form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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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…

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Private Spaces: The Jordan Garden

foliage garden, evergreen shrubs, conifers

Ken and Elena Jordan’s garden in Roseburg, OR is one of the loveliest we’ve seen.

Visits to botanical gardens and nurseries allow us to revel in the scope and breadth of their plantings or to view imposing and impressive mature specimens.  Visits to such places can be educational and inspiring, but they can also be daunting, for few if any of us can hope to replicate their grandeur and scale.

conifers, American Conifer Society, pine trees

Ken and Elena show us around their garden.

That’s why we also like to visit private gardens, such as that of Ken and Elena Jordan in Roseburg, OR.  Their garden, while enormous and ambitious by most standards, is constructed on a more intimate scale, and demonstrates the owners’ personality and connection to their residence that is characteristic of the most successful private efforts.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen shrubs

The Jordans use a mix of conifers, Japanese maples and other interesting foliage plants, and use different kinds of stone for accent.

The Jordans sited their house on a bluff overlooking the Umpqua River.  Ken designed and built the Craftsman style home himself, and the couple made their garden on the wooded slope facing away from the river, under the remnants of the native forest.

conifer garden, foliage garden, pine trees

A few old oaks provide a high canopy that shelters and shades the garden below.

The steeply sloping lot posed design and circulation challenges which the Jordans met by making switchbacked paths and stone retaining walls.  Native stone is also incorporated into the garden in the form of boulders and pathways.  Both Ken and Elena have design and horticultural talents, and a sense of humor that has caused them to name the property ‘Stonehedge’.

conifer garden, foliage garden, pine trees, evergreen shrubs

The Jordans use different kinds of stone to add interest, structure – and support! – to the garden.

The steep slope could prove tiring to navigate if it were not for the many seating opportunities along the paths.  Each spot provides a different aspect, with different vistas and plants to enjoy.  Ken’s mastery of both the wood shop and the forge are evident everywhere.

Ken designed and built this structure - the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view and the plantings.

Ken designed and built this structure – the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view and the plantings.

Despite the structures, stone and art, in this garden the plants rule.  The Jordans were bitten early on by the conifer bug and with encouragement from Larry Stanley of Stanley & Sons Nursery, made their garden around their large conifer collection.  They are active members of the American Conifer Society and travel all over the world to view–and acquire–choice specimens.

foliage gardens, evergreen border, American Conifer Society

A weeping pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’) frames this grouping of conifers, grasses and Japanese maples.

Although the Jordans like all manner of conifers (and many foliage plants such as Japanese maples), their property really showcases the large, contorted cultivars such as Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ and Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ and they have several choice specimens of each.

conifers, foliage garden, blue foliage, blue needles

Weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) has room to show itself off.

The contorted trunks of the weeping specimens are beautiful in their own right, and provide ‘small moments’ to enjoy that balance the scale of the sweeping beds and pathways.

pine trees, conifers

The trunk of Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’ – weeping Japanese red pine – is textural and sinuous.

As much as they love conifers, both Ken and Elena know that good design requires contrasting colors, textures and forms, and have interplanted the conifers liberally with deciduous trees such as Japanese maples and beech.  Fall is a particularly beautiful time in this garden as the fiery colors of the maples are dramatically set off by the greens and blues of the conifers.

conifers, foliage garden, evergreen border

Japanese maples, an ornamental cherry and a European beech add diversity and interest.

Autumn’s low sun shines through the maples and casts a glow over the entire garden, lighting the chartreuse, green, blue and teal conifers.

conifer gardens, foliage gardens, mixed foliage

The setting sun catches the autumn leaves of a Japanese maple.

In fact, that sunset drew us right up the slope and around to the back of the house, where we turned from looking at the beauty that the Jordans had created to enjoying the natural view over the river. What a paradise Ken and Elena found when they chose this spot, and what a masterpiece they have created! We look forward to visiting again soon.

Japanese maples, conifers, fall foliage

The view from the Jordan’s back porch over the Umpqua River.

conifers, Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery


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Brent Markus: Reigning at Conifer Kingdom

foliage plants, evergreens, pine trees

The Kingdom of Conifers at Rare Tree Nursery in Silverton, Oregon

One of the difficulties in creating a form and foliage garden is that most nurseries and garden centers play to the ‘perennialistas’, with a focus on flowering plants.  While there are some specialty nurseries with interesting selections of trees and shrubs, most garden-makers are relegated to shopping at the more mainstream spots where dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and the like are after-thoughts, if, indeed, thought of at all.  That’s just what Brent Markus, the wunderkind of the Oregon nursery world, aims to change.  We visited Brent a couple of weeks ago and he showed us around his kingdom. We are now loyal subjects!

Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery, conifers, evergreens

Brent Markus (in the white shirt) treats us to a tour of his kingdom.

After mentoring by horticultural luminaries Henri Bort, Don Howse, Larry Stanley and Rich and Susan Eyre, Brent burst onto the scene in 2007 at the age of 24 when he bought Dick Haslebacher’s Woods Creek Horticultural in Salem, OR and started Rare Tree Nursery in Silverton.  Conifer Kingdom is the retail/mail-order arm of Rare Tree.  Brent oversees an operation that today is propagating roughly 700 different varieties of conifers, Japanese maples and Ginkgo—more than any other single supplier in the U.S.

conifers, evergreens, foliage plants

Rare Tree Nursery specializes in pines, fir, spruce, Ginkgo and Japanese maples.

For Brent, it’s all about quality and educating the customer, whether that means the wholesale buyer at the garden center or the retail consumer who orders on line.  He starts with high quality plants that are showcased in gorgeous website photography by employee Sam Pratt.  Brent has also developed distinctive and informative plant tags that provide planting and care instructions.

conifers, evergreen plants, foliage plants

Newly grafted plants sit in neat rows, until ready to be moved into larger containers.

Most high quality conifers and Japanese maples are propagated by grafting cultivated varieties onto durable rootstocks, in the same manner as roses.  Grafting is more expensive than growing from cuttings, but produces better plants. The quality at Rare Tree/Conifer Kingdom begins with their careful choice of understocks. Brent explains, ‘For example, with firs, we’ve used what we have experienced to be the best performing understock for a broad range of hardiness, heat and humidity, Abies bornmuelleriana, the Turkish fir.  However, this winter we’re starting to use Abies firma as our rootstock. We believe that this will even allow firs to excel in the heat and humidity of the Southeast. They’ve never been able to grow firs down there, but with Abies firma as the rootstock, there is a very good chance that they will thrive.’

conifers, evergreen shrubs

Rare Tree moves plants up into larger pots when root conditions require more space – a rarity in the nursery world.

The quality continues with the maintenance of the plants. Dick Haslebacher, who has remained with Rare Tree, is the nursery manager and in charge of quality control. It is Dick who carefully monitors which plants need to be potted up into larger pots and regularly culls the blocks of sub-standard individuals.  Brent notes that even though it raises the cost to repot plants into bigger pots and to discard some, it’s critical to ensure that the customers always receive high quality plants that meet Rare Tree’s standards.

conifers, Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery

Larger specimens usually appeal to landscape designers and those who want immediate gratification.

‘We want to make interesting varieties available to the educated landscape designer and the forward thinking garden centers.  But there is only so much that they can carrry–they can’t carry 600 varieties of conifers! So for that market, we focus on a smaller number of varieties but in much greater numbers. For retail, we have a much broader offering, with some new cultivars that are hard to find, especially in many parts of the country.’

Rare Tree Nursery, Conifer Kingdom

Specimen conifers and maples in boxes designed for the garden center customers.

The garden centers can order their plants in attractive wooden boxes with the informative labels, giving them a distinctive look with more eye appeal. Brent’s idea is to focus on a key list of specific cultivars—similar to ‘Proven Winners’—that the garden centers can promote and that retail customers will gravitate to.

conifers, Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery

Field grown conifers at the kingdom represent about 10% of the production.  That’s Picea omorika ‘Peve Tijn’ in front.

No small part of Brent’s success as a grower is that he is a credentialed designer and understands how to use plants in the landscape.  He sells most cultivars in several different sizes: ‘We have plants to fit every budget. If you’re a collector and your budget needs to accommodate a lot of different cultivars, we offer small sizes for you to buy and grow them on.  Or you can order a specimen from us in larger size.’

Pine trees, conifers, Rare Tree Nursery, Conifer Kingdom

Pinus x schwerinii ‘Wiethorst’ is available in three different sizes, as are many selections.

‘You can accomplish the same design no matter what size plant you order, it’s just a lot easier to visualize when the plants are bigger! The larger versions can be planted and mulched and they look great right away.’  When asked about the conventional wisdom of larger plants being difficult to transplant successfully, Brent responded that that is not a problem as long as you don’t buy large balled & burlapped specimens that aren’t properly root-pruned over a period of time.  ‘That’s one reason to buy larger plants from us where you will never encounter that problem, as we are vigilant about quality control. ‘

conifers, Rare Tree Nursery, Conifer Kingdom

Taxodium distichum ‘Secrest’ in a 65 gallon pot.  Imagine this next to a garden water feature!

Rare Tree also carries large, ‘specimen’ plants, some of which are mountain-dug.  All have unique shapes and character and each plant has an individual label; if you see a photo of a particular plant and order it, that is the exact plant that you will receive. The Taxodium pictured above, for example, is specimen #1468 and can be found on the website!

conifers, Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery

The rows of plants create a rich tapestry of many colors and textures.

At this point we were confirmed believers and pleased to get such a detailed behind-the-scenes peek at how a high quality grower operates.  The rows and rows of specimens–75,000 retail-ready plants!–are gorgeous in their own right, like racks of paint samples, yarn or piece goods.  “But wait,’ said Brent, ‘there’s more!’ as he led us to a grouping of trees and shrubs of varying textures and colors.

Japanese maples, Rare Tree Nursery, Conifer Kingdom, foliage colors

The Acer shiraswanum ‘Autumn Moon’ draws attention with its brilliant golden foliage.

Brent is a practicing landscape architect as well as a nurseryman, with academic credentials in landscape design and horticulture.  He set out the grouping of plants pictured above to demonstrate the beauty of different colored foliage used in combination–not a hard sell with us!–and also to highlight power of yellow in the landscape.  The maple in the center of the photo is a brilliant chartreuse and gold, and draws the eye in, as do all lighter colors.  It ‘pops’ in the landscape and adds depth and interest.  The burgundy, blue and orange also augment the different shades of green, and the chartreuse Thjua plicata ‘Franky Boy’ in the foreground echoes the foliage of the maple.

Japanese maples, Conifer Kingdom, Rare Tree Nursery

The same grouping with the ‘Autumn Moon’ replaced by the green-leaved Acer palmatum ‘Autumn Fire’

In the photo above, the chartreuse-leaved ‘Autumn Moon’ and ‘Franky Boy’ have ben replaced with a green-leaved ‘Autumn Fire’ and Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’.  Pretty, but nowhere near as exciting or interesting as the first grouping.  None of the other plants have been changed, and yet the burgundy and blue don’t seem as striking as they do in the first photo.  The lighter chartreuse livens up all of the plants around it.

Pine trees, conifers, Rare Tree Nursery, Conifer Kingdom

All pines are not created equal: the needles of P. x schwerinii ‘Wiethorst’, P. sylvestris ‘Aurea’ and P. strobus ‘Vercurve’ each have their own distinctive colors and textures.

So if you’re looking for interesting dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and Ginkgo to add beauty, texture and value to your landscape and you don’t have a good local source (or even if you do!), visit Conifer Kingdom.  This kingdom is not found in a fairy tale, it’s at www.coniferkingdom.com.  Order some trees and we think that everyone will live happily ever after!


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Stylish Simplicity – Paul and Paula’s Garden

Purple-leaved plants, foliage plants

Loropetalum ‘Shang-Lo’ (Purple Pixie) lines the brick walkway to the front door

Because of our passion for plants, we tend to focus on gardens that feature collections of specimens and stretch our imaginations devising pleasing and provocative combinations of colors, textures and shapes. Sometimes, however, the strongest statements come from the deft use of massed plantings and fundamental color and design principles.  Paul and Paula’s garden is a beautiful example of keeping it simple without sacrificing interest or sophistication.  And in best form and foliage fashion, this garden shines through the fall and winter months as well as spring and summer!

purple leaved plants, color wheel combinations, purple evergreen plants

The plummy Lorapetalums pick up the same underlying tones in the brick and contrast boldly with the deep green lawn

Despite the unfettered design, much care went into its conception and the selection of the plantings.  Paula, who has an artist’s training and sensibilities, chose the Loropetalum to border the path because she wanted to  echo the tones of the brick with a complementary plant that was appropriately sized and attractive year-round.  The decision to use deep reddish-purple against the brick was daring; most of us think ‘red’ when we think of brick, but the purple brings out the rosy tones.  Also, most of us would have not been able to resist the urge to plant a jumble of different colors and textures; Paula’s confidence in the essential design principles of repetition, scale and color harmony allowed her to resist that temptation!

Chamaecyparis obtusa, purple-leaved foliage, succulents

The purple is repeated in the sedum ‘Voodoo’ under the foundation plantings

The distinctive purple of the Loropetalums is repeated in the carpet of Sedum ‘Voodoo’ around the foundation plantings of Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars. This is horticultural ‘color blocking’ with rich, deep tones, and the repetition of the purple and green makes for a unified design.  While respecting the formal lines of the brick house, these plantings also soften, enrich and complement it.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen plants

The icy blue atlantic cedars (Cedrus libani var. atlantica) bring out the orange tones in the brick

On the side of the house, Paula used more mass plantings of evergreen shrubbery and chose two Cedrus libani var. atlantica (Atlantic cedars) as focal points.  Those of you that read our post on Color Scheming will recognize that the purple/brick combination represents an analogous color pair, while the blue/brick is a complementary combination.  That’s why the cedars are edgier and demand more attention, and their skirt of shrubs is correspondingly subdued.  The brick borrows tones from the adjacent plants, appearing rosier next to the purple-leaved Loropetalum and more orange next to the blue cedar.

Arbutus 'Marina', Loropetalum 'Purple Pixie'

The Loropetalums punctuate this bed of woody ornamentals

Note the crisp edging and the clean lines of the multi-trunked trees (an Acer palmatum cultivar on the left, Arbutus ‘Marina on the right).  The planted are sited to ‘let the shapes show’ and their structure is as important as their colors and textures. In this bed the Loropetalums function as punctuation and connect it to the walkway and foundation plantings.

purple foliage plants

The purple and green theme continue with Japanese maples and ferns

The rich jewel tones are repeated throughout the garden, with different plant combinations. The Japanese maples and ferns adorn the wooded side yard that is shaded by towering Atlantic cedars and oaks.  By varying the plant materials but sticking to the color scheme, the different areas of the garden are connected and unified.  The overall sensation is one of serenity; the simplicity of the design is in itself relaxing and the choice of colors reinforces the calmness.

Japanese maples, gardening with rocks

Structure is provided by stones and woody plants

We like to say that sometimes the best plant  for a particular spot is a stone…and Paula repeats the blue of the cedars with specimen stones.  The combination of purple, icy blue and rich green now has many textural components that continue to be unified by color and simplicity. The stones also echo the structural lines of the woody plants and provide interest throughout the year.

foliage garden, evergreen foliage

Paula has started a rock garden with blue rocks, roses, succulents and conifers

The latest project is a rock garden at the back of the property with newly planted roses, succulents and a few specimen conifers, anchored by a pair of mature Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Harry Lauder’s walking stick, one of which can be seen on the right side of the photo). Here purple gives way to accents of brilliant gold and chartreuse, and when the plantings spill over the rocks this will be the spot in the garden where the formality eases a bit, as it is away from the house and can set its own tone.

