container design

Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

“Oh boy,” was my less-than-enthusiastic reaction when I opened the box of plants to trial from Proven Winners and saw several petunias. PINK petunias at that. I can’t stand petunias. They get sticky, messy, don’t deadhead politely, get covered in aphids, don’t tolerate rain – and pink is NOT my color…

As I donned my gardening gloves and pushed my pride to one side I tried to focus on the fact that I was being asked to test these plants as a real gardener so that YOU would have an unbiased review of their performance. Sure it was going to be unbiased. I hate petunias. Did I mention that already? And I don’t especially like pink. I’m not completely averse to pink – I just wouldn’t choose it.

I hastily shoved them in a couple of spare pots adding whatever I could round up to work with them (did I mention that I don’t “do” pink?) and set up the drip irrigation system.. I then left town for 10 days – for 8 of which it poured with rain. When I got back home did I rush out to see how they were doing? Noooo. I hunkered down in my office for another 8 days to finish writing my book, during which time it rained – a lot.

When I eventually emerged and ventured out to check on them I anticipated a sticky, molten mess. I kid you not – they were stunning. No sticky goo. No aphids.

I didn’t even primp them before taking these photos – this is as real as it gets!

Et Voila: Supertunia Vista Bubblegum

Of the two, so far, I’d say Vista Bubblegum has a tidier habit – no awkward sprawly bits – and it is playing beautifully with the delicate, silver Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’. And although I don’t go for pink as a rule I could honestly be tempted by this one. It’s a lovely clear shade of pink with deeper veins- not too bright and not too pale. I think it will hold up well to bright summer sun come August. And just one little plant is really giving a lot for the money.

….and Supertunia Vista Paradise

Supertunia Vista Paradise is a little more sprawly but not excessively so and I am deliberately not going to pinch it back as I want to see how it performs on its own. Chances are it will even out and have a similar habit to Vista Bubblegum.

Supertunia Vista Paradise with a blue fanflower (Scaevola), Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ and a lovely new Angelonia called Angelface ‘Steel Blue’ that will be available in 2019. All except the fanflower are from Proven Winners

It’s a really deep shade of neon pink that looks stunning with bolder shades of yellow and blue-purple so is a little closer to my usual color tempo. This one will be available in nurseries in 2019

Stay tuned for a late season follow up but dare I say I am impressed? By a petunia! Proven Winners  you have achieved the impossible.

Although the plants were from Proven Winners I have not been paid to give my endorsement. Opinions are my own and unbiased. (I DID tell you that I hate petunias, right?)

Watery Hues at Chanticleer

Watery Hues at Chanticleer

I’m sure you’ve heard of the renowned white garden at Sissinghurst. Even if you’ve never seen it in person there are countless images online depicting its quiet elegance. Does the idea of a monochromatic color scheme intrigue you but you’re nervous to try it?

  • Are you afraid it will lack interest?
  • You’re not sure which color to focus on?
  • You’d like to add just a hint of contrast but don’t know how or with what?

This may be just the inspiration you need!

I managed to squeeze in a short trip to Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA a week or so ago. I had been photographing the last few gardens for my new book Deer Resistant Design (Timber Press, 2019) and realized I was within striking distance of this magical garden that had completely captivated me when I visited last fall.

I arrived a little later than ideal for photography but was still able to find a few spots with soft light, including the gravel terrace adjacent to the formal pool, which was planted in a deliciously cooling palette of soft aqua tones, accented by the finely dissected blue-black foliage of Black Lace elderberry and a few light confetti sprinkles of coral-orange.

The watery hues of the pool house roof and pool itself inspired the monochromatic theme which in true Chanticleer style was not bound by limitations of hardiness or longevity so much as drama, texture, form and scale of foliage, enhanced by a few select flowers. In other words it is my sort of garden!

Finding Focus

Focal points are essential in any design, but are especially important where the color palette is restrained. Here a pair of weathered stone roosters stand apart from the exuberant plantings, while the bold succulent foliage of a stunning blue century plant (Agave americana) forms a counterpoint to a froth of finer textures.

