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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Use Foliage for a Mini-Makeover


Whether you call it the end of summer or the beginning of fall our  gardens and containers are definitely in transition. That’s a nice way of saying that some stuff is dead, some bits are thinking about it but other plants are still fabulous. So what’s a gardener to do?



Well maybe its just procrastination on my part but with this container I decided to do a mini freshen up. The photo above shows the original summer planting. (If you have been enjoying my Craftsy video class you will have seen me planting this up in lesson 3).

After a few chilly nights last week the coleus was past its best and the variegated geranium was less than fabulous so I removed them both.


That still left a lot of great foliage plants  including feathery Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrechtii) at the back  two Midnight Lace sweet potato vines, a silver icicle plant (Helichrysum thianschanicum) and a few succulents including the wonderfully fuzzy silver-grey panda plant.

I found a Heuchera lurking in my ‘holding bed’ – I think it is Root Beer but it has long since lost its tag. The color, leaf shape and size made it a perfect replacement for the coleus.

Party on!

Party on!

The story isn’t over yet though; the Arkansas blue star is just getting started. This is a perennial which is usually planted en masse in the garden rather than used in a container. It has blue spring flowers but is usually grown for the delicate foliage and stunning orange fall color.

Arkansas blue star turns  fiery orange in fall

Arkansas blue star turns fiery orange in fall

Can you imagine how stunning that will be in this container?

Orange, black, dusky burgundy and silver.

Now there’s a color scheme for you! How are your containers doing?

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Container Design with an Autumn Attitude

Can I make a confession here? I’m utterly tired of whiny, bellyaching autumn gardeners. There, I said it,  already I feel better! Why? Because the answer to MANY of the questions I regularly deal with this time of the year are from gardeners who believe that FLOWERS ought to be as abundantly available and at the forefront of seasonal container designs as they are in July.
Heauchera 'Berry Smoothie' with Zinnia 'Profusion Cherry'
Well, they aren’t. And they won’t be in the fall and winter, for the majority of the country, ever. Unless you are all right with the Chrysanthemums and Asters that bloom for such a short period of time. Those are fine for plants that you might switch out, but most of us don’t want that kind of work as it gets colder. The idea is that the flowers are now the seasonal accent for the next few months, not the main course.
Purple Aster with Carex BuchananiiFlower focused people will walk through the nursery and point-
Customer: “Can I use that one?”
Me: “No, that is a tropical, it will be dead in a week or two if left outside when it REALLY gets cold. How about this great plant? It has tons of texture and looks amazing with your container, plus you can re-use it somewhere else next year?”
Customer: “How about those, they are purple!” 
Me: “I wish! Unfortunately, that one is about done blooming right now. What if we come up with a color palette of amazing foliage that is bright and showy? We can even find purple for you!”

Don’t get me wrong, I adore flowers! It’s just that at THIS time of the year, the “shoulder season”, I am a little more realistic about what will last, have some great color and interest as well as be a good value. A pansy or viola will serve as a lovely accent flower and will also bloom for months in the cold, it is just not the centerpiece or focal point that will hold attention.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about!  Fall container combination focused on Foliage FIRST! OR how about THIS one?
A BOLD color combination for a fall and winter container design! See? I’m only asking for a minor revolution in thinking here. ;-) Try plants on that you might never have considered before for fall and winter interest. You might make an AMAZINGLY creative discovery!

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The Softer Side of Fall

IMG_7633Fall foliage isn’t always about those screaming red, orange and gold shades. There is a softer, quieter side to autumn and it is perfectly expressed in this soothing combination by artistic gardener Mary Palmer of Snohomish, WA.

Soft teal needles of a blue Chinese fir mingle with the dusky purple plumes of the Red Head fountain grass; a  subtle color combination that would look good all year yet has an ethereal quality when dripping with fall raindrops.

In the distance are two splashes of gold that pull out the lighter tones in the conifer. Autumn Moon maple is a standout in the garden for many months but this late season color seems like a final blast of watery sunshine.

Repeating the yellow is a simple perennial sunflower, Tuscan Sun. Well this may not be Tuscany but the pure color definitely adds a highlight to the group yet does not detract from the simplicity of the foliage combination. (And we’ll forgive it for being a flower……)

Plant details


Blue Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata ‘Glauca’)

Light; Sun – part shade

Mature size; To 50′ tall and 20′ wide

Water; Low (Drought tolerant when established)

Hardiness; USDA zones 6-9


 Red Head fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’)

Light; Full sun

Mature size; 3′ tall and 2′ wide

Water; low, drought tolerant

Hardiness; USDA zones 5-9

IMG_7648Autumn Moon Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’)

Light; Open shade or full sun

Mature size; 15′ tall x 18′ wide

Water; Regular water

Hardiness; USDA zones; 5-8

IMG_7643Tuscan sun sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Tuscan Sun’)

Light; Full sun

Mature size; 2 feet (a great compact variety)

Water; Average

Hardiness; USDA zones 3-9

What’s going on in your garden today?

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September Survey of Foliage

September is when I begin to think about the waning flowers and seasonal summer foliage and how I will feel when there is no luscious coleus about to accent and highlight seasonal summer foliage on shrubs, perennials and other annuals.

Coleus and MelianthusThe coleus is hanging in there for a while, but the nurseries however are clearing quickly, the sales abound, so NOW is the time to take stock and survey what you have vs. what you want for next year. The sooner you get those pieces that I call “furniture” in the garden for the cold season interest, the better off they will be come spring.

Coleus and Hypericum 'Ignite Scarlet'


Coleus and Euphorbia 'Silver Swan'

"Under the Sea" Coleus, Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie', 'Blue Star' Juniper

"Under the Sea" Coleus, Heuchera 'Lime Rickey'
So, I plot and plan my next steps. Envisioning my nose stuck against the glass in the colder months with a hot cup of coffee in hand, I think about how I will enjoy the finer details of the late season fall and winter foliage that remains while plotting and planning at that time what I will do in spring.

Coleus and Euphorbia 'Silver Swan' What’s going to hold up in the cold and look interesting mixed with my spring and summer favorites AND have some showy FOLIAGE? Luckily, here in our mild, “Plant Mecca” climate, I have many choices. The front yard has the deer and bunnies, but the back is fully fenced and I can get more “experimental” there without losing my wallet in the process.

We won’t have the louder, showy options we have in spring and summer of course, because the cold time of the year is about more of the quiet details, more subdued colors and textural details that we admire from a closer view.

Blueberry 'Sunshine Blue' and Abelia 'Kaleidascope'
That’s not to say that we can’t have HUGE amounts of personality this time of the year! I LOVE the Blueberry foliage with Abelia ‘Kaleidascope’. With a late season grass like Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ or Pennisetum a. ‘Burgundy Bunny’ this combo could be outstanding!

Variegated Boxwood with unknown ChamaecyperisHave a yen for light and airy? The light of this variegated boxwood and chamaecyperis (unknown) together are a fine winter pairing. What would YOU add as another accent here? Possibly another dramatic grass? How about Japanese Blood grass for a shock of red for autumn?

Variegated PierisSpeaking of light and airy- how about one of my go-to must have favorites to design with plants? The Variegated Pieris is elegant, showy and the epitome of seasonal. I also have a passion for it’s cousins ‘Flaming Silver’ and ‘Little Heath’. EPIC plants for designing a garden that needs to drop a few visual pounds and lighten up.

'Little Rascal' Holly, Eupatorium 'Chocolate', Carex tesacea and Melianthus
This rich and subtle combination of ‘Little Rascal’ Holly, Orange Sedge, ‘Chocolate’ Eupatorium and Melianthus are a textural dream for the late season. That carex will get more orange, and the holly will get a bit more black just in time for Halloween! ;-)

Ilex c. 'Drops of Gold', 'Redbor' Kale, Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie' I know some designers consider it rather “pedestrian”, but I adore the tall purple ‘Redbor’ Kale for it’s fall and winter richness. And when it is paired with the berry-liscious Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ and Ilex c. ‘Drops of Gold’- stand back!

Osmanthus 'Goshiki' and Miscanthus s. 'Morning Light'
Osmanthus 'Goshiki' Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ is also a favorite for it’s hardiness, slow growth, foliage color and personality. I frequently get clients and customers who wince at the thought of a plant like this and say “Oh no, no prickly plants in my garden!” Then I stick two hands in it and show them it doesn’t bite! Then I say, “Well, if you’re huggin it, you’re doing it wrong.” This plant is SO worth it for the seasonality!

Silver Hellebore and Spruce
Speaking of prickly but worth it! This silver Hellebore is simply striking against the backdrop of this old spruce in the background. Both with a lovely blue-green coloration they each have equally distinct and separate charisma. These two happen to be front and center on a patio, smashing in winter!

Bergenia, Molinia and HelleboreThis Bergenia is nothing fancy in the way of a cutting edge plant, BUT when paired with this Molinia and bed of Hellebore in the background, it is a fall and winter masterpiece of design! So simple, yet effective.

Miscanthus and red Japanese Maple
The subtle coloration of this Miscanthus blooms may have been lost if it were not for the backdrop of the red Japanese Maple in the background.

Euphorbia 'Silver Swan', Hebe 'Quicksilver', 'Tri-Color' Sage, Heuchera 'Green Spice'
I am forever attracted to monochromatic color schemes. I’m not quite sure why the sophistication of it appeals to me SO much! I think the interplay of layering one tone can have so many distinct identities within a small display and depending on the plant combinations, can be changed up to be more powerful or more indirect. For fall and winter though, I think that the cold brings out the drama in these kind of displays.

So, what am I wistful for in next years garden? I “think” I may take out a Ninebark to make way for one of these: Cotinus 'Young Lady' This Smokebush or Cotinus ‘Young Lady’ has captured my heart. Though I think I may hold out for one called ‘Grace’ for her utterly stunning fall foliage in a bright, rich, coral and tealy, blue-green leaves in summer.

How about you? Are you planning your next foliage focus for fall and winter yet?

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