Tag Archives: landscape design

The Mountain Gardener’s Hot Plant Picks for 2011

It’s not just another garden show, it’s the world renowned San Francisco Flower & Garden show and it was the perfect start to spring. Sure the show gardens are part theater and part reality but you can’t help but come away with inspiration, ideas and spring fever. One of my favorite parts is the display of new plant introductions from Western Horticultural Society. These are great plants destined to become favorites in the garden.  Well, I have my own Top 10 Hot Plants for 2011. These selections do not include California natives because Native Plant Week is coming up soon and I’ll focus on our valuable natives in an upcoming column.

I’m often asked for plant recommendations for our unique set of gardening conditions-extreme weather, heavy clay or sandy soil and limited water resources in the summer months. The following plants are easy to grow, have few or no problems with pests of diseases and posses valuable qualities such as color, fragrance, winter interest or support wildlife and beneficial insects. Try something new this year in your garden.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. This low spreading shrub grows 1 ft tall by 4-5 feet across and blooms year round with pink and white spidery flower clusters. Great for attracting nectar feeding birds and gophers don’t like their taste. Full sun, evergreen and drought tolerant -this is a great groundcover.

Kaleidescope abelia
This evergreen shrub is a kaleidescope of color as it’s name implies. Variegated foliage is bright yellow and green in spring, changing to golden yellow with bright oranges and fiery reds in fall. Its grown habit is densely compact and rounded. The beautiful foliage doesn’t scorch in the sun either.  It’s a beauty 2-3 ft tall and 3-4 feet wide. What more can you ask for?

Loropetalum Pipa’s Red
Also known as Fringe flower this shrub sports rich burgundy foliage in a fountain shape with tiered branches. Raspberry flower clusters are heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape-looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy color can add color to a woodland garden and it even does well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer. 

Karl Foerster feather reed grass adds a vertical element to your summer and fall garden. It provides wonderful contrast among low shrubs and perennials. Named after the famous landscape architect and photographer with a love for all aspects of perennial plants, Karl Foerster  lived in Germany from 1874 to 1970. This grass won the 2001 Perennial Plant of the Year and although it’s not new on the market it’s an  easy to grow ornamental grass that won’t overpower your space.

Cordyline Electric Pink
This show stopper lives up to its high-voltage name. It surpasses other grass-like plants with boldly striped leaves of maroon and shocking pink. This well-behaved cordyline is clump-forming and reaches only 2-4 feet in height and width. Place in large mixed container or flower borders to instantly add an exciting look.

Pennisetum Fireworks
With arching leaves striped with white, green, burgundy and hot pink this grass is beautiful in the garden. Purple tassels rise above the foliage in late summer. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the purple flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container for protection but it’s worth the extra effort.
 

Leaucadendron Safari sunset
Fiery red bracts on densely covered tall stems are sure to draw oohs and aahs. This is one of the most popular Leaucadendron available. It’s a vigorous, erect grower to over 8 feet tall and tough enough to handle frost and clay soils. The flower is actually an insignificant cone surrounded by large colorful bracts which are excellent for cut foliage harvesting.

Belinda’s Find red hook sedge
This red sedge is a two-tone delight of bright cherry red leaves with a green stripe running down the center.  Its loosely tufted, upright form grows 12" tall by 15" wide in part sun. Tiny bulrush-like flowers, from June to August,are elevated above the tidy, low growing evergreen clump. Use in the front of the border, in masses or mixed containers.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost blooms continuously with clouds of white flowers that float above finely textured apple-green foliage. This delicate looking perennial may be small in stature, reaching 12-18 " tall and wide, but is easy to grow and surprisingly tolerant of drought and heat. Combine this airy plant with bright colors for a dazzling border.

Phormium Jester is a New Zealand flax cultivar that grows to 3 feet making it a better fit in the garden than some of the larger phormiums. It can tolerate fairly dry conditions but looks best with occasional to regular irrigation. This strong color combination of green and pink doesn’t revert to the parent plants coloring. It’s hardy to 15-20 degrees. You might find this plant also listed as Jubilee.

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.


Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener

How to Plant a Vignette in your Garden

Most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t always know what it is- in the garden, anyway. Often when I visit a garden to help with the design, I find lots of great plants scattered about that just need to find the right spot to call home and something to tie them together.

We all do it – over the years buying plants we just have to have with no plan of where they might be used effectively. The garden becomes a collection of mismatched plants and that dramatic border you’ve envisioned just don’t come together.

Where to begin? Picture sections of the garden as separate scenes composed of small groups of plants that look good together because of their complementary and contrasting features.

Start with a strong foliage plant, then add other plants with interesting textures, forms and colors to complete the scene. Don’t simply alternate textures because that could make the garden look too controlled and predictable. Sometimes repeating a bold, course texture makes the planting restful.

Select the first plant in a vignette for its foliage. Because it serves as the main plant, it has to have leaves that look clean year round or from the time they emerge in spring until fall. Avoid plants that become discolored or tattered as the season progresses from weather, disease or pests. You can discover reliable foliage plants by observing other gardens, especially in late summer.

Examples of strong anchor foliage plants for shade include Japanese maple, hydrangeas, dogwood, pieris japonica, camellia, aucuba, rhododendron, ribes sanguineum and viburnum,. Good plants to anchor a sunny garden vignette would be butterfly bush, a tall grass like miscanthus sinensis Morning Light, ceanothus Concha, rockrose, western redbud, bush anemone Japanese barberry and lavatera.

Select supporting plants to balance the main plant in your grouping. Vary the shapes of these secondary plants to create interesting compositions. Too many plant like iris, daylilies or liriope with swordlike leaves, for instance,  would create vertical chaos. You can use one but no more than two plants to add vertical emphasis. Also using more fine-textured plants than course, large-leaved plants seems to work better. Shady medium-sized plants might include hardy geraniums, hosta, carex Evergold, ligularia, coral bells, Pacific coast iris and western sword fern. Good supporting plants for sun include salvia, penstemon, rudbeckia, yarrow, artemisia, eriogonum, blue oat grass and society garlic.

Groundcovers finish a vignette. Look for color cues from your first foliage plant and choose a low grower that complements it. Color can connect plants that differ greatly in form and color. Think of groundcovers as carpeting for your garden. Golden creeping Jenny and lamium Pink Pewter are good choices for a shady area while elfin thyme and dymondia would tie together a group in the sun.

Don’t be afraid to move a plant that is not working where its growing now. Make a note in your journal reminding yourself to transplant it sometime in the fall. Gardening is a dynamic and fluid process. Enjoy piecing  together pieces of the puzzle.
 

Landscaping Tips for Great Gardens

By this time of the year, you probably have planted some new perennials for color in your garden. But if you look around and still feel something is missing the answer may be that your landscape needs more than color. As a landscape designer I am often called upon for ideas to create richer landscapes that provide four seasons of interest. Here are some tips I pass along.

A more sophisticated appeal and enduring quality in your landscape can be achieved if foliage color is used to complement, or contrast with, other plants within the design. This technique unifies the overall look while offering appeal throughout the season. One plant that would make this happen is Rose Glow Japanese barberry. Their graceful habit with slender, arching branches makes a statement by itself but it’s the vivid marbled red and pinkish foliage that steals the show until they deepen to rose and bronze with age. In the fall, the foliage turns yellow-orange before dropping and bead-like bright red berries stud the branches fall through winter.

Abelia Confetti is another small shrub that can be used to unify your landscape. Growing only 2-3 ft high and 4-5 ft wide with leaves variegated white, their foliage turning maroon in cold weather. Abelias are adaptable plants, useful in shrub borders, near the house or as as groundcover on banks. White, bell-shaped flowers are plentiful and showy during summer and early fall.

Texture in foliage is very important in good garden design. Varying the size and shape of leaves creates diversity and variety among neighboring plants. Striking visual interest can even be achieved when working with two different plants with similar shades of green.

An example of this would be combining Gold Star pittosporum tenuifolium with grevillea noellii. The first has dark green oval foliage on 10-15 for dense plants while the latter is densely clad with narrow inch long glossy green leaves. Clusters of pink and white flowers bloom in early to late spring and are  a favorite of hummingbirds.

Using the same plant shape throughout a landscape can create and tie the entire design together. Forms and shapes of plants and trees can be columnar, conical, oval, round, pyramidal, weeping, spreading and arching. A loropetalum with its spreading tiers of arching branches could be repeated throughout your garden to create visual interest and balance. A dogwood tree could also repeat this same form as their branches grow horizontally.

Consider also layering plants to create a beautiful garden. From groundcovers all the way up to the tallest tree, natural looking designs mimic nature.

Don’t forget about focal points. This could be a Japanese maple cloaked by a wall of dark evergreens or a statue or pottery at the end of a long, narrow pathway. Focal points draw attention and even distract the eye from an unsightly view.

There are many solutions to make your garden complete. Consider using some of the above design elements to make your landscape beautiful. 

How to Plant a Garden that will look like it’s been there forever

 

 I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like "How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend"   or   "This Front Yard in Just one Year".  If you’re like me you think  " Can I really do that " ?   There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them.  Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden.  A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas.  Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build off of.

If you want your garden to fill in quickly choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions: sun exposure, soil type and water availability.  Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly.  Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas.  Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter.  Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust.  Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.  Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18" tall spreading 2-3 ft wide.  They look great in wide swaths across the garden or  along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing.  This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2" periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall.  Catmints are easy to care for.  Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade.  They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space. penstemon, crocosmia, cardinal flower, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow all put down deep roots and mature quickly.    

Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months. 

 

 Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quicky, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time. 

 

Hedges

bottlebrush

In writing one of my weekly columns for www.pressbanner.com/, I researched problems that occur with hedges and thought it would be interesting to share this info here:

To care for your hedge. Hedge plants should be pruned back by about a third when they are first set out. The second year, trim the hedge lightly to keep it dense as it grows. Don’t try to achieve the hedge height you want too quickly. Keep shearing lightly to keep the hedge thick without gaps as it grows to the desired height.

Once the hedge is as tall as you want it, your pruning technique should change.

Small leafed hedges should be sheared lightly whenever they look ragged. You can, if you want, simply allow the shrub to retain its natural shape. If you do shear, cut out farther than you cut last time to avoid bare spots and clusters of cut branches.

Large leafed hedges should be pruned one branch at a time with hand shears. Make your cuts inside the layer of foliage so that they will be hidden, leaving only fresh, uncut leaves on the surface. To avoid hedges with bare leafless bottoms shape your hedge so that the top is narrower than the bottom, letting light to the whole side. Leaves that do not get enough light will drop. Lack of water and nutrients can also cause this. This is especially important on the northern side or on any portion of the hedge that is in the shade of a tree. If your hedge has become bare at the bottom you can cut it back heavily in the spring to stimulate new growth at the bottom, then shape it properly as it regrows. Some shrubs,. however can be killed buy cutting them back too far. If you don’t know how a shrub will respond to a radical pruning, head one branch back to a leafless stub to see how it responds. If the stub sprouts new growth, the shrub can probably be safely cut back.

Hedges that have grown too tall and floppy have usually been allowed to grow too fast. Regular pruning encourages a sturdy structure and will strengthen a mass of wispy stems. Bare spots in a hedge are caused by old age and repeated shearing without allowing the hedge to grow. The problem can be alleviated by cutting away dead twigs, branch by branch and then shearing outside the last cut next time you prune.