Fine Festive Foliage

Some leaves are simply more ‘Holiday ready’ than others. Here’s what we look for ;

  • Doesn’t drink too much
  • Naughty or nice (but not too naughty!)
  • Looks good with bling
  • A fun party host and is good at mingling

And the winners are…..

1. ‘Rainbow’ drooping fetterbush (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’)

Rainbow Leucothoe in Winter

This glitzy lady knows how to get all gussied up. Evergreen, deer resistant (those wretched creatures are terrible gatecrashers), drought tolerant and can take center stage or be a regular party guest.

2. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’)

Copy of July 2011 Peace Tree Farm 211

Decked out in gold and copper this girl knows how to bring the bling. Evergreen, tea-total and great at just hanging out (or over) – be sure to have this succulent in your party pots

3. Scallywag holly (Ilex x meservae ‘MonNieves’ )

IMG_0511A cousin of Little Rascal, this holly isn’t nearly as naughty as you’d expect. Knows how to wear that little black dress and looks great with gold or silver accessories. Those party-pooping deer leave Scallywag alone too.

4. Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)



The Queen of Elegance, dusty miller knows how to wear sexy silver lace. Have you noticed how many times her velvety outfit gets stroked? Keeps her drinking to a minimum but loves to play with others whether its a black tie gathering or something more colorful.

5. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

IMG_0447it’s important to have a mix of personalities at any party so this soft feathery fern is a great one to have on the invitation list. She does drink a little more than the the other guests but she handles it well and without excess. Gold and copper highlights add an olde world charm to any gathering.

The BIG Bling

silver ball

Need a little extra glitz? Save a few glass balls from the tree and tuck them into containers and window boxes together with some extra large pine cones.


Maybe add a few sparkly stems and little ornaments too.


For more ideas on how to dress up those containers enjoy our post from last year showcasing work from our friends around the country.

So what are your containers wearing this year? Tell us all about them and we’d love to see photos on Facebook.


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A Stormy Day for Fine Foliage

Stormy Day Fine Foliage

Left to right; ‘Rainbow’ Leaucothoe is showing off some new cold weather burgundy foliage for winter. A favorite conifer Thuja Occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ is coloring up nicely for winter as it warms up with orange and amber tones. My STAR conifer in this bed is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ he is growing in nicely! Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ is a soft accent texture in the small bed with its swaying plumes. Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ is the toughest character in this little gang, drought tolerant with foliage that has interesting color changes through the entire year. Down low is Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’ giving a bold red uplight to the group next to the more somber deep tones of the ‘Crimson Pygmy’ Barberry.

When rain, wind and flooding storms are pummeling both the East and West coasts at the same time, it can seem like there is no reason to find joy in the garden, but Fine Foliage is here to cheer you on and say YES! There are always gorgeous things to be appreciated in the garden no matter the weather. I ran outside in my jammies THIS MORNING and took a few shots in my own garden to show you that it is true!

You just have to do a little simple planning. In fact I kind of enjoy the challenge of proving this point, I get to go to the nursery and browse and that’s always a fun job. ;-)

So, how do WE do it? It means that when it is NOT ugly, dark, gray and wet, you have to stand out in the glaring sunshine in spring or summer with one eagle eye imagining THIS day to come. I often take my clients outside on a gray day such as this, all of us in our rain gear, umbrellas in hand and I ask them to stand at the driveway and imagine what exactly they want to see when they pull the car up after a hard day of work. Do you want neat clean and tidy clipped hedges? Can Do! Do you want COLOR? Can do! We just have to be thinking about in earlier in the year and talk about WHAT COLOR MEANS for the garden in fall and winter.

Inevitably, a client will say “What about all of the flowers?” Well, that’s a bit tougher. Even in our mild climate in the Northwest. Viola’s and Pansies are not terribly big fans of our constant rain and it’s a little early to appreciate many Hellebore and Primroses in bloom yet.

Cryptomeria 'Black Dragon' anchors this combo pot, paired with a lovely native Mahonia nervosa blushing in the cold with a subtle purple, Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie' gives a large leaf respite to all of the smaller foliage detail. The lacy and vibrant purple Kale is perfect snuggled with 'Ducksfoot' Ivy peeking out around the base of the pot.

Cryptomeria ‘Black Dragon’ anchors this combo pot, paired with a lovely native Mahonia nervosa blushing in the cold with a subtle purple, Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ giving a large leaf respite to all of the smaller foliage detail. The lacy and vibrant purple Peacock Red’ Ornamental Kale is perfect snuggled with Ducksfoot’ Ivy peeking out around the base of the pot. The cut Red Twig Dogwood twigs in this pot add just the right touch of bright red for the season too!

Just look at all of the COLOR we have with no flowers! This is just what Fine Foliage in your garden does the very best. It gives these cold, drab days with seemingly nothing to see a focus, a point to look at that warms your heart and makes you feel that every time of the year is worth appreciating in the garden. Rain or shine Fine Foliage can be found everywhere if you just look!

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Need Some Winter Foliage Inspiration?


Then head to your local independent garden center! We are blessed with an abundance of first class nurseries in the Seattle area. Staffed by professional horticulturalists, keen home gardeners and part time designers you can always be assured of finding a great selection of plants, expert advice and most importantly at this time of year – ideas!

I wanted to freshen up the containers on my front porch this weekend and had planned to gather greenery and holly from the woods at the back of the property. Only one problem – they are covered in a few inches of frozen snow which doesn’t seem to be melting anytime soon. I can also usually dig up a few things from the garden to tuck in such as young evergreen shrubs and trailing periwinkle but that isn’t possible either. So when the ice melts on the roads a bit I’ll be heading out to a nursery to gather my ingredients.

Here’s what I found at Sky Nursery in Shoreline, Seattle last December.

1. Oval metal planters

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Why it Works

Simple and elegant this design has a crisp green, red and white color scheme with a few tasteful metallic accents. Notice how the silver sprays echo the washed grey metal containers- great attention to detail.

Foliage Framework

Young upright conifer

Small evergreen fern

Green and white variegated grass

Bright green moss to hide the soil


Jacob hellebore

White pansy

Red cyclamen (also has great foliage)

Berried wintergreen (small glossy evergreen leaves too)

Decorative silver spray stems

Sheer gold ribbon

2. Round birch pot

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Why it works

The rustic pots leads the design style here. All foliage and flowering elements follow a simple monochromatic green and white theme with only the bow adding a touch of contrasting color

Foliage Framework

Dwarf mounding conifer

Green and white variegated euonymus (Euonymus f. ‘Emerald Gaity’)

Silver icicle plant (or substitute a silvery lavender)

Grey Spanish moss to trim the pot


White cyclamen (gorgeous green and white foliage too)

White pansy

White flocked branches

Sheer burgundy bow

3. Tiered fountain

IMG_1166This design would only work if the fountain was in a covered courtyard – otherwise the tiers would fill with water and rot the plants. However we can still get ideas for plant combinations to add to our containers out in the garden.

Why it Works

All three tiers have a common color scheme yet use different plants to get the effect.

Plants are repeated around each tier for a unified look

Foliage Framework and Accents

Top tier;

Green and white variegated grasses

Berried wintergreen

Green and white trailing ivy

Middle tier;

Silver Astelia (the grass-like plant with wide blades)

Deer fern

Icicle plant

White pansies

Lower tier;

Soft burgundy coral bells

Green and white trailing ivy

White pansies

4. Final Flourishes

IMG_1197Look past the large number and varieties of plants here to get ideas for adding the fun factor.

The tiered stand to the left could easily be a re-purposed pot stand, or perhaps an old kitchen produce holder. Each section is lined with moss as you would a hanging basket then filled with soil and plants.

The tall green pot may not be planted at all and just acting as a pedestal. There appears to be a ‘nest’ of wood excelsior that is acting as the shallow planter. Placed over the top is a rusted metal frame. Is it a hanging basket frame placed upside down? Or a cloche without the protective fabric or glass? Or a cake dome??? I’ve no idea – but maybe I have something in the barn like this that I can use. Do you? A few thin twisted branches have been inserted too, helping keep the arrangement loose.

Ready to go shopping?


