Q&A with Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz, Authors of ‘Gardening With Foliage First’

By Shelley Pierce | April 23, 2017
Image by Timber Press
by Shelley Pierce
April 23, 2017

Christina Salwitz is “THE Personal Garden Coach“ based in the Seattle area where she works as a “Landscape Guidance Counselor”, designs containers and landscapes. Christina is a horticulturist who has worked in garden centers for over 25 years and writes for a number of garden publications.

Karen Chapman owns Le jardinet, a landscape design and consulting company based in Greater Seattle. When not designing gardens or writing garden-related magazine articles she can usually be found trying to outwit the deer on her 5 acres in Duvall, WA.

In their recent collaboration, “Gardening With Foliage First“, they show readers how to first build a framework of foliage and then layer in flowers and other artistic elements to add the finishing touches.   Read on to learn more about this Timber Press book and enter to win one of two copies below!


1. Why should we garden with foliage first?

Using foliage as a base for good design allows for more year round interest with MORE than just leaves. It’s about twigs, berries, bark, thorns, seed heads, even garden art, and that allows our landscape to more fully reflect the personality of the gardener. Using all of these facets in all four seasons brings more inspiration and opportunity to use interesting colors and dimensions that you might otherwise miss when flowers are the main focus of attention.

2. I admit I am guilty of focusing on flowers first which hasn’t always led to a well-designed cohesive look in my gardens.  Is it a hard adjustment to switch to this different mindset of gardening with foliage first?

We think it’s actually much easier! Think about it as if you are designing an interior space; the foliage plants would be your furniture, the flowers would be your accessories after you have the major pieces and color scheme for the room planned. Then flowering plants would be your throw pillows, artwork and accents throughout the room that make up that finishing touch. Its fun to determine what you want to highlight for “color echoes” and other details once you have a fabulous foliage selection.

3. How does your book help us to add visual excitement to our garden compositions?

We’ve given you a visual “recipe” with plant ideas that we’ve collected but this doesn’t need to be literally interpreted. You could take a combination from the book and springboard from it to create a vision for your landscape that has some of the same textures, shapes and forms but might be done with colors or plants that suit your particular style or region. We really want readers to explore and be creative with inspiring ideas that can be tweaked to fit any situation.

4. What are some features of your book that readers will find particularly helpful?

Color coding of the pages! The spring/summer combinations are colored green and the fall/winter colored orange. Within each section there is a lighter and darker shade relating to sunny versus shade areas. Brilliant, right?

Also each combination features a paragraph called ‘How the design grows’ where we explain how the vignette changes with the seasons and matures over time, with tips on maintenance or suggestions for additional plants to enhance the vignette

5. You obviously spent a lot of time uncovering the perfect plant combinations displayed in this book through your travels.  Tell us about the research and time this book entailed and about one of your favorite gardens that you visited while conducting your research.  

It took almost 18 months to curate the gardens, complete the photography  and write the accompanying text for this book. Meeting homeowners across the country who shared our passion for foliage-focused designs was always inspiring, but twisting ourselves into pretzels to get the perfect shot, dodging monsoon-like rainfall or lying flat on the ground to achieve the perfect angle was frequently less than glamorous and took a good sense of humor and a recuperating glass of wine – or two!

Choosing a favorite garden is like asking us to choose our favorite child! Every space was unique but perhaps our favorite private garden was that of Mary Palmer (Snohomish, WA) where we photographed the cover shot as well as several other intriguing combinations both for spring/summer and fall/winter. Mary’s artistic eye for the nuances of color and texture combined with her passion for anything and everything unusual makes for a treasure trove that invites exploration year round. Mary was also remarkably tolerant of our appearing pre-dawn with cameras to capture the perfect light.

6. What are some of your favorite plants that have foliage that intrigues you?

Well we have two books worth so far and still counting! Here are a few:

Euphorbia, especially those with variegated foliage. Ascot Rainbow is remarkable with its lemon and lime striped leaves and rosy blush on the new growth, or Silver Swan with its elegant blue-green and creamy-white variegation that seems to go with just about anything.

Heuchera/Heucherella – we have included a Heuchera Hot List in our book to help gardeners in different parts of the country find the right variety for their climate. We love them all! There’s a color for every combination

Coleus – for summer color these just can’t be beat. From big beefy upright growers to delicate trailing varieties and oodles of colors to choose from. When struggling for the perfect foliage to complete a summer design, we scour the coleus tables.

Ruby Vase Persian ironwood – a tree with four outstanding seasons. Spidery red flowers in winter, interesting bark and foliage that emerges green with purple margins before turning shades of green, orange, gold, red and purple. A more upright profile than the species – this deserves to be grown more

But there are SO many more”¦

WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES OF ‘Gardening With Foliage First‘!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, April 30, 2017 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

How do you approach gardening – flowers or foliage first?  How would you use this book to add year-round interest to your garden?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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  • Erin Walsh
    Comment added April 24, 2017Reply

    I've always been good at making sure that there is plenty of foilage in my garden, I've actually just come around to adding the flowers in the past couple of years. But what I didn't think about until recently is making sure that my trees and shrubs took care of the birds, squirrels and insects in my garden, so now I'm having to add that thought to the mix. I would hopefully be able to use this book to do just that with shrubs, trees and flowers.

  • JESSE JOHNSON
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    I am a flower fan. I would love to learn how to set a garden up to make them bloom spring thru fall. I have mainly spring flowers now

  • Diane
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    In the past, I planted mostly flowers; but I want to learn how to incorporate more foliage into my garden.

  • Joanna
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    I suppose that I would use this book to inform me of all the beautiful foliage plants that are available to use that I am not already aware of.

  • Esther
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    Foliage first! I remember watching Karen's class on Craftsy and being blown away by this totally novel (to me) idea that leaves, bark and stems could firm a year-round structure to a garden with flowers simply being an accessory! Now it's time to sort out my garden, the house being finally done, but I'm still very much a beginner so the book would be my essential support as I design it all.

  • Caryn Jennings
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    I am adding more interesting a varied plants as my garden evolves, it is a continuing process of finding the right plant for the right place and adding and editing which is part of the joy of gardening!

  • Corie
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    This is exactly what I've come to realize I need to do in my garden. Things get pretty bare-looking in the winter.

  • Ginger Barton
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    I'm guilty. Yup I focus on flowers first - LOL...it is immediate gratification. But that is in the past..I'm creating a new garden. With your advice in the book I will be able to create the "frame/background" of a beautiful garden.

  • DEBBIE RETTMANN
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    If I was "able to afford" a new yard, I'd start with foliage, then add flowers. I'd be using your book, as a "Guide", especially since you're from Seattle, WA, and we're in Klamath Falls, OR!!! Thank you for the chance!!!!

  • Anna Russell
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    Great read I love gardening and learning new tips

  • Joanna
    Comment added April 23, 2017Reply

    I guess I love flowers first, but the flowers show up so much better with beautiful foliage as a backdrop.

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