Author Archives: Karen Chapman

About Karen Chapman

Owner of Le jardinet, co-author of Fine Foliage (2013) and Gardening with Foliage First (2017) and general plantaholic (who is still trying to outwit the deer)

Refresh your Garden Color Scheme

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Spilled Wine weigela and Magic Carpet spirea – bright, bold and beautiful, but you can have too much of a good thing!

Did you get swept away by the purple-and-gold craze a few years ago? Those two high contrast colors certainly wake a garden up – but they can also make your garden look rather dated – like that well worn jacket you keep reaching for because it’s familiar.

GOOD NEWS – it’s easy to update the look with a few new foliage accessories in silver or blue.

Singin’ the Blues

Look at the difference blue makes to the small container design below. The cobalt blue pot acts as a frame for the three golden elements (two conifers and a trailing creeping Jenny) while the inclusion of Blue Star juniper and a blue-green rush (Juncus ‘Blue Dart’) ensures repetition. A dark purple leaved bugleweed could be used in place of the Burgundy Glow variety shown here and the contrast would still be muted pleasingly thanks to the blue foliage.

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Clockwise from lower left: Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star, Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’, Ajuga repens ‘Burgundy Glow’, container design as featured in our book Gardening with Foliage First

Shimmering Silvers

If you prefer something even softer, try silver in your design. It looks stunning with gold and purple.

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Clockwise from top left: Senecio g. ‘Sunshine’ with Elymus magellanica and the light golden foliage of a winter hazel , dusty miller, Bella Grigio ‘Mighty Velvet’, Festuca glauca ‘Beyond Blue’

More Candidates for your New Look

Got you thinking? Here are some more plants with silver-blue or blue-green foliage to consider adding into your existing designs to refresh the look. Think of them as the new scarf to update last years outfit. Look how pretty that silver dusty miller is against the purple heuchera.

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Clockwise from top left: Standing Ovation little bluestem, Hebe ‘Quicksilver’, Cotinus ‘Old Fashioned’, dusty miller (with a purple heuchera).

Need more ideas? Follow us on Facebook!

Wishing You Peace

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Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

May you find Peace in your hearts, homes and gardens this season and throughout the coming year.

Karen & Christina

Foliage Inspiration from Chanticleer

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Summing up my recent trip to Chanticleer in a single blog post is impossible. Every turn, every vista, every nook elicited gasps, and if I’m truthful a silent tear or two – it was that remarkable. I was in awe. Bear in mind that this visit was at the very end of October, just before the garden closed for the season and you’ll understand why I’m eager to return again and again.

To give you just a flavor or two of the foliage combinations that had me reaching for my camera I’ve created this ‘inspiration scrapbook‘ which I hope you’ll bookmark – or pin to Pinterest – to kick-start those creative juices next spring.

Containers

Clustered terracotta pots facilitates fast makeovers when each one is planted with a single specimen. Keeping to a lemon, emerald and silver color scheme allows the foliage textures to shine.

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Wake up a traditional facade with two trios of teal pots featuring non-traditional foliage plants – flowers are a bonus!

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Plants include Vinca major ‘Illumination’, Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’, Farfugium japonicum var. giganteum, Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’,  Laurus nobilis, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Muehlenbeckia complexa, Pennsylvania, Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, and Trachycarpus fortunei,

Containers within the border itself echo the color of the Bismark palms while creating a bold counterpoint to the spiky textures.

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Rustic teal pots in the Teacup Garden raise the drama tenfold!

Foliage Combinations

Monochromatic elegance from this tropical medley that includes a skirt of Calathea ‘Zebrina’.

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Drama in true Chanticleer style – love the wispy Mexican feather grass tucked in-between the bolder foliage

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Echium candicans ‘Star of Madeira’, Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ with Nassella tenuissima

We all love coleus, and often combine them with ferns, but this color pairing was really special.

