Plants & Gardening

I have a passion for plants.

  • Plants & Gardening

    Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden

    J.A. Jance Garden Patio, Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry

    You know I love visiting gardens so when thriller author J. A. Jance invited me to tour her Seattle-area garden, I jumped at the chance. It’s a wonderfully imagined colorful space inspired by an epic poem by C. Day-Lewis. Jance fell in love with the poem decades ago at a reading.

    “Baucis and Philemon” is based on Ovid’s mythical tale, which tells the story of how Zeus and Hermes visited a town where Baucis and Philemon, a simple couple who lived in a rustic cottage, took them in and showed great generosity when others in the town would not. Because the couple were kind, Zeus spared their lives when he destroyed the town because of its residents’ selfishness. He flooded it, killing all but Baucis and Philemon whose cottage was transformed into a temple. The poem ends with the touching image of the couple each transforming into a tree whose roots were intertwined forever.

    J.A. Jance in Garden, Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books
    A Garden of Words

    When hired to landscape the garden, Jance’s designer wisely noticed she was a writer and asked whether she wanted words in her garden. She presented him with C. Day Lewis’s poem. The crew got to work, organizing the yard around that theme while including several points of interest. Take a look at this special outdoor sanctuary.

    J.A. Jance Garden, Pond Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry
    J.A. Jance Garden, Pond Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry
    J.A. Jance Garden, Pond Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry

    Though the garden features several Northwest plants, it also features some plants and colors that recall Arizona, where Jance grew up. Windmill palms line the pond and brightly painted stucco surfaces form a backdrop for plants and art.

    J.A. Jance Garden Art, Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry
    J.A. Jance Garden Patio, Author J.A. Jance Imagined a Colorful Epic Garden, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #JAJance #garden #plants #gardening #Ovid #myth #thriller #author #books #poetry

    These slabs carved with lines from the poem offer contemplative pausing points. As you read the words, you hear the trickle of the pond and smell the blooming wisteria. You’re surrounded by a tapestry of varying green, red, and blue-foliaged plants that together soften the view and make the visitor feel warm and serene.

  • Plants & Gardening

    5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow

    Chinese Evergreen, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #chineseevergreen #variegated #indoorplants

    If you’d like some greenery in your home or office but your only talent for plants is killing them, don’t despair. House plants that don’t mind low light and little water do exist. They won’t take it personally if you ignore them for a while. And like many plants, they’ll still clean the air, soften your surroundings, and offer the relaxing beauty we often crave when indoors. Here are the five easiest house plants to keep alive.

    Pothos (Epipremnum)
    Pothos, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #pothos #variegated #indoorplants

    Pothos (Epipremnum) grows in a cheery mound with spade-shaped leaves that gently spread into trailing strands. For a bushier look, snip the strands’ ends but for a hanging basket effect, let the plant creep as it likes. Pothos loves indirect light and the darker variegated varieties tolerate the lowest levels. Also, they like to dry out between watering. They can go for up to 10 days without water. And just as in their native Polynesia, they thrive in warm conditions, about 60 – 80 degrees, so pretend you’re on a tropical island and enjoy these verdant lovelies!

    Snake Plant (Sanseviera)
    Snake Plant, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #snakeplant #variegated #motherinlawstongue #indoorplants
    Snake Plant

    Snake Plant (Sanseviera) shoots vertically up in long fleshy blades, almost like a grass for giants. The yellow-green cultivar is most common but for the lowest maintenance, choose Black Coral. It’s dark and dreamy. The blades grow up to three feet tall with bands of silver and light green cutting through the smokey blackish leaves. The dark quality means it holds more of a particular kind of chlorophyll that catches low-intensity light. So, if you set it a few feet from a window and soak the soil every few weeks, you’ll keep these African natives upright and happy.

    Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
    Cast Iron Plant, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #castironplant #variegated #indoorplants
    Cast Iron Plant

    Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra) certainly lives up to its name, though you won’t hear a clang if you knock on it. It’s just difficult to kill, not only tolerating low light but rare watering as well. Plus, the upshot is if you live in zone 7 or higher, you can grow it outside. But don’t expect Cast Iron Plant to grow quickly. In a way, it exists rather than grows. The Japanese native sends out upright leaves from rhizomes slowly, making fuller, more established plants on the costly side. Inside the home, place it in a north-facing window, water only when the soil is dry to the touch, and let it be a delightful cauldron of inky green.

    Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
    Peace Lily, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #peacelily #variegated #indoorplants
    Peace Lily

    Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) sports the glossiest green leaves, which, with their corrugation and graceful fountain-like habit, makes for an enchanting, relaxing sight. But the Peace Lily’s super power is its air-cleaning abilities. It neutralizes carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde, those nasty gases that come from wood adhesives in furniture and fuel-burning appliances. It also likes indirect light and again, only water when dry to the touch. If it gets a fair amount of bright indirect light, it will bloom in elegant white spathes that resemble its lily-like name.

    Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
    Chinese Evergreen, 5 of the Easiest House Plants to Grow, Karen Hugg, in a new tab) #houseplants #house #plants #chineseevergreen #variegated #indoorplants
    Chinese Evergreen (probably ‘Nicole’)

    Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) knows how to soften the edges of a room. Its dense habit creates a lush oval of foliage bit by bit and isn’t fussy if neglected. The darker varieties can tolerate lower levels of light and will outright scorch in direct sun. But that’s what makes them so low maintenance! It wants only occasional watering, whenever the soil is dry or every two to three weeks. What it really likes is warmth, never below 60 degrees, and to not sit near a door or drafty window. Otherwise, these beauties can get brown edges. If they wilt, that means you’ve watered too much. So, set them in a cozy spot and don’t do much except admire their evergreen ways.

    How to Grow the Easiest House Plants

    Overall, these house plants are really tropical plants that often grow on the floors of forests so think warmth, moist air, and indirect light. An organic potting mix should suffice for soil. Apply an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring. Some plants, like Peace Lily and Chinese Evergreen, even if grown by a window, may not flower. It depends on how far north you live and local weather. If you want flowers, try putting a broad-spectrum or “grow” bulb in a common desk lamp and positioning it near the plants for a few hours every day. In weeks, pretty blooms will emerge and offer bright cheer. Otherwise, all of these plants will simply provide lovely greenery during the times you’re stuck inside but yearn for a bit of nature.

  • Plants & Gardening

    How to Make a Plant Combination That Pops

    Plants in a container, How to Make a Plant Combination That Pops, in a new tab), #plants #container #combination #pops #howto #gardening
    Plants in a container, How to Make a Plant Combination That Pops, in a new tab), #plants #container #combination #pops #howto #gardening
    Angela’s Part-Shade Container

    Creating a plant combination that pops is tricky. You have to use plants that like similar conditions of light, water, and soil. Then you have to create an overall design that incorporates varying shapes and colors that both clash and recall each other’s characteristics. While it takes a bit of work, the general rules of it can be learned.

    Earlier this summer, my friend Angela who’s a container designer created this lovely arrangement for part-sun with a general potting soil. So I thought I’d talk about why it works so well in an effort to demystify the process.

    Upright Centerpieces

    A pleasing plant combination, whether in a border or pot, needs some kind of height. To create verticality, Angela used Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ in the center. It’s the smokey green plant with tubular orange-red flowers. Then to widen that verticality into a cool arc, she tucked in a variegated New Zealand flax (phormium tenax ‘Variegata’) in the back. While the fuchsia creates a dominant focal point, the flax creates a spiky vertical echo with its sword-like leaves.

    Filled With Mounds and Trails

    Just as an arrangement needs verticality, it also needs more mounding plants to fill out the space horizontally. Then, trailing plants can extend the design downward. For the mounding middle section, Angela used a chartreuse pineapple sage (salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’), coleus (ruffle series), and New Guinea impatiens. For the lower trailing section, she used a potato vine (ipomaea batatas ‘Margarita’), lobelia (lobelia erinus, probably Laguna Compact Blue), black mondo grass (ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), and blue daisy (felicia amelloides ‘Variegata’). All of these plants together broadened the robust feel of the arrangement and softened the pot’s geometric line.

    Contrasts Create Energy

    To create energy and vibrance in a plant combination, designers often contrast leaf shapes. Here, we see narrow blades and broader leaves, spiky swords and rambling ovals. Angela used the coleus’s ruffles to contrast the fuchsia’s smoother wider shapes. The tiny lobelia cheerily rambles into the sharpness of the black mondo grass before giving way to the delicate daisy stems.

    In terms of color, the rich red fuchsia blooms bang against the vivid chartreuse leaves. The fuchsia and impatiens smokey green leaves soften the busy variegation in the flax and daisy. The mondo grass’s blunt blackness pops against the lobelia’s true blue flowers.

    Recalling Colors Bring Harmony

    But to avoid chaos and create a cohesive pattern that’s pleasing, Angela limited the palette to certain colors. Notice at the left how the orange impatiens recall the fuchsia’s orange-red blooms at the center. The coleus’s maroon splotches, the flax’s narrow stripe of carmine, and the fuchsia’s scarlet veination all echo the reddish tones as well.

    Similarly, the bright beam of the salvia’s chartreuse leaves lead the eye down to the potato vine, where the chartreuse repeats. Then the coleus’s leaf margins and the flax’s yellow stripes recall the beaming light. Even the light green band on the pot ties in with the chartreuse tones.

    A Feast for the Eyes

    Overall, I love how this container vibrates with texture and punches with color. Notice how there are spikes at the top and bottom? Notice how the fuchsia blooms cascade downward in layers, bringing the viewer’s eye to the lone unusual color of blue? And how the daisies’ white-lined leaves peek through here and there. Angela’s container is a stunning display. She shows, with some careful choices, how plant combinations really can be an artistic masterpiece.

  • Plants & Gardening

    A Pretty Petunia Is Best for Beginner Gardeners

    A Pretty Petunia Blooms Best for Beginner Gardeners, Karen Hugg,, #petunia #beginnergardener #flowers #gardening #garden #annuals #best #easycare
    A Pretty Petunia Blooms Best for Beginner Gardeners, Karen Hugg,, #petunia #beginnergardener #flowers #gardening #garden #annuals #best #easycare
    Petunia ‘Easy Wave’

    For beginner gardeners, a simple reliable petunia is the best choice to grow for long summer color. Experienced gardeners might argue these zone 9-11 annuals are trite. They’re available at every nursery and hardware store, bursting in bright colors, begging loudly to be taken home. Still, they cheer up a garden like no other flower. I’ve been a professional gardener for over a decade and a half and every year I use them in arrangements, both for myself and clients.

    What Kind Is Best?

    Because both commercial businesses and home gardeners use petunias, growers work hard to perfect the longest blooming, easiest care cultivars. They’re divided into multifloras and grandifloras (fancy words for many blooms or large blooms) and trailing petunias. But you needn’t worry much about that. Get whatever kind you like most.

    Growers also offer different series of petunias. I’d recommend the ‘Ultra’ or ‘Madness’ series. They’ve been bred well for disease-resistance and long-lasting blooms. I often grow petunias from the ‘Wave’ series. They fill in quickly, bloom profusely, and the colors are bold. If you don’t want to waste time filling in a container, a ‘Wave’ petunia of any color is a good choice.

    Easy Care for Easy Blooms

    Petunias like well-draining soil. An all-purpose potting soil should suffice, something fresh that still contains nutrients. They also like full sun. No shade, please. They bloom less in shade. Water every few days in summer to keep them perky. Try not to water the flowers themselves as they’re delicate. They flatten and resemble wet tissue. If given a 10-10-10 fertilizer, flowers will multiply quickly.

    The Beautiful Benefits

    Obviously, the best reason to grow a petunia is its bold alluring color. If you want a garden to pop with it, plant petunias. I like deep purples and magentas, but of course, I also like that yellows, whites, blues, pale shades, and striped varieties exist. You can have great fun arranging the candy-striped ‘Ultra Star’ with black mondo grass or the veiny ‘Purple Vein Ray’ with lavenders or powdery asters.

    Also, petunias can attract hummingbirds. The birds like the large tubular shape of the flowers and are particularly attracted to bright red colors. The rare and slightly odd looking Petunia exserta is apparently the most enticing.

    A Couple of Drawbacks

    You might notice petunia leaves and flowers are sticky. They produce a protective sap on their leaves to trap and kill insects. But the residue can come off on your fingers. I’d recommend caring for them while wearing gloves. And clean pruning shears with an alcohol wipe if needed.

    Later in the summer, petunias can turn leggy. They also turn leggy if in too much shade. When this happens, they look gangly and awkward. But new blooms can be pinched back to keep the plant bushy, which I recommend. If you don’t mind the leggy look, they will keep blooming until frost.


    Overall, if you want to beautify a patio or balcony or even border, you can’t go wrong with a petunia. These South American natives are a proliferous joy to grow. And if you already have some, please share the photos in the comments below. I’d love to see your favorites. Happy planting!

