Author Archives: personalgardencoach

About personalgardencoach

The Personal Garden Coach and Co-Author of Fine Foliage. Container and small garden designer, national speaker, life, food and Pug enthusiast. You can Tweet me @CSalwitzGardens and find me on Facebook at The Personal Garden Coach.

One Can’t Exist on Fine Foliage Color Alone

PowellsWood Garden, Federal Way, Washington

A spectacular winter scene at PowellsWood garden in Federal Way Washington.

When we wrote the original book Fine Foliage, we knew that addressing all of the other components of strong foliage based design would need extra focus in the follow-up book Gardening with Foliage First. Twigs, berries, bark, thorns, rock, art, color echoes, and so much more were some of the things we touch on in that book in a multitude of ways.

When I was out photographing in the drizzle of a late winter day, this vignette nearly took my breath away as it exemplifies so much of what we were trying to describe. The magnolia that takes center stage here utterly glows with gold lichen and swelling glittery silver flower buds.
We like to re-enforce for all of you foliage fans just how important noticing these types of details can be to design work in your own landscape.

Another classic point we like to emphasize often is how your eye moves through a landscape scene with color. Even on a cold, rainy day, color directs the eye where you want it to focus. The large maple in the background is largely responsible for why this magnolia stands out the way it does. Then your eye naturally sees the showy red-twig dogwood shrub to far left and then circles down to notice the orange new growth on the spiraea ‘Magic Carpet’ below it on the right.

In some of my research on color and design, one technique that I have learned and still employ in my own design work is to think of leading the eye in the pattern of a lower case “e”. If you start your “e” from the magnolia and curve it around to the maple, then over to the dogwood shrub and down to the spiraea, you can see the “e”!

The warm glow these colors provided on a wet gloomy day here in the Great Pacific North-Wet was welcome indeed and I hope you enjoyed it too!

As of today, it’s only 21 days until SPRING!!  Follow along with Team Fine Foliage to see what we have up our sleeves for spring and summer by clicking the subscribe button!

Need more foliage in your hot little hands? Then click here to order our books Fine Foliage and our latest Gardening with Foliage First! 

Spring Dreaming of Fine Foliage

While others fantasize about sitting under the rainfall of cherry blossoms gently sprinkling down over picnic blankets in the park on an early spring day, I’m strategizing wicked combinations of foliage for designs.
A few days ago, one of my friends who is a gifted breeder of many amazing plants, just announced that he is bringing a new sedum into the world. His name is Chris Hansen and he is the creator of a fun series of collectible little succulents called “ChickCharms” (Sempervivum) that are ultra colorful hen and chicks that get even more colorful in cold weather.

As if those aren’t tempting enough, Chris just announced THIS new sedum and now I am tapping my toes with anticipation! POW! If that doesn’t wake you up on a gray rainy day in winter, nothing will!
This is ‘Dream Dazzler’ from the Sunsparkler series of sedum is SO right up my alley! I can already see the potential options for designing with the color and pattern on this one. Let’s look at a couple of ideas.
Can’t you just see that sedum snuggled right up under that fabulous silver Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’? The soft, fuzzy texture, and upright habit would contrast handsomely with this showy sedum for certain!
Or for a low maintenance yet dramatic option, that amazing sedum could be peeking out from under this ultra-blue Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce shrub. This is a wonderfully drought tolerant combo as well.
If playing up the berry tones is something you like then using annuals such as this Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and blue fescue grass with that sedum would be a stunning combination!

Going for the glitter in silver is always in vogue and this Astelia fits the bill elegantly. Though not technically a grass, its texture gives that feeling and with the chunkiness and pattern of ‘Dream Dazzler’ will pair brilliantly in a container for example.

Plant collectors get ready to start your engines. The days are already getting longer and we will surely be complaining about the heat in no time, right? RIGHT?! 😉

*This is NOT a paid endorsement, nor was I given any free plants for writing this post.*

Does this foliage extravaganza have you all hot and bothered to see what we have up our sleeves for spring and summer? Then click the subscribe button to follow along with other passionate foliage enthusiasts.

Need more foliage in your hot little hands? Then click here to order our books Fine Foliage and our latest Gardening with Foliage First! 




Indoor Fine Foliage – Begonia Bliss

Happy 2018 Fine Foliage fans!

Since the majority of the country is under ice and snow right now, I was looking for blog post ideas for this week and noticed how beautifully my indoor begonia looks right now. BINGO!

But first, I do need to confess that although I know a lot about growing houseplants and have grown many in my years in horticulture and design, it is easy to say that they are not my top priority these days and I tend to have a “thrive or die” mentality toward them.

I brought two of these ‘Jurassic Green Streak’ begonias in last fall assuming they would certainly be toast by Thanksgiving when I’d inevitably replace them with the incredible orange poinsettias I had in this space last year. (There are two identical pots like this that flank my living room window) But, to my shock, they continued to thrive despite my benign neglect. Even going so far as to bloom for weeks now. Now as we are officially in the new year and spring is technically right around the corner, I feel obligated to make sure I get these beauties back to their royal status outdoors in my container gardens.

As my good friend and official “Begonia Guru” Lloyd Traven from Peace Tree Farm in Pennsylvania has told me, begonias thrive on abuse and die more frequently from too much love than neglect. My level of neglect seems suited to them, hopefully, I am making my sensei proud! Peace Tree Farm is one of the east coasts leading growers and wholesalers of unusual, unique plants. Ask at your local garden center for their plants, you won’t be disappointed if you are on a quest for the extraordinary!

This particular plant sits adjacent this east facing window, so it’s not getting any intense sun, plus the shades are half way down blocking some of the light too. It’s also near the warmth of the gas fireplace blocked by a tall bookshelf. The begonia gets the warmth it craves all winter long.

The ONE thing that can stress and be the undoing of begonias quickly is powdery mildew, so the trick is to let them dry between watering thoroughly. Technically, begonias LOVE humidity. I think I get away with not having to use the typical humidity tricks indoors because this one is still in its grower pot and sits in this slipper pot with an inch or so of gravel under it so that it drains well and the water is evaporating from under it easily. My laziness pays off!

Here are some more photos of incredible begonias of all types. I have come to adore them in my container designs since they are tough as nails when it comes to FINE FOLIAGE!

Did you overwinter any this year too? 

These photos only represent a mere fraction of options available in some of the fancier begonias. There is a sea of options on colors and foliage types in nearly every color imaginable.
Explore some for your self as soon as you can get to a cozy warm greenhouse near you!

For fun and wasting some of that indoor time until you thaw, here’s a link to my Pinterest page on Begonias! Begonia Bliss

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.


Framing a View with Fine Foliage


A literal frame in the landscape of Alyson Markley.

Do you have a spectacular view somewhere in your landscape that you would like to highlight? No? OK, how about a mediocre view? Or even a peek-a-boo view? Maybe your view is around a corner and down a path. Or maybe it’s not a “view” at all but a focal point like a tree, garden art or seating area that you want to feature.
Leading the eye by using foliage “frames” the view and thereby directs the eye to where you want to look. In the case above, the bamboo is planted densely, enclosing the path and making you want to venture further to see what’s at the end of the path.
This view of the pool house at Chanticleer is iconic. The copper verdigris roofline echoes the exquisite color of the Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice‘) on either side of the entry gate. They provide a sense of scale against the cupola as well as luscious fragrance.
Here at the famous Hidcote garden, this section of the border was emphasized with all manner of red and burgundy foliage that takes you all the way down the path, looking left and right as the color carries you to the gate at the far end.
Another iconic view at Hidcote stops you abruptly to look at the masterful pruning of the boxwood and then to the fountain pool and then further through the archway and beyond.
The beautiful garden art sculpture set into the yew hedge is masterfully framed by this unique arch of what I think is a type of Hornbeam, but I can’t confirm which one. The foliage was a very silvery white!
The intense blue of this epic glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly against the pink toned building in the background is expertly framed by multi-trunked Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) trees and their reddish toned bark guides you straight down this path. All of the colors are working together brilliantly.
Sometimes not exposing the full view of the scene (Huntington Botanic Garden), but simply giving the taste of what’s beyond and through is just enough titillation to make you want to find a way to see what’s over there.
This tightly constricted view to the meadow beyond forces you to stop, sit and ponder.
Here’s a glimpse through a hornbeam tunnel that you would meander down to the bench you see in the photo above in the gardens of Bourton Hall.
OR, maybe you want to show off an expansive view (Pettifers) all at once and make the landscape scene feel ever more accentuated by creating a perspective that forces both close inspection of certain plants and design as well as appreciating the overall composition.
I love the way the designers at Chanticleer used vertical and contrasting colored chunks of cut foliage to mark this path edge and force your focus toward the meadow beyond.
The same idea, only in much larger scale here at Bourton Hall, uses fastigiate yews to guide your eye parallel the water feature and into the distance.

When you think about your landscape design, large or small, are you using foliage to frame or lead your eye the parts of your design that you really want to emphasize?

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.







If You Could Only Choose One….

