Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Plant To Make You Swoon - winter daphne

Photo credit

I’m a sucker for fragrance. I went into the store to buy cheese – and came out with a bunch of freesia. That was after driving ten miles out of my way to find white hyacinths in bloom for the containers by my front door. Well I didn’t find any hyacinths but I did find something else. Daphne.

I was like a dog sniffing  the air while a steak sizzled on the barbeque. Where was that delicious scent coming from though? I was standing amongst a group of grasses and I knew none of them had any fragrance; then I spotted them. A  row of winter daphne (Daphne odora marginata) were at least 30’ away and only a handful of the small flowers were open yet their scent wafted easily across the breeze, luring me mercilessly towards  them. Actually I restrained myself and came away without any. “What!” you cry. Well if I’m honest I had already purchased three large ones just a few days beforehand…

Billowing mounds of winter daphne - a taste of heaven ?
Photo credit
I’ve always loved these evergreen shrubs for their glossy green leaves edged with a soft yellow margin but of course they are best known for their intensely fragrant spring flowers. Rosy pink buds open to clusters of white flowers on mounding bushes. Typically these grow to 3’ tall and wide although I have a friend who by her own admission leaves her garden to fend for itself and her specimen is considerably larger. Typical.

Winter daphne has a reputation for being fickle so what are their growing requirements? Since these are new additions to my own garden I’ll have to share the information provided in reputable horticultural texts. All agree that these thrive in morning sun and afternoon shade – ideally dappled shade. However several of my nursery friends here in the Seattle area would insist that their Daphne do equally well in full sun. I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t burn in a full western exposure so do leave a comment below to share your experience.

For water – well if my gardening challenged friend is anything to go by they really don’t need fussing with. A decent, deep watering once or twice a week seems to be sufficient, avoiding either drought or drowning.

Breathe deeply...........
Photo credit
Which brings us to soil which should be moisture retentive rather than sandy. A yearly top dressing of compost is beneficial but once again my friend would indicate this is far from essential as I think her garden has only been given compost once in the 5 or so years I’ve known her!

Cold hardiness –the label says ‘zones 7-9’. A month ago I was in zone 7, at least theoretically, as I’m not sure that whoever drew up the old zoning map ever visited Duvall. I have always considered us zone 6 ¾ …. (correctly referred to as 6b but 6 ¾ is more descriptive don’t you think?). Anyway the powers that be recently reclassified the hardiness zones so without even moving house I am now officially in 8b. By definition that means our  average winter temperature ranges from 15-20F. I’m not convinced. This would suggest that my current Duvall garden has the same winter range as my previous garden (Kirkland) which was closer to the water. Yet even as I’m writing this is it snowing heavily here and Kirkland doesn’t have a single flake! Our spring bulbs also bloom at least 2 weeks later. Moreover I have plenty of gardening friends here in Duvall who would back me up in saying that there is no way we are in as mild a climatic zone as Kirkland and there are several plants which don’t survive here that flourished in my Kirkland home. I’d love to know what you think. Here’s a link to the new map. Regardless I’m going to try and grow them here!

Heuchera 'Berry smoothie' could make a
colorful partner and this variety tolerates
more sun than most.
Photo credit
Now for the fun part – selecting companions. By virtue of the delicate pink buds these winter daphne look perfectly placed adjacent to or beneath a dark leafed japanese maple, especially if it is a variety which has finely dissected foliage. Lower companions could include one of the pink or purple shades of coral bells (Heuchera) such as 'Midnight rose' or 'Blackcurrant', which would offer year round color since they are also evergreen. Interspersing these with clumps of white snowdrops would complete the vignette.

'Georgia peach' Heuchera snuggles up
to winter daphne and is joined by 'Pink
frost' hellebore, periwinkle and evergreen
grasses in this north facing container.
My design

Winter daphne should always be placed near a window or alongside a pathway so the fragrance can be appreciated but if you don’t have adequate planting space I have successfully grown them in containers. Sometimes you can find winter daphne grown as a short standard allowing them to be placed in the middle of a container leaving room for short mounding and trailing plants underneath. If space in the container is limited, height can be added by adding lengths of red twigs from shrub dogwood or coral bark maple.  Pussy willow stems would also be attractive and would balance the height of the design while keeping the focus on the daphne. Until recently winter daphne was only available in a 1 gallon size or larger but I recently found them in smaller pots, offering an opportunity for even the most petite designs.

