Category Archives: Garden Design

thoughts on garden design

Best Vine for Shade: Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’

Japanese hydrangea vine

For an easy and fast growing woody vine for partial or rather  shady spots, consider Japanese Hydrangea Vine, aka  Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’.  Similar but visually different (and IMHO more lovely) than its cousin Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomela petiolares), the cultivar ‘Moonlight’ has faint silvery mottling on it’s dark blue-green heart shaped foliage. In July and August, it bears large (up to 9″) white “lacecap” flowers that are composed of teardrop shaped sepals attached to the tiny fertile flower clusters.  Although it is not native, the fertile flowers do invite pollinators. Plants come into bloom more quickly than do Hydrangea anomela petiolares, plus its flowers last longer and can be controlled to 10-15′ tall, although it can get taller with age.

Grow Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’  espaliered up walls, pergolas and arbors or even over stonewalls. It enjoys  a rich evenly moist well-drained soil for quickest growth. and plants are hardy in zones 5b-9.

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A Little Sophistication for Shady Planters

There is nothing quite in your face as a bodacious Begonia bedecked with blossoms.  But is just doing Begonias a tad boring? May we suggest you up your game and add some new textural and colorful foliage plants to sophisticate your Begonia combinations.

Pictured above in the tall scalloped edged planter is a new  combination this year: ‘Tweetie Pie’, one of the  new Iconia hybrid Begonias that we’ve been really impressed with, Cordyline ‘Mocha Latte’, and Callisia repens ‘Gold’. In the foreground are other foliage options, including Pilea microphylla in the center, Callisia ‘Pink Lady’ to its right., and  below the variegated form of Pilea microphylla and silvery Pilea glauca.

 

 

 

The Prettiest Grass…Melinus nerviglumis


Ruby Grass is really truly one of the prettiest ornamental grasses ever, especially when illuminated by end of the day light. Blue-green leaves form tidy clumps and in mid-late summer, ruby pink inflorescences are formed on 18-24” stems.  It likes full sun and heat, and although somewhat drought tolerant, prefers average moisture conditions. Besides offering a casual elegance to planting  beds or containers, Ruby Grass is a stunning addition to floral arrangements both fresh and dried.

Melinus nerviglumus is native to South Africa, and is evergreen where hardy (in zones 8-10). It grows quickly to flowering stage in areas with warm summers so don’t hesitate to use it as an annul accent. Clumps can be wintered over in a cold frame or protected spot that stays above freezing.

PS  We’ve seen this listed as both Melinus and Melinis in botanical literature, & to add to the confusion it used to be called Rhynchelytrum.

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The Forgotten Hellebore

No, I’m not referring to the legendary Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger. I am suggesting that this lovely winter bloomer, Helleborus foetidus (pictured above), should be more widely grown. Unfortunately its specific name is Latin for “foul smelling”, and thus is commonly called Stinking Hellebore. Take note, in case you are already prejudiced, that I have never detected a smell, foul or otherwise.

What Helleborus foetidus does offer are lovely clusters of celadon green  bells sometimes as early as late fall or early winter. The flowers begin forming in November, and emerge on caulescent stems above dissected dark green foliage. Unlike the familiar Lenten Rose hybrids (Helleborus orientalis), these babies bloom on past season’s growth. A mild start to winter will encourage H. foetidus to flower away on the shortest days. If more frigid temperatures take hold, no harm is done; the blooming picks up again at winter’s end. Once the flowers set seed, the branched stems die and then need to be cut back. This encourages a surge of fresh new foliar growth.

You may ask why this plant is often overlooked. Blame its common name, perhaps, but it is not a patented and cloned variety; you need to grow this species hellebore from seed.  It is perfectly hardy in zones 5-9, is easy to grow in either sun or shade in a well-drained soil, and in our garden it self sows, always in the right spot. I don’t consider this tendency to be a nuisance, but a good thing. Helleborus foetidus is not extremely long lived, and its seedlings insure future plants.

So here we have a perennial that blooms when little else does, grows in sun or shade, is deer resistant, with flowers that are visited by the earliest foraging bees.  Is it time to add this forgotten Hellebore to your winter garden?

