Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monochromatic Foliage Combinations - simple, elegant

Stunning. Soft, cool tones in silvery blues transition with ease
into gentle blue-purple. Design by Peggy and Al Shelley
Photo credit; One Thousand Words Photography

It’s so easy to overcomplicate things.

You know how it is - you decide to select a few plants for the garden or favorite container and head off to the nursery filled with anticipation. Once there you find yourself seduced by the flirty flowers of the moment; tall spires of delphiniums bluer than the summer skies, coneflowers dressed in every color of the rainbow and who can possibly resist those precious winter blooms of camellias?

With the car loaded up and the ‘double tall, soy, no foam latte with a smidge of hazelnut’ in hand (this is Seattle after all) you head home to plant your new treasures, expecting an instant transformation from mundane to magnificent. Yet so often regardless of how much money you have spent the results don’t meet your expectations. Somehow it looks’ fussy’ with no clear focus.

The homeowner has struggled to make the most of this area, adding a
trellis, birdbath and coral bark maple as well as many flowering
perennials. However, without the backbone of foliage interest
 these just aren't enough to realize the potential

Typically the problem is that regardless of how pretty the flowers are, all the leaves are mid green, mid-size and mid height, i.e. BORING! Sometimes it can help to look at a black and white photograph to recognize this such as the one above. What do you see? Basically nothing - only the bright fall leaves of the coral bark maple stand out yet there are lots of different plants.

Let me show you an easy way to get fabulous results every time. The key to the art of simplicity is to

1.    Focus on foliage
   2.    Keep to one color

Focus on foliage

Forget the flowers! I’m not against flowers – far from it. But if your design is based around them, unless you are an experienced designer with an in depth knowledge of plants, you will have nasty gaps during the season where nothing is happening resulting in significant visual ‘holes’.

Simple shades of green, fabulous texture interest and the shiny leaves
of the hart's tongue fern make this a memorable group.
Design by Alyson Ross Markley

Instead of flowers, turn your attention to the myriad of colorful, luscious leaves from brooding black to sparkling silver. Cool blues, rich purples, buttery yellow and softest pinks come in stripes, spots and spirals offering the endless possibilities of a kaleidoscope. There’s a world of color out there beyond mid-green.

Now look at the shape of the leaves – what we refer to as texture. Are they big and bold or fine and wispy? Feathery or spiky? Touch them – do they feel like velvet or sandpaper? What about their light reflective properties? Are they shiny or dull?

As soon as I began to recognize these attributes I felt as though the world of plants and design really opened up to me. Suddenly my plant selection quadrupled!

Keep to one color

A monochromatic combination is the little black dress of the garden. Simple, understated and elegant. And it always looks good.

'All gold' Japanese forest grass picks up on the yellow variegation
of this new daphne (Daphne odora 'Mae-Jima').
Bellevue botanical gardens
Choose your 'inspiration' plant – something you are immediately drawn to such as the variegated daphne above. It may only bloom for a while but look at those green and yellow variegated leaves! Now find another plant with a different leaf shape but the same colors. In this combination 'All gold' Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ) was used. It has the same colors as the daphne but the foliage texture provides interesting contrast. They make a simple but striking pair for a semi-shaded spot.

Warm colors are the highlight of this combination, using
Rhododendron 'Teddy bear' as my inspiration.
My design

Who can resist a teddy bear? Rhododendron ‘Teddy Bear’ is a delightfully compact cultivar which benefits from container culture or a raised bed to appreciate the deep rust, fuzzy covering (called indumentum) on the stems, the undersides of the leaves and the new growth. Adding companions such as orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) with its wispy blades of olive green tipped in orange, and ‘Caramel’ coral bells (Heuchera) whose soft leaves range in shades of peach and apricot with the reverse side and stems in raspberry emphasizes this feature while keeping the restrained color palette. Delicious.

Here’s your challenge for the week. Head to the nursery and find two fabulous foliage plants which are in the same color family but have different textures. (I’m assuming you are also reading the tags to be sure they need the same light and water conditions!). Do they look good together? Then find just one more to create a trio. Let the artist in you come out. If these are for a container try to tie the color of the pot into the design also to get a unified look. In the garden, consider what size or how many of each plant you need to create impact.

Learning to work with plants in this way becomes an exciting adventure – a treasure hunt for new ideas and new combinations. I’ll never have a garden without flowers but they are the bonus in my designs. I might add a bright orange daylily in front of a purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) for a splash of contrast, but it is the continuing dusky hues of the smoke bush foliage that will hold that part of the garden together long after the daylilies have faded.

Purple fountain grass makes an easy partner to 'Rose glow' barberry.
Silver Artemisia repeats the paler shades at the ground plane
providing a fresh, fluffy texture. Design by Carol Johannson.
Photo credit; One Thousand Words Photography

This isn't about creating an entirely monochromatic garden, although such a calm design can be truly beautiful. Rather it is a technique to help you learn to look at plants in a new way and to gain confidence putting together a few simple vignettes. With experience you will easily learn to work successfully with color echoes as well as adding contrast effectively. 

Those of us who are gardeners with a little more dirt under our fingernails still benefit from being challenged from time to time and reminded that there are some great plants out there that we haven't had an excuse to work with yet. Consider yourself given permission to go shopping for 'research'!

What is your favorite foliage combination? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries are all important milestones which deserve to be celebrated in style. Yet what do you get for that special someone who has everything? Flowers are all well and good but don’t last long and gift certificates can seem rather impersonal.  

There are many beautiful trees, shrubs and even perennials with names commemorating special occasions that just might be the answer. When each of our children were born we gave our wonderful midwife the patio shrub rose ‘Sweet dreams’. I think that was wishful thinking on our part, but it was a special gift nonetheless!

Consider a few key questions first; will the plant need to live in a container or can it be planted into the ground? How much space is available? Does the recipient share their garden with the local deer? If so, forget the roses or the deer will be the ones doing the party dance! Is the garden shady or sunny?

With those guidelines it’s time to start your treasure hunt. Here are a few ideas to start you off.


Rhododendron 'Birthday girl'
is pretty in pink

Camellia ‘Happy Birthday’ (Camellia japonica): Large creamy white flowers produced in early summer and again in late summer. 10ft tall.

Rhododendron ‘Birthday Girl’: Pink flowers in May. Compact rhododendron reaching 3ft.

Rose ‘Happy Birthday’: Yellow flowers from summer-autumn. A patio rose growing to 2ft high. Ideal for containers.

Possibly the most romantic rose of all;
 'Wedding day'
Photo credit; Mooseys Country Garden

Clematis ‘Wedding Day’: large, single, creamy-white flowers accented with striking dark pink anthers. This blooms in May/ June and often again in September.

Rose ‘Wedding Day’: Creamy yellow flowers turn white with age. Vigorous rambler which can grow up to  26ft and 13ft wide. Maybe you’d better give the gift of a large arbor too!

Wedding cake tree (Cornus controversa variegata): tiers of beautiful green and white variegated foliage give this tree its name. Allow it room to spread so its sculptural beauty can be appreciated. 25’ x 25’

Silver Anniversary (25 years)

Abelia 'Silver anniversary'  is semi evergreen
Photo credit; Meg Green
Camellia ‘Silver Anniversary’ (Camellia japonica): White flowers from January to March. 8-10’

Rose ‘Silver Anniversary’: Pure white double flowered hybrid tea rose. 3’ x 2’

Butterfly bush ‘Silver Anniversary’ (Buddleia davidii): Creamy white fragrant flowers in late summer. Deciduous shrub with silvery leaves. 8-10’ but can be kept shorter by pruning each spring.  

Abelia ‘Silver anniversary’ (A.grandiflora): crisp green and white variegated foliage and white flowers on this award winning shrub.

Ruby Anniversary (40 years)
Is it a peony? Is it a rose?
 No this is Camellia 'Ruby wedding'

Camellia  ‘Ruby Wedding’(Camellia williamsii): Deep ruby-red peony-type flowers in spring. Vigorous, upright bush reaching 5'.

Rose ‘Ruby Wedding’: Deep red hybrid tea rose. 2’

Abelia ‘Ruby anniversary’ (A. grandiflora): ruby red new growth and good fall color are trademarks of this improved variety. Tubular white spring flowers attract hummingbirds.

