Tag: Garden design

Made in the Shade

Whenever I talk to people about their gardens, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “What can I grow in the shade?” Many homeowners view these areas of reduced light as “problem spots” and “no-grow” zones.

The good news is that although you may be more familiar with plants that flourish in full sun, there is also a beautiful selection of shade-loving plants that can add color and interest to those darker areas of your garden. In fact, I have found these often little-used places to be wonderful opportunities to create refreshing havens when summer temperatures climb. But, before you head to the garden center, there are some tips you should know that will help you achieve the best results.

A New Mind Set
Shade Garden
First, readjust your thinking that everything in the garden needs to bloom. Even in sunny areas, I find the most interesting compositions are a mixture of flowering and foliage plants. Discover all the beautiful varieties of hostas, ferns, variegated foliage plants, shrubs, vines and ground covers that will brighten shady areas with their colorful leaves. Next blend in some flowering shade plants such as impatiens, columbine, lamium, spiderwort, and torenia.

Working Around Tree Roots
Turning over soil to create bed space around tree roots can be difficult as well as harm the health of the tree. But these areas don’t have to go neglected. You can add beautiful splashes of color to dark areas under trees with container gardens. Pack the containers full of vibrant flowers and foliage for drama.

Morning or Afternoon Light
As you think about what you would like to plant in your shade garden, observe the area through the day and note the light conditions as they change from morning to night. What I’ve discovered, especially in warmer parts of the country, is that the afternoon sun is especially hard on shade loving plants, so it is especially important to be careful what you plant in those areas. Hydrangeas, azaleas and hostas struggle when exposed to several hours of western sun, while they seem less bothered with the same amount of morning light.

Good to Know: Know Your Shade

To select the right plants for your shade garden ask yourself these questions and then select varieties that best suit the site.

  1. Do I have dry or moist shade?
  2. Is the area fully shaded all day or are there periods when it gets sunlight?
  3. If the area receives periods of sunlight, what time of the day does it happen and for how long?

Raise the Shades
If you are faced with deep shade under trees, one way you can bring more light to the understory is to lift the canopy by pruning some of the lower branches. I call this “raising the shades.” It’s important to remove limbs in a balanced way so the tree continues to look natural and attractive. This type of pruning will allow the sun to come in at an angle, bringing in filtered light.

Create A Focal Point
Shady spots are perfect places to create a dramatic focal point. An eye-catching object in a darkened area makes a powerful visual hook. A brightly painted bench, statue, ornament, or a colorful container full of bright plants can add interest to an otherwise overlooked area of the garden.

Dry Shade
For dry, shady locations the best solution is to plant ground covers. Check with local garden centers for the varieties suited to your growing zone. In my zone 7 garden, I’ve had good luck with Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), vinca (Vinca minor), variegated wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), liriope and varieties of mondo grass.

To learn more about shade-tolerant plants, check out the video below!

Five Design Elements of a Woodland Garden

Woodland gardens enchant us. They’re intriguing – they remind us of fairy tales and adventure. With relaxed, natural looks and carefree plants, maintenance is easy, leaving you with more time to enjoy it. Woodland gardens play off the region’s natural setting and leave room for awe. Plus, more practically, they are an excellent solution for shady yards.

I’ve created and explored many a garden and I’ve concluded these are five essentials for creating a woodland garden.

1. A winding path

Say bye to sidewalk-straight paths. Create a path that curves through the garden, leading you along. The path can be paved with well-worn stones, bricks, mulched or just left with exposed earth. The path can be edged with river rocks too. Tidy perfection and symmetry have no place here.

Winding path edged by tall evergreens

2. Curved beds

When it comes to beds in a woodland garden, there’s no room for right edges and hard lines. Allow the edges of your garden beds to curve in organic movement. Remember, there are seldom straight lines in nature.

Japanese Maples

3. Greenery

My biggest tip for a woodland garden? Select plants native to your region for easy maintenance. Work with nature as much as possible.

Also, consider layering when you’re creating a woodland garden. There’s more of an incorporation of vertical space because you’re dealing with trees. You’ll need to think in terms of a top layer (trees), a mid layer (shrubs), a lower layer (flowers or grasses) and ground cover.

Good tree options for the top layer include dogwood, magnolias, birch and Japanese maple. Azaleas, holly and hydrangea are all excellent shrub-type choices.

Shade Garden Planted with Shrubs, Perennials and Trees

Common lower level woodland plants are ferns, columbine, phlox, coral bells, golden rod and elephant ear. As far as ground cover, popular choices include Virginia creeper, moss, lily of the valley and ivy. Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, but it should give you a few ideas to start.

4. Decoration

Gnomes, fanciful creatures, saint statues or mirrored glass orbs all provide that extra element that separates woodland gardens from their more serious counterparts. Birdbaths or birdhouses are also nice to include. Many woodland gardens feature a small pond or have a tiny bridge over a creek. An arbor also can be a pleasant addition.

Adirondack chairs made from recycled skis

5. A place to rest

Whether it’s a stone bench, wooden Adirondack chairs or metal patio furniture, allow a place for rest in your woodland garden. Breathe and unwind in what’s sure to become your favorite spot.

Designing with Perennials

Everyone interested in saving time and money in the garden should know that perennials are one of the best deals you can find. Perennials are always a good value because they come back year after year and some varieties like hostas, daylilies and iris, even multiple over time!

Even without these time and money saving qualities, perennials play an important role in garden design. They serve as the "paints" that will help you can create a colorful display in your garden. And just as there are special techniques to applying paints to a canvas, over the years I have learned a few lessons about designing with perennials in the garden.

Yellow and Blue Perennial Border Against an Evergreen Hedge BackdropFirst, select a backdrop for your perennials. This can be a picket fence, evergreen hedge or colorful shrub. Next place your perennials in the border according to height. Plant tall, spiky forms such as foxglove closest to the backdrop, round and full elements in the middle and those that grow low to the ground toward the front.

Mexican Sage, Artemisia and Salvia Indigo Spires Make Up a Blue BorderWhen it comes to color, use shades that are all in the same color family to create a soothing composition. For instance, the palest pink ranging to the hottest magenta. For a more electric effect choose contrasting colors such as purple and orange or yellow and blue. Neutral tones like gray, white and green will help balance your palette and create a bridge between pockets of color.

Perennials bloom during specific times of the year so with a little orchestration it is easy to have continuous displays from spring through fall. Make selections according to the season in which they bloom so that when one grouping fades, another picks up.Gray Artemisia Is a Good Bridge Between Contrasting Colors Also, choose varieties of a single type of perennial that will flower early, mid and late season. For instance, daylilies bloom in summer, but you can purchase varieties that will flower during different times of the season. And remember a beautiful garden is about a lot more than just flowers. Consider the color and texture of foliage plants as well.

There a literally hundreds of perennials to choose from. But, the main thing to remember is to pick the ones you like, follow a few basic rules of design when you put them together and most of all, have fun.

Good to Know: Fall Planting

Most perennials can be planted in the fall, which gives you a head start next spring. Be sure to get them in the ground 6 weeks before the first hard freeze in your area.

Autumn Splendor

Grass in your flowerbeds? For gardeners who’ve spent hours pulling invasive weeds, this may seem like strange advice. But let me introduce you to the new, well-behaved varieties of ornamental grasses. Windblown, untamed and graceful, they lend an appealing accent to gardens and containers.

Hardy and Happy
Ornamental grasses require little maintenance and are very forgiving about soil, making them easy to grow. Also, once they are established, most varieties develop deep root systems, so they’re quite drought tolerant. With just a little TLC during the first season, cold hardy varieties will be reliable, long lived additions to your garden. On top of all that, they’re remarkably pest free.

So Many Options

There are hundreds of varieties of ornamental grasses, so you’re sure to find one well suited to your garden. They range in size from diminutive 4-inch plants to those that stretch up more than 15 feet in height. Some varieties grow upright and vertical, while others spread. Most are cold-tolerant and will come back year after year. A few like purple fountain grass, can’t survive frigid temperatures, but are still worth growing as annuals. Check with the garden center in your area to help you make the best choices.

Design Ideas
Use the low growing varieties to add texture to the front of flowerbeds or to help define the edge of a border. Mid-size grasses add interest to the center and back areas of a border and are beautiful when combined with other late season perennials such as salvia, asters and goldenrod. Those varieties over 6 feet tall look great against fences and walls, or they can serve as focal points in the center of a garden. The real beauty of ornamental grasses shines through when they are paired with contrasting plants. For example, if the grass has fine, delicate foliage, it looks best when planted next to something with big, bold flowers or leaves. Both plants are more noticeable because of the contrast.

Late Season Care
As with many perennials, ornamental grasses respond well to shearing back in late winter. Some gardeners cut back dead foliage in the fall, but you may want to wait as most grasses are attractive well in the winter, and many have seed heads that attract birds.

When you cut back grasses, use pruners to cut each clump to 3 to 6 inches above the ground. In the spring the grass will re-sprout from the crown.

Selecting Native Plants


There is a push in the gardening world to use more native plants and for good reasons – they add beauty to flowerbeds, attract wildlife and because they are tailor made for the area’s growing conditions they require little care.


Here are some tips to get you started in selecting native plants for your garden.

What are Native Plants?

Native plants are those that have evolved in a region over thousands of years, adapting to the changing environment. Having thrived in the areas’ climate, soil conditions, moisture levels and survived competition from other species, these plants are highly resistant to drought, insects, and disease, which makes them some of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. In North America, plants that were here prior to European settlement are considered native varieties.

Why Native Plants?

Consider plants native to your region as being custom made for your garden. Since they have evolved under your local conditions, they are the most likely to thrive with the least amount of care. Native plants will require less insect control and fertilizer, which means using fewer chemicals in your garden.

Native plants also provide food and shelter for wildlife, so they are a great way to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife to your garden. By using native plants in my garden’s design, I am helping to create natural habitat, which is continually being threatened by urban expansion, large-scale farming, and the introduction of chemicals into the environment.

Selecting Plants

As with other plants, it is best to choose native plants that fit the soil, light, and moisture conditions of your site. For example, if you have full sun, average soil, and limited rainfall, choose plants best suited for those areas.

A good source for information about species of plants that are native to your area is your local cooperative extension. Many states have native plant associations as well. Another place to check is with knowledgeable staff at your local nursery. Once you know what varieties are native to your area, you may find mail order sources for seed. While some natives grow easily from seed, I find that I can get quicker results by choosing container grown plants.

Although it may be tempting to just dig plant material from roadsides or woods, this will only deplete already dwindling native colonies. In practical terms, the survival rate of wild-collected plants is much lower than those that have been purchased at a nursery.

Here is a short list of North American Native plants to consider for your garden.

Bee Balm, Monarda didyma
Blanket Flower, Gaillardia aristata
Blazing Star, Liatris aspera
Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa
California Poppy, Eschscholtzia californica
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum
Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum
Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum
New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae
Possumhaw, Ilex decidua
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Red Columbine, Aquilegia Formosa
Red Twig Dogwood, Cornus alba
Santa Fe Phlox, Phlox nana
Sedge, Carex praticola
Showy Fleabane, Erigeron speciosus
Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata
Tickseed, Coreopsis verticillata
White Trillium, Trillium ovatum
Wild Ginger, Asarum caudatum
Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata
Yarrow, Achillea millifolium
Yellow Giant Hyssop, Agastache nepetoides

How to Garden Au Naturel

One of the highlights of my career was meeting Piet Oudolf at his home in Holland. I’d long been an admirer of his nature-inspired style, but this was my first chance to see his garden in person. At first the landscape appeared very natural as if the plants had sprung up on their own, but on closer inspection I saw the thought behind the design. The garden was enclosed by an undulating hedge that both carried the eye and gave the space a sense of order. Piet used principles such as repetition, contrasting textures and focal points to create a compelling vista.

P. Allen Smith and Piet Oudolf

When I met Piet in the U.S. he invited me to visit his home in Holland and I gladly took up the offer.

Piet Oudolf's Garden in Hummelo in the Netherlands

In this photo you can see a few of the clipped evergreens that gave Piet’s garden a sense of order.

Planting: A New PerspectiveHis most recent book Planting: A New Perspective (Timber Press) frequently finds its way to my desk. In it Piet tells us to consider complexity as well as coherence. Choose a diverse group of plants, but create unity with repetition. He further advises us to intermingle plants using a combination of primary plants, matrix plants and scatter plants. He describes this approach like a fruit cake; the matrix plants are the batter and the other two types are bits of fruit. For example you might plant a large sweep of an ornamental grass with repeated groupings of perennials and shrubs. This is, or course, an over simplification. If you are interested in replicating Piet’s style I highly recommend his book. It’s an easy read that puts the possibility of creating a naturalistic garden within reach.

Piet Oudolf Garden in Ireland

Notice the repetition of color and how the grasses light up in the sunlight.

Piet Oudolf Garden at Pensthorpe Nature Preserve in Norfolk

Piet’s gardens are designed with four seasons in mind. This landscape will be interesting year round.

Piet Oudolf Garden Pre-planting

This photo illustrates how Piet lays out the plants using a grid that corresponds with the planting plan.

Conversely I employ drifts of a single type of plant in the gardens I design. This is classic Gertrude Jekyll. The interlocking drifts give a layered appearance similar to Piet’s gardens, but it’s the plant choices that dictate how contained or wild the garden will look. If casual is the goal, ornamental grasses are a favorite choice and I also like to use native perennials such as achillea, rudbeckia, penstemon and liatris. And shrubs are essential. There are so many innovative shrubs these days that offer four seasons of interest.

Perennial Border at Moss Mountain Farm

This photo shows the mixed border I designed at Moss Mountain Farm. Shrubs, perennials and annuals are planted in interweaving drifts.

Raised Beds Planted in a Naturalistic Style

You can design a naturalistic garden in any size space. This garden is made up of four 4′ x 4′ raised beds.

Shrubs for Wildscaping

Little Lime™ Hydrangea paniculata
Little Lime Hydrangea
Spilled Wine® Weigela florida
Spilled Wine Weigla
‘Summer Skies’ Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
Summer Skies Buddleia
Lemony Lace™ Sambucus racemosa (Elderberry)
Lemony Lace Sambucas
Tuff Stuff&trade Hydrangea serrata (Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea)
Tuff Stuff Hydrangea

Good to Know: Visit a Garden Designed by Piet Oudolf

Piet is brilliant at bringing the wilderness to our doorsteps. To see one of his wildscapes visit the High Line park in the middle of New York City or Lurie Garden in Chicago.

High Line Park in New York

A section of the High Line on Manhattan’s West Side.

Ground Cover Solutions

Everyone’s looking for low maintenance ideas for the garden and one of the best solutions that I’ve come across is to use ground covers.

They are ideal for a variety of situations such as an alternative to lawns, dry areas without easy access to water, and slopes.

Most ground covers are easy to care for. You don’t have to mow or fertilize as frequently as a lawn and many of them are quite drought resistant.

You would be amazed at the range of plants that are suitable to use as a ground cover. Sometimes it is just a matter of imagining how a plant would look growing en masse or selecting those that are known to spread rapidly. Whatever your growing conditions and design requirements there is a plant suitable for you.

Tread Tolerant

Living is a key word in the phrase “outdoor living space.” It’s an area that’s meant to be enjoyed and used, which means high foot traffic in certain places. High foot traffic leads to bare spots. When a path isn’t appropriate, ground cover plants are the solution.

Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatus) – With a potential spread of 18 inches, this evergreen ground cover will fill in a space quickly. Tiny leaves and pale blue flowers give the plant a delicate look. Blue Star Creeper holds up well to foo traffic.

Hardy in zones 5 – 10; 2 – 4-inches tall x 12 – 18-inch spread; full sun.

‘Platts Black’ Brass Buttons (Leptinella squalida) – This is a very low growing plant that forms a carpet of tiny fern-like foliage. It’s a natural for planting between stepping stones. ‘Platts Black’ foliage is a blend of dark bronze, green and eggplant purple.

Hardy in zones 5 – 9; 1 – 3-inches tall x 8 – 12-inch spread; full sun to partial shade.

‘Pink Chintz’ Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) – Choose thyme as a drought tolerant replacement for lawns in small spaces. ‘Pink Chintz’ produces pink flowers in spring and will tolerate moderate foot traffic.

Hardy in zones 4 – 8; 3 inches tall x 12 inch spread; full sun.

Water Wise

Whether you are water conscious because of need or desire, drought tolerant plants play an important role when designing a water wise garden. These are plants that thrive in low moisture environments. You’d be surprised at the diverse selection of plants available – even ground covers. Drought tolerant ground covers are excellent for filling in a space where moisture is at a premium.

‘Angelina’ Sedum (Sedum rupestre) – The trailing habit of this succulent ground cover is particularly attractive in containers or tucked into cracks and crevices. It’s also The chartreuse color is eye catching.

Hardy in zones 3 – 10; 3 – 6-inches tall x 12 – 14-inch spread; full sun.

‘Moss Rose’ Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum x ‘Moss Rose’) – ‘Moss Rose’ produces rosettes of succulent, blue-gray leaves tinged with red. It’s a lovely addition to dry areas with poor soil.

Hardy in zones 3 – 8; 4 – 6-inches tall x 4 – 6-inch spread; full sun.

‘Goldie’ Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) – If you love the look of a cottage garden, this ground cover version of the classic yarrow is for you. Soft green, downy foliage forms a dense mat year round and bright yellow flowers repeatedly from early summer to fall.

Hardy in zones 4 – 8; 6 – 8-inches tall x 12 – 18-inch spread; full sun.

Soil Saving

Do you have a place in your garden where water runoff or strong wind makes it impossible to grow anything? You’ve got an erosion issue and ground covers can help. Try a vining ground cover that will knit together and carpet the area. This will help hold the soil in place.

‘Yellow Ripple’ Ivy (Hedra helix) – Ivy is a classic evergreen ground cover. This variety’s foliage is gray-green with pale yellow edges. In winter the leaves take on a purple-red cast. ‘Yellow Ripple’ is a slow grower that will form a low growing, dense mat.

Hardy in zones 5 – 9; 6 – 10-inches tall x 12 – 24-inch spread; full sun to partial shade.

Golden Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) – Golden moneywort cascades across the ground forming a mat of yellow leaves with deep gold blooms in summer. This is the more behaved cousin of green moneywort.

Hardy in zones 3 – 9; 1 – 3-inces tall x 18 – 24-inch spread; full sun to partial shade.

Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortune ‘Coloratus’) – This evergreen ground cover spreads rapidly and thrives with very little care. It’s one of my favorites for multiple situations. The evergreen foliage turns purple in winter.

Hardy in zones 4 – 8; 6 – 12-inches tall x 4 foot spread; full sun to partial shade.

*Photos courtesy of The Berry Family of Nurseries.

Four Air Purifying Houseplant Arrangements

Too often foliage is passed over by our attraction to blooms.  This is certainly the case in the garden and I see the same myopic view inside the home.  By embracing foliage you do not in any way sacrifice beauty or color: both are present in a range of forms.  The advantage good foliage has over blooms I that it is long lasting.  Rather than cycling in and out of flower, the color, pattern, and texture remain a constant.

Another compelling reason to fill your bedroom with foliage houseplants is that they help remove toxins from the air pollutants that are found in houses from industrial chemicals used to manufacture building materials and numerous household cleaners that may contain formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, acetone, and ethyl acetate.  These pollutants are actually absorbed through the leaves of the plants and converted to harmless substances.  Experts estimate that fifteen houseplants make a significant impact on improving the air quality in a house.  So along with foliage houseplants adding color and texture to your bedroom, they also help clean the air.

Air Purifying Houseplants

  • Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii) – bright filtered or indirect light, water sparingly in winter, neutral to acidic soil, minimum temperature of 61 degrees F.
  • Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)- filtered light, high humidity, water moderately and allow some drying in winter, minimum temperature 45 degrees F.
  • Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans) – full light with shade from hot sun, moderate humidity, water sparingly in winter, minimum temperature 55 degrees F.
  • Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) – full light with shade from hot sun, water sparingly in winter, moderate humidity, minimum temperature 55 degrees F.
  • Elephant Ear (Philodendron domesticum)- bright filtered light, mist daily in summer, water sparingly in winter, support stems with moss pole, minimum temperature 59 degrees F.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix) – bright indirect to low light, keep moist, grow as a topiary or in a hanging basket, hardy zones 5 ,6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
  • Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) – requires bright light, excellent drainage, plant crown 1/2 inch above surface of soil, keep the old leaves picked off, minimum temperature 60 degrees F.
  • Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) – full or bright filtered light, light water in winter, minimum temperature 45 degrees F.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)- indirect to bright light, high humidity, minimum temperature 59 degrees F.
  • Red Edge Dracaena (Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’)- full light with shade from hot sun, keep moist in summer, water sparingly in winter, minimum temperature 55 degrees F.
  • Ribbon Plant (Dracaena sanderiana)- full light with shade from hot sun, moderate humidity, water sparingly in winter, minimum temperature 55 degrees F.

Decorating with Foliage

Princess Pine Sedum Used as a Houseplant
‘Princess Pine’ sedum (Crassula muscosa pseudolycopodiodes) is an exotic looking houseplant that adds a beautiful touch to the bedroom. Like most sedums, it grows best when you let the soil dry out between waterings and it also like bright, indirect light near a window. This plant makes a nice counterpoint when combined with large succulent leaves in wreaths and topiaries.

Caladiums as a Houseplant
The heart-shaped intricately patterned leaves of caladium arise from a container of frilly asparagus ferns. Enjoy caladiums as houseplants in indirect-light settings, and then in late fall the foliage will fade. Store the tubers in a paper bag in a warm, dry place. In late winter, pot the tubers up again, begin watering, and your plants will come back to life.

Crotons are Colorful Houseplants
The vivid colors on these crotons make them a focal point in any room. To maintain their richly hued foliage, keep the plant within 3 to 5 feet of a sunny window.

Combine Foxtail Fern and Philodendron for an Interesting Texture Contrast
Blending the bushy fronds of ‘Myers’ foxtail fern with the bold and deeply serrated leaves of a tree philodendron helps to enliven a room. During the summer, the fern produces small white flowers that are followed by attractive bright red berries. Seed from the berries can be used to start new plants.

Beyond Blooms

Coleus and Ornamental Peppers

Add brilliant splashes of non-stop color to your garden with an array
of sensational foliage plants. Foliage, like flowers, comes in a
kaleidoscope of colors from pinks, reds, and purples to yellow, acid
green and silver and each leaf is a work of art. Mix and match them
with flowering plants for beautiful results.

Instant Color that Lasts all Summer Long

As soon as you add them to containers and flower borders, they go to work
filling your garden with lasting color.

Consistent Performance

Flowering plants shine during their blooming cycle, but then fade into the
background until they bloom again. Foliage plants start out strong and just
get bigger and better as they grow and fill out through the summer with no
spent flowers to deadhead.

Create Depth and Interest

Dark foliage plants create a sense of depth and shadow in a flowerbed, giving
the design more dimension and interest.

More Texture, Shape and Form

Along with fabulous leaf color, plant breeders have created an amazing array
of foliage shapes and textures: spiny, fuzzy, waxy, serrated, and glossy, to
name a few. Some varieties add architectural elements by the way they grow.

Low Maintenance

Unlike some fussy flowering plants, many of the foliage varieties are the real
workhorses in the garden. Plant them in the right growing conditions and they
will thrive with little care.


Some foliage plants are so vigorous they can almost take over a flower border or
container. But that can be just what you need when you want to cover large areas
in vivid color.

Five Great Foliage Plants

Here is a selection of foliage plants that I have grown with great success in
my garden. Check with your local garden center for those best suited for your

  • Coleus


    There are a great number of fantastic coleus varieties available. Look for both upright and cascading forms
    in a wide array of patterns, leaf shapes and colors. The plants grow quickly in full sun to partial shade.
    Great for containers and flower borders.

  • Sweet Potato Vine

    ‘Marguerite’ Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)

    Long luxurious vines of lime-green to bright yellow-green foliage make this a great contrast plant for any
    garden. This plant is effective as an annual groundcover, growing only 6 inches tall but 3 feet long. Try it
    in containers, tumbling out of hanging baskets and potted planters.

