design

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!

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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

 

Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

When I realized that my post Skinny Conifers for Tight Spaces has been read over 40,000 times, it inspired me to create a  free booklet for my newsletter subscribers; Top 10 Skinny Trees for Tight Spaces, which expanded that selection to include deciduous and flowering trees as well as conifers. That too has been well received, so here is the next installment: Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces.

Why Skinny?

There are times when you need a vertical element to break up a river of mounding shapes. Or to stand sentry at an entrance point. Or to create a living dividing wall between garden areas. Perhaps you have a narrow side garden and need screening from the neighbors’ yet do not want to erect a fence? Or you are just looking for a centerpiece for a container that doesn’t get too wide. Basically skinny shrubs are useful where you only have a small footprint to work with yet need some height.

The selection here is far from all-inclusive, but includes many I have used in designs over the years as well as a few newer ones that I’m still testing but look promising. For my garden they also have to be drought tolerant and deer resistant! Here are my current favorite skinny shrubs:

Fine Line buckthorn

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

I’ve used Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’)  in containers, to create a deciduous hedge, and also to establish a living wall adjacent to a pathway.

This versatile shrub retains is columnar shape without pruning, is deer resistant, drought tolerant, will grow in part shade or full sun and is sterile – so none of the invasive concerns of older varieties of buckthorn. The finely textured green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and the brown woody stems  are speckled with white spots, so even  after the leaves have fallen there is a sculptural quality and beauty to this shrub.

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

Ultimate height is given as 5-7 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide but mine have yet to get that big. Hardy in USDA zones 2-7. (There’s another really cool combo featuring this in our book Gardening with Foliage First)

Columnar barberries

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden, WA

Not for everyone, as barberries (Berberis) are invasive in some states, but where these can be grown, consider Sunjoy Gold Pillar (gold) and Helmond’s Pillar (burgundy). I’ve used these in the impossibly small planting beds in front of garages, in containers, to mark the entrance to a woodland path, to create a living fence between neighbors, and as exclamation points in the landscape. They can be planted singly or in groups to great effect. Fall color and berries add to the display.

Using Helmond's Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Using Helmond’s Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Incidentally I have seen Helmond’s Pillar 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide so the size cited here is rather conservative. Conversely, I have found the golden form to be smaller and slower growing.

A semi-transparant screen between neighbors using Helmond's Pillar, clematis. My design

A semi-transparent screen between neighbors using Helmond’s Pillar, clematis, standard roses and columnar evergreens, rising from a carpet of Profusion fleabane. Design by Le jardinet.

You’ll find more design ideas using both of these in my latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Drought tolerant but needs moisture retentive soil to avoid defoliation during extreme summer heat, and has proven to be deer resistant (YAY!)

Barberries are hardy in zones 4-8.

Moonlight Magic crapemyrtle

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia cvs.) and Washington state – especially colder regions of the state – are not usually considered compatible as it rarely gets warm enough for the shrubs to bloom. That becomes irrelevant when you have a  variety such as Moonlight Magic, with dark chocolate colored foliage in a much narrower form than the better known Californian street trees.

Moonlight Magic grows just 4-6 feet wide yet still gets 8-12 feet tall, so more slender and well-toned rather than truly skinny – but worth your consideration for sure.

Beutiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

Beautiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

I’ve had success with this in a container for several years now. In landscape designs I could see using Moonlight Magic as a focal point within a vignette or where I might otherwise reach for a purple smoke bush but don’t have the space.

Purple Pillar hibiscus

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms as shown in the test garden at Spring Meadow nursery. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Hibiscus are those shrubs with tropical-looking flowers that are so eye catching in late summer, yet many are too large for the average garden. Purple Pillar is the answer at just 2-3 feet wide. If you plant them 2 feet apart they quickly form a dense summer screen as shown in the photo above.

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Don’t let lack of a garden spoil the fun. Purple Pillar will grow happily in large containers. These can be placed together to create a privacy screen from the neighbors or hide ugly utilities.

More ideas

There are also several broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are tightly columnar that you might consider, including

Sky Pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Columnar Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Mariesii’) which is more sculptural than Sky Pencil but can be harder to find.

Green Spire euonymus (Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’)  – slightly slower growing and not quite so tight at Sky Pencil

Graham Blandy boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’)

 

Fearless Design- secrets to using bold color in the garden

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One of my favorite award-winning gardens at the 2018 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a source of inspiration and this year was no exception. One display garden that really caught my eye was called Contained Excitement, designed by my good friend and former colleague Lori DeLeuw (Designs by deLeuw) and David Rogers (Issaquah Landscaping).

This was their design statement:

Here’s the perfect counterpoint to our hectic lifestyles.

Hone your culinary skills in the outdoor kitchen, preparing healthy dishes using edibles grown in containers just steps away. And work off the stress of the daily grind with a swim in the outdoor lap pool…which also “doubles” as a tranquil spot to just plain relax!

Unusual, yet appropriate, plant material blends with finished wood and metalwork to create a distinctively modern design. As the night winds down, gather with friends at the fire pit for good conversation and an aperitif. If it begins to drizzle, simply move the party into the sleekly-styled shelter for cover!

Take-home ideas: Creating discreet outdoor areas within a garden using plantings and hardscape materials.

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Bold use of color works when the design is equally strong

While they clearly achieved their goal and I love the many outdoor spaces they created, my own take-home ideas were more about their remarkable and fearless use of a vivid color without the garden looking like a paintbox explosion! Pillar-box red was the theme color, boldly used on the walls of a chic shed, garden furniture, a glossy BBQ, containers, soft furnishings and many accessories including a stunning glass installation by artist Jesse Kelly. Having spent some time analyzing it here’s why I feel it works:

  • Most of the bold red appears on vertical elements, the horizontal patio spaces being in neutral grey tones. The addition of a red rug would have been too much of a good thing!
  • Bold black trim and shiny galvanized metal panels add a contemporary flair, enhanced by strong geometric lines, this strong design aesthetic becoming the over-riding focus.
  • Incorporation of rusted metal containers and a fire pit give a nod to red tones yet add variety by allowing for an orange hue.
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Red stems add a subtle connection to the color scheme

 

  • It’s all in the details. I can see Lori’s hand in this so clearly! She is an excellent container and landscape designer and knows that a cohesive design is about the subtle color echoes between foliage, flowers, stems, and more. I love how she carried the red theme into the plant palette, yet did so in an understated manner. A casual glance would assume the plantings are in shades of green, yet the mosaic below tells a different story to the careful observer.
mosaic 1

Red veins, buds, and foliage variegation shows the level of detail that to me says “excellence”.

  • There is still room for fun! There are times when a design statement  becomes so rigid that there is no allowance for serendipity or an unexpected moment. With a clear contemporary design and red-green-black-silver color scheme, the designers still allowed themselves the whimsy of a couple of orange goldfish swimming through the plants! Yes they could have use red fish. I love that they didn’t.
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Allow room for the fun factor

Congratulations on being awarded a silver medal at the show as well as the Sunset Western Living® Award. Very well deserved!

 

 

4 NEW Easy Care Shrubs to Look For

Recommended level of gardening maintenance....

Recommended level of gardening maintenance….

I’m a lazy gardener. I want to enjoy my garden – not be a slave to it, which makes me really picky when it comes to selecting plants.

You’d think by now that I’d have enough plants wouldn’t you? Funny how we always find an excuse to go shopping come spring. Something has always been moved, eaten, or succumbed to drowning (as I write this it is raining AGAIN and I am considering building an ark). In other words I NEED a few things for the garden.

My criteria is that they have to be deer resistant, drought resistant once established, and low maintenance.  With that in mind I’ve been reviewing some of the new offerings for 2018.

Here are my top contenders.

