conifers

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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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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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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The Path Less Traveled

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

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

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

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

Hidden in plain view

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

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

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

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

Take a different path

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

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

Learn to stand still

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

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

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

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

Dare to dream

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

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

How is your garden growing?

 

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Reclaiming the Garden

When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

I was recently invited to redesign a back garden in Kirkland, WA.

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only 'view'

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only ‘view’

 

To the homeowners the main priority was a need for privacy from neighboring homes yet to me the biggest challenge was function. How would this couple use their new space and how would they get into it?

Before – the challenges

 

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

A large lawn took up most of the area with a few struggling trees and shrubs around the perimeter. Far from being inviting it seemed lifeless – not a bird in sight. No birdsong or butterflies. It seemed sterile.

originally the only access into the garden was through this area

Originally the only access into the garden was through this side area

Access to this back garden was through a side kitchen door that took you across a  shaded deck that had seen better days and was clearly in need of replacing, but that whole area seemed more dark and foreboding than bright and inviting. Why venture outside?

The lawn sloped to the back fence - a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

The lawn sloped to the back fence – a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

There was also a significant slope to the garden which had to be addressed.

After – improved access

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New French doors, removal of an old raised deck and creative hardscaping – what a difference

 

It seemed obvious to me that replacing a large window in the dining room with French doors would greatly improve access into the new garden but also change the dynamic of the entire space – thankfully the homeowners agreed and that pivotal decision was key to transforming this bland area into a true extension of their already beautiful home.

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

The original approach from the street and kitchen led through a dark tunnel of overgrown trees across an awkward mix of flagstones and worn decking. We removed some trees and limbed up others then repeated the circular theme with a stone patio that connected comfortably to the back garden. With plenty of space for the BBQ and dining as well as colorful containers the entire atmosphere has changed.

Function

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The main patio leads off the new French doors. A gravel path leads to the lower fire pit

 

The lawn took up time, fertilizer, water and money – yet was never used. That has now been replaced with two linked patios surrounded by billowing borders, a privacy hedge and meandering paths.

The main patio is large enough for dining or lounging with friends. Originally planned with a pergola and custom retractable sun shade, this was revised to accommodate a 12′ umbrella that easily adjusts to suit.

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

A short curved path and a couple of easy steps takes you to a more intimate circular patio featuring a portable fire pit that doubles as a table for coffee or cocktails. To accommodate the grade, a curved sitting wall was constructed to provide additional seating.

Now you can stroll through the gardens

Now you can stroll through the gardens on gravel paths

Meandering through the garden, a simple gravel path connects these two areas and provides access to both side gardens. This leisurely stroll takes you past fragrant peonies, rustling grasses and colorful shrubs that will soon fill in.

The details

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

Continuity is important. The tumbled grey cobblestones used for the circular patios were also used as a border on the main patio and the color repeated in the low retaining walls and gravel blend.

Large boulders were added as accents in the borders, connecting the different areas visually and tying into the stonework elsewhere.

The color scheme was taken from the homes interior furnishings with rich reds, purple and gold dominating and with blue as an accent. Plants were selected for colorful foliage primarily but  also for easy care and four season interest.

Several special trees were selected as the homeowners like unique plants. Sculptural conifers and a contorted filbert are just two examples.

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Rather than a monoculture of 12′ tall arborvitae for privacy we integrated several standard laurels as well as layering in columnar  Armstrong maples that provided height but didn’t obstruct the paths. In front of these are Quickfire hydrangeas, smoke bushes and other shrubs for color and texture. Neighbors? What neighbors?

Let there be life!

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

We had barely set the first tree in place when a bird flew in and started to sing – a sure measure of success! Adding a bubbling fountain, custom designed by AW Pottery keeps them – and the homeowners entranced.

The results

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I’ll let the homeowners have the last word; 

We are amazed at what you designed for our garden and patio. You are truly an artist and gardens are your canvas. How you envisioned our yard to be something that we could have never imagined is truly remarkable. The versatility of how you utilized the overall space and the interesting mixture of colors and textures of varying types of plants, as well as pavers, is beyond anything that we could have dreamt up. You have truly changed our lives.

We appreciate your guidance and patience with us as we worked through decisions that you already knew the best answers to, but you gave us the time and space to catch up after planting little seeds in our heads to ponder. Meeting and working with you has truly enriched our lives and we will be forever grateful.

 

Is it time to re-think your lawn?

 

Construction and installation by Berg’s Landscaping, an exceptional team of dedicated professionals whom I am proud to call friends and colleagues.

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