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.

Using Evergreens to Extend Fall Color

No matter how you feel about the transition to fall, the unmistakably rich hues of our autumn foliage are something to look forward to.

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Though deciduous trees have lost their leaves and winter is on its way, there are still many plants that can brighten your garden with colorful foliage. You don’t have to wait for the first blooms of snowdrops and hellebores to appear in late winter and early spring.

There are two categories of plants that will add colorful foliage to a winter garden: conifers (plants with needles and cones) and broad-leaf evergreens (plants that keep their leaves year ’round). Of course, these plants add depth to your garden during all the seasons, but when flowering plants and deciduous trees are dormant, these become important players and move onto center stage. Whether positioned en masse as a backdrop or at the forefront of a planting, colorful foliage provides contrast, supporting the rich shades of deep green in the surrounding plants and trees. And, if you add strategic lighting, you can brighten even the shortest day and darkest winter night.

Here are a few plants that will lighten up your garden this fall and winter.

Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ (Variegated English Boxwood) has dramatic fine-textured foliage with creamy yellow margins that contrasts well with other darker green foliage. This boxwood can be grown as a clipped or unclipped specimen, suitable for use as a hedge, or a focal plant in a container garden, or repeated in a symmetrical composition. A versatile plant, it’s easy to grow in a variety of conditions.

Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ (Sundance Mexican Orange) produces bold yellow-green new growth that matures to a vibrant grass-green. This bright foliage creates dynamic combinations with other colorful foliage such as blue, gray, burgundy and dark purple. Tolerant of many soil types, but needs some sun for the best color.

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ (Maculata Golden Elaeagnus) has dramatic leaves with chiffon yellow centers that contrast with rich, two tone-green margins. Each leaf of the plant has a different pattern, giving the plant amazing depth and texture. You’ll find it performs well in sun or shade. It’s perfect for a dark spot in your garden.

Fatsia japonica ‘Camouflage (Camouflage Japanese Aralia) has big palmate leaves and highly textured yellow, lime, and green foliage that will illuminate the dappled shade locations where it does best. The large leaves and open habit give it an exotic, almost tropical look.

Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’ (Sunshine Ligustrum) has intense golden-yellow foliage that makes a statement. Plant it en masse, or as part of a vibrant foliage combination, or use it as a centerpiece in a container garden. Be sure to use this plant strategically, ensuring it will not visually dominate a combination planting. Not that this ligustrum requires a sunny location.

As you create the master plan for your garden, keep in mind that artful composition—balanced with repetition for continuity—will minimize seasonal downtime and ensure that all parts of your garden flow together seamlessly from just about any viewpoint. Avoid the temptation of random plant selections! You want to make sure whatever you plant is part of a thoughtful, comprehensive plan.

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.

When Is The Ideal Time To Plant?

Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple)

Fall’s cooling air and still-warm soil are ideal for establishing new transplants. Perennials and evergreens alike can establish root systems before winter—and they require less water as the weather cools down and precipitation is more likely.  

If you are not ready to plant but garden projects are on your mind, fall and winter are great times to think about changes to your garden that would make it more enjoyable at this time next year or plan a new one.

Last spring I wrote the following, and it’s worth repeating now:

Consider making a list of goals for your garden and prioritizing them in case you can’t get to everything you would like to do this year. A garden log is an easy way to stay on track, measure your progress, and celebrate your accomplishments. You can add notes throughout the year as new ideas come to mind.

Gardens are built over time, improving as they mature, and benefitting from adjustments along the way.

Here are some basics to consider when setting out your priorities:

  • Screening and privacy. Do you have the coverage you want when deciduous trees lose their leaves?
  • Circulation. Are pathways and patios in the best location? Is it easy to walk the entire garden and keep your feet dry?
  • Structure. Are garden focal points and plant groupings positioned to provide good views from inside the house as well as in the garden?
  • Winter color. Do your perennial borders need something added to create dormant season interest? Would evergreen color and texture add depth?
  • Outdoor living. Would a covered outdoor structure create a quiet, dry place to get out of the house and enjoy your garden on a rainy winter day?

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.

Plant Selection: form + function

Queen residence, Seattle WA

It’s prime time for Pacific Northwest Gardens so almost everywhere one looks there is something blooming or succulent new foliage unfolding.  If your garden isn’t in on the party, take note of what seems lacking and take pictures when you see plants that inspire you – they might just work in your landscape design.  At trip to a nursery is a good way to to see what is in season, but buying plants without a plan will not  necessarily result in a sustainable and cohesive long term plan.  So a little restraint can go a long way if you are looking for lasting improvements in your garden (think: going to the grocery store on an empty stomach without a shopping list).

The concept of right plant, right place is popular for a reason – successful plant selection is based on consideration of numerous factors that result in plants that thrive and a garden that has interest throughout the seasons.  If your garden needs a more comprehensive renovation or if you are planning a new one, before plant selection, come practical considerations like circulation, space planning and what features you require to suit your functional needs and aesthetic desires.  These factors along with site conditions will inform plant selection (think: brains and beauty). 

Here are some basics to consider once you are ready to select plants for your garden:

  • Screening and privacy. Do you have the coverage you want when deciduous trees lose their leaves?
  • Structure. Is there enough evergreen color and texture to add depth and create dormant season interest? 
  • Color. Do you have favored color palette? Are perennials and bulbs used to add seasonal color? 
  • Repetition. What plants provide continuity, create a rhythm and connect different parts of your garden.

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.

Rebirth, Renewal and Regrowth

Hyacinthus orientalis

Hellebore, snowdrop, Himalayan sweet box and other winter-blooming favorites are in full bloom and the buds of early spring-blooming bulbs like crocus and narcissus are starting to pop. In just a few weeks it will officially be spring, so if garden projects are on your mind, now is a good time to take inventory and consider adjustments before spring is in full swing.

Consider making a list of goals for your garden and prioritizing them in case you can’t get to everything you would like to do this year. A garden log is an easy way to stay on track, measure your progress and celebrate your accomplishments. You can add notes throughout the year as new ideas come to mind.

Gardens are built over time, improving as they mature and benefitting from adjustments along the way.

Here are some basics to consider when setting out your priorities:

  • Screening and privacy. Do you have the coverage you want when deciduous trees loose their leaves?
  • Circulation. Are pathways and patios in the best location? Is it easy to walk the entire garden and keep your feet dry?
  • Structure. Are garden focal points and plant groupings positioned to provide good views from inside the house as well as in the garden?
  • Winter color. Do your perennial borders need something added to create dormant season interest? Would evergreen color and texture add depth?
  • Outdoor living. Would a covered outdoor structure create a quiet, dry place to get out of the house and enjoy your garden on a rainy winter day?

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.