Sunday, February 27, 2011

Growing Sweet Peas - part 1

Sweet peas come in many gorgeous shades with both climbing and mounding
varieties available.

When was the last time you bought twenty bunches of flowers for less than $2.50? Well that’s all it will cost to have a summers worth of wonderfully fragrant sweet peas; enough for you and plenty to share with friends.

Sweet peas are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed and you can actually get better results growing them yourself than with those purchased from the nurseries! Why? It’s all about the roots.

A deep, well developed root system is vital for strong plants. That means digging the soil to 12-18” and amending it with compost is important but also growing seedlings with a root system at least 6” deep makes a huge difference. Nursery grown seedlings are usually grown in 4” containers and home gardeners frequently make the mistake of starting them in shallow seed trays. The method I’ll share here is the way we always grew sweet peas in England and produces really sturdy plants with exceptionally well developed roots.

Basic supplies; pre-soaked seeds and newspaper
1. Start by soaking the seeds overnight in cold water.

2. Next you’ll need to make tubes from old newspaper. Fold and roll up small sheets of newspaper until they are approximately the size of a toilet roll tube. Staple the roll at each end to stop it unraveling but keep both ends open.

3. Stack the tubes into empty 6” nursery pots so that the tops of the tubes are even with the pot rim. (I had over 50 tubes so had to use a washing up bowl! The disadvantage for me is that I now have to be very careful not to overwater the seeds and create a water bath).

4. Using a 2” pot or folded sheet of cardboard, carefully fill each tube half way with a lightweight potting mix suitable for growing seeds. Tamp down with your finger. (I used the rounded end of my wooden dibber that you can see in the photo). Fill up to the top and repeat.

I use a small pot and a wooden dibber to fill the tubes.
(My husband turned this dibber on a lathe).
 5. Make a hole 1” deep with either a pencil or the pointed end of the dibber and add one pre-soaked seed into each hole. Pat the soil back over the seed.

6. Water carefully. I like to use a Haws watering can which has a very fine brass rose. I turn the rose to face upwards which produces a gentle spray.

7. Place on a sunny window sill or in an unheated greenhouse and water every few days to keep damp but not wet. Germination will take 7-10 days.

Popular climbing varieties
Old Spice (a rich mix of purple, pinks and white), April in Paris (pale yellow with a lilac flush), Royal Wedding (pure white), Painted Lady (pink and cream bi-color), Spencer Waved Mix (over 40 colors and shades), Flying the Flag (red, white and indigo).

Popular mounding varieties
Knee-high varieties, Cupid varieties

What do you think of this Streamer Orange
sweet pea variety?
Something new!
Streamer Orange (huge orange flowers with white stripes),

Fact or fiction? This may be an old-wives tale but I’ll tell you anyway. It is common practice in England to line seed trays with a layer of damp newspaper. The ink is thought to promote root development which may also explain why these newspaper tubes are so successful. Or of course it may be pure folk lore!

Watch for Part 2 on preparing the sweet peas for transplanting in a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Northwest Flower & Garden Show – Highlights

This year 25 talented garden designers have managed to find the perfect balance between the fantastical, the inspirational and the practical. Personally although I love to be ‘wowed’ I also enjoy being challenged to re-use or re-purpose materials in unconventional ways.

From a discarded shipping container re-purposed as a
garden shed to rusted grates  which add a unique element to
groundcovers, young designer Courtney Goetz has challenged
 us all to look for new ways to use old things.

Surely no-one achieved this more successfully than Courtney Goetz in her garden Paradise (to be) Regained….borrowed from Thoreau’. What makes this garden even more remarkable is the fact that the designer is a 17 year old student who created this garden as her senior project for Gig Harbor High School.

Dead trees and old bottles become sculpture
while lost keys make a fun rain chain
Design by Courtney Goetz

Her goal was to have green ideas that anyone could use. From walls created from heating radiators, pillars in the style of gabions but filled with old bricks, black nursery pots and plastic water bottles, and rain chains which use old keys to re-direct water, this garden gives unique, affordable ways that we can all use to reduce waste. All it takes is a little imagination. Courtney earned a Gold Medal for her design as well as the Sunset Magazine Western Living Award. Congratulations!

