Category Archives: Westcoast Homes and Design

Brian Minter: Gardening in the Euro zone

Featuring single stems in a collection of glass vases is very trendy.

In January of last year, I was in Essen, Germany, attending the International Plant Fair, the world’s largest horticultural show, and what an eye-opener! From a horticultural and design perspective, it was a game changer. Europe has a population of over 700 million people, and many have a passion for plants and flowers, but even so, to see how far ahead they have surged was remarkable.

The first noticeable trend was the many new varieties, colours and combinations of tropical plants, such as the fabulous new tradescantias. The very tightly compacted white, green and pink T. ‘Nanouk’ was particularly unusual. It would be ideal used as a windowsill novelty or in summer as an outdoor hanging basket stunner. All our typically green crinkled peperomias were featured in unusual colours, such as the almost-black P. ‘Red Lion’ or the richly pinkish-brown P. ‘Quito.’ These, and so many others, offered great opportunities for some innovative combination planters.

 Female skimmia looks great as a potted patio plant.

The strong interest in succulents was enhanced by the many varieties of easy-to-grow trailing rhipsalis. There were so many species displayed in baskets and spilling over tall containers, they looked fabulous. Well-suited to today’s stark, clean lines, they will provide a new modern look for indoor decors.

I seldom saw design-conscious exhibitors display a tropical plant in an ordinary plastic pot. The most frequently used container was a white or black ceramic pot that complemented the style and colour of the plant. Glass containers that showed the soil and the roots, as well as the foliage and flowers, were also widely utilized. Talk about transparency! It was not just about the plant; it was always about the presentation of value adding.

Bulbs, too, were featured very differently. The focus was as much on the bulb itself as it was on the foliage and the flowers. The bulbs were not planted in the ground, but rather grown on top of the soil for a more natural and organic look. It was a beautiful concept.

Taking it one step further, larger bulbs were also waxed and painted. At Christmas, painted amaryllis bulbs are not uncommon, but in Europe they were doing the same with hyacinth bulbs. Seeing them planted in glass was truly remarkable.

Their floral designs were also over the top, but I noted two distinct trends. The importance of a single flower was huge. I particularly enjoyed a presentation of vases that were held together in narrow containers and featured one flower stem per vase. The other trend was mixed bouquets of everything you could imagine blooming at any time of the year. It was refreshingly natural and quite simple.

The new roses and ranunculus were bred to have the traditional old-fashioned garden appeal, but with a difference—green centres, called “green islands.” They looked stunning.

In European small space gardens and on patios, trees and shrubs are used like flowering plants. Boxwood, for example, would never be seen in a nursery pot, but rather in a beautiful container and pruned as a ball, a narrow pyramid or as some other unique form. New varieties of both male and female skimmias were not for the garden, but rather the patio. This is true of so many trees and shrubs that we often take for granted.

Here in North America, we have a long way to go to catch up with both European gardeners and growers. Fortunately, they have certainly opened some doors for us.

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Brian Minter: Add drama to your fall garden with this fashionable ornamental foliage

Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ (Japanese Forest Grass) loves shady spots

As summer begins to wind down, we all appreciate the cooler, crisp evenings when sitting on our decks and patios. Much of our summer colour, however, looks a little tired and frankly, it’s time for a refresh. But this year, let’s be a little more creative.

For several years now, there has been an ongoing love affair with ornamental grasses, and autumn is their time to shine.  Few other plants can match the many ways they beautify our patios and gardens.  They sway and come alive in every little breeze. Their flowerheads, like those of the “bunny tail” pennisetums and the tall miscanthus, simply dance in more vigorous winds. If you have ever seen the autumn sun beaming through the many differing flowerheads, especially in early morning or late afternoon, you know they simply glow.

 Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is an outstanding red switchgrass.

In recent years, grass breeding programs have focused on colourful foliage, and as a result, many grasses take on brilliant hues of multiple colours as they mature, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ and M.s. ‘Fire Dragon.’ There has been a resurgence in less well-known grasses, like andropogon (the so-called “big blue stem grasses”). Varieties, like ‘Blackhawks’ with its rich burgundy leaves, ‘Red October’ with its brilliant red stems and foliage, and ‘Rain Dance’ with its rich red-burgundy foliage, are a few popular examples.

Panicums or switchgrass—which got its name from the swishing sound it makes in the breeze—turns into a riot of late summer colour. Varieties like Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch,’ an outstanding red, ‘Ruby Ribbons,’ a soft blue-green that develops into burgundy-red foliage, and ‘Shenandoah,’ whose green leaves turn a striking burgundy in fall, add real drama to an autumn garden.

Grasses that have an architectural form have also really caught on. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ which features a stiff, upright, narrow habit, makes quite a statement. Two cream-and-white variegated calamagrostis, ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Overdam,’ complement ‘Karl Foerster’ nicely.

