form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Stylish Simplicity – Paul and Paula’s Garden

Purple-leaved plants, foliage plants

Loropetalum ‘Shang-Lo’ (Purple Pixie) lines the brick walkway to the front door

Because of our passion for plants, we tend to focus on gardens that feature collections of specimens and stretch our imaginations devising pleasing and provocative combinations of colors, textures and shapes. Sometimes, however, the strongest statements come from the deft use of massed plantings and fundamental color and design principles.  Paul and Paula’s garden is a beautiful example of keeping it simple without sacrificing interest or sophistication.  And in best form and foliage fashion, this garden shines through the fall and winter months as well as spring and summer!

purple leaved plants, color wheel combinations, purple evergreen plants

The plummy Lorapetalums pick up the same underlying tones in the brick and contrast boldly with the deep green lawn

Despite the unfettered design, much care went into its conception and the selection of the plantings.  Paula, who has an artist’s training and sensibilities, chose the Loropetalum to border the path because she wanted to  echo the tones of the brick with a complementary plant that was appropriately sized and attractive year-round.  The decision to use deep reddish-purple against the brick was daring; most of us think ‘red’ when we think of brick, but the purple brings out the rosy tones.  Also, most of us would have not been able to resist the urge to plant a jumble of different colors and textures; Paula’s confidence in the essential design principles of repetition, scale and color harmony allowed her to resist that temptation!

Chamaecyparis obtusa, purple-leaved foliage, succulents

The purple is repeated in the sedum ‘Voodoo’ under the foundation plantings

The distinctive purple of the Loropetalums is repeated in the carpet of Sedum ‘Voodoo’ around the foundation plantings of Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars. This is horticultural ‘color blocking’ with rich, deep tones, and the repetition of the purple and green makes for a unified design.  While respecting the formal lines of the brick house, these plantings also soften, enrich and complement it.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen plants

The icy blue atlantic cedars (Cedrus libani var. atlantica) bring out the orange tones in the brick

On the side of the house, Paula used more mass plantings of evergreen shrubbery and chose two Cedrus libani var. atlantica (Atlantic cedars) as focal points.  Those of you that read our post on Color Scheming will recognize that the purple/brick combination represents an analogous color pair, while the blue/brick is a complementary combination.  That’s why the cedars are edgier and demand more attention, and their skirt of shrubs is correspondingly subdued.  The brick borrows tones from the adjacent plants, appearing rosier next to the purple-leaved Loropetalum and more orange next to the blue cedar.

Arbutus 'Marina', Loropetalum 'Purple Pixie'

The Loropetalums punctuate this bed of woody ornamentals

Note the crisp edging and the clean lines of the multi-trunked trees (an Acer palmatum cultivar on the left, Arbutus ‘Marina on the right).  The planted are sited to ‘let the shapes show’ and their structure is as important as their colors and textures. In this bed the Loropetalums function as punctuation and connect it to the walkway and foundation plantings.

purple foliage plants

The purple and green theme continue with Japanese maples and ferns

The rich jewel tones are repeated throughout the garden, with different plant combinations. The Japanese maples and ferns adorn the wooded side yard that is shaded by towering Atlantic cedars and oaks.  By varying the plant materials but sticking to the color scheme, the different areas of the garden are connected and unified.  The overall sensation is one of serenity; the simplicity of the design is in itself relaxing and the choice of colors reinforces the calmness.

Japanese maples, gardening with rocks

Structure is provided by stones and woody plants

We like to say that sometimes the best plant  for a particular spot is a stone…and Paula repeats the blue of the cedars with specimen stones.  The combination of purple, icy blue and rich green now has many textural components that continue to be unified by color and simplicity. The stones also echo the structural lines of the woody plants and provide interest throughout the year.

foliage garden, evergreen foliage

Paula has started a rock garden with blue rocks, roses, succulents and conifers

The latest project is a rock garden at the back of the property with newly planted roses, succulents and a few specimen conifers, anchored by a pair of mature Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Harry Lauder’s walking stick, one of which can be seen on the right side of the photo). Here purple gives way to accents of brilliant gold and chartreuse, and when the plantings spill over the rocks this will be the spot in the garden where the formality eases a bit, as it is away from the house and can set its own tone.

conifers, foliage plants, golden foliage

The Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ is sited so that it is a focal point from the kitchen window

We look forward to visiting the garden again when the plantings around the rocks have matured and provided the cohesiveness that Paula intends.  Although this spot is across the back lawn from the house, the brilliant Caucasian fir ‘Golden Spreader’ shines like a beacon and calls the eye.  Another design principle that Paula has employed: light, bright colors project, dark colors recede.  The strategic placement of one golden plant draws attention to the entire bed.

