Archive for low water plantings

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.

 

 

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

NW Native plant Sword fern

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is a problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II they want to do their bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants.  Here are some tips to help you have more success.

What size of plants to plant

They will establish better with a bigger root ball.  Expect 15 to 20 percent of your plants to fail.  Try not to take it personally.  Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.

Sword fern can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  Sword fern can also be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and  where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Vine Maple with Single Trunk

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem Vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of Vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk Vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get too wide.

When to plant NW native plants

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter and early spring works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little  bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in  the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide.  People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  The flavor is mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plant.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Sword Fern in Sun

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf Manzanita groundcovers,  Oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  Grama grass, dwarf Fountain grasses, Rosemary, Hebe, stepables like Elfin Pink Thyme.

 

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.

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape – Bad Grass Good Grass

Xeriscape Planting Landscape Design in a Day

Good grass like Pennisetum Alocuroides ‘Little Bunny’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus Pracox ‘Elfin Pink’,  a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Hate Weeding?

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say they dislike weeding over all outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some new cute plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stippa Tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stippa Tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital G may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much over time, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Edited blonde ambition

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

Low Maintenance

Cut it down in February to two inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill Blue Grama Grass, plant it in heavy clay and over water it.  I’m excited about adding this good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

 

Drought tolerant low maintenance front yard

Drought tolerant Portland landscape design example. This front yard shown in winter is gravel, stone and plants.

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

In recent years, droughts have made it harder to maintain your property’s landscaping, especially with water restrictions that make it almost impossible to maintain lush, green natural grass. While it may be tempting to throw up your hands and just let it go brown, you do have many other options for increasing your property’s eye appeal. Knowing about these four drought resistant landscaping ideas gives you the perfect starting point for transforming the look and usability of your lawn.

Gravel and Stone

This landscaping option requires no watering, and it can last for years. However, too much gravel and stone can look stark. There is also the risk of gravel and stone being displaced during times of heavy foot traffic or inclement weather. For this reason, it is best to limit the use of this ground covering to smaller accent areas. Filling in the area around a fire pit or lining a walkway with stones and pavers reduces the amount of grass you need to create a lovely outdoor space. Yet, you will still need to consider other options if you prefer some green in your landscaping plan.

Garden path with stone stairs in Portland Oregon

The new stairs are complemented by easy care artificial grass.

Artificial Grass

Gravel and stone may do the trick, but they still lack the soothing quality of staring out at a lush, green space. Artificial grass is a great option when you prefer the look of natural blades since it has a similar appearance and texture, and it offers additional benefits for drought conditions such as requiring no water to maintain its look. You will also find that installing artificial grass eliminates the need for other forms of energy wasting such as mowing and weeding, and it lasts for years with little more than an occasional wash down with the hose.

Succulents

These hardy plants require very little watering to achieve gorgeous growth. While succulents are low-maintenance, it does take some know how for selecting the types that will work best in your climate. Therefore, you will want to do some research before planting to find the right mix of colors, textures and hardiness for your outdoor area.  Hen and Chicks – Sempervivum and Sedum Spath ‘Voodoo’  are two popular options for adding succulents to drought-prone areas.

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

Perennial Flowers

Life in a drought state is hard for flower loving home owners. However, there are some options for brightening up your outdoor space even when the rain has yet to fall. Consider adding low-water blooms such as Russian sage and lavender to your garden. Ideally, you should choose flowers that can be planted in pots so that you can keep them out of the heavy sun and put them out anytime that you need a splash of color for your décor. This option is a great way to add a touch of life by combining it with other ground coverings such as artificial grass.

Keeping your landscaping in top condition may seem harder when you are dealing with drought conditions. However, water restrictions may be the impetus you need to explore other options that offer far greater benefits than natural grass. For best results, consider mixing it up a bit by adding a few succulents as accents to your artificial grass, or define a small space with gravel. By being willing to experiment, you will find the perfect design for transforming your lawn into a gorgeous oasis that frees you from the dreaded parts of regular lawn maintenance.