by susan on November 7, 2011

Hello and welcome to my blog on gardening tips! My name is Susan Wheeler and my business is Green Design-Gardens to Live In, which is all about Landscape Design. I shall try to inspire you in some small way,  or at least give you some new ideas for your garden design, as well as plant tips that I hope will help you beautify your own gardens.

I am passionate about anything to do with plants, garden spaces and design and I hope that by using  my own garden images I can illustrate my points. As the season goes on, I will be putting up whatever is happening in my gardens that might be of interest.
Cheers, and Happy Gardening!
NOTE: all photos and text on this website/blog are copyrighted and may not be used without my written permission- Copyright © Susan E. Wheeler)


One of my favourites, the Hellebore,

Close-up of the Azalea “Schlippenbachia”
Rhododendron “Kimberley”- a lovely hot pink flower
The Royal Azalea “Schlippenbachia”

Well, finally, I am getting back to writing for my clients and friends who have been asking me, “When are you going to do a new post?”

I have now got some new ideas to share about some of the best plant combinations for your spring gardens…. Here are a few that I have done in my own gardens.

Across my back terraces, I have planted similar coloured Rhodos. They will bloom at about the same time, which is what you must consider for your designs. Above, you can see the Royal Azalea “Schlippenbachia” It is really one of the most beautiful because it first of all starts out with the lovely hot pink buds, and then, afterwards, the lime-green leaves will appear.

And, then one of the best plants to put near this plant is the one which is just below, and it is a Larix which is one of the few conifers that looses its leaves in the winter and gets lovely new spring-green ones right when the leaves are coming out on the Royal Azalea.

And then, another of the hot pink colours that I have added is the Rhododendron “Kimberley”.

In the close-up of the Azalea “Schlippenbachia” you can clearly see the new lime-green leaves. Beautiful!!!

And,  I would always have one of these Hellebores, see the first photo, above. It has that lovely Elizabethan “ruff” and its colour blends so very well with the new flowers of the Rhododendrons.










by susan on February 25, 2014

Good grief….this can’t be the West Coast !!!!!
Who can believe this snow????
Like  many of you, no doubt, I had thought that winter was behind us, but apparently not!
Unfortunately, here on the coast, we usually do end up with very wet snow and that is causing concern re: some of our plants.
Just take a look at my front garden, seen from the front porch.
The main problem is that this snow is just so very heavy and so once it begins to build up on the braches of almost any plant, there is a real danger of it either causing the branch to break or bend down almost to the ground. But, if you have the time and the energy, you can definitely make a difference in the outcome of this storm.
Here are some words of advice …. things that you can do if you really love your plants.
First of all, make sure that you have the proper clothing before you venture out… A long coat, high boots, a good hood and some “Hot Shots” or similar items to keep inside you mitts.
Then, using a broom, whack the branches of the plants from underneath.This is important, as you do not want to break them…!
I sometimes will put my broom on the trunk of a small tree and then simply try to shake it back and forth. ( This is where a really good hood comes in! )
It does seem somewhat of a Herculean task, as no sooner do you get the snow off than it begins to pile up, once again!
If you have plants that have a somewhat weeping habit, then I think that they are not quite so concerning. Why? Because even if their branches get bent way down, they will probably lift up enough once this heavy stuff gets off of their ‘shoulders.’
Below, you can see how mine look in sunnier weather.
Below, you can  see our ‘Blue Garden’ on the left of the drive. It is hard to realize that very soon it will be completely different. The  photo shows how this garden looks in early Spring..
Now, if you have a Thuja hedge, and if it is ‘winging out’, there are a couple of things that you can do to help.
First of all, I would always recommend that you buy the more expensive plants, Thuya occidentalis, ‘ Smaragd’  or ‘Emerald Green’, rather than the less expensive Thuya occidentalis, ‘Pyramidalis’. The Emerald Green hedge is quite a bit more compact and so does not cause as much trouble in this sort of weather.
However, even if you do have a lot of branches that are drooping way out, you can simply tie a cord on one end of the hedge and then, weave it in and out, and then, once you get to the end, come back again, out and in. You will have to be the judge as to how high up on your own hedge you will need to start this cord. ( I would definitely suggest that this job be undertaken when the weather is great….)
This method has worked very well for me and I would say that it is preferable to having to cut off a great deal of your hedge, once the better spring weather comes and you see all of the braches hanging out the sides.
And, finally, I would like to leave you with this final comparison, below.
Cheers, and I hope you will soon be enjoying your outdoor garden spaces!



