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  • Jennifer Jewell


FOODSCAPING - with Brie Arthur. Photo courtesy of Brie Arthur, all rights reserved.


Kier Holmes is a garden designer and writer regularly contributing to the likes of Martha Stewart, Better Homes & Gardens, Gardenista, Sonoma Magazine, Marin Magazine, and Sunset Magazine.

She is also a children’s garden and science educator. In her writing and her designing she focuses on low-cost and low-impact, chemical-free, richly textured, visually dynamic spaces that are full of life – all of which is well documented in her newest book: The Garden Refresh How to Give your Yard Big Impact on a Small Budget.

Kier joins Cultivating Place this week to share more.

Follow Kier online: and on Instagram: @kierholmes/


you might also enjoy these Best of CP programs in our archive:

Generosity & Mutual Care of Seeds, K Greene Hudson Valley Seeds

JOIN US again next week, when we visit gardeners past as we look to the future in conversation with garden historian and writer Judith Tankard on the seminal work and life of Beatrix Farrand. Listen in.


Speaking of plants... and place:

Speaking of plants and place – and resourcefulness - this week an ode to cones because I am preparing, as I am sure many of you are as well, for my annual winter greening of house and garden in honor of the coming Solstice and the various winter holidays. And so I am collecting all kinds of embellishments – large and small, durable and dainty – all delightful to the eye and hand. And woody seasonal windfall cones are among many people’s favorites – including mine. From the smallest to the largest, they are quite literally miraculous in their artfulness but also their ingenious engineering to get their jobs done.

Their jobs being ensuring reproduction and the next generation.

Cones are the reproductive structures of the gymnosperms – those seed-bearing plants which (very generally) evolved after the seedless spore-bearing plants, like ferns, and before the now more dominant flowering seed-bearing plants known as the Angiosperms.

Gymnosperm translates to "naked seed" - the seed of a gymnosperm is held exposed on the scales of their seed-bearing cones. This exposure allows for easily receiving pollen blown in on the wind, and for easy dispersal once the seed is fertilized and mature. Flowering plants evolved a little later and characteristically hold their eggs and then fertile seeds in protective ovaries in the flowering structure.

Per the University of Missouri - the jobs of cones can be various – on pines and some other coniferous species some of the cones produce pollen and other cones bear the seed. “In pines, pollen is produced in staminate (male) cones, which is wind-blown to young female cones. After fertilization, scales develop on the cone. Generally, two seeds develop on the upper surfaces of each scale of the female cone. The cone and a resin coating on its outer surface protects the naked seeds on conifers from erratic climatic conditions and herbivory. Some cones open and close multiple times while still attached to branches of the tree." When cones turn from fleshy and green (although sometimes other colors like pink, purple, blueish) to woody and darker colored, their scales open and seeds released. In some cones, the resin that helps to protect the developing seeds needs fire to melt it open and allow for dispersal, other cones need co-evolved mammal or bird partners to crack open the cones or seeds. As you might routinely observe, coniferous seed nuts emerging from all of these cones are important and relished food for wildlife of all kinds.

But the fun of cones for this time of year is in the great diversity of size, shape, variations, even colors of cones. The universal and sacred geometry of the scale arrangements. The sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) produces the longest seed cone (up to 25 inches) of any conifers and is the tallest of the pines, reaching 269 feet. Yosemite National Park and Umpqua or Siskyou National Forests are home to champion sugar pines. Among the spruce (Picea) species, Norway spruce (P. abies) produces the longest cones, up to 7 and a half inches. Some coniferous species bear cones even in their youth – the first few years of their lives, while others like the Colorado Blue spruce won’t typically bear cones until maturity at closer to 20 years. Giant sequoias bear small and distinctive less than 2 inch cones, while douglas fir trees (which are true firs) feature whisker-like bracts that extend down from the pendent cones ornamentally.

In my garden for now, a nice community of grey pine, sugar pine, deodor cedar, redwood, spruce, and hemlock cones - all paying tribute to the durability and resourcefulness of the coniferous among us - are gathered together for the season to be included on wreaths, swags, and garlands, and then dispersed back into the wild come January.


Thinking out loud this week:

Kier Holmes notes her father’s and mother’s and her commitment to being Perennial students – there’s something to that, isn’t there? And I think as we look toward the Solstice and all of our next circle around the sun – being a perennial student might be high on all of our lists of intentions.

Another note from Kier: Befriending our site. I applaud this perspective and how Kier Holmes articulates our age old gardening practice of studying and knowing our sites – from how the sun moves across your space, to where your water comes from and where it travels and goes, to how wildlife access, how the seasons shift, the soil behaves.


Let’s be friends, hell, let’s be really good friends, shall we?


Image credits:

Book: The Garden Refresh Author: Kier Holmes

File Name: 18_cutting garden_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 18, middle right Book Caption: A tiered hillside creates a space for growing cut flowers to enjoy or share.

File Name: 27_hillside garden_KH Photographer: Kier Holmes

Page: 27 Book Caption: Plants like ornamental grasses can help stabilize a slope—a less expensive option than regrading or terracing.

File Name: 54_apples and kale_KH Photographer: Kier Holmes

Page: 54 Book Caption: Apples and kale coexist happily with asters and dahlias even though the latter are mainly ornamental and the former are for consumption.

File Name: 80_waste baskets_KH Photographer: Kier Holmes

Page: 80, bottom Book Caption: Inexpensive wire wastebaskets are an easy and smart way to protect vulnerable crops from hungry birds and rodents.

File Name: 112_citrus_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 112 Book Caption: Few things appeal to our wild roots or set the mood of a space as effectively as plants.

File Name: 113_front garden_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 113 Book Caption: Plants tell stories of climate, soil, sun, and serendipity.

File Name: 114_Kier_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 114 Book Caption: Don’t be shy at the nursery. I always bring together my plant options to see how they look in combination before committing.

File Name: 133_hummingbird feeder_KH Photographer: Kier Holmes

Page: 133 Book Caption: Hang a hummingbird feeder in the middle of your garden—birds will sample it as well as the flowers, pollinating as they go.

File Name: 135_lavender_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 135 Book Caption: Lavender is the bees’ knees for bees.

File Name: 148_purple succulent_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 148 Book Caption: Succulents can provide a surprisingly wide range of colors beyond the pale green-blue with which they’re most associated. This vibrant pink Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ is a sensational standout.

File Name: 157_apple espalier_EM Photographer: Emily Murphy

Page: 157 Book Caption: Once established, fruit trees will likely give you all the fruit you can consume or preserve—and then some.




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