Fine Foliage



“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.”
― Chad Sugg



I have always felt “foliage challenged” in my garden.  Flowers were my obsession and I plunked down flowers that I adored, that seemed to work together, but never quite looking at the foliage.  And I had meant to work on the deficiency when I had IMG_4042time.  But where to start?

While creating weekly vases this summer and fall, I have come to appreciate foliage found throughout the garden and usually more showy now as the flowers fade.  You can see, above, one of the vases I created this week entirely from grasses, cattails, rose hips and foliage.  No bright, showy flowers at all.  And working more with foliage in vases has piqued my interest again regarding foliage so I have sought out some resources.

I saw this book and was intrigued to see if it would be a beginning.  Could I find ideas, design information and some inspiration in this little book?  And where would this thirst for foliage knowledge lead?








Author:  Karen Chapman  and Christina Salwitz 

Paperback:  160 pages

Publisher:   St. Lynn’s Press (March 1, 2013)

Amazon Price:  $12.71(Hardcover)




In A Few Words

The authors begin by giving a succinct description of how to design with foliage using the ideas of color, light, texture and form.  The next section is on How To Use This Book.  They give details about the site or amount of sun or shade the plants need, the soil requirements, hardiness zones and seasons of visual interest for the combinations they highlight.  This basic information helps to know if the plants used in the book will fit into your garden habitat.  IMG_3677

The book is then divided into two sections:  Sun and Shade.  The authors provide over 50 different combinations of foliage plants using perennials, annuals, shrubs and ornamental trees.  Each combination is detailed on 2 pages.  One page gives a full color picture of the combination in the garden or container.  On the opposite page, two to four plants are highlighted with specific information about the plant, how big it will get and its specific zone.  There is an overall zone listed for the combination too which can differ from the individual plants.  The authors also give a brief description as to why this particular combination works well together.




What I Liked

I found this book to be useful because it goes beyond the plants and pictures listed.  As the authors say:

Unless you understand why a design works, creating new combinations can be a frustrating series of trial and error.  The key to inspired design comes from careful observation of the smallest detail. 


IMG_3989I have to say the mix of color, light, texture and form in the combinations in this book are exquisite.   I love the names they give these combos too…very clever and they point out the details the combo is showcasing.  

I spent a lot of time reading and highlighting some looks I would like to achieve.  Then I studied the details they spoke about and looked for these in plants I already have and in those I want as I considered sections of my garden that need a change or uplift.  It was like making a vase or container arrangement but on a much grander scale.




Not So Much

Now I will warn you that many of the plants used are not the everyday plants you find in most gardens or even most garden centers I have visited.  Many are specific cultivars needed because of the color or texture of the foliage such as gray or copper-colored heucheras and orange or bright green sedges.DSCN6975

But you can use the ideas here to make the combinations with plants you have that may be similar if you do not want to go to the expense of obtaining new plants.  

And they do not use many native plants in the combinations.  But again I think the design principles they teach throughout the book and combinations can be used easily with natives too. 




Final Thoughts

DSCN7359The authors went out of their way to showcase some beautiful combinations of foliage in many zones.  Even though I found many of the combinations were not hardy for my zone 5b garden, I realized I could replicate them or come close with plants I already had.  And that will be my challenge as I redesign the gardens.  The paying attention to the details of the foliage in the garden and how to achieve some beautiful mixes.

Many times gardeners wonder if a book is for beginners or more expert gardeners.  I can safely say that the authors took this into consideration when they wrote this book.  There is something for beginners as you learn the basics in what the authors call ‘the recipes’.  And intermediate and advanced gardeners will enhance the skills they already have.  As a beginner with foliage, but an intermediate gardener overall, I know that I will be learning from this book for a while to come.

On another note:  At this year’s GWA (Garden Writers Association) Annual Symposium in Pittsburgh, Pa, this book was honored with the Gold Award for Best Overall Book.  Quite an achievement.

And great news just released, the authors are writing the next step in using foliage in the garden called, Foliage First.  You can read about it on the Fine Foliage website.


…this time we will show you how to build a foliage picture frame or backdrop and layer in other design elements such as flowers or artwork. In other words we’ll show you the next step in our design process. We’ll have ideas for all four seasons and the clear layout you love will be essentially the same if not even better. If everything goes to plan it will be released in 2016. 



Do you consider foliage first when you garden?  Do you have a favorite foliage gardening book to recommend to others?




“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter woods.”  ~ Henry Beston 



In A Vase On Monday


As I do every Monday (or before Monday sometimes), I wander the garden looking for what plants might make for a lovely vase to bring indoors.  Cathy@Rambling in the Garden hosts this wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday.   And I also love to link in with Judith@Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.  Of course I had to create a couple of fall foliage vases inspired by the book I reviewed.  



small fall vase

The first vase used more of the cattails we cut last week.  I also included lots of the re-yellow peony foliage, Northern Sea Oat grass heads, and yellow foliage from the gorgeous Clethra bush with its spent flowerheads.  And nestled in the front were a few rose hips.




large fall vase1


The second vase also featured lots of cattails, peony foliage and rose hips with loads of foliage and seedheads from Baptisia for a wonderful full frothy look.  In addition there were some grassy flowerheads, and purple fall colored foliage and spent flowerheads of Obedient plant and Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’.

You can see another picture of this vase at the top of the post.  I really love how both fall foliage vases came out this week.  There are a few flowers left in my late October garden, and warm weather predicted this week, so I may have one more flower vase next week before the freezing temps rush in at the end of October (yes they are predicting that frozen mix again, but I am only whispering it again….)



Next up on the blog:  Wednesday I hope to have a fun, spooky holiday garden post.  And Monday marks the time for another garden journal and review of my October garden  sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.