Tag Archives: foliage plants

Ormanental Grasses Take Center Stage

phormiumThroughout the year I am asked for design help and plant suggestions but it’s at this time of year that I especially hear the request, “I’d love to add more grasses to my garden”. There’s no doubt that the movement and sound of grasses in the landscape adds another dimension to our experience. Many grasses and grass-like plants use less water than other plants, too. This is the time of year that grasses say “Fall is here”.

There’s an ornamental grass for every type of garden. Whether you are striving to create the perfect perennial border or have a hot dry slope, grasses can work in harmony wherever you place them. There are some that are made for the shade, some that are perfect additions to a small water feature and many that are invaluable in container gardening.

Most grasses require little care, minimal fertilizer, only occasional grooming and just enough water to meet their needs. Diseases and insect pests are rare. They have succeeded because of their adaptability and have evolved to suit almost every environment and climate on earth.

Grasses are distinguished from other plant families by their growth habit. They grow upward from the base of a leaf Orange_libertiaor shoot and can regrow from the crown when cut back. True grasses generally have extensive root systems which help control erosion. There are other grasslike plants that resemble grasses in their growth habits and are often some of the best companions for interplanting with grasses. These include New Zealand flax, carex family sedges, chondropetalum-a restio, kangaroo paw, lomandra, montbretia, liriope and their cousins ophiopogon.

So let’s say you are putting in a new patio and want a few low grasses as accents between some of the pavers. A variety like Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass, with it’s creamy white foliage that turns pink in cold weather, would look great here. You could also use Ogon sweet flag for dense clumps the color of buttery in a shady spot, black mondo grass or blue fescue grass for even more color.

If you are trying to create a focal point or destination in your garden and think the texture of a grass with light and movement would be perfect, look to taller varieties to achieve this. Miscanthus purpurascens or Flame Grass grows 4 to 8 feet tall in the sun. Their magenta leaves turn to milky white in winter. Maiden grass sports narrow upright leaves 5 to 8 feet tall and creamy flowers. Their seed heads float and bounce in the the breeze. Planting them just above the horizon allow you to enjoy their swaying and dipping backlit at sunset.

Japanese_Blood_grassBesides texture, grasses provide color for your garden, too. Who hasn’t admired the burgundy foliage of red fountain grass? it’s one of our most popular grasses with it’s fox-tail like coppery flower heads. Another favorite of mine for color is Japanese blood grass, You’ll love this grass when you place it so the sun can shine through the brilliant red blades. This grass spreads slowly by underground runners and grows in sun or partial shade forming an upright clump 1 to 2 feet tall. Pink Muhly grass will stop traffic when in bloom.

Are sections of your garden hot and dry? Grasses are survivors and are good choices for sunny spots that get little irrigation. Good drainage is a must for these plants so OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAamend the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. Combine drought tolerant grasses with companion plants and a few accent rocks to complete your dry theme. Good combinations for these areas are Pheasant Tail Grass with the sky blue flowers of Russian sage. This grass is extremely drought tolerant once established. Giant Feather grass looks great with the purple flowers of penstemon ‘Midnight’. If you like blue foliage, try ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue grass with Amazing Red flax for a show stopping combination.

For a touch of whimsy, you can’t beat fiber optic grass. This grass-like sedge from Europe and North Africa looks like a bad hairpiece. You can grow it at the edge of a shallow pond or display it inside in a pot on a pedestal to show off it’s flowering habit. Seeing is believing with this one.

These are just a few of the places where grasses can enhance and add beauty to your garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant a new one.

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.

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.