Category Archives: winter flowering plants

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Recently I visited a garden of glass and it was spectacular. At the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, the newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit is a marriage of garden and art like no other I've ever seen. To experience larger-than-life blown glass in vibrant rainbow colors nestled among trees and shrubs was magical. I was transported beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.

You may have seen some Dale Chihuly glass art at the DeYoung Museum when it was displayed there several years ago. Some of the pieces were influenced by Pacific Northwest American Indian art, others reminiscent of plants and sea forms. In a PBS special currently airing called Chihuly Outside, I learned that his love of blown glass has evolved since 1995 from installations in glass houses in Europe and the U.S. to massive outside exhibits in Finland, Venice, Japan, Australia and Jerusalem. The Chihuly Gardens and Glass Exhibit in Seattle is his most ambitious project ever.

Soft winter sunlight backlit the glass art that seemed to sprout up from the earth. Evergreen magnolia trees, pines and weeping cedar formed a dark green backdrop for the vivid blue, red, yellow, orange, mauve and chartreuse blown glass. Coral Bark maples echoed the same shade of glass reeds and spears. Red Twig dogwood sported a stand of fiori or flower inspired glass. Cobalt glass spheres reflected the Space Needle nearby. Swaths of steel blue eryngium or sea holly were still blooming a bit complementing the ruby glass behind.

Seattle is cold in the winter with lots of rain (sound familiar?) so plants appropriate to the site and climate are a must. Lily-of-the-Valley shrubs provide year-round interest. Their burgundy flower buds hung in clusters ready to open in the spring. Mahonia, which are native to our area also, bloomed with spikes of yellow flowers attracting hummingbirds that over winter in the area. Helleborus or Lenten Rose held tight flower buds just waiting to open. Sasanqua camellias in pink, rose and white popped with color.

Lots of burgundy coral bells carpeted the ground in front of massive logs that looked like petrified wood. I had to check for myself. Mondo grass, epimedium, strawberry  begonia and Japanese Forest grass complemented more flower inspired glass art. Strolling the garden and looking at the glass from different angles as the changing light filtered through was awesome. Chihuly doesn't so much mimic nature as borrow inspiration from it. As with all art, it's in the eye of the beholder and I fell, hook, line and sinker under its spell.

This garden of glass reminds you of frog legs with webbed toes, anemones waving in the incoming tide, towers of tall ti plants. Harmonizing plants and art is the creation of designer Richard Hartlage. Conifers, evergreen grasses, small shrubs and ferns set off the brilliant glass art. A green roof can be seen from above,a green screen of evergreen clematis encloses one side and large crape myrtles provide beautiful winter bark that blends with the lavender and burgundy glass sculptures.

A visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle was a day spent with light and glass and the plants that make them sparkle. I hoping to see this garden next July when the asters and rhododendrons are in bloom. Even in the quiet months of winter it was spectacular.
 

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.