annuals

Plant Whimsy

I always want the gardens I design to reflect the homeowners taste and personality. There are many ways to do this such as carrying through a key color from the interior decorating scheme or including signature art pieces in the landscape. However sometimes you can have fun with the plants themselves.

This Under The Sea  garden designed  the Los Angeles arboretum is a perfect example. By combining the unique metal sculptures created by local artist James B. Marshall with evocative plant forms, this underwater fantasy garden captures the imagination of visitors young and old.

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Setting the scene

Cogs, chains and gears combine to create this outstanding collection of sea creatures that include seahorses, an octopus, turtle and dolphin. Such ingenuity! Marine chain such as might be used for anchors is used as an edge for the border reinforcing the aquatic theme.

This sea turtle is 25″ wide; 24″ long; 10″ high and weighs about 75lbs. It is a clever composition of  transmission gears, tractor track and steering lever while  the head is a truck trailer hitch.

Love the mouth on this turtle - watch out!

Love the mouth on this turtle – watch out!

 

Note the curling tentacles - this octopus is on the move

Note the curling tentacles – this octopus is on the move

Skipper the dolphin is 55″ in length, 46″ in height, 17″ in width and weighs about 50 lbs

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A smiling dolphin leaps past the octopus and fish

Contact the artist directly if you are interesting purchasing any of his pieces or commissioning something special

Plant selection

We may not all be able to grow these plants (too wet, too cold…) but we can still recreate this look if we understand what to look for. The idea is to seek out plants whose color, shape and texture suggests coral or seaweed.

Coral-like cushions

Coral-like cushions and waving ‘seaweed’ in watery hues

Cacti and succulents have been used to great effect in this design but most of these would only be suitable for an annual display in colder climates. What else could be used to represent coral or seaweed? Here are a few ideas.

The spurge (Euphorbia) family offers many possibilities. Fen’s Ruby (Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fen’s Ruby’) forms a feathery cushion of finely textured semi-evergreen foliage that opens burgundy and matures to green. Chartreuse flowers add to the display in spring, Be warned that this plant can be a thug – check to see if it is invasive in your area before you let it loose. This may be best for a container display.

Fens Ruby spurge can be invasive

Fens Ruby spurge can be invasive – you have been warned!

Donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is  stiffer, more blue, has gorgeous succulent foliage and is not quite so thuggish as its cousin Fens Ruby although is also listed as an invasive species in some states.

Donkey tail spurge

Donkey tail spurge planted with golden Angelina stonecrop

For a similar look to Fen’s Ruby without the concern of skin irritation common to the spurge family or its invasive tendencies consider Blue Haze stonecrop (Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’)

Blue Spruce stonecrop. Photo credit; Monrovia

Blue Spruce stonecrop. Photo credit; Monrovia

This cold hardy succulent (USDA zones 3-11) is typically evergreen, drought tolerant and tough!

Certain varieties of hebe may also work for cushion forms e.g. Red Edge and there are lots more cold hardy sedums to investigate.

Now for some of the truly unique plants that have been used to represent splays of coral or broad seaweed forms. Do leave me a comment if you can identify these!

Unique!

Unique!

Can't you just feel the current in the water as you look at this?

Can’t you just feel the current in the water as you look at this?

So what can we cold climate gardeners use? One suggestion is to look for fasciated forms of everyday plants; either those that just happen occasionally on a single stem within the plant or genetic forms that have mutated and been propagated to select for that feature. Fasciated stems are produced due to abnormal activity in the growing tip of the plant. Often an abnormal number of flowers are produced on affected stems; something I noticed on one of my Paprika yarrow plants this summer.

Ferns with fasciated tips often have names such as ‘monstrosa’ and ‘cristata’ and are highly collectable plants. Look out for crested hart’s tongue fern for example. There are also some fasciated conifers such as the crested Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria jap0nica ‘Cristata’). These would all be excellent candidates for a seascape.

On a recent garden tour in Portland I came across this fasciated form of a spurge which I believe to be gopher spurge Euphorbia rigida.

Fasciation - a funky accident of nature

Fasciation – a funky accident of nature

Note how only one stem was affected.

