A Unique Rose Garden


Moondance rose

Moondance rose

How do you use roses in your garden? Do you have a traditional, formal rose garden bordered with low boxwood hedges? Or are they part of a mixed border where they jostle with perennials such as delphiniums and phlox? Perhaps you prefer climbing roses and allow them to scramble up pergolas or use them as a support through which to encourage clematis?

There seems to be a rose for every situation from petite miniatures to house-swallowing monsters with fragrance and colors to suit all tastes but it can still be challenging to find just the right plants to combine with them so that the rose itself is enhanced while also enhancing its neighbors.


I had the opportunity recently to visit the delightful courtyard garden of Mary Jo Stansbury (Whidbey Island, WA)  and was entranced by the delightful naturalized vignette she had created around the white Moondance rose in one of the borders. Billowing fountains of shimmering Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima syn. Stipa tenuissima) were swaying gently in the early morning breeze and a haze of blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) were in full bloom along the pathway. Nestled within this soft cradle were several pure white Moondance roses.


I had never seen roses planted in this way and I loved the juxtaposition of whisper-soft grasses with the thorny stems as much as I loved the simple blue and white color scheme. Rather than dominating the scene these roses were mingling easily and this casual elegance was enhanced by the color echo between the grass and roses.


Grasses have been used throughout this small garden, most of which was designed by the Berger Partnership. Mary Jo has fond memories of working with both Tom Berger and Jason Henry and commented that Jason’s love of grasses is evident. (You will be able to see one of the combinations he designed in this garden for our new book Foliage First; Timber Press 2016)


When I asked her about this particular section of the garden Mary Jo laughingly admitted  this was her haphazard design and explained that she tested Rosa ‘Iceberg’ first but found them too troublesome. Then she found the hybrid called Moondance that is disease resistant, fragrant and blooms all summer.  “It actually does shine and dance like the moon on a windy night!”, she said.


Mary Jo then added the Russian Sage to that section of the garden and now the combination is always a wonderful show at this time of year. Even before the Russian sage would be in bloom the felted white stems and silvery-green leaves would play into this meadow-inspired design perfectly.


This is one of those hauntingly simple designs that stirs the soul. Fragrance, movement, tactile – it’s all here. It will shine in the evening and glow in the day.


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Captivating Ideas from a Petite Garden


I wrote a post recently for my other blog Fine Foliage (co-authored with Christina Salwitz) called The Ones That Got Away. You see Christina and I are on the final countdown for our new book with Timber Press (due out 9/2016) and scrambling to get as many mouth watering ideas photographed and written up as possible, but the reality is that not every garden we visit, or every picture from every garden will make it into the final text.

This post resulted from a visit a delightful garden filled to bursting with so many good ‘take home’ ideas. The garden itself was not large in size yet it was filled with an abundance of eye catching details that made every nook and cranny a veritable treasure hunt. You would think that having so many focal points and vignettes would make the garden seem busy but the homeowners eye for color kept things in check while never compromising the fun factor.

Re-thinking the lawn


After yet another year of moss overtaking the lawn the decision was made to replace it with gravel. To provide a practical walking surface and as an invitation to explore, a series of large flagstones were added as an informal path leading to the right.

As this path curves away a teal container was added to create a focal point to one side, encouraging both eyes and feet to linger. This is the perfect color match for the blue-toned hostas in the adjacent shady border.



Color play


Orange has been used as a fun, bold accent color throughout the garden but it is in such small doses that it never seems overpowering. Against the weathered fence sits a re-purposed fountain, now planted with succulents and a tiny ceramic bird. Above this are a series of wooden boxes planted with orange Bonfire begonias which thrive in full sun or part shade. These fuchsia-like blooms are magnets for hummingbirds.

A trio of similarly planted boxes stand tall on metal pedestals to the left (see first two photos). This is a great way to add color to an area where tree roots make it impossible to plant yet a large container isn’t called for. Drip irrigation keeps everything watered.

Floral highlights


While this garden has a strong framework of foliage it certainly has flowers too. The vignette above shows the start of the gravel pathway where a simple low water bowl has been added. The orange glass ball makes the initial color splash but also serves to direct attention to the Apricot Twist wallflowers behind it. The glaze of the bowl has shades of teal, navy, purple and cream so adding the scrambling Homestead Purple verbena at the borders edge and climbing double clematis to a trellis is an easy way to bring both contrast and connection.



And if you don’t have the right color pot? Spray paint it! This inexpensive metal container is now the perfect shade behind Orange Rocket barberry and Japanese forest grass.

But wait – there’s more!


You’ll have to wait for our new book to see the vignettes we finally selected! We know you’ll love them and be inspired as we were by the use of color and fun plant combinations.

Thank you sweet Edith for the tour, for making me so welcome in your wonderful oasis – and for the wine that completed the evening.

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Top Perennials for Summer Pots

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty foliage as well as white flowers

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty evergreen foliage as well as white flowers

When I design container gardens nothing is safe! I explore everything from dwarf trees and slow growing shrubs to groundcovers, annuals and even houseplants (although I wait until night temperatures are stable at 55′ or above for those). I also include a lot of perennials in my designs; both evergreen and herbaceous types as they lend a sense of maturity and are also a good investment since they can be kept in the container for several years before eventually being transplanted into the garden.

I look for perennials that have great foliage to help establish a framework for summer annuals that won’t get into their stride for a few more weeks. I also seek out perennials that have a long bloom time but if I am including them for the flowers I also need to make sure that the leaves won’t overpower the container.

Here are some of my favorites.

Thunder and Lightning field scabious (Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning’)


Fun color, pretty flowers, drought tolerant, deer resistant, great foliage – why haven’t you used Thunder and Lightning field scabious before?

The distinctive jagged mid-green foliage has a cream margin that really make this perennial stand out from the crowd. Magenta pincushion-type flowers bloom for months and stand tall above the foliage cushion.


Deer be Damned

We featured this perennial in a combination called Deer Be Damned! in our book Fine Foliage (p10) and we hear it’s one of your favorites.

Apricot Sprite hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sprite’)


This drought tolerant perennial deserves to be used more in your designs. Apricot Sprite has soft orange tubular flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds while the fragrant grey-green leaves are attractive and tidy. Combine with other drought tolerant plants such as lavender, grasses and succulents for an easy care design. 15″ tall

Trailing stonecrops (Sedum)


Angelina and Blaze of Fulda sedums mingle with the glossy variegated foliage of a mirror plant (Coprosma) and a dwarf conifer


There are many to choose from but these are my top three. Blaze of Fulda stonecrop has  wonderful burgundy rosettes and hot pink flowers while the leaves of October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii) are grey blue,tipped with pink and the late summer flowers are a clear pink. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is a beautiful evergreen golden-yellow succulent with yellow flowers. The foliage is reminiscent in appearance  of rosemary. All are beautiful tucked at the edge of pots.

Spurge (Euphorbia)

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Donkey spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) works well as a trailer in sunny pots. In the rustic teal container above it is elegantly paired with black mondo grass. The pink ‘flowers’ are usually trimmed away but this image shows just how beautiful they can be as they age.

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenat

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenta

Taller varieties of spurge work well as fillers in mixed designs. My top three are Ascot Rainbow which has variegated leaves of yellow, green and rose, Ruby Glow in deep purple and Silver Swan which has a pretty teal and white variegation.

Note; The sap is a significant skin irritant so always wear gloves when handling. Some varieties of spurge are invasive in some areas so check with your local County extension office before planting.

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

You can base your selection on flower color ( pink or white), foliage color (green, burgundy, striped or speckled), height (from 2′ to 5′) or hardiness but all will reward you with dancing flowers all summer long. The leaves are dainty enough to be a design element themselves while the prolific flowers make this a reliable thriller for your container or basket.

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

Named varieties include Passionate Blush (compact plants, pink flowers), Passionate Rainbow (mid-size plant, pink flowers, variegated leaves) So White (pure white flowers on a compact plant) and Whirling Butterflies (taller plants for large pots, white flowers suffused with pink).

Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)


Dare to be different!

Dare to be different!

Use this where a soft fern-like foliage is needed in a sunny pot. Elegant and tall you can rely on this as a thriller and the interest begins with blue flowers in spring and continues until a hard freeze when the leaves turn burnt orange.

Fall color begins in late September

Fall color begins in late September


This is deer resistant and drought tolerant too!

Tip; if adding this to your landscape be sure to plant it in well drained soil and full sun. Mine never gets watered unless it rains and is thriving! Plant in broad sweeps for the best effect

Trailing Heucherella


Redstone Falls heucherella tumbles down the side of a tall pot


Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella are mainstays in my designs, with varieties available for sun or shade and in many different colors and patterns. Look out for the trailing heucherella though. They can be hard to spot in a display so look for named varieties such as Redstone Falls and Yellowstone Falls. These will spill over the edges of containers for up to 2′ and look stunning!


Yellowstone Falls Heucherella - such lovely foliage

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella – such lovely foliage


They are also evergreen making these a great choice for year round interest

More ideas?

Karen Chapman container gardening instructor

If you live in the Seattle area come and join one of my Spring Container Workshops this month. Thee are a few spaces left and we have LOTS of fun. Find out more and register here.

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Punch Up the Color!

Looking for a new color twist this year? Try magenta on for size. Neither pink nor purple, magenta  leans towards fuchsia but is deeper.

Designer Daniel Mount is one of the best colorists I know. Where I would settle for a pleasing color echo he achieves that but  then kicks it up a notch to become exceptional. In the design above I love the way he has blended the burgundy tones of velvety Big Red Judy coleus with  duskier bronze foliage of Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus) before throwing in the wildly vibrant Red Riding Hood phlox. A froth of pale yellow Japanese forest grass edges the border while the rich golden Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ ) becomes the backdrop.

Red Riding Hood phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’)

Red Riding Hood phlox

Red Riding Hood phlox

This perennial grows to 2′ tall and wide in sun or part shade. The fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies. Divide every 3-4 years. Hardy in zones 4-8

Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ )

Sun King aralia

Sun King aralia

A standout in the shade garden, this golden leaved perennial grows to 6′ tall and 4′ wide. White summer flowers are followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-8

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus)

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding – bronze foliage and magenta flowers

An annual worth growing or hunting for. In late summer long tassels of magenta will explode from the central bud. To 5′ tall. Birds will love the seed heads!

Other ideas?

Enjoy these other combinations by the same designer.


Annual cleome and perennial lilies takes over from phlox for floral color while gold perennials are replaced by creamy white grasses.


Distant tulips echo the rich color of the Ravenswing cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) stem as it pierces the golden Japanese forest grass in this early season scene. (Be warned; this perennial can become invasive).

Or try these color combos;

Magenta + Black;  chic and sophisticated

Magenta + Orange; wild child!


Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache)

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache) – discovered in a Seattle garden. Designer unknown

What will you pair it with?

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New Easy Care Shrubs for 2015

Gardening in deer-prone country is so frustrating. As a designer I envision grand plant and color combinations in my mind – only to struggle to then find deer resistant plants that fulfill those criteria of shape, color and form. As a result I feel as though I’m working with a very limited plant palette at times, especially as I also need plants that are drought tolerant. Add to my list of ‘must have’s’  low maintenance and great foliage and you’ll see why I’m a tough customer.

So you can imagine how excited I get about new plant introductions and  even if you don’t have these restrictions you’ll be impressed by the shrubs here. Get your notepads out and start your shopping list!

First Editions Limoncello barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘BailErin’)

Photo courtesy Bailey's

Photo courtesy Bailey’s

If barberries are invasive in your area skip ahead. For the rest of us – WOW!

When doing a live radio broadcast not too long ago I was asked what my favorite plant was. When I said barberries the radio host (Ciscoe Morris) was clearly surprised and expected me to suggest something much more exotic. However I really do get excited about these shrubs because they have been reliably deer resistant in my garden, are super drought tolerant,  available in many colors including variegated forms and there are tall ones, prostrate forms and short mounding varieties. On top of that there are evergreen varieties as well as deciduous ones, the latter having great fall color and red berries.

All of which explains why I’m excited to try Limoncello. The growers claim this to have chartreuse foliage with an unusual red edge. It is recommended that this is grown in full sun for best color so I’ll be curious to see if it shows signs of scorching as some of the paler barberries can do. Grows 3-4′ tall and wide in zones 4-7. Introduced by Bailey’s

Lo’ and Behold Blue Chip Junior butterfly bush (Buddleia x)

IMG_3994 I grew this beauty last summer and was really impressed. It has all the best attributes of larger butterfly bushes without the bad habits. Highly fragrant, attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, has a very long bloom time and attractive felted foliage in a silvery blue-green. The really good news is that it is sterile so no need to worry about seedlings.

Its compact habit at roughly 2′ tall and wide makes it a great container option or it would be lovely as a low hedge or at the front of the border. Hardy in zones 5-9 and available this year from Proven Winners.

You can see additional photographs and read more  in my article Contain Your Excitement in the March edition of Country Gardens magazine – out soon!

Double Play Blue Kazoo spirea (Spiraea)


Now I have to admit I’m pushing the boundaries a little on this one. It is drought resistant after about two years in good moisture retentive soil and as far as deer resistance; they may nibble some of the flowering shoots but don’t seem to eat the main foliage. However I love the smoky blue leaves and soft rose new growth plus it performed so well for me in a container last summer that I have transplanted it into the garden where I have high hopes for it! Probably my favorite spirea to date, this grows 3′ tall and wide (possibly larger) and is hardy in zones 3-8. Available from Proven Winners.

You can read more – and see gorgeous photos of this spirea in my article Contain Your Excitement in the March 2015 edition of Country Gardens magazine – out soon!

Tuxedo weigela (Weigela x ‘Velda’)


Here’s a new weigela to blow your socks off! I visited the breeders Van Belle  in British Columbia last summer where I got a teasing glimpse of this outstanding new introduction. If I could have smuggled one back across the border I would have but sadly I have had to wait like you to be able to get my hands on one of these.

weigela-tuxedo-0005 (Large)

Pristine white tubular flowers on black foliage – this makes quite the statement. Imagine it in a sleek silver container all on its own or next to a feathery yellow Ogon spirea. Or what about planting it next to a cushion of Silver Mound wormwood (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’)? Now while Van Belle do not claim it to be either deer resistant or drought tolerant my own experience with weigela (I have four different varieties currently) is that in good moisture retentive soil they do not need additional water after the first year or two and the deer either leave them alone completely or may nibble a few new shoots depending on the year.

This unique variety grows 2-3′ high x 3-4′ wide and is hardy to zone 4. Hurry, hurry – these will sell out FAST!

Enjoy this blog?


Craftsy Blogger Awards 2015 is here! Nominate your favorite gardening blog before January 20th to be entered to win a free Craftsy class.

Both this blog and my joint blog are eligible – and yes you can vote for BOTH.

Additionally both my blogs are eligible for all three categories; content, photos and Craftsy instructor. Thanks for your support!

Click here for details and to vote


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