English Exotica: Tresco Abbey Garden

 photo courtesy of tresco.co.uk

photo courtesy of tresco.co.uk

On a recent garden tour of Cornwall, England, I was delighted to visit the glorious Tresco Abbey Garden on Tresco Island, one of the Isles of Scilly. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of five inhabited islands and many rock outcroppings located off the southwestern tip of Cornwall. Reaching Abbey Garden was no small task—a meticulously orchestrated journey by rented van, small airplane, airport transport bus, ferry boat and tractor-pulled trolley. The journey was well worth the visit to this amazing tropical garden filled with exotic horticulture.

The gardens at Tresco were founded by Augustus Smith, who built a house on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Abbey ruins in 1838. He was a man of independent means and spirit, and the isolation of the island suited his temperment. The remains of the Benedictine priory, built a thousand years earlier, captured his imagination, and he became determined to create a magnificent garden.

 photo courtesy of cornwalls.co.uk

photo courtesy of cornwalls.co.uk

Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Tresco has a very mild climate, virtually free of frost. It is however extremely windy and subject to Atlantic gales, so a shelter-belt of quick-growing and salt-tolerant trees was imperative. Smith found the best trees for this were from California - Monterey Pines and Cypresses. He also built a granite wall around his garden to protect it from the elements.  He began by planting collections of pelargoniums and mesembryanthemums – fifty of each – and later acquired plants from all over the world through his connections with other plant collectors. At his death in 1872, the garden was essentially in the form that you see it in today.

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The garden has remained in the same family for five generations, and each generation has made its contribution. Augustus’ nephew Thomas Algernon (Dorrien) Smith continued with the garden, as did his son Arthur who collected plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Americas. Those contributions include the grevillas, leucanthemums and the many varieties of proteas that we saw in bloom during our visit, as well as huge American agaves, African aloes, and aeoniums native to the Canary Islands.

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The garden is protected on the north and west sides by Abbey Hill. It is laid out on 17 acres and bisected by the formal Long Walk surrounded by tree ferns and palms which grow lush in the deep soil of that area. Above the Long Walk are two terraces that span the width of the garden. The Top Terrace has the hot dry conditions and free-draining poor soil of South Africa and Australia. It is perfect for many varieties of Protea, Aloe, Cistus, and succulents, and offers beautiful views of the garden and the sea beyond.

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The Middle Terrace is the heart of the Garden, with fishponds, a summerhouse and the stone Gaia sculpture, all nestled in a botanical paradise. Thousands of colorful plants from all over the world provide a lush backdrop, and even at the winter solstice, there are more than 300 species of plants in bloom. 

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The lowest level is the Mediterranean Garden, with its Agave Fountain and the Shell House decorated with seashell mosaics created by the current owner. Here you will also find the Valhalla Museum started by Augustus Smith which contains a collection of 30 ship figureheads, name-boards and other decorative carvings. Most of the figureheads date from the late 19th century, and come from merchant sailing vessels or early steamships that were wrecked on the Isles of Scilly.

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I may never see the gardens of Australia, New Zealand and South America, but thanks to a wonderful visit to Tresco Abbey Garden, I feel like I have traveled to many corners of the world and seen the richness of the plant species that they hold.

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Peony Partners

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From early childhood, peonies had a special place in my heart. Perhaps it was that their bloom time coincided with my June birthday. Or my mother's often recounted memory of the lavish peony bouquet that Dad had gave her in the early days of their courtship. I loved the soft colors, full blooms and heavenly scent of peony blossoms. Like other June brides, I included peonies in my wedding bouquet, and they were the first perennials that I planted in my garden.

Although gorgeous on their own, peonies can be paired with other perennials and shrubs that will serve as complements or offer contrasts in shape, form or texture. Below are examples of peony partners from my own garden and others that I have toured.

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Pale pink peonies in my garden are paired with purple heuchera, geranium 'Biokovo' and the colorful foliage of weigela 'My Monet', which is only 2' tall at maturity.

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The spiky form and soft blue color of catmint complements all types of peonies, as seen at The Mount.

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Digitalis offers a strong architectural form that contrasts well with peony flowers.

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On the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, peonies are paired with pale pink poppies and alliums.

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I enjoy underplanting peonies with purple heucheras and  Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'.

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Siberian and bearded irises provide a strong complement to peonies with their large flowers and statuesque form.

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Baptisia, with its spires of blue, white, purple or yellow flowers, creates a great backdrop for peonies.

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The large flower heads of alliums balance the prominent flowers of double peonies at Ambler Arboretum in Pennsylvania.

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This lovely combination of coral peonies and purple alliums was a prominent planting feature at Longwood Gardens this spring.

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Light pink peonies cascade over the fading blooms of hellebores and perennial geraniums. Hellebores thrive in sunny spots as long as they are watered regularly.

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A boxwood hedge creates a stately and serene background for peonies in a Delaware garden.

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Shrubs that flower at the same time as peonies, such as mountain laurels (above) and rhododendrons, provide pleasing counterparts. At Winterthur, the peony garden is framed by several old fashioned 'beauty bush' (kolwitzia) shrubs, which can be trained into a tree form or left as a weeping shrub.

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A gold smoke tree, Cotinus 'Golden Spirit', provides a stunning backdrop for coral peonies at Longwood Gardens. In my garden, weigela 'Wine and Roses' sets off the dark blooms of peony 'Karl Rosenfeld'.

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The maroon foliage of a 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple provides a stunning backdrop to peonies in bud and bloom.

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In my cutting garden, the peonies are backed by an ivy-covered stone wall that has both aesthetic and functional benefits. It shields the peonies from wind and radiates warmth on cool spring days.

Creating a Layered Garden

Every gardener wants a lush, colorful garden that brims with excitement and interest throughout the year. But how do you achieve this? By creating a "layered garden" - one in which the plantings are carefully selected to provide a succession of interesting combinations (or layers) from spring through fall.