The finishing touches

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To complete the scene I noticed a number of volcanic rocks used throughout the ‘sea bed’ and lava rock used as a mulch. There was also a few special specimen type plants, included for their unusual color or shape.

Now it’s your turn

Have I got you thinking? Next time you’re looking at plant images or walking through the nursery perhaps you’ll see a sea creature waiting to be discovered! Be sure to post photos on my Facebook page or leave me comments below. Imagination starts now………………………

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Garden Emergencies

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping  thyme died over the winter

I used fast growing white alyssum as a groundcover last year when most of the creeping thyme died over the winter. I liked it so much I planted it again this year!

Help!

As a designer there is one fundamental expectation when friends and clients visit; that my garden will be alive. This year that has been questionable as we’ve battled a plague of voles, unrelenting high temperatures, unprecedented drought and recovery from last winter which although mild arrived with a drop in temperature of twenty degrees or so overnight and threw several of my large, established evergreen trees into major stress and eventual death.

The result is that there are holes – sometimes BIG holes in the garden. Sound familiar? Do you have a garden tour scheduled to visit? Family and friends due? A summer party planned? If so you need a disguise and FAST. What can you use?

Both foliage and flowers can come to the rescue and the best nurseries and garden centers will have large, well established plants for you to drop quickly into place. Here are my favorites for sun and shade. In fact some of these work so well you may find yourself leaving room for these next year even without a plant emergency!

Sensational Salvias

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Love and Wishes salvia holds the fort between barberry, Skylands spruce and peonies

Major flower power, big time hummingbird attractant and easily fills a space 3′ x 3′; sound good? Then look for these amazing salvias that are part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

I’ve been growing three this year and my favorite is probably Love and Wishes with its rich magenta color. This has helped fill a gap left by a dwarf butterfly bush that didn’t make it through winter. Looks stunning near a golden spruce but I can see using this in several pots next year

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad salvia. Photo courtesy Sunset Western Plant Collection. Photo credit; Saxon Holt

Amistad is a remarkable shade of electric blue-purple. I’d love a dress in this color! In my garden this is filling a short term gap while I decide what I want to plant in fall to work with an existing Rose Glow barberry and golden Forever Goldie arborvitae.

I wasn’t sure what to do with Ember’s Wish when I received it as a trial plant. The color is rather unusual for me; a neon-coral. I added it to a pot of odds and ends in shades of orange, purple and yellow and it brings hummingbirds by the droves. They positively fight over it which provides endless entertainment!

Ember Wishes is planted at the back left of this pot; I'm planning on using it in the garden next summer

Ember’s Wish is planted at the back left of this pot; I’m planning on using it in the garden next summer near a purple smoke bush

What they all have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ x 3′
  • Drought tolerant (yes really)
  • Deer resistant (Hallelujah!)
  • Constantly flowering
  • A bit messy when they drop old flowers
  • An annual for me but hardy in zones 9-11
  • Loved by hummingbirds

Clever Cleome

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

I drew your attention to Senorita Blanca Cleome (spider flower) a few years ago and have since also grown Senorita Rosalita in my garden, both available through Proven Winners. Like the Salvias mentioned above, each plant will quickly bush out to fill a gap, and will undoubtedly win your endorsement for future years. These dwarf varieties are sterile so no worries about unwanted offspring, which if you’ve ever grown their cousins you’ll understand is a GOOD thing!

Senorita Rosalita looks incredible next to Love and Wishes Salvia – a perfect color echo and both look at home in everything from formal flower gardens to naturalistic planting schemes.

What they have in common;

  • Grow to 3′ tall and 2′ wide
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant
  • Do not self seed
  • Don’t have a funky smell!
  • Aren’t sticky like the species
  • Make great cut flowers

Grasses

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

Mexican feather grass lines one side of a narrow path. Design by Joanne and Lucien Guthrie

When you don’t need flowers but you do need ‘oomph’, grasses might be the answer. Even a 4″ pot of Mexican feather grass can fill a decent sized spot and its easy movement in the slightest breeze makes it live large.

