deciduous trees

Designing a Winter Wonderland

Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps?

When I went to bed last night there were just a few flakes falling gently. We woke abruptly at 4.30am to the sound of our frozen sump pump singing its last grating swan song, followed shortly after by our 1 year old puppy, Molly, growling at the deep blanket of snow that had fallen overnight.

I couldn’t wait to get outside (in daylight) to take some snowy pictures of the pristine landscape. That idea was quickly abandoned as Molly tore outside with glee, snow-surfing, jumping, sliding, and running. And eating the snow. Which she then threw up – together with her breakfast – as soon as she came back inside. Clearly the serene aspect of any images I might take were lost.

One coffee later and suitably bundled up, I headed out into the moonscape. But what to take pictures of? I let my camera do the talking, drawing me to vignettes that told a story even though in that moment I didn’t really understand what that story was about. Until I got back inside and looked at the images on my computer. I then quickly realized that my best snowy scenes were those that featured color, texture and/or form – elements that stood apart from the amorphous white blanket.

Color

Turquoise containers and a colorful glass sculpture create a dramatic counterpoint to the white backdrop

I have both blue and orange containers in my garden and they look stunning in the winter landscape – far more dramatic than the charcoal grey or rustic green ones I also have. This glass sculpture by Jesse Kelly is not hollow so is weather proof in my PNW climate.

Colored dogwood twigs would be another way to add color to a snowy scene but you would need a significant grouping of these to stand out. The colored bark of trees such as coral bark maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku), Bihou Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’) or Pacific Fire vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) would be sturdier and be easier to see. (Incidentally my white barked Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis  var jacquemontii) only stand out marginally in the winter garden when they are backed by tall evergreens. They are more eye catching in summer and fall.)

Textured bark

River birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) have become one of my favorite trees for year round interest. The peeling bark is outstanding. I have a clump of three multi-trunked specimens at the back of our home. In summer they mark the entrance into the meadow. In winter they stand as sculpture, perfectly framed by our back patio doors.

The warm mahogany bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a close second favorite, seen above adjacent to our little garden cabin.  This is the scene we look out onto every day from the kitchen. The cabin porch is lit at night making it seem utterly magical. Notice how the blue cabin door stands out in the vignette also – unlike my golden conifers, blue conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, which are all here but buried under snow.

The cabin itself is a wonderful focal point, a reminder that structures can also be used as scene setters in the winter garden.

Form

This triple arbor anchors our island border. As a structure it stands out, but also its vertical and arched forms contrast with the surrounding garden which is mostly comprised of mounding or vase-shaped shrubs and trees.

It clearly establishes a focal point and an invitation to explore.

If you’ve got snowy weather, grab your camera. You might be surprised at what you capture.

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

Reduce your Water Bill with these PNW Survivors

As the seasons change it's time to reflect on what we can do better next time

As the seasons change it’s time to reflect on what we can do better next time

How was your water bill this summer? $200? $300? Over $500? Was it higher than usual and worse than expected? While the cause could be anything from a leaky toilet to an inefficient washing machine, chances are your landscape may have been the main culprit.

Whether you have an automatic irrigation system or hand water using a hose, every drop costs you money if you use a public water source. (For those of us with wells, the issues are somewhat different: I have to minimize summer watering to be sure our well doesn’t run dry and impact our neighbors as well as ourselves!)

After three months without any measurable rain here in Duvall, Washington, and temperatures consistently in the 80’s and 90’s with several days over 100′, my garden struggled. I could hand water some areas but many plants were left to their own devices  because they were beyond the reach of my hose and/or available time. My clay soil bakes as dry as a cracked riverbed in summer although a top dressing of Fertil Mulch in spring does help conserve moisture to some degree.

While the majority of the plants in my garden have been selected for drought tolerance (as well as deer resistance)  some have done better than others, especially as this is the second such extreme summer in a row. Some varieties of  barberries and spirea started to defoliate by mid-August for example, and all my pines were showing signs of stress by September. Exbury azaleas turned crispy and shed leaves last month and my poor katsura tree (which is most definitely NOT drought tolerant) has been dropping leaves since August. Others surprised me by their ‘can do’ attitude and those are the survivors that I’ll share with you here, focusing in this post on trees and shrubs. I’ll cover perennials and annuals next time.

The plants highlighted below received NO supplemental water between mid-June and mid-September. They are all planted in the ground (not containers) and were not fertilized in any way. Consider replacing some of your thirstier garden plants such as rhododendrons and hydrangeas to save water, energy and money next year!

Trees

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae, shines year round in my garden

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’), shines year round in my garden

I have two of these in the garden, one planted five years ago and the other two years ago. Both look as fabulous today as they did in May – no signs of leaf scorch or stress whatsoever and shining like a beacon in the garden. Highly recommended! Details and order here  or ask for it at your local nursery.

Japanese snowbell

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

Fragrant bell-shaped blooms dangle from the branches of Japanese snowbell in June

It never even occurs to me to water my Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonica), yet it had the best floral display ever this June and has shown no signs of premature leaf drop or stress since then. You need to include this beautiful small tree for the fragrant spring blooms alone!

Other trees worth mentioning

My well established Japanese maples, Hinoki cypress, river birch, Armstrong maples, weeping willow and Persian ironwoods all did well too. Presumably their root systems are deep enough to reach moisture.

Shrubs

Hibiscus

Blooming their socks off, healthy leaves and generally looking fabulous, I have a few different varieties of hibiscus in two locations, both planted last summer. Those that received NO summer water look as good as those which got a weekly soaking – lesson learned!

Pictured here are Orchid Satin from Proven Winners and the variegated Summer Ruffle from First Editions. Click on the links for more details.

Bluebeard

Beyond Blue is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

Beyond Midnight is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

I had a new variety to test for Proven Winners this year: Beyond Midnight. Since it was only planted this May I did water it just twice during the entire summer but have included it here because it looks so fabulous! An abundance of blooms, healthy leaves and lots of new growth – I’m impressed. Click on the link for details

Aphrodite sweetshrub

The wine-red flwoers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

The wine-red flowers of Aphrodite sweetshrub show up well against brighter foliage such as Golden Spirit smoke bush

One of those ‘test’ shrubs from Proven Winners that I tucked into a far border and promptly forgot about! Well beyond the reach of any water source and too far away to lug a watering can, this Aphrodite sweetshrub is a real survivor! It has had blooms non-stop from May until now, has grown several feet in width and height and shows no sign of having endured a tough summer. A winner on all accounts! Details here

Weigela

With many varieties in multiple locations, some planted five years ago and others just this spring, I can tell you these may actually be the most drought tolerant of all my shrubs. Not a single plant looks stressed regardless of age or location.

Pictured here are Variegata, Maroon Swoon (Bloomin’ Easy), Spilled Wine (Proven Winners), Magical Fantasy, Strobe (Bloomin’ Easy) and Midnight Wine (Proven Winners). Click on the links for details.

Smoke bushes

Like weigela, I have four unique varieties of smoke bushes (Cotinus sp.) in five different locations, ranging in maturity from two to five years in the ground. While a few lower leaves did drop, overall the shrubs look fabulous.

Pictured here are Golden Spirit, Grace, Royal Purple and Old Fashioned. Click on the links for details. Note: I coppice my mature shrubs to 2′ tall in sprung to keep them to a dense shrub form, sacrificing the smoke (flowers) in favor of larger leaves.

Pearl Glam beautyberry

Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Pearl Glam beautyberry. Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Another winner from Proven Winners on so many levels! While they have not put on a lot of growth this year, the two one-year-old shrubs have did bloom and berry well, and still look good without watering. Details here

Gro-Lo sumac

Gro-Lo forms a dense carpet of attratcive foliage

Gro-Lo sumac forms a dense carpet of attractive foliage

I may have watered this a couple of times during the summer, but only because I happened to pass by it with hose in hand on my way to thirstier plants in the same bed! I am confident that this is a keeper as far as low-water use goes. Gro-Lo sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Lo’) has outstanding fall color to look forward to also.

Other shrubs worth mentioning.

Other shrubs that did well without any water, and which are evergreen include Rheingold arborvitae, Goshiki Japanese holly, Oregon grape, abelia (mostly semi-evergreen varieties for me) and Rainbow leucothoe.

 

I hope these insights will help you plan for a lower maintenance and less costly summer in 2018!

Further inspiration and reading

My two books include many combinations featuring the plants mentioned here. Although neither publication focuses strictly on drought tolerance, they both indicate the watering needs of each plant.

Also explore the following titles, especially if you live in a different climate:

(Note that these affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies too.)

Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation – Revisited

Updated trellis structures transformed this space

Updated trellis structures and a clean plant palette transformed this space

I originally published this post in November 2011 on my old blog and continue to see the images re-pinned on Pinterest as well as receiving emails about the custom trellis design. Since it clearly struck a chord with so many I decided to re-post it here, with larger photographs, some new images and minor text updates.

Sometimes it only takes a few simple changes to transform an outdoor space.

Gardens evolve; trees grow, shade patterns shift, personal tastes change and before you know it what once was beautiful now looks tired and untidy.

BEFORE - the old arbors were beyond help

BEFORE – the old arbors were beyond help

The problems

This garden surrounds an elegant home in Bellevue, WA. The original landscaping was done 15 years ago and has been tweaked a few times since then. However the narrow garden border at the back of the home was in need of help. The arbors were sagging and the overgrown Armand’s clematis (Clematis armandii) which smothered them made the space feel dark and dated. Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomalis) had been added to fill in the back of these arbors but never bloomed so did nothing for the space.

Two Hinoki cypress had seen better days as they struggled with the reduced sunlight and of course there had been the endless ‘hole plugging’ that we are all partial to. In fact I am probably to blame for at least some of that. Whenever I removed something from the container gardens for this client I always asked if she would like it for the garden… So there was a hellebore here and a clump of black mondo grass there resulting in a mish-mash of plants. That onesie-twosie thing!!

The wish list

Yet all this took was a little editing and the replacement of two arbors with something more modern to achieve an artistic, cohesive design. The new look better reflects both the homes traditional architecture and the homeowners desire for something “professional, clean and organized”.

Having designed container gardens at this home for several years I had a good sense of plant preferences, color palette and style. I was therefore asked to draw up a planting plan for a low maintenance design that would be mostly evergreen yet offer lots of color.

BEFORE - a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

BEFORE – a series of photos with text helped to communicate ideas

When renovating a mature garden such as this one, it isn’t always necessary to draw a scaled plan. I simply took a series of photographs to work from and made notes on the health of plants, soil quality, key problem areas etc. By adding text to the images I was able to communicate my vision for a new planting plan effectively with the clients as well as Berg’s Landscaping who were going to be doing the installation and building the new arbors.

What goes? What stays?

I started by removing all the little ‘bits’ which had been added over the years such as Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) together with the monster evergreen clematis, two sad looking Hinoki cypress and a few other under-performing shrubs and perennials.

I decided to keep the aucuba, even though they look a bit spindly right now, as they are tough shrubs that pack a lot of color into a shady garden. I will prune them in spring to encourage more branching. Likewise the magnolia has seen better days but I am going to give it some TLC and see if it can’t be revived and returned to its former glory.

What’s new?

The aucuba, magnolia and Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media) were all broadleaf evergreens that suggested a color scheme of yellow and green – a good start but not vibrant enough. With the Hinoki removed I needed to add two new substantial shrubs.   I knew the homeowner’s favorite color was red so I decided on two Yuletide camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’) with their striking red winter blooms, highlighted by a large central boss of yellow stamens.

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Yuletide camellia added my clients favorite color while repeating the yellow found elsewhere. Photo credit; Monrovia

The other major addition was the deciduous tree Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). This more columnar variety is an outstanding tree for narrow spaces.

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

Winter flowers on the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood continue the red accent color

With rich fall color that lasts for many weeks, beautiful bark, red winter flowers and burgundy new growth in spring it was the perfect tree to replace an old madrone, adding height as well as four season interest.

The new trellises

The new trellises completely change the whole look and feel of the back garden. Using cedar and recycled metal panels they have created unique focal points. Whereas the old arbors seemed dark and heavy these are light and airy. The addition of the rusted metal panels lends a modern touch without appearing too contemporary.

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

The metal panels were found at a local architectural salvage yard and the cedar frame designed around it to fit the space. (No, I do not have any formal plans for this design – the napkin has long since been thrown away!)

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

Such structures deserved a special vine yet there aren’t a lot of options for evergreen vines which bloom in the shade. I was excited therefore to hear about Cathedral Gem sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) introduced as part of the Dan Hinkley collection in 2011 by Monrovia. This beauty has fragrant white flowers in late winter and early spring, thrives in the shade and is hardy to zone 6. Of course as luck would have it, none were available locally and I needed four! Monrovia went out of their way to help me and the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA generously agreed to let me tag these onto his order so I could have them in time. Great team work – thank you!

Heuchera Tiramisu foliage perennial plant with leaves in amber shades of gold, yellow, orange, bronze, red

Heuchera Tiramisu marries the golden yellow and amber shades. Photo credit: Monrovia

To add sparkle and color under each of these I selected the golden leaved  Tiramisu heuchera to partner with Pink Frost hellebore ( a favorite of the homeowner) and the transplanted black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) for a totally evergreen, modern combination.

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Being mindful of the request for color I also added clusters of the richly colored Sweet Tea heucherella under the camellias. These large, bushy, evergreen perennials contrast well with the glossy camellia foliage while their deep red veins will form a subtle color echo with the camellia blooms. Sweet Tea also blooms for months creating a delicate frothy appearance as their tiny white flowers dance on slender stems.

collage-1

L to R: Japanese forest grass, Pink Frost hellebore, black mondo grass

The final detail was to simply add more of the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) to complete a sense of rhythm along the entire border length.

Finishing Touches

Clusters of container gardens planted in a similar plant and color palette added to the sense of unity while offering additional seasonal color.

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The end result was fresh, colorful and interesting. Although new plants were added the look wasn’t fussy or over-planted but rather clean lined and tidy. It made sense.

Don’t be afraid of tackling the renovation of a mature garden border. Work with a designer to create a master plan and bring new life to your outdated space.

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