Tag Archives: shade

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.


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’)


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’)


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)


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


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’)


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’)


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’)


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.


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


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’)


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?


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)



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.


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.


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.


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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Hot White Chic Style for Summer 2014

By now you might have noticed that I have a certain affinity for shade plants. Maybe it’s because I don’t have that much shade in my own yard to play in that it grabs my focus SO much. Maybe it is also because I love the challenge of finding new and different ways to bring light and airiness to dark places.

Spider Web Fatsia container in a shady nook.

Spider Web Fatsia container in a shady nook.

On a recent tour of gardens with 80 other garden bloggers in Portland Oregon, I noticed a hot trend among some of the designers that I took note of in particular. The use of this amazing new Fatsia ‘Spider Web’ or ‘Speckled Fatsia’. It brings a light bit of a tropical feeling to some darker corners. See the link for more details on this amazing and slightly rare plant.

'Yakushimanum' Rhododendron paired with the icy cool 'Spider Web' Fatsia.

‘Yakushimanum’ Rhododendron paired with the icy cool ‘Spider Web’ Fatsia brings a slightly masculine flair.

I was ceaselessly impressed by the drama these leaves could impart to almost any low-light location with the large palmate leaves and the elegant white Chanel-esque presence it brings to what could be a drab vignette.

A more feminine combination with the pink Lacecap Hydrangea.

A more feminine combination with the pink Lacecap Hydrangea.

If you live in a climate where you can’t grow this Fatsia outdoors, I’m told that it makes an exceptional houseplant. However you come to use this elegant and highly fashionable plant, it will serve you well and you just might become one of the many obsessed over designing with Fine Foliage in the shade.

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Sizzling Grape Jelly Carpet of Foliage

Tradescantia zebrina, the lovely purple and silver dominant foliage in this shot is the eye-catching plant carpeting the floor of the hothouse display at the Denver Botanic Garden. But, what REALLY caught my eye was how the contrast and interplay of the four dominant foliage plants in the display all weave together making a tropical patchwork quilt with a distinctly grape flavor of clear grape jelly.
Denver Botanic Garden Tropical House Of course your eye goes straight to the BIG leaf plant in the center, (no tag that I could find) but, now look at how many other textures fill out this frame. The fern and the other beautiful leaf with silver banding (no tag that I could find). This lesson is really about the layers of the textures though, the grape jelly is just because of that yummy color!

Denver Botanic Garden Tropical HouseThe four distinct texture just MAKE this combination! Something BIG and bold, something medium-sized, a fine texture addition and a scrumptious color and voila! If you look closely you can even make out a flower that made it into the post too! 😉

What leafy textural combinations have you spotted lately?

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Deer Resistant Drama (usually…)

Who says deer resistant gardens are boring?

Who says deer resistant gardens are boring?

I live in the land of deer. I have more hoof prints through my borders than slug trails and that’s saying something. In fact when my daughter got married in our garden last summer one of the last minute ‘to do’ items wasn’t to check for clean hand towels or ice cubes but to sweep out the deer tracks.

So I have great empathy with gardeners who desperately want a beautiful garden and not just a buffet. My go-to plants may be different from yours by virtue of climate, personal preference or local restrictions but my aim is to encourage you that you CAN have great foliage and that Bambi can simply find his supper elsewhere.

Spiky things

Top left, clockwise; sea holly, Rose Glow barberry, Goshiki Japanese false holly, Orange Rocket barberry

Top left, clockwise; sea holly, Rose Glow barberry, Goshiki Japanese false holly, Orange Rocket barberry

Barberries (Berberis) are invasive in several states but here in Seattle we are fortunate that they are not a problem and we have lots of great colors , shapes and sizes to choose from. Some of my favorites are Red Carpet (groundcover 2′ h x 4’w), Orange Rocket (orange-red, columnar), Concorde (grape-purple , 3’h x 3′ wide and Lime Glow (variegated lime and cream, ~4′ h x 3’w).

Goshiki Japanese false holly (Osmanthus h. ‘Goshiki’) looks like holly and is spiky like holly – but isn’t. Great green and yellow variegated evergreen foliage, this is one of our favorites for containers as well a landscapes.

