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Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Is your whole garden a place of beauty where butterflies sip, birds sing and you love to linger?

Or do you have an area of your garden that is “just what it is“. You neither love it, nor hate it – you just haven’t got around to thinking about it? I do.

June 2018 – drab and overgrown. Time to THINK about this space!

This is the only remaining part of the original garden installed by the previous homeowner, using by her own admission “leftovers’ from her landscaping business. In many ways it’s a good design: an arc of evergreen conifers is fronted by broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons) and a single golden leafed spirea. Boulders to one side and a clump or rhubarb (a great ornamental plant that is also edible) to the other gives this border year round interest that looks especially lovely in spring. For a few weeks.

In May 2011 it looked lovely but the red leaf maple died that same year and the golden spirea has long since been swallowed by the Rhodies

The Problem

And therein lies the problem. The dark green rhodie leaves against the dark green conifers become a visual black hole for most of the year. The single, golden spirea does help although it is now getting buried behind the rhodies as they have got so large. About 6 years ago I added two Coppertina ninebark into the mix, the bronze foliage adding some more color – which helped. But it’s still pretty blah, especially compared to the rest of the garden.

May 2013 – still acceptable in spring and the addition of two bronze ninebarks  behind the rhodies helped a little.

May 2013 – the ninebarks flank the still visible spirea and the rhodies look healthy. This was before we had several hot summers in a row though.

Other Challenges

Lack of irrigation and increasingly dry summers have added another issue. The shallow rooted rhodies really struggle by mid-August and there is just no way to get a hose to them. So drought stress, combined with lacebug stippling and vine weevil-notched leaves have left these “evergreen’ shrubs looking unsightly and unhealthy.

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

We thought we had a solution, however. We discovered an old well head right in the midst of this border and surprisingly it still has water and is fairly shallow, so Andy has installed a sump pump and I have a professional quality 3/4″ soaker hose ready to wrap around those poor shrubs.

The well head can easily be disguised by plants yet accessed from behind

The plan was to hard prune the rhodies, fertilize , then allow them to re-grow lush and healthy over the next couple of years, with help from this newly discovered water source.

But then I stood back, both literally and figuratively and asked if that was what I really wanted. Did I love those rhodies enough to do all that and continue the battle with various insects? And the lack of foliage contrast wouldn’t really be resolved.

Did they meet my “low maintenance-high value” criteria?

In short – NO.

June 2018 – Past its prime and pretty ugly with badly disfigured shrubs

May 2018 – even in bloom this year it lacked the sparkle of its youth

Plan B

Those big, old rhodies are coming out, the smaller white-flowering azalea will be hard pruned/fertilized, I’ll amend the soil and then introduce a mix of low maintenance evergreen and deciduous shrubs for better foliage interest and greater unity with the rest of the garden. Shrubs here need to be deer resistant and cope with afternoon sun as well as root competition from the adjacent conifers.

My plant short list includes:

Gilt Edge silverberry will add some much needed color contrast and sparkle

  • Gilt Edge silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’) – gold and green variegated foliage that is evergreen. Will eventually grow to 12′ x 12′ or I can prune as desired.
  • Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ ) – still debating this inclusion but I think it will tolerate the afternoon sun with watering. I will need to visually separate the glossy holly-like leaves from the conifers though – perhaps layer it in front of the silverberry. The hummingbirds will love it.
  • Exbury azaleas – taller varieties. Love these for the fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color. Not sure of flower colors yet – it will probably come down to availability although I do love the orange -red of Gibralter
  • Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – for the front edge if there’s room, or perhaps just add to the yellow Japanese forest grass already there

 

I’ll leave the two ninebark in place but will prune them for shape in winter and will have to spray them with Deer-Out until the plants in front are large enough to create a barrier from the deer. I’ll also leave – or move if possible, the mature golden leaved spirea and the rhubarb which will be much happier with more room.

