Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Global Gardening

To sit and to share - the essence of a garden.
 My design.

Gardeners are friendly people. We share seeds, plants and ideas freely – often over a cup of tea while visiting one another’s Eden. While our gardens have been designed to suit our own personal tastes and needs, we covet the approval of others and are thrilled when someone else glimpses our vision.

Many of my closest friends and special memories are associated with gardening. My post ‘Ramblings of a romantic gardener’ will introduce you to a few. However, with the miracle of the internet I have met many more wonderful gardeners around the world who share my passion and I just know that if we ever have the opportunity to meet in person we will instantly become the best of friends. How did I find them? Through a fascinating site called Blotanical, developed by Stuart Robinson from Western Australia.

Marvel at the butterflies of Mumbai, India with Sunita
Photo credit; The Urban Gardener
Blotanical (blog/botanical) invites garden bloggers like me to register their blog on this site and become part of a global network of fellow enthusiasts. From this database anyone can explore thousands of blogs based on geographical location, name, by popularity or content. I have admired the dragonflies of Mumbai in ‘The Urban Gardener’ and virtually-visited South Africa with ‘Elephant’s Eye’ to gaze in wonder at the wildlife and exquisite native flora. There are blogs focused on homesteading, organic gardening, landscape design and personal anecdotes as everyday folks enjoy their gardens. In other words there is something for everyone.

An armchair safari to South Africa
Photo credit; Elephant's Eye
We don’t all look for the same thing in a ‘good’ blog, any more than we all like the same gardening magazine or book. Personally I enjoy well written text supported by high quality photographs over say a photo essay with minimal text. I love to learn and revel in exploring new areas, new ideas and new techniques. However, I also enjoy the more reflective posts, especially those which celebrate the breathtaking beauty which surrounds us.

With that said I’d like to introduce you to three of my new gardening friends and their blogs, all of which I found through Blotanical. I feel a strong connection to these women. Although they live thousands of miles away I have strolled through their gardens with them, admired the new plants they have added, made notes on some of their ingenious ideas and chatted (online) about our shared experiences. The only thing missing is that cup of tea – and I hope that one day we may be able to share that too. Let me introduce them to you;

Take a journey with Deb's Garden
Photo credit; Deb's Garden
Deb’s Garden; Deb Elliott has gardened in Helena, Alabama since 1985 so we are treated to enjoying a garden nurtured and molded over several decades. This is a blog for plant and nature lovers. Deb takes us through her majestic woodland garden to see the fall color showing us how she has used the color blue to tie it all together in ‘The Secret of my Woodland Garden’. This is an unexpected choice that works so well I am going to copy it! She tells hilarious stories such as ‘The War of the Planter’ , invites us to join her in a glider plane adventure as she soars above the Hiwassee River in Tennessee (Fall Foliage by Trains and Glider Plane) and gives us permission to stand still and appreciate the wonders of Nature with her exquisite macro shots of spiders spinning their webs, luscious leaves backlit by the slanting, watery rays of fall sunshine and shiny acorns still snuggled in their knobby cups (September Plans and an Alien in my Garden). When I read Deb’s Garden I seem to breathe a little slower as I stroll around the garden with her, savoring all that Nature has to offer. Without a doubt, we are kindred spirits.

Who can fail to be moved by such natural
Photo credit; Microcosm
Microcosm is written by Stacy from Albuquerque, New Mexico – a place I have never visited but is now firmly on my wish list! Her awe inspiring photographs of a recent trip to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument are to blame. The images of wind chiseled rocks and deep canyons combined with her expressive writing allow us to experience this surreal landscape no matter where we live. An amusing yet poignant post ‘Pre-emptive Strikes’ is another favorite of mine as Stacy shares her dismay at her damaged desert olive trees in August. Disease? Caterpillars?  No – but you’ll have to read the article to find out what was responsible for such devastation – and why she didn’t mind. Stacy’s eloquent narrative deserves to be read slowly, allowing time to savor each reflection before moving on.

