Tag Archives: shade

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! 

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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Iris for Foliage Lovers

Planted just one year ago these iris are thriving and growing into large, healthy clumps

Planted just one year ago these iris are thriving and growing into large, healthy clumps

Early fall is a great time to re-evaluate your spring-blooming perennials. Yes you read that right! Christina and I expect double duty from those early season flowers with exceptional foliage that still adds color, structure and interest at least through until the end of fall. That is especially important in small gardens where there is nowhere to hide and every mediocre leaf is right there in front of you.

A traditional favorite for the spring garden is the iris, grown primarily for cut flowers. There are many species  to choose from from the large bearded varieties available in a rainbow of colors to tightly packed clumps of cobalt blue Japanese iris and dwarf forms suitable for the rockery but my go-to is the variegated sweet iris. There are two forms available with either a creamy-white (Iris pallida ‘Alba-variegata’) or a soft yellow variegation (Iris pallida Aureo-variegata’) – and they look stunning right now.

Stiff fans of striped foliage multiple steadily into clumps 2′ tall and wide making it a perfect addition to the front of the border while the soft color lends itself to many different combinations.

Playing with Yellow

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Beautiful design by Lily Maxwell (Victoria BC)

In the stunning border above, the iris has been used to add contrast to the chocolate leaves of Bishop of York dahlia while echoing the sunny yellow flowers. Yellow toned variegated purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’) and a golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ) add fine texture while an overhead canopy of a variegated aralia (Aralia elata ‘Aureo-variegata’) emphasizes the theme and frames the vignette. Taken in August, the iris have long since finished blooming but their foliage clearly continues to add drama. You can see more from this garden in our new book due out fall 2016 with Timber Press.

Crisp and White

IMG_5437For a different look use the long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne) to weave through a green and white variegated  iris, adding a dwarf dark leaved weigela (e.g. Weigela florida ‘Midnight Wine’) for contrast.

I have also used the green and white variegated form to create a pretty monochromatic scheme with green and white hosta or the silver/green Jack Frost Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’).

Flowers – the Icing on the Foliage

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In May and June dozens of exquisite papery periwinkle-blue flowers appear on stiff stalks 2′ above the foliage, filling the air with a delicate scent. Consider this color when selecting companion plants. In the examples shown above these flowers will repeat or enhance the color scheme of the surrounding shrubs and perennials.

Cultural Conditions & Care

Full sun or part sun/part shade (blooms best in full sun)

Average, well drained soil

Hardy in USDA zones 4-9

Deer resistant

Drought tolerant once established

Divide in fall or early spring if needed

Evergreen in mild winters; trim old leaves at an angle to tidy them up.

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Stylish Early Fall Shade Garden

One of the most common complaints that I hear from design clients about their gardens is that they feel defeated about what to do in the shade garden. After spending time and energy trying plants that were too water needy, can’t tolerate being moist, disease prone or simply needing more light than they realized, it absolutely can be frustrating, not to mention expensive.
So, when I mention some of the great shade standards such as hosta, they scrunch their face up and reply with a response that usually describes their boredom and lack of enthusiasm for these seemingly “pedestrian” options. However, when we begin to talk about the exquisite varieties that they can plant and which plant pairings can go with them such as conifers and grasses, there is a distinct change of expression and excitement like a little kid who can’t wait for Christmas.
Here are a few early fall shade garden examples of just such options this week from the spectacular garden called PowellsWood in Federal Way, Washington. Much of this garden resides under mature fir trees with superb plant pairings that absolutely shine in the shade.
Stylish Early Fall Shade GardensStylish Early Fall Shade GardenThese chalky blue hosta (‘Hadspen Blue’) or ‘Halcyon’ are the perfect counterpoint under the chartreuse color of the Japanese maple. Layered together with one of the MOST unique new hosta available called ‘Praying Hands’ with its upright dark green, wavy foliage featuring fine white edge details, it is one of my favorite vignettes in the entire garden.
At the back of this captivating foliage combination, the tips of a hemlock shrub, ‘Gentsch White’ glow in a soft and misty white detail. It will grow up and have even more prominence standing up over this combination in the future.
Stylish Early Fall Shade GardenSplendid Chinese wild ginger spreads out elegantly in the shade of this palm tree garden paired with Astelia ‘Westland’ that sports a subtle bronze stripe. The spiky upright habit of the Astelia is perfectly suited in size and lacy texture of the Japanese ‘Tassel’ fern while billowy grasses thrive partial shade in the background to compliment them.
There is no need to be frustrated and disenchanted with your shade garden plants. These photos in a spectacular shade garden illustrate how common types of plants in uncommon forms, paired with new options you may never have considered, can give you stylish options. Ask your local independent garden center to provide new and unique plants that will inspire you to try combinations that excite and delight you in your shade garden

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Heavy Metal in the Shade Garden

You might guess that Team Fine Foliage is NOT talking about heavy metal music. But, just in case this headline threw you off and you were Googling something on an altogether different topic, be warned that the heavy metal we’re referring to here is foliage. 🙂
The classy hues that bronze, copper and silver bring to the garden, unlike screaming heavy metal music, are subtle, rich and diverse. Whether foliage in these tones are used in sun or in shade, there are a million and one design uses. This time we focus on a combination in the shade on a container design that is on the smaller side, sitting on a side table for up-close viewing of the amazing textures represented.
Heavy Metal in the Shade Garden
This bromeliad or Vriesea fosteriana rubra is the anchor plant for the combination giving a backbone of stiff upright foliage for the other more soft and cascading plants to sit around. The nice thing about using a tough plant like this for a tabletop combination is that this shallow dish of plants won’t need a lot of pampering. The other bonus that you get when using this admittedly pricy collectors plant is that it makes a wonderful houseplant at the end of the season if you wish to winter over your investment for next year.
The feature colors here are the metallics, such as bronze, copper and silvery whites, which may seem much too subtle for a spot where there is low light. But, it works when paired with the crisp whites, fresh green as well as rose tones.
Heavy Metal in the Shade GardenThe next layer is the crinkled, texturally abundant Pilea spruceana which is another houseplant used outside in this combination and it worked beautifully! These plants are super easy and gratifying to grow as they also need very little love. Take note of how the metallic tones along with the shades of rose work in perfect unison with the Bromeliad here! Same tones, totally different textures, but the similar needs in the way of light and water.
Heavy Metal in the Shade Garden

This is what happens when you truly look at ALL the varied departments in the nursery for your summer container design choices. Sometimes a combination of colors, forms and textures meet on your cart and work as if you planned it! At least that’s what this designer is claiming if anyone asks. 🙂
Heavy Metal in the ShadeNow to re-enforce with flower color! YES- flowers indeed! Have you seen this one before? It’s one trailing shade, part sun flowering annual that I can’t live without. Its called Mimulus or Monkey Flower and comes in a wide variety of colors that include intense yellow, orange, reds, white and other shades too. This particular cultivar is just one of the “Magic Spring Blossoms Mix” of Mimulus cousins, so be sure to ask for it at your local independent garden center.
The rose color in this particular plant works brilliantly well here! You can also see the wispy Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ here as well as a crisp contrast to the rest of the subtle and muted tones.
Heavy Metal in the Shade Garden

TA-DA!!! You can clearly see how it all came together here with the addition of the very crisp white Lobelia ‘Techno-Heat’ white as well as the leafy green asparagus fern. What do you think? Did I do these plants justice?

Use heavy metal in YOUR garden and let us know what foliage plants YOU chose and how they all work together. Share your images on our Fine Foliage Facebook page.

 

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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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Vibrant Color, Bold Design

Vibrant Color, Bold Design

Want vibrant colors in cool shady locations? If you’re focusing on the flowers first, it can be hard to come by. But I would defy anyone to try to tell me that it’s not possible to create BOLD and colorful combinations when you begin with foliage in lower light conditions. Though you need to fully understand the particular quality of light or lack of light you have in your situation, you CAN find options for foliage combinations in the shade in both containers and landscapes.

Morning shade has an entirely different light quality than afternoon shade. Dappled light all day is going to be a totally different challenge as would full deep shade. So, watch what your light does at different times of the day, as well as how many hours you have total and that will go a long way to helping you understand what your options are for plant choices. One tip: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You would be shocked at how many people don’t think about where the light on their property actually comes from. 🙂

Vibrant Color, Bold Design
(In this combination: Coleus ‘Sedona’, Heuchera ‘Spellbound’, ‘Gartenmeister’ Fuchsia, Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’, Golden Feverfew, Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’, ‘Purple Heart’ Setcresea, Blue Anagalis, Blue ‘Techno Heat’ Lobelia, Violet New Guinea Impatien.)
The combination above sits in a cool location on the north side of the house where it gets bright morning light for a few hours, then a little bit of bright light for a bit right before sundown. It has a cool side that features the mainstay foliage and then a warm side that features the flowers. This container was newly planted not long ago and is just now powering up for the summer color show.

Vibrant Color, Bold Design
Vibrant Color, Bold Design

This portion of the container combination is in bright but very indirect light on the west side of the house where it is blocked by large hedges and trees from the warmth of the afternoon. This triad of foliage is exciting in its level of detail and texture as it stands on the side of other more fine textured foliage. (Rex begonia, Persian Shield, Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’).

Vibrant Color, Bold Design

This container rests on a mostly shaded, covered patio, although it’s not terribly bright it is very warm and dry. The warmth allows for a little bit of play with certain plants that typically want more sun, so we’re capitalizing on that in less light. Pictured here: Cordyline fruticosa, ‘Black Heart’ Potato Vine, Coleus, Persian Shield, Rex begonia, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’.

Vibrant Color, Bold Design
This foliage based shade combination has few flowers, but boasts some BOLD elements in a dappled light location. High contrast colors and textures, not to mention unusual plant selections make for a fun and architectural container design. This one is also newly planted and will “fluff out” quite a bit as summer progresses. Pictured here: Cordyline fruticosa, African Mask Alocasia, Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, bright pink Bromeliad, Pink ‘Non-Stop’ Begonia, Golden Pothos.

As you have now witnessed, you CAN have amazing, mouth-watering color and texture from foliage in shade. If you can dream it, you can do it! Think out of the box, try shopping in the houseplant section, ground covers, etc. and for heaven’s sake, get to know your shade conditions first!! Now get out there and do some designing!

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Simple yet Sophisticated

IMG_2855I planted up this little container for a demonstration during my one of my Spring Container Workshops last week. It’s a lesson in balancing abundance and restraint.

Size Matters

The rustic brown clay pot is just 12″ square so the temptation would be to fill it with lots of 4″ plants. Had I done that, however, the overall composition may have looked too busy. Instead I opted to use three gallon (6″) sized plants to really fill out the space with leafy goodness, adding just one 4″ and one 2″ accent plants.

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Foliage Stars

The feature plant is the cream/green variegated Angyo Star Fatshedera, one of the Sunset Western Garden Plant Collection beauties. This will need to be staked as it grows taller but I may just let it tumble and mingle to a degree; we’ll see! The glossy leaves suggest a tropical look but I’ve used it here in a more naturalistic design where it’s resemblance to ivy works well.

Playing off the creamy yellow tones I added the grass-like Everillo Carex to introduce fine strappy texture. The bright golden foliage works well with this informal container.

The third ‘big’ plant was Sweet Tea Heucherella, a favorite for its over-sized copper leaves and distinctive purple veins. Spires of fluffy white flowers are a bonus.