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In his excellent book, The Layered Garden, David Culp illustrates this concept with stunning photographs of his gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Bucks County, Penn. As he writes in his book:

"The key to creating a many-layered garden is understanding and taking advantage of the ways plants grow and change through the seasons and over the years, providing different textures, colors, and effects and evoking a variety of feelings. Garden layers are made up of a variety of plants, some with complementary or contrasting colors, other with interesting shapes and textures." 

I created my layered perennial garden so that I would have a nice view from my kitchen windows. I wanted to use bright, "hot" colors somewhere on my property, and this location seemed ideal since it was a little further from the house. This kidney-shaped island garden was originally planted around a lone small apple tree that later succumbed to disease. It was replaced by the white tuteur, made for me by my brother-in-law. The shape of the tuteur echoes the dwarf Alberta Spruce on the left and provides a focal point for the garden in all seasons. Although the garden has gone through many changes, the concept and some of the plantings have not changed in 24 years.

The kidney garden has grown over the years to its current size of 28' long and 24' deep. It has  always had small access paths so that I would not have to step on the soil.

The first blooms of early spring are daffodils and species tulips. I moved and divided my forsythia bush so that it would be a colorful backdrop to the blooming daffodils. The daffodils are interplanted with daylilies, so as the daylilies grow, their foliage hides the foliage of the daffodils.

The species tulips bloom in April. Unlike most tulips, they are short in stature and truly perennial. They also have beautifully mottled foliage.

In early May, Darwin tulips and forget-me-nots begin to bloom, along with the PJM rhododendrons in the background. The forget-me-nots self-sow from year to year. Once they are done blooming, I remove most of them so make room for emerging perennials.

The fritillary, also called "Crown Imperial", is a regal bulb.

Darwin tulips are more hardy than many other varieties and return year after year. I add more bulbs every 4-5 years to keep my spring show going.

One of the joys of the layered garden is that it allows for flexibility, letting me change the predominant colors of the garden several times during the year. By early June, the color scheme of the garden has transitioned to blue and yellow.

Bulbs are key to achieving a layered look. They take up little space, and their foliage completely dies back later in the season, making room for other plants.

Baptisia produces tall spikes of bright blue flowers and handsome blue-green foliage. It is now the size of a shrub, and I stake it to keep it upright all summer long.

Allium 'Globemaster' produces giant purple globes on sturdy tall stems. It's especially vibrant next to the 'Goldheart' bleeding heart.

I purchased these 'Johnson's Blue' geraniums from Bluestone Perennials more than 20 years ago. They have been divided several times, and continue to form a cloud of blue in June.

My tuteur sports clematis 'HF Young' - a variety with giant flowers. Climbing vines are another asset to a layered garden - they add height, but have a small footprint.

Centaurea montana, or perennial Bachelor's Button has beautiful azure flowers.

In late June, the garden turns to gold and green with the prolific blooms of daylily 'Stella de 'Oro'. I try to plant the perennials in large swaths so that they have impact in the garden from a distance.

Several self-seeding plants weave through the perennials. I remove some in the spring, and leave the others to create an informal English cottage look. Golden feverfew, one of the self-seeders, provides bouquets of tiny daisy flowers and bright chartreuse foliage.

Coreopsis 'Zagreb', also known as Tickseed, is a long bloomer in full sun.

Daylilies begin their show in July. 'Margaret Seawright' is a gorgeous bi-colored variety.

Daylily 'Bloodline' complements its neighbor, scarlet Bee Balm.

The feathery gold foliage of Spirea 'Ogon' and Amsonia contrasts with the strappy foliage of daylilies.

Purple Perilla is another self-sower that adds drama to the late summer garden.

Several varieties of helianthus and rudbeckia create great cut flowers for the house.

These Orienpet lilies add a wonderful fragrance to the entire garden. They came as a set of 25 unnamed bulbs from White Flower Farm.

I grew aster 'Nova Anglie' from seed 24 years ago, and if the woodchuck does not get it, it provides armloads of flowers in September.

Rudbeckia, zebra grass and perilla in the autumn garden. I like the planting to be full - no mulch visible.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Michaelmas daisy welcome autumn.

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Always consider your garden's backdrop.'Karl Foerster' grass, variegated sedum, a golden cypress and burgundy Witherod Viburnum provide a lovely background for the garden in late fall as the perennials die back.

The Surprising Beauty of Hosta Flowers

I had the pleasure of touring several Hudson River estates after settling my daughter for her senior year at college. One of the places I visited was the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in Hyde Park, NY. Beatrix Farrand was one of the first women landscape designers, whose work defined the American taste in gardens through the first half of the 20th century. She championed the use of perennial plants instead of annual bedding, using color harmony, bloom sequence and texture to create beautiful herbaceous borders. Bellefield is one of the earliest examples of her private work - a small walled garden with long flower borders that show single color combinations from pink to blue, purple and white.

 Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

Seeing the garden in late August, I was struck by the white border, because it showcased a beautiful combination of white phlox and the flowers of Hosta plantaginea. I have many hostas in my own garden, and appreciate them for their strong, lush foliage in a myriad of colors and patterns. But I had never thought of planting hostas en masse,  purely for their flowers.

There are more than 58 varieties of hostas that have evolved from Hosta plantaginea. They all bloom in August and are prized for their lovely pure white flowers and strong, sweet fragrance. They need ample sun to bloom, and the flowers open in the late afternoon instead of early morning like most hostas. Some of the most well-know culitvars of H. plantaginea are 'Honeybells', 'Aphrodite', 'Cathedral Windows', 'Fragrant Bouquet' and 'Guacamole'.

 Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

'Venus', another cultivar of H. plantaginea, has striking flowers that are fully double.

Since hostas are members of the Liliacea family, they produce funnel-shaped blooms on scapes that arise from the center of the plant. Like day lilies, individual flowers last for only one day. The plant may produce ten or more scapes with up to 50 flowers per stem, so the bloom time can last of 3-4 weeks. By planting different cultivars, you can have hosta flowers in your shade garden from May until frost.

 Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

Most of us are unimpressed with the lanky scapes and violet blooms of common green hostas. But hosta flowers can range in color from deep purple to white infused with pink.

 Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

If you look at hosta flowers closely, you may see colorful striations.

Others feature unusual flower scape forms, almost resembling scepters, like those of the 'Blue Dolphin' hosta.

 Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

One of the latest hybridizing trends has been to create branched flowers, as seen in this example created by Tony Avent of Plant Delights nursery.

So as you plan future gardens, give some thought to including hostas purely for their floral display. They can make magnificent additions to your landscape!

Falmouth Estate Offers Gardens and Art

If you are on the Cape this summer, I would highly recommend a visit to Highfield Hall in Falmouth, MA. Highfield Hall and Gardens is the magnificently restored 1878 estate of the Beebe family, with a dramatic history and a vibrant present-day existence. It offers something for everyone – the gardener, history buff, antique collector, art lover, theater fan and nature lover.

Highfield Hall was one of the early summer mansions built on the Cape, and is one of the few remaining examples of Stick-style Queen Anne architecture in the Northeast. It was one of two mansions built on nearly 700 acres by the James Beebe family, which gathered on the Cape for the summers and entertained in grand fashion. When the last Beebe family member died, the estate was sold and used for a variety of purposes by subsequent owners – from health resort to religious retreat to hotel. In 1949, the estate was purchased by DeWitt TerHeun, a great patron of the theater and opera, who created a theater on the grounds for college students. The theater remains the home of Falmouth’s much-loved summer stock company from Oberlin College, the College Light Opera Company.

From the late 1970s to 1994, Highfield was abandoned and suffered two decades of neglect and vandalishm. In 1994, a demolition permit was filed by the owners, which propelled a group of Falmouth citizens to organize to save the mansion. The group, now the Highfield Hall & Gardens non-profit organization, was embroiled in years of legal battles to stave off demolition. Volunteers cleared the property and secured the building from further decay and vandalism, while raising money and public awareness of the mansion’s plight. Finally, in 2000, the Town of Falmouth took Highfield Hall and 6 acres by eminent domain, and authorized the non-profit grout to renovate and operate the property. The extraordinary restoration effort that followed was made possible through donations totaling in excess of $8.5 million, almost all of which were contributed by private individuals. In 2006, the first stage of restoration was completed, and Highfield was opened to the public.

For the garden afficianado, Highfield Hall provides two formal gardens, a labyrinth, as well as walking paths through a rhododendron dell, heritage beech plantings and nearly 400 acres of woodlands. When Highfield Hall was built, there were far fewer trees on the property than there are today, since wood was the main source of building materials and heat. To design their property, the Beebes enlisted renowned landscape designer Ernest Bowditch, and later Frederick Law Olmstead. The Beebes were passionate about their plantings, and many of their favorite beech trees remain on the property.

Two formal gardens were part of the original plan. The West Garden, originally a cutting garden, supplied fresh flowers for the house all season long. Franklin Beebe was often found in this garden, tending his favorite flower, the carnation. Today, this garden is planted with shade and sun-loving perennials, from hostas to daylilies, rudbeckia, sedums and scabiosa.

The Sunken Garden was restored in 2011 according to a design by noted landscape preservationist Lucinda Brockway. Lucinda based her design on evidence of the Beebe’s original garden, but created a planting scheme that would offer more seasonal color and easier maintenance. The gardens are maintained by volunteers. The central boxwood-bordered beds bloom in shades of purple and blue in the summer with hundreds of salvias, ‘Rosane’ geraniums, and verbena bonariensis, accented with the silver foliage of artemesia, circling spiky yuccas. The outer beds feature peonies and re-blooming daylilies. The focal point of the garden is a tall whimsical tree scupture named “The Spirits of the Garden” by Alfred Glover, representing the passageways between the spiritual and the living in the garden.

When you visit Highfield Hall the summer, you will be treated to a wonderful art exhibit which is on view through September 14: “Kanreki: A 60 Year Journey. The 60th CWAJ Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Prints”. This exhibit features more than 200 contemprorary Japanese prints by established and emerging artists. The prints encompass diverse techniques from traditional woodblock to intaglio, lithography, etching, aquatint, silkscreen and more contemporary digital innovations. The show debuted in Tokyo, and Highfield Hall is its exclusive US venue.

 

 

Midsummer Garden Bursts into Bloom

Despite the high temperatures and lack of rainfall, my midsummer garden is exploding with blooms, from shrubby hydrangeas and viburnums to dainty geraniums and bold day lilies. The pastel pinks, violets and blues of June have been transformed into sunny bright yellows, rich golds, oranges and deep reds, with a big dose of white from Annabelle hydrangeas that appear in every corner of the garden. Here are a few highlights:

 The native deciduous azalea prunifolium, started from a rooted cutting, is now a sturdy 3 foot tall shrub.

The native deciduous azalea prunifolium, started from a rooted cutting, is now a sturdy 3 foot tall shrub.

 This unknown variety of helenium received from a friend has been cheering up the perennial bed for 15 years.

This unknown variety of helenium received from a friend has been cheering up the perennial bed for 15 years.

 Beebalm, shasta daisies and a variegated grass engulf the obelisk.

Beebalm, shasta daisies and a variegated grass engulf the obelisk.

 A progression of blooms in the daylily border delights me with new flowers every day.

A progression of blooms in the daylily border delights me with new flowers every day.

 A chartreuse form of feverfew has self-seeded throughout the garden, and its miniature flowers bloom for weeks.

