design

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

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

One of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr is set in the beautiful English countryside near Harrogate, Yorkshire, so of course I just had to visit while I was there a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself totally charmed and impressed by the varied displays that were both inspirational and educational. These are just a few highlights from the 200 or so photos I took!

Hedgehog Street

Openings at the base of the walls allow hedgehogs to pass from one garden to the next

The British love their hedgehogs. I have fond memories of setting out a saucer of milk for night-visiting hedgehogs when I was a child, but sadly their numbers have been in a rapid decline as hedgerows have been lost and their natural food sources destroyed. A national campaign called Hedgehog Street has called for greater awareness and pledges to make gardens more hedgehog friendly by:

  • planting nectar-rich flowers that encourage insects that the hedgehogs eat
  • leaving piles of dead wood and compost for nesting sites and foraging
  • Avoiding chemicals on lawns to protect earthworms – a major food of hedgehogs
  • Avoiding the use of molluscicides and pesticides
  • Including a 13cm (~5in) diameter hedgehog highway between gardens for greater connectivity

I loved this example of a hedgehog-friendly design, designed by Tracy Foster and installed by First Light Landscaping. Truthfully, I stopped because I thought what a great example it was for ‘small space design‘ – it was only on closer inspection that I realized it had been designed to be equally beneficial to hedgehogs!

Embracing the Earthworm

Throughout the gardens there were fascinating willow displays including a huge stegosaurus protecting its eggs and this  wiggly worm that made me smile.

Floral Tapestries

Expansive beds were richly planted in a matrix of colorful perennials, an exciting take on the New Perennial Movement and a twist on the traditional English cottage garden style.

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

…yet rivers of certain perennials were allowed to flow more organically through other beds

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

English gardens are often small so making the use of vertical space is always a priority.

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

Rather than growing a traditional tall bean tepee where one has to get a ladder to reach the top, I thought this was a clever idea:

Growing beans at a 45′ angle makes harvesting easier and shade loving crops can be grown beneath

These twig prunings were put to good use as “pea staking”, preventing chard and nasturtiums from sprawling onto the path

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

Harlow Carr also has a wonderful library that is open to all: students, researchers, and everyday gardeners. The collection includes practical gardening, garden design, wildlife gardening…and MY BOOK!! Yes, Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017), my second book co-authored with Christina Salwitz, was proudly displayed on their shelves. This was one of those moments that I would have loved to have been able to share with my Mum. I know she’d have been as proud as I was.

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Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

I thought you might like to see how some of my summer container designs have grown in. All three designs are planted in full sun, are deer resistant, and low maintenance.

The “After” images are approximately 6-7 weeks after planting. They all had Osmocote added as a slow release fertilizer when first planted but have not had additional fertilizer since then. Nothing has been deadheaded or cut back except where noted.

Contemporary and Monochromatic

May 19th 2018 – just planted

You may recall helping me design this container! It has looked good from day one, although the ornamental oregano I originally planted did not do well for some reason and has since been replaced with a similar variety called Kent Beauty.

August 1st 2018

I’m really enjoying this! I love how the colors continue to work with the surrounding landscape and how full and luscious the design now looks. Notice though the discrepancy between  the size of the two silver leaved plants (Senecio ‘Angel Wings’). That is because they were purchased from two different vendors and is a reflection of their varying fertilizer and growing regimes. Both plants are gorgeous and healthy, but one is much bigger. Lesson learned….

Plant list:

Platinum Beauty lomandra

Angel Wings senecio

Kent Beauty oregano

Quicksilver hebe

Red Threads alternanthera, Joseph’s coat (hidden in this image but you’ll see where I added it in the original post)

Quick, Easy and Colorful

June 1st 2018 – just planted

The Orange Rocket barberry has been in this pot for several years – I just prune it a little for shape as needed. Truthfully there was zero effort or thought put into this design – I just grabbed three each of three different annuals, focusing on foliage and reliable performance.

July 31st 2018- on a hazy summer day!

I didn’t use any long trailers in the design but I like the ruffle of white euphorbia blooms and that blue fan flower is a rock star! Non-stop color and zero maintenance. (I ought to trim away (or move) the barberry at the base of the container as it is visually interfering with the design). In the photo at the head of this blog post you can see how it looks in the context with the cabin and surrounding landscape.

Plant list:

Orange Rocket barberry

Glitz euphorbia

Fairy Blue fan flower

Walkabout Sunset lysimachia

Demonstration pot

This was the container I planted in the demonstration video for my online course Designing Abundant Containers . It has evolved beautifully as the perennials have changed personality and the annuals have grown. Initially the false indigo and Ascot Rainbow spurge had blooms, but the annual verbena was just waking up. Colorful foliage helped to bridge the gap.

May 14th 2018 – just planted

Just over four weeks later and the Ascot Rainbow spurge is still flowering but the false indigo  blooms are now small seed pods – and look at that verbena!

June 19th 2018

By the beginning of August I had trimmed off the spent Ascot Rainbow blooms and was surprised to find another flowering stalk already emerging. The verbena took a two week break from full bloom, although it was never without color. As flowers finished I cut off the developing seed heads…. and then this happened! I struggled to photograph it in the same location as it is now so much wider!

August 1st 2018

I was pleased that although the silver Angel Wings senecio has got taller it hasn’t become “leggy” and that there is still a wonderful density to the abundant, felted foliage. I also like the the way the lemon thyme fills in the front and the verbena mingles unapologetically through it all yet never overwhelms.

Plant list:

Cherries Jubilee false indigo

Ascot Rainbow spurge

Tequila Sunrise mirror plant

Mexican feather grass

Diamond Frost spurge

Purple Queen

Angel Wings senecio

Lemon thyme

Royal Romance verbena

 

I’m about to head out of town so won’t see these again for a while. My daughter is in charge of watering while I’m away…..I wonder if they’ll look past their best when I get home again or still be photo-worthy?

I hope this series of images helps you see the value of designing with foliage first (I do believe there is a book about that!), and encouraging you that a deer-resistant design can still look both colorful and interesting.

If you’d like more help designing with deer in mind, stay in touch via my newsletter. I’ve been busy creating a special online course Designing a Deer-Resistant Garden that you won’t want to miss, as well as my new book Deer-Resistant Design; both will roll out in June 2019. And as a thank you for signing up for my newsletter I’ve written this FREE guide just for you. Enjoy!

 

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Last Needle Hanging

Last Needle Hanging

Seen above in better days….

The conifer is failing

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

Out with the Old

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

Not the look I was going for!

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

In with the New

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

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

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

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

Temporary Design Assistance!

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

 

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

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

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

Early results

The new look – day 1

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

Resources

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

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