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.

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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