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Who Loves Plum Colored Leaves of Chinese Fringe Flower?

Who Loves Plum Colored Leaves of Chinese Fringe Flower?

Portland Residential Landscape Designer loves plum foliageAs a Portland residential landscape designer, I have many clients who want exciting year-round color in their landscapes. If they love burgundy foliage (either you love it or hate it, it seems) I often consider Chinese fringe flower as a shrub for their landscape.

Year round burgundy foliage

While there are lots of plants these days with red or burgundy foliage, we only have one that holds it’s leaves year round. Chinese fringe flower (also called Chinese witchazel) –  Loropetalum chinense var Rubra.

Right plant, right place or picky picky picky

Chinese fringe flower has to be planted in the right location to be able to look good in the winter. I’ve had plants that lived through the winters but look sad with dried out winter burned leaves which is very disappointing if it’s part of your winter view. I had clients who loved it so much for their entry that we tried it in the “wrong place” for about 6 years hoping we would get lucky. It looked fantastic May to December but some years it looked horrid January to May…..we finally gave up.N W Portland Residential Landscape Designer curb appeal planting combination 

Best placement of Chinese fringe flower

My best location advice for this plant is three fold: good soil drainage (planted up on a slight mound or above a rock wall), protection from the east wind and no sun until mid-morning. A house, tall evergreen trees or a hill can block both the east wind and early morning sun. It is not a shade plant and will have only green leaves in too much shade. Too much hot afternoon sun can scorch the leaves.

Exceptions

Conversely, or maybe I should say perversely, I have seen a few plants thriving that get 6 am sun. While this puzzles me a little (plants do not read about themselves in plant books after all) where there are successful plantings of Chinese fringe flower, good drainage and some afternoon sun are the common denominator. Should I live to be 100 (and still be practicing as a garden designer), I will not have the exact answers to some plant peculiarities. I have created hundreds of landscape designs here in the Pacific Northwest to inform my opinions but plants may be a bit like cats…..they surprise us with their likes and dislikes.

Low maintenance yes or no?

When sited correctly it is fabulous and gives your landscape a unique focal point. I don’t consider it an easy going low maintenance plant since it may need to be moved or replaced to site it properly. Once it has settled in and is a mature plant, it will need to be irrigated regularly. It will need occasional pruning if it gets too big for the area it was planted in. It’s easy to underestimate how big they will get over time. There are now several different varieties claiming to be compact, but I am skeptical.

Planting companions

Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’ is a polka dotted burgundy and hot pink foliaged coral bell courtesy of that wild plant designer Dan Heims at Terra Nova . This is a seriously fun combo for clients who like wild color.

Ornamental grasses, heather and dwarf conifer look great with this plant. Chinese fringe flower looks good with many kinds of plants and garden styles from modern to cottage garden. It’s a very versatile plant.

Varieties of Chinese fringe flower

Portland Residential Landscape Designer loves purple foliage

Here are 3 named varieties of Loropetalum to consider for our area:

Purple Pixie’ also called ‘Peack’ has a nice shape for growing in a pot. It is supposed to be more compact. Count on pruning it back by ½ every year after it flowers to keep it a compatible size for a patio or entry area.

‘Pipa’s Red’ can be grown as a small tree or large shrub or can be sheared back by ½ or more every year after flowering if you want it to be a 3′ to 5’ tall shrub.

‘Zhuzhou Pink Fuschia’ is also a delight. I’d use it as a small tree or hedge in a landscape design.

 

Heuchera

Heuchera_Heucherella_Collage_1m

Plethora of Heuchera leaf color and variegation.

Heuchera_Lime_Marmalade_3m

‘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.

 

Hellebore Heaven

Hellebore 9

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

If you love Hellebores (like I do) don’t miss this open garden.  The O’Byrne family designs Hellebores and have an international following.  Marietta and Ernie are rock stars in the garden design world.  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.

 

Display Garden

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.

Hellebore 2

Here are Hellebores with drought tolerant Yucca in full sun.

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.

Open Garden in February

Call a friend and save the date: Northwest Garden Nursery holds an open garden every year, typically the third week of February. 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. We were not able to purchase any plants, however, because they were sold out! So make sure you go early in the week if you want to make some purchases.

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.

Sheri loves the views from inside her home

flower shot of itoh peony

Rain does not spoil this ‘Itoh Peony’ flower

My client, Sheri Mead, sent me this note from Camas, Washington.  What she had to say points out several important garden design concepts:

“Hi Carol,

I thought of you this morning as I got to the bottom of my stairs, turned the corner and was greeted with a happy, bright pink display of peonies in full bloom.

Spring rain does not spoil this flower.  I thought back on how much time and effort you put into envisioning the garden from the inside of the house, anticipating what would be showcased at various angles.”

Confetti Willow

Easy care ‘Confetti’ willow in the perfect shade of pink

Sheri’s note points to design principles that can make your gardening experience more enjoyable and give you the results that you crave:

  • Envision the view of your garden-to-be from inside your home.  What views of which plants would make you smile?  This is the way your designer thinks.
  • Use plants to bring the outside into your home.  The pink and white plant color scheme of Sheri’s flower garden matched her favorite room in the house, the master bedroom and sitting area.
  • Choose long-lasting varieties to extend your viewing pleasure.  Note Sheri’s reference to the special rain resistant variety of peony Carol selected.  Remember the possibilities of variegated foliage as in the willow.  We used sun tolerant white hydrangea with Salix Integra Hakuro Nishiki ‘Confetti’ willow shrubs and peonies for 6 months of color and winter interest from red willow stems.
Too cute pink and white ball hydrangea

Colors for Sheri – Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’

Her Landscape Design in a Day included several planting compositions intended for viewing from inside the home.  Once we completed her design, the clients were very hands on.  I ordered plants and on site I coached her brother Rick on how to plant them properly.  Rick also built an arbor room using a design we “borrowed” from my portfolio.

As Sheri said, “Mission accomplished!”

 

Winter Flowers Feed Bees

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Saving Bees? Feed them. Plan for flowering plants from early spring until mid-fall.    Don’t use any pesticides.  Then you don’t have to try to figure out if the claim that it won’t harm bees is true or not.

Honey Bees and Heather FarmWinter flowers feed bees.    It’s easier to provide flowers for bees in our cool early springs than you might think.  What we are learning about saving bees can be made very simple.  Feed them!  Use a diverse plant palette with flowers from early spring until mid-fall. Don’t use any pesticides and then you don’t have to try to figure out what is safe and what isn’t or who to trust.

I have always found summer easy  to provide a diverse collection of flowers for all kinds of bees but early spring requires thought and planning.   My beach house landscape on the Olympic Peninsula is a great example of a very low maintenance and bee friendly garden. The plants I list in this article are from my experiences there and from my landscape design practice here in Portland, Oregon.

Erica Darleyensis Mary Helen

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’

If you’ve read any of my blogs, heather comes up a lot.  I love to use heather in my personal landscape and for clients where we can create good drainage. By the way, I had to learn how to grow it well.  The fact that many varieties of spring heather feed bees at a critical time is a huge bonus to an already great plant.  Deer don’t bother it, and it’s a glorious and tough ground cover.  Spring heather, native plants and early flowering Spanish lavender feed bees in late winter and early spring. I start out with heather varieties that flower in late January and into early spring.  These plants Erica Carnea – spring heather not summer heather  – are especially great for our native bumble bees who are out and about earlier than honey bees.  The bumble bees can protect themselves from sudden changes in temperature by nestling down in the thick foliage if they get too cold. I’d use the word cuddle but my inner 5 year old who hated the heather at our  front walk because it was buzzing with bees . . .  won’t let me!   Heather provides a lot of nectar for the bees because of the hundreds of tiny flowers on each plant. The flowers are just the right depth for different sizes of bees.   Some tube like flowers are better for hummingbirds but the heather flower (which is a tiny little tube) is just right for bees.  Here are some early flowering spring heather varieties I like:

‘Bells Extra Special’
Foliage goes to a whiskey color with flecks of orange in the cold, the flowers are a strong purple red and best of all it’s only 4 inches high.  It spreads to about 16” wide January to May.  This short compact plant is unusual among the spring heather,  most are 6 to 8 inches high.

December Red
Clean dark green foliage with Cabernet red flowers – 8” high and spreading to 18” November to April.

Adrianne Duncan
Has a strong violet purple flower and is more compact than typical,  6” high by 18” spread.  It flowers later than Bells Extra Special.  I like to put these two together for foliage contrast.

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’
Sports an interesting gold bronze foliage in winter and lots of flower power in February to April. These plants are grown locally by Highland Heathers in Canby, Oregon.   This grower supplies retail nurseries, special plant sales such as HPSO Hortlandia spring plant sale and you can buy directly if you make an appointment. You won’t find these varieties at a big box store.  The common varieties get too big for most landscape situations and then you end up hacking at them and then they are ugly and out they go.

Three things to pay attention to for success with heathers

  1. Soil prep
  2. Proper watering
  3. Yearly Pruning

A lot of my other early spring flowering plants are Pacific NW natives.  Rubus spectabilis, Salmon Berry,  has a spectacular colorful spring flower with 75 to 100 stamens which will keep bees busy for a long time.  This flower 220px-Rubus_spectabilis_1855calls the early bumble bees by the droves.  This shrub has thorns and needs a bit of room so think first and plant second.  Our Oregon grape,  Mahonia aquifolium, my evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and the hot pink red flowering current edge the light woods around the house and provide for the various local bees.   Some people don’t like Oregon grape because the leaves can get winter damage and have ratty looking leaves by early spring.  I say no problem, let them flower to provide for wildlife and then cut them down to the ground.  They will re leaf into glossy and good looking foliage for the rest of the year.

We know English lavender is great for bees in the summer.  Like heather, all lavender has hundreds of tiny flowers and is an abundant source for nectar.   Spanish lavender flowers much earlier than English lavender and provides for mid spring to early summer nectar. We need good drainage to be successful with with Spanish lavender but this often just means mounding up a few inches.   Don’t over water Spanish lavender.  I water mine once a month and am not sure it even needs that now that the plants are old.

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

lavandula winter bee

Lavandula stoechas ‘Winter Bee’

There is a newish variety called ‘Winter Bee’ grown by Blooming Nursery, a local wholesale grower. They claim it flowers 3 weeks earlier than other Spanish lavender and have named it accordingly,  Lavandula stoechas
‘Winter Bee’ PP #20,840.Up at my vacation house my Spanish lavender flowers in early April to mid summer.  I have seen flowers on them in March.  After the main flowering, I cut it back about 1/3rd and get another lovely hit of flowers in late summer into early fall. Here are three spring flowering Spanish lavender varieties I have grown: ‘Blueberry Ruffles‘, ‘Hazel, and ‘Mulberry Ruffle’s‘.  Blooming Nursery sells to many of the larger garden centers but don’t look for their plants at a box store; they won’t be there.

This unusual variety is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish Lavender.

This unusual variety, ‘Mulberry Ruffles’, is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish lavender.

Last of all, the best early flower for bees at our beach property isn’t what you would think of as a flower probably.  It has to be the huge old Oregon Big Leaf Maples down at the edge of the beach.  When they flower, the sound of bees is a low roar, I am not kidding.  My grandkids are a little nervous and tend to stay out of that area for a while.  Bees will earn respect if need be but otherwise I find them easy to get along with.  I do flinch when a bumble bee takes a dead run at me… and then I scold them for being bossy. There is enough room in the garden for everyone.