Category Archives: shade plants

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.

Colorful Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Fall is the perfect time of year for many things– long drives, walks in the forest, beautiful sunsets. It's also a great time of year to transplant those plants in your garden that aren't in quite the right place and to create new exciting combinations of foliage, color and texture that are just perfect.

I"m always newly inspired when I see common plants combined in ways I hadn't thought of. Some vignettes are simple repetitions of just two plants while others might include 3-4 plants with different characteristics. A recent meeting of APLD ( Association of Professional Landscape Designers ) of which I am a member, showcased fabulous ideas for plant combinations. In addition to these plants looking great together visually they share the same cultural requirements which is a must. No sense planting a water-loving partial shade plant next to a low water use plant that requires full sun.

Here are some of the awesome plant combinations from gardens I have designed and from fellow designers that I think are particularly appropriate for our area.

In a sunny garden colorful flowers surrounded by soothing green foliage creates a space to linger. The hummingbirds and butterflies attracted to the nectar of the flowers are an added bonus. The plants that create this beautiful scene combine strong, linear leaves from phormium 'Amazing Red'  with the golden foliage of abelia 'Kaleidescope'. Bright red and white flowers of the hummingbird-magnet salvia 'Hot Lips' combined with the soft green needles of grevillea lanigera 'Mt.Tamboritha' and the salmon pink flower spikes of phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) invite you to sit awhile in this garden.

Plant combinations that echo each other in color work well together. Think of the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in England. Phormium 'Cream Delight' looks great with so many plants the combinations are nearly endless. Consider growing it with Elijah Blue fescue grass and surrounding the group with a hardy groundcover like the succulent semperviven ( Hens and Chicks ).

Silver or grey foliage always looks smart when paired with pink shades.  Again that go-to plant that adds architectural interest, Phormium 'Evening Glow', provides the pink element with bronze edged leaves with red centers as does the dusty rose color of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flower clusters.  Add the silver foliage of euphorbia wulfenii ' Glacier Blue' and Russian sage to complete the look.

Another group of plants that combine well have flowers of similar color. Hardy geranium 'Rozanne' with violet blue flowers pairs well with the soft blue ground morning glory, lavender-blue flowering catmint and penstemon 'Blue Bedder'. These perennials all grow in full sun but can tolerate some shade and like moderate watering.

Other combinations that might look great in your own garden include natives mimulus, juncus patens and deer grass with Pacific wax myrtle.  Or try growing Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' alongside the blue tones of festuca californica. Under native oaks, heuchera maxima along with iris douglasonii won't require much summer water which will make the oaks happy too.

At this time of year I'm always drawn to combinations with warm, rusty tones. Purple smoke bush fall foliage pops when combined with gold flowering rudbeckia Goldsturm and purple coneflowers. Or how about Apricot Sunrise agastache growing with Spanish lavender and Big Ears lamb's ears?  Then again you might like the gold flowers of Harmony kangaroo paw blooming for months alongside Carex testacea (Orange Sedge).

Shady spots needing some pizazz could look to the huge leaves of bergenia 'Bressingham Ruby' with their brilliant magenta late winter flower spikes and combine it with golden yellow sweet flag (Acorus 'Ogon'). Another combination I like for the shade is asparagus spregeri and blue flowering Dalmation Bellflower groundcover.

Whether you're transplanting existing plants in new exciting combinations or creating new ones, fall is a great time to spend time in the garden.

A Garden Reflects it’s Designer

To quote Luther Burbank, "Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul".  After visiting the garden of Bev Kaplan in Boulder Creek I couldn't agree more.

I never tire of being invited to spend time with a fellow gardening enthusiast. Everyone creates a unique garden which reflects their individuality and personality. To share a garden is a personal experience. To tell the story of each part and how it came to life is a special honor bestowed on those we care about. Here is the story of Bev's garden.

Bev and her husband, Jeff, bought the property in 1992. Then it was covered with poison oak and Scotch broom but they saw potential and got started on the dramatic transformation. A huge culvert that runs under the driveway used to be lined with old Texaco 50 gallon drums. Now redone with stone,  it blooms with agapanthus that were being given away by a friend. Groundcovers blanket the slopes now but in the winter the culvert carries a lot of water.

Bordering the driveway are planters built with concrete from the old pool. Her "designer" bearded iris have finished blooming but Bev bragged about the huge 6" flowers that they bear each spring. Deer can reach this part of the property so iris and grasses survive well here.

A steep slope along another side of the driveway is home to her resident deer. She pointed to the wisteria vines growing over the trees. When in bloom they cover the slope with purple blooms and a wonderful fragrance. She started the wisteria 14 years ago from one seed collected from the hamburger joint at the southern edge of Boulder Creek. It took 7 years for it to bloom but now when the seed pods burst they hit the kitchen window a hundred feet away.

Strolling under the Southern magnolia tree with those huge, white flowers that smell like oranges, we passed the "Bottle Garden". Bev explained she just gave up trying to grow anything in this shady area so made bouquets of colored bottles placed upside down in pots. It's charming, whimsical and the ultimate in recycling.

"Maple Lane" was our next destination. Her large Japanese maple collection grows happily alongside abutilon, which are also called Flowering maples.  Hummingbirds enjoy all of the flowers equally be they colored red, orange or yellow. Sweet violets and astilbe find homes here, too.

A welcoming flagstone patio under the shade of massive redwoods held a large firepit and lots of chairs. Calling her home, "Bev's Bread and Breakfast", she explained that many relatives come from out of town to stay and the warmth of the fire ring is welcomed by those who are used to warmer nights. Camellias and rhododendrons enclose this beautiful patio with a view of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Everywhere I looked in this garden, glass beads were sprinkled between stepping stones. Like jewels, I was told these "Pixie Fairy Gems" keep the weeds down and invite the fairies – clear ones brightened up the shade, blue ones nestled between the brick-red stepping stones in the hospital area.

Opposite the hospital area, which didn't house any current patients I noticed, a several bowling balls sat atop a patch of Mexican pebbles. These belonged to her husband's late parents and she wanted to remember them by creating this unusual garden.

Finally arriving at the pool garden I was speechless. This labor of love is a riot of color attracting dragonflies, hummingbirds and songbirds and butterflies by the score. I asked how she takes care of all of it. Bev smiled and pulled out a large serving spoon and a pair of kitchen shears. "With these", she said.

During a delicious lunch of spinach souffle and fresh lemonade with mint, I was surrounded by the fragrance of honeysuckle, star jasmine, scented geraniums, buddleja, nemesia, purple petunia and dianthus. Many varieties of salvia, calibrachoa, scaevola, dahlia and gladiola filled the many pots and hanging baskets around the pool.

Bev takes care of the entire garden with just a little help. She doesn't spray with anything, even organics, preferring to keep bugs at bay by washing the deck with simple green, hand picking and spritzing with the hose.

It was a day I'll always remember. This garden is a personal labor of love and I hope to be invited back to see the hawk babies when they fledge.

Lessons from Butchart Gardens and the Pacific Northwest

I can see snow-covered Mt. Rainier from my sister's deck. Last night a rainbow bridged the Puget Sound which flows around Fox Island at the southern end of the sound. The landscape here is lush and green. Dogwoods, foxgloves and rhododendrons are still in full bloom. This temperate rain forest receives more rain than ours but I see many of the same woodland plants that we grow. I study each garden for new ideas.

The next day we head for Vancouver Island. As the clouds clear the Victoria Clipper pulls into the harbor. The Empress Hotel's landscaping is picture perfect. Purple rhododendron, hosta, and hellebore grow under the white Kousa dogwood trees. Late afternoon sun backlights each leaf. Gingko trees and weeping birch frame the Parliament building. The lights come on and outline each gable and tower. Still exploring the city later I look at my watch. It's after 10pm and still light. I forget we are closer to the land of the midnight sun at this latitude.

