Archive for xeriscape plantings

Violet Blue Flowers in Your Summer Garden

Violet blue flowers in your summer garden

There is something magical about violet blue flowers in a summer garden. A mass of long flowering intense violet, purple or blue flowers to see from your summer chaise is a joy. Here is a plant that I use in my garden designs that is easy care and long flowering.

Blue False Indigo – Baptista Australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is a long lived perennial so it will live for decades in your landscape. I use it in my landscape designs because it is colorful, low maintenance, fully drought tolerant, and long blooming. It has attractive foliage and interesting seed pods for fall. Clients who want color and easy care would line up for this plant if they knew about it. It looks great with ornamental grasses and has a more naturalistic look since it is related to lupine, a classic native wildflower.

Planting combinations for Portland Landscape Designs

I’ve used it in a low water parking strip in NE Portland with true dwarf pine, succulents like Sedum spurium ‘Green Mantle’, heather and black mondo grass.  In a SW Portland Landscape design I placed it to tower over a low boulder with plant companion ‘Kim’s Knee Hi’ Echinacea to the side.

Over time the plant will increase to a nice thick stand of charcoal green stems (which add to the beauty) and violet blue flower stalks.  ‘Purple Smoke’ is grown locally, other varieties and flower colors are only available by mail order.  I only use the  variety of Baptista Australis called ‘Purple Smoke’.  Don’t use the parent plant of  ‘Purple Smoke’, it is called just plain old Baptista Australis and gets too tall for most city gardens.

Plant uses

The primary use is ornamental and wildlife friendly. It’s not edible although it is a legume but it is not toxic. It’s a true native American plant.  North American Indians had many uses for this plant.  The Cherokee made a blue dye for fabric from the flowers.  The Osage made some kind of eye wash.  Others used the roots as an antiseptic for wounds.  It is not considered edible and was once thought to be highly toxic.  Modern research has changed this perception.  Read more about the plants chemistry.

How to kill Baptista: Water it every day in the summer and fertilize it heavily. Plant it in a low spot where winter rain water will puddle or sit.

Best practice:  Water deeply once a week the first summer.  The second summer water deeply but infrequently or put a plug in the drip emitter because it won’t need any water by the third summer.  I always place it with low water plants so it is easy to provide it with low water to no water. Don’t divide it. It has a tap root so dividing will kill the plant. If the clump gets too wide, take off new plants at the edge of the clump.

After the foliage yellows in the fall cut it down to the ground.  Mulch twice a year with garden compost.

Check out my Summer Watering Tips. Learning how to water properly can be a great stress reducer for you and protect your landscape investment.

 

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.

 

Lawn Do Over for Portland Landscapes

Landscape Design in a Day's newly installed RTF grass.

Landscape Design in a Day’s newly installed RTF grass with dry stream bed.

This is the year for rethinking the lawn. As a Portland landscape designer many of my new clients want to make big changes in their landscapes.  I am recommending clients replace their old lawns with new and improved grass varieties.

My Lake Oswego clients, George and Marcia, contacted me completely discouraged about their front yard. I met them in the fall after our particularly hot and horrid summer of 2015. They had spent their entire summer watering and watering their lawn.  It wasn’t dead on the October day that I came to their home but as you can see it was quite unattractive.

Uplands Neighborhood of Lake Oswego

Damaged Lake Oswego lawn

They decided it was time to hire a designer and start over with their landscape. It is a typical Lake Oswego landscape with heavy clay soil, fir trees nearby with thirsty roots, and drainage problems.

Before we even started the landscape design process, I was able to share information about a new lawn grass that uses less water and is more durable than the grass (perennial rye grass blends) we have been using for the last 30 years.  Working closely with Kevin Schindler of Autumn Leaf Landscaping Inc. we replaced their old lawn with Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) grass and designed a naturalistic dry stream bed that also solves the drainage problems.  Solving the drainage problems also enhances the health of the grass.  Even RTF grass doesn’t do well in a boggy winter soil.  George and Marcia are very pleased with the appearance and performance of the new grass.  They love their new dry stream bed and how it has pulled together the entire front yard, giving it a dramatic focal point.

They are no longer slaves to watering.

Installation day at George and Marcia’s Lake Oswego home.

This year several of my clients have taken out their old grass and installed RTF.   From a distance it looks like any lawn, in fact it looks more uniform because it grows so thickly that it tends to crowd out weed grasses much better than our perennial rye grass does.  My Lake Oswego clients especially appreciate the fact that RTF tolerates more sun and heat and if they did decide to let it go dormant, it will come back beautifully.  RTF can even handle a south facing lawn with reflected heat from a sidewalk.  This is the most difficult place to successfully grow grass so Portland landscape professionals are embracing this new product.

It is available as a roll out turf product (sod) and as seed.  Kuenzi Turf & Nursery

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

Rose City Park Neighborhood

No grass lawn

West Portland Park  Neighborhood

Other clients want no lawn designs, thinking it will be lower maintenance.  No lawn will mean lower water usage but replacing a lawn with paths and plants does not promise low maintenance. Even the fairly new minimalist style using 90% round river rock and 10% plants isn’t as low maintenance as you think. Someone has to blow dust and debris out of the river rock frequently to prevent weeds from building up.  Many clients simply don’t want to mow any lawn and are fine with the first two years of extensive weeding that is needed to get a no lawn front yard established.  For a lot of people, however, weeding is the least favorite gardening chore.

Synthetic Lawn Installed in front yard

Newly installed synthetic lawn in Parkrose Heights neighborhood

Other clients are installing synthetic lawn.  Before you sneer at the idea of fake grass (which I did when I first heard about it), check out these photos of my Southeast Portland clients Bob and Norma Bleid.  They gave themselves a retirement gift, front and back synthetic lawn.  No water, no chemicals, no fertilizer; it is the ultimate low maintenance landscape lawn.

Early fall is a particularly good time to install a new lawn or landscape.  With a good irrigation system landscapes can be installed any time of the year.  As a Portland landscape designer I am not fond of July or August installations, I know my clients will be “nervous nellys”  seeing their plants’ leaves droop, scorch and burn in the summer sun.  The fall rains typically do a beautiful job of providing the moisture needed to get plants (including grass) well established.  This eliminates the stress and worry of summer planting.

 

 

 

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.

Please like this article on your facebook or forward it your friends.

Cheers,  Carol