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Alternanthera ‘Tiny Rubies’ (purple leaf) , Blechnum brazilense (fern) , and coleus (an unnamed Ball Hort sample),

Solo Players

And then there were the foliage plants that needed little in the way of accompaniment.

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Swoonworthy – Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Tiger Fern’

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Exquisite Details

To me though, Chanticleer is all about the attention to the tiniest of details – and many of these rely on foliage.

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Succulents planted in a summer-dry rain chain

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Foliage as embellishment and picture frame

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Chanticleer: Imagination and creativity in equal measure

Want to know more?

I recently wrote a post on my own blog; Lessons from Chanticleer – When a Path Becomes an Experience. Intrigued??

Order their latest book The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer (Timber Press, 2015). It would be a truly inspiring gift for any occasion and any gardener and is choc-full of dreamy photos by the talented Rob Cardillo. Use this affiliate link to find out more and to save a few pennies.

Plan to Visit

Chanticleer will be re-opening on March 28th 2018.

If you live close enough, consider a 2018 Season Pass for yourself or a friend!

Happy Thanksgiving from Team Fine Foliage! 

 

Foliage First Fall Design Inspiration

 

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It begins with a single leaf – Jelena witch hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Jelena’). Look at those colors! Purple, gold, green….

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pumpkin-orange and hints of ruby….

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with a touch of magenta.

Pair these rich jewel tones with the peeling cinnamon-colored bark of a paper bark maple (Acer griseum)

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Then calm things down with a carpet of native, green salal (Gaultheria shallon)

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Want to keep playing? Add some bright red berries and glowing fall foliage  – in this instance Sparkle barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Sparkle’)…

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To complete a delightful fall vignette….

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….that is also mercifully deer resistant.

PSST! For more on this stunning garden designed by Deborah Heg, as well as over a dozen more  deer resistant gardens,  watch out for Karen’s next book with Timber Press, due for release late 2019.

Share your fall inspired Foliage First designs with us on Facebook!

Need More inspiration? Our latest book Gardening with Foliage First is cleverly organized to help you find designs just for fall for either shade or sun. Have you got your copy yet? Check it out here or using the affiliate link above.

Favorite Fall Foliage – Arkansas bluestar

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A large planting of Arkansas blue star beginning its fall display

There are some plants I just can’t get enough of – and top of that list is the perennial Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). While many herbaceous perennials are selected for their flowers, this beauty is invariably chosen for its outstanding feathery foliage that transitions from bright emerald green to shades of orange, gold and copper in fall. For the flower-loving folks, yes this does indeed have blue flowers in spring but even a glance at these photos will quickly convince you that it really is all about the autumnal foliage display.

How to use it

Even one plant can be a star in a container.

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Mingling with other late season foliage stars, the bluestar adds height, texture and color

I added a group of seven one-gallon plants to the far end of our ‘island border’, a key display border viewed from many vantage points within our large garden, from the patio and from most windows of the home.  As is typical, the perennials took three years to look significant – you need vision in the early days! I nestled these feathery beauties against a large mossy boulder to play off the texture.

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Color companions I enjoy the most are silver and purple, both of which work equally well with the summer or fall display.

To give you ideas from other gardens, here is an example from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden where it mingles with golden sneezeweed (Helenium sp.).

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At Walter’s Gardens, the nursery that grows perennials for Proven Winners, I spotted it offering feathering companionship and powder-blue flowers to spring blooming peonies and poppies in the test garden.

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Of course I am not known for my minimalist approach so you won’t be surprised to hear that when I had a new raised bed to plant by our patio I decided to fill it with over 50 Arkansas bluestar! The design idea was to create a transition from the more ornamental plantings besides the patio to the distant summer meadow and woodland beyond.

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Anticipating the fall foliage color, we used steel to form the arc at the rear of this bed, knowing its weathered, rusted surface would look visually exciting with the autumnal display.

This is only year two for this bed but I’m already thrilled with how it is evolving. I also know I’m going to be out taking photos each day as the colors change!

Why you should grow it

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Arkansas blue star is reliably drought tolerant in my non-irrigated garden. This summer we didn’t have any measurable rain for three months and our temperatures were frequently in the 90’s with almost a week closer to 100′, yet I didn’t water the Arkansas bluestar in the island border even once and it still looks fabulous. I did water the newer plants by the patio a total of three times as after two months without rain a few plants were showing signs of stress. That may be due to them being in a raised planted rather than in the ground, or due to them being less well established. Next year will tell. Certainty they have started their fall display earlier but I don’t mind that at all!

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They are also both rabbit and deer resistant – YAY!!

More combination ideas

Our new book Gardening with Foliage First has several fabulous design ideas. Check out  Golden Threads (p285) and  Aquascapes (p140). The latter uses a different variety of this perennial called Halfway to Arkansas, but the effect is identical.

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Golden Threads – full design and planting details in our book!

Cultural details

USDA: 5-8

Size: 2 feet tall and wide (but tends to splay outwards to a bit wider than this)

Soil: average, well drained.

Site: Full sun

Water: minimal once established

How are you using this perennial? Share your ideas with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Big Ideas for Designing with Mini Leaves

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Whit’s End – a paradise for children of all ages – and a wonderful showcase of design ideas using miniature foliage

I’m just back after a whirlwind tour of Buffalo, New York – boy do those folks know how to do foliage! Hostas must be the #1 selling plant, available in every conceivable shade of green, blue-green, blue, gold and white and ranging in size from monsters to miniatures. I was especially struck by the creative ways homeowners found to showcase the more petite specimens.

The American Hosta Society has set various standards as to what constitutes a mini (and these criteria have changed over the years). You can read about them here. I had a hard time imagining how they could be incorporated in my 5 acre garden (assuming deer and slugs left them alone) but after seeing these ideas I’m feeling inspired.

Edging a border

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Mike Shadrack places smaller specimens where they won’t be obstructed from view

By placing these minis at the front of a stone-edged border they invite closer viewing, while having larger hostas at the back of the border gives a fun play on distorting the perspective!

Word Play

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Marcia Sully plays with her Mouse series hostas

I’m sure you’ve come across the Mouse Ears mini hosta that started the popular series in 2000. There are now lots of sports from the original blue Mouse Ears including this one (whose tag I forgot to photograph – sorry!)

Love how Marcia has used the cute metal mouse to emphasize the name, but she didn’t stop there…

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A game of cats and mice

This grouping of mini hostas, watchful cats and cute little mice is a wonderful display. I could have sat and made up fun stories of these characters for a series of children’s books, couldn’t you?

While many of the mini hostas are displayed in their own container, a few are grouped together.

Creating a Scene

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Mixed design using mini hostas with other elements

When combining mini hostas with other plants, it is essential to keep the scale in mind. The container above is an excellent example, with several mini hostas, each offering a unique leaf shape and color, combined with a dwarf conifer in an aged hypertufa trough accented by a cheeky snail. The largest green/white hosta plays the role of a large tree or shrub in this scene.

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Just one of several remarkable train set vignettes in this garden known as Whit’s End (A play on the homeowner’s last name)

Once again, hostas are combined with dwarf conifers, this time creating a life-like vignette, as two men pump the handcart endlessly around the train tracks! Such fun.

Ideas to Take Home

Although these ideas all feature mini hostas you could re-interpret them to showcase your favorite miniatures such as:

  • Smaller succulents
  • Mini coleus
  • Dwarf conifers

Share your ideas with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Local Botanical Gardens Yield Inspiration

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The only limitation is your imagination – scene from a waterwise design at Bellevue Botanical Garden

As I sat on a shady bench, waiting for the perfect light (a photographer spends as much time sitting & waiting as standing & clicking it seems to  me), I watched the many visitors meandering through the Bellevue Botanical Garden (BBG). There were couples picnicking on a blanket, young families who were letting the kids run off some steam, professional photo shoots of wedding parties and graduating seniors  – and relatively few folks actually looking at the plants. That surprised me, because your local botanical gardens are often the best place to find inspiration for your own garden.