A chartreuse form of feverfew has self-seeded throughout the garden, and its miniature flowers bloom for weeks.

 Clematis Huldine has outgrown its trellis and is spreading on the ground and scrambling up the wall of the garage.

Clematis Huldine has outgrown its trellis and is spreading on the ground and scrambling up the wall of the garage.

 A beautiful rose daylily is complemented by 'Blue Star' Juniper below.

A beautiful rose daylily is complemented by 'Blue Star' Juniper below.

Hampton Court's Romantic Gardens

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The sixty acres of gardens and grounds surrounding Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace in Britain are majestic and inspiring. 

The earliest gardens, relatively modest gardens, were created for Cardinal Wolsey, but it was under the auspices of Henry VIII that today's ground plan largely took shape. Henry VIII was not much interested in beautiful flowers - he was more keen on the sport that took place in the Deer Park and Tiltyard, the scene of jousting competitions.

The gardens were formalized in the baroque manner under William and Mary and subsequent changes were made as 500 years of royals gardened on the property. Today's gardens may not be true to one particular era, but they are stately and awe inspiring. Even if your own garden is a small plot, you can learn from the lovely plant combinations, the cultural practices in the vegetable and herb garden, and appreciate the beauty and pageantry of the garden and palace.

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The walled formal rose garden is punctuated with beautiful statuary and was in full bloom in September.

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The herb garden's formal layout is reminiscent of Victorian-era bedding gardens.

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The Kitchen Garden grew all of the produce and fruit for Henry VIII's court.

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The ornamental bed decorated the river gateway to the palace grounds.

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Ornate Victorian-style bedding gardens decorate the Fountain Garden, a strolling garden that original showcased 13 magnificent fountains and clipped yews.

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The Orangery Garden (above) shows Queen Mary II's passion for rare and exotic plants. She had an orangery built to house her orange and lemon trees and cactuses.

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The Privy Garden (above) has existed on the south side of the palace since it was first created by Henry VIII in 1533. The recreation that is seen today has all of the original plant varieties, statues and hedges that were installed by William III.

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The Knot Garden (above) was laid out in 1924 to show the type of garden that Henry VIII may have had at the palace.

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These sunken gardens (above and below) were originally ponds used to hold freshwater fish such as carp, to feed Henry VIII and his court.

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Hampton Court is easily accessible from London by train. You can also visit the palace by Thames riverboat - just like the court members and royalty of centuries past.

I’d Rather Be Blue: 10 Blue Perennials for Your Garden

 Virginia bluebells, daffodils and celandine poppy in the spring

Virginia bluebells, daffodils and celandine poppy in the spring

The color blue is overwhelmingly chosen as the most popular color by both men and women, so it is no wonder that we are drawn to blue flowers. Blue is a soothing color that evokes feelings of calm, trust, honesty and loyalty. Blue flowers add a touch of tranquility and cool elegance to the garden. They make excellent bedfellows in the garden, blending and complementing other hues. I love combining blue flowers with violet, pink and white hues and silver foliage in a sunny summer border, or juxtaposing them with bright yellows and oranges for a dynamic “pop” in the spring garden.

 blue campanulas, geraniums and catmint in my summer perennial bed

blue campanulas, geraniums and catmint in my summer perennial bed

Since they are less prevalent than white, pink and yellow flowers, blue flowers appeal to all gardeners. Here are some of my favorite blue perennials for Zone 5-6 gardens: 

 aconitum 'Arendsii'

aconitum 'Arendsii'

1. Aconitum ‘Arendsii’

Blue flowers are particularly rare in autumn, and the deep indigo-blue flowers of Monkshood punctuate the oranges and golds of this season.

3-4’ tall, part shade, blooms September-October

 baptisia

baptisia

2. Baptisia

Also known as False Indigo, this late emerging, statuesque perennial with spires of pea-like flowers and handsome blue-green foliage is a focal point in the perennial bed.

3-4’ tall, sun to part shade, blooms May-June 

 centaurea montana

centaurea montana

3. Centaurea montana

This perennial bachelor button is a cottage garden favorite, with furry gray-green leaves similar to lamb’s ears, and large, brilliant blue flowers.

12-18” high, full sun, blooms in May

Related post: Centaurea Montana: A Cottage Garden Favorite

 Geranium 'Rozanne'

Geranium 'Rozanne'

4. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ or ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Perennial geraniums with their delicately cut foliage and low spreading habit are beautiful companions to tall, upright perennials, roses and shrubs.

Rozanne: 24” tall, full sun, blooms June-frost
Johnson’s Blue: 20” tall, full sun to part shade, blooms late May-June

Related post: Geraniums: Delicate Beauty for the Perennial Garden

 geranium 'johnson's blue'

geranium 'johnson's blue'

 pulmonaria 'trevi fountain'

pulmonaria 'trevi fountain'

5. Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

One of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring, pulmonaria sports showy, lance-shaped leaves with silver spots, and deep blue flowers that change to violet and rose as they age.

11” tall, part shade, blooms in April

Related post: Pulmonaria Pops in the Shade

6. Lobelia siphilitica

Spires of brilliant blue, trumpet-shaped flowers on a perennial that gently seeds itself in the garden.

24” tall, part shade, mid to late summer

 iris cristata

iris cristata

7. Iris cristata

A charming little plant, Dwarf Crested Iris is easy to grow, pest-free, and provides amethyst-blue flowers for the shade garden.

3-6” tall, part shade, blooms May

 Related post: Dwarf Crested Iris Brightens the Spring Garden

 Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

8. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’

This catmint sports compact mounds of aromatic gray-green foliage with lavender-blue flowers.

10” tall, sun to part shade, blooms from late spring until fall

 phlox divericata 'blue moon'

phlox divericata 'blue moon'

9. Phlox divericata ‘Blue Moon’

Introduced by our own Garden in the Woods, this Woodland Phlox forms a meandering groundcover with violet-blue, fragrant flowers

8-12” tall, part to full shade, blooms in May

Related post: Woodland Phlox: A Natural Mingler

 Platycodon 'fuji blue'

Platycodon 'fuji blue'

10. Platycodon ‘Fuji Blue’

With irresistible balloon-like buds that open to bright-blue, five lobed flowers, Balloon Flower is a late-emerging perennial that blooms in late summer.

20” tall, full sun, blooms July-August

Five-Plant Gardens

I recently came across a book in the library called Five-Plant Gardens by Nancy  J. Ondra, which features 52 ways to grow a perennial garden with just five plants. I was intrigued by the topic – it reminded me of the “5-Ingredient Recipes” cookbook that my sister-in-law swears by. The book was beautifully designed and illustrated, so I just had to bring it home for a closer look.

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Nancy Ondra wrote this guide to simple gardening primarily for novice gardeners. As she states in her introduction, “..when you’re new to the process, starting with a manageable-sized space, a clear shopping list, and a simple-to-follow planting plan can make the difference between inspiring success and frustrating disappointment.” I think her five-plant strategy is great for gardeners of any experience level, and may even be very beneficial for those seasoned gardeners who are looking to scale back and simplify their complex, time consuming gardens.

The “Five-Plant Gardens” concept is a great organizing and editing tool. (And by “gardens”, I mean a garden bed, or a small plot, not the entire property.) After gardening on my own property for 22 years, studying landscape design and visiting hundreds of gardens, I can attest to “less is more.” Less variety and more of each type of plant, that is. Not the collector’s approach of “one of this and one of that”, but large masses of the same plant, which create a stronger statement in the landscape. It can be very hard to do, and requires steely self-control, (not to mention a special “collector’s bed” where you can house your impulse purchases), but the result can be very satisfying. And with a small variety of plants, the maintenance is much easier.

I have a “five-plant garden” that I installed 20 years ago, and it still pleases me after all these years. It is a shaded circular bed in the loop of my driveway, with a gazing globe as its focal point. The five perennials are hellebores, astilbes, cinnamon ferns, hostas, and fringed bleeding hearts – low maintenance shade plants that provide four-season interest.

Every month has its own highlight:

  Hellebore foliage in winter gives way to flowers in March

Hellebore foliage in winter gives way to flowers in March

  Emerging fiddleheads in April

Emerging fiddleheads in April

  Hosta foliage unfurls in May

Hosta foliage unfurls in May

  Cinnamon fronds and bleeding hearts steal the show in June

Cinnamon fronds and bleeding hearts steal the show in June

  Astilbe blossoms explode in July

Astilbe blossoms explode in July

Hosta blooms stand out in August, and the changing colors of fall foliage provide interest from September through November.

I’m going to break the five-plant rule by adding snowdrops for February appeal. Since they are early bulbs that completely disappear, perhaps they won’t count?

Designing with Daylilies

With such a wide array of flower colors, shapes, heights and sizes, daylilies are fun to collect and use throughout the garden. My own collection began with a mail order of three different pink varieties that arrived as tiny divisions and took many years to grow into sizable blooming plants.

  Red and orange daylilies in my "hot color" perennial bed, accented by bee balm, perilla and daisies

Red and orange daylilies in my "hot color" perennial bed, accented by bee balm, perilla and daisies

Later I discovered Steve Green’s daylily sales in Sudbury, MA, and my daylily border was born. Now that my collection of daylilies has outgrown the border, I am looking for better ways to display them. Through trial and error in my own garden, and by visiting some outstanding display gardens, I have developed a few tips on showing off these beautiful perennials to best advantage.

  Orange and yellow daylily backed by the blue oval leaves of Baptisia

Orange and yellow daylily backed by the blue oval leaves of Baptisia

When choosing a location for your daylilies, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are you featuring daylilies as the main attraction or will they complement other plants?

Daylilies make stunning accents in the garden. A well-established daylily clump can produce as many as 400 blooms in just a single season, and can flower for 4-5 weeks.  Daylily flowers light up the solid green mass of a spring-blooming shrub border and look terrific at the base of a large stone outcrop.

  The maroon highlights on this peach daylily complement the 'Crimson Queen' japanese maple.

The maroon highlights on this peach daylily complement the 'Crimson Queen' japanese maple.

2. What colors will combine well with the other plants in the garden?

Resist the temptation to collect one of every daylily that's ever caught your eye. Limiting the number of daylily colors in a flower bed makes it more cohesive. Choose daylily colors that will either complement or contrast with the other flowers in your garden. And don’t forget foliage! Plants with maroon, blue, silver or gold foliage provide stunning color contrast for daylily blooms.

  Soft pastels - peach daylily and creamy echinacea at Tower Hill

Soft pastels - peach daylily and creamy echinacea at Tower Hill

  Maroon daylilies combine beautifully with a purple smoke bush.

Maroon daylilies combine beautifully with a purple smoke bush.

3. What about texture?

Daylilies provide the strappy texture of their leaves and the bold, star-shape of their flowers. You can create texture contrast by using complementary plant with variegated foliage, feathery, needled or furry foliage for texture contrast, or oval and round foliage for shape contrast. Plants with daisy-shaped, spiky or tiny flowers also provide a textural contrast.

  Pink daylilies against the feathery foliage of Hay Scented fern

Pink daylilies against the feathery foliage of Hay Scented fern

  Soft pennisteum blooms with peach daylilies

Soft pennisteum blooms with peach daylilies

  A striking contrast of blue Russian Sage and crimson daylilies

A striking contrast of blue Russian Sage and crimson daylilies

4. Is the planting intended to be admired from a distance or from close up?

The one lesson I've learned over and over again in planning gardens is that fewer varieties with more plants of each variety will provide greater impact of bloom and a better overall sense of harmony. This is particularly true if you’re viewing the garden from a distance. More plants are needed to create an impact.

