A New Look for Cape Fuchsias

CandyDrops red Cape Fuchsia will add a vibrant splash of color to the garden

I love presents, especially when they are plants (or wine, or chocolate). So I was thrilled when Skagit Gardens in Washington State offered to send me some plants to try out. Now please understand that Skagit does not pay me for my time nor bribe me to write nice things about them or their plants. They simply send me these treasures to grow myself in the hopes that I will love them and share the love!

Not every plant from every grower makes the cut believe me, and like you I have very high expectations from plants. However I am really excited so far with two Cape Fuchsias which Skagit Gardens sent to me; Phygelius CandyDrops Tangerine and Phygelius CandyDrops red. These are the latest in the CandyDrops series which has been bred specifically for containers.

The CandyDrops series is perfect for containers

Cape Fuchsias (Phygelius sp.) are woody perennials, which bear long tubular flowers down the length of their upright stems, having some resemblance to the Gartenmeister fuchsias in that regard. Older varieties of Cape Fuchsias can become rather gangly and may grow as much as 5’ tall and wide! The CandyDrops series consists of compact plants in the 12-18” range. They start blooming in early summer and will repeat bloom if the flowering spikes are cut down as they fade. Mine have been in bloom for four weeks so far and are still pushing out new buds despite monsoon proportion rains and neglect on my part (sorry Skagit!)

Perhaps the best thing about these plants is the fact that hummingbirds love them. I had a real feeding frenzy going on earlier today with these tiny birds dive bombing the plants and each other like veteran war pilots.

CandyDrops tangerine is an easy-on-the-eye shade of orange

CandyDrops Tangerine is a light orange shade which could easily be toned down to apricot. Add in soft buttery yellows and a little white and you’ll have quite the floral sherbet. CandyDrops Red is a blue-red making it an easy companion in mixed containers or at the front of a garden border. It would also make a terrific centerpiece in a patriotic red-white-blue themed container garden for July 4th.

Cape Fuchsias thrive in full sun or partial shade and prefer moist but well drained soil. Most varieties are hardy to zone 7 – the CandyDrops series are reportedly hardy to zone 8. Since I haven’t had mine through a winter yet I can’t tell you how they fare here in Seattle (zone 7-ish. Sometimes very –ish). With annuals often costing the same as perennials, don’t let the question of hardiness put you off experimenting in a container garden this season.

Try something new – the hummingbirds will thank you!

All photos courtesy of Skagit Gardens



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Fun foliage that you can eat (mostly)


Explore the herb section of your nursery for new container design candidates. Photo credit; Gary Hayes

At this time of year it isn’t unusual for me to be designing 60 or more container gardens a week. Each client has their own preferences in terms of color and style but all expect a ‘wow’ factor. And I expect to deliver!

My biggest challenge is always to find fabulous foliage which works with and enhances the overall design. Focusing on flowers is guaranteed to bring disappointing results at some point during the season as many plants go through waves of blooming with ‘blah’ periods in between. Yet adding just a few special foliage plants changes all that. I routinely scour the smaller sizes of variegated shrubs as well as colorful indoor foliage plants to expand my plant palette. However, I still felt my latest project looked a little ‘flat’ until I wandered into the herb section of the nursery where I struck gold! Here are a few that caught my eye (and nose).

SAGE (Salvia)

Tricolor sage offers fabulous shades of green-grey, white, pink and purple. Photo credit; gardening.eu

Tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’); fabulous for using with pink, white or burgundy themes this colorful sage adds sparkle and depth to any sunny combination. This is a good ‘filler’ for containers, as it can reach 12-15” in height

Purple sage (Salvia officinalis  purpurea); the  smoky tones of the large, fuzzy oval leaves work well with silver sedums such as ‘Cape Blanco’ stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’). This combination would thrive in a hot sunny site with well-drained soil and has the added benefit of being deer resistant.

THYME (Thymus)

'Silver posie' thyme adds a fragrant ruffle to violas and 'Bowle's mauve' wallflower

Silver posie thyme (Thymus vulgaris ‘Silver posie’); this evergreen herb adds a delicate look with its small green leaves edged in white. Use it to edge garden borders (it would be wonderful with pink roses), or in containers.

Lemon thyme (Thymus × citriodorus); a favorite for year round plantings this yellow and green variegated form adds a bright note and citrus scent.  For great color contrast and a contemporary twist team it with black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)


Golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ );  this perennial dies down in winter but comes back each year to produce a 12” mound of golden leaves. Use this to edge raised borders or containers but trim back after flowering to keep it tidy. Looks great in a cobalt blue pot.

Variegated marjoram (Origanum vulgare ‘Variegata’); pretty green and white variegated leaves always look fresh. A great ‘spiller’

'Kent beauty' oregano may not be edible but with looks like this who cares? Photo courtesy Kylee Baumle of www.ourlittleacre.com

‘Kent beauty’ oregano (Origanum rotundifolium cv.)– this is an ornamental (non-edible) variety but don’t let that put you off as it is an outstanding little plant. Heart shaped leaves in blue-green are a welcome change from the typical mid-green, mid-sized foliage of summer annuals. Yet this herb offers even more with tiers of charming pink and chartreuse bracts (often incorrectly referred to as flowers). Color is best in full sun but will also do well in part shade.

MINT (Mentha)

The variegation on pineapple mint is striking. Photo credit; mountainvalleygrowers.com

Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’); I love the bold green and white variegated leaves, slightly ruffled at the edges and coarse to the touch, which I initially thought was a Plectranthus. When the leaves are crushed a light pineapple fragrance is released. This looks fabulous mingling in a sunny container where it can throw out stems to brighten up the more traditional offerings such as geraniums and African daisies. Roll up the leaves and slice thinly (as you would with basil) to add to fruit salads. Scrumptious!

Pineapple mint will spread indefinitely just like the common garden mint so keep it in a container to curb its enthusiasm.

If you would like to use some of these herbs for cooking as well as their ornamental value you may want to find an organic selection. Whether you eat them or not, these colorful plants will add fragrance and a new zip to your containers this summer for their foliage alone.

Email me photos of your favorite combinations!


A special thank you to my friend Tanya who introduced me to pineapple mint and inspired this post


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Can smoke in the garden be a good thing?

'Young lady' smoke bush provides the perfect backdrop for this delicate pink rose. Bellevue Botanical Gardens


Call it a revelation, but I think I may like smoking smoke bushes after all.

Sorry but the smoke on this 'Royal purple' just doesn't register on the excitement scale for me! The color just seems rather flat, especially against the dull purple foliage

I’ve been somewhat of a smoke snob until recently. Smoke bushes (Cotinus species) are fabulous foliage shrubs without a  doubt. Yet the classic  ‘Royal purple’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal purple’), with or without its fluffy pink ‘smoke’ (flowers) has just never grabbed me. The leaves are a nice color but not especially large and that puffy stuff (aka smoke/flowers) was quite frankly a turn off.  As new varieties were hybridized and  the foliage got more interesting  THEN I was hooked!

In fall 'Grace' really begins to smolder and looks stunning when showcased against brighter foliage such as this ash tree

With iridescent foliage over twice the size of its parents,Grace’ (Cotinus x Grace) really brought new life to the mixed border with stunning blue and purple hues – but I was greedy! I wanted even bigger  foliage so I coppiced mine every spring to prevent blooms and encourage steroidal sized  leaves. Fabulous. I added burnt orange ‘Flasher’ daylilies to the front and sat back to watch the show! ‘Grace’ grows to 10-15′ tall and wide if not coppiced yet mine easily grew to 6′ x 6′ each year even after being hacked back to just 2′ above ground in April. Moreover each leaf could be 3″ or more long – really quite remarkable.

Copper tinted new growth on 'Golden spirit' offers the opportunity for some creative combinations




Next came the ‘chartreuse era.’  “Ah yes” you say, “circa 2000”. True. But ‘Golden spirit’ (Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’) has come through the initial hype with glowing reviews. Luminous golden foliage is etched with copper  in early spring making it a wonderful partner to cinnamon toned Heucherella such as ‘Sweet tea’. Yet again I’m all about the leaves  so I coppice the shrub to prevent flower formation and  allow the shrub  to focus on outstanding foliage production instead. 6-8′ tall and 5′ wide.

'Old fashioned' in name alone - this smoke bush has become a new favorite


So why this post? I’ve decided I do quite like smoke after all. My daughter recently gave me her ‘Old fashioned’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old fashioned’) and I have found a new love! Soft blue-green foliage blends seamlessly into the garden without drawing undue attention to itself yet is far from boring. Each leaf is etched delicately with burgundy and the SMOKE is delightful. Yes really. Or at least what I have seen so far is delightful. Soft buttery-yellow buds catch the light and add just the right amount of sparkle to the garden. The shrub catches your attention without screaming “Look at ME”! In my garden, ‘Old fashioned’ smoke bush is the perfect visual resting place between a golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’)  and purple barberries (Berberis sp.). It offers  a soothing note before the more usual ‘Karen – Kaleidoscope’. 6′ tall and 5′ wide.

 ‘Young lady’ (Cotinus coggygria ‘Young lady’) is another relatively new introduction which piqued my interest last year after seeing it in the display gardens at Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Gentle teal green foliage was decorated with plumes of frothy pink  flowers. Being a gardener who is especially interested in plant combinations I was especially struck by how the designers had paired this with a pale pink rose. It was like a modern take on adding maidenhair fern to a rose bowl; so delicate and fresh. Each set its companion off to perfection and was all the more significant for the partnership. 8-10′ tall and wide

A smoking 'Young lady' paired with a sunset colored hyssop (Agastache)

So smoke CAN be a good thing in the garden – who knew?

What’s your favorite smoke bush?


Smoke bushes are hardy in zones 5-9 but would make fabulous foliage plants even for seasonal combinations.




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Top 5 deer-resistant annuals (I hope)


Love in a Mist (Nigella) seeds can be sprinkled directly onto the soil. Photo credit; Ian Sutton

I need more plants.

One of the joys and frustrations of starting a new garden is watching it grow. For once I’m trying to be restrained and allow room for the trees, shrubs and perennials to expand to their natural shape and size without jostling neighbors yet that means I can see bare soil -definitely not my usual garden design style.

The main problem exists in a large island border where all plants have to thrive in full sun, be reliably drought tolerant and deer resistant. I also need BIG plants that make an impact due to the scale of the border as well as its setting within our 5 acre property. No wimpy pansies here! Even though the deer have so far ignored the trees and shrubs I’ve planted they still seem to think that it is acceptable to walk through my new border rather than go around. (It seems my dog was easier to train in that regard).

So to eliminate the deer-freeway,  reduce visible bare ground and to fill the gaps between immature plants I have decided to use annuals in a few spots. For budget reasons I have grown these from seed but most can easily be purchased as plugs from the nurseries.

'Fireworks' is an apt name for this sizzling annual (Globe amaranth)!

‘Fireworks’ Globe amaranth (Gomphrena) – This one is new to me ; a good enough reason to include it! It quickly grows to form a full, dense, landscape sized specimen, eventually reaching 3-4′ tall and 1-2′ wide which equates to a lot of plants for a $3 packet of seeds. Tons of strong, tall stems are topped with exploding bursts of full, large 1″ blooms in hot pink tipped with bright yellow. A showstopper in the garden and conversation piece when cut for a mixed bouquet. Should be gorgeous.

