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.


Ivy League


Hedera algeriensis ‘Striata’

Does the word “ivy” make you wince?

If so, it may be because you are thinking about the English ivies — Hedera helix ‘Baltica’, ‘Pittsburg’, ‘Wahington’ and ‘Star’ — or Irish ivy (Hedera hibernica). All are considered invasive and all have been placed on King County’s list of noxious weeds. English ivy is categorized as a non-regulated Class B and C noxious weed, meaning control is recommend, but not required in King County. It’s no longer for sale in nurseries or used as a landscape plant.

Of course, some homeowners have inherited an established mass of this nearly indestructible green carpet. Some of them cut it to back to the woody stems each year to keep it under control and enjoy its glossy evergreen appearance where nothing else will thrive. But most gardeners find themselves exasperated with English ivy that has taken over flower beds, grown up the trunks of trees, or covered fences and walls. Once its root system is entangled with other plants or a rockery, your only choice is a regular management regime to keep it at bay. That’s not much of a consolation for those who want it gone.

Meet the good ivies


Hedera helix ‘Cristata Curlilocks’

Stigma and guilt-by-association have ruined the reputation of the entire ivy species. However, there are some ivies that can be charming accents — creeping over the edge of a pot or adding a fine-textured, ground-hugging evergreen element to an ornamental garden. These “good” varieties grow slowly and won’t get away from you.

I recommend trying the crinkly dark green leaves of Hedera helix ‘Cristata Curlilocks’ in pots where it can curl over the rim. Fine-textured Hedera helix ‘Mona Lisa’ adds a colorful evergreen mat at the base of a rock during winter. A better-mannered cousin of English ivy is the Algerian ivy Hedera algeriensis. Hedera algeriensis ‘Striata’ sports exotic-looking leaves marked with lighter green and golden-green variations. Originally native to central Algeria and Tunisia, where it grows vigorously, Algerian Ivy grows slowly and is easily contained in the climate of the Pacific Northwest. It does best in part sun with shelter from wind and freezing temperatures. Like all ivies, it likes regular water and rich soil.

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



Decking Decisions

Did you spend much of the summer wishing you had a better deck? If you act quickly, fall may be the time to address that issue.

If you can make some decking decisions, you are readying to get a deck project underway. Perhaps the most important decision is what decking materials you will use.

Traditional deck materials

Natural wood is a long-time favorite. It looks great, and adds a natural element that seems right at home in the landscape. However in the maritime Pacific Northwest weather, natural wood takes a beating and requires regular maintenance to extend its life. Pressure-treated wood will last longer (and should be used anywhere there is ground contact) but eventually it, too, will rot. Note that pressure-treated wood won’t work for the visible and usable surfaces of your deck — it fails to provide a clean, quality presentation.

The new composite woods

As a traditionalist, it took me a long time to accept composite wood as a viable alternative for building decks. Just a few years ago the only composite materials were flimsy and fake looking. But today there are some true contenders — an array of excellent, natural-looking options in a variety of realistic-looking finishes and colors. In fact, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between real wood and composite counterparts. The benefits of using composites are obvious: they are much more attractive than pressure-treated wood and they offer many more options for color, texture and grain than traditional natural wood. Best of all, composites require much less maintenance — possibly just a yearly power washing.

Don’t expect a bargain with composites, but do expect less maintenance, no yearly painting or staining, easy cleaning, and an indefinite lifespan if quality materials are used. You’ll save money, headaches and time!

The ironwood option

Purists should consider the natural hardwoods known as ironwood. They come with a premium price tag and are more difficult to work with, which adds labor costs. However, ironwood is a good option for longevity, requires less maintenance and provides a handsome appearance superior to that of other of natural woods.

Paint is never a solution

In my case, I inherited an older natural wood deck. It’s still holding its own due to the vintage quality of the wood, but it takes annual maintenance to keep it looking good and protected from the elements.  After years of maintenance, replacements, painting and staining this deck, I am now considering a composite option. Note that you should never paint a deck under any circumstances — unless you are prepared to deal with it as an on-going pet project or a high-maintenance addition to the family.

Next steps for your deck project

Experienced landscape designers can help you evaluate design and materials options based on your budget. We know what’s out there and can help you make informed choices.

Please contact us if you’d like to find out more about decking and other landscape design projects.





Garden Planning: 2. The Big Picture

Barr concept sketchNow that you have chosen a garden style, the next step is to create the “big picture” for your new garden. You do this by defining key functional and aesthetic elements.

In this step you will be:

  • Conducting a site analysis (determining sun exposure, characteristics of the soil, etc.)
  • Creating a visual record
  • Taking measurements and drawing a scaled plot plan
  • Considering site conditions in a variety of situations (after heavy rain fall, after drought, under snow, in hot sun, on a windy day, and by season)
  • Projecting the growth of plantings and how growth will affect other elements over time

Your garden plan begins to take shape when these factors are analyzed and translated into structures and plantings that support the garden style.

Thoughtful big-picture planning ensures that landscaping project adds value to your home and enhances your quality of life through the year.

Contact us for comprehensive design services and for consulting for DIY projects, large or small.




Take another look at patio and walkway (“hardscaping”) ideas


Tumbled concrete pavers and natural stone by Greenlake, Seattle WA

NOTE: The term “hardscaping” describes any type of hard surface impressed upon the landscape: patios, driveways, walkways, and more.

Successful hardscaping projects take into consideration both the practical and the aesthetic. A straight walkway might be the quickest route to your front door, but a curved walkway creates a pleasing route through the landscape. A patio at the foot of the back garden is nice, but not if that’s where water drains and pools.

I advise clients to take these factors into consideration when planning patios and walkways: 


Any significant drainage, erosion or moisture problems on your site should be addressed before, or as part of, your landscaping project. You may need to establish a drain field or other solution.

As part of your planning, learn about “permeable paving.” The term refers to a range of sustainable materials and techniques for creating pavements that have a base and sub-base allow storm water to drain through the joints between pavers. In addition to reducing runoff, many paving systems effectively filter pollutants, preventing them from getting into the groundwater. In many cases, building codes dictate the amount of permeable surfaces that must be preserved on your property.

You want at least part of any hardscape area to “perk” in order to control where and how run-off drains into the surrounding areas of your property, adjoining land, or the street. Your best bets for good drainage are pavers or natural stone. Most pavers allow moisture to drain through the spaces between them evenly without creating much run-off. Cement or aggregate are much less permeable. If you anticipate drainage issues, permeable or natural stone may be your best option for patios and walkways.

Design and aesthetics

What fits your space, the exterior design of your home, and the overall setting of your property?

You might be surprised at how creative you can get. A Japanese garden may work with a traditional Tudor house, and professional designers can develop ways to merge themes that might otherwise seem incompatible. Considerations include: colors, the size and shape of the space, and most importantly, how your outdoor space will be used.


Your project costs will depend on several factors. These include the extent of leveling your site requires and the materials selected for the hardscaping. Pavers are often the most cost-effective, followed by some concrete and natural stone treatments. Be sure to get a good idea of budget ranges during the design process.

Next steps

Experienced landscape designers have worked with the issues of drainage, aesthetics, and budget many times. They know what’s out there and can help you make informed choices.

Please contact us if you’d like to find out more about hardscaping and other landscape design projects.