Proven Winners

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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Pretty in Pink

Pink Wonder fanflower and friends - one to look out for in 2015

Pink Wonder fanflower and friends – one to look out for in 2015

It’s often the case that it is only when we are challenged to do something different we discover that we actually quite like it.

Such has been the case with two pink flowering annuals I have grown this year.  They will be available in 2015 from good nurseries or direct from Proven Winners (who have neither paid nor bribed me to write this!) See what you think.

Pink Wonder fan flower (Scaevola ‘Pink Wonder’)

Pink Wonder fanflower

Pink Wonder fanflower

Of the two this is my hands down favorite. This was in bloom when it arrived in May and has never stopped flowering since. It has grown equally well in sun and part shade – like its blue counterparts – making it ideal for those of us who have two containers flanking the front door with different light exposures.

I especially liked it in the mixed container shown at the top of this post with dusky purple sedum, soft green Sunburst Aeonium, white bacopa and silver Bella Grigio lambs ears.

Superbena Royale Cherryburst Verbena

Royale Sunburst verbena - new for 2015

Royale Sunburst verbena – new for 2015

Quite a mouthful I know but worth remembering. This is somewhere between a hot pink and red with a crisp white star. Like most verbenas it blooms in waves but the color is so vibrant I’d grow it anyway. Try it with the grass Northern Lights tufted hair grass ( Deschampsia cespitosa)  which has pink highlights with its soft yellow and green stripes and white flowering Diamond Frost euphorbia plus other annuals, perennials and shrubs such as those shown below. Not shown in this photo are the soft green foliage of a sedum and a blue star juniper (I got carried away focusing on this pretty verbena!)

Royale Cherryburst verbena in a mixed summer container

Royale Cherryburst verbena in a mixed summer container

Do you think you’ll try them next year?

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Deer-Free Garden Dreams for 2014

It always amazes me that after just a few months respite from gardening I suddenly find myself dreaming of next seasons adventures. Moving the shrub that got too big for the front garden over to the back garden where it will have a bit more breathing room. Or making a list of new vegetables to grow in 2014 encouraged by all the glossy seed catalogs arriving daily. Perhaps what gets me the most impatient for spring is the anticipation of trying new plants. So just in case you have the same plantaholic syndrome, here are a few I will be hunting for as soon as the snow promises to stay away.

 New Millennium ‘Dwarf Stars’ Delphinium


Dwarf Stars delphinium - new from Walter's Gardens

Dwarf Stars delphinium – new from Walter’s Gardens

There is nothing quite so quintessentially English as a stand of tall delphiniums in shades of blue, lavender and pink, soaring skywards on 6′ stems. The reality, however, is endless tying in of those stems to prevent them being blown down in the slightest breeze. This new introduction solves all that, as these beauties stand just 2 1/2 feet tall! Their more manageable size means you can enjoy them in the middle or front of the order too which makes cutting them for the vase much easier.  A  bonus for me is that these are reliably deer resistant. Hardy in zones 3-7 and thrives in full sun.

Yuki Snowflake Deutzia

Yuki Snowflake deutzia - new from Proven Winners

Yuki Snowflake deutzia – new from Proven Winners

Delicate white spring flowers appear at the perfect time for spring gardens while its tidy, mounding habit and attractive fall color make this deciduous shrub a three season performer. Deer resistance means that even I can grow it and at just 2′ tall and wide there are lots of options for enjoying this in the garden or a container. Hardy in zones 5-8 and does best in full sun.

Scarlet Torch™ Bottlebrush (Callistemon rigidus)


Scarlet Torch bottlebrush will have the hummingbirds camping out in your garden! new from Monrovia

Scarlet Torch bottlebrush will have the hummingbirds camping out in your garden! New from Monrovia

I have to satisfy myself with enjoying these in other peoples gardens as my zone 6b is just too chilly (and wet). However for those of you in more temperate zones 8-11 should get this new introduction on your shopping list! Prolific, crimson-red bottlebrush-like flowers adorn this low maintenance evergreen shrub like out of season Christmas decorations. This new introduction from the University of Georgia has larger blooms than other varieties with an excellent rounded form. It is a good choice for the back of the border where it will reach 9′ tall x 12′ wide in 10 years. Plant in full sun and well drained soil.

