Tag Archives: fall gardening

The Mountain Gardener’s Favorite Plant Combinations

combination_loropetalum-pieris-dianellaI love my smart phone. I can’t imagine a day without it. A friend of mine told me that I would discover uses that I could only have imagined when I first got it. One of the simple things I use it for is taking pictures. Since I always have it in my back pocket I can whip it out in gardens, nurseries, in the wild or in any landscape that catches my attention.

It wasn’t until I started photographing gardens that I realized the importance of combining plants. So now when I design a grouping of plants that look good together I’m thinking of strong foliage plants, colorful flower spikes alongside soft mounds of foliage and delicate flowers alongside bolder blooms.

With the first day of fall next week I’m thinking of ways that will have any garden bursting with interest for the next few months. These are strategies for combining plants that are adaptable to all types of garden conditions whether you live in the sun or the shade and will also look good in other seasons of the year.

A vignette is a small group of plants that make a pleasing scene because of theirplant_combo2-phormium_CreamDelight-blueFescue-sempervivum complementary and contrasting features. I have several lists of good plant combinations that I regularly refer to when designing a garden. I usually start with a strong foliage plant then add other plants that have interesting texture, form or color.

When you look at a garden that you admire it’s usually the dramatic form of one of the plants that draws you in. When you use a plant with a bold, architectural form it makes a statement. The spiky foliage of Cream Delight phormium alongside a Burgundy loropetalum would make a good combination. Or how about creating a vignette of Festival Burgundy cordyline with Annabelle hydrangea and Cream de Mint pittosporum?

During the next few months plants begin to show soft, fall colors. Combine the fading foliage of these plants with plants that complement each other. The reddish fall color or Oakleaf hydrangea along with the pinkish-tan color of their fading flowers looks wonderful when combined with Japanese Forest Grass as it turns pink before winter. Another complementary fall combination is Royal Purple Smoke Tree surrounded by a bed of Autumn Joy sedum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStrong colors sometimes contrast instead of blend when plants change colors in the fall. I like to tone down a combination with silver foliage. An example of this would be a plant grouping of Evening Glow phormium, sedum Autumn Joy and Glacier Blue or Tasmanian Tiger euphorbia.

Another way to create a great plant combination is by blending textures. Coral Bark Japanese maple and Plum Passion nandina work well together. Cistus Sunset with Spanish lavender and rosemary is another good combination. I also like a large mass of Blue Oat Grass and Salmon salvia greggii planted together. Santa Barbara daisy goes well with Red Fountain Grass.

My list of potential plant combinations is pretty long as I’ve made notes over the years. Each garden has its own personality and growing conditions. A hot, dry garden might depend on a ground cover ceanothus along with lavender while a shadier garden might use natives like heuchera maxima, iris douglasiana, yerba buena and salvia spathacea. Whatever plants you choose, let them work together to make exciting vignettes in your garden.

Treats & Tips for the September Garden

salvia_m_Hot-LipsYou can feel the weather changing as summer winds down. It’s more than just the passing of the Labor Day holiday and the school year starting. The nights are longer and cooler. The days are not quite so hot and the flowers in the garden seem brighter and more colorful. I look past the soft blue and lavender blossoms and am drawn to the warm shades of gold, rust, orange, hot pink and red. They shout autumn is on the way.

There’s nothing quite like adding a few new perennials to brighten up the garden. There are many that don’t require a lot of water after they become established. I recently visited a garden where the irrigation was reduced to the point that that most of the plants were barely hanging on. But there among the crispy plants were two Hot Lips salvia blooming as big as you please. This plant is popular for a reason. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it and it blooms for a long time. It stays compact and is a great carefree shrub for water wise gardens.

Daisy flowers always bring a smile to my face. As members of the composite family they have echinacea_Wild_Berrya flat landing surface for butterflies to land on. Coneflowers are one of my favorites. When they start blooming in the early summer I enjoy them both in the garden and as cut flowers inside. Some have a slight fragrance. Hybridizers have introduced beautiful shades of gold, yellow, orange, burgundy and coral in addition to the traditional purple and pure white. Because they are dormant in the winter they are good candidates for the garden that has summer sun but winter shade. They are not attractive to deer and are good additions to the low water garden.

gaillardiaAnother perennial that blooms throughout summer and fall is gaillardia also known as blanket flower. I’ve seen this tough plant grow in neglected gardens that the owner swears does nothing to keep it going. They are covered with dozens of large reddish-orange flowers with yellow edging and bloom over a long period. This plant also attracts butterflies. You can start perennials from seed at this time of year for next year’s bloom.

Don’t overlook the color of other foliage plants like Orange Libertia, Abelia ‘Kaleidescope’, New Zealand flax, red fountain grass and Japanese bloodgrass in the garden.

Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like agapanthus, coreopsis, daylily and penstemon that are overgrown and not flowering well. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart but sometimes they don’t bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves.

Another thing to do while out in the garden this month is to cut back berries vines that have produced fruit. Canes of the current season should be trained in their place.

Spider mites are especially prolific during hot, dry weather. Sometimes you don’t even know how bad the infestation is until all your leaves are pale with stippling. Periodically rinse dust and dirt off leaves with water. Spray the undersides of infected leaves with organics like insecticidal soap switching to neem oil if they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides.

Soon it will be time to start cool season veggies or plant cover crops in the garden. It’s never too soon to start planning for erosion control in those areas that caused you problems during last spring’s storms. But for now add some early fall color and have fun in the garden.