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The Color Spectrum of Thanks

Rainbow Leucothoe in Winter
As we writers furiously work on our forthcoming book (Working title “Foliage First” from Timber Press out in 2016), the blog is a particularly nice place for us to take a quiet moment during this Thanksgiving week and reflect on the abundance in our lives in all of its glorious colors.
Not only do we want to convey the vast amount of grace and joy we experience in bringing Fine Foliage to YOU every day and every week, but we wanted to take time to look at the number of ways that our thankfulness is manifested from large to small, from subtle to bold, from public to private and all the ways in between.
The lovely rainbow of colors on the Leucothoe foliage above reminded me of this today. Obviously, it is called ‘Rainbow’ for it’s multitude of colors but it represents so much more when you really think about it. This plant begins with such subtle maneuvers with its spring tones of cream and green and gradually builds excitement as the temperatures rise. I NEVER tire of admiring this in spring as the quiet marbling begins to roll. I begin the growing season thankful for the elegant and understated display.
Then summer brings on the WOW factor of the most divine coral-colored new growth. It is a whole new reason to appreciate what Mother Nature created in the small space of a shrub like this one. When paired with the sassy new growth on a ‘Magic Carpet’ Spirea, it is incredible! I adore the opportunity to ogle this combination and the energy it brings to the garden in summer with hardy, easy-going shrubs.
As fall and winter approach the color deepens. It begins to get richer and warmer as is the case with so many wonderful plants that color up with the cold. Though this shrub stays evergreen here in our mild northwest climate rather than the multitude of deciduous shrubs and trees that draw our attention during this time, we tend to forget the ones that stay with us and still change color anyway. They don’t ask us for the bold adoration of tourists coming to visit for the short burst of the season, they slowly deepen their colors and enrich all those around it.
Kind of like those people in all of our lives who remain steadfast and true. The ones that you might take for granted on a daily basis when your attention is on some dazzling shooting star for the moment.
I like to believe that I endeavor to take notice of ALL the changes in my garden and my loved ones in all of the seasons of the year and not just when they have a shining moment. Those day-to-day moments of appreciating the love, abundance and beauty all around us are worth remembering this week of thanks, no matter what color it is that they present themselves.
This week, take a breath, pause to enjoy your families, friends and all of the blessings that the colors in your world bring.
Warmest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving foliage fanatics!
Christina & Karen

Frozen Fine Foliage


Usually when I need writing inspiration I just look out of the window. At this time of year I anticipate the vivid colors of maples and witch hazels, the rosy tints on variegated weigela and  Japanese forest grasses together with big fat buds on evergreen hellebores that promise not only great foliage all winter but also flowers.

Sadly 2014 is not the year of the fall extravaganza. Blackened hydrangea leaves hang like limp seaweed from the branches,  maple leaves are frozen to a crisp well before their colorful peak, dropping to the ground with the slightest breeze. The same goes for the viburnums, smoke bushes and more.

And so I sought inspiration in my photo library rather than my garden where I discovered these images taken at the Denver Botanic Garden in January 2011. It was bitterly cold yet the gardens were beautiful thanks to the finely textured foliage of grasses. It occurred to me that there was a lesson to be learned.

Creating an understory


What do your garden layers look like in winter? Typically we will still have the tall trees – evergreen or deciduous, often with some shrubs in front, again either evergreen or just the skeletal branches. But with the perennials dormant the sense of movement and life may have gone out of the garden.

In the photo above notice how the  grasses bridge the visual gap between the tall birch tree and the ground plane. The grasses add color, height, a focal point and fine texture. Even though the grasses are frozen they are a critical design element in this winter border and they give a sense of movement by virtue of the feathery plumes and the wonderful rustling sound as the winter winds pass through.

Plan ahead for winter

IMG_1698When the nurseries start filling up with our spring and summer favorites it is tempting to fill every nook and cranny of our gardens with foliage and flowers that celebrate those warmer seasons. The winter garden shouldn’t  just be the leftovers, however, but rather a deliberate setting and plant pallet.

In the photograph above there are several different types of grasses all massed together for impact. Adding just a single grass here and there would not be nearly so effective. Choosing just two or three areas of your garden to create a winter scene like this can add significantly to the sense of a garden which is still alive rather than fast asleep. Be sure to design these winter vignettes where they can be enjoyed from inside too.

