Tag Archives: Ferns

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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Tiny Courtyard Makeover


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

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

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


BEFORE: predictable Builders Blah

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Garden Designer’s TOP SECRET Plant Picks!

Garden designers REALLY don’t want just anybody to be able to do what we do. We want there to be some mystique, some fascination, some magic to what we create for our clients. But we DO have secret weapons in our design arsenal that ANYONE can try out affordably and dramatically. Ready? FERNS! Yes, you heard us FERNS!

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksFerns are often low on the shopping order of excitement for nursery customers and often overlooked because they need to utilized WELL in order for them to shine. And if they aren’t sited or paired up with the right companions, they can be down right boring. However, designers know that ferns can be THE MOST dramatic and showy plants in the entire landscape if you allow them to be the super-stars that they can be.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksWhether you are wanting evergreen or perennial ferns, the design options are incredible and this little secret is one of many in a GOOD garden designers vast arsenal of tricks. Ferns are available for every type of location from full shade to sun, dry shade to moist, from tall to ground cover, from evergreen to perennial and everything in between. And this makes them a valuable plant option for many types of locations.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

For THE absolute experts in the world of ferns, my go-to professionals are at Fancy Fronds Nursery here in the NW. The amazing ladies who own this nursery know their ferns and can provide you with everything from collectors ferns to the more common.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Designers know that a fern can often do what other plants can’t, and that is being able to play a supporting OR a string role in the display at any given time during the season. This spectacular display by designer Riz Reyes  (above) shows the important supporting actor role that ferns are playing when other plants NEED to have a starring role.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksDesigners also know that ferns are not simply one shot wonders in the fluffy summer landscape, they are critical players in the year round landscape. In the shot above, the ‘Autumn Fern’ shows off-color in early fall with a ‘Cappuccino’ Sedge.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Another way to think of using ferns to their highest and best purpose is to know that they can be both bold AND delicate depending on how you pair them. In this shot above, the trio of the ‘Maidenhair’ fern with Daphne ‘Summer Ice’ and ‘Mugho’ pine are a texture lovers dream! But, it is in quite a powerful and strong way.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

In this photo, the delicate new growth in spring has lovely blushing color and comes across as incredibly feminine and lush.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksSometimes the green on green of ferns layered together is an elegant way to fill an area with hardy and showy textures, this is a common trick that designers employ in those hard to plant low-light spots. But, WOW! Who needs more color when you have this ‘Hart’s Tongue’ fern with a carpet of ‘Oak’ fern underneath?!

Garden designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Talk about luscious green on green! WOWZA! This ‘Paris’ Polyphylla truly shines as it stands up tall over a bed of ‘Maidenhair’ fern and glossy ginger foliage.


Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Even in a fairly bright spot you have amazing ferny options, such as the leathery, deep green ‘Tassle’ fern.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Or use the incredibly beautiful ‘Ghost’ fern as a way to up-light these white allium flowers! This is a vastly under-utilized foliage color in the fern world, there are way too many great ways for this amazingly silver foliage to light up a dark corner or give just the right zing to a darker leaved companion.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Used in the foreground of this larger blue-green hosta in the rear, who needs more? The purplish-black stems are an incredibly lovely contrast to the ‘Ghost’ fern’s silver luminescence. But, if you wanted to play up those dark stems even more, pair this combination with the glossy bronze foliage of Beesia (see the photo below for Beesia in action) where it’s heart shaped leaves and white fairy-wand type flowers would bring even more wow-factor to this combination!

Obviously there are so many more ferns than we have room to show off here in one blog post, like the ever-present ‘Sword’ fern that is like a mascot in the NW garden, other than slugs possibly. 🙂 But, even a seemingly pedestrian plant like a ‘Sword’ fern shines with the right plants around it. So, the main take-away this week is that, we designers have this little design secret that may seem to many gardeners like a ho-hum addition to the landscape, but if you know the secret handshake and password, we’re happy to share ideas with you.


Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksOh! Did we NOT mention the secret password??????? Next week……….

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Winter Survivors and Thrivers

This is a good time to review those winter containers and see what has thrived despite extreme temperature swings, inconsiderate deer and neglect. Let’s face it, January is not the finest hour for most gardens but if we can keep a few containers looking stellar in the ‘off season’ it’s easier to ignore those iffy garden corners.

After several years observation I have found these plants to be reliable performers with little or no winter damage in my zone 6b/7 garden. Although Christina and I only live about 45′ away from one another my garden is much colder and I have to deal with deer so like some of you I have plant envy at times!

So take this foliage selection as a little winter pick-me-up. You can totally justify a trip to the nurseries to find one or more of these – just tell them Team Fine Foliage sent you.

