Fuzzy, Fragrant, & Ferny; Deer-Proof Plants For the Garden

The scourge of most people’s gardens, deer are cursed by everyone who plants a pricey carefully selected gem, that overnight becomes deer salad on the buffet line. Using fences, sprays, loud noises, and other innovative controls to some effect, deer will always find a way to get to a freshly planted tender morsel one way or another. Frustrating is not the word! Gardeners feel that they are under attack and throw up their hands in defeat against their Bambi foes.

The best defense against this concerted garden attack is to plant things that deer rarely if ever eat…. Kind of like putting out a liver dish for most people. But if you are unsure about the resistance factor, consider if the plant is fuzzy, fragrant or a fern… animals (deer and bunnies) tend to leave them alone.

Sometimes rabbits are worse than deer

On the other hand, don’t plant the big three-hostas, daylilies, and tulips. Plantings of any of these will entice deer to your property, like “M and M’s” scattered around that will draw deer in to your property. Or inviting them to a party! Instead, you want to put up “keep away” signs with your plant choices.

Yes, I love daylilies also, but deer will clean you out!
Tulips are like candy to deer

List of  Plants That are “Usually” Deerproof (Some Always!)

Usually is the key here. I thought that Epimedium was a stalwart deer proof plant until someone sent me a picture of a stand of chewed up Epimedium from deer. Some of these plants are understandably resistant like lavender or nepeta, both being very pungent. But Shasta Daisy? This seems very juicy and succulent to me but I find that deer never touch it. Here’s my list from experience:

Achillea, Yarrow

Aconitum, Monkshood

Agastache, Anise Hyssop


Alchemilla, Lady’s Mantle

Allium, Ornamental Onion

Angelonia, Annual

Armeria, Sea Thrift

Arisaema, Jack in the Pulpit

Artemisia, all varieties

Aruncus, Goatsbeard


Asclepias, Butterfly Weed, all varieties

Baptisia, False Indigo

Barberry, can be invasive

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra



Brunnera, Forget Me Not

Butterfly Bush

Calycanthus, Sweet Shrub

Caryopteris, Bluebeard 

Celosia, Cockscomb

Chelone, Turtlehead 

Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold

Cimicifuga, Bugbane

Clethra, Summersweet

Convallaria, Lily of the Valley


Coreopsis-Threadleaf varieties only like Zagreb

Cryptomeria radicans, Japanese Cedar

Daffodils, poisonous and they never eat these!



Dianthus, Pinks

Dicentra, Bleeding Heart

Epimedium, Barrenwort

Euphorbia, Cushion Spurge

Ferns, all kinds

Geranium macrorhizzum  ‘Ingwersens’ &  ‘Bevans’, Big Root Geranium

Globe Amaranth, Gomprhena

Grasses, all kinds

Hakonechloa, Japanese Forest Grass

Helleborus, Lenten Rose

Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’,Coral Bells



Iberis, Candytuft

Iris, all kinds


Kniphofia, Red Hot Poker

Lamium, Dead Nettle

Lantana, Annual


Leucanthemum, Shasta Daisy




Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny

Mahonia, Oregon Grape

Mazus reptans

Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells

Microbiota decussatta, Russian Cypress

Monarda, Bee Balm

Myosotis, Forget Me Not

Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo

Nepeta, Catmint



Perovskia, Russian Sage

Phlox subulata, Creeping Phlox

Pulmonaria,  Lungwort

Pynacanthemum, Mountain Mint

Rhus ‘Gro-Low’, Sumac

Rudbeckia, Black Eyed Susan

Sarcococca, Sweetbox

Salvia, all kinds

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower

Senecio, Golden Groundsel

Solidago, Golden Rod


Stachys, Lambs Ears

Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine Poppy

Tanacetum, Tansy

Teucrium, Germander



Vernonia, Ironweed


Viburnum ‘Pragense’






Orange is the New Black

Collage of oranges seen in Portland, Oregon at the Garden Bloggers Fling
Collage of oranges seen in Portland, Oregon at the Garden Bloggers Fling

Orange is the new black in flower colors. If you like black flowers and there are plenty, look at my post, ‘50  Shades of Black’.