Whether you are looking for design ideas for moist shade, waterwise combinations that can take the heat or lush mixed borders, BBG has it all and a whole lot more.

In fact sometimes there is so much to absorb that it can be hard to spot the ‘take home’ ideas, so I thought I’d show you one especially colorful part of the large perennial border and take a closer look.

First Impressions

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Yikes – where do you look first? What does your eye go to? To the bold, bright, variegated leaf in the foreground? The orange flowers at the back? It’s too much to take in all at once and most of us would not be seeking to create this level of complexity in our own borders, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t design lessons here for us.

Let’s move  further down the path…

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There’s still a lot going on but our frame is a little more manageable now that we have eliminated the border to the right side of the pathway and reduced the dominance of the variegated dogwood shrub in the foreground.

Initial Design Lessons

  • Imagine what would this look like without the orange and magenta flowers. Actually pretty darned good because there’s lots of great FOLIAGE (even if you don’t know their names, analyze the colors and shapes). There are oval variegated leaves, big rhubarb-type leaves,  dark purple sword-like leaves, round purple-brown leaves, wispy grasses, a golden conifer, some tall silvery-white grasses and plenty of more ordinary green leaves tucked in too. In other words there is a fabulous foliage framework unifying this scene.
  • Now imagine what this would look like if all those leaves were green. Not so interesting! The color of the leaves adds drama to the scene and sets the stage for some fun vignettes using color echoes and contrast. To see that in more detail let’s narrow our focus a bit more.

Lessons in Color Repetition & Contrast

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This is where things start to get exciting!

  • Foliage Framework

In the foreground is fleshy, purple pineapple lily (Eucomis) foliage rising like bold swords and pointing us (very helpful!) upwards towards the similarly colored large, round leaves of a leopard plant (Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’). A large ornamental rhubarb leaf ( Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum’) also jostles for our attention, framing the left of this scene.

Perfect Foliage First design!

  • Finishing Touch (the flowers)

Sandwiched between the purple leaves are ribbons of red and white astilbe. The whote froth is needed for contrast and separation, even though the color echo between the purple leaves and red asilbe flowers was well thought out.

And how about the orange lilies in the distance? They repeat the deep orange-yellow blooms just beginning to open on the leopard plant. The blooms on other leopard plant varieties tend to be much more yellow – this one was specifically chosen for its closer connection to orange.

And orange really pops against such dramatic, dark foliage. Excellent contrast.

Lessons in Form

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Notice the contrast between the two layers of upward-pointing (vertical) astilbe blooms and the more horizontal plane of the leopard plant leaves. Beyond them the tall lilies add another vertical punctuation point. Incidentally the astilbe blooms will be left as seedheads well into fall so this design element is remarkably long-lived.

Lessons in Details

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There’s one final detail beyond the leopard plant – look at the ruby thorns on the stems of a wingthorn rose (Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha) and how they repeat the dark notes of the foliage and flowers in this vignette while once again introducing a vertical line. Genius.

So while botanical gardens are indeed a delightful location for your next portrait session, do take time to enjoy the planting combinations and glean ideas for your own garden. The combined genius of so many talented professionals is on your doorstep!

Want more ideas? Well we know of two rather excellent books to get you started…. Also be sure to sign up to our blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

Foliage Favorites for Summer Fun

Whether you’re looking for a design boost for your containers or need a little ‘something’ to perk up the summer border, FOLIAGE is the answer. Yes we know those geraniums and fuschias are so tempting – and we’re not suggesting you avoid them, but simply that you consider the leaf as well as the flower before making your selection.

Here are a few of our top ‘go to‘ foliage annuals and perennials that are great to use as fillers in pots or the landscape.

