Celebrate with Me – and Enter to Win!


Hot off the FedEx truck!

I am thrilled to be able to announce that my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press), co-authored with Christina Salwitz is finally HERE!

Why do you need this book?

The beauty of flowers is seductive, but flowers, by their fleeting nature, are a fickle base to provide long-lasting gardens with year-round interest. Tackle this problem with the advice in Gardening with Foliage First. Learn how to first build a framework of foliage and then layer in flowers and other artistic elements to add the finishing touches. This simple, recipe-style approach to garden design will work for a variety of climates and garden challenges, including deer, dry shade, and more.

How is it organized?

Color-coded pages makes finding what you need easy

Color-coded pages makes finding what you need easy: green for spring& summer, orange for fall & winter

By season (spring/summer) and light requirements (sun/shade), each color coded to help you quickly find what you need.

At the start of each section is an index of the fun combinations. Aren’t you curious to find our more about The Ticklish Porcupine on p270?


Taking a cue from the layout of our award-winning book Fine Foliage, we  wanted to be sure to explain both why the combination works as a descriptive caption under the main beauty shot, but additionally ‘how the design grows‘ over time. Here’s one example:


You will also notice that we include helpful details about each of the plants in the Foliage Framework as well as the flower, bark, berry or art piece that acts as the Finishing Touch. That will help you copy our ideas or use them as a springboard to substitute something similar.

Does it only have ideas for the Pacific Northwest?

Of course not! We traveled from British Columbia to Arizona and Florida to Pennsylvania in addition to scouting  local gardens.

Winter inspiration from the Denver Botanical Garden

Winter inspiration from the Denver Botanical Garden

Christina and I are passionate about sharing our insights and knowledge – be sure to take time to read the introduction to gain a better understanding of the attributes that make a plant pairing sing rather than sulk.


An excerpt from the introduction


What do the pros say?

Christina and I were honored and humbled that the uber-talented author and designer Tracy DiSabato-Aust wrote a review of our new book. My copy of her classic text The Well-Designed Mixed Garden (Timber Press) is so well thumbed I may need a replacement soon! Here’s what she said about Gardening with Foliage First:

“Karen and Christina knock one out of the park with exceptional ideas for everything from large landscapes to tiny patios and containers.”

Where can I buy a copy?

By the end of this month it will be available in

But if you can’t wait that long or would like a signed copy you can get one right NOW! Thanks to the nice Mr. FedEx man  have 200 copies just ready to send your way. I ship by USPS 2-3 day Priority mail with tracking, anywhere within the USA.

Just $24.95 (+ shipping) with credit card or PayPal. You can even request a special personalisation during the ordering process (what a great gift!):

Win a signed copy! (Now closed)

And what’s a new book release without sharing the joy? If you’d like to enter to win a signed copy just leave a comment below telling me your favorite foliage plant. (Comments left on social media posts will not count – comments must be left on this blog post).

Competition will close at 9am PST Tuesday January 17th 2017 and the winning name  drawn using a random number generator. Good luck!

And the winner is…

Thank you to all who entered and left comments with great ideas. The WINNER is…. KAREN MILLER!

Congratulations Karen, I have sent you an email.

For those that didn’t win a free copy I do you hope will consider purchasing one and would love it if you left a short review on Amazon when you have time.


Thanks again everyone – happy gardening!


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Designing with Fall Foliage

It's that time of year - warts and all

It’s that time of year – warts and all

As the PNW braced for the predicted hurricane force winds, most homeowners dashed to the store for candles, groceries and chocolate. Essentials. What did I do? Grabbed my coat, wellies and camera then ran outside between rain squalls to take photos of the garden while there were still some leaves on the trees!

I can’t say that fall is my favorite time of year exactly, because I prefer warmer temperatures and that laid back vibe of summer gardening which typically means harvesting yummy fruit and vegetables and strolling around the garden with friends who stop by. But the colors of the autumn garden are outstanding – especially when you plan for them.

That’s right, a fall garden doesn’t just happen. One has to think about colors and textures as well as the timing of the display. Here are a few snapshots of my mid-October (pre-storm) garden to show you what I mean.

Spread the love

This island border is truly a year round showcase

This island border is truly a year round showcase with gorgeous colorful foliage and seasonal flowers but fall may be my favorite time

Notice how in this photograph of my island border the dominant yellow foliage that immediately catches your eye is well spaced out. To the right is my golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’) and to the left a frothy haze of Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). A bright gold-chartreuse conifer (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’)is set farther back towards the middle, flanked by contrasting deep burgundy foliage of a Grace smoke bush and Fireglow Japanese maple.

The next layer comes from the multi-colored fall foliage of the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’), orange toned spirea and blushing Lime Glow barberry.  Evergreen conifers provide a deep green backdrop as well as blue carpet in the foreground.

If all the yellow and gold  colors were adjacent to one another the impact would have been lost. To make this design work in autumn I had to plan ahead even when the trees, shrubs and perennials were in their spring shades. Using colored pencils on a tracing overlay of your garden plan can help you visualize seasonal changes.

Contrasting textures

img_0184 A close up of this vignette shows how the bolder smoke bush leaves act as a perfect counterpoint to the feathery bluestar, both set off by the large mossy boulder.

With contrasting foliage textures you can achieve striking combinations even with a monochromatic color scheme as seen below.


In the photo above the finely textured Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) shows up against the round leaves of a Glow Girl spirea even though both have the same color palette. Incidentally the spring-summer color of this spirea is lime green! Adding the cool grey-blue conifer (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’) in the background is a wonderful way to emphasize the warm fall colors of the deciduous shrub and grass.

Borrowed Landscape


The photograph above is deceptive. It is taken from the path that runs through the island border; Red Carpet barberry can be seen in the foreground while a haze of Shenandoah switch grass and a mounding weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) are actually on the other side of the winding path.

When you looked at this photo did your eye immediately bounce from the red barberry to the red trees in the background? Those are actually almost 250′ away at the entrance to the woodland border, yet from this perspective they seem to be part of the immediate scene don’t they? Designers refer to this as ‘borrowed landscape’ and here I have specifically used it to enhance a fall scene. the two red maples (Acer rubrum) and the golden locust tree they flank, repeat the colors of shrubs in the foreground. Again, thinking ahead to the fall colors was key. If those maples had turned yellow the impact would have been lost.

Here’s a close up of those trees

img_0197 Now you can glimpse the understory of shrubs and grasses in this border as well as some trees which haven’t started their fall display yet. A rock cairn designed by sculptor Luke DeLatour marks the entrance to this border and was a special gift from some wonderful friends.

When more is more!

Some trees are just out and out show-offs. They are outstanding no matter when you view them. Such is my love affair with  Ruby Vase Persian ironwood seen here in its multicolored glory. This kaleidoscope of color needs a simple backdrop, provided here by a golden locust tree while the finely textured Shenandoah grasses are once again  working with a monochromatic scheme beautifully. Another large boulder works well against the finely texture grass while Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) adds interest in the foreground (plus repeats the color yellow with its last few blooms) accompanied by the feathery yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’). So many layers of loveliness yet it isn’t too busy because there is one clear focal point – the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood.


Tips you can try

Grab your camera and photograph your garden; vignettes you like as well as those you are less satisfied with. Assess what has worked or not.

Are the fall colors evenly distributed throughout the space?

Do you need to introduce some bold conifers to anchor the autumn display?

Would boulders help to balance a lot of fine textures?

Can you take advantage of fall colors in a borrowed view from your own garden or a neighbors?

Does everything happen at once? Include early, mid and late season beauties. My fall display typically begins in September with vine maples and katsura trees and continues through the end of November with paperbark maples and purple smoke bushes.

Do you need a focal point for a fall vignette? This can be a specimen tree but here is another idea. See how the rustic pot below repeats the fall shades of a weeping Japanese maple behind it. Sometimes it’s the simple things.


The colors of a rustic pot repeat the autumnal shades of Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’

More resources

Fallscaping:extending your garden season into autumn by Nancy Ondra, Stephanie Cohen and photographed by Rob Cardillo (Storey, 2007)

Timber Press Pocket Guide to Japanese Maples by J.D. Vertrees and P. Gregory (Timber Press 2007) includes lists by size, fall color and much more.

Gardening with Foliage First – my NEW book co-authored with Christina Salwitz. Pre-order available now. (Timber Press, 2017) includes some STUNNING fall ideas

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Join me for cocktails – book review & giveaway!


The romantic softly variegated foliage of a dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) takes center stage when illuminated at night.

We have recently purchased a fancy new propane fire pit. It is one of those lovely ones with a tile surround large enough to function as a table for your wine glass and snacks and pretty reflective glass through which the flames dance and flicker. Being propane it is a great option for instant ambience without the smoke and with the unprecedented warm temperatures Seattle has been experiencing, my husband and I have found ourselves….RELAXING in the evening! What a concept.

Our usual routine is work, work and then more work. As business owners that also work part time  it seems that there is a never ending list of  ‘must do’s’ from grocery shopping and cleaning to laundry and cutting the grass. Your list may include child care, car pools, sports or music practice. The point is Life can trump Living. That’s why the new book The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016) caught my attention.


Late afternoon sun can be hot – provide shade structures or a colorful umbrella

The Cocktail Hour Garden gives a plethora of ideas for designing, planting and accessorizing your garden space to offer maximum enjoyment for those couple of hours when you can actually indulge in sitting down. Whether that is an hour before you start dinner with a calming cup of tea or like us, taking your wine glasses (and chocolate) over to the fire pit at dusk to watch the bats start to fly and the stars come out. C.L helps the reader evaluate their current garden and ask what each plant “brings to the party”. How does it support your vision for a magical gathering place for 2 or 20, a space that lures you into the garden at twilight?

For those of us who need help fine tuning that vision C.L. takes the reader through the design and decorating processes step by step, all beautifully illustrated with her evocative photographs. As you turn the pages I guarantee that your heart rate will slow a little and your breathing become easier as you being to imagine the possibilities.

Plant selection is key and C.L. discusses her favorites to include for fragrance, including several that only release their heady scent in the evening. From shrubs and vines to annuals and herbs be sure to include something that lures you outside. We have included several Phenomenal lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal) in a raised bed adjacent to the fire pit and I am hunting down the night scented phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Midnight Candy’) for that area also. Mmmmm.

The colors of the cocktail hour garden are also important; white, silver and soft lavender seem to glow at dusk for example and many examples of great foliage and flowers in this palette are suggested.


Talking of delicious plants this book also covers fun edibles to include for your cocktail garden design. Imagine reaching over to snip a stem of lemon balm to stir into your iced tea? CL goes much further than that though, with a fabulous chapter called Cocktail Hour Grazing. Here she discusses the new trend in flexible, edible landscaping and provides us glimpses into her  front garden, entered via a rustic arbor, which is an exuberant tapestry of edibles and flowers that frames an enchanting patio. Those flowers attract pollinators (birds, bees, butterflies and more) that add life and movement to the garden – another aspect of garden design that is so vital and helps us re-connect with the natural world around us.

C.L. also discusses the importance of lighting for your cocktail hour garden, from battery operated candles to string lights and professional landscape lighting you can add just the right balance of drama, mystery and intimacy. The leading photograph of an illuminated dappled willow tree shows how effective uplighting can be.

Perhaps my favorite chapter in this book is Conversations with Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Sky. As a designer I pride myself in creating gardens that will be experienced – not just observed and that means engaging all the senses. C.L. addresses this by discussing how our senses communicate with the elements and giving ideas on how to purposefully plan for them. Whether it is by the inclusion of a small pebble mosaic that invites us to touch, or deliberately planting a swathe of tall grasses to move in the breeze atop a windy bluff or incorporating a petite fountain near a sitting porch.

Cocktail Hour Garden Cover_fornari

So I invite you to step out into the garden and simply ‘be’.

The cocktail hour garden is a landscape that reminds us to put …. distractions aside and be in the present moment. It’s an environment that, like a strong ocean current, pulls us determinedly into the natural world and invites us to relax and better sync our rhythms to the flora and fauna around us”.

Enter to Win!

I have one signed copy of C.L.s book to give away to a lucky winner! Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered to win. I will draw a name May 23rd 6pm PST.

Buy your copies here

Follow C.L. on her website, Facebook or one of her two call-in radio shows; GardenLine on WXTK and The Garden lady on WRKO.

And the winner is….

Nancy Daniels!

Congratulations Nancy, and thank you to everyone who entered. I hope the rest of you will purchase a copy through the link given. Cheers!

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A Must Have Book For All Cancer Survivor’s; Review & Giveaway

Final Cover

Few of us will get through life unscathed by the Big-C; Cancer. Even if we escape the diagnosis ourselves the chances are high that we have family and friends who were not so fortunate. My Dad (esophagus), maternal granddad (throat), paternal grandma (ovarian) and maternal aunt (breast and melanoma) all faced this challenge and I have sadly lost count  of the number of friends who have battled this disease. It’s a cruel, life changing diagnosis that leaves us all; patients and caregivers, reeling and wondering what the future will hold.

This powerful book written by my friend Jenny Peterson will look you in the eyes, pull you up and help you take the first step and then the next and the one after that. As a garden designer and cancer survivor herself she writes from experience, balancing compassion and empathy with practical ways to “cultivate hope, healing and joy in the ground beneath your feet”. It isn’t a ‘how-to garden’ book but rather has been written to help readers “enjoy your life and the world around you, even if you have cancer” . Consider this book your companion during the journey of healing. The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion is set out in three section; Body, Mind and Spirit.


yoga deck garden2

Does the very thought of getting out of bed exhaust you? Does working in the garden seem an overwhelming task? Jenny has got some great ideas to help you get some gentle exercise outdoors as part of your daily routine. From cardio (e.g. hoeing weeds) to stretching (e.g. raking leaves) and ways to strengthen your bones (weight bearing exercises such as rearranging patio furniture or dragging a garden hose!) and shares how yoga has helped her together with design tips for a yoga deck garden that you could build. You’ll also laugh out loud as she relays the story of her late night planting by headlight with husband Brett …..

In this section you’ll also visit inspirational therapeutic gardens, learn about juicing your home grown veggies and discover easy aromatherapy.


Jenny & Rebecca in garden

Jenny and Rebecca Sweet; fellow survivors, friends, designers and mutual cheerleaders

Depression affects far more than just those struggling with cancer. That dark, foggy cave is familiar to many of us who have battled chronic disease, bereavement (loss of family, friends, job, marriage…) and more yet Jenny encourages you to “allow your garden to heal your mind, keep it sharp, and ultimately bring you joy in the midst of the difficulties“.

I love the ideas in this section which were practical and creative without being too taxing. Things like seeking inspiration in gardening catalogs, Pinterest boards, magazines and books all remind us of the possibilities. Then Jenny puts her designer hat on as she shows you how to sketch a new garden bed, research cool new plants and solve garden problems.

Another idea which I highly endorse is to take up garden photography; even with your phone. I know from experience that I always feel much happier after an hour of taking pictures in the garden. Instead of focusing on myself and my worries I find myself totally absorbed in the delicate petal formation of a flower, or the way the sunlight glints on a frosty branch like a thousand diamonds, or how stunning the red maple leaf looks next to a golden smoke bush…. Basically I look out and not in and that is the first step to healing the mind at least for me. Being in the garden and observing the natural world that continues its cycle whether or not we are sick is a much needed reminder that life does go on outside our personal bubble.

This second section also talks about building your personal community and ways your garden can become a nurturing gathering place. You’ll meet my dear friend and cancer survivor Rebecca Sweet in this chapter and will doubtless shed tears (as I did) reading about her Head Shaving Party but the very fact that this took place in Rebecca’s beautiful garden was in itself healing. The garden and her friends and family were wrapping their arms around her during that difficult time.


hanging bells in the garden

A quiet spot for meditation anchored by a metal sculpture with bells that move in the breeze

Acknowledging different belief systems, Jenny discusses prayer and meditation in the garden  in a very easy-to-read/non-New Agey way. It won’t offend Christians nor turn off atheists in case you were wondering! The sounds and scent of the garden together with the feel of the breeze all helped her body relax which allowed her heart and mind to follow. Jenny also offers suggestions for the flowers you may like to incorporate in your meditation garden based on their meaning e.g. coneflowers (Echinacea) for strength and healing.

This final section also includes ideas for activities that can be meditative such as watering and deadheading flowers together with a great idea for walking a labyrinth with tips for designing one.

Throughout the book you will also notice Survivor Spotlights where you will meet men and women, learn a little about their journey and read the ways they found their garden to be healing for them.

Win a Signed Copy


I was so taken with this book that I sat and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I laughed and I cried. I was inspired and felt empowered. More than anything I felt as though Jenny while acknowledging the difficulties life could throw at us she wouldn’t allow me to wallow in a heap of self pity, but rather was willing to come alongside me and gently prod and push as needed. I don’t have cancer but know many who do. I have already given this as a gift to a friend and plan on purchasing several more.

You can order copies online or enter to win simply by leaving a comment below. A random drawing will take place on Monday February 1st 7pm Pacific Time and the winner notified by email. If you are not a regular subscriber and are concerned I won’t be able to find you feel free to include your email address in your comment. Jenny will send a copy to the winner as soon as I can relay your mailing address to her.

The drawing is now CLOSED. Thanks for taking part and congratulations to the winner LAUREL HOUNSLOW!! I’m sending you an email. :)

If you’d like to keep in touch with Jenny you can follow her on Facebook or come and hear her talk at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show next month where she will also be signing books.

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Captivating Ideas from a Petite Garden


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


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.



Color play


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


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.



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!


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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