form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Private Spaces: The LeCocq Garden

gunnera, Japanese maples

Foliage combines with sculptural trunks to provide year-round interest in the LeCocq garden.

When Frances and Irwin LeCocq built their home overlooking Puget Sound almost 30 years ago, their steep front yard was a tangled mass of weeds.  With an almost 23 degree  slope, mowing was out of the question, so a lawn was never a consideration.   The LeCocqs initially covered the expanse with ivy, which they soon realized was a deer delicacy.  Time for Plan B!  In envisioning revised plantings, the LeCocqs didn’t consciously seek out a ‘form and foliage’ design, but  they did have some specific criteria.

gardening on a hill, gardening on a slope

The steep slope presented design challenges, especially since the LeCocqs wanted to be able to walk down to pick up the mail!

First, the slope meant that ongoing maintenance would be difficult and disagreeable (the reason for their first choice of ivy).  Second, in Bellingham’s mild climate, the garden is enjoyed year-round, so should be attractive year-round.  Finally, the LeCocqs knew that they would have to share their garden with the deer, ruling out most tender, floriferous plantings.

foliage gardening, winter gardens

A mix of conifers and deciduous woody plants provides four seasons of interest.

Over the next 21 years, a sequence of talented designers and gardeners assisted the LeCocqs in realizing their vision.  Richard Haag, a Seattle landscape architect, provided the initial plan.  One of his first tasks was to lay out a concrete and gravel pathway following the serpentine track that Irwin had made along the contours of the hill as he made the daily trek to the mailbox.   The mainstays of the garden would be shrubs and trees that could withstand the bands of marauding deer, with a generous component of evergreens to provide winter interest.

foliage plants, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses

A Japanese maple graces the front patio, complemented by ornamental grasses.

They chose numerous Japanese maples and other deciduous plants to ensure a spectacular autumn.  As with all gardens, this one evolved with the help of many hands, including David Steinbrunner, now in Texas, and Bear Creek Nursery’s Jeanne Hager, who currently tends the garden.  Recently, Susan Harrison, of Private Gardens in Bellingham, helped redesign the entry.

woodland gardens, foliage gardening

A wide variety of plantings with lots of trees and shrubs create a lush, woodland feel on what had been a bare slope.

Throughout the garden’s history careful attention was paid to creating combinations of complementary and contrasting textures, as well as colors.  The woody plants do the ‘heavy lifting’ in the garden, but there are enough herbaceous varieties interplanted among the trees and shrubs to create a lush, woodland feel.

peonies fall color, foliage plants

Peonies, with a second season of interest that we didn’t think possible!

Our visit in September caught the deciduous plants at the beginning of their autumn color, and it wasn’t just trees and shrubs providing the show; we were repeatedly amused (and a bit chastened) to see bold oranges and reds provided by peonies, which heretofore we had dismissed as one-season wonders.

A scarlet-leaved Cotinus coggygria in a container on the deck brings the autumn foliage right up to the house.

The LeCocq’s home overlooks most of the garden, as well as Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, and has a large deck that feels nestled in tree tops.  Frances has container plantings to complement the beds, and the autumn standout is a scarlet Cotinus coggygria.

foliage gardens, foliage gardening

The LeCocq garden, viewed from their deck.

While the garden could not be described as ‘no maintenance’, the upkeep is far less than would be necessary for flowering perennials. Although the deer visit nightly, their nibbling has generally been minimal.  The LeCocqs remain grateful to those original marauders, who, by eating the ivy, were responsible for Plan B!

foliage plants, fall color

A Cornus in fall color nicely complements the blue-green leaves of a Euphorbia.

This is a lovely garden in which to wander, to sit and enjoy, and to revel in the colors, shapes and textures.  We thank the LeCocqs for graciously hosting the first segment of our road trip.  Astute readers will have noticed that their last name is the same as Jan’s.  That is because they are her parents!

Admittedly, the garden does get a bit of competition from the view beyond!

Yes, we started close to home, but we branched out. Stay tuned for the next stop: Coenosium Gardens in Eatonville WA, home of Bob Fincham, plantsman extraordinaire.

Copyright 2012 Sara B Malone and Janice M LeCocq
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Golden Spring – and lots of other colors, too!

As winter subsides the garden magazines and blogs proliferate with emblematic photos of spring: bulbs in bloom, flowering trees and early floriferous annuals such as pansies.  Buds, particularly, capture our imagination, as they exemplify spring’s promise with their enticement to envision the unfolding flower tucked inside.  But garden writers woefully neglect the backstory: what is going on out there besides the flowers?  What has just as much color, interest and pizzazz?  Leaf buds, cones and young, tender vegetative growth.  Come with us on a tour through the spring garden as seen through the eyes of self-confessed foliage freaks.

Part I – Flower ‘substitutes’

Picea pungens ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’ gets our vote for New Foliage Poster Child.

One of the brightest garden lights as new growth pushes is Picea pungens ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’.  The new needles are daffodil yellow, a color that persists for 5-6 weeks until it gradually fades to bluish green.  Unlike real daffs, however, there are no unsightly withering leaves lingering for months. Apparently, the sunny needles of this spruce look like flowers not just to us. Try as she might, however, this errant honeybee is not going to get any nectar out of them!

New foliage on Picea p. ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’ with honeybee.

For a nearly perfect nosegay, we love the young leaves of Cotinus coggygria, or smoke bush.  They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but we know that before there’s smoke, there are luscious little leaves clustered around the immature flower buds.  Cut a bunch, stick in it a vase, and you have a ready-made ‘flower’ arrangement.

A ‘nosegay’ of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’.

Now, to make a point, we’ll show you a branch with actual flowers on it: Acacia pravissima, an Australian plant known down under as wattle:

Acacia pravissima

Acacia pravissima in spring bloom.

We couldn’t help but notice that right next to the Acacia in the garden is a Picea abies ‘Rubra spicata’, which is notable for having rosy red new growth, arrayed along its branches in a matter very similar to the Acacia!

New growth on Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ is a rosy red – are you sure those aren’t flower buds along that branch?

Not to be outdone, Picea orientalis ‘Early Gold’ is resplendent with cones in almost the same rosy red.

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

A bouquet of purple shows up on Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’

Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ has grape-colored cones in spring.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Admiration’ leafs out like a vivid paprika dahlia.  Who says that spring colors are pastels?

Berberis ‘Admiration’ new spring foliage – who says spring is for pastels?

Another warm-toned flower look alike is the maple Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’, whose unfurling leaves resemble the bell-shaped varieties of Clematis or Campanula.

New growth on Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’ just after bud break.

And if you prefer pink, why not go for Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’, clearly a pine with attitude!  These are the immature female cones, but they look pretty sophisticated to us.

The female cones of Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’ are hot pink!

Do you like spiky flowers, such as Gladiolus or Delphinium?  It’s hard to beat the new candles of Thunderhead pines, Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’.

Candles on Pinus t. ‘Thunderhead’ look more like matches with sulfur heads. In any case, they look ready to be lit!

Want rosebuds?  Check out the cones on Picea abies ‘Pusch’.

The dainty ‘rosebuds’ of Picea abies ‘Pusch’.

‘Pusch’ is a mutation of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’, and you can see that the parent has its own ‘flower power’.

A rosy ‘bud’ on Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ (in reality a female cone).

The blue spruces get into the game, too, as P. pungens ‘Fat Albert’ demonstrates. In spring the new growth is not so much blue as minty green.  Scrumptious.

The minty green new foliage on Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ has us reaching for the dark chocolate.

Lobelia tupa, generally grown for its 7’ tall spikes of deep red flowers, masquerades as a foliage plant in spring, when it wears felted leaves in soft green.  They appear as pointed ‘buds’ that remind us of lily petals unfolding.

LeCocq_120425_1447s

Felted leaves in fresh green glow in the spring foliage garden….long before the scarlet flowers grab center stage.

And for those that insist on a rosette, look no further than Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’.  No wishy-washy shade for her!  We wonder if she wears matching nail polish.

Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’ forms a rosette with perfectly outlined ‘lips’.

And to end where we began, with ‘golden spring’, is Corylopsis spicata ‘Golden Spring’.  Leafing out in a deeper yellow than ‘Gabelle’s Golden Spring’, it deepens to  chartreuse in summer and then in autumn a golden yellow again.

LeCocq_20120425_0975-Edits

New foliage on Corylopsis spicata ‘Golden Spring’ glows in the shade garden in spring.

So look harder, look longer, look beyond the flowers, and find the gold…and burgundy and red and purple and powder blue and pink and….

Next up: Part II – Compelling Color Combos.

Stay tuned.

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage