form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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The Color Purple

 

smoke bush

Picea pungens ‘Lucretia’ with Berberis wilsoniae and Cotinus x ‘Grace’

In spring the go-to colors are pastels, and the foliage garden certainly has its share of baby blues and soft yellows. However, they often share the garden space with deep, grown-up purple, which contrasts richly with the softer hues. Colorado blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens cv.) are the quintessential powder blue foliage plants. When paired with other pastels, they have a demure persona, belying the strength inherent in their tough, spiky needles. Around purple, however, the blue acquires a steely note.

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Picea pungens ‘Lucretia’ against Cotinus x ‘Grace’ foliage

Purple works well as a background color, especially if you want the background to be, well, in back. Lighter colors draw the eye, darker ones recede. A purple background allows the plants in front to claim the attention.

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Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’ against the purply Cotinus x ‘Grace’

The Eucalyptus in the shot above is about as pastel as it gets, yet takes on a more sophisticated mien when backed by smoky Cotinus x ‘Grace’.

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The blues and greens  gain prominence when backed by purple

Circus canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a lovely, if somewhat awkwardly shaped, small tree. Here it is planted behind a grouping of different shades of blues and greens and serves as a backdrop which adds richness to the scene and disguises its lanky branching.

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Picea pungens ‘Stoplight’ and Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’

Succulents are a good place to look for ‘evergreen’ purples; the Mangave above is another great companion for blue spruce. Not only do the colors provide fabulous contrast but the strappy leaves of the Mangave are a wonderful foil for the spruce’s small needles. And in true F&F fashion, these plants do the job all 12 months of the year.

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A richly hued combination of purple Sedum, yellow Chamaecyparis and orange-tinged grass

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Chaenomeles, Cotinus x ‘Grace’ and Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’

For a stained glass effect, mix purple with other saturated tones such as the greens and yellows pictured above. Paired with the yellow the purple warms up and creates deep contrast to the other colors.

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This Cordyline has ‘burgundy’ in its name but to us it’s a reddish purple

There are many grass-like plants (and even some true grasses) that add purple to the garden. The Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line Burgundy’ in the photo above adds depth and flair to what would otherwise be a colorful but flat combination, and, like the Libertia peregrinans (the orange grass) and the blue spruce and holly, holds its leaves all year. Many Phormium come in shades of purple and for those that don’t mind the maintenance, there are several Pennisetum cultivars in deep purple tones.

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Leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’, Cotinus x ‘Gracel and Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line-Burgundy’ repeat the purple notes

Colors work best when they are not isolated; don’t hesitate to echo the tones throughout the garden. If you look carefully at the above photo you will also see a bit of purple in the far back about 3/4 of the way across the photo, as well as some purple tones on the plant in the immediate middle front.

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Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ is really dark purple

Apparently the colors ‘Blue’ and ‘Black’ sell better than the color purple. There are many plants sold as blue or black that are really purple, such as the Sambucus (elderberry) above. Remember, when selecting your plants, go by what the foliage looks like, not what the label promises. This Sambucus is deep wine-purple, and can be grown as a large shrub or limed up to make a small tree.

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Picea pungens ‘Fastigata’ and Coprosma ‘Plum Hussey’

Purple gets more subtle in plants with two-toned leaves like the ‘Plum Hussey’ mirror plant. This cultivar of the New Zealand Coprosma leafs out bright green and the older leaves take on purple-tinged edges until the cold weather comes and drenches them in a deep, plummy coat. You can see Cotinus x ‘Grace’ in the background, striking, as befitting,  a grace note. We can’t seem to stop pairing our purples with light blue, can we?

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The Cordyline in back and the beech in front stake their claim for purple in this mixed foliage garden

The genus Fagus, or beech, is another good place to go purple-hunting. In the shot above the tones of the large Cordyline in the back are picked up and carried forward by the glossy purple beech. The Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ (really purple, but that didn’t make for the alliterative name) in the lower right hand corner continues the theme.

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Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’ (not to us, it’s not!)

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Fagus sylvatica ‘Rohanii’ leaves up close

Beech trees (Fagus sp.) are  welcome additions to gardens that are climate-appropriate because of not only their beautifully colored and textured leaves–at once both glossy and fuzzy–but also their elegant, silky bark which graces the winter landscape. They do best in spots with ample rainfall but once established will manage fine in even mild Mediterranean climates with little more water than some of the drought-hardy standbys.

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Podocarps elongates ‘Monmal’ (Icee Blue) is flanked by Hebe ‘Amy’ for a subtle hint of purple

Purple doesn’t have to be bold or strident; there are many plants with purple leaf edges or undersides, like Hebe ‘Amy’ in the photo above. ‘Amy’ also has purple flowers, but they are ephemeral. The leaves and stems are purple all year long.

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Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’

For real subtlety, treat purple as an ornament, the way that one might wear an amethyst ring or a garnet brooch. The cones on the ‘Poulsen’ fir are luscious, deep purple and decorate the shrub for months in spring and early summer.

Get your purple on!

 

 

 


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Slow for the Cone Zone

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns') has gorgeous purple cones

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’) has gorgeous purple cones

There are lots of reasons to add a few conifers to your landscape, and one of the most compelling is the decorative cones that many bear.  Fir, or Abies, have the reputation for having the dressiest cones, but as you’ll see, even the under-appreciated pines put on some stylish decoration that lasts all year. So slow down and observe when you pass a conifer and enter the ‘cone zone’!

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis 'Early Gold' in spring.

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis ‘Early Gold’ in spring.

