Photo at left: Mackerel showing his love of Phormium ‘Black Adder’ October always makes me want to curl up with my gardening books and highlight the deliciously wicked black plants found within. But you don’t need to limit black and dark plants to Halloween. They can fit into pretty much any garden scheme, from English cottage, Japanese, tropical, woodland, or any style of gardening you’ve got going on.
With Halloween around the corner, what more appropriate topic for the Garden Designers Roundtable to tackle than darkness? Specifically, dark and black foliage. Black is dramatic. Unexpected. It’s all about contrast – between dark and light, living and dead. Like a glittered Day of the Dead skeleton, there’s a playfulness there, along with a somber dignity. Darkness in the garden must be used with intention, because whether you’re using it well or poorly, it will be noticed. Here are some tips to rocking the darker tones: [Read more...]
***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! The original Tropicanna, Tropicanna Gold, and Tropicanna Black (photo courtesy of Tesselaar Plants) We 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:
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.
With 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.
Here are some of the conifers that won me over: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...]
These two plants are easy to grow and take little care to look their best. Variegated Dwarf Weigela, Weigela florida ‘Variegata Nana’, is a sturdy shrub to about 4′ tall and wide. It loses its leaves in winter, but comes back with fresh growth and masses of flowers each spring. Clifford Moor Red Catchfly, Silene ‘Clifford Moor’, is a softly-textured perennial with a clump of foliage that reaches about 1 foot tall and 2 feet around. The airy flowering stems are held a foot above the foliage, and it blooms off and on spring through fall. The basal clump of foliage is evergreen in my Zone 9 climate. Both plants were photographed on the same day in early May, and they both share a lovely golden variegation, soft texture and similar shape to their leaves, and both flower pink in spring. Full sun to partial shade will make both plants happy. If you’re looking to add a feeling of continuity to your garden by using repetition, but don’t want to use too many of the exact same plant, consider using this concept of color echoes to find plant combinations that will give the feeling of repeated themes, without actual repetition.
As 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:
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
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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, 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.|
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]
I always wanted to be a goth girl – wearing all black, dying my hair purple, and listening to moody music while pondering the deeper mysteries in life. Sadly, I had three strikes against me: I’m a total wuss, so piercings were out, I’m ridiculously cheerful, and since I started my landscaping business when I was 17, I made certain concessions to fashion so that sweet old Mrs Jones would feel comfortable calling me to plant her Bright! Pink! and Red! Petunias! No matter – once I really got into gardening, I realized I suddenly had an outlet for my subversive ways. The first garden I designed had these beauties – a ‘Brunette’ Snakeroot (seen below with an Oakleaf Hydrangea), ‘Plum Pudding’ Heuchera, and a number of bright purple flowers throughout. Who needs purple hair when you have the garden as your palette? Since my first garden, I’ve seen a lot of dark foliage, and it’s become quite the trend lately, between the new Black Plants book that Timber Press just published, and all the new black plants coming out (a black Ceanothus!! Whoa!). [Read more...]
Brrrr!!! In rainy Humboldt County, February’s usually the month my garden assistants turn to me in shock and say – “uh, I think the weeds are stuck!” The first time I tried to pull frozen, crystallized weeds out of the ground, I was pretty surprised, too. This year, February’s been glorious – a bit wet, yes, but warm and with sunny patches in between the clouds. I was just getting enthused about the early year we’ve had so far, and gleefully wondering just how early I could get away with planting my tomatoes, when we get this frosty cold March day, with more to come this week. I guess I’ll be planning from indoors just a bit longer! Luckily, You Grow Girl let us know that Google Books now has the last three years worth of Organic Gardening Magazine available to read online for free. A tip: the “magnify” button is in the top middle of the viewer, so you can read them full size. I don’t know why they make the “magnify” button so tiny – it’s like printing text instructions for the blind! [Read more...]
To finish up my Fall Planting for Winter Interest series, I’m excited to share some of my favorite conifers that look awesome in winter. Conifers are one of the strongest evergreen elements in a garden. They’re usually fairly tough once established, and there’s an enormous variety in textures and colors – from stately and stiff to informal and flowing, blues and greens and golds and speckles – and they’re easy to fit into a variety of planting schemes. They also usually do well in containers, since they don’t lose too much water from their leaves or need constant upkeep, and are almost universally deer-resistant, though the fresh soft leaves of any new plant are likely to be nibbled.
