A Bright Spot: Winter Flowering Plants And Trees

In the mild climate of the pacific northwest, it seems that something new is always blooming—even during the shortest, darkest days of wintertime. We don’t need to look far to see a flower reminding us that spring will come again. Reliable winter-blooming plants ensure that your garden has color even when many plants are dormant. Plant them near walkways, entrances and driveways where they can be seen as you come and go. Or place them where they can be seen and enjoyed from the indoors

One of the best winter-blooming camellias is Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro’. It has deep cerise pink semi-double flowers with bright yellow stamens that are borne on the ends of gracefully arching branches. These flowers glow on a dark winter day and camellia’s glossy, dark green leaves reflect light to brighten even a shady corner beneath a canopy of mature trees.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro’

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ (Winter Sun Oregon Grape) is another evergreen shrub that has striking, large, bright yellow racemes of fragrant flowers in late fall and winter. Its stiff, glossy, deep-green pinnate leaves flare out around upright, angled stems, giving it architectural stature. ‘Winter Sun’ can reach up to 10 feet high, making it stunning as a focal plant or at the back of a border. Either way, it takes center stage when it is covered with glowing flowers that develop into clusters of waxy, deep blue berries that provide food for many birds.

Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis (Higan Flowering Cherry) is a deciduous tree with an elegant vase shape and a graceful horizontal branching pattern. It has delicate light pink flowers and blooms from late fall until early spring before its leaves emerge. While ‘Autumnalis’ blooms less profusely than other ornamental flowering cherries, it’s in flower for a much longer period. A must-have for a collector’s garden.

These distinctive winter-blooming plants are easy to grow, but like all plants, they need the right conditions to thrive. Before you plant any large plant, familiarize yourself with its mature size, growth rate and environmental needs and make sure you have the right spot for it in your garden. Vigorous, healthy plants will produce an abundance of flowers and simply look better.

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Design In Full Color

For me, if there is anything that means fall is really here, it’s planting bulbs.

It’s not too late to plant spring bulbs. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest bulbs can be planted well into November. And you’ll find they are readily available in nurseries and garden centers.

With bulbs, you can enjoy spring flowers in a multitude of types and sizes. These range from tiny species Crocus (less than 3 inches tall) to Allium (Ornamental Onion) that can reach nearly 4 feet. When it comes to color, the possibilities are nearly endless. Options range from bold and contrasting to elegant and monochromatic.

In small gardens, I suggest planting bulbs of the same type in small clumps, and achieving variety using different types of bulbs. That way the clumps will be complimentary when they bloom and your garden won’t risk looking too busy.

Another approach is to plant a drift of the same type of bulb in a single color. If your space allows, bulbs can be planted to create intricate patterns and combinations. For a natural appearance on a hillside or in a woodland garden, try to copy the undulating flow of a stream or other landscape feature by planting bulbs in bands.

If you’re putting bulbs in containers, try the “bulb lasagna” planting technique: layer bulbs so that they will flower in succession throughout the bloom season.

Keep in mind that Snow Drops bloom as early as late January and some varieties of Tulips bloom in May with Allium finishing up as late as June.  With thoughtful planning it is possible to have bulbs flowering throughout spring so there is no down time before the first perennials start to bloom. If you enjoy having your garden in continuous bloom throughout the seasons, bulbs are an important part of a comprehensive landscape plan.

Looking for ideas? Here are three of my favorite bulbs:

  • Early-blooming double tulip ‘Monsella’, with fragrant bright canary yellow flowers with red flames
  • Peony-flowering tulip ‘Blue Spectacle’, with rich deep violet-purple flowers with a blue sheen and a form that resembles that of peony
  • Small cupped Narcissi ‘Dreamlight’. It’s white with a champagne- tinted cup that has a luminous green eye and a scarlet-orange rim.

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

What’s Down This Fall?

Acer palmatum ‘Purple Ghost’

With the arrival of much needed rains, it seems that we may not have an Indian Summer in the Pacific Northwest this year. Another sure sign of fall, I saw the first mushroom of the season clinging to the root of a spent tomatoe plant when pulling it up to discard it. Some perennials in your garden may also be looking spent, but others, like Rudbeckia, many types of Salvia and Asters will continue to bloom until frost.

With shorter days and cooler temperatures ahead, it may seem like time to to turn the focus toward indoor activities. But any gardener knows, the real work of making gardens begins now. Fall is one of the the best times to evaluate your landscaping and make changes. Maybe you are ready for an overhaul or just want a new look. Some types of plants are best planted in the fall and will grow roots until the ground freezes so, come next summer, they need less water to thrive. Even if you don’t intend to take any action right away, fall and winter is a good time to plan changes to your garden to implement next spring. Taking pictures each season allows you look back and see what is working best, record your successes and watch your garden mature. Also note which areas need a boost in order to look better at this time next year. If you are working with a garden designer, sharing these images is a good way to start a conversation.

A garden that starts with structural plant elements (good bones) will look good all year long and may become the focus during late fall and winter when branches are bare, perennials are dormant and most blooming plants are not producing flowers. For beginners this is a good place to start and build from. Or, if your garden has never had a plan or lacks unity, looking at it through this lens may be eye opening and give you some ideas about where to focus on or where to get help.

With thousands of plants to choose from, it may seem like an overwhelming task to select plants that look good and support your overall landscape plan. Identifying the type plants you favor is a good place to start. With that information, a garden designer can figure out which ones will thrive in your garden and how those can fit into a cohesive plan.

I hope this blog post helps you get started thinking about enhancing your garden. If you are not a gardener or don’t have the time, you can work with a landscape designer to be able to enjoy the beauty and benefits of curated outdoors spaces.

Need more ideas? Contact me for a design consultation and learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Plants With Purpose

a peaceful woodland garden

Thoughtful use of plants and trees will make your garden more dynamic. Shadows and patterns created by foliage create interest, capture the eye and diffuse views. Plants can also be used to define space, provide screening, or add privacy without putting up a fence or wall that might make a space feel dark or confined.

When I am designing a garden and I want to create the feeling for more depth, I look for plants that have a growth habit that is visibly transparent or can easily be kept that way by pruning. Thinking about how plants will respond as they mature is essential. Some plants lend themselves to being manipulated by pruning (think of a clipped boxwood hedge, an espaliered fruit tree or the Japanese art of bonsai) but most plants look best if they are allowed to grow in their natural habit with only a bit of thinning and shaping.

Regular maintenance and pruning will prevent the need for more drastic measures later if plants have been allowed to outgrow their intended role in the landscape. When using plants for screening, avoid over-planting in an attempt to get quick results—you could end up with other problems later, such as unwanted shade, damage to surrounding hardscape, or encroachment on pathways, neighbors’ yards, and views.

With thousands of plants to choose from, it may seem like an overwhelming task to select plants that look good and support your overall landscape plan. Identifying the type plants you favor is a good place to start. With that information, a garden designer can figure out which ones will thrive in your garden and how those can fit into a cohesive plan.

I hope this blog post helps you get started thinking about enhancing your garden. Summertime is the best time to evaluate your landscaping and plan for the following year. If you are not a gardener or don’t have the time, you can work with a landscape designer to be able to enjoy the beauty and benefits of curated outdoors spaces.

Need more ideas? Contact me for a design consultation and learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Hillside Hideaway, Seattle WA

The owner of this Seattle home, a garden enthusiast, wanted to upgrade the landscaping and asked me to come up with a plan.

The sloped lot on a wooded hillside provided both opportunities and challenges. I created a series of terraces along the side of the house to transform an awkward slope into a place for a new patio surrounded by plantings. The terraces themselves function as a series of connected garden rooms that flow together, making it easy to move about the site.

On the home’s entry level, we enlarged the main patio using architectural slabs that reflect the clean lines of the house and blend seamlessly with the existing concrete. Steppable groundcover adds visual interest and natural stone risers provide a graceful transition to the woodland garden below. The natural flagstone patio underfoot, with lush plantings all around and mature trees overhead, enables you to feel as though you’ve been transported far from the city. Beyond the woodland, and visible from the patio during summertime, a collection of shade-loving perennials is bordered by organic timbers. A combination of native, woodland and ornamental plants keeps the garden palette interesting.

Image Gallery

Click the thumbnail images below for full size versions.

Plants With No Downtime

At this time of year, most of our gardens are overflowing with showy flowers and flawless new foliage so it’s easy to overlook evergreens that may recede into the background during late spring and summer. My goal is to plan gardens that provide interest during all the seasons. There could be brilliant foliage in the fall, berries during wintertime, or the first crocuses of early spring. Broadleaf and coniferous evergreens are key to this type of design.

After perennials are dormant and deciduous trees have lost their leaves, evergreens provide interest, lending continuity to plantings when repeated sequentially or planted en masse. On its own, a single dwarf conifer specimen can be a focal point in the garden, or part of a composition when grouped with other plants.

Easy-to-Grow Evergreens

Here are three versatile evergreen plants that are easy to grow. They can provide year ’round structure in your garden, whether you choose to group them with other plants or have them repeat as part of a sequence.

Ilex creneta ‘Soft Touch’ has rich, grass-green foliage and a naturally mounding habit. It’s less formal than a boxwood (and without a boxwood’s problems), making it suitable for modern garden styles. This Ilex creneta does not need to be clipped and performs consistently well in a variety of garden conditions. Best planted in multiples.

Hebe pinguifolia ‘Suthalandii’ has light grey-green foliage and small white flowers in summer. Its unusual color complements silver, blue and burgundy foliage. This Hebe grows consistently into a wide mound and does not require clipping. It’s not fussy but needs sun and good air circulation. Works well planted in sequence in a perennial garden or as part of a composition with dwarf conifers.

Pinus mugo ‘Valley Cushion’ is compact and dense with a low, spreading habit—it’s much wider than tall. A slow grower, it needs little or no pruning. Reddish-brown buds complement its grass-green needles. This variety of mugo pine is about as low maintenance is it gets. Plant it in multiples to form an evergreen border or use one as part of a dwarf conifer collection.

Enjoying the Outdoors

Gardening is a great way to spend some time outdoors. What better way to get some fresh air, exercise and peace of mind? If you are not a gardener or don’t have the time, you can still enjoy the beauty and benefits of curated outdoors spaces. If you need more ideas, contact me for a design consultation and learn about flowering plants, garden design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Ballard Neighborhood, Seattle WA

A lovingly restored Ballard bungalow deserves a fitting garden. The owner, a master gardener, loves plants and hired me to create a comprehensive plan to solve problems like screening the apartment house next door. The pathway is made of repurposed brick from the original chimney and recycled stepping stones add to the relaxed air. I focused on plants that create structure and continuity with emphasis on seasonal focal points. The result: there is always something interesting popping up or coming into bloom.

Financial Center – Credit Union Headquarters, Seattle WA

The client purchased the building for its headquarters intending to renovate inside and out. The exterior landscape was outdated and overgrown and needed to reflect the modern, fresh image of its new owner. After exploring some preliminary design concepts with the client, in concert with the project architect and interior designer, a plan for a pedestrian courtyard was born. The new landscape includes usable outdoor space for the building’s inhabitants and fosters a sense of community. Plantings include Salal (Gaultheria shallon) and other Pacific Northwest native plants that reflect the company’s branding and local roots. Large boulders and the simplicity of mostly green foliage ground the structure and support its clean lines, giving it new relevance. Permeable pavers meet current storm water codes and reflect the grid pattern on the building while designating the plaza as separate from the surrounding sidewalks.

Capitol Hill neighborhood, Seattle WA

A private backyard room for gardening, relaxation and dining with just enough lawn for the kids to play with the dog.  Natural stone compliments the classic tudor style architecture.  Plantings including summer blooming perennials and a child’s vegetable planter keep it informal while espalier camellias against the garage wall and a symmetrical layout bow to this grand old neighborhoods traditional roots.

By The River—North Bend, WA

This home came with the ultimate back yard water feature: the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. However, on the other side of the house, the front yard was overdue for a renovation. An assortment of overgrown and ailing plants obscured the house and hid the entry from visitors.

My client was enthusiastic about the opportunity to start fresh with a cohesive plan that would provide curb appeal and also pleasant views from living room. The goal: To create a welcoming garden that blends with its natural surroundings. The result: A low-maintenance landscape with year-round interest and a defined sense of entry.

Now an unstructured natural stone border defines the edge of the garden and blends seamlessly with the informal crushed rock driveway, while re-enforcing the natural feeling of the setting. Flagstone replaced the existing aggregate landing and now a lush carpet of bright green Isotoma fluviatilis (Bluestar Creeper) grows between the stones and among plants, echoing the mossy floor of the surrounding woods. We used stone risers as steps leading to the garden where natural stepping stones create a meandering path to the backyard and river beyond. New dwarf conifers and broadleaf evergreens look at home among the towering Douglas firs overhead and provide structure during the wintertime when some plants are dormant. During spring and summer, perennials will add color and texture to the garden.