A bit of background

By Sara Malone
Form and Foliage was started by Sara and Jan to illustrate and share a garden style with more year-round interest and lower care than the herbaceous perennial garden. While we primarily use evergreen shrubs and trees, both needle and broadleaf, we incorporate evergreen groundcovers, grasses and grass-like plants and succulents. We also favor plants with notable new foliage, good fall color and interesting bark, stems and berries. We find that the vast majority of perennial gardens, while beautiful in season, lack structure and early spring, fall and winter interest. We have also gotten tired of the repeated demands of a perennial garden – shearing, deadheading, refreshing, etc. Sara gardens in Northern California and Jan in the Florida panhandle. While the USDA used to classify both as Zone 8b, Sara was just reclassified into 9b, which fits her conditions better. The specific growing conditions between Sara's and Jan's gardens are quite different. Sara’s Mediterranean climate is hugely influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean, and lacks summer rain. Jan’s inland garden is hotter in summer, but has the humidity that many plants enjoy. Nighttime temperatures are very different, as well, with Sara’s garden always cooling off at night, and Jan’s warm in summer, no matter the hour. Because of the maritime influence in Petaluma, Sara’s garden rarely sees a hard freeze; consequently she can grow varieties that are not hardy in many parts of the country. Jan, while colder in winter, also enjoys a milder climate than many, although she does see the occasional hard freeze. Some of the examples that we use are not applicable to gardens with harsher winters. However, the concepts of planting for winter interest, incorporating more structure into the garden and increasing foliage’s contribution to the garden palette are valid throughout the world. Wherever possible, we will include a plant example that thrives in tougher winter conditions. We also like to hear from readers who garden in other zones but are interested in incorporating our themes into their gardens, or have already done so successfully. What ‘form and foliage’ plants do you use? How do you create winter interest? Are ‘form and foliage’ plants readily available where you live? We plan to post monthly, and will answer relevant comments. Our posts will be seasonally appropriate; you will not find photos of summer foliage in February or autumn berries in May. Jan’s photos aim not only to meet her artistic standards, but also to depict, as accurately as possible, what the plants actually look like in the landscape. Published and ‘fine art’ garden photos are often supersaturated, some almost surreally. We want our readers to understand how these plants would appear in their own gardens, so Jan tries to make the hues and contrasts closer to what Nature created. Sara’s garden, with photos by Jan, is featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Garden Design magazine, on the newsstands now. It will hit the electronic version in a few weeks and we’ll post a link. Resources: (Readers, please contribute suggestions from your areas or libraries) Selected nurseries in Sonoma County, California: Each of these organizations is owned and staffed by plant geeks who love interesting trees, shrubs and succulents and will delight in discussing them with other like-minded enthusiasts. You will not find a plethora of flowering perennials at any of them – go elsewhere for those temporal pleasures. Pond and Garden, Cotati, CA Peacock Horticultural Nursery, Sebastopol, CA Sweet Lane Nursery, Cotati, CA (wholesale, but may be available by appt. or with a designer) Garden Weaver Design, Sebastopol Lone Pine Gardens, Sebastopol (succulent specialists) Books: Some of these are out of print but easily available from used booksellers at very modest prices. Gardening with Conifers, Adrian Bloom Designing with Conifers, Richard L. Bitner Plants that Merit Attention, Volume I: Trees, Garden Club of America Plants that Merit Attention, Volume II: Shrubs, Garden Club of America Trees and Shrubs for Foliage, Glyn Church (part of The Woody Plant series) 100 Great Garden Plants, William H. Frederick, Jr. Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage