form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Strange Bedfellows…or ‘What’s that Succulent Doing Next to that Spruce?’

succulents, conifers

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ has maroon edges that echo the deep hues of the Cotinus x ‘Grace’ on the right and the Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Sentinel’ on the left

Succulents seem to be all the rage these days, with specialty nurseries and designers abounding. We admire many of the succulent creations, but never really embraced the ‘total look’, which seemed often to lack scale and suffer from excessive cuteness. When we focused on some of the edgier genera, with larger specimens, such as Agaves, we also realized that we didn’t need to isolate succulents in their own beds and containers, we could incorporate them into the overall garden design.

succulents

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ can hold its own beside conifers (in this case Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Girl’, Picea pungens ‘Glauca Procumbens’ and ‘Picea orientalis ‘Golden Start ‘) and other woody foliage plants.

 

A study in dusty blue: Cedrus deodara 'Prostrate Beauty' and Agave parryi var. huachucensis share the same hue with vastly different structures and textures.

A study in dusty blue: Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’ and Agave parryi var. huachucensis share the same hue, but with vastly different structures and textures.

Foliage gardeners continually must grapple with the fact that most of the interesting foliage plants have small leaves. From the conifers’ needles to shrubs such as Abelia, Berberis and Hebe it is difficult to get away from fine textures. Most of the large-leaved shrubs, such as Rhododendron and Pieris, are denizens of the woodland garden and not happy in sunny gardens without acid soils. Many succulents provide large scale leaves that beautifully contrast with finer foliage.

conifers, succulents

Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ and Juniperus x media ‘Daub’s Frosted’ share the same yellow and green foliage colors. Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is to the right.

 

succulents, barberry, manzanita

The same Agave, this time keeping company with Arctostaphlos ‘Emerald Carpet’ and Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’ (sold as Sunjoy Gold Pillar)

The idea of interplanting succulents with conifers and other foliage plants strikes some as odd if not downright unnatural. To get a taste of how Nature herself does it, visit a forest in Mexico and see Yucca and Agave growing side by side with pines and cypress. We think of Mexico as a succulent haven when in fact Mexico also has more native pine species than any other country. Many of our perceived design rules are products of our own traditions and not necessarily representative of what is possible or, indeed, even plentiful in Nature.

succulents

Yucca ‘Tiny Star’ and other succulents with coniferous accompaniment. The conifers echo the yellow in the Yucca and soften its sharp lines.

Succulents come in a vast array of colors although most of the genera with larger species (Yucca, Agave, Aloe, etc) have the most selections in shades of green, blue and yellow. It is not uncommon to find multiple colors with either stripes, such as many Yucca and Agave, or marginal accents in contrasting shades.

conifers, succulents

Aloe striata in a bed of Juniperus procumbens, flanked by golden Chamaecyparis.

Aloe striata has coral leaf margins and in shade, rosettes of broad, flat, bluish-green leaves. The leaves turn ruddy pink in full sun and make for a beautifully two-toned plant. In the photo above, the blue-green of the Aloe is echoed by the juniper, again with a marvelous textural contrast. The Aloe is hardy to only 20 degrees, so in this garden is planted in a container, which may be moved to a protected area when necessary.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha' is one of the few larger succulents with significant maroon coloration.

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ is one of the few larger succulents with significant maroon coloration.

There are larger succulents with maroon foliage. Some of our favorites are the Mangaves, thought to be crosses between Agave and Manfreda. ‘Macho Mocha’ is a stunner; it reaches 4-6′ across at maturity and its broad, strappy leaves are liberally peppered with deep, bronzy red.

Mangave 'Chocolate Chip' has distinctively wavy leaves.

Mangave ‘Chocolate Chip’ has distinctively wavy leaves, which contrast nicely with the other foliage.

