Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Unusual Plants for Winter Interest

Most people think of traditional evergreens like boxwoods and holly when they seek winter interest in the garden. These plants have their place and are solid performers, but lately I have been looking for more unique plants that become standouts in the landscape. While these plants may be a bit more difficult to find, I encourage you to search for them as I am confident you won’t be disappointed.

Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper Bush)

Edgeworthia is a zone 7 to 9 plant which I located in a protected spot in my zone 6b garden. Although advertised as a plant that grows 5 feet tall and wide, mine has grown to at least 7×7. The buds form late in the year and look like fuzzy ornaments dangling from striking, cinnamon-colored branches. When the flowers open in early spring (usually March for me), they perfume the air with an intoxicating, gardenia-like scent.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My Edgeworthia is loaded with buds in late December

Ampelaster carolinianus (Climbing Aster)

Ampelaster rambles in my garden, climbing a trellis first and then reaching to nearby shrubs for support. This perennial vine tops out at about 10 feet in height and begins blooming in October or November. Ampelaster seems unimpacted by frost and continues to put on a show well into January.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Ampelaster climbing onto a Callicarpa for support

Croton alabamensis (Alabama croton)

Croton is a native, understory shrub with an open habit. It starts to draw your attention in the fall when its leaves turn yellow and orange. These vibrant colors are accented by the back side of the leaves that appear to have been spray painted in silver. My plant never fully drops all of its leaves; instead, it makes its presence known all winter long.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The silver backs to the Croton leaves look unreal

Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet)

Chimonanthus is large shrub tolerant of part shade to full sun that needs protection outside of its zone 7 hardiness. Delicate, fragrant flowers begin to emerge in the winter on leafless stems. Chimonanthus grows 10 to 15 feet tall, an ideal height for admiring and smelling the attractive flowers from below.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Looking up into a Chimonanthus bloom in winter is magical

Cyclamen coum (Roundleaf cyclamen)

Cyclamen are diminutive plants with striking leaves. This tuberous perennial is native to the Mediterranean, where it is commonly found in rocky outcroppings or woodlands. I’ve tried to mimic its native environment in my garden, placing it the crevices of rocks where it enjoys the well-drained soil it prefers. While Cyclamen do bloom, I think it’s the leaf patterns that add the most interest to the winter garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

I hope I have inspired you to add some more unusual plants to your garden this season. Whether it’s interesting buds, blossoms, or attractive leaves, you have many choices besides basic evergreens for creating an impressive display in the winter months.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Winter walks

Most people don’t think of February as a month for garden tours, but I encourage you to change your mindset. Winter is a perfect time to experience gardens when you can see their bones, notice what creates interest and enjoy smaller crowds. Peace comes with touring gardens in the quiet of the off-season.

In the Philadelphia area we are lucky to live in America’s Garden Capital. With over 30 public gardens within 3o miles of the city, we have many gardens to choose from. A number of these gardens are open in the winter and waiting for your visit. I recently visited two area arboretums and was enthralled with their meandering paths, extensive plantings and winter wonder.

The Morris Arboretum was first on the list. Located in Chestnut Hill, the site includes tens of thousands of plants including many collected by plantsman John Morris and his sister Lydia who lived on the property when it was a private home. Some of Delaware Valley’s oldest specimen trees grow at the Morris. During our visit we took note of these features as well as the use of evergreens to frame views, spent seed heads, plants in flower and texture created by plant material.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) needles provide amazing texture in the winter garden
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Spent roses cascade over a bed of lavender and rosemary
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Corylus fargesii catkins offer interest in the winter
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Metasequoia buttresses contrast beautifully with the blooming Witch Hazel
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Snowdrops (Galanthus) bloom happily in the winter garden
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Mahonia x Winter Sun flowers are beautiful golden rays in February
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Evergreens are especially noticeable when they perfectly frame a view like this waterfall

In addition to the outdoor spaces, a number of Philadelphia’s public gardens have greenhouses or conservatories that provide a break from the cold and access to flowering non-hardy plants. Who doesn’t love being immersed in a sea of lush foliage or fragrant blooms in the middle of winter?

