trees

Designing a Winter Wonderland

Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps?

When I went to bed last night there were just a few flakes falling gently. We woke abruptly at 4.30am to the sound of our frozen sump pump singing its last grating swan song, followed shortly after by our 1 year old puppy, Molly, growling at the deep blanket of snow that had fallen overnight.

I couldn’t wait to get outside (in daylight) to take some snowy pictures of the pristine landscape. That idea was quickly abandoned as Molly tore outside with glee, snow-surfing, jumping, sliding, and running. And eating the snow. Which she then threw up – together with her breakfast – as soon as she came back inside. Clearly the serene aspect of any images I might take were lost.

One coffee later and suitably bundled up, I headed out into the moonscape. But what to take pictures of? I let my camera do the talking, drawing me to vignettes that told a story even though in that moment I didn’t really understand what that story was about. Until I got back inside and looked at the images on my computer. I then quickly realized that my best snowy scenes were those that featured color, texture and/or form – elements that stood apart from the amorphous white blanket.

Color

Turquoise containers and a colorful glass sculpture create a dramatic counterpoint to the white backdrop

I have both blue and orange containers in my garden and they look stunning in the winter landscape – far more dramatic than the charcoal grey or rustic green ones I also have. This glass sculpture by Jesse Kelly is not hollow so is weather proof in my PNW climate.

Colored dogwood twigs would be another way to add color to a snowy scene but you would need a significant grouping of these to stand out. The colored bark of trees such as coral bark maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku), Bihou Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’) or Pacific Fire vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) would be sturdier and be easier to see. (Incidentally my white barked Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis  var jacquemontii) only stand out marginally in the winter garden when they are backed by tall evergreens. They are more eye catching in summer and fall.)

Textured bark

River birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) have become one of my favorite trees for year round interest. The peeling bark is outstanding. I have a clump of three multi-trunked specimens at the back of our home. In summer they mark the entrance into the meadow. In winter they stand as sculpture, perfectly framed by our back patio doors.

The warm mahogany bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a close second favorite, seen above adjacent to our little garden cabin.  This is the scene we look out onto every day from the kitchen. The cabin porch is lit at night making it seem utterly magical. Notice how the blue cabin door stands out in the vignette also – unlike my golden conifers, blue conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, which are all here but buried under snow.

The cabin itself is a wonderful focal point, a reminder that structures can also be used as scene setters in the winter garden.

Form

This triple arbor anchors our island border. As a structure it stands out, but also its vertical and arched forms contrast with the surrounding garden which is mostly comprised of mounding or vase-shaped shrubs and trees.

It clearly establishes a focal point and an invitation to explore.

If you’ve got snowy weather, grab your camera. You might be surprised at what you capture.

Designing Fall Combos

Designing Fall Combos

It’s that time of year when I’m dodging rain showers in the garden and preparing for cooler days ahead while enjoying the rich colors of autumn that still have me reaching for my camera.

The best fall gardens are those which celebrate the season with bold combinations and dramatic vignettes. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Temper the heat with cool blue foliage

Clockwise from left: Dwarf Arizona corkbark fir, Ruby Vase Persian ironwood, Shenandoah switch grass, Jerusalem sage, Ogon spirea

My favorite tree without question is Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’). If you haven’t got it – find it. From spidery red winter flowers to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors from spring until fall, you’ll be thankful for the age of digital photography when the cost of film is no longer a concern! Check out an earlier post I wrote about this stunning tree and see more juicy photos in all four seasons here.

The fall colors include purple, gold, orange and red – perfect to play of finely textured, red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) and shimmery golden yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea t. ‘Ogon’). To create a counterpoint to these hot colors, add a cool blue conifer such as Blue Star juniper, Colorado blue spruce or as I have here a dwarf Arizona corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa ‘Glauca Compacta’).