As a designer myself I also look for new ways to create beautiful and functional spaces. Patios and decks are a part of almost every garden so I was especially excited to see innovative approaches to their design. Water runoff can be a huge problem, where the use of non-permeable paving materials such as concrete or mortared bricks increases runoff into our waterways, not to mention neighboring gardens. Winner of the Founder Award, Karen Stefonick in her garden ‘Wrinkle in Time’ struck a beautiful balance between designing an elegant, functional patio and yet incorporating pockets of pebbles.
Pebble inserts in patio pavers add interest
Karen Stefonick design

Not only did this allow areas for water to percolate, it set up a dynamic rhythm within the paver design and lent a contemporary air to what could have been an overwhelming and repetitive hardscape.

Designers SolTerra Systems employed a similar idea in their garden ‘Next Stop Hotel Babylon’ with cutaways in the patio being planted with grasses and other easy care plants. This softened the hard edges whilst re-enforcing the  geometric lines.
Plant pockets in pavers allow water to percolate.
SolTerra design

Personally I’m not a big fan of rustic flagstones which have been set in sand even though they do allow excess water to drain away easily. I always manage to get my heel or chair leg stuck in the cracks! These are two very effective ways to allow water to percolate without compromising the stable surface needed for patios and pathways.

Good design invariably translates to clean lines and a ‘less is more’ philosophy. My two favorite gardens were both a case in point. Somehow I always recognize the work of Karen Stefonick even before I read the sign. To me she is a master at designing superb structures using interesting materials and creating unexpected profiles. This year is no exception as she combined concrete, steel and wood in a remarkable pergola, backed by an intricate latticework.

A beautifully crafted design from the pergola to the crystal ball spinning
in the water.
Karen Stefonick design.
The water feature was a simple, pebble lined rectangle yet when softened by luxurious foliage it became a living focal point in which to showcase the Aqualens crystal ball, designed by the artist Allison Armour for the Chelsea Flower & Garden Show. Containers, sculptures, plants and furniture were all selected with care keeping the emphasis on the vision of simple elegance. This is truly a garden to ‘wow’ you, inspire you and one which you will want to recreate in your own garden.

The other garden I found myself returning to time and again was ‘Rain, Rain, Go Away…PS come again!’ by Artistic Garden Concepts. This creation took the Dahlia Award for ‘design excellence which is achievable in the Pacific Northwest’.

This elegant design belies its function as a rain garden
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

It actually took me some time to realize that this was in fact a rain garden as I was so struck by the formal grace and elegance of the design. Yet the whole garden is focused around a shallow depression designed to catch water in another very effective way to reduce storm runoff and filter pollutants. I confess that I had considered rain gardens to be something of a fad and little more than a rocky French drain with a few plants added for aesthetics. This garden proved me wrong. From a design perspective what I loved was the simple movement of concentric circles leading from an outer crushed gravel pathway inset with occasional square pavers for an interesting counterpoint, to an inner circle of plants and seating areas converging finally on a central recessed zone planted with water loving plants and highlighted by a stunning oversized urn. Architectural walls enclosed the space to create a sense both of intimacy and importance. It has really got my mind working as to how I can use this idea on my own waterlogged land.

There are so many more designers, gardens and ideas to tell you about but you’ll just have to see for yourselves. Head over to the show this weekend and be sure to take your camera.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Northwest Flower & Garden Show – it's here!

You can feel it. You can hear it. The stampede of the Gortex and fleece clad Seattleites (+ visitors who try to blend in by getting wet rather than being laughed at by using an umbrella).  It can only mean one thing – it’s time for the annual Northwest flower & Garden Show! It begins this Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

One of my 2009 show designs
For a few days we can be in seasonal denial as we breathe air heady with the perfume of daphne and sweetbox (Sarcoccoca). We can be dazzled by an array of masterful gardens that transport us from damp mossy forests to a garden vignette which is a journal of botanical discoveries from around the world. Vegetable gardening seems like a possibility again as we long to reach over for a few salad leaves growing tantalizingly close. Surely this can’t be February?

Yes, for the intrepid Pacific Northwest gardener this is a time we can set aside our wellies and believe that grey skies will eventually turn blue again and that our spades will slice through rich, warm loam rather than sink into a muddy mire. Well OK that’s a stretch for me since my options are squelching in sticky wet clay or bouncing off concrete-hard dry clay. Still we can dream, and that is what the show is all about. Dreaming, imagining the possibilities, getting new ideas and rejuvenating our gardening spirits.

So what’s in store for us this year? Twenty two garden designers and organizations have taken on the challenge to develop the theme ‘Once upon a time’ and they have all created spectacular gardens with a story to tell. For example;

Explore the classic English tale ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Graeme where you can meet Ratty, Mole, and Badger as they rein in the mischievous Mr. Toad on the river and the road.  Dappled woods, a marshy swale and an open meadow set the scene. You too may discover that there is nothing quite so fine as messing about in the garden.

‘And he huffed and he puffed…’ yes the Three Little Pigs have come to town. As they build their homes to protect them from the big bad wolf we can see the story unfold as the wolf moves through the dark and barbed landscape to get his dinner.

Gaze through the crystal ball to look into the future with Karen Stefonick’s design ‘A Wrinkle in Time – gardens not yet discovered’. Follow three young people along with beings who were once stars in the galaxies while they use their psychic ability to travel the tesseracts (folds in time and space), to fight for love and free thought.  Provocative with the appearance of science fiction, tesseracts do really exist. Is the story a stretch of the imagination or …a glimpse into worlds not yet discovered?

Join me for a fun seminar!
Anyone gets tired after reading 22 books so head to one of the 124 FREE seminars and learn about the latest in gardening trends, edible gardening, pruning Japanese Maples, container gardening and other delights. If you can only make one seminar be sure it’s mine! Join me at the DIY stage (where they let me make a mess) at 9.30am this Wednesday for Pizzazz in a Pot. I’ve chosen some seriously gorgeous containers from AW pottery to inspire you and will demonstrate how to combine plants to make a dazzling display. Come early to be sure of a good seat! (A huge THANK YOU to my friends at Molbaks nursery for generously providing all the plants and materials to wow you).

Of course you can never visit a nursery without buying a few things. After all you need a new watering can don't you? Surely you need another dozen lily bulbs for the garden this year? Well you’ll find all that and lots more at the Marketplace where 300 vendors will tempt you with all things gardening.

Great container ideas
So have I whet your appetite yet? I haven’t even told you about the orchid display, the container show or the Sprouts stage to engage the children! Well you can read more or just go online to buy your tickets. You won’t want to wait in line – you might miss something!

Mark your calendars NOW – February 23rd-27th at the Washington State Convention Center, Seattle.

See you there! (I’ll be the one with the wheelbarrow load of trees, tools, seeds and books…)

P.S. My next post will be on Friday afternoon (rather than late Wednesday) so I can report back on some of the ultra cool 'must see' highlights for those of you planning a weekend visit.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I’ve Got Worms!

You have to celebrate every small success when you’re tackling monster sized problems and a major landscape overhaul.

Rhubarb is worth growing  for its ornamental value alone. It was a bonus
when just this plant yielded over 15lbs of fruit last year...
although my family would beg to differ.

If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning you will have doubtless felt my pain as I’ve told you about our battle with crazy invasive weeds, boggy areas the size of Lake Washington and the mountains of moodoo I have added to a new border in an effort to improve the soil.

Even a solitary crocus is cause for celebration
A few days ago it actually stopped raining long enough for me to get outside and see what was going on in my garden. I wasn’t expecting much. The front border has been completely emptied of every tree, shrub and perennial as I lie in wait for each sprout of Bishop’s weed that dares to rear it’s nasty variegated head. In another part of the garden a pre-existing sunny border remains largely untouched (although I do have plans….) and the new ‘moodoo border’ backs onto this. This freshly mulched area will need to sit fallow all season as I once again play hide and seek; this time with reed canary grass. Even heavy duty cardboard and a thick layer of organic material won’t stop this grass but it will slow it down and give me a fighting chance.

I rescued this Hellebore from being engulfed by
the virulent Bishops weed.

It is the still barren ‘moodoo border’ that I’m most excited about however. It is riddled with long red slippery worms! These little rototillers will take the mulch down to the subsoil and as the two begin to mix the soil texture and fertility will vastly improve. Last year I don’t think I saw a single worm in that part of the garden – a common problem in clay soil that has not been amended regularly with organic material. Yet even this initial dose of rich mulch has made the soil come alive in preparation for me to plant in fall. A small but significant breakthrough for me and hopefully an encouragement to all those who have poor soil and have wondered if the time, effort and expense of adding compost was worth it.

New foliage on the Spiraea 'Ogon' -
a promise of spring.
Other welcome discoveries were two yellow crocuses in bloom in the front border where I thought I had yanked everything out. My Spiraea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii) is showing chartreuse buds, my Hellebores are in bloom and both my 'Peach flambé' and 'Creme brulee' Heuchera still look fabulous despite the snow and endless rain and are beginning to display their bright spring colors. Bluebells and daffodils are peeking through the soil and my rhubarb is beginning to unfurl, revealing thick crimson stalks beneath its giant crinkly leaves.

All this from my ‘Before’ garden which I was thinking of as more of a desert landscape than a real garden. I know it’s not much and most of you will be celebrating far more than just a few worms, but if you’ve been gardening a few years you’ll understand my smiles.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top 5 Cool New Plants

Looking for an excuse to buy more plants? Then you’re in luck! I had the chance to drool over most of these at a special preview in Dallas last fall. Beg your local nurseries to stock them for you. 

Redbud 'The Rising Sun' - a citrus confection

'The Rising Sun’ redbud (Cercis canadensis). Oh my goodness; this small tree stopped me in my tracks. The same gorgeous heart shaped leaves as other varieties, but this time in glowing shades of apricot and orange. Fabulous for smaller gardens or even a large container (maybe in cobalt blue or gloss black) it has a mature height of just 12’, takes full sun without burning, flowers in spring and copes with a wide range of soil, water and gardeners! Hardy to zone 5 (-10 to -20’ F).

'Snow-N-Summer' Asiatic Jasmine - handsome foliage
and fragrant white flowers (albeit somewhat hidden)

‘Snow-N-Summer' Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospernum asiaticum ‘HOSNS’) can climb, sprawl or mound. It forms a colorful evergreen highlight in the landscape with striking pink and white splashed leaves. Wouldn’t this be fabulous in containers? It can be sheared or pruned if needed which in fact stimulates more of the colorful new growth. Drought tolerant and happiest in part sun to bright dappled shade. Hardy to zone 7a (0-10’ F). Available from nurseries selling Monrovia plants. Most online sources seem to be sold out!

Stunning foliage on this 'Crimson fans' Mukdenia
Red-Leafed Mukdenia (Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’ Karasuba’) is a sensational hardy foliage plant now available from Monrovia as part of their Dan Hinkley collection. A native of Korea, this perennial has leathery leaves emerging in spring in shades of bronze and green which gradually change to red fiery. With panicles of white flowers on 1’ stems it will elicit quite a few ‘oohs and aahs’ in sunny, moist gardens.

A small bush with a big personality
- 'Little Lime' hydrangea

‘Little Lime' Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata). New for 2011 from Proven Winners this is a shrub that lives big for its size. A dwarf version of 'Limelight' but at just 3-4' tall it will fit nicely into smaller gardens. 'Little Lime' boasts 8" diameter mophead blooms in a soft lime-green which gradually fade to pink. Zones 3-8

A cottage garden favorite with a new look -
'Absolutely Amethyst' candytuft.
Photo courtesy Proven Winners

'Absolutely Amethyst' candytuft (Iberis domestica) is a new introduction from Proven Winners this year. A pleasant change from the classic white candytuft, 'Absolutely Amethyst' forms an attractive lavender carpet in spring. Drought tolerant once established and needs well drained soil in full sun. Zones 3-9

I hear a plant stampede…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beyond Rhodies and Junipers

I swear when we first moved to the Seattle area in 1996 I was convinced that nurseries only sold rhododendrons, azaleas and monster junipers. The typical suburban garden appeared to have little else unless the homeowners were especially adventurous and added a few impatiens for a splash of summer color. Unimaginative didn’t even come close.