 

A bold blue century plant (Agave americana) thrives anchors the design surrounded by the foliage and flowers of curly sea kale (Crambe maritima), annual long-headed poppies (Papaver dubium), donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) and Dalmation bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

While these roosters stand sentry to the stepped path that leads to the pool, the borders they guard are not planted in a strictly symmetrical fashion. Rather the emphasis is on repetition of the color palette and textures.

Sea kale has been allowed to flower, its succulent stems and white flowers adding to the casual display.

Adjacent to a major pathway, this display also has to hold up to closer inspection by strolling visitors. I was fascinated by the plant selection the designers had thought to use and marveled at their inventiveness. I only wish I could visit again in mid-summer to see how this color story will continue to unfold.

Blue Glitter sea holly (Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’) shows off its spiky blue bracts

Your turn!

Has this got you thinking? Remember you can design a single container, a feature border or an entire garden room in this way. It can be designed using hardy plants, annuals or a blend of the two.

Look around your garden for color cues. Perhaps your red front door? Or a specimen tree with silver leaves? Or a cobalt blue birdbath? Where the pool house roof guided the choice at Chanticleer any of those features could be a color springboard for your unique design.

Bismarck palms (Bismarkia nobilis) are planted in containers tucked into the border adjacent to the pool house, reinforcing the color scheme and seasonal display.

Be sure to visit Chanticleer if you can! It’s now open until the end of October.

Live too far away? Then treat yourself to this enticing book, The Art of Chanticleer photographed by award-winning photographer Rob Cardillo.

Note this post contains affiliate links

Plants for Procrastinators

Plants for Procrastinators
  • Have you been caught with areas of your garden not quite summer-ready?
  • Not ready to commit to what you really want in that empty spot?
  • Do you have shrubs that will eventually fill the space – but are still rather small?
  • Don’t have the budget yet for that specimen tree you’ve got your eye on?
  • Just too busy to figure out what you want in an area right now – but you don’t want to leave it empty either?

I can totally relate! For me it was finally deciding that a mature Black Lace elderberry had to go. I love this shrub and have another in a different area that is fine, but I was fighting cane borers every year on this one and the amount of effort and maintenance involved didn’t make sense for this low-maintenance gardener. But we are already having days in the high 70’s and I don’t have an irrigation system so adding a long-term replacement of some sort is going to be tricky, especially as I’ll be traveling a lot this summer. Plus I need time to consider what I want!

The solution is a short term fix – a fast growing annual that will grow vigorously to fill the gap but be easy care. There are many to choose from depending on your needs. Here are some of my favorites. Bear in mind, some of these may be perennial for you – bonus!

Cardoon

At Joy Creek Nursery in Oregon, a huge clump of silver cardoon is truly perennial.  Plant-envy!!

Similar in appearance to an artichoke, this dramatic, architectural plant makes quite the statement with its huge, serrated silver leaves and edible flowers. I buy it every year, envious of my Seattle neighbors who enjoy this as a perennial in their sandy soils, but accepting that in my sticky clay soil they always rot over the winter.

Cardoon blooms attract bees, butterflies and photographers!

I’ve added two of these where my elderberry was, knowing that it will be deer resistant and drought tolerant and quickly fill the space behind a bench. Cardoon will grow to 6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide in a single season.

Tobacco plant

Nicotiana langsdorfii has tubular lime green flowers that look wonderful set against dark foliage of a smoke bush.

There are several species of tobacco plant (Nicotiana) I use for this purpose: Nicotiana langsdorfii and the flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). Both often set seed in my garden so I have free plants the following year which can be transplanted to more suitable spots  when still small.

The large basal rosettes of soft green leaves are excellent weed-smotherers, yet the tall, slender stems of blooms are airy and mingle easily with other garden companions. N. langsdorfii has tubular lime green flowers while the night-scented flowering tobacco has white flowers clustered around a stem. Both grow 5-6 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide and are deer resistant. They have also proven drought tolerant in my garden but will struggle in hotter climates without supplemental water.

The first image in this post shows them as part of a summer vignette helping to amplify my young island border plantings.

Golden Delicious sage

If you don’t need something quite that tall but would love to introduce golden foliage and attract hummingbirds, consider the new variety of pineapple sage called Golden Delicious from Proven Winners. This caught my eye at CAST recently so I was thrilled when I received a couple to try here!

Golden Delicious sage makes a stunning border specimen. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Vivid red-flowers will ensure your garden is party central for all the neighborhood hummingbirds! Give this some elbow room as that little 4″ plant will grow 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide over the summer. I’ve added two, together with Kudos Gold hyssop and orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) close to the porch of our little garden cabin so I can enjoy the sunset colors and bird activity from the comfort of my chair.

Rockin’Fuchsia sage

Rockin’ Fuchsia sage with gaura and shasta daisies, as seen at the Proven Winners display at the California Spring Trials

Another sage that caught my eye at CAST was Rockin’ Fuchsia – and again I am thrilled that it has been included in my “trials” selection from Proven Winners so I can let you know how it really performs in my garden! Just look at those deep magenta flowers – really eye catching. This won’t be available until 2019 so stay tuned. I’m testing it with the burgundy foliage of a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel as a backdrop, replacing Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’ that didn’t make it through our winter (no surprise there).

In the meantime you may want to experiment with Love and Wishes sage from Sunset and Southern Living Plants collections. Or if you prefer blue over magenta, look for Amistad. All are annuals for me but perennial in warmer areas and grow to 3 feet tall and wide or so. All are drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Experience of this species makes me suggest you place them where a few fallen flowers don’t matter i.e. NOT front and central on your main patio! They bloom so prolifically, and self-clean (i.e. drop their spent flowers) that fastidious gardeners may not like having to keep a broom handy. In the border it isn’t an issue.

Senorita spider flowers

Senorita Rosalita spider flower – gorgeous color

Another staple in my summer garden are the compact spider flowers by Proven Winners; the white flowering Senorita Blanca and the rose colored Senorita Rosalita. I’m a huge fan of these floriferous, sterile, multi-branched annuals and always find an excuse to add several groups of them. At 3-4 feet tall and 2 feet wide they are perfect for filling in between young shrubs and look especially pretty with grasses in a meadow-inspired design. Deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Quicksilver wormwood

Use Quicksilver wormwood to fill in between young plants

I had to call Proven Winners about this fast growing annual groundcover when it was first being introduced. It proved to be far more vigorous than they had originally anticipated, quickly spreading to 4 feet in diameter but just a few inches tall. That’s great value from one little 4″ plant!

I love Quicksilver as a filler between taller plants, and unlike evergreen groundcovers that cover the ground permanently, since this annual is removed at summer’s end I can still plant bulbs and amend the soil in fall. I also prefer it over the perennial Silver Brocade that looks similar but insists on blooming with scruffy yellow flowers that I have to spend time removing. To me this groundcover is all about the felted silver foliage. It is also drought tolerant and deer resistant – yay!

Coleus

Coleus Main Street Ocean Drive is a new introduction by Dummen Orange

With so many colorful varieties of coleus available that are both sun and shade tolerant, you are sure to find one to fill those summertime gaps in your garden. Check the tags to get an idea of size. Friends in North Carolina have reported these to be deer resistant but in my slug-infested Seattle garden I haven’t tried them except in containers. Do tell me your experience with coleus and deer!

Or add a container!

Adding a container into the border creates instant impact and a focal point

Tucking a container into the border adds instant color, height and a focal point – the ideal solution if you’re still deliberating which specimen tree or shrub to purchase.

And if you’re struggling for ideas on what to plant in them I can help! Registration for my online workshop

Designing Abundant Containers

is about to CLOSE but if you act TODAY you can sign up and take advantage of the coupon code “earlybird” to get 25% off.

Be warned – the coupon expires this Thursday (May 31st). This is NOT the time to procrastinate šŸ™‚

 

Click on the image for details and to register!

 

All right – time for action! Have fun and tell me what YOU do to fill those “oops” gaps in your garden this year.

