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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.

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Last Needle Hanging

Last Needle Hanging

Seen above in better days….

The conifer is failing

…but sadly a key plant in this scene has now become an embarrassing eyesore.  Time to take action!

Out with the Old

My Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue), carefully placed to the left of the cabin, started to feel a bit “off” last year – and turned a dull olive green. This year she is decidedly brown. I could wait  until the last needle drops or just face the inevitable and dig her out. This is a prime location, visible from the home, the patio and even when driving onto the property so it’s not place for a Charlie Brown. I also painted the door of the cabin to match the conifer….. Geez, did she not understand that before she started with her chameleon attitude?

Not the look I was going for!

But what to replace her with? I like the idea of a conifer still, it needs to be low and spreading (so the cabin and orange container behind it are not obscured, it needs to be deer resistant, tolerate full sun, be drought tolerant once established – and be BLUE. The soil isn’t great in that spot. The native soil is clay and while it has been amended I suspect the water table is quite high which may mean soggy winter soil and be the reason for the demise of the deodar cedar whose sensitivities were upset by the short-term foot bath.

In with the New

Love the visible white stomata on the needles of the Spreading Star Pacific fir

I’ve chosen a selection of a native fir – the Spreading Star Pacific fir (Abies amabilis ‘Spreading Star’). I love the deep blue-green needles that radiate around the stems and the distinctive silver-white undersides which add a shimmer effect. It will grow to 6′ wide x 3′ tall; about the same size as the failed cedar that is being removed.

Regarding deer resistance, I’ve been fortunate with deer and fir interactions so far, the only casualty being rutting against a Korean fir, so I’m fairly optimistic on that front but may spray the first couple of winters to give it a chance to get established.

I’m not sure how it will fare in my soil, except that I have two other fir in the same border that are doing well so again am cautiously optimistic.

Temporary Design Assistance!

Silver Falls dichondra is often used as a trailing silver-leaved annual

 

The only problem is that while it will eventually grow to fill the space, right now it’s tiny! It would be easy to fill up the space with a wild assortment of bits and bobs but I want this to be a distinct focal point to anchor this bed and not get lost in a cacophony of botanical treasures. I’m therefore going to surround it with a temporary silver carpet of Silver Falls dichondra.

I like the silver color echo between the fir and the groundcover, and also the difference in leaf shape and texture

The small, metallic silver leaves will accentuate the color of the conifer and act like a series of floodlights lighting up the star. I know this is only an annual for me, but it’s a fairly cheap, short-term solution that won’t spoil my overall design.

Early results

The new look – day 1

Yes it IS small, especially when I’m used to seeing the larger conifer, but I like the direction this is going in now. Framing the fir with the silver groundcover really sets it off as I’d hoped. And I love it with the door!

Resources

If you love conifers, you might like this book. My copy is VERY well thumbed!

This post contains affiliate links

 

Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

When I realized that my post Skinny Conifers for Tight Spaces has been read over 40,000 times, it inspired me to create a  free booklet for my newsletter subscribers; Top 10 Skinny Trees for Tight Spaces, which expanded that selection to include deciduous and flowering trees as well as conifers. That too has been well received, so here is the next installment: Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces.

Why Skinny?

There are times when you need a vertical element to break up a river of mounding shapes. Or to stand sentry at an entrance point. Or to create a living dividing wall between garden areas. Perhaps you have a narrow side garden and need screening from the neighbors’ yet do not want to erect a fence? Or you are just looking for a centerpiece for a container that doesn’t get too wide. Basically skinny shrubs are useful where you only have a small footprint to work with yet need some height.

The selection here is far from all-inclusive, but includes many I have used in designs over the years as well as a few newer ones that I’m still testing but look promising. For my garden they also have to be drought tolerant and deer resistant! Here are my current favorite skinny shrubs:

Fine Line buckthorn

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

I’ve used Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’)  in containers, to create a deciduous hedge, and also to establish a living wall adjacent to a pathway.

This versatile shrub retains is columnar shape without pruning, is deer resistant, drought tolerant, will grow in part shade or full sun and is sterile – so none of the invasive concerns of older varieties of buckthorn. The finely textured green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and the brown woody stems  are speckled with white spots, so even  after the leaves have fallen there is a sculptural quality and beauty to this shrub.

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

Ultimate height is given as 5-7 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide but mine have yet to get that big. Hardy in USDA zones 2-7. (There’s another really cool combo featuring this in our book Gardening with Foliage First)

Columnar barberries

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden, WA

Not for everyone, as barberries (Berberis) are invasive in some states, but where these can be grown, consider Sunjoy Gold Pillar (gold) and Helmond’s Pillar (burgundy). I’ve used these in the impossibly small planting beds in front of garages, in containers, to mark the entrance to a woodland path, to create a living fence between neighbors, and as exclamation points in the landscape. They can be planted singly or in groups to great effect. Fall color and berries add to the display.

Using Helmond's Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Using Helmond’s Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Incidentally I have seen Helmond’s Pillar 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide so the size cited here is rather conservative. Conversely, I have found the golden form to be smaller and slower growing.

A semi-transparant screen between neighbors using Helmond's Pillar, clematis. My design

A semi-transparent screen between neighbors using Helmond’s Pillar, clematis, standard roses and columnar evergreens, rising from a carpet of Profusion fleabane. Design by Le jardinet.

You’ll find more design ideas using both of these in my latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Drought tolerant but needs moisture retentive soil to avoid defoliation during extreme summer heat, and has proven to be deer resistant (YAY!)

Barberries are hardy in zones 4-8.

Moonlight Magic crapemyrtle

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia cvs.) and Washington state – especially colder regions of the state – are not usually considered compatible as it rarely gets warm enough for the shrubs to bloom. That becomes irrelevant when you have a  variety such as Moonlight Magic, with dark chocolate colored foliage in a much narrower form than the better known Californian street trees.

Moonlight Magic grows just 4-6 feet wide yet still gets 8-12 feet tall, so more slender and well-toned rather than truly skinny – but worth your consideration for sure.

Beutiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

Beautiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

I’ve had success with this in a container for several years now. In landscape designs I could see using Moonlight Magic as a focal point within a vignette or where I might otherwise reach for a purple smoke bush but don’t have the space.

Purple Pillar hibiscus

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms as shown in the test garden at Spring Meadow nursery. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Hibiscus are those shrubs with tropical-looking flowers that are so eye catching in late summer, yet many are too large for the average garden. Purple Pillar is the answer at just 2-3 feet wide. If you plant them 2 feet apart they quickly form a dense summer screen as shown in the photo above.

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Don’t let lack of a garden spoil the fun. Purple Pillar will grow happily in large containers. These can be placed together to create a privacy screen from the neighbors or hide ugly utilities.

More ideas

There are also several broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are tightly columnar that you might consider, including

Sky Pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Columnar Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Mariesii’) which is more sculptural than Sky Pencil but can be harder to find.

Green Spire euonymus (Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’)  – slightly slower growing and not quite so tight at Sky Pencil

Graham Blandy boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’)

 

Big Ideas for Using Color in Small Spaces

So much color, so many ideas, so little time! That’s the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in a nutshell. Thank goodness for my camera because that’s how I can look back on special visual highlights to glean ideas for my own garden and share some of my favorites with you. In this post I’m focusing on some of the details from the City Living displays that caught me eye. These displays are created within an 12′ x 6′ footprint and intended to represent a typical city size balcony or condo patio, showing that a small space doesn’t mean compromising on style.

If you enjoyed my last post on Fearless Design – secrets for using bold color in the garden but wondered how those ideas could be translated to even smaller spaces, this post is for you

Crayola Colors

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Vibrant scarlet and golden-yellow tulips set the theme for the garden called “Seattle Style

Camden Gardens won the award for Best Design in the City Living Displays this year and I can understand why.  A border of glossy, golden yellow containers framed the space and brought instant sunshine to this petite grey Seattle patio. These were planted with a simple repeating combination of chartreuse conifers, vibrant red and gold tulips, yellow begonias and bi-color primroses.

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Award winning display “Seattle Style”  by Camden Gardens

Clusters of tall, white, circular containers were the perfect counterpoint to the linear display while one single bronze vessel with unique geometric lines took the container display from well done to exceptional. The red and yellow color scheme was continued in all the containers – except a single bronze one, which included blue flowering accents.

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

I also loved the use of a sculptural piece of driftwood inserted into one of the tall containers, its organic shape acting as a  frame for several colorful glass balls while also introducing the juxtaposition of a natural element within the man-made.

All the finishing touches were pulled together with an artistic eye for both repetition and contrast. It’s a perfect oasis for an Seattle couple – and their pampered pup, as this patio includes a comfy dog bed and water bowl for the furry family member too.

Color for Cocktail Gardens

Dee Montpetit is no stranger to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, and her display this year, “A Botanical Soiree” had all her usual hallmarks of  great use of color, interesting container combinations, and attention to detail.

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“A Botanical Soiree” designed by Dee Montpetit

 

The silver chairs, table, and buffet had an airiness to their design, the transparency enhancing the sense of space on the small patio.

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A wall-hung, mosaic framed mirror reflects the taller plantings opposite, suggesting a much larger garden space.

Turquoise is the key color, featured in containers, a tall bubbling fountain, the mosaic mirror frame, and soft furnishings. Being used on different elements throughout the patio, the eye  moves from one splash of blue to the next – a key design trick to create a sense of cohesion but also making a small space seem larger.

Silver reflects light, and grey Seattle days  – and evenings – need all the help they can get, so it was a wise use of color for the furniture while matte black containers anchor the design.

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Great use of space: oval pots and light-wrapped tree branches

Against one wall, in place of a traditional screen or fence Dee wrapped tiny LED lights around cut birch branches. I’m seriously going to copy that idea somewhere!! Can you imaging the tiny twinkles of light at night?

Notice her use of oval containers too – they take up a smaller footprint than round or square pots so are ideal where space is at a premium yet can still be planted with trees, shrubs, perennials, succulents and bulbs – all top-dressed with sparkly blue glass pebbles.

Charming color and plant combinations

Charming color and plant combinations

A restrained color palette of silver, blue, and pink  doesn’t translate to boring when Dee is let loose! I loved her intriguing textures and unique combinations that included fragrant lavender and hyacinths, with spring daffodils and primroses all nestled within a gorgeous foliage tapestry of astelia, spurge, cushion bush (Calocephalus brownii), succulents and more.

Spring isn't spring without hellebores

Spring isn’t spring without hellebores and fragrant sweetbox.

Dee chose colors for the container plantings that would work well after dark as well as being beautiful during the day . White, pale pink, and soft lavender all glow softly at dusk, which together with the twinkling lights and silver elements ensure this patio is ready for any soiree.

Final Shout Out

I have to commend Grace Hensley for this fun detail in her City Living  garden. You KNOW you want to copy this idea. If you have kids, grandkids – or are a child at heart, don’t you want to tell the story of the little mouse who lives behind the teeny tiny black door…..

Design by Grace Hensley

Design by Grace Hensley

 

Are you ready for spring now?

More Ideas

If you want more ideas for designing for small spaces check out Susan Morrison’s latest book The Less is More Garden, You can also read my review here.