If you insist on growing rhododendrons, at least choose pretty ones!
The cinnamon colored indumentum on this R. 'Teddy bear'
 leaf complements the tones of the 'Heuchera Creme brulee'.
My design
Thankfully times, nurseries and attitudes have changed. With the wealth of TV garden shows, gardening publications and the internet showing us other peoples gardens all over the world we are far more energized and inspired to create a real ‘garden’ not just a foundation shrubbery, designed by landscaper 50 years ago as a way to hide the lower part of the house.

However we can still be susceptible to similar pitfalls. Let’s face it when you visit a nursery you are naturally drawn to whatever is at its ‘peak’, whether that means roses in June or Witchhazel in February. So, if we only visit nurseries occasionally and impulse buy our favorites that day we are likely to still have a very seasonal garden.

One key group of plants are the evergreens which provide the 'bones' of the garden; conifers, evergreen trees and shrubs and also evergreen perennials. I shared a few ideas for the best conifers for small gardens previously. In this post I want to focus on broadleaved evergreen shrubs – other than rhododendrons! I am also going to restrict myself to those plants which have proven to be reliably hardy in our recent frigid PNW winters and omit beauties such as hebes, Pittosporum, strawberry tree, 'Little Gem' Magnolia and ‘Spring Bouquet’ viburnum from my list. I know there are plenty of readers fortunate to be able to grow these without any problems but I share the frustration of those who thought they lived in zone 7 and find themselves in zone 6!! It’s just too cruel to tempt you with the ‘maybe’s’.

A dark clematis weaving through
'Sundance' Mexican orange blossom
Sunny areas

Firstly let’s dispel the myth that evergreen plants are boring, offering only dark green leathery leaves with an elliptical or tapered shape. If privet, laurel and boxwood tend to immediately spring to mind think again. Want bright foliage? Try ‘Sundance’ Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata). This will sparkle in sun or partial shade although it is best protected from a hot western exposure. Glossy yellow leaves, fragrant flowers in spring and fall (a good friend of mine insists they smell of cat piss – I think he needs to see an ENT specialist…) and a nice compact shape to about 4’ which can easily be trimmed make this a five star broadleaf evergreen. There are plenty of yellow variegated shrubs too, such as wintercreeper 'Emerald and gold' (Euonymus fortunei), variegated silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata'), variegated false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'), variegated boxwood and variegated holly if you  want just a little sparkle rather than the full floodlight effect.

Variegated silverberry
Need an attribute other than color in your sunny border? David’s viburnum (Viburnum davidii) is a handsome mounding shrub with heavily textured leaves and bears clusters of metallic blue berries on red stalks. Darwin’s barberry (Berberis darwinii) may be covered with thorns but the sprays of bright orange flowers add a welcome splash of color against the small dark green leaves and if used as a hedge can be an effective deer deterrent. Parney’s cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus) forms a loose fountain of green foliage, each leaf displaying silver on the underside. Summer flowers and abundant red berries make this a favorite of winter birds.

Perhaps it is fragrance you long for? What about the spring blooming Delavay osmanthus (Osmanthus delavayi), literally covered in fragrant white flowers in May. Just trim after blooming to control the size if desired.

For finer textures look to the soft fern-like foliage of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) in shades of green, chartreuse, red and plum. They form a perfect contrast to the bolder dark green leaves of cotoneaster or viburnum for example.
Heather 'Wickwar flame'
(Calluna vulgaris) in winter color
Heaths and heathers revel in full sun and many sport foliage which change color during the season. ‘Wickwar Flame’ for example is brick red in winter changing to softer green in spring while ‘Spring Torch’ changes from winter purple to green tipped with cream, orange and red in spring. The box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) is a great low maintenance evergreen with sprays of small leaves held stiffly from the main trunk. ‘Baggesens Gold’ is  bright green, ‘Lemon Beauty’ has green and chartreuse variegation and 'Red Tips' blushes year round.

The finely textured box
 honeysuckle provides a soft
 backdrop for the hellebores.
My design
Looking more for silvers? Daisy bush (Senecio greyi syn. Brachyglottis greyi) has felted silvery white leaves and clusters of yellow daisy flowers in summer. Personally I don’t care for the flowers and cut them off. This shrub looks great paired with blues or purple.

