A Unique Rose Garden

 

Moondance rose

Moondance rose

How do you use roses in your garden? Do you have a traditional, formal rose garden bordered with low boxwood hedges? Or are they part of a mixed border where they jostle with perennials such as delphiniums and phlox? Perhaps you prefer climbing roses and allow them to scramble up pergolas or use them as a support through which to encourage clematis?

There seems to be a rose for every situation from petite miniatures to house-swallowing monsters with fragrance and colors to suit all tastes but it can still be challenging to find just the right plants to combine with them so that the rose itself is enhanced while also enhancing its neighbors.

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I had the opportunity recently to visit the delightful courtyard garden of Mary Jo Stansbury (Whidbey Island, WA)  and was entranced by the delightful naturalized vignette she had created around the white Moondance rose in one of the borders. Billowing fountains of shimmering Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima syn. Stipa tenuissima) were swaying gently in the early morning breeze and a haze of blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) were in full bloom along the pathway. Nestled within this soft cradle were several pure white Moondance roses.

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I had never seen roses planted in this way and I loved the juxtaposition of whisper-soft grasses with the thorny stems as much as I loved the simple blue and white color scheme. Rather than dominating the scene these roses were mingling easily and this casual elegance was enhanced by the color echo between the grass and roses.

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Grasses have been used throughout this small garden, most of which was designed by the Berger Partnership. Mary Jo has fond memories of working with both Tom Berger and Jason Henry and commented that Jason’s love of grasses is evident. (You will be able to see one of the combinations he designed in this garden for our new book Foliage First; Timber Press 2016)

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When I asked her about this particular section of the garden Mary Jo laughingly admitted  this was her haphazard design and explained that she tested Rosa ‘Iceberg’ first but found them too troublesome. Then she found the hybrid called Moondance that is disease resistant, fragrant and blooms all summer.  “It actually does shine and dance like the moon on a windy night!”, she said.

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Mary Jo then added the Russian Sage to that section of the garden and now the combination is always a wonderful show at this time of year. Even before the Russian sage would be in bloom the felted white stems and silvery-green leaves would play into this meadow-inspired design perfectly.

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This is one of those hauntingly simple designs that stirs the soul. Fragrance, movement, tactile – it’s all here. It will shine in the evening and glow in the day.

Inspired?

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Garden Emergencies

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping  thyme died over the winter

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping thyme died over the winter. I liked it so much I planted it again this year!

Help!

As a designer there is one fundamental expectation when friends and clients visit; that my garden will be alive. This year that has been questionable as we’ve battled a plague of voles, unrelenting high temperatures, unprecedented drought and recovery from last winter which although mild arrived with a drop in temperature of twenty degrees or so overnight and threw several of my large, established evergreen trees into major stress and eventual death.

The result is that there are holes – sometimes BIG holes in the garden. Sound familiar? Do you have a garden tour scheduled to visit? Family and friends due? A summer party planned? If so you need a disguise and FAST. What can you use?

Both foliage and flowers can come to the rescue and the best nurseries and garden centers will have large, well established plants for you to drop quickly into place. Here are my favorites for sun and shade. In fact some of these work so well you may find yourself leaving room for these next year even without a plant emergency!

Sensational Salvias

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Major flower power, big time hummingbird attractant and easily fills a space 3′ x 3′; sound good? Then look for these amazing salvias that are part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

I’ve been growing three this year and my favorite is probably Love and Wishes with its rich magenta color. This has helped fill a gap left by a dwarf butterfly bush that didn’t make it through winter. Looks stunning near a golden spruce but I can see using this in several pots next year

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad is a remarkable shade of electric blue-purple. I’d love a dress in this color! In my garden this is filling a short term gap while I decide what I want to plant in fall to work with an existing Rose Glow barberry and golden Forever Goldie arborvitae.

I wasn’t sure what to do with Ember’s Wish when I received it as a trial plant. The color is rather unusual for me; a neon-coral. I added it to a pot of odds and ends in shades of orange, purple and yellow and it brings hummingbirds by the droves. They positively fight over it which provides endless entertainment!