  • Persian Shield

    Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus)

    Darkly dramatic, this plant’s deep purple leaves coated in a metallic silver sheen add an intriguing luster
    when combined with other full to partial sun flowering plants. Grow Persian shield with purple, burgundy or
    pink flowers.

  • Artemisia


    Silvery fernlike leaves make it a good choice for filling and highlighting a border, blending strong colors
    in a container, or as a low hedge along a walkway. The leaves deeply cut lobes have the look of antique silver
    filigree. It is a perennial that thrives in heat and well-drained soil.

  • Creeping Jenny

    Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)

    The electric green strands with small round to kidney shaped leaves act as a colorful "live wire"
    that gets the party going in any plant combination. Low and cascading, it is a perennial that enjoys full sun
    to partial shade conditions.

The Long Hot Summer

When those raindrops stop falling, and temperatures soar, it’s time to come to the rescue of your fading flowers and thirsty vegetables.

Whether you’re experiencing just a short dry spell or struggling with a deepening drought, there’s plenty you can do to help your plants survive and even thrive during the dog days of summer.

Good Neighbors
Put plants with similar water requirements together. You’ll be able to water smart, which means you won’t waste moisture on plants that don’t need it or neglect plants that do.

Annuals and vegetables are usually fairly high maintenance, when it comes to water. They need a lot and they need it often. Herbs are fairly drought-tolerant; lawns are always thirsty; and flowering shrubs such as roses, need more water than sturdy evergreens. Container plantings usually require frequent watering because there’s not much soil in which to store moisture. Add water retentive polymers to the soil when potting up a container garden to minimize the number of times you need to water. You can pick up this product at your local garden center. All you need is a small spoonful or two of polymers for a container of soil.

Here is a list of heat tolerant annual flowers that will stay bright and showy no matter how steamy it gets: calliopsis, cockscomb, dusty miller, lantana, Mexican sunflower, nierembergia, portulaca, salvia, sunflowers, vinca and zinnia.

Go Native
Native plants are flowers, trees and shrubs that have evolved in a region over thousands of years, adapting to the changing environment. They’ve thrived on their own their own for centuries, through all kinds of weather extremes. When it comes to low maintenance you can’t go wrong with a native plant. Because they are tough, they can sometimes become garden thugs, so before you plant a variety check with a local garden center or cooperative extension to make sure it is not considered invasive. A few of my favorites for sunny flower borders are: blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, baptisia, Joe-pye weed, liatris, purple coneflower, goldenrod, penstemon and coreopsis.

To a plant, organic mulch is nature’s sunscreen. By covering exposed ground with a 3 to 4 inch layer of shredded hardwood, leaves, bark, peat moss, straw, compost or grass clippings, you add a protective layer that keeps the soil cool, conserves water by reducing evaporation and discourages weeds. A red flag that you need to add mulch is soil that tends to crust or crack, especially after a rain or watering.

Mow Smarter
Taller grass shades the ground from sun and helps keep moisture in the soil. It also encourages deeper root networks, helping your lawn withstand drought and disease. For cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryes, mowers should be set at 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches. Warm-season grasses, such as zoysia and Bermuda, should be maintained at 2 inches.

It breaks my heart to see someone standing in a yard, hose in hand, spraying plants with water. This won’t begin to quench a plant’s thirst. A really long, slow drink of water every 3 to 7 days is much more beneficial because it allows moisture to get all the way down to the root.

If you are conserving water, it’s best to devote your attention to your most recently planted trees and shrubs. Those planted this spring, and even 2 and 3 years ago have yet to establish a strong root system. Deep soak these plants every 10 days.

Deep soaking can be done with an ordinary garden hose set on a slow trickle. They key is to apply small amounts over a couple of hours. Or you can place a five-gallon bucket with 4 to 5 tiny holes in the bottom near the trunk. Fill the bucket with water and it will slowly drip around the tree over time. You will need to apply 5 gallons for every year the tree has been in the ground, up to a maximum of 20.

A lawn requires 1 1/2 inches of water per week to stay actively growing. If your community is under watering restrictions, you may have to let your lawn go thirsty. Most varieties of grass will go dormant and turn brown, but when rains return they usually recover.