Contrast in your Container Garden

How do you choose your plant combinations? I think the number one rule is variety; variety of all different types: color, height, leaf shape, plant shape, and plant density. Nothing can stand out if it is surrounded by only similar objects. Planting all tall, skinny, grass-like plants that are the same shade of green is not going to look as impressive as if you change only one of the parameters. A grouping of grasses of a similar height but different colors is going to be more eye-catching. 

So what plants did I choose? Today I am showing you the plants I bought at Swansons, what groupings I placed them in, and why I chose the plants to begin with.

Container One

Pocahontas Penstemon

I chose this plant for its wide, purplish leaves. In the early spring this plant sends up stalks with lavender flowers that hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love. We'll have to look for them next spring! In the meantime, this serves as a good anchor plant for this container, dominating in height, leaf size, and leaf color.

Lamb's Ear "Silver Carpet"

It is hard to deny the fantastic texture that lambs ear has. The fuzzy leaves add interest and texture to any garden. I also love the dusty sage color; it serves as great contrast to the Penstemon leaves, in just about every aspect.

Diamond Heights California Lilac

And now for the punch of color! This plant has a great, bright, color, with dark green details. It is also a low lying choice, that will spill over the edge of our containers. This one attracts bees and butterflies, and is resistant to deer, not that we have that problem on the second floor!  The only down side for this plant is that it isn't always hardy in our climate. It will all depend on how mild the winter is.

This one contrasts the other selections in color, leaf size and texture, height, and growing pattern. The penstemon and lambs ear provide the complex but reserved backdrop for the bright green stunner, that will spill over the edge of the planter as the summer goes on.


Hello, little bee!

Container Two


As the second planting, I went for a little grouping of terra-cotta pots. When thinking about the future of my porch, it is most likely that I will just keep adding terra cotta pots, and smaller groupings to the collection, this is just the logical beginning. Multiple pots add a statement, in a more cost effective, and transportable way than it would if I bought larger, statement planters.

Blackbird Penstemon

To start with some height, I chose a different variety of Penstemon, this one is called Blackbird Penstemon. It has larger, taller, flowers. This one is also great for wildlife. I liked this variety for its height, color, and spindly nature. Just look at those twisty tops!

Silver Bush, Cushion Bush  (Calocephalus brownii)

This plant was just so unique, I couldn't resist it! It's made up of little white twigs, which contrast in color and texture to all of the other plants we purchased. The white color, and bushy shape stand out amongst the group.


Stonecrop, Sedum makinoi "Limelight"

Good old stonecrop, a great spreader and easy to establish. I chose this one for it's tendency to spill over the edges. It has great color, and juicy leaves. The stems contrast nicely too!

Wooly Thyme

So fuzzy, so tiny! I paired this one with stonecrop in a shallow pot, both spread along the top, and their roots don't extend too deep into the soil. Again, the fuzzy texture adds a touch detail and interest to the composition.

Two More Sedums

I told you i was excited about them in the last post, so I bought three! Just look at the variety amongst them, in color, height, texture; they really have it all (the third is the stonecrop, listed up above).


Sedum telephium "Chocolate Drop"

Dark, glossy leaves, and a commanding height called me over to this beauty. I chose this one for its ability to make a statement. This is in the same height range as the Silver Bush, but has so many differences that they stand out against each other.


Sedum Kamtschaticum "The Edge"

This one is special enough to have a pot all to its self! I like the growth pattern of the leaves, and the irregular edges of the leaves. It also has a nice, bright, green that related to the stonecrop and the California Lilac, tying them all together. It is just about to bloom with bright, yellow flowers too.

Those are all the plants that I got this time. I think it is a good starting pint, with a nice variety and contrast.

Now, truth circle time. I went against the advice I've been offered and bought a tomato plant at the farmers market this past weekend. We shall see how that goes. It has been uncharacteristically warm here for the past week or so, I figure we can give it a whirl.

Happy Gardening! and Happy 4th of July, we hope you have a fun Holiday!

New City, New Apartment, New Garden


So what is new with all of you? We know we’ve been absent for a while, but moving cross country, and away from home, can knock you off your feet pretty easily! Looking back on our first few weeks here, I can feel a difference in my attitude and my outlook, it’s getting better but I still don’t feel normal.

We have good days and bad, and we miss people at home and everything familiar about it. We are trying to set up a life here, and beyond going out on frequent friend dates, that means getting back to the normal activities, like this!

So do you remember that really nice garden plan I came up with last winter? I was pretty excited about it; I was looking forward to see how my work the previous year panned out, and how my plants would expand, and of course filling it up with new plants. Pretty soon after that, the chances of us moving to Seattle were on the rise and luckily I didn’t go through with the plan of ordering all those seeds and filling my life with foxgloves, otherwise I would have had to find homes for many, many flowers. That is the risk in apartment gardening I guess.

In addition to saying good bye to my garden that I’d worked on for three years, I also had to give away, and find homes for my collection of house plants. I may or may not have cried when that happened.

 In Seattle so many things are different, including the gardening. The Summer just doesn’t get as hot and the winters are not as cold. Those pretty spring flowers bloom on forever, because the heat doesn’t come out and scorch them to death. Things that will die in the mid-Atlantic will stay alive through the winter here. Let’s just say that I am excited about the possibilities. One thing that is lacking are those hot weather fruits, notably tomatoes, these apparently aren’t that great in Seattle. 

However excited I am, the circumstances at our apartment are different from the last one. We’re in the city so I don’t have access to the actual ground, and we aren’t really sure how long we will stay in the apartment so things need to be temporary. Our apartment has a porch, which is great, and I feel so lucky to have it. These limitations lead us toward doing some container gardening, and me needing to step back from full-fledged landscaping plan, to thinking about a few pots at a time. What can I say? I think big.

I’ve never done containers outside, and the limits of them sort of make it more overwhelming; there is less open land to just try things out, your one decision makes a big impact. The plants in Seattle are different from what we’re used to, plus we have mostly full sun, which is very different from the last garden. We decided to go on an exploratory trip to a nursery. Back in May, we went to a program by Amy Pennington, a tv host and author here in Seattle, and asked for a good nursery recommendation, she recommended Swanson’s. A few weekends ago we reserved a zipcar and headed over to Swanson’s Nursery, which is an upscale, quality nursery in Ballard. It was a nice atmosphere, with plenty of options. I wouldn't go to find a bargain, but the plants are healthy and there is a lot of staff on hand to help you if you need.

It’s funny, you always want what you can’t have, at the last apartment I always wanted plants that would grow in full sun, even though we were lacking in that resource. At Swanson’s I was drawn to the shade plants.

I almost forgot the part I am most excited about: the sedums! If you’ve ever been to Northern California, you see these outrageous succulents that are huge, and amazing. It isn’t as striking as Northern Californian, but Seattle has its fair share of hardy sedums. They are just so interesting, with great shapes, and colors and textures.

I had trouble making choices here, are you surprised? What are your go to methods when choosing plants for a container garden. Check back on Thursday and I’ll share my selections and thoughts on plant combinations.

2015 is for Ferns and Foxgloves

Foxglove Love...

Foxglove Love...

It's about that time to start thinking about the garden for 2015. We've lived in our apartment for a couple of years, and this will be our third Summer spent on the garden. 

When we first moved in, it was obvious that the area had been planted before, but weeds, and ivy had taken over. We still struggle with some invasive weeds. Our garden surrounds a big stump, around the stump there is good soil full of organic matter, but as it moves away it gets a little heavy and filled with clay. The garden gets varying light because of the trees that surround the area, so we we've been hovering between plants that like part shade or part sun. Over the last two Summers we've been testing plants out and trying new things to see what grows well and what we like. I've resigned myself to the fact that we really are on the partial shade end of the spectrum and I need to stop wasting money on the plants that need more light. 

Last winter was rough, we had a lot of snow and long freezes, and consequently we lost some plants we had planted the summer before. The things that stood the test were the toad lilies, hostas, and the perennial geraniums which flourished. This Summer, I'll try to split the established plants and spread the wealth without spending more money.

I'm hopeful that the native oak leaf hydrangea we planted in the summer of 2013 will come back this year. The hydrangea grew leaves but didn't bloom in 2014. This was a common problem in the area because of the hard winter; fingers crossed that it comes back.

Another shrub we added in 2014 was a rhododendron that I couldn't resist from Cylburn's Market Day. Even though I tried to tell myself that I shouldn't plant more shrubs since it's an apartment I couldn't resist the blooms, they look like scoops of ice cream! I kept that in a big pot, thinking I can take it with me when we move someday, so I'm also hoping that the cold air doesn't hurt that one too much.

On to the plan: this year I am going to SIMPLIFY. I'm focusing on hardy ferns and foxgloves. 


What's not to love about ferns, they provide so much interest to shady areas. We have a few ferns, I'll continue to expand that collection, adding different sizes and textures to the mix. We currently have some Christmas Ferns and Ostrich Ferns. Here are a few that I'm thinking of adding to the collection.

"Thrill Seeker" Japanese Painted Fern from Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.

This one is good for zones 3a-8b, 20" tall and about 3' across. I like the texture of the fronds and the variegated, gray tips.

Dyce's Hybrid Shield Fern from Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.

This fern boasts deer resistance and easy reproduction. Two factors that I think are highly desirable. It grows about 24" tall, and is hardy in zones 4a to 7b.

Golden Mist Wood Fern from Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.

I'm a sucker for color, and this baby has yellow fronds! Living without full sun I need to seek color in other forms besides big showy flowers. This one has my name all over it. It comes in a bit shorter than the others, at 18" and grows in zones 5a to 8b.


I'm really into foxgloves. I love the multiple blooms on one spike, the softly blended and changing colors as you go up the stalk, and the little polka dots on each bloom. I love to watch the bees crawl inside each blossom, specifically designed by nature to entice them; there is something so magical and fairytale-esque about them. I planted some over the past two summers, the first did not come back (I'm blaming this on the harsh winter) and we'll see about last year's. From what I've gleaned, Foxgloves are a biennial, meaning they have a two year lifespan and are easy re-seeders. Once you have a crop established they should re-seed and spread throughout your garden. I hope to add to this collection as well this year. I've been buying mature plants, but this year I'll attempt to add some I've grown from seed. I've read conflicting opinions on growing from seed and when you need to start them, so I've decided to just start them now and try it. What do I have to lose? If I've learned anything from the past few years of gardening, it's to experiment and try new things. There is no guarantee that it will work even if I follow every rule, so I'll try it my way and see what happens. I'm thinking of starting these seeds.

Camelot Rose Hybrid Foxglove from Park Seed

Rose colored blooms, and supposed to be a prolific first year bloomer. Zones 5-9 and grows between 3'-4' tall. The longer I can keep the foxgloves in bloom, the happier I am, and these promise to be long bloomers.

Yellow Spear Foxglove from Swallowtail Garden Seeds

These European heirloom foxglove seeds have been reselected to stay close to their original color, they change from chartreuse to yellow on it's spike. These are soft yellow, and pretty darn perfect.

Dalmatian Peach Hybrid from Swallowtail Garden Seeds

These claim to bloom in under four months from seed, so that sounds perfect for me. I also can't resist their luscious peach coloring and little contrast between the petals and their spots. I just want to lick them, they look like creamsicles!

Snow Thimbles from Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Pure white blossoms that naturalize in woodland gardens and are hardy to zone 4. If re-seeding goes as planned, this may be my low maintenance spreader that I've dreamed of!

Note: Foxglove seeds and foliage are toxic, so if you have small children or pets that like to eat plants I would keep these in an inaccessible area of your garden or out of it completely.

Garden Resolutions

I am going to try my best to stop buying plants that crave more sun, and buying random plants. Things look better when there are many of them, I know that, I just want to try everything! All in good time I guess, I won't have this space forever, I should work within it's limits and try new things when I have somewhere new to explore.

What are your garden dreams? Are you focusing on something in particular or you trying something new? Do you have fern or foxglove tips? Let us know in the comments!