Tag Archives: Fragrance

Emergent Fine Foliage for Spring

Whether it’s delicate spring ephemerals, gasp-inducing shrubs, perennials with personality or colorful ways with groundcovers if you keep your eyes open spring is sprouting all around you. I know in some of the colder parts of the country it might not feel that way right now, but Team Fine Foliage can at least entertain and keep your eyes busy while you wait for it!

The blue-green and silver tones of Trillium sessile’s camouflage patterned foliage will never fail to impress with its bold performance the minute it’s up and out of the ground. This plant is set for “all systems SHOW” from mid-March onward in the woodland garden where it can have some protection from the heat of later spring and summer. The flower ranges from mid-to deep red and is fragrant too!

Emergent Fine Foliage for Spring Commonly called the Lily of the Valley bush, Pieris is an amazingly versatile group of shrubs. From large to small, they often have quite showy new spring growth at about the same time as they flower with panicles of white, pink or almost red blooms. They have a sweet aroma that typifies the scent of spring for many people.

The top image shows Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’ with intense rosy pink new growth that stands out against the variegated foliage that it will fade back into come summer. A moderate sized plant, this one will mature at 2-4ft. tall and up to 5 ft. wide. in zones 6-8.

The bottom image shows one of the dwarf cultivars that might be either Pieris ‘Sarabande’ or ‘Cavatine’ which are both nearly identical except that ‘Sarabande’ is about 4x4ft tall and wide at maturity where ‘Cavatine’ is more likely going to be smaller at 2x2ft. tall and wide, but can get a bit larger under optimal circumstances. Either one is a winner with caramel and russet toned new growth in spring and constrasting pure white, fragrant flowers on glossy evergreen foliage year round.
Team Fine Foliage knows full well that not everyone can enjoy the plants in the barberry family the way we do in the Pacific Northwest due to its proclivity to procreate. But, if you live in areas where they are not invasive, you have a wealth of deer and rabbit resistant options to choose from in wonderful new spring growth. The one above is ‘Golden Rocket’ and we love it’s more vertical growth habit versus the rounded mounded types in gold. It produces little to no viable seed, so it’s a safe bet where invasiveness is in question. The stems where these beautiful little golden leaves emerge have a lovely reddish tone to them offering a nice contrast of another warm note on cool spring days. At 3-5 ft. tall and only 2ft. wide, it fits nicely in tight parts of the garden where you need that warm golden light. Contrasted with the blue-green foliage of the daffodils, it makes a beautiful spring scene that no varmints with bother!
The day that a gardener meets an iris named ‘Gerald Darby’ is an unforgettable moment indeed. I know it was for me. That utterly amazing purple new growth in spring hits you in the wallet because you’re often on the hunt for it thereafter! This new growth fades back to the medium green that is standard for iris x robusta, but it also features a respectable burst of purple blooms in June too. So this hardy perennial definitely earns its place even after the spring foliage show!
This unknown member of the Lilium family is boasting the most scrumptious bronze on the growth tips for spring, echoing the rich russet-red toned foliage in the background. It will fade back to a mid green before blooming, but it’s always worth noting when you see this kind of coloring as it might give hints as to the eventual tone and color of the blooms in summer too.
Last but not least on my little tour of fabulous spring foliage emerging right now is this simple little Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ that’s here to teach us to stop and look down loooooow once in a while and notice the lowly little groundcover screaming to get our attention! The cool spring weather lends it that shock of bright pink glowing on the margins and will fade back a bit in summer to a still lively three-way color combo. Drought tolerant and polite, this little mat-forming succulent blooms from late spring to mid-summer. I love to use this one at the edges of combo pots that might not get watered as religiously as most containers would want and it thrives!

Hopefully, these few tidbits gave you the urge to go out and find spring in your area if you can and if it’s still too cold, hang tight! Team Fine Foliage is posting on FB daily. 🙂

If you need still more inspiration, be sure to click the follow button to play along with us here regularly and then, of course, click here to see our latest book Gardening with Foliage First!















Iris for Foliage Lovers

Planted just one year ago these iris are thriving and growing into large, healthy clumps

Planted just one year ago these iris are thriving and growing into large, healthy clumps

Early fall is a great time to re-evaluate your spring-blooming perennials. Yes you read that right! Christina and I expect double duty from those early season flowers with exceptional foliage that still adds color, structure and interest at least through until the end of fall. That is especially important in small gardens where there is nowhere to hide and every mediocre leaf is right there in front of you.

A traditional favorite for the spring garden is the iris, grown primarily for cut flowers. There are many species  to choose from from the large bearded varieties available in a rainbow of colors to tightly packed clumps of cobalt blue Japanese iris and dwarf forms suitable for the rockery but my go-to is the variegated sweet iris. There are two forms available with either a creamy-white (Iris pallida ‘Alba-variegata’) or a soft yellow variegation (Iris pallida Aureo-variegata’) – and they look stunning right now.

Stiff fans of striped foliage multiple steadily into clumps 2′ tall and wide making it a perfect addition to the front of the border while the soft color lends itself to many different combinations.

Playing with Yellow


Beautiful design by Lily Maxwell (Victoria BC)

In the stunning border above, the iris has been used to add contrast to the chocolate leaves of Bishop of York dahlia while echoing the sunny yellow flowers. Yellow toned variegated purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’) and a golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ) add fine texture while an overhead canopy of a variegated aralia (Aralia elata ‘Aureo-variegata’) emphasizes the theme and frames the vignette. Taken in August, the iris have long since finished blooming but their foliage clearly continues to add drama. You can see more from this garden in our new book due out fall 2016 with Timber Press.

Crisp and White

IMG_5437For a different look use the long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne) to weave through a green and white variegated  iris, adding a dwarf dark leaved weigela (e.g. Weigela florida ‘Midnight Wine’) for contrast.

I have also used the green and white variegated form to create a pretty monochromatic scheme with green and white hosta or the silver/green Jack Frost Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’).

Flowers – the Icing on the Foliage


In May and June dozens of exquisite papery periwinkle-blue flowers appear on stiff stalks 2′ above the foliage, filling the air with a delicate scent. Consider this color when selecting companion plants. In the examples shown above these flowers will repeat or enhance the color scheme of the surrounding shrubs and perennials.

Cultural Conditions & Care

Full sun or part sun/part shade (blooms best in full sun)

Average, well drained soil

Hardy in USDA zones 4-9

Deer resistant

Drought tolerant once established

Divide in fall or early spring if needed

Evergreen in mild winters; trim old leaves at an angle to tidy them up.

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Winning With Silver

What's the buzz in your garden today?

What’s the buzz in your garden today?

It’s hot, too hot for most of my Seattle garden to handle. Fried astilbe, sunburned hosta and crispy ferns are just a few of my casualties while a semi-naked katsura tree also tells the sad story. I garden on 5 acres without an irrigation system, relying on the inherent drought tolerant properties of plants and occasional watering of selected plants by hand. Being on well water may save us on utility bills but there is a high probability that our well will go dry this year so every drop counts.

Feeling frustrated and disheartened I headed out into the garden with my camera, determined to find something that looked good despite drought and record breaking temperatures. A camera helps me narrow my focus and reduces distractions. Sure enough there are a few things to celebrate.

The overall winners were all my plants with silver leaves.

Licorice plant

Licorice plant

That’s not really surprising. Silver leaves reflect light and heat. You may notice that many of them are covered with fine hairs such as the licorice plant above. These are an adaptation to water conservation by reflecting light away from the plant. Hairs on the underside of the leaf raise the humidity of the surrounding air and slow down the movement of the air so that water is carried away more slowly. Cardoon leaves have that feature.


We all love lavender for the fragrant flowers as well as the foliage which can be silver, green or variegated

Have you noticed how many of these silver leaved plants are also aromatic? Lavender, catmint, Russian sage, culinary sage to name just a few. Interestingly these volatile oils increase the air density and reduce evaporation.

