form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


South Seattle Community College Arboretum: a Hidden Gem of a Conifer Garden

American Conifer Society, foliage gardening

South Seattle Community College boasts not just an arboretum but also one of the best collections of dwarf conifers in the country.

We’ve written about both large, grand public botanical gardens and small, private, intimate collections. In Southwest Seattle, open to all visitors with no fee, is the newest American Conifer Society Reference Garden: the arboretum at South Seattle Community College, a public space designed and crafted with a personal touch.  This arboretum puts many large-university offerings to shame, particularly its Coenosium Rock Garden, specializing in gorgeous dwarf conifers, such as the Picea abies ‘Gold Drift’ gracing the entry stone.

conifers, evergreen plants, foliage gardening

The Coenosium Rock Garden was dedicated in 2005 and inducted into the Gardens for Peace program in 2010.

The arboretum was established in 1978 at the north end of the campus, after students in the landscape horticultural program petitioned for an outdoor laboratory. The present-day garden is about five acres and has a sweeping view of downtown Seattle. Although the arboretum counts its Helen Sutton Rose Garden as one of its highlights and there are robust examples of perennial borders, rhododendron and ornamental grasses, it is the two conifer gardens that drew our interest for their excellent displays of form and foliage.

American Conifer Society, cryptomeria japonica

The Milton Sutton Conifer Garden opened in the early 80’s and now has some lovely mature specimens.

The Milton Sutton Conifer Garden, planted soon after the arboretum was begun, has lovely specimens (and the best view of Seattle!) but is of more interest to the conifer-addict than a gardener seeking ideas about plant combinations, as it does not feature the attention to plant placement and design that characterize the newer Coenosium conifer collection.

conifers, American conifer society, blue Atlas cedar

Cryptomeria japonica and Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca pendula’ have nicely contrasting color and texture.

Amongst the conifers in this part of the arboretum, though, we found plenty of color and textural variety.  The Japanese ‘cedar’ (not a true cedar, but that’s its common name), replete with cones, on the left in the above photo, has distinctly different needles than the blue Atlas cedar on the right. Their colors, too, contrast pleasingly and their shapes are wildly different–the Cryptomeria stands about 40-50′ tall while the Atlas cedar drapes itself horizontally in numerous directions.

evergreens shrubs and trees, foliage gardens, colored foliage

In the Coenosium Rock Garden, conifers dominate, with attention paid to design principles such as repetition and the use of companion plantings.

The Coenosium Rock Garden was the brainchild and donation of Bob and Dianne Fincham of Coenosium Gardens, which we wrote about last year. Intended as a teaching tool and laboratory, it also functions as an attractive display garden, with careful attention paid to combinations of color, texture, shape and size. There are non-cone bearing plants sharing the space, from stately European beeches to humble black-eyed Susans, giving those looking for ideas much to see and inspire them.

Cedrus deodara, Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula', Fagus sylvatica, evergreen trees, conifers

A busy road runs behind this lovely stand of European beeches, cedars and other conifers.

The Rock Garden was begun in 2000, dedicated in 2005 and inducted into the Gardens for Peace Program in 2010.  The site is problematic; much of the soil is heavy and drains poorly.  The West end of the garden, which was planted as part of Phase I in 2000, required roughly 60 yard of fill before the 60 conifers and European beeches (which today are over 20′ tall) could be planted to make a screen along busy 16th Avenue SW. Most of us don’t use material in such large quantities but the principles are the same: poor soil can be amended and woody plants can be used functionally to create and delineate spaces.

junipers, mixed foliage garden, evergreens

The deep purple leaves of the weeping European beech contrast beautifully with the surrounding conifers.

Most of the non-coniferous plantings are European beeches and Japanese maples; both are long-lived, slow-growing trees with lovely shapes, bark, stature and leaf color and texture.  The glossy leaves of the beeches and the lacy maple foliage provide a pleasing contrast to the conifer needles, although this garden’s designers have taken pains to illustrate that all conifers are not alike.

conifers, evergreens, foliage plants

The lime green Calocedrus foliage and the blueish Picea needles couldn’t be more different.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca', Chamaecyparis obtusa, Picea orientalis

Likewise this grouping of a blue Atlas cedar, vibrant green false Hinoki cypress, tweedy loden spruce and rich emerald pine.

