form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Texturizing

A couple of months ago we visited Glacier’s End Arboretum, in Olympia, WA, where we found that we kept wanting to touch the plants! It wasn’t just that the shapes and colors were striking; the textures made us feel like we were in a petting-zoo.

conifers, foliage gardening, plant texture

Helleborus argutifolia, Abies procera ‘Glauca Prostrata’ and Cotoneaster horizontalis combine for a textural treat at Glacier’s End.

The well-textured garden is delightful in all seasons. While we think of texture as a component of how something feels, texture also affects appearance. Texture can be fine or coarse, matte or glossy. The above trio contains a large-leaved (coarse), glossy hellebore, a small-needled (fine) matte fir and a very fine-leaved glossy cotoneaster. Lots to interest, even without the lovely colors!

conifers, plant textures

The textural combinations are striking, even when the color is removed.

Eliminating the color does not decrease the textural variation; it actually enhances it, with the fir’s needles bristling and the glossy hellebore continuing to shine. Now, what about color variation without different textures?

calluna, erica, conifers

Visitors to Glacier’s End are greeted by a beautiful bank of mixed heaths and heathers backed by a living fence of Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’.

The colors of the heathers are striking and the fact that they (and the cedar) share the same fine texture does not diminish the loveliness of the planting. However, if you remove the color, you flatten the effect and reduce the impact.

conifers, heaths and heathers

A collection of similarly textured and colored plants lacks impact.

When most of us begin to garden we are attracted first to color and tend to think of garden design and plant selection with color as the sole attribute, usually flower color. As we approach the shortest day of the year and the time when gardens are mostly bereft of flowers, it is a good opportunity to consider how to make our gardens interesting and inviting all year long.

conifers, Serbian spruce

Texture alone makes an impact; the Picea omorika ‘Nana’ needles contrast beautifully with the glossy leaves of the Camellia.

The photo above illustrates the most basic of textural combinations: pairing matte needles with coarse, shiny leaves.

conifers, pines, firs, garden color, foliage gardening

Color amps the effect: there’s that powder-blue Abies procera ‘Glauca Prostrata’ again, this time paired with a Pinus contorta var. latifolia ‘Chief Joseph’. The ‘Chief’ is only yellow in winter, just when we need the cheer.

Texture is a continuum. The plants in the above photo are both technically fine-textured, but the Abies has short, stubby whiskers and the pine’s needles are wispy threads. The twigs and stems add a tougher grace note. Yes, it’s hard to ignore the color, but texture is unwilling to cede the floor completely.

conifers, spruce, foliage gardening

A mixed border of conifers and broadleaved evergreens. Shapes and colors (especially that Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ on the right) and textures provide a year-round display.

Glacier’s End is primarily a conifer garden. Mixing conifers, which generally have needles, thus are fine-textured, with broad leaved, coarsely textured, plants is an easy way to create interesting combinations that are attractive and eye-catching all year round.

Crytomeria japonica 'Elegans Compacta' and Corylopsis

It’s hard to decide if the color combination or the textural contrasts are the winners here!

Most Cryptomeria (the shrub on the left in the photo above) take on lavender or rusty hues in winter; the two tones of this one match the Corylopsis spicata leaves and stems. We’d like to give a gold star to the garden makers, who not only got the color combination right, but created a marvelous contrast of opposite textures.

Pinus, foliage gardening

Five different species of pine all play together with varying textures, shapes and structures.

You can even create textural variety within one group of plants. For example, pines can have needles that are long or short, bristly or wispy, dense or loose, upright or droopy, even matte or shiny. All affect the way that light and wind interact with and intensify the textures.

Pinus, conifers, foliage gardening

Pinus wallichiana, Bhutan pine, is probably the loveliest of the temperate pines, with long, drooping, feathery needles. Underneath sits its cousin, Pinus thunbergii ‘Banshosho’, which has short, stubby, upright bristles.

Textural differences can be very subtle, and structure, size and orientation play parts as important as color. It also depends on distance. Fine differences such as in the above photo are only apparent when you get close to the plants. Isn’t it wonderful that as you approach, the plants become more interesting?

Glacier_20130915_0006_2

Plants with blade-like leaves, such as this Yucca, texturize the conifer border.

Plants with strappy leaves like Dasylirion, Yucca or Phormiums add coarseness to an otherwise finely-textured combination. The conifers and heathers in the above photo are anchored by the coarser Yucca and, we note, the stone.

 

Serbian spruce, foliage gardening

Is this Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ or a woman posing? Either way, it’s wearing a fur cloak!

Sometimes a single texture can be on display as with the Serbian spruce above. The foliage begs to be touched.

Glacier_20130915_0351

Cupressus glabra var. arizonica ‘Raywood’s Weeping’

Similarly, without help from others, ‘Raywood’s Weeping’ Arizona cypress provides a virtual explosion of texture, with immature pollen cones lighting up the tips of the branchlets.

Bald cypress

Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’ is soft and feathery.

A garden’s textural highlights vary with the seasons. Most of the plants at Glacier’s End are evergreen, but even with deciduous plants you can have texture in winter, when it often comes from bark and stems.

 

fir, conifer, foliage gardening

The needled trunk of Abies procera ‘Rat’.

And don’t forget hardscape when creating textural contrasts in your garden. Stones add coarseness and heft that offset the fine needles and small leaves of the nearby plants.

conifers, pine trees,

The stones do an even better job of textural contrast than large leaves, and don’t need water, fertilizer or pruning!

We don’t want you to forget about color and we don’t want you to forgo form and structure. We  just want you to add texture to your garden to-do list. Make a New Year’s resolution to texturize your garden in 2016!

Glacier’s End Arboretum is a private garden in Olympia, WA. It is open by appointment to members of the American Conifer Society (www.conifersociety.org).

Read more about garden texture: Not Another Gardening Blog – Weaving your Garden

 

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Creature Feature

Our traditional Halloween post! These creatures may be up to some tricks, but they’ll treat you all year long…

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum', conifers, weeping giant sequoia

Sara has a strange encounter with two monsters in The Oregon Garden.

The monsters come out for Halloween, and the garden is no exception. Some plants, like the Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’ above, are downright bizarre, even supernatural.  With our minds on tricks and treats we are seeing creatures everywhere!

Coenosium Gardens, conifers, foliage gardening

This Acer saccharum ‘Newton Sentry’ looks more like a giant, multi-armed alien than a maple tree!

Autumn’s misty days exacerbate the eeriness; we wonder if the alien pictured above at Coenosium Gardens has designs on that tractor, or even the barn…we had barely escaped its clutches when we came upon the next horrible beast:

conifers, Picea abies 'Pendula', Coenosium Gardens

This creature, rearing up on its hind legs, looks particularly ferocious. It’s really a Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’.

Not sure how much more our nerves could stand, we fled from Coenosium and sought sanctuary at Iseli Nursery.  All seemed well, until we saw the horrible multi-headed sea serpent sitting outside the front door, daring anyone to enter:

Chamaecyparis, topiary

A multi-headed creature from the deep guards the entry to Iseli Nursery

At Iseli, it appeared, it was too dangerous to linger. Would Buchholz & Buchholz be any safer?  We were weary of running and hoped to find safety soon.

Larix deciduosa 'Pendula', conifers, weeping larch

A strange furry pachyderm scared us away from Buchholz & Buchholz…

Buchholz was clearly not the place to stay!  An enormous creature greeted us in the Flora Wonder Arboretum and we decided that the only safe place was home, so we made our way back to Sonoma County.  At Quarryhill Botanical Garden we realized that we must have just missed a witch’s coven, as one of the witches left her broom in a pine tree:

conifers, pine trees

A witch’s broom in a Pinus densiflora at Quarryhill

So on to Circle Oak Ranch, where we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  No sooner were we settled than we realized that we had been invaded!

Cedrus deodara 'Divinely Blue', cedar, mixed foliage, colored foliage

Is this the Loch Ness Monster?