The new design should better integrate with the rest of that border which features a greater variety of foliage color and textures

First things first

I’ve got a plane to catch. In fact when this post publishes I’ll be in New Jersey as part of a 10 day trip to photograph the last 3 gardens for my new book on deer resistant gardens, after which I’ll be in full-time writing mode for several weeks! Maybe the garden fairies will dig out those rhodies while I’m gone???? Or they/he may be too busy looking after our puppy! I’ll take some photos of the process to share with you though.

Bear in Mind

It’s not easy to renovate a mature border because whatever you do the new plants will look insubstantial compared to what was you’ve taken out and what has been left behind. But it’s worth it if you have time to invest in your garden (we don’t plan to move again) and are tired of just making do with something you never really loved in the first place. Plus I’m all about creating a garden that is lower maintenance.

A resource you may be interested in

Has this got you re-thinking part of your garden? Do you need help to assess which plants are worth the work – and which are just free-loaders? You might be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

Plus the coupon code 15off will give you 15% off the price (valid until 6/30/18 only) - put the savings towards something that deserves to be in your garden!

This post contains some affiliate links

The Path Less Traveled

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Have you been into your garden recently? Not to weed the borders or cut the grass – just to see what is happening? Set the alarm clock a little earlier tomorrow, grab your camera and go on a mini garden safari.

I must admit I wasn’t sure there was anything really worth photographing. I hadn’t even caught up with removing spent bulb foliage let alone trimming the grass edges, the peonies needed deadheading, the new borders weren’t grown in, I still had ‘holes’ to plug….. Sound familiar?  Yet I challenged myself to be an adventurer in my own garden, to be expectant, observant.

Hidden in plain view

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

I typically view this scene from a different perspective; from the left (indoors) the right (driving into the property) or three feet higher up – when I’m standing. Yet as I bent down to pull a weed (I couldn’t help myself) I happened to glance up and noticed what a delightful semi-transparent screen this stand of Sapphire Blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) made. Veiled glimpses of this intimate patio made it appear all the more enticing, tucked within a frame of foliage and flowers. The elliptical glass birdbath drew my eye back to the roses and Caradonna sage (Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’) now in full bloom. I could ignore fallen petals and leaves and enjoy the romance of the setting.

You can create a similar effect using tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) or grasses.

Take a different path

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From outside the border, the strolling path disappears visually, leaving uninterrupted layers of colorful trees, shrubs and perennials

Do you always walk around your garden in the same direction? The scene above is part of my large island border which has a strolling path running through the middle of it. I have trained myself to deliberately walk that path in each direction periodically to get a fresh perspective but I rarely walk around the outside of the border and peer in. Yet this richly hued  vignette could only be truly appreciated when I did just that. The red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) is still low enough for me to see over and provided a perfect visual carpet for the glowing Orange Rocket barberry, Skylands spruce and erupting Cleopatra foxtail lilies and orange oriental poppies . Layers of gold, orange and burgundy, set off by many shades of green – all revealed by taking a walk along the path less well traveled.

Learn to stand still

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No special detours taken for this shot – I just stood still and crouched down a little to look more closely at this lovely metal bird my son sent for my birthday. The early morning light cast a perfect shadow.

From my semi-crouched position I simply turned my head….

IMG_1128 Was this my garden? I usually walk this pathway quite quickly and as a result was missing this complex vignette with its luscious textural layers and color play. Yet look how the ice-blue corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) needles  complement  the rich plum leaves of my new Moonlight Magic crepe myrtle while offering a monochromatic medley with the Sapphire Blue sea holly and Blue Shag pine (Pinus strobus ‘ Blue Shag’). I had missed that moment when the rising sun kissed the tips of the Skylands spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) and barberry branches (Rose Glow to the left and Orange Rocket to the right). A little bird helped me see all that.

Do you need a add a ‘garden moment’ alongside the path to re-focus your view?

