Friday, December 7, 2012

Help for your conifer confusion

Winter is fast approaching and every year it gets me thinking about the importance of evergreens in the landscape. Here in the Northwest we are lucky to have a wide palette of hardy evergreen trees and shrubs to choose from. So many, in fact, that I have a hard time keeping some of them straight. This is especially a problem for me when it comes to sorting out the vast array of specialty conifers that are available. 

 And here’s where the newest addition to my bookshelf comes in: Timber Press Pocket Guide to Conifers. If you don’t know of Timber Press, they publish many fine gardening books and are located right here in the NW. Horticulturist Richard L. Bitner is the author of this lifesaver. Many plant guides do not give nearly enough info on cultivars (cultivated varieties), and when it comes to specialty conifers it’s all about the cultivar. Bitner gives info on a great many cultivars, especially those most widely found & available. That’s important- I am forever frustrated by publications that highlight super cool plants that no one is growing, and are therefore unobtainable.  

Sneak a peak at one of the Hinoki Falsecypress pages below. I love Hinokis, I really do. But there are so many it makes my head spin. Bitner has a really good rundown on available cultivars accompanied by some nice pictures that show form & color. While not every cultivar has its own photo, you get lots of good info on those listed. And those without photos can always be Googled.

In closing, here are my reasons for keeping conifers at the top of my design list:

  • Our NW garden style is all about evergreens. It's part of our vernacular. Look around at our native forests- full of many wonderful coniferous trees. Celebrate our special place by using conifers, and when you don’t have room for that Western Red Cedar, consider using a dwarf variety instead.
  • So many of these conifers do great in our mild climate. Just keep in mind that almost all of them need good drainage, so amend that clay soil!
  • Here in the NW we're lucky to have many, many growers nearby so there are a plethora of varieties available.  
  • They come in so many neat colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. They also combine beautifully with broadleaf plants, perennials, rocks, and boulders.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter container gardens... for giving & keeping

These were planted early last spring and rely on foliage color

I love colorful containers year-round. Luckily, our mild NW climate makes really cool winter plantings possible. Added bonus: container gardens make beautiful & unique holiday gifts! Start by choosing a pot that goes well with the color and style of architecture where it will be displayed. This is very important. Choose plants that look well with the container & also the area where the pot will be displayed. Make sure your container drains very well- our soggy NW winter climate demands it.

When choosing plants go for contrast in color & texture. Be sure to use lots of evergreens- there are many with interesting foliage color and variegation. My rule of thumb for all container gardens is to use something upright, something that’s medium-sized and shrubby, and something weeping. Here are some of my favorites (keep in mind these suggestions are for Pacific NW gardens- zones 7-8)

Tall Mahonia, Heuchera, curly rush
Evergreens- upright & shrubby habit
-Boxwood ‘Green Mountain’
-Taxus ‘Standishii’
-Chamaecyparis ‘Nana Gracilis’
-Pieris ‘Little Heath’
-Sarcococca ruscifolia or S. hookeriana
-Nandina ‘Fire Power’
-Winter Daphne
-Bergenia ‘Winter Glow'
-Heuchera- comes in many colors

Grasses (and grass-like plants)
-Variegated sedges such as Carex ‘Ice Dance’
-Bronze sedge
-Blue Curly Rush 'Twister'
-Japanese Forest Grass ‘Aureola’
-Black Mondo Grass
-Fescue ‘Elijah Blue'

Redtwig Dogwood, Heuchera, and Creeping Mahonia
Deciduous plants with nice twigs:
-Red twig dogwood
-Yellow twig dogwood
-Willow cuttings- especially curly willow.

-Euonymus ‘Ghost’
-Juniper ‘Blue Star’
-Vinca- variegated or straight green
-Creeping Mahonia
-Willow-leaf Cotoneaster

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Getting ready for winter... if you haven't already!

Thanksgiving is here and Winter is not far behind. I, however, am behind on taking care of my garden and have yet to get it prepped for winter. The good news: there's still time! The bad news: the rain has started, so I'm looking at a wet work session. Oh well. Here's my to-do list:

1. Rake leaves: If you prize neatness, you'll probably want to get rid of all those leaves. But I try not to go overboard here for a few reasons. Firstly, to minimize my workload. Secondly, leaving leaves in some places is actually good for your plants. A layer of leaves in a plant bed acts as a mulch which insulates roots and eventually breaks down, returning nutrients to the soil. If you're a native critter enthusiast, remember that leaves can also provide overwintering habitat to ground nesting birds and rodents. The flip side, of course, is that some uninvited critters may also show up.

This holly needs to be raked!
Do: rake leaves off lawns. Also, be sure to remove any leaves that  are diseased. If left on the ground you'll only be allowing disease spores to overwinter and thrive. Diseased leaves should be put in the trash, NOT the compost pile. Be sure to remove leaves from plants such as hedges. This Holly at right is chock full of leaves- that's a disease risk and keeps the hedge from getting light & air. Cleaning leaves off of walkways, decks, & patios is also a good idea.

2. Cut back perennials: Cut back any dead/dying foliage to the ground and compost.

3. Pull weeds

4. Remove annuals from the ground & pots: Included in this are your dead/dying veggie plants- tomatoes, squash, etc. Leaving these around to rot & mold only encourages fungal diseases to take hold in your garden.

5. Move tender container plants inside

Iris loves clover
6. Plant spring bulbs: There's still time!

7. Cover crop veggie beds: I like to use plants such as crimson clover & Austrian field peas, which are pretty AND fix nitrogen. Added bonus: my chickens love clover!

8. Mulch: Now that your beds are cleared out, add 2-3 inches of a good mulch. This helps insulate roots & keep weeds down next spring. This is especially important if you added new plants to your garden in fall.

9. Mow the grass one last time

That's my work list. Here's a few other tasks that should be tackled if applicable:

  • Take patio furniture cushions inside, wash, let dry, and store where mice will not get to them.
  • Cover or store any outdoor furniture or art that may rust or become damaged. If you're lucky enough to have a hot tub, check the heater & filter often during the winter.
  • If you've got a water feature: clean out leaf litter. This is not a place where you want any leaves to accumulate. Some people prefer to completely shut down the water feature in winter. If you are in a place where you experience frequent and/or prolonged freezes, this is best. In our mild Northwest climate, you can leave the feature running all winter. A winter water feature is really lovely, especially if we get a little snow. This is a good time to clean the pump and replace filters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall plant stars

It's been sunny off and on today with mild temperatures... it doesn't feel like November! While I was out & about I spied a 'Yuletide' Camellia in full bloom. This Camellia sasanqua variety is an excellent performer- it reliably blooms fall through winter and features dark glossy leaves year-round. The flowers also make excellent holiday decorations when cut & brought inside.  You could also pot a young 'Yuletide' up in a container for a snazzy holiday-time display at an entry. But don't leave it potted up for too long- 'Yuletide' reaches a size of 8-10' x 8-10' at maturity. It does make a great hedge or privacy plant around an outdoor living space. If you plan to prune it, just remember to do so in winter after flowering is complete. Otherwise you risk removing the flower buds and going though the following fall flower-less.

Here's another Camellia that I recently spotted blooming in my own garden: Camellia sinensis, otherwise known as Tea. The new leaves & buds in spring are what can be  used to make black, green, and white teas. The different types of tea are a result of how the leaves are processed. This guy is a slow grower, so if you want to try growing and processing your own teas you'd need several of these and some patience. In the meantime, I am enjoying the fall bloom and sweet fragrance of these delicate white flowers.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Alderwood Landscaping is now in Vancouver, Washington!

For over 30 years we've been working to make beautiful and functional spaces in the Northwest. First in Spokane, then Seattle. And now we are pleased to announce that we are offering our services in Vancouver, Washington.

Our team includes two Landscape Architects, Three Landscape Designers, one Horticulturist, and a crew of dedicated construction craftsmen. We work with our clients to create spaces that are beautiful, functional, and sustainable. Our completed projects reflect our attention to client needs, our Northwest setting, and the many details that make a space successful.