Tag Archives: perennials

New Fine Foliage To Watch For

My recent road trip with the National Garden Bureau was a hortiholics adventure of the first order. I was one of four garden writers invited to attend the 2018 California Spring Trials (CAST) as their guest on a week long, plant-peeping extravaganza.

CAST is the opportunity for plant breeders across the country to showcase their latest introductions, hoping that plant growers will select, grow and then sell these treasures onto the retail nurseries where you and I can finally get our hands on them!

Most of the plants shown here will not be available until 2019 – this is your insider’s peek into what’s happening behind the scenes, focusing in this post specifically on plants which had outstanding foliage.

New Succulent Creations

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Echeveria Coral Reef Aqua – by Greenfuse Botanicals Inc.

Yes please!! I’ll take half a dozen of these! LOVED the dual-tone, ruffled edges on this Coral Reef Aqua echeveria by Greenfuse Botanicals. Fabulous color blend. So easy to repeat these apricot tones with foliage and flowers too – or simply plant this solo in a terracotta vessel for easy elegance.

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Coral Creations from Proven Winners

Succulent breeder Chris Hansen has teamed up with Proven Winners to come up with what is sure to be a HOT collection of succulents  called Coral Creations.  Their display at CAST showed some highly desirable planters brimming with these colorful treasures. Chris has even provided recipes for attractive, long-lasting  combinations that production greenhouses can use to mimic these designs.

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Design by Proven Winners

I for one would be hard-pressed to only pick up one of these! Thankfully the plants will also be sold individually I believe, so we can pick and choose our own selections.

A New Deer Resistant Perennial

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Walberton’s Silver Fountain Gaura by Plant Haven

I’m a huge fan of gaura for their drought tolerance, deer resistance, and long flowering display. Walberton’s Silver Fountain is a new variegated form that promises cold hardiness down to zone 5 and a tidy habit. I know of at least one plant producer that has purchased this from the breeder so I for one will be knocking on their greenhouse door next spring!

So many Coleus!

There were extensive coleus displays throughout our tour – these were just two that stood out to me.

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Coleus Pinkplosion by BallFloraPlant

Coleus Pinkplosion had a fun twist to the end of each leaf, as well as a clean multi-colored variegation and a distinctive purple margin and purple stems. I found myself drawn to it time and again.

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Coleus Main Street Rodeo Drive by Dummen Orange

This one had Christina’s name written all over it! Main Street Rodeo Drive was fun, flirty, crinkled, frilly, colorful in a “Look at ME!” kind of way…. you know what? Adjectives just aren’t enough. Here’s another photo:

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See the incredible pattern of veins underneath the leaves? And the molded-tortilla shape?

Here’s the really good news – you can buy this one NOW

Silver Standouts

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Dib’s Moonlight begonia by Greenfuse

The photo of Dib’s Moonlight begonia really doesn’t do it justice, check out this image on the breeder’s website to get a better sense. Each leaf was almost the size of my hand, and the silver color shone as though polished. With burgundy undersides and stems, and a crinkled texture reminiscent of dinosaur kale it was far superior to any similarly colored begonias introduced to market so far in my opinion.

Here’s a fun tidbit: The Dibley family are from Wales and have been working with the Greenfuse for many years, breeding this and other outstanding Rex begonias. Readers in the UK  may enjoy visiting their nursery which specializes in begonias and streptocarpus.

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Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’ by Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc

Be jealous – I have four of these Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’ in my “holding area” waiting to be planted into the landscape and container for testing this year! This annual opens a pale seafoam green before maturing to a metallic silver that is nothing short of stunning.

Deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and drought tolerant – you knew I’d love this one didn’t you?

Last but not Least

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Trifolium 4luck Red Green by Greenfuse Botanicals

When I posted this photo of Trifolium 4luck Red Green on Facebook recently it drew a lot of interest. Really pretty, perennial groundcover for shady spots. (Note that the colors of my photo are accurate – those on this website link are not).

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Trifolium 4luck Red Stripes

It’s new relative Trifolium 4luck Red Stripes is equally beautiful – reminds me of a kaleidoscope. You should see this next year (2019).

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Alternanthera ‘Choco Chili’ from Westhoff

Voted “Outstanding Plant of 2017“, Alternanthera ‘Choco Chili’ was a very attractive annual foliage plant, at first glance reminiscent of a fringeflower (Loropetalum) but with softer leaves. Suitable for full or partial sun, the colors will be darker in full sun (greenhouse conditions had lessened the color during CAST). Noted for its heat tolerance.

It’s a Wrap!

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Well that wraps up this post, but it is also time for Christina and I to wrap up this blog. While we will keep it published so you can access the archives, make notes on your “must-get’ foliage plants and pin your favorite images to Pinterest, as busy designers, traveling speakers, and authors we need to scale back our everyday workload.

We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and sharing our passion for all things foliage, and have been both humbled and profoundly grateful for your enthusiasm, encouragement and cheerleading.

Do keep in touch – our contact information and social media links are here for Karen and here for Christina, and for now at least we will keep the Fine Foliage Facebook page going.

Keep loving your gardens, one leaf at a time!

Karen & Christina

Fine Foliage Fusion

It’s going to be a stunning spring day here in the Pacific Northwest and I’m thinking about shade combinations with pink foliage. All of these plants are on my back porch waiting for their starring role in my client’s landscapes and containers for the summer.

Obviously, there are still more choices to add to this for more contrast, but I wanted to focus on some of the amazing foliage at my fingertips today in this slim color profile. There’s an unending number of coleus and caladium options that I can add in here too, just too many to share today. What other pink foliage can you think of for a shade garden or container?

As I get ready to run out the door to get working, I hope you enjoy a quick little tour of the pink display I’m enjoying right outside my window until they get installed!

Cordyline fruticosa

Variegated Fuchsia Magellanica

Rex Begonia

Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’

Hypoestes (Polka Dot plant)

Fine Foliage Fusion

Fittonia ‘Pink Angel’

Fine Foliage Fusion

Fittonia ‘Frankie’

Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’

Need more pink foliage ideas? Go on over and click that button to sign up for Fine Foliage to be delivered to your inbox. EASY PEASY! 

Do you want to be a superstar expert at Gardening with Foliage First? Click here to learn more about our books! 

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Emergent Fine Foliage for Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite Fall Foliage – Arkansas bluestar

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A large planting of Arkansas blue star beginning its fall display

There are some plants I just can’t get enough of – and top of that list is the perennial Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). While many herbaceous perennials are selected for their flowers, this beauty is invariably chosen for its outstanding feathery foliage that transitions from bright emerald green to shades of orange, gold and copper in fall. For the flower-loving folks, yes this does indeed have blue flowers in spring but even a glance at these photos will quickly convince you that it really is all about the autumnal foliage display.

How to use it

Even one plant can be a star in a container.

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Mingling with other late season foliage stars, the bluestar adds height, texture and color

I added a group of seven one-gallon plants to the far end of our ‘island border’, a key display border viewed from many vantage points within our large garden, from the patio and from most windows of the home.  As is typical, the perennials took three years to look significant – you need vision in the early days! I nestled these feathery beauties against a large mossy boulder to play off the texture.

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Color companions I enjoy the most are silver and purple, both of which work equally well with the summer or fall display.

To give you ideas from other gardens, here is an example from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden where it mingles with golden sneezeweed (Helenium sp.).

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At Walter’s Gardens, the nursery that grows perennials for Proven Winners, I spotted it offering feathering companionship and powder-blue flowers to spring blooming peonies and poppies in the test garden.

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Of course I am not known for my minimalist approach so you won’t be surprised to hear that when I had a new raised bed to plant by our patio I decided to fill it with over 50 Arkansas bluestar! The design idea was to create a transition from the more ornamental plantings besides the patio to the distant summer meadow and woodland beyond.

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Anticipating the fall foliage color, we used steel to form the arc at the rear of this bed, knowing its weathered, rusted surface would look visually exciting with the autumnal display.

This is only year two for this bed but I’m already thrilled with how it is evolving. I also know I’m going to be out taking photos each day as the colors change!

Why you should grow it

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Arkansas blue star is reliably drought tolerant in my non-irrigated garden. This summer we didn’t have any measurable rain for three months and our temperatures were frequently in the 90’s with almost a week closer to 100′, yet I didn’t water the Arkansas bluestar in the island border even once and it still looks fabulous. I did water the newer plants by the patio a total of three times as after two months without rain a few plants were showing signs of stress. That may be due to them being in a raised planted rather than in the ground, or due to them being less well established. Next year will tell. Certainty they have started their fall display earlier but I don’t mind that at all!

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They are also both rabbit and deer resistant – YAY!!

More combination ideas

Our new book Gardening with Foliage First has several fabulous design ideas. Check out  Golden Threads (p285) and  Aquascapes (p140). The latter uses a different variety of this perennial called Halfway to Arkansas, but the effect is identical.

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Golden Threads – full design and planting details in our book!

Cultural details

USDA: 5-8

Size: 2 feet tall and wide (but tends to splay outwards to a bit wider than this)

Soil: average, well drained.

Site: Full sun

Water: minimal once established

How are you using this perennial? Share your ideas with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Local Botanical Gardens Yield Inspiration

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The only limitation is your imagination – scene from a waterwise design at Bellevue Botanical Garden

As I sat on a shady bench, waiting for the perfect light (a photographer spends as much time sitting & waiting as standing & clicking it seems to  me), I watched the many visitors meandering through the Bellevue Botanical Garden (BBG). There were couples picnicking on a blanket, young families who were letting the kids run off some steam, professional photo shoots of wedding parties and graduating seniors  – and relatively few folks actually looking at the plants. That surprised me, because your local botanical gardens are often the best place to find inspiration for your own garden.

Whether you are looking for design ideas for moist shade, waterwise combinations that can take the heat or lush mixed borders, BBG has it all and a whole lot more.

In fact sometimes there is so much to absorb that it can be hard to spot the ‘take home’ ideas, so I thought I’d show you one especially colorful part of the large perennial border and take a closer look.

First Impressions

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Yikes – where do you look first? What does your eye go to? To the bold, bright, variegated leaf in the foreground? The orange flowers at the back? It’s too much to take in all at once and most of us would not be seeking to create this level of complexity in our own borders, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t design lessons here for us.

Let’s move  further down the path…

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There’s still a lot going on but our frame is a little more manageable now that we have eliminated the border to the right side of the pathway and reduced the dominance of the variegated dogwood shrub in the foreground.

Initial Design Lessons

  • Imagine what would this look like without the orange and magenta flowers. Actually pretty darned good because there’s lots of great FOLIAGE (even if you don’t know their names, analyze the colors and shapes). There are oval variegated leaves, big rhubarb-type leaves,  dark purple sword-like leaves, round purple-brown leaves, wispy grasses, a golden conifer, some tall silvery-white grasses and plenty of more ordinary green leaves tucked in too. In other words there is a fabulous foliage framework unifying this scene.
  • Now imagine what this would look like if all those leaves were green. Not so interesting! The color of the leaves adds drama to the scene and sets the stage for some fun vignettes using color echoes and contrast. To see that in more detail let’s narrow our focus a bit more.

Lessons in Color Repetition & Contrast

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This is where things start to get exciting!

  • Foliage Framework

In the foreground is fleshy, purple pineapple lily (Eucomis) foliage rising like bold swords and pointing us (very helpful!) upwards towards the similarly colored large, round leaves of a leopard plant (Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’). A large ornamental rhubarb leaf ( Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum’) also jostles for our attention, framing the left of this scene.

Perfect Foliage First design!

  • Finishing Touch (the flowers)

Sandwiched between the purple leaves are ribbons of red and white astilbe. The whote froth is needed for contrast and separation, even though the color echo between the purple leaves and red asilbe flowers was well thought out.

And how about the orange lilies in the distance? They repeat the deep orange-yellow blooms just beginning to open on the leopard plant. The blooms on other leopard plant varieties tend to be much more yellow – this one was specifically chosen for its closer connection to orange.

And orange really pops against such dramatic, dark foliage. Excellent contrast.

Lessons in Form

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Notice the contrast between the two layers of upward-pointing (vertical) astilbe blooms and the more horizontal plane of the leopard plant leaves. Beyond them the tall lilies add another vertical punctuation point. Incidentally the astilbe blooms will be left as seedheads well into fall so this design element is remarkably long-lived.

Lessons in Details

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There’s one final detail beyond the leopard plant – look at the ruby thorns on the stems of a wingthorn rose (Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha) and how they repeat the dark notes of the foliage and flowers in this vignette while once again introducing a vertical line. Genius.

So while botanical gardens are indeed a delightful location for your next portrait session, do take time to enjoy the planting combinations and glean ideas for your own garden. The combined genius of so many talented professionals is on your doorstep!

Want more ideas? Well we know of two rather excellent books to get you started…. Also be sure to sign up to our blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

Luscious Layers with Foliage First

We have earned the right to whine a bit about our weather here in the Seattle area lately with record-setting rains the likes of which have not been seen since records were kept in this area. The gardens are all in quite a state of shock and disorientation, so when I went to look back at this date last year, it was quite amazing to fathom the variance!
Hostas and Saxifrage are Luscious Layers with Foliage FirstI found this shot in last years file for this same week in 2016 photographed in an amazing garden called PowellsWood. This garden is very close to my heart as they spoil me SO much as a designer and a photographer. But, also because it’s an exquisite gem of a garden.

Just look at those layers of hosta fern, grass and ‘Variegata’ saxifrage in full blooming glory for spring! So what’s the design recipe here? Add one white variegated hosta, one solid blue hosta, and marbled golden saxifrage WITH the graceful show of spring flowers. Following those saxifrage blooms will be the hosta flowers and now you have a recipe that Team Fine Foliage and Foliage First would say is a BIG winner for demonstrating how to have luscious layers in the shade garden this year. The ferns and grass are bonus elements!

With some luck and possibly a drought we may be slightly less damp in July than we are today. But, I still have to shave the moss on my legs this week! 😉

Is it time for you to tackle that less-than-stellar shade garden? You’ll get lots more ideas for plant combinations that put Foliage First in our two books.

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