groundcover

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.

A Spring Perennial you NEED – Epimedium

A Spring Perennial you NEED – Epimedium

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra sp.) get all the love. Cute name. Delicate foliage. Distinctive blooms. Yet there is another spring blooming perennial I get even more excited about. Whether you know it by the common name Bishop’s hat (UK), barrenwort (USA) or the botanical name Epimedium, this perennial deserves your consideration for a space in the shade garden.

Many species are evergreen, forming weed-smothering carpets of heart shaped leaves. The new spring foliage often exhibits striking colors – red margins, copper shades or distinctive veins, while the rainbow-hued flowers dance high above the leaves on impossibly slender stalks, each blossom resembling a thimble-sized fairy hat.

Epimedium lend themselves to exciting design combinations that highlight either the foliage or flowers, or in their quiet season may serve as a foliage picture frame for other more showy companions.  In fact I would encourage you to plan ahead and deliberately purchase companion plants at the same time as these perennials to make the most of them.

Here are some of my favorite plant partnerships to get you thinking.

Shades of lavender and rose

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Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’, seen here with dark purple heuchera and a silver dusty miller in the background

Lilafee has long been a favorite of mine. While evergreen or semi-evergreen in milder areas, I find the foliage melts away on its own by late winter, allowing the lavender flowers and new  red-mottled foliage to shine.

Enhance the lavender blooms by pairing it with shades of pinky-purple and silver such as Pink Frost hellebore and Japanese painted ferns , or purple heuchera and silver dusty miller as shown above.

Lilafee dancing next to Iris 'Gerald Derby'

Lilafee dancing next to Iris ‘Gerald Derby’. Design by Mitch Evans.

Or celebrate the brief moment in time when Iris versicolor ‘Gerald Darby’ sports dark purple tones at the base of each blade by planting it adjacent to Lilafee as shown above. Bright yellow Japanese forest grass adds a visual spotlight to the scene.

There are many other varieties with rose and lavender blooms, often bi-colored like a fuchsia.

An unknown variety of Epimedium echoes the color of a blooming Bergenia in the background

An unknown variety of Epimedium echoes the color of a blooming Bergenia in the background. Design by Mitch Evans

In the photo above, the magenta flowers of elephant ears (Bergenia  sp.) echo one of the colors of the Epimedium bloom while the elongated, dusky-lavender leaves also play into the color scheme.

The very first Epimedium I ever bought was Epimedium rubrum – mainly because it was the cheapest! It has given me decades of pleasure in several gardens, has continued to spread generously into mature clumps and looks good no matter where I place it, even in dry shade under conifers. The flowers have rose-red outer petals and the evergreen foliage has distinctive red markings in spring.

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Epimedium x rubrum paired with autumn fern, Francee hosta and Spiraea ‘Ogon’

I have found it a good idea to remove the old foliage just as flowers are forming in late winter. When I forget to do that (as in the photo above) the old leaves can hide emerging blooms. I do love seeing that sweep of orange colored autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) above it though.

Citrus shades

If you prefer orange flowers over purple, check out Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’.

Orange flowers of Epimedium 'Amber Queen' rise above a dwarf golden spruce

Orange flowers of Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ rise above a dwarf golden spruce. A deep violet Rhododendron in the background introduces a complementary color for maximum impact. Design by Mitch Evans.

Pairing dwarf golden conifers such as Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ with orange and yellow blooms of Amber Queen makes a showy combo in the shade as seen above. Notice how the deep violet rhododendron flowers in the background enhance the scene.

Still in the citrus theme, look for yellow blooming epimedium. Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’ is a vigorous, evergreen variety with golden yellow flowers and distinctive red-veined new foliage that will quickly create a stunning carpet under trees.

In my own garden I planted Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ , whose two-toned yellow flowers remind me of miniature jonquil. Play off the color of these blooms by pairing with yellow toned grasses or golden foliage then adding deep purple or silver for contrast.

A new planting of Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ with golden bleeding heart and yellow veined Beesia

A new planting of Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ with golden bleeding heart. I did try golden Japanese forest grass here but the rabbits ate it!

You can see the still immature grouping above. Since the rabbit population make it impossible for me to grow Japanese forest grass here – or any other grasses, I have just added several Jack Frost Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’) in the empty areas. If the heart shaped leaves of that solo beesia survive deer and rabbits I may add more of those too, as the foliage has subtle yellow veins. However, last year slugs had a go at the beesia leaves – there’s always something!

Treasure hunt!

You’ll be seeing these perennials in the nurseries any day now. Which ones will you buy and what will you plant with them? There are so many to discover! They all do well in partial shade, many even in full shade. Average, moisture retentive soil is ideal but many also thrive in dry soil although their growth will be slower.

