Category Archives: winter color

Winter Weather All-Stars

Between storms I’ve been scouting for flowering plants that really hold up to pounding rain. Sure pansies, primroses and cyclamen are pretty but they’re looking a bit beat up about now. I have been impressed with many flowering shrubs and trees that are happily blooming despite so much rainfall this winter.

As I write this during another series of storms, my weather station here in Bonny Doon has recorded 85.06 inches of the wet stuff this season with 39.76 inches of that having fallen so far in January alone. I have put out straight sided containers on several occasions to double check my gauge with an old fashion ruler. Yep, the weather station is accurate.

All this rain makes me have even more respect for the flowering plants that are holding up to the weather. These plants are my heroes and you might consider including them in your garden too.

Autumnalis flowering cherry

One of my favorite small ornamental trees, blooming several times a year, is the Autumnalis flowering cherry. It blooms in the spring, a little during the summer, again in the early fall and then another round of blossoms show up in December and January. I’m not sure how it got the name Autumnalis ‘cause it sure can’t read a calendar. I was afraid I would loose the winter show with so much pounding rain but the pale pink blossoms have come through just fine and and chickadees who land in it before going to the feeder remind me that spring will be here before I know it.

Cinnamon Snow helleborus

Also here in my own garden the hellebore flowers are holding up well. One of my favorites is called Cinnamon Snow but all of the varieties of this buttercup relative accept wind, rain, cold and less than perfect soil while getting by with only moderate watering in the shady summer garden. Deer aren’t attracted to them either.

Australian fuchsia

Recently, after seeing a Pink Australian Fuchsia blooming so profusely despite the rain, I decided to add a variegated variety called Correa ‘Wyn’s Wonder’ to my own garden. Although not related to hybrid fuchsias, the flowers are similar and their nectar will feed the Anna’s hummingbirds. They grow well in dry shade under oaks are deer resistant and drought tolerant.

A favorite of birds and indoor floral arrangers is the evergreen mahonia. Plant a mahonia if you want to attract winter hummingbirds. They are blooming now with bright yellow flower clusters that will last for months. Each flower will set a purple berry looking like a cluster of grapes. The edible berries make good jelly, too. There are 70 varieties of mahonia including our own native Oregon Grape which grows in the understory of Douglas fir forests. Mahonia aquifolium is resistant to summer drought, tolerates poor soil and doesn’t create a lot of leaf litter.

daphne odora

Other tough winter blooming plants include winter daphne, abutilon, witch hazel, edgeworthia, camellia and grevillea. Driving around I’m seeing that the Saucer Magnolia’s don’t mind the pounding rain either. Enjoy color in the garden regardless of what Mother Nature brings our way.

Will Any Plants Thrive in Dry Shade?

daphne_odora_AureomarginataLooking out the window on a rainy day I forget that spot way back in the shade in the back of the garden will be bone dry come summer. It’s too far away to water conveniently very often with a hose and extending the irrigation for just that one area under the trees in the shade is not practical. I sympathize with clients when they ask me what will grow in a problem area like this. Believe me I know it’s a challenge to bring in some colorful foliage, texture or might I be so bold as to want flowers, too? Take a tip from one who lives in a similar area with the same problems. We’re in this together.

At this time of year when the plums are blooming and the flowering pears are clothed in white blossoms, I want something to extend this look out in the garden. There are several plants that bloom early in dry shade and fortunately they are also deer resistant. Later in the season when soil moisture all but disappears there are other plants that will take over center stage.

But first here are the candidates for early spring color and fragrance in shady gardens.

Fragrant Winter daphne is a handsome evergreen shrub and I especially like the variegated foliage of the variety ‘Aureomarginata’. This small, deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. This is usually about once per month. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year. Cut them to bring inside with hellebore for a pretty bouquet.

For fragrant May flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

Another powerfully fragrant plant for dry shade is commonly known as sweetbox. Sarcococca may not be showy enough to give to your Valentine but the sweetly scented flowers attract hummingbirds and fill the winter garden with a delicious fragrance for weeks starting in January.

Sarcococca ruscifolia forms an upright bushy shrub about 4 feet tall. Another variety called sarcococca hookeriana humilus makes a great ground cover as it rarely exceeds 1 1/2 feet tall. Both plants have dark green leaves, attractive berries and are deer resistant.

helleborus_orientalisHellebores are another winter blooming plant with foliage that looks great, too. I have several varieties including orientalis, argutifolius and foetidus. My Golden Sunrise has large, canary yellow flowers. It’s been blooming for almost a month and will continue for several more weeks. Hellebores are often still flowering during the Christian season of Lent from which they get their common name, Lenten Rose. They are good plants for naturalizing under trees as they are low maintenance, survive with little water and are disease free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Other plants that bloom at this time of year and require only moderate summer irrigation include Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, clivia, bergenia, mahonia and Pacific Coast iris.

As summer approaches other plants and shrubs will lend their color and texture to the dry shade garden.

Western Wild ginger and Pacific Coast Iris are great ground covers. Good shrubs include deer resistant Osmanthus fragrans or sweet olive. Their white flowers are tiny but powerfully fragrant. Bloom is heaviest in spring and early summer but plants flower sporadically throughout the year. This compact shrub grows at a moderate rate in full sun to partial shade and reaches 10 feet.

Heavenly bamboo are work horses in the shady garden. For a different look try growing nandina filamentosa or Thread-leaf nandina. This evergreen small shrub grows to 2-3 ft tall with very lacy, almost fern-like growth. New foliage is reddish in color and during the fall the leaves turn orange or purplish red. Pinkish-white flowers bloom in clusters in late spring and summer.

There are lots of other shrubs and plants that require only occasion summer water for those shady spots. Email me and I can share even more ideas and suggestions.

What Landscape Designers Grow in their own Gardens

alstroemeria_Inca-Ice.1600It probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that I have a lot of friends that are also landscape designers. We get together to talk plants, garden design challenges and plant problems while enjoying good food along with a little wine thrown in for good measure. Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of these friends and although I was only there briefly to pick up something I couldn’t help but ask about several of the beautiful plantain her own garden. Some of her favorites include those with interesting foliage and texture and that flower over a long season. Maybe some of these plant ideas will work in your own garden.

Being winter and all I was immediately drawn to the hundreds of soft apricot and creamy yellow flowers covering a 3 foot wide Peruvian Lily. This selection of alstroemeria, called Inca Ice, is much shorter and compact that the taller ones that can be somewhat floppy in the garden. Alstroemeria were named by Carl Linnaeus, often called the Father of Taxonomy, for his friend and student Klaus von Alstroemer. Native to South America, the summer growing types come from eastern Brazil while the winter growing plants are from central Chile.

Peruvian Lily spread slowly outward from rhizomes and grow in full to part sun. They are hardy to 15-20 degrees and can tolerate dry conditions although they look best with irrigation. The Inca series grows 2-3 ft tall and can be covered with flowers from spring to late fall or winter if the weather is mild. The flower stems are long enough for cutting. This variety also comes in light orchid, pale yellow and white with red and green markings. What’s not to love about this plant?

Tucked next to the blooming Inca Ice Peruvian Lily, a clump of bright, Festival_grass-leucodendron.1600burgundy red Festival grass complemented the soft yellow of a Leucodendron discolor and a variegated Flamingo Glow Beschorneria. I was not familiar with this variegated agave relative with its soft-tipped chartreuse striped leaves. I found out this beautiful plant is drought tolerant, hardy to 15 degrees and will bloom with 5 foot pink stalks with reddish pink bracts.

Other plants that boast more foliage color than flowers brought this winter garden to life. Several varieties of helleborus just starting to show pink, white and rose color were surrounded by the brilliant chartreuse-yellow foliage of sedum Angelina ground cover. A variegated Japanese Lily-of-the-Valley shrub grew nearby getting ready to bloom soon.

Beautiful bright pink, cream and green variegated Jester Leucodendron bordered the driveway. I’ve seen this plant also called Safari Sunshine in nurseries. With its smaller size of 4-5 feet this evergreen shrub has showy, rich red bracts that sit atop the branches now in late winter and lasting into spring. Drought tolerant like Safari Sunset and deer resistant, too, leaucodendron are hardier than other protea.

Every interesting garden has good bones. It has focal points, texture, repetition and unity among other elements. My friends garden is no exception. A lovely caramel colored New Zealand Wind Grass dominated another area allowing my eye to rest for a while. I wish they would quit renaming this plant that used to be stipa arundinacea but is now anemanthele lessoniana. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but the effect is beautiful in the garden. I’ve always called it Pheasant Tail grass but I could find no reference as to why this common name is used. Life used to be simple before DNA sequencing!

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what a landscape designer grows in her own garden.

Christmas Heather, Erica or Calluna?

Any plant that blooms during the shortest and darkest days of the year is a sure bet to get my attention.  Even when the weather is cold and rainy a Christmas heather will brave the elements and keep on blooming. Along with their relatives the true heathers,  they are great additions to the garden. You often see this variety grown as a holiday gift plant because the flowers last for such a long time.

Technically Christmas heather is actually a heath from the family ericacaea  which includes our native Western azalea, gaultheria, madrone and manzanita. Sound confusing? Is there a difference between a heath and a heather?

Heath or erica are mostly native to northern and western Europe. There are a few varieties from South Africa but these are not as hardy for cold temperatures. Christmas heather ( erica canaliculata ) is an evergreen, deer resistant shrub reaching about 6' tall and 4' wide. They tolerate heavy soil with little to occasional irrigation and do best if not over irrigated in the summer. Rosea is a popular winter-flowering pink variety while Rubra blooms with deep pink flowers. They are good on slopes.

Scotch heather (calluna vulgaris ) generally start blooming in mid-summer. The buds never open so remain colorful from August until hard frost. They are often grown close together in rock gardens making a colorful display of patchwork color.  Fields of mauve, pink and rose can be found all over Scotland and England where the shrub grows wild. There are over 700 cultivars now available with foliage colors of chartreuse, yellow, russet or grey being as showy as the flowers. Colors intensify in winter and provide as much visual impact as the summer flowers.

Heathers are not too particular about fertility but need good drainage. They are a good choice for the top of  retaining walls, banks or in raised planters where the soil drains well.  Acidic soils around the edges of a conifer grove would be ideal. They blend nicely with grasses for wild gardens and do well in large pots.

Where heathers grow wild they were used to create brooms and dusters. They were also used to pack crates of whiskey and other breakables for shipping and so were spread around early on and found their way to North America along with traditional brooms.

Flowers of all heaths and heathers make good cut flowers, lasting for weeks, whether or not the stems are immersed in water.

Both of these species have shallow root systems so be careful not to plant them too deeply. Good drainage is important and if your soil is heavy clay amend it with compost and peat moss or create a raised bed. Otherwise they prefer rocky or unamended soils and little fertilizer. Water regularly during the first year until the root zone has become established. Top dress with wood chips or other mulch.

To prevent them from becoming leggy and woody, prune right after they finish blooming be careful not to prune into bare wood but right below the dead blossoms.

By choosing varieties of both heaths and their close relative heather you can have color year round but the sight of the delicate blossoms in the drabbest months of the year is a most welcome addition to any garden.
 

Flowers, Edibles and Camellias

Every year the stirrings of early spring excite me. There's even a name for it – spring fever. There are lots of early season plants that can go in right now or you can spend some time planning for later additions to your garden. Both are great ways to kick-start this gardening season.

An article in this month's Sunset magazine talks about the "5- Mile Bouquet". How about a 50-foot bouquet using flowers from your own garden? There are flowers we can grow in every season around here. Who wants to put flowers doused in chemicals and shipped halfway across the world on the table? Plan to use your entire property as a cutting garden. You can have fresh little bouquets year round from your own backyard.

Winter flowering, fragrant sweet peas could be in your vase right now or bright orange and gold calendula. Stock blooms during the winter along with early narcissus. Both are very fragrant. Deer-resistant Sweet Violets are blooming now and smell wonderful in a tiny vase by the kitchen window. Anemone and snapdragons make good cut flowers and will be blooming soon. It's easy to plan ahead for a spring or summer bouquet because there are so many choices but make sure you have aster, scabiosa and gaillardia for those fall arrangements.

This year plan the edible garden around what grows best for you. It's not always cost effective to devote space in your vegetable plot for something that peaks at the same time as it's plentiful at the local farmers market. What makes sense for your taste, time and garden space? Easy to grow edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, arugula and peas are delicious freshly picked and don't take up too much room in the garden.

There are ways to make your whole landscaping edible. Fruits, vegetables and herbs can be intermingled with the ornamental shrubs and flowers in the yard. Plant an apple where a crape myrtle was going to go or an artichoke instead of a New Zealand flax. A border of parsley or chives around the flower bed would look and taste great. Or maybe French pole beans to grow up a bamboo arbor you tied together yourself. Take advantage of your entire property to incorporate your favorite edibles.

Now is a good time to pick out a camellia for that morning sun or shady spot that needs a shrub with year round good looks. Looking at pictures of camellia flowers in a catalog is nice but seeing them in person is even better. What better way to choose the perfect one? If you're partial to vivid flowers, Nuccio's Bella Rossa is right up your alley. An abundance of huge formal, crimson red blooms open slowly over a long period for an especially long bloom season. This brilliant camellia is believed to bring wealth if planted at the entrance to your home as are other red flowering plants.

A great camellia to espalier on a trellis is a sasanqua variety called Fairy Blush. Deep pink buds open to apple blossom tinted blooms with a sweet fragrance. Growing to a compact 4-5 feet this plant is perfect for a small courtyard or patio.

Then there's the soft blush-pink, semi-double flowers of Magnoliaeflora that can be the prized plant of the winter garden. It's deer resistant and the showy flowers are good for cutting. It would make a great privacy screen and looks natural in the woodland garden.

 requiring a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Provide well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Feed with an acid fertilizer after bloom. Keep roots cool with a thick layer of mulch and prune them in spring after flowering.
 

Holiday Wreaths

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. The garden's been put to rest for the winter covered with a nice blanket of compost. The recent wind storm provided me with lots of material to make a beautiful holiday wreath for the front door or swag to decorate a window. Wreaths are easy and fun to make. They cost virtually nothing and make wonderful gifts for family, friends and neighbors, too.  I was invited to a neighbor's 8th annual holiday wreath making party.  I could hardly wait.

Kinda like a barn raising party without the barn, this fun group gets together for the first two weekends in December each year to inspire each other to create wonderfully unique wreaths and other decorations from natural materials. Each crafter is encouraged to invite another friend or relative and as many as 32 people will be joining my neighbor, Barbara, for the fun over the next two weeks.  Some will come from as far away as Folsom and Roseville and include both men and grandchildren who take part in the festivities.

Creative people amaze me. Amidst dozens of downed branches, the wreath makers started to work. Barbara and her husband started collecting foliage and berries weeks ago in their pick up truck. She laughed when she told me that this year they were very sad because they were unable to get trimmings from their favorite variegated holly as it was being guarded by a pit bull. Mostly they collect from neighbors trees. Green waste cans of friends might supply a wonderful mix of hydrangea flowers and other pruned goodies. Monterey cypress and pines from the Davenport area are coveted along with Hollywood junipers, cedar, leptospermum, eucalyptus sprays and variegated pittosporum foliage. Large piles of English laurel, purple hopseed bush, rosemary and bottlebrush surrounded us. Last year was the first for acacia branches as they didn't know if it would hold up but it worked great and is now a staple. Tristania leaves and berries are another new addition to the wreaths.

Barbara explained that she once took a floral making class at Cabrillo. "I got hooked", she says,"now I'm obsessed". Some "wreathers" as we're called work fast putting together bundles of mixed foliage with lightening speed and attaching them to the frame with wire on paddles. Others are more meticulous grouping each bundle of various foliage with exactly the same mix. That's pretty much it for required tools- gloves, clippers, a frame and paddle wire. A hot glue gun is a nice too for attaching accents like cones, berry clusters, driftwood, lichen, feathers, shells or flowers. Floral picks work nicely for small fruits like Meyer lemons, clementines or small pomegranates.

The record for most wreaths made in a single season is apparently held by Martha who created 7 in the course of two weeks to decorate her home and to give away as gifts. Our hostess, Barbara, holds the record for making the largest wreath which measured in at 36" and graced her front door last year. Wreaths for a front door, she explained, should be able to hold up to constant movement so she is careful not to use berries that might loosen and fall. California pepper and nandina berries usually work in this location. You can bet her front door this year will sport another marvelous creation.

Look outside your door for different shades of foliage and spent flower heads, With just a couple of bags worth of materials you can make wreaths with your kids for many of those on your Christmas list.