fragrance

Best Drought Tolerant Perennials & Annuals – that are Deer Resistant Too!

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A corner of my fall garden featuring reliable deer resistant and drought tolerant selections

Still stinging from your last water bill? Good news! As promised in my last post on drought tolerant trees and shrubs, here is my report on those annuals and perennials that came through our crazy 2017 PNW summer with style. That means they coped with:

  • three months without rain
  • no irrigation or hand watering (although annuals received water every few days for the first month after they were planted)
  • clay soil that bakes dry like a river bed in summer
  • many weeks with 80′ – 90′ temperatures and several days over 100′
  • daily visits from hungry, inquisitive deer
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My front garden features a broad selection of drought tolerant, deer resistant plants including many of those recommended here

All the plants listed were planted in the ground – not containers.

Perennials

Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii)

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Mingling with Petite Licorice (Helichysum petiolare ‘Petite Licorice’)

What can I say? It is outstanding. if you see it – buy it. Buy lots. At least three – or thirty. Plant, stand back and wait for three years. Then thank me. Details and lots of great photos here. Combination ideas in our latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache ‘Kudos Mandarin’)

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I have grown many varieties of hyssop over the years (Agastache sp.) but few survive my  clay soil that bakes in summer and becomes a sticky goo in winter, so I consider them  annuals in my garden. Kudos Mandarin hyssop surprised me – all of last years plants returned with vigor! The hummingbirds and I were most impressed. You will be too.

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Love, love, love this perennial that self seeds politely in gravel or soil and creates a magical scrim effect in the garden. Looks fabulous no matter where it lands but I especially love it in combination with orange flowers. The photos above depict it combined with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Flasher daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Flasher’). In another part of the garden I have it with an orange blooming cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Bella Sol’).

Details for this fabulous perennial here and check out the combination called Golden Threads in Gardening with Foliage First for  ideas too. WARNING: This has been listed as invasive in some areas – check before planting.

Zagreb tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’)

IMG_4503 I have several varieties of tickseed in the garden but Zagreb is my favorite for its feathery green foliage that turns gold in fall and its sunny yellow daisies.

Sea holly (Eryngium sp.)

I need more of these! Of those shown I currently have all but the last two in my garden. Here’s the rundown: Sapphire Blue (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) is my favorite for color and its gentle self-seeding which gives me free plants (- have to love that)! I do like Neptune’s Gold (Eryngium xzabelli ‘Neptune’s Gold’) for the chartreuse foliage but the leaves seems to get a fungal disease mid-summer and I have to cut them back which is disappointing. I wonder if other gardeners/areas fare better? Jade Frost (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’) has lovely variegated foliage but I am noticing some reversion. The delicate flowers are attractive though. Rattlesnake master is a different species (Eryngium yuccifolium) and looks stunning! Best for the middle of a border as it is taller and the lower leaves can get significant slug damage if not controlled. Wonderful architectural plant.

On my serious wish list is Silver Ghost (Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’), seen in Portland and totally lust-worthy! Also shown is one that I suspect is Miss. Wilmott’s Ghost -(Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’) the classic I first grew in England. (Feel free to correct my ID though if you recognize nuances I’ve missed).

Overall the beauty of this species to me is that although they would be happier in sandier soil, they  thrive in my clay garden with minimal care – even in half day rather than all day sun. Drier climates can enjoy the seed heads well into winter too (Hint: there are two fabulous combinations in our book Gardening with Foliage First that showcase Sapphire Blue and our book cover shot/combination includes Neptune’s Gold!).

Blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.)

These have surprised me. I grew the first two varieties (Arizona Sun and Arizona Apricot)   from seed last year and enjoyed them in my vegetable garden where they went from seed to gallon sized, blooming plants in less than six months. You can read about them and get design ideas here. This year I transplanted most of them to other areas of the landscape where they were subject to tough love i.e. no water and lots of deer. A few didn’t like being transplanted but most did just fine and looked fabulous despite benign neglect – and clay soil! (We’ll see what happens this winter in the clay soil though – that may be the kiss of death) I don’t have Fanfare Blaze (the last photo) in my garden but included it as it is just so darn pretty!! A friend had this in her container last year and both the color and petal form was really eye catching – another one for my wish list!

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimerii ‘Whirling Butterflies’)

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A haze of blooming Whirling Butterflies surrounds a glass birdbath created by Seattle artist Jesse Kelly

For sheer flower power and pure romance in the garden you can’t beat Whirling Butterflies. The slender stalks of blooms dance in the slightest breeze, forming an enchanting scrim effect that is utterly feminine. They would prefer sandier soil but cope with mine. In fall I trim lightly to about 24″ then put up with the less than attractive stalks all winter. In spring when I’m sure there are no more frosts likely I cut down to the uppermost bud – or about 12″ if I want to manage the mature size (which can be at least 4′ tall in my garden). Blooming starts late May and the plants still have lots of flowers even now in early October.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’)

A ‘must have’ for every shade garden – you NEED Jack Frost! And yes there is a fabulous combination idea in Gardening with Foliage First.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Silvery stems, fragrant leaves and blue flowers. Lots of named varieties of Russian sage to choose from with varying heights to suit every site. I treat pruning the same way as my whirling butterflies (Gaura sp. )above.

Other honorable mentions:

Variegated lemon thyme, hardy succulents, sedges (Carex sp.), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Annuals

Spider Flower (Cleome sp.)

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Taller varieties of spider flower are great for filling a gap at the back of a border during summer. Shorter varieties work well for the front of the border. Attract bees and butterflies and make great cut flowers too.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)

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Seen here with Lime Glow barberry (in its remarkable rosy fall color)

I rely on this inexpensive annual for a rabbit resistant, deer resistant, drought tolerant summer groundcover in my large garden. One 4″ plant can quickly fill a space at least 3′ x 3′. Several varieties including a soft lemon-yellow and a mini-leaved form. There is a great idea for this in our book Gardening with Foliage First too! Details of this annual here

Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues sage (Salvia longispicata x farinacea ‘Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues’)

I haven’t grown a sage yet that isn’t drought tolerant and deer resistant, but this annual from Proven Winners was a new variety for me to test this year and I give it full marks for appearance, bloom power and low maintenance. At a glance it is similar to the well known Victoria Blue, but it’s stature is greater and color deeper. Looking at the hardiness rating this may be a perennial for many – but an annual for me. Loved it as part of an informal floral meadow effect in the front garden this year (second photo above).

Honorable mention

Jasmine alata, Jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata ) – an heirloom variety with unforgettable jasmine-type perfume in the evening.

Save money on your water bill next year by replacing your thirstier plants with these~

Resources

You may have noticed our book Gardening with Foliage First mentioned a few times….. Seriously if you haven’t got this yet, why not? There are 127 great ideas in there! Buy one for your BFF for Christmas while you’re at it!

For more ideas on drought tolerant plants do refer back to my last blog post which includes links to several other outstanding books that cover different parts of the country.

For more ideas on deer resistant plants, Ruth’s book is a great start:

You’ll have to wait for MY next book on Deer Resistant Drama (working title only) for inspirational deer resistant gardens from across the country (Timber Press, 2019). Be sure you sign up for my newsletters to hear when it is released.

 

Note: These Amazon affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies

Reduce your Water Bill with these PNW Survivors

As the seasons change it's time to reflect on what we can do better next time

As the seasons change it’s time to reflect on what we can do better next time

How was your water bill this summer? $200? $300? Over $500? Was it higher than usual and worse than expected? While the cause could be anything from a leaky toilet to an inefficient washing machine, chances are your landscape may have been the main culprit.

Whether you have an automatic irrigation system or hand water using a hose, every drop costs you money if you use a public water source. (For those of us with wells, the issues are somewhat different: I have to minimize summer watering to be sure our well doesn’t run dry and impact our neighbors as well as ourselves!)

After three months without any measurable rain here in Duvall, Washington, and temperatures consistently in the 80’s and 90’s with several days over 100′, my garden struggled. I could hand water some areas but many plants were left to their own devices  because they were beyond the reach of my hose and/or available time. My clay soil bakes as dry as a cracked riverbed in summer although a top dressing of Fertil Mulch in spring does help conserve moisture to some degree.

While the majority of the plants in my garden have been selected for drought tolerance (as well as deer resistance)  some have done better than others, especially as this is the second such extreme summer in a row. Some varieties of  barberries and spirea started to defoliate by mid-August for example, and all my pines were showing signs of stress by September. Exbury azaleas turned crispy and shed leaves last month and my poor katsura tree (which is most definitely NOT drought tolerant) has been dropping leaves since August. Others surprised me by their ‘can do’ attitude and those are the survivors that I’ll share with you here, focusing in this post on trees and shrubs. I’ll cover perennials and annuals next time.

The plants highlighted below received NO supplemental water between mid-June and mid-September. They are all planted in the ground (not containers) and were not fertilized in any way. Consider replacing some of your thirstier garden plants such as rhododendrons and hydrangeas to save water, energy and money next year!

Trees

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae, shines year round in my garden

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’), shines year round in my garden

I have two of these in the garden, one planted five years ago and the other two years ago. Both look as fabulous today as they did in May – no signs of leaf scorch or stress whatsoever and shining like a beacon in the garden. Highly recommended! Details and order here  or ask for it at your local nursery.

Japanese snowbell

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

It never even occurs to me to water my Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonica), yet it had the best floral display ever this June and has shown no signs of premature leaf drop or stress since then. You need to include this beautiful small tree for the fragrant spring blooms alone!

Other trees worth mentioning

My well established Japanese maples, Hinoki cypress, river birch, Armstrong maples, weeping willow and Persian ironwoods all did well too. Presumably their root systems are deep enough to reach moisture.

Shrubs

Hibiscus

Blooming their socks off, healthy leaves and generally looking fabulous, I have a few different varieties of hibiscus in two locations, both planted last summer. Those that received NO summer water look as good as those which got a weekly soaking – lesson learned!

Pictured here are Orchid Satin from Proven Winners and the variegated Summer Ruffle from First Editions. Click on the links for more details.

Bluebeard

Beyond Blue is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

Beyond Midnight is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

I had a new variety to test for Proven Winners this year: Beyond Midnight. Since it was only planted this May I did water it just twice during the entire summer but have included it here because it looks so fabulous! An abundance of blooms, healthy leaves and lots of new growth – I’m impressed. Click on the link for details

Aphrodite sweetshrub

The wine-red flwoers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

The wine-red flowers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

One of those ‘test’ shrubs from Proven Winners that I tucked into a far border and promptly forgot about! Well beyond the reach of any water source and too far away to lug a watering can, this Aphrodite sweetshrub is a real survivor! It has had blooms non-stop from May until now, has grown several feet in width and height and shows no sign of having endured a tough summer. A winner on all accounts! Details here

Weigela

With many varieties in multiple locations, some planted five years ago and others just this spring, I can tell you these may actually be the most drought tolerant of all my shrubs. Not a single plant looks stressed regardless of age or location.

Pictured here are Variegata, Maroon Swoon (Bloomin’ Easy), Spilled Wine (Proven Winners), Magical Fantasy, Strobe (Bloomin’ Easy) and Midnight Wine (Proven Winners). Click on the links for details.

Smoke bushes

Like weigela, I have four unique varieties of smoke bushes (Cotinus sp.) in five different locations, ranging in maturity from two to five years in the ground. While a few lower leaves did drop, overall the shrubs look fabulous.

Pictured here are Golden Spirit, Grace, Royal Purple and Old Fashioned. Click on the links for details. Note: I coppice my mature shrubs to 2′ tall in sprung to keep them to a dense shrub form, sacrificing the smoke (flowers) in favor of larger leaves.

Pearl Glam beautyberry

Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Pearl Glam beautyberry. Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Another winner from Proven Winners on so many levels! While they have not put on a lot of growth this year, the two one-year-old shrubs have did bloom and berry well, and still look good without watering. Details here

Gro-Lo sumac

Gro-Lo forms a dense carpet of attratcive foliage

Gro-Lo sumac forms a dense carpet of attractive foliage

I may have watered this a couple of times during the summer, but only because I happened to pass by it with hose in hand on my way to thirstier plants in the same bed! I am confident that this is a keeper as far as low-water use goes. Gro-Lo sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Lo’) has outstanding fall color to look forward to also.

Other shrubs worth mentioning.

Other shrubs that did well without any water, and which are evergreen include Rheingold arborvitae, Goshiki Japanese holly, Oregon grape, abelia (mostly semi-evergreen varieties for me) and Rainbow leucothoe.

 

I hope these insights will help you plan for a lower maintenance and less costly summer in 2018!

Further inspiration and reading

My two books include many combinations featuring the plants mentioned here. Although neither publication focuses strictly on drought tolerance, they both indicate the watering needs of each plant.

Also explore the following titles, especially if you live in a different climate:

(Note that these affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies too.)

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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Creating Sanctuary

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Award winning design by Rocky Bay Garden Creations. The tulips are a nod to the designers Dutch heritage

What does the word ‘sanctuary‘ mean to you? A place of peace, protection, an oasis? Somewhere you you feel at ease? Cocoon-like?  How would you go about creating such a space in your own garden?

I had the honor of co-judging the City Living displays at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show last week. These displays are intended to represent pint-sized outdoor living spaces and demonstrate that creativity need not be cramped by limited square footage. The theme was ‘Taste of Spring’ which the designers were encouraged to interpret in their own way to win one or more of the following awards:

  • Best Design
  • Best Use of Plant Material
  • Best Sanctuary
  • Best Use of Theme

While there were several outstanding displays only one really stood out as a ‘sanctuary‘ and that was Food for Thought, skillfully designed by Patricia Ruff of Rocky Bay Garden Creations (Gig Harbor, WA). As I deconstruct the award winning elements of this design for you, consider how they could be re-invented to create your own everyday sanctuary.

The Amphitheater Effect

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Gardens

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Garden Creations

One of the greatest challenges facing condo and townhome dwellers is the lack of privacy. Balconies and patios often feel exposed to neighbors  – and the neighborhood. Patricia created a sense of both privacy and intimacy by keeping furnishings  low to the ground. Notice how these sophisticated yet casual bean bag chairs by Jaxx , side tables and hypertufa containers are several inches shorter than the typical patio pieces. Sitting in this space one feels tucked away from the world  – an innovative solution.

The Illusion of Seclusion

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When you can’t hide the backdrop, distract the eye with layers of intriguing details

The use of the balcony structure and railing are ingenious. Where some designers might add a tall trellis or a series of columnar plants, this designer allows the sights, sounds and light of the streetscape to be part of the experience yet filtered so as not to be too intrusive. Using fabric planting pouches by Root Pouch, slung on both sides of the balcony  Patricia was able to double the planting opportunities with wispy grasses in shades of green and bronze, low maintenance perennials and seasonal bulbs all creating a subtle scrim effect. It’s a wonderful spin on the concept of vertical gardening.

Supplementing these pouches on the railing are miniature hypertufa pots and some more personalized display pieces including bronze glass bottles that create a lovely glow when lit from behind by the setting sun.

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Textures and colors work together to create delightful vignettes

A string of decorative lights at eye level once again keeps the focus within this cozy space, in the same way that I might plant a tree in the center of a very large lawn – the sense of a middle ground helps to define the space and bridge the chasm between immediate foreground and distant background.

Sensory Experiences

You’ve heard me say it a hundred times: “I believe that gardens should be experienced, not just observed” and this pint sized garden offers an abundance of sensory experiences.

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Fabulous attention to detail with forks being used as plant tag holders

While other designers created the predictable edible containers for inclusion in their Taste of Spring displays, Patricia took it a step further and suspended  her herbs in moss balls (Kokedama) adding an unexpected element that is both practical and decorative.

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One of Rocky Bay Garden Creations signature hypertufa containers

Where the designer did incorporate edibles into containers she included aromatics such as lavender and rosemary that will release their sensuous oils in the summer heat.

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Details matter: tiny gravel shards used as top dressing and a rustic twig re-purposed as a handle

With everything from cocktail garnishes, to salad fixings at arms reach and bouquets of fragrant hyacinths to scent the air, what more could you possibly want? A picnic for two? Got that covered …

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Wonderful attention to scale and proportion

Creating a sense of ‘home’

To me, part of creating a sanctuary experience is to feel at home. That means different things to different people. While some prefer music to relax when they are at home, I prefer silence – or at least just nature’s music of birdsong, leaves rustling in the breeze and the distant bleating of sheep.

Patricia has created a sense of home by adding art to this space, in the same way that you might select a painting to complete your interior decor. She has hung three moss panels on the wall as a unique triptych. While individually beautiful they also transform the drab utilitarian wall of her neighbors space into a living, breathing display. The panels invite inquisitive fingers to explore the unique textures and discerning eyes to appreciate the many shades of green.

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Hanging between these panels are three hypertufa baskets, suspended with rope, and planted with drought tolerant succulents and trailing Spanish moss, the wispy silver-grey strands contrasting with the more solid moss panels behind. Repetition creates a sense of harmony yet each has subtle differences seen only be the keen observer.

Soothing Colors

This understated color palette has a truly calming effect on both the mind and soul.  Natural colored canvas, pure white blooms, soothing shades of green and grey with just a few accents of bronze and dusky rose offer a visually serene space in which to relax.

Final Details

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With a remarkable eye for detail, Patricia added an assortment of perfectly proportioned containers planted with low growing succulents while a pine grows in a larger root pouch in the corner, the soil discreetly disguised with pebbles.

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Love the addition of marine rope to dress up this container

From the comfortable seating, the cocoon-like setting, the sensory experiences of touch, taste and smell perhaps the only thing missing is the clink of celebratory glasses as we say “Well done and well deserved” Patricia. We were delighted to award you not only Best Sanctuary award but also the Best Use of Plant Material. Clearly we weren’t the only ones you impressed as the show goers also voted you their favorite for the People’s Choice Award! Congratulations.

You can follow Patricia at her Rocky Bay Garden Creations on Facebook

If you are interested in learning more about creating a sense of sanctuary in your own garden, watch for a new book by Jessi Bloom called Everyday Sanctuary scheduled to be published by Timber Press in 2018

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Re-thinking the Patio

I beleive in deigning gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

I believe in designing gardens that are experienced, not just observed.

When we purchased our 1960’s era home in 2009 it had the original concrete aggregate patio outside the back door – right outside. Now that wouldn’t seem to be a problem until I point out that this patio left us pressed up against the house and unable to see any of our 5 acre garden. It felt like a back yard in the worst way – somewhere to hang the washing out perhaps but definitely not where we wanted to sit. It didn’t help that there was a fenced vegetable garden hemming us in on one side either.

BEFORE: realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more about photography tricks than reality

BEFORE: this realtors photo suggests a large space but that is more a result of  staging and photography tricks.  Access to the barn was also blocked by the original veggie garden

Oddly enough there was a small cabin just beyond this patio – again a strange placement but we found ourselves gravitating towards it simply so we could sit on the porch steps. In one of those Oprah-style ‘Aha!” moments we realized that this was where the patio should be. From this vantage point we could see into the garden yet were still only steps away from the back door. It was a destination, not a default.

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there!

BEFORE; the cabin had potential; just not there! Realtor’s photo

Over the next 6 years the cabin got moved, the new vegetable garden constructed and new garden borders established. We even hosted our daughters wedding in the garden – but still the old patio remained, by this point badly broken, a tripping hazard and a source of embarrassment whenever we had guests or clients visit. I had drawn the design but it had never got to the top of the priority or budget list.

The Design

CHAPMAN PATIO 2016

The aim was to put the dining table where the cabin steps had been since that had proven to be the ‘sweet spot‘. We connected it to the new French doors by a wide path created by a series of offset rectangles, keeping a smaller paved area closest to the house for year round grilling. That area is shaded by the house in the peak of summer so has also become a great spot for a small bistro set for those days when we want to be outside but need shade beyond what the umbrella can afford; or want to chat to the chef!

AFTER

AFTER: A multi-zoned patio accessed by a wide path that is truly a destination.

While there are usually just two of us at home we also need to be able to comfortably accommodate larger gatherings. The large semi-circular raised bed has a capped wall at sitting height so even if we run out of chairs there is still seating available.

The dining and fire pit areas are separated by a smaller raised bed that I may re-design seasonally but want to keep the ultimate plant height to less than 3′. This year I have used Phenomenal lavender and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum s. ‘Rubrum’) in the middle and edged it with white and purple alyssum. This combination is deer resistant, fragrant, drought tolerant, moves in the breeze and creates a lovely scrim effect; filtering the view slightly but not blocking it.

Sight lines – or axes are extremely important in design and this was no exception.

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision

Centering the patio on the arbor was a key design decision. The capped wall is at a comfortable sitting height and there is plenty of room to move chairs around. The cabin still forms an important role as a focal point in the border.

Notice how the patio is centered on the arbor. When sitting around the fire pit we feel as though we are truly in the garden and being beckoned into that border; love it. We also have views into the more distant corners of the garden beyond the cabin.

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit

Since we designed a semicircular end to the patio we chose a circular fire pit. (The grass is still growing in…….). A darker paver has been used as a border further defining the shape.

We took the vertical arc motif from the arbor and used it in the horizontal plane to create the semicircular fire pit patio. I did some research on patio furniture dimensions to help us size this space correctly.

We were then offered the most incredible gift; the good folks at Berg’s Landscaping said they would build it for us. Together landscape architect John Silvernale and I did some fine-tuning to the design and while I was in England last fall taking care of my Mum they transformed our eyesore into a ‘grown up patio’!! I was even able to show Mum photos that they sent  on my iPad before she passed away and she was as excited as I was to see the magic unfold. I am so grateful that I could share that with her.

Final Details

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. the feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed

This view shows the steel wall; still only partially weathered. The feathery foliage in the foreground is Arkansas blue star; the same plant used to fill the large raised bed. The new French doors and side window allow us to appreciate the garden even from indoors

Earlier this year we added an arced steel wall behind the raised bed to create an ‘infinity edge’. It took some adjusting to get the walls to line up correctly but we are very happy with the result. The steel will rust over a few years; faster if I treat it with acid. I liked the idea of mixing materials in the space.

Planting

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The vegetable garden is only steps away; perfect for gathering berries for desert but also a magnet for hummingbirds

We took the color cues from the main border seen from this area; warm sunset shades offset by blue-green. The two small geometric planting beds between the home and the patio will become a tapestry of colorful textures, framing a container in one bed and a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel in the other. Everything has to be drought tolerant, rabbit resistant and deer resistant although deer rarely come this close to the house so I have risked a few hardy succulents. The rabbits chomped on the delosperma and Ann Folkard hardy geraniums but a spritz with Liquid Fence repellent seems to have helped.

Fall color of Arkansas blue star

Fall color of Arkansas blue star – imagine this framed by the rusted steel wall.

The large semi-circular raised bed is mass planted with Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This took enormous restraint on my part! The idea is to create a transitional space between the more ornamental plantings closer to the house and the wilder meadow and forest beyond. It will take three years for this perennial to grow in but I know it will be glorious, especially in fall when it turns orange. Imagine the feathery orange foliage, framed by the rusted steel wall…… When I cut it back in winter we will still have an unobstructed view of our clump of river birch so we can enjoy the peeling bark of those trees. For spring interest I will add 200-300 daffodils around the outer edges of the border. I can easily reach in to cut back the foliage as it finishes, the stubs being hidden by the emerging blue star. That’s the plan – we’ll see how the execution goes!

Furniture

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this

We feel so blessed. Mum would have loved everything about this. Blue was her favorite color too.

We have had the teak dining furniture for 15 years and it is still going strong. The sectional all weather wicker furniture and propane fire table are new additions. We selected the Sunbrella cushions and accent pillows to work with the color of the flowers, foliage and pots – no beige for me!! Adding a few small accents to the table top helped pull those colors over to the dining area too.

We did consider a pergola type structure for shade but were concerned it would obstruct our view so settled for a cantilever umbrella. This tilts and swings to give us shade for most of the day and unlike conventional in-table umbrellas doesn’t block conversation when closed!

To sum up

We LOVE it all! From the final design, to the size of the spaces, the quality of the materials/workmanship and the colors; it’s like being on vacation in our own garden. We use every space and wherever we sit we have a different view. We are still close to the house yet don’t feel suffocated by it. Unexpected guests are easy to accommodate at the table or around the fire pit (which has a surround perfectly suited to hold wine glasses). This is outdoor living at its best.

Is it time to re-think your patio?

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