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Category: Plant Focus

  • Bamboo Garden Woes

    October 23, 2015

    Bamboo gardens can be truly enticing and provide all sorts of benefits. With bamboo you’ll create protective habitat for songbirds that’s filled with all sorts of mites and other edibles they crave. You’ll create an evergreen privacy screen, fast. You’ll enjoy the unique, raspy sound of canes brushing together. You’ll potentially have an unending supply of hardy stakes and edible shoots.

    bamboo garden screen

    Bamboo makes a beautiful, evergreen privacy screen, but is it really the best choice?

    But, is bamboo your best option?

    Bamboo, particularly running bamboos but also some clumpers, can become highly invasive – no matter what you do to contain them. Installing root barriers may help keep some bamboo varieties contained, but as we learned the hard way, they do break down over time.

    Even when bamboo is installed in sturdy planters, it can escape!

    bamboo garden in trough

    Bamboo planted in troughs creates an evergreen privacy screen fast, but at what cost over time?

    When your bamboo does make a break for it, what do you do then?

    Broken bamboo barrier

    Even the sturdiest bamboo barrier will eventually breakdown. Then what?


  • Foraging Toxic Plants

    October 16, 2015

    We get a lot of inquiries about toxic plants and other potential dangers in the garden. But, nothing has been as scary as the text we received earlier this week from one of our clients (paraphrasing):

    Do you know what these plants are? My friend’s kids ate/played ‘yummy tacos’ with them and now he’s puffy and uncomfortable.

    Spined succulent in NWFGS display garden

    Spined succulents are beautiful & drought-tolerant,
    but should we avoid them because they might impale us?

    Sounds like it was toxic taco Monday in that garden!

    Accompanying her question was a photo of Bergenia cordifolia (shown below). After doing a bit of research, we found that CalPoisons.org indicates this plant isn’t toxic to humans. And, some sites discussed how some of its parts are used in Ayurvedic medicine. And, other sites put it on the list of plants toxic to dogs.

    Bergenia in rockery

    Bergenia, also known as elephant ear or pig squeak, is a common, if not very pretty, rockery plant in the PacNW.Β  Slugs & weevils love it. But, it’s also tough-as-nails & blooms in winter!

    So, at what point do we decide to cross a plant off our design list for toxicity? It isn’t uncommon for clients to request “no dangerous or toxic plants” in their design, but at what point does a plant get cut because it’s a hazard?

    Consider this: One of my best friends went on a road trip through the southwest. When she returned home, she said she was surprised the trip didn’t kill her dog. That puppy got all sorts of spines and needles up her nose while sniffing around, and my friend even impaled her calf with some sort of hard spined plant as she took a photo of the landscape. The needle went in one side of her calf and out the other — thank goodness it wasn’t coated in poison!

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    So, does a mechanical issue like spines make a plant risky enough to omit? But in which gardens? Does the potential that a kid might make and serve Bergenia tacos to his dog mean that plant should be off the list? And, what about wild things like mushrooms that pop up overnight out of mulch – how do you plan for that? (more…)

  • Drought Tolerant Rock Star Plants

    October 02, 2015

    Need drought tolerant plant ideas for your PacNW garden?

    drought tolerant garden

    Combine Carex testacea & Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ into your thirsty garden.

    As our climate continues to change, bringing longer, hotter, drier summers, it’s evermore important to select garden plants that not only tolerate hot and dry, but also thrive and perhaps offer us some respite from the broiling sun. The 2015 summer in Seattle was a perfect time to push the limits on plants to determine which can take the heat and which need the most supplemental water to survive when the ground is parched and the sun just won’t stop.

    Following are a few rock star plants that shined the brightest this summer: A tree, a shrub, a grass(like), a ground cover and a perennial. And, yes, they all look great together!

    Acer griseum: This tough-as-nails little maple has consistently been one of our top tree choices. We’ve known it can thrive in direct sunlight. It even does well in urban settings where extra heat builds and reflects onto it from sidewalks and street asphalt. Plus, it looks fantastic all year long.

    blooming Acer griseum

    Not only can Acer griseum withstand reflected heat, but it thrives in it.
    Plus, these blooms feed bees & hummingbirds in spring.

    This year we watched ours closely for watering needs and found they didn’t require watering at all. Not one watering! Even as succulent Sedum groundcovers below them shriveled into mid-summer dormancy, these trees didn’t need to be watered at all. Now, keep in mind, they’ve been in the ground for almost a decade and were well watered in infancy to ensure they’d root. But, we’ve hardly watered them in years. If you add them to your garden, be sure to keep them watered sufficiently until yours are fully established. Then, you’ll have a low-maintenance, easy-care, gorgeous small tree whose shade may help take care of you in the long, hot summers ahead.

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’: The cultivar name of this ninebark hints at its ability to love the heat, and indeed it does. If you’re looking for a large, deciduous, sun-loving shrub with four seasons of interest, this beauty may be perfect.

    blooming Physocarpus

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ is a non-stop devil of a plant that thrives in hellacious heat.

    In fact, you almost can’t kill this thing. We love to use late winter tree trimmings for pea and bean towers, but we’ll never use this devil’s spawn that way again. Seriously, shove a stick from this in the soil, and it will sprout. And, if you’re trying to use it as a pea trellis, well, don’t. It’ll suck the life out of any seedling struggling to get a start near this powerhouse. If you add this shrub to your garden, watering it while young may not be critical, but watering while young is the insurance policy you’ll buy to guarantee a long-lived shrub with lots of drought tolerant year ’round interest in the hot, dry future.

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    Carex testacea: Love the look of landscape grasses? Try this sedge (shown above) instead. It’s (more…)

  • A Berry Hip Garden

    September 04, 2015

    One of the common woes we hear from new clients isn’t that they need a super cool, cutting-edge or hip garden. Rather, they simply want something interesting going on outside their windows even in the dead of winter. While we can almost always suggest a variety of plants with evergreen foliage and flowers in our PacNW winters, we also ask our clients to consider many other gorgeous and striking plant features that are non-blooming stand-outs from late summer through winter.

    The end result when they look beyond the blossom? A berry hip garden.

    berry hip Red rose hips

    There’s nothing quite as hip as a rose hip! Many native & non-hybridized roses offer particularly gorgeous hip (or seed pod) color that often holds well into winter. Wildcrafters will love harvesting them for their tasty nutrients!

    Hypericum berries in fall

    Hypericum may lose its leaves for winter, but rigid stems stand tall, topped with iridescent rosy-red berries. Plus, they’re coveted for flower arrangements!

    Seed pods in garden

    Seed pods like these unique forms will eventually, dry & burst forth with seeds, adding unique forms to the garden, dried material for floral arrangements & interesting receptacles for winter frost.

    Viburnum opulus berries in fall

    Abundant “cranberries” follow the snowball like blooms on Viburnum opulus – also known as the cranberry viburnum. You won’t want to eat these berries, but their eye-candy will fill your soul and perhaps a bird’s belly well into winter.

    Chinese Lantern Plant

    Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) are a striking sight by late summer. They make great floral arrangement features & they are the perfect living decoration for your Halloween garden. Just watch out – this plant can be terribly invasive.

    Pine cones

    The evergreen needles on a pine tree are no-brainer winter interest, but don’t forget that bare as well as snow-laden cones are particularly eye-catching in mid-winter.

    Red Cotoneaster berries

    Red Cotoneaster berries add color well into winter. Birds will eat them, but usually they wait until the berries have fermented. Then, robins & other birds gobble them down, chattering drunkenly until they literally fall off the branches in a stupor. Now that’s interesting!

    Need help figuring out how to add just the right berries, hips, cones, twigs, pods and other bits of “off season” interest to your garden? Contact us for personalized on-site help today! This list just scratches the surface of all the possibilities!

  • Fabulous Hardy Fuchsias

    August 14, 2015

    Hardy fuchsias make it into just about every garden we design. Fuchsia plants come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors. Seasonal baskets usually drip with annual varieties that only strut their stuff until a cold snap that kills them, but the stunning array of hardy fuchsias is equally show-stopping — plus, these come back year after year. Both tender and hardy fuchsia plants feed hummingbirds and bees throughout the growing season. And, once pollinated, fuchsia fruits are edible – the bigger the flower, the bigger the fruit.

    DebRon's Black Cherry Hardy Fuchsia

    ‘DebRon’s Black Cherry’ has us singing “Ch-ch-ch-cherry Bomb!” when it blooms.

    The Fuchsia genus includes ground covers, woody shrubs, delicate perennials and basket dripping color pops – truly there’s a fuchsia for every garden.Β  And don’t be fooled – fuchsias come in more than just the magenta color fuchsia.

    DebRon's Black Cherry Hardy Fuchsia flower

    When ‘DebRon’s Black Cherry’ blooms fully opens, it’s easy to understand the name. Labels claim it gets to four feet tall, but in the years we’ve grown it, it stays to a tiny 18″ at most, even when woody stems aren’t cut down for winter. This hummingbird favorite is hardy, having survived several cold winters, buried under several feet of snow!

    (Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)

    Other mid- to large size hardy fuchsia favorites:


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(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)