Nearly black clematis
Nearly black clematis

Bright and bold orange flowers  are being used more and more in gardens and hybridizers are churning out new varieties of orange flowers all the time.  A few things to remember about using  orange flowers is that they appear closer than they really are, making them easy to see at a distance, and orange can also make a small garden seem larger.

Orange draws your eye
Orange draws your eye

I love this new trend of bright orange as I was getting tired of the typical perennial border in hues of pink, blue, and lavender. Orange amps up the color impact and opens the possibilities of creating some beautiful new color combos.

Magic Yellow flame Mimulus
Magic Yellow flame Mimulus

The sizzling effect of the different hues of the color orange was brought home to me on my recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

The color orange really pops in this mosaic at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon

Orange was front and center and it inspired me to plant more orange flowers and orange foliage plants like this peachy colored Heuchera called Peach Flambe.

Orange and peach Heucheras are a dime a dozen


Orange is a color with a very wide range of hues from peach and apricot, to copper and ochre.

Rudbeckia Joy Creek Select
Rudbeckia Joy Creek Select

According to Pantone, the global authority on color,  orange expresses energy and vibrancy. Tangerine Tango was the color of the year in 2012, so maybe the trend has taken a while to catch up with the plant world. But every time I turn around, it seems like a new variety of flower that hits the market is bright orange with names like these Echinaceas –  Flame Thrower, Hot Papaya, Mama Mia, Tangerine Dream, and Tiki Torch.

Orange Echinacea
Orange Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’
Orange Abutilon
Orange Abutilon ‘Bartley Schwartz’

 Not only flowers are turning up orange, accessories are turning up the heat with eye-popping color.

Orange accessories seen at J J De Sousa's garden in Portland
Orange accessories seen at J J De Sousa’s garden in Portland

Garish and striking with flaming orange shades, or subtle peachy shades paired with creams, olives, and greys, orange is a color that many designers fear and avoid. The picture below has greys and olive-green intermixed to enhance and soften the color impact. Using an orange urn was a brave choice and it worked beautifully with the right shades!


Orange urn with orange Kangaroo Paw at the Kuzma garden in Portland
Orange urn with orange Kangaroo Paw at the Kuzma garden in Portland

How to Use Orange for Best Effect

Here are a few pointers for designers who are hesitant to jump into the orange maelstrom.

  • To bring out the best in both bold and pale oranges, blend them with their color wheel complement blue. Fiery orange flowers paired with blue or lavender will make your border sizzle.

Orange and blue colors complement each other
Orange Nasturtium and blue Hydrangea colors complement each other

  • Orange is in its element in sunny, bright exposures. Choose hot orange flowers for hot sunny climates and softer peaches and apricots for regions that are a bit cooler and experience cool, cloudy weather. Soft yellow goes great with a soft peachy orange.

    An pastel orange color for a cooler, shadier exposure
    A pastel orange colored Begonia for a cooler, shadier exposure
  • Because orange enhances appetite and promotes sociability(according to color studies), plant plenty of orange-flowering plants near outdoor eating areas.

  •   Incorporate orange into your garden by using orange terra-cotta pots, copper accessories, bamboo, metal art, and orangey brick accents.

    Orange really pops on this mosaic seen at Floramagoria in Portland, Oregon
    Close up of orange element in mosaic

    orange gate
    Orange carrot gate at J J De Sousa’s garden

Colored bamboo for accents
Orange bamboo at Floramagoria in Portland
  • Include plants that bear orange fruits: pyracantha, sea buckthorn, and bittersweet, as well as some roses and hollies.

    Orange berries on Mountain Ash with creamy flowers of Yucca
    Orange berries of Mountain Ash with creamy Yucca flowers

    Bright orange can make a statement. Use it carefully!

    Bright orange gnome in garden


Labyrinth Plantings

Peaceful vantage point
Peaceful vantage point

Last year, I posted about installing a stone labyrinth for a client.  We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and just finished up the spring plantings. Go to Healing Labyrinth-Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, to see how I created and implemented the design and installation.

The theme for the plantings was pollinator friendly shrubs and perennials to surround and embrace the labyrinth to soften the harshness of stone and to bring nature in. When it came time to plant, I had to consider that the site is shady to part sun, with some parts in full sun, so I had to use an entire spectrum of plants that would attract pollinators.