Do you need height, width or color? Choose your grass accordingly. They get bonus marks for flowering stalks which can triple their height.

For fuzz-factor  you can't beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

For fuzz-factor you can’t beat fountain grasses (Pennisetum)

My favorites include blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for width, any of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum species) for fuzziness, and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) as general quick, inexpensive filler.

What they have in common;

  • Drought tolerance
  • Deer resistance

Ferns

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

A lifesaver for the shade garden, there are many big fluffy ferns that will quickly disguise the most embarrassing gaps. Forget the little deer ferns; think more of the robust autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Alaskan ferns (Polystichum setiferum)  than can be purchased in 2g pots and larger. Let’s face it you don’t need three fronds, you need three FEET! Drop them where they need to go this year and transplant them to a permanent spot in fall if you have to. Right now consider them a band aid for the shade. Even the Boston fern – an indoor beauty for many of us, can be pressed into temporary summer service in this way.

Generally speaking

 

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

A group of coleus can quickly disguise gaps in the shade border

  • Think short term. If it doesn’t look big enough NOW it won’t be much better for next weeks party.
  • Think bushy. Small bottoms but big tops = lusciousness!
  • Unless you’re sure those flowers will keep on coming, foliage may be a better choice.
  • Annuals will grow faster than perennials or shrubs; that’s what they are bred for
  • Water new plants WELL – even drought tolerant ones, as they will have a degree of shock when being transplanted mid-summer
  • A boost of fertilizer or Moo-Poo tea is a good idea when you are expecting high performance on short notice.

If all else fails

Give your guests a glass of wine as they arrive. By the third glass they won’t see any ‘problems’ anyway. Works like a charm…..

And remember that designers have “terrible” gardens from time to time too. Relax. they’re only plants.

 

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Captivating Ideas from a Petite Garden

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I wrote a post recently for my other blog Fine Foliage (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) called The Ones That Got Away. You see Christina and I are on the final countdown for our new book with Timber Press (due out 9/2016) and scrambling to get as many mouth watering ideas photographed and written up as possible, but the reality is that not every garden we visit, or every picture from every garden will make it into the final text.

This post resulted from a visit a delightful garden filled to bursting with so many good ‘take home’ ideas. The garden itself was not large in size yet it was filled with an abundance of eye catching details that made every nook and cranny a veritable treasure hunt. You would think that having so many focal points and vignettes would make the garden seem busy but the homeowners eye for color kept things in check while never compromising the fun factor.

Re-thinking the lawn

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After yet another year of moss overtaking the lawn the decision was made to replace it with gravel. To provide a practical walking surface and as an invitation to explore, a series of large flagstones were added as an informal path leading to the right.

As this path curves away a teal container was added to create a focal point to one side, encouraging both eyes and feet to linger. This is the perfect color match for the blue-toned hostas in the adjacent shady border.

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Color play

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Orange has been used as a fun, bold accent color throughout the garden but it is in such small doses that it never seems overpowering. Against the weathered fence sits a re-purposed fountain, now planted with succulents and a tiny ceramic bird. Above this are a series of wooden boxes planted with orange Bonfire begonias which thrive in full sun or part shade. These fuchsia-like blooms are magnets for hummingbirds.

A trio of similarly planted boxes stand tall on metal pedestals to the left (see first two photos). This is a great way to add color to an area where tree roots make it impossible to plant yet a large container isn’t called for. Drip irrigation keeps everything watered.

Floral highlights

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While this garden has a strong framework of foliage it certainly has flowers too. The vignette above shows the start of the gravel pathway where a simple low water bowl has been added. The orange glass ball makes the initial color splash but also serves to direct attention to the Apricot Twist wallflowers behind it. The glaze of the bowl has shades of teal, navy, purple and cream so adding the scrambling Homestead Purple verbena at the borders edge and climbing double clematis to a trellis is an easy way to bring both contrast and connection.

Ingenuity

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And if you don’t have the right color pot? Spray paint it! This inexpensive metal container is now the perfect shade behind Orange Rocket barberry and Japanese forest grass.

But wait – there’s more!

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You’ll have to wait for our new book to see the vignettes we finally selected! We know you’ll love them and be inspired as we were by the use of color and fun plant combinations.

Thank you sweet Edith for the tour, for making me so welcome in your wonderful oasis – and for the wine that completed the evening.

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Favorite Flowering Annuals for Containers

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I need to be a mind reader. I’m excited to host three spring container workshops in the next ten days but I need to second-guess everyone’s tastes as I select plants for my guests to purchase and play with!

What colors might they be excited about this year? Are they tired of the tropical looking Canna or will they be disappointed if I don’t have any? Will they feel adventurous and be willing to try something completely new?

Selecting dwarf shrubs, perennials, grasses and succulents is actually pretty straightforward but the flowering annuals take more consideration. They are often the finishing touch that anchors a color scheme and certainly they are expected to give out some major flower power for the entire summer season.

As I head to the nurseries tomorrow there are a few ‘must have’s’ on my shopping list. These are often varieties that I have used for several years and know I can rely on.

Which are your favorites?

Painted New Guinea Impatiens

Painted New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

Painted Paradise Orange New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

It was a client who inadvertently introduced me to these. She insisted on having New Guinea impatiens in her pots but I was concerned that with only modest early season blooms she would be disappointed until they got into their stride. The answer was the ‘painted’ series that has wonderfully variegated leaves.

My favorite is the Painted Paradise Orange with its stunning yellow variegated foliage and red veins, Even without the flowers it adds plenty of punch. Flower color options include pink, white, red and wine

Fan Flower (Scaevola)

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

I have long been a fan of Whirlwind Blue fan flower in pots for the way it throws meandering branches of periwinkle fan-shaped flowers through its companions, trailing and mingling with abandon all summer long. It is one of the few flowering annuals that seems to perform equally well in full sun and part shade – especially helpful in those awkward settings where you have two pots flanking a doorway but one gets more sun than the other.

Last summer I had the opportunity to test Pink Wonder and was completely enamored by its clear pink flowers; I’ll be on the lookout for this in the nurseries this year. Be warned, that when you find it the little 4″ pot may not look very promising with just a couple of short branches and a flower bud or two. Give it a few weeks and trust me!

 

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the Blue Whirlwind fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the  Whirlwind Blue fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

I love the bold red, hot pink, gold and orange blooming lantana but Samantha offers something else; variegated leaves. These are especially appreciated early in the season when the yellow flowers are few.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

Lemon Slice million bells and Berry Luscious lantana - fabulous combo

Lemon Slice million bells and Luscious Berry Blend lantana – fabulous combo

I’ve never been a fan of petunias but these mini petunias are much better. No deadheading needed and they don’t turn to a sticky mess after rain. Some varieties win me over more than others, but in truth the results also depends on who has grown the plant. You get what you pay for; cheap plants may not have been grown in prime potting soil nor pinched out during the growing cycle to get nice bushy plants. Pay the extra for top quality and your containers will show the difference.

Some of my favorite varieties include Lemon Slice (yellow/white), Cherry Star (hot pink with yellow star) and Pomegranate Punch (bi-color burgundy and grape)

Bonfire Begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

This has been around for a while now and is still my favorite variety of the Begonia boliviensis for its vivid orange tubular flowers that thrive in full sun. Bonfire is a top performer.

Other (flowering) favorites

Fuchsia autumnale – amazing multi-colored foliage

Torenia ‘Midnight Blue’ – fabulous for the shade

 

Time to go shopping……

If you’d like to join me there are just a few spaces left in my Spring Container Workshops. Details and registration info here.

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Top Perennials for Summer Pots

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty foliage as well as white flowers

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty evergreen foliage as well as white flowers

When I design container gardens nothing is safe! I explore everything from dwarf trees and slow growing shrubs to groundcovers, annuals and even houseplants (although I wait until night temperatures are stable at 55′ or above for those). I also include a lot of perennials in my designs; both evergreen and herbaceous types as they lend a sense of maturity and are also a good investment since they can be kept in the container for several years before eventually being transplanted into the garden.

I look for perennials that have great foliage to help establish a framework for summer annuals that won’t get into their stride for a few more weeks. I also seek out perennials that have a long bloom time but if I am including them for the flowers I also need to make sure that the leaves won’t overpower the container.

Here are some of my favorites.

Thunder and Lightning field scabious (Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning’)

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Fun color, pretty flowers, drought tolerant, deer resistant, great foliage – why haven’t you used Thunder and Lightning field scabious before?

The distinctive jagged mid-green foliage has a cream margin that really make this perennial stand out from the crowd. Magenta pincushion-type flowers bloom for months and stand tall above the foliage cushion.

 

Deer be Damned

We featured this perennial in a combination called Deer Be Damned! in our book Fine Foliage (p10) and we hear it’s one of your favorites.

Apricot Sprite hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sprite’)

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This drought tolerant perennial deserves to be used more in your designs. Apricot Sprite has soft orange tubular flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds while the fragrant grey-green leaves are attractive and tidy. Combine with other drought tolerant plants such as lavender, grasses and succulents for an easy care design. 15″ tall

Trailing stonecrops (Sedum)

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Angelina and Blaze of Fulda sedums mingle with the glossy variegated foliage of a mirror plant (Coprosma) and a dwarf conifer

 

There are many to choose from but these are my top three. Blaze of Fulda stonecrop has  wonderful burgundy rosettes and hot pink flowers while the leaves of October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii) are grey blue,tipped with pink and the late summer flowers are a clear pink. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is a beautiful evergreen golden-yellow succulent with yellow flowers. The foliage is reminiscent in appearance  of rosemary. All are beautiful tucked at the edge of pots.

Spurge (Euphorbia)

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Donkey spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) works well as a trailer in sunny pots. In the rustic teal container above it is elegantly paired with black mondo grass. The pink ‘flowers’ are usually trimmed away but this image shows just how beautiful they can be as they age.

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenat

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenta

Taller varieties of spurge work well as fillers in mixed designs. My top three are Ascot Rainbow which has variegated leaves of yellow, green and rose, Ruby Glow in deep purple and Silver Swan which has a pretty teal and white variegation.

Note; The sap is a significant skin irritant so always wear gloves when handling. Some varieties of spurge are invasive in some areas so check with your local County extension office before planting.

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

You can base your selection on flower color ( pink or white), foliage color (green, burgundy, striped or speckled), height (from 2′ to 5′) or hardiness but all will reward you with dancing flowers all summer long. The leaves are dainty enough to be a design element themselves while the prolific flowers make this a reliable thriller for your container or basket.

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

Named varieties include Passionate Blush (compact plants, pink flowers), Passionate Rainbow (mid-size plant, pink flowers, variegated leaves) So White (pure white flowers on a compact plant) and Whirling Butterflies (taller plants for large pots, white flowers suffused with pink).

Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)

 

Dare to be different!

Dare to be different!

Use this where a soft fern-like foliage is needed in a sunny pot. Elegant and tall you can rely on this as a thriller and the interest begins with blue flowers in spring and continues until a hard freeze when the leaves turn burnt orange.

Fall color begins in late September

Fall color begins in late September

 

This is deer resistant and drought tolerant too!

Tip; if adding this to your landscape be sure to plant it in well drained soil and full sun. Mine never gets watered unless it rains and is thriving! Plant in broad sweeps for the best effect

Trailing Heucherella

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Redstone Falls heucherella tumbles down the side of a tall pot

 

Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella are mainstays in my designs, with varieties available for sun or shade and in many different colors and patterns. Look out for the trailing heucherella though. They can be hard to spot in a display so look for named varieties such as Redstone Falls and Yellowstone Falls. These will spill over the edges of containers for up to 2′ and look stunning!

 

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella - such lovely foliage

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella – such lovely foliage

 

They are also evergreen making these a great choice for year round interest

More ideas?

Karen Chapman container gardening instructor

If you live in the Seattle area come and join one of my Spring Container Workshops this month. Thee are a few spaces left and we have LOTS of fun. Find out more and register here.

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