 

The Late Asters that should be in your Garden

Symphyotrichum x Bill’s Big Blue’

Years ago, the only fall asters that were commonly available at nurseries were cultivars of New England Asters: ‘Purple Dome’,  ‘Alma Potschke’  and ‘Wood’s Blue’. I have to say they have regularly disappointed me…by the time they came into flower their lower leaves would turn brown and look so tarnished.  I learned that their “ugly legs” could be disguised by planting behind another plant so you only viewed the flower heads. These New England Asters bloomed in early-mid September and by this time of year (mid October) the show was over.

Over the years, I have discovered there were so many other showy asters to try,  including many other native species.  Some didn’t begin their show until mid October,  plus they did not suffer the “ugly legs” syndrome. (Light frosts were not a problem.) Let me talk up a few.

Symphyotrichum ‘Bill’s Big Blue’

Consider Symphyotrichum (Aster) Bill’s Big Blue’, a “nativar” selected by a CA nurseryman years ago.  It may take a year or two to achieve its capable height of 5′, but here it is in the latter half of October, billowing forth over a stone wall. (Blue is sometimes tricky to capture in photos, and it is actually more blue in person). The bumbles and honey bees are enjoying its late display.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

I’ve written about Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’, a small flowered October into November bloomer, in an early post.  1″ violet blue flowers appear in profusion on 18-24″ tall plants and please the bees too! Take note that this Aster spreads, so use it where a useful, late blooming groundcover will complement some brilliant fall foliage.

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindaii’

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’  is another late bloomer that reaches a 3-4′ height. Distinctive large tobacco-like basal leaves give rise to tall sturdy stems bearing clusters of periwinkle blue  flowers with abundant pollen. Plants do spread where happy, so pair with sturdy partner plants.

Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’

The native Aromatic Asters, Symphyotricum oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, and the slightly taller  ‘Raydon’s Favorite’  are becoming better known. One would easily overlook them in the nursery yard in spring as their foliage doesn’t command attention.  Come October, however, and look again…the plants are literally covered with 1 1/2″ blue flowers.  They also have good drought tolerance and are pollinator friendly.

Are you growing any late blooming Asters that should be in everyone’s garden?

Fall Container Report 2021

As we approach October, it’s time to evaluate which planters held up well in this surprisingly wet year. Perhaps my favorite planter this year was an afterthought…what to do in a 36″ bowl that gets less and less sun each year. It was in an area that doesn’t get much attention to boot, but as you can see it didn’t suffer at all.

This combination of different Snakeplants (Sansevieria) and Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon nigrescens) with variegated ivy and Dichondra worked astonishingly well. Sophisticated in a way, but totally unfussy! Will have to consider a future repeat performance.
It’s been 20 years since we’ve grown Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet), but since we have had so many inquiries recently,  we decided to give them another go. (I vaguely remember that they were a magnet for whiteflies, and banned them from the greenhouse.) In June I ordered 5 different varieties from Logee’s, (yes, a late start for a summer display, especially starting with 4″ pots), but with regular doses of the  miraculous Neptune’s Harvest fish/seaweed fertilizer, they all took off. The mystery selection shown above differed from the name tag description, but it sure was quick to flower. In fact it is in its second flush right now.

This is what we learned: Brugmansia grow very fast in tropical weather conditions (we’ve certainly had  heat, humidity and a fair amount of rain this season).  We know that hybrids of the species versicolor have flowers that first appear yellow then age to shades of pink. Two of the 5 selections grew to large proportions but as of Sept 27 are only now forming flower buds.  Two others provided flowers within  3 months time.  Logee’s ‘Pink Champagne’  (pictured above) has a subtle coloring that is best enjoyed up close. The larger proportioned  ‘Angel’s Lemon Zest’ (below) has also rewarded us with repeat flowerings.

I should say that this year we’ve enjoyed simply growing on specimen plants in individual containers, and either arranging little groups or featuring  on pedestals of their own. The little Goldfish Plant, Nematanthus  gregarius, is an easy “succulent” for shadier spots. Consider it an indoor/outdoor plant..most of us have a windowsill that will accommodate this little guy for the winter,  and then next year it can renew itself outdoors again all summer.

A 20 year old pot of Haworthia reinwardtii and a 3 year old Aeolinanthus repens spent the summer outdoors, and will return to a western window inside for the winter…super easy plants to keep happy!

And now for the before and after pics.  All in all, plants held up well, although this was the year the Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ really sulked. It didn’t die, but it didn’t luxuriate as in previous summers…too humid?A few succulents exceeded their bounds and needed a cut back.
Here the Dichondra was cut back in Sept. when it got dingy looking.You can never go wrong combining succulents with Phormium.Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ likes to be fed a lot, and it will  reward you with blooms all summer. Begonias may have liked the humidity but not constant wetness. Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ above, one of the best, never complained. Begonia ‘Escargot’ , below,  survived, but was more challenging to keep  happy.

Please tell us…how did your containers fare this summer? Still looking good? Which plants impressed you the most?

Two Time Tested Groundcovers To Try

Some of you will remember that many (20+) years ago, there was a wonderful specialty nursery on the West Coast called Heronswood. Heronswood Nursery turned us on to so many great new plants! Yes the climate on Bainbridge Island was much milder than ours here in zone 6, and some of their offerings would not survive our cold winters. Still there were plant discoveries that could.  One was this evergreen ground cover commonly known as Silver Veined Wintercreeper, (Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’).

We’ve had this planted for decades in a spot with only a few hours of sunlight. Here it has gracefully spread and spilled over a low retaining wall. Plants do not get much taller than 8-10″ but can cover an area as the stems might root along as they touch the earth. It is known to be hardy in zones 5-9, is adaptable to part sun or shade plus it is disliked by deer.

Sedum sichotense

Another ground cover we have enjoyed in our garden for years is Sedum sichotense. (now reclassified as Phedimus sichotense). Low growing (under 4″) but ever spreading, it is a superb choice for dry soil in full sun. The narrow serrated leaves add textural interest, but what is most exciting is the foliage turns shades of brilliant red in the fall .

Fall color starting to turn red

Sedum sichotense offers clusters of starry yellow summer flowers that are favored by bees. It ishardy in zones 4-9 (it’s native to a part of Russia we’re told).  And yes, it is deer resistant.

Buy Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost online

Buy Sedum sichotense online

Early Summer Container Report

My goal each season is to plant containers that are easy to maintain and will carryon summer through fall. For sunny areas, I’ve come to look at succulents as such reliable performers. They always oblige… often looking even more fabulous at season’s end. For areas with more shade, I lean towards Begonias and other plants with great foliage. This season I’m starting to play with Bromeliads more.
An older  28″ cast stone bowl on a pedestal mixes up various  larger succulent specimens with trailing Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’.The intriguing dark finish on this ceramic pot from Campania has nuanced tones of lavender and light green. The Echeveria ‘Dusty Rose, Mangave ‘Inkblot’, Trailing blue-green Sedeveria and String of Pearls pick up this coloring….and for fun, (because I just cut them from the bed behind), dried allium stalks add a little height.This blue salt glazed version of the previous pot has been planted with succulents which pick up its color tones. Senecio (now Curio) cylindricus is usedfor height, with Aeonium , Echeveria, Pachyveria , Othonna ‘Ruby Necklace’ and Sedum album.

This tall gray cylinder pot mixes up a large specimen Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, with dark leaved Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedeveria ‘Sorrento’, Senecio cylindricus, and trailing Dichondra.Our pair of iron urns now get dappled shade much of the day. Here I used some succulents that can take less sun: ‘Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Rhipsalis. Other plants that like the same conditions are Iron Cross Oxalis and Coprosma ‘Evening Splendor’.A non-succulent ensemble similar in coloring (it is right near the Iron urns) has a Cordyline ‘Cha Cha’ with the everblooming Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ ,yellow leaved jasmine and dark leaved Begonia ‘Ebony’. A specimen of Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ keeps it company in a classic rolled rim pot. This spot gets morning sun and afternoon shade.In a different part of the garden is this cast stone urn that gets morning sun for a fe w hours.  Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ is backed by the bromeliad  Vriesea (Flaming Sword) and has Maranta (Red Prayer Plant) skirting its base.Bromeliads make great  shade plants in warm climates. This is the first time I have used  them in mixed containers. In the is large Grecian style urn, the showy Aechmea fasciata comes into spectacular bloom paired with a Begonia ‘Escargot’ (which I hope doesn’t become a problem). Trailing Callisia elegans and Dichondra (it does well in some shade) spill over, and for added fill there’s a couple of small Athyrium ‘Pearly White’ ferns.Not all of our pots are large and busy… this old 14″ terracotta bowl has a simple pairing of Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ with Tradescantia ‘Sitara’s Gold’ hidden behind.Finding the perfect plant that works with the personality of the pot is always fun. Here the ruffly leaved Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’ (curiously called Mexican Hens and Chicks) fits the cavity of this cast stone Chicken Planter.The always popular clamshell container features plants that have that under the ocean feeling: Crassula undulata, starry little Sedum album,  and trailing Rhipsalis which does kind of resemble Kelp…

Yes, I always come back to succulents since they are so easy and reliable. The various tones of the succulents chosen match the coloring on this 13″ ceramic pot .One challenge using succulents is finding complimentary plants which tolerate the same conditions that can add height. The colorful linear leaves of Phormium work well with this mixed composition of Echeverias, Graptosedum and Sedum tetractinum

There are more pots, which you will see if you visit. Look for the End of the Season blog post to see how they look in late September.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

I can’t believe I’ve never written a blog post on  one of my favorite summer blooming shrubs….Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’.  For 20 years now this  beautiful double flowered form of Oak leaf Hydrangea has graced our garden in dappled shade, never missing a beat.  By mid June the flowers have formed, and develop their lovely celadon, white and mauve coloring over the next 6 weeks. The flower heads age magnificently and are wonderful in both fresh and dried arrangements. Do note: Oak leaf Hydrangea bear flowers from old wood, so take care not to cut too many branches or you may sacrifice next year’s show.

In fall, the bold oak shaped leaves take on bronzy maroon tones. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are dear resistant, but hardly any plant is deer proof these days. ‘Snowflake’ grows 6-8′ tall (can get taller, I’m told, but after 20 years, that’s the size of our plants) and wide and is happiest if it gets partial shade.  Shrubs are hardy in zones 5-8.

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Holiday decor in the time of Covid

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’ and Begonias with cut greens and lights

Yep, this year is different. Fear of Covid has canceled holiday gatherings, and the urge to go all out with decorating is met by some with the question, “should I bother?” The answer is yes, even if it must be simple. This year, we absolutely need to illuminate the long nights with strings of lights and candles, but maybe we can take a break from lugging boxes of Christmas ornaments from the attic. (The thought of putting it all away is a chore no one relishes!) Instead,  we’ll focus on bringing nature indoors with decor that is  gathered from the garden and (lucky us) , the greenhouse.

Succulents in shades of red, green and white sit on a tray with gathered moss. Even the Aloes have festive names: the tiny one in the foreground is ‘Christmas Sleigh’, just behind it is  Aloe ‘Blizzard’, with blue green Echeveria setosa dimunata flanking on either side.

a brilliant Guzmania with red spikemoss

fresh evergreen wreath cut from conifers in the garden.

So, yes to winter wreaths on doorways, garlands, and arrangements of cut branches with pine cones. Yes to forced pots of Amaryllis, Christmas roses and red and green leaved Begonia. We may bring in a potted evergreen from the nursery and simply dress it with lights. Some classic holiday music will set the mood, along with the scent of cookies baking in the oven.

catch early morning light in the garden

a fire brings light and warmth

a fire brings light and warmth to end the day

This may be the year when we can’t physically gather with friends and family, but we can find peace and hope in nature’s gifts. Be outside as much as possible: take an early morning walk to catch the bird song or build a fire at dusk. Perhaps these simple ways of acknowledging the season,  more akin to the ancient winter festivals of northern Europe, will become a new tradition.

bottom lighting sets off this white Amaryllis

Peace and joy to you all!

Stay well!