Focal points

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!

(Coupon for first 100 subscribers, expires 5/31/18)

 

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’)

 

Imagination Needed Here!

Imagination Needed Here!

Sometimes there are just too many choices. You know the scenario: there is an opportunity to buy a new plant (or three) but you are dizzy with all the possibilities and can’t seem to settle on a final decision. Well that’s me right now – so I’m inviting you to share your ideas.

The Challenge

IMG_2002

What shall I use?

To add plants to surround– and fill this new planter that I purchased at Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden recently. It is 27″ square and 12″ deep.

The criteria

Plants must be:

  • Deer resistant
  • Rabbit and vole resistant (yes – I’m dreaming….)
  • Tolerant of summer dry-winter wet conditions
  • Tolerant of full sun and fertile, amended clay soil
  • Preferably evergreen or at least have winter interest
  • Hardy in zone 6b

 

and should not;

  • Visually block the sculptural planter.
  • Rely on flowers – foliage is more important

My color scheme

Spring 2017 gives you a sense of what this will look like

Spring 2017; this gives you a sense of what the border will look like in a week or so. The new planter sits where the tall deciduous tree (golden locust) used to be. (That tree became diseased so was removed)

  • Sunset colors (oranges, reds, golds, with burgundy, purple and blue for accents).
  • A little silver and white here and there also.
Imagination and ideas needed!

The tree trunk (of the now removed golden locust tree) and surrounding Siberian bugloss (Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’) mark the site of the new planter. Photo from 2016

The bigger picture

IMG_2008

Adjacent plants that are still leafing out include Lime Glow barberry (cream and green marbled leaf), a golden yellow Exbury azalea, northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) that has orange toned foliage in summer, and Rose Glow barberry (burgundy, pink and cream variegation)

The planter is a secondary focal point to the archway and cabin yet still holds a prominent place. The square motif plays off the cabin windows and a grey cube planter opposite (not shown)

 

IMG_2005

There is space to plant around it as well as the top of the planter – I thought of using the same plants for both but am open to ideas. In such a big space it is imperative not to use tiny blobs of color but larger swaths.

Contenders

Orange hair sedge seems like an obvious choice - what else could I use though?

Orange hair sedge seems like an obvious choice – what else could I use though?

Orange hair sedge (Carex testacea)  – actually I can’t get past this idea which is why I’d love you to help me see other possibilities!

 

I have also considered but dismissed:

Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana); not reliably hardy

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora): unlikely to cope with this much sun without irrigation

Goldfinger libertia (Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’); not hardy for me

Variegated yucca e.g. Color Guard; wouldn’t like my soil (amended clay)

 

I can’t think of any golden grasses that would cope  with the sun, deer would eat succulents…… what am I missing?

Leave me a comment below – or email if you prefer! I’m excited to hear from you.

 

 

 

Big Ideas for Using Color in Small Spaces

So much color, so many ideas, so little time! That’s the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in a nutshell. Thank goodness for my camera because that’s how I can look back on special visual highlights to glean ideas for my own garden and share some of my favorites with you. In this post I’m focusing on some of the details from the City Living displays that caught me eye. These displays are created within an 12′ x 6′ footprint and intended to represent a typical city size balcony or condo patio, showing that a small space doesn’t mean compromising on style.

If you enjoyed my last post on Fearless Design – secrets for using bold color in the garden but wondered how those ideas could be translated to even smaller spaces, this post is for you

Crayola Colors

IMG_1423

Vibrant scarlet and golden-yellow tulips set the theme for the garden called “Seattle Style

Camden Gardens won the award for Best Design in the City Living Displays this year and I can understand why.  A border of glossy, golden yellow containers framed the space and brought instant sunshine to this petite grey Seattle patio. These were planted with a simple repeating combination of chartreuse conifers, vibrant red and gold tulips, yellow begonias and bi-color primroses.

IMG_1407

Award winning display “Seattle Style”  by Camden Gardens

Clusters of tall, white, circular containers were the perfect counterpoint to the linear display while one single bronze vessel with unique geometric lines took the container display from well done to exceptional. The red and yellow color scheme was continued in all the containers – except a single bronze one, which included blue flowering accents.

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

I also loved the use of a sculptural piece of driftwood inserted into one of the tall containers, its organic shape acting as a  frame for several colorful glass balls while also introducing the juxtaposition of a natural element within the man-made.

All the finishing touches were pulled together with an artistic eye for both repetition and contrast. It’s a perfect oasis for an Seattle couple – and their pampered pup, as this patio includes a comfy dog bed and water bowl for the furry family member too.

Color for Cocktail Gardens

Dee Montpetit is no stranger to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, and her display this year, “A Botanical Soiree” had all her usual hallmarks of  great use of color, interesting container combinations, and attention to detail.

IMG_1436

“A Botanical Soiree” designed by Dee Montpetit

 

The silver chairs, table, and buffet had an airiness to their design, the transparency enhancing the sense of space on the small patio.

IMG_1433

A wall-hung, mosaic framed mirror reflects the taller plantings opposite, suggesting a much larger garden space.

Turquoise is the key color, featured in containers, a tall bubbling fountain, the mosaic mirror frame, and soft furnishings. Being used on different elements throughout the patio, the eye  moves from one splash of blue to the next – a key design trick to create a sense of cohesion but also making a small space seem larger.

Silver reflects light, and grey Seattle days  – and evenings – need all the help they can get, so it was a wise use of color for the furniture while matte black containers anchor the design.

IMG_1456

Great use of space: oval pots and light-wrapped tree branches

Against one wall, in place of a traditional screen or fence Dee wrapped tiny LED lights around cut birch branches. I’m seriously going to copy that idea somewhere!! Can you imaging the tiny twinkles of light at night?

Notice her use of oval containers too – they take up a smaller footprint than round or square pots so are ideal where space is at a premium yet can still be planted with trees, shrubs, perennials, succulents and bulbs – all top-dressed with sparkly blue glass pebbles.

Charming color and plant combinations

Charming color and plant combinations

A restrained color palette of silver, blue, and pink  doesn’t translate to boring when Dee is let loose! I loved her intriguing textures and unique combinations that included fragrant lavender and hyacinths, with spring daffodils and primroses all nestled within a gorgeous foliage tapestry of astelia, spurge, cushion bush (Calocephalus brownii), succulents and more.

Spring isn't spring without hellebores

Spring isn’t spring without hellebores and fragrant sweetbox.

Dee chose colors for the container plantings that would work well after dark as well as being beautiful during the day . White, pale pink, and soft lavender all glow softly at dusk, which together with the twinkling lights and silver elements ensure this patio is ready for any soiree.

Final Shout Out

I have to commend Grace Hensley for this fun detail in her City Living  garden. You KNOW you want to copy this idea. If you have kids, grandkids – or are a child at heart, don’t you want to tell the story of the little mouse who lives behind the teeny tiny black door…..

Design by Grace Hensley

Design by Grace Hensley

 

Are you ready for spring now?

More Ideas

If you want more ideas for designing for small spaces check out Susan Morrison’s latest book The Less is More Garden, You can also read my review here.

 

Fearless Design- secrets to using bold color in the garden

IMG_1290

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.

IMG_1307

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.
IMG_1318

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.
IMG_1314

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!