Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Partners in Crime; The Foliage Fanciers

As soon as I met Christina Salwitz I knew I had met a kindred spirit. A self-confessed leaf-a-holic, the only thing we didn’t have in common was that I couldn’t restrain myself to just buying foliage plants; I wanted flowers as well!

The finely textured foliage of the box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's gold')
echoes the color of the golden full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'). Peeking 
through the bold leaves of an oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), the blue
flowers of a hardy geranium add a splash of color.
My design.

I had the opportunity to hear Christina recently at the Outdoor Living Extravaganza in Seattle, hosted by Proven Winners. She may be barely 5’ tall but her presence and energy filled the room while her presentation was pure eye candy with one mouth watering combination after another. Christina’s philosophy is to begin with a backbone of permanent plants using the ratio deciduous : evergreen  at 2:1. Using this framework to establish a color palette such as gold, burgundy and silver, she then slips in any stunning foliage plants  that leap into her hands (and there are many). 

'Rustic orange' coleus was the inspiration
for this combo with black and chartreuse
My design

Colorful coleus, hostas and sedums are a few of her many favorites, carefully selecting shades to create moods from cool, icy tones to fiery reds and oranges.

Her enthusiasm had me going back into my own photo library to re-discover some of my foliage combinations to share with you.
A tropical medley featuring 'Black magic' elephant ears
(Colocasia esculenta), variegated tapioca 
(Manihot esculenta 'Variegata') and a bronze coleus
Dallas Arboretum, TX

My basic principles are to repeat each color at least once within the combination and to vary the size and texture of the leaves. So if an orange leaf has a chartreuse margin for example I will partner this with something else which is chartreuse, whether a leaf, stem or a bud.
Shade gardening lends itself especially well to foliage focused designs. In my last house I developed a small woodland garden by weaving a path of hazelnut shells through a group of ash trees and densely planting the understory with a tapestry of perennials and shrubs which thrived in the dappled light. Underplanting this layer with ephemeral spring bulbs such as English bluebells (Scilla non-scripta) and simple crocus added an extra dimension to the planting.

With so many colorful and variegated forms of hostas it is easy to assemble a group using color echoes like the one shown here. The bold hosta leaves contrast nicely with smaller leaved spurge (Euphorbia 'Orange grove'), grasses and Bishop's hat (Epimedium).

Golden tones are repeated in grasses,hostas and the creeping dead nettle
(Lamium maculatum 'Aureum') which acts as a groundcover.
My design

Christina made an interesting observation when she commented that she "had never found a color which didn't look good in a teal pot". I have to admit she has a point and as I realized that although I hadn't planted in that color container I had used it as an accent to bring out the blue-green shades within nearby plants.

A teal colored ball peeks through similarly hued foliage
to form a pleasing vignette.
My design

This teal ceramic globe draws attention to a simple 'Green spice' heuchera and its color partner; a vase shaped 'Krossa regal' hosta. A fountain of yellow Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') echoes a golden form of creeping germander (Teucrium polium) as a contrast to the cool blue tones.

For more ideas revisit my posts 'Adding Sparkle with Variegated Plants' to discover fresh ways to combine shade plants, 'Singin' the Blues' for gorgeous blue-based designs and 'Beyond Rhodies and Junipers' which I promise will have you looking at the possibilities of using broadleaf evergreen plants in a whole new light.

Sunset tones inspired by Sumac 'Tiger eyes' (Rhus typhina). A dramatic
sun loving combination for a container. The 'dark blue' million bells
(Calibrachoa) adds nice contrast.
My design.

Have I given you another excuse to visit the nurseries?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Introductions for 2011 from Proven Winners

I recently attended the Seattle Outdoor Living Extravaganza organized by plant growers Proven Winners; what a party! Great speakers, generous gifts and yummy food, all with fellow gardening enthusiasts.

Mecardonia 'Gold dust' tumbles over the edge of this
container, beautifully planted with deep red million bells
and coleus. Great color combo.
Rick Shoellhorn, Director of new plants, is one of those wonderful charismatic speakers that you could listen to all day. Knowledgeable as well as highly entertaining, he had us salivating over their newest introductions and laughing at his stories.

Proven Winners has trial sites worldwide so varieties are tested for both cold and heat tolerance. After all it’s no good if something looks pretty for a month and then is merely a “soil amendment”! Their goal is to produce plants which have an extended performance and they do this is by using tissue culture rather than seed propagation. Put simply, when plants aren’t trying to produce seed, they flower for longer.
I'm always on the lookout for great foliage plants and this
 one definitely gets my vote; Pearl millet 'Vertigo'

There are so many must-have plants that Rick introduced that I’m hard pressed to choose which ones to showcase in this short article, so I’m going to focus on the more unusual varieties to look out for.

