form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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The Greens of Summer

green shrubs, evergreen plants, designing with shrubs

A cool pathway on a sizzling day at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh NC

Even though Paul Simon writes about his Nikon camera and Jan uses a Canon, we can’t help but think of the lyrics from ‘Kodachrome’ when we are out in the late summer garden.  By the end of August perennial gardens are often tired from the prolonged heat, but not so the foliage garden.  When we go out to stroll on torrid days, we gravitate to the cool, shady spots and keep movement to a minimum. And we plan for the dog days by making sure we’ll have an abundance of green around to soothe and cool us when the weather is hot.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen border

Cool green comes in many shades, as we see in this grouping from The Oregon Garden

While Sara didn’t originally plan it this way, due to the overwhelming preponderance of foliage plants in her garden, there are decided colors associated with each season.  Autumn, not surprisingly, is dominated by the turning leaves and many berries and is very orange. Winter, with bracts, stems and berries taking center stage, reads ‘red’.  Spring, with the flush of new growth, is very yellow. Summer is refreshingly green.  If we had planned it, we would have chosen just this color progression: when better to have cool green be the dominant hue than in hot summer, and how better to light up the weak winter light than with red?

locust tree, foliage tree, interesting foliage

The minty foliage of Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’ turns the heat down and provides texture

Annuals and perennials flower in every hue in the rainbow, and color choices usually come down to personal preference; some gravitate to pinks and purples, there are those who adore red and blue is the favorite of many a gardener.  ‘Those nice bright colors’ that Simon writes about are dramatic and eye-catching, but they don’t do much to lower the heat.  In fact, they seem to raise the temperature a degree or two.  So even though it seems counter-intuitive to de-emphasis flowers for summer, it will cool you down when you need it most! At the very least, surround those flowers with enough foliage to make the mood serene.

cape rush, landscaping with evergreen plants, conifers, shrubs

A bench in Sara’s garden is surrounded by foliage, dominated by the restio Elegia capensis

Going green doesn’ t mean giving up a variety of textures, shapes or hues.  The Elegia capensis (horsetail restio) pictured above has grass-like foliage that holds its clear green shade all year long,  and does not fade in the summer sun’s hot rays.  Look how different it is from the ‘Lace Lady’ foliage in the earlier shot:

cape rush, evergreen plants, foliage plants

Foliage of Elegia capensis (horsetail restio) in summer

Even the crabapples fall in with the cooling scheme; this fruit ripens to vivid orange in another month but in summer is, well, apple-green.  In fact, we think that crabapples are among the most under-respected landscape trees, providing a lovely floral display in spring, months of lush green foliage, finished by a riot of colorful fruit in autumn.

malus 'Professor Sprenger'

‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple in summer hues

For ornamental grass fans, there are many varieties that stand up to sun in summer and mimic the sensation of a turfgrass lawn.  The LeCocq garden in Bellingham WA has the lovely coolness on sunny days that a lawn provides, with no mowing or fertilizing and much more texture and interest.

Decorative ornamental grasses in different shades of green turn down the heat

Decorative ornamental grasses in different shades of green turn down the heat

Another shot of the LeCocq garden illustrates how lovely the green backdrop can be when flowers are treated as ornamentation, rather than used for the ‘bones’ of the garden.  We feel cool just looking at this photograph, despite the current temperature reading of near 90 degrees:

Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan', conifers, foliage gardening

Mixed greens, anyone?

Back at the JC Raulston Arboretum, we find another serving of mixed greens, with both conifers and broadleaved evergreens providing a nice range of textures and colors.  The glossiness of the broad leaves plays well against the soft fuzziness of the pine.  We’re really cooling off as we continue our green parade.

designing with foliage plants, evergreens, conifers

Mixed broadleaf evergreen and conifer border at the JC Raulston Arboretum

Liven up your greens with some variegated foliage, such as that of the sycamore maple ‘Nizetii’.  This stunner takes baking sun all summer long and stays cool, calm and collected, casting welcome shade for other plants – and us.  The maple’s dense crown casts deep shadow in which it feels many degrees cooler than in the sun.

trees with variegated foliage

Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Nizettii’ (sycamore maple) has two-toned leaves and red petioles

So remember, as you were always instructed to eat your green vegetables, plant your green plants.  If your plate is supposed to be 2/3 vegetables, think of your garden in the same manner and make it at least 2/3 green.  You’ll find that most of those foliage plants don’t require anywhere near the maintenance that the flowering perennials do, most of them require virtually no tending in summer when it’s too hot to work comfortably outside, and you’ll get even more pop from your flowers when you showcase them against an emerald background.

designing with foliage plants, evergreen plants, shrubs, olive trees

A path of green in Sara’s garden in summer

We’re going out to walk in the garden now and enjoy our leafy greens!

