annuals

Creative Combinations You’ll Love!

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The entry garden gives a hint of what is to come

It’s always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.

Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.

Billowing plantings frame a path and the distant skyline of Des Moines

Billowing plantings flank a path and frame the distant skyline of Des Moines

Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than  abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.

Here’s how to get the look.

Repetition of Plants

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The bold, variegated peach and chocolate variegated leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’) and the lavender blooms of Senorita Rosalita spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’) together with a froth of yellow and gold daisies establishes the color scheme for this border

Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.

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The Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita spider flower is a five star annual.

This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn’t have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.

Repetition of Color

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Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.

In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’), this color  repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.

Add something unexpected

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A pop of magenta wakes up the color scheme: pentas blooms and parrot leaf

The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana)

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana ‘Forest Pink’)

Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient

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A buffet of colorful flowers still needs to put Foliage First! (I do recall a certain book or two on that premise…)

At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.

Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Cabernet’) and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.

A different perspective

A different perspective – looking back at the border, now framed by the late summer foliage of Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) and smoky plumes of Ginger Love fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’)

Other Plants to Consider

If you’d like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.

Peach-coral-pumpkin

Diascia ‘Little Tango’ (Annual/perennial)

Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ (Annual)

Knipophia ‘Creamsicle’ (Perennial)

Coleus (Annual)

Heuchera (Perennial)

Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)

Diervilla ‘Kodiak Orange’ (Deciduous shrub)

Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series  (Deciduous shrub)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Tangelo’ (Deciduous shrub)

 

Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)

Coleus (annual)

Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)

Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (perennial)

Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Haze’ (spring blooming bulb)

 

Magenta

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’  (annual/perennial)

Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’ (perennial)

Coleus

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Small Garden Re-Imagined: Buffalo Style

Do you like garden tours?

I try to go to a few local ones each year, but this summer I had the opportunity to attend what can only be described as a garden tour on steroidsGarden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 private and public gardens in Buffalo, NY are open for self guided tours – FREE  – to the public, each July. Each garden is different – some are whimsical, some appear to be a set borrowed from Hollywood, others feature native plants, but all are creative, and the open arms concept is encouraging a greater  sense of pride in this community.

While I didn’t manage to see all 400 gardens I did visit 15, along with 350 or so of my friends attending the Garden Writer’s Association symposium- and this was one of my favorites. If I was giving awards this would receive the award for Best Design as it makes such wonderful use of a small lot, adding function while reducing maintenance, and significantly increasing the home’s value.

Front Garden

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country - this is an event you NEED to go to!

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country – this is an event you NEED to go to! Garden Walk Buffalo

A peek at the neighbor’s garden to the right will help you understand the ‘before‘ – a postage stamp sized lawn, concrete path to the steps and a driveway. Possibly a shrub or two.

This is a stunning transformation that makes the space look much larger, has oodles of curb appeal, enhances the home and creates a usable space. It was designed by Joe Han, The English Gardener.

The raised, block planter enables the homeowner to have year-round color (boxwood) and structure. No more soil washing off into the street – the slope is managed beautifully by the retaining wall which doubles as casual seating thanks to the capstone.

IMG_5749 A central urn invites seasonal drama, while being surrounded by perennials that cope with Buffalo’s harsh winters. The clipped boxwood hedge gives a sense of order and an important connection to the strong rectilinear architecture of the home and the medallion detail on the portico.

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Each corner of the planter is filled with sweetly fragrant alyssum backed by silver foliage. How often have you heard me remind you of the importance of foliage?!

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Tucked into a shady corner a simple fountain brings the element of sound to this delightful patio, also enjoyed and appreciated from the front porch.

IMG_5744 A dark charcoal border around the lighter grey patio emphasizes and defines the unique shape, making the space seem even larger than it really is.

Planted window boxes and urns add the finishing touch, their color scheme connecting to the larger raised planter while adding drama to the dark porch railings and wide staircase.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the back garden and wondered how the designer and homeowner had made use of that space….

