Autumn’s Textures and Layers

Our Forest Garden is filled with growth this first week of September.

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Last Friday, I had the rare privilege of tagging along on a garden tour led by one of our region’s most beloved and respected horticulturalists, Brent Heath.  And he began the tour by reminding us that color in the garden is secondary to texture and form.  He reminded us that only about 10% of the vegetation in a good garden design should be flowers.  Considering that his business sells a rainbow of geophytes that bloom in every season of the year, this bit of advice seemed important to note.

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Late August at the Heath’s display gardens

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Although Brent and Becky’s catalogs may be filled with seas of golden daffodils and page after page of bright lilies, tulips, Iris, hyacinths and other garden delicacies; their display gardens around the bulb shop are more of an arboretum, filled with interesting woodies set in beautiful lawns.  And yes, within the vast green spaces grow beautiful beds of perennials.

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Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

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In the spring we crave those crazy bright yellow daffodils and clear bright tulips, crocus, and hyacinths.  We revel in fluffy pink clouds of blooming fruit trees and early Magnolias.  But by late summer, I am cooled and soothed by layer upon layer of green.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Edgeworthia, Camellia, Rudbeckia, Solidago and the surrounding trees create many layers of texture in our garden this week.  How many different shades of green can you see?

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By early September, our garden approaches its maximum growth for the season.  It is filled with leaves of many shapes, sizes, and shades of green.  Tall stands of Solidago reach up for their bit of sunlight, their tops feathery and alive, shifting and shimmying in every breath of a breeze.  Likewise Cannas, Hibiscus and ginger lilies have grown taller than me, and moving through the garden feels like winding through a living, breathing maze.

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I feel sheltered and cocooned standing in the midst of it, marveling at how much has grown over the past few months.  The secret to this garden magic comes from planting in layers.  Literally, one might have several plants sharing the same square foot of real estate, that grow to different heights and that take center stage at different times of the year.  Herbaceous plants come and go with the seasons, while the woodies and evergreen ground covers remain.

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Obedient plant, Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and other natives grow against shrubs in our front garden. This area is underplanted with spring bulbs and perennial ground covers like Vinca and Ajuga.

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But even beyond seasonal layering, we build more permanent layers with trees and shrubs of various statures, ground cover vines, evergreen ferns and perennials such as bearded Iris, and the architecture of pergolas and pots, walls, gates, paths and raised beds.  Everywhere the eye can rest offers a layer of structure.  Much of the structure is green, and every layer offers its own special texture to the mix.

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Perennial native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows at the base of Canna and Colocasia in this sunny spot.

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“Green’ describes a multitude of shades, multiplied further by the ever changing light and shadows.  This is, perhaps, a reason to favor perennials over annuals.  Perennials fill the garden with interesting texture and color, both before and after their much shorter season of bloom.

The annuals certainly charm us in March in April when we crave color.  But by late August and September, most have begun to wane.  They show the ravages of drought and time.  If we’ve not cut them back hard, the growth may be a bit old and rangy, perhaps dying off in spots.

 

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Annual Zinnias fill beds at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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But worse, annuals may not improve that much over the long coastal Virginia summer.  You lose the subtleties of change enjoyed as perennials grow, bud, bloom and fade.  I look at so many pots of summer annuals now and think, ‘Ick.’  Many looked tired out and nearly ready for the compost pile.

And good riddance, as we approach another ‘golden season’ of Rudbeckias, goldenrods, Chrysanthemums, Lycoris, ginger lilies and soon autumn’s golden leaves.

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The garden will revel in a final burst of gold and scarlet and orange before it finally settles and fades again to browns and grey; and before the first frosts of winter transform it, yet again.

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Scarlet Pineapple Sage has just begun to bloom in our garden this week, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

2 responses to “Autumn’s Textures and Layers

  1. Congrats on the new computer, what a gift to have a brother who is savvy. I know only the basics and have to go to experts when the need arises. Glad Forest Garden is here to stay – I’d miss it!

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