If there is one thing Team Fine Foliage knows for sure, it’s that our gray Pacific Northwest climate requires careful planning when it comes to designing beds, borders and landscapes of all sizes for the right balance of plants to anchor the garden year round. As we head into the fall and winter seemingly faster than normal this year, we begin to analyze our past choices and new options with a bit more urgency so that we can have our spring plans ready as well as tweaking old ideas to make room for new ones.
While visiting the positively luscious PowellsWood Garden recently, it was incredible to analyze the use of foliage plants to act as a ballast to hold down the scenes around the garden of fluffy, billowy, blooming perennials and shrubs arranged so carefully to lead you from one space to the next. Lead designer Rick Serazin is incredibly brilliant. He has an eye for details and a use of foliage that keeps us coming back for more!
The hardy banana above boldly grips this scene with its wide tropical leaves for your eye to wander down to the medium textured Mediterranean fan palms on both sides of the Rhamnus ‘Fine Line’ that provides a lacy texture and strong vertical line. Then the ribbon of ‘Orange Rocket’ barberries creates a horizontal band across the middle giving a fantastic orange glow for the intensely white leaves of the (new to the market as of 2014 ) Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’ to stand out against. A carpet of annual bacopa ‘Calypso Jumbo Lavender’ across the bottom of this setting adds the floral element for all of this incredible foliage to stand out against.
When phormium or New Zealand Flax was the HOT new plant, we couldn’t get enough of every new color, shape and size that came out every year. Now after some experimentation, some failures due to climate, soil and critters, we designers might be a bit more discerning about spending our precious dollars on certain new plants. And then THIS happened….Astelia came to market and now we’re hooked once again. 🙂
In the photo above, you can see Astelia nervosa ‘Westland’ holding down this small bed where black mondo grass fills in around it making a frame to show off the interesting color of this particular astelia. This silver bladed grass-like plant has a subtle hint of rusty-red and a little burgundy that gives it some interesting tonal effects. Plus, the way that it stands up tall and erect is very effective and helps to lead the eye up the hedgerow to the stairs that lead you under the vine-covered arbor in the distance.
The same Astelia ‘Westland’ mentioned earlier adorns this small dry stream bed in the partial shade with other foliage plants and acts as the main player in this scene while ground covers and other grasses are still maturing.
Obviously our notoriously easy maritime climate is milder and allows us much more flexibility in our plant choices than most locations around the country, but the photo above is a great way to take a design idea and riff on it with your own colder climate plant options.
The design take-away here is that the upright and very blue pine in the center of this shot “anchors” the billowy summer blooming shrubs and perennials around it, keeping them from feeling as if this border is going to almost float-away. Plus, giving us some colorful winter interest to hold our eye later in the year. So what shrubs could you substitute in your climate for plants like the hardy fuchsia shown here?
PowellsWood takes great pride in making sure that they have BIG BOLD color for summer and this is just one inspiring example of how they do that so well. But, from a design standpoint, just look at the skillful use of foliage here! At the base of all of that blooming perennial glory sits a blanket of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ ground cover where the designer inserted fancy geraniums that feature intense gold foliage. The energy of the gold and black high-contrast combination were spaced beautifully and allowed the flowery border to have some “breathing space” where the eye can rest.
The bright gold of ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac draws your eye in like a beacon to this intensely detailed and colorful border. Big leaves from the tropical red banana are a great contrast to the finely cut foliage of the sumac while the extraordinary blue of the ‘Blue Chalk Fingers’ or ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ (Senecio mandraliscae) leads you to gaze down low at the foliage color opposite the color wheel from yellow or gold that MAKES this setting extraordinary.
Could this incredibly blue succulent be something more hardy for your garden location? ‘Blue Star’ juniper? ‘Blue Rug’ juniper? Blue Oat grass or the smaller blue fescue grass? No matter which idea works bets for you, the design function of the blue foliage works beautifully here against the gold spreading yew in the center and the variegated leaves of the ‘Gilt Edge’ Elaeagnus at the back.
So much fabulous foliage in one space! From the ‘Feelin Blue’ deodor cedar in the center the creeping blue juniper on the far left, to the tender summer foliage of the stachys mentioned earlier and the brand new ‘Meerlo’ lavender with dreamy cream variegation and fragrance, there are so many ideas here! The weeping blue conifer is an excellent choice to anchor this bed, while the red/orange tones of the heuchera in the center are the perfect color to echo the annual cigar or firecracker plant (cuphea ignea) and the lavender bacopa and verbena up on the wall.
The classical color contrast of gold and purple are so well done in this raised wall garden. The gold spreading yew and blue creeping juniper gives this scene a couple of showy evergreen anchors for the winter months while the swath of columnar ‘Karl Foerster’ grasses are sensational for late summer.
Way to go PowellsWood garden!
Want more ideas?
Well you may want to pre-order our new book Gardening with Foliage First because there is a HUGE section of ideas just for fall and winter including container designs!
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