Explore the Irish hedgerows of Foxglove Lane
Photo credit; Foxglove Lane
Foxglove Lane comes from the garden of Catriona Ni Draoi (the Gaelic translation of Catherine Drea)  down a winding country lane in Ireland where she celebrates the “ordinary, everyday stuff of rural life”.  She shares the treasures to be found in the Irish countryside through the lens of her camera in ‘Hedgerows of silver and white as everything, including me goes to seed....’ (This is another phenomenal photographer I might add). We can sit with her at the little lake she enjoys every day from her window, sharing in the simple thrill of watching herons fly by and the sun go down in ‘For once the little lake gets a starring role’.  And we can marvel at the beauty of the tiny birds which visit – and laugh at the patience required to photograph them in ‘Bird photography may require a bit more patience than I have......’

In the future I’ll introduce you to some more of my favorites as there are far more than just these three and I feel bad about not including them all at once. However I want to invite you to visit these gardeners first and to see our amazing world through their eyes, their words and their images.

Remember you can head over to Blotanical and do a little exploring on your own too. I suggest you start in the section ‘Most faved blogs’ (I know the grammar is horrendous; Australian-Blotanical language, not mine!). Just dip in here and there and see what draws you.

Share your favorites!

Related, nature-inspired posts from my own blog which you might enjoy;

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beyond Poinsettias

The marbled, heart shaped foliage of the cyclamen contrasts
beautifully with the smaller leaved coastal rosemary
(Westringia frucitosa).
My design

I used to love Poinsettias. From traditional red and creamy white to vibrant pinks and dusky burgundy. There are speckled ones, variegated ones, big ones and little ones. Surely something for everyone; the perfect hostess gift or table centerpiece. Yes I used to love them – until I worked at a nursery where I had to hand water thousands of them every day. It was at that point my affection began to wane and I begged my confused husband NOT to get me any more!  

So what other festive plants are there to add a little holiday spirit to our homes?
Florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) are as popular for their striking variegated foliage as they are for their large flowers in shades of red, white, magenta or pink. These can bloom for many weeks in a cool, brightly lit room or outside on a covered, protected porch. Do not try to water these ‘overhead’. Rather, when the potting medium feels dry to the touch, place the plant in a shallow bowl of water for 10 minutes, allow to drain then return to its decorative container. As each flower fades, nip it off cleanly at the base with a small pair of scissors or gently pull the entire stem away.

The double flower of the Christmas cactus
almost looks like a fuchsia.
Photo credit;
My Mum always had a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) in full bloom for the holiday season and it just got bigger and better every year. I suspect most of us have memories of ‘Grandma’s cactus’ which seemed to be as much a Christmas tradition as the tree itself. This might be the perfect choice for your brown-thumbed gardening friends as Christmas cacti prefer to be root bound can tolerate some neglect providing they have bright, indirect light. A profusion of tubular flowers covers this houseplant for several weeks over the Christmas period; select one which has plenty of buds for the longest lasting display.

'Jacob' hellebore in a simple mixed design
Photo credit; Skagit Gardens
I love to use hellebores in the shade garden but there are a couple of varieties which make perfect indoor specimens too. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) 'Gold Collection' grown by Skagit Gardens features several outstanding varieties. A favorite at this time of year is ‘Jacob’ with its pure white, slightly fragrant blooms held above sturdy burgundy stems. These are set off by handsome dark green foliage making a nice compact variety just 12-13” wide and 10-12” tall. Placed in a simple basket with a delicate fern and decorative bow, this would make a beautiful hostess gift and take only minutes to assemble. It can then be planted outside after the holidays where it will continue to grow and multiply; the gift that keeps on giving!

Orchids may not immediately come to mind when we think of a holiday plant yet their sculptural form makes them perfect for an elegant display. The Phalaenopsis orchids are the easiest to grow (even I can keep them alive long enough to enjoy them over Christmas). Place a white orchid, still in its nursery pot, in the center of a clear glass bowl and surround this with small silver baubles. Or incorporate your own holiday colors into the scheme – red and gold or copper and teal for example. I also like to replace the usual grower’s stake with curly willow and re-tie the orchid with a small piece of ribbon or raffia. This works nicely into the display and is much more artistic than a bright green stick and plastic clip!

A stunning gift - if you can bear to part with it.
Photo credit;
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.) are perhaps the showiest of the holiday plants with multiple, impossibly large blooms borne on fleshy, thick stems. In festive colors of red and white, with several bi-colored varieties, these have true party spirit.

Remember if this is to be a hostess gift, it is hard for your friends to stop what they are doing to find a suitable decorative container and even harder to remember where the protective trivets are! Select a simple pot to set off the plant of your choice and present it together with a cork or acrylic trivet to protect polished furniture. Your thoughtfulness will be much appreciated! Finally include a care sheet for watering – your garden nursery should be able to provide this or they can be found online.

Poinsettias are a beautiful, traditional way to celebrate the season. But if your friends have over-indulged they may be glad of something a little different this year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


There is a quiet beauty as early morning mist clings to the meadow.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a time to acknowledge our blessings and an opportunity to spend time with friends and family.

I have been pondering how to write this Thanksgiving post for a several days. I could give you a long list of all that I am thankful for but I wanted to try and condense it into a single word.


That’s not to say my life is one serene moment after another, with never a frazzled balance between work, home and garden. The endless remodeling projects both inside and out certainly take their toll as I battle drywall dust on the piano and enough dog fur floating daily on the floor to knit several sweaters.

Yet as I sit typing this on a misty morning, I can look out of the window to our meadow, backed with the glowing yellow leaves of cottonwoods set against a backdrop of towering Western red cedar and Douglas fir. Our favorite western hemlock stands majestically in the foreground and an old snag, a favorite perch of red tailed kites and other birds of prey stands sentinel as though guarding the entrance to wilder areas beyond.

Seasonal ponds become places of beauty when highlighted by
a dusting of snow.

A seasonal pond is beginning to fill once more with the fall rains, the wetland reeds partially immersed providing habitat for our tiny Pacific tree frogs and salamanders.
No human sounds break the spell.  Rather we can only hear early morning birdsong, the distant crowing of a rooster and gentle bleating from a neighbor’s sheep.

I stand still and breathe deeply. This is what we sought when we moved here. A sense of space. Natural beauty that is ever changing yet always delights us. This land draws us home. We are so incredibly blessed to be able to experience


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fall Color – in unexpected places

At this time of year you can browse just about any gardening magazine or blog and be treated to a veritable smorgasbord of luscious fall plantings. From a humble perennial garden where the thrill of watching a hosta turn gold is reason enough to grab a camera to breathtaking vistas that stretch as far as the eye like a carefully woven tapestry. All are cause for celebration and appreciation.

I visited Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle for the first time just a few days ago. We’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost 16 years and thought I had discovered all the major gardening highlights. Yet this visit made it abundantly clear that I was very much mistaken.

Photo credit;
The conservatory was designed by the Olmsted brothers and is modeled on Crystal Palace in London. With its classic white Victorian architecture I almost expected to see crinoline-clad ladies with parasols strolling leisurely inside. In fact, this being Seattle, it was more fleece and Gore-Tex, but the strolling was at least the same as we all wanted to savor the treasures within.

Collections of exotic ferns, orchids and tropical plants were magnificent, but also what I expected to find within the steamy interior. What was a total surprise was the ‘color house’ with its magnificent display of chrysanthemums, coleus, sweet potato vines and grasses blasting out fall color in brazen waves. The effect was of one continuous container garden on steroids – and then some. Distinct color themes of dusky purples and honey tones, and vibrant pumpkin teamed with citrus shades were intertwined with a sprinkling of rich burgundy transforming this glass house into a fall rainbow.

As a designer who loves to work with color I was excited to be excited! Countless combination possibilities surrounded me and had me being thankful that I used a digital camera – with plenty of memory cards! These ideas will be a wonderful inspirational springboard for next year. 
Such mature plantings also helped me to see the potential in some varieties of coleus which I had dismissed as seeming too dull June. The foliage of ‘Moonglow’ opposite is a muted mustard color and a perfect example of a coleus which I passed up in favor of bolder shades. Each perfectly scalloped leaf is brushed with raspberry, a color which is repeated on the undersides. This display showed me that in fact it is a perfect partner to other antique shades and has really come into its own in fall when paired with the warm shades of chrysanthemums and contrast added by the darker purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) and Cordyline.

Thankfully I photographed the tag. This is
Mammilaria elongata 'Irish red'. Looks like lots of
wiggly worms to me!
Almost ready to leave we entered the final section of the conservatory – the succulent house, home to dozens of cacti and succulents from fat barrel cactus to tall Opuntia which grows so quickly they have to be trimmed annually just to keep them inside! Here was my final surprise – cacti in fall color! I‘m no expert on cacti – or indoor plants of any kind. I kill them before I even get them home. Yet here were green ones, blue ones, spotted ones and speckled ones. However, I have never seen a fiery red one before - and I found two! In fact one looked like an overstuffed  Woolly Bear caterpillar, ubiquitous in the garden at this time of year with its fuzzy black and umber banded body.

The 'Woolly Bear' cactus would be a much easier name
than Mammilaria rhodantha ssp. fera-rubra
Cactus or creature?? The REAL
Woolly Bear caterpillar

So while this is yet another article on the colors of fall I hope you enjoy this little excursion away from Japanese maples and dogwood trees. I love them as much as the next person. 

But I also love to be surprised.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Confessions of a Plant Whisperer

I may have mis-led you in my last post ‘Perfection in its Imperfection’. I have far more sad looking trees than just that Hinoki. Some I have excuses for. Some I don’t.

So in the interest of full disclosure, and by way of thanks to all those of you who have emailed me to offer stories of encouragement I bring you Frank.

Orphaned at a tender young age.
Rejected by hundreds.
Left to die in a corner.
A foreigner in a strange county (he is Austrian by birth).
Should do well in a loving home.
‘Frank’ Austrian black pine (Pinus nigra ‘Frank’).

(and yes this was another of my …”I think it needs me” purchases).

And then there are the assorted misfits thanks to non-selective deer pruning.

Meet ‘Stubby’ the Sekkan-sugi (Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan-sugi'). In his earlier life he shone like a golden beacon in this mixed border. Alas he shone a little too bright and the deer got him.

I have a dogwood with a Mohawk – the most two dimensional dogwood I have ever seen. Guess which way the deer pass by?

Now I should have known better when I planted the ninebark ‘Coppertina’ (Physocarpus opulifolius), but I was caught up in the moment as I saw its gorgeous foliage catch the light. The deer saw it too. It now looks like a funky brown poodle. A big pom-pom with two very tall ears. (Until very recently it was a nice tall shrub).

I think the Heuchera are just an experiment. After all the deer could have eaten them to stubs but seemed to have stopped after eating about a third of the plant. Or about one third of each of three plants to be exact. If more damage is done I’ll move them but I’m curious to find out what the deer’s decision is. The name of this variety is ‘Peach flambé’; guess they must have been dessert after the dogwood.

So there are the 'Charlie Browns' we have to take responsibility for because we bought them that way, and there are those which were in our care at the time of their mutilation. Either way they are conversation pieces.

But just how much conversation does one garden need….

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Perfect in its Imperfection.

Only a parent could love it. Or as Charlie Brown would say
"..... I think it needs me".

I’m my own worst enemy. I love inviting visitors into the garden yet I want them to see my garden at its best – which is going to be a very long wait considering all the major renovations we deem necessary. I’m embarrassed at the thought of someone thinking that we are happy with the garden in its current condition – or worse that I designed it this way! Unexpected guests are subjected to a litany of apologies and explanations as I desperately try to make our vision clear. I can relax a little with friends who have known me for some time and have seen our makeovers before. At least they know theoretically that we can transform this waterlogged bramble patch into something special. Whether of course they believe it is possible in this instance I have no idea! No, my real worry-meter goes into the red zone with those who visit for the first time.

Yet I know I'm being silly. Let’s face it if they see it at its worst they can’t fail to be impressed in a couple of years can they? I should be embracing the opportunity to have them join us on this adventure. I’m not going to hand them a shovel but I’ll certainly be glad of their cheerleading from time to time!

So why are we so embarrassed by anything less-than-perfect?

Damaged it may be, but valueless it is not.
Green garden, Dallas, TX

As I lay down on the ground to take a photo of a chipped green urn I am quite sure other garden visitors thought I had totally lost my mind. Yet I was drawn to the way this humble vessel perfectly worked with its surroundings and was enhanced by them. The weathered brick pathway echoed the color of the unglazed clay, revealed where the pot had been fractured and the deep green glaze drew my attention to the lines of grass growing between the pavers. Perfect harmony achieved between two imperfect elements.

Is every tree and shrub in your garden ‘perfect’?  We have a rather sad looking golden Hinoki cypress in our garden (see top photo). It has been used in various container gardens for five years, was fostered temporarily by friends, moved house and after an initial false start has now found what my husband hopes will be its final resting place. You would expect after going to such trouble that this would be a stellar specimen. It’s not. In fact it’s a seriously ‘Charlie Brown’ tree*. 

The branches are sparse (some have broken, some were never there), the shape uneven and many patches are devoid of foliage altogether giving it the appearance of an old mangy dog. The color varies from bleached white to green rather than warm golden hues, making the whole tree look startled.  Yet we have tucked our Charlie Brown behind a nice boulder, added a low pine at its base and describe it as having ‘aspiring Japanese aesthetic’. Sculptural. Interesting.  It’s worked hard to get this far so we’ll give it a chance. (Even the deer walk right past it, however,  and they love Hinoki….)

Stark beauty.
At least the Hinoki is still alive, but do you save dead trees too? I have told you before how the highlight of our new garden was an incredible, very dead and very large big maple tree (Acer macrophyllum). Bleached white, startling against a grey winter sky, a giant pecking post for woodpeckers, we may not have planted it but it serves many purposes and thus has an intrinsic value. We also have the remains of an old Rhododendron, long deceased; probably due to excessive flooding over the years. Most people would have ripped it out to plant something new. To me it looks like a piece of coral and I love growing foxgloves through it in spring.

This Rhododendron may no longer be living yet it
 supports the life of others.
And then there are the Mutants. Not a science fiction story, but certainly one where botanical scientists have taken unusual plant mutations to bring us some spectacular new varieties. Witches brooms are strange, congested, twiggy growths which occur on trees, especially conifers and many of these are now coveted dwarf cultivars. The popular birds nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) was discovered as a witches broom on the Norway spruce (Picea abies) for example.

A snowy sculpture - the corkscrew
hazel shows off its true beauty when bare.
 One of Nature's 'mistakes' has
become a gardeners favorite.
Photo credit; 

Contorted branches such as ‘Twisty baby’ dwarf black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace lady’) or corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) have been painstakingly bred from the ‘perfect’ form. The latter was found growing in a hedge in the 1800s and has been propagated by grafting ever since. Our gardens, especially in winter would be less exciting without them.

A section from an old plum tree
gains new life and appreciation
Design by Andy Chapman

Burls are cankerous growths protruding from the bark of many trees and conifers. To the casual garden observer these benign tumors may appear unsightly. Yet hidden from view this rampant cell growth has produced a unique art piece, the twisting cell walls distorted and distended like a piece of pulled taffy creating beauty within the beast, a treasure waiting to be discovered in  the hands of a talented wood turner.

So my New Year resolution - in November - is to try to relax. It is what it is. It may not be perfect but this garden has character and personality. Like a parent I’ll try and train certain plants to play nicely with others and make it clear when they overstep the boundaries. At the end of the day though I love them all – and hope you’ll forgive a few imperfections.

* excerpt from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charlie Brown: I don't care. We'll decorate it and it'll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me.
 [picks up tree; a lot of needles fall off]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation

Sometimes it only takes a few simple changes to transform an outdoor space.

Gardens evolve; trees grow, shade patterns shift, personal tastes change and before you know it what once was beautiful looks tired and untidy.

Before -the two old arbors were beyond help. 
This garden surrounds a beautiful home in Bellevue, WA. The original landscaping was done 10 years ago and has been tweaked a few times since then. However the main garden border at the back of the home was in need of help. The arbors were sagging and the overgrown Armand’s clematis (Clematis armandii) which smothered them made the space feel dark and dated. Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomalis) had been added to fill in the back of these arbors but never bloomed so did nothing for the space. 

Two Hinoki cypresses had seen better days as they struggled with the reduced sunlight and of course there had been the endless ‘hole plugging’ that we are all partial to. In fact I am probably to blame for at least some of that. Whenever I removed something from the container gardens for this client I always asked if she would like it for the garden… So there was a hellebore here and a clump of mondo grass there resulting in a mish mash of plants.

Yet all this took was a little editing and the replacement of two arbors with something more modern to achieve an artistic, cohesive design. The new look better reflects both the homes traditional architecture and the homeowners desire for something “professional, clean and organized”.

Having designed container gardens at this home for several years I had a good sense of plant preferences, color palette and style. I was therefore asked to draw up a planting plan for a low maintenance design that would be mostly evergreen yet offer lots of color.

This is the 'Before' photo for the one
at the beginning of the post.
What a difference a little clean up can make.
When renovating a mature garden such as this one, it isn’t always necessary to draw a scaled plan. I simply took a series of photographs to work from and made notes on the health of plants, soil quality, key problem areas etc. By adding text to the images I was able to communicate my vision for a new planting plan effectively with the clients as well as Berg’s Landscaping who were going to be doing the installation and building the new arbors.

I started by removing all the little ‘bits’ which had been added over the years such as Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) together with the monster evergreen clematis, two sad looking Hinoki cypress and a few other underperforming shrubs and perennials.

I decided to keep the Aucuba, even though they look a bit spindly right now, as they are tough shrubs that pack a lot of color into a shady garden. I will prune them in spring to encourage more branching. Likewise the magnolia has seen better days but I am going to give it some TLC and see if it can’t be revived and returned to its former glory.

'Yuletide' camellia fulfills the request for color (with red
being the favorite), evergreen and easy care.

The plants which remained suggested a color scheme of yellow and green – a good start but not vibrant enough. With the Hinoki removed I needed to add two new substantial shrubs.  This was tricky. The Aucuba, Magnolia and ‘Charity’ Oregon grape (Mahonia x media) were all broadleaf evergreens so in theory I needed a new leaf shape and texture. The needled foliage of plum yew (Cephalotaxus) and yew (Taxus) would work in this setting but didn’t meet the request for color. I knew the homeowner’s favorite color was red so I decided on two ‘Yuletide’ camellias (Camellia sasanqua) with their striking red winter blooms, highlighted by a large central boss of yellow stamens.


The other major addition was the deciduous tree ‘Ruby vase’ Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica). This columnar variety is not well known yet it is an outstanding tree for narrow spaces. With rich fall color that lasts for many weeks, beautiful bark, red winter flowers and burgundy new growth in spring it was the perfect tree to replace an old Madrone, adding height as well as four season interest.

The new trellises completely change the whole look and feel of the back garden. Using cedar and recycled metal panels they have created unique focal points. Whereas the old arbors seemed dark and heavy these are light and airy. The addition of the rusted metal panels lends a modern touch without appearing too contemporary.

The exquisite perfume from the 'Cathedral
gem' sausage vine will add a new
dimension to the winter garden.
Photo courtesy of Riz Reyes

Such structures deserved a special vine yet there aren’t a lot of options for evergreen vines which bloom in the shade. I was excited therefore to hear about ‘Cathedral Gem’ sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) introduced as part of the Dan Hinkley collection this year by Monrovia. This beauty has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring, thrives in the shade and is hardy to zone 6. Of course as luck would have it, none were available locally and I needed four! Monrovia went out of their way to help me and the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA generously agreed to let me tag these onto his order so I could have them in time. Great team work – thank you!

Heuchera 'Tiramisu' adds a light note to the shady border

To add sparkle and color under each of these I selected the golden leaved Heuchera ‘Tiramisu’ to partner with ‘Pink frost’ hellebores and the transplanted black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) for a totally evergreen, modern combination. ‘Tiramisu’ is one of my top 10 ‘bullet proof’ plants, excelling in less than favorable conditions and with care takers who occasionally forget to care!

'Sweet tea' Heucherella offers a
distinctive coppery foliage,
adding interest to the
evergreen color scheme.
Being mindful of the request for color I also added clusters of the richly colored ‘Sweet tea’ Heucherella under the camellias. These large, bushy, evergreen perennials contrast well with the glossy camellia foliage while their deep red veins will form a subtle color echo with the Camellia blooms. 'Sweet tea' also blooms for months creating a delicate frothy appearance as their tiny white flowers dance on slender stems.

The finishing touch was to simply add more of the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to complete a sense of rhythm along the entire border length.

The container gardens were designed using the same color palette
as the backdrop, blending the two areas seamlessly. The 'Ruby vase'
Persian ironwood can be seen in fall color to the right of the photo.

The end result was fresh, colorful and interesting. Although new plants were added the look wasn’t fussy or overplanted but rather clean lined and tidy. It made sense.

Don’t be afraid of tackling the renovation of a mature garden border. Work with  a designer to create a master plan and bring new life to an outdated space.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The NEW Begonia boliviensis - hard to spell but easy to love.

Fuchsia like flowers are the highlight of this begonia.
Here 'Bonfire' tumbles over the edge of a summer container
with sedum 'Angelina'. My design
This may seem like a strange time of year to be talking about summer annuals, but by next April we will all have forgotten what we were especially thrilled with this season or what did not work so well. Plus I have some new ones to tell you about!

Every year I plant up hundreds of containers for clients as well as for our own home so I have plenty of opportunities to evaluate new varieties and combinations. To be worthy of ‘Karen’s elite list’  each plant has to be fabulous with little or no deadheading, cope with soggy summers or hot, dry spells (by Seattle standards at least) be disease resistant and bloom its socks off for months. Yes, I place high demands on my plants!

Splashes of orange from 'Bonfire' begonia,
 'Mandarin' ivy geranium and 'Apricot punch'
 million bells. My design
I first saw Begonia boliviensis at Heronswood Nursery in Kingston WA, home and garden nursery of renowned horticulturalist and plantsman Dan Hinkley. I was captivated by a huge container featuring the tropical looking peanut butter plant (Melianthus major).  This centerpiece was surrounded with what I thought were bright orange fuchsias, exploding like fireworks as they cascaded over the sides. After discovering that this was not a fuchsia at all but a type of tuberous begonia I then wanted to be sure to remember its name. Typically I didn’t have pen and paper with me so my daughter and I kept chanting “Begonia boliviensis, begonia boliviensis….” all around the garden so we didn’t forget what it was before we could write it down!

'Arakawa' Japanese maple surrounded by
'Bonfire' begonia, deep red coleus
 and sweet potato vines. My design

This Bolivian native is reported to be hardy to zone 7, which in theory means it should be hardy here. Somehow I doubt it. Our winters are far too wet to imagine it doing well and I don’t have time or inclination to overwinter the tubers so I’ll just have to allocate some of my annual plant budget to these beauties.

Drama with 'Diamond head' elephant ears.
(We didn't manage to use the fire pit
this year!) My design

Begonia boliviensis has become my #1 flowering summer annual for container garden design. I have grown the rich orange variety ‘Bonfire’ for several years, teaming it with blue wishbone flower (Torenia) in hanging baskets, ‘Henna’ coleus and ‘Crème brulee’ Heuchera in shade containers and black ‘Diamond head’ elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) in a fire pit which happened to be available at the time! I have even used it in full west facing exposures and it has still thrived. Each slender flower dangles like an open bell and with over a hundred blooms on a single plant it’s a siren for hummingbirds.

I don’t believe you can have too much of a good thing – think chocolate for example.  Or red wine. Or better still, both.

'Amour' Begonia boliviensis with gorgeous dark foliage.
Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

It is with that philosophy that I’d like to tell you about two new ‘Bonfire’ siblings. ‘Amour’ is being introduced next spring by the Ball Horticultural Company and Pan American seeds. It is heralded as being the most vigorous variety yet, with deep red flowers set off handsomely against dark foliage.

What about combining this with the perennial 'Electra' heuchera for a vivid gold and red combo in a shady container?

'Beni kaze' Japanese forest grass

Maybe add 'Beni kaze' Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) too?

'Santa Cruz sunset' can take the heat
Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

If you need something to take heat, humidity AND direct sun try ‘Santa Cruz sunset’, also being introduced in spring 2012, this time by Ernst Benary of America Inc. If ‘Bonfire’ is orange and ‘Amour is red then this combines the best of both in a fiery reddish-orange. It is so well natured it will even tolerate moderate drought – something to consider if you are a watering-challenged gardener. For a bright sunny combo I’d mix this with the heat loving ‘Samantha’ lantana which has lemon-and-lime variegated foliage and flat yellow flower heads. Or perhaps sedum ‘Angelina’ whose yellow succulent foliage takes on an orange cast as the season progresses.

Last year I ordered 40 ‘Bonfire’ begonia plants in advance for clients who loved them. I can see this year I’ll need to gather the whole family!