Archive for dramatic color

Plum Colored Chinese Fringe Flower for Portland Residential Landscapes

Portland Year-Round Color Using Chinese Fringe Flower

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

Year round burgundy foliage

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

Right plant, right place or picky picky picky

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

Best placement of Chinese fringe flower

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


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

Low maintenance yes or no?

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

Planting companions

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

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

Varieties of Chinese fringe flower

Portland Residential Landscape Designer loves purple foliage

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

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

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

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

 If you want to see more year-round color in your garden, contact us for Portland residential landscape design.

Sheri loves the views from inside her home

flower shot of itoh peony

Rain does not spoil this ‘Itoh Peony’ flower

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

“Hi Carol,

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

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

Confetti Willow

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

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

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

Colors for Sheri – Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’

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

As Sheri said, “Mission accomplished!”


Euphorbia – Full Season Color Shrub

Euphorbia a Perfect Plant or “She Devil”?

Euphorbia Humpty Dumpty with wagon wheel

Euphorbia c. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ encircling a wagon wheel

Growers clearly think euphorbia (spurge) is a perfect plant – Blooming Nursery, a local grower, shows over 50 varieties in their on line catalog.  Many varieties have come along in the last ten years.

What is Euphorbia?
It is a low maintenance shrub or ground cover.  Most varieties prefer sun and well-drained soil making them perfect for a SW facing landscape.  They provide a lot of color and they are very unusual looking.  The flower itself looks like a fat column filled with whorls of petals. The flowers are actually tiny little leaf bracts in contrasting colors.  People will say to me, “Oh you know, it looks like it came from Mars.”  Regardless of its peculiar look, people like the fact that most are very low water and they can enjoy six weeks or more of flower color in the hot sun.

If it’s such a great plant why did I call it a “She Devil”?

  1. A kind of latex sap exudes from every injury or cut to a leaf, stem or flower and can be a skin irritant.  Get some in your eye and you’ll call it a worse thing than a she devil.  For this reason, I never use it in a parking strip and I make sure the client knows about the potential problem before I use it in a design.  The sap does not affect me, but I know people who have gotten rashes, extreme but temporary eye pain. I have read that if ingested it will cause extreme stomach discomfort and should not be included in dog friendly landscaping.  I don’t know anyone who has eaten any of it but this plant probably should not be in a yard with children, a puppy or a goofy dog who lacks common dog sense.  A local pub ran into legal trouble when someone’s child came in contact with a Euphorbia.  Since each person has their own sensitivity, no one can say whether a plant will cause an individual discomfort but Euphorbia is well known for causing skin irritation. Here is the local pub article.


    The species Euphorbia characias tend to be 4′ to 5′ tall.  The varieties I use are shorter.

  1. All varieties of Euphorbia seed around. Some are prolific, some are not but they all seed. It is not a no maintenance plant but it is a low maintenance plant.  The varieties I use must be deadheaded, usually in early June to prevent seeding around and to ensure the plant will be a handsome devil for winter.  If the flowering stems are not removed to the ground, the shape for winter will be ugly and to me rather sad since it can be such a radiant winter shrub.
  1. Some varieties of Euphorbia (only one that I use) will spread by running root. I know that I only use it for dryish shade situations where it can spread.  Others might plant it next to their hostas and discover in a few years that the hostas are no more.

Enough of the doom and gloom!  Here are the plants that I enjoy using in gardens with consenting adults.  There are so many varieties that I don’t even try to trial them all personally.  I don’t use the plants that I have not trialed or that a person I know has trialed.

My Favorite Euphorbia List

EuphorbiaamygdaloidesvarrobbiaegrdcvrEuphorbia amydgaloides ‘Mrs Robb’s Bonnet’ or just ‘Robb’s Spurge’.
I use it under fir trees with sword fern.   I NEVER use it in mixed plantings or flowers beds, it will take over.  I use it where I want a low water needs, shade tolerant ground cover (not deep shade).  It should be fully contained by a path or root barrier.  It’s a very useful and handsome plant if deadheaded properly.

Euphorbia 'Humpty Dumpty' with water drops

Euphorbia c. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ with water drops

Euphorbia characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’
It’s a perfect size unlike most Euphorbia varieties. I use this plant in south or west facing foundation plantings.  My plant survived the cold at 900 feet for six years.  It looked fantastic with it’s silver green foliage in the dead of January.  It won’t look nice if you don’t deadhead it properly in June.  Companions:  Low 4” high heathers, coneflowers such as ‘Miss Kim’.
Variety grows to 24” x 24”. Flowers at 30” high.

Euphoria John Tomlinson

Euphorbia ‘John Tomlinson’

Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii  ‘John Tomlinson’
John is taller than ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and has more green blue than green silver foliage.  Select California Lilac such as Ceanothus griseus ‘Kurt Zadnik’ as the background shrub for the most amazing color combination in early summer.  The purple blue flowers of the California Lilac sizzle next to the chartreuse flowers of the Euphorbia. Variety grows to 36” x 36”.



euphorbia x m rudolph

Euphorbia ‘Rudolph’

Euphorbia x martinii ‘Rudolph’
Rudolph develops brilliant red new leaves in winter.  The combo of blue green old leaves and the red hint in winter is why I like this compact variety.  Blue fescue grass is a great companion, both for color and texture. Variety grows to 30″ x 30″.