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Inside the fernery we were warm and enveloped in humidity

The second garden I had the opportunity to see this winter was the Tyler arboretum located in Media. Tyler spans over five hundred acres and includes seventeen miles of hiking trails and extensive plant collections. Tyler is one of the oldest arboretums in the region dating back to 1681. The property that makes up the arboretum today was purchased by Thomas Minshall from William Penn. Like the Morris, Tyler is home to some magnificent trees including those deemed ‘champions’ because they are the largest individual specimens of a particular species. We particularly enjoyed the Witch Hazel collection during our visit.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
One of many blooming Witch Hazels at Tyler
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A fragrant wintersweet bloom (Chimonanthus praecox var. Luteus) soothes the soul
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Croton alabamensis shows off some lingering fall color and awaiting spring flowers
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The structure of Sweetgum ‘Corky’ (Liquidambar styraciflua) was mesmerizing
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Bark might go unnoticed during the growing season, but not in the winter.

Clearly I was inspired by my tours to two Philadelphia’s area gardens this winter. I encourage you to seek out some you would like to see and make a plan to visit. I’m confident that in addition to many ideas for your own landscape, you will leave with a calm mind and warm heart.


Lasting Landscapes by Carol

October Skies

Despite the overwhelming number of tasks facing gardeners like me in the fall, I adore the autumn season and the blooms that come with it. You heard me right – amazing blooms in the fall provided by Asters, one of my favorite perennials.

‘October Skies’ Aster (Symphyotricum oblongifolium) is a wonderful variety that grows about two feet tall and wide. I planted some on my sunny bank last fall and cut them back by half in June to help ensure a dense habit. Today they are putting on quite a show.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster ‘October Skies’ planted en masse.

‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is very similar to October Skies but in my experience is a bit taller and darker in color, topping out around three feet. Raydon’s Favorite also blooms later than October Skies, which helps to ensure a long-lasting flower show. Both October Skies and Raydon’s Favorite are colorful, deer resistant groundcovers.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster Raydon’s Favorite pairs beautifully with Tricyrtis.

Recently I was introduced to another Aster – Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry,’ a diminutive form reaching several inches high with petite, white blooms. Snow Flurry will spread to a two-foot mass and is lovely in the front of the border or in a rock garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster Snow Flurry has a compact habit with pristine miniature blooms.

Got shade?  No worries. There is an Aster for you too.  Aster divaricatus thrives in my dry shade garden and spreads around readily. If you have limited space, why not choose Ampelaster carolinianus, a climbing aster that happily rambles on a trellis or a fence. Mine bloomed in the winter last year.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Aster divaricatus
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Ampelaster carolinianus climbs on structures and blooms late

Maybe you are lucky enough to have a large, sunny spot and room for a meadow. Aster laevis is a great option for that situation. Pops of purple and blue on three-foot stems really stand out among the seed heads of grasses.

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All of these Asters are native to North America so what’s not to like? If you haven’t already introduced Asters to your landscape, I encourage you to do so. If you are already in love with Asters – please comment and let me know which ones you adore and why!

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Pretty as a Picture

For years I have been making a photo calendar with images from my garden. I looked at all of them recently and noticed some consistent components, but also many additions and changes. The continual rebirth of the garden is something I love along with the joy that comes from taking note of every moment and every season.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My winterberry holly has brought me (and the birds) joy for years
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Anemone Honorine Jobert and Aronia pair perfectly for fall interest

September is a notoriously busy month for gardeners. We dig, divide, plant, move and tidy up.  This process brings us peace and fills us with anticipation for spring and the realization of our new vision.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Last fall I added some Chelone from a friend who was thinning theirs out. I love the combination of Chelone and the fall color of Viburnum nudum.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Bulbs bring recurring joy to gardeners. Colchicums peek through the foliage of other plants.

I encourage you take time during the fall season to capture some garden moments for yourself. Either take mental images or photos to record what’s happening in your landscape. Then repeat textural or color combinations that are working and address plant combinations or spacing that no longer make sense. Consider adding some plant material too. There are always new plants coming to market that have interesting colors, shapes, blooms or other desirable characteristics. I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Feel free to follow in my footsteps if you like.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
I added Helenium to my containers this year and will use them again next year. I adore the look. A wonderful alternative to mums.
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My new Metasequoia ‘Soul Fire’ looks magnificent as a backdrop to Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine.’
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A year ago I removed a large section of lawn that I tired of mowing. Now it’s filled with sun loving perennials like Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ and Scuttelaria incana.

Promise me you will take time to enjoy playing in the garden during the frenzy of the fall. Take it from me, it’s a lot more fun that cleaning windows or changing out your wardrobe for the winter months. I hope you will share your garden changes and additions with me. I’d love to hear what you are doing.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Loving the Light

One of the things I adore about my new career as a landscaper designer is sharing ideas with other landscape professionals.  My friend and fellow designer Eric Sternfels recently wrote an article on backlit plants which helped me view my garden and think about client gardens in a whole new way.

Eric encourages us take notice of the special effects that happen when plants are located between our eyes and the sun. I agree with Eric that these moments caused by Mother Nature and helped by the thoughtful placement of plants can create magic and drama.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The seed heads of Actaea racemosa
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A hosta transformed by light
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Phlox paniculata backlit by the sunset
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Lonicera leaves sparkling in the path of the sun

Seed heads, leaves and blooms all benefit from the sun’s illumination. And keep in mind we are not just talking about plants transformed by sunsets but also by sunrises. On my own property I have noticed how beautiful the seed heads of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ are during the morning sunrise as viewed from my kitchen window. My Acer Griseum (Paperbark Maple) and Hydrangea paniculata are also totally transformed by the morning light.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Molinia ‘Skyracer’ backlit by the sunrise
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Acer griseum sparkles in the morning sun
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Hydrangea paniculata petals become almost translucent


Eric suggests studying the path of sun to determine the places best suited for backlit ‘botanical theatre.’ He believes the east and west horizons offer the best sun angles and that open areas unobstructed by walls or dense plantings help to ensure the most spectacular show. During late summer I’ve been witnessing backlit beauty daily as I watch the sun illuminate the plants in my landscaped beds.

Thinking about Eric’s perspective made me pause and observe my garden at different times of day and think about plant placement with intention. The next time you plant something, consider its location carefully. Color, texture and form are important, but so is the placement of the plant in relation to the sun. Plan for extraordinary moments and I’m confident you will be rewarded by them.

Amsonia hubricthii

Cutting a new garden instead of the lawn

In the April 2019 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine, Editor Steve Aitken shared his thoughts on the significant moments in time that shape our evolution as gardeners. I had to chuckle at his comment that a true gardener would explain to a non-gardener that “The lawn is just the place you stand when looking at your plants.”

As a passionate plant person, I am often tempted by plants at the nursery. I’ll see a new perennial, tree or shrub and think to myself, “I have to have one of those.” This addiction of sorts explains why I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Some of my friends think I’m crazed to add more beds to maintain in my 1.3 acre garden, but I find joy in the new plantings and feel the reward of the continually changing landscape is worth the effort.

To that end, this year I added a bed over 100 feet long which parallels a wall at the front of my property. On a slope, this new area has sections in shade, part shade and full sun and is well drained. The best part about developing this space into a garden is that I no longer have to mow on a hill, which was becoming harder and more dangerous the older I got. Sounds like a good reason to remove tons of sod, don’t you think?

Newly installed garden bed on a slope
My newly installed garden bed with many of the new plants in place.

