perennials

Pinterest Peer Pressure – baring it all!

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring delights

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

Garden Moments

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

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

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

This was pure serendipity – often the best designer.

Floral delights

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

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

Evergreen Darwin barberry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Flourish

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

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

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

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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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Designing with Fall Foliage

It's that time of year - warts and all

It’s that time of year – warts and all

As the PNW braced for the predicted hurricane force winds, most homeowners dashed to the store for candles, groceries and chocolate. Essentials. What did I do? Grabbed my coat, wellies and camera then ran outside between rain squalls to take photos of the garden while there were still some leaves on the trees!

I can’t say that fall is my favorite time of year exactly, because I prefer warmer temperatures and that laid back vibe of summer gardening which typically means harvesting yummy fruit and vegetables and strolling around the garden with friends who stop by. But the colors of the autumn garden are outstanding – especially when you plan for them.

That’s right, a fall garden doesn’t just happen. One has to think about colors and textures as well as the timing of the display. Here are a few snapshots of my mid-October (pre-storm) garden to show you what I mean.

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This island border is truly a year round showcase

This island border is truly a year round showcase with gorgeous colorful foliage and seasonal flowers but fall may be my favorite time

Notice how in this photograph of my island border the dominant yellow foliage that immediately catches your eye is well spaced out. To the right is my golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’) and to the left a frothy haze of Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). A bright gold-chartreuse conifer (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’)is set farther back towards the middle, flanked by contrasting deep burgundy foliage of a Grace smoke bush and Fireglow Japanese maple.

The next layer comes from the multi-colored fall foliage of the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’), orange toned spirea and blushing Lime Glow barberry.  Evergreen conifers provide a deep green backdrop as well as blue carpet in the foreground.

If all the yellow and gold  colors were adjacent to one another the impact would have been lost. To make this design work in autumn I had to plan ahead even when the trees, shrubs and perennials were in their spring shades. Using colored pencils on a tracing overlay of your garden plan can help you visualize seasonal changes.

Contrasting textures

img_0184 A close up of this vignette shows how the bolder smoke bush leaves act as a perfect counterpoint to the feathery bluestar, both set off by the large mossy boulder.

With contrasting foliage textures you can achieve striking combinations even with a monochromatic color scheme as seen below.

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In the photo above the finely textured Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) shows up against the round leaves of a Glow Girl spirea even though both have the same color palette. Incidentally the spring-summer color of this spirea is lime green! Adding the cool grey-blue conifer (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’) in the background is a wonderful way to emphasize the warm fall colors of the deciduous shrub and grass.

Borrowed Landscape

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The photograph above is deceptive. It is taken from the path that runs through the island border; Red Carpet barberry can be seen in the foreground while a haze of Shenandoah switch grass and a mounding weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) are actually on the other side of the winding path.

When you looked at this photo did your eye immediately bounce from the red barberry to the red trees in the background? Those are actually almost 250′ away at the entrance to the woodland border, yet from this perspective they seem to be part of the immediate scene don’t they? Designers refer to this as ‘borrowed landscape’ and here I have specifically used it to enhance a fall scene. the two red maples (Acer rubrum) and the golden locust tree they flank, repeat the colors of shrubs in the foreground. Again, thinking ahead to the fall colors was key. If those maples had turned yellow the impact would have been lost.

Here’s a close up of those trees

img_0197 Now you can glimpse the understory of shrubs and grasses in this border as well as some trees which haven’t started their fall display yet. A rock cairn designed by sculptor Luke DeLatour marks the entrance to this border and was a special gift from some wonderful friends.

When more is more!

Some trees are just out and out show-offs. They are outstanding no matter when you view them. Such is my love affair with  Ruby Vase Persian ironwood seen here in its multicolored glory. This kaleidoscope of color needs a simple backdrop, provided here by a golden locust tree while the finely textured Shenandoah grasses are once again  working with a monochromatic scheme beautifully. Another large boulder works well against the finely texture grass while Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) adds interest in the foreground (plus repeats the color yellow with its last few blooms) accompanied by the feathery yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’). So many layers of loveliness yet it isn’t too busy because there is one clear focal point – the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood.

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Tips you can try

Grab your camera and photograph your garden; vignettes you like as well as those you are less satisfied with. Assess what has worked or not.

Are the fall colors evenly distributed throughout the space?

Do you need to introduce some bold conifers to anchor the autumn display?

Would boulders help to balance a lot of fine textures?

Can you take advantage of fall colors in a borrowed view from your own garden or a neighbors?

Does everything happen at once? Include early, mid and late season beauties. My fall display typically begins in September with vine maples and katsura trees and continues through the end of November with paperbark maples and purple smoke bushes.

Do you need a focal point for a fall vignette? This can be a specimen tree but here is another idea. See how the rustic pot below repeats the fall shades of a weeping Japanese maple behind it. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

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The colors of a rustic pot repeat the autumnal shades of Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’

More resources

Fallscaping:extending your garden season into autumn by Nancy Ondra, Stephanie Cohen and photographed by Rob Cardillo (Storey, 2007)

Timber Press Pocket Guide to Japanese Maples by J.D. Vertrees and P. Gregory (Timber Press 2007) includes lists by size, fall color and much more.

Gardening with Foliage First – my NEW book co-authored with Christina Salwitz. Pre-order available now. (Timber Press, 2017) includes some STUNNING fall ideas

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Shades of September

 

Whats' new this month?

Whats’ new this month?

It’s an odd time of year. Neither summer nor fall. Cooler but not cold. Perhaps chianti rather than sauvignon blanc but not-quite-ready-for-a-full-Bordeaux type of weather

I typically head into the garden to see what is new – newly blooming or in leaf – not newly going into decline! So what is there to get excited about in September? October and November will be redolent with autumnal shades: does September offer anything other than a weary landscape?

As I uploaded my images I was surprised to see how many shades of red there were; not the fiery fall colors that the smoke bushes and maples promise for the future, but chill-tipped foliage and flowers in shades of rose and ruby that suggested it was time to find my fleece jacket. Berries were also in abundance, from the glossy red honeysuckle that cedar wax wings prefer to viburnum, barberries and Red Beauty holly.

Enjoy a September stroll with me

Flowers Galore!

Many perennials and shrubs put on a second flush of flowers in fall while others are an autumnal highlight.

Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush

This Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush  is STILL pushing out blooms even as it leans on a winter daphne – instant floral arrangement

Many of the white paniculata hydrangeas age to pink – a great opportunity to play with plant combinations

Sometimes it isnt the actual flowers that have a pink hie but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Sometimes it isn’t the actual flowers that have a pink hue but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Berries, seed heads and more

From oversized to teeny-tiny, there are berries and seedheads throughout the garden already.

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Raspberry-like seed heads of the kousa dogwood tree –  Christmas in September??

Talking of the Holidays, this Red Beauty holly seems to be well ahead of the curve too!

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on the Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny berries on a barberry

Left to right: Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on a Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny barberry berries

Foliage

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

While shades of red, orange and gold are expected on many trees and shrubs as autumn approaches, it is the unexpected multi-colored additions to foliage that I feel is a bonus to the September garden

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

I was surprised to see Mountain Fire andromeda still showing off mahogany colored new growth

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And then there are the tiny succulents on the green roof of this delightful bird feeder that are also turning color.

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What’s happening in your garden this month?

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Blanket Flower Beauty

THis stunning (unknown) variety of blanket flower was purchased as a plant. I'd love to find the seed for this!

This stunning Fanfare Blaze blanket flower was purchased as a plant. Love the fluted petals; I’d certainly like to find the seed for this!

Do you buy perennials or grow them from seed? My Mum was a remarkably thrifty – and patient gardener and grew many perennials such as delphiniums from seed. The first year they would get to be respectable sized plants but if they flowered it wasn’t a spectacular show. They would typically take three years to get to that chocolate box image of towering spires of lavender, pink and blue blooms. That was enough to put me off – three years seemed much too long to wait!

So when I was given seeds for the perennial blanket flower (Gaillardia) from international plant breeder Benary I was initially rather underwhelmed. Their saving grace was that these perennials are drought tolerant and deer resistant and the bold colors would work with my color scheme so I decided to give them a go. I started the seeds indoors under grow lights in February of this year and by early spring they were large enough to prick out into individual 4″ plants. (My Stumpdust dibber was the perfect tool for transplanting).

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. Ours are made from salvaged wood

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. The ones from Stumpdust are individually hand crafted made from salvaged wood

I really wasn’t expecting them to do much this year so used the sturdy 4″ plants to edge a raised bed of basil in my vegetable garden, planting both out at the beginning of June.

The 4" transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

The 4″ transplants quickly grew to large flowering sized plants in 10 weeks

Wow did they GROW! Each plant quickly formed a compact mound at least 12″ wide  and bloomed in such profusion that they became a colorful highlight in the garden just six months after starting them from seed. In fact the plants are so big I may be able to divide them next spring.

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

Arizona Sun is perhaps the best known variety

The two varieties I grew were the popular Arizona Sun with its distinctive rays of red and yellow petals and the softer Arizona Apricot; golden yellow petals deepening to warm apricot at the center.

Apricot Sun - for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

Arizona Apricot – for those that prefer their blanket flowers without red

There are lots of other colorful varieties and seed is readily available from many vendors including  Swallowtail Garden Seeds, Burpee, Park Seed

If you prefer to grow the native blanketflowers looks for common blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) which is a perennial that attracts native bees as well as butterflies. You can buy that wildflower seed here. Alternatively the annual, native Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) may self-seed in ideal conditions. Available here

Design Ideas

Use in a drought tolerant border with lavender, sage and succulents. Perfect either in your landscape or even for a parking strip

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Parking strip planting – Portland, OR

Use in containers – they bloom for months without a break! Although I did deadhead spent blooms during the peak summer period, the seed heads themselves are attractive. These newer varieties lend themselves well to mixed containers, being more compact thus ‘hiding’ the foliage with flowers.

Celebration is a vibrant shade or orange-red that looks stunning with this variegted mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus 'Lemony Lace')

Celebration is a vibrant shade of orange-red that looks stunning with this variegated mirror plant (Coprosma repens) and a golden elderberry (Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’)

Cultural Conditions

  • Hardy in zones 3-8
  • Full sun
  • Water; average-low. Drought tolerant once established
  • Soil; well drained soil is essential. Sandy or average loam is ideal. Avoid non-amended clay.
  • Deer resistant (and said to be rabbit resistant – I’ll let you know!!)
I'm watching you......

I’m watching you……

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