Bulb Basics (the 411 on spring-blooming bulbs)

If you are having trouble adjusting to fall, focusing on garden planning will probably improve your spirits. If you love spring, you are in luck.

narcissus
Narcissus bulb in bloom

I enjoy all the seasons. While spring may be the most dramatic and uplifting, fall is the time to get busy with all sorts of projects. I like to call it infrastructure time in the garden.

With summer still fresh in mind, consider what did and did not work in your garden and what you might like to see next year. Do you get the spring and fall color you crave? Do beds need more structure to maintain interest during winter? Has a plant outgrown its role in the landscape?

Several of the designs I completed this summer are now beginning to take shape. One of the things I enjoy at this time of year is the opportunity to add spring-flowering bulbs to my gardens and surprise clients when the first green tips start pushing up next spring.

There is still plenty of time to add bulbs to your garden. Retail nurseries and garden stores are fully stocked and it’s not too late to order bulbs on line. I planned my bulb plantings this summer and my orders are due to start arriving any day.

There is a huge array of bulbs to choose from, and more new introductions every year. First, think about color. If other plants will be blooming at the same time, what would best compliment or contrast with them? Most colors look stunning massed in front of dark green foliage of any kind. You could also choose a color that will make your house or other garden feature pop. Either way, make a statement with different types of bulbs that bloom in succession until nearly summer. For instance, you could start with Galanthus (Snow Drops) in February and end with Allium (ornamental onion) in late May or early June.

The first bulbs to bloom in late winter are Galanthus (Snow Drops). Most are bright white so they work everywhere — some may be blooming as early as late January. Snow Drops establish slowly so plant them in groups of at least nine to twelve bulbs to make a nice clump. They will come back fuller each year and because of their small stature, between three and nine inches, they fit well even in tiny gardens. Galanthus prefer rich soil, but will grow in many conditions except rocky soil or hard clay — the undoing of most any bulb. Keep in mind that your bulbs need good drainage (especially tulips) and may rot if drainage is inadequate.

The best choice for beginners or anyone who craves reliable color that comes back stronger each year are crocus bulbs. They are easy to plant because of their small size (they need to be planted only 3 inches deep). Daffodils and Narcissus offer height and stature and look great massed or as part of a composition. They are vigorous and, like most bulbs, don’t need much care. For fragrance, grow Hyacinths. But because their flowers are short and not long-lived, they are best planted in combination with taller and more graceful flowers. Tulips are elegant and stately, but choose carefully: some are not perennial and will need to be replanted. And while new, exotic looking tulip varieties may promise a lot, those many not come up looking like the glossy picture on the box. Some have weak foliage or other problems. If you don’t like to experiment, stick with varieties with a track record. Tulips must must have good drainage and rich, loose soil to thrive. For late spring, Allium are dramatic and architectural — best planted in groups for impact.

I hope this blog post helps gets you started for spring. If you need more ideas, contact me for a design consultation and learn about the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Extend Summer Color with Perennials

After the dog days of summer, the landscape can begin to look a little peaked. Fall-blooming perennials are a great way to add a fresh splash of color that will extend garden blooms to the first frost and beyond. Plant fall-blooming plants among summer-blooming perennials and annuals for a seamless display of color that can start in early spring and last through November.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’

These garden mainstays flower reliably, year after year. Unlike annuals and biennials, which live for only a year or two, perennials are permanent plants that need only periodic division and replanting. This is about as low-maintenance as it gets! Some plants are semi-evergreen; others go dormant and die to the ground at the end of each season, and then reemerge from the roots the following year. Note that most perennials that bloom in the summer and fall require a full-sun location.

Here are some of my favorites for summer/fall color:

  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’. A type of Black-eyed Susan, these are large deep maroon-red flowers with a dark chocolate center. A sturdy plant to 24″ tall.  Full sun, does best with ample moisture.
  • Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliance’. Waxy, Soft blue-green rounded leaves and deep rose-red blooms. Full sun, drought tolerant.
  • Asters (many, many cultivars). Sturdy plants covered with small daisy-like flowers. An array of growth habits and colors to choose from. Full sun, drought tolerant.

Late summer is the best time to reevaluate how perennials are working in your garden. Choosing them carefully can maximize bloom season and refresh the garden. If you are not ready to add plants now, note which areas could use some attention — but realize that the selection will be best now, while the plants are blooming. They may be hard to find out of season.

This is also the time to look to broad-leaf and coniferous evergreens for color, texture and structure during the wintertime.

If you need more ideas, contact me for a design consultation and learn about the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Ground Cover Essentials

ground cover

Thymus serpyllum blooms in late spring

Ground cover refers to a low spreading plant that forms a solid mat on top of the soil — typically only 1 to 3 inches tall. Some ground cover plants are “stepable” — meaning that they can tolerate low traffic and can be used as part of a pathway or between pavers and flagstones.

Ground covers are an attractive substitute for a top-dressing of mulch or compost. They can retain moisture in the soil underneath and shade the roots of other plants, keeping the soil cool while adding a lush look to the landscape.

Some types of ground cover need little or no supplemental watering so they are perfect in full sun in rock gardens or between the stones of a patio or walkway.

Woolly Thyme (Thymus lanuginosus) is an example of a bulletproof option. It likes hot sun, does best with little water, and does not need rich soil (though it does need good drainage). Woolly Thyme may not grow much in the winter, or become a little spotty, but it quickly rebounds in early spring.

Ground covers like Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) hug the earth, making a tight mat less than an inch tall. The tiny flowers of the Blue Star Creeper make it quite beautiful along a pathway or a driveway or around stepping stones in a garden path. Tenacious but not invasive, it does best in rich soil and moderate moisture but will tolerate less-than-ideal conditions.

Other options for ground covers are landscape plants, used en masse. These work well in areas where walking is not a requirement, such as slopes and parking strips. You can even use taller plants as lawn substitutes where mowing is a hassle. Examples include grasses up to 12 inches or taller, and vines like Illumination Periwinkle (Vinca minor ‘Illumination’) for shaded areas.

When selecting plants to be used as ground cover, think about growth rate. You want them to fill in quickly to cover the space. Also consider color, texture and when they bloom — you want them to complement surrounding plantings.

While most ground covers are hardy and low maintenance, you’ll need to give them some help at first. If an area is very weedy, deal with the weeds before planting so your ground cover won’t be competing with aggressive plants. You will need to be vigilant about weeding until the plants fill in, and you’ll want to provide supplemental water until the roots are well established.

In a hurry? For more immediate results, plant closer together to reduce the time required to achieve full coverage.

Need some help with garden design? Contact me to begin your plan for summer and year round.

Got Deer?

Deer enjoy some of the ornamental plants we grow in our gardens as much as we do, so if you are designing a garden in an area where deer are present, there are some key factors to consider.

Deer populations are thriving in the Puget Sound region. You’ll find them in the wooded suburban areas where they enjoy an abundance of food and have no natural predators. Some people think deer are adorable and others find them a nuisance, but what we can agree on is that they won’t be going away any time soon.

By planning ahead and making intelligent choices, you can minimize the effects of deer on your garden.

I won’t go into detail about deterrents, but you can search online for “deer-proof” and “deer-resistant” plants, as well as deer-fencing or other solutions. There has been much research done and there is an abundance of good material that can be found online or in books. Look at several sources, as recommendations vary.

For a less aggressive approach, here are my own top tips for creating a garden that can survive contact with our local deer:

  • Try planting in masses. This decreases the chances that all of one variety will be eaten at one time.
  • If you crave summer color, try vigorous, fast-growing perennials that can tolerate or benefit from being cut back midseason. Deer nibbling may act as “trimming” and plants may grow in fuller and stronger than before. This was the case in a client’s yard in Port Townsend, WA—a place know for its robust deer population. We were able to successfully grow Rudbeckia fulgida (black-eyed susan).
  • Plant many different species of plants and repeat throughout the garden. Deer may sample (as if at a smorgasbord), but get distracted and move on rather than consuming all of one single plant (no doubt one of your favorites).

A new garden is fascinating place for curious deer and they may be fickle and erratic. Deer may nibble on new plants once and then leave them alone. They may pass up a plant that they’ve eaten in the past.

However, keep in mind that there are some plants that are very likely to attract deer. For instance, a lush-looking bed of hosta can quickly turn into a salad bar. And a plump lily bud (just ready to pop into bloom) might just be a sweet treat for dessert.

Some trial and error is involved and it’s not a perfect science. If you absolutely don’t want to experiment with plantings, you still have plenty of options. Some deer-resistant design options include a rock garden, a dry riverbed, stepable ground covers and dwarf conifers.

I am experimenting with a number of strategies to keep ahead of the deer. One of these is containing a garden within a border of barberry and then planting a favorite food of deer, like lillies, on the outside. The idea is that the deer will be satisfied with the hosta and won’t want to push through the barberry perimeter to get to the main garden. I’ll keep you posted on how this turns out—and I’d love to hear about your experiences with deer.

Need some help with garden design? Contact me to begin your plan for summer and year round.

Establishing a Garden

Gardens are constantly changing. Think of watching a rhododendron bud swell and finally burst open on a sunny May afternoon or remembering a tall tree as a sapling, planted years ago in celebration of a new life or in memory of a loved one.

This change is important factor when you’re planning a garden. Because different plants have different rates of growth, forecasting what a garden will look like two, five or 10 years from now is a vital part of landscape design.

Choosing Your Plants

Rhododendron ‘Point Fosdick’

Plant selection comes near the end of the design process, after primary features and style of a garden are established. Aesthetic qualities such as color, texture and seasonal interest are important, but make sure to factor plants’ mature size and growth rate into the equation. When I’m formulating a garden design, I first group plants together based on their role in the plan and then finalize my plant list based on how the plants and trees that I have selected will interact. (It can be tempting to choose a favorite plant, but it might not be the right one for your garden. Some discipline is required to create a cohesive design that holds up over time!)

When choosing plants for a special condition, such as privacy screening, we need to decide how long we are willing to wait to achieve our goal. Factoring in the rate of growth and the mature size is helpful when determining what size specimen to start with.

Filling the Space

Spacing tiny plants according to what they will look like in 10 years seems practical, but it may take five years or more to achieve the intended result. That’s a long time to wait. For immediate impact, choose mature plants (if they can be found) or plant more densely. Keep in mind that in a couple years this may start to look overgrown and plants may suffer as they compete for light and nutrients. Pruning will help, but eventually some plants will need to be removed to keep the overall design healthy and looking good. That’s called gardening!

Need some help with garden design? Contact me to begin your plan for summer and year-round.

Connecting with Nature In Winter

Connecting with nature has long been recognized as an important part of our well-being. It’s said that spending one hour outdoors every day is essential for a healthy mind and body.  I agree.  I don’t always achieve that at this time of year, but I sure notice how good I feel whenever I do.

Near urban areas our gardens are our connection to nature. That’s true when we spend time outdoors but also when we’re inside, but looking out at the natural beauty that surrounds us.

A House in Harmony with Nature

I recently visited a newly finished landscaping project I am especially excited about. It was a highly satisfying project, one that expanding my own understanding of how we connect to nature in an outdoor space.

The Seattle-area project included an opportunity to collaborate with the architect of the house for a remodel of both the structure and the landscape. Giving input for the selection of interior finishes and design features, while designing the new landscape outside, helped me to create a seamless connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Corridors in the house are designed to lead to garden views, and a mini-terrace off the master bedroom overlooks a private corner of the back yard. The kitchen door serves as a side entrance and adjoins an herb garden that provides fresh flavors and smells all year round. As a result of these synergies you feel a connection outdoors, whether you are inside the house or actually out in the garden space.

While a structural remodel might not be in your future, landscape design that is in strategic harmony with the architectural elements of your home can enhance the connection to your outdoor space. Optimizing small spaces as visual focal points can be done with simple container gardens. A water feature adds instant calm while masking any ambient noise. To create separation from close neighbors or municipal structure, use a trellis or arbor to create privacy and reduce visual impact. Beds of seasonal color outside a living room window remind us that summer will come again with time to actually go out and smell the moist earth, dig in the soil, plant the first seedlings and connect…if only for a few minutes.

Thinking Ahead

Want to bring your house closer in harmony with nature? Contact me to begin planning for next summer and a great outdoor room in which to enjoy it.

Best wishes for a joyful holiday season!

The unusual: A Gothic garden, and beyond

Huchera ‘Onyx Odessey’

I’ve always been intrigued by black flowers. Many varieties of  black-flowering plants have flowers that are closer to intensely dark purple or aubergine.

My interest in black flowers started with limited varieties of bearded iris and tulips. They had dramatic names like Anvil of Darkness, Queen of the Night, Onyx Odyssey and Black Magic. When I was a kid, I was really excited about planting my first bearded iris, named ‘Superstition’. I’d spotted in a catalogue, and persuaded my mother to order it for me.  Because of its color, she (who liked traditional color palettes), considered it “gimmicky” — not be taken seriously.

The Gothic Garden

Black flowers make a statement. When designing a garden, the color black can be used much the same way that you use white.  Black dominates other colors, so it can be a dramatic way to set off other flowers and plants. But black can also blend beautifully. Try it with dusty shades of grey (like Licorice Plant), the smokey blues of lavenders, and deep shades of yellow.

Landscapes with black flowers make a statement. They can express the owner’s personality — and they don’t need to limit you. If you like change, different looks can be created by changing seasonal color or bulbs from year to year while keeping the black flowers constant. You employ black flowers in traditional or more edgy designs.

Recently, I had a request for such a garden design on a tiny city lot with lots of potential. Black flowers looked right at home framed by the grid of the black powder-coated iron fence that I designed for the small entry courtyard. Black pots pulled the theme together, drawing out different colors and textures — especially shades of lime green against the leaves of Black Magic Elephants Ear (Colocasia esculanta ‘Black Magic’).

The Unexpected

In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a seemingly endless palette of plants that thrive. The same good design principles always apply, but the color and composition of a garden can vary widely. Garden design is like a work of art — you never know exactly how it will turn out until it’s completed.  Gardens are like living works of art that keep morphing and changing forever.

Let your garden be a reflection of your own creativity and an inspiration to others! Don’t hesitate to try something new and different — your garden starts with your ideas, even ones that you might not immediately know how to put into words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Flowering Bulbs by Design

About now the deciduous trees are coloring up nicely and the squirrels having been busy burying nuts (probably in your container gardens—just where you don’t want them) since last month. But, in my garden, it’s not officially fall until I can begin to plant spring-blooming bulbs. That’s usually about mid-October.

That is the perfect time to integrate bulbs in to my designs for clients. Interesting bulbs are readily available from suppliers, and it’s easy to dig. I also like to sneak bulbs into potted gardens to provide an early spring surprise after a long winter.

You’ll find a wide choice of bulbs to add color your spring garden. Snow drops (Galanthus) will bloom as early as late January and some varieties of tulips bloom as late as May. Allium finish blooming in June. If you plan well, choosing the right bulbs to create a sequence, you can enjoy a non-stop show from late winter through spring. This is not hard to do. Because different species of bulbs need to be planted at different depths, you can easily plant multiple types of bulbs in layers, in the ground or in large pots. I look forward to seeing masses of crocus, daffodils and narcissus that have naturalized and grown into tight clumps that get fuller by the year.

Keep in mind that some bulbs, such as tulips, aren’t as persistent — they may thrive for two or three years and then it will be time to plant more of them. There are also areas where I like start with a fresh palette each year. In the summer, when those bulbs are through, I give them to neighbors or plant them somewhere else.  I plant  summer blooming annuals in their place until it’s time to plant the newbulbs for the fall. (I’ll talk about seasonal color rotations in another blog post.)

Designing with Bulbs

For smaller gardens, try planting clumps of like varieties and complimentary combinations with varying heights. For larger gardens, a drift of all one type of bulb—in a single color—is stunning. On hillsides or woodland gardens, bulbs can be planted in bands to suggest the flow of a stream or in other patterns, such as sequences or gradations of color.

Some of my favorite bulbs include:

  • Tulipa batalinii ‘Bright Gem’, with its delicate sulphur-yellow petals blushed with warm orange
  • The ‘Black Parrot’ tulip—a velvety purple-black heirloom parrot tulip
  • Tulipa ‘Apricot Impression’—a  giant Darwin Tulip with smoldering tangerine-orange, nasturtium-red and pink persimmon with an interior yellow-edged black base
  • The ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ poeticus narcissus, with large, reflexed white petals and a small yellow cup edged in orange-red with a green eye

A cautionary note: Your bulbs will not do well in hard, compacted soil and will not tolerate muddy or saturated soil for any length of time. Some bulbs will do well in pots if the soil is light and the drainage is very good. Pots should be raised off surfaces with hidden feet or trivets to provide air circulation and drainage.

I hope these tips help keep you motivated to be out in yard as the weather turns cool or at least inspire you to go to your favorite nursery to see what’s available.

If you need help planning your fall garden or developing a comprehensive plan for your landscape, contact me for a design consultation. I’m always here to help and love to hear from you about your garden successes.

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Plan Your Perfect Garden Now

photo of bungalow with foliageAdmiring gardens at their summertime peak? Grab your camera. Now is the absolute best time to capture pictures of the gardens you love. Note the patios, the pathways and the layouts you’d like for your own garden.

  1. Trees. Note the ones with sizes and shapes that would work in your garden. Do you want filtered shade over your patio at this time of year? Look for trees with a vase shape that grow large enough to do the job and observe which plants are thriving and which plants are struggling beneath these trees, including grasses and ground covers. While we often ignore evergreens in the summer, this is the perfect time to check out which ones blend or contrast with the summer colors in your garden. Does a lone conifer look like someone forgot to remove the Christmas tree?  It might need companion plants around it. If a tree is out of scale, dwarfs the rest of the garden, or creates too much shade, think about replacing it with a more suitable tree or using its space in a completely different way.
  2. Shrubs. Look at shapes and foliage colors and keep an eye out for shrubs look gorgeous even in yards with brown lawns. Note which shrubs stay neat-looking and which rapidly overgrow their places in the landscape and threaten to take over a yard without constant pruning (these include some lilacs, camellias and rhododendrons.
  3. Perennials. Now is the time to scrutinize the ornamental grasses, rosemary, lavender, and large sage plants that are so popular for water-wise gardens. Observing them in summer will remind you that most of them need large amounts of space, even if the ones you plant in the spring start out tiny. If you see any of these looking too large and ragged, it may be because they are played out and need to be divided or replaced with new plants. Keep an eye out for plant combinations that are unusual or striking and could make beds more exciting.
  4. Foliage. Speaking of color, be aware of leaf color — the small, shiny dark green leaves of a box-leaf azara or the large leaves of a magnolia add very different notes to the garden than the icy blue sprays of an Arizona Cypress. Silver-blue shades impart a sense of coolness even on a hot, sunny day. If you are looking to brighten a shady spot in your garden, consider planting a tree with glossy leaves that reflect light, such as the Japanese Aucuba plant (Aucuba japonica).
  5. Styles and traditions. This is also a good opportunity to observe garden styles. Are you drawn to a sleek, modern look or something that has tropical feeling? The Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) fits right in around a tiled patio, but will it look out of place at your home. If you have full sun and good drainage in your garden, you might like a desert style, with lots of silver/gray foliage bordering a rustic stone pathway. A classic English cottage garden is lovely in summer, but can you tolerate the barren look during its dormant season. An edible garden is fun and can produce superior fruits, but do you have the soil, the sun exposure, the space and the inclination to take care of it all summer?

The key to successful garden design is getting a sense of your personal style before you meet with a designer or go plant shopping. Summer is the best time to “window shop” your neighborhood. Take pictures and make a “look book” of your favorite gardens. You’ll be glad you did when you sit down to plan your garden in March

For more information about garden planning, please contact us.

Watering the Garden: You Can Relax this Summer

Right now it’s hard to imagine that the super-saturated ground in the Seattle area will ever dry out. But it will, and quickly — remember last summer? It doesn’t take long once the dry season comes. And the last few years, we have even been surprised by some hot days early in the season.

If you are not into watering by hand and have ruled out automated watering — or if you simply want to conserve natural resources — you’ll need to:

  1. Start with the right plants
  2. Use water efficiently

At the peak of summer, few gardens can get by without some supplemental watering (the exceptions being certain types of plants and trees that are very well established, or a rock garden).

Look at the lawn

Let’s start by drought-proofing your lawn. Grass is an expensive ground cover, and if it’s not watered and maintained, it’s a brown eyesore for months. Think about replacing that lawn with a stepable ground cover or drought-tolerant succulents.  Most are very easy to grow and many can also handle soggy Northwest winters.

Drought-tolerant plants, native and non-native

When looking at drought-tolerant plants for the garden, it’s easy to get bogged down in plant selection. Northwest native plants might sound like a good choice. They are already adapted to this climate and can survive a short dry spell. However, our yards aren’t much like the environments where these plants naturally occur, so there is no guarantee of success. And, sad to say, most native plants don’t offer much in the way of “eye candy” in the summer garden. If you are a purist and want a native plant garden, you will find a long list of easy-to-grow plants — just don’t demand too much of them in the way of appearance.

If you add drought-tolerant plants that are non-natives into the mix, you’ll find there are a lot more possibilities. Colorful perennials, plants with interesting leaves, bark, and fall color are readily available. You can see examples of this type of garden, mixing native and non-native plants, in my online Portfolio.

Previous Design Tips blog posts talk about my top picks for plants, shrubs, and trees that do well in the Pacific Northwest.

Designing the water-wise garden

Working with plants on a regular basis for years, I’ve learned what conditions they need to thrive in our region. This helps me decide what plants to use for any application — and, just as importantly, what plants not to use.

Once the framework for a garden design starts to take shape, then plant selection is an important part of making the landscape work. That’s when considerations like ease of maintenance and drought tolerance come into play. But keep in mind that there are many other criteria that influence what type of plants will thrive in your garden, especially in a sunny Northwest summer.

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