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...]

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...]

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...]

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

Coastal Gardening: Perennial Flowers for the Sea Coast


Recently I discussed some of the challenges people face when gardening in windy coastal  conditions, and some counter-intuitive tips for gardening on the sea coast. The biggest struggle is finding plants that will thrive and bloom even with all that wind and salt. Trial and error is a big part of gardening, but it’s nice to have some plants that you KNOW will work, too!

I’ve tested all of these in gardens that are right on the bluffs above the ocean and they are all tough performers:

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' Geranium 'Rozanne' (2) Leonotis leonuris photo by macinate on Flickr
Erigeron karvinskianus Euphorbia photo by wlcutler on Flickr Phlomis fruticosa
Pink Flower Carpet Rose Salvia leucantha Geranium 'Patricia'

(Click on each photo to view larger) Clockwise from top left: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’/ Hardy Stonecrop, Geranium ‘Rozanne’/ Rozanne Hardy Cranesbill, Leonotis leonuris/ Lion’s Tail, Phlomis fruticosa/ Jerusalem Sage, Geranium ‘Patricia’/ Patricia Hardy Cranesbill, Salvia leucantha/ Mexican Bush Sage, Rosa x ‘Noatraum’/ Pink Flower Carpet Rose, Erigeron karvinskianus/ Santa Barbara Daisy or Fleabane, Euphorbia or Spurge in center.

Some other great choices? [Read more...]

Callunas, Ericas, Daboecias, Oh My! Demystifying the Different Kinds of Heather

EricacarneaPortersred.jpgI first heard about the heather plant when I was 10, reading an old-fashioned British book about a group of children who escaped their abusive guardians and made a home together on a secret island. They built a willow house out of live willow stems, so their home grew lush and protected, and they used heather to make their beds soft and cushy. (Can I step onto my children’s lit soapbox for a second, and say that any American parents who haven’t yet read Enid Blyton with their kids should rush right out and do so? She seems to understand how children feel and what they want in a book better than any other author I’ve read.) So anyway, even before I knew anything about plants, I had a vision of what heathers were like – growing in gorgeous flowering expanses, and with a soft, pleasing texture. I was glad when I got into horticulture school and saw my first photo of a large heather garden – it was exactly what I’d imagined all those years ago in my book! Heathers have become a favorite of mine now, because they’re low-maintenance, deer-resistant, most are winter-hardy, they’ll take wind and seacoast wind with no problem, they look great in containers, can tolerate low-water conditions in the ground once mature, and if you plan things right, you can have blooms year-round on evergreen plants with great foliage. All you need is decent drainage and some sunshine to do well with them. [Read more...]

Disease-Resistant Roses for Damp Coastal Climates

It’s bare-root season, guys, and the roses are cheap and plentiful! I’ve written before about how to select a bare-root rose and about some disease-resistant rose varieties for the coastal Pacific Northwest. I wanted to follow up with some additional suggestions that our local rose expert, Cynthia Graebner of Fickle Hill Old Rose Nursery, left in the comments of one of those posts. She suggested these varieties, many of which I had never heard of, as being both gorgeous and disease-resistant in our cool coastal climate: [Read more...]

Do Landscapers Listen to Our Own Advice? Plants We’d Never Plant at Home (Part Two)

Maytenusboariaphotobynautical2konFlickr.jpgIn part one, I discussed some of the beautiful and useful plants that landscapers recommend or maintain for clients, that we wouldn’t plant in our own home gardens. Whether hard to maintain, prickly, or just overused – these are perfectly good plants in many ways – but often have one fatal flaw us pro-gardeners just don’t want to deal with in our downtime. Here’s the rest of that list:

Mayten Tree/ Maytenus boaria

Mayten Tree or Maytenus boaria Maytenus boaria is actually one of my favorite plants if we’re only talking about looks, but it’s a nightmare to maintain because it delights in sending up a constant barrage of suckers from the ground. In every garden we care for with a mature Mayten Tree, part of our monthly maintenance is cutting out the suckers within a 15’ radius from the trunk. That said, it’s a beautiful plant. I love the way the leaves rustle in the breeze and the graceful weeping habit. But pulling up Mayten suckers isn’t my idea of a great way to spend the weekend. [Read more...]

Do Landscapers Listen to Our Own Advice? Plants We’d Never Plant at Home (Part One)

I was gardening recently with one of my employees, and she groaned in the middle of pruning a Mexican Feather Grass and said firmly, “I will NEVER plant these things at my house. Never!” Nassella tenuissima closeupIt’s not a bad plant – in fact, it’s fantastic – it has seasonal interest, adds a sense of motion and  life to a garden, and only needs pruning once a year – plus it’s drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, and takes seacoast wind with no problem. All of us landscapers use it and love it. The problem is that those horrible, sticky seed-heads cling to our clothes and taunt our washing machines, so we end up with itchy grass bits on the inside of our clothes for weeks! (I just pulled one out of my bra a moment ago.) It’s definitely on my list of great plants that I won’t put in my own garden. My list is full of respectable plants you could bring home to your mother, yet you get them alone and suddenly discover they shed, or smell, or do something so utterly uncouth that you simply can’t forgive them, despite their other fine qualities. [Read more...]

How to Prune Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Video Tutorial)

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a true garden classic, especially paired with ornamental grasses, lavenders and colorful sages. It’s particularly great because during the summer when everything else is blooming, its greenish-white buds are getting bigger and bigger, creating a subtly beautiful show, then as everything else slows for the fall, ‘Autumn Joy’ bursts into bloom with a cheerful pink color that looks great with the fall colors on the other plants. [Read more...]