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Regional Picks: Plant This With That – Northern California

Fine Gardening - Issue 152



‘Sea Jade’ phormium

Name: Phormium ‘Sea Jade’

USDA Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Phormiums are often the stars of my favorite drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen, showstopping-every-day-of-the-year combinations. ‘Sea Jade’, however, holds a special place in my heart, with its smooth and polished leaves, striking upright form, moderate size, and sophisticated colors. Its serene, olive green foliage punctuated with dusky plum stripes offers an understated yet elegant alternative to the bright and often garish colors of summer. Plus, hummingbirds adore the annual show of its otherworldly spires of garnet red flowers, which last for weeks at a time.




Jerusalem sage

Name: Phlomis russeliana

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Jerusalem sage’s bold, velvety, heart-shaped leaves are a welcome contrast—in both texture and shape—to those of the phormium. The flowers echo the phormium’s upright form, blooming on 2-foot-tall spires, covered with whorls of tight balls of yellow that last for months. To keep this beauty looking good year-round, keep voracious snails and slugs away from young plants and occasionally remove spent flowers.


Purple wood spurge

Name: Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’

Zones: 6 to 9

Size: 30 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Purple wood spurge’s slender leaves and stems are tinged with a deep burgundy that echoes the phormium’s stripes. The delicate flowers provide a soft contrast to the nearby spiky, structural shapes. Both the flowers and foliage put on a colorful show, emerging chartreuse in spring, transforming into deep tones of maroon through summer, then reverting to olive green in fall.




Orange sedge

Name: Carex testacea

Zones: 7 to 9

Size: 1 to 2 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

While many gardeners plant this tidy grass in full sun to bring out its vibrant orange hues, I prefer the softer shades of olive green and copper that it develops in partial shade. The orange highlights contrast nicely with the purple wood spurge’s burgundy foliage and complement the yellow blooms of the Jerusalem sage. With a gentle summer breeze, the wispy blades of orange sedge add movement to the garden.


Rebecca Sweet is a garden designer in Los Altos, California, and the author of the forthcoming book Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture, and Form.

Photos: Michelle Gervais; Rebecca Sweet;  Jennifer Benner;  Joshua McCullough/phytophoto.com; and Doreen Wynja. Illustration: Elara Tanguy, colorized by Bill Godfrey

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