November 19, 2016

Remodeling Progress

Our remodeling project is continuing with the new dining room coming together.  It has been two months since work began, but the slow pace hasn't been a problem since the work so far has all been outside.  We're hoping things progress  more quickly once the kitchen is torn apart.

We  were relieved to see a lot of progress this week, as we hope to get the new concrete patio poured before the ground freezes for the winter.  There is a big pile of dirt to move first.

Now we have walls, a roof and a big mess!   My sweet husband has begun putting the path back together.  It's a cold and muddy job.

October 26, 2016

Royal Purple Smoke Tree Vs. Red Dragon Contorted Filbert

For the focal point of my main backyard garden bed, I have been waffling between a 'Royal Purple' smoke tree (or smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria) and a 'Red Dragon' contorted filbert (Corylus avellana).  After growing both burgundy-leafed plants for a while, I thought I'd compare and contrast the two.  Above is my Royal Purple smoke tree in late summer.

Royal Purple (zones 4-8) grows moderately quickly to 15 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide, but many gardeners keep it smaller by pruning back to the ground each spring.   Hard pruning reduces or eliminates the 'smoky' flowers (above) in spring, which therefore reduces the amount of pollen released to trouble allergy-sufferers.  I don't have room for a full-sized specimen, so I plan to prune each spring.

Royal Purple prefers full sun (though it grew fine in part shade for me) and keeps its foliage color throughout the growing season, though the new growth is more vibrant than the older leaves.  I enjoy using the stems in floral arrangements.

In  fall Royal Purple turns gloriously red before shedding its leaves.  Its bare branches aren't showy, so it fades into the background in winter.

In contrast, winter might be the best time of year for a 'Red Dragon' contorted filbert (zones 4-8).  The twisted branches are beautiful when bare, and in late winter they break out with catkins that sway in the wind.  The photo above actually shows one of my regular, non-red contorted filberts, as I don't have a photo of Red Dragon catkins yet.

The new spring leaves on Red Dragon are almost black, and then they fade through the season.  I learned the hard way that full sun in summer burns the leaves to a nasty orange-green-brown color, so this fall I gave up on full sun and transplanted my Red Dragon to a part shade spot.

Red Dragon grows moderately slowly to 6-8 feet tall and wide.  It has a more upright shape - stretching out like dragon wings -  than its green cousins.  In the photo above you see the mix of green older leaves and burgundy new leaves that cover the plant through the summer.

Fall color on Red Dragon is not very showy, as you see above, but those falling leaves reveal the lovely twisting stems for the rest of the dormant season.

If you find yourself deciding between these two plants for a focal point, the amount of sun it will receive is an important factor.  Either will do fine with morning sun and afternoon shade, but you'd better choose a Royal Purple smoke tree if you have full sun, and for heavier shade you'd be wise to go with the Red Dragon contorted filbert.  You'll have more pruning to keep Royal Purple to a shrub size, but it has better fall color than Red Dragon.  The twisty branches and catkins make Red Dragon the winner as far as year round interest, though.  Other large shrubs in this size range with dark leaves include 'Black Lace' elderberry (Sambucus, I grow it and like it) and 'Diablo' ninebark (Physocarpus, I don't grow it because the pink/white flowers aren't attractive to me).

October 20, 2016

October Leaves and Remodeling

October has been cool and rainy with a steel-blue sky making a lovely backdrop for the colorful leaves.

A couple of weeks ago the garden was still mostly green and full of foliage.  This northwest corner is finally filling in, though next year should be even better after all the transplanting I did this month!  It seems like I've said that every autumn for several years.  I'm excited for the time when I'm done with big bouts of transplanting because this area finally looks right.

Our remodeling project isn't moving very quickly.  The plants on the west side were smashed when the excavator drove through, but it was time to cut them back to the ground anyway so they should recover next spring.

The path had to be partially disassembled so the flagstones didn't get crushed.  Putting it back together isn't going to be very fun.  But the hole was dug, the concrete foundation poured, and my crabapple tree is still standing in its place.  This tree will provide welcome shade on the west side of the addition, though it will need careful pruning to keep it from growing into the walls.  Good thing I know how to prune.

This is the current view of the project from above.  We're looking forward to the arrival of framers and the next steps of construction.

September 21, 2016

Early Fall Garden

The air is getting crisp and fall colors are appearing in the garden.  In the shot above the burgundy leaves of a 'Royal Purple' smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) play off the flowers of butterfly bushes (Buddleia), 'Victoria' sage (Salvia) and 'Ava' hummingbird mint (Agastache).  The smoke bush was growing in another spot in the garden until last week, when my husband switched it out for the 'Red Dragon' contorted filbert (Corylus avellana) that was unhappy in this full sun spot.

Here is the sad 'Red Dragon' filbert shrub.  I learned this summer that when it gets too much sun its leaves turn from lovely burgundy to this sickly shade of brownish-orange-yellowish-green, but now it is planted under the dappled shade of the honey locust trees.  Thankfully the 'Royal Purple' smoke bush likes full sun, so they should both look healthier next year because of the switch.

Meanwhile I am very happy to enjoy the evening sun as it sifts through the trees.

I love the sun from this perspective, too.

And this one.

The white garden sports a few roses above yellowing leaves.

The honey locust leaves (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Shademaster') are usually the first to turn colors and fall, but the 'Spring Snow' crabapple trees are keeping up with them this year.  Soon we'll have plenty of raking to keep us busy, though not so much as if we had maples and oaks in the garden.

September 14, 2016

Kansas Peony Bouquet and Start of Construction

This bouquet from June featured dark pink 'Kansa' peonies along with lighter pink peonies, violet 'Caradonna' sage (Salvia), maroon 'Moulin Rouge' Astrantia, orange 'Totally Tangerine' Geum, yellow lady's mantle (Alchimella mollis), and 'Venice Blue' speedwell (Veronica).

These dark peonies are really special.  As I wrote last week, I have been working this year to increase the number of deep pink peony plants in my garden.

This week we were excited to begin construction on a project to add a new dining room to the back of the house and expand our cramped kitchen into the old dining space.  This photo shows the house after two days of demolition.

The photo above shows the back of our home when we bought it in 2007 (notice the lack of plants), but soon it will look like the drawing below.

Construction will be a challenge with our busy family of six trying to maneuver around the mess. Thank goodness my kids are at school for most of the day now that summer is over.  Demolition was very noisy with a jackhammer running for most of the day, but my youngest son was fascinated with the process and watched out the window for hours.  Help with entertaining my little tornado was an unexpected blessing!  I will continue to post photos as construction continues.

September 6, 2016

A Riot of Pink Peonies in a Vase

This vase of pink peonies from June was a little over the top.  I may have squeezed too many blooms into one arrangement, but it was really fun to create.  The pink peonies included nameless ones from my friend Kathy as well as darker pink 'Paula Fay.'

At  the base I used steel blue leaves from a 'Halcyon' hosta.  Grey spikes of Russian sage (Peroskvia) leaves continued the grey theme.   I also added a few stems of almost-black 'Chocoholic' bugbane (Cimicifuga) leaves, plus my favorite 'Hall's Purple' honeysuckle stems to arch out around the flowers.  

Some of my small-bloomed English roses were in flower, so I added white 'Francine Austin' above.

'Albrighton Rambler' was in bloom for the first time since being planted last fall, so I included a few of its creamy pale pink flowers as well.

White and pink ('Roma') astrantia were included.  I also used spikes of unopened Astilbe for texture, but they wilted by the next morning so I won't use them in arrangements again.

I like to add some unusual touches to the old classics, so I included a few buds from my 'Blue Angel' hostas.

Finally, the developing seed pods from my earlier-blooming 'Coral Supreme' peonies added fuzzy grey-green stars to the mix.

I started the season with thirty-some peony plants in the garden, but I didn't have enough of the deep colors.  So I divided my deep pink 'Paul M Wild' and 'Felix Supreme' plants, then added a completely new color, 'Black Mulberry,' above.  I also bought a chocolate-red 'Buckeye Belle' and ordered more 'Rivida,' 'Kansas,' 'Buckeye Belle' (one wasn't enough), and a new 'Green Lotus' to arrive bareroot this month.  When they all get going strong in a few years, June will pretty much be heaven around here!

August 18, 2016

Spokane Temple Summer Gardens 2017

The annual flower beds at the Spokane LDS Temple are full of cheerful color right now.  Above is one of the Front Door Beds featuring 'King Tut' papyrus at back with 'Victoria' salvia, 'Double Deep Salmon Profusion' zinnias, 'Royale Silverdust Superbena' verbena, and 'Orchid Charm Supertunia' petunias, plus a chartreuse sun-tolerant coleus and black petunia whose names I have forgotten.

A closer look at the bed reveals that the black petunias are really deepest burgundy.  It felt daring to include a black flower in this bed - would it be dark and depressing? - but it has acted as a nice foil for the other bright colors in the mix.

This year I used plenty of chartreuse 'Margeurite' and 'Blackie' sweet potato vines for season-long color without any deadheading.  The Spiral Bed above, named for the spiral topiary juniper shrub in the corner, includes more of the salvia, zinnias and petunias from the nearby Front Door Bed.

It's always interesting to watch the color schemes change through the season as different plants reach peak bloom or take a break.  Earlier in the season the 'Magenta Arrow' snapdragons added a lot of deep pink to these areas, but in the heat the snaps are taking a bit of a rest.  Now there is a peach, chartreuse and violet color scheme for the area.

The 'King Tut' papyri in the South Arc bed have exceeded expectations this year and might reach six feet tall by the end of the season.  Violet 'Royal Velvet Supertunia' petunias, 'Double Cherry Profusion' zinnias, 'Double Deep Salmon Profusion' zinnias, 'Margeurite' sweet potato vine, and 'Tango Dark Red' geraniums fill the base of the bed.

Sometimes Spokane summers aren't warm enough to elicit strong growth from heat-loving zinnias, but the warmer than usual growing season this year has led to especially vigorous zinnias.

A final shot from the Northwest Corner bed catches more happy zinnias along with verbena, snapdragons, licorice vine, salvia, and celosia.  This week I finalized planting plans for 2017 and sent my list of requests to Appleway Greenhouse so they can order seeds and plugs for the next year.  It's always an adventure to create to plant combinations in my head then see how they turn out in real life - not always how I imagined but sometimes even better.  I'm grateful to continue to be involved with the Temple grounds in this way.

August 9, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Rozanne Hardy Geranium

Each year an especially beautiful, useful and sturdy plant is selected as Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association, which is made up of landscape designers, contractors, growers, retailers, and educators in the herbaceous perennial industry.  'Rozanne' hardy geranium was selected as the 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year.  In addition to this award, 'Rozanne' was selected as Plant of the Centenary at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  Truly this is an amazing plant to receive such honors, and I have nearly twenty of them growing in my landscape.

What is it that makes this plant so useful?  It grows in zones 5-8 in sun or part shade.  The long bloom time is amazing - from June until an October hard frost in my garden, with no deadheading necessary.  The spent flowers just curl up and disappear without leaving an ugly mess.  It doesn't reseed or spread outside of its original clump.  Basically it's like a perennial Supertunia - loads of color for months with very little maintenance, but then it comes back the next year.

It  makes a nice companion for hydrangeas like 'Tiny Tuff Stuff,' above.

It  mixes nicely with many other colors, including the steel blue of ornamental thistle (Echinops 'Ritro').

Yellow myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinitis) is another good match for 'Rozanne.'

Even though it starts blooming with the roses in June, 'Rozanne' is still blooming when the Japanese anemones flower in fall.

'Rozanne' happily winds through taller shrubs like this corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana 'Contorta').

At  the end of fall when leaves from surrounding trees are falling, 'Rozanne' continues to flower until a hard frost finally sends it into dormancy for winter.

Some sources say 'Rozanne' has good fall color, but I've only noticed a little bit of red on my plants in fall.  Here it is next to a 'Shasta' doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum).

With all of these good attributes, are there any drawbacks to including a 'Rozanne' geranium in your garden?  Well, it's rampant growth might be a challenge in a small garden.  Some sources suggest planting it 12" apart, but I think that's much too close.  In the first year after planting it may stay in a small clump like the one above . . .

. . . but a few years after planting it may grow to six feet wide, like the plant above in my front yard.  Unlike many other groundcovers, the stems don't root at nodes.  And as I mentioned earlier, 'Rozanne' doesn't send out spreading rhizomes or reseed.  The plant will die back to the ground in winter and start growing in spring from a small clump, but those stems sure grow long by the end of the season!  I'd recommend giving it at least three feet of room to grow, and even then you'll need to trim it back before the end of the season.

Another challenge with 'Rozanne' is finding the perfect amount of light.  This plant is too shaded, so you can see how it's grown too tall and flopped over to expose the unsightly base.  But with too much hot sun or not enough water the leaves will get scorched by midsummer.  You can cut it back hard after a heatwave has left it crunchy and it will sprout fresh leaves.  But my plants that grow in morning sun with afternoon shade keep a nice shape and fresh leaves throughout the growing season.

'Rozanne' is not reliably deer resistant, so it might not be the best choice if you have deer problems.  It does attract lots of honey bees and bumble bees, so if you're allergic you shouldn't plant this in your yard.  But I recommend this plant to almost all of my friends for their gardens.  Even if it requires a little trimming to control the size, its long season of color with little maintenance makes it a valuable addition to nearly every garden.  It is one of my favorites, and well deserving of the honors it has received.