Drift Roses, the Dwarf Knockout Relative


As an organic landscaper, I’ve long been annoyed by those weakling, disease-prone roses that are pesticide junkies from day one. Yet when roses are done right, the colors, fragrance, and luxuriant flowers are hard to resist. They have that old-fashioned, secret garden-type appeal that makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside.

That’s why I’ve been such a fan of the newer landscape roses like Knockouts, which need nearly no care, can be pruned by inexperienced hands with decent results, and don’t need spraying. I’ve even had luck with them in tough, windy conditions and poor soils, if they’re given regular irrigation. But sometimes you don’t have room for a bountiful 5′ behemoth in your garden beds, and just want a little color and fragrance tumbling along a border or spilling over the sides of a pot.

That’s where these new Drift Roses fit in. They’re about a third the size of Knockouts and come in a similarly cheerful array of colors. They have a light, pleasing fragrance and are easy do-ers even for beginning gardeners, so long as you give them good sunshine and summer water to get them well-established. You don’t even need to deadhead them much, as they’re self-cleaning – the petals drop off the rose once they’re finished, so you can clean up the deadheads at your leisure to encourage re-bloom, rather than rushing out to deal with a mess of guilt-inducing brown petals.

Since they’re relatively new, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test them out, but I’m already inspired by the glossy deep green foliage and attractive form.

Plants for Damp or Wet Shade

IMG_3214 IMG_6545 IMG_6046
IMG_6055 rousselot (21) Uncinia uncinata (2)
(Click any photo to view larger.) Gardening in soggy soil can be tough enough without the added challenge of shade. While the usual suspects in such conditions – ferns, iris, astilbe and hosta – are beautiful, if you’re looking for a more interesting or architectural planting, it can be tough to find varieties that will suit. Here are six under-used plants for shady sites that are damp or somewhat boggy. [Read more...]

Deer-Resistant Plantings You Can’t F*** Up

Deck-Deer-012.jpgPlanting for deer can be hard sometimes. You read all the books, buy “deer-resistant” plants, and the buggers still munch everything to the ground and give you that blank-eyed “what? I’m a deer!” stare when you shake your fist at them. No, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as the books would have you believe. But some plants are more deer-resistant than others. And the types of plants I’ll discuss below are generally left unbothered, even in that initial “hmm, it’s a new thing, is that tasty?” stage. And even if you only used the exact set of species I’m suggesting below, there are so many colors and textures available of these types of plants that you could create any number of design schemes from them. Shall we start?
Astelia chathamica 'Silver Spear' (2) chondropetalum tectorum closeup cordyline festival grass Uncinia uncinata Japanese Forest Grass or hakonechloa macra aureola
Ceanothus California Lilac IMG_4554 IMG_8753 - Copy native iris IMG_1341
Calluna 'Velvet Fascination' and 'Dark Beauty' Daboecia cantabrica 'Alba' Calluna 'Sister Anne' IMG_1337 Daboecia
Artemisia photo by TANAKA Juuyoh on Flickr phlomis IMG_8997 IMG_1683 nepeta and oregano (3)
giant chain fern Polystichum polyblepharum leaf holly fern at Longshore garden (2) Dryopteris erythrosora (3) Alaskan Fern

Ornamental grasses:

I have never seen a deer eat ornamental grasses. That’s not to say they don’t do it, but I think the fact that grasses are pretty fibrous and not too high in moisture makes them an unattractive snack. Plus, there are generally a lot of softer grasses to eat out in the wild, so for most deer, the idea of traipsing into your yard, with all the weird sounds and smells, to eat something they can chomp in the relative safety of the wild just seems like a dumb idea to them. [Read more...]

Deer on a Diet: Deer-Resistant Gardening Tips

gardening-with-deer.jpgLet’s be clear: gardening with deer can be frustrating. You read all the books, plant all the right plants, and those hungry mowing machines just tear through your new deer-resistant plantings like they’re candy! And then leave poops on your lawn to further taunt you. They’re cute; I’ll give deer that. But they’re creatures of habit, and they’re not that hard to anticipate. Today I’ll give you a few tips to reduce the likelihood that they’ll eat your garden to the ground, and then next week I’ll share a list of plants that grow easily, look great together, and that the deer won’t eat. In short; plantings for deer that you can’t f*** up. Allright, on to the tips!

Spray new plants with deer repellent

First, deer are curious. They’re like a lot of college students – they’ll try anything once. So anytime you plant something new that is not absolutely, totally, 100% deer-resistant (like, you know, rocks), spray it down with deer repellent for the first six weeks. Bonus tip: every time you run out of repellent, get a new brand. They all work fairly well. You don’t want the deer deciding that maybe they do actually like a salad dressing of rotten eggs and cayenne, thankyouverymuch.

Get rid of the candy

Deer are creatures of habit. So they walk their same paths every week, they eat their favorite plants, and they nibble anything easy to reach along the way. You know what makes a favored path? Candy! Delicious, delicious deer candy. So those few roses that you can’t bear to get rid of are actually drawing the deer into your garden. Deer might not show up just for the pansy flowers or the Japanese anemones, but since they’re there already for the roses, why yes, they will just have a nibble. Thanks! You know what this means, right? You must be brutal. Do a quick evaluation of what is eaten every dadgum week, and get rid of it. Give it to your sister, compost it; it doesn’t matter what you do with it, but it can’t stay there. Once you’ve put the deer on a no-candy diet, do a six-week course of repellents or use motion-sensing sprayers like the Scarecrow to further break their habit of using your garden as a grocery store. Once they’ve found that your neighbors have some delicious plants too, they may just stay away.

Stay ever vigilant

Deer have babies every year, who don’t yet know how gross your hellebore flowers are. And as for grownup deer, well, let’s just say having a brain the size of a baseball doesn’t make for a great memory. They’ll absentmindedly nibble stuff they’ve already deemed inedible. And when times get tough, they’ll eat a baseball mitt if it keeps them going. So you’ve got to keep an eye on things, and as soon as you notice any nibbling or issues, pull out the motion-sensing sprayer to startle them, or dig out a repellent spray, and try to convince them as fast as possible that your garden is just a totally uncool place to hang out. Don’t let them get into a habit of visiting your garden, because if you do, they’ll be a lot harder to get rid of again.

Chill out

Lastly, don’t take the deer personally. Really, aside from the fact that they spend their entire day eating roses and have the intelligence of a boot, they’re just like us. They want to get by, eat some good food, have kids, and enjoy a gentle and pleasant day hanging out by the stream with their families. It’s nuthin’ personal when they eat your plants. They don’t have the option of heading down to Whole Foods and picking up some organic rosebuds as they’d surely prefer. So if you feel your blood start to boil at evidence of their grazing – chill out, have a beer, and do some zen-like deep breathing or something. They’re just plants; they’ll probably grow back, and when we die, we can’t take our nice gardens with us. We gotta be, like, philosophical about these things, or we’ll turn into grumps. Stay tuned for the second installment, Deer-Resistant Plants You Can’t F*** Up, coming Friday.

Want to read more?

The Scarecrow: Motion-Sensing Sprayers that Scare Deer and Small Children My review on Amazon of the new book, 50 Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen Every article about deer-resistant plants I’ve written here

Variegated Rhododendrons Liven Up the Shade

VariegatedUnique-courtesy-don-wallace-of-stg.jpgMy latest post over at the Christian Science Monitor garden blog Diggin’ It is about my favorite types of variegated rhododendrons. I’m lucky enough to have a rhododendron specialty nursery in my community, so in addition to the horrible, boring rhodies seen in parking lots, we also have access to some exotic varieties with glossy foliage, unusual flower colors, and of course variegation, which really brightens up a shady area. Here are some photos to tease you… Goldflimmer courtesy don wallace of STGRhododendron 'Superflimmer' courtesy don wallace of stgPresRoosevelt courtesy don wallace of STGVariegatedUnique courtesy don wallace of stg From top: ‘Goldflimmer’, ‘Superflimmer’, ‘President Roosevelt’, and ‘Unique Variegated’. Photos courtesy Don Wallace of Singing Tree Gardens. So, head on over to the Christian Science Monitor to read more about these tough woodland beauties! Want to read more about Rhododendrons? Bulletproof Rhododendrons for the Seacoast and Other Tough Spots Rhododendrons: Little-Known Favorites for Winter Gardening Under Redwoods: Rhododendrons and More

Gardening Under Redwoods: Dealing With Dry Shade, Acidic Soil, and Root Competition

Plants-for-under-redwoods.jpgHumboldt County’s known for its majestic redwoods, and many of the gardens that I design and care for have a few towering specimens setting the scene. But lovely though they are, gardening under redwoods presents some serious challenges.


For one, redwood trees cast some fairly dense shade. This isn’t such an issue if you only have one or two, but if you’ve got a bank of redwoods, it can be hard to grow your usual landscaping plants in that area. The solution to this is to STOP PLANTING ROSES under your redwoods. Seriously, incongruity anyone? Do some meditations about your attachment to certain types of plant, and go plant those things someplace else if you have to have them. Don’t hack at your redwoods in the vain hope that if you “let in enough light”, your roses will thrive there. I am very sorry, but they won’t. Embrace what you’ve got (the rest of the world envies you!) and move forward. [Read more...]

Amy and Gen Tropicanna the Garden: a Giveaway!

tropicanna-from-tesselaar.jpg***Giveaway below*** Outside of the garden, I’m attracted to cool, subdued colors, like purples, blues, blacks and greys. But lately, in the garden? Give me some color! Wild, exuberant color, that shocks the eyes and cheers the soul. So when the kind folks out at Tesselaar Plants offered to send Amy Stewart and I some Tropicanna cannas, I was all over it. Miss Zonal Denial is ready for spring! Three Tropicanna varieties The original Tropicanna, Tropicanna Gold, and Tropicanna Black (photo courtesy of Tesselaar Plants) happy lemonsWe took some of our Tropicanna bounty over to local artist Linda Mitchell’s home. Linda (yes, those are her lemons at left!) has a gloriously tropical garden of her own, with loads of exotic fuchsias, bold foliage and exciting colors that come up in summer. Here’s Amy and I finding homes for all the different kinds of Tropicanna: These are one of the hardiest “tropical” plants around. They’re safe in the ground to zone 7, and gardeners in zones 6 and below can plant them in containers, or just dig them up each season and bring them in. In my area where they overwinter easily, they reach about 6′ tall, but in pots they’ll stay a more sedate 3-4′. Inspiration board for the three kinds of Tropicanna canna:
Tropicanna4173954047_e6f935f9c5_bCanna Tropicanna Black AlstroemeriaEuphorbia photo by wlcutler on Flickrsunrose or helianthemum UnciniaGolden CallunaClianthus puniceus Parrot's Beak - Copy
Top row: Tropicanna canna, Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic’, and Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’ Second row: Tropicanna Gold, Euphorbia characias, Calluna ‘Beoley Gold’ Third row: Tropicanna Black, Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, Clianthus puniceus ‘Red’

Would you like to grow your own Tropicanna cannas?

Tesselaar Plants has provided a whopping FOUR SETS of Tropicannas for Amy and I to give away to some lucky readers. Each winner will get a generous set of all three types of Tropicanna, enough of each to try them in a number of cool combinations. All you have to do is comment here and over at Garden Rant to win, and next Thursday Amy and I will each announce our two winners. US only. Good luck! And if you want to connect with the nice folks out at Tesselaar Plants, you can check them out on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Golden Conifers Brighten Up Winter

Ceanothus-and-Cryptomeria.jpgWith the winter doldrums in full force, I went to my local rhododendron nursery the other day to pick up spring color for a few jobs. Usually, I’m blown away by the blooming rhodies or the summer-flowering heathers. But this visit, what really struck me was the conifers. Specifically, the golden conifers. They just looked so cheerful against the cloudy sky, and all the browns and greens happening this time of year. I know some people think golden plants look sickly, but I think it’s all about placement. If you put them next to something that is just bursting with lush, healthy growth, and repeat their golden color throughout the garden, they look intentional and can add a real element of brightness and good cheer to the garden. Golden conifers in the garden (8)

Here are some of the conifers that won me over:

Ceanothus with Cryptomeria at Singing Tree Gardens Nursery Golden Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Aurea’, has a loose, cone-shaped habit. I love the weeping leaf-tips. In the photo at the top, you can see what a fun contrast it makes with the upwardly-reaching branches of Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’. The foliage has a soft appearance, but it’s a pretty tough plant; it will even take wind and salt air. It reaches about 10′ height in as many years, but it can get quite big in time, so don’t plant it under your eaves! Hardy in zones 6-9. [Read more...]

Ferns for Every Garden

Autumn-Fern.jpgAs we settle more deeply into winter, I’ve been really noticing the beauty of all the ferns in the landscapes I care for. They’re low-care, often have great winter interest, and seem to go with just about every type of plant or style of planting. The neat thing about ferns is they look great both on their own as focal points, and in broad drifts or masses. They’re generally resistant to deer, can take shade, and, um, they’re green! So you’d have to try really hard to make them look clashy with anything. Here are a few of my favorite ferns to use in the landscape:
woodwardia fimbriata Giant Chain Fern, Woodwardia fimbriata, is a Pacific Northwest native that gets 4-5′ tall. It has a soft-looking texture and an airy habit that’s lovely next to evergreen shrubs.While these look great massed, the mature size of 5 feet makes it an excellent focal point in a small garden bed, or a good accent to highlight larger plants. It’s not frost-hardy, so keep it protected under trees. It can take boggy conditions.
Dryopteris erythrosora (2) Autumn Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora, is named a bit backwards. You’d think that it puts on that lovely show of orange foliage in, well, autumn. Instead, the Autumn Fern’s showiest time is in spring, when all the new growth is brilliantly colored.This photo is of its summer look; mostly green with a bit of color to remind you why you planted it. Drought tolerant once established, Autumn Fern has the best color when given just a few hours of sun each day. 3′ when mature.
IMG_2978 Tasmanian Tree Fern, Dicksonia antarctica, stands in for palms in my rainy climate, acting as a tropical sentinel in the garden. They grow about 12′ tall in most gardens and about 7′ wide, so if you’re looking for a petite tree that can take shade, look no further.Their highest use in the garden is as a grove flanking a winding and mysterious pathway to a stone fountain or water feature – it feels so prehistoric and primal. You can imagine the dinosaurs romping juuust out of eyesight.
IMG_0561 Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, (say thatthree times), has the most deliciously glossy foliage, and drooping cinnamon tips on spring as it unfurls.This is one fern that really truly prefers the shade; I’ve tested it in gardens where it gets 2-3 hours of direct sun and it just fries. Otherwise, it’s proven unfussy, even tolerating wind in one seaside garden seeing as we were kind enough to give it good soil and water there. 3′ mature size.
holly fern at Longshore garden Holly Fern, Cyrtomium falcatum, is for the inner-goth crowd. Not into that fluffy frondy crap? Want a fern with some bite to it? Here you are.It’s bold, architectural, and looks great in steel planters or near sculptural elements in the garden. It doesn’t actually bite, it’s not mean like holly, it just tries to look tough is all. It gets about 3′ around and has the deepest green color in shade, going a lighter green color with some sun.
Want to find some good planting partners for ferns? Check out these posts for more inspiration: Hawt Plants for a Variety of Climates Forget Halloween: Dark Beauties to Enjoy All Year Callunas, Daboecias and Ericas: Demystifying the Different Types of Heather

The Ten Best Native Plants for Coastal Northern California Wildlife by Peter Haggard

Ceanothus.jpgOn the heels of our recent Garden Designers Roundtable on Inviting Nature Into the Garden, I wanted to share a resource that I’ve been finding incredibly helpful in recent months. While we all know that planting natives is a good way to attract more life into our gardens, if we only have space for a couple of plants, it can be hard to know which ones will have the biggest impact. This list shares ten of the highest-impact natives you can plant to support multiple types of wildlife in your coastal Northern California garden. [Read more...]

Shamelessly Tropical: Hawt Plants for a Variety of Climates


I admit it. I’m in zonal denial. I love the huge tender leaves of bananas, the glorious hanging trumpets of Brugmansia, and anything so wild and lush that it makes me feel like I’m on vacation to the kind of rainforest-y tropics that have monkeys and great winding green snakes and crazy bugs that remind you of your oddly charming uncle, the one with the giant glasses and earnest surprised eyebrows.

Unfortunately so many of my favorites are juuust out of reach for my climate. I can grow a lot of these lovelies, but they usually spend half the year either melted and disheveled from the frost, or recovering from such. My idea of the tropics doesn’t include anything that turns to blackened mush at certain times of the year. So anything I can get my hands on that’s both hardy in my zone 9 climate and looks drippingly lush? Surefire winners for me.

If you’re the same, I’m sure you know about Fuchsias and Cannas by now, but I wanted to share a few lesser-known favorites you might not be growing yet: [Read more...]