What had appeared to be a lovely specimen of Cedrus deodara ‘Divinely Blue’ turned into the Loch Ness Monster!  We recoiled and ran right into a series of webs…

Everything just looked eerier and eerier to us...spider webs were everywhere.

Everything just looked eerier and eerier to us…spider webs were everywhere.

Giant blue gardener-eating amoebas flowed along the ground, creeping along at our feet, sending out tentacles to nibble at our toes.

junipers, blue foliage, conifers

Amoeba-like Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ creep along the ground.

Some of the monstrous brutes have fierce teeth, which look like they could make short work of us.  We scurried away.  Where would we be safe?

succulents, foliage plants

The sharp leaves of Agave ‘Blue Glow’ look like so many enormous teeth.

How had we not noticed all of the teeth before?  They were everywhere!

succulents, black foliage

This Dyckia arizona tried to bite us as we passed.

Exhausted, and with darkness falling, we realized that we needed to seek shelter in the house.  We ran down the hill, passing a trio of demons, barely escaping their clutches.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

Three hulking monsters tried to grab us as we passed.

At last, safety was ours, warm and snug inside, with the doors locked, a fire lit and the dogs on guard.  We opened a bottle of wine and discussed how many narrow escapes we had had.  What we didn’t realize was that the creatures were waiting for us to leave to really let loose:

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

Only when the humans leave and the sun goes down do the creatures really come out to party!

A very Happy Halloween to all from the Phantoms and Fiends at Form and Foliage!


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.

 

 

 


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Color Riot

foliage gardening

Acer palmatum ‘Iijima Sunago’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Mindia’ and Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’

The garden blogs and magazines are full of photographs of spring flowers as much of the country says farewell to a brutal winter. It’s no coincidence that many of these are macro shots, as the flowers are often a small part of the overall landscape this early in the season. If you’re a foliage gardener, however, you can get out your wide-angle lens and snap away, almost indiscriminately. The colors assail you from every part of the spectrum: yellows, blues, maroon, orange, red, bronze and of course, green. In the photo above, the Spirea does look like it is on fire, giving credence to its name of ‘Goldflame’.

conifers, foliage gardening

The landscape is rich with jewel tones of maples, spruce and ginkgo

At this time of year, texture and form take a back seat, as the colors are bright enough to leave afterimages on the retina. The fiery yellows and oranges are complemented by the richness of the greens and reds, while blue strikes a soothing note.

foliage gardening, evergreens

Coprosma repens ‘Plum Hussey’, Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ and Arctostaphylus densiflora ‘Emerald Carpet’

The spring colors are also borne by evergreen shrubs, which perk up and shine with the stronger sunlight and longer days. The trio in the photo above are all evergreen; they carried the garden interest through the winter and now aren’t about to be outshined by their deciduous neighbors.

foliage gardening, conifers

Cupressus cashmeriana, Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ and Pinus ponderosa ‘Big Boomer’, with Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’ and Quercus robur ‘Butterbee’

Some of the evergreens seem to spring to life as the deciduous shrubs and trees nearby leaf out. The soft, deep green conifers provide the perfect backdrop for the red and yellow of the barberry and oak.

conifers, foliage gardening

Pinus mugo ‘Ambergold’, Leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’, Coprosma ‘County Park Red’, Juniperus x-media ‘Daub’s Frosted’, Cordyline ‘Design a Line Burgundy’, Libertia peregrins and Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Pyramid’

Even the dark foliage has a richness in spring, especially when repeated throughout the border. The Leptospermum, Coprosma and Cordyline are drenched in the same deep burgundy, which provides the perfect anchor for the yellow, blue and orange. Green, as always, is the unifying theme.

foliage gardening, maples, conifers

Acer palmatum ‘Mizuho Beni’, Juniperus communis ‘Kalebab’ and Loropetalum chinensis ‘Chang Nian Hong’

The burgundy of the Loropetalum in the photo above provides the same contrast to the greens and yellows and the orange of the maple (Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto)  just leafing out on the right.

