Euphorbia euphoria

E. ceratocarpa & The Prince roseThis weekend my garden will be one of several featured during the 5th annual Garden Bloggers Fling Garden Tour.

Am I nervous having my personal garden shown to 75+ of our country’s most amazing, talented, and influential garden bloggers?  Uh…YES!

So every day this week I’ve been working in my garden, trying to keep up with what Mother Nature has been dishing out (crazy winds, rain, and 100 degree temps – all within a single week)!

While my roses are now shriveled by the heat and my delicate annuals have been blown to smithereens, my euphorbias look fantastic – seeming to take it all in stride.

Despite the fact that their stems leak a sticky white sap that can cause rashes and possibly blisters, they’re one of my Top 10 favorite plants.

Why?  Because they’re extremely drought tolerant, they’re awful tasting to gophers, deer & rabbits (thanks to the irritating sap), and they bloom for several weeks at a time.

The only thing that these plants hate is over watering.  It’s crucial to  give them really good drainage so they don’t develop root rot – the #1 cause of death.

When the flower stalks (which are actually ‘bracts’) start to turn a light tan color, it’s time to prune them.

Instead of cutting everything to the ground in a bad haircut sort of way, I prefer to judiciously prune out the old stalks a few at a time to make way for the new ones that are growing at the base of the plant.  If you do it this way, your plant will look good for most, if not all, of the year.

Below are some of my  favorites and how I like to use them in my garden.

 1.  Creating unusual color echoes

In my book, Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form I write a lot about using a plant’s subtle details to create unusual color echoes in the garden.  Euphorbias are some of my favorites to use for this purpose.

Euphorbia martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Not only are the stems and foliage of this variety tinged with soft shades of pink and yellow, but its flower bracts are just as colorful.  In fact, it’s the flower’s blue variegation and the raspberry colored ‘eye’ that were the inspiration for pairing it with nearby Echeveria imbricata (Hens n Chicks) and a magenta colored Nemesia.

This is a lovely little euphorbia, growing to a manageable 2’x2′, making it an ideal choice for the front of a border.  It’s hardy down to zone 6a and appreciates a little afternoon shade.

'Ascot Rainbow'

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’

Another favorite euphorbia for creating color echoes as its subtle maroon colors change throughout the year from olive green to light maroon.

As if that isn’t enough, the flowers will emerge in early spring in shocking shades of chartreuse which add much needed color to a newly emerging garden.

In this bed, I pulled out the dark peachy-coral colors from the aging flower bracts and echoed them with surrounding Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’ and a ‘Chantilly Peach’ Antirrhinum majus (from Annie’s Annuals).

Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea'

2.  Adding motion using a plant’s form

Another somewhat elusive element in the garden is something I call ‘visual motion’.  I’m not talking about literal motion, like the swaying grass on a breezy day, but a plant that gives the illusion of movement without any breeze whatsoever.

Euphorbia myrsinites is one of my favorites for this purpose, creating twirly excitement wherever you plant it.

Sprawling to just 1′ high x 3′ wide, its perfect scrambling over the sides of a window box or cascading over a stone wall.

Once the blooms are spent, just prune it to the ground and it’ll quickly push out new growth again over and over again throughout the year.

Euphorbia myrsinites

3.  Adding a contrasting color

With the majority of plants falling within shades of green, it’s important to include those with contrasting foliage colors to help them stand apart from their neighbors.  Euphorbias are an ideal choice, with foliage in shades of steely blue, light maroon, deep burgundy, silver, and variegated.

Euphorbia ‘Glacier Blue’

With its silver variegation, this euphorbia commands attention wherever you place it.  When nestled against dark green foliage, such as the Cestrum newellii and Oakleaf Hydrangea, the creamy white flowers of this euphorbia takes on a silvery tone which adds an exciting pop of color.

This variety grows to 3’x3′ and can take a substantial amount of shade compared to the others mentioned above.

Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue'

Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

Probably the deepest, darkest burgundy colors of all, this euphorbia is one of my favorites for adding dramatic, shadowy colors in the garden.

I’ve found it to be a bit more temperamental than the others, particularly susceptible to root rot as a result of too much water, but well worth the effort. Growing to 3’x3′, full sun will bring out the darkest maroon colors.

Euphorbia 'Blackbird'

Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’

I can’t write a post about euphorbias and not include the gorgeous blue foliage of ‘Wulfenii’.  A freely reseeding variety (which translates into ‘plant one and you’ll have them for life!’) I’ve seen ‘Wulfenii’ growing to a towering 4’x4′.

And when covered with its acid-yellow blooms in early spring, it’s a show-stopper.

In fact, every spring I’m guaranteed to have new clients describe ‘the most amazing Dr. Seuss-like plant with chartreuse orbs’ and I always know exactly what they’re talking about.

Euphorbia 'Wulfenii'Euphorbia wulfenii

Have I left any of your favorite varieties out?  If so, please let me know – I’m always on the hunt for another one to try in my garden!

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  • I’m going to bookmark this post! It was an honor to visit in person, but really fun to learn more about the plants and design history.

    • It was so nice to visit with you, Linda – you always make me laugh and smile! Maybe one of these days I’ll wind up in YOUR backyard – wouldn’t that be fun!!!???

  • This is beautiful Rebecca. It is interesting that I am also using most of what you mentioned but my garden never looks as great as yours. I love Euphorbias. Thanks for the tour.

    • I don’t believe you at all, Laura! I’ve personally heard from others (Debra included!) that your garden is stunning! One of these days I must see it in person!! 🙂

    • Loved seeing you, too, Dee. I’m just so sorry we were practically melting during our visit!! 😉

  • I saw your garden on a good garden blog, gardeninacity so thought I’d come over and see what the gossip was! Love the euphorbias! A great dash of form and color! I’ve never had much luck with them, which makes me covet them all the more! Your garden is a delight – a very happy garden!

    • Hi Jayne! I’m glad you enjoyed my garden – and for the heads-up that my garden was written about on another blog. What a nice surprise! Some euphorbias are definitely hardier than others, so I hope you find a few that are hardy in your area. The little ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is so beautiful in a container or window-box, maybe you’ll have better luck there than planting in the ground? Fingers crossed for you! 🙂

  • I absolutely love the picture that accompanies 1. How sweet to see the ladybugs nestled inside little flower cups.

    • Thanks Diane! Those little ladybugs were eating the buffet of aphids that were all over my plants. Fat and happy, for sure!

  • Your the kinda girl who always said she didn’t do well on the test then got the highest grade! I know your garden blew them away….. You shoulda been sitting here all week end, it was torture and without one cold beer to sustain me. I felt like your roses. B

    • Hi Brent – ha! I can only imagine the hell you were in out there. Truly, one of the most miserable weekends of weather we’ve had in a long time!!

  • Hello Rebecca,
    great article, I like the all the plants you mentioned. I am sure your garden tour went great, We had a garden tour on yesterday am with 35 people from the Valley of the Moon garden club. If you have any photos of your event, would love to see!!

    Best wishes always,


    • Hi Sabrina – so glad to hear your tour went well! (though that doesn’t surprise me at all – who wouldn’t love your garden!!)

  • What a wonderful post! I began including Euphorbias in my garden 2 years ago when I moved into a new house with lots of sun exposure my former home didn’t have. I’m trying ‘Ascot Rainbow’ this year and, so far, I’m very happy with it. However, my current favorite is one you didn’t mention, ‘Dean’s Hybrid’. It’s foliage is softer than those you mention, almost fern-like, but it also produces masses of bright chartreuse bracts.

    Best wishes for a great Bloggers’ Fling open house (or rather, garden). I’m envious of their itinerary, including the opportunity to see your garden in person!

    • Thanks so much, Kris! I’ve tried Dean’s Hybrid a couple of times and I must be doing something wrong because I’ve killed both of them. 🙁 You’re right – it’s so beautiful with its ferny foliage – very different than the others. Maybe I’ll try again – third times a charm, right? And if its any consolation, while the Bloggers Fling was fantastic, it was a steamy 95 degrees in my garden. VERY hot!

  • Once again, Rebecca, you have given me food for thought.
    I do love Euphorbia’s, and like you I’m drawn to them because their texture, color and shapes are perfection for a foliage freak, but… 5 years ago I planted one of the small varieties, can’t remember the name. It was magnificent and reseeded like a maniac. I ended up ripping it out because it was invading my small rock + garden space, and I’m still finding hopeful seedlings every spring.
    That said, this year I used Ascot Rainbow in my Spring containers and then planted them to bare spots in one of my beds. Am I a glutton for punishment? Probably. Do I love these plants? Yep! The Garden Bloggers that are visiting your garden are in for a treat… who needs roses and annuals anyway???

    • Those pesky re-seeders (I think ‘Wulfenii’ is the worst, don’t you?) are definitely something to think about when planting. Every year I have the Wulfenii popping up everywhere. But I’m thinking the Ascot Rainbow isn’t as prolific? I haven’t had any reseed in my garden – yet. And I haven’t had any ‘Blackbirds’ reseed either. And you’re right – who needs roses and annuals. ha! I sure with you were coming, Sheila. Even though you’re not a blogger, we’d definitely have fun!!!

  • I’m very much looking forward to seeing your garden this weekend during the Fling. I really enjoyed this post about some of your favorite Euphorbias.

    • I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person, Alison! Hopefully it won’t be too hot this weekend – I’ll make sure to have plenty of iced tea for everyone. 🙂

  • The photos of the beautiful roses have me longing to garden in the Bay Area again. Here in Wisconsin I’ve resorted to planting mostly shrub roses as they tend to winter over better. But even the shrub roses took a hit this year, so I’m searching for some options to replace them. It sounds like your book should provide some helpful ideas as we make adjustments to our maturing options over the years. I will be looking forward to picking up a copy soon.

    If these photos are any indication of what your fellow bloggers can look forward to seeing, they are certainly in for a real treat. Wish I was joining them. (I love Euphorbias too and enjoy seeing the variety of options you’ve highlighted here.)

    Looking forward to hearing about your weekend with your fellow bloggers.

    • Hi Sue, Thank you so much for the kind words. They mean a lot to me. I’m sorry your roses have taken such a beating. Mine are just limping along this year – except for my Fourth of July and Sally Holmes. Nothing stops those two! And yes, my new book will certainly help you deal with an aging garden, giving it a little ‘oomph’. I wish you were joining the bloggers as well – I could send you home with a few euphorbia seedlings!

  • Love this article! Thanks for the good suggestions and great pictures. Now, where can I put that twirly one?

    • You’re so welcome, Jo! Hmmm…I’m thinking the twirly one might look nice cascading around the base of your new rose arbor?


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