Great underused perennials for the Mid - Atlantic states

Some of my favorite perennials have started showing up in McDonalds and Home Depot parking lots. When this begins to happen it's time to find a few new favorites. Below are a few perennials to consider that are easy to grow and commonly underused in the Mid Atlantic region.

Gillenia trifoliata  Bowmans Root

White delicate star shaped flowers gracefully open in clusters above the rich green oval shaped foliage clustered along the slender red stems. Growing to a height of 28-36" and flowereing in early June, Gillenia will tolerate average to slightly moist soil in full sun to part shade. Primarily part shade in the mid Atlantic unless you can water it weekly. A valuable architectural plant the foliage becomes red in the fall and the seed heads turn a maroon color extending interest into the winter.

  Gillenia trifoliata   Bowmans Root


Gillenia trifoliata   Bowmans Root

Fall color

Fall color

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire

Bonfire is a somewhat dense and mounding perennial that adds bold textural value with its foliage. Emerging as a chartreuse green the plan eventually ages to a dark red by September. Bright yellow bracts form the flowers covering two thirds of the plant in May to June. Provide well drained soil, particularly during the winter months. Otherwise average to dry soil conditions will provide for the proper growing conditions. Try Bonfire among low growing grasses that age to a buff color in the fall to accent the red foliage and the bold texture.

Euphorbia Bonfire

Euphorbia Bonfire

Bonfire flowers

Bonfire flowers

Veronia lettermanii 'Iron Butterfly'

A butterfly magnet in late summer,  this vigorous perennial shows off masses of tiny, true purple flowers that attract other beneficial insects for a nectar feast. Delicate green foliage gives it a fine texture that is enhanced by grouping. Very tolerant of rough, sandy, infertile, dry soils. Collaborates well with ornamental grasses, Veronicastrum and Calamintha.

Vernonia Iron Butterfly'

Vernonia Iron Butterfly'

Stachy officianalis  'Hummelo'

This stachys has dark green, glossy foliage in a basal mound. It is unusual in that it has a wealth of rose-lavender spikes on short stalks all summer that are very decorative and last a long time as a cut flower. Perennial Stachys performs like a Salvia, and deer will leave it alone. Likes a spot that is well-drained in winter. Hummelo colllaborates well with salvias, sporobolous, calamint, Summer Beauty Allium, panicum Shenandoah and statice.

Stachys Hummelo

Stachys Hummelo

Limonium latifolium  Statice

Statice Flowers come in white, lavender, and pink colors. The tiny funnel-shaped Statice flowers have a delicate, airy, hazy appearance, almost like smoke. Statice blooms in late spring and summer. Tolerant of dry soil, this sun-loving perennial delivers dense clouds of blue to pink-purple flowers rising above dark green basal rosettes. Delicate and airy in the garden and great as a dried flower. Be sure to provide good drainage throughout all seasons, particularly winter. Statice associates well with cone shaped flowers, umbellifors and spires. Consider Purple cone flower, Hummelo Stachys, Phlox paniculata Davids Lavendar and sedums as companions.

Limonium latifolium   Statice

Limonium latifolium   Statice

Parthenium integrifolium  Wild Quinine

Parthenium integrifolium (Wild Quinine) matures to 4' and has white, dense, cauliflower-looking flowers. It prefers medium soil conditions, and grows best in full sun. Wild Quinine can be seen blooming June through September. Wild Quinine is typically found in dry areas of prairies and open woods.

Parthenium at the Highline in NYC.

Parthenium at the Highline in NYC.

Parthenium with Agastache 'Blue Fortune'

Parthenium with Agastache 'Blue Fortune'

influential designers: sarah price

Sarah Price has rapidly established herself as one of the most prominent garden designers in Britain. Drawing on a prior training in fine art and a life-long love of wild and natural environments, her gardens have an immersive quality and are often described as ‘painterly’.