  • Plants & Gardening

    The 10 Best Perennials for Sun

    Orange Daylily, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #daylily #flowers #plants #orange #sun #easy #best

    While creating my last A Vine of Ideas digest, I wanted to share a decent list of the best perennials to grow in sun. But the lists I found were lacking. They were too long, not broad enough in terms of zonal hardiness, included fussy or hard-to-find plants, or listed actual shrubs. So I’ve compiled my own list of what I believe are the best low-maintenance, long-blooming winners. They’re all pretty and tough and widely available. Plus, they all attract butterflies, bees, and birds!

    1. Daylily
    Daylily, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #daylily #hemerocallis #happyreturns #tuber #flowers #plants #yellow #sun #easy #best
    Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’

    Daylilies (Hemerocallis) have got to be the easiest perennial to grow. They’re hardy to zone 3 and require little, if any, care. As they store energy in little tubers, they leaf out in early spring and bloom for several weeks in summer. Each blossom lasts for about a day, hence the name. I have the classic orange daylilies (hemerocallis fulva) that are larger, to about two feet high. With their arching spear-like leaves, they make quite a bold statement and fill in blank spaces rapidly. I also grow a dwarf ‘Happy Returns’ daylily, which is yellow and so darn cute. They don’t spread as rapidly, just simply hangout in their little space.

    2. Salvia
    Salvia 'May Night,' The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #salvia #MayNight #flowers #plants #purple #sun #easy #best
    Salvia ‘May Night’

    Salvias are known to be tender in northern gardens but I’ve denied my zone and grown ‘Black and Bloom,’ ‘Hot Lips,’ and other fun cultivars without returning success. I’ve also planted hardier cultivars and ‘May Night’ (salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’) is my favorite. It’s got deep purple flowers that make a bold statement, especially paired with an orange rose or magenta peony. And they bloom for most of the summer with some deadheading. Plus, foliage leafs out early! ‘May Night’ also has excellent hardiness to zone 4. I think it’s a must-have for the garden. Plus, bees adore it!

    3. Crocosmia
    Crocosmia 'Emily McKenzie,' The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #crocosmia #flowers #plants #orange #sun #easy #best #emilymckenzie
    Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’

    The tall sword-like leaves of crocosmia (crocosmia) elegantly add contrasting structure to the garden. That they bloom in this succession of strongly colored, exotic-looking flowers is even better. I grow a couple different kinds and rarely think twice about them. If you like red, choose the taller ‘Lucifer.’ My favorite is ‘Emily McKenzie,’ which is shorter and brightly orange. Overall, as long as a crocosmia is in full sun and doesn’t dry out too much, they will produce late-summer blooms for many weeks. Delicate looking but super tough. Hardy down to zone 5.

    4. Stonecrop
    Sedum, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #sedum #stonecrop #brilliant #droughttolerant #flowers #plants #pink #sun #easy #best
    Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’

    You might know stonecrop (sedum spectabile) by its broccoli-like appearance. It emerges in rosettes before growing into 1-1 1/2 foot wide stalks topped with flat flower heads. Stonecrop is hardy down to zone 4 and loves to bake in the sun in poor soil. In late summer, red flowers emerge that then fade to marroon and darken to brown. In winter, their sturdy forms offer great structure and seeds for birds. ‘Autumn Joy’ is a reliable cultivar, but I also love the variegated ‘Autumn Charm.’ I also grow ‘Xenox’ and ‘Purple Emperor’. ‘Brilliant’ is a brighter version of ‘Autumn Joy.’ All are highly drought tolerant. A great perennial for sun.

    5. Tickseed
    Coreopsis, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #tickseed #coreopsis #flowers #plants #yellow #sun #easy #best
    Coreopsis grandiflora

    When I think of tickseed (coreopsis grandiflora), I think of sunshine. These clumps of mostly yellow flowers (sometimes orange, red or bi-colored) bloom all summer long. They grow to about a foot high and require little care. I occasionally deadhead to prolong blooms. I grow the straight species as I like solid, darker yellows. A cultivar called ‘Main Street’ allures with its red-magenta color and the threadleaf plants add interest with narrow foliage. Some are hardy down to zone 4.

    6. Phlox
    The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #phlox #coralredflame #flowers #plants #coral #sun #easy #best
    Phlox ‘Coral Red Flame’

    The phlox (phlox paniculata) perennial is an old fashioned mainstay and even though it’s dismissed for that, I still think it’s a great perennial to grow for constant summer color. And there are hundreds of colors to choose from! I have a cultivar called ‘Coral Red Flame’ that blares and a couple others whose names I can’t remember. ‘Ruby’ is a common cultivar with bright red flowers. These lovely perennials are not that drought tolerant, they like a bit of water in summer and even some shade. I grow mine in full sun with supplemental water and they do well, nestled in the mid-border due to the vertical form. I have had some powdery mildew problems here and there. Hardy to zone 3.

    7. Coneflower
    Coneflower, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #coneflower #echinaceapurpurea #echinacea #flowers #plants #pink #sun #easy #best
    Echinacea purpurea

    In my northwest climate, coneflowers (echinacea purpurea) take a while to get going in early summer, but once they take off, they bloom well into fall. These prairie flowers like well-draining soil but reward with some drought tolerance and rich friendly pink and orange colors. I grow some harder-to-find cultivars like ‘Tiki Torch’ and ‘Wild Berry,’ but the straight species is a fine choice for anyone with a garden between zones 3 and 8. The pink varieties look stunning beside the dark salvia ‘May Night.’

    8. Iris
    Japanese Iris, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #iris #cryofrejoice #flowers #plants #purple #sun #easy #best
    Japanese Iris ‘Cry of Rejoice’

    I fell out of love with irises for a while because they bloom during a shorter window in spring but if you’re looking for a low maintenance perennial, irises are a solid choice. They make up a broad family of Siberian, Japanese, and bearded varieties, which can be overwhelming. For regularly blooming color, I’d choose a Japanese or Siberian. In the northwest, I also grow bearded irises. Their flat wide leaves offer great evergreen structure. My favorite is Iris pallida ‘Aureo-variegata,’ which I like more for the striped yellow-green foliage than the lavender flowers. Hardy to zone 4.

    9. Black-eyed Susan
    Black-eyed Susan, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #blackeyedsusan #rudbeckia #goldsturm #flowers #plants #yellow #sun #easy #best
    Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’

    Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia fulgida) is another workhorse. You can plant a pot of these, turn away, and the next thing you know they’ve spread to form a pleasantly large clump. These two-foot perennials bloom from mid-summer to late fall, usually only fading just as the first frost arrives. Butterflies love the prairie flowers whose beaming yellow cheer up any garden. I grow ‘Goldsturm,’ which is the classic flower you often see in public and home gardens. In winter, I leave the dried heads undisturbed to feed the birds. Hardy to zone 4.

    10. Bee Balm
    Bee Balm, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #beebalm #monarda #raspberrywine #flowers #plants #magenta #sun #easy #best
    Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’

    Bee balm (monarda) almost didn’t make my list because it tends to get powdery mildew in fall but the flowers are so uniquely cool I just had to include it. They look like fancy crowns with points all around. Plus, hummingbirds and bees love them. Bee balm is a tough perennial, multiplying quickly and offering a punch of magenta or purple in a mixed border. I grow the larger ‘Raspberry Wine,’ a mildew-resistant cultivar, beside my purple smokebush. There are many dwarfs and colors available. Hardy to zone 3.

    Runners Up: Peruvian Lily and Lavender
    Peruvian Lily, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, #perennials #alstroemeria #peruvianlily #tuber #flowers #plants #purple #sun #easy #best

    Peruvian lily (alstroemeria) is another beloved favorite of mine. I’ve had a peach cultivar whose name I don’t know (above), if it has one, for decades and every year I can’t wait for it to bloom. Usually, these back-of-the-border plants grow to almost three feet tall and depending on what’s around them, may need staking. Still, the cut flowers last a long time and they bloom profusely all summer without attention. I also have a ruby colored variety, which contrasts nicely with my Salvia ‘May Night.’

    I didn’t include lavender in the main list because technically it’s a shrub. Still, English lavender (lavandula angustifolia) delights with silvery wands and fragrant purple flowerheads. Gardeners in colder climates can’t grow the more tender Spanish lavenders but English lavenders grow just fine down to zone 5. I’ve found lavenders look lovely lining a hot walkway and do best when trimmed after blooming, though be careful. A lavender can die if old wood is pruned. It’s fun to run your hands along lavender and enjoy the lovely scent!