Contemporary Container Design

Contemporary Container Design

Thanks to YOU and your great ideas I finally got my new container planted. I’m not usually stumped – it was more that I had too MANY ideas, and your input helped hone them down perfectly. (In case you’ve forgotten you can revisit my original post Imagination Needed here. )

The criteria

Plants for the container needed to be:

  • Deer resistant
  • Reasonably drought tolerant (occasional blast with the hose)
  • Tolerant of full sun
  • Work with the surroundings plants and color scheme (sunset shades with silver and white accents)
  • Be visible from a distance but also interesting up close

 

How I got started

It is so important to stand back! I set out the plants, still in their pots then went to view them from the window. I loved the low profile of the design, how it moved in the breeze, how it left the shape of the container clearly visible and how it allowed the surrounding foliage to frame but not compete with it.

From 75′ away the details are not obvious – but the effect is.

Getting closer

Even though this is newly planted, and the plants are still small it doesn’t look too sparse even when viewed close up. There’s a sense of anticipation – a promise – of what’s to come. Bear in mind this is still May – it will look STUNNING by the time we are truly in summer mode.

The plants I chose – and why.

The inspiration for the whole design came from Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’, a gorgeous grass-like perennial from the Sunset and Southern Living collections which I used as the centerpiece. I am testing this to determine winter hardiness this year, but until now have assumed it is only a luscious annual fin Seattle. Gardeners are optimists though, right?

The delicate green and cream variegated foliage moves in the breeze – like a kinetic sculpture when set in this contemporary container. 

I flanked the finely textured Lomandra with two Senecio ‘Angel Wings’, whose bold, felted silver leaves are foliage-lovers eye candy on steroids. This is still in limited supply as it is so new to the market so if you see it – BUY it! The large heart-shaped leaves have a scalloped edge and the plant itself is said to be fast growing. In slug-infested Seattle, you will need to bait for those slimy, lace-making invertebrates but otherwise this promises to be the Plant of the Year for sheer beauty.

Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’. Photo courtesy Concept Plants

Adding a petticoat effect to the Senecio is Quicksilver hebe, whose tiny blue-grey leaves are held on stiff black stems, the color echoing that of the pot.

I could have left it at that, but it wasn’t quite “Karen” yet. I happened to have one pot of Kirigami ornamental oregano so I squeezed that in front of the Lomandra. The lavender and apple-green hop-like flowers will tumble nicely over the container edge while the round blue-green leaves works well with the monochromatic color scheme.

The finishing touch was Red Threads Alternanthera, sometimes called Joseph’s coat, whose purple foliage repeats the oregano blooms and adds contrast to all the paler shades. This is the least drought tolerant plant of the design so I’ll need to keep my eye on it! Here’s the funny thing about this annual; from a distance it disappears into the shadows. Yet up close the deeper color definitely enhances the overall combination.

Looking ahead

As a rule I don’t show you my freshly planted’ designs – preferring to “wow’ you with the fully grown version! But I wanted to say “thank you” for your inspiring ideas and also to show you that even a newly planted container using smaller than ideal plants can look beautiful if you know how to do it.

Which begs the question – how confident are YOU that every container you are planting will look amazing from the day you plant it, until frost?

  • Do you know how to plan efficiently,
  • shop effectively ,and
  • design like a professional?

Why don’t you check out my NEW online workshop where I teach all this and a whole lot more;

Designing Abundant Containers

Registration is only open for a few more days but if you register now you can save money and watch the online workshop as often, whenever, and wherever you please.

Use coupon code earlybird to get 25% off!

(Coupon for first 100 subscribers, expires 5/31/18)

 

Here’s a preview video:

“Wonderful combination of video and written information! Karen’s warm personality is a pleasure to listen and learn from. So practical and key points are ones you can easily remember and pass on to others “ Sue

Get the details and register TODAY!

 

 

Remember to save 25% with the coupon code earlybird

 

New (and newly discovered) Deer Resistant Annuals

New (and newly discovered) Deer Resistant Annuals

When six plant-crazy women (collectively known as #NGBplantnerds), six overstuffed suitcases, numerous bulging camera bags,  a LARGE  bag of yummy snacks, and rather a lot of plants squeeze into a minivan for a Californian road trip, you can bet there’s going to be some laughs, plenty of wine, and lots of fun. You can also expect a few funny stories along the way: let’s just say that one unfortunate lavender plant got squished so many times it earned the nickname “Chernobyl” for it’s somewhat mutated shape….

Chernobyl sacrificed her good looks for a worthy cause, however. This was the annual road trip, hosted by the National Garden Bureau and All America Selections (AAS) to the California Spring Trials (CAST) This week long event is an opportunity for 59 plant breeders with displays at 16 different locations, to showcase their latest seed and vegetatively propagated annuals, perennials, edibles, and shrubs, hoping to tempt plant distributors, growers, and retail buyers into selecting their treasures for their customers. How many of the plants displayed actually make it to the retail nurseries and box stores? About 12%. Yikes – I had no idea, had you? Think of all the years that have gone into selectively breeding the latest speckled petunia – and it may never make it beyond CAST.

My role in this adventure

I was one of four garden writers selected to accompany Diane Blazek and Gail Pabst, both from the National Garden Bureau and AAS. As garden writers we are the link between these plant breeders and you, sharing the plants we were most excited about and giving you an insight into what we hope will be coming to retail nurseries near you either later this year or in spring 2019.

My two primary areas of interest were plants with great foliage (if they had flowers that was a bonus but not essential) and  anything new that was deer resistant. I was not disappointed as my 1000 or so photos will attest! To narrow it down I’m focusing this post on new deer resistant annuals. Some are new colors, a few have improved breeding, and one isn’t really new to the market, but it was new to me and I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with you.

You don’t have deer? Lucky you – enjoy these beauties anyhow!

Cool Shades of Violet, Blue and Aqua

SenettiĀ® Magic Salmon

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SenettiĀ® Magic Salmon by Suntory

You’ll probably recognize this flowering pot plant although this colorway is quite remarkable. The plant itself has a bewildering number of names. In the UK I knew it as Cineraria, but I see that today it is also referred to as a Senecio and a Pericallis hybrid. Regardless – did you know it is also deer resistant? That makes it a worthy container candidate in my view and this color was blow-your-socks-off amazing. Almost luminous, the violet-blue daisies have a distinctive salmon-pink eye.

Expect this to bloom late spring-early summer, so possibly a useful transitional plant for the container shoulder season? Unlike earlier introductions, the SenettiĀ® series is unique in that it re-blooms. Introduced by Suntory.

HotĀ® lobelia series

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Snow Flurries combo of  Hot lobelia from Westhoff

I had pretty much dismissed lobelia from my radar until I discovered a few newer varieties that had been bred for improved heat resistance. That means they don’t peter out in August -my main complaint. Once I also realized they are deer resistant I got really excited and now look to include them in my designs!

This Hot series is said to be the most durable and heat tolerant lobelia on the market today. Bred by Westhoff these annuals are an upright form but as you can see from the photograph will gently mound over and soften container edges. I especially loved this color mix offered as a pre-planted combination called Snow Flurries, a blend of Hot Snow White and Hot Waterblue.

SurdivaĀ® fan flower series

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Surdiva fan flowers from Suntory

I’ve always been a fan of fan flower (pun intended) (Scaevola sp.). They do well in full sun -part shade and are great minglers in mixed container designs, blooming non-stop for the entire summer planting season. They do tend to throw out long “arms” which can be a problem in smaller containers or more “disciplined” designs, however. Surdiva changes all that with more compact yet equally floriferous plants. Suntory is the breeder behind these award winning annuals. Shown here are three colors from that series that play especially well together: Blue Violet, Sky Blue, and White Improved.

No deadheading is necessary – and they will still have flowers when you get the first frost in fall.

Salvia CathedralĀ® Blue Bicolor

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Salvia Cathedral Blue Bicolor from Greenfuse

Salvias were one of the most popular new introductions – both annual and perennial varieties. All of which is good news if you share your garden with deer as they are typically ignored by those four-legged pests. I am always drawn to the two-tone varieties of Salvia farinacea such as this one called Cathedral Blue bicolor from Greenfuse, which is scheduled to reach nurseries next year and as yet is not listed on the breeder website (which goes to show how new it is!). This series performs well in hot and humid conditions as well as more temperate areas such as the PNW and starts blooming early in the season. At 12-16″  tall it is ideal for the border or pots.

Shimmering Silver and White

Makana Silver artemisia

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Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’ from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

This one had me so excited I was positively giddy! Feathery, finely dissected, aromatic foliage that opens sea-green before maturing to a beautiful silver  – just imagine what I could do with this!! Well imagine no more as I have purchased FOUR of these samples from my local wholesale grower to experiment with – stay tuned! A new introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc., this annual is set to become a favorite of foliage lovers everywhere.

Drought tolerant, deer resistant and a delicious, fluffy mound of loveliness.

White Delight bidens

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White Delight bidens from Danziger

A few years ago, bidens were the last annuals standing on the nursery shelves. No-one wnate dthem or knew what to do with the overly-vigouros rather straggly things. Today, with improved breeding that has changed and bidens have  become popular trailing annuals for baskets and container. Colors are typically in fiery shades of orange or yellow – white is much harder to come by so I was pleased to see White Delight being offered by Danziger – one of their Timeless collection. Unlike those earlier introductions, White Delight appears less gangly, yet as cheerful, and floriferous as you’d hope. What do you think?

Rosy tones

Tattooā„¢ Papaya Vinca

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Tattoo Papaya vinca from PanAmerican seed

I’m not a fan of tattoos. Sorry. They make me squeamish just thinking about the needles involved. But this annual flowering Vinca Tattoo had me smitten to the point that I have begged one of our local production greenhouses to grow them! Unlike the trailing vinca (commonly called periwinkle) which is a shade loving, evergreen, trailing groundcover (Vinca spp.), this flowering annual is literally another genus (Catharanthus roseus) and prefers full sun.

We don’t usually see them in the Seattle area, but are very popular in states such as Florida and Texas. I’d love to see that changed because this deer resistant annual is a powerhouse of color. I especially loved the Papaya colorway shown here – and it is available this year from several sources including Burpee Seeds! Introduced by PanAmerican Seeds it is sure to become a firm favorite. Just look at the color blending in those blooms…. Like ink blots diffusing on a wet background.

(Also check out this page which lists mail order companies that sell a range of the PanAmerican seeds)

Joey lamb’s tails

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Just call me Joey – from Benary

As cute as a fuzzy pair of slippers – I was totally entranced by these when I saw them on display at Benary. Granted they are not new to the market but it was the first time I had seen them and loved this container combination using them.

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Joey and friends: design by Benary

Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey’ is a bit of a mouthful to remember. But it’s worth the effort to make a note of this Australian beauty that is drought tolerant, heat loving and deer resistant. And pettable. Just ask for Joey.

Hot and Spicy

Margarita African daisies

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Margarita Solar Flare and Margarita Rioja Red from Dummen Orange

That’s one sizzling combo right there. Pour the tequila – it’s time for a FIESTA!! African daisies (Osteospernum) are drought tolerant, deer resistant annuals (or perennials depending on where you live). This duo comprises Margarita Solar Flare and Margarita Rioja Red from Dummen Orange. A squeeze of lime and I’m yours.

Golden Empire & Blazing Glory bidens

Also from Danziger, these two varieties made an eye catching display. Golden Empire was noticeably upright and compact while Blazing Glory had  a spreading/trailing habit. Quite remarkable. I like to use bidens in my deer resistant container designs and have two large glossy orange pots where these would be great summer additions.

And in closing…

Yes we had lots of laughs along the way. I mean who doesn’t need a feather boa or two?

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Left to right: Four of the six #NGBPlantnerds –  Erin Shanen, Diane Blazek (our fearless leader), yours truly, Marianne Willburn. Playing at being canaries, with the new Canary Wings begonias from Ball Ingenuity.

2018 #NGBPlantnerds:

Diane Blazek – Executive Director, National Garden Bureau

Gail PabstNational Garden Bureau

Erin SchanenThe Impatient Gardener

Marianne WillburnThe Small Town Gardener

Tracy BlevinsPlants Map

 

You might also be interested in this post featuring new FOLIAGE plants at CAST

New Fine Foliage to Watch For