Shade gardens

Shade gardens can still look interesting even after the hostas and ferns have gone dormant for the winter. For sheer architectural quality you can’t beat the tropical looking Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica). This thrives in good soil, easily becoming 8’ tall and wide with funky sparkler type flowers in spring. They can also be used as container specimens but withstand winter temperatures more reliably in the ground. Oregon grape (Mahonia species) also offer bold texture with their large holly-like leaves.

Pieris 'Forest Flame' bears its fragrant
 white flowers at the same time as
 the colorful new growth bursts forth
For fragrance there are lots of options from andromeda (Pieris cultivars (including several variegated forms)) with their lily of the valley fragrance, winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), sweet box (Sarcoccoca species) and leucothoe which is available in several colorful cultivars including 'Scarletta' and 'Rainbow'. Andromeda also has outstanding color in the new spring growth; typically a bright coral-red which can be emphasized by underplanting with the similarly colored Heuchera 'Peach flambe'

Problems and prevention

During the winter evergreen plants continue to lose water by transpiration, the loss being greatest during periods of strong winds and on bright, sunny days. Desiccation occurs when water is leaving the plant foliage faster than the roots can replenish lost moisture. Root absorption is reduced or prevented when the soil is cold or frozen. The foliage of plants, such as camellia and boxwood, may turn yellow or orange due to mild desiccation or excessive sunlight with more severe injury commonly seen as discolored, burned evergreen leaves. Damage is normally worst on the side of the plant facing the wind or sun or near a reflective surface (white house, concrete paving, snow cover).

The bold evergreen leaves of the Japanese
aralia form a striking combination with the
Japanese forest grass.
Photo credit; Alyson Ross-Markley
When planting broadleaf evergreens that are known to be easily injured, such as some cultivars of, azalea, camellia, and daphne, select a location on the north, northeast, or east side of a building or other barrier where they will be protected from prevailing winds and intense winter sun. These exposures will also delay spring growth, thus preventing injury to new growth or flowers from late spring frosts. The worst location would be the south side of the landscape with no shade and exposure to windy conditions. Avoid planting tender plants in low spots that create frost pockets and sites that are likely to experience rapid fluctuations in temperature. A 3-inch layer of mulch will also reduce water loss and help maintain uniform soil moisture and temperatures around roots.

Special precautions can be taken to protect plants during the winter. Anti-desiccant compounds such as Wilt-Pruf are sold in garden centers and online and many gardeners have found them helpful.

Winter is a good time to re-evaluate the garden as it reveals the quantity, quality and variety of evergreen plants which are the main workhorses of good garden design. With so many great plants to choose from, is it time to thin out those giant rhododendrons that haven't bloomed for 20 years anyway?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bare Bottomed Blueberries

….or in other words, it’s time to buy them bare root. Blueberries are easy to grow with varieties suitable for both the landscape and containers, offer stunning fall color, can be frozen, are really good for you and taste yummy! The stores here in the Pacific Northwest typically have fresh plump berries in July but by growing a few different varieties at home you can harvest for up to three months at a fraction of the cost.

Quick facts;
  • Pollination – two varieties are best although some are self pollinating.
  • Hardiness – zones 3-10 depending on variety
  • Yield – 2-15lbs fruit/plant depending upon variety.

How to grow (the basics);
  • Soil – acid soil with a pH4-5.5, well drained but can tolerate wet feet in winter
  • Culture – Blueberries are shallow rooted; ease off on the hoe! A light surface application of organic fertilizer or ammonium sulfate in the spring is beneficial
  • Pruning – some required on older branches. Renew to new shoots.

More details;
Go to this link for advice from the Washington State University extension service, contact your own state extension service or ask at your local nursery. Local experience is invaluable.

Spring flowers
Ideas for using blueberries in the landscape.

Bushes can be used for hedges, screens, foundation plantings, accent shrubs and espaliers. Any variety can be grown in a container but take the ultimate size of the blueberry variety into account when choosing a pot. A 5’ bush is going to look pretty silly in a 15” tall container. North Sky and Top Hat are two dwarf varieties if you are space-challenged.

