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Favorites in a Terraced Garden

Pete Wallenborn shares some of his favorite plants in his sloped southeastern garden.

Located in back of his home on a wide residential street in Asheville, N.C., Pete Wallenborn's garden consists of three steep slopes crisscrossed by stone steps and narrow paths, all leading from street level to a flat area in a ravine below. Inspired by visits to Butchart Gardens in Vancouver, B.C., the ear, nose and throat surgeon designed the area at the bottom of the garden to reflect the style of the famous Canadian quarry garden, with informal grassy paths surrounded by conifers and shrubs chosen for their leaf color and texture.

Wallenborn describes his garden as "a crazy quilt of color on three levels." Along the driveway leading to the back of the house, he has planted variegated boxwoods, evergreen daphnes and an assortment of conifers interspersed with perennials and flowering shrubs. Further down one of the slopes is a bower formed by the branches of kousa dogwoods. The view from the landing below this area looks out over a sea of burgundy Japanese maples, more dogwoods, conifers of every hue of green and a beautiful pink cascading rose. On all of the slopes, Wallenborn has carved out sitting areas and placed benches, chairs and tables in various styles.

At the very bottom of the garden, colorful barberries (both burgundy and lime green) are planted among conifers, purple smoke trees, 'Annabelle' hydrangeas and magenta Lychnis coronaria. Structures in this area include a playhouse (which is actually filled with garden tools) and a child-sized, rustic pavilion Wallenborn built for his three daughters.

Wallenborn's rock work — featuring walls, steps and accents between plants — and his choice of conifers in deep greens, chartreuse and blue are important elements of this garden. In late summer he harvests brilliant dahlias of all shapes and sizes which he enjoys taking to his office and to his patients in the hospital.

Some of Pete's favorite plants include:

Golden bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart').
Gardeners are familiar with the traditional two-toned pink version. This, a recent introduction from England, 'Goldheart' is a white-flowering, yellow- and lime-green foliage form of the old-fashioned bleeding heart. In spring a line of white flowers dangle from horizontal, arching stems. Native to Japan, the common bleeding heart is an herbaceous perennial that is hardy from USDA Zones 2 to 8. The plant grows from 18 to 36 inches tall and blooms in spring.
How to use it: To get the best contrast for the foliage, plant next to a dark evergreen — a dwarf conifer, boxwood or even a tight clump of dark green hosta.
Cultivation: Plant in semi-shade in moist, well-drained soil. Divide in spring.
Source Hallson Gardens

Golden Siberian dogwood or Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Aurea'). This is one of the hardiest of all shrubs, performing well to Zone 3 but languishing in the heat of the southeastern U.S. Grown primarily for its foliage, this multi-stemmed dogwood is native to Siberia, Manchuria and northern Korea. The leaves of 'Aurea' are suffused with soft yellow. Fall color is birch yellow. In winter the stems become blood-red. Ultimate height is 8 to 10 feet with a variable spread of 5 to 10 feet.
How to use it: Best in a shrub border with other plants for contrast. In winter or summer Cornus alba 'Aurea' would look its best against dark evergreens. Red stems are beautiful in cut arrangements.
Cultivation: Joy Creek Nursery

Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata). Dating back to prehistoric times, this unique pyramidal conifer has the look of the tropics, but is hardy to Zone 4. The soft foliage appears in whorls at the end of the branches and is a dark, glossy green. The needles radiate around the stems, creating an umbrella effect. Cones are two to four inches long and are green the first year and brown the next. This distinctive evergreen is native to Japan where it grows on steep, rocky slopes. It's a very slow grower; mature height in most landscape situations is 20 to 30 feet and almost as wide but can grow much taller (more than 100 feet) in the wild.
How to use it: A gorgeous specimen tree, the Japanese umbrella pine also blends well with other trees and shrubs and is excellent on slopes. The cut branches are long-lasting in water.
Cultivation: Prefers rich, moist, acid soils and a sunny, open location. Protection from harsh winds and the hot western sun is advisable.
Source: Bethlehem Nursery

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). Native to Japan, the kousa dogwood resembles the American native dogwood, (Cornus florida) in that the green leaves are of a similar shape and size and the tree has red fruit. But the kousa dogwood carries its creamy white bracts in showy inflorescences along the tops of its horizontal branches, and the bracts appear after the tree has leafed out. The fruit is pinkish red to red on a two-inch long pendulous stalk. This deciduous dogwood blooms about a month (May or June) after Cornus florida. 'Milky Way' and 'Summer Stars' are very floriferous cultivars of Cornus kousa. Kousa dogwoods are hardy to Zone 5. The trees are more floriferous in cooler areas. Grows slowly to 20 feet or more.
How to use it: As a specimen tree to enjoy the unusual, layered branch structure and the showy flower bracts in late spring.
Cultivation: Plant in well-drained, acid soil in sun to filtered sun.
Source: Nature Hills Nursery

Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara 'Sunsprite'). Deodar cedars are fast-growing evergreens, reaching 40 to 70 feet (maybe larger in the wild). Broadly pyramidal when young with gracefully pendulous branches, the species has grayish green to blue needles. 'Sunsprite' is a yellow form. Deodar cedar is native from the Himalayas to eastern Afghanistan.
How to use it: Plant against a dark evergreen backdrop to enjoy the yellow needle color and graceful habit of this conifer.
Cultivation: Deodar cedar prefers a well-drained soil in a sunny location with protection from sweeping winds.
Source: Roslyn Nursery

—Martha Tate is co-executive producer of Gardener's Diary.

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