form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


8 Comments

Winter Wonderland – California Style

conifers, leucadendron, cordyline

Winter in the foliage garden is often even more colorful than summer

We think of a winter wonderland as a landscape covered with snow, glazed and glistening, soft and serene. But for those of us who never receive snow’s purifying blanket, wonderland in winter is provided by the cold-weather hues of the conifers, the enduring, often colorful, leaves and bracts of broad-leaved evergreens and the ornamentation provided by berries, stems and seeds. Above, starting on the left,  the Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ (hardy to USDA Zone 3) wears an apricot winter coat (it’s yellow in the summer months), the Juniperus communis ‘Berkshire'(Zone 2) turns from blue-green to a rich plum color in the cold weather, the Cordyline banksii ‘Electric Flash’ (Zone 9), Pinus mugo ‘Pal Maleter’ (Zone 2), Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ (Zone 9), Loropetalum chinensis (Zone 7) and Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Greenstead Magnificent’ (Zone 7) are electric and magnificent all year-round. This rich horticultural tapestry is not difficult to achieve and creates a wonderland in the dead of winter.

barberry, Sweetgum, big cone pinyon pine tree

Winter color on Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’ and Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Gumball’ are a dazzling combination with the icy blue juvenile foliage of Pinus maximartinezii.

Some of the winter colors come from the deciduous trees that are late to turn and even later to drop their leaves. Both the barberry (Zone 5) and sweetgum (Zone 5) above hold their leaves well into December in this zone, and by planting them near a blue-needled conifer, in this case big-cone pinyon pine (Zone 9), we get the dramatic effect provided by   complementary colors (color wheel-opposites).

Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann', Cordyline 'Design-a-Line Burgundy

A rich but more muted display comes from the analogous (adjacent on the color wheel) colors of blue and red. The rusty buds of the fir echo the dusky maroon of the Cordyline (Zone 9b).

Abies pinsapo, Spanish fir, has many cultivars that are garden-worthy. ‘Horstmann’, (Zone 6) pictured above, is slow growing and diminutive relative to its wild parents. Its blue-green needles are lovely themselves, but its russet buds, which are carried through the dormant season, provide additional interest. Note the contrast in shapes and textures of the two plants, as well as the lively color combination.

Beautyberry, dogwood, conifers

Brilliant display: Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ , Cornus sanguinia ‘Midwinter Fire’, Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’

Some plants are dramatic in winter yet would barely catch your notice in other months. The above trio provides stunning color: the Callicarpa (Zone 5) with itpurple berries, the Persian ironwood (Zone 4) cloaked in golden leaves, and Midwinter Fire dogwood’s (Zone 5) brilliant stems. However, all are unassuming in shape, color and texture for most of the year. It’s only when the weather turns cold that they erupt into this colorful display. And as if that weren’t enough, the ‘Motherlode’ (Zone 3) and ‘Blue Star’ (Zone 4) junipers and ‘Shirome-janome’ Japanese black pine (Zone 5) provide golden and blue highlights.

Monterey cypress, Australian plants

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Greenstead Magnificent’ and Cordyline ‘Cha Cha’

Weak winter sun creates pleasing shadows and highlights, unlike summer’s harsh overhead glare. The Monterey cypress cultivar on the left, ‘Greenstead Magnificent’ shows off its sea-green color and tweedy texture much better in winter than summer, and the Cordyline’s delicate straps are teased and separated by the weak light. Cold also brings out its pink highlights.

Opuntia santarita 'Tubac'

Don’t ignore the color and texture that garden art and sculpture can add

Some inanimate additions can pump up the color and texture, such as ceramics or water features. The celadon ball intensifies the Echeveria‘s (Zone 9) color and the water reflects the Opuntia santa-rita ‘Tubac’ (Zone 8) as it is touched by the morning sun.

succulents and conifers

Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ and Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’ steal the show in this shot

The glazed ball dominates the Echeveria, but when we step back we see it in context with the larger plants. It still provides textural and structural contrast, but the ‘Stained Glass’ octopus agave (Zone 9) and the clump of ‘Blue Boy’ yucca (Zone 7) are hard to compete with!