Their seasonal ornamental qualities allow for many great plant combinations. Early spring growth is bronze followed by pink or white bell shaped flowers. In summer the green leaves contrast with the abundant blue berries. The leaves turn fiery shades of scarlet and yellow in autumn, revealing colorful bare branches in winter after they fall. A true four season shrub.
Fiery fall color

Which ones?

The varieties listed here are some of those recommended for the Pacific Northwest since many of my readers live in this area. Don’t despair if you live elsewhere! Your nursery should be able to recommend the best varieties for you or the Rainier Nursery website can help USA gardeners throughout the country.

Early season

Spartan; a large, light blue, firm berry. Needs well drained soil. 4-6' tall. Red fall color, Zones 4-8


Patriot; Great for colder regions of the PNW  being hardy in zones 3-8. Dark blue berries, 4-5’ tall and 4’ wide. Good flavor and yield. Orange fall color.

Top Hat; A baby at 18” tall and wide. Like an edible bonsai! Zones 3-8.

Mid season

Bluecrop; light blue berries, very large and flavorful. Upright to 4-6’. Ripens mid July and bears for one month. Red fall color. Zones 4-8.

Chandler; the world’s largest blueberry. Bushes are upright, 5-6’ tall and bear for over a month with consistently high yields. Zones 6-9

Sierra; makes an edible 8’ tall hedge. Vigorous and upright. Zones 5-8

North Sky; at 18” tall x 3’ wide this is perfect for a container or rockery. Annually produces 1-2lbs of medium sized fruit in mid July. Perfect for a dish of ice cream. Red fall color. Zones 3-8

Late season

Jersey; A consistent and heavy producer of spicy berries opening in mid August until frost. 5-6’ tall . Yellow fall color. Zones 4-8

Legacy; 5-6’ tall with brilliant orange fall foliage which lasts into the winter. Fruit ripens in August. Zones 5-8.

Sunshine Blue; a pretty evergreen selection which boasts berries in shades of white, pink and blue all at once. Hot pink flowers are followed by up to 10lbs of fruit from early August through September. Zones 7-10. Recommended for the PNW, the South or California.
Sunshine Blue
Photo credit; Life on the Balcony

Where to buy bare root;

So make a list of your favorites, dig out your recipe books and start dreaming of summer cobblers and pies topped with a nice dollop of good vanilla ice cream. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adding Sparkle with Variegated Plants

A woodland inspired design for Fine Gardening magazine
featuring Japanese forest grass, hardy impatiens and
a variegated hosta. Photo credit; Danielle Sherry.

Love them or hate them – you can’t ignore variegated plants. They vary from brazen stripes to subtle freckles, Pollock style splatters to spidery veins. Depending upon their particular form and color, patterned foliage can blend, enhance or brighten the garden, helping to tie other plants together or create a new focal point.


The  creamy yellow variegated  hosta brightens this group while the delicate
blue star creeper repeats the blue tones of the hostas.
My design
Perhaps the most well known form of variegation is that where a leaf margin is in a contrasting color. Hostas are available in every possible combination of green, chartreuse, blue, yellow and white, with the margins on these bold leaves often being over an inch wide. Such striking foliage begs to be highlighted and wonderful combinations can be made by association with a finely textured companion which echoes this secondary color. For example underplanting a blue and green variegated hosta with blue star creeper draws attention to the striking blue hosta foliage.

Although both the Japanese forest grass and toad lily 'Gilt
Edge' are variegated they complement each other.
My design.
The wonderfully fragrant winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’) has a more delicate but equally beautiful variegation. Its tapering green leaves are edged in a delicate creamy-yellow. The perennial toad lily ‘Gilt Edge’ (Tricyrtis formosa) has a similar pattern.

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) drapes like a waterfall of pale gold with its subtle green and yellow striped blades, looking beautiful cascading over boulders or placed at regular intervals along the front of a long border. I have noticed over the past few years that they seem to sprout all-green stems periodically which need to be removed promptly. This is called ‘reversion’ as the dominant gene tries to exert its superiority!


Bugloss 'Jack Frost' is stunning
 in the shade
When the veins of a leaf contrast with the background leaf color the overall effect is of a spidery web. Siberian bugloss ‘Jack Frost’ (what a name…) (Brunnera macrophylla) is a fabulous shade loving perennial – one of the first to leaf out in spring and the last to fade in fall. The leaf is a striking silvery white, delicately etched with green veins. The blue forget-me-not like flowers add to the feminine picture but the compact mound of distinctive heart shaped foliage is reason enough to find space for this beauty.

