Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Time to reconsider plant choices for your garden

So how does your garden grow?

If you think you work too hard for too little return on your energy investment, it may be time to evaluate your plants and maintenance.

Consider a landscape makeover that would give you yearlong color without the yearly planting of annuals or maintenance of traditional perennial plants.

If you can’t make it to one of the classes on this topic, here are some of the secrets to a successful designs for low maintenance high color gardens in Western Washington:

1. Divide the landscape into season gardens.

The corner with the Japanese maple? Just label that the fall garden. The east side of the house with rhodies and camellias? Call that the spring garden. An area you can see from indoors could be called your winter garden. Of course your patio or deck is the summer garden area.

Now concentrate on just one garden section each season by adding plants that look great during that season. Giving a name to different garden areas also helps with maintenance.

Promise to weed, mulch and fine tune just one section or pocket garden at a time instead of being distracted by chores all over the garden.

Yard work will not seem so overwhelming when you break a space into small chunks. Adding asters and mums around a beautiful maple in the “autumn garden” is a pleasant task if you pay attention to the changing colors of the season as you weed, plant and mulch the fall corner garden.

2. Choose plants with great foliage.

Flowers do not last as long as great looking foliage. In Western Washington we are blessed with the perfect climate for heucheras, and these spectacular foliage plants can be used to highlight fall foliage or add drama to spring bulbs. Heucheras can also be used in containers, where they will look great even during the winter months.

Choose rhododendrons with a splash of yellow on their leaves, and seek out conifers with blue or bright gold needles to add yearlong interest to any landscape.

We have a lot of dark green evergreen color in Western Washington. Trees and shrubs with gold, bright green or dark purple leaves will add some contrast. In my garden, I use an evergreen lamium groundcover called Golden Anniversary as a signature plant that repeats in every garden area. It acts as the cohesive color or melody that keeps repeating with golden foliage amid a symphony of blooming waves.

3. Add heavenly hellebores for winter blooms.

The new hellebores come in shades of pink, green, speckled and burgundy colors as well as the classic white. These perennial evergreens resist deer, slugs and drought, and they love our cool moist weather. They also do not need to be divided, fertilized or watered as much as other perennials. In fact you should never divide a hellebore — new plants sprout around the base of happy mother plants.

You can grow hellebores in pots for winter blooms near your front entry. These plants will flower in the shade or partial sun. With hellebores and heucheras to enliven your winter garden, you’ll be able to survive the gray days of winter.

4. Create a hydrangea room.

Hydrangeas also love our climate, and new varieties make these old-fashioned shrubs the darlings of the low-maintenance gardener.

Dwarf hydrangeas are easy to tuck into shaded spots for late summer and fall color, and hydrangeas bloom best with no pruning — ever.

The cons of growing hydrangeas are that they lose their leaves in the winter and that most varieties want to grow into 12-foot shrubs.

In my garden I use hydrangeas as the walls for an outdoor room. Hidden behind a hedge of evergreen arborvitae, the leafless hydrangeas are invisible in the winter. But step through an archway in the hedge in the summer or fall, and you are surrounded by blooming hydrangeas. I’ve added hellebores at the base of the hydrangeas and a few heucheras for winter color. This makes a nice color surprise as you enter the area on a cold winter day.