At a glance you could easily mistake this 'Mahogany splendor' hibiscus as a Japanese maple. Photo credit; canadaplants.ca

Hibiscus ‘Mahogany splendor’ –  A beautiful foliage plant, this attractive variety has shiny, maple shaped leaves in deep, dark burgundy giving the appearance of a choice Japanese maple at a fraction of the cost. Every part of this plant is dark, making it a good choice for contrast with silver foliaged plants such as wormwood (Artemisia). Grows 3-5 feet.



Love-in-the-mist isn't nearly so delicate as it looks. Photo credit; moremoth.blogspot.com

Love-in-the-mist (Nigella) – I have a love/hate relationship with this pretty annual. It self-seeds which means free plants next year BUT they will undoubtedly re-seed where I don’t want them! Thankfully the extras are easy to identify and pull out. Dainty, multi-faceted blossoms are followed by striped fairy lantern seedpods over delicate feathery foliage. Blue is the usual color but I have selected white and simply scattered the seeds amongst ‘Walker’s low’ catmint (Nepeta). This soft color scheme will break up areas of bolder colors and is anchored by my favorite narrow conifer;  false cypress ‘Wissels’ saguaro’ (Chamaecyparis l. ‘Wissel’s saguaro’).


'Violet queen' spider flower will gain plenty of attention from friends but thankfully not from deer. Photo credit; dragonfliesandchickens.blogspot.com

‘Violet queen’ spider flower (Cleome) usually comes in shades of rose or white but this variety has unusual purple flowers which intrigued me. What really got my attention though was its promise of heat and drought tolerance and ability to survive neglect! It is also a butterfly and hummingbird magnet – my kind of plant. At 4’ tall and with a succession of blooms all summer long this may become a ‘regular’ even after the garden has filled out.

Castor bean plant makes a strong architectural statement in the summer garden. Photo credit; ppdl.purdue.edu

‘Carmencita’ castor bean (Ricin communis ‘Carmencita’) –The deep red maple like leaves make quite a statement on stems that can reach 5’ tall. Flowers resemble red pompoms held high on bamboo like stalks. All parts of these plants are extremely poisonous so do not include in the garden if you have small children or pets who are likely to eat fallen seeds or leaves. I’m planting a large mass of these near some Canna ‘Tropicana’ which I saved from last year, with the burnt orange ‘Flasher’ daylilies in front and a wave of feathery blue star (Amsonia) to one side which will turn bright yellow in fall.

You don’t need to have deer in your garden to choose these plants! If you are looking for an inexpensive way to fill a large sunny space with color that doesn’t need deadheading and is remarkably drought tolerant then these top 5 picks could be perfect for you too.

Other sunloving, drought tolerant, deer resistant annuals you light like include;

snapdragons, poppies, helichrysum (great for foliage), sage varieties, zinnia, ageratum



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A Special Bouquet for Mother’s Day


Photo credit David. E. Perry

Flowers are the quintessential gift for Mother’s day. They are available everywhere – from cellophane wrapped bouquets at the gas station to artful arrangements at the florists. Yet do you know where these flowers come from or how they were grown? Do you care?

Truthfully my answer to both of these questions used to be ‘no’. They were flowers and they were available – end of story. I do not consider myself a granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugger (and have no issues with those who do), but I do care about the environment because I consider life a precious gift and feel a responsibility to avoid harming the land or the lives of those creatures who depend upon it. My complacent attitude about the cut flowers industry has been challenged and changed thanks to the recently published ‘The 50 Mile Bouquet’ written by well-known author and valued friend Debra Prinzing, beautifully photographed by David Perry. The subtitle to their book is ‘seasonal, local and sustainable flowers’ which made me think. Seasonal and local I could understand but sustainable? What does that mean exactly? Thus began my education.


Photo credit; David E. Perry

When my children were young they used to gather small posies of flowers for the table; primroses and forget-me-nots in spring or a sprig of lady’s mantle in summer. I still enjoy cutting a few flowers from the garden to bring indoors and it is a simple way to reconnect with Nature. My flowers are grown with love and whereas they may be humble offerings, David’s photo essays show us how perfect even a single stem can be on a sunny windowsill. Moreover such garden arrangements are a 50 feet bouquet. They haven’t been shrink-wrapped, treated with preservatives, cut days ago, trucked across the country or lost their fragrance. They have grown in rich soil, pollinated by bees and visited by butterflies. They are just minutes from garden to table.