Golden Anniversary (50 years)

Why buy a bouquet when you can
buy a lifetime of blooms?
The 'Golden wedding' rose .

Hosta ‘Golden Anniversary’: Golden foliage turning green as the season progresses with blue flowers in summer. 

Rose ‘Golden Wedding’: A floribunda rose with large golden-yellow clusters of flowers. 2-3ft.

Abelia ‘Golden anniversary’ (A.grandiflora): pretty green and gold variegated foliage on this compact, deer resistant shrub.

Other Occasions
Rose ‘Warm Wishes’: Fragrant peach blooms and dark foliage. A hybrid tea rose

Rose ‘Loving Memory’: Dark foliage and long stems with red flowers throughout the summer. Good for cutting. 4’

Myrtle (Myrtus communis) was revered by the ancient Greeks, whose mythology held the myrtle sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is an emblem of love, laughter and joy. What else do you need?!

Need more ideas?  

Oh and in case you’re wondering Garden Adventures – for thumbs of all colors is ONE today! Happy birthday to all of us who have enjoyed this adventure together.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The New ‘Whizz-Bang’ Camellia from Monrovia!

Pink Yuletide - everything you could wish for in a Camellia - and more.
Photo courtesy of Monrovia

Those are the words of Nicholas Staddon, director of new plants at Monrovia, the world’s leading plant grower and a name we all associate with quality. I smiled politely when I heard his words – he is a fellow Brit after all so I can excuse his eccentricities and excitability. It did pique my curiosity, however, and I have to admit I now agree with him!

Winter blooming camellias (Camellia sasanqua cultivars) offer us color in the darkest months of the year with 'Yuletide' being the most popular variety, boasting bright red flowers and a huge boss of yellow stamens just in time for the holidays. Deep green, glossy leaves set off the festive display.

But just when you thought you had seen the best, Pink Yuletide comes along. As its name suggests, it also blooms around Christmas and has equally beautiful flowers, but this time in a clear pink. Here’s the big difference though –  it is one of the very few fragrant camellias!  It promises to be a real winner, growing 8-10’ tall and wide which makes it suitable for training as an espalier against a wall or trellis or leaving to grow as a large rounded bush. Should you prefer to keep it shorter simply  prune when it has finished blooming. I am using one in a winter container garden design, tucking euonymus 'Emerald gaiety' (Euonymus fortunei) underneath for an additional splash of color. This pretty green and white variegated shrub blushes rosy shades of pink when the temperatures drop, which will create a pretty color echo.

'Emerald gaiety' euonymus blushes prettily in winter
Photo credit; 

This healthy shrub is hardy in zones 7-10 and like all camellias needs fertile, acidic soil in partial sun although the winter blooming camellias can take a little more sunshine than the spring blooming species (Camellia japonica). 

What are you waiting for? Dash out to your local nursery NOW – this has just been distributed nationwide but as soon as word gets out there will doubtless be a rush!

If I haven’t convinced you yet, watch this short video clip about Monrovia’s new camellias and meet Nicholas himself. 

And yes he really does call it a ‘whizz-bang’ plant….

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Winter Blooming Plants for Hummingbirds

Anna's hummingbird stays year round in the Pacific Northwest
Photo credit; Mike Yip,

I was elbows deep in soil and roots when I heard the persistent whirring of tiny wings. Looking up I spotted an indignant hummingbird making it quite clear that she did not appreciate my removing the summer buffet from ‘her’ container gardens! Thankfully the homeowner had also provided a beautiful glass hummingbird feeder so this little prima donna could still have its nectar fest. It did start me wondering, however, what plants I could add to the garden – and container gardens, that would provide food for Anna’s hummingbirds which overwinter here in the Pacific Northwest.

Mahonia 'Charity'

Top of my list has to be the Oregon grape, specifically ‘Charity’ and ’Arthur Menzies’ (Mahonia x media). These evergreen, shade loving shrubs have stiff holly like leaves on strong stems. Fragrant, yellow flowers explode like yellow shuttlecocks in winter – an olfactory siren that has hummingbirds jostling for position. These are fabulous shrubs for large containers or an open woodland garden.