by susan on December 23, 2013

Hello and Welcome to my Christmas Décor post….. unfortunately, I was only able to get this post done on my other blog at  and I apologize for the confusion! Simply click here and you will see the entire post. If you are interested, simply check out the other topic, as well, called Christmas Design-Indoor and Outdoor Planters  which has a post all about Winter Planters.


GARDEN DESIGN 101 (con’d)

by susan on June 21, 2013

Last week I had written an article, called “Garden Design- 101”, for West Coast Gardens, one of our finest local nurseries, here in the lower mainland of British Columbia, and I had promised to continue by writing more on this subject on my own blog. And so, here is a bit more about how to put plants together to provide interest with texture in the supporting “just green” plants nearby.
As I had said in that other article, the greenery can be quite interesting and by using different colours of just green, you can make the main focus, which is the flower, really stand out.
Below, you can see how this works, as this lovely Rhododendron “Ken Janeck”, although just a simple white colour, is enhanced by the many different greens and textures all around it. The garden path of large basalt stepping stones also leads the eye to this Rhodo. Some of the greens are very ‘blue’, some are lime green and the texture changes from the very tight new spring green of the slow-growing, dwarf, round Spruce on the left, to the very blue-green of one of my favourite Hellebores, Helleborus argutifolius  on the right, almost below the Rhodo.

Rhodo with colourful, supporting greenery.


More spring beauties, below…. if you have an opportunity to grow a Halesia tree, it will give you these very pretty white flowers in May. Nearby, try a large-flowered tree peony, as I have done here. The difference in the flower size is what makes these two plants interesting. Underneath, you might try some Sempervivum, ‘Hen and Chicks’. I have found that they will grow almost anywhere in my gardens that has brightness, but not necessarily full sun. Go on…. push the envelope a bit, and you may find that some plants will grow very well where you least expected!

The very pretty white flowers of the Halesia tree would pair well with a white tree Peony.


My very large-flowered white Peony.


There are many different Sempervivum or 'Hen and Chicks'. These plants grow in many different locations throughout my gardens. Their texture is always appreciated.


Beneath the Halesia tree I have this bright Hosta  below, which I think is Hosta ‘Patriot’. Once again, it picks up on the white colour scheme and has many shades of evergreen to support this whole garden. There are the large, pointy leaves of the Hellebores, which have a blue-green cast to them, and then the new lime-green growth of the Tsuga, (Hemlock) behind the large rock, ( another source of texture in the gardens.)
Hosta 'Patriot'

The bright white and green of this Hosta 'Patriot' emphasizes the white of the Halesia tree above.



Now, if you crave more real colour…. why not try this pink flowering Kalmia latifolia, (Mountain Laurel) below? This is such an underused plant, and it is really a shame because it is just so great! I have only seen one growing in a client’s garden. It was a mature specimen and was very lovely! The Kalmia will take more sun than the Rhododendrons, it is evergreen and it blooms a long time. It does require excellent drainage, and some moisture. Also, there are so many different flower ‘textures’ and the plants range from the dwarf sizes to much larger. I highly recommend this shrub.

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) is an underused but very desirable shrub. It provides early colour and the flowers last a very long time.

Close-up of Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)

All of the simply green plants set off the brightness of this pink Kalmia and help to bring your eye right to this little ‘garden gem’. Notice the textures… the very broad, round and shiny leaves of the evergreen Bergenia at the bottom, and the different plays of the many shades of blue-green plants in this garden.
Next year I intend to add one of these Kalmia to the garden where this mature Rhododendron lives. I think that the two colours go so well together.

A similarly coloured Rhododendron.


And, finally, I have decided to add these last two combinations…
This first one combines several different textures, from the spike-y, and very sharp Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’, (Blue Star Juniper) to the very lined and large blue leaf of this Hosta, below. (Even the leaves of this little rose definitely have a blue-green cast to them.) This lily is called ‘Lollipop’ and I have it planted right behind the white rose, as I do like to see the harmonious combination of the deep pink with the pale pink of this rose bud. If you do want to see interesting combinations in your own gardens, you must consider bloom times, of course.

Lily 'Lollipop' with a pink-budded white rose. Notice the many differnt 'blue' textures in the supporting greenery.

 And, then here is another of my favourite colour combos…. blue, green and white. This is one of my newest Japanese Irises. I think the lines are amazing! Here it is placed in front of a Fatshedera, which is a combination of two plants, Hedera helix, (Ivy) and Fatsia (Japanese aralia).

Look at those lines!! Wow! What a beauty... These Japanese Irises always amaze me. Note the complementary blue of the Ceanothus (California Lilac) to the right.

 And, to the right is one of my newer plants, the very cool Ceanothus griseus ‘Victoria’ (California Lilac). The blues of these two plants are just about perfect. The Iris has these really beautiful lines, and the Ceanothus is very round – such a nice contrast!

Well, that’s about it for now…. hope you have a few new ideas for your own gardens. Check in again, soon, and I’ll definitely have more photos and ideas to share from my own garden spaces.











It’s definitely that time of year once again, here on the West Coast of British Columbia to really start to get excited about our gardens. We have had an unusually mild winter, although it has certainly been very wet… but that is what we are known for, isn’t it?

My own gardens have now got about 80 Hellebores which are all starting to burst out, together with other lovely colours of the amazing Bergenia, the Heucheras, Skimmias and, of course, the Sorbaria. I will show you a few of the colourful plants that are now blooming in my gardens all around the house.

Of course, I am very partial to the Hellebores. Below, you can see what is coming up now at the edges of what I call the ‘Blue Garden’ which has quite a number of ‘blue’ conifers, from which it gets its name. The first image is of this garden in February, viewed from the street.

The 'Blue' Garden

The east side of the 'Blue' Garden

Beginnings in February...



A Rather Young Hellebore


These mainly white- coloured Hellebores do not have all that much pure colour, but they certainly become a focus in the quiet, somewhat dark, winter garden. Many of mine are coming up near evergreens which provide a very nice backdrop for their brightness.


A 'Light in the Forest'...


Notice the Centre


Many of these Hellebores have what I describe as an ‘Elizabethan Collar”. Some are absolutely frilly and coloured, but you really have to get down on your knees to actually see and appreciate it. A better way is to plant your Hellebores at the top of a stairway, or somewhere that you can look up into their lovely ‘faces’. Some of the newer varieties are now being propagated to have the flowers sit more upright. You can see what I mean with this next photo, although it is a different type of Hellebore but still more upright than the older types. This one, below, was given to us by dear friends in ‘Nicky’s’ memory. I have not yet decided exactly where I shall plant it but it will definitely be where we can see and appreciate it whenever we look outside.

Below, you can see this very lovely Hellebore that has flowers which are much more upright. It is a beautiful specimen, and we were so very glad to get it.


A Gift for ‘Nicky’…

A Gift for 'Nicky'


In a shady garden or on a dull day, ( read most of the winter here, on the Coast) white flowers are always the best to use as they draw your eyes right in to focus on the brightness. Below, you can see more of these ‘lights’.


Another 'Light'...


Hellebore at Garden's Edge


The Strong Pinks of a Double Hellebore

This particular Hellebore is quite new to my gardens. I think that this is only its third year, here. Each year the plants put out more and more flowers, if they have been planted where they are happy. I have one Hellebore that I have been growing for more than 10 years and it produces a very large and showy clump of pale pink flowers every year.



More Winter Colours – Sorbaria, Bergenia and others…
Although the flowers of the Hellebores have got to be the most appreciated, still there are several other plants that can provide colour in these sometimes dreary months. Below, are the interesting leaves of the Helleborus argutifolius, together with the blue of the Euphorbia myrsinites ‘Donkey’s Tail (Spurge).

The leaves of this Helleborus argutifolius, together with the blue Euphorbia myrsinites 'Donkey's Tail' (Spurge) provide interesting texture, as well as colour, in the winter garden.


One of the best plants for any season is the Bergenia cordifolia. Not only does it provide the garden with great colour all through the winter, sometimes turning almost fire engine red, it also puts out beautiful flowers in the spring. One problem, however….. these flowers seem to be ‘deer candy’…..!!


Bergenia's red-tinged leaves work well with the red buds of the Skimmia japonica 'Rubella'


Yellow leaves of an Acorus provide a bright spot of colour, all through the year.


This Acorus gramineus gives a cheery greeting to all who may be passing by on the street. It is one of the easiest plants to grow and the only downside is, that you must groom it in the spring and ‘comb out’ all of the old leaves. This is not so hard to do if you put on a pair of gloves that have those rubber gripping palms and then just pull through the leaves. Nothing seems to bother it in my gardens.


If you have large boulders in any of your gardens, make sure that they have plenty of soil all around the bottom of them. A large stone should look as if it has been buried, and as if it is just pushing up out of the ground, not as if some giant had just dropped it into your garden!! And, if you have any that are in some shade, you should be able to coax some moss or lichen to grow and give you this bright green colour in the colder weather.


Lichen and moss add bright colour all through the winter


And finally, here is a most beautiful plant, but….. be warned! It can become invasive, and so, I would suggest that you plant it in a large planter and make sure that the roots are not coming out of the drain hole and into your garden proper! But, just look at this colour, at this time of year!! It is really a treat to see the bright new growth. This is the Sorbaria sorbifolia.


MY GARDENING TIP:  Whenever I am not really sure how a new (at least new to me…) plant will perform, I grow it on for a while, either in the pot that I bought it in or potted on, into a slightly larger plain black pot. And then, I watch it! If I see that it is starting, rather quickly, to put up new shoots everywhere, especially near the edges of the pot, I know that it is one that ‘wants to escape!!’ Take heed, and only grow this one in a pot, and do not let it get into your garden…. or you may regret it.


The very beautiful Sorbaria sorbifolia... but can be invasive. Be warned!

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by susan on January 29, 2013

A surprising treat as I saw these beautiful blue berries on this Viburnum tinus

This past weekend, I stepped outside to see if I needed to water any of my plants that were underneath the large overhang that protects our back porch. I was trying to follow my own gardening tips ( see the post below…. ) and, sure enough, some of the plants in the large pots did need a drink. But what surprised me the most was my lovely Viburnum tinus. It was looking absolutely beautiful as it had these shiny navy berries all over it! It was raining ( what a surprise for us here, on the Coast? ) and the entire shrub looked so fresh and clean.


Even in the pouring rain this Viburnum tinus looked so cheery with its beautiful berries and new buds.

Now, I must admit that we have certainly had enough rain throughout this winter. It has also been a very mild winter, as well. And so I saw that there were quite a number of new blossoms about to burst out. Really, it felt like such a gift, as I had not been expecting anything so nice at the end of January.


Viburnum in the rain showing its lovely navy - blue berries.


A close-up of the blue berries and the newest buds almost ready to open.


The newest buds about to burst open as soon as it warms up a bit.


This is one of the plants that I would definitely recommend for beginners, as it stays evergreen, requires only a little pruning ( perhaps twice a year ), and some protection from very hot sun. It would definitely be a plant to incorporate into your spring landscaping ideas. Of course, the whole family of Viburnums are some of the loveliest shrubs for your home gardens.