Spice Ball™ Koreanspice Viburnum  (Viburnum carlesii)

if this was scratch-and-sniff you'd swoon!

If this was scratch-and-sniff you’d swoon!

With its fragrant spring blooms and attractive habit, this compact Korean Spice viburnum is a great addition to smaller gardens, providing all of the spicy, intoxicating spring fragrance in a petite package. I have found the deer will nibble the new shoots of my other viburnum so I’m curious to test the claims of deer resistance on this one. Spice Ball grows 4-6′ tall and wide in full or part sun and average – moist soil. Hardy in zones 4-8

Creme Fraiche™ deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)


Never mind the flowers - look at the foliage!

Never mind the flowers – look at the foliage!



I’ve saved my favorite for last! If you enjoy foliage as much as flowers then this new deutzia is bound to earn a spot in your 2014 plans. I was given a ‘baby’ one to try from Proven Winners  last year and it definitely looks promising. Unfortunately because these samples are so young they take a while to show their full potential but I was struck by how fresh and clean this variegation was. At just 12-24″ tall and wide this is a good container candidate but could also be used to edge the front of a border. Hardy in zones 5-8, this deutzia does best in full sun and moisture retentive but well-drained soil.

More FOLIAGE dreams

More FLOWERING dreams

What’s on your 2014 wish list?

Exciting New Plants for 2014!

Yes you read that correctly – these are new introductions to watch out for next year.

As a garden writer I have the opportunity to test plants in my own garden and containers before they are released to the retail nurseries. I suspect passing quality control at the grower’s greenhouses may actually be easier than passing my own rigorous standards! Anything which I highlight for you has had to outperform  similar plants or offer  significantly new colors and/or properties. I also have zero tolerance for Primadonnas so these plants have to be fabulous with minimal primping and fussing.

It’s a wonder growers actually send me anything isn’t it?!

I’ll be writing about several more of my 2014 trial plants in the near future, but here are two perennials and two annuals to get the ball rolling.

Superbena 'Violet ice' by Proven Winners

Superbena ‘Violet Ice’ by Proven Winners

Superbena ‘Violet Ice’

Can you say delicious?! This is verbena on steroids. Each flower is about twice the size of a typical verbena and the color is an unbelievable shade of lavender with blue overtones. Like most verbenas, this did bloom in waves but we’re talking monster surfing waves here, not little ripples. The whole plant was covered in these over-sized flowers while the foliage has remained healthy throughout the summer.

I tested this in full sun and partial sun and it barely bloomed at all in the latter so save your plants for lots of sunshine and you will be amply rewarded. This truly is a winner by Proven Winners

Begonia 'Surefire Rose'

Begonia ‘Surefire Rose’

Begonia ‘Surefire Rose’

I was pretty skeptical about this one, especially as it claimed to be sun tolerant.  I’ve also never really liked wax begonias as they tend to get leggy.  But here I was with a couple of surefire rose begonias  to test so I planted one in my own container and gave one to my neighbor to test. In both cases they have been in full sun.

In my own garden the begonia was in a container with drip irrigation so had regular watering. My neighbors plant had to make do with a ‘when I remember’ blast with the hosepipe. Surprisingly they have both done exceptionally well and are still blooming their big pink socks off.

One idea for an easy combination

One idea for an easy combination

The one thing that did appeal was the bronze toned foliage and apart from a little pitting on a few leaves (not sure what caused that) it has been exceptionally healthy. I combined it with the variegated Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ whose rose tinted new growth echoed the begonia flowers nicely while the yellow stamens repeated the yellow splashes. A cascading creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)  finished things off. (This trailer prefers part shade so did get scorched. It was a leftover from the winter planting so I thought I’d just see how it would fare).

The plant has grown to a tidy dome about 12″ tall and wide with no pinching out. In fact all I have done is occasionally remove the spent flowers which turn translucent and papery. Just a cosmetic clean up, not a necessary one to help keep it blooming.

