Personal Garden Coach

The Motivational Gardener at Large

Garden Designers Roundtable – Finer Points of Details in the Garden September 25, 2012

As the sign of the Virgo, my detail-oriented nature is ruled by the mind. Virgos are always analyzing everything, with a penchant for working with very precise and detailed designs on a more focused scale than many signs. I notice everything- when it comes to the garden. In that way, I’m the classic definition of a Virgo, the love of fine points, minutiae, particulars, specifics and technicalities.

I think that’s one reason why I love photographing the garden so much. To me it’s really all about the details. It allows another type of focus that you don’t get when you’re purely experiencing the garden with touch, smell, taste and sounds.

Today, I’ve rounded up a group of fabulous recent pictures that help you understand how I see the details at this late summer/early autumn season. ENJOY!

The angle of the evening light coming through this Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Quickfire’ is exquisite.

A singular Coreopsis ‘Big Bang Solar Cluster’ nestled in this ‘Cirrus’ Artemisia with a bit of ‘Rainbow’ Leucothoe is magical.

Blink and you would miss them!

Tree jewelry? Now THAT’S detailed!!

Taking advantage of the reflection!

The almost clockwise swirrel of the petals on this Echinacea are mesmerizing!

Such architecture in a seed head!

Magnificent view, and magnificent rose right under my nose!

Rhythm in the grasses……

An unexpected giggle that catches you by surprise is always a treat.

This container design shows it’s jaunty nature with it’s offset beret of Acorus grass planted askew and Mexican Feather Grass below that mimics the fun.
Also notice how the Poppy seed pods imitate the bumps on the container at the same level too.

A true detail after my own heart. I’m dying to make one of these someday.

Not only a monochromatic color combination, one of my favorite things, but a textural contrast too- BONUS!

This picture represents the realization that this color combination illustrates ALL of the favorite colors of my living room decor. Now THAT is detailed. :-)

Be sure to visit the other Lords and Ladies of the Garden Designers Roundtable for September to see how they interpret the details. :-)

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

 

Consider Your Gardens “Bones” in Winter January 16, 2012

Does your garden have eye-catching focal points during the long months of winter? I hope the answer is yes! But, if not, this is the best time of the year to spend taking inventory of your gardens weaker points when it comes to structure or what we Designer types refer to as the “Bones” of the garden.

'Crimson Queen' Japanese Maple

This Maple sits outside my dining room, framed perfectly by the window. It’s stunning year round. They are covered in snow here, but in the pot are some stainless steel balls that look so cool! One thing that I always take note of this time of the year when I look at the deciduous shrubs and trees is their form. Do they need to be pruned for shape, directing growth or opening them up for more light?

Blooms from Hydrangea Paniculata Standard 'Angel Blush'

One of the beautiful things I appreciate in the garden are the summer plants that I leave for winter interest. I purposely leave the dried blooms on this Hydrangea because I adore the way they look in winter. Then I trim then back just as they bud out in spring.

Zebra Grass plumes in the snow

Miscanthus 'Morning Light' with Leucothoe 'Rainbow'

Another key element to consider when you are analyzing your winter garden and planning for spring planting is to note how much balance you have between your evergreen plants versus your deciduous or perennial plants. Do you need more of one or the other?

Pinus 'Thunderhead' with Miscanthus Zebrinus

The dark green of this Pine and the tones of the grass together with all of the texture is yummy!

This shot really spoke to me about considering the “Bones” the most. The pure white snow just makes it so stark and easy to concentrate on the shapes, lines, proportion and textures without the distraction of color. I recommend frequently that my clients  stand back or go upstairs and take shots from a distance and print them in black and white for just THIS purpose. Without the distraction of color, you can really SEE the “Bones”.

Below, see my friend and Plantsman extraordinaire, Mitch Evans garden illustrating my point perfectly! From the entry arch to conifers, to PALMS? :-) to deciduous trees and shrubs, it’s easy to see the shapes and textures that are SO showy this time of the year!

Photo courtesy of Mitch Evans

Photo courtesy of Mitch Evans

Mitch uses these well pruned boxwood to expertly frame this Weeping ‘Camperdown’ Elm.

Even your Garden Art can get some attention for where it’s placed, how you view it, or what you have it paired with for it’s best showing.

Don’t miss your next opportunity to take a deeper look at your garden and evaluate the “Bones” this winter. Then when you’re hitting the ground running in your spring garden, you will know exactly where to start!

 

Grand November Day In The Garden November 10, 2011

THIS is one day in the garden that I am thrilled to be able to document today. The quality of the light made the fall colors quite extraordinary.

Today is one of those stunning fall days that we all have to make note of when we have unending rain, snow or dreary gray skies that will be here very soon. Or technically already should be here. :-)

I’m home sick today with some kind of crud that has had me down for 5 days now. But, NOTHING was going to stop me from going out in my jammies to get pics of the garden today. NOTHING!

As I sit here at my desk writing this, the sun is hitting my back, it’s a little hot. Maybe that’s a fever talking.

I wanted you to be able to see what I saw this morning. It was glorious, I hope you think so too!

 

Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Shining In The Shade June 28, 2011

Customers at the nursery where I work, as well as my own private clients, frequently lament to me about the challenges of frustrating boredom or lack of success they have with their shade conditions. This “woe is me” line of thinking does not linger long around me. I enthusiastically explain how they have bountiful, dazzling design options and plant choices to play with that others with no shade don’t have. Dry shade? No problem! Damp shade, even better! Bring it on, let’s get your garden where you want it to be together.

Fatsia Japonica

Why not take full advantage of this location and all it has to offer? Try new things, break out of your shell. You are not limited to Impatiens or dry barren areas. Now more than ever in the history of gardening, you have the ability to make a wide range of plant choices beyond the every day standard OR the defeatist attitude of  “Nothing will ever grow well there.” I will simply have none of it.

Hosta and Paris in the garden of David Fishman

In my own garden, just like most people, I have several little micro-pocket zones of varying shade conditions. I have had a ball experimenting with different perennials, shrubs, grasses and groundcover. I like to think of myself as a test driver for plants. Then I know what to expect from them and I can speak with authority about the dodgy ones versus the top performers.

Dwarf Hydrangea and Japanese Forest Grass

My fascination with the unending variants that create shade conditions is a deep and wide river of exploration. For me, trial and error is truly the only way to learn what does and does not work. I’ve had my greatest success with some of the craziest combinations. If I had played by “the rules” on the tags or in the books, then I would have not been able to achieve some of my most creative pairings. If we all knew exactly what plants have a tolerance for what circumstance in every spot in the garden, designing and gardening would get very dull, very quickly!

Thalictrum and Actea

Sometimes I want certain sections of the garden to tell a story about how I would like them to be perceived by the person experiencing it. Maybe a bright and playful area of color in bright shade are followed up by a moody, quiet and contemplative space in full, deep shade. I want it all!

Double Flowering Hellebore

Cypress, Heucherella and Begonia

In my line of work as The Personal Garden Coach I’m usually in the clients garden with them to see each condition that they face. At my nursery job I have to learn to ask exactly the right questions to deduce what the customer actually means by “I have this shady spot, where nothing will grow.” I have to be like a detective to discern what they mean by “nothing”, how they define “shady” and what plants they have tried that don’t seem to be working.

“What’s shading the area?”

“Is it damp there, or dry there?”

“How do you water?”

“What plants have you tried so far?”

“Is it AM shade, PM shade, or shaded all day?”

Ultimately, I surmise a draft in my imagination of what the area is that they’re describing and advise some great plant suggestions. I can draw from my own experiences with shade conditions in many gardens that I’ve worked and create an action plan for design success, while tweaking it for their personal tastes or style.

Hosta, Heuchera, Heucherella, Coleus, Yarrow

Without the experience of failures and success in my own shade garden, I don’t think I would be as quick to assess difficult garden situations and turn the challenge around into opportunity for a gardener to create their vision.

Winterhazel, Sambucus, Fern, Molinia, Hosta

I also adore stretching the plants limits with the various fickle conditions that shade can deliver. From the most dark and cool shadowy corner under trees to bright shade where the garden gets glowing light but no direct sun. Both can offer a sense of experience that you can’t get with a full-on sunny location especially if you are an adventurous gardener!

Hydrangea Paniculata, Coleus, Pennisetum, Sage, Euphorbia

I could go on and on about the technical definitions of shade, design ideas and lists of plant selections that would be great for you to try. But, the ultimate bottom line is that you have to honor your vast set of options and try new things. Some may work and others may not. You have a boundless set of resources from plants to books and websites that few before our generation had access to, use them! A great nursery person, experienced friend or blogger can be just the inspiration you need to dive into the shade and conquer it.

Nandina 'Firepower'

Explore more Shade plant blogs of The Garden Designer’s Roundtable by reading more from this month’s guest writer Margaret Roach on her blog “A Way to Garden” and all of the other fabulous writers below.

Margaret Roach : A Way To Garden : Hudson Valley, NY

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

 

Garden Designers Roundtable: Top 10 “Go-To” Landscape Plants April 26, 2011

As always, I’m truly honored to be included as a Contributor to The Garden Designer’s Roundtable for April. This month we decided to take a look at some of our favorite plants. The Top Ten “Go-To” plants for my landscape or container design work are precious to me like children. In reality there’s no possible way that I can realistically keep my choices limited to only ten. That’s like asking a mother which child she loves most or which arm is your favorite. Though I do have my list whittled down for this post, these are my picks for the most reliably hardy performers here in the Northwest USDA Zone 7. These picks also have a wide variety of cultivars to choose from and in many cases possess the multiple personality traits that I require for great plant selections in my design planning.

My choices are in no particular order of favorites that would just be asking for trouble in the ranks. :-) Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge. 

First up is Euphorbia. Almost any and all are welcome to my garden unless they seed SO prolifically that they take all the fun out of life. The particular cultivar above is certainly one of my absolute favorites, Euphorbia Myrsinites or Donkey Tail Spurge. It has personality for season after season of interest, and then some! When used as a ground cover or trailing over the edge of a pot, its frequently the plant that garners the most attention in many of my designs, spring summer, and fall.

Second up is a two-fer bonus. Hardy Geraniums and Nepeta or Catmint. The two go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. Pictured here are 'Magnificum' for its fantastically large blue flowers that are uber showy. And not to be outdone, the large foliage on my favorite 'Magnificum' gets the most de-lish fall color! Plus, if you whack it back half way through the season, she just says "Bring it on!" And keeps flowering until frost while showing those fall jewel tones. Catmint, 'Walker's Low' is just a no brainer. Silvery foliage that looks great well before it ever blooms, drought tolerant, blooms ALL season until frost and Deer won't eat it! What more could you want?

Third is Sedum. How do I love thee? Let me count the names. Angelina, Voodoo, Chocolate Ball, Neon, Autumn Joy, Autumn Charm, October, Blue Spruce, Vera Jamison, Black Jack, Bertram Anderson, aaaaahhhh. Drought tolerant, tough and forgiving of bad soils. Need I say more? OK, foliage color, winter color, bloom colors, texture...

Fourth is the Hosta. One of the most architecturally perfect plants I know. If the seduction of the foliage and variety of colors and textures were not enough, the flowers of whites and lavender surely would be right? No? How about intoxicating fragrance as a cut flower in a vase? See, got ya!!!

Fifth is Robinia Pseudoacacia 'Frisia'. I desperately wish I had more pictures of this tree that I so dearly adore. This was taken in my last garden a number of years ago just as it was maturing. In the home before that I had three. I really should try to cram one into my "Barbie's Dream Garden" sized home now. The color is stop traffic gold. This picture really doesn't do it proper justice. I was introduced to it many years ago for the first time at the original beloved and now legendary, Heronswood in Kingston Washington. It took my breath away as I came upon it in the forest under a shaft of sunlight. yes, it was THAT stunning!

Sixth is Salvia Officianalis 'Tri-Color'. I think it pretty much speaks on its own behalf here. But, I will say this, drought tolerant, excellent foliage interest, summer blooms, not interesting to deer. I buy more of them every year. Period. :-)

Seven is the Japanese Maple. I live in Japanese Maple country. The nursery I work for sells hundreds upon hundreds every year. Small ones, short ones, tall ones, fat leaves skinny leaves of red, yellow, green and orange, even coral! our cool and mild weather her in the NW is perfect for them here. My collection is small compared to my friends, not to mention my friends who are collectors! Yowza! This weeping one pictured was my birthday gift to myself a few years ago along with the pot.

This Japanese Maple was an Orphan looking for its third home. It's a very not so Coral, Coral Bark Maple or 'Sango-Kaku'. One of the traits for this cultivar is that as they age they lose the coral on the lower trunk line. This one was quite thoroughly abused before coming home to me. It had a major crack in the bark at the base and I thought for certain it would die in the first year. I consulted with experts who all gave me the same short-term diagnosis of certain death as well. I put an entire yard of gravel under her, along with an entire yard of brand new soil/compost mix, her very own soaker hose and lots of loving alfalfa meal and minerals. She's on year four now and her gash is healing and she's putting on new growth every year! It's a horticultural miracle Charlie Brown!

Eight is the Hydrangea Paniculata. My goal is to have as many of these in all varieties as I can fit into my tiny landscape. This defines the perfect Tri-Fecta plant for me to a T. OK, your challenge, read this all in one breath: It's easy-going from sun to part shade, it has lovely foliage that never wavers with disease issues. It has a huge number of flower styles, sizes and colors to choose from. It blooms forever (almost) AND it gets tremendous fall color all while holding those magnificent blooms into winter. -Phew, that exhausted me. :-)Pictured here: 'Quick-Fire' and 'Angel Blush' before the blush.

