Archive for low water plantings

Colorful Cape Fuchsia Makes Beautiful Summer Memories

Cracker Jack on Barnes Road roof garden

My cat loved to watch hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds love Cape Fuchsia for the nectar.  I love to use it in designs because it adds so much color, is easy to grow and the new varieties work well with modern and cottage garden styles.  This plant is a crowd pleaser and I use it frequently.

I planted my first Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius x rectus ‘Salmon Leap’  on my roof garden in Portland’s West Hills.  It was at 900 feet and we had snow every year even though I was 5 minutes away from downtown Portland.   The house was designed so that the third floor master suite had easy access to and a view of my roof garden.  It had a hot tub that was 20 feet from my bed, a big overstuffed outdoor sofa with an overhead cover and plenty of Cape Fuchsia!  In spite of the colder winters, the Cape Fuchsia (native to South Africa) never flagged or failed in the 12 years I lived there.  I loved my roof garden and the only family members who loved it more were the 4 leggeds, Barley,  Cee Cee and Cracker Jack.  One particular day everyone was curled up on the big overstuffed sofa.  I was reading and pets were napping.  All was peaceful.  I heard a strange whirring noise.  At first I didn’t see anything unusual.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my pets’ heads were going up and then down and then up and then down, I looked up to see a small blur. What did I see?  What was happening?

Portland roof garden

My roof garden 2006.

We were witnessing a hummingbird mating ritual.  The male made a 90 foot oval flight pattern to within an inch of his intended.  She was steadfastly ignoring him and drinking nectar from my Cape Fuchsia.  There wasn’t even a flicker in his direction.  The buzzing sound was made by his high speed downward trajectory.  It abated on the way up.   It was mesmerizing.  It was one of those wonderful garden memories that I treasure.    Just us mammals all watching the entertainment together.

If you would like to have some close encounters with hummingbirds or you just love colorful plants, the Cape Fuchsia is the perfect addition to your garden.  The best hummingbird attractors are the older varieties because they flower in the most intense coral red shades.  My favorites are ‘Devils Tears’, ‘Salmon Leap’ and ‘African Queen’, but they are too big and a bit too rowdy for a small yard.

The new varieties are more compact and a little tidier in habit.  The flower colors are available in more traditional shades.  When these new colors first came on the market I was annoyed.  I felt like they had dumbed down a great plant by removing the coral shades…….but then I saw it wasn’t an either or.  I now had more choices and that is always a good thing for a garden designer.

If you love modern landscape design style but don’t want to give up color, these new Cape Fuchsia are perfect for you.

Here are 2 new varieties from Skagit Gardens:

Croftway purple prince cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Croftway Purple Prince is an intense magenta.

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ has that intense magenta color.  I think it looks really good with Black Mondo Grass………Morticia Adams where are you now?  It glows in the evening light.  ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ is cold hardy for the Pacific Northwest and listed as zone 6 Yah!

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Yellow Sovereign’ is 18 to 24 inches tall by 24 inches wide.  Many soft yellow flowers burn in full sun but ‘Yellow Sovereign’ can take the heat.

Full sun easy care yellow sovereighn cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Yellow Sovereign does not scorch in full sun.

Barbara Ashmun, Portland garden writer has a great article about Cape Fuchsia’s.

I don’t tend to use the older varieties of Cape Fuchsia in front yards as the winter appearance is a little ragged.  If you love this plant like I do, simply cut it to the ground in mid December for a tidy look.

Hummingbirds Favorite Summer Flower

Portland Garden Designer Loves Colorful Cape Fuchsia

Phygelius with Phormium from ANLD tour

Phygelius planted along side Phormium. Picture from ANLD garden tour.

Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius, is a colorful, low maintenance long blooming summer flower for the Pacific Northwest.  I use it in landscape designs for clients who love color and watching hummingbirds.  It’s a personal favorite of mine.

If you are a person who wants a very tidy landscape that looks perfect all year long, this is not your plant.  I consider this plant to be low maintenance.  The winter appearance is not tidy but clients who love the color and the show simply cut it to the ground in December.  It can spread some.  In the spring if the plant is taking more territory than you want, simply pull on the stem that is straying.  Pull it out of the ground and cut the root off near the mother plant.  It is very easy, I promise.  Give it lots of sun, decent soil and water the first year.  It will need less water the following year.  Some clients water it about once every two weeks.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with needing a calm and low maintenance landscape.  We are all unique and a plant that makes one person feel delight can make another person feel claustrophobic.  I notice clients who grew up in climates where plants tend to be sparser can feel uncomfortable with the full flush of plantings possible here.

Morris after back yard

Mass planting of strong plant colors and a path help to break up the lines of the pool.

The first time I used this plant was for Art and Linda in SW Portland.  They had a 1960’s swimming pool in the backyard that dominated.  It visually ate the backyard.  They wanted a cottage garden style with lots of color.  My design solution successfully put the pool in a subordinate position to the landscape.  I created some great paths and shapes for the planting beds that broke up the lines of the pool visually.  We needed masses of strong plant color in the backyard to offset the powerful aqua rectangle.   I’m not a big color wheel garden designer but colors like coral and salmon are opposite the wheel from aqua. The Cape Fuchsia flowers are perfect for this situation because they flower in these colors and they flower all summer, hitting their stride during hot weather.  My clients enjoy hanging out by the pool and are entertained by the antics of hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the hot coral red tones of the Cape Fuchsia.

Morris before back yard

Art and Linda’s back yard needed some color to offset the aqua of the pool water.

My favorite planting combination for this design was Panicum Virgatum, American Switch Grass ‘Heavy Metal’ with the Phygelius x recta ‘Devils Tears’.   They are a perfect contrast combination! The Switch Grass blade is a fine silvery blue texture.  It contrasts with the Cape Fuchsia’s dark green leaf and hot colored tubular flowers.  The inside of the tube is a mellow lemon yellow but mostly the hummingbirds are the ones who see this.

Phygelius picture from Joy Creek

Phygelius ‘Salmon Leap’.   Janet Loughrey photo from Joy Creek Nursery

If you research this plant on the internet, you may think Cape Fuchsia are not cold hardy here since they are native to South Africa.  Many plant authorities also say these plants need a lot of water.  I don’t agree.  I have grown them at 900 feet on a roof garden and only watered them every two weeks.  They were successful for 12 years and were still there when I moved.

I’m always advocating for low water use so planting Cape Fuchsia with American Switch Grass results in a very low water landscape pairing.

While I love the old fashioned varieties, the new varieties  are shorter and flower in softer more traditional colors.  This has made the Cape Fuchsia a more versatile plant that works well for small properties and containers.  The only drawback to the new varieties  is the softer colors.   When you select a softer color you lose some of the hummingbird magnet effect but you still get a great plant.  Check out other great hummingbird plants.

 

Dwarf Mugo Pine – Get the Right Plant!

Pinus Mugo 'Sherwoods Compact'

Textured trio of ‘Sherwoods Compact’ dwarf pine, Sempervivum (hen and chick), Arabis (rock cress)

For success in the landscape (which I define as “right plant right place”), it’s important to get the exact plant specified by your designer.

Early in my career I specified three dwarf Mugo Pine.  I wanted a uniform pin cushion shape to contrast with ornamental grasses and succulents.  I wanted the pines to stay small, and contrast with the grasses that would be two thirds bigger. This was my vision.  What happened instead was three dwarf Mugo Pine ‘Nana’ grew into three different shapes and heights!  None of them stayed small.  The fact is plants grown from seeds can be as variable as your siblings.  My brother and I have blue eyes, my sister has green eyes, I’m a redhead my brother a brunette and my sister’s a blonde.

I learned that seed grown dwarf pines are variable, only plants grown from cuttings of a named cultivar could be trusted.  I knew this in theory but the industry was deceptive in labeling.  I now knew to avoid any dwarf conifer called ‘Nana’!  That was a secret code word for seed propagated.

Pinus Mugo 'Slowmound' is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Pinus Mugo ‘Slowmound’ is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Then I was told that ‘Pumilo’ was a named variety and it stayed low.  I was tricked again.  The industry was also using seeds from ‘Pumilo’, not cuttings to produce a more affordable and (profitable) dwarf Mugo Pine. For many years I did not use any Mugo Pine at all, mainly because I was disgusted.

When specific size and shape uniformity are needed always select plants grown from cuttings or tissue culture.  People who work at retail nurseries are sometimes ignorant of these finer points.

These days I need dwarf evergreens, particularly pines, for my clients because they are true low maintenance.  They are low water, no pruning or candling required, they take hot full sun even next to concrete, and they look great year round.  These true dwarf pines won’t get too tall in 10  years.  So I had to find sources and growers I could trust.

The varieties I use and where I get them:

Oregon Small Trees is a private wholesale nursery/grower.  The owner, Dave Leckey and his daughter, grow all of their plant material from cuttings.  It takes many years to grow dwarf plants to a good size for the landscape.  I also specify plants grown by Iseli Nursery and another resource is Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery.  None of these resources are retail, you have to buy their plants through a plant broker or in the case of Iseli, those plants can be found at Portland Nursery, Cornell Farms and Farmington Gardens.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Pinus Mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’ is a favorite of my clients, they love the texture of the needles.  I like Pinus Mugo ‘SlowMound’ a bit better for some designs.  It’s a darker green.  My favorite miniature Mugo Pine is called ‘Donna’s Mini’ and I’ll spend more money to get a larger tiny plant when I use ‘Donna’s Mini’.  It grows less than 1 inch a year in ideal circumstances.