Cousin Itt Acacia, Agave Quasimodo

Agave ‘Cornelius’ (Zone 9) and Acacia cognata ‘Mini-Cog’ (Cousin Itt)

Although we’ve been focusing on other colors, brilliant green is just as dramatic in winter as purple or orange, especially when it is contrasted with yellow and gold, as in the above photo. Acacia Cousin Itt (Zone 9) is mouthwateringly verdant all year round, but we really appreciate it in winter’s soft light, especially when highlighted with nearby yellow foliage.

conifers

In winter the low setting sun ignites the golden foliage

The yellow foliage, already a winter beacon, becomes downright fiery when hit by the late afternoon sun. Even the drabber colors, such as that of the tall Cunninghamia unicanaliculata (China fir, Zone 7) in the above photo, lights up like a torch.

Echeveria agavoides 'Prolifera', Lomandra 'Platinum Beauty'

Many succulents become colorful due to the stress of cold weather

Like many conifers, a goodly number of succulents take on added hues in winter. The Echeveria agavoides ‘Prolifera'(Zone 9) pictured above looks like it is wearing nail polish, but it’s just its response to colder weather. The Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’, (Zone 8) on the other hand, is always beautiful!

Graptoveria, Sedum pork and beans, palms, aloe

We’ve shown you this shot before – it’s a combo that won’t quit, no matter the time of year

We also appreciate our workhorses: the plants that look lovely all year round, need little to no maintenance and don’t quickly outgrow their spaces, such as the Aloe arborescens, (zone 8), Chamerops humilus ‘Cerifera’ (zone 8), Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ (Zone 9) and Sedum rubrotinctum (Zone 9) pictured above. Cold weather doesn’t stop their display, rather, it adds more red highlights to the Sedum. Even if you are in a colder zone, you can  plan for at least one part of your garden that looks good in all seasons.

cedars, conifers

Let’s not forget the blues!

We tend to love the warm colors in winter but blue can be just as colorful and dramatic. The combination of Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ (Zone 6) and Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’ (Zone 7), together with a variety of blue-foliaged succulents makes and icy display in front of the golden needles of Thuja occidentalis ‘Malonyana’ (Zone 4) and the lingering leaves of Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyk Gold’ (Zone 4).

But sometimes you go into the garden and find serendipitous color combinations, such as when the deep orange leaf of a Liquidambar dropped into the arms of an Abies concolor ‘Blue Cloak’ (Zone 3). Backlit by the weak winter sun, it is surely one of the season’s garden jewels.

Abies concolor, Liquidambar styraciflua

A sweetgum leaf nestles in the needles of a California white fir

A very happy new year from Form and Foliage!

 

Note: USDA minimum zones are provided as a guide; many factors contribute to a plant’s success, including maximum cold temperatures, humidity, summer heat (especially at night), etc. 

 

 

Advertisements


8 Comments

Strange Bedfellows…or ‘What’s that Succulent Doing Next to that Spruce?’

succulents, conifers

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ has maroon edges that echo the deep hues of the Cotinus x ‘Grace’ on the right and the Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Sentinel’ on the left

Succulents seem to be all the rage these days, with specialty nurseries and designers abounding. We admire many of the succulent creations, but never really embraced the ‘total look’, which seemed often to lack scale and suffer from excessive cuteness. When we focused on some of the edgier genera, with larger specimens, such as Agaves, we also realized that we didn’t need to isolate succulents in their own beds and containers, we could incorporate them into the overall garden design.

succulents

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ can hold its own beside conifers (in this case Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Girl’, Picea pungens ‘Glauca Procumbens’ and ‘Picea orientalis ‘Golden Start ‘) and other woody foliage plants.

 

A study in dusty blue: Cedrus deodara 'Prostrate Beauty' and Agave parryi var. huachucensis share the same hue with vastly different structures and textures.

A study in dusty blue: Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’ and Agave parryi var. huachucensis share the same hue, but with vastly different structures and textures.

Foliage gardeners continually must grapple with the fact that most of the interesting foliage plants have small leaves. From the conifers’ needles to shrubs such as Abelia, Berberis and Hebe it is difficult to get away from fine textures. Most of the large-leaved shrubs, such as Rhododendron and Pieris, are denizens of the woodland garden and not happy in sunny gardens without acid soils. Many succulents provide large scale leaves that beautifully contrast with finer foliage.

conifers, succulents

Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ and Juniperus x media ‘Daub’s Frosted’ share the same yellow and green foliage colors. Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is to the right.

 

succulents, barberry, manzanita

The same Agave, this time keeping company with Arctostaphlos ‘Emerald Carpet’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’ (sold as Sunjoy Gold Pillar)

The idea of interplanting succulents with conifers and other foliage plants strikes some as odd if not downright unnatural. To get a taste of how Nature herself does it, visit a forest in Mexico and see Yucca and Agave growing side by side with pines and cypress. We think of Mexico as a succulent haven when in fact Mexico also has more native pine species than any other country. Many of our perceived design rules are products of our own traditions and not necessarily representative of what is possible or, indeed, even plentiful in Nature.

succulents

Yucca ‘Tiny Star’ and other succulents with coniferous accompaniment. The conifers echo the yellow in the Yucca and soften its sharp lines.

Succulents come in a vast array of colors although most of the genera with larger species (Yucca, Agave, Aloe, etc) have the most selections in shades of green, blue and yellow. It is not uncommon to find multiple colors with either stripes, such as many Yucca and Agave, or marginal accents in contrasting shades.

conifers, succulents

Aloe striata in a bed of Juniperus procumbens, flanked by golden Chamaecyparis.

Aloe striata has coral leaf margins and in shade, rosettes of broad, flat, bluish-green leaves. The leaves turn ruddy pink in full sun and make for a beautifully two-toned plant. In the photo above, the blue-green of the Aloe is echoed by the juniper, again with a marvelous textural contrast. The Aloe is hardy to only 20 degrees, so in this garden is planted in a container, which may be moved to a protected area when necessary.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha' is one of the few larger succulents with significant maroon coloration.

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ is one of the few larger succulents with significant maroon coloration.

There are larger succulents with maroon foliage. Some of our favorites are the Mangaves, thought to be crosses between Agave and Manfreda. ‘Macho Mocha’ is a stunner; it reaches 4-6′ across at maturity and its broad, strappy leaves are liberally peppered with deep, bronzy red.

Mangave 'Chocolate Chip' has distinctively wavy leaves.

Mangave ‘Chocolate Chip’ has distinctively wavy leaves, which contrast nicely with the other foliage.

There are several Mangave cultivars, ranging in size from the large ‘Macho Mocha’ to ‘Blood Spot’, which makes a compact rosette about a foot across. Most Mangave appear to be hardy to between 0-10 degrees, which make them, along with some Agave, among the most cold-tolerant succulents.

conifers, succulents

Aloe polyphylla, with its distinctive spiral leaves, stars in this bed, with Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’, Abies pinsapo ‘Horstmann’ and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Knaptonensis’ in the chorus. A string of Echeveria elegans rims the bed.

So what about cultural requirements? How can low-water succulents exist next to conifers and other woody plants, much less green lawn? Something isn’t right, right? Wrong! Firstly, most succulents need more water than is popularly supposed. While they can be classed a ‘low water’ plants, they are certainly not ‘no water’ plants. Those fleshy leaves store water but it needs to be replenished. The only tricky part is understanding what time of year each particular succulent grows, as this is when it needs the most water. Many are spring and summer growers; others, such as many Aloe, grow in winter months.

succulents

Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, which flourishes in very well-drained soil and is slightly frost-tender, is an excellent choice for a container, which can be placed amongst complementary foliage and moved to shelter during the coldest months.

Secondly, many conifers and woody plants can do with less, or at least less frequent, water than many perennials. The fussiest succulents–those that are frost-tender or require extremely well-drained soil–can be planted in containers which both allow for removal to shelter during winter and provide excellent drainage. However, it is perfectly possible to grow succulents near other plants simply by creating a mound made up of 1/2 soil and 1/2 a gritty substance such as lava pebbles. If the succulent is planted high up in such a mixture, it can receive the same amount and frequency of water as the other plants, and it will drain much more quickly.

Most succulents do not like to be cold and wet at the same time, a challenge for those in Mediterranean climates. Mounding with pebbles or judicious use of containers generally works to provide enough drainage for all but the fussiest plants. Planting next to a hardscape that warms quickly in winter sun can also create a more friendly microclimate.

Agave vilmoriana on a mound next to a flagstone patio.

Agave vilmoriana (appropriately called octopus!) on a mound next to a flagstone patio.

Fall is a great time to plant and winter a great time to ponder and plan. So when you are looking for the perfect plant for a particular spot, whether it is next to a spruce or a spirea, consider whether a succulent might fit the bill!

Succulents, conifers, woody foliage plants and grasses make a rich and varied foliage garden.

Succulents, conifers, woody foliage plants and grasses make a rich and varied foliage garden, with a broad range of colors, textures and forms.