Adding Color and Texture to the Garden

Hello!  Since Bonnie is in the midst of moving mayhem (big supportive hug to her)  I'm going to step up the gardening posts for a few weeks.  This is a great time to get out in the garden and play (and is a fun post, but soon there will be the fall garden chores post...). Over the next week I'm going to share a series of posts on how I improve gardens, from a design point of view.  Today I am going to focus on adding color and texture to the garden.

This is the time of year when I step back and take a look at the gardens in my life.  As a landscape designer this is my favorite time of year.  Usually projects I began working on last year or in the Spring have begun to manifest, and I can take a cold look at my ideas and make some tweaks here and there.  Here is a comforting fact:  Most garden designs undergo some tweaking once they are in the ground.  My favorite way to design a garden is to pick the plants, bring them to the site  and then play with grouping them together before planting. Obviously this is not conducive to most client's garden, but it works wonderfully for friends and family. It drives some people bonkers, but it's a major part of my process...and one of the ways I tap into my creativity.

My professional focus right now is on improving established gardens.  Fall is a great time of year to plant perennials, trees and shrubs.  The weather is cooler, the plants are cheaper and I've seen the garden for at least a season so I know what is working and what is missing.  I step back and question the garden...with the first question being:

1. Was there enough color and texture in the garden?

I always look to see if I can use a plants with good foliage color instead of relying on flowers alone. My favorite manifestation of this idea comes from the garden of  Margaret Roach.  This underplanting is just remarkable.  Who needs flowers when foliage does such a great job! Her story on how the planting came together is a great read...I really cannot wait for her new book to come out!

Do you see the texture in the plants?  The long draping, yellow blades of the Hakonechola macra ‘All Gold’ , the glossy round leaves of the European Ginger, the softer rounded leaves of the Hosta 'June"(...notice the continuation of the yellow color on the interior stripes of the hosta), then the sharper and softly pointed purple fronds of the Japanese painted ferns. Do you see the way the ferns, hosta and Hakonechola all seem to be bursting out of the ground...creating movement and moving the eye around the garden?  And what about those two little yellow punctuation marks created by the "Lime Rickey" heuchera!  That's pizzaz!

On a much larger scale, this garden designed by Piet Oudolf is another gorgeous example of color and texture working together to create a dynamic and interesting garden:

Here we have large drifts of plantings undulating and moving the eye through.  I look at this garden and can feel it.  Do you get what I mean by that? That's what I want in my gardens...feeling and movement, color and texture, scent and tactile moments.....a full sensory experience.  I know those large pink echinaceas have spiky centers that are hard to the touch...but the oat grass to the left is a soft and fuzzy plant that dances in the breeze.  This is a garden that would never be still and would never become boring.

Here are two more Piet Oudolf gardens to take inspiration from:

Allium Gladiator (those large purple balls) are one of my favorite plants...but I can't help but want to take a whack at them with a baseball bat....too much tee-ball in my youth perhaps??!!

Piet Oudolf creates rivers and ponds of plants...can you see these in the photos above?  What else do you notice about his design?  Do you see the similarities of structure, even though the plants are so different?  Could you see these gardens in a smaller space or do you think they need the large expanses of space to be successful?  What do you find appealing about these gardens?  How can you translate that into your own gardens?

Whenever I look at gardens, be it live or in photos, I ask myself a ton of questions...this is how I sharpen my own aesthetic and design skills.  A good garden design is something to be studied and examined and picked apart....and enjoyed!

Do you have favorite designers you take inspiration from?  Or favorite plants to add color or texture to your garden?

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  • we love to use various grasses, ferns, ajugas, and variegated liriope for our foundation plantings. for my flower beds I like to mix in different colors of Coleus in the summer and cabbages, kales, and chards in the winter! also, some of my most favorite textures/colors comes from the foliage of herbs!!!

  • Jenn – you have inspired me to create an herb garden blog post! I agree with you completely, herbs are wonderful in the garden!

  • Amanda – I want a garden like that too! Thankfully these cn be recreated on a smaller scale…give it a try!

    Michele – Good luck with your garden design! Feel free to ask any questions or for suggestions!

    Green Bean – oh starting afresh is so much fun!! I’m doing that as well…I wish you lots of fun and remind you to start with a soil test to make sure your new plants will have all they need to thrive!