Back Garden

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As anticipated, it was stunning both in its simplicity and in its details. Remarkably it was designed by the homeowners themselves, Don McCall and Jeff Lach.

Window boxes on the second story take the garden up high, the color scheme repeating that of the front and back landscapes. Notice how the two units read as one – they are mirror images of one another.

A small lawn suggests a calming space, bordered by billowing, white peegee hydrangeas and grasses, while a hibiscus introduces the lavender accent note. A small deck next to the home is just one sitting area of three, however.

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At the back of the lot is this charming dining space, the clean-lined furnishings echoing the contemporary aesthetic of the overall design. Overhead ambient lighting is possible thanks to a convenient branch. There was another seating nook opposite (where I was standing to take the photograph). The only trouble with garden tours is PEOPLE! Yes, there were folks sitting in the seating area – of course – so it didn’t seem right to take a photo.

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While there are flowers in this garden, it is primarily a textural foliage feast – my kind of space. I loved this monochromatic dance between the weeping pine and hosta.

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This different angle helps you see the sliver of lawn, narrow gravel pathway and wonderful addition of a Japanese maple. Truly this garden is a jewel.

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Every detail was considered – love the repetition of these three simple pots on the dining table.

Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Which ones have you been on this year?

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Caladium Inspiration

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Here in the Pacific Northwest, caladiums are considered a rather exotic houseplant that can vacation outside on the shady summer patio but are not your ‘mainstream’ summer annual. In fact they will rarely be found with geraniums or petunias at the local nursery, but rather remain tucked away with the indoor plants. Despite that I have been using them for years in container designs where they add bold foliage, exciting color and a tropical punch to my combinations. The only caution is that I wait until our night temperatures are at least 55′ before using them outdoors. In Seattle that may not be until early June. Warmer climates can enjoy them much earlier!

A trip to the Atlanta area last summer got me excited about these foliage floozies all over again, especially as there seem to be so many varieties available down there, including sun-tolerant ones. (Read plant-envy…)

So here for your viewing pleasure is a smorgasbord of caladium-infused container designs as well as a few ideas for incorporating them into your landscape (assuming your have less slugs than I do!)

The art of repetition

A series of low shallow bowls line this pathway, each planted with caladium (probably Red Flash which tolerates both sun and shade), green and white variegated spider plant and bright green Angelina stonecrop.

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Repetition is the name of the game here – what a stunning way to line a wide, shady pathway. Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

The entrance at the Gibb’s Gardens visitors center is truly delightful. By selecting plants that cope with either sun or shade (Surefire begonias and Red Flash caladium), the containers and landscape present a unified, cohesive display. I love the color echo between the begonia blooms and the caladium, all brightened with splashes of yellow or chartreuse.

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Containers, window boxes and landscape all unified in color and content, welcome visitors at Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

Repeating the heart-shaped caladium leaves with the similarly shaped begonia foliage is another satisfying design element. That together with the charming color echo between the white begonia blooms, a variegated plectranthus and the white caladium creates a feminine, romantic vignette, quite different from the sultry deep pinks seen earlier.

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

Allowing caladium to grow through a bed of coleus also offers a whimsical little-and-large perspective:

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Design by Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida

Exciting color contrasts

Red Flash caladium is prized for its oversized, vibrant red leaves and is an old favorite for both the landscape and container. However the wide, dark-olive green margins benefit from the addition of a lighter colored companion such as the variegated ginger below.

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

White caladiums need a different approach. In the container below, the pink venation of the caladium is highlighted by the beefsteak plant (Perilla ‘Magilla’ – a coleus look-alike) while the black tropical foliage of a calathea (Calathea ‘Dottie’) adds bold contrast

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Caladium, calathea, beefsteak plant and a woodland fern make up this unexpected combination. Design by Le jardinet

Creating a focal point

The bold foliage of caladium can be used to add a welcome focal point to an overly-floriferous planting scheme, as can be seen in the example below

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

The large, white leaves also add a cooling note to the border of warm, jewel-toned flowers.

