Tag Archives: succulents

New Fine Foliage To Watch For

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

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

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

New Succulent Creations

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Echeveria Coral Reef Aqua – by Greenfuse Botanicals Inc.

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

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Coral Creations from Proven Winners

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

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Design by Proven Winners

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

A New Deer Resistant Perennial

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Walberton’s Silver Fountain Gaura by Plant Haven

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

So many Coleus!

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

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Coleus Pinkplosion by BallFloraPlant

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

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Coleus Main Street Rodeo Drive by Dummen Orange

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

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

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

Silver Standouts

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Dib’s Moonlight begonia by Greenfuse

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

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

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Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’ by Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc

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

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

Last but not Least

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Trifolium 4luck Red Green by Greenfuse Botanicals

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

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Trifolium 4luck Red Stripes

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

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Alternanthera ‘Choco Chili’ from Westhoff

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

It’s a Wrap!

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

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

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

Keep loving your gardens, one leaf at a time!

Karen & Christina

Emergent Fine Foliage for Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gray Skies + HOT Foliage = Landscape Design Psych-Out

Damp Desert, Succulents in the Rain

Rainy day at the Huntington Botanical Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Gold Pine at the Rotary Botanic Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Simple, Straightforward and Serene Foliage

Sweet, Simple and Serene FoliageAs Team Fine Foliage recovers from the Northwest Flower and Garden Show week, the official launch to the local gardening public of Gardening with Foliage First and as of today Karen Chapman is officially a “Nana”, we’re truly in recovery. So this post about “simplicity” seemed SO appropriate right now. 🙂

This shot above from the show last week was taken from the garden designed by Nature Perfect Landscape and Design, it was a crowd favorite for sure! But, for our purposes today, I’m only showing you this small portion of it even though there was MUCH more to it.

So why DOES this work so beautifully? It was SIMPLE! Groundcover plants were strategically used in this geometric patio design along with polished river rock and pavers. Small ‘Gold Moss’ stonecrop positively glows in this setting and having the black mondo grass as a contrast along with one of the many shades of Club Moss lining the wood pile/boulder seating space make it almost a magical detail that drew many many raves.

Simple, Straightforward and Serene FoliageThis small section from a garden design at the show also provided a great lesson in simplicity. Using golden sweet flag grass in multiples as a groundcover in this space looked sophisticated and would stay low around the spheres and dwarf rhododendrons. Designed by Jefferson Sustainable Landscape Management and Avid Landscape Design, the other elements in this display were fantastic as well!
Simple, Straightforward and Serene FoliageLast but certainly NOT least is “Mid-Mod-Mad….It’s Cocktail Hour in the Garden” another of my very favorite award-winning designs at the show from creator Father Nature Landscapes and designer Sue Goetz. Though I’m not showing you all of the display here, to further our point on simplicity, this one is a very good showing!

Proving the point that you don’t need 800 different types of plant material to have an excellent design. Sue chose to use lots and lots of Orange Sedge to surround and fill this space and bring your eye to the fire bowl, seating area and water feature in the background. Water loving umbrella grass sits in the water giving a nice vertical look on the colorful wall.

There you have a quick look at simple and serene ideas for using foliage repetition with a small palette of plants. Hope you enjoyed a few photos from the show, I’m sure you will see MANY more in future posts.

Cheers to catching our breath!

If you liked this post and want to see more ideas in our latest book Gardening with Foliage First that’s burning up the charts 🙂 Click here! 

Five Reasons Why We’re in Love with Fall Foliage

Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThere are all of the text book, expected reasons to love fall foliage of course. But, we like to keep you on your toes with ideas and combinations that might stretch your design muscles. Even friendly partners of fall foliage counts!

