groundcover

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

IMG_8562

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
IMG_8601

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)

IMG_8566

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’)

IMG_0908

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’)

IMG_5994

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.)

IMG_6098

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)

IMG_6667

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

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
SUBSCRIBE





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.)

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
SUBSCRIBE





Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation – Revisited

Updated trellis structures transformed this space

Updated trellis structures and a clean plant palette transformed this space

I originally published this post in November 2011 on my old blog and continue to see the images re-pinned on Pinterest as well as receiving emails about the custom trellis design. Since it clearly struck a chord with so many I decided to re-post it here, with larger photographs, some new images and minor text updates.

Sometimes it only takes a few simple changes to transform an outdoor space.

Gardens evolve; trees grow, shade patterns shift, personal tastes change and before you know it what once was beautiful now looks tired and untidy.

BEFORE - the old arbors were beyond help

BEFORE – the old arbors were beyond help

The problems

This garden surrounds an elegant home in Bellevue, WA. The original landscaping was done 15 years ago and has been tweaked a few times since then. However the narrow garden border at the back of the home was in need of help. The arbors were sagging and the overgrown Armand’s clematis (Clematis armandii) which smothered them made the space feel dark and dated. Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomalis) had been added to fill in the back of these arbors but never bloomed so did nothing for the space.

Two Hinoki cypress had seen better days as they struggled with the reduced sunlight and of course there had been the endless ‘hole plugging’ that we are all partial to. In fact I am probably to blame for at least some of that. Whenever I removed something from the container gardens for this client I always asked if she would like it for the garden… So there was a hellebore here and a clump of black mondo grass there resulting in a mish-mash of plants. That onesie-twosie thing!!

The wish list

Yet all this took was a little editing and the replacement of two arbors with something more modern to achieve an artistic, cohesive design. The new look better reflects both the homes traditional architecture and the homeowners desire for something “professional, clean and organized”.

Having designed container gardens at this home for several years I had a good sense of plant preferences, color palette and style. I was therefore asked to draw up a planting plan for a low maintenance design that would be mostly evergreen yet offer lots of color.

BEFORE - a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

BEFORE – a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

When renovating a mature garden such as this one, it isn’t always necessary to draw a scaled plan. I simply took a series of photographs to work from and made notes on the health of plants, soil quality, key problem areas etc. By adding text to the images I was able to communicate my vision for a new planting plan effectively with the clients as well as Berg’s Landscaping who were going to be doing the installation and building the new arbors.

What goes? What stays?

I started by removing all the little ‘bits’ which had been added over the years such as Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) together with the monster evergreen clematis, two sad looking Hinoki cypress and a few other under-performing shrubs and perennials.

I decided to keep the aucuba, even though they look a bit spindly right now, as they are tough shrubs that pack a lot of color into a shady garden. I will prune them in spring to encourage more branching. Likewise the magnolia has seen better days but I am going to give it some TLC and see if it can’t be revived and returned to its former glory.

What’s new?

The aucuba, magnolia and Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media) were all broadleaf evergreens that suggested a color scheme of yellow and green – a good start but not vibrant enough. With the Hinoki removed I needed to add two new substantial shrubs.   I knew the homeowner’s favorite color was red so I decided on two Yuletide camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’) with their striking red winter blooms, highlighted by a large central boss of yellow stamens.

517

Yuletide camellia added my clients favorite color while repeating the yellow found elsewhere. Photo credit; Monrovia

The other major addition was the deciduous tree Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). This more columnar variety is an outstanding tree for narrow spaces.

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

With rich fall color that lasts for many weeks, beautiful bark, red winter flowers and burgundy new growth in spring it was the perfect tree to replace an old madrone, adding height as well as four season interest.

The new trellises

The new trellises completely change the whole look and feel of the back garden. Using cedar and recycled metal panels they have created unique focal points. Whereas the old arbors seemed dark and heavy these are light and airy. The addition of the rusted metal panels lends a modern touch without appearing too contemporary.

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

The metal panels were found at a local architectural salvage yard and the cedar frame designed around it to fit the space. (No, I do not have any formal plans for this design – the napkin has long since been thrown away!)

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

Such structures deserved a special vine yet there aren’t a lot of options for evergreen vines which bloom in the shade. I was excited therefore to hear about Cathedral Gem sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) introduced as part of the Dan Hinkley collection in 2011 by Monrovia. This beauty has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring, thrives in the shade and is hardy to zone 6. Of course as luck would have it, none were available locally and I needed four! Monrovia went out of their way to help me and the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA generously agreed to let me tag these onto his order so I could have them in time. Great team work – thank you!

Heuchera Tiramisu foliage perennial plant with leaves in amber shades of gold, yellow, orange, bronze, red

Heuchera Tiramisu marries the golden yellow and amber shades. Photo credit: Monrovia

To add sparkle and color under each of these I selected the golden leaved  Tiramisu heuchera to partner with Pink Frost hellebore ( a favorite of the homeowner) and the transplanted black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) for a totally evergreen, modern combination.

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Being mindful of the request for color I also added clusters of the richly colored Sweet Tea heucherella under the camellias. These large, bushy, evergreen perennials contrast well with the glossy camellia foliage while their deep red veins will form a subtle color echo with the camellia blooms. Sweet Tea also blooms for months creating a delicate frothy appearance as their tiny white flowers dance on slender stems.

collage-1

L to R: Japanese forest grass, Pink Frost hellebore, black mondo grass

The final detail was to simply add more of the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to complete a sense of rhythm along the entire border length.

Finishing Touches

Clusters of container gardens planted in a similar plant and color palette added to the sense of unity while offering additional seasonal color.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The end result was fresh, colorful and interesting. Although new plants were added the look wasn’t fussy or over-planted but rather clean lined and tidy. It made sense.

Don’t be afraid of tackling the renovation of a mature garden border. Work with a designer to create a master plan and bring new life to your outdated space.

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
SUBSCRIBE





More New Plants: More New Favorites!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright Lights Yellow African Daisy (Osteospermum)

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

New for 2017: Bright Lights Yellow Osteospermum from Proven Winners

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

Design Ideas

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

Cultural information

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

 

Maroon Swoon Weigela (Weigela ‘Maroon Swoon’)

Maroon Swoon weigela from Baileys Nurseries

Maroon Swoon weigela from Van Belle Nurseries

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

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

Design Ideas

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

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

Cultural information

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

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

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

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

Design Ideas

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

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

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert 'Opal'

Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert Opal

Cultural information (for the spirea)

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

Coming Up

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

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

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

So stay tuned and share the journey with me!

Disclaimer

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

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
SUBSCRIBE





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

IMG_8200

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?

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
SUBSCRIBE