Color in the Garden

Forest

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Green is the color in the plant kingdom we think of first.  Green grass, green leaves, shrubs, and trees.  We’re told green vegetables are good for us, and encouraged to “think green” when buying a car or handling our trash.  We hope the grass is greener on our own side of the fence.

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A patch of hardy Begonia growing with Creeping Jenny, ivy, and ferns.

A patch of hardy Begonia growing with Creeping Jenny, ivy, and ferns.

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Green is the color of vitality, of growth and goodness. 

It is the color of abundance and self-sufficiency.

Plants can turn sunlight into sugar because of the green chlorophyll living in their cells.  And yet, many of us plan our gardens around the colors of flowers, and tend to ignore the rest of the plant.

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Hosta

Hosta and Autumn Brilliance Fern

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We think of a forest landscape as green and brown.

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July 2 2013 trees 005

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But it is so much more.

In elementary school, we needed only two crayons to draw a tree.  We may have colored in green grass underneath, and then what?

Did you add a pink tulip to the scene?  A red bird?  A blue pond? Or did you add some green balls as shrubs?

Look again.  Is a tree all one color of green?  And is the trunk just brown?  We must learn to see what really is – to look past our idea of what something might be, and see the multicolored reality before us.

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Forest

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Color in a landscape, in a garden, is a very personal subject.

Formal gardens are mostly green with wide expanses of lawn, hedges of box or yew, great oaks and ivy growing on a wall or tree.  Color comes in blocks, like a bed full of yellow tulips beside the walkway.  We associate a minimalist approach in the formal garden with sophistication and refinement.  These gardens have the feel of a public place, a garden for display, for entertaining guests, for showcasing our home and perhaps some sculpture.

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"Queen Lime" Zinnia growing with a FIg tree.

Queen Lime” Zinnia growing with a FIg tree.

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Cottage gardens are imagined in bold, kaleidoscopic color.   Pink roses grow by orange daylilies and purple sage.  Tall white phlox shimmies in the breeze near lavender irises, and huge white peonies.  Yellow daffodils welcome spring and pots of orange chrysanthemums celebrate the last days of autumn.

We imagine a free spirit planting every flower she loves- randomly, in a huge back yard garden, a very personal space.  But a cacophony of color can be too much in competition for attention.  Nothing flows smoothly or compliments its neighbor, and we’re left on edge.

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Chili Pepper

Chili Pepper

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We often take green as the given, the canvas on which we plant our garden.  We load our cart at the garden center with lots of colorful flowers.  The shrubbery and trees don’t grab our attention in the same way, and yet they are the “bones” of any good garden plan.

Where is the beauty, and the balance?

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June 21 Lanai 022

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had to learn to see, really see, green.

In a box of 64 Crayola crayons, how many greens do you get?  How many synonyms for green can you name?  Do you know the difference between chartreuse and lime?  Apple green and teal?  How many different shades of green can you find in your own garden?

Normally, we think of leaves as green, and flowers as colorful.  We’re drawn to big bright flowers, especially in summer.

That is fine, and I certainly love flowers, but as we create our gardens year after year, eventually there is a time to look beyond the flowers to the beauty of everything else in our landscape.

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August 3, 2014 butterflies 099

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We notice the wonderful shapes and textures of the leaves of things.  We see that leaves and stems come in grey, and white, and purple, and yellow, and burgundy and teal, and in a hundred different shades of green. Leaves can be solid, or variegated.  They change color as the season progresses.  Working with the shapes, the different sizes, and the different colors of leaves takes us to another level in creating our gardens.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea and oxalis

Oakleaf Hydrangea and Oxalis

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When our focus shifts away from the flowers a plant produces, and we focus on the foliage, real magic occurs.  Because flowers are ephemeral, and some may last for only a day.

Some plants may produce flowers for only a week or two out of an entire year.  Some flowers open beautifully, and then get destroyed by rain, or too much sun, and end up a soggy brown mess.

What is left standing in our pots or beds once the flowers have faded?  That is where our focus shifts when we move up a notch to the next level of creating our gardens.

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Lavender,  Autumn Brilliance fern, dusty miller, Sage, Lantana, and Dianthus blend many colors and shapes of foliage.

Lavender, dusty miller, Sage, and Lantana

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I like the approach of “green, and…”

In other words, when you select a tree, shrub, perennial, annual, or herb; what are you getting each and every day of the next year?   Do you get “green in summer and great bark in winter”?  Maybe you’re getting “green all year but orange berries in November”.  Or perhaps, you’re getting “blue green leaves all summer, a few weeks of outstanding flowers, and a repeat performance next year.”

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Begonia

Rex Begonia

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An interesting garden needs an interesting mix of plants which shift and evolve as the year progresses.  If you plant only evergreens and grass, the landscape changes very little from April to October, unless a drought comes in summer and the lawn turns brown.

If you plant only bright annual flowers, what do you look at all winter?  I want something in bloom every day of the year in my garden, and that is easy to do in Zone 7b, but I don’t need everything in bloom every day.  The garden needs to shift and change from week to week and season to season.

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August 3, 2014 butterflies 101

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Our plants need to look good even when they’re not in bloom.  And, I think flowers look better when they are accents, pops of color, against a beautiful background of foliage.

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Camellias in fall

Camellia Sasanqua and Dogwood anchor this border of shrubs and trees.

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Trees and shrubs need to turn bright colors in autumn.  Summer annuals need to bite the frost and be replaced with Violas.  Evergreen Camellias and hollies need to shine in the winter sunshine among the bare trees.

Moss needs to glisten in the winter rain, and ferns need to send up bronze and green fronds in spring beside the yellow daffodils. 

And mostly, my eyes need somewhere to rest.  After I’ve admired the red Monarda and yellow Lantana, I want a tranquil bed or border of a green, which is anything but boring.

Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

Variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Color in the Garden

  1. Your first photo stopped me in my tracks. For a split second, my mind wondered how your garden got so green so fast – LOL! How wonderful to scroll through your green photos, they filled me up with peaceful joy! Soon, soon, I tell myself. It’s amazing how I forget just how green it gets here in the summer. Thanks for the uplifting post. Happy Easter to you and yours!

    • Thank you, Eliza, and Happy Easter to you 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed all of the summer photos. It looks nothing like this out of the window now- with you, it is hard to remember how beautifully green the grass eventually gets, and how lush the shrubs and trees will be once the leaves unfurl. I needed and breath of summer- and so glad you enjoyed it, too. Do you think your snow will be mostly melted by Easter Sunday?

  2. Reblogged this on Forest Garden and commented:

    As spring returns to our gardens, so do we… Many of us are re-designing and selecting new plants as we prepare for the growing season ahead. In that spirit, I’ve dusted off a post originally published in summer 2013, added a few new photos, and am offering it again during this first week of April. I hope you find something you can use. Woodland Gnome

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