form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


The Oregon Garden – A Destination Resort

conifers, mixed foliage border, evergreen shrubs

The Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon

A Destination Resort is one whose location and amenities make the resort itself an attraction for tourists, rather than just a spot to stay while visiting the region.  For Form and Foliage, The Oregon Garden Resort provided the best amenity of all: The Oregon Garden! And an unexpected bonus was that The Garden is open before/after hours to those staying at The Resort.  Thus, we were able to wander at will before the crowds arrived and after they had gone home, and catch the best light of the day.

evergreen foliage, mixed evergreen foliage border

A beautiful array of conifers at The Oregon Garden

We spent most of our time in the Conifer Collection, which features not just conifers tastefully planted but also a nice selection of companion plants.  The Garden was the brainchild of the Oregon Association of Nurseries as a way to showcase the State’s rich horticultural heritage.  Groundbreaking was in 1997 and the Conifer Garden was dedicated in 2000, although the plantings feel like they have been in the ground longer than the intervening 12 years (our visit was in September 2012).

Oregon Garden conifer garden

Sara is dwarfed by the Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’

The Conifer Garden has one of the largest collections of dwarf and miniature conifers in the U.S. and was created in partnership with the American Conifer Society, which provides ongoing consultation.  We hear that there are plans to double the Conifer Garden’s size so we’re calendaring a return trip!

conifers and colored foliage

Mixed foliage border at The Oregon Garden

We used The Resort as our home base while we were visiting nearby nurseries and private gardens and thus were able to see the gardens over several days.  There was no shortage of plantings to observe, and we were particularly taken with the mix of conifers and companion plants, which showcased the best attributes of both, such as the juxtaposition of the blue spruce and orange heather in the above photo.

conifers, the oregon garden, Abies amabilis 'Spreading Star'

The soft blue needles of the fir contrast beautifully with the peachy tones of the nearby plants

The same blue/orange combination (which we’ve written about before in We’ve Got the Blues) works with softer tints as well, as you can see in the above photo.  Clearly this garden was planned with an eye to both color and seasonality.

Weeping blue and upright orange combine with starry mint green for a rich combination of colors and shapes

Weeping blue and upright orange combine with starry mint green for a rich combination of colors and shapes

The planners were attentive to shape, as well, as tall weepers flow into upright ground-huggers with staccato bursts of bright foliage keeping things lively.  This garden provides many take-aways for the home gardener in design, plant selection, and plant combinations.

The Oregon Garden, conifers

This blue spruce is highlighted by the dazzling orange heather in the background

We couldn’t resist one last artsy shot of the power that the blue/orange combination provides! The color combinations in the garden go way beyond that pairing, however.  The palette encompasses many shades of greens, yellows and reds and maroon.

conifers, evergreen plants, foliage border

Orange and blue broaden into a plethora of greens and chartreuse

In the above photo the maple in the foreground tries for drama while the conifers provide a range of color, even in autumn when they are not flush with new growth. Everyone that thinks that conifers are boring should take a long look at this scene, and remember that they will look like this all winter, too…

shrub border, foliage plants

Yellows dominate in this scene from The Oregon Garden’s conifer collection

The above scene shows another side of conifer color – the ‘pop’ that yellow and gold can provide in a dreary winter landscape (see Bleak Midwinter).  The lemony yellow of the billowy weeping Chamaecyparis is picked up by the tips of the spruce on the left.  While the maroon Berberis in front and the fiery Viburnum in the rear are still in leaf there is even more garden color – in autumn.

Soft color from conifers and a peony in fall foliage

Soft color from conifers and a peony in fall foliage

One of the things that makes this garden such a pleasure to visit is the use of such a broad selection of plant material.  The fairly pedestrian peony in the above photo, which most people plant simply for the sumptuous spring flower, has raspberry-stained leaves in autumn and provides a subtle accent to the many shades – and shapes – of the surrounding conifers.

weeping beech

The conifer garden makes generous use of deciduous specimen trees

The conifers are interplanted lavishly with beautiful specimen trees, chosen for their form and foliage (see why we liked it?) The weeping purple beech above shows off the cedar in front with lovely contrast of color, shape and texture.  The tree trunks will continue to provide structure and contrast when the leaves have fallen.

The weeping purple beech dominates this scene and its form is echoed by the group of Cupressus nootkatensis behind

The weeping purple beech dominates this scene and its form is echoed by the group of Cupressus nootkatensis behind

We loved staying here at The Garden and would recommend it as a relaxing spot for anyone wanting to see a superb – and beautifully planted – conifer collection.  Even non-gardeners will find much to admire and enjoy at The Garden, and the ability to wander freely when it is closed to day visitors makes this garden experience more like staying at a private country manor than visiting a public installation.

Sunset at The Oregon Garden

We lingered in The Garden as long as it was still light enough to see!

From here we visited a private garden that has some breathtaking plantings, so stay tuned…in the meantime, take a look at The Oregon Garden and start planning your visit!



Worshipping at the Iseli Altar

conifers, winter garden, colored foliage, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

The display gardens at Iseli Nursery showcase a wide variety of conifers and companion plantings.

Conifer lovers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the display gardens at Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon, which are immortalized on the company’s website and annual calendars and regularly featured in at least one blog.  As part of our trek to the conifer nirvana that is the Pacific Northwest, we clearly had to pay both a call and our respects.  We were curious as to whether we would find the gardens even more awe-inspiring ‘in the fresh’ than on the page.

Sculpted pines, pines, evergreen foliage, colored foliage, Iseli Nursery

We elected to focus on contrasting colors, shapes and textures, rather than specimens.

Indeed, we were struck with such a degree of sensory overload that we had trouble focusing at first (our eyes, that is, not the camera!)  As we began to take stock of the richness that surrounded us, we realized that there were two ways to view the garden, as indeed there are any garden–by sharpening our focus to pick out the detail of each discreet specimen, a goal already ably achieved by other chroniclers, or by letting our lens go wider and take in the enormous range of textures, colors and sizes with which the gardens abound.

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine - color-blocking is VERY 2013!

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine – color-blocking is VERY 2013!

In the photograph above we showcase three common selections in deep hues readily available across a range of genus, species and cultivars.  Skip the taxonomy for a bit and focus on how richly satisfying this simple combination is.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, gold foliage, blue foliage

Add a dimension to the color by varying the textures.

In the next shot, we stick with rich colors but vary the texture of the green specimen. In this case it’s a spiky, starburst shape, but it could be weepy, spreading, lacy or bristly.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, pastel foliage

Color-blocking with pastels.

If you shy from the bold and prefer your colors softer, there are copious choices.  Like the master color mixer who adds a drop of black to a gallon can of paint to produce a smokier hue, plant breeders have combined with nature to create velvety gray-greens, muted yellows and olive tints to satisfy those who seek more subtle statements.

conifers, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

Soft colors create a calmer mood.

In fact, as the photo above demonstrates, a border of mixed foliage need not be strident or harsh.

Iseli Nursery, mixed foliage border, Japanese maples, evergreens, colored folaige

Deciduous plantings add an even wider range of textures and colors to the conifers.

Adding deciduous plants such as Japanese maples or dogwoods softens the look still more and expands the range of colors, shapes and textures.  The grouping above adds a formal note with the sculpted Chamaecyparis in the center.

conifers, Iseli Nusery, weeping conifers

Monochromatic doesn’t mean boring!

If you are not a fan of colored foliage, you can stick with conventional green and vary the shape. Think of yourself as a sculptor, rather than a painter, and go for a dramatic weeper flanked by a shag carpet.  Admittedly, that bronze foliage in the background does a great job of highlighting the green.

variegated dogwood, Iseli, conifers, colored foliage

Once again, we add some deciduous foliage to mix it up even more.

Note how the Cornus contriversa ‘Variegata’ adds a shape, texture and color beyond that displayed by the conifers.  We love the way this ‘living room’ is decorated with a lemon-yellow carpet and a fuzzy green hassock.

Iseli Nursery, conifers, colored foliage

A velvety swath of turf grass soothes the eye and sets off the rich colors of the specimen plantings.

We will close with one of our favorite shots – a limited palette but a wide variety of shapes, sizes and textures, including the dramatically pendulous Picea abies ‘Cobra’, on the right, one of Iseli’s newest introductions.

Next stop: Buchholz & Buchholz!


Coenosium Gardens – A Conifer Laboratory!

Bob Fincham, evergreen foliage, designing with evergreens, conifers

Bob Fincham has a worldwide reputation as an conifer expert, with a list of introductions and publications to his name of which any plantsman would be proud.  Coenosium Gardens, the 5.6 acre property that he and his wife, Dianne, have developed in Eatonville, WA over the last few decades, is a virtual laboratory of conifer grafting, breeding and experimentation.  Their website explains that that they focus on plant introductions and that they are the ‘go to’ site for those wanting to locate rare conifers, read articles about conifers or just generally find out what is going on in the conifer world.

evergreen foliage, conifers, designing with foliage plants

A dazzling array of evergreen and deciduous foliage incorporates many colors and textures

When Form and Foliage made the pilgrimage to Coenosium in September, we found all that we had been expecting…and more.  What the articles and the Fincham website don’t convey is what a beautiful spot the couple has created, by having an eye for color, shape and texture combined with deft plant combinations.  The word ‘Coenosium’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘plant community’.  Plant community, indeed!  A virtual wonderland of the principles that F&F holds dear: interesting plant material, combined to enhance the attributes of each plant, not detract from them, planted with regard to the shapes and sizes so that each plant can do its part and not get lost in a shapeless mass.

evergreen foliage, conifers, foliage gardening

Beds of foliage combinations flank mature trees in a woodland setting

Bob and Dianne run a successful mail-order nursery from their home, but the majority of the acreage is given over to expertly landscaped plantings, with a focus on pleasing combinations of foliage.  Deciduous trees and shrubs (especially beeches and maples) are interplanted with the beloved conifers to provide contrast of both color and texture.

Japanese maples, fall color, conifers, foliage gardening

Fall color is shown to advantage against the conifer specimens

Our visit coincided with peak fall color, but the huge variety of plant specimens at Coenosium guarantees a show at any time of year.  As the photo above illustrates, conifers come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and textures.

dwarf conifers, evergreens, foliage gardening

One of the newer gardens, planted with dwarf conifers of every imaginable color, shape and texture

The grounds range from more mature plantings around the house to newer gardens that focus more on dwarf varieties.  Bob has written a book about dwarf conifers, entitled ‘Small Conifers for Small Gardens’, that is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about incorporating conifers into the home garden.

Dwarf ginkgo, foliage gardening, conifers

While strictly speaking not conifers, Ginkgos are gymnosperms like conifers and are closely related

Many of the gardens have an Asian feel, with plants such as Ginkgos and pines that are associated with Asian gardens and statuary and hardscape distinctly Asian in design.  The dwarf Ginkgo above is suitable for even the smallest gardens, and contrasts beautifully with its conifer cousins.

gold foliage evergreens, golden conifers

Gold foliage brightens cloudy winter days

Bob has made somewhat of a specialty of gold-foliage conifers, perhaps because the Seattle area is known for its share of overcast winter days.  The sunny foliage of the spruce in the photo above shines like a beacon even when the sun is nowhere to be seen.  It also contrasts beautifully with the maroon and blue foliage in the background.

A fine grouping of conifers with deciduous trees in the background

Bob also uses conifers in containers – a practice that those with small gardens (or even those limited to terrace gardening) can adopt.  Many of the dwarf and miniature varieties are so slow-growing that they can exist happily for years in containers, sometimes even sharing space with others.

conifers in containers, container gardening

Conifer container gardening is the ultimate in easy plant care

Bob and Dianne’s mail order nursery is the place to go to find rare varieties and a good selection of garden-worthy dwarfs and miniatures.  Their stock is healthy and well-cared for and we confess to falling victim to the wide array of choices available and picking out a boxful for shipping.  Needless to say, the plants arrived in perfect condition.

conifers, foliage gardening, evergreens

The nursery stock is healthy and gorgeous – we couldn’t resist!