Garden Tasks for Late Fall

honey_mushroomsIt came out of the earth suddenly, pushing soil and plants that were in it’s way to the side. Just a bit of moisture had allowed this large clump of honey mushrooms to emerge and start its path to reproduction. At this time of year when the trees are turning the color of flame and some have already gone into dormancy it seems the earth is growing silent. Winter will soon be here. For nature life continues. Look around you and be thankful for the bounty, the restfulness, the time to enjoy these beautiful mountains that we call home.

The Giant Pacific salamanders in the forest duff are resting up for next seasons batch of young. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain the deer will have something to eat other than my garden. young_buckAs the weather cools, my garden plants are looking past their prime. The seed heads that remain invite small song birds to feast on what remains. Chickadees hop from plant to plant. They even find something to eat in the Japanese maple leaves and the old dried hydrangea flowers that have turned a dusty rose color. Spotted towhees scratch for seeds buried under fall leaves. I’m always slow to cut down and clear everything away but  there are some things I should be doing this autumn. I’ll pay if I leave everything for next spring when it all needs doing at once.

First, I’ll cut back perennials such as hostas, asters and mums, which collapse into a gooey mess and shelter slugs and snails. I’ll pick up and dispose of diseased  leaves, especially under the roses to prevent pathogens from spreading. Coneflowers, ligularia and rudbeckia flowers and ornamental grasses can stay to contribute winter interest for me and the birds.

I’ll leave as much foliage as possible to provide cover, protection from cold winds and foraging spots for other critters and good insects. I’ll wait to cut back the stems and foliages of not only the grasses but evergreen perennials, salvias, hardy fuchsias until spring. There are few things as rewarding as seeing your winter garden turn into a sanctuary for wildlife.

As weeds emerge I’ll spend a little time here and there keeping up with them. There are 300 dormant weed seeds per square inch of soil and I don’t want to add to that.

I don’t have the space to plant a cover crop so I like to top dress the soil with compost or bark chips. I have a few new trees that need staking to secure them through the winter. This prevents breakage and allows new roots to grow deep and stable. Be sure to set the stake on the windy side of the tree and tie loosely so it has some wiggle room This movement stimulates the trunk to grow thicker. Come next summer the trees will  probably be ready to stand on their own. I don’t want to keep them staked longer than necessary. Also check any trees or shrubs that were transplanted and are still tightly bound to a stake. Remove or reset the stake so the trunk will not become girdled as it grows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA word about all those leaves that cover the ground, the lawn and the perennial beds at this time of year. You can build up your garden soil by running a mower over them to chop into smaller pieces and spread over the soil. Worms and other organisms will start to break them down right away. Next spring dig what’s left into the soil. If you leave more than an inch or two of whole leaves on top the rains will compact them into a soggy mess and prevent oxygen from reaching the soil. If you have too much of a good thing when it comes to leaves, it’s best to put them into your green waste can.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source at this time of year. Anna’s hummingbirds live in this area all year long.  They need your nectar even more in the winter when very little is in bloom. My abutilons are a winter favorite for them in my garden. Keep your feeders up year-round and keep them clean.

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.

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.
 

Fall Wildflowers & October to-do’s

Above the clear turquoise water of the Big Sur coastline, wildflowers still bloom in October. Bright orange Sticky Monkeyflower meander among a carpet of rosy blooming California Buckwheat. Deep orange California fuchsia flower on hillsides alongside the bright white flower heads of yarrow. They make a striking combination. Under the partial shade of pine trees lavender Seaside Daisy explode with color. Even poison oak contributes deep rusty-red tones to the landscape making it easier to identify and avoid. This wild land offers lessons and ideas to make our own gardens more beautiful.

Big Sur has areas of chaparral, oak and pine woodlands, riparian or streamside woodlands and redwood-tanbark-oak woodlands. Nearly half of all the flora of California grows here and many northern and southern California plants mix in this unique location. . Only in Big Sur will redwoods and yuccas thrive together. The look is startling. Certainly not a combination you would think of for your own garden.

Near McWay Falls on Hwy 1, fragments of an elaborate stone house still remain along with some of the landscaping. Christopher McWay and his wife Rachel settled the area in the late 19th century.The land passed through several owners until former U.S. House of Representative Lathrop Brown and his wife Helen acquired it and built a beautiful stone structure overlooking McWay Cove. The house was torn down 50 years ago but many of the landscape plants still thrive after all these years.  Hardy pittosporum eugenoides have survived without any supplemental watering. A huge stand of blooming Naked Ladies covers the rocky slope. We all know what survivors these bulbs are. Tall Mexican palms and ornamental trees surround the fragments of stone staircases and walls reminding us that nature will endure.

What allows all plants to thrive in their environment is the simple set of conditions that they like. It's nearly impossible to grow ferns in the hot sun around here and don't even think about trying a California fuchsia in the shade. Soil is important, too. Rich, moist soil is perfect for wild ginger but gravelly, well drained soil works best for Five-fingered ferns. Match the right plant with the right spot and you'll have success every time. Big Sur is a chock full of success stories.

Here are more tips for early fall in the garden.

Fall is not a good time for major pruning.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don't prune when leaves are falling or forming.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or in late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature.  

Do refresh perennials, such as butterfly bush, salvia and yarrow by cutting a third to half of their growth.

Rake leaves– compost or put in your green can. If large leaves are left in place they will mat down and set up fungal problems come spring.