Spring Accent Plants ~

Here’s a sampling of accent plants in my backyard doing fun spring things…

I love this time of year. Well enough into the year to see leaves at their fullest size, but not far enough to see damage from insect, sun, or disease—all those things that say, ‘Yep, this ain’t spring no more.’

But not yet. Today we celebrate clean, unsullied, pristine spring-


Dwarf Iris. One of the odd perennials that won’t bloom unless repotted.


Sword fern (right) and Lady fern. Both of these were volunteers, I rather liked their placement. Free beauty always accepted (if well placed…)


Coral Bell, a saxifrage. Dug out of my front yard. Been blooming nonstop for about four weeks.


A rush, and a number of Giant Helleborine orchids coming up.


Juncus and Giant Helleborine in a lump of roots. Later there are usually some spiral orchids popping up in this one.


Twin flower (the thing snaking off to the left), which isn’t blooming yet. This one I planted in there. The saxifrage, the upright thing, blew in from somewhere so I kept it. It doesn’t eat much. Or snore. Adoption can be a good accent plant policy…but only if it adds to and enhances the design.


Sword fern, Licorice fern, and Fragile fern growing on a mound. I think this was a chunk of bark I broke off with ferns in it years ago. Ferns are nearly indestructible. They fall in with cockroaches and things like that.


Collected this years ago, not sure what it is. Makes a very simple, innocuous accent that can be quite useful in display.


I was so surprised to see succulents and ferns growing naturally together when I collected them, near the coast. Just seemed like an oxymoron.


Evergreen penstemon with an indigenous small fern called Parsley fern (bright green) and Polytrichum moss.


Evergreen penstemon about to bloom (purple dot) and Sword fern. Lava. Wood. Painted backdrop. Bobby out of the picture to the right, preparing another accent plant to shoot. Lunch in about 30 minutes.


Collected this in the mountains a couple years back, not sure what it is. I do like using pots with some green in them sometimes, like this olive colored one. It can often show off the foliage and make it a brighter, more accurate, green.


A rush in a Gary Wood pot. Gary is tall…the rush is tall…do other people make decisions this way?


A rush, a grass, and a hiding (rather shy) orchid. The ‘pot’ is a lid from a rice bowl. It has a nifty steam hole in it so, in this orientation, excess water drains out. Perfect!


Hawkweed. Once, long ago, I made the mistake of accepting one of these from Boon Manakitivipart, and its progeny have been pestering me ever since. It’s pretty though. Bright yellow. I don’t remember planting it in here, I think it moved in and slaughtered whatever was peaceably growing there. Only the strong survive in my yard.


Dwarf Iris. The pot is boat shaped, so it’s not actually on there askew, the pot is just built weird. Blame the potter. I do every day. (I made it.)


Fern, heather, huckleberry.


A small clumping Saxifrage and a curious spidery non-thalloid liverwort, possibly a Porella. At any rate, it’s a green terrestrial cryptogam.


Vetch, grass, Giant Helleborine, and a yellow flowered thing that blooms in the summer. With older, fuller accent plantings such as this, often our most powerful design choices are by subtraction with a scissors. There was an ugly poof of grass growing off the top of this one, before this photo was taken.


Lily of the Valley. (Mary was busy elsewhere). Curiously, these all grew pointing left. Or right, depending on where you’re standing.


Nice tall Lady ferns! A few tiny Licorice ferns near the bottom, too. This accent is beginning to look old, with fern growth adding bumpy mounding from year to year, roots pushing it out of the pot, moss growing down the sides—all things we want in an accent plant. Many accents such as this are not repotted more than once every 10 years.


One of my favorites this spring. Very springy and wild-looking. Actually, of the four things in here, I only planted three. The saxifrage (blooming) decided (without asking) that this was home. Fair enough.

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  1. Ann Mudie says:

    I’m just starting to develop my own accents plants so this is really interesting, and your comments are so ……. well ……unique really – ha ha! Thank you Michael.

  2. Gregory Andrews says:

    You crack me up. I’m Greg from mobile bonsai society. I told Joe day I was following your blog. He’s a great human being! Keep up the hilarious but very important information for us just begging to get crazy! Or am I crazy for bonsai? Greg Andrews

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Peter says:

    Really nice accent plants…number 12 looks like a vaccinium from the photo….?

  4. Ray says:

    Very nice Michael, as always

  5. OceanKin says:

    Hey Michael~ What do you recommend for California Juniper? A CA poppy would be cool, but . . . ?

    • crataegus says:

      There are a lot of interesting perennials that grow in the deserts where California juniper grow, might consider some of them. Interesting grasses, succulents etc. You might even go with an object, like a bronze of a small tortoise or coyote something like that. Think arid land plant/animal, or a stone that evokes the landscape where they are found.

  6. Sage Smith says:

    Pure plant pornagraphy. Thank you so much for sharing. As always. And absolutely superb article in Bonsai Focus as well.

  7. justin says:

    Cool accents. Does your unknown plant ever flower or fruit? I’m going to guess either Crataegus douglasii or Amelanchier alnifolia which some of us call the Saskatoon berry. You probably have a less Canadian sounding name for it.

    • crataegus says:

      Not a hawthorn, I have suspected serviceberry or juneberry (as we call it here) but the buds are not convincing me. I prefer your name though. Saskatoon berry sounds like a hero of a botanical comic strip or something. Possibly female.

  8. These are outrageous ! I am intrigued by these amazing living sculptures. How do you establish these and care for them ? I love the Iris, but am even more drawn to the ferns and moss. Can you offer a link to a previous post showing the process ? Thank you for sharing these beautiful spring accents . 😊

    • crataegus says:

      Oh wow, that’s a long answer, how to establish them and care for them. Unfortunately I’ve never done a post about creating them, but I appreciate the hint, and I’ll give that and a post about caring for them a think. Glad you like them.

      • That would be a huge blessing, if you would take time to do that. If you do a post on creating them, I would love your permission to re-blog it. Best wishes for a great weekend! WG/Elizabeth

  9. Graham says:

    Hi Michel,
    “Collected this in the mountains a couple years back, not sure what it is”
    Saskatoon (distinctive white flowers on the outward ends of branches) is a low elevation species up this way.

    Which mountain range and what elevation could narrow it down some…..if in the coastal ones then … I’m leaning towards the Vaccinium family and we have many subalpine/alpine ones to choice from; Alaskan/ alaskaense, Black huckleberry/membrabaceum, oval-leaved blueberry/ovalifolium, dwark blueberry/caespitosum,
    Regardless….. some great accents and imagination on containers.
    Cheers G.

    • crataegus says:

      Appreciate the thoughts! Embarrassingly, I’ve never spent even 5 minutes trying to look it up. It’s from the Cascades, inland.

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