Tag Archives: Garden Design

Ground Cover Collision!

Whether for sun or shade, the last finishing touch most of us plant is our ground cover plants. It’s that ever so important detail that makes a lovely garden design HOLY COW! But, how do you decide which ground covers are going to be best for your light conditions? What if you just simply can’t decide which one neeeeds to come home from the nursery with you? This one or that one, that one or this one?

Sometimes it’s both! If your light conditions, watering needs and soils are in harmony for more than one ground cover, how about a groundcover MASH-UP? A mash-up is when two great things, in our case plants, but it could just as easily be food, music, fabrics, etc. end up snuggling together to make ONE great look, taste or sound. Think peanut butter and chocolate, mint and chocolate, coffee and chocolate, wine and chocolate. Hmmmm, maybe I need chocolate now. ;-)

Acaena 'Purple Haze' with Sedum 'Oreganum' This Sedum oreganum ‘Oregon Stonecrop’ is a wonderful example of a lovely collision with Acaena inermis ‘Purple Sheep’s Burr’ as a flat, hardy and walkable ground cover for light traffic.

Not all ground covers are flat and walkable, some are fluffy and full like this combination of hosta ‘Halcyon’ with ‘Black Scallop’ Ajuga and white variegated Comfrey in the background. The triad of textures and cool colors are lovely in this eastern morning sun exposure.
'Black Scallop' Ajuga, Hosta 'Halcyon' and White Variegated ComfreyThis singular and exotic looking Paris podophylla stands tall above a monochromatic mash-up of ground covers. The hardy Asarum europaeum ‘European wild ginger’ is a glossy textural contrast to the low Adiantum venustum ‘Himalayan maidenhair fern’ in a shady nook.

Paris podophylla, Maidenhair Fern and European GingerWhy not try a ground cover mash-up in your own garden? Snuggle up a plant or two and see what foliage combinations you can create in your very own ground cover collision!

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Lemon and Lime – a Delicious Green Smoothie

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There’s nothing quite like a zesty splash of citrus to wake things up and this great combo by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. certainly does the trick.

To me the most exciting plant - and the inspiration for the color palette is Lunar Glow elephant ears (Bergenia hybrid) with its bold green and yellow splashed, leathery evergreen leaves. In spring, stalks of raspberry-pink flowers punctuate the carpet adding a fun contrast.

if your grandma told you never to mix your patterns – she was wrong! There are another two variegated plants in this group; the wispy Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and in the middle of the photo a Gilt Edge toad lily (Tricyrtis sp.) with a narrow gold margin. Since each of these three leaves offer a unique shape and feel the trio has great visual interest yet the common lemon and lime scheme keeps it from feeling too busy. The bold foliage of a green hosta also helps to tone things down.

Beyond the immediate group a soft fern adds a feathery texture to the mix while the golden leaves of Goldheart bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) add sparkle, their pink dangling heart-shaped flowers repeating the color in the foreground.

This is a fun foliage combo to light up the shade garden. What are you waiting for? Well apart from the snow to melt….)

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New Zealand Sends Fine Foliage to Seattle

New Zealand Garden Are you ready to go on a little adventure walk with me? C’mon, we will go see some amazing foliage! In the summer of 2012, the Arboretum Foundation of Seattle began installation of one small part of a larger puzzle called Pacific Connections; an Eco-geographic display of native flora and fauna from regions such as Cascadia, Australia, China, Chile and New Zealand with similar climate features to our own in the Seattle area.

The phase of the project I’m showing off today is the New Zealand Forest. There is a plethora of wonderfully well written articles to read that will give you some in-depth understanding of what this all entails from the preparation of the site to the plant selection. Here is a piece that is for the plant collectors out there!
I wish that I could give you all of the proper plant names for these shots right now, but unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get them as these shots were taken last fall on a VERY cold day and I was getting numb! The incredible Cistus Nursery outside of Portland Oregon is supplying plants for this exhibit, so you may find the vast majority in this catalog. Here is another resource for plant names as well. As time will allow, I will go back and update some of these names for you, or if you are a Hort-Head like me, feel free to leave a comment with a plant name.

