form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


Acer campestre 'compacta' with Helictotrichon sempervirens; Berberis thunbergii and Nyssa sylvatica turning colors in the background

Acer campestre ‘compacta’ with Helictotrichon sempervirens; Berberis thunbergii and Nyssa sylvatica turning colors in the background

We find that the vast majority of perennial gardens, while beautiful in season, lack structure and early spring, fall and winter interest.  We have also gotten tired of the repeated demands of a perennial garden – shearing, deadheading, refreshing, etc.

Sara gardens in Northern California and Jan in the Florida panhandle.  Their zones are similar (Sara is USDA 9b, Jan is 8b), however the specific growing conditions are, in reality, quite different.  Sara’s Mediterranean climate is hugely influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean, and lacks summer rain.  Jan’s inland garden is hotter in summer, but has the humidity that many plants enjoy. Nighttime temperatures are very different, as well, with Sara’s garden always cooling off at night, and Jan’s warm in summer, no matter the hour.

Because of the maritime influence in Petaluma, Sara’s garden rarely sees a hard freeze; consequently she can grow varieties that are not hardy in many parts of the country.  Jan, while colder in winter, also enjoys a milder climate than many, although she does see the occasional hard freeze.  Some of the examples that we use are not applicable to gardens with harsher winters.  However, the concepts of planting for winter interest, incorporating more structure into the garden and increasing foliage’s contribution to the garden palette are valid throughout the world.

Wherever possible, we include plant examples that thrive in tougher winter conditions.  We also like to hear from readers who garden in other zones but are interested in incorporating our themes into their gardens, or have already done so successfully.  What ‘form and foliage’ plants do you use?  How do you create winter interest?  Are ‘form and foliage’ plants readily available where you live?

We try to post monthly, and will answer relevant comments.    Our posts will be seasonally appropriate; you will not find photos of summer foliage in February or autumn berries in May.  Jan’s photos aim not only to meet her artistic standards, but also to depict, as accurately as possible, what the plants actually look like in the landscape.  Published and ‘fine art’ garden photos are often supersaturated, some almost surreally. We want our readers to understand how these plants would appear in their own gardens, so Jan tries to make the hues and contrasts closer to what Nature created.

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