Croton

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As featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

Whether you prefer the variety Zanzibar with its bad-hair-day attitude or the more familiar form (Petra) shown here, croton (Codiaeum) will add a serious color punch to any shade combination. In smaller containers it can be used as the focal point – often referred to as the ‘thriller’. In larger designs you may prefer to consider it as an understory plant to something larger such as banana or elephant ears (Colocasia).

Coleus

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Two different coleus are used to frame Dakota anthurium, while Vinca ‘Illumination’ trails from the center

With a gazillion varieties of coleus to choose from you can find one in any size, color and habit you need. The trailing variety used above is Lava Rose. I love how the touch of white on each leaf adds a little sparkle. (For lots more coleus ideas click on the coleus tag in the sidebar. There are some real beauties!)

Quicksilver artemisia

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Velvety, silver foliage of Quicksilver artemisia quickly fills in around shrubs.

Deer resistant, drought tolerant and perennial – this vigorous groundcover may be just what you need to fill a bare spot this summer. A new introduction from Proven Winners , I can personally highly recommend it after trialing it in my own garden last year. The cooling silver foliage is outstanding.

Purple Queen

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Purple Queen – stunning purple foliage

Previously known as Setcresea, recently re-classified as Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’, one thing taxonomists agree on – it’s gorgeous! A dramatic groundcover in warmer climates or a tough annual in cooler areas – either way you NEED this plant.

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Purple Queen is used to echo the rich container color and deep veins in the Blue Hawaii elephant ears (Colocasia).

Place it at the edge of a container where it can mingle and tumble to its hearts content

Beefsteak plant

 

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Beefsteak plant looks like a sun-tolerant coleus

Hot fuchsia pink, burgundy-purple and  emerald green – yes it looks like a coleus but you will find beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens ‘Magilla’) much more adaptable to both sun and shade designs.

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Love this combination with lantana and sweet potato vine

The only limitation with this annual? Your imagination. What will YOU pair it with? Golden conifers? Hot pink geraniums??

Autumnale fuschsia

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When is a fuchsia more than a fuschia? When it has leaves like THESE

While I certainly have my own photos of designs using this variegated fuchsia, none compares with this stunning design by Christina! In case you’re not sure, the Autumnale fuschia isn’t even in bloom in this photo; it is the red/yellow variegated leaf trailing at the front of the pot. WOWZA! Use it to repeat orange-red tones elsewhere such as these coleus leaves and Gartenmeister fuschia blooms.

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Different combination – this Autumnale fuchsia is still a winner

The combination above is one I put together for a client a few years ago. Here you can see the fuchsia weaving through multiple pots to great effect.

Bella Grigio lambs ears

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Pretty in Pink – as featured in our new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

What’s big, silver and ultra-strokable? These GIANT lambs ears! This combination will appeal to gardeners who want lots of flowers but it’s the inclusion of foliage plants that really makes this design sing. Bella Grigio lambs ears (Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’) are also wonderful additions to the landscape and are both deer and drought tolerant. In many areas they are considered a perennial but they don’t fare well in my cold, wet winter soils so I accept them as a summer annual.

Want more ideas? Well we know of two rather excellent books to get you started…. Also be sure to click on our blog tags such as coleus and container design to find more inspirational posts.

 

The Foliage Backstory

Savvy Solution – as featured in Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

We’re delighted to hear that you have been enjoying our new book Gardening with Foliage First – thank you for all your encouraging messages telling us how  inspiring the combinations have been!

Behind every published combination there were typically several dozen images taken from unique perspectives or framed in different ways. You see even when we knew we had found an exciting vignette, it often took a few attempts to  discover the best way to present it to you. With that in mind, we thought you might enjoy this ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the evolution of  Savvy Solution  discovered in Mary Palmer’s  garden in Snohomish, WA.

Initial inspiration

Walking down one of several intriguing pathways, this scene is what initially caught my eye:

Stopped in my tracks by this Foliage First combo

I was struck by the color echo between the variegated Color Guard yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’), golden juniper and acid-yellow blooms of the spurge (Euphorbia), all contrasting with the dark red barberry and framing a triumphant explosion of blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’). Yet this angle seemed a little too busy, the horizontal roof line was distracting, the bare tree-trunks were rather too dominant, plus I was tantalized by glimpses of a large, silver leaf hiding behind the spurge, so I continued a little farther down the path.

Hidden Treasures

Soft and spiky – a great textural treat just waiting to be discovered

Now I could see what I’d been missing and fell in love with the steroidal, silvery foliage of yellow mullein (Verbasum epixanthinum). What fun to see the sea holly valiantly poking through those velvety leaves!

However this was just one part of a much wider scene that now opened up.

Too much of a good thing?

This is where this member of Team Fine Foliage had to be resuscitated with a recuperative glass of wine – WOW! Where to begin? From this perspective I could still appreciate the relationship between the yucca, spurge, sea holly, barberry and mullein but now there was a tall dark-leaved daphne (Daphne houtteana) and a golden incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold), joining in the fun. Success? Not quite – I could live with the glimpse of the home’s roofline – but not the landscapers red truck visible through the stems. There also seemed to be too many vertical lines confusing the story in the upper left quadrant

The final cut

So a slight angle change and a final re-framing was called for, to focus the story on the key plants – and Savvy Solution was born.

As we tell you in our book “If you want drama without the dramatics, this may be your answer. Thriving in poor, dry soil and a sun-drenched site, this trio will reward you with color, fragrance, foliage and flowers. The juxtaposition of soft and spiky textures with the alluring color scheme of silver, blue and yellow creates a memorable combination. All three plants are deer resistant and drought tolerant, making them a wise choice for many landscapes.

To get information on how this design will evolve over time as well as full plant profiles just turn to pages 24-25. Then enjoy the other 126 combinations we found for you!

Did you know?

The Royal Horticultural Society recommended Gardening with Foliage First in their latest RHS Garden magazine (May issue) ? They also included it in their spring books promotion throughout their shops and mail-order service! A huge honor and one that the British half of Team Fine Foliage is especially appreciative of 🙂

Meanwhile it continues to rock the Amazon charts on this side of the Pond – have you got YOUR copy yet?

 

 

 

Tiny Courtyard Makeover

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AFTER: the ferns and bugbane are still dormant in this newly renovated border yet it sparkles thanks to planning the design  #foliagefirst

You don’t have to be big to be beautiful – or to have potential.

This pint-sized courtyard had been planted with the ubiquitous builders basics of the Pacific Northwest – rhododendron, azaleas and andromeda (Pieris japonica).

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BEFORE: predictable Builders Blah

While all three are evergreen offering ‘year round interest’, in reality they were seriously BORING, not least of all because their foliage was identical in color and shape. What this needed was a quick foliage makeover.

makeover

 

A dwarf coral bark maple provided a focal point, height and stunning red stems. It is important when selecting a tree for winter bark that you don’t hide it behind shrubs! In this instance I selected perennial ferns and grasses that would be dormant during those months, allowing the tree bark to be the star.

To add more color, Pink Frost hellebores were planted in a cluster. With evergreen foliage and a bounty of pink, burgundy, cream and apple-green flowers that last for many months, this variety remains one of my top picks. The pinkish-red tones echo the color from the maple tree too.

A few rugged boulders completed this updated vignette, contrasting perfectly with the soft, white-variegated Japanese forest grasses and finely textured Western maidenhair ferns. One rock was selected for its water-retaining depression in order to attract birds and butterflies.

Rich color contrast will come from the dark-leaved Hillside Black Beauty bugbane, while its height (typically 4-5′) will add balance to the composition and the vanilla-scented flowers will scent the late summer air.

Note that as with all designs, large and small, the final plant placement was somewhat different from the original plan. Never be afraid to move things around!

Is it time for you to tackle that less-than-stellar entry border? You’ll get lots more ideas for plant combinations that put Foliage First in our two books.

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