Tag Archives: Fall

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! 

Design Goals in the Garden for 2017

RHS Wisley 2016

RHS Wisley 2016

After looking over my photos of gardens that I visited in 2016 as well as my own, I am feeling the need to review some design choices I have made in the last few years. When you’re inside on a 25-degree day in Seattle, sunny though it may be, there’s no better time to start thinking ahead. The garden show season, garden tours and nursery hopping will be upon all of us hort-nerds soon enough and I want to have at least a minor plan of attack.

Maybe you need more bold colors of foliage in your spring and summer garden like the energetic heuchera above that provides a wonderful color echo to the elegant Japanese maple in the background.

Color echo with Hydrangea and Japanese maple

Or for the late summer and early fall, maybe you need to consider the color echo that this incredible hydrangea and maple duo bring in deep plum tones!

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

OR if you are a flower person in your heart of hearts but you are here with Team Fine Foliage because you need a leafy nudge to balance your impulses, then maybe adding more repetition is in order. The floriferous notes in any garden stand out better when you pick one color and texture in a foliage plant and use it to its fullest with repetition. This could just as easily have been boxwood and have a very traditional look, but the use of the silver foliage of this Senecio is much more interesting!

Paperbark maple

Paperbark maple

Maybe you are craving more interesting details in your landscape such as fascinating bark, berries, rock or art. Well, Team Fine Foliage certainly will have you covered there for 2017 when “Gardening with Foliage First” becomes available SOON!!! 

A sumptuous feast of fall color here!

A sumptuous feast of fall color here!

Our tendency as trapped winter garden designers is to load up the landscape with all things spring when we’re first let out of the house and released into the wilds of the garden center. But, it’s so important to make sure that you’re also thinking about the important and colorful transformation of color that happens in late summer and early fall. So, keep that in mind when you’re planning!

Foliage BONANZA! :-)

Foliage BONANZA! 🙂

Here is a snippet from one of my favorite little sections in my own garden that I am considering revamping a tad this year. I welcome your thoughts about what you might do. It’s jammed packed I know, but that my style and that likely won’t change, but other than that, bring it on. Give me some ideas designers! 

Let us know what YOUR leafy goals are for your landscape in 2017. Post a comment, we would love to hear from all of you in this upcoming and exciting year of the “Foliage First” garden! 


Berried Beauties of Fall

As we wrote our new book Gardening with Foliage First, Christina and I began to appreciate anew those shrubs which offered something in addition to outstanding foliage, some attribute which took them into multi-season superstar status. Flowers are an obvious bonus but in fall berries are of greater significance.

Here is where the less experienced gardener can be disappointed. If you select deciduous shrubs after the leaves have fallen and only have the color of the berries to entice you, come spring and summer the plant overall may just be another green blob in the garden. Put Foliage First and you won’t be disappointed, however! If the leaf is ‘just’ green, is it an especially pleasing shade of green or wonderfully shiny or heavily textured? Or does it offer another color on the underside such as silver? Or does it turn an outstanding color in fall?

With those criteria in mind  here are my top 4 picks for shrubs that have exceptional foliage  AND plentiful, colorful berries.

Brandywine viburnum


Brandywine viburnum has colorful berry clusters in shades of blue and pink

If you have space for a large, loosely upright shrub, consider this relatively new variety of viburnum introduced by Proven Winners. Brandywine (Viburnum nudum ‘Brandywine’)has stunning wine-red foliage in fall that lasts for many weeks and really sets off the bold clusters of pink and blue berries which are produced without an additional pollinator plant.


Brandywine viburnum – a fabulous shrub for larger spaces

In spring and summer the large elliptical leaves are a deep glossy green which stand out easily against the more typical mid-green, medium-textured, matte foliage of the shrub border.

This deer resistant shrub grows quickly to 6′ tall and wide but can be pruned after flowering to control the size (although you will of course sacrifice the berries that year). Give it plenty of room in the landscape or grow it in a large pot, perhaps to provide seasonal screening.

Does best in full sun or partial sun, with average moisture retentive soil and is hardy in USDA zones 5-9

Cranberry viburnum


American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) showing early fruit production in summer.

Whether it is the soft green, lobed foliage that turns crimson in fall, the white spring flowers or the glossy fruit that dangle like miniature cherries you have to admit that the cranberry viburnum has a lot to offer. Three similar species are available and often confused, the American cranberry (Viburnum trilobum with its white lace-cap hydrangea type flowers,  classic maple-like leaves and tart but edible berries) , the European cranberry (Viburnum opulus which has unpalatable berries and a less pronounced lobed leaf) and the highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule, favored for cooking but less so for ornamental gardening). This article explains some of the differences.

While the species European and American cranberry can reach up to 15 feet tall, there are several named cultivars that may work for you; firstly the European cranberry (Viburnum opulus) ‘Compactum’, and ‘Xanthocarpum’ which gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Compactum grows a more modest  5-6′ tall and wide while Xanthocarpum is a little larger at 6-8′ but has golden yellow berries which look remarkable against the red fall foliage.

Likewise the dwarf cultivar of the American cranberry (V. trilobum) Bailey’s Compact is much more manageable at 3-6′ tall and wide while Wentworth is taller (10-12′) but known for its heavy fruit set

The European cranberry bush, also commonly called guelder rose is hardy in zones 5-8, needs regular moisture and berries best in full sun. American cranberry bush (V. trilobum) is hardy down to zone 2 and also does well in partial shade.

Pearl Glam beautyberry


Pearl Glam beautyberry – new for 2017 from Proven Winners

‘Tis the season for beautyberry – but THIS stunner puts all the others to shame when it comes to star power. Gorgeous deep purple foliage makes Pearl Glam a winner from spring through fall, showing off both the white flowers and the metallic purple berries better than any other botanical ‘little black dress’ I’ve ever seen.


Pearl Glam beautyberry – new for 2017 from Proven Winners: you NEED this!

The shrub itself has a nicely shaped, loosely upright form, especially compared to older varieties which morph into a big green lump. Pearl Glam (Callicarpa x ‘Pearl Glam’) grows 4-5′ tall and wide, is drought tolerant once established, deer resistant and hardy in USDA zones 5-8.

It will be available in better garden centers in 2017 but I can tell you after testing two this year (in a mixed container and my own landscape) I am really excited!!

Parney’s cotoneaster


Parney’s cotoneaster (C. lacteus); evergreen foliage with a silver reverse

This wide, arching, evergreen shrub has been around for decades but is still a  personal favorite of mine having grown it both in the UK and WA state.

The deeply veined leaves are silver on the reverse giving an overall shimmery appearance when the wind blows. Large clusters of white flowers in late spring are followed by equally impressive red berries that provide a winter feast for birds; robins especially seem to love them.

Parney’s cotoneaster is invasive in some areas (including California) so be sure to check with your extension office before planting. Where safe to use it can be a colorful, informal, evergreen hedge. It is hardy in zones 6-8 but in my experience it may suffer some winter die back in colder areas, especially if the soil remains saturated for long periods of time.

What’s your favorite shrub that has fabulous FOLIAGE and plentiful BERRIES? Leave us a comment here or post a photo to our Facebook page.

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Five Reasons Why We’re in Love with Fall Foliage

Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThere are all of the text book, expected reasons to love fall foliage of course. But, we like to keep you on your toes with ideas and combinations that might stretch your design muscles. Even friendly partners of fall foliage counts!

Five Reason Why We We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 1:  The awe-inspiring world of conifers for fall. No matter where you live there are incredible options to feature conifers in the landscape year round. From diminutive to giant, there is an incredible conifer option to fill every situation. Whether a Lemon Cypress or the Italian Cypress as above, exclamation points are helpful when making design points.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageGold is something that we often talk about in this blog. When it comes to conifers, gold can be a stylish and showy option in a cold climate for fall. It stands out beautifully against anything you show it against. Many gardeners don’t realize that there are even conifers that change color in the fall and winter. Cryptomeria is one of our favorites that turns a lovely burnished red in autumn.
Five Reasons We're in Love with Fall Foliage Number 2: Now add grasses to your conifers and fall landscapes and you get even more design inspiration options! This Little Bluestem grass is the MOST divine color in fall against the blue of the Weeping blue Atlas Cedar.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThese golden arborvitae are another way to show off the extraordinary color of the Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grass in autumn.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall Foliage We also love the tall blond amazingness that is Karl Foerster grass that brings such a strict verticality to the lateral structure of this pine.
Five Reasons We're in Love with Fall Foliage The fluffy puffiness of this stipa is an interesting echo of shapes against the weeping Japanese maple in the background.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 3: When late season perennials show off great seed heads that are SO perfect against fall foliage, it’s an easy win-win. Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia) are a natural choice for a prolific and easy flowering perennial.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageAstilbe seed heads are one of Team Fine Foliage favorites, shown here against the incredible coral toned bark of the ‘Pacific Fire’ Vine Maple.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 4: Evergreen plants that change color! WHAAATTTTT? Yes indeed there are many hardy, evergreen plants that DO change color in fall and winter and the Calluna vulgaris above is  just one of those options. These fall into the group of plants many of you might know as heath’s and heathers. They come in a rainbow of colors and many change dramatically in fall and winter.
Five reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThe heaths and heathers that change color SO well in fall and winter are also late season bloomers. One more reason to love them!
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageOrange and blue are an unexpected fall and winter combo to be sure!
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageSedum ‘Angelina’ is a top performer, possibly even a little “too easy” at times, but for all of her potential flaws she has some excellent qualities too. We adore her burnished apricot tones in fall and winter and rely on them after she is done with her audacious chartreuse performance in spring and summer.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 5: Try the not-so-obvious choices for fall and winter interest! This soft leaf yucca lends a tropical feeling and a green-blue color that pairs so well with the traditional fall colors.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall Foliage Speaking of blue! This Donkey-tail Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is an amazing blue textural interest. Mixed here with Sedum ‘Angelina’ before she shows off her russet tones in the cold weather to come, we can still get a taste of that soon to be color when we focus on the INCREDIBLE peeling bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in this combo.
Five Reasosn Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageWant to have some function to your fall fashion? Well then grapes might be an excellent way for you to get your fall color and eat it too! These happen to be an ornamental form of the typical edible vine, but you can still eat these grapes though they are smaller.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageLayer, layer layer! Whether evergreen, grassy, seeded or for the sheer personality of it all, get out there and fall in love with some new ideas for autumn!

Want to know about what Team Fine Foliage thinks about designing with foliage though all four seasons? Then you came to the right place! Click here for more info on our upcoming book coming out in early 2017 from Timber Press titled “Gardening with Foliage First”. 

If you aren’t already enjoying our weekly wit and design wisdom then you NEED to click that button over there >>>>>>>>> to get Fine Foliage delivered to your email easy-peasy like! 🙂

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


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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Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

It is natural to associate the color orange with the month of October for the obvious reason of course, Halloween!! But, Team Fine Foliage wants to remind you that it is of course the season for “leaf-peeping” and since orange is a hot and trendy color in design, why not start there?
Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

The color orange can have such range and variety of tone and dimension that it can cover a lot of territory in the landscape. Not to mention the broad spectrum of personality and emotion you can convey with orange, it’s an incredibly versatile color. From the colors that embody coral sunsets to bbq and beans, you can find a plant or a shade that suits nearly every design idea.
This ‘Grace’ Smokebush (above) is a wonderful option if you like drama. She is a cool-as-a- cucumber teal and green foliage sophisticate who becomes a hot-blooded vixen in fall. You can NOT avert your eyes when ‘Grace’ is present in autumn!
Fine Foliage Salutes Orange! Stewartia is a tree that is enjoying the design popularity contest right now for numerous reasons, its fall vibrancy being one of the top points. Wonderfully warm orange that can be included on the edge of red-toned keeps the eye focused in the distance above where this tree is in perfect harmony with the rusted arbor that creates a backdrop.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

Now when that same Stewartia is contrasted with pure white flower clusters of Choisya ternata and those fragrant blooms decided to bloom again because they think its spring- well then, THAT is a late season BONUS for sure!

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

Want to TRULY up your design street cred for fall color? How about matching your holly berries with the exact shade of Japanese maples you have planted in the distance. Talk about taking the loooooong view! But, you have to admit that it works!

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

While you might have appreciated the idea of using Sedum ‘Angelina’ for her chartreuse wow factor in spring as a high contrast ground cover, you might not have realized to extent to which she sports some pretty amazing orange fall and winter color too.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

There are many interesting Heath’s, Heather and Calluna that have some form of orange in their personality throughout the year. Fall and winter feature those types that might begin gold or light green and gain color throughout the growing season from spring to winter. There are some that turn orange and even red. The one above is ‘Flamingo’ or ‘Red Fred’, they are very similar and are most vibrant in late winter and early spring. If you want great orange you may also look for ‘Robert Chapman’, ‘Spring Torch’ or ‘Wickwar Flame’, but there are SO many more. Maybe start a collection!

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!
We couldn’t possibly feature ALL that embodies the variety of orange options year round, but naturally when we mention that you might be out on voyeuristic mission of the horticultural kind, you can’t imagine doing it without maples! Here in the Northwest part of the US, Japanese maples are king and queen for color. The range of shapes and colors for standout orange color are often missed the most by gardeners when choosing trees for the landscape as they tend to be more subtle and quiet in spring and summer when most of us are shopping. But, when cooler weather rolls around and the vibrancy of those shades ramps up- they are gone!!

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange! The ‘Fernleaf’ Japanese maple is one of the most coveted for its exquisite coloration in fall.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

The tiny leaves of the ‘Lion’s Mane’ maple creates a completely different effect in the landscape where the tree’s congested structure plays an important role in showing off the warm cinnamon tones on an upright growth habit.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange! These larger scale maples effortlessly frame this path with amazingly vibrant color that you may otherwise look past in spring.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

The name ‘Coral Bark’ maple kind of says it all for our salute to orange this week. But, you know we HAD to include this little powerhouse of a tree. The coral colored bark and foliage that begins chartreuse and ends up shades of gold, apricot, orange and coral doesn’t need a gold medal to be included among winners.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

This oak is giving Japanese maples a run for their money this season!!

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange! A bright gold Japanese maple backs up these showy orange/russet colored pots filled with abundant foliage based designs for this front entry making them stand-outs for the cool months.

Fine Foliage Salutes Orange!

Whether you love the big trees or the smaller details of berries such as the transitioning hypericum berries above or perennials and containers, there are great options available if you love orange!

Drop us a note and tell us what orange foliage is rocking your landscape right now!

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Shop for Collectors Conifers for the Landscape Today!

Who doesn’t love to shop? Not to mention when its your fall landscape assignment from Team Fine Foliage! One of the topics that we get asked about constantly is how to get more color and interest in the fall and winter landscape. And since everyone’s climate challenges are slightly different conifers remain one of the category of plants that seems to cross all of the USDA hardiness lines for the plants that everyone can appreciate in some form or another.

I will readily admit that plant names in general are never my strength for memory retention, and trees are at the top of that list. So, as you peruse the photos below hang with me, if I know the name of a tree, I will list it. If not, I won’t but that is where YOU come in; if YOU know the name and its not listed here, drop us a note in the comments and I will add it. Sometimes in the world of working 2or 3 jobs at a time, I don’t always have the time to properly ID some plants before posting- sorry FF Gang!

The idea with this post is to get you thinking about what conifers would look great in your landscape and to get your little landscaping rear-end to your nearest Independent Garden Center to get them as soon as possible before it gets too cold and the selection has dwindled. This is a fine time for digging and planting as the weather is still fairly mild in most locations and the work weather is divine!

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

This uber blue cypress is a columnar one that looks gorgeous in spring with this Heuchera ‘Delta Dawn’ planted below.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

The same blue cypress as above, but this time, showing you the incredibly pretty hydrangea paniculata ‘Quick Fire’ foliage with it in fall.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

My own beloved Weeping Larch in spring. Don’t you just want to pet those baby soft needles???

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

The incredible warm gold of the needles just before they drop in late fall.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

You may have seen Team Fine Foliage refer to this one as “Mr. Wissel”, he is officially ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ cypress. 🙂 A Columnar standout for the landscape in all four seasons.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

A lovely example of delicate gold details on this cedar, the red twig dogwood makes it even better!

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Another favorite that makes you just want to reach out and feel the feathery soft needles- the Cryptomeria elegans ‘Aurea’. Paired with this Ilex, a textural feast for the eyes.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

A Cryptomeria elegans showing off its famous winter color!

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Cryptomeria elegans paired with this gold cypress is eye-catching here in winter.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Possibly more pedestrian for some folks, but for many Italian Cypress feels quite decadent and exotic. The larger scale pine in the foreground is a good dark contrast.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

This columnar blue cypress paired with the broad leaves of magnolia and the delicate grass in the foreground are a wonderful compliment to one another.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

The cones of the weeping ‘Blue Atlas’ cedar are worth it for the winter interest alone, not to mention the color of the blue needles against that red maple in the background!

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Arizona cypress has been a favorite of mine for over 20 years. That BLUE and columnar growth habit are hard to beat!!


Feeling fancy? Then maybe this truly collectors ‘Wollemi’ pine is right up your alley. The story about how this tree was discovered is VERY cool via National Geographic- Google it! 🙂

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Other than the INCREDIBLE blue of the sky in Denver, this columnar pine tree is pretty spectacular too!!

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

An affordable way to collect small conifers is to buy the one made for container gardens and miniature gardens and grow them on in containers until they are sized up for the landscape.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

Crazy cool and unusual is the Cryptomeria ‘Cristata’. Remind me to tell you all a very funny story about this tree one day. LOL

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

One of my clients picked out this gold pine to go into a container in her landscape. Its gorgeous against this red leaved Japanese maple.

Start Shopping for Collectors Conifers Now for the Landscape!

A ‘Chief Joseph’ pine is good one for the small garden and provides a wonderful accent to the winter garden as it lights up dark days!

What conifers are you shopping for in your landscape this year? Let us know, drop us a comment below! 

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Stylish Early Fall Shade Garden

One of the most common complaints that I hear from design clients about their gardens is that they feel defeated about what to do in the shade garden. After spending time and energy trying plants that were too water needy, can’t tolerate being moist, disease prone or simply needing more light than they realized, it absolutely can be frustrating, not to mention expensive.
So, when I mention some of the great shade standards such as hosta, they scrunch their face up and reply with a response that usually describes their boredom and lack of enthusiasm for these seemingly “pedestrian” options. However, when we begin to talk about the exquisite varieties that they can plant and which plant pairings can go with them such as conifers and grasses, there is a distinct change of expression and excitement like a little kid who can’t wait for Christmas.
Here are a few early fall shade garden examples of just such options this week from the spectacular garden called PowellsWood in Federal Way, Washington. Much of this garden resides under mature fir trees with superb plant pairings that absolutely shine in the shade.
Stylish Early Fall Shade GardensStylish Early Fall Shade GardenThese chalky blue hosta (‘Hadspen Blue’) or ‘Halcyon’ are the perfect counterpoint under the chartreuse color of the Japanese maple. Layered together with one of the MOST unique new hosta available called ‘Praying Hands’ with its upright dark green, wavy foliage featuring fine white edge details, it is one of my favorite vignettes in the entire garden.
At the back of this captivating foliage combination, the tips of a hemlock shrub, ‘Gentsch White’ glow in a soft and misty white detail. It will grow up and have even more prominence standing up over this combination in the future.
Stylish Early Fall Shade GardenSplendid Chinese wild ginger spreads out elegantly in the shade of this palm tree garden paired with Astelia ‘Westland’ that sports a subtle bronze stripe. The spiky upright habit of the Astelia is perfectly suited in size and lacy texture of the Japanese ‘Tassel’ fern while billowy grasses thrive partial shade in the background to compliment them.
There is no need to be frustrated and disenchanted with your shade garden plants. These photos in a spectacular shade garden illustrate how common types of plants in uncommon forms, paired with new options you may never have considered, can give you stylish options. Ask your local independent garden center to provide new and unique plants that will inspire you to try combinations that excite and delight you in your shade garden