Mottled Italian Lords and Ladies (Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’) is perhaps best known for its spikes of orange berries in summer yet the lush, arrow shaped leaves are patterned with dramatic creamy veins and look stunning from late summer through winter.

Spots and splashes.

Mayapple (Podophyllum sp) is a native of the Pacific Northwest but I was drawn to the variety ‘Kaleidoscope’ which gets its name from the fractured design of green, grey and burgundy spots. My daughter calls this the ‘toad plant’ as it reminds her of the skin of a warty old toad! Personally I think it is far too beautiful to be compared in such a way, but as I noted earlier the attractiveness of variegation is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
Mayapple 'Kaleidoscope' (right) keeping company with
Bishops hat (left) and spurge (center)

The common name for the spring flowering Pulmonaria is lungwort, reflecting both its likeness to the shape and spots of a diseased lung as well as its reputed medicinal properties in curing such ailments. I can’t speak as to the efficacy of such a remedy but I do like the spotted leaves of the many varieties available. ‘Roy Davidson’ is probably my favorite with its sprays of bluebell shaped flowers in shades of pink and blue. After they have finished blooming I cut the whole plant down to just an inch or so. The fresh leaves emerge nice and healthy, whereas not doing so seems to allow powdery mildew to take hold.


One of my favorite multicolored shrubs is the leathery leaved leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ with wild splashes of red, green and yellow offering the opportunity for a variety of fun combinations in shady locations. Red toned Heucheras, yellow grasses and bright green mosses make wonderful companions whether in a container or in the ground.

The hardy impatiens (Impatiens omeiensis) may look delicate but it is surprisingly tough and steadily spreads to form stunning mounds of tiered starry foliage in yellow and green with a hint of burgundy. I have used this in a woodland inspired container design where it looked perfectly at home complementing a Japanese maple, hosta and grasses.

Hardy Impatiens

Consider where and when to use variegation.

Bear in mind that how conspicuous a variegated leaf may appear and therefore where best to place it will depend upon several factors. A large, boldly variegated leaf may seem overpowering when seen close up yet from a distance it adds just enough interest to enliven a border. Conversely delicate variegation will be missed when viewed from afar or just appear as a muddy grey. Light plays a role in how variegation is seen; white shines in the shade but yellow variegation can often go more ‘green’ in such conditions. Aucuba is one of the few yellow variegated shrubs which does not lose its ‘oomph’ in this way. Finally the season itself may play a role in determining the intensity of the colors. The yellow and green variegated wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald and Gold’) for example is brightest in winter when it takes on additional red tints while the perennial variegated masterwort ‘Sunningdale variegated’ (Astrantia major) shines in spring with broad gold margins to its green leaves but then softens to an overall subdued green for the remainder of the year.

Variegated masterwort
shows the best color in  spring.
Look at your garden and see where it might need a little lift. Here are just a few additional ideas. For further treasure hunting I love the book Foliage by Nancy Ondra which includes an excellent section on variegated and multicolored plants.

Small trees and Shrubs
Shrub dogwoods ‘Hedgerows gold’ and others
Dappled willow
Sycamore maple ‘Eskimo sunset’ (Acer pseudoplatanus)
Dogwood (tree) ‘Wolf eyes’
Pieris ‘Variegata’ and others
Box honeysuckle ‘Lemon Beauty’
Variegated weigela
Variegated hardy fuchsia
Barberry ‘Rose glow’

Bugle weed ‘Variegata’
Variegated sweet iris
Variegated comfrey
Jacobs ladder ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and others
Yucca ‘Color Guard’ and others
Phormium ‘Yellow wave’ and others
Eryngium ‘Mrs. Wilmot’s ghost’ and others

Variegated sedge (Carex sp)
Variegated lily turf (Liriope sp)
Variegated maiden grass (Miscanthus sp)
Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’)

Porcelain berry vine
Yellow-net honeysuckle
Variegated jasmine
Variegated Virginia creeper