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Christiane Holmquist

Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
State: California
Business: Owner- Christiane Holmquist Landscape Design

Biographical Information

My mother was the first person in my life who had a passion for gardening that bordered on obsession... She would demand our help with everything from weeding the vegetable garden, collecting cow or horse manure on pastures for her compost, to harvesting berries and digging up dahlias in the fall. The more responsibility we daughters could assume in the house the more time she spent in the garden. She allowed me to create my own first flower bed in a corner of the garden, and I remember vividly the peace and satisfaction that came with putting my hands into the soil and creating a "garden" of my own. Since then I have gardened wherever I saw an opportunity; in Germany, France and then San Diego, even if it meant to dig up my parking spot.

Prompted by the discovery of California native plants I turned my front lawn at my last house in UTC into a vibrant Native garden that attracted neighbors and encouraged them to stop and ponder wildflowers, seedheads and flowering shrubs. Now I am getting to know which plants can cope with harsh summer heat, a mizerly watering regime, Santa Anas that like to put my fresh plantings to the test, and an extremely coarse and permeable soil in Ramona, that "Valley of the Sun" east of San Diego. I owe my present good fortune of designing and creating gardens professionally to Kay Stewart from the California Native Plant Society, a Landscape architect herself who pointed me to the Horticultural program at Cuyamaca College. There I earned my training and certification in Horticulture and Landscape Design and now enjoy a thriving design business of my own. 

Please tell us briefly about your favorite cause/business/product in which you are involved that you would like to share with the general public and why.
To me, a well designed garden not only provides their owners with a comfortable space for their outdoor activities; fun and exciting plants have equal importance with beautiful hardscapes and give the garden its individuality as well. Water, too, is such an essential element in bringing life to a garden. My purpose is to share my love and respect for the beauty and sturdiness of Natives and other water-wise plants from Southwestern US, South America, Australia, South Africa and Europe. "Tried and proven plants" are good, but can be a bit boring... so I like to dive into the amazing diversity of plants that are available to us to instill more enthusiasm and excitement in the garden's owner while at the same time acknowledging the individuality of Southern California's environments.

Where can members get more of your advice?
Call me!

Background Information

 Christianne's Book Recommendations


Mediterranean Climate Trees for The Garden, Ornamental Trees of San Diego
The best local tree book ever.


California Native Plants for the Garden
Accessible and indispensible for anybody growing Natives


Sun-drenched Gardens
Showing successful examples of landscapes that are full of ideas and that can be implemented in Southern California without compromising the respect for our climate, soil and relaxed life style.

Christianne's Favorite Websites

Cuyamaca College
Great for links to public/Botanical gardens, professional organizations and other relevant sites.

Mediterranean Garden Society
Great for plant lists and events.

The Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College
Great for classes, events and education.

Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
Now I am gardening in zone 20 ( in a "milder" version of zone 20; some neighborhoods in Ramona are even below that...) I have gardened in San Diego/UTC, the Loire Valley, and a couple of different climate zones in Germany (the lower Rhine valley & the upper Rheingau).

How long have you been gardening?
Since I could handle a rake!

What triggered your interest?
My mother's garden, the endless hours of play in it, the privacy. What stands out in my memory are tall Yarrows, Dahlias and Daylilies... and Strawberries.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
My experiences with gardening in distinctly different climates (Germany-continental, French-river valley, Southern California-coastal to inland) have given me familiarity with a wide variety of plants and environments, local tastes, and preferences. My training as a designer has enabled me to develop a good grasp of construction methods and consideration of budgetary concerns. My gardens inspire interest and exploration as you move from space to space- where textures, colors, movement and architectural elements, such as water or stone, interact; delighting the spirit and moving the heart.

What formal education do you have?
I have a minor degree in economics and a certificate in Ornamental Horticulture/Landscape Design from Cuyamcaca College.

What formal horticultural training do you have?

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
What makes a garden romantic? What is the essence of a garden that is enjoyable and memorable?

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
Tropical gardens in the midst of a desert and pulling up a favorite plant to find its roots completely munched by the gophers.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
10-15 hours.

How much time per week do you spend working at the business of gardening, such as consulting, reading, writing or talking about your gardening subject?
Full time, and if it's not consulting and designing or reading, it's gardening.

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
CNPS, CLCA, Sierra Club, San Diego Design Group

What other biographical information would you like to share?

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
Hmmm, I can't decide. Maybe it's the relaxation, or the act of creating? Or maybe the physical exertion, or the satisfaction from a flower border in full bloom? Perhaps the awe of a tough plant that is making it through the summer blast, or the delight of dried flowers and grasses in the deep of winter?

What do you dislike most about gardening?
The planning of my own garden (there's too much of it!)... The repair of gopher and squirrel damage to 1/4 inch irrigation pipes and the annoying business of making planting baskets out of aviary wire!

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
Besides my mother, who knew instinctively how to combine masses of perennials with "backbone" shrubs and interesting trees, my father, too, had a good sense for the creative shaping of spaces. The peace, seclusion and perennial supply of fascinating plants of our family garden is a strong force in my inner garden "compass". And while their creators might not have been known to me then, other places and gardens have influenced me indellibly: Classical as well as country gardens in the Loire Valley; Mediterranean landscapes in Provence; the Botanic Garden on the Isle of Meinau in Germany with its mass plantings of grasses, annuals and perennials, Anza Borrego...

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
Having a late afternoon tea on my deck, surrounded by a high railing engulfed by Morning Glory (a bad choice- too invasive- but gorgeous none-the-less) and lots of interesting pots of experimental flower combinations.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Mid morning in the spring and early summer.

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
Quail Gardens, because it is so accessible and such a wonderful compilation of plant examples from all over the world.

What is your favorite color in the garden?
Warm deep yellow Yarrow, Magenta Rock Purslane, Apricot-yellow Idian Mallow, pink-red Agastache Hyssop...

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
Aloe. Striking in winter when in bloom, very structural. Perhaps Rock Purslane, because it requires a moderate amount of water, and it's Magenta flowers are like beacons in the landscape. Perennial grasses? (Even romantic when dry in winter). Miscanthus transmorrosinensis is like a tall exclamation point in the garden.

What plant have you tried to grow that has given you the most trouble? Or, what plant would you like to grow and can't, and why?
Philadelphus lewisii (Mock Orange) and Cornus sericea (Creek Dogwood). I haven't figured out how much shade and water to give these plants, and perhaps it's just too hot in Ramona.

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Shorts, good garden shoes, a tank top with a long sleeved shirt (that I often discard), and a hat.

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
Be open to experiments. Be critical of your work and, to quote Tom Piergrossi: "Edit, edit, edit... "

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
Nan Sterman and Tom Piergrossi - when they are on the radio...

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
Can I have a low maintenance garden?

And what's the answer?
Yes! BUT that doesn't mean you have to substitute lawn for flowers, concrete for borders, gravel for mulch (unless it's a desert garden), and New Zealand Flax for perennial grasses.

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
"Low maintenance garden equals no maintenance garden".

And, what is the reality?
Any garden requires a minimum of maintenance, be it hosing your plants off after a long dry period, a "light hair cut" every now and then, and then some fertilizer, or checking of irrigation pipes and valves, replacing some sick or dead plants... Plants are living organisms that can get sick or die, too.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
People with a more ecclectic garden taste, romantics perhaps, who "live" in their garden and not just look at it; people who share my love for unusual and fun plants, people interested in a garden that is more suited to their environment, who enjoy the backdrop of our Southern California landscape.

Would you like to participate, or can you recommend someone who you think should? We're always looking for more expert gardeners to tell about their philosophies and give their plant recommendations contact us and we'll get started (it's easy and a great way to promote yourself).


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