drought tolerant

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

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!

 

If you’d like to receive these blog posts in your inbox, just sign up below.

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Is your whole garden a place of beauty where butterflies sip, birds sing and you love to linger?

Or do you have an area of your garden that is “just what it is“. You neither love it, nor hate it – you just haven’t got around to thinking about it? I do.

June 2018 – drab and overgrown. Time to THINK about this space!

This is the only remaining part of the original garden installed by the previous homeowner, using by her own admission “leftovers’ from her landscaping business. In many ways it’s a good design: an arc of evergreen conifers is fronted by broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons) and a single golden leafed spirea. Boulders to one side and a clump or rhubarb (a great ornamental plant that is also edible) to the other gives this border year round interest that looks especially lovely in spring. For a few weeks.

In May 2011 it looked lovely but the red leaf maple died that same year and the golden spirea has long since been swallowed by the Rhodies

The Problem

And therein lies the problem. The dark green rhodie leaves against the dark green conifers become a visual black hole for most of the year. The single, golden spirea does help although it is now getting buried behind the rhodies as they have got so large. About 6 years ago I added two Coppertina ninebark into the mix, the bronze foliage adding some more color – which helped. But it’s still pretty blah, especially compared to the rest of the garden.

May 2013 – still acceptable in spring and the addition of two bronze ninebarks  behind the rhodies helped a little.

May 2013 – the ninebarks flank the still visible spirea and the rhodies look healthy. This was before we had several hot summers in a row though.

Other Challenges

Lack of irrigation and increasingly dry summers have added another issue. The shallow rooted rhodies really struggle by mid-August and there is just no way to get a hose to them. So drought stress, combined with lacebug stippling and vine weevil-notched leaves have left these “evergreen’ shrubs looking unsightly and unhealthy.

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

We thought we had a solution, however. We discovered an old well head right in the midst of this border and surprisingly it still has water and is fairly shallow, so Andy has installed a sump pump and I have a professional quality 3/4″ soaker hose ready to wrap around those poor shrubs.

The well head can easily be disguised by plants yet accessed from behind

The plan was to hard prune the rhodies, fertilize , then allow them to re-grow lush and healthy over the next couple of years, with help from this newly discovered water source.

But then I stood back, both literally and figuratively and asked if that was what I really wanted. Did I love those rhodies enough to do all that and continue the battle with various insects? And the lack of foliage contrast wouldn’t really be resolved.

Did they meet my “low maintenance-high value” criteria?

In short – NO.

June 2018 – Past its prime and pretty ugly with badly disfigured shrubs

May 2018 – even in bloom this year it lacked the sparkle of its youth

Plan B

Those big, old rhodies are coming out, the smaller white-flowering azalea will be hard pruned/fertilized, I’ll amend the soil and then introduce a mix of low maintenance evergreen and deciduous shrubs for better foliage interest and greater unity with the rest of the garden. Shrubs here need to be deer resistant and cope with afternoon sun as well as root competition from the adjacent conifers.

My plant short list includes:

Gilt Edge silverberry will add some much needed color contrast and sparkle

  • Gilt Edge silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’) – gold and green variegated foliage that is evergreen. Will eventually grow to 12′ x 12′ or I can prune as desired.
  • Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ ) – still debating this inclusion but I think it will tolerate the afternoon sun with watering. I will need to visually separate the glossy holly-like leaves from the conifers though – perhaps layer it in front of the silverberry. The hummingbirds will love it.
  • Exbury azaleas – taller varieties. Love these for the fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color. Not sure of flower colors yet – it will probably come down to availability although I do love the orange -red of Gibralter
  • Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – for the front edge if there’s room, or perhaps just add to the yellow Japanese forest grass already there

 

I’ll leave the two ninebark in place but will prune them for shape in winter and will have to spray them with Deer-Out until the plants in front are large enough to create a barrier from the deer. I’ll also leave – or move if possible, the mature golden leaved spirea and the rhubarb which will be much happier with more room.

The new design should better integrate with the rest of that border which features a greater variety of foliage color and textures

First things first

I’ve got a plane to catch. In fact when this post publishes I’ll be in New Jersey as part of a 10 day trip to photograph the last 3 gardens for my new book on deer resistant gardens, after which I’ll be in full-time writing mode for several weeks! Maybe the garden fairies will dig out those rhodies while I’m gone???? Or they/he may be too busy looking after our puppy! I’ll take some photos of the process to share with you though.

Bear in Mind

It’s not easy to renovate a mature border because whatever you do the new plants will look insubstantial compared to what was you’ve taken out and what has been left behind. But it’s worth it if you have time to invest in your garden (we don’t plan to move again) and are tired of just making do with something you never really loved in the first place. Plus I’m all about creating a garden that is lower maintenance.

A resource you may be interested in

Has this got you re-thinking part of your garden? Do you need help to assess which plants are worth the work – and which are just free-loaders? You might be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

Plus the coupon code 15off will give you 15% off the price (valid until 6/30/18 only) - put the savings towards something that deserves to be in your garden!

This post contains some affiliate links

Plants for Procrastinators

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

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

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

Cardoon

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

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

Cardoon blooms attract bees, butterflies and photographers!

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

Tobacco plant

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

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

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

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

Golden Delicious sage

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

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

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

Rockin’Fuchsia sage

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

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

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

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

Senorita spider flowers

Senorita Rosalita spider flower – gorgeous color

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

Quicksilver wormwood

Use Quicksilver wormwood to fill in between young plants

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

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

Coleus

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

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

Or add a container!

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

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

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

Designing Abundant Containers

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

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

 

Click on the image for details and to register!

 

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