Tag Archives: Design

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! 

 

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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.

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! 

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.

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. 🙂 

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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.

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!

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?

 

 

 

Luscious Layers with Foliage First

We have earned the right to whine a bit about our weather here in the Seattle area lately with record-setting rains the likes of which have not been seen since records were kept in this area. The gardens are all in quite a state of shock and disorientation, so when I went to look back at this date last year, it was quite amazing to fathom the variance!
Hostas and Saxifrage are Luscious Layers with Foliage FirstI found this shot in last years file for this same week in 2016 photographed in an amazing garden called PowellsWood. This garden is very close to my heart as they spoil me SO much as a designer and a photographer. But, also because it’s an exquisite gem of a garden.

Just look at those layers of hosta fern, grass and ‘Variegata’ saxifrage in full blooming glory for spring! So what’s the design recipe here? Add one white variegated hosta, one solid blue hosta, and marbled golden saxifrage WITH the graceful show of spring flowers. Following those saxifrage blooms will be the hosta flowers and now you have a recipe that Team Fine Foliage and Foliage First would say is a BIG winner for demonstrating how to have luscious layers in the shade garden this year. The ferns and grass are bonus elements!

With some luck and possibly a drought we may be slightly less damp in July than we are today. But, I still have to shave the moss on my legs this week! 😉

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

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