and borders, filling in around them with annuals for quick and easy color. The pathway pictured on the previous page, for example, is accented by flowering shrubs such as Westringia fruticosa 'Morning Light' and deep purple butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii). There are also white 'Iceberg' roses, penstemons (P.x gloxinioides), and dwarf Agapanthus 'Peter Pan'. Annual nemesias in white, pink, and blue border the path, where they can be easily reached and swapped out. "Annuals bloom for six months and can be replaced at minimal cost," Gousha explains. Low, mounding chamomile and creeping thymes grow between the nemesias.

Choose easy-care plants wherever possible. For the hot, dry slope pictured above, Sisters mixes tough, unthirsty perennials, mostly in purples, pinks, and grays. Among them: Armeria maritima, with globular pink flowers; Artemisia 'Powis Castle', with silvery foliage; purple bearded iris; lavender (Lavandula dentata, L. x intermedia); pride of Madeira (Echium candicans), with blue-purple flower spikes; salvias; Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus), with white, daisylike flowers; Santolina chamaecyparissus, with yellow, buttonlike blooms; society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), with pale lavenderpink blooms; and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Horizontal pathways and rock walls help hold the slope.

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Tuck in flowers for cutting. To bring the beauty of the garden indoors, Sisters finds places to add cutting flowers for use in bouquets. Against a trellis beside a driveway in one garden, the women planted sweet peas that bloom from mid-January or early February into May, depending on the weather. "In spring, we harvest often," Longmire says. "The more you pick and deadhead, the longer the plants produce flowers." McFadden adds: "A simple jar or white earthenware pitcher is perfect for displaying them." Sisters starts sweet peas in midfall, sowing seeds about 2 inches apart in well-prepared soil. …

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