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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