From now on my clients can expect to see this Proven Winners annual  in their sunny containers.

Silver Heart Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

Silver Heart Siberian bugloss

Silver Heart Siberian bugloss from Skagit Gardens

“Really?” I thought when I saw this? It looks just like Jack Frost which has been around for several years. I dug it into my trial bed in the garden anyway but wasn’t expecting much. In fact I pretty much forgot about it and only watered it twice during the entire summer. Even worse I planted it in a spot where it gets  direct sun from dawn until about 3pm. Yikes! This really needs afternoon shade.

Here’s my surprise discovery though – and the reason why I’m including it here. It didn’t get sunburned and didn’t sulk from lack of water. In fact in comparison to my large clump of Jack Frost it is far superior. Where Jack Frost has proven to be drought tolerant it has scorched badly this summer yet received less sun than Silver Heart did.

So is it different from Jack Frost? For the purist silver heart does have more silver but I’d say the main reason to buy it is because it is a tough perennial for tough places (and tough-on-plants  clients).

Short and Sassy sneezeweed,  helenium (Helenium)

Short and Sassy - great name for a great plant from Skagit Gardens

Short and Sassy – great name for a great plant from Skagit Gardens

Now this perennial did pique my interest straight away. I’ve always liked helenium – such bright, fun daisies for the mid-late summer border and a welcome change from black eyed Susan’s and coneflowers. In fact I recently highlighted the cultivar ‘Mardi Gras’ in an article for Houzz. However, its legs aren’t very pretty; just long green stems and ordinary leaves. When designing with them I always had to make sure I added something in front to detract from that aspect of an otherwise great plant.

Short and Sassy has the same flower shape and colors as taller helenium but at 12-15″ tall and 2′ or so wide this is perfect at the front of the border. This is another perennial which has had to withstand tough treatment from me – in full sun and only watered twice since it was planted in May. As you can see from the above photo it is happy, healthy and still in full bloom. I haven’t deadheaded it either! It just keeps right on flowering and has been covered in cheerful flowers since June.



Each flower has a chocolate colored cone surrounded by a ballerina skirt of red and yellow splashed petals. Imagine this with purple fountain grass and Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ in a container or the garden border. Wow!

The small print;  although Proven Winners and Skagit Gardens sent me these plants to test they have not paid me to write about them. All opinions are my own.

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My Top 5 Survivors


Two outstanding introductions for 2013 - Superbells 'Lemon Slice' and Luscious 'Berry Blend' Lantana

When I test plants I really test them! No primadonnas for me thank you very much; they have to perform well under ‘average’ conditions without excessive primping.

You see I plant hundreds of containers every season for my clients and myself. Everything I use has to perform 100% – there’s no room for slackers. I provide premium potting soil, a single dose of slow release granular fertilizer (e.g. Osmocote), regular water and sun or shade as needed. After that the plants have to strut their stuff to convince me they are good enough to tell you about!

Considering all that I think it’s pretty brave of Proven Winners to ask me to trial some of their 2013 introductions! They know I won’t just return the requested questionnaire at the end of the season; they’ll get emails and/or phone calls from me as the season progresses if I am concerned, disappointed or thrilled! Probably far more information than they want really but I’m doing this for YOU not Proven Winners. I want to be able to truthfully recommend to my readers those plants which I have shown perform well under typical gardening conditions. Tough love and all that.

So get pen and paper handy as I have some real winners that made the Karen List and that you’ll want to buy next season.

I know it's hard to believe but this is just ONE Superbells 'Lemon Slice' - and it wraps around the other side of the pot!

Superbells ‘Lemon Slice’ is the #1 winner. It has coped with monsoon rains, temperatures swinging from barely 50’ to over 90’ and it hasn’t missed a beat. A single plant from a 4” pot planted in June now measures well over 2’ across! It has a perfect compact habit which means no elbows or knees sticking out, just a dense mass of flowers and foliage hugging the sides of the container. Actually you can barely see the foliage (or the container) as it is smothered in the vibrant yellow flowers each ‘sliced’ with white like a candy. My only issue is that I wish I hadn’t put quite so many other plants in the same pot as they are being swallowed! Fabulous with other citrus colors but would also be fun with purple or a romantic white and yellow scheme.

Supertunia 'Watermelon Charm' revels in heat. Partnered here with Sanvitalia.

Supertunia ‘Watermelon Charm’ nearly didn’t make the list – as the Proven Winners rep knows! You see Supertunias are a little closer to a ‘real’ petunia than the Superbells. Think of Supertunias as the direct children and Superbells as cousins. Now frankly I can’t stand ‘real’ petunias and haven’t used them for years. They get sticky, need deadheading, attract aphids and turn to mush after rain, which we have more than our fair share of in Seattle. So I had mixed feelings when my goodie box included this Supertunia. Whereas I truthfully still prefer the Superbells I have ultimately been so impressed with this Supertunia that I asked Proven Winners if they could send me some more for a magazine photo shoot I was preparing for!

Here’s what I like – vibrant color and masses of good sized flowers which almost completely hides the foliage. It has a nice tidy habit, hugging the container without getting gangly and one small 4” potted plant now covers an area at least 2’ x 2’ so that’s a lot of punch for less than $5! It thrives in the heat and despite recommendations from Proven Winners to the contrary, it does nicely with my single shot of Osmocote. (Sorry folks but I am NOT going to water every other week with a liquid feed even if the grower tells me to. Life is too short and I’m too busy!) So why am I only giving it a 9.5/10? After heavy rain it looks a little disheveled – by my standards at least. Whereas it generally doesn’t need deadheading there were a lot of very sad, soggy flowers that simply couldn’t be ignored after several days of rain. Also as the flowers age the petals can become translucent in patches which can spoil the overall appearance. So, if you live in areas which don’t suffer from excessive rain this would be a fabulous addition to your container gardens but for Seattle I’m going to stick to the Superbells.

The delicate yellow eye of Luscious 'Pina Colada' Lantana works beautifully with the sun tolerant 'Spitfire' coleus

Lantanas are annuals in our zone 7 so are a treat for summertime containers. My experience thus far has been that although they offer great color and love hot summers the flowering seems to come in waves even with regular deadheading. Not so with the two latest introductions from Proven Winners – Luscious Berry Blend and Luscious Pina Colada.

Berry Blend adds multicolored fun to designs with raspberry, lemon and orange flowers. At the other end of the spectrum luscious Pina Colada is a soft white with the merest hint of lemon for warmth. What has really impressed me about both of these is that they have bloomed non-stop since June and have always had LOTS of flowers. They have also handled competition remarkably well from neighboring plants. Rain or shine, 50’s or 90’s these are the best lantana I have ever grown.

Delicate in appearance maybe but Cleome 'Senorita Blanca' is one tough lady

My last winner is a surprise even to me. It is Cleome ‘Senorita Blanca. This new compact variety of spider flower has been bred with container gardeners in mind but I had a gap in the front border where I needed something about 2.5’ tall and wide with white flowers – so that’s where they went in June. Today they are a mass of white flowers brushed with lavender which makes pairing with deeper purples such as ‘Concorde’ barberry an easy partnership. Drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant, disease free, unbelievably floriferous, good cut flowers, thornless, sterile,  – and did I say really drought tolerant? I’ve only  watered them twice since June! I’m not usually one for adding annuals into the landscape but with a young garden there are temporary gaps to fill. I’ll be buying at least a dozen of these next year. Plant them in groups of 3 as I did to get the best look.

Successful container gardening means using top quality potting soil and top quality plants. Such plants have been grown in premium soil to begin with so are well rooted, bushy and healthy. My clients expect the best, and that’s what I give them. I have my favorite nurseries and my favorite growers – places and people I know won’t let me down. In fact they make me look good when the plants thrive! Proven Winners really have been proven to be a winner by people like me putting them through real life tests so that you can try something new next year and have confidence that you will love the results.

Proven Winners provided me with the plants mentioned here. They have not paid me – nor bribed me – to write this article! And despite the fact that I only gave their Supertunia 9.5/10 I think they are still talking to me.….

All varieties shown will be available spring 2013


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