Tag Archives: shrub

The Blushing Beauties of the Spring Garden

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Many Japanese maples exhibit beautiful spring color

We expect the color blast in our spring garden to come from flowers – daffodils, tulips, bleeding heart and primroses  are just a few I am enjoying in my own garden right now. But have you noticed all the colorful foliage – and its not just that fresh shade of green we have been coveting all winter.

The leaves of many perennials, shrubs and trees display warm shades of copper, rose and burgundy as they unfurl even if they mature to green or yellow.

Double Play Gold spirea

Double Play Gold spirea

Double Play Gold spirea (Spirea japonica

Perhaps the best known shrubs for warming the early spring garden this way are the birchleaf spirea. I have several groups of the one shown here and they create a striking splash of color, especially when seen against a backdrop of evergreens. The foliage will eventually transition to a warm gold but it will continue to produce copper colored new growth all summer (mainly because the deer keep deadheading the shrubs….)

if you only want to treat yourself to one shrub this spring make it a spirea. Better still get three. Or five.

The new growth of peonies reminds me of hands closed in prayer

The new growth of peonies reminds me of interlaced fingers

Peonies

I was fortunate to find several peonies in our garden when we moved here but as is usually the case I have no idea what varieties they are. Regardless, I have some with deep pink flowers with gorgeous burgundy toned leaves and others with softer pink blooms and a bronze-green leaf. It is the latter peony that is pictured here and I was fascinated to notice the two-tone color as the leaves were slowly unfolding. So pretty.

Red barrenwort - also known as Bishop's hat in the UK

Red barrenwort – also known as Bishop’s hat in the UK

Red barrenwort (Epimedium rubrum)

This may be one of the most common barrenwort but every year I look forward to the intense spring color on the heart shaped leaves.

The flowers emerge in March and as dainty as they are, after just a few weeks they are spent. That’s when the new colorful foliage quickly fills in to create mounds of these luscious leaves. Stunning.

Many of the orange-toned Heuchera have vibrant new growth in spring

Many of the orange-toned Heuchera have vibrant new growth in spring

Coral bells (Heuchera)

I think the hybrid shown above is Caramel but many of the warm colored coral bells have similar spring colors e.g. Peach Flambe, Creme Brulee and Marmalade. The layers of spring color are totally delicious!

Jade Frost sea holly

Jade Frost sea holly

Jade Frost sea holly (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’)

This drought tolerant perennial has a more delicate blush than the others I have shared, the pretty pink margins only being really noticeable in cooler weather – both spring and fall.

Summer will bring spires of blue and white teasel-like flowers but as is always the case it is the foliage that spans the seasons.

What are your favorite spring plants that bring a warm glow to the garden?

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Four Season Fabulosity!

IMG_0585I’m a lazy gardener – or at least I prefer to choose how much work to do rather than feeling overwhelmed by a ‘to do’ list. I suspect I’m not alone…………..

So here is a container for you that looks this good ALL YEAR! This would be a perfect combo on a shady porch where you can enjoy the lush foliage and see the seasonal changes. That’s right – even though all the plants here are evergreen they all change in some way during the year, either in color or because they have flowers. See the plant profiles below to see how they strut their stuff.

Clockwise from top;

Paprika coral bells (Heuchera) – spicy round leaves add a punch of heat to this combo. White flowers in spring combine with extra hot colors for a show stopping display. Zones 4-9

Silver dragon lily turf (Liriope spicata ‘Silver Dragon’) – an underused grassy plant with attractive green and yellow variegated leaves. This is a wonderful evergreen plant for the shade, a bonus being spikes of blue flowers in summer. Approx 12″ high and spreads slowly to form clumps 18″ wide. Zones 6-11

Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) – this jet black grass is a favorite of ours for giving a sophisticated touch. It has lilac flowers in spring followed by black berries. Love it! Zones 5-10. to 6″ tall and spreads slowly in clumps

Lime rickey coral bells (Heuchera) – there’s nothing quite like a splash of chartreuse to wake things up and this coral bells does just that. Clouds of little white flowers in spring add sparkle. To 18″ tall and wide. Zones 4-9