Here are five of my favorites for a good winter show:Abies koreana ‘Horstmann Silberlocke’ is a lovely green Korean Fir, with a special attribute – the needles curl back on themselves to expose the silvery undersides, providing a wonderful look of freshly-fallen snow on the branches. They get to 8-10’ tall in time and have a nice upright cone-shaped habit. It would make a wonderful indoor Christmas Tree, and when you’re ready to plant it in the garden, try it in the same area as a Yaku hybrid Rhododendron, with its snowy new growth. Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ is a fantastic medium-sized version of the Japanese Black Pine, with glossy green needles and a stiff habit. It gets to 10-20 feet tall and has a very stately, upright habit. Why do I love Thunderhead so? It’s the gigantic bright white candles that come up in spring – you can see them just getting started here (Picture taken in early December). Thunderhead’s clean habit, lovely foliage, and tough-as-nails demeanor make it a standout at any time of the year, but I live for those tall white new shoots that start in December and keep growing through April, when they burst open into fresh new needles. I’ve had great results with Thunderhead in a garden with terrible soil where it was neglected after the first year, and in another commercial landscape where it’s exposed to constant salt wind from the ocean less than three blocks away. Just make sure you give the “Thunderosa Pine”, as I call it, good drainage and full sun. Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ is an awesome weeping form of the Colorado Blue Spruce which only gets as tall as you stake it – so it can be a huge focal point if you attach it to a tall lodge pole, or a foreground specimen that will make your other shrubs shine. The puffy silvery-blue branches cascade all around and look fantastic. I love to use these on a mound so it shows off that tumbling habit. They also grow gorgeously around small boulders or rock accents. I love using Blue Spruces with pale pink flowers – try ‘The Blues’ with a big, loosely-growing ‘Barnsley’ Bush Mallow for that pretty pink and blue harmony. Or, if you prefer upright Blue Spruces, try them with a flowing pink Appleblossom Flower Carpet Rose (Rosa x ‘Noamel’). I love the Flower Carpet line because they have proven extremely disease-resistant and don’t take any special skill to prune. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Jubilee’ is an Alaskan “Cedar” (it’s really a False Cypress) with an interesting, coat-hanger look to its branches. It shoots upwards and sends out swerving side-branches which weep and sometimes swoop upwards again. It’s really a wild looker. My photo to the right is of a young one – but check out the link above for some photos of mature trees – you can see that exciting habit play out. I love to plant these as the stand-alone tall plant in a bed. They get to about 12-18’ in time, and look fantastic with purple foliage or any kind of variegation. You can play up the bold architectural look by pairing them with strong, stiff plants with foliage that doesn’t move much; or, you can play up the wild informality of it all by using soft plants that wave in the wind – grasses, Variegated Red-Twig Dogwood, etc. Cupressus glabra ‘Chaparral’ is a fantastic whitish-grey Arizona Cypress that shows off gorgeously with any kind of dark foliage – either purple or green. They get to 10-12’ tall in ten years – taller in time – and have such gorgeous color and a lovely feathery look. I’d use them in the same garden as Calluna vulgaris ‘Velvet Fascination’, a pretty Scotch Heather with greyish-silver foliage and fresh white flowers in late summer; add some cool purple flowers, and some bold foliage interest to finish out the area. I hope this gives you some great inspirations on how to use some of these fun conifers in your garden. With so many varieties, it’s easy to see why conifers are so often the stars of our winter gardens.