Ferny things

Top left clockwise; bronze fennel, Himalayan maidenhair fern, Silver Mound wormwood, ostrich fern

Top left , clockwise; bronze fennel, Himalayan maidenhair fern, Silver Mound wormwood, royal fern

There are SO many great ferns for shady areas – some prefer more moisture while others like it dry but as a rule deer leave them alone. Whether you want a groundcover, an evergreen mound or a tall punctuation point you’ll find something with fronds. My favorites include autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora, coppery color, 3′ x 3′), Himalayan maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustem, 3′ x 3′), and royal fern (Osmunda regalis, ~4′ tall)

Smelly things

It’s true – Bambi can smell, and he/she doesn’t enjoy our wonderful aromatic herbs as much as we do. Take advantage of the fact and indulge in lavender, sage, and thyme in the garden. Drifts of bronze fennel or dill can provide culinary  treats while also acting as a barrier.

Silver things

Many silver leaved plants are drought tolerant, have a felted surface and are ignored by deer. Think of lambs ears (Stachys byzantina), wormwood (Artemisia), Jerusalem sage (Phlomis sp.) and the giant cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Sounds like a great garden to me!

Grassy things

Top left, clockwise; assorted grasses, purple fountain grass with wormwood, Mountain Fire andromeda, dusty miller

Top left, clockwise; assorted grasses, purple fountain grass with wormwood, Mountain Fire andromeda, dusty miller

Surprisingly deer do not generally feast on grasses – maybe they are just too full of my Heuchera. That definitely opens up the design doorway for all sorts of heights, colors and form from the weeping Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to upright feather reed grass (Calamagrostis sp.).

And bits and bobs…

Top left, clockwise; Olf Fashioned smoke bush, Axminster Gold comfrey, rhubarb, Highland Cream thyme

Top left, clockwise; Old Fashioned smoke bush, Axminster Gold comfrey, rhubarb, Highland Cream thyme

No real category here but I’m pleased to see that they have also ignored andromeda (Pieris japonica), Axminster Gold comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum ) , smoke bushes (Cotinus) and rhubarb.

While this list is far from definitive and indeed only represents a very small percentage of the deer resistant plants in my own garden, I hope it gives you a sense of what is possible. Many of these plants are also drought tolerant (since we are on well water that is an important consideration for me too). Careful selection is key but even then the deer will outwit you occasionally. For example while it is true that they don’t eat spirea – they DO eat the flowers.

Now as for the rabbits……………

What are your favorite deer resistant FOLIAGE plants?

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Ground Cover Collision!

Whether for sun or shade, the last finishing touch most of us plant is our ground cover plants. It’s that ever so important detail that makes a lovely garden design HOLY COW! But, how do you decide which ground covers are going to be best for your light conditions? What if you just simply can’t decide which one neeeeds to come home from the nursery with you? This one or that one, that one or this one?

Sometimes it’s both! If your light conditions, watering needs and soils are in harmony for more than one ground cover, how about a groundcover MASH-UP? A mash-up is when two great things, in our case plants, but it could just as easily be food, music, fabrics, etc. end up snuggling together to make ONE great look, taste or sound. Think peanut butter and chocolate, mint and chocolate, coffee and chocolate, wine and chocolate. Hmmmm, maybe I need chocolate now. 😉

Acaena 'Purple Haze' with Sedum 'Oreganum' This Sedum oreganum ‘Oregon Stonecrop’ is a wonderful example of a lovely collision with Acaena inermis ‘Purple Sheep’s Burr’ as a flat, hardy and walkable ground cover for light traffic.

Not all ground covers are flat and walkable, some are fluffy and full like this combination of hosta ‘Halcyon’ with ‘Black Scallop’ Ajuga and white variegated Comfrey in the background. The triad of textures and cool colors are lovely in this eastern morning sun exposure.
'Black Scallop' Ajuga, Hosta 'Halcyon' and White Variegated ComfreyThis singular and exotic looking Paris podophylla stands tall above a monochromatic mash-up of ground covers. The hardy Asarum europaeum ‘European wild ginger’ is a glossy textural contrast to the low Adiantum venustum ‘Himalayan maidenhair fern’ in a shady nook.

Paris podophylla, Maidenhair Fern and European GingerWhy not try a ground cover mash-up in your own garden? Snuggle up a plant or two and see what foliage combinations you can create in your very own ground cover collision!

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