We lingered in this garden for a couple of hours, partly because there was much to engage the eye, but also because Bob and Dianne envisioned this spot as more than just a laboratory, but also as a richer sensory experience, like most successful gardens.  The garden includes a magnificent water feature, donated by the Arboretum Support Committee and designed and installed by SSCC students.  The pleasant sound of the water and textural richness of the stone creek bring sound and earthiness into the impressive collection of plantings.

conifers, foliage plants

Rushing water moves through a rock-lined creek bed in the middle of the garden.

And, like all good gardens, there are benches where visitors can sit and take it all in.

conifer garden, South Seattle Community College Arboretum

Plan enough time when you visit to sit and enjoy the garden’s sights and sounds.

Horticulture Instructor Van Bobbitt is the Arboretum Coordinator, and his students, in addition to using it as a living laboratory, maintain it for the pleasure of others.  If you are in Seattle, don’t miss this lovely spot: South Seattle Community College Arboretum.    Follow the Arboretum on Facebook.


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?


‘Down Mexico Way’ at the 2013 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

Arizona State University display garden SF  Flower and Garden Show 2013

The Mexico display garden at the 2013 SF Flower and Garden Show

Form and Foliage went to the opening of the 2013 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show today and we were greeted by a display garden that was a lovely execution of the F&F principles: lots of structural plants that relied on foliage for interest, good range of colors, shapes and textures and, even in the mass plantings, enough spacing to let the shapes show.

Foliage plants 'decorate' an outdoor room in the Mexico display garden at the SF Flower & Garden Show

Foliage plants ‘decorate’ an outdoor room in the Mexico display garden at the SF Flower & Garden Show

The garden was titled ‘Inside Out’ and used inspiration from urban Mexican culture and architects such as Ricardo Legorreta & Luis Barragan. Designed by the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Arizona State University, this garden was evidently appreciated by many others, as it was the winner of numerous awards.

2013 SF Flower and Garden Show

Drifts of Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes’ make a strong structural statement

The garden used several Agave cultivars, including the relatively newly introduced ‘Kara’s Stripes’, which has broad softly striped leaves that form a graceful rosette, and which lack that lethal terminal spine.

Ocotillo, Fouqueria splendens

The bold entry planting is dominated by a majestic Yucca filifera and its shadow

The lighting was designed to let shadows play on the boldly colored walls, bringing movement and drama to the garden.  The row of Fouqueria splendens (ocotillo; desert coral) on the right forms a living fence, attractive even with bare branches.

Mexico display garden at 2013 SF Flower & Garden Show

A close up of the entry planting: Agave salmiana, a group of A. ‘Kara’s Stripes’ and the trunk of Yucca filimentosa

The garden captured the spirit of Mexico with its vibrant colors, which worked well with the strong lines of the plantings.  There were some flowering plants, but in F&F style, they were not expected to carry the garden or the mood, but rather act as accents that could easily be changed seasonally.

ASU display garden 2013 SF Flower and Garden Show

Colorful concrete sections staggered diagonally are interplanted with decorative grasses for wonderful textural contrast

We liked the designers’ use of pedestrian materials such as concrete blocks and repurposed metal piping.  The aluminum caps on the walls in the above photo were a nice touch and an example of the attention to detail in this garden.

Mexico garden, ASU display garden

The garden art echoed the plantings perfectly!

Finally, we loved the fact that this garden took the F&F theme into the art!  This playful representation of an Agave is also evocative of the sun, and it shone cheekily over the seating area.

The SF Flower and Garden Show runs through March 24th and there is an extensive trade fair as well as seminars, demos, etc.  Just make sure that you include a trip to ‘Mexico’ so that you can see this wonderful garden for yourself.


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!


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


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


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