It’s getting pret-ty darn chilly outside, and I don’t know about you, but most of my gardening activity in the last couple weeks has been planning, dreaming, and viewing my garden from indoors, thank you very much. Even my chickens are resting in their toasty coop a good portion of the day, and they have a built-in down jacket! I’m noticing how much the larger elements of our gardens stand out from indoors, and the things that so many of us obsess over – like coordinating bloom time and perennial colors – are simply not in the picture now. The standouts are the trees and large shrubs – even the totally dormant ones – and the interplay of foliage and form between the biggest denizens of our gardens. What better time, then, to talk about a few of the trees that are looking their best right now? Whether through gorgeous foliage, bright variegation, or cheerfully colored stems; these are the trees I’m most enjoying resting my eyes on right now. Magnolia grandiflora, the Southern Magnolia: While many of you will be familiar with this plant, I still can’t give it enough love. Those glossy, leathery leaves have such a pretty deep green/ olive tone to them, and the fuzzy cinnamon-colored undersides stand out beautifully. The fragrant cup-shaped white blooms are really just a bonus. There are varieties for small gardens, like ‘Little Gem’, which grows very slowly to 20’ and can easily be kept smaller, to huge majestic specimens that could define the tone for an entire garden. The one thing to remember is that they do drop those thick leaves throughout the year, so Magnolias are best in an area of the garden where that’s OK. I hate them over a lawn because the mower doesn’t chew up the leaves very well, but they are great within a garden bed where there are other plants and mulch, and you don’t need to worry about the leaf drop. Try Evergreen Magnolias with purple-leaved plants or cream variegation. I think it’s fun to echo the foliage theme with Rhododendron ‘Teddy Bear’, a dwarf Rhodie with similar cinnamon-y undersides. Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’, the Variegated Italian Buckthorn: This little dear falls into the “shrubs that you can train into a small tree” category, getting only 8’ tall in ten years. It has a graceful and open habit, and those evergreen leaves and reddish-brown stems show off gorgeously against any number of foliages. It’s not just a foliage plant in winter, though; there are lovely bright red berries, too! Italian Buckthorns are awesome for resisting wind and can even take a bit of seacoast wind (don’t put it right on the front lines, but it’s tougher than you think). The foliage lasts great in a vase, too. Arbutus unedo, or Arbutus ‘Marina’, the Strawberry Tree: The Strawberry Trees in my gardens are just letting go of their non-edible “strawberries” and putting on clusters of lovely pink flowers. While I love the orangey-red color of the fruit, and the birds they bring, and the pinkish white bell- shaped flowers, the real reason I love Arbutus are the stems and bark. The bark is exfoliating, which means it peels away in interesting layers and provides a gorgeous multi-colored look, and the new stems are a vivid red. It’s evergreen, too, so there’s never a time when this plant isn’t being interesting for you. They get about 20-25’ tall, and remember about that fruit – this isn’t one for planting over your spacious driveway – it’s another that’s better within a garden bed. Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ or Coral Bark Maple: This is another you may have seen before – if you have, you’ll certainly remember it! The lush golden-green foliage of summer gives way to a glowing yellow fall color, then the leaves drop to reveal bright orangey-red stems. ‘Sango Kaku’ gets 15-20’ tall in time, and is best in partial shade – it takes full sun here on the coast, but the foliage looks a little ratty by autumn – in full shade, the color isn’t very good. I love to use these with yellow-twig and red-twig dogwoods throughout the garden to have that variety of bright stems popping up in between your leafy shrubs in winter. They’re also fun with green plants with rich purple flowers, like Princess Flower or Tibouchina urvilleana, or Mexican Bush sage/ Salvia leucantha. Garrya elliptica or Silk Tassel: Our native Silk Tassel can be pruned to a small tree or sprawling shrub, getting 10-15’ tall in ten years. I love the bright whitish-grey catkins that form around December and linger into summer, and the red stems of the new growth. The foliage, for me, requires just the right backdrop to show off well. It’s kind of a greyish blueish green, and can appear dull if you’re not careful. Set it against richly green evergreens like Redwoods or Cypress, or try it with purple-toned plants like Loropetalum chinense ‘Razzleberri’ or ‘Sizzling Pink’ to bring out the richness of the leaf color and contrast with those silvery leaf undersides. I’ve had great luck with naturalizing these guys in woodland settings, where they get full sun but just a bit of shade at either end of the day. To naturalize, plant them in fall so they catch the winter rains, mulch very well to hold in moisture, and water deeply once or twice a week during the first few summers to get them going. By the time they’re 5-6’ tall, they should be fine on their own. I hope this gives you some fun ideas for getting some bold color and interest that you can enjoy from indoors throughout the winter! Check out the rest of my Fall Planting Series here, and stay warm as you enjoy your garden planning!