  A stunning mass of yellow daylilies with contrasting blue 'Rozanne' geranium and a gold conifer

A stunning mass of yellow daylilies with contrasting blue 'Rozanne' geranium and a gold conifer

5. What if you can’t resist new daylilies?

Mixed borders and dedicated daylily beds are great for accommodating impulse purchases or swaps with gardening friends. Just remember to provide a soothing background for such a busy border – an evergreen hedge or a large expanse of lawn balances the excitement of a colorful border.

  Daylily Society border at Elm Bank

Daylily Society border at Elm Bank


A Dozen Dazzling Spring Containers

  (Poppies, lettuce and pansies grace a terrace at Longwood Gardens)

(Poppies, lettuce and pansies grace a terrace at Longwood Gardens)

I recently came across a wonderful description of "pot gardening" by landscape architect Thomas Rainer, who writes a thought-provoking gardening blog called "Grounded Design":

"Pots are perhaps the purest expression of planting design. Composing a pot is like a chef creating a salad—all of the rules of design get stripped down to their essence. In a larger landscape, the hand of the designer can be lost, but with a pot, the artificial environment is a pure display of horticultural skill."

I saw a fabulous display of this horticultural skill during my recent visit to Longwood Gardens and Chanticleer. Need inspiration for your spring pots? See the beauties below.

Spring Containers at Longwood Gardens

  Pitcher plants and ferns are an unusual choice for this bowl in part-sun!

Pitcher plants and ferns are an unusual choice for this bowl in part-sun!

  A grand display creates a focal point in a long walkway.

A grand display creates a focal point in a long walkway.

  Small redbud trees and dark pink foxgloves add drama.

Small redbud trees and dark pink foxgloves add drama.

  A pot of wallflowers and burgundy heuchera is simple yet stunning.

A pot of wallflowers and burgundy heuchera is simple yet stunning.

  Nothing says spring like English daisies, ranunculus, pansies, willows

Nothing says spring like English daisies, ranunculus, pansies, willows

Spring pots at Chanticleer

  a formal urn of purple, orange, chartreuse and silver welcomes visitors.

a formal urn of purple, orange, chartreuse and silver welcomes visitors.

  The simple repetition of deep purple-black pansies accentuates the pink and purple tulips.

The simple repetition of deep purple-black pansies accentuates the pink and purple tulips.

  A large pot of edibles and flowers in the courtyard.

A large pot of edibles and flowers in the courtyard.

  Blue fescue grass sets off the white poppies in a courtyard of raked sand.

Blue fescue grass sets off the white poppies in a courtyard of raked sand.

  The colorful branches of red-twig dogwood 'Midwinter Fire' combine beautifully with orange poppies, bronze fennel and golden creeping jenny.

The colorful branches of red-twig dogwood 'Midwinter Fire' combine beautifully with orange poppies, bronze fennel and golden creeping jenny.

Feel inspired? I sure did!

Spring Perennials Dazzle “En Masse”!

Like most novice gardeners, I began my gardening hobby by collecting one of every new perennial that I found. I was intrigued by the countless varieties of blossom, leaf shape, size and habit that existed in the plant world, and driven by the “plant lust” that many gardeners share. Weekends were spent digging new garden beds to contain the growing collections. While I enjoyed my new acquisitions, I was never really happy about the way that my garden looked overall. The wide variety of plants looked great in my friends’ small gardens, but somehow did not work in mine.

  Tiarella under a Kousa dogwood at the  Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Tiarella under a Kousa dogwood at the  Brooklyn Botanic Garden

As my garden grew to encompass my one and a half acres, I realized that mass plantings were the missing ingredient in my overall garden design. Visiting other gardens, particularly public gardens, has shown me that massing perennials has terrific impact. If you have a large garden, the plants must be arranged in significant groupings because the garden beds are viewed from a greater distance. Garden books recommend planting perennials of groups of three or more, but in a large garden, that group may be 30 or more for best effect.

  Erythronium at Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Erythronium at Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Now as I tour gardens, I am obsessed with the power of mass plantings. Spring blooming perennials are really well suited for this design technique. Many of them are small plants with delicate flowers that will look lost in a large garden. See how wonderful they look en masse!

  Grape hyacinths at Chanticleer outside of Philadelphia

Grape hyacinths at Chanticleer outside of Philadelphia

  Solomon's Seal, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Solomon's Seal, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

  Primroses, Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Primroses, Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

  Bigroot geranium at Margaret Roach's garden, New York

Bigroot geranium at Margaret Roach's garden, New York

  Epimedium roseum and bleeding hearts at Chanticleer

Epimedium roseum and bleeding hearts at Chanticleer

  Pulmonaria at Broccoli Hall, a private garden in Dutchess County, NY

Pulmonaria at Broccoli Hall, a private garden in Dutchess County, NY

  Ferns and forget-me-nots at Broccoli Hall

Ferns and forget-me-nots at Broccoli Hall

  Trilliums at Broccoli Hall

Trilliums at Broccoli Hall

  Primroses and vancouveria at Stonecrop Garden in New York

Primroses and vancouveria at Stonecrop Garden in New York

There’s More to Red Than Roses: 10 Outstanding Red Flowers for the Garden

As Valentine’s Day approaches and we are surrounded by endless bouquets of monotonous red roses, I long for the beautiful red flowers that grace my garden throughout the year. Red has always been my favorite color, and I was quick to incorporate it into my garden. One of my first flower beds was a “hot colors” garden that I could see from my kitchen windows – a large kidney-shaped island of fiery red, orange, and gold perennials set against a background of my neighbor’s lush green arborvitae hedge. These sunset colors define “summer” for me, and I use the perennials in endless bouquets for my home.

As time went by, my passion for red outgrew the perennial bed, and found its way into a shrub border that complements this part of my garden. Red rhododendrons, red-leaved Japanese maples and crabapples, and the bright red berries of winterberry carry on the theme. I now have red in my garden through most of the year.

When using red in the garden, keep in mind that there are “warm” reds with a touch of yellow that combine well with oranges and yellows, and “cool” reds with a touch of blue that are better with blues and purples. Silver-leaved foliage is a perfect foil for both shades, and softens the brightness of the blooms.

Here are ten outstanding red flowers for your garden:

Tulip Darwin Hybrid ‘Red Impression’

This classic red tulip never disappoints! Unlike other tulips, the Darwin Hybrids have exceptional perennial qualities, and mine have bloomed for at least 10 years! A mid- spring bloomer, 22” high with large, bright red flowers atop sturdy stems.

Rhododendron ‘Henry’s Red’

This rhododendron has the deepest ruby-red trusses that I have ever seen. With funnel-shaped flowers that have a dark red throat, it is a stunning sight in the May garden. Henry’s Red is a Mezitt hybrid, prefers full sun to part shade and grows to about 5’ tall.

Azalea ‘Hino Crimson’

A dwarf, low growing, compact shrub with brilliant red flowers in mid May, this azalea is one of the most popular and reliable evergreen azaleas in New England. As a bonus, its foliage turns a handsome dark red in autumn.

Bleeding Heart: Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’

With deep red flowers gracefully suspended along arching burgundy stems, Valentine is a sophisticated new variety of a beloved garden classic. Plants are vigorous, with plum-colored new growth and bronzy, gray-green foliage. They make a handsome show in large containers.

Daylily: Hemerocallis ‘Lusty Lealand’

Lusty Lealand sports huge (6.25”) flowers on tall sturdy stems. The deep red flowers have yellow throats and last for several weeks in July.

Bee Balm – Monarda “Cambridge Scarlet’

Bee Balm sports brilliant red frilly starburst heads atop strong upright stems. The tubular florets are very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hardy plant that blooms in mid summer, 4-5’ tall.  

daylily.jpg

Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’

This begonia, with its angelwing-like, shiny green leaves and large drooping scarlet flowers, is my favorite annual for shady containers. It is a compact, bushy, fibrous-rooted plant, 15-18” tall, with fleshy, semi-trailing stems, and flowers that bloom until first frost. I have good success overwintering these begonias in my house.

canna-the-president.jpeg

Canna ‘The President’

 ‘The President’ Canna is known for its extremely vibrant, large red blooms, and lush, green leaves that are edged with a fine line of burgundy. Cannas add a tropical look to the garden, are perfect for containers, and prefer moist garden soil and full sun.

Cardinal Flower: Lobelia Cardinalis

This native clump-forming perennial features erect spikes (racemes) of large, cardinal red flowers on stalks rising to a height of 2-4 feet. It blooms in August to September, and its tubular flowers are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Since it grows naturally in along streams and springs, it is a perfect plant for a Rain Garden or moist location.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

This classic dahlia cultivar is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, and no wonder! Its semi-double scarlet blooms are carried above foliage so dark it's almost black. Bishop of Llandaff grows to 36” in height, and blooms July-October.

 

Creating a Jewelbox Entry Garden

Entry gardens are a challenge to design because they need to be interesting in all seasons. But they also provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase tiny interesting specimens that would be lost in a distant landscape.

We were delighted when our friend Deborah asked for assistance in designing a new entry garden for her suburban home. In addition to new foundation plantings, Deborah needed help with a small entry garden bed that is the focal point of her front yard.

The entry bed is a highly visible triangle bordered by the driveway, the walkway to the front door, and a winding brick path that Deborah installed herself. Mounded in the center, it has good drainage and dappled sunlight for most of the day. Deborah likes Asian-inspired gardens, and wanted to incorporate her ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple, creeping phlox, hostas, and an unusual collection of geodes inherited from her grandfather.

Above, Deborah’s previous garden had included mostly sun-loving perennials that bloomed briefly and then blended into a mass of green. We wanted to give her garden interest throughout the seasons with fabulous colored foliage, different textures and a variety of plant forms.

Because the garden is so highly visible at close range, we came up with the concept of creating a “jewelbox” entry garden – a collection of small specimen plants with intricate details that delight the eye upon close inspection.

We decided to incorporate plants that would evoke an Asian garden. We chose a color scheme of yellows and maroons to complement Deborah’s house colors. And we came up with the concept of a large tufa trough that would serve as a focal point for the bed and unite several groupings of geologic specimens.

Hypertufa troughs look like stone, but are actually made of peat moss, perlite and Portland cement, so they are much lighter than they appear. Ours is filled with hens and chicks, mini hostas and a miniature carex.

Small objects in a garden, like these geodes, are more effective when grouped.

Although newly planted, the new garden already has interest from the variety of forms.

Our plant palette consists of spiky plants such as daylilies, dwarf iris, and blue fescue; low creeping plants such as sedum ‘Angelina’, creeping wooly thyme and Irish moss; large-leaved plants such as hostas and coral bells; and feathery plants such as Japanese painted fern and miniature conifers. As the plants mature, they will create a complex tapestry of colors and shapes.

Shades of maroon from the Japanese maple, red fountain grass, heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ and the winter color of bergenia complement the home's brick façade and maroon shutters and doors.

Glimmers of gold from hosta ‘Great Expectations’, hanoke ‘All Gold’, heucherella ‘Sunspot’, yellow dwarf iris, and ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies echo the creamy yellow siding.

Four season interest will begin with miniature conifers and hellebores in winter; snowdrops, mini daffodils, creeping phlox, epimediums and bergenia in spring; alliums, irises, Astilbe ‘Key West’ and daylilies in summer; and hanoke grass, blue fescue, black mondo grass and ground-hugging sedums in fall.

Unusual miniatures include alpine lady’s mantle, carex ‘Beatlemania, and mini hostas ‘Stilleto’. 'Kii Hime', 'GinkoCraig', ‘Lakeside Cha Cha Downsized’ and 'Lakeside Baby Face'.

The jewelbox garden is grounded by a simple foundation planting of ‘Green Lustre’ hollies, hydrangea ‘Quickfire’ astilbes and epimediums, along with a hosta hedge that was already on the property.

Planning an Enchanting Winter Garden

For those of us living in Massachusetts, the winter garden begins in November, when most trees drop their leaves, and persists until almost the end of April, when the majority of trees leaf out again. We view our winter landscape for five months out of each year.

Winter is the perfect season to study your garden and plan its future, because the garden is at its simplest and starkest.

Jot down what you like and what is missing, and note changes to make in the spring. Start with the plantings near the house. Look at the views from your windows. Use a camera to record your views and thoughts.

What makes winter unique from other seasons?

When you are planning for winter, think of yourself as a set designer. Unlike spring and summer, when the garden goes through many scene changes, the winter stage is not going to change rapidly. The overall composition is a static one, but it does not have to be boring, as you can see from this winter scene.

Winter sun

The changing light is one of the most wonderful aspects of winter. Bright and glittering when skies are clear, it can soon become dark and brooding with the threat of rain or snow. The angle of the sun in winter is low, and the result is that it picks up and reflects light on glossy leaves and shining bark.

In open, sunny aspects, the light will bounce off large-leaved evergreens like hollies and laurels. In contrast, some areas of the garden will be in deeper shade in winter, as the sun fails to get over a fence or hedge.

On a clear, sunny day, it’s delightful to take a walk through the winter garden. All the evergreens that add quiet beauty to the garden throughout the year become the main focus in winter, when the perennials have vanished underground and the deciduous shrubs and trees have lost their leaves.

ome winter days are unrelentingly gray, and for these, small splashes of color are what is needed: colorful conifers, a mass of snowdrops, or the buds of the ‘Valley Valentine’ pieris pictured here.

Snow and Ice are prominent features of the winter garden.

Snow outlines the filigree of a garden gate, the arching branches of a climbing rose, or the geometric pattern of a porch lattice, adding intricate patterns to the winter landscape. The delicate textures of shrubs and perennials are highlighted with a sprinkling of snow.

Frost has a magical effect on the garden, altering the appearance of foliage, stems and fruits. Dried seedheads take on an ethereal quality. The sharp edges of frost highlight the leaves of an azalea, bring these wild strawberry leaves into crisp definition, and make berries shimmer in the sunlight.

Where should you situate the plants for winter interest?

Front gardens are particularly well suited to winter plantings. Plants can be observed at close quarters and scents appreciated by everyone coming and going from the house.The house wall often provides extra protection for tender shrubs, and eagerly awaited little bulbs can be enjoyed just as soon as they emerge.

You will want to plant late winter bloomers in entry areas where you will pass them frequently or see them from your window as their charming blossoms signal the beginning of spring.

Through the window

The view from the windows of the house keeps you in touch with your garden at all times of the year, but especially in the winter months, often providing the only picture of the garden during bad weather. Careful placing of plants and objects results in a changing scene as winter advances. Views from upstairs windows will show aspects of the garden not seen at ground level. Are there rooms in the house that you use more in the winter than in the summer? Create a lovely winter view by choosing plants with four-season interest.

Fabulous Mass Plantings for Fall

  Ornamental grasses surround a stone sculpture.

Ornamental grasses surround a stone sculpture.

On tour through the Garden Conservancy, a stunning private Fairfield County, Conn. garden provided an inspiring lesson in mass planting. Created by AHBL Landscape Architects of Seattle, Wash., the 8-acre garden featured modern sculptures set in oceans of fall blooming perennials and ornamental grasses.

  A huge circle of rudbeckia bisected by a decorative pool

A huge circle of rudbeckia bisected by a decorative pool

Mass plantings of grasses and native perennials have been popularized by Dutch landscape designers such a Piet Oudolf, and have often been displayed in design trend magazines such as Garden Design and Architectural Digest. This was my first time actually walking through such a garden, and I was amazed by its sheer size and impact. Plants were used not in groups of 3 or 5, but in groups of hundreds.

  Geometric beds of weigela "Midnight Rose" and black mondo grass

Geometric beds of weigela "Midnight Rose" and black mondo grass

The garden was a juxtaposition of strong structure and soft plantings, of modern, geometric beds set against rolling fields and woods. Although I do not usually garden on such a grand scale, this garden was terrific inspiration for creating a “wow factor” with magnificent swaths of plants.

  Sculptural metal containers with black mondo grass

Sculptural metal containers with black mondo grass

  Poolside hedge of Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'

Poolside hedge of Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'

Blue Hosta in the Garden

There are very few perennials available to us here in New England that offer the color and form of blue hosta. With colors ranging from deep blue to powdery light blue, they offer a quiet presence that can be used almost anywhere in the shade garden. Plants range in size from giant to small and display a variety of forms and leaf shapes.

Actually, blue hostas are green hostas with a coating of white wax on the leaf  surface, which makes them appear blue. Blue hostas prefer shade: too much sun melts the waxy coating. Like most hosta leaves, they change color throughout the growing season. Blue leaves eventually turn to shades of green.

'Dress Blues' (above) is a medium hosta that forms an upright mound of blue leaves with a yellow margin that lightens to cream as the season progresses. Hosta and ferns make lovely bed-fellows with the delicate fern fronds contrasting and complementing the solid hosta leaves. The dark stems of this fern play off the blue of the hosta leaves, creating subtle harmony.