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) – although mostly green in this photo this fern gets the most glorious coppery shades on the new fronds and despite its name produces these almost year round. Can’t have enough of these in my shade garden! To 3′ x 3′ but enjoy in containers while smaller. Zones 5-9

Rainbow drooping fetterbush (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’) – a mouthful of a name for a pretty variegated plant. Marbled shades of cream, green and pink intensify to deep burgundy in winter – can you imagine how fabulous that looks with the chartreuse?! Deer resistant, drought tolerant and low maintenance – my kind of plant. Zones 5-9. to 3′ tall and wide or greater but can be clipped to keep small.

Mikawa Yatsubusa Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’) – a very special dwarf Japanese maple whose leaves overlap one another like shingles on a roof. Spring color is light green fading to mid green. In fall the foliage turns golden orange with burgundy tips (This photo was taken in October, just as the fall tints were beginning to develop). Smooth green bark adds winter interest. Great for bonsai. To 4′ tall in a container. Zones 5-9

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Fine Fragrant Foliage

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

It is usually the intricate shape or fabulous color of a leaf which make us scramble over rocks or slither under bushes to get the perfect shot of fabulous foliage for you.

Yet there is another attribute that we often forget to mention – that of fragrance. The leaves of many trees, shrubs and perennials release a scent when brushed or bruised and while this may be impossible to capture in a juicy photograph these plants have something beyond their good looks to offer the designer and homeowner alike.

Of course not all garden aromas are desirable! One of my lecturers insists that boxwood smells like cat pee (!) and that Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) is little better. I can’t say that I find them offensive but I certainly don’t use boxwood for its fragrance.

I am interested in leaves that have it all – good looks and a pleasant fragrance. As a bonus many of these plants are deer resistant and usually pest free. My design mantra is that gardens should be experienced and not just observed and that means involving all the senses not just sight. Let’s look for leaves that can be explored with the finger tips, taste buds and nose as well as having exceptional good looks! Here are a few of my favorites.

Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

This is an elegant slim conifer that typically grows 40-60′ tall yet only 8-10′ wide. Native to the western United States it is hardy to zone 5 yet is not found in many home gardens. Although not a true cedar it does have a cedar-like fragrance both from the crushed foliage and the resin. Where privacy is needed this may be a better choice than the ubiquitous arborvitae.  It also keeps a healthy dark green color throughout the year.

Goldcrest Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’)

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

Bright chartreuse foliage makes this slender conifer an easy winner for landscapes and containers but what makes it extra-special is the heady citrus scent that is released when the foliage is touched. Pair this with deep purple spurge (Euphorbia hyb.) for a bold backdrop to orange foliage and flowers. Or keep a crisp contemporary look by adding silver and white.

This dwarf beauty is hardy in zones 7-10 where it will grow 6-8′ tall and 2′ wide.

Lavender sp. (Lavandula)

It's not JUST about the flowers

It’s not JUST about the flowers!

When I worked in a nursery I would find every excuse to  walk by the lavender display and casually brush my fingers through the highly aromatic foliage! Somehow that heady fragrance would make me slow down, breathe in deeply and relax – which is why of course it is so popular as an essential oil in aromatherapy.

There are many species, hybrids and colors of both flowers and foliage as well as variability in the hardiness. They all need full sun and exceptionally well drained soil – ask at your local independent garden center for advice on those best suited to your area. Is any garden really complete without at least one lavender plant?

Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Tough, evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant – four reasons to look for this silvery-grey leaved shrub. Yellow button flowers in summer are a bonus. It may need whacking back every couple of years to stop it getting too leggy but if like me you have some areas that need bullet proof plants check this out.

The fragrance is hard to describe – somewhat medicinal but not in a bad way!

At 1-3′ tall and wide it can be used to edge herb gardens and pathways or set as an informal evergreen groundcover. See it paired with Blue Shag pine at the start of this post and read about the beautiful combo (“Easy on the Eyes’) on pages 62-63 of Fine Foliage

Fuzzy fragrant foliage - meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Fuzzy fragrant foliage – meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Last summer I discovered its relative Lemon Fizz lavender cotton (Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’). This was an outstanding tender perennial with bright chartreuse foliage forming tidy cushions and smelling of pine. I’m definitely getting more next year.

Catmint (Nepeta sp.)

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

My first introduction to this herbaceous perennial was the variety Six Hills Giant which I allowed to scramble at the base of climbing roses in my English garden. Soft grey leaves were topped with blue summer flowers all of which exuded a wonderful herbal smell.

Today I favor Walker’s Low which despite its name is not a dwarf variety but rather takes its name from of the garden where it was originally found. Although it is less straggly than Six Hills Giant I still shear it back by half in early summer – within two weeks it  bounces back into a tidy cushion.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight is a newer introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. with attractive lemon and lime foliage – watch out for this one.

Hyssop (Agastache sp.)

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral colored haze of Apricot Sunrise  fills a container in the background

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral haze of Apricot Sunrise fills a container in the background

The foliage of this perennial is somewhat reminiscent of  catmint although the habit is typically more upright. There are many varieties available today with heights ranging from the dwarf Apricot Sprite to the much taller Blue Fortune. Flower colors range from blue to orange and pink and they all attract hummingbirds which get positively giddy with excitement. Even without the flowers this is an easy plant to enjoy in the garden for the drought tolerant, deer resistant foliage alone. I have grown Apricot Sprite as the centerpiece of a succulent hanging basket, as well as in containers and the garden.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) – while it does smell like curry it is not recommended for eating and does not in fact taste like curry at all. At first glance you might mistake this for lavender since the foliage is almost identical but the small yellow flowers are quite different.

I love the texture of this perennial (hardy in zones 8-11) and it is fun to include in designs as a talking point for garden visitors.

Other favorites

  • Rosemary, sage, mint, thyme and lemon verbena all assault the senses with their aromatic leaves as do so many other culinary herbs
  • Wormwood (Artemisia sp.) comes in many shapes and sizes some better behaved than others! My personal favorite is Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’) featured in our book (Purple Waves, p52) This is another plant whose fragrance is rather hard to describe – somewhat musky yet medicinal. Not unpleasant yet perhaps not one you would want in great quantities.
  • Scented geraniums and citronella for keeping those pesky mosquitoes away!

What’s your favorite fragrant foliage?

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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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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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The Art of Layering

IMG_0486Both Christina and I design container gardens as part of our businesses. We love what we do and we do something different every time! I was asked once if I ever got stuck for ideas and to be honest I never have. You see even if I find myself reaching for a few of my favorite plants (again) I know I’ll combine them in new ways. But there’s another design layer to consider; the context.

You see the container design is not an isolated entity but rather is part of a larger scene. Whether on a front porch or set within a vast garden, we have the opportunity to establish a relationship between the container garden and its surroundings.

That really came home to me as I watched noted photographer David Perry at a photo shoot in my garden recently. I had been asked to design ten containers for a national magazine that will be published next summer. To appeal to a wide readership I intentionally used a fun mix of colors, plant palettes and styles. Color schemes ran from sleek black and silver to hot pink, blue and lime – something for everyone.

But for them to be shown at their best, we needed to find suitable backdrops for each of the containers to be photographed. This is where I saw David really work his magic. He knew just how to place each pot to transform it from a humble collection of plants into the focal point of a beautiful painting. It was all about context.

Now of course I can’t show you those designs yet but I can share this one with you that I created afterwards.

Taking my cues from the plants in the container I looked for a backdrop that would echo the key foliage colors; yellow, pink-coral, grey-blue and a hint of burgundy-purple. Yet I needed to be sure that the garden setting wasn’t a distraction.

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My initial idea was to set the container on a pathway with a froth of feathery Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrechtii) behind to really show off the dark stems of the Scallywag holly (Ilex x meserveae ‘Scallywag’).  The bright lemon groundcover is the annual Lemon licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) which despite being mid-October is still going strong. The color and texture contrast worked well. Yet I knew it could be better so I took a step back. (Thank you David for reminding me I can move!)

IMG_0482This seemed to work better. The overall scene is more complex but the inclusion of the big mossy boulder on the left provided a great counterpoint to the fluffy foliage and now the container was set within the context of a frame rather than just being in the foreground. But what about the bigger picture? This time I zoomed out and moved slightly to the right

IMG_0486Now we are back to the opening photograph and you can see the context of the container within the garden and the beautiful layering of foliage colors and textures from front to back. The purple smoke bush (Cotinus x ‘Grace’) echoes the purple, blue and pink tones within the shallow pot, while the golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’) shimmering in the distance, the feathery Arkansas blue star and the Lemon licorice plant all play off the the similarly colored foliage  tucked into the container.

Experiment with your container placement at home. Look for great foliage in your garden to provide context for your design. As you enjoy our blog you’ll see this principle at work over and over – now you know the secret.

Plants used

Scallywag holly, Fire Alarm Heuchera, Blue Star juniper, variegated ivy, variegated hebe, Olivia St. Johns wort (berries), Rheingold arborvitae (the small, mounding goldenconifer behind the berries)

Cultural conditions i.e. how not to kill it

This combination will take full sun and is mostly winter hardy. (In milder areas of Seattle the hebe will remain evergreen  although I expect I’m a bit too cold in Duvall). The list. John’s wort will lose its leaves, and eventually its berries too but it will grow back next year. I have spring bulbs tucked underneath which will add color in the meantime. Just be sure the potting soil drains well and that the drainage holes on the pot aren’t blocked (unless you want a water feature).

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Evergreens that aren’t Ever Green

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae has orange tips when the weather gets colder

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae has orange tips when the weather gets colder

We are all know that  most deciduous trees change color in fall but did you know that certain evergreens do too? When we notice these seasonal details we have the opportunity to create new combinations that highlight them – and that’s what Fine Foliage is all about!

Here are a few of my favorites;

1, Little Heath andromeda (Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’)

Little Heath andromeda changes from green/white to green/pink

Little Heath andromeda changes from green/white to green/pink

This is a true four season shrub. Its  pretty green and white variegated leaves have pink new growth in spring, white flowers which often persist into summer and then the foliage takes on a wintry blush as temperatures drop. I use them in containers and landscape design – I’m sure you have room for at least one.

To see this in a great spring combination enjoy Damp and Dramatic on page 84-85 in Fine Foliage.

Plant details

Size; 3′ x 3′

Light; part shade, part sun

Soil; moisture retentive

Zones; 5-9

2. Blue Surprise Port Orchard cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Surprise’)

Blue Surprise Lawson's cypress is typically a rich steel blue but in cold weather will add tints of burgundy

Blue Surprise Port Orchard cedar is typically a rich steel blue but in cold weather will add tints of purple

The surprise here is that the steel blue foliage takes on a purple cast in fall and winter! This Port Orchard cedar need good drainage to avoid fungal disease and rot but Monrovia has now grafted this onto disease resistant rootstock as part of their Guardian series so they are far less temperamental. I love this columnar conifer in containers when young before transplanting it to the landscape as a stunning exclamation point.

Plant details

Size; 8′ x 3′, possibly taller

Light; Full sun

Soil; well drained but moisture retentive

Zones; 6-9

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

Rainbow drooping leuothoe in its fall/winter color - wow!

Rainbow drooping leuothoe in its fall/winter color – wow!

Deer resistant, drought tolerant and as tough as old boots – three reasons why I include it in shady containers and gardens but that’s not all. White spring flowers and striking multicolored leaves which turn scarlet in fall and winter turn this into a real garden workhorse. In some years I have found it prone to fungal spot (seen as purple spots on the leaves) but I give it a good haircut in spring and it bounces back just fine.

Plant details

Size; To 5′ tall and wide but can be pruned easily

Light; part shade, shade

Soil; drought tolerant once established

Zones; 5-9

4. Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’)

When young Forever Goldie is a perfect container candidate. It's summer color goes through gold to chartreuse

When young Forever Goldie is a perfect container candidate. It’s summer color goes through gold to chartreuse

Probably my favorite golden conifer, this is a beacon in my garden throughout the year combining with the blue-purple leaves of Grace smoke bush during spring, summer and fall before becoming a solo artist in winter. To add to its cold season glory the golden foliage takes on coppery-orange tints – stunning. This is usually available as a 1g or 2g plant so once again is a perfect container candidate until it needs a bit more root room. See the leading photograph for its fall/winter color.

Plant details

Size; 15-20′ x 3′

Light; full sun

Soil; average

Zones; 3-7

Other favorites?

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica cvs.) – see A Three-Leaf Trifecta in Fine Foliage (pages 6-7)

Many heathers e.g. Firefly and Winter Chocolate – see Strawberries and Chocolate in Fine Foliage (p 68-69)

Many golden pines e.g. Louie and Winter Gold

Wintercreeper (Euonymus forunei) e.g. Emerald Gaiety and Emerald and Gold which both get pink tips,

What’s your favorite?

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Top 5 Scrumptious Shrubs for Lazy Gardeners

I’m a keen gardener but I’m also a lazy gardener. How does that work? I like to play in the garden rather than be a slave to it so my landscape designs rely heavily on easy care, no-fuss shrubs with outstanding foliage.

To earn their place in my garden they have to be drought tolerant, deer resistant, disease free and not require staking, feeding or pruning. Bonus marks if they have four season interest! A Tough order? You bet!

Here are the winners that meet ALL those criteria!

Spirea (Spiraea japonica cultivars)

Many spirea have this gorgeous copper color in spring

Many spirea have this gorgeous copper color in spring as well as great fall color

There are lots of reasons to love spirea – drought tolerance, copper color in spring, rosy new growth, great fall color. My favorite reason, however, is that I have the last laugh over the deer. You see these shrubs typically have clusters of pink flowers, which are nice enough but I  am really only interested in the foliage. So when deer nibble the flowers off they save me from deadheading and promote this colorful new growth! Works for me.

Magic Carpet is perhaps the best known cultivar (pictured here) but there are many others. I especially like Double Play Big Bang (Spiraea japonica ‘Tracy’) which seems to hold its color better, and which also provides the deer with extra large flowers.

USDA zones: 4 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Average – low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Why I love it:  drought tolerant when established, deer resistant-ish!! and outstanding foliage color
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Old Fashioned smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned’)

IMG_6650

I haven’t met a smoke bush I didn’t like but this one is special; just look at that gorgeous blue-green foliage. Burgundy veins, creamy white flowers and orange fall color round out the scrumptious factor for Old Fashioned

USDA zones: 5 to 10 (find your zone)
Water: Average – low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide
Why I love it: Cut flowers, drought tolerant when established, deer resistant (my deer nibbled it the first year but have ignored it since)
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Orange Rocket barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’)

Orange Rocket barberry makes a stunning color combo with the red tipped switch grass 'Shenandoah'

Orange Rocket barberry makes a stunning color combo with the red tipped switch grass  ‘Shenandoah’

When voracious deer roam your garden you stop being a plant snob. You worry less about about a plants pedigree than you do about its longevity. That is why you’ll find an assortment of barberries throughout my garden.

My top barberry pick is Orange Rocket for its appealing columnar shape and ruby foliage which turns citrus orange in fall. I’ve used it in containers with Tropicanna Gold canna and love it in the garden paired with Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) shown above.

USDA zones: 4 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Low
Light requirement: Full sun for best color
Mature size: 4 1/2 feet tall and 1 1/2  feet wide
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, good for containers, in small spaces or as a vertical accent
Seasonal interest: Spring, summer and fall

Goshiki false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’)

IMG_6642

Prickly as a hedgehog, this holly look-alike adds great color to the garden while thwarting the deer. Its evergreen spiny leaves are mottled green and gold with the new growth being a warm rose tone.

Buy these in smaller sizes to incorporate into your container designs then transplant into the garden. Mine have even survived a large tree branch falling on them, new growth quickly filling in the rather sad bare patch.

Even though I did not water my shrubs once this summer, they still look fabulous. A great primp-free shrub.

USDA zones: 6 to 9 (find your zone)
Water: Average - Low
Light requirement: Full sun or part shade
Mature size: 3-5 feet tall and 4 feet wide but can be pruned to keep shorter if you’ve nothing else to do
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, good for containers, makes an attractive low hedge, evergreen
Seasonal interest: year round

Parney’s cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus)

Robins love to feast on these Cotoneaster berries

Robins love to feast on these Cotoneaster berries

If you’ve a big space to fill this arching shrub may be just what you need with its long arching canes, silver-backed evergreen foliage and clusters of white summer flowers followed by glossy red berries. Come February you will be ‘Robin Central’ as word gets out that your garden has the best treats.

Deer did nibble one of my three bushes when first planted – the one that was most convenient to their ‘freeway’, but haven’t bothered since. I have these planted in terrible clay soil that stays moist most of the year and they are thriving. I have not watered them once since they were planted two years ago!

USDA zones: 7 to 10 (find your zone)
Water: Average –  Low
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 8 feet tall and 8  feet wide but can be pruned/whacked as needed
Why I love it: drought tolerant, deer resistant, birds love the berries, summer flowers
Seasonal interest: year round

What’s your favorite stress-free shrub with a major scrumptious factor?

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When the Understudy Becomes the Star

'Copper' bush honeysuckle, is a bullet-proof, deer resistant shrub that earns its place in any garden

‘Copper’ bush honeysuckle, is a bullet-proof, deer resistant shrub that earns its place in any garden

If you’re like me you’ll naturally gravitate towards the biggest, showiest, most colorful leaves in the nursery, oohing and aahing over the latest chartreuse, purple or polka dot darling of the foliage world. All well and good except that a garden filled entirely with such ‘specimens’ can be visual overload.

Don’t forget to check out some of the quieter beauties such as this ‘Copper’ bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera ‘Copper’). This was an impulse buy on my part last year and I’m so glad I succumbed!

Just look at that color!

Just look at that color!

As the name suggests, the new growth is a rich copper color, especially striking with the sun streaming through it. Even the older leaves are a deep olive green with rosy undertones, making a lovely pairing with the burgundy stems. In fall the whole bush turns shades of yellow and orange before the leaves drop.

If only this was 'scratch and sniff'... the beautiful honeysuckle type fragrance fills the summer air

If only this was ‘scratch and sniff’… the beautiful honeysuckle type fragrance fills the summer air

For those who have to have their floral fix you’ll be pleased to know that bush honeysuckle does have lots of small, fragrant yellow flowers in mid summer which contrast beautifully with the copper foliage.

If you live in deer country you can celebrate – the deer really do seem to leave this alone! As well as this cultivar I have the native bush honeysuckle in another area and both have been completely ignored by these four legged pests.

Are you watering-challenged when it comes to the garden? Then this may be just the shrub for you! Mine does not get watered at all yet it is thriving even in full sun.

Still not convinced? It will take considerable shade just as easily as full sun although flowering is better in sun and I would imagine that ‘Copper’ also has better color in more light.

Do you prefer enjoying your garden from the comfort of a hammock? is your idea of a tough day in the garden trying to decide between a glass of Sauvignon blanc or iced tea? Then buy several of these. Abuse-proof, pest free, and just about zero maintenance.

Wondering how to incorporate this beauty? Look in the very center of this photo - that soft copper glow is the bush honeysuckle

Wondering how to incorporate this beauty? Look in the very center of this photo – that soft copper glow is the bush honeysuckle. See how it breaks up the gold and green?

But the best reason to include it is to add a soft ‘neutral’ color to the garden. Use it to break up swathes of green or to add a quiet note to an otherwise overly colorful foliage palette.

Sometimes the real stars are the understudies.

Cultural countdown

Site; sun or shade

Water; average but drought tolerant when established but will also adapt to moist soils

Mature size; 4′ x 4′

Hardiness; USDA zones 3- 8 or 9 (reports vary)

Other good stuff; hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it. Deer don’t.

Uses;

  • as a transitional shrub between the more manicured garden and wilder areas beyond.
  • for naturalizing (it will sucker but not aggressively),
  • as a visual resting place between bolder colored foliage,
  • as an informal hedge,
  • woodland garden

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