Tag Archives: Full Sun

The Foliage Backstory

Savvy Solution – as featured in Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

We’re delighted to hear that you have been enjoying our new book Gardening with Foliage First – thank you for all your encouraging messages telling us how  inspiring the combinations have been!

Behind every published combination there were typically several dozen images taken from unique perspectives or framed in different ways. You see even when we knew we had found an exciting vignette, it often took a few attempts to  discover the best way to present it to you. With that in mind, we thought you might enjoy this ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the evolution of  Savvy Solution  discovered in Mary Palmer’s  garden in Snohomish, WA.

Initial inspiration

Walking down one of several intriguing pathways, this scene is what initially caught my eye:

Stopped in my tracks by this Foliage First combo

I was struck by the color echo between the variegated Color Guard yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’), golden juniper and acid-yellow blooms of the spurge (Euphorbia), all contrasting with the dark red barberry and framing a triumphant explosion of blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’). Yet this angle seemed a little too busy, the horizontal roof line was distracting, the bare tree-trunks were rather too dominant, plus I was tantalized by glimpses of a large, silver leaf hiding behind the spurge, so I continued a little farther down the path.

Hidden Treasures

Soft and spiky – a great textural treat just waiting to be discovered

Now I could see what I’d been missing and fell in love with the steroidal, silvery foliage of yellow mullein (Verbasum epixanthinum). What fun to see the sea holly valiantly poking through those velvety leaves!

However this was just one part of a much wider scene that now opened up.

Too much of a good thing?

This is where this member of Team Fine Foliage had to be resuscitated with a recuperative glass of wine – WOW! Where to begin? From this perspective I could still appreciate the relationship between the yucca, spurge, sea holly, barberry and mullein but now there was a tall dark-leaved daphne (Daphne houtteana) and a golden incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens Berrima Gold), joining in the fun. Success? Not quite – I could live with the glimpse of the home’s roofline – but not the landscapers red truck visible through the stems. There also seemed to be too many vertical lines confusing the story in the upper left quadrant

The final cut

So a slight angle change and a final re-framing was called for, to focus the story on the key plants – and Savvy Solution was born.

As we tell you in our book “If you want drama without the dramatics, this may be your answer. Thriving in poor, dry soil and a sun-drenched site, this trio will reward you with color, fragrance, foliage and flowers. The juxtaposition of soft and spiky textures with the alluring color scheme of silver, blue and yellow creates a memorable combination. All three plants are deer resistant and drought tolerant, making them a wise choice for many landscapes.

To get information on how this design will evolve over time as well as full plant profiles just turn to pages 24-25. Then enjoy the other 126 combinations we found for you!

Did you know?

The Royal Horticultural Society recommended Gardening with Foliage First in their latest RHS Garden magazine (May issue) ? They also included it in their spring books promotion throughout their shops and mail-order service! A huge honor and one that the British half of Team Fine Foliage is especially appreciative of 🙂

Meanwhile it continues to rock the Amazon charts on this side of the Pond – have you got YOUR copy yet?

 

 

 

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus Cravings

Team Fine Foliage is ever forward thinking, and today we’re considering all of the ways we can use coleus this spring. Seize the day and start your dreaming now so that you can hit the ground running when it’s time to shop.

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Craving for ColeusWith a coleus (Solenostemon scutellaroides) for every design need imaginable, it’s hard to fathom a spot where this fantastic group of plants doesn’t make any combination better. What’s not love? When the color range, leaf shape and multitude of growth habits available are SO vast, it can make your head spin. I know I have landed on a few that have turned out to be my own “go-to” selections, but each year I try to break out and try new ones.

There are coleus selections available for BOTH morning and afternoon sun AND shade, so don’t assume that you might have too much or too little of either situation because the breeders are working overtime to bring new ones to market that are tougher than ever. But, to be safe, be sure to make an assessment of the time of day and how many hours of sun your spot will get to make sure you get the right plant for the right place.

**Plant tags are notoriously difficult in regard to sun/shade needs when it comes to coleus. Be sure to ask your local Independent Garden Center salesperson which are best for YOUR needs if you aren’t quite sure. Telling them apart can get a bit tricky and some plants can easily thrive in BOTH exposures, which is another reason why we love them so!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Craving for ColeusThe incredible glowing burnt orange of this one called ‘Campfire’ by Ball Horticulture is a large scaled one that features this incredible purple shadow that is very subtle but really shows when you put anything purple next to it. A new favorite one for sure!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Craving for ColeusOne fo the interesting things about coleus is that there are so many that are seemingly the same yet are different and so it’s a challenge to know for certain if you have the same one as last year without seeing the tag for yourself. I have often seen to that look identical at different garden centers, and they will have different names, so bear with me if you see one that I name as X, but that you know as Y. It happens ALL the time!

The one above is one that I happen to know as ‘Wedding Train’, fabulously colorful trailing option for showy, colorful foliage when a potato vine would be overwhelming in a container design. It can take more sun than you might imagine too!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Craving for ColeusBlack potato vine makes a really neat groundcover at the front of this bed with hot pink Angelonia sandwiched in between another coleus from Ball Horticulture called ‘French Quarter’.  A significant thing to note here, if this coleus stands up to the same heat as Angelonia which wants to roast in the HOT summer sun, then you know this coleus is a toughy!!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Craving for ColeusNeed a desktop sized coleus? A terrarium sized coleus? A mini-gardening sized coleus? I found it! Hort Couture has created this incredible line of new coleus called Under the Sea ‘Sea Monkey’ and they come in a few colors. This one is ‘Sea Monkey Apricot’ and I ADORE it!

http://www.hortcoutureplants.com/product-detail/coleus-under-the-sea®-sea-monkey-rustHort Couture also created this one that I love called Under the Sea ‘Bonefish’As you can see, I let this one go to flower, and there are two philosophical camps regarding this idea, here’s my two cents on the topic; let them bloom if you enjoy it OR don’t let them bloom if you don’t. Some gardeners seem to think there is a real right or wrong on this and I think it totally depends on the plant, the combination and the time of year. I tend to let all of them bloom by the time September/October rolls around, why the heck not? However, I DO keep all of my coleus pinched for tidy growth especially the larger upright ones until then. But, you should do whatever floats your leafy boat!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus Cravings
Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus CravingsPersonally, these ones with the striking veins like ‘Fishnet Stockings’ seriously rev my foliage design engines!!!!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus CravingsThis one also from Ball Horticulture called ‘Vino’ was new to me this last year. But I tell ya, this dark, moody devil was one of the most hardcore TOUGH plants in my entire garden last summer! It held up in pretty extreme heat like a champ!!!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus CravingsThe rich black of ‘Vino’ creates such an excellent tonal effect with the other plants in this container design, it quickly became a favorite for me. 

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus Cravings
Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus Cravings
Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus Cravings
Team Fine Foliage is positively green with jealousy over parts of the country where caladium thrive, it is a much tougher proposition up here in the Great Northwet. But, to combine them with coleus……that’s just salt in the wound of our jealous leafy hearts. 🙂 YOWZA!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus CravingsFrom the files of the weird and wonderful, the giant leaves of Solanum quitoense has wonderfully sensuous leaves until those big scary thorns grow in. Paired here with the silver lace of Senecio leuchostachys, Coleus (possibly) ‘Black Beauty’ is a dramatic combination to be sure!

Limitless Ways to Satisfy Your Coleus CravingsThis last shot strikes at the heart of all that Team Fine Foliage stands for, BODACIOUS foliage at its very best! Sexy sexy bromeliad combined with other foliage to create this dreamy scene, all topped off with ‘Sedona’ coleus to mark the sunrise/sunset tones of this wonderful composition shot at the Chanticleer Garden a few years back. This one never gets old!

So there you have it- a teeny tiny overview of some incredible ways to get your coleus craving fix. Drop us a note and tell us about YOUR plans for coleus this year. Need more ideas? Click here to peek at our newest book Gardening with Foliage First. And if you already ordered, we would be honored if you wrote a review too.

Cheers to the coming spring! 

Time to Visit your Favorite Nurseries!

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There’s a change in the air. Morning mists, chillier evenings and the unforgettable candy apple fragrance of the Katsura trees as the leaves turn golden all serve to remind us that the seasons are transitioning from summer to fall.

If you’re not quite ready to switch our your containers yet but would welcome some inspiration, head to your favorite nursery for ideas. While in Shoreline, WA today I called in at Sky Nursery and loved these two  options; one for sun and one for shade.

Both are based on a strong foliage framework of evergreen shrubs and perennials which means they are going to look fabulous for MONTHS.

Sun Savvy

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To be honest, in Seattle there is little difference between sun and shade during fall and winter; it comes down to varying shades of grey! However to keep the ‘permanent’ plants in the same pot and location year round you do need to plan accordingly.

My favorite conifer; Mr. Wissel as I affectionately call him (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ or Wissel’s Saguaro false cypress) sets the blue-green tone and adds height. Notice how the Fire Alarm Heuchera repeats the warm color of the container and the Japanese blood grass marries the two with its burgundy tipped green blades.

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Nurseries often tuck plant tags into the back of the pot which can be helpful if you aren’t familiar with some. (The tag was missing for the blood grass).

Shady Style

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I loved the riot of textures in this pot as well as the fact that every plant is evergreen.Again it is the subtle attention to detail that sets this professionally designed pot apart; the dark red stems of the mountain pepper echoes the color of the Heuchera and also plays off the speckled pot. (Both pots are from AW Pottery).

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Another take home idea; notice how a Heuchera features in both the sun and shade design? Some varieties are more sun tolerant than others so do your research but this is a great solution for porches that have one side receiving more sun than the other. Look for one key plant that can be used in both and mimic the color scheme using light appropriate plants in each.

Today Seattle is having its last hurrah if we are to believe the forecasters; currently sunny and 82′. Tomorrow I may need my fleece. But I’m ready for fall planting now. Are you?

Want more ideas?

Well you may want to pre-order our new book Gardening with Foliage First because there is a HUGE section of ideas just for fall and winter including container designs!

Don’t forget to join in the foliage party – sign up to get these leafy snippets delivered right to your garden. (Follow the link in the sidebar)

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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Grow Your Own Leaves

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What will you grow besides veggies and flowers this year?

The seed catalogs are piling up on the coffee table and my notebook is filling up as I list the varieties of flowers and vegetables I’d like to grow this year. But what about growing some foliage plants for my garden and  containers too? Ornamental edibles, annuals, biennials and perennials are all possible and they will save me money for bigger ticket items such as trees and shrubs.

Here are a few to consider.

Ornamental Edibles

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This is the easiest place to start; grow some ornamental edibles to tuck into your landscape and containers this year. Lettuce, kale, chard, beet and herbs are all perfect candidates that will do double duty for taste and good looks. Renee’s Garden has an outstanding selection.

Annuals

All done and dusted in a single year but they give so much to the garden they are definitely worth growing yourself if you need more than just one or two.

Coleus

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A trio of coleus with Japanese forest grass and black sweet potato vine makes a stunning combo for the shade.

You may not be able to find all your favorite varieties as seed but there are still oodles of these colorful annuals to choose from. If you have extensive shade gardens this could be a really inexpensive way to add a colorful groundcover this year considering a 4″ plant can cost as much as $6 in the nursery! Leftovers are perfect for containers and baskets too. Buy a fun mix such as Wizard Mix and see what colors you get or something dark and dramatic like Black Dragon.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum)

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Licorice plant

This drought tolerant, deer resistant groundcover has become a staple in my summer garden where its wide spreading branches weaves between shrubs and perennials, smothering weeds and filling gaps. I haven’t grown this from seed before and it looks as though it needs to be sown 10-12 weeks before setting out so I need to get cracking! Try Silver Mist.

Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea)

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Love to use this as a spiller from hanging baskets and containers, where the strands of heart-shaped metallic leaves catch the light like a cascade of silver pennies. Silver Falls seems to do well in full or part sun and like many silver plants is drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Amaranth (Amaranthus)

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A wild amaranth that caught my eye at Epcot a few years ago!

There are several varieties of this annual to look for that are especially noted for their foliage. Not for the faint of heart, Joseph’s Coat screams PARTY! Vivid yellow,red and green splashed leaves add a wonderful blast of late season color to the garden. Molten Fire, as its name suggests has bronze foliage that turns shades of crimson in late summer. Cinco de Mayo tries to outdo them both, boasting foliage in multi-color pinwheels of electric yellow, vivid orange and magenta. Imagine any of these next to a stand of tall grasses such as burgundy tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) or powder blue Dallas Blues switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Dallas Blues’).

Castor Oil Bean (Ricin communis)

High Spirited Foliage for the 4th

Go BIG or go home? You’ll love this tropical looking beauty for the back of the border and larger containers where it can reach 5-10′ tall depending on the variety and conditions. Carmencita pictured above is a favorite of ours with its rich burgundy leaves and scarlet seed pods but there are others to choose from including New Zealand Purple (purple foliage and seedpods) and Zanzibarensis Mix, an 1870 heirloom, which sports immense green leaves with decorative ribbing and white or violet blooms. Ooh….

NOTE: Seeds are highly poisonous; remove seed pods before seeds drop and wear gloves when handling.

Biennials and Perennials

For those of you looking ahead, consider sowing seeds for foliage plants that will look their best next year – or the year after that. Again this is such an easy way to save money, especially if you need a large quantity of a particular plant for a themed border or sweeping vignette. These are a couple that I feel are worth the effort either because they are usually so expensive as individual plants or they can be hard to find.

Silver Sage (Salvia argentea)

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Photo credit; Annie’s Annuals

Huge, felted silvery leaves that grow in luscious rosettes. A winner for hot spots in well drained soil silver sage is stunning.

Bugbane (Cimicifuga r. atropurpurea)

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Bugbane is one of my favorite dark leaved perennials for a partially shaded border. named varieties can be as much as $15 for a gallon plant making this packet of seeds a really good deal! Vanilla fragrance from the tall spires of white flowers is an added bonus.

What are you growing from seed this year? Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. Itchy gardening fingers want to know!

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Great Shrubs for Busy Gardeners

 

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A tranquil spot to sit and enjoy the garden. Hough residence, Woodinville, WA

Let’s be honest; few of us want to spend all our free time working in the garden no matter how much we enjoy being outside. I’m never asked to design a ‘high maintenance garden’, nor asked for recommendations of plants that need endless pampering or pruning. Most homeowners request a low maintenance, easy care and drought tolerant palette that looks good year round; a tall order but not impossible.

My starting point is to focus on building a framework of shrubs that have outstanding foliage, are suited to the soil, water and light conditions and need minimal trimming, feeding or fussing. I will typically use a ratio of 2:1 evergreen:deciduous to get a balance of seasonal interest, color and texture and I will often seek out dwarf cultivars of traditional favorites such as Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) as they are less likely to outgrow their allotted space in smaller gardens.

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A colorful combination of evergreen conifers and deciduous shrubs in my own garden that provides stunning foliage, seasonal flowers . These are all low maintenance, drought tolerant AND deer resistant !

 

Traits to look for

  • Fabulous foliage
  • Disease resistance
  • Little or no pruning needed
  • Doesn’t outgrow its allotted space
  • Suited to your light, water and soil conditions

I recently shared with you some of my favorite ‘go to’ conifers so this post will focus on broadleaf shrubs.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica varieties)

Unlike the better known canes of true bamboo, this evergreen shrub is well behaved and is of no interest to your pet panda.

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Gulf Stream  heavenly bamboo frames a rustic pot to create a simple focal point. Tan residence, Seattle, WA

With outstanding foliage in shades of green, red, coral, orange, lime and/or gold, white summer flowers and clusters of red winter berries plus the ability to grow in full sun or partial shade this immediately meets my criteria for seasonal interest and bold color.

However, not all named varieties are equally beautiful or easy care in my experience. The  species (i.e. not a named variety but just listed as Nandina domestica)  tends to be leggy, with unattractive bare knees and spindly top growth that needs pruning in an attempt to create a fuller, bushier shrub. Far better to choose a named variety such as Gulf Stream whose reliable 3′ x 3′ cushion-type shape never exposes its ankles let alone knees. Moon Bay is also excellent in this regard if slightly larger.

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Firepower heavenly bamboo in its winter color, used in a container

If you prefer a slightly bolder leaf consider FirePower which still has more of a ground hugging habit. Where a more upright form is needed I have found Moyer’s Red to be one of the best and use it in container designs for height, layering lower plants in front. For the more color adventurous among you check out the exciting varieties of Nandina in the Sunset Western Garden Collection including Lemon Lime which is perfect for those who prefer not to have red foliage.

No pruning necessary, drought tolerant once established and easy care.

Little Henry Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’)

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Fall foliage on Little Henry

This unassuming deciduous shrub deserves a place in your garden in partial shade or full sun. Far from being fussy, Virginia sweetspire will thrive in sticky wet clay yet is drought tolerant once established, needs no pruning and is typically ignored by deer (although they may do a quick taste test).

Little Henry grows just 2-3′ tall and wide, spreading by suckering but not to the point of being invasive. In spring the mound of bright green foliage is transformed by the abundant racemes of pendulous white flowers. These are lightly fragrant and attract bees and butterflies.

The fall color is a fiery red and the leaves may stay on the shrub for much of the winter if the weather is mild.

I have used this as a low hedge  flanking a path, as an alternative to hydrangeas for foundation planting where deer are a problem or in my own garden on seasonal stream banks to help stabilize the slope.  Here they thrive in the terrible clay soil that is alternately seasonally saturated or dry as a bone.

Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)

Super busy and thrifty? Then you’ll like these!

Wintercreeper offers a colorful, evergreen option for full sun or partial shade. Give it an occasional chop to keep it low or allow it to scramble and meander informally for additional height. Wintercreeper can usually be found both in a gallon (6″) and 4″ pot and is one of the cheapest shrubs you’ll find, often costing as little as $3 for the 4″ size.

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Emerald ‘n’ Gold adds an attractive evergreen border to a profusion of summer flowering perennials. Design by Karen Steeb, Woodinville, WA

The two most popular varieties are the gold/green ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ and the green/white variegated ‘Emerald Gaiety’. Both take on a rosy hue in cold weather.

Emerald ‘n’ Gold shown above is a cheap substitute for Kaleidoscope abelia and is more reliably evergreen in my garden.

Try the green and white variegated Emerald Gaiety to edge a border of your favorite PG hydrangeas such as Quick Fire or Firelight. The large white panicles of these hydrangeas take on a rosy blush as the season progresses making this a really stunning and easy combination for the garden or large container.

Tough, cheap, healthy and easy to find in the nurseries.

Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’)

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The tall feathery foliage on the far right is a Fine Line buckthorn; great contrast with bolder, spikier forms. Design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR.

A feathery, vertical accent that is easy care and deer resistant. Buckthorn is incredibly versatile and will take full sun or part shade, wet soil or dry.

In autumn the rich green leaves of Fine Line turn golden yellow, falling to reveal the spotted stems that continue to add winter interest to the garden or container.

This non-invasive deciduous shrub can be used as an exclamation point in the border, as a hedge or for seasonal screening as it will grow to 5′ tall but just 2-3′ wide. If an errant branch flops just chop it off; no fancy pruning needed.

Northern Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)

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I discovered this quite by accident when the bronze foliage caught may eye as I scanned the nursery displays one spring.  On closer inspection I realized that I had had one of these bushes in my garden all along but didn’t know what it was! The northern bush honeysuckle is native to most of the NE United States and Canada but appears to be a relative newcomer to western gardens. The best foliage color is in full sun but this will also take part shade (where my original shrub was lurking).

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With fragrant yellow flowers that attract birds, butterflies and birds, amazing red fall color and an ability to thrive in poor soil this deserves a closer look. With its rather lax habit and 3′ x 3′ size I feel it works best in woodland gardens or as a filler for larger borders.

A few more to consider

Spirea certainly make the cut as easy care. You can read more about this group here. Likewise I personally love barberries for their many colors and supreme deer resistance. However they are invasive in some states so not suitable for everyone. I’ve shown you a few of my favorites before. (Just do a search for barberries if you’d like to re-read a few posts).

Then there are shrubs that I love but can’t consider them suitable for the really busy gardener as they do require some upkeep. However, ‘work’ means different things to different people so if you don’t mind chopping down a shrub in spring or cutting out some dead bits then you may well feel these merit the time and effort. I certainly do in my own garden!

Smoke bushes; they need coppicing in spring to look their best

Ninebarks; they need thinning to keep in bounds although the dwarf variety Little Devil may be better in that regard

Weigela; stunning foliage and flowers but typically have some dieback after winter which has to be cut out. Or maybe it is just me?!

Abelia; I have  a hedge of the tall glossy abelia as well as several shorter Kaleidoscope shrubs but all have winter dieback to some degree that needs to be pruned out in spring

What is your favorite shrub for the busy gardener?

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. We’d love to know!

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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

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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

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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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Foundation Foliage With Attitude!

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NOT your typical plant combination – which is why I love it! Plant ID’s in next photo

I had the opportunity to visit the Portland garden of Loree Bohl a few days ago. Loree is known in the garden writing community for her popular blog Danger Garden where she indulges her love of spiky plants, saying “Nice plants are boring – my love is for plants that can hurt you. Agave, yucca, anything with a spike or spur!”

With my traveling first aid kit fully stocked I bravely ventured forth! While one could write an entire  book on Loree’s garden, covering her considerable collections (you can see her plant list here) , her fabulous contemporary containers of all shapes, sizes and colors and her impressive shade structure I was especially excited to discover this little vignette right by her front door. This area is often referred to as ‘foundation planting’ since the aim is to hide the lower part of the house walls. In Seattle the chances are it will include a rhododendron and a juniper – not terribly exciting or ambitious so this extravagant combo had me grabbing my camera!

Stylist Extraordinaire

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BACK ROW left-right; cactus in pot ( Opuntia species), Amsonia hubrichtii, Caesalpinia gilliesii (tiny leaves next to Canna), Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’. Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’. FRONT ROW left-right; Euphorbia rigida, Daphne x houtteana, Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’, more Euphorbia rigida

This combination blends dry desert plants (agave, yucca and cactus) with bold tropical-esque canna and  with the fine feathery Arkansas blue star perennial that would look equally at home in a mixed border in England – WOW! So many distinct styles yet they all meld together so well thanks to a tight color palette and great textures

Spikes and More

In true Danger Garden style there are plenty of wicked looking plants but these are tempered with softer textures of Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’) and Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), the wonderfully geometric succulent foliage of gopher spurge (Euphorbia rigida) and the over-sized bold Australia canna (Canna ‘Australia’) leaves.

Cool, Contemporary Colors

This foliage feast offers cooling shades of silvery-blue and green accented with burgundy and black, all set off by the rich charcoal siding of the home, acid-green front door and crisp white trim.

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Look at how perfectly the house colors set off these plants.

Attention to detail is evident as colors and shapes are repeated and a lime green hanging Hover planter by Pot Inc continues the theme.

Loree overwinters tender plants indoors (although all those planted in the ground are ‘technically hardy”) and hand waters in summer to make sure each plant gets just the right amount of moisture for it to thrive. While most of these are drought tolerant, the canna appreciates more regular water and as she pointed out to me, she waters the agave in summer to make them GROW!

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Planted in soil but with a gravel mulch many of these plants survive the zone 8b winters. Others get looked after indoors

Clearly Loree is a true Foliage Fashionista who isn’t afraid to experiment.

While this plant palette or look may not be for everyone it is inspiring to be reminded to push the boundaries occasionally.

Have you incorporated a few unexpected fashion-forward foliage plants into your more predictable  combinations lately? Tell us about them or post a photo on our Facebook page! (And while you’re there be sure to ‘like’ the Danger Garden facebook page too!)

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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.

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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’)

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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’)

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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)

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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

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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’)

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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’)

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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’)

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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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Late Summers Groovy Grasses

Late Summers Groovy GrassesWhether your intention is to create a nod to the meadows of grasses and flowers designed by the legendary Piet Oudolf  or to simply add some soft billowy texture to the landscape, adding a little zing with grasses is gratifying and much easier than most people believe.

Chanticleer
You have hundreds of amazing options no matter what your design goals. Some gardeners may just want a little textural difference from the standard variety of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and the low maintenance benefits of ornamental grasses are hard to resist.

Late Summer's Groovy GrassesRefined and elegant, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ has a thin white margin on the center of the blade giving it the advantage over other more plain grasses and where you may want a lighter color to a space. Topping out at only 5ft. tall it also has a quite narrow base so that getting other plants right in up close in tight spaces is not difficult as you can see above.

Late Summers Groovy Grasses

Certain grasses are out and showing off long before the first week of August, but many are just beginning to hit their stride for the late months of the gardening year. This week, we’re focusing  on those later grasses.

Above is a VERY fun grass with and equally fun name to say- Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blond Ambition’,  which is airy and light and needs to be either mass planted or to have a nice bold leaf to set against and be able to shine as a specimen.

Late Summers Groovy Grasses
The award-winning Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is a designers dream as it tall and narrow so it can be used not only in tight spaces, but in repetition in rows and give a modern, elegant look as well as above in a casual easy breezy way. The wheat-like blooms are both sturdy and showy from a distance.

LAte Summers Groovy GrassesStipa tenuissima ‘Mexican Feather Grass’ is a lovely option for a small growth habit in a grass, and one that has a fun personality. It comes out a fresh spring green and then in summer it begins to turn a sandy light beige. Team Fine Foliage is aware that in some locations across the count try it can be invasive, so be sure to check with your local independent garden center or horticulturist if this is one you should be avoiding. But if it’s one for you, you will have a hard time not petting it and feeling the silky softness as you walk by it.

Late Summers Groovy GrassesPennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ is a fountain grass and if low maintenance is your thing, try it with an amazing lavender with impeccable performance like Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ and you will see this combo check off many of your design boxes. This is a very tough grass that can be quite drought tolerant once established. It blooms with these “bunny-tail” blooms that are delightful to touch and when paired with the lavender blooms that come on earlier the duo it showy for months on end. In fall the grass will take on some elegant golden and apricot highlights and hold tight without falling apart for the majority of winter. It gets cut back in spring and you are off the races again.

Late Summers Groovy Grasses
As the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Angel Blush’ or ‘Tardiva’ change to their deeper rose tones in late summer and autumn, you can rely on Eulalia grass or Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’  for a taller, elegant option for pairing up with this large-scale shrub. The glittering blooms on this grass shine in the sunlight and give sparkle to whatever they are near.

For more information, garden writer Nancy Ondra wrote a beautiful book on grasses and designing with them, I highly recommend it! She is a masterful designer and it was my first go-to resource on grasses in my own hort-library.

What groovy grasses have you planted this summer? Leave us a comment below or tell us on Facebook!

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