One negative is that these shrubs dislike being transplanted, which is botanical speak for ‘they will pass out, shrivel up and die’. My answer is to site them carefully in the garden and move the pots around until you are sure you have found the perfect spot. For container plantings – enjoy them while you can. When they eventually outgrow their allotted space you may have to sacrifice their beauty. But by then you will definitely have had your monies worth. 

Think how many bunches of freesia you would have needed to buy to enjoy that much perfume.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Air Plants – easy plants for brown thumbs

Is this funky fish swallowing a green spider??? Read on...
Photo credit; Katie Chapman

There’s a reason why I subtitled my blog ‘for thumbs of all colors’. I have one which is a pretty decent green and one a nasty mud color. The latter is due to my complete ineptitude to keep indoor plants alive. I’m so busy working in the garden that it doesn't even cross my mind to check on any plants which might be foolish enough to try and take up residence in our nice cozy home.

Hence my interest in air plants – and it would seem I’m not alone. These feisty little chaps were seen strutting their stuff all over the recent Northwest Flower and Garden Show not to mention in fashionable retail stores and nurseries across the United States. Maybe for once in my life I am at the forefront of a new trend.

So what’s the big deal? Well they don’t need soil. Or a plant pot. Or much water. Just a little spritz every now and then will do. Sounds like my kind of plant.

Air plants (botanically known as Tillandsia) gather their water and nutrients from the air rather than soil in the form of dust (now there’s a good reason they’d thrive here), decaying leaves and insect matter and are typically found growing on other plants in their native tropical and subtropical environment.

Clear hanging bubbles make a great display.

Looking like overzealous spiders these may be fleshy or more grass-like in appearance. They are epiphytes which means that their roots are used solely to anchor the plants to rocks or trees. In fact you may have seen a type of air plant in the wild – Spanish moss, also known as Old Man’s Beard trailing from the branches of evergreen oak trees in the Southern United States.

Create a miniature tablescape

Although the most popular way to display air plants is within a terrarium or miniature glass house, I have been advised that this is not ideal as a long term solution as air plants really do need good air circulation. Figures. So find a brightly lit spot, out of direct hot sun and be prepared to squirt them liberally with water 1-3 times a week depending upon the ambient temperature and humidity (and conscientiousness of their owners). 

To encourage flowers they should be fertilized monthly in spring and summer with a ¼ strength solution of a high phosphorous fertilizer. (The fertilizer label has three numbers such as 2:4:2 with the middle number indicating the phosphorous content). That might be expecting a bit much of my indoor gardening skills, however!

Combine different colors and textures

There are lots of fun ways to display these little treasures – nestled in seashells, within diminutive wicker baskets or alongside interesting pieces of driftwood and decorative pebbles as a table centerpiece.

I may have finally found a houseplant that can withstand moderate neglect. 

All I need now is a plant that can live on dog fur as well as dust.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Garden Swings for Grown Ups (who are still children at heart)

A beautiful artistic interpretation of a garden swing for two
Sitting Spiritually

A place to ponder, to absorb the surroundings, listen to the birds, sip a glass of wine with friends; experiencing a garden is an essential part of design and creating a place to sit is one way to achieve this. Yet what about a place not only to sit but also to swing?

We can learn so much from a child
Photo credit and thanks!

I came across this photograph again recently. Little Lilly shows pure joy as she watches the clouds through the canopy of the great cedar tree in our garden. Indeed this image was the inspiration for a post I wrote some time ago; Through a Child’s Eyes. Yet swings aren’t just for children.

A single oak plank hanging from an old apple tree may not appeal to us today, if only because we require a greater degree of comfort! Yet whether your garden style is rustic or contemporary there is a swing that will blend perfectly and afford you such simple pleasures.

A perfect spot to enjoy a perfect view

The classic porch swing never seems to get old. Natural stain or painted wood finishes, adorned with comfy cushions or faded quilts, they beckon like no other as a cosy place to while away a few hours. They offer a gathering place or quiet solitude.

This dark rattan pod chair can be
used with or without a frame.

Weather resistant rattan and wicker have become popular materials for outdoor furniture in recent years and many companies offer hanging chairs to match. These may be hung from the overhead rafters of a pergola or suspended from their own frame – a perfect option for patios or open grassy areas.

Copper cocoon
Design by Steve Myburgh

If you really like to think outside-the-swing so to speak what about these unusual copper cocoons by artist Steve Myburgh. Featured at the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show these generated lots of interest. I have to wonder how they would fare in extreme heat so perhaps such materials need to be reserved for shadier spots.

An updated version of the canopied swing

In fact many swings offer the additional benefit of shade by virtue of an overhead canopy or frame – an important consideration as we become more mindful of the harmful effects of toasting our skin under the hot summer rays.

The perfect lullaby

Find yourself slipping into a gentle slumber as you rock back and forth? Why not take the swing concept a step further and incorporate a swinging bed?! What a fabulous way to watch the stars on a clear summers night.

This globe chair offers luxurious comfort and
architectural style

As you select garden furniture, whether you need an entire set for a patio or just a special bench to tuck into a shady corner, consider the gentle movement of a swing and allow yourself to relive that lost art of just ‘being’.

In a fast paced, multi-tasking world leave your laptop, iPad and cell phone indoors and simply swing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Winter Walk

My daughter, Katie had the opportunity to explore the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum a few days ago. Originally designed and planted in 1949 it has gone through several renovations – encouragement for all those of us who have to periodically edit and re-think our own gardens!

I found the photographs she took a wonderful inspiration for new winter ideas in my own garden which I thought you would also enjoy.

My clients often tell me that what they love most about my landscape and container garden designs is the way I combine plants to achieve beautiful color echoes and memorable vignettes. If I’m honest, however, I tend to focus on spring and summer combinations yet these images have reminded me of the extraordinary beauty when time is taken to pay attention to winter groupings; a time of year perhaps when we need the greatest lift to our spirits as the rainy days, cold winds and heavy snow storms seem endless – at least here in the colder climates.

Certainly many gardeners are familiar with the concept that a mass of red or yellow twig dogwoods makes a stunning winter display, especially when emerging from a blanket of snow. However, I really love the way the yellow-green stems of these dogwoods stand in stark contrast to the carpet of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens). So simple yet so effective. I might even be tempted to underplant the mondo with yellow crocus to repeat the dogwood color in spring, or perhaps the dwarf ‘Tete a tete’ narcissus.

One Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) is attractive but when a group flank either side of a walkway they create a colourful and fragrant journey. Spidery flowers in shades of yellow, red and bronze are a welcome sight on a grey Seattle day. Skirted by the rich green foliage of hellebores (Helleborus sp.) and large fleshy elephant ears (Bergenia sp.) now tinged red in cold weather, this winter vignette could be adapted for the smaller garden with ease.

Who can resist running their fingers through a curtain of dangling catkins? Obviously not Katie who stopped to enjoy the improbably long catkins of this silk tassel (Garrya sp.) swaying gently in the breeze!

Despite the recent heavy snowfall many early flowering Rhododendrons are ready to burst into full bloom promising bold visions to come.

An entire book could be written about this gem of a garden and I haven’t begun to do it justice. However every picture tells a story of winter beauty that is pure eye candy as well as a source of ideas for captivating combinations for the home garden.

To find out more about this wonderful winter garden, to see a map and print a full plant list, enjoy their website. Better still, if you are in the Seattle area grab your camera and head over there for a leisurely stroll.

With many thanks to my daughter Katie for the use of her beautiful photographs and idea for this post.

To see this winter wonderland under a blanket of snow enjoy renowned photographer David Perry's recent post and spectacular images