The Beauty of Repetition in the Garden

Deciduous grasses

A riotous landscape packed with color and texture stimulates the eye, activates the senses and makes one feel alive.

That’s why I like to offer my clients many stylistic options when we start the design process for a new or soon-to-be-renovated landscape. After listening to their preferences, I then see which ideas can be blended into a garden that suits the setting. For a quiet back yard retreat I would make different recommendations than I would for a colorful front yard border for curb appeal.

One style element that I enjoy working with is repetition — using masses of single plant or just a few varieties of plants. I find that repetition creates a calming and peaceful effect. And who doesn’t need that after the stresses of a long day?

Repetition can take many forms. For a softer, more relaxed feel, I might suggest relying on shades of greens and a soft palette that includes pale blues, white and lavenders. This creates a visual foundation that slows the eye and gives a feeling of groundedness and security.

Here are some ideas for putting repetition to work in the garden:

• Mass plantings around a focal point such as a plant, tree or potted garden. This has the effect of creating a foundation for the main event.

• Use evergreens in repetition to create structure in the winter garden and provide a backdrop for winter blooming plants and bulbs.

• Create solid borders of a single blooming plant, perennial or annual, running along a garden bed or path. This pulls the eye forward to the path’s destination. (Think of a multitude of yellow roses on a wall, or sweeping bands of deciduous grasses. You get the idea.) The impact of a single vision of one color — white Mophead Hydrangeas, for instance — can be at once stunning and serene.

Planting bulbs? Think repetition.

Fall is here and it’s time for planting bulbs. Mass plantings of bulbs can be very effective whether they are contrasting colors or a single favorite hue. Since different types of bulbs bloom at different times, you can plant layers of bulbs that will bloom in sequence as spring goes on. Snowdrops bloom as early as January and Allium bulbs bloom in late May or early June here in the Pacific Northwest, taking your landscape right up to the point where summer perennials burst into bloom.

Happy planting!

Call us for a consultation to discuss design options for garden enhancements, landscape renovations and sustainable gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Step Toward Sustainability

IMG_3538

“Sustainable gardening” is a term that has no technical definition. It’s more of a concept: gardening using practices that cause no harm to the earth and its inhabitants.

A sustainable landscape or property is an ecosystem of sorts. If you’re starting a new garden, it’s easy to be a purist about creating a sustainable landscape. It’s trickier if you try to apply the same principles to an existing garden that was created without a plan for sustainability. But no matter what the type or the history of your garden, there are always steps you can take to move toward a sustainable landscape.

For instance, stop using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. That’s a very basic move in the right direction.

After that, evaluate your mature landscape and see if you can reduce the amount of water your plants require to thrive. Are your trees and plants in the right locations? Check the native soil type and the existing sun exposure. Most gardens have shady and sunny spots, and plants that need more moisture may be happier in areas with at least partial shade. With that goal in mind, consider if your existing plants are grouped by their moisture needs. You might need to move some plants.

Fine-tune and adapt your existing watering habits. When you do water your garden, you can do it by zone. That avoids wasting water by watering all areas equally, regardless of their need. Go a step further by regrouping or even removing plants to take advantage of your plan for watering zones.

Keep in mind that urban and suburban gardens are man-made environments. There are special challenges to keeping plants healthy and attractive under these conditions, so planning is important.

Call us for a consultation to discuss options for enhancements, renovations and sustainability in your garden.

 

Paradise in July

So much is happening in the July garden that’s it’s difficult to focus on a single plant to report on. So this month I’ll talk about one the foundations of landscape planning: hardscapes. A “hardscape” is a level, two-dimensional hard surface that covers the ground. In other words: driveways, walkways, and patios.

When planning a garden—or renovating an existing one—hardscape is one of the first things we look at. Perhaps the most popular garden hardscape project is a patio, so we’ll consider that example.

Patio design

When planning a patio, you want to determine the best location, size, and shape. Consider these factors:

  • where your garden gets sunlight at various times of the day
  • how you want to use the hardscape space for entertaining or recreation
  • what views you want to enjoy from the patio

Make notes so we can accommodate, or at least prioritize, the most important factors. If you are replacing an existing patio, make note of its appearance (such as wear or damage) and any drainage issues that might have come up during the winter and spring. The more you are aware of possibilities (and problems) the better prepared you are to make design choices.