Dare to dream

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I  want to wait until this newly planted area has grown in before I write a more extensive post discussing the design details of our new patio but I thought you might like to get a glimpse of my vision at this interim stage. This is the view from our kitchen looking out into the back garden. The main patio is several steps away from the house and we have added a large planter in the middle of a border between the two. The idea is to create layers of color and texture to frame the patio, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, establish a focal point and create a more intimate space within the acreage.

IMG_1076 Once outside you feel nestled within that space yet have open views all around. The plants have a lot of growing to do – but the dream is becoming a reality.

How is your garden growing?

 

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Beyond Geraniums….

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual (for me) Coprosma and a vivid perennial Gaillardia

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual  Coprosma and a vibrant perennial  ‘Celebration’ blanket flower

Are you struggling to do something different with your sunny container gardens this year? Do you always seem to start off with a geranium, add  some pretty million bells (Calibrachoa) and then tuck in some trailing vbacopa to finish it off? Cheerful but not very imaginative is it?Yet this early in the season these are the plants most likely to be in full bloom at the nursery.

But look more closely at some of the other annuals sitting quietly in the sidelines. They may be mostly foliage and just a few buds right now but there are some really interesting options that will bloom their little flowery hearts out once you take them home. Here are some of my favorites

Top 4 flowering annuals for sun

Fan flower (Scaevola)

Scaevola 'Pink Wonder' is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

‘Pink Wonder’ fan flower (Scaevola) is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

Whether you choose pink, white or blue you won’t be sorry you took a chance on that unassuming pot of leaves in May! Before you know it this vigorous annual will weave its way through its container partners, tumbling, spilling and clambering at will. You’ll never plant containers without it again! Deer resistant and thrives in partial shade as well as full sun

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells (Calibrachoa)

Samantha lantana can be tricky to find but worth looking for as this variety has lovely variegated leaves that set off the lemon flowers perfectly. The pretty foliage helps keep the color interest going when the lantana is still gearing up to full bloom.

Don’t ignore the PERENNIALS either, especially those with colorful foliage. Several of these make great contenders for container gardens. Unlike annuals these make good investments for your garden too as they can be transplanted into the landscape at the end of the season.

Diamond Delight Euphorbia

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena - two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena – two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Its hard to imagine  how much impact this delicate plant will have – so just trust me! The sparse stems and tiny white flowers will explode into a flowering frenzy reminiscent of baby’s breath (Gypsophila) but this annual will bloom continually ’til frost. There are also some varieties with darker foliage and a slight pink tinge to the blooms.  Wonderful fine texture – it will become a favorite.

Centradenia

Unexpected drama as Centradenia 'Cascade' meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Unexpected drama as Centradenia ‘Cascade’ meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Centradenia is often sold as a 2″ basket stuffer and can languish on the table in May. Yet just a few weeks later and you’ll be glad you tucked it into the pot as it quickly fills out and blooms all season. A couple of different varieties are usually available but I have only seen them with flowers in various shades of pink. However I love the vivid red stems and bronze flushed green leaves . Plant this at the edge of the container to tumble over the edge

Top 4 perennials for sunny pots

Hyssop (Agastache) varieties

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) - associates beautifully with grasses

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) – associates beautifully with grasses

Shorter forms such as Apricot Sprite generally look better in containers than the taller forms. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, long blooming – they add a wonderful splash of color and herbal fragrance to sunny baskets and pots and attracts hummingbirds too! The variety shown here is Kudos Mandarin: a new one to me – I bought EIGHT!! Yes I was rather enamored……

Gaura varieties

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

Even the simple white flowering form of Gaura works well in a container, sending up dozens of dancing wands all summer long. However there are also several with pink or variegated foliage which can help fill the color gap early in the season. A few varieties are short enough to even be suitable to add to hanging baskets! Use as the thriller in smaller pots or a filler in larger containers.

Coneflower (Echinacea)

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Since these bloom mid-late season it can be a bit tricky incorporating them early in the season simply because the nurseries aren’t well stocked. However for procrastinators – or really clever planners – they add  a mega watt color blast since these are available in every color from white and yellow to magenta, orange and red.

Here’s a trick if you want to plan ahead. Plant an empty 6″ (gallon) pot into your mixed container garden to hold the space available for the coneflower. Then when you find the perfect plant just take the empty pot out and slip the coneflowers in. Voila!

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of many Gaillardia varieties

One of many blanket flower varieties available

There have been several new varieties of these sturdy  perennials introduced in recent years. Deer resistant, drought tolerant and long blooming you may find one of them is the perfect addition to your design. Deadhead to keep them blooming all summer long – although truthfully the fuzzy seed heads are pretty cool too! Lots to choose from including bi-colors. Look for Celebration, Arizona Sun and more!

Got you thinking? Great then go shopping! Post a photo of your creation to my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do this year.

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The Smile Factor

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Our newest family members

Whether you consider your personal garden style to be elegant, romantic, contemporary or traditional there is always room for a little whimsy – a special garden moment to make you smile. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant and in fact some of the best are those that are discovered while strolling through the garden rather than something that screams ‘look at me’ from your living room!

Here are a few ideas from my own garden as well as several I have visited.

Highlight unique forms

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

This big leaf maple tree had been a focal point in the garden border: originally a towering, bleached silhouette it is now just a snag after a recent windstorm brought down the last branch with a ker-THUMP! Yet I still find this a fascinating sculptural element – just look at all the contorted growth on the trunk. To encourage other garden visitors to slow down and appreciate this I tucked a weathered birdhouse into the snag; he looks as surprised as our guests upon being discovered!

Bringing life back to a dead shrub

Bringing life back to a dead rhododendron shrub

This large rhododendron died many years ago yet its skeletal form is still beautiful. The previous owner had painted it silver but that makeover has long since faded and tufts of lichen now dress up the coral-like structure. This shrub framework seemed like a lovely spot to hang my charming bird feeder with its succulent roof. A thoughtful friend gave this to me at Christmas and I had been looking for the somewhere to showcase it effectively. We see this every day through our kitchen window where it adds an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise drab spot in the garden. Looks like I need to fill it up again….

Child’s Play

Created by Katie Pond

Created by Katie Pond – when she was still Katie Chapman

Lovingly nicknamed ‘Charles’ after a certain Royal personage, this creature was crafted in a high school art class by my daughter  many years ago. Showing signs of wear and tear, this only adds to the humor; I mean how good would you look after scrambling out of a rotted tree stump?

STOP!

STOP!

Spied on a recent garden tour in Pasadena this wonderful dinosaur is doing his best to get your attention! Whether warning against the step or the prickly plant I’m not sure but he did make me stop to take his photograph.

Cact - cus by Debra Lee Baldiwn made me giggle

Cact – cus by Debra Lee Baldwin made me giggle

Of course we’re all children at heart aren’t we? Debra Lee Baldwin may be a few years out of kindergarten but that didn’t stop her adding wonderful googly eyes to this cactus creation in her San Diego garden.

Hidden in Plain View

A brick pathway to read while you walk

A brick pathway to read while you walk

Have you noticed how many bricks have names embossed on them? Love these ideas

Perfect post-topper

Perfect post-topper

Likewise paving stones can be an opportunity to add some personality – or family history

a celebration path

A celebration path

 

Add Interest to Bare Walls

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Whimsical terracotta faces on a stucco wall will soon be surrounded by this clinging vine –  a fun discovery as I strolled along this shaded path and such a variety of expressions

Look up!

An easy project

An easy project

Hanging from a cedar branch one would not expect to see shards of cobalt blue glass wrapped in copper wire – yet their casual placement was perfect in its simplicity.

Unintentional humor?

Hmm

Hmm. Armed by whom or by what?

Strange the things that catch your eye – and make you laugh. Great placement either way!

Does your garden make you giggle?

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

 

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Party Time for Hummingbirds!

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King Edward VII flowering currant

Zzzzzzzzzzip. Zzzzzzzzzzzzip.

Yes it’s that time of year when hummingbirds can be seen, heard and enjoyed daily as they flit from one flower to the next. Like most gardeners I used to rely on hummingbird feeders to entice them but quickly transitioned to adding flowering plants that provided a natural food source and habitat to support their presence year round.

Typically hummingbirds prefer blooms with tubular flowers  but in my summer garden they regularly feast on more open flowers also e.g. tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). Likewise although all the literature tells us they prefer red I have seen these diminutive birds slurping on everything from white and purple to pink and orange flowers.

These are the early spring flowering shrubs and perennials currently on the brunch menu at the Chapman’s.

Flowering Currant

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Flowering currant is a great addition to a large mixed border, seen here with conifers and spirea

 

A modern selection  of a native shrub, King Edward VII flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’), quickly grows to 6′ tall and at least as wide. Although browsed occasionally by deer the damage is rarely noticeable as you can see and the hummingbirds LOVE these flowers!

One thing that I found interesting this year is the color variation. This plant (photo above and also the one in the leading photo) grows in full sun and the flowers are an intense, deep pink.

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The shrub pictured above is exactly the same variety but the flowers are smaller and a softer hue. This shrub is shaded somewhat by neighboring trees which presumably accounts for the discrepancy. However, it struck me that to extend the duration of available flowers for the hummingbirds it would be a good idea to deliberately plant these in a variety of lighting conditions from partial shade to full sun.

Flowering currant is hardy in zones 6-8 and is drought tolerant once established. There are many named varieties with both pink and white flowers.

Lungwort

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I think this variety may be Mrs. Moon

One of the easiest perennials to grow, lungwort (Pulmonaria) has many other common names including soldiers and sailors! This old fashioned favorite is now available with other flower colors from deepest cobalt blue to pure white but I still prefer the traditional coloring that shows both pink and blue flowers as they age. Likewise the foliage typically has silver spots but you can now find varieties with almost entirely silver foliage.

Fashion statement regardless, hummingbirds will squabble loudly over these! Be sure to place them where you can enjoy the show from your armchair or while strolling along a path in spring. The clumps grow quickly and are easy to divide to expand your planting area.

TIP: older varieties are prone to mildew. Shear the entire plant down to 2″ after blooming. It will quickly regrow and the new leaves will remain clean and healthy.

Although recommended for partial shade and moist soil I also have these growing in full sun with no summer irrigation –  and they still thrive!

Andromeda, Lily of the Valley shrub

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I first saw these thirty years ago, flourishing in the acidic soils of Scotland and was envious of those gardeners who could enjoy the heady perfume and evergreen foliage. When we moved to the USA in 1996 I was thrilled to discover that Seattle also has acidic soil and so can now grow these in my own garden. The variety above is Mountain Fire (Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’)- one of many to choose from.

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New foliage growth is a deep mahogany red, making a striking contrast with the older mid-green leaves. Tough, dependable and deer resistant this has also proven to be surprisingly drought tolerant and yes the hummingbirds love these flowers too – even if they are white!

I also have a young Impish Elf that looks promising with raspberry red flowers and several Little Heath which as a dwarf has much smaller flowers and I grow primarily for its foliage.

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Variegated leaves of the compact Little Heath  – love the rosy flush of new spring growth

Winter daphne

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These blooms are almost gone – most are faded to a dirty white although still emit a remarkable fragrance. The winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) has been flowering since early February and as such was one of the first blooms to entice the hummingbirds to visit. Planted adjacent to the lungwort these little birds won’t go hungry as they simple move from one flower to the next!

In harsh winters my daphne can lose a lot of their leaves but the plants quickly recover and are a highlight of the late winter and early spring garden, welcoming visitors of all species with their intoxicating fragrance and pretty variegated leaves.

And for dessert…

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A special gift from my daughter last year – found at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

I’d love to add a few more treats for these wonderful little birds. What do YOU grow for hummingbirds? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook – I always enjoy hearing your ideas.

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