Tag Archives: shade

Fine Foliage and the Glory of Fall

The entry drive at PowellsWood Garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luscious Layers with Foliage First

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

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

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

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

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Tiny Courtyard Makeover

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AFTER: the ferns and bugbane are still dormant in this newly renovated border yet it sparkles thanks to planning the design  #foliagefirst

You don’t have to be big to be beautiful – or to have potential.

This pint-sized courtyard had been planted with the ubiquitous builders basics of the Pacific Northwest – rhododendron, azaleas and andromeda (Pieris japonica).

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BEFORE: predictable Builders Blah

While all three are evergreen offering ‘year round interest’, in reality they were seriously BORING, not least of all because their foliage was identical in color and shape. What this needed was a quick foliage makeover.

makeover

 

A dwarf coral bark maple provided a focal point, height and stunning red stems. It is important when selecting a tree for winter bark that you don’t hide it behind shrubs! In this instance I selected perennial ferns and grasses that would be dormant during those months, allowing the tree bark to be the star.

To add more color, Pink Frost hellebores were planted in a cluster. With evergreen foliage and a bounty of pink, burgundy, cream and apple-green flowers that last for many months, this variety remains one of my top picks. The pinkish-red tones echo the color from the maple tree too.

A few rugged boulders completed this updated vignette, contrasting perfectly with the soft, white-variegated Japanese forest grasses and finely textured Western maidenhair ferns. One rock was selected for its water-retaining depression in order to attract birds and butterflies.

Rich color contrast will come from the dark-leaved Hillside Black Beauty bugbane, while its height (typically 4-5′) will add balance to the composition and the vanilla-scented flowers will scent the late summer air.

Note that as with all designs, large and small, the final plant placement was somewhat different from the original plan. Never be afraid to move things around!

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

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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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