Pearl millet ‘Vertigo’ (Pennisetum purpureum); a monster of a grass! This may only be an annual in frost prone areas (zones 8-11) but talk about making a statement. Growing up to 4’ tall and almost as wide this variety has broad blades in rich burgundy. A serious ‘thriller’ for container design and a dramatic focal point in the landscape.

Heliotrope ‘Simply Scentsational’ – I bet you haven’t seen a heliotrope like this before. Unlike the usual purple or white varieties, this fragrant beauty is a delicate lavender with a white throat and yellow eye. An annual for most of us (zone 9-11) it is drought tolerant and likes full sun. This will form an attractive mounding filler for containers, attracting the attention of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and envious gardeners.
'Simply Scentsational' heliotrope - a new color

Mecardonia ‘Gold dust’ – I wish it had a better name; this sounds like a nut! Despite that, this annual forms a brilliant yellow carpet all summer or spill nicely over the edges of containers and baskets. An annual outside zones 9-11.

Alyssum ‘Snow princess’ - this is old fashioned alyssum on steroids! Plant it and stand well back lest you be swallowed in its froth of fragrant flowers. This is more open in habit than traditional alyssum and considerably more heat and humidity tolerant. Use it in BIG pots or as a groundcover as it will grow just 4” tall but 3-4’ wide according to Rick (despite what the label says)! Now that’s what I call a groundcover.

A fragrant bad hair day; the award 
winning 'Snow princess' alyssum
Phlox ‘Intensia Blueberry’ – This is unusual in that it is a hybrid between an annual and a perennial creating an annual with an extended bloom time. The burgundy flowers fade to blue on this 12-18” tall plant making it ideal for containers or well drained garden soil. Tolerant of light frosts, this is going to make a useful addition to my plant palette.

Written up your wish list yet? I’ve got more exciting news for you. To help you find these beauties Proven Winners has got a feature on their website to help you locate your nearest nursery that carries their brand. If you still can’t find your ‘must have’ plant you can order direct from their website. 

Live in England? No problem – I thought of all my British readers and while enjoying lunch with Rick asked him how you could find these plants. Kernock Park Plants sells the Proven Winners varieties and can be mail ordered. Here are the full contact details; Address; Kernock Park Plants, Pillaton, Saltash, Cornwall, PL12 6RY Phone: +44 (0)1579 350561, Fax: +44 (0)1579 351151 or Email

Yes this really is a phlox! This is an extended blooming
annual introduction; Phlox 'Intensia Blueberry'

While you’re on the Proven Winners website be sure to look at their other great plants, especially under the ‘new for 2011’ tab - but be warned your shopping list will undoubtedly get longer! As for me I’m both honored and excited to be asked to trial some of the 2012 introductions for you and trust me there are some really exciting perennials on that list as well as annuals. I can hardly wait!

Note; the Milwaukee event in April 8th has sold out! Tickets still available for Toronto on April 15th. Book TODAY.

All photos courtesy of Proven Winners

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One Plant, One Pot

Well scaled terracotta pots repeat the roof tile color of this Italianate home,
while the clipped topiaries lends a formal grace. Repetition of the smaller
boxwood topiaries draw attention to the sculpture enhancing the sense
of timeless elegance.
Green garden. Dallas, TX

Container gardens have many guises. They can be self contained herb or vegetable gardens, hanging baskets which overflow with color to give vertical interest or huge pots which explode with an exuberant mixture of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. What is sometimes overlooked, however, is the simple statement a solo planting can make. Adding just one plant to a pot may require too much restraint for some yet there are occasions when pared down design says more than an overstuffed medley. The trick is marrying the plant to the pot and the pot to the surroundings.

Perfect marriage of plant and pot. This red
'Kangaroo paw' can be enjoyed outside in
summer and brought indoors during colder
Design by Paul Repetowski

Contemporary architecture is epitomized by clean lines and the use of stark, sometimes industrial materials. Containers with strong geometric shapes with little or no embellishment are the best choice for such a situation. Matte black, charcoal or bronze are all good colors for this application, with concrete, natural stone or ceramic working well for materials.

A tall sleek pot is the perfect vessel for this
contemporary planting with black mondo grass.
The granite ball placed casually at the base
adds to the masculine feel.
Design by Paul Repetowski

When it comes to the plants, select foliage with strong architectural lines such as aloes, agave, New Zealand flax (Phormium) and Yucca all of which offer a bold, spiky texture which stands out well against a plain background. Horsetails are notoriously invasive weeds in wet ground yet when corralled their strong vertical lines complement modern style. If a series of containers are needed, a sequence of identical containers will set up a dynamic rhythm.

Blowsy white daisies make a perfect partner
for this rustic green container
My design

At the opposite end of the spectrum, rustic containers or terracotta are perfect partners for informal settings such as cottages. A mass of white daisies such as the marguerites (Argyranthemum) would associate well as would other simple flowers such as cosmos or black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). All three bloom profusely throughout the summer in good potting soil. Just a little deadheading and you’ll have bouquets of flowers.

Mediterranean and more formal architecture suit large scaled topiaries especially if a pair is used to flank an entrance. Junipers, boxwood, yew and privet all lend themselves to such treatment, but need to be kept into shape by semi-annual shearing. These containers should be of a sufficient size to be in scale with the home, with stone urns or terracotta being traditional choices. Allowing these to weather naturally gives a sense of history and permanence.

Note how the terracotta and striated theme is repeated in this
vignette. The simple container sets both the style and color
palette, repeated by the colorful croton foliage
as well as the cushion fabric. Wonderful attention to detail.
Rister-Armstrong garden. Dallas, TX
 Another way to work with Mediterranean style is to select tropical looking foliage such as bromeliads, crotons, palms or elephant ears (Colocasia). Placed in a bright glazed container these will create drama, adding a punch of color to stand up to the strong sunshine found anywhere else other then Seattle!

If you really can’t bring yourself to just try the concept of ‘one plant in a pot’, use it as a ploy to stop container groups becoming too ‘busy’. In a group of three I will usually go completely over the top with the largest container, pare it down a little for the middle size and add just one complementary plant such as purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum) to the smallest pot. It keeps the color and style theme in mind while emphasizing the focal combination.

Funky plant in a funky pot!
Aeonium 'Zwartkopf'
My design
Use these ideas to re-think your container garden designs this year. As much as I love to cram as many possible plants into my designs, and it is probably what I am known for, I also need to recognize when ‘less is more’.

Other solo candidates

For sun;
  • Silver bush (Convolvulus cneorum)
  • Sun loving grasses e.g. blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
  • Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos flavidus)
  • Bamboo
  • Dwarf, mounding pine trees

For shade;
  • Coleus, especially Kong varieties in deep shade
  • Variegated daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’)
  • Aspidistra
  • Shade loving grasses e.g. Carex ‘ice dance’, ‘Gold fountains’ & wood rush (Luzula)
  • Bugloss varieties e.g. 'Jack Frost’ (Brunnera)
  • Anthurium

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain Gardens; Muddy or Magnificent?

Can you spot the rain garden???
GARDEN 1; Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

I have somewhat ambivalent feelings towards the concept of rain gardens. If you read my post ‘Don’t tell me about bog gardens!’ you’ll understand why I have a love-hate affair with water on our land…. At best I could only envision a swamp and I have 5 acres of that already!

Rain gardens are depressions in the land placed in an area of well draining soil to which excess water can be diverted. That water can come from downspouts and/or surface water but by providing a place for the water to slowly seep down into the soil it reduces the amount of water entering our already overloaded storm drains. A bog garden on the other hand is purposely placed in a wet area but these two terms are often used interchangeably and from a design perspective the lines between the two are often blurred.

My interest in rain gardens was piqued after seeing a stunning design by Artistic Garden Concepts at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. It was elegant, artistic and most surprising of all, formal. I had envisioned these gardens as only being suitable for rural areas where a little untidiness wouldn’t matter.  Nancy Claire Guth was the designer of this showpiece and when I heard she was planning a tour of local rain gardens which she had created I quickly signed up, prepared to re-think my prejudices.

I asked Nancy how she got started designing these features. In the early days to contour the land she would raise up some areas into berms, improving drainage and adding topographical interest. The risk of this, however, especially on already poorly draining land was that the water would flood into the lawns or worse, into neighboring gardens. In order to prevent this she created small depressions in discreet areas as catchment basins. As time went on she learned to work with nature rather than against it and to make these garden features more architectural in nature, adding ‘landbridges’ (mini dams with stepping stones across the top), surrounding pathways and creating them as focal points rather than hidden puddles. To enhance their functionality runoff from roofs was also redirected into these depressions as needed.
GARDEN 1; A well placed boulder in the depression ties
into the stone landbridge while surrounding grasses
and shrubs add winter interest.
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

Nancy took us to visit three of her residential installations and I was surprised that these were in well manicured upscale neighborhoods, the first of which also had a Homeowners Association (aka The Plant Police). If you have ever lived in such a community you will appreciate how challenging getting approval of landscape designs can be. The end result had to be functional, aesthetically beautiful and blend with the neighborhood. No muddy puddles here thank you very much! As if that wasn’t enough this first installation was in a front garden so it had to look really good year round.

When Nancy first evaluated this site there was a noticeable boggy area in the front garden where the rain garden now sits. Rather than fighting the situation by the addition of a drainage system, Nancy made this into a focal point complete with an attractive observation area. I particularly loved the combination of gentle berms and shallow bowls, reminiscent of the rolling English countryside. To me this was key to the overall success of the design as it mimicked nature whilst a simple landbridge, pathways and seating area invited exploration and appreciation.  A medley of gold foliage sparkled in the boggy areas even on a dreary March afternoon and included the evergreen Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’), variegated iris (Iris pallida ‘Aureo-variegata’) and the dwarf blue arctic willow (Salix purpurea 'Nana'). The surrounding berms allowed for plants which preferred drier feet, including a golden Hinoki cypress and a dark leafed spurge (Euphorbia). One of the surprises was that even in summer these plants thrived since although there was no standing water the soil remained moist. (In fact Nancy asked me to wait to photograph the gardens until summer when they would look ‘nice’ but to me the design was all the more impressive that it looked so good at this time of year; it was simply a change in personality).

GARDEN 2; Gentle berms, river rocks and stone pathway
make this appear like a natural pond. I love the use of the
'Midwinter fire' dogwoods and the way they pick up on the
golden tones of the Acorus grass.
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts.
The second home sat at the lowest point in the neighborhood, not only having to deal with its own run off but also that of all their neighbors. In addition the high water table allowed little soil for the water to drain into, something I can definitely empathize with. This rain garden was designed of necessity to handle a large volume of water and so a bypass valve was added to prevent flooding in extreme situations. However despite the Seattle monsoons of late the valve has remained open.

GARDEN 2; Look at the partially submerged
willows and iris. they are equally happy in standing
water or damp summer soil. A great example
of 'right plant, right place'.
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

Again a series of berms surrounding the rain garden together with a landbridge topped with stone slabs created a feature as beautiful as any permanent pond yet instead of detaining the water as a pond does it simply retains it, allowing a gradual percolation. We visited after a week of rain so there were several inches of water present and it looked beautiful. Water loving plants were thriving and the surrounding patios and gravel paths made this a destination rather than the eyesore I feared.

Our final visit was to Nancy’s home where her sense of fun shone through. She had replaced an old above ground swimming pool with a rain garden retaining the original circular shape. The roof gutter drains directly into this perfectly round depression which in turn has become her laboratory in which she experiments with different plants. Nancy said it looks like a giant salad bowl in summer with its tapestry of colors and textures. An adjacent circular fire pit and seating area finishes the scene and so what could have become an unused part of the small garden has become its main attraction.

GARDEN 3; A pool reinvented as a rain garden
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

What’s next? Nancy is thinking of ways in which she can design an above ground water catchment system and have the overflow be directed into a rain garden. Many of us use rain barrels for example but have to divert excess water into the drains while larger scale water cisterns have historically been an eyesore. Wouldn’t it be great if we could divert that excess water, not just disguising the system but finding a way to create something beautiful and functional? If anyone can do it Nancy can. Rather than re-enforcing my prejudices, Nancy has really opened my eyes to the possibilities. What about you?

Helpful links;

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cinderella in the Garden

I hate cleaning. I mean what’s the point? I sweep, dust, scour and scrub………and a day later it looks as though I haven’t done a thing! Thankfully cleaning the garden is more rewarding. A few hours at this time of year will set you in good stead for the next 6 months.

On those rare mild spring days, take the opportunity to get outside and do a few easy garden chores. You’ll get exercise, fresh air and your garden will be healthier too.

Time for a Slug-fest.
If you never did get around to raking the leaves in fall they’ll be a mushy, slimy mess by now. That makes them the perfect hiding place for slugs and snails – and believe me they are out in abundance already.  These leaves also smother any delicate plants underneath so I use a narrow bamboo rake to gently pull the leaves off any emerging perennials such as ferns and hostas as well as freeing other low growing plants such as primroses. Watch out for spring bulbs starting to peek through though!

When leaves fall on top of woody, deciduous shrubs such as barberry and weigela they can get stuck in the twiggy structure. Although this doesn’t harm the shrub it looks a mess and will spoil the appearance of the fresh foliage. Gently remove these leaves with your hands where possible, being careful not to damage any new buds. In borders mainly planted with hardy shrubs and evergreens the leaves can be left in place to die down if you prefer. Some leaves such as the big leaf maple don’t decompose easily however so they will continue to look messy for a long time.

I gather up all the leaves and add them to my compost bin. Failing that a black plastic bag with a few holes poked in the sides will do or a brown paper yard waste bag, although the latter may decompose before the leaves do! In larger gardens consider building a simple cage of chicken wire hidden amongst large trees. Then you can just ‘rake and dump’ without wheelbarrowing them to a compost bin.

Protect your roses by planning ahead. This is
one of my favorites, the fragrant
Graham Thomas.

Leaves which I don’t compost are those which may be diseased, such as those from roses or apple trees. These often harbor fungal spores so I gather them up and dispose of them in the yard waste before adding a good layer of fresh compost or arborist  chips under these bushes. The spores cannot ‘climb’ through this mulch so the new growth is protected.

Grasses are a wonderful addition to the garden, adding movement, late season interest, fine texture and varying height. Check to see if new growth is showing and if so cut down those big tall grasses to 6-10”. Shorter grasses can take a haircut to an inch. However don’t get too pruner-happy. Leave hardy fuchsias, Russian sage (Perovskia) and hyssop (Agastache) alone for another month. Those dried stalks will protect the plant crown from a fatal freeze.

Switchgrass 'Shenandoah' (Panicum) reaches
4-5' and turns a brilliant red in fall.
Design by Tory Galloway

It’s time to dig up the dead! Do you have sad looking Brussels sprouts and bolted leeks still in the vegetable garden? Dig them up and get those beds ready for a fresh start.

Finally get out the slug bait. I use Sluggo Plus, an organic product which kills slugs and earwigs yet is safe around pets, children and your vegetables. You’ll be amazed at how fast these slippery creatures detect a hosta emerging from its winter sleep. I swear they must run across the soil just to munch a hole right through the plant tip, totally wrecking the beautiful leaves. Just one slug attack and the whole plant is spoilt for the rest of the season. Spare them no mercy and go on the attack!

So find your work boots, dust off your garden tools and get outside. Watch the robins searching for worms and listen to the frogs singing their amorous chorus while you snip and tidy. Much more rewarding than washing the kitchen floor (again).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Art In The Garden

Most of us love to decorate our homes filling them with antiques, unique art work and vacation mementos. It is a natural extension of this to add a little artistic expression to our outdoor rooms also.

Stunning. This deep red container is the perfect counterpoint to 'Grace' smoke bush.
It echoes the color while offering a strong solid mass amongst the billowing plantings
as well as reflecting light, adding drama to the scene.
Shelley garden Woodinville, WA
Photo courtesy of One Thousand Words Photography
 Carefully placed these pieces can be used to draw attention to special features within the garden or to create a focal point within an abundant planting scheme.

The trick is knowing where, when and what. We’ve all laughed at gnome filled front gardens or a wild assortment of whirligigs spinning at such speeds as to generate electricity if only that energy could be harnessed. Garden art it may be but artistic it is most definitely not!

Too many eclectic pieces can make the garden look like a garage sale and one tiny piece in a large sweeping border will be completely lost. So how do you strike the right balance?

Where and when?

In the same way that you need to choose the dress before the jewelry, it is important to consider the plants before purchasing that dramatic dragon sculpture!

I can just picture this hanging from a huge dead tree in our
garden! Created by Abraxas Crow Company
The first question should be ‘which areas need a little pizzazz and why?’ Do the plantings look monotonous? Is there an overwhelming abundance of fine textures? Would something large and bulky help if it were tucked in amongst the shrubs and perennials?

Or perhaps a patio looks rather bland – would some color help? Perhaps a focal point of some kind?

Large trees planted in the lawn offer shade but the beauty of the bark or delicate movement of the rustling leaves may be missed. What about hanging something from the branches to catch the eye and inviting further exploration?

Only when you have answered the where can you assess if a piece of garden art would be the answer. Ask yourself, what would this offer? How would it enhance the overall design?

Restraint is the order of the day. Select just one or two special pieces for each unique garden area. Too much in one spot can be confusing unless you want an art gallery with the plants merely being the supporting actors. If you must buy that cute gnome remember that he doesn’t need to be accompanied by an entire gnome-commune!

Moving in the wind, this piece could
would make a unique focal point
Created by Living Metal
If your garden seems overwhelmed by an imposing backdrop of dense evergreens adding an airy piece can reduce the sense of solidity. Maybe a kinetic sculpture would add movement, catching the light and visually ‘lifting’ the area. Conversely a border filled with lacy leaves and delicate flowers may benefit from the addition of a large, unplanted urn. This can provide a welcome focal point, especially when the color and style tie in with its surroundings.


I love it when garden art tells me something about the personality of the homeowner. My Mum has a hilarious sense of humor. When dad died she re-named a concrete pad (formerly used for a small RV) as ‘Malcolm’s Garden’ in memory of the fact that he hated cutting the lawn! Then she added a stone dog sculpture holding a football in support of England playing in the World Cup that year.

Dangling glass jewels sparkle in the sun
Bellamy garden, Dallas TX

Artists often use elements in unexpected ways such as setting a mirror at ground level where it can reflect the stunning foliage of nearby plants. Or pieces of beach glass strung from copper wire and hung from tree branches where they catch the light and move in the wind.

Using art in the garden doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune on a specially commissioned piece. Artist Alyson Ross-Markley came up with a wonderful way to incorporate her grandchildren’s artwork into her garden. The children made papier mache balls by covering inflated balloons with strips of colored paper in beautiful shades (Alyson did a little selective editing before the project began!) These papers were from a stack of earlier doodlings that she couldn’t bear to throw away but had no idea what to do with. The finished globes were signed and proudly displayed within the garden, their colors selected to blend with the nearby foliage. What a wonderful way to involve children in garden design.
Child's art displayed amongst Sedum
Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

In a small space it is important that multiple art pieces have something in common. That doesn’t mean that everything has to match but there has to be both a reason for their presence as well as a unifying element such as style. Mixing an oversized rustic rooster with a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired sculpture would jar the senses whereas a whimsical milk churn would look right at home. Color themes can work well, perhaps repeating cobalt blue in different pieces such as a birdbath, containers and gazing balls. Bamboo canes can be painted bright colors and used to make tepees for vines or edge a pathway like trail markers.

This quirky bird bobs its head!
Interactive art work adds an extra

When you are fortunate to have a number of garden rooms the art can have a change of personality but still relate it to the surroundings. For example a woodland glade would suit simple stone sculptures rather than a shocking orange Totem Pole. Having said that if the homeowner’s signature color was orange and this was repeated in different ways throughout the space it could still work and be a wonderful way to insert a little piece of themselves into the space.

Finally...think about scale.

One thing I have learnt, having moved from a small garden to 5 acres is that most of my existing garden art is too small. The majority of my new borders are viewed from a distance so fine details and subtleties are lost. In the same way that I need to learn to plant in larger drifts of plants I need to choose one or two much bigger pieces which will grab attention from 200’ away. A few of these smaller items will still find their place alongside paths and doubtless be switched out from time to time as the mood strikes.

First I need to deal with all the invasive weeds, then I need to add the plants! So for now I have to be content just to consider the possibilities and see what local artists have to offer. There’s no harm in ‘just looking’ is there? (Although I do love that dragon....)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Edible Landscaping - the basics

I am indebted to Rosalind Creasy for allowing me to reproduce her article for this post. I started to write about incorporating munchables (as I call them) into containers and landscapes myself but quickly realized that she could write about this far more eloquently than I could ever hope to. Rosalind is an award winning garden and food writer, photographer, and landscape designer with a passion for beautiful vegetables and ecologically sensitive gardening.

'What is edible landscaping?

Edible landscaping is the practical integration of food plants within an ornamental or decorative setting. The same design principles as for ornamental landscapes are used, while substituting edible plants such as lettuces, blueberries, vegetables and fruit trees for some of the otherwise unproductive plant material. Using edibles in landscape design can enhance a garden by providing a unique ornamental component with additional health, aesthetic, and economic benefits. Edible landscaping is a mixture of beauty and utility. However, edible landscaping doesn’t have to be all edible. In fact, filling the yard with edibles would often produce too much food for most families, not to mention time and work. Instead, careful planning and the judicious use of fruits, herbs, and vegetables results in a yard that is flavorful, practical, visually pleasing. As a bonus, it’s a great topic for conversation!

Homeowners in all climates-with small or large yards-can benefit from a trellis of cherry tomatoes cascading over the entryway, a fragrant border of colorful and flavorful basils, or a prolific semi-dwarf apple tree or two. There are tasty and ornamental edible plants for just about any garden setting in any climate. Only the most shady areas and soggy soils are not suitable. The sunniest spots and the areas with the choicest soil are best reserved for most fruit trees and annual vegetables. On the other hand, there are culinary herbs suitable for rocky or poor soils, and a few perennial edibles for wet locations. Theoretically, any edible plant can be used in an ornamental landscape; but practically and aesthetically, some are better suited than others.

Romaine lettuce set within a geometric grid - love it! What great textures.
Combining edibles and ornamentals

Edible plants can be combined in many creative ways-with other edibles, or with ornamentals. For instance: try a cool-season border of lettuces and spinach interplanted with dwarf nasturtiums. All types of pepper are striking when combined with dwarf marigolds or a background of tall red salvias. In shady areas, try a border of alpine strawberries and curly parsley under a hedge of currants. For your dwarf fruit trees try planting them in geometric beds surrounded with a border of culinary herbs; or plant them along the driveway instead of the usual privet or junipers.

Edible landscaping design elements

The most important design elements for an edible landscape are strong, firm lines and structure. With edible plants, the main goal is a diversity of food on your table and not just the look of your yard. However, in a purely aesthetic sense, adding edibles to your design provides a greater mixture of textures, forms, and colors than a typical ornamental landscape. In order to counterbalance this mix of plants, it helps to almost over-emphasize the line and structure of your landscaping elements. A design consideration with edibles is the seasonal nature of the color-flowers, fruit, and/or foliage-and occasional times of reduced drama due to transplanting, harvesting, and soil cultivation. During these times, the importance of strong lines, as defined by pathways, patios, planters, hedges, evergreens, and structures, becomes evident. Long curving beds or interplantings of colorful flowering plants-edible or not-also help tie the design together and provide accents to intrigue your eye. Edible landscaping is more than just planting edibles. Without the backbone of an integrated design, an edible landscape can become just another scraggly vegetable patch.

Note the fun tepee made from colorful squiggly canes.
This together with the tomato arbor produced
 over 100 pounds of tomatoes!
With any edible landscape, I urge folks to start small. Small and simple means you can easily maintain what you’ve started. Temper spring enthusiasm with the knowledge that many edible plants not only need maintenance (mulching, watering, weeding, feeding, and pruning), but also take effort in the form of harvesting and cooking- and preserving a large harvest. Choose dwarf fruit trees over standard-size trees and select fruit varieties that spread the harvest over many months.

Healthy plants are beautiful plants

Good design is important, but if the plants are not healthy, the best of designs is for naught. The keys to healthy plants are choosing the correct plant for the right place and properly preparing the soil. Most edible plants need at least six hours of mid-day sun to produce well, and be healthy. With few exceptions, most edible plant varieties require soils with fast drainage. Soggy soil is the culprit for many failed edible gardens. Annual fruits and vegetables need soil filled with lots of organic matter and a source of nitrogen.

Expect trees and shrubs in your landscape design to take from three to five years to start to look mature. On the other hand, annual beds filled with herbs, vegetables, and flowers can give you a colorful and tasty impact starting the very first season.

Certainly, an edible landscape is one of the most rewarding yards one can have. You’ll be able to grow tasty treats that can’t be bought for love or money, often with enough to share with friends and neighbors. An edible landscape is the only form of gardening that truly nurtures all the senses.'

Rosalind's latest book Edible Landscaping sold out within one month! The second printing is now available; be sure to get your copy.

For more great tips and design ideas check out her website .

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Singin' the Blues

Breathe new life into a purple and gold color scheme
by adding a touch of blue
Shelley garden.

I know chartreuse foliage is all the rage – and has been for about ten years now, but I find myself increasingly drawn to the blues. They nicely break up swathes of green yet don’t startle one quite so much as a sudden blast of lime green.

Blue tones are adaptable to both softer color palettes such as lavender, white and pink or can be used to add contrast to oranges and reds to make them zing.

Of course as with chocolate, you can definitely have too much of a good thing and at a distance blues can appear very grey. Yet when used as an accent or perhaps to link one color scheme to another, glaucous foliage can offer a welcome change from the more predictable purple or chartreuse options. They also provide a more natural color partner for transition zones between the cultivated areas of a garden to a forested backdrop, particularly useful in larger landscapes.

Big, bold and blue

Blue hued hostas combine with blue fescue grass. The delicate
 white flowers are from Sichuan deutzia (Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora)
 which add confetti-like charm to the combination.
Shelley garden
This makes me immediately think of the larger blue hostas such as ‘Love Pat’ with its heavily quilted, cup shaped foliage, ‘Krossa Regal’ which stands tall enough to be underplanted and the smoky blue H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, the Big Daddy of the blue hostas reaching up to 6’ in diameter. All thrive in shade and the blue varieties are typically less prone to slug damage.

Look at the way the purple vein in
this ornamental cabbage repeats
the color of the verbena flower.
The rich barberry foliage adds depth.
Shelley garden
For sunny areas and containers look to the honey bush (Melianthus major) whose deeply toothed leaves smell like peanut butter when crushed – really! I love combining this with bright red ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia or darker leaved cannas such as ‘King Roy’ for a tropical look.

Cabbages are smelly and unlike most Seattleites I do not understand the desire to place one by the front door as a fall decoration. However I was impressed by the way Peggy and Al Shelley of Woodinville, WA incorporated ornamental varieties into their sweeping borders, using them as accents but also pairing them with purple barberry (Berberis species) where they appeared like giant blue roses blooming amongst the shrubs.

Blue spikes

 'Lovesick blues' has a much
softer texture than other rushes.
Photo credit; Walla Walla nursery.

It’s easy to add spiky texture with blue plants as there are several lovely blue toned grasses readily available. One of my favorites is the mounding blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) which takes sun or part shade and is more reliable here in the Seattle area than the more commonly used blue fescue (Festuca glauca). The latter often struggles with wet winters and excessive cold, needing to be replaced every three years or so. The blue oat grass on the other hand has stronger blades, is a brighter steel blue and just keeps getting bigger and better.

For wet areas you can’t go wrong with the rushes (Juncus species). The varieties ‘Lovesick blues' and ‘Occidental Blue’ are a blue-grey while ‘Blue Medusa’ creates a bad hair day look with its tangle of curly blue stems.

Perhaps one of my favorite blue grasses is ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) which grows 6-7’ tall with bright powder blue foliage and pink plumes. I love clumps of these breaking up groups of the golden black eyed Susan daisies (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’) as a late summer combo.

This conifer 'Blue surpise' false cypress reinforces the blue,
lilac and white color scheme
My design
 Finer textures

I think my love affair with blue began with my discovery of blue conifers. Sadly the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) is not a good choice for those of us in Western Washington as the winters are not cold enough to kill off the notorious spruce aphids. These little insects can wreak havoc causing significant needle drop which leaves the interior brown and bare. It is possible to spray the tree with a horticultural oil to kill off the insects but since this also strips the waxy blue coating off the needles it is somewhat self defeating. So if it’s blue conifers you fancy consider ‘Feeling blue’ cedar (Cedrus deodara) with its spreading groundcover  habit, or the more compact ‘Blue star’ juniper (Juniperus squamata) which I find associates well with burgundy leaved weeping Japanese maples. ‘Blue Surprise’ false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) has become a favorite conifer of mine for tight narrow spaces both in the ground and containers. Its striking feathery blue foliage takes on a plum cast in winter. If you have more space look to one of the blue toned pines such as ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ limber pine (Pinus flexilis) with its silvery blue teddy-bear needles. This slow growing tree eventually reaches 30-50’. Gorgeous.

Other favorites

I’m trying to limit myself to hardy plants but I just have to mention two of my favorite tender blue succulents. Those of you who manage to keep houseplants alive can overwinter these easily. Personally I have to accept that my green thumb ends abruptly at the front door. 

The succulent Senecio 'Blue chalk fingers' adds color and texture
My design
Echeveria ‘Metallica’ has striking silvery blue rosettes blushed with pink while senecio ‘Blue chalk fingers’ (Senecio vitalis) pokes powdery blue succulent fingers out from its base. I love these with hot pink geraniums and lilac/white verbena in a summer container where they add an unexpected textural quality to an otherwise flower dominated group.

So if you need to mix it up a bit, add some blue foliage to the garden. It will bring out the softer tones of purple companions, harmonize well with pinks and cool down chartreuse. Consider it a shopportunity.

For a great book on foliage including blue tones you won't do better than  Foliage by Nancy Ondra.