Ember Wishes is planted at the back left of this pot; I'm planning on using it in the garden next summer

Ember’s Wish is planted at the back left of this pot; I’m planning on using it in the garden next summer near a purple smoke bush

What they all have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ x 3′
  • Drought tolerant (yes really)
  • Deer resistant (Hallelujah!)
  • Constantly flowering
  • A bit messy when they drop old flowers
  • An annual for me but hardy in zones 9-11
  • Loved by hummingbirds

Clever Cleome

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

I drew your attention to Senorita Blanca Cleome (spider flower) a few years ago and have since also grown Senorita Rosalita in my garden, both available through Proven Winners. Like the Salvias mentioned above, each plant will quickly bush out to fill a gap, and will undoubtedly win your endorsement for future years. These dwarf varieties are sterile so no worries about unwanted offspring, which if you’ve ever grown their cousins you’ll understand is a GOOD thing!

Senorita Rosalita looks incredible next to Love and Wishes Salvia – a perfect color echo and both look at home in everything from formal flower gardens to naturalistic planting schemes.

What they have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ tall and 2′ wide
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant
  • Do not self seed
  • Don’t have a funky smell!
  • Aren’t sticky like the species
  • Make great cut flowers

Grasses

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

When you don’t need flowers but you do need ‘oomph’, grasses might be the answer. Even a 4″ pot of Mexican feather grass can fill a decent sized spot and its easy movement in the slightest breeze makes it live large.

Do you need height, width or color? Choose your grass accordingly. They get bonus marks for flowering stalks which can triple their height.

For fuzz-factor  you can't beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

For fuzz-factor you can’t beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

My favorites include blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for width, any of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum species) for fuzziness, and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) as general quick, inexpensive filler.

What they have in common;

  • Drought tolerance
  • Deer resistance

Ferns

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

A lifesaver for the shade garden, there are many big fluffy ferns that will quickly disguise the most embarrassing gaps. Forget the little deer ferns; think more of the robust autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Alaskan ferns (Polystichum setiferum)  than can be purchased in 2g pots and larger. Let’s face it you don’t need three fronds, you need three FEET! Drop them where they need to go this year and transplant them to a permanent spot in fall if you have to. Right now consider them a band aid for the shade. Even the Boston fern – an indoor beauty for many of us, can be pressed into temporary summer service in this way.

Generally speaking

 

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

  • Think short term. If it doesn’t look big enough NOW it won’t be much better for next weeks party.
  • Think bushy. Small bottoms but big tops = lusciousness!
  • Unless you’re sure those flowers will keep on coming, foliage may be a better choice.
  • Annuals will grow faster than perennials or shrubs; that’s what they are bred for
  • Water new plants WELL – even drought tolerant ones, as they will have a degree of shock when being transplanted mid-summer
  • A boost of fertilizer or Moo-Poo tea is a good idea when you are expecting high performance on short notice.

If all else fails

Give your guests a glass of wine as they arrive. By the third glass they won’t see any ‘problems’ anyway. Works like a charm…..

And remember that designers have “terrible” gardens from time to time too. Relax. they’re only plants.

 

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Captivating Ideas from a Petite Garden

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I wrote a post recently for my other blog Fine Foliage (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) called The Ones That Got Away. You see Christina and I are on the final countdown for our new book with Timber Press (due out 9/2016) and scrambling to get as many mouth watering ideas photographed and written up as possible, but the reality is that not every garden we visit, or every picture from every garden will make it into the final text.

This post resulted from a visit a delightful garden filled to bursting with so many good ‘take home’ ideas. The garden itself was not large in size yet it was filled with an abundance of eye catching details that made every nook and cranny a veritable treasure hunt. You would think that having so many focal points and vignettes would make the garden seem busy but the homeowners eye for color kept things in check while never compromising the fun factor.

Re-thinking the lawn

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After yet another year of moss overtaking the lawn the decision was made to replace it with gravel. To provide a practical walking surface and as an invitation to explore, a series of large flagstones were added as an informal path leading to the right.