redbuds, maples, foliage gardening

Even the seed pods of the Cercis chinensis are playing along with the theme

In the photo above we see the Spirea, Physocarpus and Acer ‘Iijima Sunago’ again from another angle. The oranges and reds are made even brighter when contrasted with the blue of the cedars over the door and the seed pods of the redbud in the foreground pay homage to the maples’ fiery tones.

conifers, foliage gardening

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Admiration’

Green and red are color wheel opposites and make dramatic combinations. This pair of deciduous hardwoods slumbered through the winter unnoticed until they burst into attention-grabbing foliage in spring.

conifers, foliage gardening

The same Berberis, flanked on the other side by evergreens

The ‘Admiration’ barberry has evergreen neighbors on its other side, and when it leafs out in its red glory it brings out the crimson stems of the Drimys lanceolata on the right and the bronze tones of the Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Compacta behind.

foliage gardening, conifers

The dogwood is late to leaf out but the maple in front obliged, providing more red/green contrast with many yellow accents

Yellows, like all light colors, draw the eye and liven the landscape. Yellows are represented above by Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’, Euonymus ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, Yucca ‘Walbristar, Acer palmatum ‘Mizuho Beni’ and even the light green foliage of the Banksia in the foreground. A softer blue note is provided by Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’.

conifers, foliage gardening

Variations on a theme: the same colors with different plants

The other side of the path has a similar theme, but the Euonymus is joined by Phormium ‘Golden Ray’ and the blue is provided by Picea pungens ‘Lucretia’ and Agave ‘Blue Glow’.

conifers, foliage gardening

A rich tapestry of color

From the other angle, burgundy plays a much more significant role, and the blue of the plants is echoed in the ceramic pots around the folly.

conifers, foliage gardening

Softer combinations can be achieved by using analogous colors, those next to each other on the color wheel

The brighter colors draw the eye, but there is also beauty in the softness of groupings of colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, termed analogous combinations. The CedrusArctostaphylos and Banksia provide repose from the incendiary foliage around them.

conifers, succulents, agave vilmoriniana

While structure is not as obvious when bold color abounds, it can’t be ignored!

Even though we are overwhelmed with the spring colors, we can’t ignore structure and form completely. A trio of young Agave vilmoriniana, aptly named ‘octopus’, anchor a corner and provide textural as well as color contrast. We’re using more and more succulents in the foliage garden, interplanting among the conifers, maples and other woody plants. Stay tuned…


23 Comments

Creature Feature

Our traditional Halloween post! Happy Halloween to all and beware of creatures in the garden…

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum', conifers, weeping giant sequoia

Sara has a strange encounter with two monsters in The Oregon Garden.

The monsters come out for Halloween, and the garden is no exception. Some plants, like the Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’ above, are downright bizarre, even supernatural.  With our minds on tricks and treats we are seeing creatures everywhere!

Coenosium Gardens, conifers, foliage gardening

This Acer saccharum ‘Newton Sentry’ looks more like a giant, multi-armed alien than a maple tree!

Autumn’s misty days exacerbate the eeriness; we wonder if the alien pictured above at Coenosium Gardens has designs on that tractor, or even the barn…we had barely escaped its clutches when we came upon the next horrible beast:

conifers, Picea abies 'Pendula', Coenosium Gardens

This creature, rearing up on its hind legs, looks particularly ferocious. It’s really a Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’.

Not sure how much more our nerves could stand, we fled from Coenosium and sought sanctuary at Iseli Nursery.  All seemed well, until we saw the horrible multi-headed sea serpent sitting outside the front door, daring anyone to enter:

Chamaecyparis, topiary

A multi-headed creature from the deep guards the entry to Iseli Nursery

At Iseli, it appeared, it was too dangerous to linger. Would Buchholz & Buchholz be any safer?  We were weary of running and hoped to find safety soon.

Larix deciduosa 'Pendula', conifers, weeping larch

A strange furry pachyderm scared us away from Buchholz & Buchholz…

Buchholz was clearly not the place to stay!  An enormous creature greeted us in the Flora Wonder Arboretum and we decided that the only safe place was home, so we made our way back to Sonoma County.  At Quarryhill Botanical Garden we realized that we must have just missed a witch’s coven, as one of the witches left her broom in a pine tree:

conifers, pine trees

A witch’s broom in a Pinus densiflora at Quarryhill

So on to Circle Oak Ranch, where we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  No sooner were we settled than we realized that we had been invaded!

Cedrus deodara 'Divinely Blue', cedar, mixed foliage, colored foliage

Is this the Loch Ness Monster?

What had appeared to be a lovely specimen of Cedrus deodara ‘Divinely Blue’ turned into the Loch Ness Monster!  We recoiled and ran right into a series of webs…

Everything just looked eerier and eerier to us...spider webs were everywhere.

Everything just looked eerier and eerier to us…spider webs were everywhere.

Giant blue gardener-eating amoebas flowed along the ground, creeping along at our feet, sending out tentacles to nibble at our toes.

junipers, blue foliage, conifers

Amoeba-like Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ creep along the ground.

Some of the monstrous brutes have fierce teeth, which look like they could make short work of us.  We scurried away.  Where would we be safe?

succulents, foliage plants

The sharp leaves of Agave ‘Blue Glow’ look like so many enormous teeth.

How had we not noticed all of the teeth before?  They were everywhere!

succulents, black foliage

This Dyckia arizona tried to bite us as we passed.

Exhausted, and with darkness falling, we realized that we needed to seek shelter in the house.  We ran down the hill, passing a trio of demons, barely escaping their clutches.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

Three hulking monsters tried to grab us as we passed.

At last, safety was ours, warm and snug inside, with the doors locked, a fire lit and the dogs on guard.  We opened a bottle of wine and discussed how many narrow escapes we had had.  What we didn’t realize was that the creatures were waiting for us to leave to really let loose:

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

Only when the humans leave and the sun goes down do the creatures really come out to party!

A very Happy Halloween to all from the Phantoms and Fiends at Form and Foliage!


16 Comments

The Hit Parade: The Best Foliage Plants, Part I

succulents, foliage plants

Yucca gloriosa var. recurva ‘Walbristar’ (bright star Yucca)

We’ve long intended to provide plant lists for readers, with criteria such as ‘most durable’, ‘best winter interest’, ‘prettiest, etc. However as we begin, after a long hiatus, to to assemble the lists, we find that the easiest one to create is the list of plants that we simply can’t imagine being without. These aren’t the hardiest or the prettiest or the most drought-tolerant, they’re the go-to plants that both do the job and look like they are doing it effortlessly. This list is from the perspective of a long-time San Francisco Bay Area gardener, so may not apply to your situation. However, others’ lists are simply excuses to create your own, so if you don’t have a ‘must have’ list already, this is your chance to begin! We will note up front that all of these selections are more expensive than many other plants of similar look and size. However, they are worth it! Plants that behave well, that do not readily outgrow their spaces, are not susceptible to pathogens or predators and have long lives should cost more. How many cartloads of perennials do you really need every season? Forego one of them and buy a special plant instead.

bright star yucca

‘Walbristar’ glows in the landscape

1. First on our list is Yucca gloriosa var. recurva ‘Walbristar’ (Zone 7-10), quite a mouthful so easier, perhaps, to simply think bright star Yucca. We used to use Phormiums extensively, and gradually got tired of reversions (when those glorious colored or striped leaves return to dull green), growth rates far beyond the promises on the tags and difficult upkeep. One of our favorites had been ‘Golden Ray’, which features yellow and green striped leaves and thrives in full sun. Once we discovered ‘Walbristar’, however, we turned our back on Phormiums and have never looked back! ‘Walbristar’ has both a more refined look and more refined colors, the leaves do not shred and brown and it develops a distinctly rosy tint in the winter:

Yucca 'Walbristar' turns rosy in cold temperatures

Yucca ‘Walbristar’ turns rosy in cold temperatures

It’s drought tolerant, thrives in most soils and needs little to no upkeep. So far all we’ve had to do is to cut off a few spent flower stalks. It’s smaller ‘cousins’ Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ and Yucca gloriosa ‘Tiny Star’ have many of the same attributes with a smaller profile (and ‘Color Guard’ is clump-forming).

conifers, foliage plants, colored foliage

Ginkgo biloba ‘Todd’s Dwarf’

2. Next is our favorite dwarf Ginkgo biloba, ‘Todd’s Dwarf’ (Zone 3-10). Ginkgo are ancient trees that have barely changed over the millennia. Where they have changed, man has been the manipulator, cultivating naturally occurring mutations and interesting chance seedlings and producing numerous garden-sized small trees. The species Ginkgo, albeit slow-growing, attains heights of 70-80 feet, while these petite versions are often under 4′ at 10 years. They have interesting branching and leaf variations although all retain a semblance of the iconic ‘butterfly’ leaf shape. Our favorite is ‘Todd’s Dwarf, due to its full habit ruffled leaves, but there are many others, such as ‘Mariken’, ‘Troll’, ‘Munchkin’, ‘Jade Butterfly’ and ‘Chase Manhattan’. They all turn butter-yellow in autumn and generally drop their leaves all at once, making a glowing carpet. Four of these tough trees survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima, and they can withstand heat, cold, drought and pollution. They are some of the easiest care, low maintenance garden plants.

conifers, evergreen foliage

Cedrus deodara ‘Cream Puff’

3. The lovely deodar cedar ‘Cream Puff’ (Zone 7-11) is one of the best medium-large evergreen shrubs for Bay Area gardens. The soft, green needles are a classic deodara feature, in this cultivar augmented by creamy white new growth that glows in the landscape, especially during the colder months. Deodara come from the middle East, and deal well with our Mediterranean climate. Once established they are drought-tolerant and can take full sun without any burning or scorching.

conifers, cedars

The needles of Cedrus deodara ‘Cream Puff’ are beautiful up close as well

Up close, the needles look like they have been flocked or frosted. ‘Cream Puff’ is slow-growing and can be kept to shrub form, as the one above, by snipping out any leaders that may form.

Agave x 'Blue Glow'

Agave x ‘Blue Glow’

4. We love our succulents, and rather than relegate them to their own beds, we prefer to choose larger varieties and interplant them into the rest of the garden. Agave x ‘Blue Glow’ (Zone 8-11) is our very favorite. In the world of Agave, this counts as a small plant, but as you can see, it holds its own amongst many reasonably large shrubs. ‘Blue Glow’ provides both stunning structure and color and the maroon margins are complemented with maroon-leaved plants such as Berberis, Cotinus or certain succulents. Its water needs are lower than the nearby shrubs, which we take care of by mixing a goodly dose of lava rock into the soil around it and planting it up about 2-3″. It’s on the same irrigation as the rest of the garden. This Agave will ‘pup’, or produce smaller plants around its base. The leaf spines are extremely sharp; if you have young children or dogs it is advisable to snip them off with a scissors. It’s hard to imagine a plant that provides this much oomph with virtually no maintenance.  looks great up close, too:

Agave 'Blue Glow' up close

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ up close

5. Trees never get enough attention on top plant lists, and there are several that we wouldn’t be without. Arbutus ‘Marina’ (Zone 7-9) tops the list for us because it provides all-year interest, incredible bark, glossy evergreen leaves and decorative flowers and fruit. Give it good drainage and a sunny spot and it will flourish. Judicious pruning can result in fabulous shapes and branching.

strawberry tree, interesting bark

The peeling, cinnamon-chartreuse bark of Arbutus ‘Marina’

The ancestry of ‘Marina’ is unknown; it was first observed at a nursery in San Francisco’s Marina District and it is likely a hybrid between two species of Arbutus. ‘Marina’ flowers year-round, with peak bloom in spring and fall, and the fruit persist from yellow immature to red mature fruit, for a very decorative effect. The leaves flush bronze, later maturing to deep green. There is not one part of this tree that is not showy! ‘Marina’ grows slowly but will eventually become a full-sized tree, so site it accordingly.

Arbutus 'Marina'

Evergreen glossy foliage adds texture and interest all year

6. Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is our favorite variegated evergreen shrub.

holly, variegated shrubs, evergreen shrubs

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’

At a quick glance Osmanthus resembles holly and is commonly called ‘false holly’. There are many lovely green Osmanthus, and we use them extensively, but ‘Goshiki’ (Zones 6-9) is a special cultivar with its leaves flecked with yellow and cream. The new foliage has distinctly rosy-bronzy tones and the entire effect is light, bright and sparkling. We like to use ‘Goshiki’ against dark green conifers, where we get contrast of both color and texture. ‘Goshiki’ grows slowly and while it eventually will attain some size, it can be snipped back easily. Slow growth means that it is much harder for a plant to get out of hand! In this area it benefits from some afternoon shade, but it can be grown from almost full shade to full sun. It is a wonderful way to brighten a dark spot in the garden.

conifers

Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ works beautifully in a large container

7. If you like the look of ornamental grasses but hate the mess and upkeep, Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ (Zones 6-9) is your plant. With the fountain-like habit of a large ornamental grass and the no-nonsense low-care attributes of a conifer (which it is!), it is the perfect marriage of style and simplicity. The dark green foliage bronzes in winter, complementing the rusty brown stems. Its mounding, weeping habit is graceful and soft and its pendulous branches move in the breeze. We often purchase special, highly desirable plants and find ourselves walking around the garden, trying this spot or that, never finding quite the right one. We can always find a spot for ‘Whipcord’! It seems to fit in anywhere. ‘Whipcord’ is slow growing but over time will form a 4-5′ shrub that is almost as wide. Easy pruning keeps it much smaller, much longer.

colored foliage

Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple) ‘Esk Sunset’ gets our vote for loveliest tree

8. Acer pseduoplatanus ‘Esk Sunset’ (Zones 5-9) is such a lovely tree that we just can’t imagine being without it. Sure, there are hundreds–maybe thousands–of beautiful Japanese maples, and we love them all, but to some extent they begin to blur into each other after a while. ‘Esk Sunset’ is unique. Even the other pseudoplatanus cultivars don’t match its incredible flair. The leaves are mottled pale salmon and green, and the coloration varies from leaf to leaf.

sycamore maple

The undersides of the leaves of ‘Esk Sunset’ are purple!

And as if that weren’t enough, the undersides of the leaves are purple! When we catch sight of it backlit, we have to stop what we’re doing and just goggle at it. ‘Esk Sunset’ comes from the Esk Valley in New Zealand but some energetic nursery worker decided at some point that ‘Esk’ was short for ‘Eskimo’. Thus, you will usually see this tagged that way. ‘Esk Sunset’ is a slow-growing tree that appreciates some afternoon shade. The largest tree we’ve ever seen was at Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery in Oregon, an in-ground specimen that was about 25′ tall. You really don’t want to be without this one if you can grow it in your Zone.

conifers, California native plants

Pinus jeffreyi ‘Joppi’ – a California native at home in the garden

9. In California, planting natives is all the rage, and what we don’t understand is why that never seems to include the conifers? California has over 50 native conifers and many have garden-worthy cultivars.  Pinus jeffreyi ‘Joppi’ gets our vote for one of the best. It has a short, squat habit with long (up to 8″), deep green bristly needles and resembles some kind of troll-like creature. We half expect it to talk to us when we come near. The specimen in the photo above has not been pruned, but we’re considering borrowing a technique from bonsai and opening up the structure a bit so that we can see the trunk. This will grow slowly to about six feet tall in 10 years, but it can be kept squat by cutting out the central leader. Don’t you want to pet it?

 

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' (golden locust)

Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ (golden locust)

10. We end this entry with a controversial choice: Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’. ‘Frisia’ is a large, fast-growing tree that not all gardens can accommodate. Some say it self-sows almost to the point of invasiveness; we have never found it so here, with our drip irrigation and sumptuous mulching. Others complain about the brittle branches–again, they have never presented a problem for us. We do some pruning to tidy it up but other than that we leave it alone. The key to making this tree work in your garden is having enough space for a large tree, and preferably siting it against a backdrop of darker foliage, such as the redwoods in the photo. Some do regularly prune it hard and use it as a large shrub, but we prefer the graceful canopy and the dappled shade that it creates. The light underneath is golden and bright. ‘Frisia’ only gets more beautiful in autumn, when its chartreuse foliage softens to a creamy golden yellow. It rivals the Ginkgos for its beacon-like effect as the days shorten at year end.

Note:

Jan and Sara took a brief hiatus from Form and Foliage in the first half of 2014 as Jan took photography classes and Sara became the website editor for the American Conifer Society. We hope to be back on a more regular schedule in the second half of the year.

 

 


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Take My Hand, I’m a Stranger in Photographer Paradise

Molokai

Jan goes native; trades pines for palms…at least for a week!

Jan just returned from Molokai where she attended the “See the Light” seminar run by Dewitt Jones, Rikki Cooke  and Jonathan Kingston, three fabulous photographers whose professional lives all have passed through National Geographic at some point and whose breadth of experience and approach to photography are rich and inspiring.  It would take pages to describe this course, but suffice it to say that she learned a lot, not only from this dynamic trio but also from their equally talented wives and the other course attendees.

Molokai plants

Form and foliage, Island-style. Aloes and bromeliads combine for fantastic effect.

She wanted to share a few “form and foliage” images from Molokai. While she didn’t go to Hawaii just to photograph foliage, it’s impossible to ignore that these exotic plants provide plenty of color, texture and interest, even before you notice that a lot of them also produce gorgeous blossoms.

Molokai foliage plants

Cordylines and Crotons join palms in paradise.

The “See the Light” workshop was based at the Hui Ho’olana (www.huiho.org), the former hunting lodge for the Cooke family, one of the most influential families in the islands from the mid 1800s.  What started as a general store to supply missions grew to become Castle & Cooke, one of the “Big Five” corporations that dominated the Hawaiian economy for generations, until the  Hawaiian Democratic Revolution of 1954 struck a fatal blow to the sugar cane and pineapple industries as striking labor unions demanded the same wages and benefits as their mainland counterparts.

Lush tropical ferns lend soothing green.

Lush tropical ferns lend soothing green.

Molokai used to be the site of the best pineapples in the world; that is now long gone.  The island remains largely undeveloped, and many, if not most, of the residents wish it to remain so.   The Nature Conservancy and a foundation funded by Rikki Cooke and Dewitt Jones have purchased miles of coastline in an attempt to preserve the natural beauty and the habitats of the island’s native creatures.

The gardens at the Hui are serene and lovely

The gardens at the Hui are serene and lovely. This is Form and Foliage, Hawaiian-style!

The Hui Ho’olana today is a non-profit organization that hosts educational workshops and volunteer residencies to support a self-sustaining facility and Hui’s native Hawaiian reforestation projects.  The Hui has hosted photography workshops since the 1980s.  Rikki Cooke and his wife Bronwyn manage the Hui. The lodge is rustic, but roomy and comfortable, featuring a wrap-around porch with stunning panoramic views of the island.

The kitchen garden at the Hui

The kitchen garden at the Hui Ho’olana, with a spot for a tired gardener to rest.

The kitchen produces delicious meals, with many of the ingredients harvested from their extensive gardens and fruit trees.  Miles of trails snake down the island, and with a little advance planning you can get an expert massage in one of the yurts nestled in the woods on the hillside.  The Hui recently underwent a major upgrade of the landscaping.

The gardens are filled with textures and colors.

The gardens are filled with textures and colors.

While the plants in tropical gardens are vastly different than their temperate cousins (most are not even the same genera), design and color principles are the same, and year-round interest is the norm.

We don't generally think about large shade trees in the tropics, but they can be just as dramatic as in temperate zones.

We don’t generally think about large shade trees in the tropics, but they can be just as architectural as in temperate zones.

And although we wanted to showcase some of the foliage plants that Jan photographed, we couldn’t resist ending with a more classic Hawaiian shot.  Aloha from Form and Foliage!

Molokai coast

No foliage but lots of form.