 

Low Water Landscape Design for Young Family

Test after

After: New design includes drought tolerant plants and street tree.

TJ and Lori contacted me via Plant Native. They had a new house and were in the process of growing their family.  I love to design the landscape where my client’s children will grow up.  Its so satisfying!  We are creating the places where important moments, family traditions and their memories will be made.  During the interview, I asked about edibles.  They laughed and said in unison “Beans”!  Green beans were important and there was clearly some family joke about them.  Their wish list was extensive  but the top 5 were curb appeal, low water use, Rain Garden for disconnected down spouts, no lawn, four season plantings and a screen to define their property form their  neighbors without resorting to a fence…….and a place for green beans.

Test before

Before Landscape Design in a Day

We solved the curb appeal issue by designing the parking strip as if it were part of the front yard.  This added needed depth and gave the large front facade of the house the feel of a much larger front yard.  The rain gardens had boulders with interesting plantings that added drama to the scene.

Test parking strip

True Dwarf Pines and herbs brighten parking strip.

parking strip stepables anderson

Elfin Pink Thyme acts as stepables for flagstone path.

The parking strip was 8′ wide so was treated as an extension of the front yard, and we need that 8′!  The house with such a tiny front yard floated.  The new design integrated the parking strip into the front yard and “planted” the house visually.

Typically no designer would select the driveway for family quality time.  As we worked together it became clear that the deep spacious driveway was the perfect place for the edibles garden and play space.  The driveway got a privacy treatment,  a large arbor set within a stone planter.    The planter acts as art, adds curb appeal, and visually softens the size of the driveway .  It’s a functional divide between the properties and it can be seen from inside the house, replacing the view of the neighbors side yard and house wall.  Guess what they grow on the curved iron trellis – Green Beans.  People tall and short sit on the planter cap to garden and talk or play.

photo (82)

Stone planter with an arbor.  Click here to see more stone planter options.

Heather – The Perfect Low Maintenance Ground Color

Specialty form of heather ground cover (photo from Singing Gardens)

Heather – The Perfect Low Maintenance Ground Color

Look at your landscape right now…Could it use a little ground color? A plant with full season color which prefers full day sun, stays low – think 4 inches tall (never higher) and best of all……..has the texture of 100 tiny fern sprays? Did I mention it is evergreen and fully drought tolerant after its first summer of careful watering?  It looks great in the dreary spring monsoons with bulbs popping up through the evergreen textural sprays.  It is cheery, plucky and graceful all at once.

Here are the  super low varieties I use most often:

  • White Lawn – bright and green- the only white flowered form
  • Glenmorangie – whiskey colored foliage-gets bright!! in winter
  • Mrs. Ron Green – dark green w pale pink flowers
  • Golden Carpet – amazing texture-brilliant winter foliage color
  • Pat’s Dream- very similar to Golden Carpet

Tips for success:  Heathers require good drainage so clay must be well amended.  I have two different methods that work well.  One is when the entire area has been prepped ala “True Grit” soil prep technique.  The other is a “break all the rules” use of bark dust.  Neither one can be safely explained in a blog.  If you are one of my clients, or client to be, call me and I can walk you through it.  It isn’t that hard but it has to be right.

Easy care?  These low creeping mini heathers  fit into the true low maintenance landscape because they are the only heather that does not have to be pruned yearly.  They also fit into a “passionate, lots of work, hot color, knock your socks off”  garden because they can tolerate regular water.  These varieties look great with Heuchera (Coral Bell)  for instance.  Please note they are not for use in rain gardens or at edge of ponds.

These plants look great with masses of Hens and Chicks, dwarf conifers, those trendy new Echinacea (Cone Flowers) or with grasses.  The heather holds the combination together.   These heathers have flowers that stick out at a 90 degree angle which is interesting extra hit of texture. Some of the plants listed have bright foliage in the coldest temps of winter which then holds into mid-spring.

A fall planting is the best, you will have fewer plant losses and you can relax a bit which you cannot do with heathers planted in the late spring or in summer.  Not relaxing!!!!  My  mother planted 30 plants in summer and didn’t lose a single one, but I nagged a lot.  She was well tired of that by October.  I was forgiven because they performed beautifully for many years and my mother does not hold these things against me.

Local source is Highland Heather in Canby or mail order is Heaths and Heathers in Shelton, Washington.  Highland Heathers sells at the large local plant sales and via quality nurseries.

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Cheers,  Carol