Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Shining In The Shade

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

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! 

Northwest Flower & Garden Show-Trend Watch 2011

The 2011 Northwest Flower and Garden Show has just closed until next year and we already miss the colors, fragrance and warmth we got to experience for the 5 day marathon of Seattle Gardening-Palooza! Of course the gardens were wondrous with the inspired show theme “Once Upon A Time”, how could they not be?

Everyone's favorite image of the show theme from the display "Alice In Wonderland"

But what about the garden design trends? That’s what I want to see for 2011!

The trend watch for 2011 gardens is in full swing. Some of the things I noted at the show were already at ground swell point in a few places last year, but they went really big this year.

Night gardens and moodiness in the garden were HUGE at the show. D-4 Collective

Of course sustainable and Eco-friendly gardens are still a big deal! Re-characterization of old pieces, such as antiques and building materials were all-stars of the show.

Paradise (to be) Regained, Courtney Goetz

The Lusher Life Project

Cottage and Asian style are still trending, and they were very popular at the show!

Christianson's Nursery

Arboretum Foundation

I can’t let this post go by without a shout out to my Container Garden display! I partnered with Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center. We are SO proud of the fact that we NOT ONLY participated in the show theme, which is NOT easy on a small platform, but it represented the trend shown in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” of Indonesian style mixed with colorful world themes.

Many show attendees came to me and said that the container displays were their favorite part of the show. They felt like we really kicked it up a notch and showed what can be done in small spaces.

"Eat, Pray, Love, Garden" A little bit of Italy, India and Indonesia!

Garden art was abundant at the show in all of it’s myriad of forms.  Glass, ceramic, wood, metal were the big formats for art this year, where as a few years back I noted LOTS of mosaics as the big highlights.

The simplicity of this little glass piece had me entranced!

The tones of pomegranate in this glass by artist Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens NW, paired with the rich plums and purples in this garden design were magical.

Succulents and verticals were another couple of really big trends that I saw amped up this year. A few more posts may be necessary on those!

For a an overall review of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, please take a look at these great blog post from garden writer Susan Morrison on her Blue Planet Garden BlogTimber Press and another wonderful garden writer, Rebecca Sweet on her blog Gossip In The Garden. I’m sure there are a tidal wave of more fantastic blog posts coming out soon about the show. Meanwhile I’ll be working on more posts on  the trends I saw!

I hope you enjoyed my take on it, leave a comment!

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Underused plants, Uncovered!

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 »

Seattles Conservatory- A Delight for the Senses In Winter

Finding a way to get your gardening urges met in the Northwest anytime before February is an act of pure dedication. It’s usually just too wet and cold. With cold being purely relative to what those experience in other parts of the country, our version of cold does have its opportune moments. But, the bottom line is, that until the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, we find our “needs” fulfilled through seed catalogs, and rushing out during the odd break in the weather to go do some winter pruning or quick clean up chores.

This New Years week however, I was determined to get a dose of warmth, greenery and inspiration long before February, bulbs, seeds and the first of the winter blooming plants. I decided that a pilgrimage to the  http://www.volunteerparkconservatory.org/was deeply in order. And, WOW was I happy I did it. This 100 year old glass conservatory is a precious gem in the Emerald City. The photographs I came away with from this trip are enough to satisfy my urges for quite some time!

Upon entering the elegant, antique glass house, the temperature hits you like a brick. There is a small entry area, where it seems, most people start to strip down immediately to enjoy life without 5 layers for a while.

Then the first thing you see are the Orchids. Utterly spectacular displays behind wire cages, safe from sticky fingers who might try to make off with souvenirs.

The house that shows off the tallest plants is green and lush with a dense jungle feeling. Then you can go left or right to venture into the other sections of this giant glass house. It was a bit odd though, I always felt like someone was watching me. 😉

To the right is the Seasonal House, changing out seasonally to showcase the latest and greatest. The Holiday displays were still up this week, showing off the lovely poinsettia and foliage combos.

Beyond the Seasonal House is the Arid or Desert House with the spectacular cacti, succulents and sedum that may be ubiquitous in many parts of the country, but here, they are a rare treat.

Sinningia Leuchatricha

Heading back the other direction, you feel like you should be hearing tropical birds and monkeys swinging about as you enter the Tropical House. The pictures in the grid at the top of this post gives you a small taste of what the colors were like. Such a unique thing to see on a cold gray day!

Beyond the tropicals were the Cycad House. A very architectural group of plants fill this lush house with foliage colors and textures.

After I got my fill of the heat and humidity of the Conservatory, I came outside to a fairly sunny day. DOUBLE bonus! Here are some shots I took on my way to the car and a few I pulled over to take on my way home.

I hope you enjoyed my day at the Volunteer Park Conservatory. I certainly got my fix- for a little while. 🙂

An IMPORTANT update on this post from January 2012:

End of the road for Volunteer Park Conservatory?

Please read further to see how YOU can help via the Links below!

http://www.volunteerparkconservatory.org/

http://www.nwos.org/

In the mood…

The Inauguration is days away and the excitement is building. I don’t have a ticket to this historic event, but I can watch on TV and on the Internet. My participation is pretty much limited to a small number of avenues. But, after the holidays are over and most of the country is either trapped by weather or recovering from weather, I think we’re all in the mood for some fun. And since I can’t make it to the most major party of our time, I can participate another, that for a Gardener, rivals it. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show. (Angels and Choirs inserted here)

Northwest Flower & Garden Show

There has been some recent research that shows Gardeners are online in HUGE numbers from October through April, blogging, Twittering, Facebooking , you get the idea. And then after that nothing. Apparently it was some huge surprise to the researchers that we dropped our keyboards and picked up pruners! That’s because we’re like heroin addicts looking for a hit! We’ll take anything that looks even remotely like it could grow. The discussions online regarding seeds, seed starting, seed catalogs- are gaining speed and they may hit a compost landmine any minute!

I, for one, have been TRAPPED inside for weeks. Dramatic you say? “Snowmageddon 2008″ as I have dubbed it, had us under almost 4ft. of snow (IN THE SEATTLE AREA!!!!)  and as of this writing on a now otherworldly sunny day, 48 degrees, it’s not melted yet for some! Still too dramatic? After the snow, we had 14” of rain in 48 hours. Still the snow remained.You can’t even go out to really accomplish anything of any real consequence in those conditions.

So, in horticultural state of frenzy, we will all gather for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. We will worship anything that is put in front of us. From the smallest point of titillation, in the form of Narcissus, to practically surgically enhanced versions gardens we can never attain, we are in the mood to celebrate. Cheers!Pansy-pix-3-2008-028