In a world where we expect perfection at any cost and from any source an attitude adjustment is needed. The perfect floral bouquet can be prepared using stems from our own gardens or purchased from local flower farmers, freshly gathered and grown without unnecessary, harmful chemicals.

Photo credit; David E. Perry


This book is a more than a journey, it is an enlightening adventure. Within the pages you will meet inspiring people such as Bess Wyrick, founder of Celadon & Celery Events, a New York-based eco-couture event design and floral décor company.  Bess hosts popular hands-on workshops teaching hostesses and budget-conscious brides how to create table centerpieces and bridal bouquets without breaking the bank or harming the environment. Participants learn far more than how to cut a stem or de-thorn a rose, however. While learning designer tips such as threading  a rose stem through a hydrangea to give a multi-tiered effect, attendees gain an understanding and appreciation that using what has been grown locally (without chemicals) and is in season is rewarding on a deeper level. Debra describes this as “designing with intent rather than just tearing off the cellophane wrapping and shoving the stems into a vase”.

Photo credit; David E. Perry

Anyone who can make something beautiful from blackberries – besides a pie – has my respect. Yet a wonderful couple from the Skagit Valley, Washington does just that from their Jello Mold Farm. They consider themselves ‘stewards’ of their 8 acre farm and hold themselves accountable for protecting the various residents such as trumpeter swans and ospreys as well as their natural habitat. This is something I can very much identify with as I strive to maintain wildlife corridors, protect and enhance their habitats and be mindful of the fact that the bears, deer and frogs were here before I was. (Shame about the voles mind you!) Their definition of sustainability is leaving the land in better shape than when they found it. I can go with that. (We’re still digging out huge lumps of asphalt that were dumped into our stream years ago) And their blackberries? A cut spray adds an unexpected touch to more traditional floral stems in an arrangement. Why not?

Lest you think that such sustainably grown floral bouquets are little more than a handful of buttercups and daisies, venture into the book to meet Arthur Williams, Denver floral artist and owner of Babylon Floral Design. With more tattoos and piercings than I want to think about (I hate needles) you can bet that Arthur isn’t into cute posies. Rather he is known for his over-the-top, unconventional designs. On the day that David and Debra visited, Arthur was creating living theater using a hollowed out tree trunk for a vase which he filled with giant ornamental rhubarb leaves and flowers supported effortlessly by a few iris and lilies. Clearly this is no cookie-cutter floral design business! Yet the ingredients come from local growers who care enough about the environment to avoid the use of pesticides, together with clippings from  his own back garden.

Photo credit David E. Perry

Who else will you meet on this floral journey? Flower farmers, floral designers, market vendors and other creative individuals who are committed to enjoying what the land produces without harming it all tell their stories, each one unique yet threaded with a common passion.

How can I possibly do justice to a book which has taken years to document in just a few short paragraphs? This is not just another garden book, nor a book about flower arranging. It’s an invitation to learn how to fill your home with beautiful bouquets that have been grown locally and lovingly. Get designer tips, ideas for seasonal flowers (perfect for garden planning) and harvest the wisdom of seasoned growers. It’s also an invitation to a mindset change.

My Mum is 84 and lives in England. She has gardened all her life, wins an embarrassing number of awards for floral design (I missed out on that particular horticultural gene) and until she read this post had no clue she was ‘eco’ anything, let alone green! Mum just does what she does best – she grows a veritable bounty of flowers which fill her home year round with perfume and color, offering passersby an ongoing visual feast and frequently sharing her home grown bouquets with others (invariably over a cup of tea).

Happy Mother’s Day Mum – and I promise this book will be on its way to you by the time you read this!





Purchase your copy of The 50 Mile Bouquet here.



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