Heuchera is number nine, but not in my heart. These plants are a small addictive issue that I am trying to come to terms with every year. But then, dang it if they don't introduce a new one that I HAVE to have!!! Pictured here is 'Velvet Night' and 'Caramel'.My latest obsession is 'Rave On', appropriate eh? She flowered for over 5 straight months last year! Usually you don't really get them for their spectacular blooms but for the striking foliage and texture. But, 'Rave On' had me at her waving little cherry colored bells. I think I have to lay down now.

Number ten is Leucothoe, my beloved shrub that I can't live without. Pronounced 'Lew-co-the-way', it comes in a few cultivars, but I mostly use 'Rainbow', pictured above. These shots show it in both its fall color going into winter with the truck driver chick of Coleus 'Big Red Judy' and to the right in spring coming out of its winter color into it's lighter marbled shades to come of cream's and greens. It's softly arching growth habit and fragrant flowers in spring are bonus points for this glorious plant that takes shade to part sun and plays nicely with others. :-) I have heard recently that some have deer trouble with it, but the deer have never once bothered it here in my yard. Maybe they're too well fed by the time they get here?

Number eleven, yes 11, is Ilex Crenata 'Golden Helleri'. This is one of my newest friends as of last year, I am fully invested in obsession after it utterly sailed through our really rough early winter last season. In our gray climate this gold is a stand out above all else- 'nuff said. :-)

Number twelve is the Euonymous family. This one pictured (Euonymous Fortunei 'Emerald Gaeity') is in my garden and she's putting on quite the show of her winter colors here even though I took this last week! this tells how cold it's been here lately. The whole family has been a useful addition to the landscape though I have amended my feelings about some of the larger shrub varieties that have performed weakly in the last few years of winters. But, if given just the right spot, THIS is what CAN happen. :-)

Lucky number thirteen is Physocarpus 'Ninebark'- that MUST bode well right? This one is 'Diablo', but I also have 'Coppertina' and 'Center Glow' which are equally great if not better. The blooms, the seed heads, the foliage, the drought tolerance, the soil tolerance, it's simply an easy to please plant that delivers every year! Pretty peely bark and with proper pruning technique it can be an elegant screening plant too.

Be sure to read the other posts from talented designers from across the globe who contributed to the Garden Designer’s Roundtable this month! Here’s links to make it easy:

What a HUGE honor for us here in the GDRT Gang- Don’t miss this months’ super special guest poster, none other than Nancy Ondra http://hayefield.com/

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA


Also don’t forget to check us out on Facebook too! 

 

Garden Writers Today September 7, 2010

Writing about one’s life passion such as gardening and horticulture is a tool that I will forever have in my tool kit. When I get the opportunity to interact with other writers who share that passion and readers who embrace our enthusiasm it feeds that well and creates more openings for the flow and exchange of ideas to spring forth.

That is what I love about the new Garden Writers Today website. The lovely team at GWT has invited me to join in on the fun and participate in a special event highlighting their special brand of supporting garden writers and their zeal for the medium we all love. Laura Livengood Schaub, Jean Ann Van Krevelan and Katie Elzer-Peters of GWT asked me to post what I would like to see in the new web page and what they could do for me.

Here are my thoughts:

-          Introductions: Getting the community more connected and linked would be great. By having a resource where people who might not otherwise meet can be introduced in a comfortable and informal setting. Having a “facilitator” make that introduction seems like a little more fun and personal way of meeting.

-          Future Thinking: What do we think will be the latest and greatest in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? We have futurists in the Technology field; let’s get more discussion happening in the writing, gardening, and horticulture field.

-          Photo Resources: That one is self-explanatory, but we can all use more resources for that one!

Here’s a link to the brand new Garden Writers Today blog page as well as the wonderful GWT Facebook page. I would love to hear your thoughts too, so please leave me a comment!

 

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Underused plants, Uncovered! July 27, 2010

Over the years I have created my “go-to” list of plants that have a bounty of the personality traits that I require for them to make it on to my special list. As designers, I’ve noticed that many of us tend to repeat using the plants on our “go-to” list over and over, because THEY make US look like we’re genius’!

A plant that makes it on THE list for me has these points going for them:

1) Great foliage- Seemingly obvious I know, but not everyone appreciates this when they are in the throes of passion for flowers at the nursery and garden center in Spring and Summer.

2) Flowers- This one is tricky because I don’t require the flowers to be ostentatious or bold and showy, but if they are – BONUS points!!

3) Plays well with others- If it’s an evergreen, it had better be an awesome tone, hue, shade or texture that I can marry well with others. I can think of a few “overused plants” that fit that category and need to be divorced from one another – think of the children!

4) Fall color- If it’s deciduous, it had better have great flowers AND fall color, those two are simply non-negotiable. Is that really So much to ask?

Now that you have a familiarity with what turns me on in a horticultural way, you will now understand why I have chosen to profile these two fantastic plants!

Hydrangea Quercifolia ‘Oakleaf Hydrangea’

This shrub could have me waxing poetic about it for days. Graceful and hardy with insanely beautiful panicle flowers bigger than my head! Not poetic, but you feel my passion, right?

Hydrangea Quercifolia 'Oakleaf Hydrangea'

The oak leaf shaped foliage lends itself to so many plant combinations that I can’t imagine why every garden with a shady corner does not have one! Every plant space, every school, every mall, every home in america. Except the desert ones of course. They have other beauties that I’m sure to love. But, every mortgage should require one like insurance for a beautiful garden in most of the country!

Watch out for the Hydrangea clause in your next mortgage contract!

Those blooms!! Through every stage of growth and all of the various colors as they morph, oh the bliss of those cool and elegant blossoms! Every time I look at these flowers it reminds me of fluffy white weddings. Or nougat candy, I’m not sure which is better.

Double Flowering Hydrangea 'Snowflake' with Brunnera 'Langtrees'

Single flowers as well as double flowers are equally apt to cast a spell over you once you try this shrub! Then you might be inspired to deeper levels of exhilaration with a  ‘Pee-Wee’ dwarf cultivar in a container or ‘Little Honey’ that glows a glorious chartreuse in the shade.

Yet, I am very comfortable with the clean and sophisticated look of these shrubs in a contemporary design setting as well. The ultra elegant fall color on the deep burgundy foliage as winter approaches is downright handsome! The blooms and foliage may both persist with strength and fortitude almost in a macho way, well into early winter here in my zone 7 area if they are sheltered from fall winds.

And now for something you’ll REALLY love: Sarcococca !! I can equally divide my enchantment between the nearly twin common forms of this fantastic little shrub/ground cover. I will love them in a separate but equal maternal way of course!

Sarcococca 'Humilis' or 'Dwarf Sweet Box'

The fabulous ground cover form has long leaves of glossy, deep green that are reminiscent of the way a concert pianist holds their hands while they play a gentle note. OR writers who delicately tap on a computer keyboard blogging for hours at a time. :-)

As a shade evergreen shrub this plant has many admirable attributes. However, none rival, surpass or even come close to equaling the fragrance that this tiny powerhouse of a flower can muster! Did I mention that it does this in January? I repeat, this flowering shrub will bloom in winter with a fragrance that is next to impossible to compare. It’s flowers are SO tiny, that if you do not marvel at how much perfume they generate in a small area, your gardening license may be revoked and your neighbors will have rights to come and sniff it ALL up!

Captivating fragrance AND cool, glossy black berries on Sarcococca!

I once took small cuttings for bud vases I made for party tables, trust me it didn’t take much more than a 6 inch piece to make a big impact in a room full of people! Passers by will walk up and down your block like zombies looking for the scent of flowers they can’t see. It’s pretty funny to watch this play out until they are almost rooting around in a garden and pop up wide-eyed to find the sweet smell coming from such a demure and refined source! I like to think of Sarcococca kind of like my Pug- “A lot of plant (dog) in a small space!”

The other common form of Sarcococca is the more upright form that creates a lovely boxwood feeling shrub in a part shade space too. With all the same attributes as it’s smaller cousin, ‘Ruscifolia’ has class and a myriad of fashionable uses. As a container plant in a shady entryway- can you imagine it in January???? Swoon….

Here’s the “Plays well with others” part of the Sarcococca story.

Sarcococca 'Ruscifolia' with Actaea Racemosa 'Black Negligee'

Sarcococca 'Humilis' with 'Tassel' Fern

But wait- there’s more! I managed to get both of my picks for “Underused Plants” in one picture.

If you learned something new about these two wonderful plants, I’m thrilled. If you just voyeuristically enjoyed my pictures and goofy writing that’s all good too. But, if you had a horticultural epiphany about why you haven’t used these two plants more, then I am over the moon with joy!

Be certain to go and read all of this months posts on the topic of “Underused Plants” here at the Garden Designer’s Roundtable page and meet other Garden Designers who are just as passionate about their choices as I am!

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »

 

 
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