Welcome to our September edition, and our continued discussion of this landscape theme. Last month we discussed the concept of the design, how it came from three basic areas; the client’s needs, what I felt would be beneficial based on their needs, and the space we had to work with. These three thoughts, though very basic, are the foundation of all our designs. From here comes putting an “identity” to these thoughts/needs, or in other words a landscape design. Following the design, is the execution, the building or construction phase and that is what we reviewed last month. If you would like to learn or read about this phase, it is available on our website under “publications” or Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine’s website, but for this article – let’s talk plants.
I have mentioned this before, but it is worth re-mentioning, as a landscaper, I see many yards, meet new friends (one of the best parts of my job) and see what has been built/landscaped prior to me. In some cases, the hardscapes are very elaborate, yet for the most part they are minimally used; and I see why, the landscape is non-inviting, rather boring and generic. The two must complement each other to have a yard that is both functional, via the hardscape, and inviting, via the landscape. In the design shown, we could have built the hardscape exactly as you see it, selected some very ordinary plants, and the outcome would have been completely different, plain and non- inviting. So when the two, hardscape and softscape, are “married,” they must each support one another.
Recently I spoke to the client of this landscape. She shared with me what a pleasant evening her girlfriend and her enjoyed recently while sitting out on the patio visiting and viewing the landscape. The evenings are usually so pleasant here, and with the night lighting the yard can be enjoyed for hours. So what are the plants that work for this theme? Well some you will know, Dwarf Gardenias, Ferns, Hydrangeas, Camellias, and Japanese Maples etc. are some of the most recognizable varieties, but there are others that are not as well known; Daphnes, Carex, Huecheras, Thujas and Viburnums are some that are not widely known or used. It is the combination of these, knowing their maturing heights and how and where to place them that makes for an attractive garden. Placing them too close or too far apart, or next to another plant that will outgrow them and eventually hide them from view does not work. So variety is very good, and knowing how to use them together is even better. So some studying is necessary to understand the heights, widths and sun tolerances of the plants, whether they are evergreen or deciduous, and what they have to offer in foliage color, texture, flower and when they flower etc. Some knowledge can be booked learned, but most is experience, or if you’re a “do it yourselfer”, trial and error. One of the great benefits of my working in wholesale nurseries for many years is the exposure to a wide variety of plants and their growth habits. A good place for you to start is at a retail nursery. You can read the description tags, view the plants and learn if that particular plant would work for your situation. That is how I started, except I started on a six hundred acre nursery of what seemed to me at the time like a “billion” plants; with my plant book, taking notes and pictures as I walked. It was a great education.
Last point I want to make deals with landscaping slopes. Remember that water runs down hill. Ok, so is that your point you say? Nothing new with that; however, in translating that over to landscaping means that your plants at the bottom of the slope need to like water, or tolerate wetter roots, or you will be constantly replacing plants. As with this landscape, the slope did not end with the plants. The lawn begins below the plants mid way down the slope and continues to the bottom of the slope – so I was not concerned with wet soil, but I mentioned it for your sake. Also read Plant Talk to learn of a couple such plants that can handle wetter roots.
Next month we will look at a full sun, Northern California landscape, it will be interesting and fun to see the transformation.
Until next time – Good Gardening.
This month we will discuss two plants that can tolerate wetter roots. A “normal plant”, once established, does best when it is watered thoroughly and then has a drying period where the soil goes from wet to semi moist. At the base of a hill, the opportunity to become semi-moist never happens. It is always wetter at the base of the hill. Knowledge of plants that actually can live in wetter soils is essential when choosing plants. Two such plants, are Agapanthus Elaine and Acorus Ogon. Agapanthus Elaine is a much better choice over the over planted
Agapanthus Africanus that grows to 2’ feet, and its other relatives, Queen Anne a medium grower to 12” inches, and Peter Pan the smallest of the family, growing to 8” inches or less. Elaine grows in height similar to Queen Anne, but unlike Queen Anne with its pale blue flower, it has beautiful dark purple flowers. In early morning or evening light it almost looks fluorescent. It blooms later than its boring relatives, blooming from about mid to late July, and going through August with a multiple of stems filled with blooms. It’s claim to fame is that it is so easy to use, virtually even “black thumbs” can’t kill this plant. It will grow in full sun, among normal plants, it will grow in wet surroundings, and it will grow in filtered light. Aside from this, another very important quality of this plant is its ability to live in the shade till about 2:30 pm, and then receive the hot afternoon sun without burning. There are only a handful of plants that can do this. I shared with you one last month, Cornus Elegantissima Alba – Coral Bark Dogwood.
Our next water lover is Acorus Ogon, it loves wetness and can even grow in water. Its common name is Japanese Sweet Flag, and the yellow variegated foliage adds color in shade gardens. If you notice the most common shade plants are just green. There are not a lot of plants that have other foliage colors, so this one is a welcomed addition. It does not like the afternoon sun, it will burn. It requires filtered, in-direct sun, especially in the summer. There are some plantings of these along East Roseville Parkway and I cannot for the life of me understand why this plant was selected? So use it in your shade garden, and it is a super nice addition to Asian themes. Blessings