groundcover

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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?

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Plant Whimsy

I always want the gardens I design to reflect the homeowners taste and personality. There are many ways to do this such as carrying through a key color from the interior decorating scheme or including signature art pieces in the landscape. However sometimes you can have fun with the plants themselves.

This Under The Sea  garden designed  the Los Angeles arboretum is a perfect example. By combining the unique metal sculptures created by local artist James B. Marshall with evocative plant forms, this underwater fantasy garden captures the imagination of visitors young and old.

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Setting the scene

Cogs, chains and gears combine to create this outstanding collection of sea creatures that include seahorses, an octopus, turtle and dolphin. Such ingenuity! Marine chain such as might be used for anchors is used as an edge for the border reinforcing the aquatic theme.

This sea turtle is 25″ wide; 24″ long; 10″ high and weighs about 75lbs. It is a clever composition of  transmission gears, tractor track and steering lever while  the head is a truck trailer hitch.

Love the mouth on this turtle - watch out!

Love the mouth on this turtle – watch out!

 

Note the curling tentacles - this octopus is on the move

Note the curling tentacles – this octopus is on the move

Skipper the dolphin is 55″ in length, 46″ in height, 17″ in width and weighs about 50 lbs

IMG_8060

A smiling dolphin leaps past the octopus and fish

Contact the artist directly if you are interesting purchasing any of his pieces or commissioning something special

Plant selection

We may not all be able to grow these plants (too wet, too cold…) but we can still recreate this look if we understand what to look for. The idea is to seek out plants whose color, shape and texture suggests coral or seaweed.

Coral-like cushions

Coral-like cushions and waving ‘seaweed’ in watery hues

Cacti and succulents have been used to great effect in this design but most of these would only be suitable for an annual display in colder climates. What else could be used to represent coral or seaweed? Here are a few ideas.

The spurge (Euphorbia) family offers many possibilities. Fen’s Ruby (Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fen’s Ruby’) forms a feathery cushion of finely textured semi-evergreen foliage that opens burgundy and matures to green. Chartreuse flowers add to the display in spring, Be warned that this plant can be a thug – check to see if it is invasive in your area before you let it loose. This may be best for a container display.

Fens Ruby spurge can be invasive

Fens Ruby spurge can be invasive – you have been warned!

Donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is  stiffer, more blue, has gorgeous succulent foliage and is not quite so thuggish as its cousin Fens Ruby although is also listed as an invasive species in some states.

Donkey tail spurge

Donkey tail spurge planted with golden Angelina stonecrop

For a similar look to Fen’s Ruby without the concern of skin irritation common to the spurge family or its invasive tendencies consider Blue Haze stonecrop (Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’)

Blue Spruce stonecrop. Photo credit; Monrovia

Blue Spruce stonecrop. Photo credit; Monrovia

This cold hardy succulent (USDA zones 3-11) is typically evergreen, drought tolerant and tough!

Certain varieties of hebe may also work for cushion forms e.g. Red Edge and there are lots more cold hardy sedums to investigate.

Now for some of the truly unique plants that have been used to represent splays of coral or broad seaweed forms. Do leave me a comment if you can identify these!

Unique!

Unique!

Can't you just feel the current in the water as you look at this?

Can’t you just feel the current in the water as you look at this?

So what can we cold climate gardeners use? One suggestion is to look for fasciated forms of everyday plants; either those that just happen occasionally on a single stem within the plant or genetic forms that have mutated and been propagated to select for that feature. Fasciated stems are produced due to abnormal activity in the growing tip of the plant. Often an abnormal number of flowers are produced on affected stems; something I noticed on one of my Paprika yarrow plants this summer.

Ferns with fasciated tips often have names such as ‘monstrosa’ and ‘cristata’ and are highly collectable plants. Look out for crested hart’s tongue fern for example. There are also some fasciated conifers such as the crested Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria jap0nica ‘Cristata’). These would all be excellent candidates for a seascape.

On a recent garden tour in Portland I came across this fasciated form of a spurge which I believe to be gopher spurge Euphorbia rigida.

Fasciation - a funky accident of nature

Fasciation – a funky accident of nature

Note how only one stem was affected.

The finishing touches

IMG_8043

To complete the scene I noticed a number of volcanic rocks used throughout the ‘sea bed’ and lava rock used as a mulch. There was also a few special specimen type plants, included for their unusual color or shape.

Now it’s your turn

Have I got you thinking? Next time you’re looking at plant images or walking through the nursery perhaps you’ll see a sea creature waiting to be discovered! Be sure to post photos on my Facebook page or leave me comments below. Imagination starts now………………………

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Succulent Safari

Sunrise on Succulents; design by Debra Lee Baldwin

Sunrise on Succulents; design by Debra Lee Baldwin

 

From Seattle to San Diego;

three hours and a world of plants away.

My husband Andy and I were working in southern California last week, basking in the warm sunshine. Whenever time allowed I would scurry off with my camera to take photos of the incredible landscapes that relied heavily on drought tolerant succulents. Everywhere I looked there were firecracker colors, attracting all manner of hummingbirds and bees.

collage

Such striking colors and shapes

Some vignettes were larger than life such as this display at the San Diego Botanical Garden.

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Others were Lilliputian in scale yet every bit as intricate

Design by Laura Eubanks in the garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

Design by Laura Eubanks in the garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

These succulents are hardy in San Diego but for those of us in colder climates we can enjoy many of them as summer annuals or as houseplants that take a little vacation in our summer gardens. Regardless of how you use them there are some clear design tips we can glean from these displays.

1. Color

Mix it up! Throw a little orange or red into the greens and blues and just watch those combinations come alive. This could be a succulent foliage such as Euphorbia ‘Fire Sticks’ or a long blooming flower. In Seattle we could try one of the new red hot pokers that have tidy foliage, a more compact habit and longer bloom time e.g. Mango popsicle. The flower color and shape is very similar to many of those I photographed.

Euphorbia 'Fire Sticks' glows at sunrise, sunset and every hour in between

Euphorbia ‘Fire Sticks’ glows at sunrise, sunset and every hour in between

2. Foliage texture

Spikes rule in the succulent kingdom but there are lots of other shapes too. Look for flattened rosettes, and plump teardrops for contrast.

 

Mix spotted spikes with softer rosettes and add a dash of orange!

Mix spotted spikes with softer rosettes and add a dash of orange!

 3. Spacing

Get up close and personal – especially if you are planning a summer display. The beauty of Laura Eubanks‘ work below is the snuggle factor.

A tapestry of snuggled succulents - by Laura Eubanks

A tapestry of snuggled succulents set off by lava rock – by Laura Eubanks. Garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

So whether you live in Scotland or Seattle, San Diego or South Carolina you can still enjoy a succulent safari. It may be on your kitchen table for many months of the year or you may be able to plant acreage this way but follow these simple tips and the display will always be fabulous.

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