Hillside above labyrinth planted with many native plants

Where the wall surrounds the labyrinth pathway, I left a small space of 6″ to plant something simple but beautiful to soften the stone edge in the shade.  Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’ was chosen for its bright color in the shade and its graceful form. It has no attribute as a pollinator friendly plant, but was perfect for the spot. A slow grower that stays under 12″ high, the grass will not outgrow its space and is very low maintenance.

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Hakenochloa All Gold
Hakenochloa All Gold

The only plantings that were original were extremely fragrant pink climbing roses on the fence. I kept them as a backdrop for the new plantings.

Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’

The garden surrounding the labyrinth is in partial to full sun and I went wild with the pollinator friendly plants.  The main shrub that I used was Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ –  seven of them spotted around the space. Clethra is a highly fragrant deciduous shrub that blooms in July and August in shade and partial shade and is frequently visited by an array of pollinators.  The racemes of dark pink flowers last for weeks and the foliage turns a bright yellow in the fall.

Butterfly bushes were also used to give late summer color as well as perennials such as stachys hummelo, salvias, sedum, vernonia, hibiscus, coral bells, and nepeta. A few annuals were selected for color and pollinator appeal –  petunias and pentas.

Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
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Planted area 6 weeks later

The upper slope over-looking the labyrinth was in full shade and was planted with colorful foliage plants-coral bells, hostas, carex, toad lily, Lenten Rose, tiarella, brunnera, lamium, heucherellas, and woodland phlox to give texture and brighten the shady area.

Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Hillside of foliage plants for shade
Hillside of foliage plants for shade

Under the teak bench, I planted Mazus, a steppable creeping plant with tiny purple flowers.

Mazus is a purple flowered creeper


In and among the rocks of the water feature, I planted several Deutzias for spring bloom, and variegated Iris, sedums, annuals, coral bells, and balloon flower. The water feature looked very stark without any plantings, so I was careful to plant things next to and within the rocks surrounding it so that plants would cascade over it.

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Water feature 3 years later in the spring

To frame the picture, and provide some privacy, a screen of Skip Cherry Laurels was planted behind the fence to anchor the new space. These will eventually grow up to over 8 feet and knit together for a nice hedge.

Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
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Downward view of labyrinth with Helleborus in the foreground
A Helleborus or Lenten Rose opening up in the winter
Clethras turn a wonderful yellow color in the fall

Magical Mystery Tour – Ladew Topiary Gardens

Ladew Topiary Gardens

I feel fortunate that I live just 6 or 7 miles from one of the most innovative and beautiful public gardens in the United States, right here in Monkton, MD, called Ladew Topiary Gardens. I first saw these whimsical and  enchanting gardens about 25 years ago that were created by, Harvey S. Ladew, a traveler, fox-hunter, artist, and gardener extraordinaire, who lived from 1887-1976. Harvey, a bon-vivant, was born to wealth and loved to fox-hunt. Fox-hunting drew him to the Monkton area in mid-life and he bought 200+ acres of land with a decrepit house and a few lilac bushes and proceeded to transform the house and gardens into one of the foremost topiary gardens in the country.

Topiary hound

Garden Rooms – Architecture for the Outdoors

I was first introduced to the concept of ‘garden rooms’ when I went to see Ladew for the first time. Among the rooms which are devoted to a theme or color are the Rose Garden, the White and Yellow Garden, the Garden of Eden, the Sculpture Garden, the Iris Garden, the Victorian Garden, the Croquet Court, the Berry Garden, the Cutting Garden, the Portico Garden, the Cutting Garden, the Keyhole Garden, and the Water Lily Garden. Each ‘room’ is totally separate from the others with the use of hedging or shrub borders. It is almost like walking into an open air house with no ceilings but having distinct colors and design unique to that room. There are pathways connecting each room and you can’t see the next room until you actually enter it.

Topiary Magic – Sculpting in Yew

Ladew is a must-see for it’s sweeping gardening vistas, garden themed rooms,  as well as the jaw-dropping topiaries. The most famous of the topiaries is the life-sized hunt scene of horse and riders and hounds which is a unique and stunning topiary scene because it acutally implies movement of the hunt.

Horse jumping over fence

The Sculpture Garden features lyre birds, Churchill’s top hat, victory sign, a heart with an arrow through it, a butterfly alighting on a flower and sea horses and is imposing! I feel like an ant next to these towering sculptures.

Eighty percent of Ladew’s topiaries were made with hemlock, but once the wooly adelgid starting to attack them and suck the sap out of the hemlocks, they started to die.  Ladew’s board started a campaign in the nineties to replace the hemlocks with yews which aren’t susceptible to the pests. Other materials used in the topiaries are boxwood, euonymous, and holly.

Scultpure Garden

Harvey Ladew took the art of topiary to new heights with his creations.  Check out the giraffe, the Chinese Junk and the pagoda.

Pagoda at Ladew
Chinese junk at Ladew
Giraffe with gold Euonymous at Ladew

Garden Festival

I recently went to Ladew’s Garden Festival that has become an annual event for many area gardeners as it draws vendors from all over with unusual plants and garden statuary and knick-knacks. I always go with the intention of ‘not buying any more plants- I don’t need them!’ attitude but come home with armloads that I just couldn’t do without.

Interesting garden trug made with a branch and some lengths of wood

Someone had made some miniature gardens for sale which I love to make and was interested in their take on the subject.

Mini garden for sale

I saw a lot of succulents for sale as they are in vogue right now and was really interested in the use of succulents in window boxes. What a great idea for a sunny window box! I hate watering my window boxes and when it gets really hot, I sometimes neglect them and they wilt. But not these!

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

 Large Bird Houses or Dovecotes

Large Bird House at Ladew

I have always been intrigued by the use of the ginormous bird houses at Ladew. They are actually dovecotes and they are scattered all over Ladew and each one is unique. I liked the one surrounded by bee skeps.  The bee skeps are ornamental only.

Ladew dovecote

This dovecote was incredible when I visited surrounded by blooming bridal wreath spirea.

Ladew dovecote surrounded by spirea

Springtime at Ladew

In my opinion, there is no better time than spring to visit Ladew to see the bulbs, azaleas, rhododendrons, and wisteria in their full glory. The mansion is also very unique to tour but the gardens are so beautiful and stunning that I prefer to  stay outdoors and catch what is happening in the garden and see what is blooming on my visit.

Wisteria in full bloom at Ladew
Full-blown tulip at Ladew
Iris garden at Ladew
Garden gateway at Ladew

Innovative Garden Design of a Small Property

Retirement coummunity plantings with pathway

The Challenge

What do you do when you move from a large beautifully landscaped property that is overflowing with texture and color, to a retirement community that is populated with yews and swaths of mint? Oh, and did I mention overrun with deer?

That was the tall order that I as the landscape designer had to deal with. My client was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener so she wouldn’t be satisfied with ordinary plantings.  She wanted unique, colorful, and scaled down – but beautiful.   Also, she wanted a pathway to be able to walk around the entire property which was sloping, so that she could enjoy the plantings.

The unit was large but the limitation was we could only extend out from the walls six to eight feet around the perimeter! And the existing plantings were the usual suspects –  yews, hollies, runaway mint, and overgrown trees. Any plantings that were installed had to be small in stature in ultimate height and breadth, but also imposing enough to make a statement upon first installation. The drain pipe consisted of black corrugated above ground short lengths, that were visible and unsightly. Those were my challenges when I started to design a workable plan.

We started by tearing out most of the overgrown shrubs and trees and then we began the transformation.

The view out the back door with hollies blocking the sliding doors. I am painting the lines for the wall and pathway in white.
New wall with Green Velvet Boxwoods and Candytuft

Grading – The most important element

Because of the sloping site, a wall was required to level the grade around most of the unit. The finished height of the wall ultimately was only about 15 inches, but was mandatory so that my client could safely navigate the sloping terrain. With those features in mind, my stone mason came in and installed an 85 foot long dry stack wall of colonial bluestone around the unit until the grade leveled off towards the rear. The wall was needed so that we could install a 30 inch wide pathway winding pathway to circumnavigate the entire landscape.