Framing with frozen foliage

IMG_1697This elegant statue is clearly an important focal point in the garden even in winter as the frozen grasses frame the imposing sculpture. The dried tan blades also contrast with the grey granite as though throwing a spotlight onto the scene.

A wintery walk

IMG_1708So look again at your garden this winter. Does it entice you outside like this grass lined pathway does? Notice how the destination is obscured by the frozen grasses, luring you away from the cozy log fire for a few moments.

Or does your garden feel old, tired and stodgy? Conifers and broadleaf evergreens are of course invaluable in the winter garden but don’t forget the finer textures. Even when frozen  grasses bring movement, sound and life.

Plant list

Here are a few grasses to consider. Be sure to check if they are hardy in your area and if they are considered invasive or not

Evergreen grasses

Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima  syn. Stipa tenuissima)

Many finely textured sedges e.g Red Rooster, Frosty Curls, Toffee Twist (Carex species)

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)

Grasses that are not evergreen but last well into winter

Feather reed grasses e.g. Karl Foerster (Calamagrostis species)

Maidenhair grasses e.g. Variegated  (Miscanthus species)

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) e.g. Northwind, Heavy Metal

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis)


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Pattern Play – Mixing It Up with Fine Foliage

In fashion we combine stripes and solids, plaids and polka-dots, and florals both large and small together. For some, it’s easy breezy to look into the depths of our drawers and closets and put together a combination that looks effortless and pulled together. For MANY of us, it takes a bit of practice. But, with some simple tips, you can easily translate the same ideas with your landscape and container designs with exceptional foliage plants any season of the year.

Pattern Play- Mixing It Up with Fine Foliage

Rosy fall color on Heuchera ‘Electra’ shows the amazing burgundy veining detail against the chartreuse background and harmonizes with the copper tones in the container, while the draping, silvery Lamium foliage gives some tonal contrast and pattern that keeps the duo from feeling heavy.

Looking at the larger view of the rich fall container design, you get the sense for the how the foliage colors all work together.

Looking at the larger view of the rich fall container design, you get the sense for the how the foliage colors all work together.

Limit your color palette.
When you want to create subtle or dramatic color combinations with foliage patterns, it is vital that you don’t get all CLOWNPANTS! From the container, to the focal point plant, keep your color palette tighter, without going TOO matchy-matchy when working with patterned foliage. The bolder the pattern, the more you will need to keep it simple to truly appreciate each individual color and visual texture.

Pattern Play- Mixing It Up with Fine Foliage
Patterns of different of different densities and sizes

Canna 'Tropicanna' stripes WORK with the detailed leaves of this Coleus.

Canna ‘Tropicanna’ stripes WORK with the detailed leaves of this Coleus.

Phormium 'Chieftain' vertical stripes and unified color are intriguing with the sunset tones of the tropical foliage that sits low and wide below.

The Phormium ‘Chieftain’ brings its vertical stripes and unified color to an intriguing with the sunset tones of the tropical Acalypha foliage that sits low and wide below.

Another gorgeous example with Coleus 'Smallwood Driveway' from Hort Couture.

Another gorgeous example with Coleus ‘Smallwood Driveway’ from Hort Couture.

Space Patterns Out

Rubber Plant while the Rubber Plant even picks up a bit of the red begonia too!

Silvery Brunnera with delicate veining sits opposite the Variegated Rubber Plant with a little breathing room from the green Asparagus Fern. The Rubber Plant even picks up a bit of the red begonia too!

Combine large patterns against small patterns.
Pattern Play- Mixing It Up with Fine FoliageIncorporate varying scales to the plants so that the patterns don’t compete with one another.  Ideally, sticking with the rule of three, pick one large, one medium and one small pattern to work with. In these examples using two worked, but three is much more interesting if you can make it work.
The large Caladium leaves have a fairly detailed pattern on them, but the large surface area of those big luscious leaves off-sets that when combined with the smaller and more subtle detail of the Pseuderanthemum ‘Stainless Steel’.

Ipomea 'Chipotle' has small, subtle dots and splotches of of spicy lime while the Acalypha 'Jungle Cloak' carries the big and bold tones and patterns.