There are several Mangave cultivars, ranging in size from the large ‘Macho Mocha’ to ‘Blood Spot’, which makes a compact rosette about a foot across. Most Mangave appear to be hardy to between 0-10 degrees, which make them, along with some Agave, among the most cold-tolerant succulents.

conifers, succulents

Aloe polyphylla, with its distinctive spiral leaves, stars in this bed, with Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’, Abies pinsapo ‘Horstmann’ and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Knaptonensis’ in the chorus. A string of Echeveria elegans rims the bed.

So what about cultural requirements? How can low-water succulents exist next to conifers and other woody plants, much less green lawn? Something isn’t right, right? Wrong! Firstly, most succulents need more water than is popularly supposed. While they can be classed a ‘low water’ plants, they are certainly not ‘no water’ plants. Those fleshy leaves store water but it needs to be replenished. The only tricky part is understanding what time of year each particular succulent grows, as this is when it needs the most water. Many are spring and summer growers; others, such as many Aloe, grow in winter months.

succulents

Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, which flourishes in very well-drained soil and is slightly frost-tender, is an excellent choice for a container, which can be placed amongst complementary foliage and moved to shelter during the coldest months.

Secondly, many conifers and woody plants can do with less, or at least less frequent, water than many perennials. The fussiest succulents–those that are frost-tender or require extremely well-drained soil–can be planted in containers which both allow for removal to shelter during winter and provide excellent drainage. However, it is perfectly possible to grow succulents near other plants simply by creating a mound made up of 1/2 soil and 1/2 a gritty substance such as lava pebbles. If the succulent is planted high up in such a mixture, it can receive the same amount and frequency of water as the other plants, and it will drain much more quickly.

Most succulents do not like to be cold and wet at the same time, a challenge for those in Mediterranean climates. Mounding with pebbles or judicious use of containers generally works to provide enough drainage for all but the fussiest plants. Planting next to a hardscape that warms quickly in winter sun can also create a more friendly microclimate.

Agave vilmoriana on a mound next to a flagstone patio.

Agave vilmoriana (appropriately called octopus!) on a mound next to a flagstone patio.

Fall is a great time to plant and winter a great time to ponder and plan. So when you are looking for the perfect plant for a particular spot, whether it is next to a spruce or a spirea, consider whether a succulent might fit the bill!

Succulents, conifers, woody foliage plants and grasses make a rich and varied foliage garden.

Succulents, conifers, woody foliage plants and grasses make a rich and varied foliage garden, with a broad range of colors, textures and forms.

 

 

 

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Private Spaces: The Jordan Garden

foliage garden, evergreen shrubs, conifers

Ken and Elena Jordan’s garden in Roseburg, OR is one of the loveliest we’ve seen.

Visits to botanical gardens and nurseries allow us to revel in the scope and breadth of their plantings or to view imposing and impressive mature specimens.  Visits to such places can be educational and inspiring, but they can also be daunting, for few if any of us can hope to replicate their grandeur and scale.

conifers, American Conifer Society, pine trees

Ken and Elena show us around their garden.

That’s why we also like to visit private gardens, such as that of Ken and Elena Jordan in Roseburg, OR.  Their garden, while enormous and ambitious by most standards, is constructed on a more intimate scale, and demonstrates the owners’ personality and connection to their residence that is characteristic of the most successful private efforts.

conifers, foliage plants, evergreen shrubs

The Jordans use a mix of conifers, Japanese maples and other interesting foliage plants, and use different kinds of stone for accent.

The Jordans sited their house on a bluff overlooking the Umpqua River.  Ken designed and built the Craftsman style home himself, and the couple made their garden on the wooded slope facing away from the river, under the remnants of the native forest.

conifer garden, foliage garden, pine trees

A few old oaks provide a high canopy that shelters and shades the garden below.

The steeply sloping lot posed design and circulation challenges which the Jordans met by making switchbacked paths and stone retaining walls.  Native stone is also incorporated into the garden in the form of boulders and pathways.  Both Ken and Elena have design and horticultural talents, and a sense of humor that has caused them to name the property ‘Stonehedge’.

conifer garden, foliage garden, pine trees, evergreen shrubs

The Jordans use different kinds of stone to add interest, structure – and support! – to the garden.