Stone, pavers, concrete — and more

The next step is to look at materials. Consider your budget, your planting plan, and any structures you plan to add as part of the project. Materials for hardscapes include natural stone, tile, pavers, and aggregate—as well as modern solutions such as concrete. There are many choices, each with benefits and limitations. A qualified garden designer can help you evaluate all your options.

Summer is a great time to start planning for a new patio. Renovation of existing hardscape, or construction of new hardscapes, can be done year ’round (except when the ground is frozen or exceptionally muddy). Plan now, and you could enjoy a more attractive garden next summer.

Call today for a consultation to discuss options for enhancements, renovations and materials for your new hardscape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle’s June Blooms

Deciduos and Evergreen Azaleas.

What blooms when? The bloom times of some plants are predictable, while others vary year to year based on winter conditions and early spring temperatures. It’s no secret we’ve had a lot of late sleepers this spring. Maybe the plants, like many people, are just confused by changing and fluctuating weather patterns in general.

As a native of Seattle, I can’t remember a May as cold as this year’s. However, bulbs bloomed like clockwork and the cool weather preserved the blooms for longer than normal. In fact, I’ve never seen the bounty of tulip blooms I have the last couple of months. On the other hand, most rhododendrons have been late to flower.

Take heart. Most plants will have “caught up” by June, a month that never disappoints, whatever the weather conditions.

During June expect the late rhododendrons and azaleas to make a show along with many varieties of iris, budding allium, and other ornamental onions. Perennials will begin to flower when the temperatures warm up this month (some are in full bloom now). And flowering trees, which began in January with witch hazel, include late varieties that are still blooming in June.

When designing a garden, you want to think about bloom sequence. June, with so much going on in the garden, is a good time to examine which of your blooming plants compliment one another. When you evaluate your garden, pay attention to color combinations. Contrast size and textures of adjacent blooming plants. In nature almost all colors can look good side by side, but like paint, the right shades and combination can make a dramatic statement.

See color combinations you love or hate? Remember that most plants can be moved (or replaced) if next year you’d prefer to see a different palette. When you are examining your garden blooms, don’t forget to take into account the color and textures of foliage. You can fill in with annuals, too. Early June is a great time to plant annuals. As soon as there is enough sun to provide warmth, they’ll grow fast and full.

June here is Seattle is typically still cool and wet enough for planting. You’ll find that nurseries have their best selection of plants right now. So don’t procrastinate, plant a garden today!

For help with all types of garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.

 

 

 

 

 

May Plant Of The month

For May we’d like to introduce you to Styrax obassia, the Fragrant Snowbell tree. In the same family as the better-known Styrax japonica (the Japanese Snowbell Tree), it shares some of the prominent characteristics like the white bell-shaped flowers and a graceful silhouette. Otherwise, the Styrax obassia is has some noteworthy characteristics of its own that make it a sophisticated choice for your garden.

The Fragrant Snowbell is perfect for a city garden, topping out about 25- feet tall over many years. Although I have never seen one that large, it is a manageable size that grows moderately slowly and can be kept more compact with careful pruning. However, careless or unskilled pruning can lead to misshapen growth that will ruin the natural form of the tree. It’s a good idea to take classes on pruning, learn about it on line, or hire a qualified professional.

What to consider when planting Styrax obassia

Styrax obassia should not be cramped. Position it as a focal tree. If you up-light it you can enjoy it in the winter, too. Tolerant of soil conditions, it does best in average soil and should not be fertilized—you want to avoid weak, fast growth that can look awkward and out of character with its natural growth pattern. Plant it out of hot afternoon sun, as it is prone to burning—especially if it does not receive sufficient moisture. With its large (over 6-inch wide) ovate leaves and lively bright green color the Fragant Snowbell stands out beautifully among more finely textured foliage in the surrounding garden. The Fragrant Snowbell is not picky, but it sure looks exotic.

To learn more about garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.

 

 

 

March Plant Of The Month: Lavender

Lavender and other drought-tolerant plants create a casual border. A garden in the Greenlake neighbor in Seattle.

While we might think of Lavender as a common plant, it has some uncommon uses for landscaping.

A little background: Lavendula is the Latin genus referring to Lavender. There are about 39 recognized species of the Lavender plant. Countless variations are available as a result of cross-pollination of those species.

In other words there are many, many Lavender to choose from for your garden.

Lavender makes great informal borders (not hedges) that can be shaped as needed. Drifts created with like varieties look amazing. Or you can put together a collection of special varieties for an easy-going garden tapestry. Of course, Lavender is a standby for container arrangements with other sun-loving plants, annuals or herbs.

In summer, Lavender flowers attract lots of happy honeybees—so planting Lavender is a great way to support our threatened communities of bees. Unlike the aggressive wasps and hornets that come to crash your outdoor picnics, honeybees are peaceful and will sting only if they are startled by rapid movements. Bees keep to themselves and have no interest in our foods. You can happily work among the bees if you are trimming your Lavender on a sunny afternoon.

Note that Lavender is a great drought-tolerant plant and thus perfect for any waterwise and/or sustainable landscape.

In Pacific Northwest gardens, location is key. Lavender needs full sun and good drainage. Once well rooted, Lavender rarely needs supplemental water and is not picky about soil conditions. In fact, rich, moist soils may cause misshapen plants with few flowers and leggy growth. Lavender does not need fertilizer, either. Nutrient-rich soils may cause rapid, weak growth.

If you are looking for a tidy appearance, consider the dwarf varieties of Lavender (less than 18″ wide at maturity). They stay compact, making them perfect for city gardens that might be overwhelmed by full-size varieties that can reach four feet across.

My favorite dwarf Lavenders include:

Wee One Dwarf English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Wee One’)—A compact plant that grows only 12″ high and sports an abundance of blue flower spikes.

Thumbelina Leigh Dwarf English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Thumbelina Leigh’)—A robust grower to 15″ high with plump lavender-blue flowers and a strong, sweet fragrance.

Lusko’s Dwarf Spanish Lavender (Lavendula stoechas ‘Lusko’s Dwarf’)—Grows to only 12″ with fragrant foliage and thick, deep lavender-purple flowers.

Want to do something special with Lavender or other drought-tolerant plants in your landscaping? We can help. To learn more about garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.

 

 

 

 

Late-Winter Garden Design Checklist

Witch hazel, Hellebore and Sweet Box are blooming

Some of my favorite times to get outdoors are clear, brisk winter days. For avid gardeners there is is plenty to do when the rain stops.

Bu, if you’d rather stay indoors, there is much to do on the planning front. Late winter is a good time to take inventory of your garden and see what might make it more appealing at this time next year. Winter is also a great time to get a start on those design projects that seem to stay on your list year after year.

Here are some things to consider as you do your late-winter planning:

  • Screening and privacy: Do you have enough when your deciduous trees lose their leaves?
  • Circulation: Are pathways in the best location?  Is it easy to walk the whole garden and keep your feet dry?
  • Structure: Are garden focal points positioned for views inside the house, too?
  • Color: Do perennial borders need something additional for winter interest?
  • Moisture control: Look for standing water and muddy areas that don’t seem to drain all winter. Pay attention to annoying wet spots 
and make decisions about drainage issues so they can be resolved in drier months during landscape construction or as part of other summer gardening projects.

For these and other landscape planning questions, contact us for a design consultation. We can provide insight into the best options for your garden.

January Plant Of The Month

For January, we’re highlighting a tree associated with the season: The Winter King Hawthorn — Cratagaeus viridis. This isn’t your grandmothers thorny old Hawthorne tree!

The Winter King Hawthorne is a truly well-rounded specimen that has something distinctive to offer during each season of the year. It has few of the thorns, and none of the problems, that have plagued the Hawthorne in the past.

In spring, the Winter King is covered with small 3/4-inch white flowers that last for about two weeks. In summertime, it sports a dense canopy of leathery, medium green leaves that will turn to yellow/gold in the fall. Berries start out green in summer, ripen to orange in early fall, and turn an eye-catching bright orange/red by autumn. The large nickle-size berries remain on the branches throughout winter while at the same time the tree’s silvery, brown bark tends to peel, revealing a dark apricot hue. The Winter King Hawthorne looks amazing when its large berries are garnished with winter ice or its limbs adorned with snow. In addition, the berries attract birds to the garden for an easy snack at a time of year when food sources for birds are limited.

Consider using the Winter King Hawthorne as a single-statement tree in a medium-sized garden or enjoy its loose, but uniform, vase-shaped canopy when you have multiple trees lining a long walkway or boulevard. You’ll want to avoid using it for clumps or groves, however, since it develops a horizontal, rounded canopy as it matures, eventually reaching 25 feet tall.

This tough tree thrives almost anywhere that provides full to part sun and well-drained soil. The Winter King Hawthorne is adaptable and not picky about soil type. Once established, it is drought tolerant, but like all trees, needs some watering until it has an established root system. Regular watering will net more and bigger berries. Occasional pruning and thinning is needed to allow sunlight to reach the limbs where berries are produced. Pruning will also enable you to keep it at the size you prefer for your specific landscape.

Thoughtful garden design includes identifying plants like the Winter King Hawthorne that are cohesive throughout the site and ensure something exciting is always happening in your landscape.

To learn more about garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Holly Day

v-hollyFor December, we would like to highlight a plant associated with the winter holidays: Ilex aquifolium myrtifloia ‘Aurea Maculata’ — or, as most of us know it, English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata.’

Don’t worry — this sophisticated holly variety is only a distant relative of the unruly, and often dreaded, Common English Holly that still lurks in some old city gardens.

The glossy, grass green leaves of English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ typically have a bright golden yellow irregular center. They curl both upward and downward, reflecting light and giving the leaves an interesting texture. With bright red berries that ripen in autumn, English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ becomes a beacon in your winter garden. Hint: You can use an accent light to show case this attractive foliage at night. No strings of lights required!

Depending on where you plant it and how you prune it, English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ can be a uniformly compact bush or large shrub.  You don’t want to sheer this plant, but regular pruning and thinning will help maintain its size and ensure that it produces new berry-laden branchlettes each season. It’s easy to work with — this hybrid variety was cultivated to eliminate the sharp, prickly leaves synonymous with the rest of the Genus. Hint: If you enjoy a traditional holiday decorations, prune this holly before the holidays and use the clippings as you create arrangements for the front porch or mantel.

English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ is not only a perfect shrub for wintertime but an attractive landscape plant all year round. Because it has no “down time,” it’s an excellent accent or anchor plant in ornamental landscapes.

It grows well in average garden conditions, but absolutely thrives in poor soil and hot dry conditions — all it needs is some pruning to maintain its desired size. If you want it to produce lots of fall berries, make sure to plant it where it gets plenty of sun.

December is still a good time to purchase broad-leaf evergreens like English Holly ‘Myrtifolia Aurea Maculata’ and conifers and get them into the ground. You can make this attractive plant part of your holiday outdoor decorating.

To learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and easy plants for your garden, please contact us.

November Plant Of The Month

Version 2For November, we would like to introduce you to Euonymus japonicus ‘Dr. Rokugo Variegata’  — otherwise known as the Dr. Rokugo Variegated Spindle Tree.

Though its name suggests a tree, this plant is truly more of a dense, mounding shrubette. It’s like no other species in the large genus Euonymus. It has a dense, vertical habit consisting of compact spires of tiny leaves stacked around a fiberous core, resulting in an almost whimsical look. It grows to be only about a foot tall.

If the word “quirky” could apply to plants, it would be perfect for the Dr. Rokugo Variegated Spindle Tree. While this plant risks getting lost among larger plants, it is a great specimen for a dwarf garden. Plant it among other dwarf specimens or where it will be easily seen along the edge of a path or patio, and give it a place of its own — this species of Euonymus should not be used for mass plantings. You’ll find it ideal when curated into a plan for a small garden that includes a dwarf specimen or a collection of other dwarf plants.

Dr. Rokugo Variegated Spindle Tree is a true collector’s plant. If you like unusual plants that attract notice, this one is fdr-close-upor you.

To learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and easy plants for your garden, please contact us.