Ignored by deer and rabbits … usually …(last year “something” nibbled the emerging stalks of Epimedium x rubrum. Being so tiny it was hard to determine the angle of the cut and accuse the culprit!). Vine weevils can be a problem but otherwise these are really easy and low maintenance. They do not need to be divided although it is easy to cut through a section with a spade if you want to move a clump.

 

Resources

If you’d like to learn more check out The Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums by Sally Gregson (Timber Press, 2015) which features 126 commonly available varieties.

There are also several combinations using Epimedium in my latest book Gardening with Foliage First, co-authored with Christina Salwitz (Timber Press, 2017)

 

 

This post contains affiliate links

Best Drought Tolerant Perennials & Annuals – that are Deer Resistant Too!

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A corner of my fall garden featuring reliable deer resistant and drought tolerant selections

Still stinging from your last water bill? Good news! As promised in my last post on drought tolerant trees and shrubs, here is my report on those annuals and perennials that came through our crazy 2017 PNW summer with style. That means they coped with:

  • three months without rain
  • no irrigation or hand watering (although annuals received water every few days for the first month after they were planted)
  • clay soil that bakes dry like a river bed in summer
  • many weeks with 80′ – 90′ temperatures and several days over 100′
  • daily visits from hungry, inquisitive deer
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My front garden features a broad selection of drought tolerant, deer resistant plants including many of those recommended here

All the plants listed were planted in the ground – not containers.

Perennials

Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii)

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Mingling with Petite Licorice (Helichysum petiolare ‘Petite Licorice’)

What can I say? It is outstanding. if you see it – buy it. Buy lots. At least three – or thirty. Plant, stand back and wait for three years. Then thank me. Details and lots of great photos here. Combination ideas in our latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache ‘Kudos Mandarin’)

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I have grown many varieties of hyssop over the years (Agastache sp.) but few survive my  clay soil that bakes in summer and becomes a sticky goo in winter, so I consider them  annuals in my garden. Kudos Mandarin hyssop surprised me – all of last years plants returned with vigor! The hummingbirds and I were most impressed. You will be too.

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Love, love, love this perennial that self seeds politely in gravel or soil and creates a magical scrim effect in the garden. Looks fabulous no matter where it lands but I especially love it in combination with orange flowers. The photos above depict it combined with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Flasher daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Flasher’). In another part of the garden I have it with an orange blooming cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Bella Sol’).

Details for this fabulous perennial here and check out the combination called Golden Threads in Gardening with Foliage First for  ideas too. WARNING: This has been listed as invasive in some areas – check before planting.

Zagreb tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’)

IMG_4503 I have several varieties of tickseed in the garden but Zagreb is my favorite for its feathery green foliage that turns gold in fall and its sunny yellow daisies.

Sea holly (Eryngium sp.)

I need more of these! Of those shown I currently have all but the last two in my garden. Here’s the rundown: Sapphire Blue (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) is my favorite for color and its gentle self-seeding which gives me free plants (- have to love that)! I do like Neptune’s Gold (Eryngium xzabelli ‘Neptune’s Gold’) for the chartreuse foliage but the leaves seems to get a fungal disease mid-summer and I have to cut them back which is disappointing. I wonder if other gardeners/areas fare better? Jade Frost (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’) has lovely variegated foliage but I am noticing some reversion. The delicate flowers are attractive though. Rattlesnake master is a different species (Eryngium yuccifolium) and looks stunning! Best for the middle of a border as it is taller and the lower leaves can get significant slug damage if not controlled. Wonderful architectural plant.

On my serious wish list is Silver Ghost (Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’), seen in Portland and totally lust-worthy! Also shown is one that I suspect is Miss. Wilmott’s Ghost -(Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’) the classic I first grew in England. (Feel free to correct my ID though if you recognize nuances I’ve missed).

Overall the beauty of this species to me is that although they would be happier in sandier soil, they  thrive in my clay garden with minimal care – even in half day rather than all day sun. Drier climates can enjoy the seed heads well into winter too (Hint: there are two fabulous combinations in our book Gardening with Foliage First that showcase Sapphire Blue and our book cover shot/combination includes Neptune’s Gold!).

Blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.)

These have surprised me. I grew the first two varieties (Arizona Sun and Arizona Apricot)   from seed last year and enjoyed them in my vegetable garden where they went from seed to gallon sized, blooming plants in less than six months. You can read about them and get design ideas here. This year I transplanted most of them to other areas of the landscape where they were subject to tough love i.e. no water and lots of deer. A few didn’t like being transplanted but most did just fine and looked fabulous despite benign neglect – and clay soil! (We’ll see what happens this winter in the clay soil though – that may be the kiss of death) I don’t have Fanfare Blaze (the last photo) in my garden but included it as it is just so darn pretty!! A friend had this in her container last year and both the color and petal form was really eye catching – another one for my wish list!

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimerii ‘Whirling Butterflies’)

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A haze of blooming Whirling Butterflies surrounds a glass birdbath created by Seattle artist Jesse Kelly

For sheer flower power and pure romance in the garden you can’t beat Whirling Butterflies. The slender stalks of blooms dance in the slightest breeze, forming an enchanting scrim effect that is utterly feminine. They would prefer sandier soil but cope with mine. In fall I trim lightly to about 24″ then put up with the less than attractive stalks all winter. In spring when I’m sure there are no more frosts likely I cut down to the uppermost bud – or about 12″ if I want to manage the mature size (which can be at least 4′ tall in my garden). Blooming starts late May and the plants still have lots of flowers even now in early October.

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’)

A ‘must have’ for every shade garden – you NEED Jack Frost! And yes there is a fabulous combination idea in Gardening with Foliage First.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Silvery stems, fragrant leaves and blue flowers. Lots of named varieties of Russian sage to choose from with varying heights to suit every site. I treat pruning the same way as my whirling butterflies (Gaura sp. )above.

Other honorable mentions:

Variegated lemon thyme, hardy succulents, sedges (Carex sp.), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Annuals

Spider Flower (Cleome sp.)

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Taller varieties of spider flower are great for filling a gap at the back of a border during summer. Shorter varieties work well for the front of the border. Attract bees and butterflies and make great cut flowers too.

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)

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Seen here with Lime Glow barberry (in its remarkable rosy fall color)

I rely on this inexpensive annual for a rabbit resistant, deer resistant, drought tolerant summer groundcover in my large garden. One 4″ plant can quickly fill a space at least 3′ x 3′. Several varieties including a soft lemon-yellow and a mini-leaved form. There is a great idea for this in our book Gardening with Foliage First too! Details of this annual here

Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues sage (Salvia longispicata x farinacea ‘Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues’)

I haven’t grown a sage yet that isn’t drought tolerant and deer resistant, but this annual from Proven Winners was a new variety for me to test this year and I give it full marks for appearance, bloom power and low maintenance. At a glance it is similar to the well known Victoria Blue, but it’s stature is greater and color deeper. Looking at the hardiness rating this may be a perennial for many – but an annual for me. Loved it as part of an informal floral meadow effect in the front garden this year (second photo above).

Honorable mention

Jasmine alata, Jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata ) – an heirloom variety with unforgettable jasmine-type perfume in the evening.

Save money on your water bill next year by replacing your thirstier plants with these~

Resources

You may have noticed our book Gardening with Foliage First mentioned a few times….. Seriously if you haven’t got this yet, why not? There are 127 great ideas in there! Buy one for your BFF for Christmas while you’re at it!

For more ideas on drought tolerant plants do refer back to my last blog post which includes links to several other outstanding books that cover different parts of the country.

For more ideas on deer resistant plants, Ruth’s book is a great start:

You’ll have to wait for MY next book on Deer Resistant Drama (working title only) for inspirational deer resistant gardens from across the country (Timber Press, 2019). Be sure you sign up for my newsletters to hear when it is released.

 

Note: These Amazon affiliate links save YOU money – and earn me a few pennies

 

Reduce your Water Bill with these PNW Survivors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trees

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae, shines year round in my garden

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

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

Japanese snowbell

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

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

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

Other trees worth mentioning

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

Shrubs

Hibiscus

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

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

Bluebeard

Beyond Blue is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

Beyond Midnight is a compact variety of bluebeard from Proven Winners

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

Aphrodite sweetshrub

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

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

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

Weigela

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

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

Smoke bushes

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

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

Pearl Glam beautyberry

Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

Pearl Glam beautyberry. Photo courtesy: Proven Winners

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

Gro-Lo sumac

Gro-Lo forms a dense carpet of attratcive foliage

Gro-Lo sumac forms a dense carpet of attractive foliage

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

Other shrubs worth mentioning.

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

 

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

Further inspiration and reading

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

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

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

Evolution, Renovation and Rejuvenation – Revisited

Updated trellis structures transformed this space

Updated trellis structures and a clean plant palette transformed this space

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

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

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

BEFORE - the old arbors were beyond help

BEFORE – the old arbors were beyond help

The problems

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

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

The wish list

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

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

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

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

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

What goes? What stays?

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

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

What’s new?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new trellises

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

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

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

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

The unusual flowers of Cathedral Gem sausage vine

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

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

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

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

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

Sweet Tea heucherella mingling with aucuba

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

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

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

Finishing Touches

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

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

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

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