Final Details

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It was love at first sight when I saw these 4″ pots of Sparks Will Fly begonias; look at those black leaves! The orange flowers echoed the color of the Heucherella foliage and played off the warm sunset color scheme. Perfect to tuck into the corner of the container.

Purple Heart was tucked in a corner near the golden grass

Purple Heart was tucked in a corner near the golden grass

Also added but not visible in these photos  is a 2″ pot of Purple Heart wandering Jew (Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’ syn. Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’). The iridescent purple leaves picks up the vein color of the Heucherella and adds contrast to the golden grass.

Design Details

By using just five plants (three of them BIG) and by restricting the number of colors (gold, copper-orange and purple-black) this little container lives large. It has a full, lush look thanks to the foliage; no waiting for it to ‘grow in’ before being ready for its close up.

The three main foliage plants are all evergreen so can be kept in the container or transferred to the garden.

This combination will thrive in shade or partial shade all summer with average water.

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Garden Designer’s TOP SECRET Plant Picks!

Garden designers REALLY don’t want just anybody to be able to do what we do. We want there to be some mystique, some fascination, some magic to what we create for our clients. But we DO have secret weapons in our design arsenal that ANYONE can try out affordably and dramatically. Ready? FERNS! Yes, you heard us FERNS!

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksFerns are often low on the shopping order of excitement for nursery customers and often overlooked because they need to utilized WELL in order for them to shine. And if they aren’t sited or paired up with the right companions, they can be down right boring. However, designers know that ferns can be THE MOST dramatic and showy plants in the entire landscape if you allow them to be the super-stars that they can be.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksWhether you are wanting evergreen or perennial ferns, the design options are incredible and this little secret is one of many in a GOOD garden designers vast arsenal of tricks. Ferns are available for every type of location from full shade to sun, dry shade to moist, from tall to ground cover, from evergreen to perennial and everything in between. And this makes them a valuable plant option for many types of locations.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

For THE absolute experts in the world of ferns, my go-to professionals are at Fancy Fronds Nursery here in the NW. The amazing ladies who own this nursery know their ferns and can provide you with everything from collectors ferns to the more common.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Designers know that a fern can often do what other plants can’t, and that is being able to play a supporting OR a string role in the display at any given time during the season. This spectacular display by designer Riz Reyes  (above) shows the important supporting actor role that ferns are playing when other plants NEED to have a starring role.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksDesigners also know that ferns are not simply one shot wonders in the fluffy summer landscape, they are critical players in the year round landscape. In the shot above, the ‘Autumn Fern’ shows off-color in early fall with a ‘Cappuccino’ Sedge.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Another way to think of using ferns to their highest and best purpose is to know that they can be both bold AND delicate depending on how you pair them. In this shot above, the trio of the ‘Maidenhair’ fern with Daphne ‘Summer Ice’ and ‘Mugho’ pine are a texture lovers dream! But, it is in quite a powerful and strong way.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

In this photo, the delicate new growth in spring has lovely blushing color and comes across as incredibly feminine and lush.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksSometimes the green on green of ferns layered together is an elegant way to fill an area with hardy and showy textures, this is a common trick that designers employ in those hard to plant low-light spots. But, WOW! Who needs more color when you have this ‘Hart’s Tongue’ fern with a carpet of ‘Oak’ fern underneath?!

Garden designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Talk about luscious green on green! WOWZA! This ‘Paris’ Polyphylla truly shines as it stands up tall over a bed of ‘Maidenhair’ fern and glossy ginger foliage.

 

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Even in a fairly bright spot you have amazing ferny options, such as the leathery, deep green ‘Tassle’ fern.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Or use the incredibly beautiful ‘Ghost’ fern as a way to up-light these white allium flowers! This is a vastly under-utilized foliage color in the fern world, there are way too many great ways for this amazingly silver foliage to light up a dark corner or give just the right zing to a darker leaved companion.

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant Picks

Used in the foreground of this larger blue-green hosta in the rear, who needs more? The purplish-black stems are an incredibly lovely contrast to the ‘Ghost’ fern’s silver luminescence. But, if you wanted to play up those dark stems even more, pair this combination with the glossy bronze foliage of Beesia (see the photo below for Beesia in action) where it’s heart shaped leaves and white fairy-wand type flowers would bring even more wow-factor to this combination!

Obviously there are so many more ferns than we have room to show off here in one blog post, like the ever-present ‘Sword’ fern that is like a mascot in the NW garden, other than slugs possibly. 🙂 But, even a seemingly pedestrian plant like a ‘Sword’ fern shines with the right plants around it. So, the main take-away this week is that, we designers have this little design secret that may seem to many gardeners like a ho-hum addition to the landscape, but if you know the secret handshake and password, we’re happy to share ideas with you.

 

Garden Designers TOP SECRET Plant PicksOh! Did we NOT mention the secret password??????? Next week……….

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Winter Survivors and Thrivers

This is a good time to review those winter containers and see what has thrived despite extreme temperature swings, inconsiderate deer and neglect. Let’s face it, January is not the finest hour for most gardens but if we can keep a few containers looking stellar in the ‘off season’ it’s easier to ignore those iffy garden corners.

After several years observation I have found these plants to be reliable performers with little or no winter damage in my zone 6b/7 garden. Although Christina and I only live about 45′ away from one another my garden is much colder and I have to deal with deer so like some of you I have plant envy at times!

So take this foliage selection as a little winter pick-me-up. You can totally justify a trip to the nurseries to find one or more of these – just tell them Team Fine Foliage sent you.

Curly Red drooping fetterbush (Leucothoe axillaris ‘Curly Red’)

IMG_1134Evergreen, leathery twisted and puckered leaves take on rich burgundy tones in cold weather deepening to purple in winter. This dwarf shrub  grows slowly to about 16″ tall and wide as a tidy mound so is perfect for a container but also works well in the landscape, perhaps planted as a mass groundcover or as a compact specimen to accent more delicate foliage.

IMG_8698It makes a stunning contrast with golden conifers such as the Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’) shown above.

IMG_8117In summer the foliage is mostly green, the younger leaves being a lovely fresh shade.

Color ideas

I’m thinking of planting a group in my woodland near a stand of Bowle’s Golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’), autumn ferns (Drypoteris erythrosora), dwarf green spruce and yellow  cowslips. To one side is a young Rhode Island Red Japanese maple (Acer p. ‘Rhode Island Red’) and the whole group is in the dappled shade of a golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’). Mmmm.

Cultivation notes

  • Well drained soil in partial shade, partial sun
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Somewhat drought tolerant when established
  • Hardy in zones 6-9

Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

IMG_9793

The winter color is deeper

 

I have many different conifers in my garden from towering 60′ Douglas fir to dwarf spruce  with colors from darkest green to bright gold. Each has earned its place and is loved for different reasons but if I could only pick one and it had to be tough as nails, had never shown any winter burn, had great color, didn’t need pruning, was disease resistant, drought tolerant and was ignored by deer the humble Blue Star juniper would be my pick. We featured it on the cover of our book Fine Foliage and we have some breathtaking combinations using this conifer in our next book (still busy writing that one….). It’s inexpensive, easy to find…. Have I convinced you yet?

IMG_4064

The foliage is a duskier blue-green in summer

Use this low growing conifer to edge a border, add to a container, soften a stone wall or snuggle up to a large boulder.

Color Ideas

Take a leaf out of our book (pun intended – couldn’t resist) and pair it with Berry Smoothie coral bells for year round color

Let our book inspire you! Blue Star juniper is seen in spring with pink and gold companions

Let our book inspire you! Blue Star juniper is seen here in spring with pink and gold companions

Looks equally fabulous with bold orange and hot red; think dark leaved barberries or weigela in an orange container with black mondo grass….

