perennials

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

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

Hedgehog Street

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

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

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

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

Embracing the Earthworm

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

Floral Tapestries

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

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

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

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

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

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

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

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

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

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

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

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What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

If you share your garden with deer, you’ll be familiar with the term, and when shopping for plants have undoubtedly asked nursery staff for assistance in choosing things that are deer-resistant. Yet what does that really mean?

Let’s be clear: it does NOT mean deer-PROOF.

With that out of the way let’s dive a bit deeper so you can make informed choices when choosing plants and strategic decisions when siting them.

Start here:

My go-to reference for whether or not a plant is deer-resistant is the Rutger’s website. The great thing about this site is that it is backed by considerable professional experience and observations and lists a plants LEVEL of resistance (more about that in a moment). The downside is that they are based in New Jersey, so there is some significant variation in their observations and mine here in Washington state. It is, however, an excellent place to start.

Understanding levels of deer-resistance.

It isn’t black or white – there are levels of resistance that it is helpful to understand. The Rutger’s website site uses the following grading system:

A = Rarely Damaged
B = Seldom Severely Damaged
C = Occasionally Severely Damaged
D = Frequently Severely Damaged

They recommend selecting plants that fall into categories A or B if you share your garden with deer, unless you are willing to protect plants with fences or sprays.

But what does “seldom severely damaged” look like?

Let me share a few case studies from my own garden to give you an idea.

New Guinea impatiens (annual)

Although this species (Impatiens hawkeri) is not listed on the website, both Impatiens balsimina and Impatiens walleriana are listed as level C, so one could assume a similar rating for New Guinea impatiens.

I have one New Guinea impatiens in a container design along the primary deer route. It has been there for 8 weeks without any damage whatsoever.

How it USED to look!

Two nights ago this happened…

So, yes the damage is occasional, and yes it was severe – but they haven’t destroyed the whole plant, just taken off about 90% of the flowers! One squirt with the deer repellent spray would have avoided even that but it has never been eaten before this year and I’ve grown them for at least three years in containers exposed to the deer… (i.e. ” VERY occasional damage”….). The good news is that everything else in the pot was untouched! Knowing (and seeing) that, will you include these and spray them – or avoid them entirely?

Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (conifer)

We began to develop a large privacy screen about 7 years ago. It includes conifers, deciduous trees, broadleaf evergreen shrubs,  and grasses.

The privacy screen acts as a buffer between ourselves and the neighboring property

In the center of the photo above you can see a beautiful golden Japanese cedar, (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’). When it was still quite young the deer did one of their nightly stealth raids and this was the result:

Rutting damage

They didn’t eat the tree – but they did damage it by rutting against it. Thankfully the conifer coped with the damage and seemed to grow out of it over the next year, so I’d agree with the rating of B. I would advise also fencing the tree when young to get it established.

Corkscrew hazel (deciduous shrub)

I love the twisted foliage, stems, and catkins on the Red Majestic corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’)

Nibbled stems on my corkscrew hazel

If you only saw the above image, you’d be tempted to think the entire shrub was a loss, but that isn’t the case. See it in the broader context:

Bigger picture – NOW can you see the damage?

The shrub is at a turning point in the path – and on the major deer-highway. It was easy to taste a few convenient leaves but they clearly didn’t deem it tasty enough to devour more.

That being the case, I’d agree with the Rutger’s rating of B (“seldom severely damaged”). Plus the shrub has been here for three years and I think this is only the second time I’ve noticed any damage at all. So will you choose to grow it?

Now what?

Now you can make informed choices about the plants you select, assess your level of tolerance for damage, and decide where to place these plants in the landscape. For example, I’d suggest any major focal points and specimen plants are always selected from A or B. If you really want to try something listed as C or D then at least set it farther back into the border so damage is less noticeable and don’t use that plant for an entire hedge!

Footnote 1 – Rutgers vs. Karen

Where I differ from Rutgers:

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica cvs..) are totally decimated by deer in my garden (D+!). Rutgers lists it as C – which I think is a change as I swear they used to list it as B! (In Texas and North Carolina it is actually considered at least B)

Gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) – in WA they are C or even D. Rutgers lists it as B.

Footnote 2 – What Rutgers misses

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is not on the Rutgers list – I would rate it as A, never having had any damage whatsoever in 7 years. It is also my favorite perennial of all time!

Telekia (Telekia speciosa) is a large, shade-loving perennial with steroidal foliage and yellow daisies. It takes a few years to outwit the slugs here in the PNW but mine now reliably grows to 5-6′ tall each year despite deer, rabbits and our over-abundance of molluscs. I’d confidently rate it as A since the deer walk past it every day. (Not listed on Rutger’s)

Gaura (Gaura sp.) is also conspicuous by its absence from the Rutgers list. Most definitely A++ here.

A special gift for you!

if you’d like to spice up your deer-resistant plant selection, you’ll enjoy this  list of 15 FUN Deer-Resistant plants that I’ve created. It is  FREE for my newsletter subscribers. Just sign up here:

Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

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

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

Contemporary and Monochromatic

May 19th 2018 – just planted

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

August 1st 2018

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

Plant list:

Platinum Beauty lomandra

Angel Wings senecio

Kent Beauty oregano

Quicksilver hebe

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

Quick, Easy and Colorful

June 1st 2018 – just planted

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

July 31st 2018- on a hazy summer day!

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

Plant list:

Orange Rocket barberry

Glitz euphorbia

Fairy Blue fan flower

Walkabout Sunset lysimachia

Demonstration pot

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

May 14th 2018 – just planted

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

June 19th 2018

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

August 1st 2018

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

Plant list:

Cherries Jubilee false indigo

Ascot Rainbow spurge

Tequila Sunrise mirror plant

Mexican feather grass

Diamond Frost spurge

Purple Queen

Angel Wings senecio

Lemon thyme

Royal Romance verbena

 

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

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

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

 

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Watery Hues at Chanticleer

Watery Hues at Chanticleer

I’m sure you’ve heard of the renowned white garden at Sissinghurst. Even if you’ve never seen it in person there are countless images online depicting its quiet elegance. Does the idea of a monochromatic color scheme intrigue you but you’re nervous to try it?

  • Are you afraid it will lack interest?
  • You’re not sure which color to focus on?
  • You’d like to add just a hint of contrast but don’t know how or with what?

This may be just the inspiration you need!

I managed to squeeze in a short trip to Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA a week or so ago. I had been photographing the last few gardens for my new book Deer Resistant Design (Timber Press, 2019) and realized I was within striking distance of this magical garden that had completely captivated me when I visited last fall.

I arrived a little later than ideal for photography but was still able to find a few spots with soft light, including the gravel terrace adjacent to the formal pool, which was planted in a deliciously cooling palette of soft aqua tones, accented by the finely dissected blue-black foliage of Black Lace elderberry and a few light confetti sprinkles of coral-orange.

The watery hues of the pool house roof and pool itself inspired the monochromatic theme which in true Chanticleer style was not bound by limitations of hardiness or longevity so much as drama, texture, form and scale of foliage, enhanced by a few select flowers. In other words it is my sort of garden!

Finding Focus

Focal points are essential in any design, but are especially important where the color palette is restrained. Here a pair of weathered stone roosters stand apart from the exuberant plantings, while the bold succulent foliage of a stunning blue century plant (Agave americana) forms a counterpoint to a froth of finer textures.

 

A bold blue century plant (Agave americana) thrives anchors the design surrounded by the foliage and flowers of curly sea kale (Crambe maritima), annual long-headed poppies (Papaver dubium), donkey tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) and Dalmation bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

While these roosters stand sentry to the stepped path that leads to the pool, the borders they guard are not planted in a strictly symmetrical fashion. Rather the emphasis is on repetition of the color palette and textures.

Sea kale has been allowed to flower, its succulent stems and white flowers adding to the casual display.

Adjacent to a major pathway, this display also has to hold up to closer inspection by strolling visitors. I was fascinated by the plant selection the designers had thought to use and marveled at their inventiveness. I only wish I could visit again in mid-summer to see how this color story will continue to unfold.

Blue Glitter sea holly (Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’) shows off its spiky blue bracts

Your turn!

Has this got you thinking? Remember you can design a single container, a feature border or an entire garden room in this way. It can be designed using hardy plants, annuals or a blend of the two.

Look around your garden for color cues. Perhaps your red front door? Or a specimen tree with silver leaves? Or a cobalt blue birdbath? Where the pool house roof guided the choice at Chanticleer any of those features could be a color springboard for your unique design.

Bismarck palms (Bismarkia nobilis) are planted in containers tucked into the border adjacent to the pool house, reinforcing the color scheme and seasonal display.

Be sure to visit Chanticleer if you can! It’s now open until the end of October.

Live too far away? Then treat yourself to this enticing book, The Art of Chanticleer photographed by award-winning photographer Rob Cardillo.

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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:

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