The drains were replaced, extended, and buried, ending with a pop-up green cap.  The cap pops up when a downpour dumps rain and forces the top up to release the excess water. When installed, the only visible sign of the drain is the small green cap.

Drainage pop-up


A 30 inch wide pathway was dug out, edged with a very sturdy metal edging that had to be staked and hammered in.  No flimsy plastic edging would be adequate for the heavy-duty river jack that would be used for the pathway. Landscape cloth was pieced in on top of the soil so that the river jack would stay put and not be mixed into the underlying soil.  Soil pins fastened the cloth securely to the ground. Then the river jack was dumped in and raked about 2 inches thick.

Low wall surrounding the unit
Landscape cloth placed underneath the river rock with edging
Metal edging holding in the river rock


Outside of the sun room area, the client wanted a small sitting area to sit so that she could enjoy a nice summer day outside in the garden.  A small patio 8 feet x 8 feet was installed with irregular bluestone pieces in stone dust edged with cobblestones to give it definition.

Small bluestone patio edged with cobbles


The plantings were installed immediately next to the wall area bordered by the pathway and wall.  I had about 3 to 4 feet to plant things so each plant was carefully selected and placed. On a large south-facing wall that deer eaten yews had been removed earlier, we planted an espaliered magnolia flanked with fastigiate boxwoods, with an underplanting of apricot drift roses and Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’.  The Artemisia is a great little silver leaved creeping ground cover for hot and dry situations.

Mulching the espaliered Magnolia underplanted with ‘Silver Brocade’ Artemisia

The shady front was planted with ‘Girards Rainbow’ Leucothoe, Cephalotxus fastigiata, or upright plum yew, Japanese Forest grass Hakenochloa ‘Aurea’, Hosta ‘MouseEars’ and a Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, a real mouth full! Smallish boulders were sited to give some contrast with the Leucothoe.  A small Acer ‘Butterflies was sited at the corner.

Shady front with boulders and plants
Acer ‘Butterflies’ underplanted with Pulmonaria and boulder

The rear was anchored with a tall 10 foot Cedrus deodor ‘Kashmir’, a very narrow upright variety. The tree was beautiful! I also included in the plan a miniature Crepe Myrtle ‘Cherry Dazzle’, a miniature Butterfly Bush ‘Blue Chip’, Nandina compactas, ‘Little Honey’ Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, ‘Centennial Spirit’ Hydrangea, and ‘Twist and Shout’ Hydrangea.  The perennials included ‘Eveline’ Salvia, one of the best Salvias on the market. Also, Anemone ‘Whirlwind’ , Heuchera ‘Dales Strain’, miniature Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’,  Geranium ‘Max Frei’, Ajuga ‘Caitlin’s Giant’, and Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’.

Eveline Salvia is a rebloomer reliable perennial that deer leave alone
Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’
‘Kashmir’ Cedrus flanked with a small ‘Green Velvet’ Boxwood

Along the wall in pockets, we planted Sedum ‘Angelina’ , and Sedum ‘Silver Stone to cascade.  Also, some creeping Phloxes were planted in the wall crevices to grow along with the Sedums.

Planting perennials after the shrubs and trees go in


After the plantings were installed, the next step was drip irrigation. The irrigation is laid down with brown rubber hoses along all the plantings so the water is applied precisely to each plant. It is all connected to the control box which we was located in a nearby utility shed for easy access.

Control box in nearby shed
Irrigation controls valves for three zones- This was enclosed in a unit that was buried level with the surrounding soil.

The property was divided into three distinct watering zones, a shady front, a hot south-facing area, and a partially shaded area in the rear.  Each zone could then be calibrated to deliver water to the plants that had different water requirements.

Drip irrigation hoses blend with the soil
Irrigation pipe moving the water line to the other end of the unit

Initially, we set the drip to go on twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.  This will be our base line and we will adjust as the conditions get hotter throughout the summer.

Icing on the Cake – Mulch

After the irrigation, the tan bark mulch was laid down to a depth of about 2 inches to cover up the brown irrigation pipes and to give it that finishing touch. Now the only thing left to do is to watch the irrigation and calibrate it to the correct times depending on the  water needs.

