Category Archives: perennials

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

The Sloughs of Watsonville

sambucus_nigra_berriesEach year I wait for them in my garden and so do the robins, varied thrush, jays, spotted towhees, grosbeaks and band-tailed pigeons. The fruit of sambucus mexicana, a California native plant, is relished by an incredible number of songbirds.  The creamy flower clusters in the spring are a favorite of bees and other beneficial insects. My Western Elderberry grows tall and gangly in the shade of a California bay tree, shorter and more compact in the sun. Their exuberance for life makes me happy just to watch them provide for so many other species.

We've all driven down Hwy 1 past the strawberry fields and seen the wetlands at high tide as their many fingers reach far up into the Watsonville area. At low tide the Harkins Slough is visible off to the west, grasses blowing gently in the wind. Struve Slough passes under Hwy 1 also but most of it is hidden. The Watsonville sloughs wind around farms, fields and low hills not visible from the highway.

California has lost over 90 percent of its wetlands and the Watsonville Sloughs are one of the largest remaining freshwater marshlands in the state's coastal zone. It provides a crucial resting place for many specie of migrating birds. This area covers about 800 acres adjacent to the city of Watsonville. The slough system has 6 interlinked freshwater sloughs fed by the waters of the Pajaro Valley watershed.

Many of the plants native to the wetlands will be available at a sale to fund educational programs put on by the organization Watsonville Wetlands Watch who's mission is to protect and restore the wetlands while educating the community.

The Native Plant and Backyard Festival will take place Saturday, September 28th from 10-2pm at the Fitzeriogonum_rubescens Wetlands Educational Resource Center building behind Pajaro Valley High School. It will be their second annual plant sale. Plants beneficial for backyard habitat gardens will be featured many which were grown in their own greenhouses. Natives like buckwheat or eriogonum as they are called are a mainstay of the slough ecosystem as well as our chaparral areas and several varieties will be offered for sale.

One of my favorite eriogonums is the Red Buckwheat for several reasons. In addition to attracting beneficial insects the flowers can be dried and used in arrangements. The roots are deep and will hold the soil and bring up subsoil nutrients to the surface. They are very drought tolerant. In the weeks to come the buckwheat's long nodding flower heads will produce a huge bounty of seed favored by migrating songbirds and water birds, some of which will spend the winter here.

Coast asters will also be available for sale and make a nice addition to any garden. They provide flower color in the fall and combine well with other perennials and grasses such as yarrow and Idaho fescue. They colonize easily and help stabilize slopes and banks and can also be used as an understory plant. They are very drought aster_chilensis2tolerant. Native grasses will also be for sale as well as plants of the coastal prairie and wildflowers.

Besides the native plant sale,  Watsonville Wetlands Watch will have workshops with expert speakers, an Eco Kid Zone, food, a marimba band, a raffle, live animals and local wildlife displays. Free habitat consultations for your own backyard, demonstration habitats, a wetlands wildlife photography exhibit and a tour or their new greenhouse.

For more information about the sale and this wonderful organization visit www.watsonvillewetlandswatch.org

Your own backyard can make a difference for wildlife. Even a small plot of plants rich in nectar and pollen along with some water, rocks, stones and mulch can make your backyard come alive. Create your own backyard habitat by choosing the right native plants to attract butterflies, birds and other fauna and at the same time conserve water and help maintain the diversity of our animal population.
 

Chocolate in the Garden

Chocolate_Flower_Farm_perennial_beds 2Gardeners are always on the look out for new plants. I recall when I worked at a nursery looking over the showy dahlia shipment for the one that was a deeper, more vivid shade than all the rest. One color that always gets my attention is chocolate.  Whether I find it in the foliage of a plant or the flower itself it's one of my favorites. You can imagine my delight when I discovered the Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley on Whidbey Island while I was visiting the Puget Sound recently. I was a kid in the candy store.

As a landscape designer I often get requests for certain colors to be included in the plant palette. Mahogany,burgundy, deep magenta, midnight blue, eggplant often make the list. Many people like dark flowers or foliage paired with ivory, others prefer peach or chartreuse. I marveled at all the combinations at the Chocolate Flower Farm.

Some plants are the color of chocolate and some smell like the real thing. Chocolate cosmos looks and smells chocolate_colored_flowers 2just like a dark chocolate bar. The warmth of the day releases this delicious fragrance. A favorite flower for the perennial bed it's always a winner with kids.

In addition to chocolate cosmos, a wildflower called chocolate flower or berlandiera lyrata grew at the farm. I also enjoyed the fragrance of warm chocolate in the flowers of chocolate akebia, chocolate mint and chocolate snakeroot.

Strolling the grassy paths at the Chocolate Flower Farm  I admired a Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily. The foliage, nearly black, glistened in the sun growing next to a white-flowering Nine Bark called Summer Wine.
Nearby a clump of two-tone chocolate and ivory daylillies bloomed. With grazing horses nearby and a dozen ducks taking turns bathing in a kiddie pool the scene was idyllic. At every turn a different pairing of chocolate flowers and foliage caught my attention.

One section featured plants for a kid's chocolate garden. Easy to grow chocolate pincushion flower, chocolate viola, chocolate nasturtium, chocolate snapdragon, chocolate sunflower and chocolate painted tongue would be fun for any child to have in their own garden.  

I loved a penstemon called Chocolate Drop as well as a Mahogany monarda the color of deepest magenta. Blooming black sweet peas grew up and and over an old bed frame. A dark purple-black clematis from Russia called Negritanka intertwined with lime green hops covering an arbor. Toffee Twist sedge, Royal Purple smokebush, Chocolate Sundae dahlia, Sweet Hot Chocolate daylily, Chocolate Plant and Hot Cocoa roses grew in many of the flower beds.

Himalayan_pheasant_berry 2What makes dark foliage or dark flowers pop?  At The Chocolate Farm each bed pairs the deep rich chocolate color with another contrasting shade. I don't know which was my favorite. One area featured peach, pink and silver to offset the darker shades. Pink dahlia and fairy wand, blue oat grass and rose colored sedum 'Autumn Joy' made a lovely vignette. Another bed paired the yellow flowers of phygelius 'Moonraker' and digitalis grandiflora with white anemone and ivory dahlias set among Chocolate Baby New Zealand flax.

Not to be ignored the dark chocolate shade of black sambucus growing next to a golden Himalayan Pheasant Berry made an impression. All-gold Japanese Forest grass at the base of dark leaved Tropicana canna lily was also a show stopper.

If you are up on Whidbey Island, the Chocolate Flower Farm is a great place to spend an afternoon. If your vacation plans don't include the Pacific Northwest, plant some chocolate in your own garden.

 

A 100 Year Old Garden near Quail Hollow

lawn_perennial-bordersVisiting gardens is one of my passions. Wherever I travel I take time to enjoy an arboretum or a historical garden wherever I find them. Local gardens can be just as exciting and recently I was invited to stroll and marvel under majestic oaks in a beautiful garden near Quail Hollow.

This 25 acre property was first developed by an Englishman in the very early 1900's. After building an Italian Mediterranean style house featuring plenty of earthy materials such as terra-cotta paver floors and patios, red clay tile roof, stucco walls, rustic wood beams and enclosed outdoor spaces, he set out to landscape the property.

A spring fed creek provides water to a woodland garden with 40 foot rhododendrons still thriving and in full  bloom during my visit. Western azaleas scented the air and the horsetail, columbine and white calla lily rhodie_bicolor2grew lush in the moist soil. The original owner built Japanese inspired stone bridges over the creek, the remnants still poking through the ferns.

Huge stands of black bamboo and golden bamboo border the creek in another area making me wonder if perhaps he became interested in these exotic plants after the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition that showcased plants from all over the world. The current owners have installed a 3 foot barrier to keep the bamboo in check. Now towering 25 feet tall, the black bamboo shades the house on the south side with stems 2" thick.

The property passed from the original owner to a concert pianist who lived there until she died. The current owner bought the property in an estate sale in the early 1970's. When he married Nancy 23 years ago the garden again came to life. The front yard which had been a flood-irrigated horse pasture was transformed into the magical place it is now.

Nancy is the perfect steward of the land. Interested in all growing things she has surrounded the lawns with shrubs, perennials, grasses and flowers of every type. Sunny borders bloom with trellised Cecile Brunner roses, pink clematis montana and purple Jackmanii clematis along with lots of bright red climbing roses. By providing support, Nancy has even coaxed Apple Blossom and other carpet roses to bloom off the garden floor.

In addition to her gardening successes, Nancy shared her ongoing nemesis. Every year she said she hand picks at least a hundred white gaura that have self-sown. Seems Siskiyou pink is not as prolific. The crocosmia Lucifer have overtaken one bed and she begged me to take some. I politely declined. Her white Japanese anemocourtyard2ne threaten to march into the lawn but the pink variety is better behaved. Nancy takes it all in stride. You can feel her love of gardening and plants at every turn.

Nancy loves perennials. The chocolate cosmos were just emerging but the double coreopsis, Spanish and English lavender, Moonshine yarrow, Japanese iris, douglas iris and columbine were in full bloom. In a shady spot by the old icehouse daphne, azalea and pieris had just finished their show. The hydrangeas were all budded and ready to take over the spotlight.

We walked through a lovely enclosed courtyard complete with formal fountain and Nancy pointed out containers of gardenias, Evergold carex grass, a deep red Bob Hope camellia and huge woodwardia ferns. She planted the rhododendrons bordering the courtyard over 20 years ago. A gopher did get 3 of the camellias last year but she's now replanted in gopher baskets. Her Japanese maples, started from seedlings, are now 6 ft tall with trunks over an inch thick.

I'll never forget the afternoon Nancy shared her garden with me and Sherman, the springer spaniel I was dog-sitting.  It's an enchanting place and I'm looking forward to visiting again.

Gift Plants for your Christmas List

I've barely finished eating leftover turkey a dozen different ways and already I find myself thinking of all things Christmas. I know I should relish Thanksgiving longer and not rush it but I can't help myself. I'm basically just a big kid at heart and there are so many fun gifts that come from the garden. Most of the people on my Christmas list live far from from here so I'm not giving anything away by sharing some of my gift ideas.

My Aunt Ruth is quite the gardener. I enjoy flowers of every kind whenever I visit her. There is always something in bloom.  She loves her neighbors who stop, talk and admire her landscape as she prunes or weeds. I'm going to give her a winter flowering camellia to spice things up at this time of year. Chansonette camellia hiemalis, a variety often classified with sasanquas will get heads turning. This easy to grow shrub is one of the most popular camellias for good reason. Rich pink, double flowers standout against the dark green foliage.  Spreading 6' tall and 8' wide this vigorous shrub is perfect to espalier on a trellis against a wall. They actually prefer winter sun and can tolerate more sun year round than other types of camellias. The beautiful flowers last a long time and will make my Aunt Ruth's garden the talk of the neighborhood.

My Aunt Rosemary lives in Concord in the Bay Area where it gets hot in the summer. The border around her patio would be perfect for a tea tree as it blooms for a long time and requires little or no water when established. They are called tea tree because Capt. Cook brewed a tea from the leaves and gave it to his crew to prevent scurvy. Just in case deer jump her fence they won't devour its needlelike leaves leaving her to enjoy the small showy flowers from winter until very late spring. I especially like the double white flowers on the variety Snow White as they really pop when combined with stronger colors.

My Aunt Alba especially likes fragrant flowers. In her garden she grows roses, gardenias, lilacs, sweet peas and pinks to name just a few. Fragrant Star erysimum would make the perfect addition to her perennial border. It blooms from spring until early fall with bright lemon yellow highly scented flowers. Radiant, variegated green and yellow foliage will stand out among her other flowers. As a bonus they are butterfly magnets. I've seen swallowtails visit this plants again and again on a sunny afternoon.

For those on my Christmas list that love California natives a Common Snowberry would make a great addition to their woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Creeping snowberry is similar and makes an excellent groundcover. Few shrubs work as well as creeping snowberry when situated under the dense canopy of a coast live oak. When combined with Hummingbird sage, Fuchsia Flowering gooseberry and coffeeberry they create  a woodland garden that provides nesting cover for birds as well as protective shelter for other wildlife.

I'm also working on some garden and nature inspired crafts but if I tell you I'd have to…well, you know.

Thanksgiving Plants & Food

Have you noticed how many plants are named after food? At this time of year when we are thankful for friends and family and this wonderful place we call home, I can't help but think about food, too. It's the most important thing we share year round. We eat to celebrate, we eat to comfort ourselves. Surround yourself with plants that remind you to give thanks whenever you look at them.

What makes you think of Thanksgiving dinner more than pumpkin pie? Many versions have been created to appeal to just about any palate. If you grow Pumpkin Pie African daisy you can bring these recipes to mind whenever you admire the blooms in your garden. Flowering over a long season starting in the spring their showy, vivid orange flowers attract birds and butterflies.

Maybe you're a gourmet cook and desserts after Thanksgiving dinner are extraordinary at your house.  If you're not a fan of pumpkin perhaps a creme brulee  would be more to your liking. This classic dessert first appeared in cookbooks in 1691. Creme Brulee heuchera with its peachy-bronze leaves, Creme Brulee coreopsis with custard yellow blooms or a fragrant Creme Brulee shrub rose growing in your garden would remind you year round of this delicious dessert.

Someone often brings deviled eggs as an appetizer before Thanksgiving dinner usually sprinkled with a dusting of paprika. If you have several Paprika achillea in your low water-use, deer resistant garden you can think of these goodies every time you see them.

Who doesn't like chocolate any time of year? Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hot chocolate, white chocolate, they're all good. Plant Chocolate Chip ajuga groundcover  with its beautiful lacy blue flower spikes in spring in sun or partial shade. It really stands out. And who could resist a rose called Hot Cocoa? This award-winning floribunda rose with ruffled, very fragrant chocolate-cherry colored blooms was first introduced in 2003 and has remained popular ever since.
 
If you don't have a chocolate cosmos to enjoy on a summer day in the garden you're missing a rare experience. Very deep burgundy flowers really do have the scent of chocolate. They make a good cut flower, look great with green and white in a bouquet and the fragrance is good enough to eat.

There are many plants that remind us of Thanksgiving with family or a get together any time of year and they all sound so delicious. Raspberry Sundae or Bowl of Cream peonies sound yummy as do Mango coneflower, Strawberry Candy daylily, Plum Pudding coral bell, Cranberry Ice dianthus, Lemon Swirl lantana, Watermelon Red crape myrtle, Tangerine Beauty bignonia or Wild Cherry azalea. How about Bowl of Cherries campanula, Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Lemonade mandevilla or Raspberry Tart coneflower?  I could go on and on.

My blooming Thanksgiving cactus says it all. Almost overnight it has burst into bloom reminding me of all the many things I am thankful for. Take the time to tell those around you how much you appreciate them and count your blessings every day.