The steep slope could prove tiring to navigate if it were not for the many seating opportunities along the paths.  Each spot provides a different aspect, with different vistas and plants to enjoy.  Ken’s mastery of both the wood shop and the forge are evident everywhere.

Ken designed and built this structure - the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view and the plantings.

Ken designed and built this structure – the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view and the plantings.

Despite the structures, stone and art, in this garden the plants rule.  The Jordans were bitten early on by the conifer bug and with encouragement from Larry Stanley of Stanley & Sons Nursery, made their garden around their large conifer collection.  They are active members of the American Conifer Society and travel all over the world to view–and acquire–choice specimens.

foliage gardens, evergreen border, American Conifer Society

A weeping pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’) frames this grouping of conifers, grasses and Japanese maples.

Although the Jordans like all manner of conifers (and many foliage plants such as Japanese maples), their property really showcases the large, contorted cultivars such as Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ and Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’ and they have several choice specimens of each.

conifers, foliage garden, blue foliage, blue needles

Weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) has room to show itself off.

The contorted trunks of the weeping specimens are beautiful in their own right, and provide ‘small moments’ to enjoy that balance the scale of the sweeping beds and pathways.

pine trees, conifers

The trunk of Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’ – weeping Japanese red pine – is textural and sinuous.

As much as they love conifers, both Ken and Elena know that good design requires contrasting colors, textures and forms, and have interplanted the conifers liberally with deciduous trees such as Japanese maples and beech.  Fall is a particularly beautiful time in this garden as the fiery colors of the maples are dramatically set off by the greens and blues of the conifers.

conifers, foliage garden, evergreen border

Japanese maples, an ornamental cherry and a European beech add diversity and interest.

Autumn’s low sun shines through the maples and casts a glow over the entire garden, lighting the chartreuse, green, blue and teal conifers.

conifer gardens, foliage gardens, mixed foliage

The setting sun catches the autumn leaves of a Japanese maple.

In fact, that sunset drew us right up the slope and around to the back of the house, where we turned from looking at the beauty that the Jordans had created to enjoying the natural view over the river. What a paradise Ken and Elena found when they chose this spot, and what a masterpiece they have created! We look forward to visiting again soon.

Japanese maples, conifers, fall foliage

The view from the Jordan’s back porch over the Umpqua River.


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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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Touring with Talon: Buchholz & Buchholz Up Close and Personal

evergreen plants, conifers, foliage plants

We were greeted by Talon Buchholz – and a riot of foliage color!

When we set out to tour the iconic nurseries of the Pacific Northwest, we confess to having been a bit nervous that they would not live up to the folklore that has been created and nurtured by the conifer cognoscenti.  Our third stop, Buchholz & Buchholz, continued the theme of exceeding our expectations!  Talon Buchholz, whose eponymous nursery is responsible for almost as many plant introductions as the Garden of Eden, met us upon our arrival and gave us a personal tour.  His affection for the plants and their histories made this one of our favorite stops on our road trip.

conifers, evergreen plants, Buchholz & Buchholz

Cupressus nootkatensis stand guard over the display plantings in the Flora Wonder Arboretum

Talon’s nursery includes a wonderful, quasi-naturalized display garden, the Flora Wonder Arboretum, which exudes more personality than most commercial settings.  A number of the plantings have clearly been in the ground for many years, and elements of whimsy and creativity abound.  Conifers, maples and other woody specimen plants are Buchholz’s specialty, which is one of the reasons that we were eager to visit.

Weeping larch

Larix deciduosa ‘Pendula’

It’s clear that Talon has a sense of humor; the weeping larch in the above photo looks like some kind of mythical creature and there is even a weeping Douglas fir that has been pruned in the shape of an elephant.  The interplantings of conifers, maples and other deciduous specimen trees and shrubs is both artful and natural.  There is no pretension here–the plants speak for themselves.

conifers, evergreens, foliage plants

Mixed conifer border at Buchholz & Buchholz

It was a joy to see specimens in the ground, obviously carefully placed and planted.  Talon knows each plant–each specimen, actually–and tells the story of how it came to be – and be included in the Buchholz & Buchholz repertory.  His nursery covers many, many acres and yet he speaks of the plantings with more personal connection than do most gardeners with infinitesimally smaller lots.

Japanese maples at Buchholz & Buchholz

Japanese maples at Buchholz & Buchholz

The Japanese maples in the gardens were amazing–a wild array of colors, shapes and textures.  It was instructive to see so many mature specimens in the ground; so often we are reduced to seeing small plants in pots or recent garden plantings.  The maples were beginning to take on fall color when we visited, we can only imagine what they look like in spring with new growth.

mixed foliage, evergreen shrubs, conifers

Mixed foliage border at Buchholz & Buchholz

As the border above illustrates, the Flora Wonder Arboretum is an homage to the concepts of form and foliage; Talon interplants conifers, maples, ginkgos, natives and grasses with an easy hand. The plants are given enough space to demonstrate their shapes and architectures.

Ginkgo biloba, Buchholz & Buchholz

Ginkgo are some of our favorite trees

Many of the Flora Wonder plantings have been in the ground for decades – it is a great spot to see specimens that have attained some size, such as this Ginkgo.

maples in containers, Buchholz & Buchholz

Flora Wonder pumice planters

The greenhouses abound with specimen plantings beautifully displayed in cedar boxes – Japanese maples, conifers, etc were arrayed in soldierly rows.  We were particularly taken with the pumice planters, in which single plants or combinations were attractively nestled.  It was at about this point that we tried to figure out if they would fit in our luggage.

Weeping purple beech, fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Pendula'

Weeping purple beech

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and took our leave only because the staff was trying to close for the day.  Talon’s website has hundreds of beautiful images and if our review of our visit piqued your interest, go on a virtual tour with Talon at Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next stop: The Oregon Garden’s Conifer Collection, Silverton, OR


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Worshipping at the Iseli Altar

conifers, winter garden, colored foliage, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

The display gardens at Iseli Nursery showcase a wide variety of conifers and companion plantings.

Conifer lovers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the display gardens at Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon, which are immortalized on the company’s website and annual calendars and regularly featured in at least one blog.  As part of our trek to the conifer nirvana that is the Pacific Northwest, we clearly had to pay both a call and our respects.  We were curious as to whether we would find the gardens even more awe-inspiring ‘in the fresh’ than on the page.

Sculpted pines, pines, evergreen foliage, colored foliage, Iseli Nursery

We elected to focus on contrasting colors, shapes and textures, rather than specimens.

Indeed, we were struck with such a degree of sensory overload that we had trouble focusing at first (our eyes, that is, not the camera!)  As we began to take stock of the richness that surrounded us, we realized that there were two ways to view the garden, as indeed there are any garden–by sharpening our focus to pick out the detail of each discreet specimen, a goal already ably achieved by other chroniclers, or by letting our lens go wider and take in the enormous range of textures, colors and sizes with which the gardens abound.

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine - color-blocking is VERY 2013!

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine – color-blocking is VERY 2013!

In the photograph above we showcase three common selections in deep hues readily available across a range of genus, species and cultivars.  Skip the taxonomy for a bit and focus on how richly satisfying this simple combination is.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, gold foliage, blue foliage

Add a dimension to the color by varying the textures.

In the next shot, we stick with rich colors but vary the texture of the green specimen. In this case it’s a spiky, starburst shape, but it could be weepy, spreading, lacy or bristly.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, pastel foliage

Color-blocking with pastels.

If you shy from the bold and prefer your colors softer, there are copious choices.  Like the master color mixer who adds a drop of black to a gallon can of paint to produce a smokier hue, plant breeders have combined with nature to create velvety gray-greens, muted yellows and olive tints to satisfy those who seek more subtle statements.

conifers, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

Soft colors create a calmer mood.

In fact, as the photo above demonstrates, a border of mixed foliage need not be strident or harsh.

Iseli Nursery, mixed foliage border, Japanese maples, evergreens, colored folaige

Deciduous plantings add an even wider range of textures and colors to the conifers.

Adding deciduous plants such as Japanese maples or dogwoods softens the look still more and expands the range of colors, shapes and textures.  The grouping above adds a formal note with the sculpted Chamaecyparis in the center.

conifers, Iseli Nusery, weeping conifers

Monochromatic doesn’t mean boring!

If you are not a fan of colored foliage, you can stick with conventional green and vary the shape. Think of yourself as a sculptor, rather than a painter, and go for a dramatic weeper flanked by a shag carpet.  Admittedly, that bronze foliage in the background does a great job of highlighting the green.

variegated dogwood, Iseli, conifers, colored foliage

Once again, we add some deciduous foliage to mix it up even more.

Note how the Cornus contriversa ‘Variegata’ adds a shape, texture and color beyond that displayed by the conifers.  We love the way this ‘living room’ is decorated with a lemon-yellow carpet and a fuzzy green hassock.

Iseli Nursery, conifers, colored foliage

A velvety swath of turf grass soothes the eye and sets off the rich colors of the specimen plantings.

We will close with one of our favorite shots – a limited palette but a wide variety of shapes, sizes and textures, including the dramatically pendulous Picea abies ‘Cobra’, on the right, one of Iseli’s newest introductions.

Next stop: Buchholz & Buchholz!


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Color Scheming…using color theory to create harmonious foliage combinations

We’ve written about color theory before (‘I’ve Got the Blues…’), and with spring’s hysteria now receding into summer, gardening life has calmed down enough that it seems a good time to revisit some of the basic principles that we can use to create striking and harmonious garden moods.  Remember, foliage generally endures much longer than floral displays, so getting the foliage colors right has a more lasting impact than pairing flower combinations.

color wheel plants, color wheel flowers, color wheel gardens, color wheel leaves

The color wheel is a must-have tool for garden planning

Generally, the most dramatic combinations are achieved by pairing complimentary colors – those that are opposites (across from each other) on the color wheel, such as red and green, blue and orange or yellow and purple.  These dramatic moments work best as exactly that – moments.  A garden composed entirely of pairs of complementary colors would almost certainly be too strident for most tastes.  Color wheel opposites, such as red and green, however, are striking and energizing in small doses, as in the leaves and bracts of Leucadendron ‘Jester’, here backed by Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’, which ably echoes ‘Jester’s  green tones.

Rich drama is produced by complementary colors.

In the far background is Acer palmatum ‘Mizuho Beni’, which not only repeats ‘Jester’s yellow, but soothes its dramatic stripes, by teaming with ‘Green Arrow’ to provide what is termed an ‘analogous pairing’ of yellow and green.  Analogous colors are those that are next to each other on the color wheel, such as yellow and green or blue and purple.  See how the green and yellow soften the ‘Jester’s bold colors?  Of course that splash of yellow in the leaves is an added bonus in the matching scheme!

The complementary color pair in front is softened by the addition of the yellow foliage in back. Eye-popping color without harshness.

‘Mizuho Beni’ is paired on its other side with its color analog, the lovely green Cornus mas ‘Spring Glory’ (truly stunning in flower, but pulling its weight as a foliage plant in late spring/summer and into autumn). By backing the maroon Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ with the analogous color pair of green and yellow, the drama is muted and kept from stridency and harshness.

Saturated soft pinks combine with deep greens in an eye-catching pairing.

When white is added to any color the resulting hue is said to be a ‘tint’, and is generally more subdued and of lower impact.  However, nobody told this Acer palmatum ‘Beni Schichihenge’ and Phormium ‘Jester’ that!  This pink/green combination is a variation on the complimentary color pairing of red and green – softer, but with its own kind of drama.  By not tinting the green (i.e. keeping the green shade of the Lonicera pileata deeper than the pink of the other plants) the resulting combination retains structure and strength.

Complementary colors provide vibrancy.

Adding black instead of white produces a shade, rather than a tint, and, with red, in practical terms gets you maroon instead of pink.  This pairing of two extremely well known plants, Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea ‘Nana’ (common barberry) and Geranium ‘Rozanne’, doesn’t need flowers to provide pizzazz.  Note that here, with the darker red shade, the slightly lighter green allows for contrast and brightness.

Try the same color pairing with succulents for a different textural effect.

The same effect can be achieved using succulents, in this case Delosperma nubigenum, with a light, crisp green leaf and Sempervivum tectorum ‘Red Beauty’.

The drama of complementary colors is enhanced by textural contrast in this pairing of a Japanese maple and a Phormium.

Adding gray (a mix of black and white) to any color creates a ‘tone’, and takes maroon to brown, and Phormium tenax ‘Jack Spratt’ is a satisfying, rich cocoa.  Again traveling to the opposite side of the wheel for the complementary color, we find that an even lighter green works best, in this case the chartreuse-hued Acer palmatum ‘Capersi’s Dwarf’.  Bonus points for its red-margined leaves and the great textural contrast between the two plants!

The strong contrast of the Phormium and the Cotinus is buffered by the deep green of Prunus lusitanica.

Another brown Phormium, P. ‘Dusky Chief’ pairs well with any number of light green or chartreuse-leaved shrubs, such as Cotinus ‘Ancot’, here buffered by the deep green of Prunus lusitanica.  If you haven’t got space for such large shrubs, try the same color grouping using smaller Phormium varieties and perennials such as Heuchera.

Analogous colors create softer moods with less tension than complementary colors.

A different mood is created using reddish brown with its next-door neighbor, apricoty-gold.  Lighter, brighter, and producing a pairing with less tension and impact than one made up of complementary colors, Physocarpus ‘Mindia’ (sold as Coppertina) and Spirea ‘Goldflame’ make a soft, mouthwatering combination for the months both pre- and post-bloom.

Pink and light blue are the analogous colors red and blue, tinted with white. This pairing is soft, yet retains richness.

Another analogous combination is pink and powder blue (the tints of red and blue).  In this case, Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Esk Sunset’ is paired with Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’.  Both tints are soft and undemanding, yet result in a pairing both rich and satisfying.

This triadic combination shows the softer side of Acer palmatum ‘Mizuho Beni’.

Technically a triadic combination, (three colors that are spaced evenly around the wheel), this yellow leaf (our friend ‘Mizuho Beni’ again) with its red stem floats in front of the powdery blue Cedrus libani var. atlantica ‘Blue Cascade’.  The most successful triadic combinations feature one dominant color, in this case yellow, accented by the other two.  The yellow displays more richness backed by the soft blue than it would if paired with green.

Cool greens in varying shades create a calm, soothing mood.

Finally, see what happens when color combinations are narrowed to the tints, shades and tones of only one color, in this case the ‘cool’ color green.  This restful grouping of foliage would lack definition and impact if it were not for the wide variety of leaf sizes, forms and textures.  Combining broad-leafed evergreens (Lonicera pilleata top left, Pieris japonica ‘Silver Flame’ lower center); conifers (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Barry’s Silver’ lower left, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Fern’ lower right, Cedrus deodara ‘Silver Mist’ upper right/center) and the perennial Lobela tupa, this display is calming and serene 10 months of the year, only interrupted when the Lobelia blooms dramatically in summer and succumbs to frost for a month or so in the depths of winter.

So decide what mood you’re looking for – if it’s drama, go for complementary colors, if it’s calm, try analogs and if you are game to try something more complex give a triadic combination a whirl – and take your color wheel to the nursery on your next visit!

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage

 


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Golden Spring – and lots of other colors, too!

As winter subsides the garden magazines and blogs proliferate with emblematic photos of spring: bulbs in bloom, flowering trees and early floriferous annuals such as pansies.  Buds, particularly, capture our imagination, as they exemplify spring’s promise with their enticement to envision the unfolding flower tucked inside.  But garden writers woefully neglect the backstory: what is going on out there besides the flowers?  What has just as much color, interest and pizzazz?  Leaf buds, cones and young, tender vegetative growth.  Come with us on a tour through the spring garden as seen through the eyes of self-confessed foliage freaks.