The entire job work time was only about 2 to 3 weeks in length.  The planning process was much longer, a couple of months to get everything drawn out and prepared. I will be posting pictures of the installation as the summer progresses with updates.

Retirement community collage
Retirement community collage

Transforming a Patio – An Outdoor Living Space That Looks Like Home

The Challenge

I was asked to decorate the bluestone patio space for the Baltimore Symphony’s Decorator Show House this spring. Normally I ‘decorate’ gardens, not patios, but I was up to the challenge!  The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra chooses a house every year that is usually vacant and/or for sale, and invites interior and exterior decorators to design their own unique space. It is an honor to be asked and always a great deal of work! The houses that are picked are very different and have their own unique idiosyncrasies.

The 36th annual Show House is a fundraiser for the Baltimore Symphony Associates and gives decorators the chance to promote their businesses while helping out a great cause.

Information flyer for BSO Showhouse

Laying the Groundwork

I visited the Eck House at Cromwell Farm, in February, to look it over and see what the house and grounds looked like. As usual at that time of year, it was a dreary day and the surrounding fields were barren looking but I could see the possibilities.  The patio was a great size, 14′ x 22′, and in decent shape.  It was very dirty and needed to be power washed, but that is easily remedied. The view off the patio was wonderful! In the distance were fields dotted with large trees and a distant stream bed which I could see would be beautiful in the spring. So, the bones were good –  I just needed to dress it up! So, I looked around for sponsors to help me out with the larger items that I needed to make an impact.

My first look at the patio in February
Patio in February

Walpole Wood Accents


The first thing that I noticed was the very high stone wall facing the patio and I knew exactly what I wanted to put there –  a Cameo trellis from Walpole Woodworkers. I have worked with Walpole Woodworkers in the past on several installation jobs and admired their products.  I had purchased window boxes for my house from Walpole and loved them! So, I called my rep from Walpole, and asked if the company would be interested in providing some pieces to decorate the patio to promote their business. Walpole agreed to provide a trellis, a bird house, an obelisk and two estate planters which I knew would make the patio stand out.

The cameo trellis

Dressing it Up With Furniture


The next item of business was the furniture.  I have always admired Watson’s Fireplace and Patio Furniture in Timonium and after talking to the manager there, she agreed to provide some beautiful furniture. These included a comfy sofa, a glider with an ottoman, and three assorted tables to finish off the ensemble. The coffee table was a stunning mosaic creation that reminded me of crashing waves! The “wicker”  was a resin wicker in a dark pecan color with teal cushions that were designed for outdoor wear. I thought these pieces would be perfect to make the patio a welcoming space.

Furniture from Watson's

Icing on the Cake

The fun began with the accessories! Once I had the framework, I could place unique and funky pieces on the tables and patio.  Succulents are really big this year, so I knew that I wanted to do something with hens and chicks, jade plants, sedums, etc.

I decided to make a succulent sphere from an assortment of the fleshy leaved oddities that would be placed on the large mosaic table as the focal point.

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Succulent Sphere

I picked up a globe-shaped base of coco-fiber with a wire cage at a nearby nursery and filled it with moss.  After wiring it together, I poked holes in the base and inserted my succulent plants into the moss.  To make the job easier, I shaved off most of the soil and the roots from the succulent leaving just enough root to insert into the moss and start growing. To keep the plants firmly attached to the base, I inserted fern pins, U-shaped wire fasteners, into the plants down into the moss. These pins would keep the succulents in the ball until they rooted in and started to grow.  After getting all the succulent plants attached, I covered up the coco-fiber with moss to give it a more uniform look. To finish off the sphere, I elevated the globe by placing it in a terra-cotta pot.

Finished succulent sphere
Succulent Planter

I made a smaller matching succulent ball that I set on wire mesh in a rustic wooden bowl that I had picked up at a flea market.

Smaller succulent sphere in bowl on wire mesh

Herbs and Veggies

I don’t think any patio is complete without planters of herbs and vegetables. Earth Boxes are perfect planting containers for these, as they have a reservoir in the bottom that is filled via a water tube, and the plants wick up the water from the roots. It is a complete self-sustaining system for growing a good amount of edibles without digging in the garden. Go to  http://www.earthbox.com/View-All-Planters/products/54/?gclid=CIn7hp-I2q8CFcfb4AodMBpvBg.

