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.

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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.

What’s All the Buzz About?

It’s spring!

This week I saw the first bumble bee of the season enjoying the flowers on a luxurious mass of Vinca minor cascading over a rockery in one of my clients garden. (Also called lesser periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle, the plant’s deep violet-blue flowers inspired the name for the color “periwinkle blue.”)

photo of a flowering garden that attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies

If you want to attract bees, hummingbirds and even butterflies to your garden, all it takes is the right plants and flowers. Here are some easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants that will give your garden some flower power.

To draw honeybees (and support endangered bee populations), plant Monarda didyma (Bee Balm). The cultivar ‘Jacob Cline’ will reach over 5′ and provide raspberry-red flowers all summer long. Showy zinnias will attract honey bees to your vegetable or cutting garden, and lavender and rosemary are also favorites.

To attract hummingbirds, try adding salvia to your flower beds. Salvia is a highly variable plant with numerous named cultivars. My favorites are Salvia guarantitica ‘Black and Blue’ (Blue Anise Sage) and Salvia microphylla ‘Orange Door’ (Big Orange Mountain Sage). Both bloom profusely from summer until frost. In late fall, when food sources are getting scarce, salvia is often still blooming so hummingbirds will keep appearing in your garden.

Perennials such as asters, phlox, and stonecrop will attract butterflies (and support these declining pollinators). Eupatorium (Joe-Bye Weed) will grow tall and with its unusual large, smokey-rose colored flowers is great at the back of a perennial border. If you grow annuals, snapdragons and lantana are good choices. Mint is also a magnet for butterflies, but keeping in mind that it’s invasive, and so best planted in a container.

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, design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Dynamic Garden Lighting

The winter months are the dormant season for most plants here in the Pacific Northwest, so it can be easy to overlook what a landscape has to offer. Still, reliable favorites like Hellebore, Sarcococca (Sweet Box), Snow Drops and Witch Hazel have been in full bloom since the beginning of the year. These plants are excellent choices near entries or frequently used pathways where you will see them even on dark, rainy days.

While you may not be outdoors as much as you would like, you can still see and enjoy your garden from inside your home. This is a good time to think about the views and how to make the most of them. Landscape lighting can enhance focal areas and extend viewing time while creating some interesting after-hours effects. You can add depth and character to your garden with something as simple as strategically placed uplighting on the peeling bark of a specimen tree or wash lighting on a plant with big leaves that create dramatic shadows. Lighting can open up a nighttime world in your back yard.

Here are a few ideas for using accent lighting outside your home. In a woodland setting, I use lighting sparingly and prefer soft, muted effects. Washing the trunk and primary branches of a mature Douglas fir provides ambient lighting throughout the garden. An uplight focused on the canopy of a Japanese maple provides a focal point and sense of scale in the garden at night. Whether your landscaping is modern, natural or traditional in style, lighting can enhance and define it at night.

Consider using low-voltage LED lighting, which can be installed without involving an electrician — all it requires is a nearby electrical outlet. It’s simple to position lights exactly where they need to be for optimal affects and to move them around later as plants grow and your garden changes.

When I’m designing garden lighting, I consider the style, location and size of the garden. I take into account needs such as security, safety, ambient light, focal points and dramatic effects. Primarily, it’s a matter of deciding what kind and how much lighting supports the form and the function of your garden.

Winter is a good time to look at your current outdoor lighting. Does it meet to your needs for safety and security? Is it harsh or distracting? Does it flatter and enhance your garden at night? Now is a good time to get started on lighting and other outdoor improvements so you can enjoy them this summer.

I hope this blog post helps you get started thinking about enhancing your garden with lighting. If you need more ideas, contact me for a design consultation and learn about lighting, design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Happy Holidays!

However you feel about this time of year, one thing is certain: very soon, the days will begin to get longer. That brings the promise of spring, but until then, anything can happen with the weather.

hellebores Jacob Niger

Meanwhile, what I call the “simple treasures” of winter will be making things a lot brighter outside. Here are some of my favorite colorful plants and flowers that deserve a prominent position in your winter garden.

Helleborus ‘Jacob Niger’. The earliest hellebore (or Lenten Rose) to bloom in the Pacific Northwest, it’s also called the Christmas Rose. It usually starts to bloom at the end of December, and its white flowers with cheery yellow stamens are well preserved by the cool temperatures. In addition to pristine white flowers, it has a fresh, grass-green foliage and a compact growth habit, so it holds its own as a garden plant long after most other hellebores look leggy and spent. It’s impressive planted en masse in a shade garden or used as an accent in seasonal containers.

Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’. A compact, tidy mugo pine that glows against winter skies, the ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’ looks dramatic in a colbalt or black pot or as part of a mixture with contrasting dwarf conifers. Like all mugo pines, it likes full sun and is drought tolerant once established. You’ll find it needs little to no maintenance and is not fussy about soil conditions.

Gaultheria procumbens ‘Winter Splash’. Like other wintergreen plants, it sports edible holiday-red berries during wintertime. However, unlike other wintergreens, it has variegated green-and-white foliage that turns pink in winter — an eye-catching combination just when you want it the most. Only about six inches tall, ‘Winter Spash’ is essentially a well-behaved ground cover, one that thrives in a woodland-type environment.

At this time of year getting outdoors in the crisp air to do some gardening or go for a walk is always a good choice. It’s also a great opportunity to see what plants you might like to add to your garden for winter interest.

Enjoy the season!

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 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.