cut flowers

Best Drought Tolerant Perennials & Annuals – that are Deer Resistant Too!


A corner of my fall garden featuring reliable deer resistant and drought tolerant selections

Still stinging from your last water bill? Good news! As promised in my last post on drought tolerant trees and shrubs, here is my report on those annuals and perennials that came through our crazy 2017 PNW summer with style. That means they coped with:

  • three months without rain
  • no irrigation or hand watering (although annuals received water every few days for the first month after they were planted)
  • clay soil that bakes dry like a river bed in summer
  • many weeks with 80′ – 90′ temperatures and several days over 100′
  • daily visits from hungry, inquisitive deer

My front garden features a broad selection of drought tolerant, deer resistant plants including many of those recommended here

All the plants listed were planted in the ground – not containers.


Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii)


Mingling with Petite Licorice (Helichysum petiolare ‘Petite Licorice’)

What can I say? It is outstanding. if you see it – buy it. Buy lots. At least three – or thirty. Plant, stand back and wait for three years. Then thank me. Details and lots of great photos here. Combination ideas in our latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache ‘Kudos Mandarin’)


I have grown many varieties of hyssop over the years (Agastache sp.) but few survive my  clay soil that bakes in summer and becomes a sticky goo in winter, so I consider them  annuals in my garden. Kudos Mandarin hyssop surprised me – all of last years plants returned with vigor! The hummingbirds and I were most impressed. You will be too.

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Love, love, love this perennial that self seeds politely in gravel or soil and creates a magical scrim effect in the garden. Looks fabulous no matter where it lands but I especially love it in combination with orange flowers. The photos above depict it combined with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Flasher daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Flasher’). In another part of the garden I have it with an orange blooming cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Bella Sol’).

Details for this fabulous perennial here and check out the combination called Golden Threads in Gardening with Foliage First for  ideas too. WARNING: This has been listed as invasive in some areas – check before planting.

Zagreb tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’)

IMG_4503 I have several varieties of tickseed in the garden but Zagreb is my favorite for its feathery green foliage that turns gold in fall and its sunny yellow daisies.

Sea holly (Eryngium sp.)

I need more of these! Of those shown I currently have all but the last two in my garden. Here’s the rundown: Sapphire Blue (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) is my favorite for color and its gentle self-seeding which gives me free plants (- have to love that)! I do like Neptune’s Gold (Eryngium xzabelli ‘Neptune’s Gold’) for the chartreuse foliage but the leaves seems to get a fungal disease mid-summer and I have to cut them back which is disappointing. I wonder if other gardeners/areas fare better? Jade Frost (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’) has lovely variegated foliage but I am noticing some reversion. The delicate flowers are attractive though. Rattlesnake master is a different species (Eryngium yuccifolium) and looks stunning! Best for the middle of a border as it is taller and the lower leaves can get significant slug damage if not controlled. Wonderful architectural plant.

On my serious wish list is Silver Ghost (Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’), seen in Portland and totally lust-worthy! Also shown is one that I suspect is Miss. Wilmott’s Ghost -(Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’) the classic I first grew in England. (Feel free to correct my ID though if you recognize nuances I’ve missed).

Overall the beauty of this species to me is that although they would be happier in sandier soil, they  thrive in my clay garden with minimal care – even in half day rather than all day sun. Drier climates can enjoy the seed heads well into winter too (Hint: there are two fabulous combinations in our book Gardening with Foliage First that showcase Sapphire Blue and our book cover shot/combination includes Neptune’s Gold!).

Blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.)

These have surprised me. I grew the first two varieties (Arizona Sun and Arizona Apricot)   from seed last year and enjoyed them in my vegetable garden where they went from seed to gallon sized, blooming plants in less than six months. You can read about them and get design ideas here. This year I transplanted most of them to other areas of the landscape where they were subject to tough love i.e. no water and lots of deer. A few didn’t like being transplanted but most did just fine and looked fabulous despite benign neglect – and clay soil! (We’ll see what happens this winter in the clay soil though – that may be the kiss of death) I don’t have Fanfare Blaze (the last photo) in my garden but included it as it is just so darn pretty!! A friend had this in her container last year and both the color and petal form was really eye catching – another one for my wish list!

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimerii ‘Whirling Butterflies’)


A haze of blooming Whirling Butterflies surrounds a glass birdbath created by Seattle artist Jesse Kelly

For sheer flower power and pure romance in the garden you can’t beat Whirling Butterflies. The slender stalks of blooms dance in the slightest breeze, forming an enchanting scrim effect that is utterly feminine. They would prefer sandier soil but cope with mine. In fall I trim lightly to about 24″ then put up with the less than attractive stalks all winter. In spring when I’m sure there are no more frosts likely I cut down to the uppermost bud – or about 12″ if I want to manage the mature size (which can be at least 4′ tall in my garden). Blooming starts late May and the plants still have lots of flowers even now in early October.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’)

A ‘must have’ for every shade garden – you NEED Jack Frost! And yes there is a fabulous combination idea in Gardening with Foliage First.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Silvery stems, fragrant leaves and blue flowers. Lots of named varieties of Russian sage to choose from with varying heights to suit every site. I treat pruning the same way as my whirling butterflies (Gaura sp. )above.