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Private Spaces: The LeCocq Garden

gunnera, Japanese maples

Foliage combines with sculptural trunks to provide year-round interest in the LeCocq garden.

When Frances and Irwin LeCocq built their home overlooking Puget Sound almost 30 years ago, their steep front yard was a tangled mass of weeds.  With an almost 23 degree  slope, mowing was out of the question, so a lawn was never a consideration.   The LeCocqs initially covered the expanse with ivy, which they soon realized was a deer delicacy.  Time for Plan B!  In envisioning revised plantings, the LeCocqs didn’t consciously seek out a ‘form and foliage’ design, but  they did have some specific criteria.

gardening on a hill, gardening on a slope

The steep slope presented design challenges, especially since the LeCocqs wanted to be able to walk down to pick up the mail!

First, the slope meant that ongoing maintenance would be difficult and disagreeable (the reason for their first choice of ivy).  Second, in Bellingham’s mild climate, the garden is enjoyed year-round, so should be attractive year-round.  Finally, the LeCocqs knew that they would have to share their garden with the deer, ruling out most tender, floriferous plantings.

foliage gardening, winter gardens

A mix of conifers and deciduous woody plants provides four seasons of interest.

Over the next 21 years, a sequence of talented designers and gardeners assisted the LeCocqs in realizing their vision.  Richard Haag, a Seattle landscape architect, provided the initial plan.  One of his first tasks was to lay out a concrete and gravel pathway following the serpentine track that Irwin had made along the contours of the hill as he made the daily trek to the mailbox.   The mainstays of the garden would be shrubs and trees that could withstand the bands of marauding deer, with a generous component of evergreens to provide winter interest.

foliage plants, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses

A Japanese maple graces the front patio, complemented by ornamental grasses.

They chose numerous Japanese maples and other deciduous plants to ensure a spectacular autumn.  As with all gardens, this one evolved with the help of many hands, including David Steinbrunner, now in Texas, and Bear Creek Nursery’s Jeanne Hager, who currently tends the garden.  Recently, Susan Harrison, of Private Gardens in Bellingham, helped redesign the entry.

woodland gardens, foliage gardening

A wide variety of plantings with lots of trees and shrubs create a lush, woodland feel on what had been a bare slope.

Throughout the garden’s history careful attention was paid to creating combinations of complementary and contrasting textures, as well as colors.  The woody plants do the ‘heavy lifting’ in the garden, but there are enough herbaceous varieties interplanted among the trees and shrubs to create a lush, woodland feel.

peonies fall color, foliage plants

Peonies, with a second season of interest that we didn’t think possible!

Our visit in September caught the deciduous plants at the beginning of their autumn color, and it wasn’t just trees and shrubs providing the show; we were repeatedly amused (and a bit chastened) to see bold oranges and reds provided by peonies, which heretofore we had dismissed as one-season wonders.

A scarlet-leaved Cotinus coggygria in a container on the deck brings the autumn foliage right up to the house.

The LeCocq’s home overlooks most of the garden, as well as Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, and has a large deck that feels nestled in tree tops.  Frances has container plantings to complement the beds, and the autumn standout is a scarlet Cotinus coggygria.

foliage gardens, foliage gardening

The LeCocq garden, viewed from their deck.

While the garden could not be described as ‘no maintenance’, the upkeep is far less than would be necessary for flowering perennials. Although the deer visit nightly, their nibbling has generally been minimal.  The LeCocqs remain grateful to those original marauders, who, by eating the ivy, were responsible for Plan B!

foliage plants, fall color

A Cornus in fall color nicely complements the blue-green leaves of a Euphorbia.

This is a lovely garden in which to wander, to sit and enjoy, and to revel in the colors, shapes and textures.  We thank the LeCocqs for graciously hosting the first segment of our road trip.  Astute readers will have noticed that their last name is the same as Jan’s.  That is because they are her parents!

Admittedly, the garden does get a bit of competition from the view beyond!

Yes, we started close to home, but we branched out. Stay tuned for the next stop: Coenosium Gardens in Eatonville WA, home of Bob Fincham, plantsman extraordinaire.

Copyright 2012 Sara B Malone and Janice M LeCocq