Calendar Girls – Foliage Style

Photo credit; Ashley DeLatour

Photo credit; Ashley DeLatour

Well that got your attention didn’t it?! What we’re really going to show off here are our top foliage plants by season. You may notice that gardening calendars often showcase flowers which are at their peak during a particular month. Well the beauty of a garden that is designed around foliage is that we are truly talking extended seasonal interest with many months of glory, not just a quick ruffle of petals in June.

Winter; Gold and Blue Conifers

Towering fir and cedars may create the backdrop for this winter scene but the weeping form of a Feelin' Blue deodar cedar really sets the scene as it harmonizes with the cabin door yet adds contrast to the orange pot.

Towering fir and cedars may create the backdrop for this winter scene but the weeping form of a Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar really focuses our attention as it harmonizes with the cabin door while adding contrast to the orange pot.

Yes I also like the rich green Thunderhead pines and silver tipped  Hortsmann’s Korean fir but the blues and golds give me the most pleasure in winter. Whether seen against a brooding grey sky or dusted with snow they always add bold color and interest to the landscape. Their visual weight acts as a perfect backdrop to bare branches, winter flowers and bright berries.

We will have some gorgeous combinations featuring conifers in our new book  (it is SO hard not to give you a sneak peek….) but here are a few favorites that I’ve photographed recently

Golden Spreader fir

Golden Spreader fir – garden of Mary Palmer, Snohomish WA

I really must add this stocky little Golden Spreader fir to my shopping list. I’ve seen it in all four seasons and it never fails to impress me.

Chief Joseph pine

Chief Joseph pine – garden of Mary Palmer, Snohomish WA

Chief Joseph can be bright to the point of gaudy in winter but rather ho-hum the rest of the year. Try placing it in a pot and moving it center stage for its moment of glory.

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae; don’t crowd it in summer and the foliage will be much brighter (I learned the hard way…)                                                                                                                                 

Blue Star juniper - a favorite in all seasons

Blue Star juniper – a favorite in all seasons

This low growing Blue Star juniper is a true work horse in the garden. Fabulous ground cover but not too big.

Feelin' Blue deodar cedar - possibly my all time favorite blue conifer.

Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar – possibly my all time favorite blue conifer.

I purchased this Feelin’ Blue specimen as a short standard. Give it room to show off its form.

Other favorites? Blue Shag pine (PInus strobus ‘Blue Shag’) with its silvery blue fluffy needles, Louie pine (Pinus strobus ‘Louie’) that resembles a golden teddy bear and Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi) if you have plenty of space although I think this looks its best in spring with the bright, fresh color on growing tips.

Conifers can be pricey so buy them small and enjoy in a pot until they reach landscape size.

Spring; Double Play All Gold spirea 

A sweep of spirea near the cabin marries the orange pot and blue cedar perfectly

A sweep of Double Play All Gold spirea near the cabin marries the orange pot and weeping cedar perfectly (the cabin door looks so much better now it is painted a soft teal blue!! ) Notice the repetition of spirea further down the border.

This was hard to narrow down! Many Japanese maples and barberries have striking colors in spring, often maturing to more muted tones. However the foliage I most look forward to in my own garden are undoubtedly the spirea, especially the variety Double Play All Gold which I  often use in my designs having tested it over several years.

Seen with blue star juniper and doublefile viburnum

Seen with blue star juniper and doublefile viburnum

Gold foliage is enhanced by rosy-orange new growth that lights up the garden for months!

Set off against a Thunderhead pine

Set off against a deep green such as this Thunderhead pine

And this is just the spring show! Summer flowers and fall color keeps the interest going. Most years I have found this to be drought tolerant in my garden. However the summer of 2015 was exceptionally hot and dry so these shrubs did look rather the worse for wear by mid August. Deep watering every two weeks should help me overcome that.

Summer; Orange Rocket barberry

Exploding from a pot - great contrast with the surrounding golds and greens

Exploding from a pot – great contrast with the surrounding golds and greens

While there are certainly summer annuals whose foliage I look forward to (e.g. coleus, croton and caladium) I wanted to select a plant that was hardy in my garden. The aforementioned conifers and spirea still make me smile and I enjoy my five golden locust trees. But choosing just one plant or genus for its summer foliage? That’s tough! I’m going to settle on Orange Rocket barberry  (Berberis t. ‘Orange Rocket). No matter where I put it, the burgundy foliage seem to create the perfect contrast with summer flowers, wispy grasses, sturdy conifers and more. The color may be far more vibrant in spring and fall but it is during the summer that I most appreciate the contrast it gives against the dominant green foliage palette.

A simple trio with Blue Shag pine and weeping silverleaf pear

A simple trio with Blue Shag pine and weeping silverleaf pear

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Imagine the above scene without the orange pot and bold barberry. Pretty but not as visually exciting. Relying on flowers for this sort of contrast would only be a short term solution.

Fall; Arkansas blue star 

I look forward to this display all year

I look forward to this display all year

Japanese maples or grasses would perhaps be more obvious choices for this season and certainly I have hundreds of photos of both. Yet it is the broad swathe of the perennial Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) that has me grabbing for my camera daily as it changes from green to gold and finally orange. I was ridiculously excited when friends and family sent me photos of this scene while I was in England this past autumn, especially as I was then able to share the unfolding beauty with my Mum as she lay in her hospital bed.

Dark foliage such as this Grace smoke bush make great planting partners

Dark foliage such as this Grace smoke bush makes a great planting partner

The soft feathery foliage emerges in spring, so I interplant with daffodils to make the most of the space. Pale blue flowers in early summer are a bonus but not as important to me as the foliage texture which contrasts well with big boulders or broad leaved plants. It is the star of the border in fall, however. Be patient as it takes three years to become established but after that it is drought tolerant, deer resistant and fabulous!

 

Late season glory; mingling with silver licorice plant. Photo by Katie Pond

Late season glory; mingling with silver licorice plant and backed by Grace smoke bush. Photo by Katie Pond

Incidentally most of these photos are from my own garden which has to be deer and rabbit resistant as well as drought tolerant and low maintenance. 

So what are your favorite foliage plants for each season? Do tell us – either a comment here or on our Facebook page. We love it when you tempt us out into the nurseries again!

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7 thoughts on “Calendar Girls – Foliage Style

  1. Jim

    I loved Orange Rocket barberry since you first posted about it earlier this year. I never did get one!

    I have one Amsonia and I bought it bc of what the specimen looked like in the nursery demo gardens. Mine has stayed at about 3-5 fronds, stalks and no bigger. I bought it because of the feathery but voluptuous 3’x3′ clump I saw but has never been realized at my house. But your picture has made me think I shall move it from it’s “way back” position in the border up to near the my Center Glow Ninebark, I think they would marry well together.

    Also, I love your pick with blue star juniper, Double Play All Gold, double file viburnum and a Thunderhead pine. Would you be able to estimate, off the top of your head, the area encompassing the plants/shrubs in this picture? I am having a bit of depth perception difficulty.

    Reply
    1. Karen Chapman Post author

      Hi Jim the Amsonia and ninebark would be fabulous together!

      Hard to give you an exact size for that combo as it is just a portion of the whole scene (I have 5 spirea and 5 junipers with 1 Viburnum and 1 pine). Best thing is to consider the size needed for each component. For the pine I would allow 5′ diameter, the viburnum 6-8′ diameter and 3′ diameter each for an individual juniper and spirea

      Reply
  2. Mary Perez

    Ahhh—such a beautiful post to enjoy on a rainy morning in California–here in Sonoma we have winter color with lemons and kumquats dangling from the trees.

    Reply
    1. Jim

      Very jealous to read this on a morning where we woke to 7 degrees. But we’ve been spoiled up to now with warm temps and rain.

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Great Shrubs for Busy Gardeners | Fine Foliage

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