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Fido-Proof Foliage


Bo (left) and Mia. Photo credit Gethyn Clothier

I have two golden retrievers with varying degrees of intelligence. Bo is big, blonde and goofy. Mia is smaller and more devious. For the most part our garden and the dogs live in harmony. The vegetable garden is fenced to keep the deer out and also serves to keep canine noses within reach of just a few strawberries and only the lowest apples.

Bo knows that  this path is off limits. Knowing and remembering, however, are two different skills

Bo knows that this path is off limits. Knowing and remembering, however, are two different skills

They know they have to keep out of certain areas that aren’t fenced but have a distinct change in tactile surface e.g. grass is OK but the wood chips path that winds through the bigger borders is off limits.

OOPS - we'd only had Bo a few days at this point so forgiveable

OOPS – we’d only had Bo a few days at this point so forgivable. Photo credit; Gethyn Clothier

The problem arises when they see deer. Or Rabbits. Or a squirrel. Or heaven help us the neighbor because at that point 85 pounds of blonde fur is likely to fly through shrubs and perennials, tail wagging with abandon.

Sound familiar? How can the garden survive such joie de vivre? I find dense planting helps (no clear pathway between them) but certain plants are tougher than others.

I look for flexible branches that will give way rather than snap, tough foliage that won’t shred under paws and multi-stemmed shrubs so that if one or two canes get damaged it’s not the end of the world.

Here are some of my favorite tromp-able foliage plants that look good enough for me and survive happy dogs.


Kaleidoscope abelia has colorful variegated foliage

Kaleidoscope abelia has colorful variegated foliage

These evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs work hard in the garden. Drought tolerant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant they also have fragrant flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. Kaleidoscope is one of several variegated forms. Plant this next to a purple shrub such as a smoke bush or weigela and you’ve got the makings of a top notch vignette.

David’s viburnum

Davids viburnum with river birch

Davids viburnum with river birch

This tough evergreen shrub has a bad reputation for being boring thanks to its ubiquitous use along roadsides, in shopping malls and just about anywhere else you need a low maintenance, fuss-free plant. Hang on a minute though; since when was that a bad thing? These wide spreading shrubs survive deer, rabbits, drought and DOGS. Spring flowers, fall berries and easy going; you may need to put your pride aside and look at David’s viburnum again.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Fall Foliage on Little Henry

Fall Foliage on Little Henry

I favor the compact variety Little Henry as it fits easily into modest sized gardens but this is a foliage workhorse even at full size (Henry’s Garnet). Fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color that often persists through winter are two great attributes but this deciduous shrub also thrives in wet soil and grows by suckering. For dog owners that’s a plus as it means there are lots of soft pliable stems so some will remain unscathed after the dog-chases-rabbit rampage is over.

Blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Many low growing conifers survive the odd tennis ball but the short branches and needles  together with its irregular growth habit help the Blue Star juniper easily disguise some minor trampling. Larger pine boughs would definitely be missed by comparison.

Flanked by a viburnum and spirea the blue star juniper survives bouncing tennis balls and paws

Flanked by a viburnum and spirea the blue star juniper survives bouncing tennis balls and paws

Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)

Lemon Beauty has an attractive lemon and lime variegation

Lemon Beauty has an attractive lemon and lime variegation

If you have a shrub that you can prune anyhow, anytime and it still looks OK then chances are good that it will be fine with dogs too. Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) is a sprawling semi-evergreen/evergreen shrub with several attractive varieties sporting interesting foliage colors. Lemon Beauty is one of my favorites. I allow it to grow into a wide arching shrub to disguise irrigation pipes in one area of the garden but prune it more closely for shape in another.

Plants to avoid – at least initially

Dogs love to eat grass – especially the expensive ones like Japanese forest grass and mondo so wait a while on adding those if you’re training a puppy. Taller grasses can also quickly be ravaged by boisterous dogs.

Western sword ferns may not be the most delicate - but that is why they survive dog play

Western sword ferns may not be the most delicate – but that is why they survive dog play

Soft, delicate ferns are likely to get torn to shreds (e.g. western maidenhair fern) but the tougher more leathery varieties will cope better e.g. western sword fern

Anything whose beauty is associated with perfect symmetry! That suggests leaving globe shaped conifers behind in favor of ones with a little more personality.

Paws for thought

I haven’t mentioned plants with thorns such as Oregon grape (Mahonia), holly or barberries. These will hurt dogs and none of us wants to do that. When your dogs are trained by all means include these great shrubs if they are suitable for your area, but perhaps set them into the border a little way. Even well behaved dogs have accidents when leaping for a tennis ball!

Share your ideas

We’d love to hear what plants you have used that have survived being torn up by paws or knocked flat by tails (or rolled onto …)

Why do I feel as though the dogs will have the last laugh??

Why do I feel as though the dogs will have the last laugh??

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If you could only choose ONE plant….

……what would it be? Christina would stamp her feet and insist on at least two; Heuchera and Euphorbia. I’m rather more pragmatic because my choice has to survive fickle weather, burrowing rabbits, hungry deer, drought, clay soil – and be cheap. But of course those are just the boring practicalities. I also want low maintenance, longevity, stunning foliage and maybe some flowers as well. Yes I am my toughest client! Here’s my answer though;


While many of my trees are still leafing out the spirea can be relied upon for adding lots of color to the May border

While many of my trees are still leafing out the spirea can be relied upon for adding lots of color to the May border

I wrote about this amazing group of deciduous shrubs three years ago on my personal  blog but my collection and appreciation has grown since then and I think it’s time to share the love with my Fine Foliage friends too.

As certain conifers, weigela and even some barberries have  succumbed to weather or wildlife in my garden the spirea have continued not only to survive but to thrive. These are the ones I am currently growing and am thrilled with.

Gold Fountain bridal wreath (Spiraea x vanhouttei ‘Gold Fountain’).


Even though this is still a young plant it is developing a beautiful shape.

This is a more colorful version of the  old fashioned bridal wreath spirea since its spring foliage is a vivid lime green . By May (seen here) the leaves soften to a more muted gold – a color that persists through fall when it adds more vibrant yellow and orange notes to the display.


Give this shrub some room to stretch into a loose weeping fountain 5′ tall and wide. In May the branches are weighed down by festoons of white flowers – a stunning display to look forward to each spring.


Hardy in zones 3-8 and happy in full sun or partial shade although the color will be brightest in sun.

Double Play Blue Kazoo spirea (Spiraea media ‘SMSMBK’)


Blue Kazoo is worth the treasure hunt

This is a new introduction so you may have to hunt for this one but it is worth seeking out. The leaves are larger than many spirea and quickly mature to a beautiful blue-green with a soft rose blush – an invaluable color in the garden to break up higher contrast plantings. Flat clusters of fuzzy white flowers cover the mounding shrub in mid-spring and are a magnet for bees and butterflies! In fall the foliage assumes red and burgundy tints.

I featured this shrub as an ideal specimen to grow in a container in the March 2015 issue of Country Gardens – it’s that good!

Hardy in zones 3-9 in full sun or part shade.

Mellow Yellow spirea, Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’)


Ogon spirea has a wonderful feathery texture – quite different from the other species

For a completely different look consider this larger shrub. Ogon grows to 5′ tall and wide, is fabulous planted en masse or as a single specimen and is one of the first shrubs to get leaves in spring in my garden.


Long arching branches of golden willow-like leaves move in the breeze and cascade to form an informal mound. Small white flowers dot the branches in early spring but aren’t as decorative as those on other spirea.

Fall color is a blend of rust and orange so situate this shrub near trees or shrubs that have contrasting autumnal color such as the red maples (Acer rubrum).

Hardy in zones 5-8 in full sun or part shade but the color is brightest in full sun.

Glow Girl birchleaf spirea (Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor Gold’)


I wasn’t expecting much from Glow Girl when I received it as a trial plant a few years ago. I figured it would just be another spirea that started out lime green, faded to yellow and had nice fall color. In fact it really does stand out from the spirea crowd in my garden. The lobed leaves are well defined and have tints of red on the margins and stems. Rather than pink flowers this variety has pure white blooms that bring a fresh look to the spring border.


Glow Girl adds sparkle to a mixed (deer resistant) border with bronze astilbe, Rainbow leucothoe and a purple barberry.


I am growing this in full sun as well as an area that receives afternoon shade and both shrubs do equally well. The foliage doesn’t scorch and remains bright through fall when it turns yellow.

Hardy in zones 3-9. the growers predict an ultimate size of 3-4′ tall and wide. After two years my 4″ baby plant is now 18″ tall and wide.

Double Play Artist spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Galen’)


When you need an easy care ‘filler’ shrub for the border consider this option. The foliage of Artist opens a soft burgundy/muted purple before maturing to a nice mid green. Fat clusters of fuzzy fuchsia-pink flowers in spring contrast well with the leaves.

This variety seems to be more compact than other mounded forms, maturing to 30″ tall and wide. It is hardy in zones 3-9.

Double Play Gold spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Gold’)


Double Play Gold warms up the May garden alongside a Blue Star juniper, flowering viburnum and a Thunderhead pine

This is one of the key shrubs in my main border. I have two groups of five shrubs and they are truly stunning for three seasons of the year.

The foliage of Double Play Gold opens in shades of copper, matures to gold and softens to yellow in fall. New growth is constantly appearing and is a lovely rosy color. Flat clusters of pink flowers cover the bushes in summer and with just an occasional trimming will continue to bloom until fall.

Although the growers state this as reaching 2-3′ tall and wide mine are already 3-4′ after three years so allow enough space when planting.

I love these next to blue foliage such as Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’). Watch out for a very special combo called Sassitude in our new book next year featuring these together with other great foliage and flowers.

Goldmound spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’)


Rhododendrons need colorful shrubs nearby; Goldmound spirea is perfect

There were several of these large shrubs in the garden when we moved here. They thrive despite being ignored, squashed by other plants, in sun and shade, in wet soil and dry. .Again the growers seem to suggest these are ‘compact’ yet one of mine is well over 4′ tall and wide and still growing!

Hardy in zones 4-8 in sun or part shade.

General characteristics

  • Deer resistant (deer may nibble flowers but have never damaged the shrubs – and I love the new foliage color caused by their inadvertant deadheading!!)
  • Drought tolerant
  • Will tolerate wet and/or clay soils
  • Sun or part shade
  • No pruning needed
  • Low maintenance
  • Great fall color
  • Attracts bees and butterflies plus some short sighted hummingbirds

What’s your ‘must have’ group of plants for the garden? Leave us a comment or tell us on Facebook!


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