As this path curves away a teal container was added to create a focal point to one side, encouraging both eyes and feet to linger. This is the perfect color match for the blue-toned hostas in the adjacent shady border.

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Color play

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Orange has been used as a fun, bold accent color throughout the garden but it is in such small doses that it never seems overpowering. Against the weathered fence sits a re-purposed fountain, now planted with succulents and a tiny ceramic bird. Above this are a series of wooden boxes planted with orange Bonfire begonias which thrive in full sun or part shade. These fuchsia-like blooms are magnets for hummingbirds.

A trio of similarly planted boxes stand tall on metal pedestals to the left (see first two photos). This is a great way to add color to an area where tree roots make it impossible to plant yet a large container isn’t called for. Drip irrigation keeps everything watered.

Floral highlights

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While this garden has a strong framework of foliage it certainly has flowers too. The vignette above shows the start of the gravel pathway where a simple low water bowl has been added. The orange glass ball makes the initial color splash but also serves to direct attention to the Apricot Twist wallflowers behind it. The glaze of the bowl has shades of teal, navy, purple and cream so adding the scrambling Homestead Purple verbena at the borders edge and climbing double clematis to a trellis is an easy way to bring both contrast and connection.

Ingenuity

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And if you don’t have the right color pot? Spray paint it! This inexpensive metal container is now the perfect shade behind Orange Rocket barberry and Japanese forest grass.

But wait – there’s more!

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You’ll have to wait for our new book to see the vignettes we finally selected! We know you’ll love them and be inspired as we were by the use of color and fun plant combinations.

Thank you sweet Edith for the tour, for making me so welcome in your wonderful oasis – and for the wine that completed the evening.

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Naked in the Garden with Jamie Durie

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As I pushed open the door to the nail salon the phone rang. “Hi Karen? Jamie here. Jamie Durie.”

Realizing my much needed manicure was going to have to wait I hastily ducked back out and rushed to my car where I had a notepad and pen handy just in case this happened! I had been trying to set up a face to face interview with the legendary TV host, landscape designer and author Jamie Durie while he was in town but that wasn’t possible so I knew the best chance I had to pick his Australian horticultural brains was by phone.

First though I needed to see if his sense of humor was as genuine as it appeared on TV.

So when did you escape the penal colony?

After a brief pause he laughed out loud “2008. But I split my time between homes in Los Angeles and Australia.”

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At that point I could envision the twinkle in his eye and cheeky smile and knew we were going to get on just great.

I had decided to focus my questions around garden design as I love his HGTV program and accompanying book The Outdoor Room. That concept and format had been Jamie’s idea and proved so successful that it ran for five series. “I almost killed my crew though” he said. Despite that they are in fact all really good friends, gathering together just a couple of days ago to celebrate Jamie’s birthday.

“I wanted to do something I was passionate about – reconnecting people with Nature”. His new series Outback Nation on FYI Network continues that theme by helping families re-discover their gardens and each other.

As a designer I find his ideas, choice of materials and styles refreshingly different. So sit back and enjoy eavesdropping on our conversation as I asked questions with you in mind.

How do you suggest homeowners gather inspiration and ideas for their gardens?

Indoor colors and style will likely give you design cues to help you outdoors

Indoor colors and style will likely give you design cues to help you outdoors

“I tell them to look within. Within their homes that is. Grab your camera, stand in your lounge room and take pictures of everything you see. then open your wardrobe and do the same. You’ll quickly see what colors appeal to you most and get a sense of the style you have.

Pinterest boards and magazine clippings are also good for gathering ideas.

When I’m designing for a client I prefer not to see those ideas right away though. I find the best ideas come to me in the first 10-15 minutes on site; the raw material. After I’ve got the basic drawing done and am padding out the design – that’s when those clippings are helpful.”

How can homeowners create a garden that they experience rather than just look at?

Define the areas of your garden by the function you want them to fill. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

Define the areas of your garden by the function you want them to fill.

“Create a functional analysis first. Plot the building within the property boundaries on graph paper then use simple bubbles to mark out the different areas of their wish list from utility space to play zones, edibles to dining.

This gorgeous outdoor dining area is accented by white Chinese lanterns, comfy bench seating, plenty of shade, a gorgeous stone walkway and a mid-rise flower bed filled with ornamental grasses. Design by Jamie Durie

This gorgeous outdoor dining area is accented by white Chinese lanterns, comfy bench seating, plenty of shade, a gorgeous stone walkway and a mid-rise flower bed filled with ornamental grasses. Design by Jamie Durie

Then use plants to compartmentalize the space and create a series of different rooms. This is always much more interesting than having one big open space. Think of each exterior room as you would an interior room with walls, windows, door, ceiling and floor then consider what plants can fill that function.

Good garden design should seduce you!”

What advice would you give a young couple with big dreams but a low budget?

Annuals and perennials are important and they give a lot of color but I recommend my clients set aside  half their budget for foundation plants; those key trees and shrubs that add character to the space, define boundaries and provide privacy.

Layers of plant material will provide privacy and seasonal interest

Layers of plant material will provide privacy and seasonal interest

Privacy is one of the most important things for us all. I’m not talking about a hedge necessarily but rather layers of trees and shrubs to create an amphitheater effect. I’d tell this young couple to spend their money so they can garden naked if they want to knowing they have complete privacy. Heck I often wander around the garden in my underwear!”

Be still my beating heart…… No photo to support that particular design tenet readers; sorry!

Tell us about your personal garden

It's a dogs life....the outdoor bedroom in Jami'es LA garden. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

It’s a dogs life….the outdoor bedroom in Jamie’s LA garden.

“I’d probably describe it as ‘mid-century modern’. It’s a 1950’s home. However there isn’t a straight line in the garden anywhere! Funny  but after years of studying landscape design and architecture I didn’t want anything formal.

There’s the original 1952 pool that I’ve had renovated to include an infinity edge which is just beautiful. That’s important since it gets looked at 80% of the time and used just 20%. It’s like a giant water feature so it has to look good.

The pool is also a catchment system for all the water run-off for the entire property. So when it rains all the water flows into the pool that then runs through a UV filter. I don’t use any chemicals and basically swim in rain water, which is as good as it gets. It’s heated by solar power too.

Jamie's private garden in LA. Photo courtesy Jamie Durie Design

Jamie’s private garden in LA. Great casual hangout watching the chef!

Besides that I’ve basically turned my house inside out and have outdoor rooms for a bathroom with a cool tub I designed as part of my new furnishings line, a bedroom with two big daybeds for napping or reading a book, a dining room and great kitchen and prep area.”

What would you say to the homeowner who has been nervous to get started on a garden re-design?

Break ground! Just get something planted. Start with something easy like a tomato plant maybe and build your confidence but don’t lose any more time.”

Two hundred lucky ticket holders were able to join Jamie for his talk at Molbak’s Garden & Home the next day so we did finally have a chance to connect faces with accents. His presentation was entertaining, engaging and energizing in equal measure!

Wrangling a 10′ tall Japanese maple from the stage set he showed how the canopy could become the ceiling of an outdoor room or a carpet of fragrant creeping thyme could become a rug. Jamie suggested how a hedge of blueberries could replace  boxwood to provide food as well as a traditional ornamental role and he coincidentally did a great job of selling my book Fine Foliage as he stressed the importance of great foliage plants such as small leaved wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)!

You can read  more about Jamie’s shows, blog, books and new furniture range on his website.

Note - I did eventually  get my manicure and pedicure!

Note – I did eventually get my manicure and pedicure!

 

Oh and the answer to your unspoken question? Yes he is pretty darned cute! 

Photo credits; www.jamiedurie.com  – apart from the last one!

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Reclaiming the Garden

When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

I was recently invited to redesign a back garden in Kirkland, WA.

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only 'view'

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only ‘view’

 

To the homeowners the main priority was a need for privacy from neighboring homes yet to me the biggest challenge was function. How would this couple use their new space and how would they get into it?

Before – the challenges

 

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

A large lawn took up most of the area with a few struggling trees and shrubs around the perimeter. Far from being inviting it seemed lifeless – not a bird in sight. No birdsong or butterflies. It seemed sterile.

originally the only access into the garden was through this area

Originally the only access into the garden was through this side area

Access to this back garden was through a side kitchen door that took you across a  shaded deck that had seen better days and was clearly in need of replacing, but that whole area seemed more dark and foreboding than bright and inviting. Why venture outside?

The lawn sloped to the back fence - a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

The lawn sloped to the back fence – a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

There was also a significant slope to the garden which had to be addressed.

After – improved access

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New French doors, removal of an old raised deck and creative hardscaping – what a difference

 

It seemed obvious to me that replacing a large window in the dining room with French doors would greatly improve access into the new garden but also change the dynamic of the entire space – thankfully the homeowners agreed and that pivotal decision was key to transforming this bland area into a true extension of their already beautiful home.

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

The original approach from the street and kitchen led through a dark tunnel of overgrown trees across an awkward mix of flagstones and worn decking. We removed some trees and limbed up others then repeated the circular theme with a stone patio that connected comfortably to the back garden. With plenty of space for the BBQ and dining as well as colorful containers the entire atmosphere has changed.

Function

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The main patio leads off the new French doors. A gravel path leads to the lower fire pit

 

The lawn took up time, fertilizer, water and money – yet was never used. That has now been replaced with two linked patios surrounded by billowing borders, a privacy hedge and meandering paths.

The main patio is large enough for dining or lounging with friends. Originally planned with a pergola and custom retractable sun shade, this was revised to accommodate a 12′ umbrella that easily adjusts to suit.

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

A short curved path and a couple of easy steps takes you to a more intimate circular patio featuring a portable fire pit that doubles as a table for coffee or cocktails. To accommodate the grade, a curved sitting wall was constructed to provide additional seating.

Now you can stroll through the gardens

Now you can stroll through the gardens on gravel paths

Meandering through the garden, a simple gravel path connects these two areas and provides access to both side gardens. This leisurely stroll takes you past fragrant peonies, rustling grasses and colorful shrubs that will soon fill in.

The details

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

Continuity is important. The tumbled grey cobblestones used for the circular patios were also used as a border on the main patio and the color repeated in the low retaining walls and gravel blend.

Large boulders were added as accents in the borders, connecting the different areas visually and tying into the stonework elsewhere.

The color scheme was taken from the homes interior furnishings with rich reds, purple and gold dominating and with blue as an accent. Plants were selected for colorful foliage primarily but  also for easy care and four season interest.

Several special trees were selected as the homeowners like unique plants. Sculptural conifers and a contorted filbert are just two examples.

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Rather than a monoculture of 12′ tall arborvitae for privacy we integrated several standard laurels as well as layering in columnar  Armstrong maples that provided height but didn’t obstruct the paths. In front of these are Quickfire hydrangeas, smoke bushes and other shrubs for color and texture. Neighbors? What neighbors?

Let there be life!

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

We had barely set the first tree in place when a bird flew in and started to sing – a sure measure of success! Adding a bubbling fountain, custom designed by AW Pottery keeps them – and the homeowners entranced.

The results

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I’ll let the homeowners have the last word; 

We are amazed at what you designed for our garden and patio. You are truly an artist and gardens are your canvas. How you envisioned our yard to be something that we could have never imagined is truly remarkable. The versatility of how you utilized the overall space and the interesting mixture of colors and textures of varying types of plants, as well as pavers, is beyond anything that we could have dreamt up. You have truly changed our lives.

We appreciate your guidance and patience with us as we worked through decisions that you already knew the best answers to, but you gave us the time and space to catch up after planting little seeds in our heads to ponder. Meeting and working with you has truly enriched our lives and we will be forever grateful.

 

Is it time to re-think your lawn?

 

Construction and installation by Berg’s Landscaping, an exceptional team of dedicated professionals whom I am proud to call friends and colleagues.

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