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...]

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...]

Plants to Love: New Zealand Wind Grass (Stipa arundinacea/ Anemanthele lessoniana)

Anemanthele-lessoniana.jpgAnemanthele lessoniana New Zealand Wind Grass is a stunning low-maintenance grass that keeps its glowing orange foliage all winter long. I occasionally have to prune out some dead bits here or there, which I do by grasping a small clump of dead foliage and cutting it out at the base so you don’t notice it’s been pruned. Anemanthele lessoniana gets to 4’ around and 3’ tall, and will take even the worst seacoast wind. It’s also deer-resistant. It colors up all bronzey-orange in full sun, but is an attractive green grass in part shade as well. They’re gorgeous for highlighting any kind of green foliage, and I think they look great with plants that have purple flowers like Tibouchina/ Princess Flower or Salvia leucantha/ Mexican Bush Sage. [print_link]

Plants to Love: Rozanne Hardy Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne’)

GeraniumRozanne.jpgGeranium ‘Rozanne’ (USDA Zones 4/5-9) is a lovely tumbling plant that gets between 4 and 5’ around, and about 2’ tall. She’s been the darling of the landscape designer crowd since being introduced a few years back, and even though we all plant her all the time, we’re sticking our fingers in our ears and going “LA-LA-LA” whenever a whisper of her being over-used comes up. She’s only over-used once we’re tired of her, and we are not. She loves full sun and is somewhat deer-resistant, though not reliably so. ‘Rozanne’ even tolerates strong seacoast wind without looking shabby. If you put ‘Rozanne’ in a part shade spot, she’ll still grow and bloom nicely, but she may get a bit leggy and sprawl out more. She does go dormant, so I often plant her with evergreen plants so she doesn’t leave too big of a hole in the winter garden. I like her with ornamental grasses like the Acorus ‘Ogon’/ Golden Sweet Flag grass above. She also harmonizes nicely with Roses, Rhododendrons, and Heathers. Learn how to prune Geranium ‘Rozanne’ here (link to video). I gently lift one side of the plant up and trim out some of the longest stems that are flopping on the ground either back to a side shoot or all the way back, making sure my pruning cuts are hidden by the rest of the foliage, and work my way around the base of the plant to even it up. This helps to reduce size or get the plant out of a pathway if needed, because usually the longest stems are the ones sitting on the ground. After you prune, the goal is to have the plant smaller, but not see any visible sign that you pruned it – no cut stems or bare patches. Want to join in the Rozanne lovefest? Check out Susan Morrison’s post about her here. [print_link]

Plants to Love: Purple Pixie Hebe (Hebe ‘Mohawk’ or ‘Purple Pixie’)

HebePurplePixieorMohawk.jpgHebe 'Purple Pixie' or 'Mohawk' This Hebe is a lovely little evergreen thing which gets to about 3’ around and blooms off and on a good part of the year. It takes shearing well and usually comes back well from hard pruning during the growing season, though I try to avoid pruning into the wood if I can avoid it. [Read more...]

Bulletproof Rhododendrons: Rhodies for Sea Coast Wind and Other Tough Conditions

Rhododendronsforwindygardens.jpgRhododendrons are tough performers in our Pacific Northwest climate, and have become a standby for landscapers looking for a plant that’s sure to thrive. But not all Rhodies are created equal; some are more suited to tough conditions than others, as evidenced by the horrible-looking Rhodies in so many local parking lots. Finding the right variety for the spot you have is key. Recently, I asked Don Wallace of Singing Tree Gardens, our local Rhododendron expert, for suggestions of “bulletproof” Rhododendrons that I could use in tough spots where other plants might not thrive – like in windy areas, or in poor soils. He came up with a great list of tougher-than-usual Rhodies, which I have found so useful I wanted to share it with you here. [Read more...]

Plants to Love: Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima/ Stipa tenuissima)

stipanassellatenuissimaMexicanFeatherGrass.jpgstipa nassella tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass This waving blonde grass is a great way of bringing a sense of movement to your garden. It looks great massed, and brings a beachy feel to the garden with its bleached straw-colored seedheads. Nassella tenuissima does need to be cut to the ground once a year, but I’ve had great luck doing it at the end of the summer – it comes back just in time to perk up the winter garden. Give it full sun and 3’ of room. Mexican Feather Grass usually gets pruned once yearly in September when they go kind of beige and dreadlock-y, and they come back gorgeously and make a fresh green winter accent for me. Cut the entire thing to 3” tall using your hedging shears. (Check out this article from The Germinatrix with her take on pruning this Stipa!) This grass can be invasive in some parts of the country because it does re-seed. Here in the coastal Pacific Northwest, it will often re-seed in a garden, but rarely become a pest, and I haven’t seen it in any wild areas. But in Southern CA, it is becoming a pest and so I’d check with your local agricultural extension before planting this lovely little grass to make sure it will actually be lovely for you. [print_link]

Coastal Gardening: Screens and Hedges for the Sea Coast Garden


If you’re gardening on the sea coast, the wind can make it hard to enjoy being outdoors. Using fast-growing hedges or screening plants can help you block the wind and enjoy hanging out and working in your garden.

How to use hedges and screens successfully to block wind:

  • First, think of what direction the wind comes most strongly from, most often. Could you put a section of tall screening shrubs just along one side of your property and block the majority of the wind?
  • Next, think about light: most screening plants will grow faster and thicker with full sunshine. Can you put your screening shrubs far enough away from any other plants or structures that they will get full sun? (What does full sun mean?)
  • Consider the view. Obviously, you love the beauty of the ocean and don’t want to block your view! Think about whether you can create little “viewing corridors” from the places you sit most, so you can block a lot of the wind but not ruin your view. [Read more...]

Coastal Gardening: Groundcover Plants for the Sea Coast

IMG_1341.jpgUsing groundcovers in sea coast gardens can give you easy low-maintenance color. I love to use ground-covering plants in masses because the waves of color kind of echo the broad waves of the ocean. Planting groundcovers also avoids a lot of the issues found when planting individual shrubs or trees. When planted in masses, the wind blows up and over the groundcovers rather than catching the branches and constantly shaking the plants. [Read more...]

Plants to Love: Purple Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)



Simple, lush, gorgeous. This sun-lover attracts bees and beneficial insects, resists deer, takes salty seacoast wind, and looks great with any number of plants. All it asks in return is good drainage and full sun. I love it with just about any ornamental grass, pink or yellow roses (it attracts the beneficial bugs that eat aphids, which makes them a great companion plant to roses!), Heathers, Hardy Cranesbills, and anything with purple foliage. I trim individual stems back partway early in the growing season if size needs to be reduced, or remove stems selectively towards the end of the season once trimming stems partway no longer looks graceful. Nepetas get cut back completely in winter once they’ve died down. You can divide them every few years to control size, but it doesn’t seem necessary for the plants’ health – I’ve never seen them die out in the center as many undivided perennials do. [print_link]

Coastal Gardening: Shade-Loving Plants for the Sea Coast

Hydrangeamacrophylla.jpgSea coast gardening is challenging enough in full sun, but choosing wind- and salt-tolerant plants for the shade can be downright daunting. Most shade plants didn’t evolve in unprotected, windy zones – they are used to the shelter of trees. Not to worry – there are a few beautiful plants that can help give your shady sea coast garden a bold, colorful look. Designing with a limited palette can actually be really fun – paradoxically, reducing your options can make it easier to create a gorgeous garden, because you needn’t spend a lot of time considering options that simply won’t work. Instead, you can focus your time on selecting between the variations in color and form found within a few types of plants.

Here are a few favorite options for a shady seacoast garden:

Hydrangea macrophylla Fuchsia thymifolia Persicaria 'Red Dragon'
Tassel Fern Phormium 'Tricolor' Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue'
Heuchera 'Velvet Night' Daboecia Japanese Forest Grass
(You can click on each photo to view larger) Clockwise from top left: Hydrangea ‘Blue Wave’/ Blue Lacecap Hydrangea, Fuchsia thymifolia/ Fairy Fuchsia, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’/ Red Dragon Fleeceflower, Hydrangea ‘Nikko Blue’/ Blue Mophead Hydrangea, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’/ Japanese Forest Grass, Daboecia/ Irish Heath (part shade only, not full!), Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’/ Velvet Night Coral Bells, Polystichum polyblepharum/Tassel Fern, Phormium ‘Tricolor’/ Tricolor Flax in center. Some other great choices are our native Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), native Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), a few tough bulletproof Rhododendrons such as ‘Anah Kruschke’ (large) or ‘Dora Amateis’ (small), and Box Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), which tends to form more of a tight shrub in wind rather than its usual loose branching structure. I also love Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), Variegated Sweet Flag Grass (Acorus ‘Ogon’), Variegated Red Campion (Silene ‘Clifford Moor’), and Silver Astelia (Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’, best for part (not full) shade). Want some more inspiration for your sea coast garden? Check out these other posts about which plants will thrive in tough coastal conditions: Heathers and Heaths: Tough Plants for Your Seacoast Garden Tips for Gardening on the Seacoast Sturdy Perennial Flowers for the Seacoast Hedges and Screening Plants for the Coastal Garden