Tag Archives: First Editions

Spring Bloomers that Keep on GOING!

Now why on earth is Team Fine Foliage extolling the praises of FLOWERS you may ask? Because THESE spring blooming perennials have outstanding foliage, either by virtue of color or texture, that continues to add value to the landscape through fall or even beyond. (Part-timers that peter out mid-summer don’t qualify for this list). Intrigued?

Jack Frost Siberian Bugloss

Jack Frost collage

Landscape design by Edith Silbert, as featured in Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

First to bloom, last to fade. That means color, bold texture and remarkable performance from March to late October in my  garden.

Forget-me-not type flowers are perfect for  diminutive posies, blooming for well over a month. The silver veined green leaves expand to form large mounds of heart shaped gorgeousness – stunning with ferns, hostas and all your other favorite shade perennials. They also work exceptionally well in containers.

Still not convinced? Think FREE PLANTS. Those clumps keep getting bigger and it is really easy to separate out small plants to add to other areas of your garden. Why not create a “river” of these as Adrian Bloom does in his world-renowned garden?

Check out all the fine details of this stunning perennial here.

Pasqueflower

Pasqueflower collage 2

I first got to know  pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) in England, finding the purple flowers enchanting and invariably in bloom at Easter time. Many decades and a cross-Atlantic voyage later, I realized that there was far more to this spring perennial than just the flowers.

The lacy, fern-like foliage is a wonderful textural addition to the garden, and is evergreen in mild winters for me. Children of all ages will be fascinated by the fuzz of silky-white hairs that cover the stems and buds creating a halo effect that adds to the charm. Even after the flowers fade, don’t be too quick to nip them off – check out the seedheads!

Varieties are now available with red, purple, rose or lavender flowers. Use them to line a pathway where you can enjoy the details up close. The delicate foliage looks good with bolder textures such as lungwort (shown below) and variegated winter daphne

Cheddar Pinks

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Although these don’t start blooming until mid-spring, Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) make up for lost time, often re-blooming in fall.  Their spicy, fragrance is unforgettable.

Colors are mostly in the pink family, with plenty of named varieties to choose from but my favorite is Firewitch. Intense magenta-pink flowers are set off by the cushion of blue-grey foliage to perfection. Shearing off the spent flowering stalks in mid-summer will encourage the re-bloom; well worth a few minutes on your hands and knees with a pair of scissors!

But that foliage is swoon-worthy alone. Evergreen, compact, drought tolerant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant, the clumps expand slowly to become a weed-smothering groundcover that thrives in a well drained sunny area (but tolerates my amended clay soil, despite references to suggest otherwise).

Combine it with foliage in shades of silver for a romantic look e.g. Bella Grigio lamb’s ears, or add drama with deep chocolate foliage such as Little Devil ninebark or Spilled Wine weigela. Mmmm.

English Primrose

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Now I’m not talking about those psychedelic horrors you see outside the grocery stores! Such in-your-face colors scream too loud for my tastes.

I’m talking here about the true native (to the UK) primrose – a soft buttermilk yellow that blends easily with other plants , is reliably perennial, and encourages chubby children’s fingers to pluck a few stems for a thimble-sized table display. The flowers even have a faint scent too.

I’ve included them here as you may be surprised to learn that the crinkled green foliage grows into a large hosta-sized mound by mid-summer and those clumps are easy to divide in fall or spring to start your own primrose-lined pathway. Unlike hosta, however, they are deer and rabbit resistant. (Oddly enough the rabbits nip the flower buds off my cowslip (Primula veris) but never these).

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I mingle mine with a carpet of Georgia Blue veronica (just starting to bloom) in the woodland garden

Lungwort

Pulmonaria collage

Combination top right featured in our book Fine Foliage (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013)

Another favorite from my childhood growing up in England – lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.). One of the common names for this perennial is “soldiers and sailors” on account of the flowers changing color as they age, from pink to blue.

The variety shown above, inherited when we bought the garden and house) is most likely Mrs. Moon but there are many others to choose from with flowers in deep cobalt blue or lavender-pink.

As you’d expect, the flowers are only the opening act for what becomes an exceptionally long season of interest thanks to the silver and green spotted foliage which grows into monster sized, deer and rabbit resistant clumps. The degree of silver patterning varies  – some varieties have an almost entirely silver leaf. Explore some of the options here.

Although essentially low maintenance, these tips will help you get the most from the plant:

  • After blooming, sheer the entire plant (leaves and flowers) down to the crown. It will regrow within two weeks and the new foliage is much less likely to succumb to mildew by mid-summer
  • In early spring cut away any winter damaged foliage for a cleaner appearance

This perennial is from the borage family – you will feel the similarity in the leaves, so wear gloves to avoid irritation.

Recommended for the shade garden in moisture retentive soil, I also grow it in almost full sun with no irrigation as you can see by the combination with the silver artmesia above. It does fine with just some supplemental water after exceptionally hot summer days – experiment in your own garden. You may be surprised. (My soil is amended clay and mulched)

Others high performing spring bloomers to consider

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Barrenwort (Epimedium sp.)

What’s YOUR favorite?

Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page to tell us! And remember you can ideas using these and many more in our books Fine Foliage and Gardening with Foliage First.

Note: this post contains affiliate links

New Introductions – New Favorites

I am always excited to see what new plants growers are offering, especially if they have fabulous foliage. Bonus points for deer resistance! Reading about them is only half the story, however. Actually growing them in my own landscape and/or containers is the true test as to whether I recommend them to you or use them in future designs for clients. Here they have to deal with deer, rabbits, lack of irrigation, squishing into pots or neglect. The latter is never intentional but I must admit I do sometimes put smaller test plants into ‘corners’ and promptly forget about them. It’s a wonderful surprise to discover them a few months later and see the plants thriving!

These are a few of the shrubs and perennials I have been testing in my own garden this summer.

Summer Ruffle Hibiscus

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Hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

There are a few variegated hibiscus on the market now; Sugar Tip is a beauty that I have written about before, but at 5-6′ tall and wide it is a fair size. Summer Ruffle is a new introduction  and one of the First Editions collection that got my attention for its petite stature at just 3-4′ tall and wide. That makes it a prime candidate for container design as well as smaller gardens.

The foliage is a soft blue-green with wide creamy-white margins. It is a beautiful shrub even without blooms.

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hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

The ruffled semi-double flowers open lavender and fade to blue – very pretty.

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Lots of blooms on this young shrub

Place this near blue-green conifers, green and white variegated grasses and deep purple foliage such as barberry, weigela or Loropetalum for a delightful combination that puts foliage first but celebrates the summer blooms

Purple Preference Euphorbia

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Euphorbia ‘Purple Preference’

On a recent trip to Portland I called in at Xera  (of course) and scooped up three of these Purple Preference euphorbias. I fell in love with the smoky purple new growth over the dusky green older leaves – oh my. This is an evergreen perennial so it promises year round beauty.

Purple Preference a fairly new introduction from England (well that explains it – we spoke the same language…) and is said to grow to 2′ tall and wide. In terms of self seeding the growers state it as being well behaved. I haven’t had it long enough to give feedback on that but I can tell you that both in a mixed container and in the landscape it looks stunning. Try it in front of peegee hydrangeas (e.g. Hydrangea p. ‘Quickfire’) for a delicate color echo as the flowers fade from white to rose, or mingled with  silver foliage such as this next perennial.

Quicksilver artemisia

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Quicksilver artemisia

At first glance this new introduction from Proven Winners seems to be identical to Silver Brocade with its felted silvery-white leaves and groundcover habit. It is certainly more vigorous; mine are at least 4′ in diameter and I find myself wishing I had  allowed them more space! Where they appear to be superior to Silver Brocade is that this new Quicksilver does not flower. So no little yellow flowers to clip off in order to keep the plant looking its best. That makes it lower maintenance – always a good thing.

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, I use this as a weed suppressing groundcover in my sunny borders.

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Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert ‘Opal’ with Quicksilver artemisia

Try it with the Purple Preference euphorbia mentioned above, perhaps adding the new ice plant Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert for some bold flower power.

Cool Splash Diervilla (Bush honeysuckle)

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Cool Splash foliage in full sun

This is one TOUGH little shrub! But let’s back up…..have you grown the native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)?

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Northern bush honeysuckle grown in full sun

Here’s a photo taken in a full sun, never watered, exposed to elements type of border in my own garden. Gorgeous, right? Look at the coppery new growth and imagine the fragrance from those lemon blooms.

So here’s what I like about its relative, the new introduction from First Editions; Cool Splash diervilla (Diervilla sessilifolia ‘Cool Splash’) can take full sun or a lot of shade. This next photo shows the shrub that has been totally neglected since planting it under a towering Douglas fir tree three months ago. It has never been watered unless it rained and gets only 1-2 hour of direct sun, being in open shade for most of the day.

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Cool Splash grown in dry shade

What you’ll notice is that the variegation isn’t as remarkable as the first image and it isn’t blooming – yet. However it is very much alive and doing fine, despite my less than stellar nurturing! Having said that, the growers recommend this shrub for full sun but I think I have proved a point that it isn’t a primadonna. The shrub in my sunny border rarely gets watered either and is squished between several exuberant perennials.

This deciduous shrub grows up to 4.5′ tall and wide and its crisp variegated leaves will brighten both shade and sunny combos. Try it next to early blooming shrubs that can look lack luster by August such as lilac or forsythia. Or partner it with the variegatedCanadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Glentsch White’) shown below;

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Gentsch White Canadian hemlock

and perhaps a delicate rose such as the David Austin rose ‘Wildeve’ for a romantic vignette;

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Wildeve rose

Pearl Glam beautyberry

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White flower buds on Pearl Glam beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is known for its metallic purple berries in fall. The problem – until now – has been waiting that long for the shrub to be of interest. Problem solved with the new variety Pearl Glam from Proven Winners.

Although the emerging foliage is green it quickly turns dark; a perfect foil for the white flowers shown here. I can’t wait to see how it looks with the purple berries!

This variety is said to grow 4-5′ tall and wide, making it a great candidate for a container or the landscape.

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Pearl Glam beautyberry

Try it with chartreuse foliage for high contrast or silver for a more contemporary look.

I have one in a mixed container (first image) and one in the landscape (above). The latter has never been watered since it was planted but is thriving. It is also on the ‘wildlife freeway’ through my garden but seems to be untouched. A very exciting new shrub for sure.

Lots more to share with you in the near future so be sure to stay tuned!

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