Five Reason Why We We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 1:  The awe-inspiring world of conifers for fall. No matter where you live there are incredible options to feature conifers in the landscape year round. From diminutive to giant, there is an incredible conifer option to fill every situation. Whether a Lemon Cypress or the Italian Cypress as above, exclamation points are helpful when making design points.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageGold is something that we often talk about in this blog. When it comes to conifers, gold can be a stylish and showy option in a cold climate for fall. It stands out beautifully against anything you show it against. Many gardeners don’t realize that there are even conifers that change color in the fall and winter. Cryptomeria is one of our favorites that turns a lovely burnished red in autumn.
Five Reasons We're in Love with Fall Foliage Number 2: Now add grasses to your conifers and fall landscapes and you get even more design inspiration options! This Little Bluestem grass is the MOST divine color in fall against the blue of the Weeping blue Atlas Cedar.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThese golden arborvitae are another way to show off the extraordinary color of the Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grass in autumn.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall Foliage We also love the tall blond amazingness that is Karl Foerster grass that brings such a strict verticality to the lateral structure of this pine.
Five Reasons We're in Love with Fall Foliage The fluffy puffiness of this stipa is an interesting echo of shapes against the weeping Japanese maple in the background.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 3: When late season perennials show off great seed heads that are SO perfect against fall foliage, it’s an easy win-win. Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia) are a natural choice for a prolific and easy flowering perennial.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageAstilbe seed heads are one of Team Fine Foliage favorites, shown here against the incredible coral toned bark of the ‘Pacific Fire’ Vine Maple.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 4: Evergreen plants that change color! WHAAATTTTT? Yes indeed there are many hardy, evergreen plants that DO change color in fall and winter and the Calluna vulgaris above is  just one of those options. These fall into the group of plants many of you might know as heath’s and heathers. They come in a rainbow of colors and many change dramatically in fall and winter.
Five reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageThe heaths and heathers that change color SO well in fall and winter are also late season bloomers. One more reason to love them!
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageOrange and blue are an unexpected fall and winter combo to be sure!
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageSedum ‘Angelina’ is a top performer, possibly even a little “too easy” at times, but for all of her potential flaws she has some excellent qualities too. We adore her burnished apricot tones in fall and winter and rely on them after she is done with her audacious chartreuse performance in spring and summer.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageNumber 5: Try the not-so-obvious choices for fall and winter interest! This soft leaf yucca lends a tropical feeling and a green-blue color that pairs so well with the traditional fall colors.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall Foliage Speaking of blue! This Donkey-tail Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is an amazing blue textural interest. Mixed here with Sedum ‘Angelina’ before she shows off her russet tones in the cold weather to come, we can still get a taste of that soon to be color when we focus on the INCREDIBLE peeling bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in this combo.
Five Reasosn Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageWant to have some function to your fall fashion? Well then grapes might be an excellent way for you to get your fall color and eat it too! These happen to be an ornamental form of the typical edible vine, but you can still eat these grapes though they are smaller.
Five Reasons Why We're in Love with Fall FoliageLayer, layer layer! Whether evergreen, grassy, seeded or for the sheer personality of it all, get out there and fall in love with some new ideas for autumn!

Want to know about what Team Fine Foliage thinks about designing with foliage though all four seasons? Then you came to the right place! Click here for more info on our upcoming book coming out in early 2017 from Timber Press titled “Gardening with Foliage First”. 

If you aren’t already enjoying our weekly wit and design wisdom then you NEED to click that button over there >>>>>>>>> to get Fine Foliage delivered to your email easy-peasy like! 🙂

New Introductions – New Favorites

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

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

Summer Ruffle Hibiscus

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Hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

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

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

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hibiscus ‘Summer Ruffle’

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

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Lots of blooms on this young shrub

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

Purple Preference Euphorbia

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Euphorbia ‘Purple Preference’

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

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

Quicksilver artemisia

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Quicksilver artemisia

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

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

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

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

Cool Splash Diervilla (Bush honeysuckle)

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Cool Splash foliage in full sun

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

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Northern bush honeysuckle grown in full sun

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

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

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Cool Splash grown in dry shade

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

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

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Gentsch White Canadian hemlock

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

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Wildeve rose

Pearl Glam beautyberry

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White flower buds on Pearl Glam beautyberry

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

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

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

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Pearl Glam beautyberry

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

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

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

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BIG Blue Foliage

While out watering my garden the other evening, I was STRUCK by how handsome this Lawson’s blue cypress is in particular at this time of the year when paired with the summer pink blooms on my ‘Quickfire’ Hydrangeas that snuggle closely to it right at my back gate. This bold blue color has SO much personality!
Lawson's Blue CypressThat’s not to say that I haven’t written about this combo at other times of the year too, such as in fall when the hydrangea foliage has a lovely golden glow against the blue, or in spring when the hydrangea blooms are creamy white and pristine. It’s just that right now- that pink and blue combo is dee-lightfully summery and more feminine than I typically favor. If you saw the BOLD orange container combo directly in front of this scene, you would know that I’m typically not someone who does “dainty”. 🙂

This got me thinking about other blue foliage that may not necessarily always be large in stature but are sure filled with BIG personality. So off we go exploring a few…..

Honeybush, Melianthus majorHoney Bush or Melianthus major is a tropical with a ton of BIG personality all right! Whether it’s an annual or a reliable perennial where you live, brush by it and you won’t forget its Peanut Butter scent. If it reaches its full-sized potential of 6-8 ft tall and wide or even wider then it’s REALLY happy, and you will be rewarded with deep red flower spikes. The foliage looks as if someone cut it with fancy edged scissors and it looks just as beautiful when droplets of water or dew balance on the leaves like few other plants.

Blue Chalk Fingers, #SucculentsBlue Chalk Fingers or Serpents Fingers Senecio vitalis ‘Serpents‘, talk about a name for a small plant with BIG personality! If you love succulents, whether this one is an annual or a year round evergreen for you, this is one that you need to play with at some point in your gardening life. THAT blue is just so, well….BLUE!!!

Dianthus I just want you to imagine this scene above without that showy ribbon of BLUE Dianthus foliage running through the middle of this display. See? The blue makes the violet shades even MORE violet!

Hosta 'Blue Angel' Not to be outdone on any level, the sheer size and voluptuous nature of this giant hosta ‘Blue Angel’ is a sheer spectacle of blue foliage with BIG personality all right! This photo really does not do justice to show the scale and size of these giant leaves at roughly 12″ across. A heavy bloomer, hummingbird favorite and less favorable to slugs, this easy perennial pairs well with all kind of flowers and shrubs. Wink wink, nudge nudge….look for this one to appear in Gardening with Foliage First due out in 2017!

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One Leaf – Oodles of Options

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Sometimes you need something different to liven up the shade tapestry of ferns, hostas and hellebores. Painter’s Palette knotweed (Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’) might be just the answer. This isn’t the highly invasive knotweed that threatens to engulf both ornamental and native plantings, but a better-behaved relative. Having said that, it is still quite vigorous and spreads by underground rhizomes as well as seed, especially in moist soil. I have found that in drier conditions it spreads very little, so choose your site wisely and consult your local Extension office if in doubt.

Why we like it

Mottled green and cream foliage is splashed irregularly with raspberry shades, and most leaves have a burgundy chevron. Painter’s Palette forms a mound of foliage, and an abundance of wiry stems of unusual red flowers rises above in midsummer. As an herbaceous perennial, it will die down in winter, which allows ephemeral spring-blooming bulbs to be tucked in underneath.

While suffering mild slug damage it is mostly ignored by deer and rabbits and is hardy in USDA zones 5-9. It copes with clay soil and thrives in moist conditions but never gets watered in my woodland gardens and does just fine so appears to be reasonably drought tolerant providing the soil holds adequate moisture.

Recommended for partial sun it will take more sun if kept well watered,

How to use it

Of course the question is, what other plants can we combine with it to really show it off? Well there are plenty of options to choose from. Seeking out other foliage plants that echo the creamy tone is a good way to start then highlight the rose chevron detail with an accent flower or leaf.

In the example below the green and cream are repeated by two other adjacent plants while the raspberry chevron is picked up by a planting of magenta phlox in the distance

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Clearly defined form helps distinguish these three variegated plants together with a carpet of solid green . Design by Daniel Mount, Seattle WA

Seattle designer Daniel Mount has got a remarkable eye for color and detail,  weaving plants together into  luxuriant tapestries that seduce the unwary visitor. How can you resist running your fingers through the cascading waterfall of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) or testing the springiness of the perfectly clipped variegated boxwood? This artistic combination is discussed in more detail here and we have several more of Daniel’s designs to share with you in our upcoming book Gardening with FOLIAGE FIRST (Timber Press, January 2017).

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland, OR

Thomas Vetter is another Pacific Northwest gardener with  an uncanny ability to shoehorn an abundance of plants into a relatively small space yet do so in a  strategic way to create layers of contrasting and complementary foliage with floral and other artistic accents added as precisely placed punctuation points.

Painter’s Palette knotweed brightens up a corner of his front garden, illuminating a purple smoke bush while adding a stage upon which the pineapple lily (Eucomis ) can truly show off her shapely form and flowers. See how those burgundy stems draw the eye to the chevron detail on the knotweed? The faded allium seedheads add a delightful  softness to the composition, juxtaposed with the bronze succulent foliage of the pineapple lily and mimicking its star shaped flowers.

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland OR

Nearby  this knotweed variety is given a new twist by introducing the red bell-shaped blooms of a flowering maple (Abutilon) and flirty Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’) both of which serve to really pull out its rosy foliage markings. Balancing the wispiness of the Hot Lips sage, a variegated agave adds bold texture and form while Fire Power heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’) transitions the color palette into more golden hues.

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Design by Thomas Vetter, Portland, OR

When viewed from a different angle, one can better appreciate the clever use of contrasting leaf texture while repeating the key colors in this vignette.

What would YOU pair this with? Do leave a comment here or post a photo to our Facebook page! And stand by for a truly STUNNING combination using Painter’s Palette knotweed in our new book, designed by Daniel Mount. It’s one of my personal favorites.

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Design Lessons from a Desert

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We have just returned from an exciting trip to Pasadena, CA where we visited some fabulous private and public gardens. A highlight of our trip was an evening photo shoot in the Huntingdon Botanical Gardens and we both found ourselves drawn to the Desert Garden as the low angle of the setting sun and soft shadows emphasized the silhouettes and cast a warm blush on the landscape.

I was especially drawn to the use of the Silver Torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii), also called the woolly cactus. Native to Bolivia and Argentina it is hardy to at least 20′ (colder if protected by a structure or tree), appreciates regular irrigation in summer but needs to be kept dry in winter to avoid root rot. (Not much chance here in Seattle then!)

Slender columns rise up to 8 feet tall and are covered in thick white spines which almost completely cover the stem. in late winter/early spring tubular deep red flowers appear near the top of the stems, attracting hummingbirds and undoubtedly photographers. Sadly we didn’t get to enjoy that feature but as a designer I was interested to see the different ways these silvery cacti has been used as an architectural element in the landscape.

Creating a backdrop 

Silver Torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) as a vertical backdrop to a carpet of ice blue Echeveria

When packed tightly together, the slender cacti remind me of a majestic pipe organ

Using these silver cacti as a backdrop for a carpet of ice blue echeveria is genius. The muted colors play off one another in a delicious monochromatic scene while the contrast in form and texture is emphasized.

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A wonderful counterpoint of vertical and mounding elements

A similar idea was employed here with the cacti forming a dense curtain behind the bold spiny foliage of an agave, the shape of each highlighted by the contrast.

As a vertical accent

Silver Torch cactus pierces the tapestry of agave and barrel cactus in the Desert Garden at the Huntingdon Botanical Gardens

Silver Torch cactus pierces the landscape of agave and barrel cactus

These slender columns are also used effectively as single exclamation points, breaking up the rhythm of barrel cactus and blue agave while echoing the color of the latter.  In the fading light they shone like ghostly lanterns.

Ideas for cold climate gardeners

If like us you live in an area that is too cold or wet to grow these, there are still some great design lessons we can apply to our own plant pallet.

There are several narrow, columnar shrubs that we can use in a similar way such as the evergreen Sky Pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) with its small dark green leaves, or the deciduous purple foliage of Helmond’s Pillar barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond’s Pillar) if it is not invasive in your area. To get the silvery-blue tones you may be better with a grass such as Northwind switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’) which is herbaceous but holds up well over winter. Or be creative and employ lengths of bamboo inserted into the soil. These could even be  painted fun colors such as cobalt blue, orange or lime green.

Can you grow Silver Torch cactus where you live? What have you paired it with? If like us you need to interpret the idea do share your thoughts here in the comments or on our Facebook page. We love to hear from you!

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Foundation Foliage With Attitude!

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NOT your typical plant combination – which is why I love it! Plant ID’s in next photo

I had the opportunity to visit the Portland garden of Loree Bohl a few days ago. Loree is known in the garden writing community for her popular blog Danger Garden where she indulges her love of spiky plants, saying “Nice plants are boring – my love is for plants that can hurt you. Agave, yucca, anything with a spike or spur!”

With my traveling first aid kit fully stocked I bravely ventured forth! While one could write an entire  book on Loree’s garden, covering her considerable collections (you can see her plant list here) , her fabulous contemporary containers of all shapes, sizes and colors and her impressive shade structure I was especially excited to discover this little vignette right by her front door. This area is often referred to as ‘foundation planting’ since the aim is to hide the lower part of the house walls. In Seattle the chances are it will include a rhododendron and a juniper – not terribly exciting or ambitious so this extravagant combo had me grabbing my camera!

Stylist Extraordinaire

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BACK ROW left-right; cactus in pot ( Opuntia species), Amsonia hubrichtii, Caesalpinia gilliesii (tiny leaves next to Canna), Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’. Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’. FRONT ROW left-right; Euphorbia rigida, Daphne x houtteana, Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’, more Euphorbia rigida

This combination blends dry desert plants (agave, yucca and cactus) with bold tropical-esque canna and  with the fine feathery Arkansas blue star perennial that would look equally at home in a mixed border in England – WOW! So many distinct styles yet they all meld together so well thanks to a tight color palette and great textures

Spikes and More

In true Danger Garden style there are plenty of wicked looking plants but these are tempered with softer textures of Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’) and Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), the wonderfully geometric succulent foliage of gopher spurge (Euphorbia rigida) and the over-sized bold Australia canna (Canna ‘Australia’) leaves.

Cool, Contemporary Colors

This foliage feast offers cooling shades of silvery-blue and green accented with burgundy and black, all set off by the rich charcoal siding of the home, acid-green front door and crisp white trim.

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Look at how perfectly the house colors set off these plants.

Attention to detail is evident as colors and shapes are repeated and a lime green hanging Hover planter by Pot Inc continues the theme.

Loree overwinters tender plants indoors (although all those planted in the ground are ‘technically hardy”) and hand waters in summer to make sure each plant gets just the right amount of moisture for it to thrive. While most of these are drought tolerant, the canna appreciates more regular water and as she pointed out to me, she waters the agave in summer to make them GROW!

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Planted in soil but with a gravel mulch many of these plants survive the zone 8b winters. Others get looked after indoors

Clearly Loree is a true Foliage Fashionista who isn’t afraid to experiment.

While this plant palette or look may not be for everyone it is inspiring to be reminded to push the boundaries occasionally.

Have you incorporated a few unexpected fashion-forward foliage plants into your more predictable  combinations lately? Tell us about them or post a photo on our Facebook page! (And while you’re there be sure to ‘like’ the Danger Garden facebook page too!)

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