Fabulous Fountain Grasses: “Temperennial” New Varieties

Fabulous fountain grasses!

While many in the perennial world seem to think that annuals have gone out of style, the “wow” factor they provide is undeniable. Tropical plants and annual flowers are perfect for temporarily filling in the spaces between slow-growing shrubs and trees, which is one of the many reasons books like Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner’s The Nonstop Garden recommend that annuals and tropicals make up about 20% of your garden beds.

New varieties of fountain grass have become the latest trend for those looking for a fast, bodacious blast of seasonal color. You might think of fountain grass as being one of the sturdiest perennials around, even for colder climates. But these new varieties fall under the category of “temperennial” (read it again, I didn’t say temperamental!), which is to say they’re a perennial in temperate zones 9 to 11, but best treated as an annual in cooler climes or areas with a lot of rainfall (i.e., most of the Northwest).

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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.

Bored of Your Winter View?

lenten-rose-for-winter-color.jpgPerk things up this winter by adding some winter-interest plants, attracting birds, and creating colorful containers out of cut stems and evergreen boughs. That’s my advice over at Landscaping Network, where I talk about some superstar plants and some non-intuitive ways of bringing birds to your winter garden. A special tip o’ the nib to Carole Brown, who graciously let me use her photos of birds enjoying her own wildlife garden to illustrate my post! Then, over at Proven Winners, it’s all about planting beautiful plants that bring the birds flocking to your garden. Even if you’re not going outside much this winter, bird-watching can add an extra bit of joy to your garden from the windows. Not in the Northwest? Check out my fellow Garden Gurus’ posts about winter interest in their regions: Southeast- Carolyn Binder Southwest – Jenny Peterson Northeast – Laura Mathews With more to come in the month ahead! Lastly, check out Steve Asbell’s post on finding winter color for Florida. Strangely enough, most of his winter annual picks are the same ones I’d pick for my region! These tough annual flowers are a good for a variety of climates.

Perennial Plant Pick for 2012: Jack Frost Brunnera

Brunnera-Jack-Frost-foliage.jpgI have mixed feelings about the Perennial Plant Association’s plant pick of 2012. I mean, I love it and all. Jack Frost Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’) is one of those shade plants that seems to thrive wherever you stick it, looks elegant and classy in a variety of gardening themes, and is unusual enough that when I plant it, clients say marvelous things about my fine taste for having chosen such an aesthetically-pleasing plant. That, of course, is all over now. [Read more...]

Mediterranean Plants to Rock Your Waterwise Landscape

Mediterranean-Garden-Design-Creating-a-Tuscan-Garden.jpgRecently I wrote about how to design a Mediterranean garden, but I left out one major component – which plants to choose! I just did a follow-up article over at the Christian Science Monitor which discusses just that. And yes, there are more photos of that lovely, lovely garden.  Head on over to read more.

The Envelope Please! The Winner is-

Plants on the runway.jpgGuest post from Stephanie Cohen, plant maven and co-author of the deliciously readable The Nonstop Garden: Every year new perennials tempt us to buy them. Some become instant successes, others never achieve notoriety, and some really bad plants hang around forever. It gets more and more difficult to pick the winners and losers. I am either brave or foolhardy for attempting to do this. Let’s have a drum roll. We are putting down the green carpet. Each plant vying for contention will strut its stuff before entering the garden arena. They have been primped, the PR is out, but can they perform as well in the garden? pink frost from skagitFirst coming down is Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’. It reminds us of another top seller ‘Ivory Prince’ because its buds face outward. The official name is Helleborus x ballardiae Gold Collection ‘Pink Frost’. She is showing off her buds that appear burgundy and white and open a soft light pink, and maturing to a burgundy red. Her skirt of foliage is a delicious shade of silver green. The delicious attribute of this plant, depending where you live, is the long bloom time from Jan. to April. This dazzling hellebore is very comfortable performing in part to dense shade. Gardeners will be using in shady nooks or in containers. The deer seldom eat, but occasionally browse. The competition is very heavy this year with so many entries. The other contender is ‘Ruby Racer’ and it is exactly as it says, it’s a dynamite ‘Ruby Red’. The flowers have been fed an excellent regime of vitamins because each bloom is 3″ wide. monrovia kopper kettle peonyPeonies are always showy. However, the new Itoh hybrids are demanding center stage. They produce buds over a longer period of time and extend the blooming season. Their increased vigor helps the foliage stay greener longer. ‘Bartzella’ was a big yellow double introduced a few years ago. Big and bodacious would be my description. The newer ones like ‘Kopper Kettle’ are divine! How often do you see semi-double flowers in shades of red, yellow, and orange that look copper from a distance. The cross between herbaceous and tree peonies  makes them easy to grow as new shoots emerge after the dormancy of winter. Many have extremely strong stems so you avoid staking. You have to admit this plant has real sex appeal. A rather diminutive beauty has just come into sight. The small shade emperor takes center stage. You can hear the buzz. Yes, it’s the trend setter and jet setter-Hosta ‘Cherry Tomato’. New this year, but it is working its way to being a top selling hosta. It flaunts long lance shaped leaves that are creamy yellow to white with wide dark green margins. Attractive red petioles and purple flowers make you want to take a second look. Besides there is a cuteness factor. It is a miniature sport of ‘Cherry Berry’, who looks upset by our choice. [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...]

Top Landscape Plants (Excerpts from Experts)

Excerpts-from-Experts.jpgWhen the Garden Designers Roundtable chose Top Landscape Plants as this month’s topic, I thought to myself, “Hey, no problem, I can write that in my sleep.” I mean, enthusing about plants is kind of my thing, you know? But given that this is book excerpt week here at North Coast Gardening, I thought it’d be fun to hand over the stage to five favorite writers, and let them enthuse for me. While each writer comes to plants from a different perspective, they share a love of gardening and language that makes each a pleasure to read. Without further ado, here are five of my top landscape plants:

Borage (Borago officianalis)

BorageFrom The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler:
“If, while strolling through a garden, you see little blue shooting stars exploding over a fountain of fuzzy leaves, you have stumbled upon borage. The luminous clusters of pinky-purple buds start off pendulous, then rear up and make themselves known with a burst of color. The edible grayish-green fuzzy leaves and stems of borage are a wonderful foil for darker foliage in the garden.”
While borage is a rampant self-sower in my climate, the cheerful blue blossoms attract honeybees and a number of other pollinators. This makes it a joy to photograph, since there’s always a bumbling somebody ambling along, ready for their close-up. [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.

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: Spanish Shawl (Heterocentron elegans)

Heterocentron-elegans.jpgThis sweet little groundcover looks simple and refined when not in bloom, like a larger-leaved, deeper-green version of Baby’s Tears. But once it comes into bloom, it is a serious showstopper, with red hairy bracts holding disproportionately large fuchsia blooms. It flowers during the entire growing season, spring to fall, and the cheery red bracts persist even after the petals fall off. It makes a vigorous carpet wherever it gets water. Gardens that are watered by hand or by overhead sprinkler soon end up with Spanish Shawl filling every bit of available space, while in gardens where it is watered more sparingly with drip irrigation, it tends toward neat clumps. I find it easy to remove if it spreads beyond where I like it. They’re great for part or full shade, USDA Zones 9-11, and they’re a relative of the Princess Flower, Tibouchina urvilleana. They definitely aren’t a xeric plant, but if you live in a rainy climate like mine and pop it in the shade, it doesn’t need too much summer water to look good. I love it in gardens where my clients specify they don’t want to see bark, because the Spanish Shawl fills in the blank spaces of the garden so nicely. The flowers go beautifully with the flowers of Razzleberri Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Monraz’). The best part? After the first year or two you have a strong enough clump that it’s easy to give some to anyone who stops to admire it, which will be anybody either female or flamboyant enough to properly appreciate its vivid shade of fuchsia. Want to see some of my other favorite plants? Shamelessly Tropical: Hawt Plants for a Variety of Climates Plants to Love: All the Profiles