If you were to chase me through the garden with a gun, forcing me to choose only ONE category of plant that epitomizes what fall looks like to me, once I stopped blathering about all things leafy and my enthusiasm for many beloved ginkgo in my past, I’d have to say it’s miscanthus that wins my heart.

We can discuss all of the amazing merits of this group of grasses all day, but the ONE reason that it stops me in my tracks year after year is the way the low angled fall sun sparkles on the soft blooms like diamonds on magic wands.

Since I also love lots of strong color, I am always taken aback by just how much I love the warm, muted beige and sand tones that you only get in fall. It shows up beautifully against the electric gold of  Solidago ‘Fireworks’.

Lastly, it takes great restraint not to wax poetic about the effect those miscanthus blooms have on their unwitting neighbors. But, I will close with this; the movie star quality that the Belladonna lily (also known as Naked Lady) enjoys in this shot would not be the same without these grass blooms. It reminds me of those old movies where the female star got a romantic close-up and the camera operator would put vaseline around the edge of lens for the soft focus effect.

The next time you pass a gracious stand of Miscanthus hopefully, you will take note of these points, because if someone were chasing YOU with a gun through the landscape in fall forcing YOU to choose a favorite piece of Fine Foliage hopefully, you will thank me for making your choice much easier. 🙂

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.




Dynamic Fall Texture with Zebra Grass

Whether you choose the full-sized Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) that grows 5-8ft. tall or the dwarf form that stays much shorter and more compact, Zebra grass is a wonderful addition to the fall landscape. The horizontal bands of cream on green are striking under gray skies, adding tons of character.

As the autumn temperatures cool, this clump-forming grass begins to turn soft gold. And if it’s allowed to stay without pruning through winter, you will be rewarded with handsome beige color as well as crown protection in cold climates.

Using contrasting and complimentary grasses to balance this one is a nice design choice where this grass is SO striking that you don’t generally need masses of them to stand out. The copper/pink flowering tips hold up well for fall arrangements too!

Here’s a link for more information on Zebra Grass. 

For more foliage based design ideas check THIS out! And be sure to sign up to receive more leafy goodness in your email by clicking the button to sign up for more posts from Team Fine Foliage! 







Fine Foliage and the Glory of Fall

The entry drive at PowellsWood Garden.

While much of the country is beginning to feel the first tell-tale signs of fall, with cooler nights and even a first frost warning or two, in the Pacific Northwest, we frequently get the best of both worlds in late summer. We know how spoiled we are to be able to enjoy both seasons at once until the real fall hammer drops when the rains arrive. As I write this, my door is open this morning, and it will likely be 80 by dinner tonight.

In spite of that, our landscapes are all talking about the slow march to the true fall weather. Our abundant Japanese and native Vine maples are coloring up like crazy with the heat stress of our long drought this summer. Understandably, these trees are tired and ready for rest soon, but we will enjoy them as long as we can!

The conifers of all kinds are gearing up to takes the center stage for winter soon. The stately weeping hemlocks in this photo are protected from the heat of summer under the broad canopy of a giant fir tree as well as the dappled canopy of the maples. They lend such a fine texture, blue-green foliage color, and the perfect scale for the mid-border.

One of my favorite things about the photo above is how the intensely colored spikes of blue fescue contrast with the orange of the vine maple. Blue and orange are always such happy friends on the foliage color wheel. A great point to make a note of if you are planning any changes or additions to your home landscape this fall.

When we zoom into the center of this bed, we can take note of even more amazing details. The hydrangea aspera (‘Plum Passion’) from Monrovia shows more purple color intensity on the foliage in a higher light location. In this dappled light, it is pale, but the pink veining and flowers are no less attractive and interesting at providing marvelous details.

Below the hydrangea, euphorbia a. robbiae (Mrs. Robb’s Bonnet) fills in densely with glossy green rosettes of foliage. This ground cover can strike fear in the heart of gardeners with its aggressive nature, so it’s one to plan and plant carefully. However, the cheerful yellow bloom bracts in late spring are so welcome after long winter. Once it’s done blooming, giving this plant a hard prune to tidy it up for the rest of the year, results in this textural backdrop for falling orange maple leaves.

Whether you are fully ready and committed to dismantling your summer garden now to enjoy fall, or if you are trying to squeeze every last ounce out of the late summer landscape, noting some of the fantastic details that make this “shoulder season” dramatic in its own way are a good way to be “in the moment” with your fine foliage design goals. 

Gardening with Foliage First is another way to see some excellent ideas for fall combination drama. And of course clicking the SUBSCRIBE button on your right brings this blog to your inbox monthly for even more ideas! 

Designing with a Point of View

This handsome zen garden demonstrates how you can view it from four sides and have a completely different interpretation of what it represents with each passing angle. One step forward and you might see islands in the ocean, two steps back around the other direction and you may see something entirely different. Other zen garden styles force you to view them from only one angle in an enclosed setting. Each experience is unique and yet the intrinsic reverence for nature and simplicity are both honored by differing views.

This vignette at the Franklin Conservatory was a wonderful example of this same idea for allowing us to experience the garden from many vantage points. The designers used the angles of the walking paths along with the dips and turns to make the most of each particular view. It made a huge difference in how you see the complexity and layers of this gorgeous foliage. That’s saying a lot for this photographer who is VERY close to the ground.
Layers and layers of luscious grasses, conifers, shrubs and specimen trees came together here with subtle color echoes, textural crescendo’s and ethereal color tones that force you to stop and take it all in slowly. These are very large-scale examples obviously, but what can we learn in our own landscapes about how we can make the most of each view-point?
This large garden is a sunny jewel toned mix of color, texture, and layers. While voluptuous lemon-lime toned privet adds ruffles in the foreground, the ribbon of Russian Sage creates an amethyst river that is a complimentary color. The red-ombre effect from hard pruned smokebushes are a delightful larger leaf that brings a marvelous garnet color addition. The point of view, in this case, was broad and deep. There is a hedge in the foreground that hides a colorful foliage and bloom surprise.
Blues and golds or purple and yellow are such happy friends on the color wheel. When you look closely at the entirety of the design from afar, you can’t see this perspective. But, it sure was worth coming up for the close-up! The entire river of Russian sage was underplanted with ‘Samantha’ Lantana, a fantastic choice with that incredibly jubilant foliage. It was like stage lighting for the sage to glow against.
Next time you’re out perusing your garden with a glass of your favorite beverage, force yourself to look at it from angles you might not ordinarily see. From the neighbors view? From the back facing toward the house? From under a tree even! In small or large expansive landscapes, we can all afford to be more open to all of the views, not just the ones we are used to seeing.

Want more foliagey goodness all to yourself? Get your own copy of Gardening with Foliage First or the perennial favorite Fine Foliage right here! Or just keep tabs on what we whacky designers are up to by clicking the button to follow the blog. 🙂 





Team Fine Foliage- ZOOM! Designers on the Run!

This is the part of the post where you should be inserting the tune from Paul McCartney and Wings “Band on the Run”  in honor of two designers who are literally crisscrossing the country, and multiple continents too!

The last time we checked in with you we were in process of developing our amazing shots taken at the test trial gardens home of Proven Winners, so we HAD to post this one as soon as we saw it because it is such a wonderful example of what we mean by “Gardening with Foliage First”.

The background layer features bold and sumptuous gold foliage from a new favorite of mine for sure ‘Glow Girl’ Birchleaf Spirea. I am SO impressed with this plant! Here you can plainly see how nicely the glow shows off the soft lavender blooms of Buddleja Alternifolia and it’s silvery foliage. Gold and purple are always friendly pairings in the landscape!

This little tidbit of tendril goodness is about all we have time for at the moment until one of us lands and can wax more poetically on design and foliage. 🙂

Hope you enjoyed! Off we zoom again- Cheers until later!  May your foliage be wondrous and your book buying heavy!

Team Fine Foliage Road Trippin!

Team Fine Foliage -Christina Salwitz and Karen Chapman

Bellevue Botanic Garden “Waterwise Garden”

It’s summer and that means it’s a busy install and travel season for these two foliage aficionados! The photo above is us at the lake shore in Michigan on Tuesday- what a treat to dip our toes into that white sand!

I am posting a foliage based appetizer design here for you to peruse at least until we can write up a more detailed post later.

This photo above features THREE different Weigela shrubs. Since it’s the high season for this colorful, deer resistant shrub that hummingbirds love, it seemed appropriate today. The one at the back of this garden shows the variegated, bright green foliage and bright red flowers of Weigela ‘French Lace’, then center left is Weigela florida ‘Veirwig3’ which is a prolific bloomer of pale pink flowers on light variegated foliage and then down low in front is Weigela florida ‘Elvera’ that features dark foliage and rich pink flowers not shown here.

Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ can’t be missed in the foreground as well as one of my favorite shrubs Lonicera ‘Twiggy’ with its tiny gold leaves and funky growth habit. The pine shows off a handsome blue contrast and the Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ foliage dangles like gold earrings from above.

Fast and colorful like us! Until next time- If you can get your hands in the dirt of design, GREAT! If not, the sand ain’t all bad either. 🙂

Signed- Team Fine Foliage