Saturday, March 19, 2011

Echoes of Color

One of the challenges and also the greatest satisfactions in gardening may be in creating pleasing plant combinations which together have a greater impact than the individual plants. We’ve covered color theory in a previous post, but I have one more concept to offer. This is a concept that can be used in any type of color scheme to increase the odds of success.

The concept is simple but practically foolproof. When you are seeking a perfect partner for a plant, look for a different plant which matches or “echoes” the dominant color on the imagefirst plant. The most obvious match will be flower to flower. Make sure that the size and/or shape of the flowers are very different.  In this example, you can see that the asiatic lilies, Papaver orientale ‘Pizzacato’ and Helianthemum ‘Dazzler’ all have brilliant scarlet blooms, but the shapes and sizes of the flowers are varied, providing plenty of interest.

imagePossibly the second most obvious color echo would be flower to foliage. The foliage can belong to another blooming plant, grass, foliage plant, shrub, or tree. In this serendipitous pairing, the petals of Rosa ‘Golden Celebration’ pick up the amber autumn of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum leaves. IMG_0012

  Foliage to foliage is still a color echo. Foliage comes in an astounding array of colors and variegations. For an unusual combination, check out the mahogany winter foliage of Rhododendron ‘Thunder’  with  Geranium ‘Expresso’ and Heuchera ‘Mocha Mint.’ (Anyone else have a sudden urge to visit Starbucks?) image

Another possible echo would be flower (or foliage) to stem. This is a little more subtle; the burgundy stems of Sedum ‘Matrona’ pick up the tones of the shaggy Acer palmatum ‘Ever Red’ foliage. The tight pincushion blooms of scarlet Knautia macedonica echo the red stems of Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Rainbow’.    image

Don’t forget echoes of petal to stamen; in this simple but effective combo the yellow stamens of the Aster fritarkii  ‘Wonder of Staffa’ echo the golden petals of crocosmia ‘Gerbe d’Or’.

I’m sure your mind is racing with possible pairings. Don’t hesitate to pick a bloom and wander about your garden looking for color echoes. Perennials are easy to move!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Color, Theoretically

Color is a crucial element of garden design and, perhaps, what most people notice first in the garden. Like all design, color preference is very personal. As you read about gardening and visit gardens, you will begin to develop an eye for how colors harmonize and contrast and what you personally find appealing.

To choose colors that provide both interest and harmony, use the Color Wheel you first encountered in elementary school. You will probably remember that the primary colors: red, blue and yellow can be mixed to form the other 9 colors on the wheel. The secondary colors derive from the primary: red and blue make purple; blue and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. Tertiary colors are a mix of adjoining primary and secondary colors.Hot Colors

The reds, yellows and oranges are termed “hot colors” and are generally considered to be energizing and exciting. Hot colors tend to pop out at you. Cool colors are the blues, greens and purples and are thought to be calming and serene. Cool colors tend to recede.

Of course, in nature there are infinite gradations and variations of color. Two other concepts are useful in combining colors in the garden. The first, intensity, is the purity or saturation of a color. When a pure hue is diluted with white, it becomes a tint. If black is added to a hue it becomes a shade. A tone is a hue that is dulled by gray.  Shades and tones tend to recede; tints can wash out in full sun. When combining plants of different colors it is best to select the same intensity. A saturated color will tend to negate the impact of another color of less intensity. Color combinations of similar intensity will be  more satisfying.

Value is the second concept and cimagean be defined as the lightness or darkness of a color. Yellow is the lightest (lowest value) and violet is the darkest (highest value). Your eye is naturally drawn to the lowest value first. To get a real sense of how color values are placed, study a black and white photograph of your garden.

Color schemes can be either harmonious or contrasting. Harmonious combinations include adjoining positions on the color wheel. A monochromatic scheme uses various shades, tints and tones of a single hue. This is a simple but subtly sophisticated approach that is orderly and focused. Variations in size, shapes and imagetextures prevent monotony.

Analogous schemes combine several colors that are positioned together on the wheel. These colors naturally blend since they share primary colors. It is relatively easy to produce a pleasing combination even with vibrant colors.

imageThe contrasting color schemes can be a little more challenging. Complementary colors are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. This is a vibrant and exciting look with a lot of visual tension; it can be jarring if colors are at full saturation. A split complementary scheme uses a base color plus the two colors adjoining its complement. The visual tension is reduced but the contrast is still strong. Photo0199

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to using color. Practice produces satisfaction, but you may be hesitant to experiment. If you love a color scheme represented in a painting, a piece of fabric or an interior design, don’t hesitate to replicate that in your garden.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Distinctive Expression

While you are recording the particular characteristics of your garden, spend some time to develop your garden style. In my opinion, the most important consideration is what do YOU like? A controversial position, I know. But, seriously; how much pleasure will you find in a garden that dDunbarton Oaks, DCoesn’t please you, no matter how stylish it is?

So, do you prefer a formal or informal style? Formal style is structured, symmetrical and geometric. Typified by grand allées and classic French parterres, they frequently showcase clipped evergreen hedges great or small. They complement houses with solid, symmetrical architecture and appeal to gardeners with a strong sense of order. image

Informal gardens are inspired by nature; asymmetrical, soft and curvilinear, they are more relaxed. Plants flow into one another and spread into pathways. Grasses are popular and garden art tends to be whimsical. They appeal to plant collectors and flower arrangers.

Are you dazzled by a color riot or do you seek serenity in your garden? You may enjoy the excitement and energy of a imagegarden full of colors and bloom. There is a wonderful book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden, which demonstrates this point of view quite beautifully. Perhaps you have quite enough excitement in your life, thank you. What you want is a sanctuary of serenity. Vita Sackville-West’s famously monochromatic gardens at Sissinghurst epitomize the peacefulness of this approach.

Are you drawn to Japanese gardens with their symbolism and structure? Each Japanese garden represents a natural scene in miniature including sand, rocks, plants, water and islands. They are like three dimensional representations of larger vistas.image

Wildlife sanctuaries utilize the natural topography and native plants of the region to create habitat for local fauna. Provide water and structure for cover, use environmentally friendly techniques and your garden can be a Certified Wildlife Habitat site. These gardens tend to be low maintenance as well.

These are just a few style options. Of course, rigid adherence to one style is not necessary. Consider them more of a continuum and find your preference in a composite of what appeals to you.

The best way to explore different garden styles is to research. Read voraciously-your local library is the best resource imaginable. The internet has an astounding array of information and images available. Even more fun, seek out and visit gardens, public and private. Check out thiPhoto0040s website for a list of gardens you can visit in your area. Spend some summer weekends taking in the garden tours that are hosted by garden clubs or your local Master Gardener program. Look for nurseries that have great demonstration beds. Ask lots of questions.

During your research take photos, collect articles from magazines or websites. Store your growing materials in a notebook or on your computer. As your style comes into focus, plan your garden accordingly. Let your style change and adapt over time and never stop learning. Don’t let anyone force their opinion of design upon you. One definition of style is “a distinctive manner of expression.” Express yourself!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Know Thy Garden

IMG_0026Perhaps you are creating a garden out of lawn or wilderness. Maybe you have inherited a garden that needs renovation. Spring is upon you and you are bursting with ideas and ready to go into gardening overdrive.

Take some deep breaths.

Invest some time learning about the specifics of gardening where you live: soil issues, hardiness zone, rainfall, pests. General gardening information is useful, but local information is invaluable. Avail yourself of your county Master Gardener program. This volunteer organization is the offspring of your state land-grant university and the County Agricultural Extension office. image

Even then, remember that no garden is exactly like another. Every property is likely to have microclimates. Shade, for example, strongly impacts growing conditions. Shade can suppress bloom, cause lanky growth or reduce need for water. Frost pockets can form in depressions or at the bottom of a slope that freezes early and thaws late. Altitude or proximity to the ocean is important to consider in some regions. Areas against a south facing wall or surrounded by concrete may foster higher temperatures. So, make use of all the local resources available, but study your own garden over time to see how to adapt that information for your situation.

To be successful in the shortest time possible, it is important to know your property before you plant. Many experts recommend observing for a yeaimager but that can be super frustrating. The last thing I want to do is discourage your enthusiasm. Most of what I’ve learned about gardening is a result of mistakes I’ve made. So, get out there and make some of your own. After all, perennials are sturdy and easy to move; annuals are great for testing since they are inexpensive and then disappear. But do your best to wait on more expensive plants until you have a solid working knowledge of your garden. Some things you need to consider and record are: image

· How many hours of sun to you get each season in different parts of your property? Some plants, such as most roses and vegetables require a minimum of six hours of sun daily. Some plants, such as Hostas, require shade in most regions. Take photos to substantiate your notes.

· What are the temperature extremes? What kinds of microclimates are present? Record your first freeze and your last frost; also, the lowest and the highest temperatures.

· What is the drainage like through all the seasons? You may move in and think you have great drainage. Then the rainy season starts and your house is a boat.

· Are there borrowed views worthy of preservation? You may not be imageaware of them until the leaves drop in winter. Sometimes, the view that stretches outside your property is worth defending from encroaching growth.

· What are the intended uses and established traffic patterns? Do you want to grow edibles? Have a play area for kids or dogs? A nursery bed? A potting bench? Make your own compost? All these things take space. Designing walkways to follow existing paths will save aggravation.

· How much time, money and space can be devoted to your garden? Realistically, how much time do you have to maintain your garden? What is your budget?Photo0015

· What areas invite lingering? Make note of perspectives from your windows.

Do you hope for year round interest in their garden or prefer to focus on a particular season? Most gardeners try to extend garden interest as long as possible. However, if you do not go into or look out at your garden in the winter, why bother? Also, if your space is limited,remember that plants which provide a succession of bloom throughout the seasons take up room in the garden even when they are déshabilléAlors!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perennial Bias


I’m a plant collector and I like all kinds of plants-but I must admit to favoritism  towards perennials.

The perennial garden has its roots in England around the turn of the century. In the 1800’s, ornamental gardens used mostly annuals for bloom-these were called bedding plants. Of course, these had to be replaced every year. Gertrude Jekyll was one of the most influential gardeners of the early 1900’s and she popularized both the use of perennials and designs based on color schemes. At that time, perennial beds were very structured, usually containing only non-woody, blooming perennial plants against a hedge backdrop.

imageToday, the most popular type of ornamental garden in the PNW is probably the “mixed border.” These contain trees and shrubs along with evergreen and herbaceous perennials. The mixed border is popular because the tiered structure mimics nature and the evergreen plants and woody structures provide more seasons of interest than a purist bed of herbaceous perennials.

Herbaceous means “herb-like”; that is, not woody; having stems that die back to the ground at the end of the growing season. Herbaceous plants are further divided into three main types. Annuals germinate, bloom, reproduce and die in one year. They are known for being easy to grow, long blooming and riotously colorful. Biennials bloom and reproduce in their second year and then die. They tend to reseed, which can be good or bad, depending on your preferences. A disadvantage of biennials is that they require an undisturbed bed for two years despite their somewhat unprepossessing appearance in year one. One alternative is to start them in a nursery bed and move them to the garden in the second year-if you have the room and the patience for such pampering.

As I mentioned, perennials are my favorite. They live at least three years, but some outlive their gardeners. Peonies, imagefor example, commonly live 50 years or more and can live to be over 100. There is something very satisfying about planting something that will produce enjoyment and beauty for many years. Hardy perennials live through the winter in the ground, producing new growth every spring. Tender perennials won’t survive a deep freeze winter; some common examples are many fuchsia, gladiolus, some salvia, tuberous begonias and pelargoniums-commonly called geraniums. Remember that although a tender perennial may be killed by winter freeze that doesn’t make it an annual-because it does not complete its life cycle in one year.

imageMy preference for perennials is rooted (!) in my desire for efficiency and my delight in economy. You might notice that a single perennial may cost more than an annual of similar size. Do not be fooled! Remember that even if the annual performs well, you will have to replace it every year. In addition to the cost, also evaluate your expended time. Remember that you will have to go buy it (or grow it from seed) and replant it. If you buy a perennial, not only will it return year after year but you will eventually be able to divide it and produce new plants for no cost at all.

031808 020Some will point out that individual annuals frequently have a longer bloom period than specific perennials. However, with a little planning, you can have blooming perennials 12 months out of the year in temperate climates. One season of bloom succeeds another producing year round beauty.