Electric Love weigela

The first dark leaved weigela with RED flowers! Photo credit: Bloomin' Easy

The first dark leaved weigela with RED flowers! Photo credit: Bloomin’ Easy

This got my attention when I noticed the dark foliage – and also the red flowers; a new combo. Weigela are a favorite of mine , with a proven track record for performance and an easy going attitude, and this color scheme would certainly work in my garden too – what about yours? (Incidentally if you want dark leaves and pink blooms they also have a new one just for you! You can read more about both these new introductions from Bloomin’ Easy here.)

Bloomin’ Easy tells us this Electric Love weigela gets just 1-2′ tall and 3-4′ wide so consider it as something for the front of the border or even in a pot! Really pretty cool. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8

Wasi-Sabi doublefile viburnum

 Wasi-Sabi viburnum. Photo Credit: Proven Winners, Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.

Wasi-Sabi doublefile viburnum – exciting new dwarf introduction. Photo Credit: Proven Winners, Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.

I’ve had my eye on this for some time as it promises to be a superb foundation plant. This is a dwarf version of the popular but much larger doublefile viburnum. It still offers the distinctive layered habit, stunning, white, lace-cap hydrangea-like flowers and fiery fall color, but at just 2-3 feet tall it can be comfortably placed under most windows. The shrub spreads 3-4 feet wide so you can enjoy those horizontal tiers. Kudos to Proven Winners for a shrub that the home gardener truly needs. USDA 5-8. You can see the rest of their 2018 shrub introductions here. (There are some stunners!)

Cool Blue ceanothus

Cool Blue ceonothus - a stunner from Sunset Plants

Cool Blue ceanothus – romance in a pot. Photo credit: Sunset Plants

Oh this is soooooo tempting. Maybe I can find a spot that is warm enough?? Or maybe I’ll grow it in a pot? Cool Blue ceanothus is my color, it has gorgeous foliage, and it passes my criteria for deer resistance and drought tolerance in spades. My only hesitation is that the hardiness rating is 7b-10 (I’m 6b, 7 on a good year). Maybe I’ll get one anyway, just to test it for you! Major brownie points to Sunset Plants for producing a knockout shrub though, and at a demure 3-4′ tall and 4-5′ wide is much easier to fit into the typical garden then the well known but much larger variety Victoria. Just imagine this in one of my blue containers.….

First Editions® Virtual Violet® Lilac

Inhale deeply and slowly……. If you love lilac but are frustrated by their susceptibility to mildew check out this new introduction from First Editions. The foliage emerges deep violet on dark purple stems then matures to a dark, glossy green while the color of those blooms is every bit as bewitching as the perfume. At 6-8 feet tall and 5-7 feet wide this has a good upright shape making it suitable for hedging or as a stand alone shrub. I DEFINITELY need this one! I have the regular, old-fashioned lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in my garden and while it smells divine the foliage gets horribly disfigured by disease. I also have a dwarf variety which is very pretty  but the flowers don’t really have the ‘wow’ factor that Virtual Violet clearly displays.  Hardy in USDA 3-7. If you want to see the rest of the new introductions that Bailey’s Nursery has this year, including their First Editions shrubs, check out this link.

Availability

Be aware that some of these are new to growers in 2018 so they will become available to retailers beginning in summer/fall in limited quantities with much more volume growth beginning in 2019. But I know you love to see what’s just around the corner and start planning for new treasures!

MORE Low Maintenance Plants

Do you know how to tell a potential garden thug from a well mannered guest? The tags don’t help much! That’s why I’ve created this short online course:

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

This will save you money, time, and frustration. Open registration has now closed but is  offered to new newsletter subscribers. There are two videos, plant lists, and design ideas as well as my selection tips! You can sign up for the newsletter (and receive a free gift) here:

 

Make this the year you transform your garden from one that takes all your time and energy to the restful oasis you’ve always dreamed of.

 

The Less is More Garden – Book Review & Giveaway.

I recently asked a group of gardening friends, if they could change anything about their garden, what would it be. The first – of many comments read ” Make it bigger, much bigger! So many plants, so little space…”

Morrison_LessIsMoreGarden_jacket_final_9_14_17.indd

A common lament,  yet having a modest sized garden does not mean compromising on function, style, or beauty. Designer, author and friend Susan Morrison makes this abundantly clear in her inspiring new book “The Less is More Garden – big ideas for designing your small yard” (Timber Press, 2018). She explains the less is more philosophy as one where there is

  • Less space, more enjoyment
  • Less effort, more beauty
  • Less maintenance, more relaxation
  • Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU

If you are looking for doable, practical ways to make the most of your garden you need this book. With superb photography to illustrate her points, Susan begins by walking the reader through a series of important considerations to help them determine how much space – and budget to allocate for key design components, with suggestions on how to accommodate a family’s needs as children grow up, or strike a balance between creating an intimate space for two homeowners who occasionally need to host a much larger event outdoors. But that is just the start.

The Magic of Illusion

Tantalizing glimpses into the space beyond these green walls creates the illusion of greater depth while a calming, monochromatic color scheme allows the tapestry of layered textures to shine. Photo credit: Doreen Wynja

With suggestions for ways to include disappearing paths, maximizing the diagonal sight line, incorporating permeable walls (what I the call scrim effect), borrowed views, and artistic ways to use mirrors, this book offers a magicians hat worth of illusory tricks to make a small space  appear larger.

Lawn or Not?

Have you been considering what your options might be if you remove the lawn? Need to get a sense of what your garden would look like without one? Susan has you covered with ideas for strolling gardens , ecological lawn mixtures (no-mow grass alternatives) and an array of groundcovers – all beautifully photographed to help you decide.

Design Ideas To Copy

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Susan’s personal garden retreat – a curvaceous wall breaks up the corridor effect and helps to create distinct spaces.

I especially like the section on Design Templates where Susan has used a mix of photographs and sketches to show how she transformed her own narrow backyard into an intimate jewel box garden with a capped, serpentine sitting wall, a bubbling fountain, multiple sitting areas and a bounty of colorful plants that bring fragrance and texture to the patio.

geometry

A clever linear patio design brings plantings up close while also organizing the footprint. Photo credit: Saxon Holt.

Another design in this section that really appealed to me was the one above where contemporary geometric lines have been softened with a bounty of foliage and flowers. Breaking up an expanse of patio with promontories of plants is an ingenious way to create unique garden rooms separated by low hedges without enclosing the spaces fully.

Signature Style

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Artist Keeyla Meadows is known for her bold use of color both in her artwork and her garden.

If you are concerned that with so little space there won’t be room to personalize the garden to reflect YOU, the chapter “A sense of Place, Regardless of Space” should allay such fears, as Susan takes you on a tour of several very individual gardens including that of artist Keeyla Meadows shown above.

Less Maintenance

Susan and I are in total sync with this, which is interesting considering that we design in different states using different plants. Just goes to show you that the principles we use to design your low maintenance gardens are solid. Her book provides tips on selecting plants that are lower maintenance, tips for redefining what a four season garden means in a smaller space, and oodles of photos to get you thinking about your own garden plants in a new way. (And if you’re interested in knowing more about selecting lower maintenance plants be sure you sign up to receive my newsletter as I’ll be inviting subscribers to enjoy my new mini online course on that very subject – at a special introductory price!).

Enter to win your copy!

Morrison author.photo

This is so good I’d recommend it to professional designers as well as homeowners – we all need fresh inspiration and this book has that in abundance. In fact I’d put “The Less is More Garden” right up there with Julie Moir Messervey’s classic “Outside the Not So Big House” (Taunton Press, 2006), a book I constantly reach for.

If you can’t wait any longer you can order your copy of The Less is More Garden here.

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy just leave a comment below telling me why you need this book! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at 9pm PST, Tuesday January 30th

The boring small print.

The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email notifying them that they are the winner. After that I will draw another winner.

Comments left on social media posts will not count.

Comments must appear in the comment thread (not on images) to be included in the drawing.

Entries limited to USA and Canada 

GOOD LUCK!

BONUS! Meet Susan at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show next month! Details here.

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links

The winning name has now been drawn and the person notified – thank you to everyone who took part!