Visiting gardens is always the highlight of all my trips.  Butchart Gardens, a National Historic site of Canada, is a prime example of quarry restoration. Huge 100 year old poplar trees with gnarled trunks frame the famous sunken garden. Throughout the perfectly manicured lawns perennial beds grow oriental poppy, Japanese iris, Asian lily, hosta, black mondo grass, black-eyed susan, and lady's mantle. This kind of perfection comes with a price. We saw several gardeners raking and deadheading while several others cleaned around the stone border with pastry brushes.

Victoria is famous for its hanging baskets. At Butchart Gardens several hundred hand from every arbor, trellis, pergola and shepherd's hook. Mixed baskets of long blooming annuals and perennials are started early in the greenhouse then brought out in full bloom. One of my favorites featured peach-toned tuberous begonias, trailing sapphire lobelia, bacopa and coral calibrachoa. I was drawn to the dozens of hanging fuchsias and a rainbow of begonias planted with columbine, ferns and gold acorus grasses.

It must be fun to plant up the large pots that decorate the grounds. Even the wooden recycling receptacles have mixed planting on the top. Several noteworthy pots were planted with orange flowering maples paired with blue Mexican poppies and a variegated geranium. Another we liked contained a striking Electric Pink cordyline, coral petunia, calibroachoa and Bonfire begonia.

Fragrant flowers entice the senses and are planted everywhere. Strolling through the garden, vanilla scented heliotrope greet you. Spice-scented stock is planted nose high atop rock walls. Mrs. Butchart started this tradition and the garden strives to have something fragrant blooming every season of the year.

The roses were just starting to open. Many of them originated in England and Australia. The Queen's Pink peony Golden Jubilee was honored with decorative flags hung from the light posts. Flanked my tall gorgeous blue delphiniums it was quite a sight.

If it was early for the roses, the peony did not disappoint. I have never seen so many in one place. This climate is perfect for their culture. I had a hard time deciding which was my favorite. Double deep burgundy flowers grew alongside soft peach and bright pink ones. A cool white one paired well with Bridal Veil spirea. A soft peach variety looked great with the darker orange oriental poppies.

Always on the lookout for planting ideas, the endless vignettes were inspiring. The many different garden rooms in this garden allowed for countless combinations. One that caught my eye paired a purple smoke bush with coral verbascum and the variegated iris pallida. The blue flowers of the iris contrasted perfectly with the coral flowers and burgundy foliage of the other two plants.

I saw this garden in a new light on this visit. It was spectacular. Next week I'll recount my visit to Abkhazi Garden outside Victoria.

A Ben Lomond Garden Coexists with Deer

One of the perks of writing this gardening column for the Press Banner is being invited to visit beautiful gardens. I  recently had the honor to tour the garden of fellow columnist, Colly Gruczelak, writer of Plain Talk About Food, at her home in Ben Lomond. I've known Colly for many years going back to when she moved here in 2004 from Thousand Oaks.  If you know Colly it will come as no surprise that she is just as enthusiastic about plants as she is about good food. She gardens with a resident deer population and had lots to say about this dilemma.

When she first moved to the Ben Lomond property there was "nothing in the garden but bottlebrush and bare ground" she said. Not wanting to fence the property she has come to know what the deer are not interested in eating for dinner- in her garden anyway. Located right on the San Lorenzo River, her garden blends perfectly with the natural woodland setting.

A huge Fragrantissima Improved rhododendron poked its beautiful white flower trusses through an ornamental low fence. A Sally Holmes rose bloomed atop the fence, too. Colly explained she has included several roses in the garden and will spray them with a bitter repellent if the deer become too interested but often surrounding a rose with plants the deer don't like is enough to keep the buds safe.

A beautiful purple Grand Slam rhododendron bloomed nearby. Colly keeps plant tags in her Sunset Western Gardening book so she can look up a plants name when necessary. Given the hundreds of beautiful specimens in the garden this is no easy task.

I was surprised to see so many azaleas blooming in the garden. I knew rhododendrons are deer resistant but it surprised me to learn that her azaleas thrive also . Colly grows Encore azaleas that bloom continually throughout the season. They border all the garden paths and this first flush of flowers was spectacular.

She has an Iceberg rose intertwined with a Jackmanii clematis. The buds of the clematis were not quite open but I can imagine how stunning this purple and white combination will be. I love Iceberg roses. They scent the air with honey and vanilla. Colly doesn't worry about pruning the clematis according to the book. She "leaves it alone" and from the looks of the many buds about to burst with color it's doing just fine.

Another gardening tip Colly shared with me is her use of bungee cords to quickly hold up a plant until she has the time to tie it up properly. She buys 5 of these cords for a dollar and swears by their usefulness.

We stopped to admire a Cherokee Brave dogwood in full bloom. Underneath,  blue violet columbines covered the ground. As they reseed the patch grows larger and larger. The blue and pink made a breathtaking  combination blooming at the same time.

As we strolled through the garden I saw many other plants happily growing in spite of the deer. Fragrant daphne, fuchsia thymifolia, Australian fuchsia, Jack Frost brunnera, Mt. Tamboritha grevillea, lily-of-the-valley and Cape plumbago were all untouched. It surprised me to hear that she is replacing a large stand of white rockrose with Kaleidescope abelia. Seems her deer loved this rockrose and "ate it to the ground". Go figure about rockroses. Along her road there were lots of the dark pink variety not even nibbled in the slightest.

We finished our tour at the new sitting area she has created to enjoy with her husband in the evening. I'm sure it's the perfect way to end the day.

Rhododendrons for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Spring officially kicks off March 20th and if you’re like me every tree, shrub and perennial that starts to flower is an event. The subtle colors of winter are behind us. Bring on the colors of the rainbow.

Rhododendrons are one of spring’s show stoppers. Huge, rounded clusters of stunning blossoms in lavender, red, purple, white, pink and even yellow and gold clothe these shrubs with color. You can have flowers from February to late May by choosing different varieties. And rhododendrons are easy to grow if you give them what they need.

Because rhododendrons like air in the root zone, amend your soil liberally with organic matter.  50-60% is not too much. If you garden in clay, just plant them in raised beds or berms 1-2 ft above the original soil level. Rhododendrons like moist soil so top dress around your plants with several inches of mulch over the root zone, making sure the stem is not get buried. Pine needles, oak leaves or wood chips are good choices. around the plants as this would injure the surface roots. Finally, most rhodies thrive in partial shade or morning sun. The hot afternoon sun that we get during the summer would burn even those varieties that tolerate some sun. Since their leaves remain on the plant for several years you’d have to live with burnt leaf centers and edges for a long time if they got too much sun.

There are thousands of rhododendron varieties. By planting early, mid-season and late blooming types you can enjoy those huge, gorgeous flowers for months.

Cheer is one of the showy early bloomers. Large, pink flower trusses cover the 5×5 ft plant. It can take some sun and would be a good candidate if you have one of those gardens that receives and hour or so of afternoon sun.

For April blooms consider Edith Bosley. Similar to Purple Splendor it grows upright to 6 ft.tall but only 4 ft wide. Perfect for narrow spaces. Other mid-season bloomers that would make a splash in the garden include Golden Gate, a 3 ft compact orange hybrid and easy-to-grow, red-flowering Jean Marie de Montegue.

To extend your season add some late season varieties like Lee’s Dark Purple. Growing with a spreading habit to 4 x 5 ft wide, you’ll love its blue-purple trusses. Anah Kruschke also blooms late in spring with lavender pink flowers on a dense 5 x 5 ft shrub. A tough undemanding larger variety is English Roseum. This one grows 6 ft tall with lavender pink flower trusses and blooms in May.

Rhododendrons really contribute to the woodland or shade garden. They are long-lived and deer resistant. I’ve only heard two gardeners tell me that deer ate some of their flower buds last fall for the moisture content. Most likely those deer couldn’t read well enough to read the deer resistant list!