Subtle yet Powerful

Design by Brandon Vanden Eykel, Qualitree

Design by Brandon Vanden Eykel, Qualitree

Christina and I are easily excited I admit. Show us some fabulous foliage and we’re all of a twitter as we start brainstorming where to put it, what to pair it with and how we can justify buying it. Perhaps the only thing we derive (almost) as much pleasure from is teaching others foliage focused design.

I recently had the opportunity to visit two plant growers in British Columbia; Van Belle Nursery and Qualitree. You probably aren’t familiar with those names but I’m sure you’ll be familiar with their fabulous plants both in the USA and Canada. These are the nurseries that grow conifers, shrubs, perennials and more from tiny cuttings. These are then sold to the wholesale nurseries who in turn sell them to the retail nurseries where you shop.

Both these companies wanted to improve their ready-made container designs and so called me in to teach them how.

This particular design was probably my favorite out of the several dozen we created over those two days. The designer was Brendan Vanden Eykel of Qualitree and he immediately ‘got it’ when I demonstrated how to start with a great foliage plant, (our spotlight plant)  look for something to enhance it (highlight) then add the final touch – whether that be something wild and unexpected or a continuation of the theme (limelight).

In Brandon’s own words;

“I love designing planters (one of my passions) and after your presentation I see things totally different and it was right in front of me the whole time. “

Photo courtesy of Qualitree

Photo courtesy of Qualitree

That’s just it – it’s about looking at the foliage for design clues and working from there. Here’s how Brandon built the planter;



Japanese painted fern; this was the starting point with the silvery grays setting off the striking burgundy veins



To highlight the burgundy vein of the fern he added a small size purple smoke bush. This will quickly outgrow the pot of course but this was about teaching design principles and also creating ‘grab and go’ planters.


Rather than adding a wild card Brendan chose to keep to this muted monochromatic color palette which I just loved. Qualitree is known for its amazing heathers, specifically Calluna. This one had soft pink flowers on dark green foliage so added a pretty floral accent,


There was still bare soil showing and of course we couldn’t have that so a mix of blue-green and dusky purple succulents were added to act as a groundcover and link everything together. These succulents were grown as a mat so he literally cut pieces off to add to the planter.

Coming soon to a store near you……


We have a FABULOUS giveaway next week so be sure to tell all your friends about our blog for a chance to win a very special online garden design course AND a signed copy of our book! That’s all I’m telling you for now….

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