Tag Archives: Seattle

Gray Skies + HOT Foliage = Landscape Design Psych-Out

Damp Desert, Succulents in the Rain

Rainy day at the Huntington Botanical Garden

The Pacific Northwest would typically see 3.5 inches of rain in March, we are currently looking down the barrel of the umbrella gun at 7.5 inches by Friday when we are finally expected to see only our 8th day of dry weather since October. Not cool Mother Nature, not cool indeed!

I have officially dubbed the “Emerald City” now part of the Great Pacific “North-Wet” now. You may scoff and say “But, it’s Seattle, it’s always rainy there!” To a degree, you’d be right, but in reality, we are part of a larger drought zone for most of the year, it’s just that the gray skies for long periods tend to overshadow the spectacularly sunny days that we REALLY hide from outsiders. Well, I guess except the 80,000 who have been moving here every year.

So, what is a gardener who is sitting in front of one of those special “sun” lights to do to keep from going horticulturally “postal” to do? You have to make sun where there isn’t any with HOT foliage designs. Use those hot colors to warm up a space and psych yourself out at least for early spring.

Hellebore, Epimedium, Spring Foliage
Get at least one warm toned color to accompany whatever else might be going on in a design and voila, instant warmth! I see SO many bleak, monotone landscapes that are all brown and gray in my travels, I just don’t buy into the idea that there aren’t options to brighten things up and add a splash of sun.

I truly realize that we are FULLY spoiled for options here in the Great Pacific “North-Wet” but even in colder climates across the country, there are ways with Fine Foliage! It doesn’t have to be huge, fancy, rare or even unique, but there are options besides living with the gloom.

Gold Pine at the Rotary Botanic Garden

Pinus strobus ‘Hillside Winter Gold’ (white pine) at the Rotary Botanic Garden.

Chief Joseph PineJust yesterday I was adding some Sedum ‘Angelina’ still flushed with her winter orange to a client’s garden and was amazed at what a happy, bright note it added to the whole bed I was designing. A HUGE difference, though I was planting in rain gear while standing in mud. 🙂
Sedum 'Angelina' As we leave the warm, dry fireside of winter and venture out into the spring landscape, we need to look for ways we can create energy and excitement until the full force of spring hits. The winter-blooming camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ below is paired with the shrub dogwood ‘Mid-Winter Fire’ to a great warming effect here.

Cornus 'Mid-Winter Fire', Camellia Sasanqua 'Yuletide'
I’m a sucker for the new growth on Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’ in the landscape with just about anything. The variegated foliage and blooms are always interesting, but that HOT coral new growth is dee-vine!

Pieris 'Flaming Silver'
Calluna vulgaris, springThis Calluna vulgaris offers up a jolt of excitement with those flaming red new growth tips in spring!

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' Even soaking wet, the Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ offers up a bit of warm toned foliage goodness right now!

I’ll be prepping for shorts and tank tops planting season soon when I will also post about adding “Cool Color” to hot spots in the landscape too. But, right now I have to go shave the moss on my legs.

Moss Garden
What will YOU do to bring warmth to your garden for spring?

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Transitions

What’s the first thing you do when you return home from a trip? Most gardeners will immediately head outside to see what has changed even before they unpack and I’m no exception.

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Tiger Eyes sumac anchors the container in the foreground while connecting the eye to the distant golden locust trees, katsura and swathe of black eyed Susan. Small accents of silver and blue cool the seasonal palette. Fall has begun.

It’s amazing what a difference 10 days makes. While Georgia was hot and somewhat humid with tropical end-of-summer storms, Seattle is now experiencing cooler night temperatures and the start of the glorious fall foliage display.

This is the first fall season that I have been able to enjoy our new patio and adjacent planting beds and I have been delighted with the effect. The color palette of these smaller beds echoes that of the distant border, creating a transition to the larger landscape while the container strategically placed in the foreground establishes a focal point to be viewed from the kitchen window and the patio. Plants in the smaller bed are scaled down in size and quantity but the focus is still very much on putting foliage first before layering in some floral accents.

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From this vantage point the cluster of river birch joins in the foliage party while the woodland beyond provides a green backdrop to show off the fiery sumac. This scene will continue to evolve as autumn transitions to winter; an ever changing kaleidoscope of color.

Simple tricks often work best.

(If you’d like to learn more about the design strategies of this space and see before & after images click here).

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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!

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New Introductions – New Favorites

I am always excited to see what new plants growers are offering, especially if they have fabulous foliage. Bonus points for deer resistance! Reading about them is only half the story, however. Actually growing them in my own landscape and/or containers is the true test as to whether I recommend them to you or use them in future designs for clients. Here they have to deal with deer, rabbits, lack of irrigation, squishing into pots or neglect. The latter is never intentional but I must admit I do sometimes put smaller test plants into ‘corners’ and promptly forget about them. It’s a wonderful surprise to discover them a few months later and see the plants thriving!

These are a few of the shrubs and perennials I have been testing in my own garden this summer.

Summer Ruffle Hibiscus

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Hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

There are a few variegated hibiscus on the market now; Sugar Tip is a beauty that I have written about before, but at 5-6′ tall and wide it is a fair size. Summer Ruffle is a new introduction  and one of the First Editions collection that got my attention for its petite stature at just 3-4′ tall and wide. That makes it a prime candidate for container design as well as smaller gardens.

The foliage is a soft blue-green with wide creamy-white margins. It is a beautiful shrub even without blooms.

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hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

The ruffled semi-double flowers open lavender and fade to blue – very pretty.

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Lots of blooms on this young shrub

Place this near blue-green conifers, green and white variegated grasses and deep purple foliage such as barberry, weigela or Loropetalum for a delightful combination that puts foliage first but celebrates the summer blooms

Purple Preference Euphorbia

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Euphorbia ‘Purple Preference’

On a recent trip to Portland I called in at Xera  (of course) and scooped up three of these Purple Preference euphorbias. I fell in love with the smoky purple new growth over the dusky green older leaves – oh my. This is an evergreen perennial so it promises year round beauty.

Purple Preference a fairly new introduction from England (well that explains it – we spoke the same language…) and is said to grow to 2′ tall and wide. In terms of self seeding the growers state it as being well behaved. I haven’t had it long enough to give feedback on that but I can tell you that both in a mixed container and in the landscape it looks stunning. Try it in front of peegee hydrangeas (e.g. Hydrangea p. ‘Quickfire’) for a delicate color echo as the flowers fade from white to rose, or mingled with  silver foliage such as this next perennial.

Quicksilver artemisia

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Quicksilver artemisia

At first glance this new introduction from Proven Winners seems to be identical to Silver Brocade with its felted silvery-white leaves and groundcover habit. It is certainly more vigorous; mine are at least 4′ in diameter and I find myself wishing I had  allowed them more space! Where they appear to be superior to Silver Brocade is that this new Quicksilver does not flower. So no little yellow flowers to clip off in order to keep the plant looking its best. That makes it lower maintenance – always a good thing.

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, I use this as a weed suppressing groundcover in my sunny borders.

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Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert ‘Opal’ with Quicksilver artemisia

Try it with the Purple Preference euphorbia mentioned above, perhaps adding the new ice plant Delosperma x Jewel of the Desert for some bold flower power.

Cool Splash Diervilla (Bush honeysuckle)

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Cool Splash foliage in full sun

This is one TOUGH little shrub! But let’s back up…..have you grown the native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)?

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Northern bush honeysuckle grown in full sun

Here’s a photo taken in a full sun, never watered, exposed to elements type of border in my own garden. Gorgeous, right? Look at the coppery new growth and imagine the fragrance from those lemon blooms.

So here’s what I like about its relative, the new introduction from First Editions; Cool Splash diervilla (Diervilla sessilifolia ‘Cool Splash’) can take full sun or a lot of shade. This next photo shows the shrub that has been totally neglected since planting it under a towering Douglas fir tree three months ago. It has never been watered unless it rained and gets only 1-2 hour of direct sun, being in open shade for most of the day.

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Cool Splash grown in dry shade

What you’ll notice is that the variegation isn’t as remarkable as the first image and it isn’t blooming – yet. However it is very much alive and doing fine, despite my less than stellar nurturing! Having said that, the growers recommend this shrub for full sun but I think I have proved a point that it isn’t a primadonna. The shrub in my sunny border rarely gets watered either and is squished between several exuberant perennials.

This deciduous shrub grows up to 4.5′ tall and wide and its crisp variegated leaves will brighten both shade and sunny combos. Try it next to early blooming shrubs that can look lack luster by August such as lilac or forsythia. Or partner it with the variegatedCanadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Glentsch White’) shown below;

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Gentsch White Canadian hemlock

and perhaps a delicate rose such as the David Austin rose ‘Wildeve’ for a romantic vignette;

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Wildeve rose

Pearl Glam beautyberry

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White flower buds on Pearl Glam beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is known for its metallic purple berries in fall. The problem – until now – has been waiting that long for the shrub to be of interest. Problem solved with the new variety Pearl Glam from Proven Winners.

Although the emerging foliage is green it quickly turns dark; a perfect foil for the white flowers shown here. I can’t wait to see how it looks with the purple berries!

This variety is said to grow 4-5′ tall and wide, making it a great candidate for a container or the landscape.

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Pearl Glam beautyberry

Try it with chartreuse foliage for high contrast or silver for a more contemporary look.

I have one in a mixed container (first image) and one in the landscape (above). The latter has never been watered since it was planted but is thriving. It is also on the ‘wildlife freeway’ through my garden but seems to be untouched. A very exciting new shrub for sure.

Lots more to share with you in the near future so be sure to stay tuned!

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Garden Tour Gems

I had the opportunity to attend the Woodinville Garden Club annual garden tour this past weekend. This is always a highlight of the garden tour season for me and over the years I have made many new friends and discovered several outstanding gardens that we have been able to share with you through the pages of Fine Foliage as well as our upcoming new book Gardening with Foliage First.

These are just a few of the artistic, foliage-focused  combinations that had me reaching for my camera.

All about the foliage

Starting in true Fine Foliage style, the first group are a selection that rely fully on leafy goodness for their good looks. Since the homeowners and volunteers were extremely busy I was unable to get some plant names but will add them as I can.

Japanese maples are always a favorite – I thought this was a lovely way to highlight the delicate layers.

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Love the way the deep rosy leaf of the Japanese maple (Shaina??) picks up on the vein detail of the Heuchera leaf (Solar Power?) and stems of the dwarf Rhododendron. Design by Victoria Gilleland.

Hardy impatiens is a stellar groundcover for the shade. Loved how it was allowed to mingle with this golden false cypress (Chamaecyparis)

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The yellow central vein of a hardy impatiens assumes greater importance when adjacent to a golden conifer. Design by Victoria Gilleland

One of my favorite conifers is the Rheingold arborvitae so this trio captured my imagination.

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A silver leaved daisy bush, a bronze sedge and Rheingold arborvitae all thrive in full sun. Design by Joe Abken

And then there were plant combinations that were as unique as they were colorful…. Fabulous layers of foliage including a variegated cherry laurel (I think this is Prunus laurocerasus ‘Marble White’) and a new purple leaved hydrangea called Plum Passion had us all swooning. Mmmm.

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LOVE this hydrangea!!! Design by Victoria Gilleland

Of course no garden tour is complete without getting on my hands and knees to photograph hidden treasures such as this container.

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Loved the light shining through the Trusty Rusty coleus and onto the Sparks May Fly begonia. Design by Joe Abken

Talking of coleus, I must find out the name of this variety with the twisted leaves and toothed edges.

IMG_8125Loved how designer and homeowner Joe Abken had paired it with a hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) – which had me on my knees again so I could show you the burgundy veins underneath the leaf…..

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Design by Joe Abken

Adding layers

Our new book will show you how to layer additional elements onto  a foliage framework . Flowers, buds, bark, art – all are possible! This selection of images shows you how it’s done.