Several other shade plants are hummingbird favorites – fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca sp.) and our native salal (Gaultheria shallon) both have tiny bell shaped white flowers, dispelling the myth that hummingbirds only gravitate towards red flowers. Either they’re color blind or not as picky as we have been making them out to be.

'Arnold promise' witch hazel.
Photo credit; ngawangchodron

Likewise they are known to be attracted to tubular flowers yet the open faced blooms of both hellebores and camellias are popular, especially ‘Yuletide’ camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ ) with its large boss of yellow stamens surrounded by scarlet petals. Another surprise is their attraction to the spidery flowers of witch hazels (Hamamelis sp.). These open in mid-winter and perfume the air with a delicious spicy scent. Diane, Jelena and Arnold Promise are three deservedly popular varieties (of gardeners as well as feathered friends).

Kaffir lily (Schizostylis coccinea) seems to bloom year round which is great news for the hummingbirds. These spread easily to form colonies of spear shaped foliage. I especially like the variety ‘Oregon sunset’ with its deep coral flowers. It can be used to create a color echo under the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’) or to come up through a loose groundcover such as the delicate, white flowering geranium ‘Biokovo’.

Darwin barberry
Photo credit; David Fenwick

In full sun the Darwin barberry (Berberis darwinii) is sure to dazzle human and avian visitors alike with its bright orange flowers, and which together with the flowering currant (Ribes sp.) heralds the start of spring, welcoming the return of the migrating hummingbirds.

"Who took my begonias?"

Hummingbird feeders are easy to use and a good supplement to plants or as a way to show them where they are! I had been filling containers on this balcony with dozens of hummingbird favorites for several years, but it wasn’t until this red feeder was hung that they got the memo - and now enjoy nectar a la carte.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Garden magic – now you see it, now you don’t

Hidden in plain view!! I guess when you own rather than rent your propane
 tank you have more options.
Photo credit;

Sometimes you need to be a master of disguise, using a sleight of hand to create illusions to fool visitors. There are things to see and things to hide. Pleasant views, exciting combinations, elegant courtyards and sculptural topiary are all elements we want to share and draw attention to. But what about that ugly (but necessary) garden shed, the chain link fence which can’t be replaced, a rock retaining wall which threatens to turn your patio into a cave or the rented propane tank  which you have been told “can be painted any color, so long as it’s white”…..!

Construction of fences and trellises or planting extensive hedges is not always possible or desirable, so what other options are there?

Ground level
This 'Eichholz' cotoneaster will cover a large area
Photo credit; Monrovia

As a general rule I am not a fan of groundcovers since my priority is always to improve the soil and if it’s covered with plants I can’t add compost! However there are always exceptions and I recently found myself facing one of them. We have two pipes draining into a seasonal stream bed which in itself has fairly steep banks in places. So I had two problems – hiding the pipes themselves but also being aware of the risk of erosion. I didn’t feel the bank was stable enough to plant actually into the slope so opted instead to plant something at the top which would drape down. It had to be evergreen, deer resistant, cope with moist soil and be fuss-free. I chose ‘Eichholz’ cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Eichholz’). This fast growing evergreen shrub only grows 10-12” tall but can spread 8-10’ yet is easy to chop indiscriminately when you feel it has gone far enough. Growing from a woody stem this will not become invasive – a common concern with groundcovers. Large, bright green leaves turn shades of gold and orange in fall while white summer flowers followed by bright red berries giving this excellent four season interest.

An alternative which I considered was one of the box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) of which there are several ornamental varieties including ‘Lemon beauty’, 'Baggesen’s gold' and ‘Red tips’. The relative privet honeysuckle (Lonicera pileata) would also work. All of these get taller than the Cotoneaster so may be helpful where short vertical screening as well as horizontal spread is be required.

Blue flowering bugleweed carpets the
ground - it is actually disguising an old
well head!
Plants for soggy areas are relatively plentiful. I find bugleweed (Ajuga reptans varieties) a good choice since they do not self-seed but rather throw out new plants with shallow roots, making it easy to thin them out.

Going UP!

Certainly there are sheds of the palatial kind (see Debra Prinzing’s book Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways for inspiration) but there is also the eyesore variety. Or perhaps you have an old detached garage in the back garden – too small for today’s vehicles yet too useful to discard? Growing self-clinging vines up these can quickly turn them into an attractive, colorful backdrop but caution should be heeded. These can engulf the shed, the dog, and any passing children if it is not kept under control – you have been warned. 

Russian vine used to camouflage a shed

Even so the fast growing Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica syn. Polygonum aubertii, Polygonum baldschuanica), also called mile-a-minute vine for obvious reasons, can disguise ugly structures with abundant white flowers and luxurious, albeit deciduous foliage. 
This ugly duckling of a fence is transformed by the
addition of Boston ivy.

Likewise Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) can cling or twine – a great way to change a mundane chain link fence into a fiery fall display. In England these are popular growing up brick or stone buildings but care must be taken to keep them out of gutters and they can also compromise the integrity of the mortar.

For those in warmer climates the beautiful bougainvillea offers stunning summer blooms in magenta, yellow or orange.

Dry shade – where "nothing grows"

In the PNW we are blessed with an abundance of towering conifers – Douglas fir, Western red cedar and hemlocks to name a few. As majestic as these are, little will grow under their dense canopy and many homeowners dislike the bare ground.

The outstanding color of red bishop's hat in April.
I have been experimenting with a few solutions, bearing in mind that any selections I use also have to be deer and rabbit resistant, as well as relatively unscathed by slugs! A tall order to be sure, yet I have had the greatest success with bishop’s hat (Epimedium sp.) with red bishop’s hat (Epimedium x rubrum) faring the best. My hellebores are also doing nicely although strangely enough the new variety ‘Pink frost’ (Helleborus x ballardiae Gold Collection® Pink Frost) seems to be doing better than the more common oriental hellebore (Helleborus orientalis). 

Wintergreen is spreading easily under this pine tree.
Photo credit; Wild ginger farm
Native sword ferns, lady’s ferns and salal (Gaultheria shallon) are easy choices and remind us to look to nature when in need of inspiration. The groundcover relative of salal known as wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is thriving in areas which have some moisture but not so well in bone dry soil. Box honeysuckle mentioned above is very happy on the outer edges of these planting beds while snowy wood rush (Luzula sylvatica marginata) is multiplying with abandon in the deepest shade. Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) is also doing well in the least hospitable areas. 

In all cases I added compost to the planting pockets as well as a little bone meal to stimulate root production. I then just sat back and let them get on with it; survival of the fittest.

Rock walls; precipice or climbing wall?
Making the most of an imposing basalt retaining wall
Photo credit; David Beaulieu
Rock retaining walls can be an opportunity for a vertical rock garden if a little soil can be squeezed into the crevices. For softening smaller areas succulents and sedums provide interesting textures while aubrieta and basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis) may be used to brighten the spring garden with shades of purple and yellow. If you can plant the upper section of the wall, tuck in rock rose (Helianthemum nummularia) which will send out additional roots as it scrambles down the rock face. Evergreen foliage in shades of green or grey as well as late spring flower in every color from white, through pastels to shocking pink transform such walls into a tapestry of color.

'Absolutely amethyst' is an outstanding new variety
of  candytuft from Proven Winners
Photo credit; Proven Winners.
Perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is an old fashioned favorite although benefits from shearing after flowering which may not be possible if the wall is especially tall. Don’t forget the new variety by Proven Winners ‘Absolutely amethyst’ if you prefer lavender over white.

Another favorite of mine is the Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) which smothers its soft green leaves in periwinkle blue bells for weeks. This spreads easily wherever it can get a root hold so one inexpensive plant can cover a good sized space in no time.

If you can’t disguise the wall from the top, perhaps you can place something at the base? The self-clinging climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) has large white summer blooms and even when the leaves have fallen the pealing bark provides interest. Hydrangea seemannii  and Hydrangea integrifolia are similar but evergreen. All of these are slow to get established, often taking 3-4 years until they flower.

A stand of tall, erect grasses such as ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) can give three season interest too, their fall plumes lasting well into winter.

Poles, boxes, tanks and more

Dead bushes aren't doing a lot to disguise the various
utility boxes!
Utility boxes, transformers, generators and propane tanks are necessary for many but not exactly  a prime design feature. They offer the additional challenge of having to remain accessible. Robust evergreens growing to 3-4’ help here; 
'Sky pencil' Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) and 'Greenspire' Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus) work well, or for a softer look delavayi osmanthus (Osmanthus delavayi ) can be pruned or allowed to grow into its natural loose mound. Spring fragrance is a bonus.

Those to avoid

The term ‘invasive’ can be misleading since what is on the ‘do not use’ list in one State or country may be perfectly well behaved in another.

Here in the Seattle area I avoid the use of ivy (Hedera helix) and periwinkle (Vinca species) as ground covers since they are a nightmare to get rid of and in the case of ivy can seriously damage our trees. Likewise running bamboo must be contained within a strong barrier to keep it in check.

Plan of attack

First identify your problem and decide if you need year round screening or if the offending view is only an issue when you are sitting outside during the warmer months. Next assess the soil and sun situation. Make your short list of candidates and check your selection against local invasive lists or with knowledgeable staff at your extension agency or garden nursery.

Abracadabra! -  enjoy your new view.

Other posts you may find helpful;

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Plants with Attitude

Love the color, size and shape - but the smell???
One of the many spurge - Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
Photo credit;

Have you ever looked around surreptitiously and wondered where that awful smell was coming from?

Have you seen seriously weird plants and wondered who on earth would plant them?

Welcome to the world of funky plants – weird anomalies of Nature. In the gardening blogosphere most posts are about nice plants; sculptural beauties, delicate perfume, well behaved, plays-nicely-with-others type of plants. Consider this a step into the dark side.

Fragrance vs. Stench
Just be thankful this isn't
'scratch and sniff' - Dragon arum

I mean honestly, do you want your garden to smell like rotting flesh? Well if so I have the perfect candidate - the Dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris). I can’t describe it any better than Seattle author Valerie Easton; “This smells as if it's lived off spoiled meat for centuries and looks as if it has pushed its way up from the underworld. Black-red hooded flowers and a long black tongue complete the disgusting picture”. Ick.

Perhaps that is a bit extreme and you’d prefer the less pungent smell of a wet dog? Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) will fit the bill nicely, especially after a hard freeze. It took me years to work that one out.

Spurge (Euphorbia sp.) is another case in point. These have more of a nose-wrinkling skunky smell.  Place them with care i.e. not by your front door unless you want to keep away unwelcome visitors.

Just add jam; the peanut butter plant.
Photo credit; Heronswood.

Now for something which smells interesting rather than nasty, what about the smell of peanut butter? You have your choice here with either peanut butter plant (Melianthus major) or harlequin glorybower (Clerodendron trichotomum). Both exude this unexpected smell when the leaves are crushed. Don’t like peanut butter? Well then don’t bruise the leaves…

Bad hair day?
If people can resemble their dogs why can’t plants resemble their caregivers? Having curly hair I can completely identify with the lesser corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’) or for hat hair days the whipcord arborvitae  (Thuja plicata 'Whipcord') has an unnerving resemblance. Actually that may remind you more of the drummer Ringo Starr in his Beatles heyday. Both look great in one of those head shaped planters – the plants, not Ringo.

Punk horticulture.
What do you think of if I say “punk rockers”? To me it’s nose rings, black make up and SPIKES. For those of us who have ever gone blackberry picking, it is hard to imagine there is a redeeming quality about thorns. Yet there are some shrubs whose sharp talons deserve a closer (careful) look. Whilst enjoying exploring a friend’s garden one day, I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of a tall arching shrub with a seriously wicked attitude.  I had only seen the wingthorn rose (Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis pteracantha) in books before and never quite understood why anyone would want to purchase, let alone don full body armor to plant such a rose.

Beauty or beast? Wingthorn rose.

The small white fragrant flowers appear briefly in May, followed by glossy red hips amongst the small fern-like leaves. However, the most decorative features are the large, ruby red thorns marching down the length of each stem, resembling the plates on a stegosaurus. When lit from behind these glow like stained glass, making this unusual rose a striking focal point.

