Archive for container plants

Wire Vine – Friend or Foe

Garden Design PortlandWire Vine – Friend or Foe?

Do you have a structure you need to cover and don’t mind occasional pruning?

Do you like plants with interesting color, texture and tiny leaves?  I have your plant.  Wire vine – Muehlenbeckia

Here are 4 ways to use wire vine.

Wire vine on an arbor and gate.

This entry gate has a definite hobbit landscape feel to it.  The wire vine growing on this rustic gate and arch creates a very unique look and is very easy care. All they need to do is trim it. It is mindless easy pruning and if it gets away from you it’s easily remedied by whacking it back to about 6” tall. If you don’t like trimming plants on a regular basis, this is not your plant. (Muehlenbeckia Complexa in photo)

Wire vine cascading down a wall

Garden Design PortlandHere is a photo showing a hot tub surrounded by a rock wall. It’s just a rubble style rock wall so no one painstakingly picked which rock to go where for the art form. It’s good looking with wire vine planted at the top of the wall.  The results are a cascading curtain of delicate looking foliage. The burgundy black stems add color to the winter view from the hot tub and softens the view of the wall. Another benefit, they don’t have to pull weeds out of the rock crevices because the wire vine does not share well with other plants. No weeding sounds like low maintenance to me. (Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ in photo)

Garden Design Portland

Wire vine as ground cover is only for hobby gardeners

Only use wire vine as ground cover if you are happiest out playing (working) in your garden.  Wire vine will try to grow right over the other plants and climb up the trunk of this lovely June Snow Dogwood (pictured). This photo of Muehlenbeckia axillaris is from a designer pals personal landscape.

Two kinds of wire vine

There are two kinds of wire vine and I find they get mixed up often at nurseries much to my annoyance. One is evergreen with slightly larger leaves  –  Muehlenbeckia Complexa. It’s also called Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia complexa ‘Big Leaf’. This plant is less cold hardy than the smaller leafed type so could die in a bad winter but I’ve had it last for years in some client’s gardens.

Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ has the smallest leaf but is not evergreen. In late fall the leaves turn a bronze orange (which is attractive) and fall. This wire vine will become drought tolerant and tolerates freezing temperatures best.

Sun or light shade

I grow wire vine in a variety of sun situations. They don’t thrive in deep shade.  I plant them in full morning sun or a mix of am and pm sun. I’ve placed it in full west facing afternoon sun where it gets dappled shade from trees or shrubs by 3 pm.

I would not grow it on my house but a garden shed is fair game.

Trim often or cut back by 4/5th’s at least once a year.  How you trim it depends on what you are using it for. If I grew it on a gate, I’d treat the stems and leaves as if they were fur and just shear it back to 1″or 2” thick.  If it’s in a pot I’d cut all the stems back to 2″ at least once a year.

Heuchera

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Plethora of Heuchera leaf color and variegation.

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‘Lime Marmalade’ Heuchera

Dan Himes, Portland’s own plant designer,  of  Terra Nova Nurseries took the old fashioned Coral Bell, a simple cottage garden plant that was beloved for pale spring flowers and created the dramatic colorful leaves of the modern coral bell (Heuchera).  He didn’t stop there.  Over the past 30 years he has given designers a whole new color palette to create with:  leaves of peach, orange, russet, burgundy, amethyst, chartreuse and near black.  Many of the leaves are variegated and create the most amazing patterns.  He has also created many different sizes of plants.  I can use a Heuchera in the mid border with the top of the leaves at 10 inches tall and 24 inch flowers  like ‘Lime Marmalade’ or plants a mere 5 inches tall with 10 inch flowers  like ‘Cherry Cola’.   In  recent years he has also created a diverse selection of flower colors.

'Cherry Cola' Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

‘Cherry Cola’  Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

 

The original garden coral bell bloomed in pale pink, today I can have flowers in hot brick red, coral, hot pink, near orange (no true orange yet) varying shades of yellow and even shocking chartreuse.  Some varieties are really all about the leaves and the flowers are a very quiet white or cream with stunning dramatic leaf color and variegation, but the newer varieties can have it all, bold dramatic leaves with the perfect hot flower color to accompany them.

So many choices are exciting to me but can be daunting to a typical home owner.  Twenty different varieties can stop a person in their tracks.

I’m not trying to pick a pretty plant, it would be hard to do as they are all attractive.  I always design for function and select a plant for what I want it to do.  I use ‘Blackberry Crisp’ because the leaves look good even in the winter.  They are perfect for entry pizzazz.   Some Heuchera flower for a long time in summer but have no winter interest so I use those near the patio.

'Blackberry Crisp' Heuchera

‘Blackberry Crisp’ Heuchera

There are many varieties I use for shade and some for near full sun.   I love to use the new 5 to 6 inch tall plants at the edge of containers.  These little guys look great with Spring Heather and Hens & Chicks.   Coral Bell can pull a garden together visually by repeating it along a pathway.  Their shape softens the potentially harsh lines of a modern minimalist garden plan. No matter what your style, old fashioned, naturalistic or modern  they add the dramatic color that every client wants in their landscape.

Dan’s contribution is significant.  There are many plant designers in the world and many of them worship at Dan’s feet.  I was in the Netherlands visiting a famous garden designer and plant designer named Piet O’Doff who designed the 9/11 memorial garden.  After he learned I came from Portland, Oregon he said to me, “why did you come all this way to see me when you live 15 minutes from Dan Himes”?

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

From a designers point of view Dan’s work is very exciting.  His plants give me so many choices  to create the perfect planting plan for my clients.

True confession:  to keep up with Dan Himes, I created a spreadsheet on my  favorite coral bells so I can select them for size, foliage color, flower color,  foliage height, sun exposure and more.  It’s not that easy for me either.