This scene, again by Joe Abken shows how the cinnamon colored buds of a leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum)  play off the bronze foliage of a nearby Japanese maple.

When combined the visual strength of both is augmented;

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Design by Joe Abken

Likewise the soft blue-grey tones of a spruce and snowberry (Symphoricarpos) make for a monochromatic backdrop to show off the delicate pink flowers, that in turn echo the color of the stems.

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Design by Joe Abken

And then there are flowers that have equally eye catching foliage so you can’t possibly go wrong! See what happens when you combine Golden Lanterns Himalayan honeysuckle and Fuchsia speciosa .

Add Little Heath andromeda (Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’) and you get MAGIC

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Which is your favorite?

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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.

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Crepe Myrtles – with a Twist!

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Family vacations invariably meant camping, hiking and gardens….2008 Mendocino Botanical Gardens, CA

On our family adventure to sunny California many years ago I was fascinated by the large blooming trees that seemed to line every major street. Huge blossoms in sumptious shades of pink and white gave cities a carnival atmosphere and the attractive peeling bark only enhanced that effect. I had no idea what they were so stopped at a nursery to ask – they were of course crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia). Pretty funny for those of you who live in areas where these trees are popular to the point of being ubiquitous, but rather exotic and therefore exciting for an English lady living now in the Pacific Northwest.

It turns out that some varieties are even hardy in warmer areas of Seattle e.g. the white flowering Natchez, but not where I garden. (Here’s an excellent article on crepe myrtles in the PNW if you’d like the botanical background on breeding etc)

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that in fact there are some forms of crepe myrtle that even I can grow, being  hardy to USDA zone 6 and they have outstanding foliage! Now you’ve got my attention.

Here are three from the First Editions line that Bailey’s Nurseries in Oregon are growing and are widely distributed.

Ruffled Red Magic

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This beauty is the largest of my trio, growing as an upright, dense shrub to 12′ tall and  8′ wide. Right now the deep olive green foliage is dressed up with the glowing new crimson growth. Place this where you can enjoy the sunlight streaming through to appreciate this spring spectacle.

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Photo courtesy Bailey’s Nurseries

As spring moves to summer the foliage of Ruffled Red Magic will be dark green – the perfect backdrop to showcase the ruffled red carnation-like flowers. Christmas in July perhaps?? If these are deadheaded there is a promise of repeat blooms later in the season.

Fall foliage color is orange-red; definitely something to look forward to!

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This would work well as a backdrop in a mixed border, as a three season screen or an informal deciduous hedge.

Planting companions could include Kaleidoscope abelia whose green and yellow variegated leaves would add sparkle while the dark red stems would echo the growth and flower color of the crepe myrtle.

Moonlight Magic

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If you prefer your crepe myrtle to be more tree-like Moonlight Magic should be on your shopping list. This would make a perfect patio tree as it reaches 8-12′ high but only 4-6′ wide.

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Photo courtesy Bailey’s Nurseries

The rich deep purple foliage is very striking and I can hardly wait to see the effect when it blooms with abundant clusters of white flowers in late summer.

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What would you partner this with? In a container I might anticipate the white flowers so introduce green and white variegated Emerald Gaiety wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) as a simple color echo around the edges together with hot pink million bells (Calibrachoa) and trailing silver falls (Dichondra argentea)

Midnight Magic

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Like the purple foliage but want something a bit sexier? Midnight Magic has deep pink flowers set against rich purple foliage – reminds me of dark chocolate gelato with a hint of raspberry and a drizzle of framboise…..

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Photo courtesy Bailey’s Nurseries

This has a more rounded shape growing 4-6′ tall and wide so could be used in a large container or the landscape.

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All these shrubs are deer resistant, show good leaf spot and disease resistance and are hardy in zones 6-9. That means even I can grow them!

So there  is yet another excuse to go shopping – and perhaps try something new. Look for the purple First Editions branded pots at your local nurseries.

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Calendar Girls – Foliage Style

Photo credit; Ashley DeLatour

Photo credit; Ashley DeLatour

Well that got your attention didn’t it?! What we’re really going to show off here are our top foliage plants by season. You may notice that gardening calendars often showcase flowers which are at their peak during a particular month. Well the beauty of a garden that is designed around foliage is that we are truly talking extended seasonal interest with many months of glory, not just a quick ruffle of petals in June.

Winter; Gold and Blue Conifers

Towering fir and cedars may create the backdrop for this winter scene but the weeping form of a Feelin' Blue deodar cedar really sets the scene as it harmonizes with the cabin door yet adds contrast to the orange pot.

Towering fir and cedars may create the backdrop for this winter scene but the weeping form of a Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar really focuses our attention as it harmonizes with the cabin door while adding contrast to the orange pot.

Yes I also like the rich green Thunderhead pines and silver tipped  Hortsmann’s Korean fir but the blues and golds give me the most pleasure in winter. Whether seen against a brooding grey sky or dusted with snow they always add bold color and interest to the landscape. Their visual weight acts as a perfect backdrop to bare branches, winter flowers and bright berries.

We will have some gorgeous combinations featuring conifers in our new book  (it is SO hard not to give you a sneak peek….) but here are a few favorites that I’ve photographed recently

Golden Spreader fir

Golden Spreader fir – garden of Mary Palmer, Snohomish WA

I really must add this stocky little Golden Spreader fir to my shopping list. I’ve seen it in all four seasons and it never fails to impress me.

Chief Joseph pine

Chief Joseph pine – garden of Mary Palmer, Snohomish WA

Chief Joseph can be bright to the point of gaudy in winter but rather ho-hum the rest of the year. Try placing it in a pot and moving it center stage for its moment of glory.

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae; don’t crowd it in summer and the foliage will be much brighter (I learned the hard way…)                                                                                                                                 

Blue Star juniper - a favorite in all seasons

Blue Star juniper – a favorite in all seasons

This low growing Blue Star juniper is a true work horse in the garden. Fabulous ground cover but not too big.

Feelin' Blue deodar cedar - possibly my all time favorite blue conifer.

Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar – possibly my all time favorite blue conifer.

I purchased this Feelin’ Blue specimen as a short standard. Give it room to show off its form.

Other favorites? Blue Shag pine (PInus strobus ‘Blue Shag’) with its silvery blue fluffy needles, Louie pine (Pinus strobus ‘Louie’) that resembles a golden teddy bear and Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi) if you have plenty of space although I think this looks its best in spring with the bright, fresh color on growing tips.

Conifers can be pricey so buy them small and enjoy in a pot until they reach landscape size.

Spring; Double Play All Gold spirea 

A sweep of spirea near the cabin marries the orange pot and blue cedar perfectly

A sweep of Double Play All Gold spirea near the cabin marries the orange pot and weeping cedar perfectly (the cabin door looks so much better now it is painted a soft teal blue!! ) Notice the repetition of spirea further down the border.

This was hard to narrow down! Many Japanese maples and barberries have striking colors in spring, often maturing to more muted tones. However the foliage I most look forward to in my own garden are undoubtedly the spirea, especially the variety Double Play All Gold which I  often use in my designs having tested it over several years.

Seen with blue star juniper and doublefile viburnum

Seen with blue star juniper and doublefile viburnum

Gold foliage is enhanced by rosy-orange new growth that lights up the garden for months!

Set off against a Thunderhead pine

Set off against a deep green such as this Thunderhead pine

And this is just the spring show! Summer flowers and fall color keeps the interest going. Most years I have found this to be drought tolerant in my garden. However the summer of 2015 was exceptionally hot and dry so these shrubs did look rather the worse for wear by mid August. Deep watering every two weeks should help me overcome that.

Summer; Orange Rocket barberry

Exploding from a pot - great contrast with the surrounding golds and greens

Exploding from a pot – great contrast with the surrounding golds and greens

While there are certainly summer annuals whose foliage I look forward to (e.g. coleus, croton and caladium) I wanted to select a plant that was hardy in my garden. The aforementioned conifers and spirea still make me smile and I enjoy my five golden locust trees. But choosing just one plant or genus for its summer foliage? That’s tough! I’m going to settle on Orange Rocket barberry  (Berberis t. ‘Orange Rocket). No matter where I put it, the burgundy foliage seem to create the perfect contrast with summer flowers, wispy grasses, sturdy conifers and more. The color may be far more vibrant in spring and fall but it is during the summer that I most appreciate the contrast it gives against the dominant green foliage palette.

A simple trio with Blue Shag pine and weeping silverleaf pear

A simple trio with Blue Shag pine and weeping silverleaf pear

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Imagine the above scene without the orange pot and bold barberry. Pretty but not as visually exciting. Relying on flowers for this sort of contrast would only be a short term solution.

Fall; Arkansas blue star 

I look forward to this display all year

I look forward to this display all year

Japanese maples or grasses would perhaps be more obvious choices for this season and certainly I have hundreds of photos of both. Yet it is the broad swathe of the perennial Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) that has me grabbing for my camera daily as it changes from green to gold and finally orange. I was ridiculously excited when friends and family sent me photos of this scene while I was in England this past autumn, especially as I was then able to share the unfolding beauty with my Mum as she lay in her hospital bed.

Dark foliage such as this Grace smoke bush make great planting partners

Dark foliage such as this Grace smoke bush makes a great planting partner

The soft feathery foliage emerges in spring, so I interplant with daffodils to make the most of the space. Pale blue flowers in early summer are a bonus but not as important to me as the foliage texture which contrasts well with big boulders or broad leaved plants. It is the star of the border in fall, however. Be patient as it takes three years to become established but after that it is drought tolerant, deer resistant and fabulous!

 

Late season glory; mingling with silver licorice plant. Photo by Katie Pond

Late season glory; mingling with silver licorice plant and backed by Grace smoke bush. Photo by Katie Pond

Incidentally most of these photos are from my own garden which has to be deer and rabbit resistant as well as drought tolerant and low maintenance. 

So what are your favorite foliage plants for each season? Do tell us – either a comment here or on our Facebook page. We love it when you tempt us out into the nurseries again!

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Winning With Silver

What's the buzz in your garden today?

What’s the buzz in your garden today?

It’s hot, too hot for most of my Seattle garden to handle. Fried astilbe, sunburned hosta and crispy ferns are just a few of my casualties while a semi-naked katsura tree also tells the sad story. I garden on 5 acres without an irrigation system, relying on the inherent drought tolerant properties of plants and occasional watering of selected plants by hand. Being on well water may save us on utility bills but there is a high probability that our well will go dry this year so every drop counts.

Feeling frustrated and disheartened I headed out into the garden with my camera, determined to find something that looked good despite drought and record breaking temperatures. A camera helps me narrow my focus and reduces distractions. Sure enough there are a few things to celebrate.

The overall winners were all my plants with silver leaves.

Licorice plant

Licorice plant

That’s not really surprising. Silver leaves reflect light and heat. You may notice that many of them are covered with fine hairs such as the licorice plant above. These are an adaptation to water conservation by reflecting light away from the plant. Hairs on the underside of the leaf raise the humidity of the surrounding air and slow down the movement of the air so that water is carried away more slowly. Cardoon leaves have that feature.

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We all love lavender for the fragrant flowers as well as the foliage which can be silver, green or variegated

Have you noticed how many of these silver leaved plants are also aromatic? Lavender, catmint, Russian sage, culinary sage to name just a few. Interestingly these volatile oils increase the air density and reduce evaporation.

To conserve water loss, plants with smaller leaves also do better in a drought since the surface area is significantly reduced.

These are just a few examples from my own garden this year but you will soon see how they exemplify one or more of these survivor traits. By understanding what has done well I hope to make wise choices going forward since meteorologists tell us this pattern may hold for three or four more years.

 Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’)

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Although just a fun annual for me I was thrilled to see Silver Falls dichondra as a tough, vigorous groundcover when we visited  San Diego earlier this year. I love to grow this trailing over the edges of brightly colored containers or hanging baskets. Like strands of exquisite shimmery beads this will bring a touch of class to the simplest design. For me it does equally well in full sun as it does in part shade.

Silver Brocade wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’)

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I do love the silver foliage of so many wormwood including Valerie Finnis and Silver Mound but have only marginal success overwintering them. My heavy clay soils just don’t drain quickly enough. So after several years of replacing Silver Mound I decided to just buy a few inexpensive 2″ basket stuffers of Silver Brocade. For many this will be a reliable perennial but I’m considering it an annual. However knowing that they would spread really quickly I didn’t mind investing a few dollars for some serious summer sizzle.

I tucked the little plugs in with some white alyssum (either seedlings I’d grown or more 2″ basket stuffers) and have been thrilled with the results. They have only been watered once a week yet have spread at least 2′ in every direction, their felted fern-like foliage adding a bold carpet under its neighbors.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)

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I’m not generally a fan of growing groundcovers as their presence makes it difficult to add soil amendments such as compost and can even make weeding more awkward. However in the summer I have come to rely on the silver licorice plant to disguise the gaps between young plants, add a silver uplight to darker colors and be a seriously drought-tolerant groundcover from May until late September. I allow a certain amount of free-form scrambling over small shrubs and encourage them to weave between perennials such as black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’). One little 4″ plant can spread 3-4′ so that’s a good return on a couple of dollars.

Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Mature cardoon foliage (at a local nursery)

Mature cardoon foliage (photo taken at a local nursery)

Drama? Check. Scale? Check. Pollinator caviar? Double check

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My intention was just to show you the huge, coarse, deeply dissected silver foliage of this monster perennial but how could I possibly ignore the blooms, especially when there was a pollinator orgy going on in my garden?! Thistle-like flowers are being produced with complete disregard for drought conditions. Like many plants these cardoon are a little shorter this year due to lack of regular water but that’s OK as they still offer such great architecture to the garden border – and pollen for the bees.

Weeping silver-leaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’)

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Metallic silver, willow-like foliage is remarkably eye-catching in a mixed border; even more so when on a weeping small tree. It creates a focal point yet highlights other plants from bold conifers to finely textured grasses. It goes well with deep jewel tones and adds a soft touch of romance to pastels.

In its youth the weeping silver-leaf pear can be rather gangly but give it a few years to step beyond adolescence and you will be well rewarded.

White flowers in spring are followed by inedible pear-like fruit but this ornamental small tree or large shrub is all about the foliage. This is one of my favorite plants in the garden.

Catmint (Nepeta species)

Walker's Low two weeks after being sheared to the ground

Walker’s Low two weeks after being sheared to the ground

I have both Walker’s Low and Little Trudy catmint in this garden and have grown the classic Six Hills Giant previously. I love them all for their fragrant foliage, blue flowers, easy attitude and superior drought tolerance. After blooming I unceremoniously hack them down to a few inches and this is my reward; more flowers and fresh foliage despite no water or fertilizer.

Sea Heart Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’)

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I don’t have a lot of shade in my garden but where I do you won’t be surprised to learn that it is fairly dry shade. Siberian bugloss seems undaunted by such conditions. Jack Frost does extremely well but  Sea Heart is even more remarkable not least of all because of the much larger size of its leaves. Rough to the touch this heart shaped foliage has an intricate overlay of silver on green. Forget-me-not blue flowers appear in spring. This is holding its own under a golden locust tree and is thriving.

Quicksilver hebe (Hebe pimeleoides ‘Quicksilver’)

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Just a few miles from here in Christina’s garden Quicksilver hebe is hardy but in my cold, sticky, heavy clay soils I’m happy to use it as an annual or short term semi-evergreen shrub. The color and texture are easy to blend with bolder, brighter offerings in the landscape and I know this can take both the heat and low water. I’ve been especially glad of it this year although its color leans more towards a pale teal than true silver

Elsewhere in the garden are assorted lavender, Silver Shadow astelia and the new Bella Grigio lambs ears; all thriving in our crazy summer.

As a bonus all the plants listed here have proven deer resistant in my deer-ravaged garden

Take a few moments to look at your own garden and assess what looks good right now despite your particular gardening challenges. Tell us about it in the comments below or post a photo to our Facebook page; we’d love to hear your news.

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High Spirit Foliage Color for the 4th

With the 4th of July fast approaching, Team Fine Foliage is dealing with a 100 year, record-setting heat wave here in our typically mild northwest climate (as I sit in front of the AC writing this post). We have surpassed records made in past hot July and August months so far and there seems to be no end in sight. Most of our time when not working on the NEW BOOK “Foliage First”, has been holding a hose or setting up sprinklers.

Karen Chapman's explosion of fireworks Brit style. :-)

Karen Chapman’s explosion of fireworks Brit style. 🙂

Since the vast majority of us can’t let off fireworks here due to the heat advisory and one half of Team Fine Foliage is British anyway, we can get crazy HERE! 🙂 I thought it was a good time to bring you foliage ideas that are both high energy color and high impact forms. Some spiky shapes that mimic fireworks are interesting and maybe they will give your imagination some ammunition to add some explosive foliage interest to YOUR landscape.

An Acalypha that I snapped in Disneyworld, BOLD!!

An Acalypha that I snapped in Disney World, BOLD!!

Red Castor Bean is a showstopper, but can be a bit hard to find. Those giant red leaves are about 2ft. across.

Red Castor Bean is a showstopper, but can be a bit hard to find. Those giant red leaves are about 2ft. across.

I could have stuck with the good old red, white and blue for this post, but I came across SO many other fun bits of color and detail for you that I gave up on that theme. But, there is always this one that you could do in a cobalt blue pot with red and white New Guinea Impatiens right? Someone make that combo and post it for us on the Fine Foliage page!

Drama with Caladium, never fails!

Drama with Caladium, never fails!

High Spirited Foliage for the 4thRed Mandevilla, red Rex begonia and a red sphere, now THAT is some color for a partially shady nook!

Another unique Acalypha harmonizing with orange, bronze and the lavender toned Asters.

Another unique Acalypha harmonizing with orange, bronze and the lavender toned Asters.

Impatien 'Omeiana' is ALMOST like fireworks in the shade garden!

Impatiens ‘Omeiana’ is ALMOST like fireworks in the shade garden!

A reddish Bromeliad in a patriotic blue pot makes a statement!

A reddish Bromeliad in a patriotic blue pot makes a statement!

Canna makes a wonderful backdrop for airy Gamma Grass like little sparks shooting up from the pot!

Canna makes a wonderful backdrop for airy Gamma Grass like little sparks shooting up from the pot!

Now THIS is a fireworks display!!

Now THIS is a fireworks display!!

There are always blue foliage plants (for the good old Red, White and Blue) that are dramatic and stunning around, sometimes you just have to think out of the box a bit. 🙂

High Spirited Foliage for the 4th

'Silver Swan' euphorbia with 'Quicksilver' Hebe.

‘Silver Swan’ Euphorbia with ‘Quicksilver’ Hebe.

Melianthus

Melianthus

White foliage can be white HOT in sun or in shade!

'Spider Web' Fatsia

‘Spider Web’ Fatsia

Creamy off-white foliage from variegated Cordyline is plenty classy on it's own in a container.

Creamy off-white foliage from variegated Cordyline is plenty classy on its own in a container.

Garden Art, soft Mexican feather grass and one lone canna leaf glowing like a burning ember make for an unexpectedly electric combo of form and colors.

Garden Art, soft Mexican feather grass and one lone canna leaf glowing like a burning ember make for an unexpectedly electric combo of form and colors.

HOLY COW Yankee Doodle look at that BIG BOLD showy foliage in white? :-)

HOLY COW Yankee Doodle look at that BIG BOLD showy foliage in white?

Look at that, it’s time for me to go out and water the landscape, we should talk succulents next time. 🙂

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