Re-thinking the Patio

I beleive in deigning gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

I believe in designing gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

When we purchased our 1960’s era home in 2009 it had the original concrete aggregate patio outside the back door – right outside. Now that wouldn’t seem to be a problem until I point out that this patio left us pressed up against the house and unable to see any of our 5 acre garden. It felt like a back yard in the worst way – somewhere to hang the washing out perhaps but definitely not where we wanted to sit. It didn’t help that there was a fenced vegetable garden hemming us in on one side either.

BEFORE: realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more about photography tricks than reality

BEFORE: this realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more a result of  staging and photography tricks.  Access to the barn was also blocked by the original veggie garden

Oddly enough there was a small cabin just beyond this patio – again a strange placement but we found ourselves gravitating towards it simply so we could sit on the porch steps. In one of those Oprah-style ‘Aha!” moments we realized that this was where the patio should be. From this vantage point we could see into the garden yet were still only steps away from the back door. It was a destination, not a default.

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there!

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there! Realtor’s photo

Over the next 6 years the cabin got moved, the new vegetable garden constructed and new garden borders established. We even hosted our daughters wedding in the garden – but still the old patio remained, by this point badly broken, a tripping hazard and a source of embarrassment whenever we had guests or clients visit. I had drawn the design but it had never got to the top of the priority or budget list.

The Design

CHAPMAN PATIO 2016

The aim was to put the dining table where the cabin steps had been since that had proven to be the ‘sweet spot‘. We connected it to the new French doors by a wide path created by a series of offset rectangles, keeping a smaller paved area closest to the house for year round grilling. That area is shaded by the house in the peak of summer so has also become a great spot for a small bistro set for those days when we want to be outside but need shade beyond what the umbrella can afford; or want to chat to the chef!

AFTER

AFTER: A multi-zoned patio accessed by a wide path that is truly a destination.

While there are usually just two of us at home we also need to be able to comfortably accommodate larger gatherings. The large semi-circular raised bed has a capped wall at sitting height so even if we run out of chairs there is still seating available.

The dining and fire pit areas are separated by a smaller raised bed that I may re-design seasonally but want to keep the ultimate plant height to less than 3′. This year I have used Phenomenal lavender and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum s. ‘Rubrum’) in the middle and edged it with white and purple alyssum. This combination is deer resistant, fragrant, drought tolerant, moves in the breeze and creates a lovely scrim effect; filtering the view slightly but not blocking it.

Sight lines – or axes are extremely important in design and this was no exception.

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision. The capped wall is at a comfortable sitting height and there is plenty of room to move chairs around. The cabin still forms an important role as a focal point in the border.

Notice how the patio is centered on the arbor. When sitting around the fire pit we feel as though we are truly in the garden and being beckoned into that border; love it. We also have views into the more distant corners of the garden beyond the cabin.

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit. (The grass is still growing in…….). A darker paver has been used as a border further defining the shape.

We took the vertical arc motif from the arbor and used it in the horizontal plane to create the semicircular fire pit patio. I did some research on patio furniture dimensions to help us size this space correctly.

We were then offered the most incredible gift; the good folks at Berg’s Landscaping said they would build it for us. Together landscape architect John Silvernale and I did some fine-tuning to the design and while I was in England last fall taking care of my Mum they transformed our eyesore into a ‘grown up patio’!! I was even able to show Mum photos that they sent  on my iPad before she passed away and she was as excited as I was to see the magic unfold. I am so grateful that I could share that with her.

Final Details

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. the feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. The feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed. The new French doors and side window allow us to appreciate the garden even from indoors

Earlier this year we added an arced steel wall behind the raised bed to create an ‘infinity edge’. It took some adjusting to get the walls to line up correctly but we are very happy with the result. The steel will rust over a few years; faster if I treat it with acid. I liked the idea of mixing materials in the space.