The final component of the garden design is a serene water feature

The final component of the garden design is a serene water feature

While Paula works with plant selection and design, Paul tends the Koi pond that not only provides pleasing sound and interest, but reflects the branches of the specimen trees.  We came away from Paul and Paula’s garden feeling relaxed and as if our blood pressure had dropped a notch.  Isn’t that a wonderful gift  for a garden to bestow?

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Coenosium Gardens – A Conifer Laboratory!

Bob Fincham, evergreen foliage, designing with evergreens, conifers

Bob Fincham has a worldwide reputation as an conifer expert, with a list of introductions and publications to his name of which any plantsman would be proud.  Coenosium Gardens, the 5.6 acre property that he and his wife, Dianne, have developed in Eatonville, WA over the last few decades, is a virtual laboratory of conifer grafting, breeding and experimentation.  Their website explains that that they focus on plant introductions and that they are the ‘go to’ site for those wanting to locate rare conifers, read articles about conifers or just generally find out what is going on in the conifer world.

evergreen foliage, conifers, designing with foliage plants

A dazzling array of evergreen and deciduous foliage incorporates many colors and textures

When Form and Foliage made the pilgrimage to Coenosium in September, we found all that we had been expecting…and more.  What the articles and the Fincham website don’t convey is what a beautiful spot the couple has created, by having an eye for color, shape and texture combined with deft plant combinations.  The word ‘Coenosium’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘plant community’.  Plant community, indeed!  A virtual wonderland of the principles that F&F holds dear: interesting plant material, combined to enhance the attributes of each plant, not detract from them, planted with regard to the shapes and sizes so that each plant can do its part and not get lost in a shapeless mass.

evergreen foliage, conifers, foliage gardening

Beds of foliage combinations flank mature trees in a woodland setting

Bob and Dianne run a successful mail-order nursery from their home, but the majority of the acreage is given over to expertly landscaped plantings, with a focus on pleasing combinations of foliage.  Deciduous trees and shrubs (especially beeches and maples) are interplanted with the beloved conifers to provide contrast of both color and texture.

Japanese maples, fall color, conifers, foliage gardening

Fall color is shown to advantage against the conifer specimens

Our visit coincided with peak fall color, but the huge variety of plant specimens at Coenosium guarantees a show at any time of year.  As the photo above illustrates, conifers come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and textures.

dwarf conifers, evergreens, foliage gardening

One of the newer gardens, planted with dwarf conifers of every imaginable color, shape and texture

The grounds range from more mature plantings around the house to newer gardens that focus more on dwarf varieties.  Bob has written a book about dwarf conifers, entitled ‘Small Conifers for Small Gardens’, that is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about incorporating conifers into the home garden.

Dwarf ginkgo, foliage gardening, conifers

While strictly speaking not conifers, Ginkgos are gymnosperms like conifers and are closely related

Many of the gardens have an Asian feel, with plants such as Ginkgos and pines that are associated with Asian gardens and statuary and hardscape distinctly Asian in design.  The dwarf Ginkgo above is suitable for even the smallest gardens, and contrasts beautifully with its conifer cousins.

gold foliage evergreens, golden conifers

Gold foliage brightens cloudy winter days

Bob has made somewhat of a specialty of gold-foliage conifers, perhaps because the Seattle area is known for its share of overcast winter days.  The sunny foliage of the spruce in the photo above shines like a beacon even when the sun is nowhere to be seen.  It also contrasts beautifully with the maroon and blue foliage in the background.

A fine grouping of conifers with deciduous trees in the background

Bob also uses conifers in containers – a practice that those with small gardens (or even those limited to terrace gardening) can adopt.  Many of the dwarf and miniature varieties are so slow-growing that they can exist happily for years in containers, sometimes even sharing space with others.

conifers in containers, container gardening

Conifer container gardening is the ultimate in easy plant care

Bob and Dianne’s mail order nursery is the place to go to find rare varieties and a good selection of garden-worthy dwarfs and miniatures.  Their stock is healthy and well-cared for and we confess to falling victim to the wide array of choices available and picking out a boxful for shipping.  Needless to say, the plants arrived in perfect condition.

conifers, foliage gardening, evergreens

The nursery stock is healthy and gorgeous – we couldn’t resist!

Finally, the following photos show that the ‘mad scientist’ is at work in the ‘laboratory’! Bob is continually fascinated with what he can do using his grafting skills and his imagination.  Whether the gardening world is ready for some of his creations remains to be seen, but no one can accuse him of not pushing the envelope!

grafted conifers

Two spruces grafted to produce one plant with contrasting form, color and texture

grafted conifers, evergreen foliage, gold conifers, blue conifers

Another ‘twofer’ – blue and yellow spruces are combined to provide sunshine and shadow in one plant

Check out Coenosium Gardens on line, with information about ordering plants – and the book!  Meanwhile, stay tuned for our next stop: the demonstration gardens at Iseli Nursery in Oregon.

Copyright 2012 by Sara B. Malone and Janice M. LeCocq