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumThe foliage combinations are really the main focus here anyway. So, take the lesson in use of the colors and textures and apply them to your own climate and design style. The shot above deftly shows this plant with purple stems and silver foliage that bears an almost Holly-like detail on the leaf next to what appears to be an Ilex shrub. The contrast of the two is a blend of wild and refined. I LOVE it!

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumDrought tolerant plants are efficient in the higher elevations of New Zealand as well as in the Seattle area too. You might never imagine that our region can be quite drought ridden at times when we have SUCH a reputation for rain. But, grasses like this beautiful silver Astelia in the foreground are great with sharp drainage. Small leaved plants are also the big winners too as they can handle the heat in summer and deflect rain well in heavy, wet winters.

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumPittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’ is the plant on the right of this photo. I adore the black stems with the white variegation, plus the growth habit is tidy too!

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumTo the left of the rock, different cultivars of Hebes grow in tidy mounds while a Green New Zealand Flax or Phormium stands up tall giving a sword-like foliage texture for them to snuggle against. The ground cover filling in here is the gorgeous ‘Purple Haze’ Acaena, one that I am going to bring into my own garden this season. I love it with the autumn color of the tree in the background.

Acaena 'Purple Haze' is the carpet of groundcover from which this lovely dark Carex grass emerges.

Acaena ‘Purple Haze’ is the carpet of ground cover from which this lovely dark Carex grass emerges.

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumNew Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumAnother elegant example of the Variegated Pittosporum and grass textures together, planted next to the Purple foliage color Pittosporum ‘Atropurpureum’ or Purple Kohuhu.

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumI noticed these in the distance and at first thought they were Rhododendrons, of course they aren’t but, I adore the growth habit of these small trees. This shot is cropped from quite a distance, so I didn’t have the where with all to climb down the small ravine to investigate- but they are BEAUTIFUL!

New Zealand Garden, Seattle ArboretumThe green New Zealand Flax in the “Hebe/Heath” section is such a brilliant textural contrast to the bushy plants in the foreground from the Heath family. The rich, green, upright Heath are perfectly suited for the “Emerald City” as Seattle is known, and the lower bushy ones with a slightly burgundy stem are Hebe.

I hope that you enjoyed our quick little stroll through a garden of foliage that might ordinarily be out of reach for many of us to visit in its native land. The Arboretum Foundation is a doing a masterful job at bringing the world to Seattle in a garden!

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Fine Foliage – What Makes A Spring Sophisticate?

#FineFoliage #Spring SophisicateWhen spring rolls around and we are finally let out of our house to play amongst the plants, we fling ourselves to the garden center and start lolling about the colorful rainbow of flowers. Which ones? Hmmmm, one of each? Yes, Primroses, Pansies, Hyacinths… Yes, you KNOW what’s coming, I have to say it. Ready?

Now repeat after me, “Flowers are fleeting, foliage is forever.” Ahhhhh, now isn’t that better?

A sophisticated container like this that I created for one of my clients is a great alternative to starting out the season with flowers that will only last a short while before the heat of summer is upon us. This shady courtyard entry is dark and contemporary, but I adored the clients choice of the tall, black, column pot for me to create this design.

One of my favorite modern color combinations is ideally suited to this location. Gold or chartreuse and white or white variegation lends itself to coming across as so clean, fresh and textural. I love how the two leaf shapes mirror each other in a way. But, the real star of this container combination is the quirky conifer. I specifically chose it because of its sweet tilt. It gives not only a contrast of texture, but a fresh green distinction from the other palmate shaped leaves.

This refined spring combination will continue to look great well into the growing season. Still think you need a floral based design to feel like its spring? Now repeat after me….. :-)

Key Players:
‘Stoplight’ Foamy Bells, Heucherella- Citrus bold color foliage contrasted with red veins is striking and radiant in the shady nooks and corners of the garden or containers. It’s fluffy foliage stays colorful in part shade to shade from spring to fall. Profuse white flowers are charming in spring and hold for months. 14-16″ tall and wide for zones 4-9

‘Gryphon’ Begonia- Upright, green splashed with silver and white palmate foliage is a full on thriller in a container out in the garden or as a tremendously hardy houseplant. In part shade to shade, it has subtle, blush pink flowers and grows 16-18″ tall and wide for zones 7-11.

Slender Hinoki False Cypress, Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Gracilis’- This graceful, arching branched conifer is a lovely and narrow small-scale tree in a container or garden. Its open branched, pyramidal form is loaded with sophisticated personality with its tiny, deep green needles and bronze winter color. Slow growing in part shade to full sun maxing out at 8-12 ft. tall by 4-5 ft. wide in zones 4-8.

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Lettuce Use Beautiful, Edible Foliage Too

June 2012 Containers 053Team Fine Foliage has been quite active in the arena of discussing, designing and writing about “Foodscaping” lately. Why not? It’s not only a hot, hip, trendy thing that everyone wants to know about right now, but it’s just good sense. It is the most base use of gorgeous edible foliage. Why shouldn’t our edible gardens be every bit as sexy and meaningful as our ornamental gardens? In fact, why can’t we have both at the same time and in the same place if possible, right?
Even with the added bonus of having to deal with the deer and rabbits, our protected areas and raised beds have lots of opportunity to feature gorgeous edible foliage as well as ornamental.

Karen Chapman's beautiful containers seated outside of her Vegetable Garden featuring dark brooding Dahlia foliage on a hot summer day.

Karen Chapman’s beautiful containers seated outside of her Vegetable Garden featuring dark brooding Dahlia foliage on a hot summer day.

Beautiful greens like lettuce and chard are incredibly easy edibles to grow either in beds or containers. There are SO many wonderful cultivars to try like the ‘Bright Lights’ Chard with a rainbow of bright colors running from the veins to the base of the stem. OR the vast selection of lettuce from heirloom to new hybrids and some that boast that they won’t bolt in the heat.
July 2011 Longwood 321

One of the beautiful things about lettuce in particular, when it comes to using it for its lovely design qualities is its flexibility.
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How about in a container of mixed lettuce combined with edible flowers like organically grown violas?
Lettuce Combo Pots 9-15-09 001 copy

Or in a mixed container of ornamental’s and herbs like lemon thyme where you can harvest your lettuce a few leaves at a time while you appreciate your fragrant flowers like jasmine and mini daffodils.
March 2011 Flowers and Foliage 081

Here in Shawna Coronado’s front yard garden, she is using every opportunity to grow her greens in the shade of a few mature trees. You might not think that its possible, but Shawna has had such incredible success, she was able to donate a serious quantity of food to the food bank last summer from it. And it was beautiful too!
Front Lawn Vegetable Garden August 2012 2

Leaves are valuable in design as well as in our new “Foodscaping” culture. Here are two of my favorite resources for lettuce and many other beautiful plants with edible foliage. Both are wonderful companies. I even bought lots of seeds for Christmas gifts last year!
1) Renee’s Garden Seeds
2) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Try growing a number of different types, they are SO incredibly easy. Maybe they will take the place of one or two of the flowers you might have thought of designing with in your garden before Fine Foliage came into your life. :-)

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Take our Jigsaw Challenge!

Old Fashioned smoke bush - what would YOU combine this with?

Old Fashioned smoke bush – what would YOU combine this with?

Do you like puzzles? I love the thrill of clicking that final piece into place to complete the picture. Yet it often takes many attempts of trial and error, substituting first one then another candidate, (admittedly even trying for force the occasional piece into place, convinced it must be right)  before I achieve success.

Christina and I had the honor of presenting a talk to the Northwest Horticultural Society last week and the title of our presentation was Dynamic Duo – the foliage edition where we showed what two very distinct personalities can come up with! We gave each other a series of key plants and challenged one another to see what other foliage plants we would pair it with to create a perfect picture. Well judging by the wonderful comments we are continuing to receive the audience had lots of fun -but so did we! There’s nothing quite like being challenged to stretch yourself and consider the myriad of possibilities. Unlike jigsaw puzzles there are many ways to create a stunning combination if you know what clues to look for. Not everything will work but it is so much fun to find the plants that look stunning together and reflect your unique style.

I thought you might enjoy seeing a couple of our completed puzzles and then it will be YOUR turn if you dare to take the challenge!

Challenge 1 –  Orange Rocket barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’)

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The clue – rich rosy foliage on bright red stems

Option 1

Design credit; Mitch Evans

Design credit; Mitch Evans

Neither of us can take credit for this remarkable spring combination – it is the work of designer Mitch Evans, Redmond, WA

The jigsaw pieces

1. Itoh peony (bronze leaf)

2. Blue Nest spruce (Picea mariana ‘Ericoides’) in the foreground

Whey they fit together so well

The emerging peony foliage is a striking bronze color and brings out the smoky tones in the barberry leaf as well as drawing our attention to the stems of the spruce which might otherwise go unnoticed. Additionally each leaf is a different shape giving great textural contrast.

The overall picture has a strong, masculine and contemporary feel with its unusual color scheme

Light conditions; full sun

Option 2

barberry collage CSChristina took a flirtatious approach! In fact we both had lots of fun with our collage approach to designing with foliage  - no boundaries to hold us back!

The jigsaw pieces

Clockwise from 12 o’clock

1. Rue (Ruta graveolens) ;this can be a serious skin irritant, especially in warm weather

2. Ivory Coast bromeliad

3. Big Red Judy coleus – or as Christina would call it “The trucker-chick of the coleus world”

4. Cirrus dusty miller (Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’)

Why they fit together so well

Soft and velvety, sharp and spiky – this combo is a textural extravaganza. Each leaf shape varies in size and shape yet the repetition of red tones between three of the pieces brings a sense of unity. Likewise the silvery dusty miller and soft green rue play off the colors in the tropical looking bromeliad which is definitely the star of this combo with its wildly striped leaves. (The magenta flower of  ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth is ‘photo-bombing’ and has nothing to do with the bromeliad other than getting in the way, although it does lend a fun punch!)

Light conditions; Full morning sun with some afternoon protection

Challenge 2 – James Stirling hebe (Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling)

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The clue

Olive green, conifer-like foliage. (The funny thing is that neither of us liked this until we started using it!)

Option 1

hebe collage

Design by Christina

A classic case of  throwing leftovers in a pot and being surprised that the results actually work. Yes sometimes it  does pay to see if those unusual pieces do in fact fit together.

The jigsaw pieces

Smaller photo

1. Needle-like silver foliage of the Icicles licorice plant (Helichrysum thianschanicum ‘Icicles’)

,2. Silver Dollar hellebore (Helleborus ‘Silver Dollar); larger blue toned foliage with dusky pink flower

Larger photo

3. Golden sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’); yellow grass

4. Rainbow leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’); variegated leaf

5. Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star); blue conifer

Why they fit together so well

Adding bright yellow to the drab olive green hebe immediately brightens things up. Three plants bring in silvery-blue tones yet each has a different texture both in leaf shape and feel; the dual aspects of ‘texture’. Finally the variegated leucothoe adds a little sparkle with creamy white, while the soft greens tie into the hebe and rich burgundy introduces a new color to play with.

This is a step away from the more typical color schemes  - dare to try something different!

Light conditions; this took a surprising amount of sun – place it so that the leucothoe and hellebore get a little dappled shade in the hottest part of the day.

Option 2

My response to the challenge!

My response to the challenge!

The jigsaw pieces

Left to right

1. Golden Ruby salmon berry (Rubus  spectabilis ‘Golden Ruby’)

2. Tropicanna canna

3. Spitfire coleus

Whey they fit together so well

What Christina called ‘olive green’ I think more of ‘dirty mustard’! However I recalled experimenting with a coleus a few years back with a similar color handicap (Orange King)) and discovered this this Spitfire coleus gave a nod to that color while bringing in a refreshing blast of crushed raspberry. Phew!

From there it was easy as I took inspiration from the great combo on the left, photographed in the display gardens at Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. The golden yellow salmon berry adds a highlight (Christina did the same thing with her grass) and the huge  canna leaves take the coleus color to a whole new level. In fact I liked this so much I may try it this summer.

Light conditions; full sun (Spitfire coleus was fabulous in my sun drenched pots)

Your challenge!

Go back to our first photo of the gorgeous Old Fashioned smoke bush (Cotinus x coggygria ‘Old Fashioned’) – isn’t that just leafy-licious?

Clue

Blue-green foliage with rosy veins and stems. The new growth is also tinted with warm shades of rose.

What jigsaw pieces would you add and why? Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page (you can add a photo there too is you like). We can’t wait to hear from you!

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New Leaves for 2014

As seed catalogs replace Christmas cards in the mailbox the planning begins! Although I am always ready for a break from regular weeding and hoeing by October it never seems to dampen the giddy excitement as I consider those glossy photographs and ponder my choices for the New Year. Yet those catalogs only show you a few of the new offerings and rarely focus on cool new foliage plants so we thought we’d share some with you here. Start your 2014 foliage wish list!

Sunjoy® Tangelo barberry (Berberis th. ‘Sunjoy Tangelo’)

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Late season color. Photo credit; Proven Winners

I know barberries are listed as invasive in many States so for those of you who cannot – or prefer not to grow this shrub just skip ahead!

Before I moved to my deer-plagued garden I had little interest in these thorny shrubs but I have since completely changed my tune. I can rely on these in less than favorable circumstances AND their wide range of foliage colors offers the potential for endless new combinations.

So what’s special about this one? Bright and cheery, this new barberry has tangy orange foliage that is often accentuated by a distinctive chartreuse margin. Stronger growing than other variegated cultivars, it is a medium-sized shrub to 4′ wide and tall. Like all barberries it needs full sun for the best color and is drought tolerant once established. Hardy in zones 4a-8b.

Foliage combination ideas

Try underplanting this with Lemon Fizz lavender cotton (Santolina virens) to pick up on those bright green margins. Alternatively Ogon spirea (Spiraea th. ‘Ogon’) has finely textured foliage also in a golden-yellow that turns orange in fall. Since this grows to the same size as the barberry they would make quite the fiery duo!

Glow Girl™ Birchleaf Spirea (Spiraea sp.)

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Spring flowers and foliage

My love affair with spirea has grown for much the same reason as it has with barberries – they come in fun colors and are both deer resistant and drought tolerant. I’ve never been terribly partial to the pink flowers on chartreuse varieties, however, so Glow Girl grabbed my attention thanks to its vivid lime green leaves and white flowers which give the shrub a wonderful fresh appearance.

Glow Girl holds its color well and doesn’t burn in the summer. Since it also offers great fall color this is a true three-season shrub.

Fall color is equally lovely. Photo credit; Proven Winners

Fall color is equally lovely.

At 3-4′ tall and wide this spirea is well suited to the middle of the border where it will be happy in part or full sun. It tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions and is hardy in zones 3a-9b. Whats’ not to love?!

Foliage combination ideas

Pair this with the fluffy silver foliage of Silver Mound wormwood (Artemisia schmidtiana) in sunny, dry spots or if you have part shade and moisture retentive soils the evergreen autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) would bring shades of copper to the display.

Tiny Wine™ Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolious)

A new option for dark foliage. Photo credit; Proven Winners

A new option for dark foliage.

Christina and I both love  ninebarks and have enjoyed using the dwarf ‘Little Devil‘ in container designs where its rich chocolate leaves add excitement to pink, orange or yellow companions. Here is a new introduction for 2014 which promise to be more petite still at 3-4′ tall and wide with a good upright habit.

Tiny Wine appears to be bushier and to have smaller leaves than Little Devil too resulting in a shrub that appears to be more balanced in scale. Even though we are most interested in the foliage we have to concede that the flower show is exceptional, with dainty flowers blooming up and down each stem in late spring.

Attractive flower buds, blooms and seed heads add to the diplay

Attractive flower buds, blooms and seed heads add to the display

Ninebarks are tolerant of many soil types, do well in full sun or part shade and are hardy in zones 3a-7b.

Foliage combination ideas

For a three season combo the variegated pink foliage of My Monet weigela (Weigela florida) would echo the ninebark flowers in spring while creating an artistic medley for summer and fall.

Anna’s Magic Ball™ Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

 
What a cutie!

What a cutie!

I had the pleasure of testing this in my garden and just loved its puffball demeanor. Even after weeks of low temperatures and hard frost this golden ball shines. I use dwarf conifers a lot in containers but there are relatively few that stay small – this one fills that role nicely with its mature size being listed as 10-15″.

Average water and  average soil makes this an easy care conifer for zones 3a-7b. Definitely one to look out for in 2014.

Foliage combination ideas

Blue and gold make great color partners so I might try this with the low growing Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) or the striking Beyond Blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca ‘Beyond Blue’).

Wild Romance hebe (Hebe hybrid)

A new hebe to look for

A new hebe to look for

Just look at those leaves! Dark green foliage turns to deep burgundy at the end of each stem in winter and spring, mellowing to a lighter red in summer. For those who want flowers you will enjoy the purple display in early summer.

The leaves are smaller than many variegated hebe resulting in a more delicate appearance. When grown as an evergreen shrub it will reach 24-30″ tall and wide but I would expect half that when grown as a summer annual

Hebe are drought tolerant, deer resistant and prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Wild Romance is hardy in zones 7b-9a – enjoy it as an annual elsewhere

Foliage Combination ideas

I would look for bolder foliage companions such as the dark, fleshy rosettes of black rose (Aeonium arboreum var. atropurpureum ‘Zwartkop’) and one of the chartreuse sweet potato vines for an easy container combo perhaps throwing in some of the sun-tolerant hot orange Spitfire coleus for drama.

Which new introductions are you going to try this year? Do leave a comment below or on our Facebook page to tell us.

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Freeze-Thaw Survivors….or Last Grass Standing

We have finally thawed out here in Seattle after a week of Tundra-like conditions. Well OK compared to those of you who live in Boston or Alaska this is probably still balmy but my plants didn’t think so.

Just a short while ago my gently frost-kissed garden looked like this;

IMG_0186Today after a week of temperatures struggling to get out of their 20′s it looks more like this;

Not quite Fine Foliage is it?

Not quite Fine Foliage is it?

So I decided to go out into the garden and see what looked as good after our deep freeze as it did last summer. To make the challenge harder I was specifically looking for evergreen grasses that still looked great.

The results are in! Here are the best of the best in my zone 6b garden and in the interest of full disclosure no cheating took place – all these images were taken December 16th on a cold, grey day.

Sirocco pheasant tail grass (Stipa arundinacea ‘Sirocco’)

Sirocco pheasant tail grass keeps its bright coppery tones all winter

Sirocco pheasant tail grass keeps its bright coppery tones all winter

This grass has been a trouper since the day I tucked a 4″ pot into the corner of a container a few years ago. Regardless of hot sun or freezing cold this grass hasn’t missed a beat. Many evergreen grasses need at least a little trimming each spring but not Sirocco which seems to be truly maintenance free

I transplanted this into a well drained part of the garden in fall where I’m enjoying it near this mossy Exbury azalea. In spring the azalea will explode with fragrant, golden blooms, each tinged with deep red – what a spectacle that will be!

The details

Hardiness; reports vary but USDA zones 4-9 are generally cited.

Size; the three year old plant above is 2′ tall and 3′ or so wide.

Light; full sun to light shade

Water; average

Note; I also have the regular pheasant tail grass and while it is still thriving Sirocco is more colorful.

Ice dance Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’)

Ice Dance Japanese sedge is a reliable performer

Ice Dance Japanese sedge is a reliable performer

While this grass-like plant does have a desire for world domination, it can be a very useful evergreen groundcover for tricky areas. Here I let it edge a large border which can get waterlogged during the winter yet never gets watered at all in summer.  It is also a major deer highway so I am thankful that grasses do not seem to be on their menu and that Ice Dance can cope with being trampled on.

I wouldn’t use this in a highly visible area as the tips of the blades often turn brown and need trimming away in spring- a chore I can choose to ignore in this more distant border. Ice Dance spreads rapidly by underground stems which makes it unsuitable for small spaces. Also to keep it looking its best the clumps need dividing every few years so this is not a low maintenance choice.

Having said that just look at how much it adds to the winter garden. The bright green blades are edged with crisp white margins, each clump mounding nicely.

The details

Hardiness; zones 5-9

Size; 12″ tall x 2′ wide but spreads indefinitely

Water; avergage to moist

Light; prefers afternoon shade

Golden variegated sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’)

Fan shaped yellow blades look this good all year

Fan shaped yellow blades look this good all year

The rather waterlogged purple Heuchera betrays the recent weather conditions but otherwise this photo could easily have been taken in June. The sunny-yellow sweet flag brightens up the winter garden and is completely unfazed by cold weather. It is a great addition to containers where I let the foliage fan outwards to soften the pot edges. In the landscape it associates well with large mossy boulders or as part of a water garden since it thrives in wet soil.

This is a ‘clumper’ rather than a spreader so grows relatively slowly.

The details

Hardiness; zones 5-11

Size; 10′ tall and 18″ wide

Water; average to high

Light; prefers light shade – may bleach in full sun

Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima)

Mexican feather grass after the freeze

Mexican feather grass after the freeze

Invasive in some states and a fairly prolific self seeder in others Mexican feather grass is not for everyone. In my garden it doesn’t make a nuisance of itself so I can enjoy the wispy texture year round. Soft green blades and tufty white seedheads are fun to place near something sharp or spiky as contrast. Here you can see a Feeling Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’) to one side which has deceptively prickly needles.

After torrential rain this grass can lay low for while but quickly fluffs up as it dries. The freezing weather does not seem to have affected it at all.

In spring I run my fingers through the clumps to tease out any dried material. If it starts to look really matted I grasp it in a ponytail and trim it down to 8″. It quickly regrows and looks fresh again.

The details

Hardiness; 6-10

Size; 2′ tall and wide

Water; low

Light; full sun or part shade

Variegated woodrush (Luzula sylvatica ‘Variegata’)

An under-utilized grass that thrives in dry shade

An under-utilized grass that thrives in dry shade

At first glance this looks just like Ice dance Japanese sedge shown above but it has quite different characteristics. This tough evergreen grass thrives in dry shade where so many other plants struggle. The fuzzy brown seedheads in spring  add another layer of interest.

Woodrush looks perfect in a woodland setting – I have let mine colonize under towering Douglas fir trees where it receives only dappled light for a few hours each day in summer. Hellebores, ferns and Japanese maples make great foliage partners. The clumps can be lifted and divided if you wish to propagate  them but unlike the sedge, woodrush will not deteriorate if you choose not to do so.

The details

Hardiness; zones 6-9

Size; 12″ tall x 18″ wide

Water; low

Light; full shade, part shade.

Other good performers

I grow several other evergreen grasses in my garden which are worth mentioning.

Beyond Blue fescue grass

Beyond Blue fescue grass

Beyond Blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Beyond Blue’) – 2′ mounds of ice blue foliage. Unlike the paler ‘Elijahs Blue’, this cultivar keeps its intense color without browning. I’m fighting the rabbits over this one! I may need to move it into a container.

Orange hair sedge

Orange hair sedge

Orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) – wispy arching blades of olive green tipped in orange make this a fall and winter favorite. I have had mixed results with these in winter but the plants that are in my garden today are stunning, even after three years. A great addition for containers or gardens in full sun or light shade.

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One of the many tall, brown-toned sedges

Assorted sedges (Carex sp.) – there are many brown-toned sedges available from ‘Red Rooster’ to ‘Toffee Twist’ and ‘Cappuccino’. All do well in winter here.

 

What evergreen grasses do you grow that look equally good all year?

 

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Frosted Fine Foliage

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It’s that time of year to reach for your woolly sweaters and furry slippers; unless you live in balmy Arizona of course. Here in Seattle we had our first frost this past week as well as a significant windstorm. Two big Douglas fir trees came down in our forest, a huge chunk of one of our ornamental pear trees snapped off (thankfully without doing damage to the nearby Japanese maples) and many previously beautiful fall trees were left naked. Is this the end of our leafy love affair you ask? NO! A well designed garden always has beautiful foliage to offer, even when frosted. Take a walk through the garden with me and see what I mean.

1. Conifers, deciduous trees, grasses and seed heads offer the perfect stage for Jack Frost to play.

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As I dashed outside with my camera the sun was just beginning to peek over the trees. Such magical lighting is ephemeral but I was able to capture the frozen grasses and seed heads before the suns rays melted the icy jewels.

2. Frost can add a new texture to the garden

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Conifers add a bold stroke to the border yet when dusted with frost this Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’) has a delicate quality.

3. Fleeting beauty; anticipation and appreciation

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Just hours after this photo was taken the last of the golden spirea leaves dropped to the ground. Combined with softly textured yet frozen grasses such as this Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) this just says ‘autumn’ to me.

4. Rich colors are even more stunning when dusted with ice

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This Exbury azalea is a head turner in spring with its golden yellow, fragrant blooms. Yet I wonder if I prefer this time of year since the fiery fall color lasts for many weeks and is even more striking when etched with frost.

Just because many trees and shrubs have now lost their leaves doesn’t mean your garden should be lacking in interest. A good balance of  conifers, broad leaf evergreens, deciduous trees, perennials and grasses will have you celebrating the new season and exploring new ways to design with foliage.

Denver Botanic Garden

Denver Botanic Garden

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Big Picture Foliage Color

IMG_4646We are so fortunate to live in the Northwest with an abundance of Japanese maples to ogle every year in four seasons. This week, I went to the Washington Park Arboretum to enjoy the fall colors and get design ideas. For this particular weeks blog post, if you can take the ideas here and springboard from the maples to whatever shrub or tree that is appropriate to your own particular climate, you will get the most out of it.

I would like you to take a look at the size and shape of the plants in relationship to one another and how the layers of vivid color show the foliage at its finest. The focal point Weeping Japanese Maple in the photo above could be many gold foliage colored shrubs, evergreen OR deciduous. With this thoughtful planning, it is a BOLD autumn statement with the orange and fiery coral trees in the background.

IMG_4669We tend to rely on gold foliage a lot in our predominantly gray, mild climate in the Northwest. This example of a gold Weeping Birch defines the form even better as it loses its leaves, but the supporting players in this big picture vignette are as vibrant as ever. Check out the layers of color!

IMG_4693This spectacular Oxydendrum or Sourwood tree with its dangly white seed-heads from summer blooms is the Matriarch in this scene. The red and gold Japanese maples in the foreground are certainly showing off as youngsters will, but SHE always has the upper hand in this grouping, she is only just beginning to strut her stuff!

IMG_4723A giant blue-green Sequoia positively dwarfs this fall gold Horse Chestnut tree. Now, THAT is long-term thinking for color and layering in the landscape right there!

IMG_4748I was positively entranced when I came around the corner to see this Stewartia Monodelpha. It was the only tree of color in the whole area and the burgundy/red foliage with the russet red bark were the height of elegance against an entirely green backdrop.

IMG_4863This picture in the Washington Park Arboretum Japanese Garden was one that illustrated the point this week best I think. The two amazingly citrus yellow Ginkgo trees and one lime green, side by side amongst the layers of cedar, spruce, pines and maples are stand-out examples of my point.

IMG_4876Think about the bigger picture when planning out your trees and shrubs. If you have the luxury of thinking long-term for your landscape, or even if you won’t be living with your current garden years from now, think of the next gardener to enjoy it, and try to keep in mind how amazing your fall color can be with the large-scale foliage color layers. This is a skill that will come in handy during the hot, sexy rush of spring planting.

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