One other thing that I am very keen to watch is the development of my many Hellebores. Several of them are just now beginning to pop up. Next post will be about Hellebores.





A Few Winter Gardening Tips…

by susan on January 15, 2013

Here is a gardening tip for your winter gardens although you are probably not anywhere near your outdoor plants these days, even if you do live on the West Coast…. ( but, I have to admit, we just got our first taste of real winter today, as it continued to snow for the whole day! ) Any plants that are under your house eaves or overhang, or on a covered porch area, do need to be given some extra care by way of watering. And so, if you do get a bit of a break in the temperature, and it goes above freezing, just take that opportunity to water those plants.
Here, on the West Coast, we have had so much rain that most people would not even think about watering!!!! but it is something to consider, as the roots of the evergreens especially, do need to have plenty of moisture. Evergreen shrubs can become dried out quickly when the cold winter winds begin to blow. Those winds can strip out the moisture so quickly that you might really need to give these plants a bit of special attention. And, if they have just been planted this past year, and have not, as yet, gone through a winter season, then they could be particularly vulnerable. Of course, I am assuming that you have provided your plants with excellent drainage, otherwise too much water collecting near their roots can be every bit as bad as not enough water!! It is a bit of a balancing act, to be sure. Below, you see two of my winter planters that are underneath an overhang. They definitely do need to be watered whenever the temperature goes above freezing. This is mainly a gardening tip for beginners. It is really just Gardening 101!!

Winter planter with Bergenia and Skimmia plants and cut boughs.


Lime green and red Christmas colours.


Two of my smaller planters that were on the front steps had become a bit dry and so, I carried them into the garage where they could warm up just enough so that the soil would thaw a bit and then I was able to give them a drink.  Larger planters do not need quite as much ‘fussing’ as these smaller ones, but these had become a little dry and so needed my help. I had put some beautiful Hellebores in them and so they certainly were worth saving.
Another winter gardening tip is that if you had done up some Christmas or winter planters earlier, with boughs, etc., they will keep looking good until spring if you keep the soil moist, when it is not freezing. And, again, as soon as it begins to warm up, keep the soil moist and they will be just fine. I have had mine go from November right through until April, and in fact, as you can see, below, these Hellebores continued to bloom for several months. These pink ones are Helleborus ‘Rosemary’, perhaps the longest to bloom.

One of the very best.....H. 'Rosemary'


Close-up of Hellebore 'Rosemary'


More “Garden Design – 101″…

by susan on July 1, 2012

Many of my clients have been asking for gardening tips for large planters, and so, here is a closer look at how I like to do large planters on my patio or in the Woodland Garden.

First of all, try to get the largest pot or planter that you can, as the plants will always do so much better in more space, especially if you are wanting to put in something that might want to live there, all year ’round. Many of my planters have at least one permanent ‘resident’.

Now, for me, the most important consideration is always colour. ‘Eye goes to colour’, and so I want to have my pots and planters, even the surrounding plants that are already in the gardens nearby, to harmonize with what I will be putting in my planters. However, you may wonder at all this talk about colour, because this first planter’s main colour is white. But of course, in a shady garden, which this is, white is like a light in the darkness, and it definitely gets the focus!

Below, you see the planter that I will now be referring to. It is on the Woodland Path and is quite large. It is one of the main focal points in this shady garden.


One of my large planters on the path in the Woodland Garden. Note the differences in leaf size and texture.


Now for the details….the white plants here, are Begonias and Diffenbachia. I love their different shapes. The glossy round-leaved plant is a Ligusticum which is a perennial, and it has been growing in this pot for about 5 years. See the close-ups of these plants, below.




Also in this planter are a Dracaena ( common name is Spike ), and a very large, lush fern.The photo, below shows the planter from the front view. It provides a very calm and serene feeling in this cool, quiet garden.


Perennials mixing with annuals. Cool white always draws the eye, especially in a shady area.









GARDEN DESIGN – 101 (con’d )

by susan on May 15, 2012

Well, now here are my thoughts continuing the “Garden Design-101” article which I wrote for White Rocks Best, the Online Lifestyle Magazine , where you can find many other articles that I have written dealing with garden design.

I had begun by saying that attention to detail can make all the difference between an ordinary garden and an amazing one. One of the most important details that I always first take into consideration is colour. ‘Eye goes to colour’ and without carefully thinking about your colour choices, your gardens will always have a feeling of ‘what do I look at first?’ If there are all colours going on everywhere, all at once, the scene is not going to feel serene nor ‘connected’.

Let’s consider the three main “greens” that play such an important part in Garden Design: the true greens, the yellow greens and the blue greens.

In the photo, below, which is of one of my paths in my Bellingham gardens, we can see that true greens predominate. But what makes it an interesting scene is that there are so many different textures of this same green. There are also so many different shapes, as well. The pointy, sharp tips of the fern,the contrast with the tiny round bits below it and then, the strong shapes of the Rhododendron, near the top of the bank. All of these details, in just shades of green, produce a serene atmosphere, but at the same time it is very inviting, never boring at all.


Pathway with mainly greens. The interest comes from the many different textures, leaf shapes and sizes.


GARDEN DESIGN – 101 ( with special colour tips…. )

May 11, 2012

My apologies to my readers from the Online Lifestle Magazine, White Rocks Best,(  where I also write articles, ) as I had promised a continuation of my article re: using the colours of true green in garden design, but life ( aka my own design business ) has become a tad busy just now, and I […]

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March 18, 2012

Well, I would have to say that one of the best things about this West Coast living is that we actually have flowers (!!) in the winter! Yep, it’s great! Below, are some close-ups of the flowers that are in my gardens, blooming now. I plant my Hellebores whenever it is possible, so that they […]

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WINTER FRAGRANCE…really? ( definitely here, in White Rock and South Surrey! )

February 15, 2012

Well, certainly here on the West Coast winter fragrance is a given! And these two plants, below, offer fragrance just when we need it most! Both of these plants have been blooming in my own gardens for about 3 or 4 weeks now, and as soon as a bit of sun appears, the fragrance wafts across the […]

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It’s Almost Hellebore Time…

February 8, 2012

Well, for those of us who live here, on the West Coast, the weather has taken an unexpectedly mild turn. This is good news, as long as it stays mild and we do not get a sudden hit of cold, nasty frost! However, I think that I am going to take the positive approach and […]

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January 12, 2012

Several of my clients have asked me for lists of my “best” plants and so, I have put together a soft-cover book, ” …the Best Trees, Shrubs and Perennials”,  for zones 5 to 8.  For more information scroll to the  bottom ad, on the right.

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December 22, 2011

Yes, why not have fragrance near your front entry! It is one of my favourite gardening tips and I do have fragrance at my own front door, even in December….The plant that I am referring to is Mahonia X media ‘Charity’. Mine, as seen below, is just about to open, as we have had a very […]

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December 9, 2011

These planters, below,   show how using live plants can add colour and interest during the coming winter months. In the first two, I have used Skimmias and Bergenias. The Skimmia buds will stay looking great, well into the early Spring. For colour, there is the dark red of the Leucothoe leaves, and they also add some […]

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November 24, 2011

My white Enkianthus was in great form this Autumn. It has only bloomed twice for me in about six years, but this autumn it was especially lovely. Look closely and you will see the woodland ‘spirit’,  quietly watching.

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November 7, 2011

  This beautiful Barberry has turned this amazing orange/red in November. It is one of the most brightly coloured plants for the late Autumn or early winter. It is complimented by the evergreen Bergenia which also turns colour. Some years, depending on the severity of the weather, the edges change to a bright wine or […]

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October 20, 2011

Well, where has the summer gone? However, here on the West Coast, it is really still very beautiful in the gardens. My Tuberous Begonias are still doing so well! I must admit that I am putting up my large umbrella overnight to help keep the morning dew from soaking them. If they become wet, as […]

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