The White Party

Looking for a crisp, clean alternative to traditional holiday decor? Consider white, symbolizing peace, harmony and clarity. It’s hard to go wrong with white for the winter season, inside or out (unless you use cotton-candy-like fake snow, but we won’t go there).

How does this relate to landscape design? In garden design, white is also a distinctive choice. White is popular for themed gardens and for what are called moonlight gardens (with lighting, and silver and grey foliage). Moonlight gardens radiate from dusk until late, and are particularly striking on starry summer nights when skies are clear. Viewing from a deck or patio is a moving experience.

If you are looking for variety in your garden, try using white annuals and other plants with white flowers for a year or two. White is also a good rotational color for seasonal annuals and potted gardens. Consider the subtle peaceful garden that relies on shades and textures of green with small white flowers and white variegation for a clean and simple look.

A garden experiment

Several years ago, when I moved into a new house, I demolished the existing backyard garden. In its place I envisioned a serenity garden that also provided privacy from neighbors. I zealously designed a landscape featuring white annuals, white rhododendrons, white hydrangeas and, of course, white spring-blooming bulbs. But my dedication didn’t last. After the second season, I lost interest, realizing I could not be limited by an all-white palette. I missed color, so my white garden involved into a warm jeweled-tone palette vaguely reminiscent of a Mediterranean-style landscape, using plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest’s micro-climates. But I enjoyed the experiment and I still drool over a friend’s ever-changing, white-themed small city garden — especially the well-established sheets of white floribunda climbing roses and clematis draped over classical trellises and arbors.

If you are not ready for an all-white garden, consider the impact that white flowers can add to your landscaping, whether you love color or embrace a more reserved palette. For instance, the pure white flowers of the compact and reliable hybrid ‘Gumpo White’ Azalea and demure perennials like white astilbe and helleborus lend themselves to accent hues like blue, violet, soft yellow and light purple. Not sure where to start? Consider working with a designer. An experienced landscape designer is well trained in color theory and knows how colors relate. They can talk with you about the impact of color and give you some options to consider.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Ivy League

algerian-ivy

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

cristata-ivy

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.

 

 

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

DSCF0034_23

Tumbled concrete pavers and natural stone by michaelmuro.com. 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: 

Drainage

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.

Budget

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.

May Plant Of The Month

For May, we’d like to introduce you to the ‘Homebush’ Azalea. Of the genus Rhododendron, it’s a Knapp Hill hybrid deciduous azalea. These hybrids are characterized by an upright, bushy form with thin, soft, grass-green foliage. It sports a pop of  bright fuchsia pink color for about a month in late spring — usually May.

One of its most stunning attributes is its round ball-like trusses of flowers. The flowers are held individually 'Homebush'on twiggy stems that jut out at an angle from main branches. When not in bloom, the ‘Homebush ‘is understated — perfect when situated behind lower growing Rhododendrons or evergreen plants with
more interesting foliage.

The old-fashioned ‘Homebush’ is an easy-to-maintain favorite, worthy of any collection.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Dimension

GobbleWell-designed topography adds richness and dimension to a landscape. In gardens, grade changes offer opportunities for artful design and dynamic compositions. While terraces, rockeries and retaining walls are often put in place to capture views and manage functional needs (such as drainage and steep slope), they are also opportunities for mindful garden design.

With some forethought, plantings cascading over walls, graceful terraces, and bubbling streams can look completely natural. On a hillside, cozy grottos create welcoming entries or back yard escapes. Terraces that have been made to maximize views are also excellent vantage points to enjoy gardens below.

If you are building or remodeling, think about how your landscaping will integrate with the architecture of your home and other site features. Consider landscaping from the outset while making decisions about grading the site.

Bring together your engineer, garden designer, architect, and general contractor to collaborate on a holistic design. By planning ahead you will probably be surprised by all of the creative options those professionals can suggest. You’ll be able to choose the one that best suits your own vision for combining form + function in your garden.

Are you ready to remove the guesswork and increase your success rate with plantings and garden features? Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and solutions for challenging sites.