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Portland Landscape Designer loves Purple Flowers

Portland Landscape Designer uses Purple Monkshood in Eastmoreland Garden

Monkshood with Japanese Forest Grass and Hardy Fuchsia

Portland Landscape Designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood

Portland landscape designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood.  My clients have unique likes and dislikes when it comes to plants.  When they love something specific, like purple flowers, one of my favorites is purple flowered Monkshood.  Other clients are focused on a purpose such as native plants or the lowest of low maintenance plants and not on specific colors.  My job is to find the plant palette that satisfies each client’s needs.

Purple flowers

I love tall columns of  purple flowers in my Portland landscape designs.  I often use them at the back of  planting beds to break up a bare wall or visually soften a fence. It’s an easy care perennial plant with no pest problems. It flowers a long time, provides great contrast with bright green or gold foliage and adds drama to the garden scene.

Aconitum 'Tall Blue' Portland Landscape Designer plant

Aconitum Carmichaelii ‘Tall Blue’ – Monkshood at Joy Creek Nursery

I only use varieties that don’t flop.  There is no need to stake the plants if you select the right varieties and water correctly. Staking plants is a hassle and not low maintenance so I don’t use plants that require staking in my designs.

Here are the Monkshood varieties I use in my Portland landscape designer practice.

Aconitim x napellus ‘Newry Blue’ -Flowers June and July, 4′ tall and an intense purple blue

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Tall Blue’ – Flowers late August and September at 6′ to 8′

Portland Landscape Designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood

Aconitum Carmichaelii ‘Late Crop’ – Monkshood at Joy Creek

Aconitim x napellus 'Newry Blue' - Monkshood 'Newry Blue'

Aconitim x napellus ‘Newry Blue’ – Monkshood

Aconitum carmichaelii  ‘Late Crop’- Flowers into October, is a dark rich purple at 5′ to 6′ tall

Monkshood was used for poisoned arrows

This plant has a checkered past.  In medieval times Monkshood was also called Wolfbane and was the source for poisoned arrows.  Applied to a cut, Monkshood can be deadly and all parts of the plant are toxic.  Yet in modern times it is commonly used by florists and sold by garden centers and nurseries.  In 25 years I have no first hand knowledge of anyone being poisoned by monkshood but I don’t use it in my Portland landscape designs for young families or in parking strips.

How to kill this plant: 

Plant it in full sun and never water it, (or just as bad) water every day in the summer.  Plant in a low place where winter water will soak the roots for days at a time.

Best practice:

Most resources say part shade but I have found they thrive in half day sun to nearly full day sun with a few hours of dappled or light shade. Deeply irrigate Monkshood in full sun and less in part shade.  In time most Monkshood will become low water needs.   In too much shade it will flop and will not have as many flowers. Plant in well-draining soil, water established plants deeply once a week.  Don’t fertilize beyond adding a  compost or mulch around the crown twice a year.  Fertilizer may cause the plant to grow too lushly and make the stems flop. Cut it back to the ground in winter or when the leaves have gone yellow.  Learning how to water properly  creates confidence and makes maintaining your landscape less stressful.

 

 

Coreopsis colorful easy low-water plantings

Tickseed - Coreopsis Bengal Tiger Photo Terra Nova Nurseries

Tickseed – Coreopsis ‘Bengal Tiger’  Photo Terra Nova Nurseries

Coreopsis colorful easy low-water plantings

As a Portland landscape designer I use Coreopsis verticillata and its’ cultivars because it’s a perfect colorful, low maintenance plant for modern landscape designs, bee friendly gardens, cottage gardens, container gardens and low-water plantings.

Clients love it because it flowers for such a long time from summer into fall.  Coreopsis is beloved.

I wrote this blog to help clients understand which Coreopsis will live for years and which ones will not.   Coreopsis verticillata is one of about five species of Coreopsis that are native to the United States.   Many people feel  that Coreopsis verticillata will grow too wide after about five years and will need to be divided.  A lot of my younger clients are so focused on low-maintenance plants that I typically don’t include any plants that need to be divided in their plans.  I still have this old-fashioned idea that I can provide a planting plan where all the plants will last 20 years and the trees forever.   However, if I really stick to that I’m shorting my busy young clients of some plants that are going to do very well for a long enough period of time. Digging up a plant every five years chopping it in half, tossing half of it or giving it away, and then re-planting half of it is less work than having  to buy a new plant.

So if you are still interested in a low maintenance easy plant that has to be divided read on.