Other honorable mentions:

Variegated lemon thyme, hardy succulents, sedges (Carex sp.), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)


Spider Flower (Cleome sp.)


Taller varieties of spider flower are great for filling a gap at the back of a border during summer. Shorter varieties work well for the front of the border. Attract bees and butterflies and make great cut flowers too.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)


Seen here with Lime Glow barberry (in its remarkable rosy fall color)

I rely on this inexpensive annual for a rabbit resistant, deer resistant, drought tolerant summer groundcover in my large garden. One 4″ plant can quickly fill a space at least 3′ x 3′. Several varieties including a soft lemon-yellow and a mini-leaved form. There is a great idea for this in our book Gardening with Foliage First too! Details of this annual here

Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues sage (Salvia longispicata x farinacea ‘Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues’)

I haven’t grown a sage yet that isn’t drought tolerant and deer resistant, but this annual from Proven Winners was a new variety for me to test this year and I give it full marks for appearance, bloom power and low maintenance. At a glance it is similar to the well known Victoria Blue, but it’s stature is greater and color deeper. Looking at the hardiness rating this may be a perennial for many – but an annual for me. Loved it as part of an informal floral meadow effect in the front garden this year (second photo above).

Honorable mention

Jasmine alata, Jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata ) – an heirloom variety with unforgettable jasmine-type perfume in the evening.

Save money on your water bill next year by replacing your thirstier plants with these~


You may have noticed our book Gardening with Foliage First mentioned a few times….. Seriously if you haven’t got this yet, why not? There are 127 great ideas in there! Buy one for your BFF for Christmas while you’re at it!

For more ideas on drought tolerant plants do refer back to my last blog post which includes links to several other outstanding books that cover different parts of the country.

For more ideas on deer resistant plants, Ruth’s book is a great start:

You’ll have to wait for MY next book on Deer Resistant Drama (working title only) for inspirational deer resistant gardens from across the country (Timber Press, 2019). Be sure you sign up for my newsletters to hear when it is released.


Note: These Amazon affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies


Creative Combinations You’ll Love!


The entry garden gives a hint of what is to come

It’s always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.

Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.

Billowing plantings frame a path and the distant skyline of Des Moines

Billowing plantings flank a path and frame the distant skyline of Des Moines

Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than  abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.

Here’s how to get the look.

Repetition of Plants


The bold, variegated peach and chocolate variegated leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’) and the lavender blooms of Senorita Rosalita spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’) together with a froth of yellow and gold daisies establishes the color scheme for this border

Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.


The Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita spider flower is a five star annual.

This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn’t have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.

Repetition of Color


Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.

In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’), this color  repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.

Add something unexpected


A pop of magenta wakes up the color scheme: pentas blooms and parrot leaf

The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana)

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana ‘Forest Pink’)

Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient


A buffet of colorful flowers still needs to put Foliage First! (I do recall a certain book or two on that premise…)

At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.

Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Cabernet’) and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.

A different perspective

A different perspective – looking back at the border, now framed by the late summer foliage of Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) and smoky plumes of Ginger Love fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’)

Other Plants to Consider

If you’d like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.


Diascia ‘Little Tango’ (Annual/perennial)

Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ (Annual)

Knipophia ‘Creamsicle’ (Perennial)

Coleus (Annual)

Heuchera (Perennial)

Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)

Diervilla ‘Kodiak Orange’ (Deciduous shrub)

Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series  (Deciduous shrub)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Tangelo’ (Deciduous shrub)


Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)

Coleus (annual)

Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)

Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (perennial)

Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Haze’ (spring blooming bulb)



Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’  (annual/perennial)

Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’ (perennial)


Hydrangea Companion Planting

Clockwise from top right; Light o' Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

Clockwise from top right; Light o’ Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

On a recent trip to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I was blinded by a dazzling display of a golden barberry paired with a kaleidoscopic Pistachio hydrangea – which got me thinking. What other plants make good companions for hydrangeas?

So in the interest of helping your create artistic plant combinations and have another excuse to go plant shopping here are a few ideas from my photo library that you may like to try.

Using Foliage

Consider repeating the color of the hydrangea flower with a foliage plant to add emphasis.

In the image below the marbled pink leaves of Rose Glow barberry set the scene for this vibrant pink hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

For a softer look, blades of a white variegated grass such as Miscanthus are perfect behind white panicle flowers such as the peegee hydrangea.


Design by Birgit Piskor, Victoria, BC

Or use a softer toned grass as a carpet to skirt a large hydrangea, hiding the bare shrub ankles without distracting the eye from the seasonal beauty of the blooms

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA; grasses hide the bare ankles of a Hydrangea aspera

For grab-your-sunglasses drama what about this combo seen at the Bellevue Botanical Garden that proved to be my inspiration for this post? Rather than repeat the raspberry pink bloom color, or even the secondary blue-lavender eye within these Pistachio hydrangea blooms, these designers opted to  highlight the yellow-green notes of emerging blooms for a high intensity color punch.

 Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry

Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry – WOW!

Now see the same concept played out in a much gentler way with All Gold Japanese forest grass tucked under this soft blue lace cap hydrangea.


Design by Mitch Evans, Redmond, WA

Using flowers

Timing is everything when you want to combine flowers with flowers.

Below is the same hydrangea that you saw with the Rose Glow barberry, viewed from a different angle. Here you can see how the crisp white blooms of an adjacent hydrangea soften the scene. Since this is a pond-side planting the white adds to the visual cooling – rather like adding ice cubes to your cocktail!

Use white to temper intense colors

Use white to temper intense colors – design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Want something more subtle? Loved this hebe whose flowers perfectly matched the lilac hydrangea bloom behind. Delightful.

Try to imagine this without harsh shadows....

Hebe and hydrangea. Design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Or here’s an easy one from my own garden. Rozanne geranium blooms for so long you can’t help but get this right! This hardy geranium is also a real mingler so its tendrils will weave their way along hydrangea branches with little assistance from you.

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Looking ahead

Many hydrangea blooms change color as seasons progress. Consider planning a companion planting to highlight those dusky fall shades. Angel’s Blush peegee hydrangea turns from white to a delightful rose shade which echoes the color of Gateway Joe Pye weed looming overhead, the scene brightened with the yellow ox eye sunflower (Heliopsis) daisies planted to one side. A scene to look forward to.

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Watch out for my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, January 2017), coauthored with Christina Salwitz, where we have several amazing combinations using hydrangeas including some winter ideas!

Final thoughts

What about pairing the hydrangea blooms with the colors of berries, stems or even bark?

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Wondering which hydrangea to choose? I can’t even begin to help you there as there seem to be a gazillion to select from! I recommend deciding what size and color you want first, then the flower shape. From there ask a nursery professional to help you select the best varieties for your area and to give you tips on successful cultivation.

I also like to know who has grown my plants. There are several excellent  hydrangea growers that sell to the nurseries and stores including Proven Winners and Baileys Nurseries that sells the Endless Summer collection of luscious hydrangeas so look for their branded pots.

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

What are YOU pairing your hydrangeas with? Leave a comment below or post a photo to me Facebook page for us all to enjoy!

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A Unique Rose Garden


Moondance rose

Moondance rose

How do you use roses in your garden? Do you have a traditional, formal rose garden bordered with low boxwood hedges? Or are they part of a mixed border where they jostle with perennials such as delphiniums and phlox? Perhaps you prefer climbing roses and allow them to scramble up pergolas or use them as a support through which to encourage clematis?

There seems to be a rose for every situation from petite miniatures to house-swallowing monsters with fragrance and colors to suit all tastes but it can still be challenging to find just the right plants to combine with them so that the rose itself is enhanced while also enhancing its neighbors.


I had the opportunity recently to visit the delightful courtyard garden of Mary Jo Stansbury (Whidbey Island, WA)  and was entranced by the delightful naturalized vignette she had created around the white Moondance rose in one of the borders. Billowing fountains of shimmering Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima syn. Stipa tenuissima) were swaying gently in the early morning breeze and a haze of blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) were in full bloom along the pathway. Nestled within this soft cradle were several pure white Moondance roses.


I had never seen roses planted in this way and I loved the juxtaposition of whisper-soft grasses with the thorny stems as much as I loved the simple blue and white color scheme. Rather than dominating the scene these roses were mingling easily and this casual elegance was enhanced by the color echo between the grass and roses.


Grasses have been used throughout this small garden, most of which was designed by the Berger Partnership. Mary Jo has fond memories of working with both Tom Berger and Jason Henry and commented that Jason’s love of grasses is evident. (You will be able to see one of the combinations he designed in this garden for our new book Foliage First; Timber Press 2016)


When I asked her about this particular section of the garden Mary Jo laughingly admitted  this was her haphazard design and explained that she tested Rosa ‘Iceberg’ first but found them too troublesome. Then she found the hybrid called Moondance that is disease resistant, fragrant and blooms all summer.  “It actually does shine and dance like the moon on a windy night!”, she said.


Mary Jo then added the Russian Sage to that section of the garden and now the combination is always a wonderful show at this time of year. Even before the Russian sage would be in bloom the felted white stems and silvery-green leaves would play into this meadow-inspired design perfectly.


This is one of those hauntingly simple designs that stirs the soul. Fragrance, movement, tactile – it’s all here. It will shine in the evening and glow in the day.


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Garden Emergencies

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

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


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

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

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

Sensational Salvias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What they all have in common;

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

Clever Cleome

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

Senorita Blanca cleome has white flowers suffused with lilac

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

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

What they have in common;

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What they have in common;

  • Drought tolerance
  • Deer resistance


Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

Autumn ferns display outstanding copper colors and are evergreen

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

Generally speaking


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

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

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

If all else fails

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

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


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