New Hellebore Flowers Hold Their Heads High

Helleborus-Cinnamon-Snow-from-Skagit-Gardens.jpgI’m a big fan of hellebores, since in my rainy climate so many flowers are dashed to the ground at the first rough rain shower. Plus, some types of flower and color just don’t stand out boldly enough to be visible from a window. Hellebores are tough as nails and shine brightly in the winter landscape. But the problem with so many hellebore varieties is that you almost have to get up underneath them to appreciate the full extent of their beauty. It’s like they’re doing some kind of downward dog yoga thing to hold their zen through the lousy weather. See what I mean? Kinda droopy: downward facing hellebore helleborus orientalis Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a lot of cheer for winter and early spring, and I actually think these older varieties are quite lovely. There’s a delicate woodland grace to flowers that look downwards. But sometimes you want just a little more oomph in your plantings, and most of the new Gold Collection of hellebores have more upward-facing flowers, so you don’t need to plant them at the tall end of a slope to get the full effect of their blooms. Check it: ‘Jacob': Hellebore Jacob from Skagit ‘Cinnamon Snow': Helleborus Cinnamon Snow from Skagit ‘Pink Frost': Hellebore Pink Frost from Skagit ‘Spring Party': HELLEBORUSGoldCollectionSpringParty17 I’ve been planting some of these new varieties anyway just because their foliage is so gorgeous, but now that they are beginning to bloom for the first time and I am seeing what a strong shot of color they’re bringing with those upright flowers, I am doubly excited to plant more this year. Another nice thing is they’re being bred for a longer array of bloom times. According to Skagit Gardens, a wholesale plant grower in Washington and B.C., if you choose your varieties wisely you can have color from November through April – a notoriously tough time for blooms. Here’s the run-down of what starts to bloom when (they usually last about three months): November: Gold Collection Joel, Jonas or Jacob (pictured above), all of which have crisp white blooms with a yellow center. December: Cinnamon Snow (pictured), Josef Lemper and Rosemary, which are, respectively, marbled pinky white, pure white with a yellow center, and a bright pink bubblegum color with a hint of peachy warmth. January: Mahogany Snow, Champion and Pink Frost (pictured), which are dusky rose, whitish-green, and pale pink with vivid pink outer petals. February: Spring Party (pictured) and Merlin, which can bloom through April. Spring Party has marbled foliage and white blooms which age to pinkish beige, while Merlin has pink blooms and very dark green foliage. There’s an awesome bloom-time chart here for the Gold Collection and other new Hellebores (PDF). Hat tip to Yvonne over at Miller Farms Nursery (I recently raved on them over at the Proven Winners site) who gave me the heads-up, so to speak, on these new varieties. All photos courtesy Skagit Gardens.

The Color of the Year, Adapted for Deer: Tangerine Tango in the Landscape

Pantone-color-of-the-year-Tangerine-Tango.jpgPantone’s just released their top pick for 2012 color of the year – Tangerine Tango – so given the Garden Designers Roundtable topic for the month is deer – it seemed a perfect excuse to talk about Bright! Orange! Plants! for the deer-resistant garden. While selecting a color of the year is an obvious marketing ploy, and not a terrifically effective one at getting me to rush out and buy things (I mean, are you going to go out and buy a Tangerine Tango-colored appliance as their press release suggests? I’m not even sold on the nail polish color!), it’s still kind of fun to think outside our usual color favorites and try something new. Especially in the garden! A know a lot of deer-resistant gardeners feel like they can’t really “play” in the garden as much as they’d like. So many new introductions and planting trends seem like they’d be food for the deer. But I truly believe that in gardening as in life, an obstacle is just a challenge. If you look out for the shapes, textures, and colors you’d like to use and try to find unusual varieties of tried-and-true deer-resistant plants that fit those themes, you can enjoy pretty much any planting style in your deer garden. So without further ado, here are some Tangerine Tango-inspired plants that can rock your deer-resistant garden – twenty brightly-hued varieties of those great garden standbys that you know you can count on in a deer garden.
sunrose or helianthemum rhododendron unique marmalade Kniphofia_Papaya_Popsicle_1b IMG_0616
From left to right: Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, Rhododendron ‘Honey Butter’ (photo from Singing Tree Gardens), Kniphofia ‘Papaya Popsicle’ (photo from Terra Nova Nursery), Achillea ‘Paprika’
Salvia Lighthouse hakonechloa nicholas Echinacea_Coral_Reef_2b IMG_5251
From left to right: Salvia splendens ‘Lighthouse Red’ (photo from Proven Winners), Hakonechloa ‘Nicholas’ (photo from Singing Tree Gardens), Echinacea ‘Coral Reef’ (photo from Terra Nova), Leucadendron ‘Winter Red’
IMG_5601 Crocosmia_Twilight_Fairy_Crimson_3b chenomelesDTPinkStormimg_5306 IMG_6090
From left to right: Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’, Crocosmia ‘Twilight Fairy Crimson’ (photo from Terra Nova), Chaenomeles ‘Pink Storm’ (photo from Proven Winners), Euphorbia ‘Fire Glow’
Leonotis leonuris Echinacea_Hot_Lava_1b Cornus midwinter Fire Acer palmatum 'Beni otake'
From left to right: Leonotis leonuris, Echinacea ‘Hot Lava’ (photo from Terra Nova), Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, Acer palmatum ‘Beni Otake’ (photo from Buchholz and Buchholz)
mandarin lights azalea Coreopsis_Cherry_Lemonade_3b calluna firefly Uncinia-uncinata
From left to right: Azalea ‘Mandarin Lights’ (photo from Singing Tree Gardens), Coreopsis ‘Cherry Lemonade’ (photo from Terra Nova), Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’, Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’ tangerine tango colored cushions for outdoor decorI hope these twenty Tangerine Tango-inspired picks inspire you to play with color in your deer garden for the coming year. And if you’re unsure about using fiery orange plants, you can always experiment with paint colors or décor. These Tangerine Tango-colored cushions add a splash of color, and there’s no danger of the deer eating them!

See what my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable have to say about gardening with deer:

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip in the Garden : Bay Area, CA Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Want to read more?

Deer on a Diet: Tips for Gardening with Deer Deer-Resistant Plantings You Can’t F*** Up Oranges and Ambers Brighten the Garden

Prune Your Hellebores: A Public Service Announcement

how-to-deadhead-hellebore.jpgLenten roses, Helleborus orientalis, are gorgeous in winter. They’re gorgeous in spring, too. But if you don’t deadhead them once they’re done blooming, they stop being gorgeous and start looking ratty. Then, they turn into spawning hellcats, dropping masses of seeds that sprout into masses of tiny, slow-growing, hard-to-remove seedlings that, yes, could theoretically turn into fresh new hellebores if you wait ten years, transplant them into better locations, and coddle them, but practically speaking, will look like weeds and use up the water and nutrients meant for your parent plant without giving anything substantial in return. Deadhead them. It’s simple: if a stalk has a bloom on it, cut the whole stalk down to the ground. You’ll be left with a lovely mass of foliage. Then, in winter, when the blooms come up, you do the opposite: cut out any stalks that are obviously last year’s leaves (there may be a few brand-new leaves coming from the base, but those are easy to spot and leave be). Your Hellebore will then look like this: helleborus orientalis pruned Easy, right? If you’re a Humboldt County local and you need help getting to all of this, give me a call. My pruning and fine perennial maintenance crew is happy to take care of all of these things at the right times of the year, so that all you have to do is relax and enjoy your space. More about Hellebores here.

Deer Resistant Gardening Made Easy: a Book Review

photo-courtesy-of-Timber-Press.jpgRuth Rogers Clausen, author of 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants, has some straightforward advice for dealing with deer, and selecting beautiful plants that will go well together in deer country. I share some of her advice for dealing with deer over at the Christian Science Monitor, and give an in-depth review of her new book there as well. If you want to read more about deer, check out these recent articles: Rebecca Sweet has a review up with her take on Clausen’s new book. Debbie Roberts discusses gardening with deer in an environmentally-friendly way. And my two recent posts: Deer on a Diet: Tips for Dealing With Deer Plantings for Deer You Can’t F*** Up

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

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...]

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

Plants to Love: Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’)

LeocothoeRainbow.jpgI know you’re wondering, so let’s get this out of the way: it’s loo-kow-thow-ee. You only have to say the name once though, when you’re looking for it at the nursery, and then you can call it anything you like. “That gorgeous variegated thing” is what most people call it. Andrew of Garden Smackdown suggests “Lew”. Whatever. It’s low-maintenance, very deer-resistant, and seems to be happy in a wide range of light conditions from full sun to shade as long as it’s given regular water, acid soil, and a thick layer of mulch to keep its roots cool. [Read more...]

Plants to Love: Snowmound Spirea (Spirea x nipponica ‘Snowmound’)

SpireaSnowmound.jpg‘Snowmound’ Spirea (USDA Zones 4-9) is a lovely thing, with deep green leaves, reddish stems, a graceful arching habit and rounded form. It loses its leaves, but doesn’t make a mess about it, and the white flowers in spring make you forget that you missed it all winter. ‘ Snowmound’ needs full sun to do its best, but is otherwise fairly unfussy, getting to 5’ or more in time without pruning (I usually keep mine pruned to about 4.5’ with great results). The deer seem to leave it alone, but deer vary everywhere, so plant with caution. After it blooms, it shoots out with a lot of new foliage growth that doesn’t really do much for me (it’s kind of a messy shape), so I cut the biggest stems out in June or so to keep the plant from getting to an unruly size. If the plant’s still larger than I’d like, I selectively prune out a few older branches throughout the shrub, taking the stems down beneath the rest of the foliage so you can’t see any cut stems. Those cut stems will often regenerate with fresh new growth. I like ‘Snowmound’ with Hebe ‘Wiri Blush’, Loropetalum ‘Razzleberri’, and other dignified plants that have a neat habit and some showy color. Spirea ‘Snowmound’ has a very similar tone of foliage to Chondropetalum tectorum, the evergreen Cape Rush, so they look good within the same garden areas to repeat the color but bring a different shape to things. [print_link]