Feel the energy and movement with Ipomea ‘Chipotle’ with it’s small, subtle dots and splotches of spicy lime while the Acalypha ‘Jungle Cloak’ carries the big, sophisticated tones and patterns.

What would YOU mix with the amazing colors of 'Jungle Cloak' Acalypha?

What would YOU mix with the amazing colors of ‘Jungle Cloak’ Acalypha?

Mix a foliage pattern with a flowering plant in the same color family.
Sure, indulge in gorgeous flowers, but use the power of color to unite the saturated tones foliage with it too! This can just as easily be done with more understated tones too.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' from Hort Couture WORKS with the complimentary color of Celosia bloom as well as the dusky colored foliage.

Oxalis ‘Plum Crazy’ from Hort Couture WORKS with the complimentary color of Celosia bloom as well as the dusky colored foliage.

What flower would you pair with this devinely rich toned Cordyline 'Mocho Latte'?

What flower would you pair with this divinely rich-toned Cordyline ‘Mocho Latte’?

HOLY COW! Can you even dream up what you might put with this incredible edible Basil 'PESTO Chocolate Swirl' coming out in 2015 from Hort Couture? I am drooling just thinking about the possibilities!

HOLY COW! Can you even dream up what you might put with this incredible edible Basil ‘PESTO Chocolate Swirl’ coming out in 2015 from Hort Couture? I am drooling just thinking about the possibilities!

Be sure to visit Hort Couture Plants for more fantastic foliage ideas available in your locally owned garden center! With these tips, hopefully you will be on your way to using some Fine Foliage to be come a savvy pattern mixing designer, no matter what method you choose to make it work for your style!

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The Unsung Heroes of my Fall Garden


Diane witch hazel takes on shades of pumpkin and eggplant in fall

Diane witch hazel takes on shades of pumpkin and eggplant in fall


We all have our favorite fall plants – the ones that we look forward to every year, anticipating the  colors and ever-changing combinations with their garden companions. Christina has already admitted that we are totally enamored with the world of Japanese maples and between us have quite the collection both in containers and the garden, including many that started life in containers and have since been transplanted to take pride of place as a landscape specimen.

But what other trees and shrubs offer standout performance at this time of year? Take a stroll through the garden with me and I’ll show you a few of my favorites.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

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This is just a tiny cheat – it isn’t a Japanese maple after all! Take a look at these images and you’ll see why I love it so much in every season, not just fall.

Cinnamon colored peeling bark as well as foliage that opens light green, matures to a mid tone then transitions to shades of apricot and orange, the fall color lasting for many weeks.

USDA 4-8

American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

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This tree can be rather hit or miss. I have three of these in my current garden which vary enormously in fall color from yellow to burgundy but I have had one in the past which seemed to do nothing at all! Some gardeners don’t like the seed pods but I always plant them some distance from patios or paths so have never been bothered by them.

I like them because they are relatively inexpensive, have maple shaped leaves, grow quickly, tolerate seasonal standing water for short periods of time and aren’t bothered by the deer.

USDA 5-9

Exbury Azalea

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When we moved to this property five years ago we inherited many things in the garden that we could have done without (beer bottles, road fill, invasive weeds and worse) but we also discovered this mature Exbury azalea inside the vegetable garden of all places! It had survived there despite being in an area which flooded during winter months.

We moved it with the aid of a bobcat to a more suitable location and watered it regularly for the first year wondering if it would survive being transplanted. It did! Today it is a highlight both in my fall and spring garden.

Golden yellow flowers fill the garden with their exotic fragrance in May before the leaves appear. Green summer  foliage turns bronze then scarlet before finally falling to the ground mid-November

USDA 5-8

Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’)

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I purchased this tree on a whim in a sale! I needed a tree that was more upright rather than one which would have a rounded lollipop shape and of course I wanted it all; flowers, bark and great foliage. Well Ruby Vase delivers. Unlike the regular Persian ironwood this will eventually mature at 10-15′ wide and  30′ tall making it perfect for even small gardens. Highly recommended.

USDA 4-9

 A final eclectic mix

I could write (another) book on my favorites but I wanted to at least give you a glimpse of a few other plants that deserve a mention

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What are your favorite trees and shrubs for fall color?

