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Pinterest Peer Pressure – baring it all!

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I thought it would never happen. Sunshine finally arrived in Seattle for two days in a row! Enough time to get 21 yards of mulch on the garden and persuade me to take some photographs.

To celebrate that spring may finally be reaching us I thought I’d share some of the early season color that I enjoyed this morning. I always hesitate to show you my garden, especially when I see my east coast friends posting photographs on social media of lush landscapes featuring fully clothed Japanese maples in their vibrant spring colors and tender coleus already being planted out! My garden is a far cry from such abundance and as such it’s easy to fall for what I call Pinterest peer pressure! You know what I mean: “How can I possibly show MY garden when YOUR garden looks so stunning?”

Well here it is, rabbit, slug, deer-nibbled  and all. Because there are always a few ideas to share if you look hard enough.

The Big Picture

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Conifers in shades of gold, green and blue and a colorful assortment of spirea and barberries ensure early spring interest that goes well beyond daffodils.

When you design a garden with a focus on foliage first you’ll never lack for color, and when you use that foliage to frame focal points such as this cabin there will always be a Pinterest-worthy vignette.

I also used relatively few herbaceous perennials in this border, opting for a variety of deer-resistant, blooming shrubs instead. This was primarily to reduce garden maintenance as I was finding the annual chore of cutting down the perennials  too hard on my  back. An unexpected bonus from this decision has been the increase in early season color from the new growth on these shrubs. I grow a number of different varieties of weigela, spirea, barberries and exbury azaleas to achieve this.

Closer to the home, our new patio gardens are also evolving.

IMG_0930 Here the emerging perennials (Artemisia s. ‘Quicksilver’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’ and Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’) leave distinct gaps but the container in the center of the bed helps to distract the eye with  brightly colored viola surrounding the velvety, antler-like branches of a Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’). Once again I rely on the color of foliage to provide structure, however – the evergreen, blue blades of blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), orange-gold Magic Carpet spirea, dark purple Spilled Wine weigela and bright green leaves of a bush cinquefoil (Potentilla) that will add orange flowers to the summer scene.

In the raised bed behind the patio is a simple perimeter planting of daffodils and viola. As these blooms finish the entire bed will become a haze of feathery foliage from almost 60 Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This perennial will feature blue flowers in early summer but I grow it primarily for the incredible fall display as the foliage turns orange.

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Spring delights

I will replace the viola in the cube-shaped container with summer annuals in a few more weeks but for now I’m enjoying their cheery faces and love the color play between them, the spirea and the variegated iris.

Garden Moments

IMG_0967 Not all focal points in the garden have to be large – or permanent. Look for opportunities to create smaller vignettes that can be discovered while strolling in the garden. I call these Garden Moments.

This morning I was surprised and delighted to see the interaction between this rusted metal sphere and the Blade of Sun snowberry. The new leaves have a warm blush to the otherwise golden hue and seemed a perfect complement to the rust detail. In fact this was beneath a katsura tree, whose new leaves were also playing into this color scheme.

Simple color echoes between the katsura leaves, rusted metal spheres and the edges of the newly emerged Blade of Sun snowberry foliage

This was pure serendipity – often the best designer.

Floral delights

Designing with foliage first doesn’t mean avoiding flowers – far from it. Rather it is creating a framework of foliage into which to layer the flowers so that when those blooms are gone you aren’t left with visual black holes in the garden.

Right now I have several shrubs in full bloom including Ogon spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda  as well as this super-thorny, evergreen Darwin barberry.

Evergreen Darwin barberry

Evergreen Darwin barberry – the deer actually did eat some of these branches but not enough to kill the entire shrub thankfully!

Perennials are the primary source of spring flowers for many gardeners though. These are just a few of my favorites that are in full bloom in my garden today, selected for deer/rabbit resistance and foliage interest – or in the case of English primroses, pure nostalgia.

Bleeding heart are a cottage garden favorite and I grow several varieties including Gold Heart shown below.

IMG_0998 Planted near a group of yellow blooming barrenwort (Epimedium) and the glossy foliage of beesia these are finally starting to  make a good sized clump.

IMG_1003 They add a welcome splash of light under towering Douglas fir trees.

I struggle to overwinter spurge (Euphorbia) on my garden. My well-mulched soil is too moisture retentive it seems. However my new acquisition Purple Preference has survived just fine both in a container and in the garden. I love the red stems, purple tones of the foliage and bold acid-green flowers.

I purchased more of the donkey tail spurge (E. myrsinites) this spring as they really did seem to keep the voles away from my yarrow. In fact I must get some more! Last years plants rotted over the winter.

Final Flourish

IMG_1041 Hellebores may be on their last fling, but Pink Frost can be relied upon for looking just as beautiful as they fade as they ever did at their peak.

What Pinterest-worthy vignettes are you enjoying in your garden today? Don’t be shy! (And feel free to Pin these to your boards)

If you would like more ideas on how to create a stunning garden using foliage first, check out my two books co-authored with Christina Salwitz.

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Making TWO Containers Work

I’m often asked how many containers should be grouped together, do they have to be in groups of 3, do they all have to match and should they all be planted identically. The answer is NO to all those concerns! Here are several ways to make a group of just TWO containers work with style.

Make them read as one

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

This photograph shows one way I achieved balance using two pots of similar size and color but which differed in shape and texture. To gain some extra height I placed one on a cut tree round borrowed from the log pile! The silvery-green and white color scheme is used in both while the soft pink-peach accents in the left container echo the wood tones on the right. Those simple visual connections make this duo read as one extravagant display. This is one of 12 deer-resistant container designs in the current (spring 2017) issue of Country Gardens magazine

Using space and color

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A path links these two containers spatially while color and style unifies them

In the example above a flagstone path literally and figuratively connects the two containers. While the pots themselves are different colors, they are of a similar style and glaze. Notice how the blue pot includes orange flowers and foliage – another way to connect it to the orange pot in the background, while both designs are somewhat tropical in style with an emphasis on bold and colorful foliage.

Flanking an object

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Use the containers to create a colorful picture frame

Here the artwork on the wall becomes the focal point of a vignette, framed by two identical containers. Each container is planted as a mirror image of its partner to complete the visual picture frame. The height of the narrow conifers is an important detail.

Simplicity

Simplicity

For perfection at its finest what could be more inviting than this teak bench flanked by two weathered pots filled to overflowing with soft pink begonias? These simple containers seem to meld with the pathway. A mixed planting or larger grouping would unnecessarily over complicate this vision.

Using the landscape

Using the landscape

Fabulous display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Two rustic pots, differing slightly in size and texture yet clearly matching in color and style. Notice how the larger pot has the addition of a lime green elephant ears (Colocasia) and therefore assumes the leading role in this scene. While the two pots in isolation would be fabulous, their visual appeal is enhanced and expanded significantly by the adjacent in-ground planting which repeats the colors, and some plants. This idea would also work if the containers were centered in a bed.

Using groups of 2

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Design by Mitch Evans. See more of this garden in our new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

I’ve always loved this scene, so much so that we included it in our new book Gardening with Foliage First. I love the ‘little and large’ pots that sit either side of the steps. All four pots have clipped boxwood, a theme that is repeated in the spheres on the opposite side of the path. The delightful symmetry brings order to an otherwise informal landscape.

How have YOU used 2 containers? Leave a comment below or post a photo to my Facebook page. Share your ideas!

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Celebrate with Me – and Enter to Win!

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

cocktails_in_vegetable_bed_fornari

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.

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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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