Tag Archives: Gardening with Foliage First

Spring Bloomers that Keep on GOING!

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

Jack Frost Siberian Bugloss

Jack Frost collage

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

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

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

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

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

Pasqueflower

Pasqueflower collage 2

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

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

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

Cheddar Pinks

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

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

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

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

English Primrose

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

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

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

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

Lungwort

Pulmonaria collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others high performing spring bloomers to consider

Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Barrenwort (Epimedium sp.)

What’s YOUR favorite?

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

Note: this post contains affiliate links

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! 

Design Goals in the Garden for 2017

RHS Wisley 2016

RHS Wisley 2016

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

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

Color echo with Hydrangea and Japanese maple

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

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

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

Paperbark maple

Paperbark maple

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

A sumptuous feast of fall color here!

A sumptuous feast of fall color here!

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

Foliage BONANZA! :-)

Foliage BONANZA! 🙂

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

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