Planting

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The vegetable garden is only steps away; perfect for gathering berries for desert but also a magnet for hummingbirds

We took the color cues from the main border seen from this area; warm sunset shades offset by blue-green. The two small geometric planting beds between the home and the patio will become a tapestry of colorful textures, framing a container in one bed and a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel in the other. Everything has to be drought tolerant, rabbit resistant and deer resistant although deer rarely come this close to the house so I have risked a few hardy succulents. The rabbits chomped on the delosperma and Ann Folkard hardy geraniums but a spritz with Liquid Fence repellent seems to have helped.

Fall color of Arkansas blue star

Fall color of Arkansas blue star – imagine this framed by the rusted steel wall.

The large semi-circular raised bed is mass planted with Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This took enormous restraint on my part! The idea is to create a transitional space between the more ornamental plantings closer to the house and the wilder meadow and forest beyond. It will take three years for this perennial to grow in but I know it will be glorious, especially in fall when it turns orange. Imagine the feathery orange foliage, framed by the rusted steel wall…… When I cut it back in winter we will still have an unobstructed view of our clump of river birch so we can enjoy the peeling bark of those trees. For spring interest I will add 200-300 daffodils around the outer edges of the border. I can easily reach in to cut back the foliage as it finishes, the stubs being hidden by the emerging blue star. That’s the plan – we’ll see how the execution goes!

Furniture

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this. Blue was her favorite color too.

We have had the teak dining furniture for 15 years and it is still going strong. The sectional all weather wicker furniture and propane fire table are new additions. We selected the Sunbrella cushions and accent pillows to work with the color of the flowers, foliage and pots – no beige for me!! Adding a few small accents to the table top helped pull those colors over to the dining area too.

We did consider a pergola type structure for shade but were concerned it would obstruct our view so settled for a cantilever umbrella. This tilts and swings to give us shade for most of the day and unlike conventional in-table umbrellas doesn’t block conversation when closed!

To sum up

We LOVE it all! From the final design, to the size of the spaces, the quality of the materials/workmanship and the colors; it’s like being on vacation in our own garden. We use every space and wherever we sit we have a different view. We are still close to the house yet don’t feel suffocated by it. Unexpected guests are easy to accommodate at the table or around the fire pit (which has a surround perfectly suited to hold wine glasses). This is outdoor living at its best.

Is it time to re-think your patio?

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Front Garden Re-Imagined

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space!

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space

How do you know when it’s time to re-think the front garden? Certainly overgrown trees  and a fractured driveway are clues but spray painting the lawn green last summer was the final ‘Aha!’ moment for my Greater Seattle area clients. Yet funnily enough when I initially suggested a complete renovation they innocently asked “Which tree would you remove?” and were rather alarmed when I said “Both!”

Gardens grow and evolve so it really isn’t surprising that a landscape installed over 40 years ago is now in need of an overhaul, but identifying the problems and finding creative solutions can sometimes take a professional. This  garden is not viewed from the home’s interior, being separated by a fenced courtyard. However passers-by and visitors see this space and it offers an important first impression of who and what is beyond: what we often refer to as curb appeal. It suggests  the quality and style one can anticipate beyond the fence as well as a glimpse into the personalities of the homeowners  – whether we like that idea or not! When putting our homes up for sale this curb appeal is paramount, but even for homeowners like these who have no intention of moving, making a good first impression is important. After all you don’t typically greet guests with your hair in curlers I assume?

The problems

Damaged driveway

The driveway was beyond repair

Poured concrete driveways can last  30 years before major cracking occurs, so this one was well past it’s sell-by date. While the size of the driveway was adequate the paths felt awkward, especially if trying to navigate around parked vehicles. They were too close to the garage wall.

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Additionally a previous homeowner had added a concrete pad to the right of the driveway that was no longer needed so this was a good time to re-think that space. Defining the property boundary and screening the neighbor’s garbage cans would be helpful too.

Overgrown plants

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster....

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster….

I wonder how small these towering conifers were in the mid 1970’s? Certainly much smaller than they are now! When large trees have lost their ornamental value, are casting excessive shade, their  roots are causing problems and their scale in relation to the home is all wrong it may be time to consider removing them.

Likewise after years of increasing shade the understory shrubs have slowly defoliated and become susceptible to disease.

The lawn

The lawn wasn’t being used – except by the neighborhood dogs!

Seattle may be known for its rain but last year went down in history for its unprecedented summer drought. Unless you spent hundreds of dollars on watering your lawn the chances were that it turned brown. I have to hand it to these homeowners for seeking a remedy but I’m not sure that spray painting the lawn green is going to catch on as a long term solution.

The first question I asked was why they needed a lawn at all. Like many homeowners it was simply there by default. Yet it served no purpose while taking time and money to fertilize, water, mow and edge regularly. While there needed to be a ‘negative space’ in the front garden, that doesn’t have to mean grass.

Dogs!

Actually the problem is less dogs than their owners who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their canine companions to use this space as a bathroom! Words fail me……

Seriously folks, if your dog has an accident clean it up.  Ugh. Anyway, while I can’t offer dog-owner training classes I can try to design the space to deter paws.

The solutions

I needed to come up with a plan that addressed all the above problems, was easy to maintain, had an understated elegance and level of artistry that reflected the home’s interior and private gardens yet  did not feel incongruous in the neighborhood. Here’s what I came up with.

Front Landscape Design for blog

AFTER; cleaned up, colorful yet doesn't stick out like a palm tree in a forest

AFTER; cleaned up and colorful yet doesn’t stick out like a flamingo in a forest.

Revise the hardscape

Parking pad becomes path. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the matire conifers

The extra parking pad became a path, leaving room for more plants and screening. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the mature conifers

The additional parking pad to the right of the driveway was removed and replaced with a path to the side gate. Both this path and the one which leads to the front door were angled to facilitate easier access.

Down to the bare bones

It always looks worse before it gets better!

It always looks worse before it gets better! Installation and hard work by the talented team at Berg’s Landscaping

The overgrown  trees and shrubs were removed, stumps ground out and the area graded to provide a berm around the perimeter of a central space. The homeowners wished to keep the laurel as they like having a hedge against the fence but everything else was removed.

No more lawn

Where once there was lawn, now there is a gravel garden

Where once there was thirsty grass, now there is a drought tolerant gravel garden

What would traditionally have been a lawn was re-created as a gravel garden. Landscape fabric was laid under a 3″ decorative gravel that the clients selected. Metal edging keeps this from migrating into the planting beds.

Hand selected boulders were added to the bermed planting beds while a few were placed to deliberately ease the transition to the gravel area.

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

The plant palette

The planting beds were shaped to accommodate two specimen trees; one was a weeping dogwood that was transplanted from the courtyard. The other was a topiary pine that the clients selected for its architectural style. This makes an excellent focal point when viewed from the home as well as the street.

It took several nursery trips and a fe adventures before we finally found the perfect tree!

It took several nursery trips and a few adventures before we finally found the perfect tree

To balance the existing laurel and complete the informal hedge I added a number of H.M Eddie yew. I haven’t used these before but like that they are slightly fuller than the Hicks yew and do not produce berries. Together these evergreens formed a backdrop to colorful foliage shrubs including  Ogon spirea which has feathery gold leaves that really catch the eye as the shimmer and move in the breeze and the bronze-toned Coppertina ninebark which boasts spring flowers, red fall color and exfoliating bark.

Winter interest comes from the many different evergreens including Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo – an excellent mounded form that does well here and Midwinter Fire dogwood which has stems that range from red to gold.

I love dogs but like my clients want them to keep their paws on the sidewalk! To discourage them I added the berm and boulders, then interplanted with a number of thorny shrubs including the rich plum colored Concorde barberry and the dwarf coral hedge barberry which is evergreen and has orange flowers in spring. At the last minute we also added Wood’s Compact kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Wood’s Compacta’) which will form a dense, twiggy groundcover.

Screening

No matter how much we love our neighbors we don’t necessarily want to see their garbage cans. With that in mind I added a number of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that will quickly grow in to provide screening while still being ‘neighborly’.

Finishing Touches

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To complete the gravel garden I created planting pockets near the boulders. Mexican feather grass and an assortment of hardy succulents add color and texture in an understated, naturalistic style. (Be sure to check if Mexican feather grass is invasive in your area and ask a professional to recommend an alternative if necessary)

sedum

I kept the color palette to red and green for the gravel garden succulents but added golden Angelina stonecrop to the main panting beds

The homeowners found the most perfect container to place by the front gate; the colors repeat the hues of their home while the texture suggests it was a treasure discovered at the bottom of the ocean – love it!

They planted it with a simple purple fountain grass for summer interest: the dark color was needed for contrast. Adding other plants would have been too fussy.

Post script

I asked how things were faring with the dogs and was told that so far people are being respectful. “We do have the occasional dog prints on the mulch but no little gifts have been left for us, yet. We have actually observed people allowing their dogs to wander up the small embankment and back down as they are walking on the sidewalk with their dogs.” Let’s hope that decreases as the plants grow in.

Is it time to re-think your front garden?

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Hydrangea Companion Planting

Clockwise from top right; Light o' Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

Clockwise from top right; Light o’ Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

On a recent trip to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I was blinded by a dazzling display of a golden barberry paired with a kaleidoscopic Pistachio hydrangea – which got me thinking. What other plants make good companions for hydrangeas?

So in the interest of helping your create artistic plant combinations and have another excuse to go plant shopping here are a few ideas from my photo library that you may like to try.

Using Foliage

Consider repeating the color of the hydrangea flower with a foliage plant to add emphasis.

In the image below the marbled pink leaves of Rose Glow barberry set the scene for this vibrant pink hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

For a softer look, blades of a white variegated grass such as Miscanthus are perfect behind white panicle flowers such as the peegee hydrangea.

 

Design by Birgit Piskor, Victoria, BC

Or use a softer toned grass as a carpet to skirt a large hydrangea, hiding the bare shrub ankles without distracting the eye from the seasonal beauty of the blooms

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA; grasses hide the bare ankles of a Hydrangea aspera

For grab-your-sunglasses drama what about this combo seen at the Bellevue Botanical Garden that proved to be my inspiration for this post? Rather than repeat the raspberry pink bloom color, or even the secondary blue-lavender eye within these Pistachio hydrangea blooms, these designers opted to  highlight the yellow-green notes of emerging blooms for a high intensity color punch.

 Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry

Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry – WOW!

Now see the same concept played out in a much gentler way with All Gold Japanese forest grass tucked under this soft blue lace cap hydrangea.

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Design by Mitch Evans, Redmond, WA

Using flowers

Timing is everything when you want to combine flowers with flowers.

Below is the same hydrangea that you saw with the Rose Glow barberry, viewed from a different angle. Here you can see how the crisp white blooms of an adjacent hydrangea soften the scene. Since this is a pond-side planting the white adds to the visual cooling – rather like adding ice cubes to your cocktail!

Use white to temper intense colors

Use white to temper intense colors – design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Want something more subtle? Loved this hebe whose flowers perfectly matched the lilac hydrangea bloom behind. Delightful.

Try to imagine this without harsh shadows....

Hebe and hydrangea. Design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Or here’s an easy one from my own garden. Rozanne geranium blooms for so long you can’t help but get this right! This hardy geranium is also a real mingler so its tendrils will weave their way along hydrangea branches with little assistance from you.

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Looking ahead

Many hydrangea blooms change color as seasons progress. Consider planning a companion planting to highlight those dusky fall shades. Angel’s Blush peegee hydrangea turns from white to a delightful rose shade which echoes the color of Gateway Joe Pye weed looming overhead, the scene brightened with the yellow ox eye sunflower (Heliopsis) daisies planted to one side. A scene to look forward to.

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Watch out for my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, January 2017), coauthored with Christina Salwitz, where we have several amazing combinations using hydrangeas including some winter ideas!

Final thoughts

What about pairing the hydrangea blooms with the colors of berries, stems or even bark?

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Wondering which hydrangea to choose? I can’t even begin to help you there as there seem to be a gazillion to select from! I recommend deciding what size and color you want first, then the flower shape. From there ask a nursery professional to help you select the best varieties for your area and to give you tips on successful cultivation.

I also like to know who has grown my plants. There are several excellent  hydrangea growers that sell to the nurseries and stores including Proven Winners and Baileys Nurseries that sells the Endless Summer collection of luscious hydrangeas so look for their branded pots.

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

What are YOU pairing your hydrangeas with? Leave a comment below or post a photo to me Facebook page for us all to enjoy!

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The Path Less Traveled

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Have you been into your garden recently? Not to weed the borders or cut the grass – just to see what is happening? Set the alarm clock a little earlier tomorrow, grab your camera and go on a mini garden safari.

I must admit I wasn’t sure there was anything really worth photographing. I hadn’t even caught up with removing spent bulb foliage let alone trimming the grass edges, the peonies needed deadheading, the new borders weren’t grown in, I still had ‘holes’ to plug….. Sound familiar?  Yet I challenged myself to be an adventurer in my own garden, to be expectant, observant.

Hidden in plain view

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

I typically view this scene from a different perspective; from the left (indoors) the right (driving into the property) or three feet higher up – when I’m standing. Yet as I bent down to pull a weed (I couldn’t help myself) I happened to glance up and noticed what a delightful semi-transparent screen this stand of Sapphire Blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) made. Veiled glimpses of this intimate patio made it appear all the more enticing, tucked within a frame of foliage and flowers. The elliptical glass birdbath drew my eye back to the roses and Caradonna sage (Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’) now in full bloom. I could ignore fallen petals and leaves and enjoy the romance of the setting.

You can create a similar effect using tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) or grasses.

Take a different path

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From outside the border, the strolling path disappears visually, leaving uninterrupted layers of colorful trees, shrubs and perennials

Do you always walk around your garden in the same direction? The scene above is part of my large island border which has a strolling path running through the middle of it. I have trained myself to deliberately walk that path in each direction periodically to get a fresh perspective but I rarely walk around the outside of the border and peer in. Yet this richly hued  vignette could only be truly appreciated when I did just that. The red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) is still low enough for me to see over and provided a perfect visual carpet for the glowing Orange Rocket barberry, Skylands spruce and erupting Cleopatra foxtail lilies and orange oriental poppies . Layers of gold, orange and burgundy, set off by many shades of green – all revealed by taking a walk along the path less well traveled.

Learn to stand still

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No special detours taken for this shot – I just stood still and crouched down a little to look more closely at this lovely metal bird my son sent for my birthday. The early morning light cast a perfect shadow.

From my semi-crouched position I simply turned my head….

IMG_1128 Was this my garden? I usually walk this pathway quite quickly and as a result was missing this complex vignette with its luscious textural layers and color play. Yet look how the ice-blue corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) needles  complement  the rich plum leaves of my new Moonlight Magic crepe myrtle while offering a monochromatic medley with the Sapphire Blue sea holly and Blue Shag pine (Pinus strobus ‘ Blue Shag’). I had missed that moment when the rising sun kissed the tips of the Skylands spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) and barberry branches (Rose Glow to the left and Orange Rocket to the right). A little bird helped me see all that.

Do you need a add a ‘garden moment’ alongside the path to re-focus your view?

Dare to dream

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I  want to wait until this newly planted area has grown in before I write a more extensive post discussing the design details of our new patio but I thought you might like to get a glimpse of my vision at this interim stage. This is the view from our kitchen looking out into the back garden. The main patio is several steps away from the house and we have added a large planter in the middle of a border between the two. The idea is to create layers of color and texture to frame the patio, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, establish a focal point and create a more intimate space within the acreage.

IMG_1076 Once outside you feel nestled within that space yet have open views all around. The plants have a lot of growing to do – but the dream is becoming a reality.

How is your garden growing?

 

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Beyond Geraniums….

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual (for me) Coprosma and a vivid perennial Gaillardia

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual  Coprosma and a vibrant perennial  ‘Celebration’ blanket flower

Are you struggling to do something different with your sunny container gardens this year? Do you always seem to start off with a geranium, add  some pretty million bells (Calibrachoa) and then tuck in some trailing vbacopa to finish it off? Cheerful but not very imaginative is it?Yet this early in the season these are the plants most likely to be in full bloom at the nursery.

But look more closely at some of the other annuals sitting quietly in the sidelines. They may be mostly foliage and just a few buds right now but there are some really interesting options that will bloom their little flowery hearts out once you take them home. Here are some of my favorites

Top 4 flowering annuals for sun

Fan flower (Scaevola)

Scaevola 'Pink Wonder' is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

‘Pink Wonder’ fan flower (Scaevola) is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

Whether you choose pink, white or blue you won’t be sorry you took a chance on that unassuming pot of leaves in May! Before you know it this vigorous annual will weave its way through its container partners, tumbling, spilling and clambering at will. You’ll never plant containers without it again! Deer resistant and thrives in partial shade as well as full sun

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells (Calibrachoa)

Samantha lantana can be tricky to find but worth looking for as this variety has lovely variegated leaves that set off the lemon flowers perfectly. The pretty foliage helps keep the color interest going when the lantana is still gearing up to full bloom.

Don’t ignore the PERENNIALS either, especially those with colorful foliage. Several of these make great contenders for container gardens. Unlike annuals these make good investments for your garden too as they can be transplanted into the landscape at the end of the season.

Diamond Delight Euphorbia

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena - two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena – two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Its hard to imagine  how much impact this delicate plant will have – so just trust me! The sparse stems and tiny white flowers will explode into a flowering frenzy reminiscent of baby’s breath (Gypsophila) but this annual will bloom continually ’til frost. There are also some varieties with darker foliage and a slight pink tinge to the blooms.  Wonderful fine texture – it will become a favorite.

Centradenia

Unexpected drama as Centradenia 'Cascade' meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Unexpected drama as Centradenia ‘Cascade’ meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Centradenia is often sold as a 2″ basket stuffer and can languish on the table in May. Yet just a few weeks later and you’ll be glad you tucked it into the pot as it quickly fills out and blooms all season. A couple of different varieties are usually available but I have only seen them with flowers in various shades of pink. However I love the vivid red stems and bronze flushed green leaves . Plant this at the edge of the container to tumble over the edge

Top 4 perennials for sunny pots

Hyssop (Agastache) varieties

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) - associates beautifully with grasses

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) – associates beautifully with grasses

Shorter forms such as Apricot Sprite generally look better in containers than the taller forms. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, long blooming – they add a wonderful splash of color and herbal fragrance to sunny baskets and pots and attracts hummingbirds too! The variety shown here is Kudos Mandarin: a new one to me – I bought EIGHT!! Yes I was rather enamored……

Gaura varieties

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

Even the simple white flowering form of Gaura works well in a container, sending up dozens of dancing wands all summer long. However there are also several with pink or variegated foliage which can help fill the color gap early in the season. A few varieties are short enough to even be suitable to add to hanging baskets! Use as the thriller in smaller pots or a filler in larger containers.

Coneflower (Echinacea)

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Since these bloom mid-late season it can be a bit tricky incorporating them early in the season simply because the nurseries aren’t well stocked. However for procrastinators – or really clever planners – they add  a mega watt color blast since these are available in every color from white and yellow to magenta, orange and red.

Here’s a trick if you want to plan ahead. Plant an empty 6″ (gallon) pot into your mixed container garden to hold the space available for the coneflower. Then when you find the perfect plant just take the empty pot out and slip the coneflowers in. Voila!

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of many Gaillardia varieties

One of many blanket flower varieties available

There have been several new varieties of these sturdy  perennials introduced in recent years. Deer resistant, drought tolerant and long blooming you may find one of them is the perfect addition to your design. Deadhead to keep them blooming all summer long – although truthfully the fuzzy seed heads are pretty cool too! Lots to choose from including bi-colors. Look for Celebration, Arizona Sun and more!

Got you thinking? Great then go shopping! Post a photo of your creation to my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do this year.

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