Sarah Price

She believes that the best gardens are beautiful places that elevate the senses and inspire deeper connections with the natural world. Sarah’s work begins with a sensitivity to the specificities of location: climate and ecology, history and culture, of both the site and its wider surroundings. She likes to keep hard landscaping to a minimum and instead uses plant forms for the underlying structure that is essential to the garden’s atmosphere.

telegraph garden

She describes her work as ‘gardening in the round’: rather than offering pre-formulated, static views, gardens should invite active engagement and exploration. Sarah’s gardens reveal their true character in fleeting moments of infinite variation, brought about by changes of light and season. The ethereal beauty of her planting can invoke powerful emotional responses, akin to experiencing the most sensual of natural landscapes.

sarah price landscapes

Sarah is the co-designer of the 2012 Gardens at the Olympic Park in east London and remains at the core of the team planning the post-Games legacy design and maintenance of the gardens. Among other current projects are landscape designs for The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and consultancy for a six acre Elizabethan garden in the Cotswolds and for the grounds of a countryside palazzo in Umbria.

sarah price olympic park

notes to young landscape designers

                  As a landscape designer I have an interest in designing projects that not only serve the needs of my clients, but also, at their best, help give meaning to their lives. Many of the designed landscapes I observe on a daily basis not only fail to inspire but also fail to meet the needs of the individuals they are intended for.  Although many are competently installed and well cared for there is still something missing. The topic of purpose in landscape design was suggested as the theme for this post, but purpose alone does not create good design. A lot of landscapes are designed with purpose yet fail to inspire the user. The best design goes beyond purpose and involves deliberation and inspiration.


Jacque Wirtz Landscape Design.

         Deliberate purpose is comprised of the practical, functional and utilitarian needs of the client. A designed landscape should at very least meet these needs. The space has to be the right size to accommodate the number of intended users, the circulation through the spaces should be fluent and it should be constructed to last for decades. Ideally it is built on budget and possibly in phases which may help eliminate design compromises.  In a nut shell, successful deliberate purpose in design requires a willingness to engage in process oriented thinking and avoid the temptation to simply sell a product. Be careful to check your ego at the door before sitting down to work. It is easy to become enamored with our ideas, and consequently, stifle the voice inside your head that allows you to transcend, evaluate and modify your concept.


Lancaster, Pa. Landscaping Fernhill Landscapes.

 The environment should also possess a quality that transcends the deliberate purpose of the project. Projects with inspired purpose go beyond competence and are satisfying in deeper ways – aesthetically, emotionally, intellectually and perhaps even spiritually. The best have an intuitive balance between complexity and simplicity, allowing the differences to enhance, rather than cancel each other out. Mastering this is very difficult, and it is a puzzle which I am continuously trying to solve and in no way have mastered. Inspired purpose speaks of true design, not simply decorating or imitating an image or idea from a book or magazine.

         Between the two areas of deliberate and inspired purpose, deliberation without inspiration is relatively easy to achieve and much more widespread. Consequently, the presence of inspired purpose in design combined with deliberation increases the value of the landscape considerably.  This is true in all design, not just landscape. Take the ipod as an example. It is a product that effectively balances simplicity and complexity, typically does less than other mp3 players, generally costs more, but yet, manages to outsell its competitors by wide margins. Truly deliberate and inspired.

Landscaping_Lancaster_ Pa..jpg

         Good design offers us an opportunity to bring solace, meaning, and value to our daily lives. As I sit in my Eames lounge chair typing this blog, it occurs to me that well designed things tend to become a seamless part of our lives, but it is easy to take them for granted. As you look around your home or office, just about everything has been designed. I am sure each of us can name examples of well designed and poorly designed things, whether it is a cell phone, a chair, or the actual space in your home, or the space around your home. If we compare these spaces or things with others, we find that most of them are fairly well made; the thing that really differentiates them is the harmonious use of deliberate and inspired purpose in the design or lack thereof. I will leave you with a quote from Charles Eames. “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”

planning for your outdoor kitchen

Planning for an outdoor kitchen is fairly straightforward if you think about what you want and need, and research a designer who can bring the skill to the table to make it happen. When you're researching a designer remember that good design does not cost it pays. The best design and build companies can deliver great design and quality installation, while walking you through the process - from design to budgeting, construction and permitting.


Outdoor kitchen, Millersville, Pa.

Ask yourself the following:

~ How many people for dining and entertaining and how often?

~ What are my grill options: gas, propane, charcoal or more than one?

~ How much prep work do I want to perform outside?

~ Do I want or need to have a sink area for dishes, washing hands etc.?

~ Should the outdoor kitchen be a separate space from the house or should it be close to the house?

~ Does the safety of children need to be considered?

~ How much storage will I need and want? 

 One of the most common errors with outdoor living spaces is making them too small. Intimate spaces that are well designed are not only functional but they are psychologically comfortable. However, a poorly designed small living area creates a space that is psychologically uncomfortable. This point brings us back to the idea that good design does not cost, it pays.



Lancaster, Pa. outdoor kitchen

outdoor kitchen with Atlantis cabinets.

Here are a few things to think about when you are working through the design process.

~ The materials that are used should be durable. Do not use interior materials unless the space is beneath a roof and then verify that the material will withstand the fluctuations of temperatures. Landscaping in this part of Pennsylvania can be a challenge with temperature swings from the nineties during the summer to below zero in the winter. If your going to use tile make sure it has the thermal qualities needed. If you're thinking about wood make sure it is rot resistant. The tile and stone you choose should be impervious.

~ Outdoor lighting for the work surfaces is necessary if you like to entertain during the evening and for most of us this is the time to entertain. Some form of task lighting for the work surfaces should be considered in addition to lights for the general atmosphere.

~ Not planning for ventilation is possibly planning for smoke in your eyes and house. Outdoor kitchens that are under roof in a screened porch or other enclosed structure will need to have some mechanical ventilation. For kitchens that are in the open air you want to make sure the grill is far enough away or downwind from the house so that smoke and odors will not be a problem.

~ Make a connection to the interior. Using similar materials will help connect the space visually to the interior. Keep a clear circulation path from the interior to the outdoor kitchen.


Outdoor kitchen. Lancaster, Pa.


rain gardens

Rain Gardens are one of the most exciting concepts to emerge in landscape design. They are generally small-scale designed features that capture and withstand extremes of moisture and concentrations of nutrients that are found in stormwater runoff. A depression or low lying area corrals stormwater and in the process reduces or slows runoff. What makes it a rain garden is how the water is captured and what happens to that water once it arrives in the garden. Infiltration of the stormwater runoff helps to cleanse the water and return water to a site. Rain gardens, if done properly will have a positive effect on both the volume and quality of stormwater run off.  

Drawing by Andy Clayden, from 'Rain Gardens' (2007), by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon


While the use of natives should be promoted it must also be noted that a lot of 'native plants' are used way beyond their region. What is frequently sold as natives at many of the local nurseries, are frequently plants from distances as far as a thousand miles away and further, with the native connection in the publics perception being one of state and nationalistic origin as opposed to origin within a specific plant community. The question of whether introduced plants should be used along with natives must be given more consideration for the simple reason that because a plant is not within our state or national boundary does not mean the plant cannot have ecological value to the garden. Of course the use of introduced plants must be carefully considered so that invasive one's are eliminated from the potential list of what is acceptable. 

Drawing by Andy Clayden, from 'Rain Gardens' (2007), by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon

Unfortunately, I have seen more poorly designed rain gardens than good ones. In the City of Lancaster, a rain garden on the west side of town resembles a collection of native plants with little thought for the design. The result is a space that lacks coherence and has a poor image among the public. We must be careful that ecologically inspired design keeps people in mind. The question of design from a functional and aesthetic perspective must be considered, and if done properly it will serve the ecological function it was intended for as well as potentially becoming a restorative scene for the public or client.

5 great shrubs for winter interest

When considering a shrub for the landscape it is worthwhile to note the plants characteristics throughout the year. During the design process, landscape designers often rely too heavily on the evergreen layer to create interest in the winter landscape. One of the most frequently asked questions by our clients is "how does the plant look in the winter?" While evergreens do provide green in the off season, there are also deciduous shrubs that offer interest in other ways. Here in Lancaster Pennsylvania, the five shrubs listed below hold their own in at least three of the four seasons. Check them out, for consideration when you are planning your landscape, or simply looking for something interesting to plant.

1. Hamamelis x intermedia   Witch - Hazel

The variety 'Jalena' with fragrant half burnt orange flowers mid February in Lancaster Pa. Strong horizontal habit. Excellent yellow-orange-red fall color.

'Diane' is a great deep bronze red flowered variety with a slight fragrance.


Fall color is often tri colored with red-orange and yellow. 


'Arnold's Promise' One of the oldest and best cultivars for fragrant yellow flowers.


Nandina domestica  Heavenly Bamboo

Heavenly Bamboo is not a true bamboo but simply has the upright habit and a leaf similar to many bamboos, hence the common name. By no means is this plant a runner like many bamboos, instead ot forms a fairly narrow plant up to 8' high in south central Pennsylvania although plants in the 5' range are  more common. Nandina can be tardily evergreen depending on the severity of the winter weather, particularly with regard to cold temps. Even with the recent visit from the polar vortex a plant on the south side of our home remains full in leaf and berry. The berries are great for use in decorations during the holidays and persist for a long time once cut.

The variety 'Fire Power' makes a good ground cover.


Cornus sanguinea   Redtwig Dogwood

Cornus sericea    Redosier Dogwood  

Prune back the stems in late winter to create the most vibrant color display. The numerous variety and cultivars range in size from 2 to 10 feet tall and wide.

'Winter Flame'



Red twigs among a grove of Aspen.


Ilex verticillata  Winterberry


Winterberry in a low lying area in Lancaster County with a foreground of Little Bluestem.

'Winter Red'

Winterberry at Longwood gardens in Kennet Square Pa.


Mahonia bealei  Leatherleaf Mahonia

The only evergreen to make the list, Mahonia is a functional broadleaf with leathery and spiny leaflets. The shrub offers a nice alternative to those who want something other than a Rhododendron. The lemon yellow flowers open in March and remain effective for 4 to 6 weeks. Flowers are wonderfully fragrant and attract early pollinators. Blue egg shaped fruit follow.



5 great trees for the winter landscape

The landscape in winter is fairly subdued when compared with the rush of spring, summer and fall color, but don't be too quick to dismiss the garden in the off season. Evergreens are obvious choices for winter interest, but there are a lot of deciduous trees that offer interesting bark, brightly colored berries, and interesting form. Below are a few possibilities that not only offer interest during the winter months, but also throughout the year. Other than the five trees listed you may want to consider the following: Sycamore, Beech, Harry Lauders Walking Stick, Parrotia, River Birch, Shingle Oak and Lacebark Elm. 


1. Rhus typhina   Staghorn Sumac

Rhus tolerates unfavorable conditions, thrives in polluted city air, and grows in such inhospitable sites as cracks in pavement. It will grow on any soil type. Staghorn sumac establishes on clearings, hillsides, open woods, and disturbed areas such as roadsides and reduced-tillage fields. Often dismissed as a weed tree because of it's pioneering ways; the Staghorn looks great in groves towards edges and inbetween areas.  Great fall color, strong structural character year around, and dramatic 'staghorn' seedheads in fall and winter.

 2. Crataegus viridis 'Winter King' Hawthorne

Red berries that persist through the winter' if they are not taken by birds, and exfoliating cinnamon colored bark give this tree great winter character. The berries are outstanding on a snowy day with an evergreen backdrop. The 'Winter King' smothers itself with white flowers in spring. In the landscape the tree can be used as a specimen, in loose groves or as an allee. Zones 4-7.

3. Stewartia pseudocamellia  Japanese Stewartia

Peeling bark takes several different forms, and Stewartia has one of the more unique appearances. As older bark flakes off, a gray, brown and pale red patchwork effect appears on the trunk of the tree, creating an interesting contrast to snowy landscapes. Zones 5-9.


4. ‘Harvest Gold’ Crabapple and 'Indian Magic' Crabapple.
Brightly colored berries are carried by the branches if these two crabapples. The 'Harvest Gold' has yellow berries and the 'Indian Magic' has orange fruit. Zones 4-8.
'Harvest Gold' Crabapple.

'Indian Magic' Crabapple.


5. Acer griseum  Paperbark Maple

 In the large family of maples, the Paperbark is fairly small growing from 15 - 25'. Characteristically upright with an oval outline, the tree offers outstanding red fall color, and a cinnamon colored bark that exfoliates as the tree ages. Zones 4-8.



2013 APLD International Landscape Design Awards

We found out this week that we received a Gold award in the APLD'S International Landscape Design Awards. It is an incredible honor and professionally inspiring to have received any award let alone a gold. Only 8 gold awards were granted in the entire program and only one gold award in the category of small residential design for which Doug Myers of Fernhill Landscapes was awarded.  

Landscape designs in six different categories were submitted from designers in this year’s professional program – residential, non-residential, small garden, show garden, planting design and specialty project. The criteria used to evaluate submissions included project impact, creativity, technical merit and planting design. The judging panel was comprised of highly respected experts in the field. 


Blending contemporary forms and lush plantings, the design for the Sterling residence maximizes the sensory experience of the materials and planting from inside and outside the home. The garden occupies a courtyard framed by four interior walls. The home, built in 1948 was designed as a mid century modern smart house. The space inside the courtyard is 884 sq. ft. The clients list of needs and desires was brief. They wanted a space that would complement the mid century style and provide visual interest from inside the home.
The designer’s intent was to create a garden that would possess a clear sculptural quality and would be as visually striking from inside the home as it would be from inside the courtyard. The strategy behind the design was to use hardscape materials characterized by simple geometric forms and a planting palette that would emphasize form over color, and then to arrange the materials to achieve an interpretation of modern aesthetic.
The views from inside the homes three main living rooms present the garden as a graphic composition of space, hardscape materials and planting. Inside the courtyard the edges are defined by stone and planting. The floor is composed of rectangular slabs of Teakwood flagstone with a counterpoint of Mexican beach pebbles set within the joints and around the edges. Concrete along the edges of the Teakwood pads reduces migration of the modified stone and sand base. The contrast of the Mexican beach pebbles accentuates the pattern of the flagstone. The subtle sound of water spilling from the copper bowl and the reflective qualities of the water help to create an atmosphere of relaxation. The planting is composed of shades of green with white flowers in order to accentuate the graphic design. ‘Justin Brouwer’ Boxwood, ‘Sum and Substance’ Hosta, white Anemones, black bamboo and ornamental grasses contrast dramatically with the clean lines of the hardscape elements.



influential designers | luciano giubbilei

Born and raised in the Tuscan town of Siena, Luciano Giubbilei lived with his grandmother who had a profound influence on his life and design philosophy. Her life of simplicity and her love of creating great food with the best ingredients has remained with him, and is expressed through his work. The gardens he creates are sublime, with peaceful well organised spaces acting as extensions of the homes they embody. Clean lines of geometric gravel paths aligned with evergreen hedging provide a theatrical backdrop for elegant works of sculpture. The reduced vocabulary of materials adds to the tension and drama. Although his gardens are thoroughly Italian they steer clear of kitsch and bestow a modern interpretion of his native land.


Pelham Crescent in London. On the left chiseled and charred Oak sculptures offer a counterpoint to the hedging.

 Laurent - Perrier Garden. RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2009.


 Rendering of the Laurent-Perrier Garden.

Luciano Giubbilei

   "I see art and garden as a unified identity, working as a whole, a richer and more profound composition." Luciano Giubbilei


 Addison Crescent. London 2007.


influential designers | russell page

Russell Page (1906-85) is considered by many as the foremost landscape architect of his time. His name is nearly forgotten today but for decades he was the man to design your garden if you were very rich and perhaps fashionable too. He was involved in all types of landscape projects from small private gardens to public projects and corporate parks. Russell was unique among designers of his day for the diversity of projects, understanding and use of plant material and his respect for European and Islamic gardens. I have not had the opportunity to visit many of Pages gardens but I can highly recommend the Fricke museum in New York City. In two to three hours you can tour the museum housing the Fricke collection and visit the garden.


 A few guiding principles that Page believed:

Paths are all-important. Paths indicate the structure of a garden plan, and the stronger and simpler the lines they follow the better.

Repetition or the massing of one simple element

Beneath all the charms of a garden will lie a logical and direct framework

Style and site are interconnected. Style in a garden must reflect the style of the house of which it must be considered as the extension.

Each garden is its own small world. Each is different; each has its own nature.

A few years of neglect and only the skeleton of a garden can be traced.


Fricke Museum garden in NYC.


Villa Silvio in Italy. Built in 1956.


 Sculpture garden.



Moorish channel garden.


 Santolina and Boxwood.