Earth boxes with veggies and herbs

I also like the concept of cooking in the kitchen and running out to the patio to grab a handful of lettuce or herbs, rather than traveling out to a distant garden and having the greens at the mercy of bunnies!  So I potted up three of the Earth Boxes with an assortment of greens. Wanting to display them in a unique way, I found an idea on Pinterest. Someone had posted a simple three-tiered plant stand made out of stair risers from the hardware store.

Plant stand Idea from pinterest
My improved version of the stair step plant stand

The picture from Pinterest was a great starting concept.  I improved on it and made it much sturdier by making shelves out of strips of wood that gave it some support, because the shelf would be free-standing on the patio.


I wanted to add some fun items to accessorize the space and found some antique wrought iron plant stands locally. I filled these with containers and flowers.

Antique plant stand
Another plant stand with head planter

Long planters from Watson’s Garden Center http://watsonsgarden.com/  were planted with early spring colors of pastel pink, yellows and blues.  I added the Viola ‘Etain’ to my planters as this is a personal favorite early spring flower. http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/39557-product.html?

The estate planters were filled with a golden hued arborvitae surrounded with the Viola.

Viola Etain

Finally, I made up some miniature gardens to sell. The mini gardens were perfect to place on the steps leading down from the patio and on the stone walls surrounding it. Some were made of hypertufa which I explain how to make in http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/

Mini Garden
Hypertufa planters on steps
Funky head planter

Go to http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/home-garden/newsletter/bs-hm-bso-showhouse-eck-pg,0,1822756.photogallery to see pictures from the whole house.  I think this year’s house is one of the best that I have participated in as the decorating ideas are very do-able. In past years, some of the treatments were over-the-top and just didn’t translate well to your own house.  But this year, the ideas that I took away are definitely going to show up at my house!

Finally done!

From the Ground Up – Choosing the Right Ground Cover for Shade

Stone bridge covered with grass

I recently toured a gorgeous private garden that is stunning for it’s beauty and classic garden design.  I enjoyed strolling through the woodland gardens that were peaking with spring color and was struck by the innovative use of ground covers. No overly used big three –  pachysandra, vinca, or ivy to be seen!

With all these choices available, I can’t understand anyone who sticks with the common ordinary big three. If you are a fan of the color blue, you will love these. So read on, and pick the best for you!

Spanish bluebells

Bluebell Wood

Who ever thought about using Bluebells as a ground cover? It blooms beautifully and then disappears for another late comer to cover up.

Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a great mid spring bloomer that spans the gap between the early arrivals of spring bulbs such as snowdrops, to the later arrival of mid summer perennials. Their best feature, other than the beautiful blue color, is that they will bloom in deep shade as well as in full sunlight. You can naturalize them in a shady woodland underneath evergreen or deciduous trees and they will steadily increase over the years to carpet the ground in an azure swath.

Spanish Bluebells

Bluebells are a bulb and come in pink and white as well, but the blue is my favorite by far. They are easy to grow in any woodland condition but will thrive where it is well-drained and with ample moisture. I grow them in my perennial borders with no special care and the foliage will disappear by midsummer.  Because of this feature, you can underplant it with another creeping ground cover such as ajuga or sweet woodruff that can will take over once the foliage has died down.

Virginia Bluebells –  A Native

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is the native version of Spanish Bluebells.  Instead of the strap like foliage of Spanish Bluebells, the leaves are very broad and tissue like in texture. The flower color is an intense cornflower blue.

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Virginia Bluebells are a spring ephemeral like so many early woodland bloomers, dying back to the ground. So be sure to have something else like the native woodland phlox to take its place.

Native Virginia Bluebells in full bloom
Lamiastrum with Bluebells

Woodland Phlox

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, is a native about 9 inches tall that comes in pastel blue, pink, and white.  I love it, but find that it is a very short-lived plant, only two or three seasons. Who knew that there were so many kinds of phloxes?  This plant comes in a creeping, woodland, tall garden, and miniature alpine varieties, and some variations in between. Most people are not familiar with the range of varieties available. The Woodland Phlox is a very beautiful member of the family.

Woodland Phlox

Crested Wood Iris

Crested Wood Iris ground cover

Another underused ground cover is the Crested Wood Iris, or Iris cristata. This diminutive little Iris is only about 6 inches tall and blooms with a miniature azure colored Iris bloom and will spread steadily but not aggressively.  It is perfectly adorable! The deer ignore it also. Wood Iris will bloom in very deep shade.

Flower of Crested Iris

 Solomans Seal

Solomans Seal, Polygonatum variegatum, is a workhorse perennial for me.  Plant a small colony of a dozen, and after splitting it up regularly for several years, you will end up with a large swath of nodding white bells! Be warned – Deer do like to browse on them.  This perennial will not thrive amongst others as it covers the ground  with underground tubers and lasts all season long. Nothing else will grow where Solomans Seal takes over but a large drift is a sight to behold.  Yellow fall foliage is a bonus, something that surprises me every year!

Solomans Seal


Just about everyone knows and grows hostas.  A tough plant that is hard to kill, it is a deer magnet for browsing.  But if bambi doesn’t roam nearby, try planting large colonies of the same variety for a great looking ground cover.  I prefer planting the same variety together, as mixing different ones tends to look busy.  Hostas have so many colorations and sizes that when you combine many varieties, it just doesn’t work.

Blue Cadet Hosta

Kabitan Hosta
Kabitan Hosta closeup

Green and Gold

Another golden ground cover that will brighten a shady area is Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, or Golden Star.  A native also, it is known for its star like flowers and creeping hairy leaves.  Green and Gold loves moisture and will thrive in a boggy area.   I grow it in ordinary garden conditions and it does just fine.  It does need some shade or will burn in full sun.

Green and Gold embracing a tree

 Hellebores or Lenten Roses

I have been advocating the use of Lenten Roses or Hellebores, as an evergreen, long blooming, deer resistant ground cover for years.  The plants are a little pricey but will slowly fill in and throw off seedlings that will cover your ground before you know it. Did I mention that it blooms for three months, sometimes longer? Everyone who has a shady garden should grow these.

A flock of Hellebores!
Beautiful coloration of a Hellebore flower

Japanese Maples as a Ground Cover?

Who would have thought of using Japanese Maples as a ground cover?  Expensive, yes, but it works beautifully! Japanese Maples are an understory tree and the cut leaf weeping ones certainly cover the ground nicely.  Also, the fall coloration is fantastic!

Japanese Maple ground cover

Golden Ragwort

I really hate that name! Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, is another native which I like to use in shady or semi-shady conditions.  Senecio blooms with a cheerful daisy-like flower for weeks in the spring. The rosettes of deep shiny heart-shaped leaves are attractive the rest of the growing season. This ground cover will spread steadily and you might have to restrain it a bit, but it is definitely not a garden thug!

Golden Ragwort native ground cover

Yellow Wax Bells

Yellow Wax Bells, or Kirengeshoma palmata is a showy shade loving ground cover or accent plant. The yellow bell-like flowers nod on the branches in late summer and the foliage is a maple look-alike. It is a beautiful plant, especially when it blooms.

Yellow Wax Bells
Kirengoshoma flower

Forget Me Not

Another deer resistant ground cover which I recommend is Brunnera or Forget-me-not. This is the perennial Forget-me-not, not to be confused with Myosotis which is a biennial. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’  is the perennial plant of the year for 2012 and deservedly so because of it’s beauty and toughness.  Deer give it a wide berth because of the fuzzy foliage and it will hide early spring bulb foliage because it emerges right when the bulbs are dying back.  ‘Jack Frost’ is a great cultivar with silver to white webbing on the leaf surface that shines in the shade. The plant is topped off with airy panicles of true blue tiny flowers.

Jack Frost Brunnera


The last shade ground cover plant that I want to highlight is Euphorbia amygdaloides or Spurge.  Evergreen and deer resistant, spurge is topped with lime green flowers in the spring.  I am a sucker for lime green flowers! The color really brightens a dark area.  This euphorbia easily grows in shade or sun and sports rosettes of leathery leaves all season long.

Euphorbia flowers