We have a multi-trunked Himalayan white birch tree (Betula utilis var. ‘Jacquemontii’) underplanted with Blue Star junipers anchoring one end of a large border. ‘We’ (aka my long-suffering husband) has just moved my large orange pot into that area so it is now framed by the blue conifers; those colors really POP.

Cultivation notes

  • Compact 3′ x 3′ mound
  • Evergreen
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Drought tolerant once established
  • Full sun
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Blondie coral bells (Heuchera ‘Blondie)

 

Heuchera_Blondie_2b

Photo courtesy Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Some heuchera do better than others depending on where you live – agreed. In fact you may find this post I wrote with breeder Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. to be helpful in helping you fine-tune your selection.

I have some I consider annuals, some that look terrible in winter but revive so well in spring that I let them stay, others that I consider short term perennials (great for 3 years – maybe 4) and just a few that I have to stand back and admire because they truly exceed my expectations.

These are neither deer nor rabbit resistant so I am limited in how I can use them but the value of a colorful, evergreen bold leaf is such that I keep a few on hand for my designs. Blondie is one of my current top picks.

IMG_8109

The round leaves are a soft ginger in fall (as seen here), getting deeper throughout the winter and rich mahogany in spring. Each leaf is ~ 2″ in diameter so it wont swallow neighboring plants, making it a great container plant.

IMG_8103

Blondie has some of the showiest flowers of all the coral bells. Fat spikes of creamy flowers on red stems bloom profusely over many weeks. These make great cut flowers or leave them for the hummingbirds to enjoy.

Color ideas

I can’t give too much away here as we have a five star combo featuring Blondie in our new book! I’ll give you a clue; the colors are deep teal, deep rose and burnt orange……

Cultivation notes

  • I keep this in a corner of my fenced vegetable garden, ready for me to add it to a container as needed. It has done equally well in that semi-landscape setting as it has in pots
  • Partial sun and partial shade are generally recommended but mine was in full sun all summer and never scorched.
  • A smaller, more compact variety than most; mine measures 10-12″ tall and wide after 2.5  years.
  • Evergreen
  • Do not over-water.
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’)

Photo courtesy of Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Photo courtesy of Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Walk into any nursery in February and get ready to swoon…………it’s the time of year when winter daphne tickles our olfactory senses – or perhaps assaults rather than tickles! Some may find the sweet and spicy fragrance cloying but I love it and have two of these semi-evergreen shrubs near our front door.

Daphne have a reputation of being rather fickle but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. I’ve grown them in containers then transplanted them without a problem. Mine are in morning shade and afternoon sun (the opposite of what many books recommend), I never water them (my soil is moisture retentive but well drained and good quality loam) and the deer have ignored them.

Photo courtesy Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

Photo courtesy Richie Steffan/Great Plant Picks

In many areas these daphne are evergreen. In my  garden they can lose up to 75% of their gold and green variegated foliage during an extremely cold snap  but quickly leaf out again and the flowering buds never seem to be affected. I therefore consider them worthy of inclusion here!

Color ideas

Pick up on the pink and white flowers with the addition of hellebores – there are so many to choose from right now.

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Check out the last post Christina wrote on choosing hellebores for their foliage too.

Penny's Pink Hellebore

Penny’s Pink Hellebore

Penny’s Pink foliage would be a fun companion to the daphne, bringing pink and yellow color echoes. I’d soften the duo up a bit with some fine textured grasses such as the variegated moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ ) which would look good even dried and bleached in winter while the very finely variegation of green and soft yellow would be pretty from spring-fall.

Cultivation

Do as I do or do as I say? Up to you! I’ve already told you how mine grows. Here’s the official line;

  • Grows to 4′ tall and 6′ wide
  • Prefers light, open or dappled shade
  • Water occasionally
  • Hardy in zones 7-9

Consider us your enablers – we’ll see you at the nursery!

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