conifers, foliage plants, golden foliage

The Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ is sited so that it is a focal point from the kitchen window

We look forward to visiting the garden again when the plantings around the rocks have matured and provided the cohesiveness that Paula intends.  Although this spot is across the back lawn from the house, the brilliant Caucasian fir ‘Golden Spreader’ shines like a beacon and calls the eye.  Another design principle that Paula has employed: light, bright colors project, dark colors recede.  The strategic placement of one golden plant draws attention to the entire bed.

The final component of the garden design is a serene water feature

The final component of the garden design is a serene water feature

While Paula works with plant selection and design, Paul tends the Koi pond that not only provides pleasing sound and interest, but reflects the branches of the specimen trees.  We came away from Paul and Paula’s garden feeling relaxed and as if our blood pressure had dropped a notch.  Isn’t that a wonderful gift  for a garden to bestow?


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Touring with Talon: Buchholz & Buchholz Up Close and Personal

evergreen plants, conifers, foliage plants

We were greeted by Talon Buchholz – and a riot of foliage color!

When we set out to tour the iconic nurseries of the Pacific Northwest, we confess to having been a bit nervous that they would not live up to the folklore that has been created and nurtured by the conifer cognoscenti.  Our third stop, Buchholz & Buchholz, continued the theme of exceeding our expectations!  Talon Buchholz, whose eponymous nursery is responsible for almost as many plant introductions as the Garden of Eden, met us upon our arrival and gave us a personal tour.  His affection for the plants and their histories made this one of our favorite stops on our road trip.

conifers, evergreen plants, Buchholz & Buchholz

Cupressus nootkatensis stand guard over the display plantings in the Flora Wonder Arboretum

Talon’s nursery includes a wonderful, quasi-naturalized display garden, the Flora Wonder Arboretum, which exudes more personality than most commercial settings.  A number of the plantings have clearly been in the ground for many years, and elements of whimsy and creativity abound.  Conifers, maples and other woody specimen plants are Buchholz’s specialty, which is one of the reasons that we were eager to visit.

Weeping larch

Larix deciduosa ‘Pendula’

It’s clear that Talon has a sense of humor; the weeping larch in the above photo looks like some kind of mythical creature and there is even a weeping Douglas fir that has been pruned in the shape of an elephant.  The interplantings of conifers, maples and other deciduous specimen trees and shrubs is both artful and natural.  There is no pretension here–the plants speak for themselves.

conifers, evergreens, foliage plants

Mixed conifer border at Buchholz & Buchholz

It was a joy to see specimens in the ground, obviously carefully placed and planted.  Talon knows each plant–each specimen, actually–and tells the story of how it came to be – and be included in the Buchholz & Buchholz repertory.  His nursery covers many, many acres and yet he speaks of the plantings with more personal connection than do most gardeners with infinitesimally smaller lots.

Japanese maples at Buchholz & Buchholz

Japanese maples at Buchholz & Buchholz

The Japanese maples in the gardens were amazing–a wild array of colors, shapes and textures.  It was instructive to see so many mature specimens in the ground; so often we are reduced to seeing small plants in pots or recent garden plantings.  The maples were beginning to take on fall color when we visited, we can only imagine what they look like in spring with new growth.

mixed foliage, evergreen shrubs, conifers

Mixed foliage border at Buchholz & Buchholz

As the border above illustrates, the Flora Wonder Arboretum is an homage to the concepts of form and foliage; Talon interplants conifers, maples, ginkgos, natives and grasses with an easy hand. The plants are given enough space to demonstrate their shapes and architectures.

Ginkgo biloba, Buchholz & Buchholz

Ginkgo are some of our favorite trees

Many of the Flora Wonder plantings have been in the ground for decades – it is a great spot to see specimens that have attained some size, such as this Ginkgo.

maples in containers, Buchholz & Buchholz

Flora Wonder pumice planters

The greenhouses abound with specimen plantings beautifully displayed in cedar boxes – Japanese maples, conifers, etc were arrayed in soldierly rows.  We were particularly taken with the pumice planters, in which single plants or combinations were attractively nestled.  It was at about this point that we tried to figure out if they would fit in our luggage.

Weeping purple beech, fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Pendula'

Weeping purple beech

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and took our leave only because the staff was trying to close for the day.  Talon’s website has hundreds of beautiful images and if our review of our visit piqued your interest, go on a virtual tour with Talon at Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next stop: The Oregon Garden’s Conifer Collection, Silverton, OR


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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!


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Sumptuous Summer

color wheel combinations, color wheel opposites, colored foliage, foliage plants

Acer p. ‘Mizuho Beni’, Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’, Cedrus libani var. atlantica ‘Blue Cascade’ and Leycesteria formosa

The foliage garden always garners big kudos in fall and winter; it is difficult to imagine a flower garden in most temperate zones able to compete with foliage during those seasons.  It is even relatively easy to make the case for foliage over flowers in spring, as much new foliage provides eye candy that rivals spring blooms.

color wheel combinations, foliage plants, colorful foliage

Even without flowers, the summer garden can be richly colorful.

But who can imagine a summer foliage garden that can compete with an herbaceous border?  How to replicate with foliage those colorful displays of summer annuals and perennials that spell summer to so many of us? Why not borrow a ‘leaf’ or two from our book and see!

colored foliage

We like plants with contrasting stems, such as this Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select’, whose reddish-brown stems echo the leaf color of the Cotinus x ‘Grace’ behind.

While we speak constantly of choosing plants for fall and winter appeal, we are not indifferent to plants that pull their weight in summer.  Crisp green or maroon leaves, contrasting stems and bark and blue-hued conifers are all components of an interesting summer foliage garden.

Cotinus x ‘Grace’, Spirea t. ‘Mt. Fuji’, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’, Phormium ‘Golden Ray’, with Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ peeking from behind.

As can be seen in the above photo, the plummy tones of Cotinus x ‘Grace’ are deepest in summer, and Spirea t. ‘Mt. Fuji’, which is grown primarily for spring bloom and fall color, spends the summer months as a luscious lime green. Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ becomes practically turquoise during the long days of July and August, and the resulting combination is summery and fresh.

Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’, Cotinus x ‘Grace’ and Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’

The same lime green, yellow, plum and turquoise are seen in this arrangement of the striped pine, ‘Zebrina’, our friend ‘Grace’ again, and the lovely Podocarpus ‘Monmal’which is sold as ‘Icee Blue’.  It is an icy blue in winter, but in summer has a richer tone.  Many foliage plants change color through the seasons, and it is as satisfying to anticipate their varying tones as it is to wait for seasonal flowers to bloom.

The summer foliage border.

The summer foliage border has the benefit of never needing deadheading and seldom needing refreshing.  We use the summer months to plan for fall planting or to prune conifers and deciduous shrubs and trees for form.

A well-placed bench is the perfect place to sit in the shade and make plans for fall plantings.

Mature trees add dimension and structure to the garden all year around, and their trunks and bark add color and texture as well.  The photo below displays a trifecta of trunks: the gnarled multiple trunked Olea wilsonii, or fruitless olives, the grizzled ancient Quercus agrifolia (coast live oak) in the far background and the brilliant cinnamon-colored Arbutus ‘Marina’ mid-way between.  They are beautifully showcased by the many greens of the foliage.

Don’t ignore trunks and bark when considering non-floriferous garden interest.

Succulents put on a great display in summer – check out the orange leaves of the Crassula on the top tier!

We love our containers in summer, too, when patio living reaches its zenith, along with the sun.  Succulents carry the containers through the year in our mild climate, but even in colder climes they are a great choice for container plantings, and remember, almost anything qualifies as a container if it will hold potting medium!

A sweeping view across the summer garden includes many colors, shapes and textures.