Garden Photo of the Day

READER PHOTOS! Sara’s garden in California, revisited

A riot of color in the summer foliage garden, starring Cotinus 'Grace', Podocarpus elongatus 'Monmal', Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea', Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard', Lophomyrtus 'Black Stallion', Nandina domestica 'Gulfstream'. Click directly on the photo to enlarge it in a pop-up.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq

We’ve visited Sara Malone’s garden in Petaluma, California, twice before (refresh your memory HERE and HERE.) Both posts focused on how spectacular this garden looks in winter. Today, Sara’s giving us a glimpse of the garden in summer.

Midsummer brings the flowers of Lobelia tupa, which tower above the dwarf conifers and other foliage plants. If we’re going to have flowers, we go for drama!
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq

Sara says, “The conventional wisdom is that the foliage garden takes a back seat to floriferous displays in the summer months, but you can see from these images that Jan LeCocq took that there is a riot of color out there among the leaves! From reds through orange to yellow, on to purples, maroons, dazzling blues and, of course, green, the foliage lights up the landscape and provides a rich brocade of colors and textures.

Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ adds tremendous structure to the garden, softness is provided by the weeper in the rear (Cupressus cashmeriana), and Leucadendron ‘Jester’ and Phormium ‘Golden Ray’ add a punch of color.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq

“The garden features over 200 different conifer varieties as well as several dozen Japanese maples, a host of dwarf Ginkgo varieties, and many deciduous shrubs such as Viburnum, Fothergilla, Corylopsis and Hamamelis. To our delight, foliage varies throughout the seasons and provides something new almost every day. See more on our blog (”

Yup, just as gorgeous in sumer. Thanks, Sara and Jan!

Spirea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’ is a luscious lime green in summer, which together with the cool blue tones of Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ ease the summer heat.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
The house seen from the hill, through a mixed array of conifers and other foliage plants. An enormous array of color and texture are provided by foliage alone!
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
Leucadendron ‘Jester’, Phormium ‘Golden Ray’ and Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ provide a primary color display in mid-summer that is hard to beat!
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, Cotinus ‘Grace’, Spiraea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’, Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ and Phormium ‘Golden Ray’, with Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ in front.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
Cotinus ‘Grace’s burgundy foliage contrasts nicely with the mix of greens in this foliage bed.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
This foliage bed mimics a mixed flower border with its hues of greens, blues, yellows, reds, burgundies and turquoise.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq
The front of the house in summer, when the Wisteria floribunda is rich green, the Pennisetum orientale are in full bloom and the Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple is in full leaf with spent smoky blooms. The conifers continue to provide structure and interest.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Sara Malone/Jan Lecocq

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  1. trashywoman62 07/19/2012

    WOW, Sara!

    As a wannabe conifer connoisseur, I am drooling over your plantings! I love looking through pictures of unique Iseli nursery in Oregon. Your collection is amazing! As you say, the mixing of textures and colors provides interest without requiring a bloom to enjoyed.

    I am so envious of your climate. Here in Central IL the heat sometimes prevents a conifer from thriving no matter what care you give it. I am going to have to put one down this weekend if it cools off enough to dig him up, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurea'. So far the only casualty due to the drought this year...except my pocketbook from the water bill!


  2. trashywoman62 07/19/2012

    Hey Michelle, is there anyway you can get your web techs to make it so you can scroll thru the pictures instead of opening and closing each one? Sure would be handy when you want to go back and look through them again for a second or third time, like today. Or is it just my iPad? Don't recall if my desktop PC does the same thing or not. Just a thought...

  3. Plantcraze 07/19/2012

    Love all the color with the conifers! A garden that can go through the winter and please you is indeed important.Iseli Nursery has some really cool plants.I buy a few from them every year to add to my garden and they carry my garden !Great Job!!!!!

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/19/2012

    Sara, I am awestruck with how stunning and sublimely pleasing these groupings of plants are. Not to overly gush (oh, who am I kidding, yes, I am going to gush), you are the Michelangelo of conifer gardening. Each picture is a mini college course in placement, spacing and harmony of colors and textures. Sigh, those paths are meant for meandering...slowly taking in all the sensory saturating delights.
    And, my oh my, that weeping blue atlas that frames your porch entry way is amazing. Please share how old it is and was that your vision for it from the very beginning?

  5. Jay_Sifford 07/19/2012

    Now this is my kind of garden! It's just amazing. I'm all about creating contrast with foliage shapes, textures and colors.. you have just made me one very happy person on this Thursday morning. I will definitely go back over these photos when I have more time. Congrats on creating such a paradise. Your hard work and keen eye for detailed design certainly comes through.

    I love your blue atlas cedars framing the front porch entryway. That is arguably my favorite tree. Thanks for sharing!

  6. terieLR 07/19/2012

    Scrolling through the pictures would be great Regina...
    As I was watering early this A.M. I was making mental note to plant more shrubs in place of the numerous repetitive perennials. (I have been tied to the hose all summer) Your gardens are just what I needed to see today Sara! I certainly see why you choose maga-flowers for drama. Love the Lobelia tupa. Great plant choices for a spectacular display.

  7. cwheat000 07/19/2012

    Different and lovely. Great use of foliage. That said, I would love to see a close up of that amazing flowering Lobelia tupa. Beautiful.

  8. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/19/2012

    To terieRL, I smiled reading your reference to suffering from what I call "summer hose attachment syndrome". I think many of us identify with this seasonal medical condition. I was joking with a friend the other day that I felt like I was in training for what should be a new Olympic event...Competitive Hose Dragging...I think my highly developed skills could make me a medal contender especially if they offered a senior division!

  9. GardenerGM 07/19/2012

    The colors! The textures! The forms! Wow!!!

  10. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/19/2012

    So beautiful. Lauren Springer's book taught me long ago that foliage really has to carry the garden, however in these photos it is the main event!

  11. Formandfoliage 07/19/2012

    Hi all - Meander, the blue atlas cedars (Cedrus libani var. atlantica 'Glauca Pendula' - there's a mouthful!) were planted as 15 gallons in December 0f 2005, and yes, that was my vision for them. They were about 4' tall at the time, trained in serpentine form. I continued that serpentine shape until they got tall enough to begin to train over the door. They just 'met' last year - now I have to work to keep them from overtaking the entry, but they are amenable to pruning. The key with pruning woody plants is to do it a bit at a time and don't get behind. Mercifully it is right there at the front door so I don't forget about it! Trashywoman - I believe that there are a lot of conifers that will grow - even thrive - in the midwest. The American Conifer Society just held its annual meeting in Michigan and everyone was complaining about the heat. If you join the ACS (very modest membership) you'll have access to their regional groups who can help you with what would grow well in your area.
    The Lobelia tupa is a real drama queen, and one of the few plants that I have that goes dormant in winter. The foliage, when it reawakens in February, is beautiful, so it only misses a couple of months of contributing to the garden. Sorry we don't have a closeup!

  12. sheila_schultz 07/19/2012

    Sara and Jan... my jaw drops everytime I see photos of your gardens. They are more than spectacular, perfection is the word that comes to mind. And Meander1 and TerieLR, I'm so happy I am not the only one that seems to be permanently attached to a hose... Yikes!

  13. Happily_Gardening 07/19/2012

    Absolute tranquility!

  14. olympic_mtn_gardener 07/19/2012

    Another great example of how a truly talented person can create a stunning garden with attention to contrasting foliage shapes, textures and colors. More inspiration!

    To all of you with “summer hose attachment syndrome”: I’m mildly jealous, as I do not yet suffer from that syndrome this year. We have had a really cool, wet year--drizzled all day yesterday, and it is currently 54 degrees and foggy!

  15. priscilla_zone5 07/19/2012

    Sarah + Jan, You 2 have created quite a lush garden oasis in Ca! It's most inspiring to this conifer admirer who greedily wants them all. Many thanks for labeling all the cultivars so I can check out what will grow here in zone 5.

  16. Formandfoliage 07/19/2012

    Thanks again, all! It is fun to share the gardening experience, and those of you in lower zones (Regina and Priscilla for example) can grow a lot more conifers than you might think - many are indigenous to parts of the world that experience wide temperature extremes.

    We are not pulling hoses here in CA this year - we have a weather pattern more similar to Olympic Mtn Gardener - but we sympathize, as our climate never has any summer water! One year, before I installed my drip irrigation, I didn't go to the gym for weeks because I was pulling hoses full of water all over my hill...

    Vojt - I just looked up Lauren Springer and will have to get some of her books. Is there one in particular that you recommend?


  17. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/19/2012

    Lauren Springer's The Undaunted Garden was my garden bible for years. One of the few gardening books that I actually read as well as look at the pictures. Even though she gardens in Colorado, it was very relevant to gardening in the midwest with a few tweaks! Gorgeous blog, by the way!

  18. Jay_Sifford 07/19/2012

    Vojt, I looked up Lauren Springer on Amazon and ordered that book and another one that sounded really interesting to me. Thanks for recommending her.

  19. pattyspencer 07/20/2012

    Totally love all the different textures and forms - it all comes together as eye candy for me. Love it!

  20. Formandfoliage 07/20/2012

    Jay and Vojt - I just ordered 'The Undaunted Garden'. Thanks!

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