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.

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.

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
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.