The wicked Malevolence
Photo credit; Nancy Ondra

Another candidate for this spiky category would be the super-thorny white arching canes of ghost brambles (Rubus cockburnianus). Several members of the Solanum genus, (which includes gentler fruit such as the tomato) also have aggressively sharp thorns thickly lining the stems and even the undersides of the leaves. ‘Malevolence’ (Solanum atropurpureum ) lives up to its name with delicate buttery yellow flowers distracting the unwary gardener while sinking its long purple spikes deep into gloveless hands.

Did he drown or was he frozen?
'Dead mans fingers'
Photo credit - Bluebell nursery

Just plain strange.
For the more timid gardener there is always the delightful sounding dead man’s fingers (Decaisnea fargesii). Think swollen, bright blue, knobbly seed pods hanging from branches or go for the wire netting plant (Corokia cotoneaster) with its twisting and interlacing black branches.

Dare to be different and add a new kind of talking point!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Change in Perspective - our new arbor

The finished arbor frames a willow leaf pear.
There is still a lot of planting to be done but we will
leave the arbor free of vines so we can enjoy
the structure itself.
Archways and arbors are useful transitions in garden design, making a clear statement that one is entering a new area. They can mark the initial entrance into the garden from the street or driveway, or be used within the garden itself to indicate the beginning of a new journey – into a kitchen garden or woodland glade perhaps.

Many homeowners will head to the nearest garden center to select something suitable, but options there are limited to what the buyer considered would be popular and sell easily. Finding or creating something unique may take a little longer but it needn’t be expensive or difficult.

Perhaps the hardest part of the design process is letting go of preconceived ideas of what such a structure should look like. Certainly here in the Pacific Northwest, cedar archways and arbors are popular, and we have designed several for clients. They are sturdy, rot resistant and relatively easy to construct. Trellis panels can be added to the sides for depth and interest and the ‘roof’ can be horizontal, peaked or arched.

However we faced an interesting challenge in our own garden recently. We needed to mark the entrance to a new island border which measures 100’ x 50’ and sits within our fairly open 5 acre property. A simple wooden archway would look ‘lost’ and even a deeper arbor wouldn’t give us the appropriate scale. We didn’t want the feature to appear visually heavy or an enclosure yet it needed to be substantial. After endless sketches, brainstorming and online searches we came up with a design that we felt would work. We would build three separate arches but link them together in such a way that the entrance still felt open and airy.

We worked out the spacing of the posts by placing
empty plant pots on the ground! The final height
at the apex is around 9.5'

We (this would be the Royal ‘we’!) set three, 6” diameter, ~7’ tall Redwood posts on each side of a 5’ wide path and spaced them 4’ apart. My husband Andy used a pipe bender to form four Rebar semicircles to span each pair of posts. Between these he welded shorter pieces of Rebar both for structural integrity and architectural interest, as well welding a rusted metal hoop at the apex as a kind of inverted finial.

Then came the fun part! The tops of the posts were drilled and the ends of the arches inserted. Believe me that sounds much easier than it actually was! At one point Andy was swinging like a monkey from one of the posts to force the Rebar into its allotted hole! Well at least I thought it was funny…

Detail of the metal arches

Then we needed a way to connect the three arches so that it became a single unit for visual impact. We settled on 1.25” thick manila rope (also known as hemp) which we ordered from a marine supply store. We threaded this through metal hoops (purchased at a local feed store and rusted for a few days in vinegar) and allowed a gentle swag.

Rope swags and collars were the final elements.

The best designs are those which are modified as you go and it was at this point we decided to add a rope collar, this time using 0.75” manila, to the top of each pillar.

We LOVE the end result. The variety of materials and textures makes it interesting while the rustic finish is in keeping with our rural property. Being one for detail, I also like the way the twists of the rope repeat those of the Rebar.

It may have taken longer than a quick visit to the garden center and was certainly more work but we created something unique that is perfectly suited to the location. And although the materials came from several sources, none were expensive.

Most landscape companies have a woodworker as part of their team and designers spend hours gleaning new ideas, so even if you’re not a DIY person you can still create something custom. Take a moment to consider your options before you go shopping.