 Andropogon ‘Rain Dance’ is a lesser known grass that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

The wide range of size variations makes grasses very versatile, especially in patio containers. From the tiny pennisetum ‘Piglet’ (16 inches / 40 centimetres) and Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’ (20 inches / 50 centimetres) to the tall Miscanthus ‘Huron Star,’ which reaches up to eight feet (2.5 metres), there is so much opportunity to be creative.  Taller grasses also provide wonderful screening for a little privacy.

Most grasses prefer a hot, sunny location, but some grasses can bring new life to heavily shaded areas. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, H. ‘All Gold’ and the beautiful red and lime H. ‘SunFlare’) loves the shade, as do most of the evergreen carex grasses, such as ‘Ice Dance,’ ‘Evergold’ and my favourite, the hot lime ‘Everillo.’

All these grasses are well suited to container growing. For the greatest impact, vary the size and shape of the containers, from tall and narrow ones to low bowls, and plant different sized grasses in groupings of threes and fives. Combining grasses with fall-blooming perennials, like rudbeckias, heleniums and Japanese anemones, is another way to create pure magic.

Remember, when potting grasses, to use a blended soil that drains very well and mix in lots of coarse material, like bark mulch and perlite, to ensure good drainage through the wet seasons of fall and winter.  Top dressing your grasses with slow-release 14-14-14 fertilizer will keep them looking fresh and vibrant well into late autumn.

Grasses are today’s “in look,” and if you give them a try, you’ll discover why. And don’t forget to light them at night.

Related

Brian Minter: Add drama to your fall garden with this fashionable ornamental foliage

Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ (Japanese Forest Grass) loves shady spots

As summer begins to wind down, we all appreciate the cooler, crisp evenings when sitting on our decks and patios. Much of our summer colour, however, looks a little tired and frankly, it’s time for a refresh. But this year, let’s be a little more creative.

For several years now, there has been an ongoing love affair with ornamental grasses, and autumn is their time to shine.  Few other plants can match the many ways they beautify our patios and gardens.  They sway and come alive in every little breeze. Their flowerheads, like those of the “bunny tail” pennisetums and the tall miscanthus, simply dance in more vigorous winds. If you have ever seen the autumn sun beaming through the many differing flowerheads, especially in early morning or late afternoon, you know they simply glow.

 Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is an outstanding red switchgrass.

In recent years, grass breeding programs have focused on colourful foliage, and as a result, many grasses take on brilliant hues of multiple colours as they mature, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ and M.s. ‘Fire Dragon.’ There has been a resurgence in less well-known grasses, like andropogon (the so-called “big blue stem grasses”). Varieties, like ‘Blackhawks’ with its rich burgundy leaves, ‘Red October’ with its brilliant red stems and foliage, and ‘Rain Dance’ with its rich red-burgundy foliage, are a few popular examples.

Panicums or switchgrass—which got its name from the swishing sound it makes in the breeze—turns into a riot of late summer colour. Varieties like Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch,’ an outstanding red, ‘Ruby Ribbons,’ a soft blue-green that develops into burgundy-red foliage, and ‘Shenandoah,’ whose green leaves turn a striking burgundy in fall, add real drama to an autumn garden.

Grasses that have an architectural form have also really caught on. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ which features a stiff, upright, narrow habit, makes quite a statement. Two cream-and-white variegated calamagrostis, ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Overdam,’ complement ‘Karl Foerster’ nicely.

 Andropogon ‘Rain Dance’ is a lesser known grass that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

The wide range of size variations makes grasses very versatile, especially in patio containers. From the tiny pennisetum ‘Piglet’ (16 inches / 40 centimetres) and Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’ (20 inches / 50 centimetres) to the tall Miscanthus ‘Huron Star,’ which reaches up to eight feet (2.5 metres), there is so much opportunity to be creative.  Taller grasses also provide wonderful screening for a little privacy.

Most grasses prefer a hot, sunny location, but some grasses can bring new life to heavily shaded areas. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, H. ‘All Gold’ and the beautiful red and lime H. ‘SunFlare’) loves the shade, as do most of the evergreen carex grasses, such as ‘Ice Dance,’ ‘Evergold’ and my favourite, the hot lime ‘Everillo.’

All these grasses are well suited to container growing. For the greatest impact, vary the size and shape of the containers, from tall and narrow ones to low bowls, and plant different sized grasses in groupings of threes and fives. Combining grasses with fall-blooming perennials, like rudbeckias, heleniums and Japanese anemones, is another way to create pure magic.

Remember, when potting grasses, to use a blended soil that drains very well and mix in lots of coarse material, like bark mulch and perlite, to ensure good drainage through the wet seasons of fall and winter.  Top dressing your grasses with slow-release 14-14-14 fertilizer will keep them looking fresh and vibrant well into late autumn.

Grasses are today’s “in look,” and if you give them a try, you’ll discover why. And don’t forget to light them at night.

Related