About Karen Chapman

A total plantaholic; I just can't resist! I've also learned that dark nail polish hides soil beautifully....

Posts by Karen Chapman:

A Low Maintenance Garden that Celebrates Fall

A Low Maintenance Garden that Celebrates Fall

It’s a truly glorious fall here in the Pacific Northwest – blue skies, incredible foliage color and warm temperatures that have me still wearing T-shirts rather than polar fleece. It’s a joy to be outside on days like this and spending a day “working” in the garden is both fun and easy. Can you say that? Or has your garden become  just sheer hard work?

Old Fashioned smoke bush – stunning color for 3 seasons that goes with everything.

Be honest with yourself? Are there some truly high maintenance thugs in your garden that seem to have taken over? Would you love it to be easier to manage – but don’t know how? Or perhaps you think of a low maintenance garden as boring – all boxwood and groundcovers?

Take a short walk through my garden with me and let me show you what my deer resistant, low-water, low maintenance garden looks like – and see why I love the fall.

Raking leaves? -Make sure they’re worth it!

Does this look like a boring low maintenance garden to you?? Arkansas Blue Star in the foreground – colorful extravaganza beyond

The majority of stunning fall color comes from deciduous trees and shrubs, yet that means you need to tackle the enormous piles of fallen leaves in the border afterwards – so make sure they are worth the effort. The colorful perennial Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) is the mega-star of my fall garden. If you read the typical description you’ll get the impression that the “fall color is orange” – yet it’s truly a kaleidoscopic display from purple through orange, gold, and pink. Fall clean up just means cutting the stems then raking them into your compost pile.

The twisted purple foliage of Red Majestic corkscrew hazel acts as a focal point against Arkansas Blue Star

To set their feathery texture off to best advantage consider adding a bold counterpoint such as Red Dragon corkscrew hazel. Twisted purple foliage becomes scarlet in fall but this is a four season shrub thanks to the contorted branches and spring catkins.

Include evergreens that change color

Blazeaway heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Blazeaway’) blends with blue oat grass and an annual sage (Salvia ‘Rockin’ Fuchsia’). Arkansas blue star is in the background.

I love seasonal color changes – but some evergreens can provide that too – without the shedding (and work) of deciduous leaves. Many of the heathers (Calluna sp.) are good examples e.g. Wickwar Flame, Firefly, Winter Chocolate, and Blazeaway (shown above), with four season interest thanks to colorful foliage as well as blooms.

Strategic Plant Selection

A combination of evergreen conifers, colorful deciduous shrubs, and easy care grasses ensure this combo looks good year round – and the maintenance is minimal.

If you are concerned that transitioning (or creating) your garden into one that is less work will mean sacrificing color or seasonal interest – think again. The combination above is a perfect example. The conifer gets whacked with a broom in spring to shake out the inner dead needles that can then be left on the ground as mulch or raked depending upon my mood. The two deciduous shrubs (both barberries – Limoncillo in the foreground and Rose Glow at the back) drop their leaves – and I leave them where they fall. In spring I cut Rose Glow back by ~25% for improved color – but that isn’t essential. The Shenandoah switch grass looks good until late winter when I chop it back to about 10″ tall with hedging shears then toss the clippings onto the compost pile. End of maintenance.

In fact, knowing which plants to choose – or remove, is key to designing a low maintenance garden. Which is why I created this short online course; Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

 

To help you out, and make sure you’ve still got a few pennies for your favorite pumpkin spice latte, I’m even offering it at a discount. You’ll get 15% off if you use the coupon code fall15 at checkout before October 27th.

More details and sign up here.

Still not convinced? Here’s a few more photos from the garden this week:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Isn’t it time to enjoy the fall again?

Designing Fall Combos

Designing Fall Combos

It’s that time of year when I’m dodging rain showers in the garden and preparing for cooler days ahead while enjoying the rich colors of autumn that still have me reaching for my camera.

The best fall gardens are those which celebrate the season with bold combinations and dramatic vignettes. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Temper the heat with cool blue foliage

Clockwise from left: Dwarf Arizona corkbark fir, Ruby Vase Persian ironwood, Shenandoah switch grass, Jerusalem sage, Ogon spirea

My favorite tree without question is Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). If you haven’t got it – find it. From spidery red winter flowers to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors from spring until fall, you’ll be thankful for the age of digital photography when the cost of film is no longer a concern! Check out an earlier post I wrote about this stunning tree and see more juicy photos in all four seasons here.

The fall colors include purple, gold, orange and red – perfect to play of finely textured, red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) and shimmery golden yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea t. ‘Ogon’). To create a counterpoint to these hot colors, add a cool blue conifer such as Blue Star juniper, Colorado blue spruce or as I have here a dwarf Arizona corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa ‘Glauca Compacta’).

If you can only choose ONE…

Arkansas blue star – the star of any fall garden

The ultimate fall superstar award has to go to Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). Plant this herbaceous perennial in large drifts, stand back, and be amazed. Deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and drought tolerant. Feathery green foliage gives way to this unbelievable autumnal display. Check out this post to see what over FIFTY of these beauties look like in a raised bed as well as other design ideas!

Keep companions simple – here a mossy boulder emphasizes the soft texture while Grace smoke bush (Cotinus ‘Grace’) affords high color contrast.

Add a focal point

Consider adding a non-plant element such as a container to contrast with the fall foliage display. Here a rustic blue-green pot adds color contrast to the fall colors of barberries and a Japanese maple, anchoring the vignette.

Vary the textures

Shenandoah switch grass and Tangelo barberry contrast leaf texture and form, while a Baby Blue boulevard cypress adds a soft blue backdrop

Even a monochromatic display can be enlivened by varying leaf shape and size, such as pairing fine grasses with the round leaves of a deciduous shrub. A soft blue conifer in the background adds contrast.

Visit your friends gardens for ideas!

Former garden of friend and designer Mitch Evans – always an inspiration

Make a point of visiting other gardens this month – both public and private. You’re sure to come away with ideas! Two stunning fall combinations from the garden shown above are featured in my most recent book, (co-authored with Christina Salwitz), Gardening with Foliage First. You’ll LOVE them! You can also enjoy a fall virtual tour of his garden here.

To help you further

If you like these ideas but are concerned about keeping your garden easy to manage, you may be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

It will help you make wise choices when shopping for plants, when assessing what you already have AND help you put combinations together.

Check out the details, and as a special incentive I’m offering you 15% off using the coupon code FALL15 at the checkout.

 

 

Don't delay though, the coupon expires October 27th, 2018 and the course is only open for registration for a limited time.

Note: There are affiliate links within this post

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

One of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr is set in the beautiful English countryside near Harrogate, Yorkshire, so of course I just had to visit while I was there a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself totally charmed and impressed by the varied displays that were both inspirational and educational. These are just a few highlights from the 200 or so photos I took!

Hedgehog Street

Openings at the base of the walls allow hedgehogs to pass from one garden to the next

The British love their hedgehogs. I have fond memories of setting out a saucer of milk for night-visiting hedgehogs when I was a child, but sadly their numbers have been in a rapid decline as hedgerows have been lost and their natural food sources destroyed. A national campaign called Hedgehog Street has called for greater awareness and pledges to make gardens more hedgehog friendly by:

  • planting nectar-rich flowers that encourage insects that the hedgehogs eat
  • leaving piles of dead wood and compost for nesting sites and foraging
  • Avoiding chemicals on lawns to protect earthworms – a major food of hedgehogs
  • Avoiding the use of molluscicides and pesticides
  • Including a 13cm (~5in) diameter hedgehog highway between gardens for greater connectivity

I loved this example of a hedgehog-friendly design, designed by Tracy Foster and installed by First Light Landscaping. Truthfully, I stopped because I thought what a great example it was for ‘small space design‘ – it was only on closer inspection that I realized it had been designed to be equally beneficial to hedgehogs!

Embracing the Earthworm

Throughout the gardens there were fascinating willow displays including a huge stegosaurus protecting its eggs and this  wiggly worm that made me smile.

Floral Tapestries

Expansive beds were richly planted in a matrix of colorful perennials, an exciting take on the New Perennial Movement and a twist on the traditional English cottage garden style.

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

…yet rivers of certain perennials were allowed to flow more organically through other beds

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

English gardens are often small so making the use of vertical space is always a priority.

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

Rather than growing a traditional tall bean tepee where one has to get a ladder to reach the top, I thought this was a clever idea:

Growing beans at a 45′ angle makes harvesting easier and shade loving crops can be grown beneath

These twig prunings were put to good use as “pea staking”, preventing chard and nasturtiums from sprawling onto the path

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

Harlow Carr also has a wonderful library that is open to all: students, researchers, and everyday gardeners. The collection includes practical gardening, garden design, wildlife gardening…and MY BOOK!! Yes, Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017), my second book co-authored with Christina Salwitz, was proudly displayed on their shelves. This was one of those moments that I would have loved to have been able to share with my Mum. I know she’d have been as proud as I was.

Post contains affiliate links

Touchstones: Defining Moments

Touchstones: Defining Moments

It took me by surprise. Unbidden, my eyes filled with tears and my voice became thick with emotion as I scanned the rolling hillside traversed by ribbons of drystack stone walls. Familiar silhouettes of majestic oak trees and horse chestnut trees dotted the pastoral landscape while berried hawthorns bejeweled every hedgerow. Flocks of sheep bleated contentedly in the patchwork of green fields and wood pigeons cooed comfortingly from their hidden perches. I hadn’t realized how significant these common postcard-type snapshots were to my soul. Yet deep within me something fundamental stirred – these were a few of my touchstones to my country of birth – England.

When Mum passed away in 2015 I thought that my connection to England was forever lost. I have no more living relatives in that country – no cousins or aunts and uncles – no-one. That sense of loss compounded the deep grief of losing my last parent and I really wasn’t even sure I would return to England again. When an unexpected opportunity to visit the UK for work was offered to me, I realized it would be the first trip I had made in 22 years that wasn’t for a family emergency. I could be a tourist! I could visit friends – but would anyone remember me – or even worse recognize me?!

The best of friends and still having fun with Jill – Yorkshire Dales

Initially I traveled on my own to the Yorkshire Dales in order to spend time with my childhood best friend Jill. We’ve known each other since we were 4, lived just up the road from one another, and our mums were best friends too. As we walked, talked, laughed, and cried the healing I didn’t even know I needed began.

Holy Trinity church at Ashford-in-the-Water dates back to 1205 although there was probably an older timber structure on the site before this stone building was erected.

My husband joined me a few days later and together we drove to the Peak District, Derbyshire, where we used to live before emigrating to the United States in 1996. We re-visited many old haunts including our tiny stone cottage in Ashford-in-the-Water. As we parked outside the village church, we heard one of my favorite hymns “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah…” being sung in rousing four-part harmony. So many memories came flooding back as we listened – it was all I could do not to join in the chorus “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me til I want no more (want no more)….”.

Dating back to Queen Victoria’s reign, this “pillar box red” post box is a familiar icon. This one is set into a stone wall in Ashford-in-the-Water

We managed to surprise both an elderly ex-neighbor and a special friend, Vikki, who had no idea we were in the country. (Facebook helped me coordinate the surprise with her daughter – social media at its best!). We hadn’t seen Vikki for 22 years, yet it seemed mere moments as we chatted, laughed, teased, and drank coffee together. (She assured me I hadn’t changed…..just not sure that was entirely a compliment as I was trying to round her up for a reluctant photo at the time!!)

View of Castleton from Peveril Castle. We used to love hiking from Mam Tor (far left) across the ridge and into the village, especially at Christmas time when every store had a twinkling Christmas tree on the sidewalk

After a couple of days of independent sight-seeing that included a visit to Peveril Castle in Castleton and the spectacular Haddon Hall, which dates back to the 12th century – a particular favorite of mine, we went to stay with good friends in the delightful village of Calver.

Chatsworth House and gardens set in the heart of the Chatsworth estate, a favorite spot to walk when our children were small

Together we visited Chatsworth House and gardens, enjoying the bountiful kitchen gardens while also catching up one evening with dear friends, Keith and Sue, whom we hadn’t seen for 18 years. It was as though we had only parted yesterday. This was one of those powerful moments when you realize that friendship – true friendship, knows no time limits or geographical boundaries.

A very special reunion with dear friends: Keith and Sue

As we left Derbyshire and headed south I felt lighter, freer. It was as though I had been given the gift of sight – the ability to see England with new eyes and to cultivate new, happier memories.

Watching barges pass through Marlow Lock on the River Thames

Our final night was in Marlow, a short drive yet a world away from Heathrow airport. A series of crazy coincidences had made it possible to reconnect with a friend with whom we had lost touch 30 years ago!! He drove an hour and a half each way to spend the evening with us, and once again I was struck by how easy and natural it was to pick up as though only a few weeks had passed. (Let me just point out ladies (men don’t understand…) – it is pretty nerve-wracking when the last time someone saw you, you were a lithe 27 year old!!! Talk about pressure!)

Somewhere in the wee hours of the following morning I lay awake reflecting on the trip and came to a profound revelation. I may not have blood relatives in England anymore, but I do have family – very special friends with whom I can pick up and be myself even after 30 years. Those bonds give me a connection to the country of my birth that I thought had ended when mum died, but I see now the connection will never be broken. Likewise the essence of the English countryside is deep within my soul. It is a part of me. No-one can take that away. These are my touchstones.

The tiny (by American standards) English robin symbolizes the English countryside for me.

Definition of touchstones:

  • Person of importance. Significant other. Your constant, the person who completes you and makes you whole. A true friend without criticisms and judgements, who loves you unconditionally. (Urban dictionary)
  • A fundamental or quintessential part of feature (Merriam-Webster)

Making connections

I know this post is a departure from my usual garden design related posts, but I wanted to share it with you because I think many of you will identify with parts of my story and I hope it will be an encouragement to those who need it. As a designer I try to create gardens that homeowners will experience and feel connected to,  helping you create special memories in those spaces. My deepest wish is that you all can discover touchstones in your life. 

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul” – John Muir
 
 

 

 

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

If you share your garden with deer, you’ll be familiar with the term, and when shopping for plants have undoubtedly asked nursery staff for assistance in choosing things that are deer-resistant. Yet what does that really mean?

Let’s be clear: it does NOT mean deer-PROOF.

With that out of the way let’s dive a bit deeper so you can make informed choices when choosing plants and strategic decisions when siting them.

Start here:

My go-to reference for whether or not a plant is deer-resistant is the Rutger’s website. The great thing about this site is that it is backed by considerable professional experience and observations and lists a plants LEVEL of resistance (more about that in a moment). The downside is that they are based in New Jersey, so there is some significant variation in their observations and mine here in Washington state. It is, however, an excellent place to start.

Understanding levels of deer-resistance.

It isn’t black or white – there are levels of resistance that it is helpful to understand. The Rutger’s website site uses the following grading system:

A = Rarely Damaged
B = Seldom Severely Damaged
C = Occasionally Severely Damaged
D = Frequently Severely Damaged

They recommend selecting plants that fall into categories A or B if you share your garden with deer, unless you are willing to protect plants with fences or sprays.

But what does “seldom severely damaged” look like?

Let me share a few case studies from my own garden to give you an idea.

New Guinea impatiens (annual)

Although this species (Impatiens hawkeri) is not listed on the website, both Impatiens balsimina and Impatiens walleriana are listed as level C, so one could assume a similar rating for New Guinea impatiens.

I have one New Guinea impatiens in a container design along the primary deer route. It has been there for 8 weeks without any damage whatsoever.

How it USED to look!

Two nights ago this happened…

So, yes the damage is occasional, and yes it was severe – but they haven’t destroyed the whole plant, just taken off about 90% of the flowers! One squirt with the deer repellent spray would have avoided even that but it has never been eaten before this year and I’ve grown them for at least three years in containers exposed to the deer… (i.e. ” VERY occasional damage”….). The good news is that everything else in the pot was untouched! Knowing (and seeing) that, will you include these and spray them – or avoid them entirely?

Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (conifer)

We began to develop a large privacy screen about 7 years ago. It includes conifers, deciduous trees, broadleaf evergreen shrubs,  and grasses.

The privacy screen acts as a buffer between ourselves and the neighboring property

In the center of the photo above you can see a beautiful golden Japanese cedar, (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’). When it was still quite young the deer did one of their nightly stealth raids and this was the result:

Rutting damage

They didn’t eat the tree – but they did damage it by rutting against it. Thankfully the conifer coped with the damage and seemed to grow out of it over the next year, so I’d agree with the rating of B. I would advise also fencing the tree when young to get it established.

Corkscrew hazel (deciduous shrub)

I love the twisted foliage, stems, and catkins on the Red Majestic corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’)

Nibbled stems on my corkscrew hazel

If you only saw the above image, you’d be tempted to think the entire shrub was a loss, but that isn’t the case. See it in the broader context:

Bigger picture – NOW can you see the damage?

The shrub is at a turning point in the path – and on the major deer-highway. It was easy to taste a few convenient leaves but they clearly didn’t deem it tasty enough to devour more.

That being the case, I’d agree with the Rutger’s rating of B (“seldom severely damaged”). Plus the shrub has been here for three years and I think this is only the second time I’ve noticed any damage at all. So will you choose to grow it?

Now what?

Now you can make informed choices about the plants you select, assess your level of tolerance for damage, and decide where to place these plants in the landscape. For example, I’d suggest any major focal points and specimen plants are always selected from A or B. If you really want to try something listed as C or D then at least set it farther back into the border so damage is less noticeable and don’t use that plant for an entire hedge!

Footnote 1 – Rutgers vs. Karen

Where I differ from Rutgers:

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica cvs..) are totally decimated by deer in my garden (D+!). Rutgers lists it as C – which I think is a change as I swear they used to list it as B! (In Texas and North Carolina it is actually considered at least B)

Gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) – in WA they are C or even D. Rutgers lists it as B.

Footnote 2 – What Rutgers misses

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is not on the Rutgers list – I would rate it as A, never having had any damage whatsoever in 7 years. It is also my favorite perennial of all time!

Telekia (Telekia speciosa) is a large, shade-loving perennial with steroidal foliage and yellow daisies. It takes a few years to outwit the slugs here in the PNW but mine now reliably grows to 5-6′ tall each year despite deer, rabbits and our over-abundance of molluscs. I’d confidently rate it as A since the deer walk past it every day. (Not listed on Rutger’s)

Gaura (Gaura sp.) is also conspicuous by its absence from the Rutgers list. Most definitely A++ here.

A special gift for you!

if you’d like to spice up your deer-resistant plant selection, you’ll enjoy this  list of 15 FUN Deer-Resistant plants that I’ve created. It is  FREE for my newsletter subscribers. Just sign up here: