Tag Archives: variegation

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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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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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 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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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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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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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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Standout Silver Foliage – Step Into the Light

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Silver Pulmonaria shines!

In a predominantly gray climate like the Northwest, we get a little hungry for light as you may imagine. As the darker days of autumn creep in and we lose more and more of our light to wet, rainy skies, it deepens my commitment to adding light colors to the garden as an uplight to other plants. Or simply just to add that high contrast WOW factor.

November 2012 Foliage and Bloom 005

Lets just say that I totally planned for these stunning Japanese Maple leaves to fall just like that over my ‘Moonshine’ Yarrow, yes lets say that. :-)

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Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ being photobombed by the ‘Ghost’ fern.

Of course there are the occasional “happy accidents” in garden design. I am comfortable enough in my design skills to admit that Mother Nature can be a better designer than I am. It’s those moments when I run, not walk to get my camera.

Then there are the times that I FINALLY found a plant that I have been looking for, for SO long! I was thrilled to score one of these from a friend in one of the local Hort Societies that we visited during a book talk. I have JUST the pace for this one.

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Euphorbia rigida

The texture and form of this low growing Euphorbia are spectacular with another drought tolerant silver plant, Salvia officianalis ‘White edged’.

October 2012 BBG Dump File 049Another standout silver foliage is the Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’. I have grown this one very well. After having marginal success with ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ and ‘Glacier Blue’, ‘Silver Swan’ has been utterly fantastic and I recommend it highly.
October 2012 Foliage and Bloom 868Look how pretty it is in the rain! Someday I will post my pic of this same plant under a solid inch of ice not too long ago came through with flying colors!

Our good friend and also as big of a hort-head, maybe more than Karen and I, is Mitch Evans. His gardens are toured for Horticultural teaching as well as for general ogling quite frequently. Mitch is an extraordinary plantsman and collector. He has a particular enthusiasm for amazing conifers.

October 2012 Mitch Evans Garden 016This stunning little Spruce in Mitch Evans garden illustrates my point here to a T – uplighting the Barberry so expertly!

Mitch Evans also happens to collect Cyclamen too, this one just took my breath away!

October 2012 Mitch Evans Garden 018Can’t you just imagine the uplifting effect this would have under a red Japanese Maple for instance? Stunning!

So now I hope that you can envision the vision of what a standout silver can be on a gray day in the fall. How about a few more ideas to add to your list?

- Liriope ‘Silver Dragon’
- Lamium ‘White Nancy’ or ‘Ghost’
- Stachys ‘Lambs Ears’
- Astelia
- Japanese Painted Fern
- Artemisia
- Asarum

I could go on and on and on and on…. but I would rather hear about what standout silver you love to use in your garden. 3,2,1….GO!

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