To conserve water loss, plants with smaller leaves also do better in a drought since the surface area is significantly reduced.

These are just a few examples from my own garden this year but you will soon see how they exemplify one or more of these survivor traits. By understanding what has done well I hope to make wise choices going forward since meteorologists tell us this pattern may hold for three or four more years.

 Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’)


Although just a fun annual for me I was thrilled to see Silver Falls dichondra as a tough, vigorous groundcover when we visited  San Diego earlier this year. I love to grow this trailing over the edges of brightly colored containers or hanging baskets. Like strands of exquisite shimmery beads this will bring a touch of class to the simplest design. For me it does equally well in full sun as it does in part shade.

Silver Brocade wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’)


I do love the silver foliage of so many wormwood including Valerie Finnis and Silver Mound but have only marginal success overwintering them. My heavy clay soils just don’t drain quickly enough. So after several years of replacing Silver Mound I decided to just buy a few inexpensive 2″ basket stuffers of Silver Brocade. For many this will be a reliable perennial but I’m considering it an annual. However knowing that they would spread really quickly I didn’t mind investing a few dollars for some serious summer sizzle.

I tucked the little plugs in with some white alyssum (either seedlings I’d grown or more 2″ basket stuffers) and have been thrilled with the results. They have only been watered once a week yet have spread at least 2′ in every direction, their felted fern-like foliage adding a bold carpet under its neighbors.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)


I’m not generally a fan of growing groundcovers as their presence makes it difficult to add soil amendments such as compost and can even make weeding more awkward. However in the summer I have come to rely on the silver licorice plant to disguise the gaps between young plants, add a silver uplight to darker colors and be a seriously drought-tolerant groundcover from May until late September. I allow a certain amount of free-form scrambling over small shrubs and encourage them to weave between perennials such as black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’). One little 4″ plant can spread 3-4′ so that’s a good return on a couple of dollars.

Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Mature cardoon foliage (at a local nursery)

Mature cardoon foliage (photo taken at a local nursery)

Drama? Check. Scale? Check. Pollinator caviar? Double check


My intention was just to show you the huge, coarse, deeply dissected silver foliage of this monster perennial but how could I possibly ignore the blooms, especially when there was a pollinator orgy going on in my garden?! Thistle-like flowers are being produced with complete disregard for drought conditions. Like many plants these cardoon are a little shorter this year due to lack of regular water but that’s OK as they still offer such great architecture to the garden border – and pollen for the bees.

Weeping silver-leaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’)


Metallic silver, willow-like foliage is remarkably eye-catching in a mixed border; even more so when on a weeping small tree. It creates a focal point yet highlights other plants from bold conifers to finely textured grasses. It goes well with deep jewel tones and adds a soft touch of romance to pastels.

In its youth the weeping silver-leaf pear can be rather gangly but give it a few years to step beyond adolescence and you will be well rewarded.

White flowers in spring are followed by inedible pear-like fruit but this ornamental small tree or large shrub is all about the foliage. This is one of my favorite plants in the garden.

Catmint (Nepeta species)

Walker's Low two weeks after being sheared to the ground

Walker’s Low two weeks after being sheared to the ground

I have both Walker’s Low and Little Trudy catmint in this garden and have grown the classic Six Hills Giant previously. I love them all for their fragrant foliage, blue flowers, easy attitude and superior drought tolerance. After blooming I unceremoniously hack them down to a few inches and this is my reward; more flowers and fresh foliage despite no water or fertilizer.

Sea Heart Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’)


I don’t have a lot of shade in my garden but where I do you won’t be surprised to learn that it is fairly dry shade. Siberian bugloss seems undaunted by such conditions. Jack Frost does extremely well but  Sea Heart is even more remarkable not least of all because of the much larger size of its leaves. Rough to the touch this heart shaped foliage has an intricate overlay of silver on green. Forget-me-not blue flowers appear in spring. This is holding its own under a golden locust tree and is thriving.

Quicksilver hebe (Hebe pimeleoides ‘Quicksilver’)


Just a few miles from here in Christina’s garden Quicksilver hebe is hardy but in my cold, sticky, heavy clay soils I’m happy to use it as an annual or short term semi-evergreen shrub. The color and texture are easy to blend with bolder, brighter offerings in the landscape and I know this can take both the heat and low water. I’ve been especially glad of it this year although its color leans more towards a pale teal than true silver

Elsewhere in the garden are assorted lavender, Silver Shadow astelia and the new Bella Grigio lambs ears; all thriving in our crazy summer.

As a bonus all the plants listed here have proven deer resistant in my deer-ravaged garden

Take a few moments to look at your own garden and assess what looks good right now despite your particular gardening challenges. Tell us about it in the comments below or post a photo to our Facebook page; we’d love to hear your news.

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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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The Unsung Heroes of my Fall Garden


Diane witch hazel takes on shades of pumpkin and eggplant in fall

Diane witch hazel takes on shades of pumpkin and eggplant in fall


We all have our favorite fall plants – the ones that we look forward to every year, anticipating the  colors and ever-changing combinations with their garden companions. Christina has already admitted that we are totally enamored with the world of Japanese maples and between us have quite the collection both in containers and the garden, including many that started life in containers and have since been transplanted to take pride of place as a landscape specimen.

But what other trees and shrubs offer standout performance at this time of year? Take a stroll through the garden with me and I’ll show you a few of my favorites.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

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This is just a tiny cheat – it isn’t a Japanese maple after all! Take a look at these images and you’ll see why I love it so much in every season, not just fall.

Cinnamon colored peeling bark as well as foliage that opens light green, matures to a mid tone then transitions to shades of apricot and orange, the fall color lasting for many weeks.

USDA 4-8

American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

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This tree can be rather hit or miss. I have three of these in my current garden which vary enormously in fall color from yellow to burgundy but I have had one in the past which seemed to do nothing at all! Some gardeners don’t like the seed pods but I always plant them some distance from patios or paths so have never been bothered by them.

I like them because they are relatively inexpensive, have maple shaped leaves, grow quickly, tolerate seasonal standing water for short periods of time and aren’t bothered by the deer.

USDA 5-9

Exbury Azalea

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When we moved to this property five years ago we inherited many things in the garden that we could have done without (beer bottles, road fill, invasive weeds and worse) but we also discovered this mature Exbury azalea inside the vegetable garden of all places! It had survived there despite being in an area which flooded during winter months.

We moved it with the aid of a bobcat to a more suitable location and watered it regularly for the first year wondering if it would survive being transplanted. It did! Today it is a highlight both in my fall and spring garden.

Golden yellow flowers fill the garden with their exotic fragrance in May before the leaves appear. Green summer  foliage turns bronze then scarlet before finally falling to the ground mid-November

USDA 5-8

Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’)

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I purchased this tree on a whim in a sale! I needed a tree that was more upright rather than one which would have a rounded lollipop shape and of course I wanted it all; flowers, bark and great foliage. Well Ruby Vase delivers. Unlike the regular Persian ironwood this will eventually mature at 10-15′ wide and  30′ tall making it perfect for even small gardens. Highly recommended.

USDA 4-9

 A final eclectic mix

I could write (another) book on my favorites but I wanted to at least give you a glimpse of a few other plants that deserve a mention

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What are your favorite trees and shrubs for fall color?

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Leaves that Beat the Heat (and the Deer)

We expect succulents to cope with the heat but what else is there? (Design by Stacie Crooks )

We expect succulents to cope with the heat but what else is there? (Design by Stacie Crooks )

Now those of you in Texas and Florida will laugh – but it is HOT here in Seattle. And by that I mean mid-high 80’s for a few weeks now with just two days of torrential rain somewhere in the middle. I know it’s all relative but the people – and plants that live in Seattle aren’t used to such extended periods of heat and drought.

This is therefore the perfect time to assess which are the foliage workhorses in the garden. What still looks not only good but GREAT, is healthy, doesn’t need fussing with and has barely been given a drop of extra water? We expect grasses and succulents to be drought tolerant but what else is there?

Most trees and conifers are fine by virtue of their deep root system so I’ll keep this to my top shrubs, perennials and annuals that I grow for their leafy lusciousness – and deer tolerance.

Here are the awards;

Best Combo

It may look delicate but this combo is TOUGH!

It may look delicate but this combo is TOUGH!

This is an amazing trio; the perennial Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii) gives height (and turns orange in fall) while two annuals – the chartreuse Lemon Fizz cotton lavender (Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’) and silver licorice plant (Helichrysum ‘Petit Licorice’) form a fuzzy groundcover. I can’t reach them with a hosepipe so they are truly on their own and they look fantastic. I was a little concerned after our two day downpour which left the Arkansas bluestar flattened but 24 hours later when I ventured out with sticks and string they had picked themselves right back up and needed no help from me at all.

Best Bling

A silvery feathery puff ball

A silvery feathery puff ball

Silver Mound wormwood (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’) is much tougher than the fine textured foliage would suggest. In fact this fluffy perennial prefers tough love and will quickly rot with too much love, water or fertilizer. It dies down in winter and can be a bit slow to reappear in spring but it’s worth waiting for. This 2′ silver mound will add some glitz to the border like no other plant can.

Best Variegated Leaf

Not your typical barberry

Not your typical barberry

I’m partial to barberries. They come in lots of different shapes, sizes and colors, are drought resistant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant. Usually.

Thankfully they are NOT invasive in the Seattle area. If they are a problem in your state I’ll forgive you for skipping over this bit.

Lime Glow barberry is the pretty little sister of Rose Glow. Marbled light green and creamy white leaves with pale peach new growth and stems makes this a rather romantic addition to the garden border. It seems to be much slower growing than Rose Glow so enjoy this in containers as well as the landscape.

I have two of these. The first one is out of reach of the hosepipe so is on a ‘do or die’ regime. It is ‘doing’. The second was unceremoniously dug up one blisteringly hot day and relocated, watered a couple of times then forgotten about. Much to my surprise it is not only still alive it still has all its leaves. Pretty impressive as well as pretty.

Best Native

A bronze beauty - Northern bush honeysuckle

A bronze beauty – Northern bush honeysuckle

If you thought native plants were boring this one will change your mind. Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) grows in sun or shade, wet soil or dry, has fragrant blooms and beautiful fall color. I have one in sun and one in shade. The shaded one is mostly green but the one in full sun (above) remains bronze for much of the year which I love. Bambi has ignored both plants except for a tiny nibble on the new growth of one stem. Thankfully it wasn’t to his taste. (or he was full by then).

Best Surprise

Glossy abelia - worth a second look

Glossy abelia – worth a second look

I have a low hedge of glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) at the side of our cabin. I don’t water them, fertilize them or talk to them. In fact I forget they are there until I become aware of a hummingbird frenzy in that part of the garden as the fragrant white flowers are a magnet for them it seems.

This unassuming shrub is one of the unsung heroes of my garden. It is usually evergreen, has healthy, glossy green leaves which tint red in fall and rich burgundy stems. While the flowers are white the sepals are pink giving a lovely two tone effect and the flowers last well into November.

I have not watered this for three years and the deer haven’t even tested it. I trimmed the height a bit this year but that is the extent of the care I have given it.

After this hot, dry stretch it is not only looking good it is thriving. Quite the surprise

So what foliage has earned superstar status in your garden this summer? Do tell us in the comments below or post to our Facebook page. we love to hear from you!


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Try Purple and Silver for a Fresh Flavor


It’s that time of year when we are both creating endless container combinations- each one unique. Always on the lookout for cool new plants and different combinations i seem to find myself frequently drawn to purple; purple pots, purple leaves and even purple flowers. The obvious color partner is chartreuse but while attractive that is rather predictable.

Now PURPLE and SILVER gets my attention.

Going solo

Some plants have it all.

Lochinch butterfly bush has the most beautiful felted silver foliage and fragrant lavender flowers.

Lochinch butterfly bush has the most beautiful felted silver foliage and fragrant lavender flowers.

Butterfly bushes have a bad rap for seeding everywhere and are banned in several states. In WA they are still widely available although the sterile forms are gaining popularity. Lochinch is not sterile but it has never set a single seedling either in my garden or a neighbors. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to enjoy this beauty and watch the hummingbirds and butterflies coming to feast.

Japanese painted fern glows in the shade

Japanese painted fern glows in the shade

Japanese painted ferns bring a fresh color palette to the shade garden. Deep purple/burgundy veins with shimmery silver and grey feathers

A classy double act

Feathery purple fountain grass against silver wormwood - one of my favorite combinations

Feathery purple fountain grass against silver wormwood – one of my favorite combinations

Two plants – two colors. Nothing else is needed; just delicious on their own. The purple fountain grass and Silver Mound wormwood are perfection. We have a similar combination in Fine Foliage (p. 52-53 ‘Purple Waves’)

The sculptural container repeats the purple but brings something extra. That glossy finish adds sparkle – an interesting contrast to the matte silver foliage of the licorice plant.

Notice how the matte silver licorice plant plays off the shiny surface of the container

Notice how the matte silver licorice plant plays off the shiny surface of the container

Have you tried the latest silver kid on the block? Bella Grigio is lambs ears (Stachys byzantina) on steroids.

Ultra silver with dusky purple - mouthwatering

Ultra silver Bella Grigio lambs ears with dusky purple succulent foliage- mouthwatering

I’m trying this new sexy silver in several container combinations as well as a groundcover in a hot sunny garden – I’ll let you know how they fare in a few months but right now I’m entranced with it next to this moody sedum – a dusky purple with grey-blue undertones. I confess I’ve lost the tag for the sedum but will try and get an ID.

Or make it a trio

A columnar Blue Surprise false cypress introduces a gentle third color

A columnar Blue Surprise Port Orford cedar introduces a gentle third color

The purple shades from Rose Glow barberry (it is not invasive in the Seattle area), Xenox sedum and heuchera are highlighted by the silver wormwood while the grey-blue conifer adds subtle depth.

Or what about adding in hot pink? Or copper? or bright orange? There are SO many possibilities, I could write a book………….now there’s a thought!

What would you add to purple and silver? Post photos to our Facebook page – we love to share your ideas with other foliage-aholics.

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Spring Slump Solution!

The daffodils are a tangle of decaying foliage, the tulips are long since collapsed and the roses are still tight buds. What is holding your garden design together during this in-between stage?

You can bet that your two foliage divas have got this one down – it’s all about having a framework of trees, shrubs and perennials with great leaves – whether they bloom or not.

Here’s a photo from my garden taken a few days ago.


In March there was a haze of yellow daffodils at the base of each arbor post – an early spring highlight but those green leaves don’t offer much in this May scene. Instead almost all the color is from layers of foliage.

Here are the key players;



Forever Goldie arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’)

Stunning evergreen conifer – one of my favorites for year round color




Fireglow Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’)

Retains the deep red foliage well and takes full sun



Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’)

Tiers of luscious leaves AND spring flowers!


Double Play Gold spirea (Spiraea j. ‘Double Play Gold’)

We’ve told you about this beauty before.



Golden Ruby barberry (Berberis t. ‘Golden Ruby’)

It hasn’t developed its distinctive gold margin yet – but it will! A neat little dumpling of a barberry. (Barberry is invasive in some states but not in the Seattle area)

IMG_0505Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Reliable and tough – we both have this on our top ten list for color and performance.



Golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’)

Our signature tree! I admit to having five in my garden – two in this border alone. (This may sucker in some areas but has never done so in my gardens)


So you want flowers too?

IMG_3633 IMG_2953


Well there are two blooming exbury azaleas strutting their stuff – but I bet you had to look twice to find them both!

A few extra tips;

Color – sunset tones dominate with just a little grey-blue for contrast

Maintenance – everything has to be deer resistant and drought tolerant (by its second year)

Maturity – this border was planted in 2012. Honestly!

IMG_8854This is only its third year – this photo was taken in March 2012 – use the Forever Goldie arborvitae as a reference point. Miracles do happen – if you pay attention to the FOLIAGE!

What’s  your favorite foliage to combat the spring slump?

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Superstar Lilac Foliage has Stage Presence in Design

20140422-CS_IMG_8219While at the Denver Botanic Garden recently as a speaker for the prestigious Bonfils-Stanton
lecture series, I took that extra time to stroll the gardens to take in the spring foliage, fragrance and yes even the blooms. 😉 As TEAM FINE FOLIAGE likes to remind you, we are not against the flowers, just the use of them as the furniture in the room rather than the art and accents.

This view struck me greatly not only for the magnificent fragrance that of course you SHOULD be required to enjoy when passing by Lilac’s at their bloom time, but for this amazingly beautiful gold foliage! May I introduce you to a super star? Please welcome Syringa vulgaris ‘Dappled Dawn’ to the stage. (See the link for details)

I am frequently deferring to many other plant choices that audition for parts in the garden other than Lilac unless I have a client who has a very strong emotional need for a Lilac in a design. Once it’s done blooming, it gets no real fall color and can have somewhat boring foliage compared to so many other great choices. Thus it makes for a very one-dimensional character, a one hit wonder if you will and that simply won’t cut it for this rather tough critic.

So, when I saw this option, it was as if a thunderbolt struck me and gave me the answer! Just look at how lovely THIS lilac is as a standout against the other basic green foliage, which is precisely the idea. When we are looking at casting ALL of the various parts in the scene, it’s important that not ALL of the foliage is a superstar, but you have to give a superstar a quality ensemble cast and the basic green of the other lilac’s do just that. 20140422-CS_IMG_8220The gold-splashed-over-green variegation brings a light and showy contrast to the pale lavender to light mauve purple blossoms. This is one Lilac that I wish we would all see more in Independent Garden Centers across the country. It may not be the Meryl Streep of plants to you, however I can easily see it as a “One Lilac Show” on Broadway but, that’s just me.

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Fine Fragrant Foliage

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

It is usually the intricate shape or fabulous color of a leaf which make us scramble over rocks or slither under bushes to get the perfect shot of fabulous foliage for you.

Yet there is another attribute that we often forget to mention – that of fragrance. The leaves of many trees, shrubs and perennials release a scent when brushed or bruised and while this may be impossible to capture in a juicy photograph these plants have something beyond their good looks to offer the designer and homeowner alike.

Of course not all garden aromas are desirable! One of my lecturers insists that boxwood smells like cat pee (!) and that Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) is little better. I can’t say that I find them offensive but I certainly don’t use boxwood for its fragrance.

I am interested in leaves that have it all – good looks and a pleasant fragrance. As a bonus many of these plants are deer resistant and usually pest free. My design mantra is that gardens should be experienced and not just observed and that means involving all the senses not just sight. Let’s look for leaves that can be explored with the finger tips, taste buds and nose as well as having exceptional good looks! Here are a few of my favorites.

Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

This is an elegant slim conifer that typically grows 40-60′ tall yet only 8-10′ wide. Native to the western United States it is hardy to zone 5 yet is not found in many home gardens. Although not a true cedar it does have a cedar-like fragrance both from the crushed foliage and the resin. Where privacy is needed this may be a better choice than the ubiquitous arborvitae.  It also keeps a healthy dark green color throughout the year.

Goldcrest Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’)

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

Bright chartreuse foliage makes this slender conifer an easy winner for landscapes and containers but what makes it extra-special is the heady citrus scent that is released when the foliage is touched. Pair this with deep purple spurge (Euphorbia hyb.) for a bold backdrop to orange foliage and flowers. Or keep a crisp contemporary look by adding silver and white.

This dwarf beauty is hardy in zones 7-10 where it will grow 6-8′ tall and 2′ wide.

Lavender sp. (Lavandula)

It's not JUST about the flowers

It’s not JUST about the flowers!

When I worked in a nursery I would find every excuse to  walk by the lavender display and casually brush my fingers through the highly aromatic foliage! Somehow that heady fragrance would make me slow down, breathe in deeply and relax – which is why of course it is so popular as an essential oil in aromatherapy.

There are many species, hybrids and colors of both flowers and foliage as well as variability in the hardiness. They all need full sun and exceptionally well drained soil – ask at your local independent garden center for advice on those best suited to your area. Is any garden really complete without at least one lavender plant?

Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Tough, evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant – four reasons to look for this silvery-grey leaved shrub. Yellow button flowers in summer are a bonus. It may need whacking back every couple of years to stop it getting too leggy but if like me you have some areas that need bullet proof plants check this out.

The fragrance is hard to describe – somewhat medicinal but not in a bad way!

At 1-3′ tall and wide it can be used to edge herb gardens and pathways or set as an informal evergreen groundcover. See it paired with Blue Shag pine at the start of this post and read about the beautiful combo (“Easy on the Eyes’) on pages 62-63 of Fine Foliage

Fuzzy fragrant foliage - meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Fuzzy fragrant foliage – meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Last summer I discovered its relative Lemon Fizz lavender cotton (Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’). This was an outstanding tender perennial with bright chartreuse foliage forming tidy cushions and smelling of pine. I’m definitely getting more next year.

Catmint (Nepeta sp.)

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

My first introduction to this herbaceous perennial was the variety Six Hills Giant which I allowed to scramble at the base of climbing roses in my English garden. Soft grey leaves were topped with blue summer flowers all of which exuded a wonderful herbal smell.

Today I favor Walker’s Low which despite its name is not a dwarf variety but rather takes its name from of the garden where it was originally found. Although it is less straggly than Six Hills Giant I still shear it back by half in early summer – within two weeks it  bounces back into a tidy cushion.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight is a newer introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. with attractive lemon and lime foliage – watch out for this one.

Hyssop (Agastache sp.)

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral colored haze of Apricot Sunrise  fills a container in the background

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral haze of Apricot Sunrise fills a container in the background

The foliage of this perennial is somewhat reminiscent of  catmint although the habit is typically more upright. There are many varieties available today with heights ranging from the dwarf Apricot Sprite to the much taller Blue Fortune. Flower colors range from blue to orange and pink and they all attract hummingbirds which get positively giddy with excitement. Even without the flowers this is an easy plant to enjoy in the garden for the drought tolerant, deer resistant foliage alone. I have grown Apricot Sprite as the centerpiece of a succulent hanging basket, as well as in containers and the garden.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) – while it does smell like curry it is not recommended for eating and does not in fact taste like curry at all. At first glance you might mistake this for lavender since the foliage is almost identical but the small yellow flowers are quite different.

I love the texture of this perennial (hardy in zones 8-11) and it is fun to include in designs as a talking point for garden visitors.

Other favorites

  • Rosemary, sage, mint, thyme and lemon verbena all assault the senses with their aromatic leaves as do so many other culinary herbs
  • Wormwood (Artemisia sp.) comes in many shapes and sizes some better behaved than others! My personal favorite is Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’) featured in our book (Purple Waves, p52) This is another plant whose fragrance is rather hard to describe – somewhat musky yet medicinal. Not unpleasant yet perhaps not one you would want in great quantities.
  • Scented geraniums and citronella for keeping those pesky mosquitoes away!

What’s your favorite fragrant foliage?

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