How are YOU using caladiums this year? Do share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

Resources

Growing caladiums from tubers in warmer climates:

Classic Caladiums website

Southern Living

 

Growing in zones 5-7:

Longfield Gardens blog

Personally I just purchase fully grown plants in June! I have found that I am most successful if I keep the drip irrigation lines away from the crown of the plant to avoid over-watering but otherwise have found them easy care. Just cut off spent foliage at the base as needed.

 

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Using a Signature Color

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While the shallow orange container may be the star in this vignette, it gains impact from being framed visually by the similarly colored Rheingold arborvitae in the foreground.

The display gardens from the 2017 Northwest Flower & Garden Show may be dismantled but the memories and design inspiration will feed my creative soul for years to come thanks to photographs .

As I reviewed my images this morning I was struck once again how several designers had used orange as a signature color.

A signature color is a thematic statement, something that is repeated in different ways throughout a space to create a sense of unity. Used too often it can be jarring, using it too little and the intent is lost.

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My front garden uses blue as its thematic statement, softened and highlighted by plenty of white or silver foliage and flowers. (Glass art by Jesse Kelly)

In my own 5 acre garden I have two signature colors in different areas: blue and orange. Blue predominates in the front garden as it ties to the color of the front door. I use it in the foliage of blue-toned conifers, blue flowers, gorgeous containers and glass art, all  framed with shades of green, white and silver.

One of two large, glossy orange containers that I use to set the theme in my large island border, echoed by orange blooming crocosmia

In my back garden is the ‘island border’, measuring 150′ x 50′ and anchored at one end by a cabin (just glimpsed in the earlier photograph). A strolling path through this large border invites exploration. Here my signature color is orange, established by bold glossy containers and re-enforced by the emerging foliage of spirea, Flasher daylilies and other details.

Not surprisingly, therefore, I was drawn to several show gardens that also used orange as the signature color.

1. Mochiwa mochiya—Rice Cake, Rice Cake Maker

Garden Creator: Jefferson Sustainable Landscaping

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The color orange is artfully placed throughout this display garden to move the eye from front to back and side to side

This remarkable, gold-award winning garden celebrates a fusion of cultures. The scene above highlights the eastern influence with a low dining table, granite spheres and an understated plant selection that focuses on foliage and texture over flowers or a rainbow of colors. The judicious placement of orange containers, cushions and foliage moves the eye through the space.

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From the custom color on the grill to slender  containers – orange makes a memorable statement against the charcoal grey

Luxurious appliances and high-end finishes are sure to satisfy the western aesthetic and taste buds! Who wouldn’t want to be the chef in this outdoor kitchen? Vivid orange hues are the perfect counterpoint to matte grey pavers and stonework while also visually connecting the dining experience.

2. Pizzeria | Decumani

Garden Creator: Adam Gorski Landscapes, Inc.

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An inexpensive way to use a signature color is with colorful, seasonal annuals such as these primroses

Neapolitan pizza is known for its simplicity, with just a  few, quality ingredients used in its  preparation. Likewise this outdoor ‘pizza garden’ relies on simplicity of materials and restraint in color to create an inviting space reminiscent of an Italian courtyard.

Worried that your signature color of today might not be your signature color of tomorrow? This garden shows you how to be creative with color on a tight budget,

Notice that all the key furniture, containers and cabinets are in neutral tones. The bold color  comes from inexpensive flowers, specifically orange primroses and ranunculus.

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Incorporating the annuals into the borders as well as containers strengthens the idea

The same flowers have been tucked under more permanent foliage plants in the border for a sense of unity. These could be replaced by orange begonias in summer and pumpkins in fall.

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Placing an over-sized container, abundantly planted using the signature color at a  corner of the patio is an easy idea to copy.

This is a perfect way to try a new color without long term commitment

3. Mid-Mod-Mad…it’s Cocktail Hour!

Garden Creator: Father Nature Landscapes Inc.

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Orange cushions in a variety of fabrics and textures inject a jolt of color onto this bluestone patio

Designer Sue Goetz was the mastermind behind this award-winning display garden. A stunning “less is more” garden with an updated mid-century design, it embraces simplistic plant choices and strong  geometry of hardscaping made popular in the 1950’s and 60’s (and making a big comeback today).

While the orange cushions are the obvious ‘color pop’, this signature color is repeated in many other, more subtle details.

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Notice how the cedar trim at the end of this water wall, and the copper spouts all play into the ‘orange’ family

Wood tones also read ‘orange’ in the right setting as can be seen by the cedar on this water wall and the outdoor bar. Rusty metal or weathered copper have a similar understated orange tone.

Orange hair grass (Carex testacea) is used for the meadow planting, the orange-tipped, olive-green blades a perfect choice.

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It’s all about the details – orange stools, soft furnishings, decor accents – and the trumpets of the Jetfire narcissus all say ORANGE

While the all yellow Tete a Tete narcissus are the obvious choice for a spring garden display, Sue selected Jet Fire because of its orange trumpet to tie in with the theme. Some additional inexpensive accents such as napkins, place mats and cut flowers complete the scene.

What is your signature color?

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More New Plants: More New Favorites!

Color, texture, form, movement, interaction with light - all are assessed when growing new plants

Color, texture, form, movement as well as interaction with light, deer, rabbits and overall health – all are assessed when trialing plants

Between testing plants for growers and having the opportunity to grow new introductions in my landscape or containers for photo shoots I consider myself incredibly fortunate. The sense of anticipation never gets old; I am always excited to see what might work well in my deer resistant, drought tolerant garden or what may be the perfect addition to a plant palette for my landscape design clients.

I also take the opportunity to report back to the nurseries and growers that have sent the samples, reporting on hardiness, any disease issues, growth habit etc – even if they don’t specifically ask me to. It’s one way I can help YOU get better information. For example Proven Winners has recently updated several listings after our discussions – kudos to them.

Photographer Laurie Black shooting for a future article in Country Gardens magazine

Photographer Laurie Black shooting for a future article in Country Gardens magazine. Only GREAT plants make it into these designs!

The other way I try to help home gardeners is by writing blog posts on what I consider to be the best of the best. I recently wrote a post on my Fine Foliage blog (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) New Introductions – New Favorites, that you will definitely want to check out. It focuses on plants that have exceptional foliage and includes stunning flowering shrubs, groundcovers and perennials. I also shared my excitement previously over the new crapemyrtles from Baileys Nurseries. They have grown really well in my garden this summer so now the test will be our winter weather.

In this post I will focus on new introductions that are specifically grown for their flowers.

Bright Lights Yellow African Daisy (Osteospermum)

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

Vivid golden-yellow daisies all summer, Bright Lights Yellow African Daisy from Proven Winners performed better than expected for me this year. In the past I have found African daisies to be  hit and miss with their floral display but with a rapid succession of blooms this was never without color. As with all African daisies these open fully in the sun, so not ideal for an evening patio pot but fabulous otherwise. Look for this new variety in 2017

Design Ideas

I mixed these with deep purple heliotrope, red-tinged grasses and blue-green foliage in my summer containers.  Milder climates with well drained soil would be able to enjoy these in the landscape I’m sure. (I know my late Mum had several large bushes that she seemed to overwinter with ease in her English maritime climate)

Cultural information

  • Short and compact at 8-12″ tall, spreading to 12″
  • Full sun best (very heat tolerant) but part sun OK also
  • Hardy in zones USDA 9-11, annual elsewhere
  • Needs well drained soil – do not overwater

 

Maroon Swoon Weigela (Weigela ‘Maroon Swoon’)

Maroon Swoon weigela from Baileys Nurseries

Maroon Swoon weigela from Van Belle Nurseries

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Maroon Swoon weigela, one of the new Bloomin’ Easy shrubs from Van Belle Nurseries. I usually grow varieties with dark or variegated foliage and clearly this is just green. But it’s a very healthy green and the shrub itself grew quickly from a compact 2g size to a robust 5g size in my garden with minimal care. In fact it is rather squished and voles play perilously close by yet as I type this post it has a remarkable second display of blooms.

Here is the main reason for growing this variety. Maroon Swoon has deep velvety-red flowers with distinct pure white anthers and stigma giving it a polka-dot effect – quite striking and unlike any I have seen before. It really stands out in the garden and is associating well with a smorgasbord of  shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Design Ideas

Play off the white detail of the blooms by growing it near silvery-white foliage or flowers e.g. the tall annual flowering tobacco plant (Nicotiana sylvestris) or a tall green/white variegated grass such as variegated silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegata’).

Or for greater contrast the Lemony Lace elderberry would be beautiful, as the new growth has rosy hues to echo the weigela flowers while the finely dissected lemon-colored foliage would add interest to the weigela shrub even when not in bloom

Cultural information

  • Grows 4-5’h x 2-3′ w according to the grower but mine is already at least 3′ wide so I suspect this may vary with light conditions
  • Happy in full sun or part sun
  • Hardy in USDA zones 4-8
  • Like all weigela this is fairly drought tolerant once established
  • Deer resistant in most gardens……you know how that goes….

Double Play Painted Lady Spirea (Spiraea japonica  Double Play Painted Lady)

Proven Winners does it again with another stellar spirea introduction, one of their Double Play series that will be available in 2017. These shrubs are reliably hardy, drought tolerant once established and both rabbit and deer resistant. What this variety brings that is NEW is an exciting variegated leaf. Each leaf seems to be marked differently giving it a painterly effect with splashes and stripes of yellow and cream on green. That also seems to be helping avoid the rather muddy look all-golden leaved varieties can have by late season; Painted Lady still looks fresh and fun.

The blooms are also a refreshing vivid pink  – welcome after the more typical softer shades of pink spirea that can look washed out in late summer

Design Ideas

Try pairing this with deep purple foliage such as the new Twilight Magic crapemyrtle from Bailey’s Nurseries, one of their First Editions. If you live in an area where this small tree will bloom you will love the echo of the flower color between this and the spirea.

At its base you might try a sweep of the equally drought tolerant ice plant; I recommend Delosperma Jewel of the Desert Opal from Concept Plants. WOW! Your neighbors may start wearing sunglasses.

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert 'Opal'

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert Opal

Cultural information (for the spirea)

  • Grows to 3′ tall and wide
  • Full-part sun
  • Hardy to USDA 4-8
  • Drought tolerant once established

Coming Up

Also watch out for a future post on some of the new hibiscus I have been testing including a unique columnar variety. These are so abuse-proof it’s embarrassing. Ridiculously drought tolerant (I forgot about them) and ignored by deer. They deserve decent photographs and the lighting isn’t cooperating today.

Many shrubs need testing for at least two years before I have a sense of its true potential. That is especially the case with hydrangeas but also for anything I receive in a gallon size or smaller. By the time I can offer a review they may have been on the market for a while but I hope you still feel there is value in hearing how something performs in real gardening conditions rather than with an army of horticulturalists hovering and ready to pamper to every whim! If so then you can also look forward to hearing how the Aphrodite sweetshrub  performs. I received it as a tiny cutting but already it is several feet high yet has received no supplemental water or care. The foliage is healthy and I’m looking forward to seeing the blood-red blooms next spring. It is also on the main deer-freeway but hasn’t even been taste-tested. Yet.

I’m also assessing Sparkling Sangria fringe flower  and two varieties of Distlylium; Cinnamon Girl and Linebacker grown by Baileys Nurseries, for hardiness and performance in my amended clay soils in zone 6b/7.

So stay tuned and share the journey with me!

Disclaimer

I have not been paid, coerced or bribed with wine to write any of these plant reviews. They are my own opinions, observations and reflections. I share them because I love to share my passion for plants and good design with you.

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