Tag Archives: Part Shade

Fine Foliage and the Glory of Fall

The entry drive at PowellsWood Garden.

While much of the country is beginning to feel the first tell-tale signs of fall, with cooler nights and even a first frost warning or two, in the Pacific Northwest, we frequently get the best of both worlds in late summer. We know how spoiled we are to be able to enjoy both seasons at once until the real fall hammer drops when the rains arrive. As I write this, my door is open this morning, and it will likely be 80 by dinner tonight.

In spite of that, our landscapes are all talking about the slow march to the true fall weather. Our abundant Japanese and native Vine maples are coloring up like crazy with the heat stress of our long drought this summer. Understandably, these trees are tired and ready for rest soon, but we will enjoy them as long as we can!

The conifers of all kinds are gearing up to takes the center stage for winter soon. The stately weeping hemlocks in this photo are protected from the heat of summer under the broad canopy of a giant fir tree as well as the dappled canopy of the maples. They lend such a fine texture, blue-green foliage color, and the perfect scale for the mid-border.

One of my favorite things about the photo above is how the intensely colored spikes of blue fescue contrast with the orange of the vine maple. Blue and orange are always such happy friends on the foliage color wheel. A great point to make a note of if you are planning any changes or additions to your home landscape this fall.

When we zoom into the center of this bed, we can take note of even more amazing details. The hydrangea aspera (‘Plum Passion’) from Monrovia shows more purple color intensity on the foliage in a higher light location. In this dappled light, it is pale, but the pink veining and flowers are no less attractive and interesting at providing marvelous details.

Below the hydrangea, euphorbia a. robbiae (Mrs. Robb’s Bonnet) fills in densely with glossy green rosettes of foliage. This ground cover can strike fear in the heart of gardeners with its aggressive nature, so it’s one to plan and plant carefully. However, the cheerful yellow bloom bracts in late spring are so welcome after long winter. Once it’s done blooming, giving this plant a hard prune to tidy it up for the rest of the year, results in this textural backdrop for falling orange maple leaves.

Whether you are fully ready and committed to dismantling your summer garden now to enjoy fall, or if you are trying to squeeze every last ounce out of the late summer landscape, noting some of the fantastic details that make this “shoulder season” dramatic in its own way are a good way to be “in the moment” with your fine foliage design goals. 

Gardening with Foliage First is another way to see some excellent ideas for fall combination drama. And of course clicking the SUBSCRIBE button on your right brings this blog to your inbox monthly for even more ideas! 

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! 

Easy Window Box Display

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Why make things complicated?

This window box is one of the few  spots that deer seem to ignore. Maybe they consider it isn’t worth the effort to bushwhack through the abelia, step over the fountain or navigate the narrow path? Whatever the reason I’m happy to have the opportunity to use colorful foliage that would get eaten elsewhere.

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Receiving only three hours of indirect light in the afternoon, this window box sits beneath the front window of my garden cabin, looking onto a 4 foot  deep porch. It isn’t truly dark on the porch but between the eaves and the surrounding plants it is most definitely only suitable for shade loving plants.

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It would be easy to design an over the top display with lots of different plants and colors but this window box is merely one part of a much larger vignette so I prefer to keep things simple. I add enough color to pull the eye back onto the porch but have the planting become just one more element within the broader picture of sunset shades. Even in September, as the perennial Zagreb tickseed (Coreopsis v. ‘Zagreb’) are pushing out their last few flowers this foliage focused window box packs a colorful punch.

The foliage framework

Lava Rose coleus

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This Lava Rose trailing coleus is similar in habit to Burgundy Wedding Train but  the addition of hot pink and creamy white really help this to be seen in the shade.

The “I know I’ll find the tag somewhere” coleus

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I remember putting the tag somewhere safe….. Regardless of its name, it was included in the window box because it had a tidy mounding habit and the colors were perfect.That gold really popped against the cedar siding

Illumination periwinkle

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Illumination has a distinct yellow variegation (Wojo’s Gem is more cream). Perfect to trail over the edge

The Finishing Touch

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Many tropical house plants are suitable for a summer vacation on a shady porch; Dakota Anthurium is one of them. When frost threatens I’ll bring this indoors and see if I can keep it alive (I’m not very successful when it comes to indoor plants unless they thrive on benign neglect).

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Easy Peasy – Foliage First! Now I do believe there is an exciting new book with that title…..

Want more ideas?

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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)

One Leaf – Oodles of Options

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Sometimes you need something different to liven up the shade tapestry of ferns, hostas and hellebores. Painter’s Palette knotweed (Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’) might be just the answer. This isn’t the highly invasive knotweed that threatens to engulf both ornamental and native plantings, but a better-behaved relative. Having said that, it is still quite vigorous and spreads by underground rhizomes as well as seed, especially in moist soil. I have found that in drier conditions it spreads very little, so choose your site wisely and consult your local Extension office if in doubt.

Why we like it

Mottled green and cream foliage is splashed irregularly with raspberry shades, and most leaves have a burgundy chevron. Painter’s Palette forms a mound of foliage, and an abundance of wiry stems of unusual red flowers rises above in midsummer. As an herbaceous perennial, it will die down in winter, which allows ephemeral spring-blooming bulbs to be tucked in underneath.

While suffering mild slug damage it is mostly ignored by deer and rabbits and is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. It copes with clay soil and thrives in moist conditions but never gets watered in my woodland gardens and does just fine so appears to be reasonably drought tolerant providing the soil holds adequate moisture.

Recommended for partial sun it will take more sun if kept well watered,

How to use it

Of course the question is, what other plants can we combine with it to really show it off? Well there are plenty of options to choose from. Seeking out other foliage plants that echo the creamy tone is a good way to start then highlight the rose chevron detail with an accent flower or leaf.

In the example below the green and cream are repeated by two other adjacent plants while the raspberry chevron is picked up by a planting of magenta phlox in the distance

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Clearly defined form helps distinguish these three variegated plants together with a carpet of solid green . Design by Daniel Mount, Seattle WA

Seattle designer Daniel Mount has got a remarkable eye for color and detail,  weaving plants together into  luxuriant tapestries that seduce the unwary visitor. How can you resist running your fingers through the cascading waterfall of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) or testing the springiness of the perfectly clipped variegated boxwood? This artistic combination is discussed in more detail here and we have several more of Daniel’s designs to share with you in our upcoming book Gardening with FOLIAGE FIRST (Timber Press, January 2017).

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland, OR

Thomas Vetter is another Pacific Northwest gardener with  an uncanny ability to shoehorn an abundance of plants into a relatively small space yet do so in a  strategic way to create layers of contrasting and complementary foliage with floral and other artistic accents added as precisely placed punctuation points.

Painter’s Palette knotweed brightens up a corner of his front garden, illuminating a purple smoke bush while adding a stage upon which the pineapple lily (Eucomis ) can truly show off her shapely form and flowers. See how those burgundy stems draw the eye to the chevron detail on the knotweed? The faded allium seedheads add a delightful  softness to the composition, juxtaposed with the bronze succulent foliage of the pineapple lily and mimicking its star shaped flowers.

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland OR

Nearby  this knotweed variety is given a new twist by introducing the red bell-shaped blooms of a flowering maple (Abutilon) and flirty Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’) both of which serve to really pull out its rosy foliage markings. Balancing the wispiness of the Hot Lips sage, a variegated agave adds bold texture and form while Fire Power heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’) transitions the color palette into more golden hues.

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland, OR

When viewed from a different angle, one can better appreciate the clever use of contrasting leaf texture while repeating the key colors in this vignette.

What would YOU pair this with? Do leave a comment here or post a photo to our Facebook page! And stand by for a truly STUNNING combination using Painter’s Palette knotweed in our new book, designed by Daniel Mount. It’s one of my personal favorites.

Want even more ideas?

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My New BFF

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Blade of Sun snowberry

What’s sparkles in the shade, is deer resistant, drought tolerant, smothers weeds, propagates easily but isn’t invasive, has hot pink berries in fall and helps control soil erosion?

Let me introduce you to my new BFF (Best Foliage Friend)  Blade of Sun snowberry (Symphoricarpos chenaultii ‘Blade of Sun’). You NEED this plant….

Why I Love It

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It has a low growing, spreading habit and where the branches touch the ground new roots develop. You can sever this rooted branch from the mother plant to get more plants – it’s a really easy technique called layering except that this snowberry does all the work for you.

If it gets too wide simply snip away with the pruners. No special technique or timing needed for success. Since the main plant will easily grow to 2′ wide – more as it layers – it make sense to set it back from the edge of the border even though it is low growing.

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The froth of golden foliage is easily trimmed to keep the path clear but tumbles down the stream bank, rooting even into the muddy soil of the stream itself! This plant is now almost 5′ wide from side to side and was planted three years ago.

The bright golden yellow foliage is semi-evergreen and holds its color well throughout the year although by mid-summer mine tends to be more chartreuse. It has proven to be drought tolerant in my woodland garden where it is planted in dappled shade and clay soil with no irrigation. A younger plant in more sun may need extra water and in the full sun of hotter climates it may scorch.

I have never noticed the pink flowers and the berry production is not extensive – consider them a bonus because this shrub is really all about the leaves.

Design Ideas

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This seasonal stream can fill to the top in winter but that never fazes the blue flowering bugleweed or snowberry

I planted a Blade of Sun snowberry on my moderately steep stream bank to hold the soil in place. It’s layering habit meant that this was so successful that last year I took several cuttings and planted them farther downstream to continue the splash of gold: I’m delighted with the look!

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Catlin’s Giant bugleweed creates its own river of blue along the streambank in spring

Try inter-planting this with one of the larger bugleweed‘s e.g. Catlin’s Giant whose purple-black  leaves offer striking contrast while the azure-blue flowering spikes easily penetrate the lax branches of the shrub. Classic blue and yellow – perfect recipe for spring.

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Red Carpet barberry, Blade of Sun snowberry and Catlin’s Giant bugleweed, mingling and thriving together.

Red Carpet barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Red Carpet’) also has a prostrate habit and I have used several on the sunnier sections of the stream bank. I love their association with the golden yellow snowberry leaves. If barberries are invasive where you live consider substituting with a dwarf loropetalum e.g. Purple Pixie or dwarf weigela e.g. Midnight Wine.

It may look like  a box of crayons but this red-blue-yellow combo is grown up enough for enthusiastic gardeners of all ages.

In another part of the garden I have mixed Blade of Sun snowberry with several hosta and two rusted metal spheres which pick up on the tawny-pink stems of the shrub.

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The bronze new growth of Rodgersia podophylla ‘Rotlaub’ offers bold contrast to the other streamside plantings

In fact this small golden leaf would work with everything from dissected fern and astilbe leaves to bold Rodgersia. Or just imagine how this splash of yellow would wake up the tired rhododendron border in summer and fall !

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A different perspective; fun to repeat the gold color with Carex ‘Bowle’s Golden’ and oxslip blooms (Primula veris). Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola in the background.

What would YOU plant it with? Do leave a comment below or on Facebook – or tell me when I see you at the nurseries! Happy gardening.

Available from Forest Farms

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Spring Shopportunity

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We know you love to buy plants – you are our sort of people after all! So when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom we want you to feel empowered, encouraged and inspired to purchase with intention. And the way to do that of course is to know what stellar foliage plants you already have – or also need to take home – to show off your floral floozies. Because let’s face it, in August you will wonder why you purchased the said rhodie.

This delightful combination was designed by the talented Mitch Evans, a WA state designer who has recently sold this remarkable garden. In fact he warned the new owners that he may find either Christina or I taking photographs underneath his prize Japanese maples at sunrise on any given day…..

Here’s why this works

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Succumb to your floral fantasy knowing we have your back. In this case we have Rhododendron sargentianum ‘Liz Ann’, a dwarf that grows to just 1′ high in 10 years or so and is hardy to -5’F. The daphne-like flowers open very pale pink but fade quickly to white. Keep those two colors in mind as they are your design cues.

Highlight with foliage

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Since you have a white flower look for white in a neighboring foliage plant to highlight it – or two. We refer to this as a color echo.

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In this case Mitch chose a variegated hosta and a specimen floating cloud Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’). You NEED this tree – yes you do. Just look at the delicate variegated leaves and pink stems……

Now add some contrast 

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A simple burgundy leaved Japanese maple works perfectly. In this case the weeping form and finely dissected leaves of a cultivar such as Crimson Queen or the slightly smaller Red Dragon will give a design nod to the pink flush of the newly emerged rhodie flowers while also adding depth to the combination and introducing a new form and leaf shape.

How easy is that? Now show us what you do.Leave us a comment here or on Facebook. We love to glean ideas from you too! (Don’t be alarmed if you find us in your garden at odd hours will you?)

Oh MY Iris!!!

There are grasses and all manner of spiky plants to add colorful texture in the garden, but its extraordinary to find iris with phenomenal foliage used to great effect. It used to be something rare and unique, but now iris of all kinds are being favored for the personality they bring to the landscape with leaves and not just flouncy flowers. 

Oh MY Iris!!!

Paired here with a lavender Japanese primrose (Primula sieboldii), these variegated yellow flag iris make a classy color combination for spring at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. 

Oh MY Iris!!!

Now look at how different that same iris looks with the emerging new foliage of this astilbe. Red and yellow are so vibrant together! 

Oh MY Iris!!!The the same iris again in front of this deep green ilex….. I don’t think fans of foliage would have hurt feelings if I said that I wouldn’t feel bad if this never bloomed would you? 

Oh MY Iris!!!
This beautiful German style iris is perfectly suited to this spring display with Forget-Me-Nots, Iceland poppy, pale yellow carex grass and moonlight toned wallflower. I have to hand it to the designers at Chanticleer, they know how to make a fashion statement all right! 

Oh MY Iris!!!

Another Siberian iris ‘Gerald Darby’ makes you stop in your tracks to get down and check out the marvelous legs on this plant! Blue-purple and not even a flower yet. Imagine the design possibilities! 

For more information on the amazing world of iris, see “A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts” from our good friend of Fine Foliage Kelly Norris. And a good companion option for all of the other amazing iris selections out there is this one, “Bearless Irises: A Plant for every Garden Situation” by Kevin C. Vaughn.

In the mean time, join us over on our Facebook page for more daily doses of leafy inspiration by clicking HERE!

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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