AM Snow and PM Spring in the Garden Today

Other than the sounds of snow thawing and water draining out of the unbelievably soggy lawn, you would never know that I woke up to snow this morning at 7:30am. It was a winter wonderland. Not an altogether happy one on my part, having just come back from a month away, where it was 70 in Philadelphia for 2 weeks and then 80 in Houston for almost another week. But, considering it is March in my beloved Seattle ‘Burbs, I know better than to whine. Much. 🙂

Here are some pics from the garden today. Clearly, my Euphorbia’s of ALL flavors are glorious in their Pre-Easter nodding fashion. The Hebe’s  and Heuchera are pulling their weight too, and my winter container designs are quite striking in the early spring sun. I’m not sure how much of a hurry I may be in to trade them in just yet. Enjoy!

Plants with “Multiple Personality In-Order”

When I work with my Personal Garden Coaching clients, I am usually there to help correct one or more of these four problems:

  1. Correcting old, outdated landscape designs installed by a builder who did not care much about plant selection.
  2. Even more common these days NEW landscapes that are over planted for quick sale on a new construction home. Then the poor client’s landscape reaches that magical age of about 4-5 years old and they are really in a world of hurt when it comes to expensive refurbishment.
  3.  A former homeowner who did not have access to good plant selections back when the original landscape was installed 30-40 years ago.
  4. A homeowner who has been choosing plants when in the throes of Spring Fever, the garden has a fast blast of interest and then landscape the rest of the year is drab at best.When you add-on top of that our climate being predominantly gray for a potential 10 months of the year, it can take some time to teach the reasoning behind choosing certain plants or more likely why NOT to choose certain plants.

The plant palette in a short season, gray climate has to work much harder than in a milder climate or even a harsher climate where a clear blue winter sky or loads of snow can create a wondrous complexity of colors and textures. (This is where my college Color Theory class serves me well!) Under our skies, colors can look very drab and muted here. Foliage, textures and combination’s need to be viewed under the auspices of a close up lens not a wide-angle lens.

Placing a plant or multiples of plants with a one-dimensional performance or personality is possible, but it takes a larger area to pull that off, so that other plants have room to contrast against them from a distance. Not to mention the investment factor, if a certain plant is going to make it home from the nursery, it better be a solid performer, for what we pay for these beauties nowadays. I think of it as real estate agent would, dollars per square foot in design performance!

In today’s generally smaller lots, most people will be viewing a design or particular plant much closer from the street, patio, or window than they may have seen them in years past. Therefore, each plant that I recommend has to have more than one reason to make it on to my list of “Go To” or “Best in Show” plants. In every plant category, evergreens, deciduous shrubs, perennials, ground covers, there are choices that I have relied on for the last 20 years or more to execute more than one distinct trait and to collaborate with others to create a consistent WOW factor over the changing seasons. I call those plants, plants with “Multiple Personality In-Order.”

For example, a Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’ with its lovely growth habit, early blooms before the exquisite foliage and last but definitely not least, the fall color. Now THAT is a home run example of a plant with all of the personality qualities that I would love to see in a top performer in the Northwest climate.

Another example would be a simple little evergreen shrublet that comes in many varying colors of foliage called Euonymous Fortunei. (Shown here with Sedum ‘October Daphne’ with its own personality that color changes through the season as well.) This plant has SO many options for sun and shade, as well as a wide variety of color mixes on the foliage to make a comfortable union in a white garden or a bold tropical inspired design. Even better though is that almost every cultivar turns a lovely rusty pink in the winter and then reverts to its former foliage color in spring. How cool is that?

Another great plant that has made its way on to my list of plants with multiple personality characteristics is the Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’. The show begins in early spring with the new foliage opening an intense hot coral color, then fading to a soft salmon just before it blooms with its dripping white clusters of sweet-scented bell-shaped flowers. In early summer it fades back to its original white variegated foliage, which is no slouch either!

Even though my “Go To” plant palette remains fairly consistent over the years, there has been a great shift in how they are used, by varying the combination’s, heights, drifts, textural mixes and matches, I have devised ways to design groupings that can fit many design styles and personalities.

My “Go-To” List also includes:

  1. Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’

2. Any Heuchera, but today’s favorite is ‘Berry Smoothie’

3. Nandina, ‘Firepower’, ‘Gulf Stream’ or ‘Sienna Sunset’

4. Arbutus Unedo, Strawberry Tree

5. Tri-Color Sage

How many plants with “Multiple Personality In-Order” are in your design “Go-To” list?
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Star of the Fall Show Needs Backup Singers

The focus on all of the glorious color of fall is righteous indeed. After a spring and summer of sumptuous floral displays and vegetable tableau’s that can rival any formal shrub border, it’s only natural to get a bit more introspective about the use of the giant color wheel of fall and delve into the details. I also think it’s important to take a good, long step back and see who else is out there helping to make that color sing.

Tri-Color Salvia with Nandina

Top performers know there is a bevy of behind the scenes action that lifts up and supports the lead. They are all of the names that are rarely on the fronts of magazines or books. They dazzle in a more understated way. I like to think of them as the back up singers of the plant world. Silver and grey are the back-up singers that I regularly look for in most plant combination’s that I design. They are reliable, show up consistently, and are rarely demanding of the limelight.

Hebe 'Quicksilver' is the perfect textural contrast to the fall standby Japanese Maple


Light colored foliage from Succulents, Ivy and Grasses - great contrast!

Wooley Thyme acts as an uplight under these hot fall colors.


Artemisia 'Cirrus' - one of my favorites for fall and winter

Sometimes the melody under the song is even lovelier when you listen close. You could even think of it as an up light on the stage. The bold and bawdy red lead singer out in the front of the house always looks better with a little supportive light from underneath, from the side, or in the back. Who sings back up in your garden designs?