Finally, the following photos show that the ‘mad scientist’ is at work in the ‘laboratory’! Bob is continually fascinated with what he can do using his grafting skills and his imagination.  Whether the gardening world is ready for some of his creations remains to be seen, but no one can accuse him of not pushing the envelope!

grafted conifers

Two spruces grafted to produce one plant with contrasting form, color and texture

grafted conifers, evergreen foliage, gold conifers, blue conifers

Another ‘twofer’ – blue and yellow spruces are combined to provide sunshine and shadow in one plant

Check out Coenosium Gardens on line, with information about ordering plants – and the book!  Meanwhile, stay tuned for our next stop: the demonstration gardens at Iseli Nursery in Oregon.

Copyright 2012 by Sara B. Malone and Janice M. LeCocq


Form and Foliage Takes a Road Trip: First Stop, Sonoma County CA

Western Hills

A foggy morning at Western Hills, recently reopened by its new owners

We’ve been silent for a couple of months as we’ve been visiting landmark gardens in the Pacific Northwest and California.  Working backwards in time, we will begin by sharing some images of California gardens that we toured with the American Conifer Society‘s Western Regional Conference, held in Sonoma County, CA last weekend.  50 conifer enthusiasts from around the country gathered to visit two iconic gardens–Western Hills and Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a private garden–Circle Oak Ranch, and Cornerstone Gardens–a multi-garden ‘installation’ by a variety of notable garden designers, landscape architects and artists.

Color combinations of conifers

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Conybearii Aurea’ pokes up amongst the other trees in the canopy

Western Hills was our first stop, and the new owners, Chris and Tim Szybalski, have done a wonderful job of restoring this legendary garden.  The trees are now roughly 50 years old and have turned what was originally a sunny plot into a shade garden.  An enormous Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Conybearii Aurea’, for instance, shows no golden foliage on its lower branches where it grows in the shade of the other trees. From a choice viewing spot across the garden, however, its golden crown glows amidst the green and blue foliage.  Note the blooming Erythrina in front – a rare specimen that doesn’t often attain significant size here in Sonoma County, where it is occasionally subject to freezing.

color wheel combinations

Broad vista of foliage textures and colors at Western Hills Garden

In a broader shot taken from the same spot, the enormous variety of foliage colors, textures and forms is evident.  The Cupressus torulosa ‘Cashmeriana’ (center right) provides weeping interest and the Loropetalum with its purple foliage contrasts smartly with the dominant green theme.

Interesting bark

Contrasting shapes and textures at Western Hills Garden

The Western Hills of old was far more floriferous than today’s garden.  During the troubled years of foreclosure and neglect, maintaining the perennials became difficult and the volunteer brigade concentrated on saving the trees and shrubs. Rather than succumbing to the tendency to mourn the passing of garden’s illustrious past, we viewed the garden with a fresh eye, and it is a beautiful place, full of a wide range of interesting specimens that display more form and structure than in prior years.  In the photo above, for example, the shining bark of the cherry on the left and the bold spikes of the Dasylirion on the right make strong statements amongst shades of green.

Western Hills

An Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’ provides a hint of color amidst bare trunks

The Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’ in the above photo is one of the unusual plants that Western Hills Nursery had featured–it has a densely branching habit that makes it much more compact and well-behaved in the garden than most Abutilon.  We are happy to say that we have several here at Circle Oak, all from the original plant purchased at Western Hills 15 years ago.

An Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ glows in fall color at Western Hills Garden

Our last shot of Western Hills Garden features an Acer p. ‘Sango Kaku’ in fiery orange fall foliage, set off by a plummy Cordyline, with Dasylirion, Euphorbia and Cotinus in front to provide texture.  For anyone in or visiting the Bay Area, Western Hills Garden is now open on Saturdays or by appointment:

American Conifer Society

Sara Malone and Jani Weaver discuss the garden with members of the American Conifer Society

Our next stop was our own gardens at Circle Oak Ranch.  Since we have featured this garden in virtually all of our posts, Jan concentrated on shots of the American Conifer Society members enjoying themselves in the garden.

American Conifer Society, Western Region, visits Sara’s garden at Circle Oak Ranch.

Although this was a Western Region conference, conifers lovers came from all over the country to enjoy the Sonoma Wine Country in the mild autumn weather.  Accompanied by Phormiums, Leucadendron and Leptospermum, the conifers took on different personalities than those from colder zones were used to seeing!

Asian plants, plant conservation

The lake at Quarryhill Botanical Garden

We spent a gorgeous afternoon at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen.  Quarryhill is dedicated to the preservation of Asian plant species, and the vast majority of the garden’s plants were grown from wild-collected seed in China, Japan, India and other parts of Asia.  Quarryhill has received international recognition for its efforts and is a must-see for any serious plant lover.

Asian plants

A witch’s broom in a Pinus densiflora at Quarryhill Botanical Garden

For conifer lovers there was much to admire, including a witch’s broom in a large Pinus densiflora.  The garden is replete with deciduous trees, as well, making the fall foliage display here one of the loveliest in the Bay Area.

Asian plants

The Pinetum at Quarryhill Botanical Garden showcases approximately 50 different species of conifers

Since the plants at Quarryhill are from wild-collected seed, there are virtually no named varieties (the majority of the conifers that we plant in our gardens are named varieties, or cultivars).  It was fun to see all of the species, many of which have attained significant size in the garden’s 25 years.  The conifers in the Pinetum are all labeled, making it a great learning spot for anyone interested in comparing and contrasting the different genera.

The trees at Quarryhill dominate in autumn, when most of the flowering plants are dormant.  The dramatic bark on this China berry makes a striking statement even when the tree is leafless.

An autumn afternoon at Quarryhill Botanical Garden

Perhaps even more important than Quarryhill’s worldwide significance, however, is that it is a simply glorious place to spend an afternoon:

Next stop: Notable gardens of the Pacific Northwest, including Coenosium Gardens, Buchholz & Buchholz, Iseli and The Oregon Garden

Copyright 2012 by Sara B Malone and Janice M LeCocq


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.


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.


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


Bleak Midwinter….but wait! It doesn’t have to be! (Part II, non-Conifers)

As we noted in Part I, conifers provide the vast majority of golden winter foliage, especially in colder zones.  Anyone who thought that ‘conifer’ was synonymous with ‘Christmas tree’ should have a new idea from our photos of the numerous golden varieties lighting up the winter landscape.

Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ in foreground and Phormium ‘Golden Ray’ in background provide gold in winter

However, even those of us that use conifers extensively in the garden enjoy the variety of texture and shape that other plants provide, so here we share those that add a golden glow without the needles.

Phormiums add color and structure with their strappy, evergreen foliage

In USDA zones 8-10, Phormiums add color and drama to the foliage garden. Many of us have a love-hate affair with the genus, as Phormiums are the over-used, poorly maintained staples of many commercial plantings.  In addition, many grow far larger than their tags indicate and reversion to the green is deplorably common in the most attractively colored varieties.  In fact, one plantsman we know is fond of saying that if you have a colored Phormium that hasn’t reverted, you just haven’t had it long enough.

A Cryptomeria j. ‘Elegans Compacta’ is flanked by Phormium ‘Golden Ray’

Happily, a few varieties manage to transcend the sins of their relatives and perform as good garden citizens, and one is P. ‘Golden Ray’. True to its name, it provides a ray of sunshine in the winter landscape, doesn’t get enormous and, at least so far (it was first grown in the U.S. in 2006), appears to be stable.  An added benefit is that it is easy to groom, as the old blades can be tugged gently for removal, rather than requiring weaponry to dislodge them. The strappy leaves provide wonderful contrasting structure to the softer, more rounded shapes of the conifers.

Yucca ‘Walbristar’, aka Bright Star, adds a burst of color to the winter landscape

Yuccas also add sunshine to the winter garden, with structure similar to Phormiums.  They are related, although not as closely as they were once thought to be, when both were in the Agave family.  Phormiums have recently been moved into a family of their own.  Yuccas come in a variety of greens and golds, and our favorite is ‘Walbristar’, patented and sold in the U.S. as Bright Star.

Yucca ‘Walbristar’ (aka Bright Star) close up in winter sunlight

In summer Bright Star is crisply green and gold, but colder winter temperatures bring out a pink blush.  It is a strikingly beautiful plant. Pam Pennick, of Digging, reports from Zone 8b that “‘Color Guard’ yucca looks great year round and is a nice medium size that doesn’t try to swallow a garden.”  She also likes ‘Bright Edge’ and we love ‘Tiny Star’.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a broad-leaved evergreen with golden variegated foliage

If grass-like leaves are not to your liking, or your winter temperatures are too low for Phormiums and Yuccas, Abelia Kaleidoscope is a wonderful choice.  This A. grandiflora variety is much more compact than the species and has buttery golden winter foliage with highlights of red, orange and chartreuse.  It grows beautifully in Zone 9b and is evergreen to Zone 7.  This is one of our favorite shrubs year-round, and it can take full summer sun here without burning.  The shadier the spot the greener it grows, so for maximum sunshine in winter, plant it in full sun or under a deciduous tree.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ paired with Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ and Euphorbia c. wulfenii

See how well ‘Kaleidoscope’ pairs with greens and reds?  Its compact form means low maintenance, although it can withstand shearing if it gets rangy.

Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ has lovely variegated foliage but really pulls its weight in winter with its bare stems

We read a lot about red-twigged dogwoods and don’t understand why their yellow brethren don’t get more respect – or attention.  Yellow-twigged varieties such as C. ‘Silver and Gold’ and C. ‘Flaviramea’ glow with golden intensity like so many high-wattage filaments in the winter landscape.  Much as we love it, we don’t plant a lot of it: the yellow color is brightest on the youngest wood, which means that yearly pruning of older branches is necessary to keep it glowing.

Libertia ixiodes ‘Goldfiinger’ is our favorite golden grass-like plant

We’ve even prospected for gold amongst the grass-like plants and found Libertia, which is woefully underused, given its attributes.  Not a true grass but a member of the Iris family, Liberta is evergreen, low maintenance and drought-tolerant in Zones 7-10.  There are several varieties – we’ve used L. ixiodes ‘Goldfinger’ and L. peregrinans.

Try Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ for its shiny, golden variegated leaves

This small specimen of Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ shows off its golden new foliage

There are also variegated hollies or holly-look-alikes.  Try Ilex ‘Ferox Argentea’ or Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’.  Both supposedly grow to Zone 6.  Their shiny, toothy leaves add structure year-round but their golden variegation is most appreciated in winter on cloudy days.

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ glows golden in winter, here interplanted with S. spurium ‘Voodoo’

For those of you in the coldest zones, Sedum ‘Angelina’ is hardy to -40° F.  We’d call it chartreuse in summer, but in fall and winter it takes on a ruddy hue and shines gold from underneath shrubs or across open spaces.  Be careful about adding ‘Angelina’ willy-nilly; it roots seemingly overnight and some may consider it invasive.  If you use drip irrigation, it won’t take hold where there is no water.

Meyer lemon fruit – a cross between lemon and orange gives this fruit a golden tone

And finally, even though we’re cheating by including this on a foliage blog, what would the winter landscape be in California without citrus?  Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer Improved’) is the only citrus that we can reliably grow here in 9b, and it supposedly grows in Zone 8.  The golden fruit add ornamentation to the winter landscape, with the added bonus that you can use them in baking, juices, etc.

Doesn’t this make you want to go for the gold?

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage