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.

What’s Wrong With My Fern? Brown Leaves on Ferns

tassel fern.jpgDoes your fern have shriveled, brown fronds or a bleached, discolored appearance? We know that people are susceptible to sunburn, but we don’t think of plants as being able to get sunburned as well. It’s a common problem. When shade-loving plants like ferns are put into a sunny situation, their fronds shrivel around the edges, and their leaf color may become pale and bleached. This may be because you misjudged the amount of light the location gets, or it could happen as a result of a tree being pruned and letting in more light than the plant is used to. [Read more...]

Plants for Damp or Wet Shade

IMG_3214 IMG_6545 IMG_6046
IMG_6055 rousselot (21) Uncinia uncinata (2)
(Click any photo to view larger.) Gardening in soggy soil can be tough enough without the added challenge of shade. While the usual suspects in such conditions – ferns, iris, astilbe and hosta – are beautiful, if you’re looking for a more interesting or architectural planting, it can be tough to find varieties that will suit. Here are six under-used plants for shady sites that are damp or somewhat boggy. [Read more...]

Variegated Rhododendrons Liven Up the Shade

VariegatedUnique-courtesy-don-wallace-of-stg.jpgMy latest post over at the Christian Science Monitor garden blog Diggin’ It is about my favorite types of variegated rhododendrons. I’m lucky enough to have a rhododendron specialty nursery in my community, so in addition to the horrible, boring rhodies seen in parking lots, we also have access to some exotic varieties with glossy foliage, unusual flower colors, and of course variegation, which really brightens up a shady area. Here are some photos to tease you… Goldflimmer courtesy don wallace of STGRhododendron 'Superflimmer' courtesy don wallace of stgPresRoosevelt courtesy don wallace of STGVariegatedUnique courtesy don wallace of stg From top: ‘Goldflimmer’, ‘Superflimmer’, ‘President Roosevelt’, and ‘Unique Variegated’. Photos courtesy Don Wallace of Singing Tree Gardens. So, head on over to the Christian Science Monitor to read more about these tough woodland beauties! Want to read more about Rhododendrons? Bulletproof Rhododendrons for the Seacoast and Other Tough Spots Rhododendrons: Little-Known Favorites for Winter Gardening Under Redwoods: Rhododendrons and More

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: Fragrant Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)

Sarcococcaruscifolia.jpgSarcococca ruscifolia This unassuming little shade shrub is one that people often don’t notice at first. There’s nothing particularly showy about its graceful arching stems, deep green leaves, or the tiny white flowers that hang from its branches in winter. But when those small blooms open, people walk around sniffing all the big, showy flowers in the area, wondering where that glorious fragrance is coming from! After the flowers, Fragrant Sweet Box begins creating pretty little red berries which hang prettily off each stem. The red berries soon turn to black, and the shrub creates a gentle show for months on end. [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