The following series of three images depicts the cones of Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ through the seasons. This tree wears gorgeous foliage even without its ‘jewelry’, and together with its cones makes one of the most decorative specimens in the garden, even giving floriferous angiosperms a run for their money.

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' in early spring

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ in early spring

The cones start out as small, chartreuse gumdrops and then become lavender and celadon eggs with a texture and design that would make Faberge proud.

Korean fir, Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'

These cones decorate a tree that is already stunning, with its curved silver-lined needles.

By autumn they have dried out and matured  to rich rusty brown, resembling intricately woven baskets.

The autumn cones of 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The autumn cones of ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The spruces (genus Picea) in the next two photos, taken at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, CA, have similarly shaped cones but with dramatically different colors.  Well, some of us like emeralds and others prefer rubies – it’s the same with cones.

The limey elongated cones of Wison's spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement the turquoise needles on this specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

The limey elongated cones of Wison’s spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement its turquoise needles

Both Picea wilsonii and Picea likiangensis hail from China, and both get too big for most gardens, but we love to seek them out and enjoy their lovely ornaments.  Both of these specimens are large and laden with cones.

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A cone-studded Picea likiangensis specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

As a general rule, firs hold their cones upright and spruces, as in the two examples above, have pendulous cones. The quite, unassuming ‘Poulsen’ fir (Abies x. arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ doesn’t put out a huge display of cones every year, but when it does, it’s a showstopper.

firs, conifers, cones

The black-raspberry cones on Abies x arnoliana ‘Poulsen’ sit pertly atop the branches

They start out in spring a rosy black-raspberry, then deepen to grapey purple.

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Poulsen fir (Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’) cones in early summer

By late summer/autumn they have faded to a soft lilac.

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Soft lilac cones of Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’, a shrubby conifer with a dignified habit

Even though most of us call the cones of all conifers ‘pine cones’, the cones borne by pines look very different from those of the firs and spruces.  Many of true pine cones look like they are carved out of wood when they are young, as with the new cones of one of the mugo pines (Pinus mugo var. mugho).

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

With its yellow cone in early summer, this branch of ‘Golden Ghost’ red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) resembles a bird with flamboyant plumage. The two-toned needles put on even more of a display than the cones!

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) 'Golden Ghost' in spring with new needles and cone

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) ‘Golden Ghost’ in spring with new needles and cones

In this photo of ‘Golden Ghost’ we see both this year’s cone (the tiny ‘carved’ one on the left) and last year’s mature cone (on the right).

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Two years of cones on Japanese red pine ‘Golden Ghost’

This Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’) is a prolific coner, with lovely green, sculptural cones.

Japanese black pine 'Thunderhead'

Even the ladybugs seem to like ‘Thunderhead’s apple green cones

Since we’re moving through the colors, white pines have great cones, too!  They are much more fragile than those of the red or black pines, and often have a sap glacee that makes them glitter in the sunlight.

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Sap-glazed cones of Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’

We mentioned emeralds and rubies earlier, but some cones are aquamarines. The cones of this Oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) don’t even look like cones.

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These Platycladus cones look more like gems sprinkled along the branches

All of the cones that we’ve shown you so far are females – they contain the ovaries and ultimately the fertilized seeds. But let’s not forget the boys! Unlike much of nature, where the male of the species gets the elegant plumage and fine feathers, in plants the male’s display is generally less showy.  But we think that this crowd of pollen cones on the ‘Golden Ghost’ pine are one of the trustiest signs of spring!

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Pollen cones on Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’

So whether you’re walking in your own garden or a botanical preserve such as Quarryhill, when you see a conifer, stop and take a look.  If more people don’t start slowing for the Cone Zone, Form and Foliage is going to begin issuing citations!


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Easter Egg Hunt

pink cones, pines, year-round interest

Are those brand new cones on Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’ or did the Easter Bunny stop by?

When we went out into the garden this week we couldn’t help seeing Easter eggs everywhere….delightfully dyed in pastel Pascal colors.  Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’ caught our eye immediately, with its clutches of tiny, vivid magenta ovoid cones.

Korean fir, conifers

Little yellow eggs decorate the branches of Abies koreana ‘Hortsmann’s Silberlocke’

Sunny yellow eggs are sprinkled over the branches of the Korean fir Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ – those cute little things couldn’t really be cones, could they?

conifers, colorful cones

Raspberry colored egg-like cones grace the branches of Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’

Tall, hulking Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ has some of the most delicate cones, which are small-sized even when mature.  They make up for lack of stature in sheer number; this ‘egg basket’ of a tree, which is only about 6′ tall, has hundreds of cones on it this spring.

PIne trees, colored foliage

Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’ has two eggs in the nest – demurely colored next to the flamboyant needles

Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’ is all decked out for Easter in a yellow spring coat, and holds a brace of deeply etched eggs in this clutch.  It’s hard for anything to compete with that incredible, dramatic foliage!

firs, conifers, cones

The black-raspberry ‘eggs’ on Abies arnoliana ‘Poulsen’ sit pertly atop the branches

Normally a subdued and dignified shrub, Abies arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ indulges in attention-getting behavior by producing cones in the most outrageous shade of deep raspberry imaginable.  It’s hard to believe that the Easter Bunny was willing to part with these!

Jelly Bean succulent, pork and beans succulent

The Easter Bunny left jelly beans along with dyed eggs…

And what’s an Easter Basket without jelly beans?  Sedum rubrotinctum sure fits the bill.  In warm weather the ‘jelly beans’ turn green with just a few hints of red, but cool winter and early spring temps bring out the bold red.  Perhaps cinnamon-flavored? Now the only thing that we’re left wondering is if that huge jackrabbit we startled this morning was really the Easter Bunny…