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The Power of PURPLE in Fall Foliage

Color theory and all of the fascinating things that go along with it have been a rather passionate research topic for me since I wrote a term paper about it in college. It touches nearly every avenue of our lives and recently, I had an interesting thing happen that relates to both foliage AND shopping for fall clothes. Who knew we could connect those two things so easily? Well, buckle up foliage fans, here we go!
Color ChipsI bought a few new long-sleeved t-shirts for the impending cold weather to add to my arsenal of fall layering for garden work last week. Olive was my first choice, then a vibrant shade of purple. When many of us think purple, particularly in gardening and plant description color terms, purple can range from almost burgundy all the way to true blue depending on a whole host of details that we won’t get into here, just suffice it to say that MY purple was PURPLE. As in royal purple, ‘Prince’ purple, grape colored marker purple, electric purple!

THIS is MY kind of purple for #Fall!!

THIS is MY kind of purple for #Fall!!

When I pulled the new purple t-shirt out of my stash and wore it the first time, within an hour, three people commented how much they not only LOVED the color, but that they ALL felt that it was a very under-rated color for fall. The very same thing happened at the next place I went and pretty much continued all day. Hmmmm….. I’m sensing a theme here.

Why YOU need more PURPLE in your Fall Palette
It’s true- purple is not commonly a focal point color in the fall, not to mention in the garden, when all of reds, oranges and yellows are getting all of the attention with the fall foliage watchers. But, if you think about it, purple is the connector color on the color wheel. It makes friends with ALL of the FALL colors.

Spectacular purple/plum hydrangea bloom in #fall with a golden backdrop
This fall hydrangea bloom is a deep shade of purple/plum, but I think you get the idea here. The golden backdrop of foliage is THE happy marriage of fall foliage to bloom color. Team Fine Foliage wants you to be thinking about this idea in spring when you get let out of the house in a garden frenzy and all you can think about in spring at the garden center is spring anything. :-)

VIBRANT purple from the gorgeous 'Beautyberry' shrub.

VIBRANT purple from the gorgeous ‘Beautyberry’ shrub.

The all out electric purple berries only seen in autumn when this Beautyberry’s foliage begins to turn slightly golden and eventually drops is when this plant shines. Now, against a luscious red backdrop of ‘Rose Glow’ Barberry (not invasive in our mild Northwest climate, but can be in others) and a Variegated Eleagnus shrub make this a trio perfectly suited to show exactly what BOLD fall color can mean!

Purple 'Redbor' Kale and Ornamental Peppers in a #purple containerEven a smoky purple pot can be royally opulent in autumn. ‘Redbor’ Kale and Ornamental Peppers that turn from deep purple/black to red are standouts for fall color against the copper container with all of it’s golden highlights in the background.

#Fall container combo in full purple glory! We are incredibly fortunate that in our mellow winter climate of the Northwest, we can have the entire rainbow of Coral Bells (Heuchera) at our fingertips all year round and fall is part of the when they can truly shine best! However, there are MANY fabulous forms of Coral Bells in a wide range of colors for cold climates too.
This one is ‘Autumn Splendor’ Heuchera and I would say it’s perfectly named all right. Paired here in this russet color little container, that purple takes center stage. Also in the pot; the sweetest little shrub Honeysuckle called ‘Twiggy’ turns from a lovely chartreuse gold to a flush of pink/rose when the cold weather comes on. A quart size Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ shrub does the same, it will gain more burgundy/plum tones as it gets colder, but the creamy white sure shines here. And lastly, the grass is a Dwarf Little Blue-Stem called Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Munchkin’ (say that one three time fast!). Another amazing perennial plant that shows off SO much personality by changing color in fall to the blues and purples.

Lime with #PURPLE make this Kale a standout! Citrusy lime can look great in a fall container too, even contemporary and unique! Adding a simple shot of bold violet and purple kale makes this combo chic! Mexican Orange ‘Sundance’, ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ Cypress, Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Heucherella ‘Stoplight’, the blue foliage of Mahonia ‘Charity’ and Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ round out this unusual color combination, not to mention a few viola’s for good measure.

#Purple for #Fall color adds drama and one thing that Fine Foliage is not short on is DRAMA. Go and add some sassy purple to your garden for next year and think about all of the ways you can pair it up with your favorite fiery fall tones.  :-)

What bold and dramatic purple are YOU seeing out there in your world this fall?

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Our Next Step

Team Fine Foliage gets a new look!

Team Fine Foliage gets a new look! Photo by Ashley DeLatour

We tend to forget that not all our wonderful readers also follow our foliage frolics on Facebook so in case you missed our announcement, here it is;

We have signed a contract with Timber Press to write a new book, tentatively called


It will be filled with even more leafy goodness but this time we will show you how to build a foliage picture frame or backdrop and layer in other design elements such as flowers or artwork. In other words we’ll show you the next step in our design process. We’ll have ideas for all four seasons and the clear layout you love will be essentially the same if not even better. If everything goes to plan it will be released in 2016. Stay tuned!

And now back to our regular program………………….

As maples begin their glorious colorful display it's a good time to assess whether or not they are shown off to their best advantage

As maples begin their glorious colorful display it’s a good time to assess whether or not they are shown off to their best advantage

Last week we admitted to you our passion for Japanese maples. Actually we’re passionate about lots of leafy plants but Japanese maples are so versatile they give us oodles of design inspiration. They are available in all shapes and sizes, varying leaf textures and colors and many are suited to container culture as well as the landscape.

With such staggering beauty it can be a little daunting to figure out what to put them  with – and that’s where Team Fine Foliage comes in! Here’s what we would be looking for;

  • Contrast in color either in all seasons or just focusing on one time of year
  • Contrast in texture
  • Either a contrast or repetition in form (shape of the tree)
  • The WOW factor

To achieve all that my first thought is to explore the world of conifers.

From dwarfs to giants, all shades of blue, green and gold, different leaf textures and their unique shapes I can usually find something that will work. In their natural environment they are also found in association with one another which of course is a great design clue.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Opposites attract

Koto-no-ito Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Koto-no-ito) behind Wissel’s Saguaro false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’)

The warm tones of Koto-no-ito Japanese maple are tempered by the rich blue green of the conifer

The warm tones of Koto-no-ito Japanese maple are tempered by the rich blue green of the conifer

This is all about contrasts; lacy leaves and delicate branches juxtaposed with stiff spires of deep blue-green needles, and the wide dome shape of the maple against the columnar form of the conifer. Yet the two also work in concert  as warm colors of the maple are tempered and enhanced by Mr. Wissel (my pet name for this great conifer).

A unlikely pairing yet all the more beautiful for it.

2. Try the color-mush test

IMG_0814I’ve always loved blue toned conifers with red foliage and this combination shows how well the colors work together. I know the photo above is a rather ‘arty shot’ with the red maple in the background all fuzzy but actually that can be a helpful way to assess the basic shapes and colors without being distracted by the details. Try squinting to get a similar mushy effect.

Here’s the same combination photographed differently;


Design by Mitch Evans

Now we can appreciate the fine foliage too. This Oregon Sunset maple (Acer palmatum ‘Oregon Sunset’) is quite short and so the rare low growing  Home Park cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani ‘Home Park)  has to grow in front rather than underneath.

You could get a similar effect using Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) under any upright red leaved maple such as Fireglow  (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’)

3. Crayola combo!


Design by Mitch Evans

What’s more beautiful than one Japanese maple? LOTS of Japanese maples! This glorious fall display celebrates the season in full technicolor with the aptly Crimson Queen (Acer p. ‘Crimson Queen’) in the foreground clearly the star. The vivid golden foliage behind is a Lions Mane maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’) while the orange leaves forming an overhead canopy are from a Forest Pansy redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)  and Iijima sunago (Acer palmatum ‘Iijima sunago’) on the upper left.

This autumnal extravaganza needs a place for the eye to recover and the two conifers on the left provide that quiet visual resting space to do just that. Simple fanned foliage of a bright green Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’) together with the spiky Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) needles are both great choices.

When the last of the leaves have fallen and we are left with only our leafy memories, the stalwart conifers offer color, structure and a promise of a repeat performance next year.

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2014 Fine Foliage LEAFY AWARD

Team Fine Foliage is proud to present the first ever 2014 Fine Foliage LEAFY AWARD! Every year we will choose a plant to honor and profile for its extraordinary foliage. The criteria for the award will be:
1) The sheer, mind bending beauty of the leaves (of course this IS Fine Foliage after all!) :-)
2) The usage and flexibility of the foliage in design.
3) Popularity and availability of the foliage nominated during the course of the year.
4) The number of votes each nomination receives. Each September, we will tally the votes for each nomination and make the announcement in October.

Since this is the first year for this award, we will get the leafy celebration started with a hands down, obvious winner for 2014 and then from here on out we will ask YOU to nominate YOUR favorites every month!

But first, we need to ask an important question of our fans. Is it possible for ONE exceptional plant to have leaves so amazing OR unremarkable that it could make or break a design?

We think so! If you think about it, using food as an example it makes SO much sense. When a fine chef creates a dish using only three ingredients, then one of those ingredients needs to be a superstar right? If it is pasta with peas and cheese for instance, then the chef may go to the farmer and choose this particular farmer where the peas are SO fresh and SO sweet that the chef may not need to add all kinds of other fancy elements to make an outstanding dish. It is the same with plants where we may go to a particular grower that brings the best of that particular plant to market that is a standout above ALL others.

Or when a decorator is furnishing a room and they need that singular piece of furniture that speaks to the exact esthetic that best meets the designers vision for the room. That is exactly the same idea as when we gardeners find that perfect foliage plant to be the focal point in a garden design. It stands out as an obviously fantastic piece, maybe not singularly unusual or unique, but RIGHT.

Sadly, the same is true for the reverse where a foliage element is just ho-hum and doesn’t add anything to elevate a combination. It’s just there, like an afterthought, a seemingly tasteless or bland bit of boring leaves that were not shown in the highest and best use. Even common, or “pedestrian” plants can be stunning when used creatively!

So from here on out, we want you to keep your eye on the leafy prize. Which plant stands out to you each season as having the potential to be THE ONE? Small or large, bold or quiet, soft or prickly, anything goes as long as it is a truly outstanding performer and readily available to MOST gardeners.

Now, on with the award! We present to you the 2014 winner of the Fine Foliage LEAFY AWARD.
The Japanese Maple!!

2104 Fine Foliage LEAFY AWARDThe sheer volume of marvelous Japanese maple choices is dizzying. There are options for a rainbow of colors, for sun and shade, for texture and structure for focal points and containers. They are available in nearly every corner in the country, though obviously they don’t do well quite everywhere, the VERY warm locations are not an option as these maples love a bit of cool respite.
To learn more about Japanese maples, here is a great article from Organic Gardening magazine that gives you a good outline about these incredibly elegant and hardy trees.

IMG_4646The Japanese maple lends itself so beautifully to elegant artistry in garden design, art and even poetry. Below is a poem about this magnificent tree that we think you will enjoy.

A Single Tree
by Avis McGriff Rasmussen

A vibrant vision
of timeless beauty
stands before me.

A single tree
the Japanese maple
thriving in fertile soil
artistically arrayed
in a brilliant mosaic
of crimson, gold and orange
a glorious sight to behold.

In spectacular harmony
the sculptured trunk
and curvaceous branches
reinforce its ancient appeal
while supporting its
foliage tapestry.

This bold display
of creation bursts forth
for a season—the fall
enticing the onlooker
to contemplate
its delicate cycle of life.

As you pass this way
stand with me
and be amazed by this
intricate work of natural art
designed for our daily pleasure.

Avis Rasmussen (BA, Speech Pathology, ’85; Paralegal Certificate, ’92) is co-owner of a land development company in Southern California and a writer. She is married with a 9-year-old son.

Now, for the best part of the award, we dangle a leafy prize in front of YOU as well to get your ideas flowing; the person whose nomination gets the MOST VOTES each year receives a signed copy of Fine Foliage and the recognition for their brilliant idea! So, get thinking for 2015. There are a tantalizing array of leafy options to choose from. Show us YOUR prized, brilliant choice of foliage nomination each month and show off your mad foliage design skills and ideas!

We look forward to hearing from all of you next month!

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