If you can only choose ONE…

Arkansas blue star – the star of any fall garden

The ultimate fall superstar award has to go to Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). Plant this herbaceous perennial in large drifts, stand back, and be amazed. Deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and drought tolerant. Feathery green foliage gives way to this unbelievable autumnal display. Check out this post to see what over FIFTY of these beauties look like in a raised bed as well as other design ideas!

Keep companions simple – here a mossy boulder emphasizes the soft texture while Grace smoke bush (Cotinus ‘Grace’) affords high color contrast.

Add a focal point

Consider adding a non-plant element such as a container to contrast with the fall foliage display. Here a rustic blue-green pot adds color contrast to the fall colors of barberries and a Japanese maple, anchoring the vignette.

Vary the textures

Shenandoah switch grass and Tangelo barberry contrast leaf texture and form, while a Baby Blue boulevard cypress adds a soft blue backdrop

Even a monochromatic display can be enlivened by varying leaf shape and size, such as pairing fine grasses with the round leaves of a deciduous shrub. A soft blue conifer in the background adds contrast.

Visit your friends gardens for ideas!

Former garden of friend and designer Mitch Evans – always an inspiration

Make a point of visiting other gardens this month – both public and private. You’re sure to come away with ideas! Two stunning fall combinations from the garden shown above are featured in my most recent book, (co-authored with Christina Salwitz), Gardening with Foliage First. You’ll LOVE them! You can also enjoy a fall virtual tour of his garden here.

To help you further

If you like these ideas but are concerned about keeping your garden easy to manage, you may be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

It will help you make wise choices when shopping for plants, when assessing what you already have AND help you put combinations together.

Check out the details, and as a special incentive I’m offering you 15% off using the coupon code FALL15 at the checkout.

 

 

Don't delay though, the coupon expires October 27th, 2018 and the course is only open for registration for a limited time.

Note: There are affiliate links within this post

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

Inspired Design – Updating the Front Garden

BEFORE

BEFORE – the existing garden included some lovely trees and shrubs but there was no sense of a plan or understanding of how these plants would mature. The lawn was also an arbitrary shape – a common mistake when grass is added as an afterthought.

This beautiful home was suffering from ‘plant-it-and-sell-it-itis‘.

I see this problem all the time; builders are usually required to landscape the front garden when construction is complete, so a haphazard selection of trees and shrubs are planted with little regard to their mature size, texture, form or even the homes architecture and five years later it is overgrown, over-crowded and needs to be completely re-done.

The problems

BEFORE

BEFORE – trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening to undermine the foundations.

  • Large trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening the foundations.
  • Shrubs were planted too close together and would ultimately become much too large for the space.
  • Rather than framing the home, this landscape appeared to be strangling it!
IMG_7656

BEFORE: an odd assortment of conifers and deciduous trees did little to welcome guests

The solution

  • Use plants of a more appropriate size
  • Space plants correctly
  • Add some additional color for winter interest while also varying texture

Other design criteria

  • This busy professional couple are new parents so the design needed to be low maintenance.
  • They wanted  some lawn to remain
  • The irrigation system needed upgrading

Inspiration!

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

I took my design cue for the shape of the new borders and lawn from this trim detail on the home.

Typically I would design a more serpentine shape but I liked the idea of reinforcing this detail and it mimics the sweep of the attractive roofline. I felt this would also provide a stronger connection between the home and the landscape.

AFTER - the revised borders mimic the arch detail and give the home some breathing space

AFTER – the revised borders mimic the arch detail and gives the home some breathing space while welcoming guests with its ‘open arms’

The lawn provides a negative space, keeps the traditional look the homeowners prefer but also enhances the theme by repeating the arc in the trim detail.

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Plant selection

A Fireglow maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’) was added to the left side of the garden (away from the three square windows that were  blocked by the original cherry tree), and its burgundy foliage will be a colorful highlight from spring until fall, contrasting well with the golden threadleaf cypress that we saved. Even in winter the burgundy stems add a subtle color detail.

Midwinter Fire twig dogwoods  (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) add a splash of color in winter, showing up well against the dark green foliage of the existing rhododendrons. They also repeat the color of the heavenly bamboo planted adjacent to the sidewalk, visually expanding the space.

if only you could smell this...

If only you could smell this…

Overgrown Alberta spruce that once flanked the pathway were replaced with fragrant winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) – a wonderful, gold and green variegated, evergreen shrub. What a perfect way to make guest feel welcome.

While there are many cultivars of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), my number 1 choice is always Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo for its tidy mounding habit and colorful foliage. Unlike the gangly specimens planted by the sidewalk (most likely the species rather than a select cultivar), these have a more refined appearance yet need no pruning. IMG_0598 Ample room has been left to allow them to grow to their mature size of 3 feet tall and wide. I love the way the red foliage echoes the Midwinter Fire dogwoods.

Also working with those warm shades are the Winter Chocolate heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Winter Chocolate’). In spring this brick red foliage will transition to bright green and orange with lavender flowers in late summer. This is most definitely NOT your ‘builders basic’ heather!!

Winter Chocolate heather - delicious

Winter Chocolate heather – delicious

Although I had to remove two large Colorado blue spruce since space and scale simply did not accommodate their mature size, I added two Wells Special Hinoki cypress for sculptural interest year round. I was also able to re-use several variegated boxwood, Rainbow drooping fetterbush and Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).

IMG_0583

With appropriate spacing and attention to four season interest, this revised design will offer color and beauty, with minimal ongoing maintenance beyond annual trimming of the dogwoods to maximize their color potential

Other plants that will come into their own in successive seasons include;

  • Rhododendron Impeditum – blue-grey evergreen foliage and lavender blooms in spring
  • Little QuickFire hydrangea – panicles of creamy-white flowers in late summer, fading to rose on a dwarf deciduous shrub that has stunning fall color
  • Evergreen succulents – rather than a traditional groundcover I added golden Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) under the Fireglow maple and Hinoki trees and rosettes of our native, green Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum) connecting the existing weeping birch trees to the sidewalk.

The results

A front garden to be proud of, that fits in with the neighborhood yet stands out as one of carefully considered design.

COLLAGE 1

I look forward to being able to photograph this garden again in summer, but when a newly planted landscape looks this good even in the depths of winter you know it’s only going to get even better.

How does your front garden look?

Design by Le jardinet

Installation and hard work by Berg’s Landscaping

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Designing with Fall Foliage

It's that time of year - warts and all

It’s that time of year – warts and all

As the PNW braced for the predicted hurricane force winds, most homeowners dashed to the store for candles, groceries and chocolate. Essentials. What did I do? Grabbed my coat, wellies and camera then ran outside between rain squalls to take photos of the garden while there were still some leaves on the trees!

I can’t say that fall is my favorite time of year exactly, because I prefer warmer temperatures and that laid back vibe of summer gardening which typically means harvesting yummy fruit and vegetables and strolling around the garden with friends who stop by. But the colors of the autumn garden are outstanding – especially when you plan for them.

That’s right, a fall garden doesn’t just happen. One has to think about colors and textures as well as the timing of the display. Here are a few snapshots of my mid-October (pre-storm) garden to show you what I mean.

Spread the love

This island border is truly a year round showcase

This island border is truly a year round showcase with gorgeous colorful foliage and seasonal flowers but fall may be my favorite time

Notice how in this photograph of my island border the dominant yellow foliage that immediately catches your eye is well spaced out. To the right is my golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’) and to the left a frothy haze of Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). A bright gold-chartreuse conifer (Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldie’)is set farther back towards the middle, flanked by contrasting deep burgundy foliage of a Grace smoke bush and Fireglow Japanese maple.

The next layer comes from the multi-colored fall foliage of the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica ‘Ruby Vase’), orange toned spirea and blushing Lime Glow barberry.  Evergreen conifers provide a deep green backdrop as well as blue carpet in the foreground.

If all the yellow and gold  colors were adjacent to one another the impact would have been lost. To make this design work in autumn I had to plan ahead even when the trees, shrubs and perennials were in their spring shades. Using colored pencils on a tracing overlay of your garden plan can help you visualize seasonal changes.

Contrasting textures

img_0184 A close up of this vignette shows how the bolder smoke bush leaves act as a perfect counterpoint to the feathery bluestar, both set off by the large mossy boulder.

With contrasting foliage textures you can achieve striking combinations even with a monochromatic color scheme as seen below.

img_0198

In the photo above the finely textured Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) shows up against the round leaves of a Glow Girl spirea even though both have the same color palette. Incidentally the spring-summer color of this spirea is lime green! Adding the cool grey-blue conifer (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’) in the background is a wonderful way to emphasize the warm fall colors of the deciduous shrub and grass.

Borrowed Landscape

img_0185

The photograph above is deceptive. It is taken from the path that runs through the island border; Red Carpet barberry can be seen in the foreground while a haze of Shenandoah switch grass and a mounding weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) are actually on the other side of the winding path.

When you looked at this photo did your eye immediately bounce from the red barberry to the red trees in the background? Those are actually almost 250′ away at the entrance to the woodland border, yet from this perspective they seem to be part of the immediate scene don’t they? Designers refer to this as ‘borrowed landscape’ and here I have specifically used it to enhance a fall scene. the two red maples (Acer rubrum) and the golden locust tree they flank, repeat the colors of shrubs in the foreground. Again, thinking ahead to the fall colors was key. If those maples had turned yellow the impact would have been lost.

Here’s a close up of those trees

img_0197 Now you can glimpse the understory of shrubs and grasses in this border as well as some trees which haven’t started their fall display yet. A rock cairn designed by sculptor Luke DeLatour marks the entrance to this border and was a special gift from some wonderful friends.

When more is more!

Some trees are just out and out show-offs. They are outstanding no matter when you view them. Such is my love affair with  Ruby Vase Persian ironwood seen here in its multicolored glory. This kaleidoscope of color needs a simple backdrop, provided here by a golden locust tree while the finely textured Shenandoah grasses are once again  working with a monochromatic scheme beautifully. Another large boulder works well against the finely texture grass while Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) adds interest in the foreground (plus repeats the color yellow with its last few blooms) accompanied by the feathery yellow Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’). So many layers of loveliness yet it isn’t too busy because there is one clear focal point – the Ruby Vase Persian ironwood.

img_0188

Tips you can try

Grab your camera and photograph your garden; vignettes you like as well as those you are less satisfied with. Assess what has worked or not.

Are the fall colors evenly distributed throughout the space?

Do you need to introduce some bold conifers to anchor the autumn display?

Would boulders help to balance a lot of fine textures?

Can you take advantage of fall colors in a borrowed view from your own garden or a neighbors?

Does everything happen at once? Include early, mid and late season beauties. My fall display typically begins in September with vine maples and katsura trees and continues through the end of November with paperbark maples and purple smoke bushes.

Do you need a focal point for a fall vignette? This can be a specimen tree but here is another idea. See how the rustic pot below repeats the fall shades of a weeping Japanese maple behind it. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

img_0158

The colors of a rustic pot repeat the autumnal shades of Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’

More resources

Fallscaping:extending your garden season into autumn by Nancy Ondra, Stephanie Cohen and photographed by Rob Cardillo (Storey, 2007)

Timber Press Pocket Guide to Japanese Maples by J.D. Vertrees and P. Gregory (Timber Press 2007) includes lists by size, fall color and much more.

Gardening with Foliage First – my NEW book co-authored with Christina Salwitz. Pre-order available now. (Timber Press, 2017) includes some STUNNING fall ideas

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