| A Master Gardener's guide to gardening in a hot dry climate
The Walled Garden
That concrete block wall surrounding
your home can be a lot more than just the barrier where your
property stops and the neighbor's begins. Walled gardens are
one of the oldest garden types, going back to the Persians
thousands of years ago.
In those ancient gardens there were
high walls for protection, a water feature (often a long
narrow pool) in the center, and plants lining the pool and
paths--all very geometric, formal and balanced. It was a
symbolic representation of heaven come to earth.
A strikingly beautiful
example of a painted concrete block wall with tile
murals and tile fountain at the
Los Angeles Arboretum.
Unfortunately, this wall has been painted a much
drabber color recently. I liked it better in
We are the direct inheritors of that
walled garden tradition--from the ancient Persians, through the
Mediterranean, into Mexico and then, the American Southwest.
As this garden style traveled across the oceans and
continents and through time, the gardens within the walls
became more relaxed and the plantings more casual. The idea
of a beautiful enclosed and private space for personal
enjoyment has, however, continued.
To see a spectacular classic
Mediterranean walled garden at the
Getty Villa go here.
charming dual hedge is
Japanese privet (Ligustrum
japonica) wearing a skirt of
Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia
rigens). These plants soak up the heat from
the wall, keeping your garden noticeably cooler.
6 things you can do to enhance
your garden walls:
1. Plant a hedge or a
border with tall plants to cover up the wall. One overlooked aspect of concrete block
walls is that they soak up heat during the day and radiate it at
night. A hedge or other tall plantings can help minimize this.
Additionally, being surrounded by "growing green walls" can be
very soothing -- especially when the temperature is over 100F
Here, a row of very hardy Pampas Grass
completely screens a dull, unpainted gray block wall.
For some traditional and
unusual shrubs and other plants to consider for hedges
in front of hot concrete block walls,
2. Use trellises
full of climbers in front of the wall. Several large trellises as high as your
wall, spaced at regular intervals, then planted with
vines or climbing shrubs is not quite a hedge, but gives
a living green wall effect. Trellises have the
benefit of being shallower and taking up less garden space.
You may wish to consider painting
your walls in addition to trellises, hedges or climbers.
3. Seal and paint
your garden walls. When selecting the color for your walls,
choose several colors and buy one quart of each. Then paint
large sample swatches on the walls. A color that may look
great as a little square may become overwhelming when you
paint 500 square feet of it. We suggest, unless you are
truly adventurous, that you select a soft pastel -- pale
green or apricot or sandy yellow--or a terra cotta color.
Or paint wide horizontal stripes in two of these colors. Plants naturally look good against these colors.
One of the latest color
trends has garden walls being painted intense purple
or bright teal or shocking pink. Those colors are
for the brave! Visitors will definitely notice your
walls -- they may not notice the plants or anything
else in the garden. Here, the fireplace and adjacent
wall have been painted deep purple.
Have the walls stuccoed and painted. The same painting
guidelines apply: buy quarts of various colors and "test
drive" them on your garden wall before you paint it all.
Some stucco comes colored.
5. Add a
real or artificial stone facade to your garden wall.
This option is, of course, expensive, but the rock
wall effect is guaranteed to give the image of age
and permanency and quality.
6. Place a tile
mural or a hanging fountain on the wall. We have seen some
outdoor walls, particularly enclosing patio areas, that have
been entirely or extensively tiled. Gorgeous -- but costly!
Adding a modest size tile mural or tiling the background
area around a hanging fountain can be less expensive and
provide a dramatic focal point for your garden. Doing this
on a painted or stuccoed wall, as you can see in the photo
at the top of this page, is very attractive.
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