Part I – Flower ‘substitutes’

Picea pungens ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’ gets our vote for New Foliage Poster Child.

One of the brightest garden lights as new growth pushes is Picea pungens ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’.  The new needles are daffodil yellow, a color that persists for 5-6 weeks until it gradually fades to bluish green.  Unlike real daffs, however, there are no unsightly withering leaves lingering for months. Apparently, the sunny needles of this spruce look like flowers not just to us. Try as she might, however, this errant honeybee is not going to get any nectar out of them!

New foliage on Picea p. ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’ with honeybee.

For a nearly perfect nosegay, we love the young leaves of Cotinus coggygria, or smoke bush.  They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but we know that before there’s smoke, there are luscious little leaves clustered around the immature flower buds.  Cut a bunch, stick in it a vase, and you have a ready-made ‘flower’ arrangement.

A ‘nosegay’ of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’.

Now, to make a point, we’ll show you a branch with actual flowers on it: Acacia pravissima, an Australian plant known down under as wattle:

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Acacia pravissima in spring bloom.

We couldn’t help but notice that right next to the Acacia in the garden is a Picea abies ‘Rubra spicata’, which is notable for having rosy red new growth, arrayed along its branches in a matter very similar to the Acacia!

New growth on Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ is a rosy red – are you sure those aren’t flower buds along that branch?

Not to be outdone, Picea orientalis ‘Early Gold’ is resplendent with cones in almost the same rosy red.

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

A bouquet of purple shows up on Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’

Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ has grape-colored cones in spring.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Admiration’ leafs out like a vivid paprika dahlia.  Who says that spring colors are pastels?

Berberis ‘Admiration’ new spring foliage – who says spring is for pastels?

Another warm-toned flower look alike is the maple Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’, whose unfurling leaves resemble the bell-shaped varieties of Clematis or Campanula.

New growth on Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’ just after bud break.

And if you prefer pink, why not go for Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’, clearly a pine with attitude!  These are the immature female cones, but they look pretty sophisticated to us.

The female cones of Pinus parviflora ‘Cleary’ are hot pink!

Do you like spiky flowers, such as Gladiolus or Delphinium?  It’s hard to beat the new candles of Thunderhead pines, Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’.

Candles on Pinus t. ‘Thunderhead’ look more like matches with sulfur heads. In any case, they look ready to be lit!

Want rosebuds?  Check out the cones on Picea abies ‘Pusch’.

The dainty ‘rosebuds’ of Picea abies ‘Pusch’.

‘Pusch’ is a mutation of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’, and you can see that the parent has its own ‘flower power’.

A rosy ‘bud’ on Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ (in reality a female cone).

The blue spruces get into the game, too, as P. pungens ‘Fat Albert’ demonstrates. In spring the new growth is not so much blue as minty green.  Scrumptious.

The minty green new foliage on Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ has us reaching for the dark chocolate.

Lobelia tupa, generally grown for its 7’ tall spikes of deep red flowers, masquerades as a foliage plant in spring, when it wears felted leaves in soft green.  They appear as pointed ‘buds’ that remind us of lily petals unfolding.

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Felted leaves in fresh green glow in the spring foliage garden….long before the scarlet flowers grab center stage.

And for those that insist on a rosette, look no further than Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’.  No wishy-washy shade for her!  We wonder if she wears matching nail polish.

Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’ forms a rosette with perfectly outlined ‘lips’.

And to end where we began, with ‘golden spring’, is Corylopsis spicata ‘Golden Spring’.  Leafing out in a deeper yellow than ‘Gabelle’s Golden Spring’, it deepens to  chartreuse in summer and then in autumn a golden yellow again.

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New foliage on Corylopsis spicata ‘Golden Spring’ glows in the shade garden in spring.

So look harder, look longer, look beyond the flowers, and find the gold…and burgundy and red and purple and powder blue and pink and….

Next up: Part II – Compelling Color Combos.

Stay tuned.

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage