conifers

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:

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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

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:

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

 

Over the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall

It’s been a busy week as I’ve been hard at work on a special project for you! (More about that later…)

Are you curious to see what’s happening in your neighbor’s garden? Do you sneak a peek while out walking the dog? Don’t blush – we all do it!

Well I know I’m rather off the beaten track so I took a few photos this weekend to show you what’s happening.

It was early morning when I ventured out. The sun was just moments from making its appearance; that magical, ephemeral time of day.

Misty layers of flowers and foliage

Most of my garden borders have a sunset” color scheme of coral, orange, magenta, gold and deepest burgundy. It’s a rich color palette that is vibrant in every season. In spring, the rhododendrons and Exbury azaleas (most of which I inherited) have their shining moment. My challenge is to find ways to showcase their fleeting glory – by partnering them with beautiful foliage of course.

Working with pink blooms

Burgundy leaves pair so easily with pink flowers.

A “no name” Rhodie Playing off the burgundy foliage of a new Pixie Japanese maple

Low lying branches flirt with Blackberry Ice heuchera

A golden full moon maple provides a brighter contrast

Golden yellows need bold partners

The deciduous Exbury azaleas are some of my favorite shrubs – I love the fall color as much as the “in your face” spring blooms.

The large golden flowered shrub below was here when we moved in although we relocated it with help from a bobcat! Today it joins company with a golden conifer and large Rose Glow barberry.

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae reinforces the color scheme

The wispy shrub with red flowers in the background is a sterile form of Scotch broom. It is an old Proven Winners variety. Love that it is deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Close up of the flowers on my sterile Scotch broom – so pretty

Foliage Highlights

Foliage is key in my garden and I love the way a Double Play Gold spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda frame these mango colored azaleas, one of the Northern Light series.

New growth on a spirea and andromeda  echoes an orange-toned azalea

Mercifully barberries are not invasive in the PNW, because I love them for their deer resistance and wonderful range of colors.

Limoncello barberry and a blue pine

Limoncello barberry can be tough to place in the garden as the color goes beyond bold to almost garish. I’ve found blue and silver are the best companions and love it with a columnar blue pine in the background.

Lemoncello has crazy attitude!

Red barberries are much easier to work with, however. I have several clusters of the dwarf Golden Ruby barberry and am especially pleased with this pairing with a dark leaf euphorbia.

Golden Ruby barberry and Ruby Glow euphorbia

Those magenta colors seem to be everywhere right now! An elderly gentleman (Jerry Munroe, that some may remember from his Kenmore nursery) gave me these primroses many years ago. When we moved to this house I brought them with me.

Moisture-loving Japanese primroses and Rodger’s flower – ideal companions on our stream bank

Love how they play off the oversized Rodgersia foliage!

And deep in the garden….

So what else have I been up to? Well I’ve been working hard putting together a new online workshop for you; Designing Abundant Containers. This will totally change how you plan, shop and design your containers gardens! It will launch any day now and be offered to my newsletter subscribers. (Not a subscriber? No problem – you can sign up here.)

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look  from one of the videos. We needed to check that when I moved about I would remain inside the frame of the primary camera. Andy (my husband who was manning all three cameras plus audio) asked to “see what (I ) could do”……

 

Never take yourself too seriously, right?!