Winter-Blooming Plants

Lenten roses, snowdrops and cyclamen are blooming right now, and if you are not enjoying them in your garden, now is a good time to think about adding them before this next year.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

A stroll through the Washington Park Arboretum or Kubota Gardens will reveal more plants and trees with winter interest.  At this time of year, colorful conifers pop, and deciduous trees with intriguing bark and interesting branching patterns stand out. Early-blooming deciduous trees are flowering and one of the first to bloom, the Witch Hazel, is just finishing up. When in bloom, its bare branches are adorned with tiny confetti-like flowers held close to the branches illuminating them with colors ranging from pale yellow to fiery red depending on the cultivar. One of the most popular, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, has vivid yellow flowers that seem to warm a cold winter day.

What would make your garden more winter-friendly? If you’re thinking about a new garden or ready to update the one you have, some of these plants can be incorporated into a comprehensive plan that is suitable for your yard.

Winter blooming plants, perennials and bulbs can be the first in a succession of seasonal flowers that continue throughout summer and into autumn. A diverse palette of plants that includes flower and foliage interest throughout all the seasons is the best way to maximize the appeal of your garden as well as the time and money you invest in it.

Planning garden upgrades this winter is a great way to prepare for spring!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please reach out to me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of garden plantings.

A Haven For Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are one of the most popular and esteemed visitors to any garden. Why are we so fascinated by them? Is it the familiar humming sound they make as they hover with the precision of a drone? Or is it the way they dart from flower to flower with energy and determination?

Aster

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, plant what they love. These intriguing little birds will appear like magic if you give them the goods. The same flowers you plant to attract hummingbirds will attract other friendly pollinators that want to join in the flower power.

Not all hummingbirds migrate south during the winter. Those that do, put on weight before their long migration, expending more than half their body weight in reaching their destinations. Those that don’t leave, seek late-blooming perennials such as salvia that bloom until frost. During wintertime they search for any nectar-rich flowers that might still be blooming and will also frequent well stocked humming bird feeders.

Here are some hardy summer and autumn blooming perennials that you can plant now. They will keep hummingbirds around and also refresh your garden when other perennials are declining at the end of summer.

Asters

Asters bloom profusely from late summer until frost. Their dense habit, bright green foliage, and delicate flowers give a tired perennial border a fresh look just when it needs it the most. This is a great choice for mass plantings.

Nepeta (catnip)

Nepeta blooms from late spring until frost making it one of the longest-blooming perennials in this region. Cutting it back mid-season will keep plants tidy and force a new flush of foliage and flowers. There are several varieties to choose from.

Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ (Black And Bloom Salvia)

This variety of salvia is a favorite among hummingbirds and its grass-green foliage and deep blue flowers are a dramatic addition to a perennial border. Racemes holding delicate black buds emerge at the end of waist-high woody stems making them easy for hummingbirds to access and giving onlookers an excellent vantage point.

Agastache (Hummingbird Mint)

The name pretty much says it all. Most varieties bloom throughout summer and into fall. Their tidy upright habit makes them a good vertical feature in a perennial border. They are easy to grow and a multitude of tiny flowers on spire-like racemes have a luscious scent.

MORE IDEAS

Upgrading your garden this spring is a great way to prepare for summer!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Gorgeous Ground Covers

Spring will come again but there’s no need to overlook your garden in the meantime.

Pachysandra terminals in a shady woodland garden

If things are looking stark out there, adjusting the plant palette can turn blasé into beautiful. Adding evergreen plants is an easy way to create a lush-looking winter garden in the Maritime Pacific Northwest.

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned the importance of using evergreen shrubs to provide unifying structure when perennials are dormant and deciduous trees are bare. 

This blog focuses on evergreen ground covers that make the whole garden look more vibrant, especially during wintertime.

Below are some of my favorite, easy-to-grow evergreen ground covers that will brighten up any garden.

Pachysandra terminalis sp. (Japanese Spurge) has glossy, apple green foliage that reflects light even on dark, overcast days. For best performance, plant it in rich, loose soil in dappled shade where it will get some supplemental water during summertime. A woodland environment is ideal. Once established, Pachysandra is vigorous – becoming a dense, fluffy carpet of green about 6″ high. Although not invasive, it spreads vigorously by underground roots and will quickly outgrow a small space. It can be contained by a border, but will decline if its roots have nowhere to go. Occasional shearing will promote new growth and keep Pachysandra from getting leggy.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Kewensis’ (Wintercreeper) has tiny, deep green leaves along vining stems that comprise a dense, twiggy plant. Wintercreeper thrives in average or better garden soil in a part sun location with afternoon shade. It will tolerate more sun if it gets ample water. Once established, occasional shearing will keep it looking tidy and encourage a low, dense habit. If left untrimmed, sprays of its vine-like stems may develop into unusual looking upward sweeping pointed waves that are sure to be a conversation piece.

Prunus laurustinus ‘Mount Vernon’ (Mount Vernon Laurel) has bright green narrow foliage about 4″ long. It is ideal for large areas and its stiff, pointed foliage has a bold texture that can provide excellent contrast with surrounding plantings. Although it can be grown as a small shrub, regular pruning and thinning keeps Mount Vernon laurel healthy and encourages lush new growth and good lateral coverage that forms a mat of undulating foliage about 12″ high. Like other laurel, it is not picky about soil and needs only minimal supplemental water once established.

When planting ground cover (with few exceptions) avoid dry, rocky and compacted soil unless it is adequately amended. Soil always reverts to it original form, so select plants that will thrive in the native soil if you want the best results for the least amount of work. Before planting near existing trees and plants, make sure their root mass will not be damaged by digging and that there is enough loose soil available for the ground cover to grow a healthy root system.

MORE IDEAS

Planning garden upgrades this winter is a great way to prepare for spring!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Perfect Plants For Privacy

I’m a firm believer in “loving thy neighbor” but if your view is directly into their dining room, it can be too much of a good thing. Robert Frost’s proverb “good fences make good neighbors” also comes to mind when thinking about city and suburban living. I can turn that concept into a private garden – with or without a fence – using beautiful plants and trees to add softness, color and texture.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN SELECTING PLANTS

Laurus nobilis planted at the fence line provides privacy for both properties

Growth rate and ten year size? How long will it take the plant to grow large enough to achieve the desired size? If it grows too tall or wide, can it be pruned effectively? These are questions my clients frequently ask.

When planning small gardens, I avoid fast growing conifers (think needles and cones) that will quickly outgrow a space. When hard pruning is required to limit their size, it will only ruin their appearance and damage the tree. The leyland cypress is a popular choice for privacy hedges because it will provide dense coverage in just a couple years with regular shearing. However, in a confined space it will reach a point where it cannot be maintained and even need to be removed.

Here are some well-behaved broadleaf evergreen plants for screening:

LAURUS NOBILIS (BAY LAUREL)

A large, compact shrub or small tree with deep green, aromatic leaves also used in cooking. Bay laurel has a dense habit, making it an excellent choice for small gardens. It reacts well to pruning and is easily manipulated to fit strategic spaces. It grows slowly, so buy one that is already large if you want immediate results. Avoid the cultivar ‘Emerald Waves’ because it is susceptible to disease and winter cold damage.

MYRICA CALIFORNICA (PACIFIC WAX MYRTLE)

This fast-growing Pacific wax myrtle is a dense shrub with small, grass green ovate leaves that cover its woody stems and branchlets. New foliage sprouts anywhere stems are cut making it easy to manage. Pacific wax myrtle needs full sun and occasional pruning to maintain its density. It will easily reach ten feet tall or more within a few years. It can be clipped, but looks best in its natural form.

PRUNUS LUITANICA (PORTUGAL LAUREL)

Deep green, glossy leaves and a broad, dense habit make this a good shrub for large spaces. Portugal laurel grows moderately fast in medium rich soil and becomes a small tree as it matures. It can be pruned as a hedge, but looks best with only occasional shaping to enhance its graceful form and attractive new foliage.

Tip: All plants, even those that are considered drought tolerant, need regular water until they are well-established.

MORE IDEAS

With summer in full swing, revitalizing your garden is a great way to prepare for the fall planting season!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Hard Working Perennials For Lazy Gardeners

Do you crave a profusion of flowers in the spring and summer? An investment in blooming perennials will bring those glorious blossoms to your garden. Depending on the variety, perennials bloom from spring through autumn and come back bigger and better each year, needing only occasional dividing. If you want to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden, planting perennials is one of the best ways to do it.

Here are three of my favorite perennials that thrive in a sunny location without a lot of water or special care. All you need to do to keep these plants tidy and encourage flower production is remove spent flowers during the growing season.

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Penstemon x ‘Pretty Petticoat’

Penstemon come in a variety of shapes, colors, and bloom times—so you’re sure to find one that work for your garden. Penstemon does best in a sunny location, tolerates imperfect soil, and is drought tolerant once it’s established. Some varieties bloom with multiple spires of flowers held upright on woody stems, while others have sweeping sprays of flowers on low, bushy plants. Plant Beardtongue in masses of a single color or mixed colors or repeat them throughout a perennial border for continuity. You can also use them to add color among broadleaf evergreens or spring-blooming plants that have finished blooming for the season. For example, low and bushy Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’ is covered with a multitude of iridescent blue flowers all summer. By contrast, tidy-looking Penstemon digitalis ‘Pretty Petticoats’ has upright stems with sturdy stalks of flowers that keep coming until frost.

Salvia

Salvia is another large genus of flowering perennials and plants. Some varieties have masses of flowers on rounded, twiggy plants, while others are herbaceous with upright flower stalks originating from a basal clump. Salvia requires sun but it’s not too picky about soil and can thrive without a lot of water. Herbaceous varieties can be cut back mid-season if the flowering stems become leggy or fall over under the weight of rain. This is truly one of the easiest plants to grow. Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom,’ with its vibrant deep blue flowers and unique black anthers, is a favorite of hummingbirds (it’s often one of the last plants in the garden still blooming when their food supply is becoming scarce). In the Pacific Northwest, salvia emerges in late spring when it starts to warm up. A sunny site is optimal, but this perennial will bloom even in part sun.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)

This drought-tolerant perennial thrives in soil that is less than perfect. Varieties like ‘Blue Jean Baby’ are about 36″ tall while the straight species can easily reach 48″ in height. Russian Sage looks great planted en masse or at the back of perennial border where it adds a tall, unifying element. Smaller forms like ‘Denim ‘n’ Lace’ mix well as a contrast to other drought-tolerant perennials. Plant these smaller varieties with Lavender, Salvia, and Lamb’s Ears (Stachys bizantina) or Daisy Bush (Brachyglottis greyi) to create a medley of soft shades of blue, purple, violet and silvery gray.

More ideas

With spring here, revitalizing your garden is a great way to welcome the season!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

The Most Versatile Plants For Any Garden

If the plants in your garden aren’t looking quite the way you’d like, it doesn’t necessarily mean your green thumb needs a tune-up. You may be able to increase your rate of success by choosing plants that are more versatile and easy to grow. Some of the best choices are broad-leaf evergreens (evergreen plants that do not have needles or bare cones). These reliable workhorses thrive in a range of conditions. They’re so attractive that you’ll find even among the sophisticated garden palettes of experienced gardeners and designers.

Some broad-leaf evergreens to consider:

Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom) — Glossy, deep green leaves and a lush, bushy habit make this plant ideal for a low hedge or backdrop planting. Lots of small pure-white flowers compliment the foliage during summer. Choisya grows fast and can be shaped with regular hand pruning or allowed to grow free-form with only occasional shaping—you just want to avoid shearing them. Mexican Orange Blossom thrives in full or part sun, but languishes in shade. ‘Sundance’ has glossy bright golden-yellow foliage that needs sun to maintain its vibrant color. A garden standout, it provides many opportunities for dramatic combinations with other plants.

Aucuba japonica (Japanese Aucuba) — A dense mounding habit and glossy leaves make Aucuba ideal at the back of a shady border where its large ovate leaves will reflect light. Green-leaf Aucuba in deep emerald makes a rich backdrop for blooming perennials and other plants with colorful foliage. Aucuba ‘Picturata’, with golden-yellow variegation, will brighten a shaded woodland garden or pop as an accent plant. All Aucuba do best in full shade, and afternoon sun is to be avoided.

Escallonia — Escallonia are woody bushes with small leaves on twiggy stems. They range in size from compact and uniform to large and arching. They can be planted en mass as an informal hedge or screen. The tidy dwarf forms of Escallonia integrate well with mixed plantings. Alongside dwarf conifers, their small flowers make a nice contrast. Escallonia blooms profusely during the summer and its flowers are a favorite of bees. It will grow almost anywhere except in shade.

Viburnum davidii (David Viburnum) — Handsome dark-green foliage, small white flowers in spring, and small, deep-blue berries make Viburnum davidii a plant for all seasons. This is good plant to use for creating drifts or mass plantings in the context of a larger garden. Its substantial foliage will provide continuity and structure in a perennial border or mixed ornamental planting. Once out of favor due to over-use in the 1970s, this plant has made a comeback for good reason — it will grow in sun or shade and thrives in most soil types. It’s also low maintenance, needing only occasional thinning.

More ideas

With spring here, revitalizing your garden is a great way to welcome the season!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Problem Solving With Potted Plants

A spartan entrance transformed by potted plants. Capitol Hill Seattle. Construction and picture by MMGD.

Design is primarily problem solving. The creative process begins with defining solutions in the context of a comprehensive plan. The artifice is making it visually interesting and aesthetically valuable.

As elements of a landscape design, container gardens are much more than decorative accessories. Potted plants and trees can not only solve design problems but create new opportunities.

This post looks at a few ways you can use containers to enhance the appearance of your landscape—and gain access to a wider selection of plants.

Potted plants and trees as problem solvers

Problem: Poor soil quality—rock, clay, or compacted ground filled with roots of surrounding trees or plants

Solution: Containers provide a vessel for a rich planting medium that will not be infiltrated by weeds or roots of surrounding trees. A wide selection of plants will be able to thrive.

Problem: Dry soil. Compacted earth or sloped areas allow water to run off without penetrating the roots of plants. Areas under trees don’t get adequate rain. Fast draining, rocky or sandy soil fails to retain moisture.

Solution: With containers, it becomes easy to control and monitor moisture levels, taking the guesswork out of watering. If the slope is gentle, a group of containers in a level area adds interest when viewed from below. Easy-to-water containers enable a wider plant selection.

Problem: Lack of garden space.

Solution: Container gardens provide planting space for rooftops, balconies, hardscapes, and other spots where you couldn’t otherwise grow plants.

Container gardens as design elements

You can use containers to:

  • Mark an entrance, define a pathway and add a colorful welcome.
  • Create focal points in prominent locations or when placed in sight lines.
  • Provide temporary interest in an area that’s past its prime or hasn’t reached it yet.
  • Make it possible to move semi-hardy or tender plants to a protected area during the winter.

When planning a container gardener or selecting a pre-planted one, determine where your containers will go and how they will be seen. Here are some guidelines:

  • Pots viewed from one side should have larger plants in the back.
  • Pots viewed from all sides should have taller plants in the center.
  • Select a composition of plants that will not rely on flowers alone to stay looking fresh.
  • Vary leaf shape, color and size for textural contrast and interest.
  • When using multiple containers, include unifying features. Use similar pots, a related color scheme or repeat a plant or two to create a cohesive look.

More ideas

With spring coming up, revitalizing your container gardens is a great way to welcome the season!

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Wintertime: Light, Art, and Landscape Design

When planning outdoor spaces, light is a primary consideration that informs the design process.

Carsten’s Wintergold Mugo Pine

From an aesthetic viewpoint, good lighting serves to highlight the garden’s focal points and accentuate garden features. Good lighting can also be a safety consideration—it enables you to navigate the garden at night.

The availability of natural light during the day and from season to season is a key factor in garden design. Sunlight, partial sun, and shade will determine which plants you select and the roles they’ll play in the overall plan of the garden.

I also consider light in landscape design in a more abstract way—the effects created by natural light and how to leverage them when planning a garden. In comparison to the rest of the year, wintertime landscapes may seem spartan. However, when the angle of the sun is low, shapes, shadows, and silhouettes created by trees, shrubs, and garden features add interest and dimension to outdoor spaces.

During wintertime, deciduous trees are no longer obscured by foliage and more light comes through their canopies. The architecture of branching patterns and texture of bark is revealed by sunshine and by light that reflects off the snow. That’s why the peeling cinnamon-color bark of Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) brings such warmth to a garden on a chilly day. At night, trunks and branches illuminated by moonlight or frosted by snow create dramatic patterns against the nighttime sky.

Although most conifers (shrubs and trees that produce cones) are green, variations available in nurseries include an array of colors, shades, and variegation. For example, Carsten’s Wintergold Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo Carsten’s Wintergold) reflects light when it turns bright gold during winter. By contrast, conifers with dark green needles, including many conifers trees native to the Pacific Northwest (such as the Douglas Fir), absorb light and recede into the background on dark winter days. They become essential structural elements that form the backbone of a garden. Throughout the year, these dark conifers will contrast with showy seasonal plants. That’s why the fine texture and rich greens of the genus Taxus (Yew) look consistently elegant as a background plant, hedge, or foundation planting.

Are you inspired by what lighting can do and what you can do with lighting? Now is the time to consider changes and improvements to your garden in time for spring 2022.

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or how to maximize the impact of plantings for any spot in your garden.

Happy Holidays

Another year has quickly passed and I have many things to be grateful for, not the least of which are the amazing clients I work with and the projects we complete.

Although I always have a strong vision, it is rewarding to see my designs come, quite literally, to life. The creative process feeds my soul. So I say a heartfelt “thank you” to clients, vendors, laborers, and contractors—everyone who plays a part in this exciting and very satisfying work.

I appreciate your business and referrals.

Have a Joyous and Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

Michael Muro

Designing With Deciduous Trees

Hamamelis x intermedia in late January

November is one of the a best times of year to plant deciduous trees. Even after their leaves are gone, trees with interesting bark stand out, adding new interest to the winter garden. Many deciduous trees also bloom in early spring, before most other flowering plants—a welcome sight after a long winter.

The Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) is adorned with a profusion of delicate, fluffy flowers in late winter making it one the first deciduous trees to bloom in the Pacific Northwest. The brilliant sunshine-yellow flowers of the Arnold Promise Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’) turn up as early as January to glow against a backdrop of snow.

The peeling cinnamon-brown branches of the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) pop when set against a backdrop of the cool Blue Ice Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’) or the Donard Gold Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Donard Gold’). The exotic-looking bright green trunks of Acer davidii (Snakebark Maple) have off-white striations that catch the winter light, especially against a backdrop of contrasting branches and foliage. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (Red Twig Dogwood) is a bush that features tight clumps of vertical coral-red branches that stand out during the wintertime when they are in full view. A red twig has the most impact when planted in masses as a background plant, allowing it to visually recede during the times of year when it looks uninteresting.

The bare trunks and branches of deciduous trees cast dramatic shadows in the low winter sun. You can get a similar effect by lighting them from below or stringing them with delicate white holiday lights. On a large property, plant deciduous trees in groves for a dramatic affect. For courtyards or in-city patios, use one tree in a planter to create a focal point. Pair with early blooming bulbs such as Galanthus (snowdrop) and perennial Helleborus for bright spots of color that relieve the post-holiday doldrums.

Here’s a hardscaping tip: If a stone patio or walkway is part of your winter garden plan, considering incorporating silvery quartzite that sparkles as it reflects light. You might not be spending much time outdoors this winter, but being able to look out the window and see an inspirational winter garden can lift the spirits even on the darkest days.

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.