Curly Red drooping fetterbush (Leucothoe axillaris ‘Curly Red’)

IMG_1134Evergreen, leathery twisted and puckered leaves take on rich burgundy tones in cold weather deepening to purple in winter. This dwarf shrub  grows slowly to about 16″ tall and wide as a tidy mound so is perfect for a container but also works well in the landscape, perhaps planted as a mass groundcover or as a compact specimen to accent more delicate foliage.

IMG_8698It makes a stunning contrast with golden conifers such as the Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’) shown above.

IMG_8117In summer the foliage is mostly green, the younger leaves being a lovely fresh shade.

Color ideas

I’m thinking of planting a group in my woodland near a stand of Bowle’s Golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’), autumn ferns (Drypoteris erythrosora), dwarf green spruce and yellow  cowslips. To one side is a young Rhode Island Red Japanese maple (Acer p. ‘Rhode Island Red’) and the whole group is in the dappled shade of a golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’). Mmmm.

Cultivation notes

  • Well drained soil in partial shade, partial sun
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Somewhat drought tolerant when established
  • Hardy in zones 6-9

Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)


The winter color is deeper


I have many different conifers in my garden from towering 60′ Douglas fir to dwarf spruce  with colors from darkest green to bright gold. Each has earned its place and is loved for different reasons but if I could only pick one and it had to be tough as nails, had never shown any winter burn, had great color, didn’t need pruning, was disease resistant, drought tolerant and was ignored by deer the humble Blue Star juniper would be my pick. We featured it on the cover of our book Fine Foliage and we have some breathtaking combinations using this conifer in our next book (still busy writing that one….). It’s inexpensive, easy to find…. Have I convinced you yet?


The foliage is a duskier blue-green in summer

Use this low growing conifer to edge a border, add to a container, soften a stone wall or snuggle up to a large boulder.

Color Ideas

Take a leaf out of our book (pun intended – couldn’t resist) and pair it with Berry Smoothie coral bells for year round color

Let our book inspire you! Blue Star juniper is seen in spring with pink and gold companions

Let our book inspire you! Blue Star juniper is seen here in spring with pink and gold companions

Looks equally fabulous with bold orange and hot red; think dark leaved barberries or weigela in an orange container with black mondo grass….

We have a multi-trunked Himalayan white birch tree (Betula utilis var. ‘Jacquemontii’) underplanted with Blue Star junipers anchoring one end of a large border. ‘We’ (aka my long-suffering husband) has just moved my large orange pot into that area so it is now framed by the blue conifers; those colors really POP.

Cultivation notes

  • Compact 3′ x 3′ mound
  • Evergreen
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Drought tolerant once established
  • Full sun
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Blondie coral bells (Heuchera ‘Blondie)



Photo courtesy Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Some heuchera do better than others depending on where you live – agreed. In fact you may find this post I wrote with breeder Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. to be helpful in helping you fine-tune your selection.

I have some I consider annuals, some that look terrible in winter but revive so well in spring that I let them stay, others that I consider short term perennials (great for 3 years – maybe 4) and just a few that I have to stand back and admire because they truly exceed my expectations.

These are neither deer nor rabbit resistant so I am limited in how I can use them but the value of a colorful, evergreen bold leaf is such that I keep a few on hand for my designs. Blondie is one of my current top picks.


The round leaves are a soft ginger in fall (as seen here), getting deeper throughout the winter and rich mahogany in spring. Each leaf is ~ 2″ in diameter so it wont swallow neighboring plants, making it a great container plant.


Blondie has some of the showiest flowers of all the coral bells. Fat spikes of creamy flowers on red stems bloom profusely over many weeks. These make great cut flowers or leave them for the hummingbirds to enjoy.

Color ideas

I can’t give too much away here as we have a five star combo featuring Blondie in our new book! I’ll give you a clue; the colors are deep teal, deep rose and burnt orange……

Cultivation notes

  • I keep this in a corner of my fenced vegetable garden, ready for me to add it to a container as needed. It has done equally well in that semi-landscape setting as it has in pots
  • Partial sun and partial shade are generally recommended but mine was in full sun all summer and never scorched.
  • A smaller, more compact variety than most; mine measures 10-12″ tall and wide after 2.5  years.
  • Evergreen
  • Do not over-water.
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’)

Photo courtesy of Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Photo courtesy of Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Walk into any nursery in February and get ready to swoon…………it’s the time of year when winter daphne tickles our olfactory senses – or perhaps assaults rather than tickles! Some may find the sweet and spicy fragrance cloying but I love it and have two of these semi-evergreen shrubs near our front door.

Daphne have a reputation of being rather fickle but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. I’ve grown them in containers then transplanted them without a problem. Mine are in morning shade and afternoon sun (the opposite of what many books recommend), I never water them (my soil is moisture retentive but well drained and good quality loam) and the deer have ignored them.

Photo courtesy Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Photo courtesy Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

In many areas these daphne are evergreen. In my  garden they can lose up to 75% of their gold and green variegated foliage during an extremely cold snap  but quickly leaf out again and the flowering buds never seem to be affected. I therefore consider them worthy of inclusion here!

Color ideas

Pick up on the pink and white flowers with the addition of hellebores – there are so many to choose from right now.

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Check out the last post Christina wrote on choosing hellebores for their foliage too.

Penny's Pink Hellebore

Penny’s Pink Hellebore

Penny’s Pink foliage would be a fun companion to the daphne, bringing pink and yellow color echoes. I’d soften the duo up a bit with some fine textured grasses such as the variegated moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ ) which would look good even dried and bleached in winter while the very finely variegation of green and soft yellow would be pretty from spring-fall.


Do as I do or do as I say? Up to you! I’ve already told you how mine grows. Here’s the official line;

  • Grows to 4′ tall and 6′ wide
  • Prefers light, open or dappled shade
  • Water occasionally
  • Hardy in zones 7-9

Consider us your enablers – we’ll see you at the nursery!

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Fine Festive Foliage

Some leaves are simply more ‘Holiday ready’ than others. Here’s what we look for ;

  • Doesn’t drink too much
  • Naughty or nice (but not too naughty!)
  • Looks good with bling
  • A fun party host and is good at mingling

And the winners are…..

1. ‘Rainbow’ drooping fetterbush (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’)

Rainbow Leucothoe in Winter

This glitzy lady knows how to get all gussied up. Evergreen, deer resistant (those wretched creatures are terrible gatecrashers), drought tolerant and can take center stage or be a regular party guest.

2. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’)

Copy of July 2011 Peace Tree Farm 211

Decked out in gold and copper this girl knows how to bring the bling. Evergreen, tea-total and great at just hanging out (or over) – be sure to have this succulent in your party pots

3. Scallywag holly (Ilex x meservae ‘MonNieves’ )

IMG_0511A cousin of Little Rascal, this holly isn’t nearly as naughty as you’d expect. Knows how to wear that little black dress and looks great with gold or silver accessories. Those party-pooping deer leave Scallywag alone too.

4. Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)



The Queen of Elegance, dusty miller knows how to wear sexy silver lace. Have you noticed how many times her velvety outfit gets stroked? Keeps her drinking to a minimum but loves to play with others whether its a black tie gathering or something more colorful.

5. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

IMG_0447it’s important to have a mix of personalities at any party so this soft feathery fern is a great one to have on the invitation list. She does drink a little more than the the other guests but she handles it well and without excess. Gold and copper highlights add an olde world charm to any gathering.

The BIG Bling

silver ball

Need a little extra glitz? Save a few glass balls from the tree and tuck them into containers and window boxes together with some extra large pine cones.


Maybe add a few sparkly stems and little ornaments too.


For more ideas on how to dress up those containers enjoy our post from last year showcasing work from our friends around the country.

So what are your containers wearing this year? Tell us all about them and we’d love to see photos on Facebook.


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Need Some Winter Foliage Inspiration?


Then head to your local independent garden center! We are blessed with an abundance of first class nurseries in the Seattle area. Staffed by professional horticulturalists, keen home gardeners and part time designers you can always be assured of finding a great selection of plants, expert advice and most importantly at this time of year – ideas!

I wanted to freshen up the containers on my front porch this weekend and had planned to gather greenery and holly from the woods at the back of the property. Only one problem – they are covered in a few inches of frozen snow which doesn’t seem to be melting anytime soon. I can also usually dig up a few things from the garden to tuck in such as young evergreen shrubs and trailing periwinkle but that isn’t possible either. So when the ice melts on the roads a bit I’ll be heading out to a nursery to gather my ingredients.

Here’s what I found at Sky Nursery in Shoreline, Seattle last December.

1. Oval metal planters

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Why it Works

Simple and elegant this design has a crisp green, red and white color scheme with a few tasteful metallic accents. Notice how the silver sprays echo the washed grey metal containers- great attention to detail.

Foliage Framework

Young upright conifer

Small evergreen fern

Green and white variegated grass

Bright green moss to hide the soil


Jacob hellebore

White pansy

Red cyclamen (also has great foliage)

Berried wintergreen (small glossy evergreen leaves too)

Decorative silver spray stems

Sheer gold ribbon

2. Round birch pot

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Designer credit; Stephanie, Sky Nursery

Why it works

The rustic pots leads the design style here. All foliage and flowering elements follow a simple monochromatic green and white theme with only the bow adding a touch of contrasting color

Foliage Framework

Dwarf mounding conifer

Green and white variegated euonymus (Euonymus f. ‘Emerald Gaity’)

Silver icicle plant (or substitute a silvery lavender)

Grey Spanish moss to trim the pot


White cyclamen (gorgeous green and white foliage too)

White pansy

White flocked branches

Sheer burgundy bow

3. Tiered fountain

IMG_1166This design would only work if the fountain was in a covered courtyard – otherwise the tiers would fill with water and rot the plants. However we can still get ideas for plant combinations to add to our containers out in the garden.

Why it Works

All three tiers have a common color scheme yet use different plants to get the effect.

Plants are repeated around each tier for a unified look

Foliage Framework and Accents

Top tier;

Green and white variegated grasses

Berried wintergreen

Green and white trailing ivy

Middle tier;

Silver Astelia (the grass-like plant with wide blades)

Deer fern

Icicle plant

White pansies

Lower tier;

Soft burgundy coral bells

Green and white trailing ivy

White pansies

4. Final Flourishes

IMG_1197Look past the large number and varieties of plants here to get ideas for adding the fun factor.

The tiered stand to the left could easily be a re-purposed pot stand, or perhaps an old kitchen produce holder. Each section is lined with moss as you would a hanging basket then filled with soil and plants.

The tall green pot may not be planted at all and just acting as a pedestal. There appears to be a ‘nest’ of wood excelsior that is acting as the shallow planter. Placed over the top is a rusted metal frame. Is it a hanging basket frame placed upside down? Or a cloche without the protective fabric or glass? Or a cake dome??? I’ve no idea – but maybe I have something in the barn like this that I can use. Do you? A few thin twisted branches have been inserted too, helping keep the arrangement loose.

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Subtle yet Powerful

Design by Brandon Vanden Eykel, Qualitree

Design by Brandon Vanden Eykel, Qualitree

Christina and I are easily excited I admit. Show us some fabulous foliage and we’re all of a twitter as we start brainstorming where to put it, what to pair it with and how we can justify buying it. Perhaps the only thing we derive (almost) as much pleasure from is teaching others foliage focused design.

I recently had the opportunity to visit two plant growers in British Columbia; Van Belle Nursery and Qualitree. You probably aren’t familiar with those names but I’m sure you’ll be familiar with their fabulous plants both in the USA and Canada. These are the nurseries that grow conifers, shrubs, perennials and more from tiny cuttings. These are then sold to the wholesale nurseries who in turn sell them to the retail nurseries where you shop.

Both these companies wanted to improve their ready-made container designs and so called me in to teach them how.

This particular design was probably my favorite out of the several dozen we created over those two days. The designer was Brendan Vanden Eykel of Qualitree and he immediately ‘got it’ when I demonstrated how to start with a great foliage plant, (our spotlight plant)  look for something to enhance it (highlight) then add the final touch – whether that be something wild and unexpected or a continuation of the theme (limelight).

In Brandon’s own words;

“I love designing planters (one of my passions) and after your presentation I see things totally different and it was right in front of me the whole time. “

Photo courtesy of Qualitree

Photo courtesy of Qualitree

That’s just it – it’s about looking at the foliage for design clues and working from there. Here’s how Brandon built the planter;



Japanese painted fern; this was the starting point with the silvery grays setting off the striking burgundy veins



To highlight the burgundy vein of the fern he added a small size purple smoke bush. This will quickly outgrow the pot of course but this was about teaching design principles and also creating ‘grab and go’ planters.


Rather than adding a wild card Brendan chose to keep to this muted monochromatic color palette which I just loved. Qualitree is known for its amazing heathers, specifically Calluna. This one had soft pink flowers on dark green foliage so added a pretty floral accent,


There was still bare soil showing and of course we couldn’t have that so a mix of blue-green and dusky purple succulents were added to act as a groundcover and link everything together. These succulents were grown as a mat so he literally cut pieces off to add to the planter.

Coming soon to a store near you……


We have a FABULOUS giveaway next week so be sure to tell all your friends about our blog for a chance to win a very special online garden design course AND a signed copy of our book! That’s all I’m telling you for now….

Sizzling Grape Jelly Carpet of Foliage

Tradescantia zebrina, the lovely purple and silver dominant foliage in this shot is the eye-catching plant carpeting the floor of the hothouse display at the Denver Botanic Garden. But, what REALLY caught my eye was how the contrast and interplay of the four dominant foliage plants in the display all weave together making a tropical patchwork quilt with a distinctly grape flavor of clear grape jelly.
Denver Botanic Garden Tropical House Of course your eye goes straight to the BIG leaf plant in the center, (no tag that I could find) but, now look at how many other textures fill out this frame. The fern and the other beautiful leaf with silver banding (no tag that I could find). This lesson is really about the layers of the textures though, the grape jelly is just because of that yummy color!

Denver Botanic Garden Tropical HouseThe four distinct texture just MAKE this combination! Something BIG and bold, something medium-sized, a fine texture addition and a scrumptious color and voila! If you look closely you can even make out a flower that made it into the post too! 😉

What leafy textural combinations have you spotted lately?

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