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How to plant a stunning Sonoma County garden (using a locally grown kit)

Knowing how bewildering plant selection can be, a Sonoma County landscape designer has created a line of preselected flower kits to take the guesswork out of creating a cutting garden.

In the same way meal kits like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh make cooking easier with prepacked ingredients and recipes, Christa Moné’s flower kits aim to make it easy to have a stunning flower bed, even if you’re a newcomer to gardening.

Gardening has exploded since the coronavirus pandemic forced people to find hobbies and activities to do at home. The National Gardening Association, which tracks gardening trends, will release its annual National Gardening Survey on April 15. But a news release already has revealed one finding: 18.3 million new gardeners hit the dirt in 2020. By most accounts, the hobby continues to grow. And while food crops are hot, ornamentals are making a comeback.

“This is a time when we have a big cultural shift,” said Moné, who is based in Forestville. “People want to have these inspiring gardens.”

She has gleaned some of her favorite flowers and combined them with a designer’s eye to create the kits, each a tray with 32 annual flower starts. One kit will fill a typical 4-by-8-foot raised bed with spring and summer joy.

Moné believes flowers should be part of any production garden. A garden gives you food to harvest, but it also can allow you to harvest flowers for arrangements and drying.

“These allow you to get very creative with flowers, so you can have cut flowers all over your house,” she said of the blooms that could provide cuttings into November.

An herb and vegetable garden will feed your body but a flower garden will feed the soul.

“Imagine standing in the morning with a cup of coffee and you’re watching the flowers sway and the bees land and hop to another flower. It’s a whole experience beyond production. This garden provides calmness and provides a happiness function that is often overlooked.”

Easy to grow but unusual

Moné’s selections are all harder-to-find varieties that she sourced. She is partnering with Emerisa Gardens in Santa Rosa, which is propagating the flowers and will carry the kits. King’s Nursery in Santa Rosa, Prickett’s in Healdsburg and Van Winden’s Garden Center in Napa also will carry the new Christa Moné Collection.

They will make their debut in nurseries the weekend of April 17-18.

“The concept is to make it really easy and take a lot of the guesswork out of the design side of things,” said Moné, who designs lush gardens unafraid to show their colors. “Basically, I’ve done that for you by creating these collections of plants, thinking about color and form and also function, too, and making sure I’m picking plants that will be good for cut flowers.”

Moné selected plants she has grown that will have a long bloom season and will be easy to grow.

“They aren’t finicky. They don’t need a lot of care,” she said.

Her plant kit concept is unique but builds on a burgeoning interest among consumers in doing more by hand, whether it is cooking, crafting or gardening. But they also may not have the time to research all the features and cultivation needs of the scores, literally thousands, of different plant varieties available. Plant shoppers have to consider not only their climate but their microclimate, their soil, the amount of sun they have in their landscape, water requirements and more. Then they must decide what flower and color combinations go well together. It can be daunting if you don’t have the aptitude or the experience. The kits cost about $60-$70.

Gardening start in Europe

The Southern California-bred Moné took a serious interesting in gardening and garden design while living in France during and after college. She helped plant and manage gardens and maintain a 250-acre property near the Spanish border, where she also learned estate management.

After returning to the U.S., she farmed on one of the oldest estates in New York before moving to Sonoma County, where she oversaw the exuberant gardens at Lynmar Estate Winery. She’s now branched out to design work and estate management throughout the Bay Area. She is known for her “showpiece gardens,” wonderlands of edible and ornamental plants densely packed and fusing colors, textures and scents.

The kits are a way to bring the showpiece look to everyday home gardeners.

“Over the years I’ve been able to experiment with these fun annual plants in people’s greenhouses, and I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “I’ve been keeping lists to get ready to put out my own collection of plants that are tried and true and worked for me year after year.”

She is starting with two collections, called Sweet Memories and Candyland. She described Sweet Memories as whimsical in terms of form and structure with a color palette of white, chartreuse and very light pinks.

“The idea is to think about people you’ve loved or someone you lost. There’s a lot of white and airiness.” The names of the included varieties is something she’s keeping proprietary, but the kit includes Queen Anne’s Lace, flowering tobacco, snapdragons and celosias.

The Candyland kit is “bright and fun, like a candy shop,” she said. The colors are orange and bright pink with intense purples and dollops of white and yellow.

“It’s just straight-up fun,” she said of the mix that includes zinnias and cosmos.

If the kits catch on, she hopes to add more of them to the collection, perhaps one with all dahlias, a perennial container collection and a fall/winter collection.

Moné has picked plants that are not persnickety. All they need is good planting soil, a little mulch and adequate irrigation, preferably drip lines if you have them. She offers more complete cultivation tips on her website, christamonecollections.com.

She doesn’t offer any schematics for planting with the kits. But that is not critical because the plants were chosen to go together, however you want to arrange them. Just be sure to plant them close together for the proper effect.

“You can’t buy a whole tray and then space the plants out so much, throwing some here and some there,” Moné said. “You must plant them close together, one foot apart. Stick to that and you will have something special.”

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