form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Hooray for the Red, White and Blue!

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Acer tataricum Hot Wings (‘GarAnn’) lights up the garden with explosions of red!

Today the Internet teems with photos of red, white and blue flowers, and there are many lovely combinations. We find Old Glory’s colors in the foliage garden, too. Reds abound in seed pods and new leaves.

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New leaves on Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Pendula’ are bright red.

The weeping purple beech above is getting in on the act with a few late new leaves, which are red as can be and belie its otherwise dignified appearance.

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Gunnera prorepens has firecracker flowers and a martial-sounding name.

We admit that the red from Gunnera prorepens is from its flowers, not its leaves, but we use it for its chocolatey leaves and consider the flowers a bonus.

pampas grass

Cortadera selloana ‘Silver Comet’ has white stripes down its long leaves and is sterile, so not invasive.

White is easy to find, too! The pampas grass in the photo above lights up the garden with its largely white foliage.

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Sorbaria sorbifolia buds and blossoms

False spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia), an Asian member of the Rose family, graces the foliage garden with lovely new foliage, decent fall color, and a riotous display of crackling white flowers in mid-summer.

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White can be subtle, too, as in this Zelkova serrata ‘Green Mansions’

Blues abound, especially in succulents and conifers.

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Agave ‘Blue Glow’ up close – it even has red edges!

Picea pungens 'Lucretia'

Colorado blue spruce is blue blue blue!

Picea pungens (Colorado blue spruce) has so many cultivars that it is hard to keep track. ‘Lucretia’, pictured above, is one of the smaller, slower-growing introductions that is easy to keep to a manageable size.

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Blue weeping Atlantic cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’

Lots of blue cedars, too.

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Pinus maximartinezii, the bluest of the pines.

There’s even a blue pine. It’s from Mexico, but happy to take part in the July 4th festivities.

We even found some firecrackers in the garden!

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Aloe flowers look like firecrackers about to explode

You can almost hear this one sizzle:

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Most aloes have orange flowers borne well above their leaves

And then, after the fireworks are over, the smoke drifts through the air…

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Artemisia versicolor ‘Sea Foam’ has a smoky look to it

 

Happy 4th of July to all!

 

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The Greens of Summer

green shrubs, evergreen plants, designing with shrubs

A cool pathway on a sizzling day at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh NC

Even though Paul Simon writes about his Nikon camera and Jan uses a Canon, we can’t help but think of the lyrics from ‘Kodachrome’ when we are out in the late summer garden.  By the end of August perennial gardens are often tired from the prolonged heat, but not so the foliage garden.  When we go out to stroll on torrid days, we gravitate to the cool, shady spots and keep movement to a minimum. And we plan for the dog days by making sure we’ll have an abundance of green around to soothe and cool us when the weather is hot.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen border

Cool green comes in many shades, as we see in this grouping from The Oregon Garden

While Sara didn’t originally plan it this way, due to the overwhelming preponderance of foliage plants in her garden, there are decided colors associated with each season.  Autumn, not surprisingly, is dominated by the turning leaves and many berries and is very orange. Winter, with bracts, stems and berries taking center stage, reads ‘red’.  Spring, with the flush of new growth, is very yellow. Summer is refreshingly green.  If we had planned it, we would have chosen just this color progression: when better to have cool green be the dominant hue than in hot summer, and how better to light up the weak winter light than with red?

locust tree, foliage tree, interesting foliage

The minty foliage of Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’ turns the heat down and provides texture

Annuals and perennials flower in every hue in the rainbow, and color choices usually come down to personal preference; some gravitate to pinks and purples, there are those who adore red and blue is the favorite of many a gardener.  ‘Those nice bright colors’ that Simon writes about are dramatic and eye-catching, but they don’t do much to lower the heat.  In fact, they seem to raise the temperature a degree or two.  So even though it seems counter-intuitive to de-emphasis flowers for summer, it will cool you down when you need it most! At the very least, surround those flowers with enough foliage to make the mood serene.

cape rush, landscaping with evergreen plants, conifers, shrubs

A bench in Sara’s garden is surrounded by foliage, dominated by the restio Elegia capensis

Going green doesn’ t mean giving up a variety of textures, shapes or hues.  The Elegia capensis (horsetail restio) pictured above has grass-like foliage that holds its clear green shade all year long,  and does not fade in the summer sun’s hot rays.  Look how different it is from the ‘Lace Lady’ foliage in the earlier shot:

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Foliage of Elegia capensis (horsetail restio) in summer

Even the crabapples fall in with the cooling scheme; this fruit ripens to vivid orange in another month but in summer is, well, apple-green.  In fact, we think that crabapples are among the most under-respected landscape trees, providing a lovely floral display in spring, months of lush green foliage, finished by a riot of colorful fruit in autumn.

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‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple in summer hues

For ornamental grass fans, there are many varieties that stand up to sun in summer and mimic the sensation of a turfgrass lawn.  The LeCocq garden in Bellingham WA has the lovely coolness on sunny days that a lawn provides, with no mowing or fertilizing and much more texture and interest.

Decorative ornamental grasses in different shades of green turn down the heat

Decorative ornamental grasses in different shades of green turn down the heat

Another shot of the LeCocq garden illustrates how lovely the green backdrop can be when flowers are treated as ornamentation, rather than used for the ‘bones’ of the garden.  We feel cool just looking at this photograph, despite the current temperature reading of near 90 degrees:

Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan', conifers, foliage gardening

Mixed greens, anyone?

Back at the JC Raulston Arboretum, we find another serving of mixed greens, with both conifers and broadleaved evergreens providing a nice range of textures and colors.  The glossiness of the broad leaves plays well against the soft fuzziness of the pine.  We’re really cooling off as we continue our green parade.

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Mixed broadleaf evergreen and conifer border at the JC Raulston Arboretum

Liven up your greens with some variegated foliage, such as that of the sycamore maple ‘Nizetii’.  This stunner takes baking sun all summer long and stays cool, calm and collected, casting welcome shade for other plants – and us.  The maple’s dense crown casts deep shadow in which it feels many degrees cooler than in the sun.

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Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Nizettii’ (sycamore maple) has two-toned leaves and red petioles

So remember, as you were always instructed to eat your green vegetables, plant your green plants.  If your plate is supposed to be 2/3 vegetables, think of your garden in the same manner and make it at least 2/3 green.  You’ll find that most of those foliage plants don’t require anywhere near the maintenance that the flowering perennials do, most of them require virtually no tending in summer when it’s too hot to work comfortably outside, and you’ll get even more pop from your flowers when you showcase them against an emerald background.

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A path of green in Sara’s garden in summer

We’re going out to walk in the garden now and enjoy our leafy greens!


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Slow for the Cone Zone

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns') has gorgeous purple cones

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’) has gorgeous purple cones

There are lots of reasons to add a few conifers to your landscape, and one of the most compelling is the decorative cones that many bear.  Fir, or Abies, have the reputation for having the dressiest cones, but as you’ll see, even the under-appreciated pines put on some stylish decoration that lasts all year. So slow down and observe when you pass a conifer and enter the ‘cone zone’!

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis 'Early Gold' in spring.

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis ‘Early Gold’ in spring.

The following series of three images depicts the cones of Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ through the seasons. This tree wears gorgeous foliage even without its ‘jewelry’, and together with its cones makes one of the most decorative specimens in the garden, even giving floriferous angiosperms a run for their money.

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' in early spring

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ in early spring

The cones start out as small, chartreuse gumdrops and then become lavender and celadon eggs with a texture and design that would make Faberge proud.

Korean fir, Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'

These cones decorate a tree that is already stunning, with its curved silver-lined needles.

By autumn they have dried out and matured  to rich rusty brown, resembling intricately woven baskets.

The autumn cones of 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The autumn cones of ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The spruces (genus Picea) in the next two photos, taken at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, CA, have similarly shaped cones but with dramatically different colors.  Well, some of us like emeralds and others prefer rubies – it’s the same with cones.

The limey elongated cones of Wison's spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement the turquoise needles on this specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

The limey elongated cones of Wison’s spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement its turquoise needles

Both Picea wilsonii and Picea likiangensis hail from China, and both get too big for most gardens, but we love to seek them out and enjoy their lovely ornaments.  Both of these specimens are large and laden with cones.

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A cone-studded Picea likiangensis specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

As a general rule, firs hold their cones upright and spruces, as in the two examples above, have pendulous cones. The quite, unassuming ‘Poulsen’ fir (Abies x. arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ doesn’t put out a huge display of cones every year, but when it does, it’s a showstopper.

firs, conifers, cones

The black-raspberry cones on Abies x arnoliana ‘Poulsen’ sit pertly atop the branches

They start out in spring a rosy black-raspberry, then deepen to grapey purple.

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Poulsen fir (Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’) cones in early summer

By late summer/autumn they have faded to a soft lilac.

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Soft lilac cones of Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’, a shrubby conifer with a dignified habit

Even though most of us call the cones of all conifers ‘pine cones’, the cones borne by pines look very different from those of the firs and spruces.  Many of true pine cones look like they are carved out of wood when they are young, as with the new cones of one of the mugo pines (Pinus mugo var. mugho).

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

With its yellow cone in early summer, this branch of ‘Golden Ghost’ red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) resembles a bird with flamboyant plumage. The two-toned needles put on even more of a display than the cones!

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) 'Golden Ghost' in spring with new needles and cone

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) ‘Golden Ghost’ in spring with new needles and cones

In this photo of ‘Golden Ghost’ we see both this year’s cone (the tiny ‘carved’ one on the left) and last year’s mature cone (on the right).

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Two years of cones on Japanese red pine ‘Golden Ghost’

This Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’) is a prolific coner, with lovely green, sculptural cones.

Japanese black pine 'Thunderhead'

Even the ladybugs seem to like ‘Thunderhead’s apple green cones

Since we’re moving through the colors, white pines have great cones, too!  They are much more fragile than those of the red or black pines, and often have a sap glacee that makes them glitter in the sunlight.

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Sap-glazed cones of Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’

We mentioned emeralds and rubies earlier, but some cones are aquamarines. The cones of this Oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) don’t even look like cones.

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These Platycladus cones look more like gems sprinkled along the branches

All of the cones that we’ve shown you so far are females – they contain the ovaries and ultimately the fertilized seeds. But let’s not forget the boys! Unlike much of nature, where the male of the species gets the elegant plumage and fine feathers, in plants the male’s display is generally less showy.  But we think that this crowd of pollen cones on the ‘Golden Ghost’ pine are one of the trustiest signs of spring!

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Pollen cones on Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’

So whether you’re walking in your own garden or a botanical preserve such as Quarryhill, when you see a conifer, stop and take a look.  If more people don’t start slowing for the Cone Zone, Form and Foliage is going to begin issuing citations!


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Sumptuous Summer

color wheel combinations, color wheel opposites, colored foliage, foliage plants

Acer p. ‘Mizuho Beni’, Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’, Cedrus libani var. atlantica ‘Blue Cascade’ and Leycesteria formosa

The foliage garden always garners big kudos in fall and winter; it is difficult to imagine a flower garden in most temperate zones able to compete with foliage during those seasons.  It is even relatively easy to make the case for foliage over flowers in spring, as much new foliage provides eye candy that rivals spring blooms.

color wheel combinations, foliage plants, colorful foliage

Even without flowers, the summer garden can be richly colorful.

But who can imagine a summer foliage garden that can compete with an herbaceous border?  How to replicate with foliage those colorful displays of summer annuals and perennials that spell summer to so many of us? Why not borrow a ‘leaf’ or two from our book and see!

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We like plants with contrasting stems, such as this Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’, whose reddish-brown stems echo the leaf color of the Cotinus x ‘Grace’ behind.

While we speak constantly of choosing plants for fall and winter appeal, we are not indifferent to plants that pull their weight in summer.  Crisp green or maroon leaves, contrasting stems and bark and blue-hued conifers are all components of an interesting summer foliage garden.

Cotinus x ‘Grace’, Spirea t. ‘Mt. Fuji’, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’, Phormium ‘Golden Ray’, with Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ peeking from behind.

As can be seen in the above photo, the plummy tones of Cotinus x ‘Grace’ are deepest in summer, and Spirea t. ‘Mt. Fuji’, which is grown primarily for spring bloom and fall color, spends the summer months as a luscious lime green. Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ becomes practically turquoise during the long days of July and August, and the resulting combination is summery and fresh.

Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’, Cotinus x ‘Grace’ and Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’

The same lime green, yellow, plum and turquoise are seen in this arrangement of the striped pine, ‘Zebrina’, our friend ‘Grace’ again, and the lovely Podocarpus ‘Monmal’which is sold as ‘Icee Blue’.  It is an icy blue in winter, but in summer has a richer tone.  Many foliage plants change color through the seasons, and it is as satisfying to anticipate their varying tones as it is to wait for seasonal flowers to bloom.

The summer foliage border.

The summer foliage border has the benefit of never needing deadheading and seldom needing refreshing.  We use the summer months to plan for fall planting or to prune conifers and deciduous shrubs and trees for form.

A well-placed bench is the perfect place to sit in the shade and make plans for fall plantings.

Mature trees add dimension and structure to the garden all year around, and their trunks and bark add color and texture as well.  The photo below displays a trifecta of trunks: the gnarled multiple trunked Olea wilsonii, or fruitless olives, the grizzled ancient Quercus agrifolia (coast live oak) in the far background and the brilliant cinnamon-colored Arbutus ‘Marina’ mid-way between.  They are beautifully showcased by the many greens of the foliage.

Don’t ignore trunks and bark when considering non-floriferous garden interest.

Succulents put on a great display in summer – check out the orange leaves of the Crassula on the top tier!

We love our containers in summer, too, when patio living reaches its zenith, along with the sun.  Succulents carry the containers through the year in our mild climate, but even in colder climes they are a great choice for container plantings, and remember, almost anything qualifies as a container if it will hold potting medium!

A sweeping view across the summer garden includes many colors, shapes and textures.