Tag Archives: Low Maintenance

Easy Care Foliage for Late Winter

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Conifers bring color and form to the winter landscape: Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (foreground) with Wissel’s Saguaro Port Orford cedar (background) are two favorites. Both began life as 1g container plants.

Here in the Seattle area we have transitioned from endless rain  to  frosty mornings followed by chilly but sunny afternoons – perfect for gardening!

I’m still cleaning up the last of the leaves which managed to weld themselves into the twiggy structures of deciduous shrubs and trees, and stomping down endless mole hills (a bizarre dance which our new 14 week old puppy finds very entertaining!)

Being outside yesterday also gave me the opportunity to appreciate anew those shrubs that offer so much value in late winter with their colorful foliage, unique textures, and varying form yet require minimal maintenance.

Here are my personal favorites:

Best Low Maintenance Conifers

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Frosted, silvery-blue dwarf Arizona corkbark fir plays against golden foliage.

The more conifers I grow the more I love them. Smaller specimens make ideal centerpieces in year round containers; a great way to save money when you eventually transplant them into the garden. That’s exactly how I came to have a mature Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’) in my garden. It started as a one gallon container plant in 2010 and is now approximately 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide – a stunning, glowing focal point. Likewise Mr. Wissel as he is affectionately known, or more correctly Wissel’s Saguaro Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsonianna ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’) began as a skinny blue-green conifer in a pot but now is also 8 feet tall or so, although the deer have spoiled the cactus like appearance somewhat after rubbing against him. Regardless, he still adds a statuesque presence to the winter garden – you can see them both in winter designs in our latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

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Quart sized conifers start off in a container garden: Blue Star juniper and Rheingold arborvitae

Other favorites for their easy care attitude are steel-blue Blue Star juniper, Rheingold arborvitae that transitions from chartreuse to mid-green to deep orange, dwarf  Arizona corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa ‘Glauca Compacta’) – a gorgeous silvery blue with a dense, compact shape, and  Sungold thread-branch cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Sungold’) which creates a mop-like mound of golden yellow foliage that looks fabulous next to broadleaf, dark green evergreens such as  camellias.

All these conifers are low maintenance as they require no pruning for shape, size or color and do not shed needles (the way pines do for example). In my garden they are all deer resistant although I suspect the Rheingold arborvitae has just been lucky so far and Mr. Wissel was pressed into service as a rubbing post as I mentioned earlier.

Best Easy-Care Evergreen Shrubs

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Tucking a small Rainbow drooping fetterbush (at 9 o’clock) into a container design is a fun and inexpensive way to grow your shrub collection. Photographed in fall

For me to consider an evergreen shrub worth growing, pruning should not be a necessary part of its management either for shape, size control or best color, and I also expect it to be disease resistant. Since foliage interest is key to all my designs it should also have great leaf color with bonus points for seasonal color variation and double points if it also blooms.

As if those criteria weren’t tough enough, I also have to ensure deer resistance and drought tolerance once they are established.

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Winter color on Rainbow drooping fetterbush

A top winner for me is Rainbow drooping fetterbush with its chameleon-like color change from summer green/cream to winter deep red. It has a fabulous, arching form and spring flowers too! Start it off small in a container design then transplant it to the garden if you only see small sizes at the nursery. Scarletta is another great variety with deep ruby-red color.

Oregon grape (Mahonia sp.) is a star genus year round in the garden and there are many species and cultivars to choose from including tall, upright growing varieties such as Charity and a low growing, native ground cover. Yellow blooms attract hummingbirds, the blue berries that follow are edible, while the dark green holly-like foliage is welcome for its architectural status in the garden. The foliage of the ground cover form (creeping Oregon grape) even changes to deep purple in winter – wow!

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Twiggy box honeysuckle introduces an intriguing texture behind the red barberries. (Combination photographed at Bellevue Botanical Garden)

Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida cvs.); from the larger Baggesen’s Gold and Red Tips to the shorter and more compact Twiggy I love them all for their finely textured foliage and great color. I personally think the larger forms are best allowed to tumble in an informal mound although they do take well to shearing. For smaller spaces stick to Twiggy and skip the size control issues. In exceptionally cold winters these may lose some leaves but generally come through just fine in my 6b garden.

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Hedgehog holly is a sterile option if you cannot grow English holly – and look at that color!

If you like variegated English holly but it is invasive in your area, you might like the Hedgehog holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ ) same great color but a sterile clone.I think the extra spines on the leaves make it truly fascinating.

Milder gardens may also enjoy distyllium (e.g. Cinnamon Girl) and Goshiki Japanese false holly. I grow both although the tips sometimes suffer frost damage, although the shrubs eventually grow through that.

More resources and ideas

There are so many great plants out there yet I know it can be challenging to select plants that aren’t going to be a maintenance nightmare. Good news – I’ve created a short, inexpensive online course to help you called

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants!

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Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

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And of course we always have lots of ideas for you on our Facebook page!

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Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

Is your zeal for gardening hampered by the heat of summer sizzling your foliage?  We’re not even at the “Dog Days” of summer yet when “real” heat can set in and yet you may already be tired of hauling the watering can and hose around to pamper certain plants.
This week, let’s take a look at foliage that won’t shrivel when the thermometer gets a fever.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

Pinterest has taken the popularity of succulents and all of the vast array of plants that behave like succulents to a whole new level of intrigue. There are as many types of succulents to fall in love with as there are ways to design with them.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

Chanticleer
Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

Agave, Aloe, Sedum, Sempervivum, the collection possibilities are endless when you start looking for ways to have a sophisticated and water saving garden. Shopping for textures that go together, or setting your garden art about to accentuate your plants is much more fun that fussing with that hose anyway!

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

The drought tolerant landscape can be contemporary and architectural but, it can also be a soft and casual garden as well. The sky’s the limit when designing to save water and beat the heat.
Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage
You may have to put tender things in containers in your climate and have a plan for keeping them warm in winter, but for many collectors, it’s worth it.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage
If you are going to keep little containers of low maintenance foliage around, why not use them as focal points on the patio table rather than flowers that only bloom a short amount of time and need ALL of that H20?

Colorful drought tolerant plants that you can pair with succulents are a never-ending source of design inspiration.

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Blue Elymus grass can take the high temperatures with ease, so can the ‘Black Pearl’ Pepper and they look great with the ‘Blue Chalk Fingers’ succulent.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather FoliageSages and Salvia’s are a drought tolerant dream. Paired here with Limonium in a matching purple hue, you have color from the voluminous blooms and a water saving pairing.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage
Parahebe (like the one above) and Hebe are tough and heat loving small shrubs.
Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage
Euphorbia like ‘Glacier Blue’ with ‘Quicksilver’ Hebe and ‘Tri-Color’ Sage makes a lovely combination for tough and drought tolerant plants. The Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ is a bonus foliage that will need a wee little more water.
Wither-Proof Hot Weather Foliage
Silver foliage is almost certainly a great choice is you are looking for ways to save water in the garden. Artemisia is a family of plants with LOTS of choices and styles to choose from. But, there is a plethora of silver foliage to choose from for tough and dry conditions.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather FoliageG
lowing silver Astelia is a sophisticated option for a drought tolerant grass.

Wither-Proof Hot Weather FoliageZauchneria is not only great fun to say, but it blooms with bright orange flowers that hummingbirds begin turf wars over.
Wither-Proof Hot Weather FoliageBlue conifers of all types can be quite drought tolerant once established in the garden.

The bottom line is that there are FAR FAR too many drought tolerant and water saving options available to you these days to not try at least a few new ones every year. Your foliage palette will thank you and so will your water bill!

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Cover Some Ground with Fine Foliage

Cover Some Ground with Fine FoliageGround covers are a fun and easy way to get a full garden look with great foliage plants. You can try small pots of plants that you might not have considered before with little investment. Or go all out with swaths of one plant en masse. Even container designs offer options for testing out ground covers that might appeal to you.

This week, Team Fine Foliage wants you to take a look at what amazing ground cover can do for your garden with showy foliage for many exposures and types of locations through the entire year. Whether your style leans to naturalistic, formal or eclectic, there are ground cover options that will help you make your garden more low maintenance, colorful and full of texture.

The 'Purple Haze' Acaena MAKES this combination!

The ‘Purple Haze’ Acaena MAKES this combination!

When we design garden or landscape it can be a little like furnishing a room. You need to understand the scale of your garden room, then you can choose the right sized “furnishings”, like your trees, shrubs and larger perennials. Then it’s time to “accessorize” with perennials that bring on the flower show, containers of showy mixtures and maybe some garden art or furniture to add the final touches.

Colorful Heath's and Heathers are fantastically showy options for year round ground covers.

Colorful Heath’s and Heathers are fantastically showy options for year round ground covers.

But, what about the garden floor? Adding in the ground cover is the touch that truly makes the picture complete, fills in the gaps and odd corners, softens the hard edges and often brings the intangible that completes a design.

Take a stroll through some lovely ground cover options and see if you don’t agree that adding the final element of ground cover makes a BIG difference in the big picture for your designs.

Trillium, Cyclamen and Sweet Woodruff combine elegantly to make a textural and interesting mix of ground cover.

Trillium, Cyclamen and Sweet Woodruff combine elegantly to make a textural and interesting mix of ground cover in a shady nook.

Cover Some Ground with Fine Foliage

Sedum hybrida ‘Immergrunchen’ creates a golden uplight under this ‘Kamagata’ Japanese maple.

Black Mondo grass creates a solid frame for garden art in this bed.

Black Mondo grass creates a solid frame for garden art in this bed.

Bergenia mingles at this spring party with black leaved Ajuga and Forget-Me-Nots on this little slope to make a sweet and hardy little spring vignette at this party.

Bergenia mingles at this spring party with black leaved Ajuga and Forget-Me-Nots on this little slope to make a sweet and hardy little spring vignette at this party.

Lysimachia 'Persian Carpet' makes a dramatic paring contrasted with silver euphorbia 'Rigida' foliage on this tropical feeling island garden.

Lysimachia ‘Persian Carpet’ makes a dramatic pairing contrasted with silver euphorbia ‘Rigida’ foliage on this tropical feeling island garden.

Sarcococca is a hardy evergreen groundcover that has divine fragrance is early spring!

Sarcococca is a hardy evergreen groundcover that has divine fragrance is early spring!

From spring to winter there is a Fine Foliage ground cover that suits every design style and location. What are your favorite ground covers?

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The Foliage Forecast – A Tale about Transition and the Size of Things to Come

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A tapestry of small-scale plants right next to the sidewalk! Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’, ‘Rheingold’ Arborvitae, Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’, ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ False Cypress, Spirea ‘Double Play Gold’, ‘Tri-Color’ Sage, Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’, Dwarf Hemlock.

The downsizing of America‘s landscape is upon us. Just like our homes, cars and some of our lifestyles, we are now learning to garden more efficiently in less space without sacrificing style.

The vast majority of us don’t have giant-sized lots in our neighborhoods as our grandparents and parents might have, depending on where you live of course. 2 acre lots are considered luxurious, 5 acres are GIANT. But, most of us these days have 1 acre, 1/2 or a 1/3 acre. More and more newer planned communities like mine are even less than a quarter acre or what we call a zero lot line.

When our home lots of yesteryear were young and new, there wasn’t nearly the plethora of plants to choose from and not many resources for good gardening information the way we all depend on now. There was no one to teach us “Right Plant, Right Place“. We all piled into the station wagon, went to the nearest nursery and chose from the small selection of Junipers and Rhododendrons or whatever your local everyday average plant choice might have been long ago.

As the years went by those basic, bread and butter plants were great- they did their job. Dad would routinely hack them back every year whether they needed it or not as an act of domination over the family’s land. After all, aren’t we SUPPOSED to have a hedgerow on our All-American Homestead? Isn’t the home supposed to be snuggled with shrubs up against the house and a “Leave it to Beaver” lawn all the way to the street?

But, then while everyone was busy, those plants grew and grew and grew. Dad could only hack them back so far now. Mom can’t get around the Laurel to get to the front door. Guests have to dodge the thorny, poky plants on the walkway, the juniper on the driveway harbors a spider colony that could rival a horror movie.

Don’t we all have that story of the weekend warrior, gardening bender where someone decided that (insert ubiquitous over grown, badly placed plant here) it was high time to take that plant out? “I can’t stand it for not one more minute! Chop it down. Tear it out. Prune it into submission. Tie it to the bumper of your truck and pull that sucker out!”

Then suddenly its gone. As if by magic, the sun has broken through and now you have that SPACE. The family piles into the mini-van and heads to the local independently owned garden center and asks the smart horticulturist/salesperson for advice.

The following conversation is had thousands of times in nurseries every single day:
“We tore it all out, now its a blank slate, what do we do?”
“In your perfect universe, this new plant would be how tall and how wide when its mature in 10 years?”

Now this story is about to go one of two very distinct ways:
1) “We never want anything over 2-3 feet tall and wide. We NEVER want to have to prune it, let alone even think about it.”
OR
2) “Why can’t I just put in that plant that wants to be 25 feet tall, I will simply prune it into submission? It worked for my Dad.”

So, where does that leave us with our choices and options for the right plant in the right place? The future is now, the forecast for spectacular selection of dwarf plants of ALL types has never been better, you really can have the best of both worlds. Breeders and growers are coming out with new dwarf cultivars of nearly everything. You won’t have to settle for not having a Lilac if you can’t fit a 9-12 foot shrub in your small space garden.

Lest you think I have forgotten my foliage obsession, here is where we REALLY start to get some excitement. You CAN have magnificent color, texture, layering and multi-season interest in small garden spaces by focusing on those new plant introductions available to you these days. Dive right in!

Pick your foliage color palette, stick to it, repeat often and then break all the rules. 🙂 There is simply no need to comply with rigid old standards of cramming giant plants up against the house when you have so many foliage forward options to drool over that are low maintenance, colorful and elegant.

The forecast? Our new sized lots have forced us to change how we design our gardens and landscapes. We mix edibles with ornamentals and we focus on layering in some gorgeous foliage that FITS our space rather than forcing it to conform to our lack of selection. And we are vastly more fortunate than our grandparents to have such a huge selection of stunning foliage choices to try out every year.

What are you still doing here? Get out and shop for some NEW FOLIAGE for your landscape!!

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