I planted some favorites like Helleborus HONEYMOON® ‘New York Night’, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Amsonia hubrichtii and Lonicera pileata ‘Moss Green’. I also added some new plants including Penstemon ‘Black Beard’, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. I incorporated Pycnanthemum muticum, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  Aster ‘October Skies’ to attract pollinators and Molinia ‘Skyracer’ as a ‘see through’ plant. Some wonderful nursery friends gave me unique specimens including Indigofera kirilowii and Hypericum x Blue Velvet™ and I’m saving space for a Cercis ‘Flame Thrower®’ which I am hoping will be available in 2020. Is that enough Latin for you? Are your eyes glazing over yet?  How about if I stop my plant talk and share some photos of these beauties so you can see why I am so enthralled!

Agastache Blue Fortune
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ blooms from mid-summer into fall and attracts many pollinators
amsonia hubrichtii
Amsonia hubrichtii was the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a favorite in my garden. The fall color can’t be beat.
Chinese Indigo
Indigofera kirilowii (Chinese Indigo) has Wisteria-like pink flowers in the summer and showy yellow leaves in the fall.
Diervilla Cool Splash
Diervilla Cool Splash adds nice contrast to the border.
Molinia Skyracer
Eventually the tall plumes of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ will steal the show when backlit by the sun.
Mountain Mint
I’m very excited about Pycnanthemum muticum and its ability to attract pollinators.

While the new bed is immature, I look forward to seeing the plants grow in the years to come. I promise to share my triumphs and my trials. After all, that’s what gardening is all about. We collaborate with Mother Nature and make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired aesthetic. Now like a true gardener, I will prepare the garden for winter and patiently wait for spring!


A Garden Defined

During a recent vacation to Banff, Canada to do some hiking, I found myself awe-inspired by the views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and open meadows. The experience made me stop and think about gardens in a new way. I wondered whether Mother Nature’s masterpieces would be considered ‘gardens’ by modern definition.

According to, a garden is defined as

1.  a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables or herbs are cultivated.

2.  a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park or other public recreation area:  a public garden. 

3.  a fertile and delightful spot or region.

 I would put the Banff landscape in the category of ‘delightful spots’ for sure. In fact, I think Mother Nature did a great job with the native landscape in Canada. She evoked a positive response in me and enabled me to connect to each space I visited in a unique way. As I captured scene after scene with my camera, I realized that certain patterns were emerging. Natural patterns that were further explored in W. Gary Smith’s book ‘From Art to Landscape’. Gary believes we find patterns all around us in the native landscape that provide repetition of color, texture or form and help to unify a space. These different patterns include mosaics, naturalistic drifts and serpentines, among others. As I reviewed the images I captured on my camera, I realized my photos represented nearly all of these concepts and natural designs.

A drift near Lake Louise
A mosaic of wildflowers in Sunshine Meadows
A serpentine river at Bow Glacier

Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author has become popular world-wide due to his naturalistic approach to gardening. In his book ‘Designing with Plants’, Piet said, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it but to recreate the emotion. What I try to do is build an image of nature.” 

Piet observed that beauty can be seen in nature on every single day of the year. If Mother Nature can accomplish this, we can too. I believe we simply have to focus on naturally occurring patterns and the cycles of life. Piet points out that birth equals spring, life equals summer, and death equals fall/winter. By using these guidelines, we can effectively combine color, texture and form in a way that looks natural, inviting and interesting throughout the year.

Hydrangea in spring (birth)
Hydrangea in summer (life)
Hydrangea in winter (death)

The next time you visit a nursery, think about how the plant will look during each season and plan your gardens around these seasons of interest. The next time you travel, look at the naturally occurring patterns in Mother Nature’s ‘gardens’ and consider replicating their impression. By incorporating form and pattern, you can bring nature into your own landscape and build a closer relationship with wild spaces. And who doesn’t want that?