Proven Winners

Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

Mission Impossible? Petunia Conversion!

“Oh boy,” was my less-than-enthusiastic reaction when I opened the box of plants to trial from Proven Winners and saw several petunias. PINK petunias at that. I can’t stand petunias. They get sticky, messy, don’t deadhead politely, get covered in aphids, don’t tolerate rain – and pink is NOT my color…

As I donned my gardening gloves and pushed my pride to one side I tried to focus on the fact that I was being asked to test these plants as a real gardener so that YOU would have an unbiased review of their performance. Sure it was going to be unbiased. I hate petunias. Did I mention that already? And I don’t especially like pink. I’m not completely averse to pink – I just wouldn’t choose it.

I hastily shoved them in a couple of spare pots adding whatever I could round up to work with them (did I mention that I don’t “do” pink?) and set up the drip irrigation system.. I then left town for 10 days – for 8 of which it poured with rain. When I got back home did I rush out to see how they were doing? Noooo. I hunkered down in my office for another 8 days to finish writing my book, during which time it rained – a lot.

When I eventually emerged and ventured out to check on them I anticipated a sticky, molten mess. I kid you not – they were stunning. No sticky goo. No aphids.

I didn’t even primp them before taking these photos – this is as real as it gets!

Et Voila: Supertunia Vista Bubblegum

Of the two, so far, I’d say Vista Bubblegum has a tidier habit – no awkward sprawly bits – and it is playing beautifully with the delicate, silver Artemisia ‘Makana Silver’. And although I don’t go for pink as a rule I could honestly be tempted by this one. It’s a lovely clear shade of pink with deeper veins- not too bright and not too pale. I think it will hold up well to bright summer sun come August. And just one little plant is really giving a lot for the money.

….and Supertunia Vista Paradise

Supertunia Vista Paradise is a little more sprawly but not excessively so and I am deliberately not going to pinch it back as I want to see how it performs on its own. Chances are it will even out and have a similar habit to Vista Bubblegum.

Supertunia Vista Paradise with a blue fanflower (Scaevola), Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ and a lovely new Angelonia called Angelface ‘Steel Blue’ that will be available in 2019. All except the fanflower are from Proven Winners

It’s a really deep shade of neon pink that looks stunning with bolder shades of yellow and blue-purple so is a little closer to my usual color tempo. This one will be available in nurseries in 2019

Stay tuned for a late season follow up but dare I say I am impressed? By a petunia! Proven Winners  you have achieved the impossible.

Although the plants were from Proven Winners I have not been paid to give my endorsement. Opinions are my own and unbiased. (I DID tell you that I hate petunias, right?)

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem

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

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

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

Other Challenges

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

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

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

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

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

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

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

In short – NO.

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

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

Plan B

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

My plant short list includes:

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

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

 

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

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

First things first

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

Bear in Mind

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

A resource you may be interested in

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

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

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

This post contains some affiliate links

Plants for Procrastinators

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

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

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

Cardoon

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

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

Cardoon blooms attract bees, butterflies and photographers!

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

Tobacco plant

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

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

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

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

Golden Delicious sage

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

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

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

Rockin’Fuchsia sage

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

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

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

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

Senorita spider flowers

Senorita Rosalita spider flower – gorgeous color

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

Quicksilver wormwood

Use Quicksilver wormwood to fill in between young plants

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

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

Coleus

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

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

Or add a container!

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

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

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

Designing Abundant Containers

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

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

 

Click on the image for details and to register!

 

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

Over the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall

It’s been a busy week as I’ve been hard at work on a special project for you! (More about that later…)

Are you curious to see what’s happening in your neighbor’s garden? Do you sneak a peek while out walking the dog? Don’t blush – we all do it!

Well I know I’m rather off the beaten track so I took a few photos this weekend to show you what’s happening.

It was early morning when I ventured out. The sun was just moments from making its appearance; that magical, ephemeral time of day.

Misty layers of flowers and foliage

Most of my garden borders have a sunset” color scheme of coral, orange, magenta, gold and deepest burgundy. It’s a rich color palette that is vibrant in every season. In spring, the rhododendrons and Exbury azaleas (most of which I inherited) have their shining moment. My challenge is to find ways to showcase their fleeting glory – by partnering them with beautiful foliage of course.

Working with pink blooms

Burgundy leaves pair so easily with pink flowers.

A “no name” Rhodie Playing off the burgundy foliage of a new Pixie Japanese maple

Low lying branches flirt with Blackberry Ice heuchera

A golden full moon maple provides a brighter contrast

Golden yellows need bold partners

The deciduous Exbury azaleas are some of my favorite shrubs – I love the fall color as much as the “in your face” spring blooms.

The large golden flowered shrub below was here when we moved in although we relocated it with help from a bobcat! Today it joins company with a golden conifer and large Rose Glow barberry.

Forever Goldie golden arborvitae reinforces the color scheme

The wispy shrub with red flowers in the background is a sterile form of Scotch broom. It is an old Proven Winners variety. Love that it is deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Close up of the flowers on my sterile Scotch broom – so pretty

Foliage Highlights

Foliage is key in my garden and I love the way a Double Play Gold spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda frame these mango colored azaleas, one of the Northern Light series.

New growth on a spirea and andromeda  echoes an orange-toned azalea

Mercifully barberries are not invasive in the PNW, because I love them for their deer resistance and wonderful range of colors.

Limoncello barberry and a blue pine

Limoncello barberry can be tough to place in the garden as the color goes beyond bold to almost garish. I’ve found blue and silver are the best companions and love it with a columnar blue pine in the background.

Lemoncello has crazy attitude!

Red barberries are much easier to work with, however. I have several clusters of the dwarf Golden Ruby barberry and am especially pleased with this pairing with a dark leaf euphorbia.

Golden Ruby barberry and Ruby Glow euphorbia

Those magenta colors seem to be everywhere right now! An elderly gentleman (Jerry Munroe, that some may remember from his Kenmore nursery) gave me these primroses many years ago. When we moved to this house I brought them with me.

Moisture-loving Japanese primroses and Rodger’s flower – ideal companions on our stream bank

Love how they play off the oversized Rodgersia foliage!

And deep in the garden….

So what else have I been up to? Well I’ve been working hard putting together a new online workshop for you; Designing Abundant Containers. This will totally change how you plan, shop and design your containers gardens! It will launch any day now and be offered to my newsletter subscribers. (Not a subscriber? No problem – you can sign up here.)

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look  from one of the videos. We needed to check that when I moved about I would remain inside the frame of the primary camera. Andy (my husband who was manning all three cameras plus audio) asked to “see what (I ) could do”……

 

Never take yourself too seriously, right?!

 

 

 

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’)