Bee friendly flower

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ is perfect for a bee friendly garden.

Another asset, Coreopsis verticillata hits its color stride after all the May and June flowers have faded in the heat.  I am still picking flowers for my bathroom posy in late September.  It’s a perfect fit for a bee friendly garden. You could start your bee feeding year with winter flowering heather, then Spanish lavender then English lavender and finish the year with Coreopsis.

I personally use Coreopsis in small bathroom bouquets. I love it’s ferny foliage texture and the strong zap of color.  But it’s a great addition to any flower arrangement.  They are so cheerful.

Here are some trustworthy choices easily available at most nurseries.

Coreopsis verticillata varieties

‘Creme Brule’ versus ‘Moonbeam’

When ‘Moonbeam’ came out in the 1990’s it was possibly the most popular perennial of all times. Nurseries could not keep it in stock. It has dark green ferny foliage while ‘Creme Brule’  has a bright emerald green ferny foliage. ‘Creme Brule’ is taller and has a soft yellow flower which is larger than ‘Moonbeam’.  The stems are stronger as well but while many claim that ‘Creme Brule’ is more mildew resistant, I have not found this to be true.   ‘Creme Brule’ tends to have flowers from the lower stems to the top which I find attractive. ‘Moonbeam’ tends to carry the flowers only at the top of the plant. ‘Moonbeam’ will be a little cheaper as it’s been around longer in the nurseries then ‘Creme Brule’. They are both great plants.

‘Zagreb’: is named for the capital of Croatia.  When you think of the trouble those people have been through and have persevered it makes sense that this plant carries that name. This plant is incredibly yellow and tough. I don’t typically recommend it because I have had problems with it reseeding and making a nuisance of its’ self in some areas.  I use it for incredibly difficult environments where having it spread won’t matter. Obviously, this would not work for small city landscapes except as a low maintenance mass planting.        

Coreopsis verticillate ‘Bengal Tiger’  Photo credit Terra Nova

‘Bengal Tiger’: select this plant for the amazing color contrast of red and gold. It is similar to a plant called ‘Route 66’.  The flowers on ‘Bengal Tiger’ will be more consistent whereas the flowers on ‘Route 66’ will be very different from each other on the same plant which some people feel looks a little muddy.

How to care for Coreopsis Verticillata

Plant in a well draining soil or up on a berm.  I’ve seen this plant do well at the edge of a lawn too.  To keep it flowering cut the plant back by half in mid summer. I have cut back ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis up to 3 times in one summer to keep it flowering until fall.

How to kill a Coreopsis

To kill this plant, plant it in a low spot with heavy mucky clay and it will die or over water it.  It comes back in the late spring so don’t be fooled and start to dig it up and kill it.  Be patient.  The dark green foliage is lacy and can be hard to see when the tiny shoots first emerge from the soil.

Companion plantings

I like to plant Coreopsis verticillata varieties with low water plants like Yucca ‘Golden Ribbon’, Caryopteris ‘Blue Mist’.  It’s a great texture complement to ornamental grasses like American Switch Grass, ‘Heavy Metal’ or Blue Oat Grass.  A mass planting of Coreopsis in the foreground with dwarf conifers and a  ‘Gilt Edge’ Silverberry shrub in the background is a very simple low maintenance plant composition.  For the cottage garden you can’t beat Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with Nepeta cat mint and shrub roses like ‘Happy Chappy’ or David Austin rose ‘Graham Thomas’.

There are a lot of different species of Coreopsis out there and it’s buyer beware.  You have to pay attention to the names of the plants because there are some Coreopsis that make a nuisance of themselves and will seed all over your yard.   Many Coreopsis varieties are short lived so I tend to stick with these five. My Portland garden design clients love this plant for low maintenance, low water, and color in the summer landscape.

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Popular Double Hellebore From Englands Ashwood Ashwood Garden Hybrids

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ grown here in the NW by Monrovia.

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Red flowered Hellebores are still the holy grail for plant geeks but they are so tough that anyone can covet these and grow them.

‘Peppermint Ice’, ‘Amethyst Gem’ and ‘Ashwood Double Bi Color Shades’ are Hellebore cultivated varieties with red to eggplant hued double flowers.  They wow us in late winter with a long vibrant flower display.

As a Portland landscape designer I like to use Hellebore in my designs.  The Helleborus x hybridus plants (which is what we are focusing on today)  can live for a hundred years, deer don’t like them, they are low water and except for a typically minor problem with aphids, and a little slug activity they are pretty pest free.  The leaves are leathery, attractive and provide interesting contrast with a range of plant material to include feathery fern fronds, ornamental grass or tiny leafed boxwood.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice'

Peppermint Ice has a darker outline around each of the petals. Its adds a lighter touch with pink red flowers.

They are shade tolerant although I  tend to use these three in strong morning sun with dappled or full afternoon shade.

Terra Nova Photo of Hellebore Amethyst Gem

Amythest Gem comes from the famous NW Garden Nursery. Double petals with a light edge gives us drama and the constrast needed to appreciate the mass of petals.

Double flowers give us more color than the singles but the singles, with only 5 to 7 petals, are also stunning and low maintenance.  ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ have a wine red petal with a darker edge which is opposite of ‘Amethyst Gem’.

Using Hellebore as a cut flower

The flowers last a long time in the landscape but not long as a cut flower because the stems wither quickly.  Most people cut the stems off and float them in a bowl.  I’ve picked them from my NW Portland garden, knowing they would only look good for a few days.  There are techniques for making them last which involve picking them at the right time based on the age of the flower and using an alcohol solution in the vase.  Follow this link  to NW Garden Nursery and read the bottom of their culture sheet.   Now that you are bringing the flowers inside please be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic.

All Hellebore flowers tend to nod down rather than face up.  This protects the flowers from cold damage (disfigurement/freezer burn) because water drips off the flower and  is not trapped inside. Nature designed this plant to flower in winter.

What about aphids?

What about aphids?  My only problem with Hellebore is aphids. Some years I don’t have any noticeable aphid activity. When I do it’s so early in the year that handy predators like lacewing and lady bug are still in sleep mode or haven’t hatched yet so I’m  on my own. Dealing with them is easy.  Use a spray bottle filled with water or 1 tsp of dish soap to 1 gallon of water and spray down your plant.  Use your hose or this great gadget called the bug blaster  which you can buy at Portland Nursery. (I’ve got to get one this year to use in my veggie garden too.) Don’t use a pesticide because most of them will harm bees even if they are not present when you spray. Aphids have soft bodies and will be damaged by the force of the water or the soapy solution will invade their bodies and disable them. You will have to knock them down with water or soapy water once or twice a week to prevent the temporary cosmetic damage.   I’ve never lost a hellebore plant to anything let alone a virus but in recent years virus has spread from plant to plant by aphids.  It is only an issue for professional growers or collectors.

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

How to care for your Hellebore

How to care for your Hellebore:  I water once or twice a week its first summer and then once a week after that.  Drip irrigation would be best rather than overhead sprinklers because drip can water deep into the soil.  Established Hellebore become quite a low water needs plant and might be content with every ten days or less.  An application of mulch around the plant once or twice a year is a good practice.  If your soil is so good that they make seedlings, be aware they won’t have the same flower as your hybridized plant. I cut the old leaves off the plant in late winter so that the flowers are not visually diminished by the previous years worn foliage.

How to kill a Hellebore

Plant it in a low spot where winter rain will rot the roots. Over water it and fertilize it heavily.

Winter Color provided by Hellebore 'Peppermint Ice'

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ is another Winter Gem by NW Garden Nursery. It is grown by Terra Nova so is available at local garden nurseries. Photo by Terra Nova.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' photo by Terra Nova

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ has double flowers that hang down but the overall effecting your winter landscape is very colorful. The flowers last a long time.

Hellebore Heaven

Hellebore 9

A sample of the many varieties of Hellebore in bloom at the open garden.

If you love Hellebores don’t miss this open garden.  The O’Byrne family designs Hellebores and have an international following.  My design world has its’ rock stars and Marietta and Ernie are famous and appreciated by plant lovers and garden designers.  Their Hellebores will dazzle you with color and form, plus they are sturdy plants, bred in Eugene Oregon at the Northwest Garden Nursery.

Why go?  First, you’ll have a chance to buy these unusual and fantastically beautiful plants (most are not available locally).  Second, you can buy them in a large 2 gallon size, not in tiny sizes.

Hellebore in woodland setting.

Hellebore in woodland setting.

Hellebore 2

Here are Hellebores with drought tolerant Yucca in full sun.

Walk through a 1.5 acre garden with many different micro climates.  See Hellebores planted en masse in an open woodland with companion plantings of shrubs and spring bulbs.

Also see the large sun garden where you will find Hellebores in combination with interesting rock garden plants, succulents and more.  Most people think Hellebores are for shade only.

The garden art is unique, interesting and never overwhelms the garden, something I appreciate in a design.

My sister's feet on a Jeffrey Bale stone mosiac landing.

My sister’s feet on a Jeffrey Bale stone mosiac landing.

 

Call a friend and save the date: February 20 and 27.  I’d suggest February 20 for purchasing plants, the 27th may result in a “sold out” and while it’s worth it just to see the garden, you will want plants.  Last year I took my sister Donna and her friend (and my client) Sherry.  They are plant fiends and appreciated seeing such a large display of Hellebores.  Alas, the plants were sold out so if we can go this year, we will try for the first open garden day.  We also visited Greer Gardens and I got to say good bye to Harold Greer who is beyond the rock star status.  His lifetime of work with Rhododendrons and other plants has enriched my designs and my life, so it was poignant to go and purchase a few last plants from him.  I purchased a rock garden plant, Rhododendron Kiusianum White Form.  It was exquisite. He has closed his mail order company.  Bloom River Gardens will be trying to fill Harold’s shoes.

 

 

 

 

Hellebore 7 Hellebore 6 Hellebore 4

Pictures left to right:  Double Hellebore covers my fingers.  Amazing foliage.  Dark edge contrasts with sunlit pale petals.

3 Colorful Shrubs for Fall

Compact Burning Bush
The most popular variety of Euonymus alata ‘Compacta’ because people think it will be small, say 3′ x 3′.  It is not the least bit small and easily grows into a beautiful small tree.  The smallest variety on the market is called ‘Rudy Haag’ 5′ x 5′.   Even the variety called ‘Pip Squeak’  is 6′ x 5′.  If Burning Bush is not placed with room to grow, these shrubs get turned into ugly muffins by frustrated gardeners.  If it is sheared properly, thinner at the top and wider at the bottom, this can be a very attractive hedge but it will need to be sheared two or three times a year.  Ugh! Too much work for me.

pipsqeck burning bush monrovia 8959268-largeI love to use this shrub as a shree (part shrub, part small tree).  A client of mine, Ruth in Scappoose has hers planted in full sun and pruned into small multi-stem trees.  They are underplanted with a hot orange summer flowering Euphorbia which is a wow combination.  These “shrees” have been in their location for over ten years and they are not irrigated at all. Other than having a professional pruning every year or three, this privacy planting is very low maintenance and simply stunning. The ridged and winged bare stems of the Burning Bush are attractive and add winter interest.  To establish this plant, water it once a week, or twice in hot weather.  Once established, it will thrive with once a week watering.  As it ages in place it needs less and less water.  A plus … The deer don’t bother this plant in Ruth’s garden.

Fothergilla 'Mt Airy', (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Witch Alder (also called Bottlebrush)
This shrub has two seasons of wow, one is spring where the fragrance is heavenly, the bottle brush flowers are attractive in flower arrangements and if pruned properly, the shape of this “shree” will look good year round.  The 2nd wow is the fall color.

Fothergilla (Bottlebrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

Fothergilla (Bottlebrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

This plant, Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ will need regular water until it has been in place for many years. Almost all plants, even those listed as drought tolerant, look better with some irrigation in our Pacific NW Mediterranean style summer. See fabulous colorful art made from these leaves!!!

Gatsbys Moon Hydrangea

Hydrangea Quercifolia Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Gatsby’s Moon’ is a new variety from Proven Winners.

Oakleaf Hydrangea 
I’ve written about this plant many times but that’s because it’s so great.  The full size plant may not fit in most landscapes but there are two semi dwarf plants that will.  These plants have huge white conical flowers in mid- summer that fade to a nice pink.  In fall the large and well textured leaf turn the most fabulous rich reds and stay on the plant well past Thanksgiving.  These leaves always go in my Thanksgiving table centerpiece.  Once the leaves fall, there is great rusty exfoliating bark on the stems that glow in the winter light.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Pee Wee’ are the two varieties I use the most. They are NOT tiny shrubs, still expect a 3′ to 4′ wide and tall plant.  My experience is that ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is taller than ‘Pee Wee’.  The leaves are smaller than the species, 4 to 5 inches instead of 8 to 10 inches and they still have the interesting grainy texture and great flowers. One drawback … deer seem to like the leaves.  It is native to the South Eastern United States.

It’s easier to prune than a traditional hydrangea AND it doesn’t need as much water.  If you want you can cut it off at the ground in late winter and start over.  Here is a video “How to Prune Oak Leaf Hydrangea”  by Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty.