Renovate! How the Garden Next Door Went from Just Grass to Just Gorgeous …

August 23rd, 2011 § 3

A Prim & Proper Arbor Goes Drop-Dead Gorgeous in a Sexy New Shade of Sangria

It’s been awhile since I last featured one of my residential garden design projects on The Gardener’s Eden. And to be completely honest, I’ve been too busy planning and installing gardens to do much writing these days. But over the next couple of weeks, I hope to showcase more real, residential gardens which I designed or redesigned and helped to revamp this summer; all located in everyday, suburban neighborhoods. I love planning and planting all kinds of gardens, but my most rewarding projects usually involve collaborations with do-it-yourself homeowners —regular people with average gardening skills— ready and eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I get a great deal of pleasure from helping others by designing beautiful, low-maintenance gardens which make outdoor living more enjoyable …

Durable and Beautiful Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Catches the Late Afternoon Light at the Edge of the Driveway

A Garden of Mostly-Native, Lower Maintenance Plants, This Section Features a Screen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summerwine’, Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’, Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Ornamental Grasses are Great Problem-Solvers for Hot, Dry, Sunny Locations. Fountain Grass Softens Hard Edges and Works with the Riverside Setting of the Property

The front entry garden featured in this post —home of Geri and Stan Johnson in Western Massachusetts— was a particularly fun project this summer.  The couple recently renovated the interior of their sweet, riverside ranch home, and this year they decided it was time to take action on the outside. When I first met with them to discuss revamping their front landscape, I asked them about project scope, goals, style and budget. Geri is a successful real estate professional and she clearly understands the value of a well designed landscape, but a home is more than just an investment; it’s a place for family, friends and relaxation. Geri and Stan took the time to think about what they wanted from this landscape renovation before calling me for a consultation, making my job much easier! But even more important, working with open-minded clients like the Johnsons —who were willing trust my design recommendations and guidance, and take imaginative leaps at every turn— makes designing gardens fun and rewarding …

Front Entry Before, and After …

After coming up with  a master plan, I broke this front yard landscape renovation into three distinct areas for ease of installation: the entry garden, main walkway/foundation border (I’ll talk about this section in a future post) and retaining wall/arbor garden. Geri and Stan wanted several things from their new landscape. Because both homeowners are busy people, low-maintenance design was right at the top of their list. Creating a buffer from the road, and adding a bit of privacy was also important to them, but they wanted the first impression to be welcoming and attractive as well. Thoughtful neighbors, they requested that the new plantings not block the view of the river from the rest of the community. An existing, mature hedge of hemlock directly in front of Geri and Stan’s house provides protection from radiant road heat and the sound of passing cars, as well as a safe-haven and nesting space for local birds. I’m quite fond of our native hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) —a great choice for creating a soft, feathery garden backdrop and living privacy fence (click here for more info about my favorite conifer)— and used it as a jump-off point for a new garden design featuring mostly native plants. The backbone of the new entry garden is formed by a relaxed grouping of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, which extends the line of the existing hedge with a soft curve. To this anchor, a low-maintenance grouping of pollinator-friendly, long-flowering perennials and ornamental grass was added …

Welcoming but Protected: The New Garden Provides a Pretty and Durable Screen from the Road without Blocking the View to the River Beyond (Natives like Rudbeckia, Veronica and Sedum combine with Perovskia atriplicifolia and ornamental grasses to support local bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators and seed-seekers throughout the seasons)

With a Meadow of Wild Bluestem Grass and Oaks Across the Street, It Seemed Right to Use Mostly Native Plants When Designing this Welcoming Garden

Viewed from Inside, this Garden of Mostly-Native Plants is Soft, Cool and Colorful (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ provide food for pollinators at different times of the year)

Once the Plantings Fill-In (most designs take about three years before they begin to hit their stride) This Garden Will Provide a Soothing Drift of Low-Maintenance, Season-Long Color

Stan (who, among other things, owns and operates Songline Emu Farm with his wife Geri and her sister, Dee Dee Mares) was such an enthusiastic and hard worker (with the muscle and speed of three twenty year olds and far more attention to detail), I wish I could take him along on every landscaping project! Work began about one week after I marked out new beds with spray paint, cut English-style edges, and applied two doses of Nature’s Avenger (a non-toxic, organic herbicide used to kill crab and turf grass). Once the soon-to-be replace lawn turned orangey-brown, Stanley, his brother and nephew spread 6″ of loam/compost mix on top of the dead turf to build up raised planting beds; feathering the borders to meet the edges I’d pre-cut. I find this method of creating new garden beds to be both easier and less disruptive than manually removing sod and tilling soil.

While I went about the work of selecting and shopping for new, low-maintenance, native plants and installing the first garden, Stanley and his nephew removed an undesirable grouping of scraggly Spirea from the retaining wall garden and prepared the other beds for planting by moving existing plants, weeding and spreading fresh loam/compost. Once planted, the guys came back through and spread a 2″ thick layer of natural (un-dyed) hemlock bark mulch. The end result was a complete transformation of the front yard. But perhaps the most dramatic change in the garden happened near the very end, when Stanley brought up the refinished garden arbor from his garage. Although the original white color of the arch was perfect for niece Meagan’s wedding, this romantic landscape feature went bold and sophisticated in a fresh, vibrant shade of deep maroon; a much better match for this colorful, contemporary new garden. Amazing what a difference a few cans of spray paint can make!

Left-Over from Their Niece’s Wedding, This Garden Arbor Makes a Great Argument for Spray Paint Makeovers in This Dramatic Before (above) and After (below) …

Without Hesitating at My Suggestion, Stan Painted the Garden Arch a Deep Maroon (Which Seems to Change Hue with the Light) to Better Blend with the House and Enhance the Colors of Their New Garden. It’s a Real Knock-Out …

Plantings Surrounding the Maroon Arbor Flatter in Similar Hues and bold Pops of Color (Including this Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’and  Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’)

Fine textured maiden grass shimmers in the afternoon sunlight, accenting either side of the arbor and leading the eye down the garden path (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’). Nice work on that paint job, Stanley!

A Bold, Mass Planting of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Glows on the Opposite Side of the Richly-Colored Arch

Between the two mirroring sides of this long, road-side screen is a sunny to semi-shady walkway garden running the length of the house. I filled this last section of the garden —which I will cover in an upcoming post— with bold new perennials and a few colorful, season-spanning shrubs. I’ve many more projects to share, but in meantime, if you have any questions about the how-to end of this project, please feel free to post them in comments!

By working with a garden designer —who can help you create a site plan and shop for and perhaps place or even install plants— but doing the bulk of the physical labor/hardscaping yourself, you can save a tremendous amount of money on landscaping projects. Before you call in a professional, take the time to think about a few things; including your goals (how you hope to use your outdoor space, and your project time frame/deadline), your personal as well as your home’s style (formal, informal or somewhere between), your budget (remember that professional landscaping can add 10-20% to your home’s value, and immeasurable curb-appeal), and how much of the work you are willing and able to do yourself (experience and muscle matter here, so be brutally honest with yourself). Many landscape designers and garden coaches enjoy working with do-yourselfers. Need help finding a garden designer? Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find a landscaping professional (if see a garden you love, send or leave a note for the owner asking the designer’s name), but local garden centers/greenhouses, building contractors, stoneworkers, realtors and garden clubs are great sources of information as well.

A Big Thank You to Geri and Stan Johnson for All of Your Enthusiasm, Support and Hard Work! I Hope You are Enjoying Your New Garden!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Loveliest Ladies of August: Summer’s Beautiful, Late Bloomers are Well Worth the Wait …

August 10th, 2011 § 4

Blush-tinged blossoms and gorgeous, season-spanning foliage make Hydrangea quercifolia one of my favorite native plants (shown here with Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and the lingering blue flowers of Adenophora confusa) . Check out this shrub’s autumn coloration here!

After last night’s much-needed rain, I awoke to the sound of hermit thrush, sweetly singing in the hemlock stand beyond my bedroom window. Slowly the morning symphony of songbirds is subsiding; soon-to-be completely replaced by the cacophony of crickets and squawking blue jays. Late summer migration is already beginning, with geese flocking in fields and nearby lakes. Many songbirds will take flight this month; starting their long journeys south by the light of the August 13th full moon. Indeed, late summer is upon us, and even the garden is relaxing into vacation-mood; with lazy-day looseness replacing the tightly uniform patterns of early summer …

When Other Shrubs Look Past Their Prime, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’  Shines in August Spot; Here Beside Co-Star Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, (read more about this dynamic duo here)

Of course for those of us staying on in colder climates —to weather all four seasons— there’s still much fair weather yet to be enjoyed. I so look forward to these golden, halcyon days of summer; work slowing down, days on the river, dinners from the garden and long flights over the valley at sunset. Of course, if you’ve been following this journal for awhile, you already know that the late season is my favorite time of year in the garden. Many of my garden’s largest beds and borders are planned for a late August through November color crescendo. I love the play of rich purple, maroon, chartreuse, fuchsia and saffron in the last weeks of summer and early days of autumn. And now that we’ve arrived in the second week of August, some of my favorite plants are budding up and coming into bloom. Included in this post are some of my all-time favorites. But really, the show is just beginning. Stay tuned for more late summer show-stoppers. But for now, to travel back to this post for a few late summer garden-design and plant combination ideas (click here). Or, for more past-posts and late-season plant profiles, click on the August through November archives; listed in the sidebar along the right side column …

Actaea simplex or Cimicifuga racemosa/simplex? Matters Not How She’s Taxonomically Categorized, Fairy Candles (favorite cultivars include the above: ‘Hillside Black Beauty and also, ‘Brunette’) are a Season-Spanning Delight with Swoon-Worthy Late Summer Fragrance! To read more and see Fairy Candle photos: check out this plant-profile (click here)

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Dark Beauty’ with Ucinia egmontiana (Click here to learn more about the Spotted toad lily, shown here in my garden with Orange Hook Sedge)

Read more about Bi-Colored Bush Clover, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’, in this post (click here

With Her Emerald Gown and Stunning, Late-Season Blossoms, Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow Wax Bells) Will Always be a Shade-Garden Star (see more photos and get details on this lovely perennial by clicking here)

I adore this time of year in my garden, and keep adding more and more late season perennials and shrubs to expand and enhance the show. What are some of your August blooming favorites? Do you prefer the cool tones, the muted colors or the eye popping brights? Hope you will enjoy the glorious days of late summer while they last!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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A Morning of Sunlit Snow Flurries & Quiet Moments of Wintry Beauty…

December 8th, 2010 § 2

Golden, Sunrise Snow Shower

Sunlit snow flurries, stark, white tree trunks and icy sparkle at the tips of my toes; it seems that every morning I awake to find yet another golden dawn, illuminating a crystal-and-snow-coated wonderland. And now, as late autumn gently fades —heralding the arrival of early winter— I am dazzled-as-always by the beauty of the changing seasons. The remarkable quality of light, the clear, crisp air, and the sharp lines of the early December garden make this month as beautiful and varied as any other…

Violet pastilles or Labrador violets (Viola labradorica)? Sugar-coated delight, either way.

Black Raspberry Sherbet or Frosted Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)?

If this oakleaf hydrangea ( H. quercifolia) had a flavor, I think it would taste something like frosted rum-raisin ice cream. This year, the pretty specimen by my front door is really holding onto her regal-colored cloak…

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) sparkles like frosted fruit leather in the morning light

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and Juniper (J. x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) in a sparkling, golden snow squall

Frosty Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) at Forest-Edge

Crystal-Coated Coral Bell Color (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’)

Chilly Little Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina)

Snow-Dusted Secret Garden Steps

Delicate Snow, Like Fine White Powder, Coats Lacy, Evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Ledge

Rodgersia aesculifolia with a fresh white-wash

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For more winter-garden inspiration, check out my post today for Garden Variety  (click here).

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Opposites Attract: Autumn Golds Glow Beside Vibrant Violets, Pale Plums & Lovely Lavenders…

October 7th, 2010 § 1

An October knock-out: Clematis viticella ‘Polish Spirit’ (my new favorite) sings harmony at the edge of the golden-chartreuse fields of autumn

Oh beautiful, technicolor October, my favorite month of the year. On glorious fall days like today, I live to be outdoors from dawn to dusk, playing in the garden’s golden light. With all of the warm autumn colors and hot, mulled apple cider, I barely notice evening’s growing chill. Bold, contrasting shades —citrus and purple, saffron and plum— fill the beds and borders with near-electric radiance. Opposites attract, and sparks fly in the garden…

The lemon-colored spicebush (native Lindera benzoin) featured here last week is still glowing brightly. And this week, the shining and Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia illustris and A. hubrichtii, respectively) and sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) have joined the colorful garden party; all shimmering now in bright-as-the-sun yellow hues. Alongside all of the gilded foliage, shades of violet —from lavender to deepest plum— continue to play right in tune. Looking to bump up the late-season wattage in your garden? Consider side-by-side plantings in shades of purple and yellow. The combination always gives a garden design a good kick…

Late asters stand out like jewels in a setting: the glowing color of Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’, backed by golden Amsonia illustris, captures the last rays of sunlight

The plummy plumes of maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) play beautifully in my garden. Here, bathed in late afternoon light, the inflorescences stand tall against a backdrop hedge of deep-purple Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’. Yellow, horizontal stripes on the grass —a little hard to see in this photo— add dynamic color and texture to the combination

Pots get in on the color-act as well: Aster ‘Apollo’ strikes a stunning pose, massed on the stone steps leading to my studio; planted here in contrasting, mustard-colored containers

An autumn love story: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ romances Clethera alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’

Another favorite pairing in my autumn garden: Aster oblongifolium, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, planted against a golden backdrop of Clethera alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’

This Hydrangea quercifolia (our native oakleaf hydrangea) is Turning a Lovely Shade of Dusty Plum this Week

Aster oblogifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ pairs beautifully with many autumn golds; including nearby Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii)

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is as beautiful close-up as it is viewed from a distance; planted en masse

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ is a perfect backdrop for subtle, plum-toned ‘bloom’ (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ inflorescence)

The color of purple-leafed coral bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’) grows more intense as the weather cools

And last —but never least— in today’s round-up of violet and gold foliage and flowers is my favorite autumn plant: our native Rhus typhina. This selected cultivar, ‘Tiger Eyes’, is particularly stunning this week at Ferncliff. Read more about my love-affair with Lady Rhus by traveling back to last year’s post on this beautiful plant (click here)

Article and photographs ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush…

September 27th, 2010 § 1

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) in front of the Secret Garden wall at Ferncliff (see complete plant list below)

The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall… The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

Lindera benzoin, autumn leaf detail

The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.

Lindera benzoin at Fercliff in late September (planted here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’)

As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).

Lindera benzoin provides a luminous, gold backdrop for other autumn colors (here with Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)

Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…

North American Native Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) – Shown here at Ferncliff with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (and in the background Cornus kousa, Ilex verticillata and Juniperus chubebsus ‘Sargentii’, seed pod remnants of Rudbeckia. And to the left Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ and various Sedum)

Lindera benzoin bloom  Photo is via PIWO (CreativeCommons license Flickr)

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Article and photos (one exception as noted) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Fashionably Late & Dressed in Maroon: Sweetly-Scented, Autumn Fairy Candles Light Up the Shadowy, Secret Garden…

September 16th, 2010 § 6

Actaea simplex/Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty {also known variously as Fairy Candles, Black Snake Root & Black Cohosh}

Actaea simlex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, here in the Secret Garden with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Lamium maculatum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Stewartia pseudocamilla, and a background of bronzing Matteuccia pensylvanica {native Ostrich fern}

True, there are those who say it’s rude to be tardy, but it seems to me that the more interesting characters always arrive a wee-bit late to the party. Of course, they are always gorgeous, a bit mysterious, and often wearing something dark and dramatic. Well, such is the case with Actaea simplex {aka Cimicifuga simplex} ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, in my Secret Garden. Clad in exquisitely-cut, deep, velvet-maroon, the Fairy Candles —as I like to call them— saunter into bloom in September; wearing their lilac-tinted, flower plumes the way an old-fashioned bombshell might drape her shoulders with an exotic, perfumed boa. Filling the cool, misty air of the Secret Garden with the most delightfully intoxicating scent, {noticed and adored by hungry bees and other early autumn pollinators} Actaea simplex arrives late on the garden-scene with the kind of laid-back elegance of which modern Hollywood starlets can only dream…

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ in the Secret Garden {see companion plant listing above}

Known by various intriguing aliases —including Black Snake Root, Black Cohosh and (my favorite) Fairy Candles— Actaea simplex was formerly categorized in taxonomic circles as Cimicifuga simplex (sim-e- sih-few-gah sim-plex); a delightful tongue-twister that, once mastered, I actually came to adore (In fact, I still refer to her by the original botanical name – the Latin just seems to capture her… Je ne sais quoi). Native to the moist, cool woodlands of eastern North America, this statuesque beauty will easily reach 4-6′ tall — spikes in full bloom— when she’s given the conditions she prefers. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, and the similarly beautiful ‘Brunette’, require a consistently moist and amply shaded location to really strut their stuff. Too much sun will bleach and burn-out her gorgeous foliage , and dry soil will quickly do her in.

It’s a shame the fragrance of Actaea simplex’s blossoms can not be transmitted electronically. I wish you could sample the delicious scent…

A classy beauty like this demands fine company. And with her year-round, velvety, maroon attire, chartreuse and gold foliage make gorgeous music with her in the low-light. I like to combine the dark foliage of  A. simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ with low, spreading, golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’), mound-shaped Hosta ‘August Moon’, and for serious drama, I play her against my favorite chartreuse -stunner, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (European elder). Yes, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is a true garden bombshell – but of the dark variety, not the blonde— like Hedy Lamarr. She’s sultry, she’s elegant, and she really knows how to bring down the house in style….

Inspiration: Hedy Lamarr {image: still from ‘The Strange Woman’ United Artists 1946 (public domain)- via improbable research}

Hedy Lamarr {Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 – image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr {image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born actress popular in films of the 1930s and 40s. Read more about Hedy Lamarr on her IMDB page by clicking here.

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Article and photos (excepting portraits of Hedy Lamarr) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight’: Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden…

August 27th, 2010 Comments Off

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the studio – Beautiful color and fragrance

When it comes to romance in the garden, Hydrangea paniculata is never wishy-washy about where she stands. Voluptuous, lacy and fragrant; members of the panicled hydrangea clan are unabashedly feminine. Sometimes blushing and always glowing —the air about her buzzing with busy-bee suitors— my beautiful, chartreuse-tinted Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ overflows her boundaries; spilling into the walkway in a delightful disarray. She’s an old-fashioned bombshell, and I think she knows it. I love to gather her blossoms by the armful… Filling vases for my studio and dining room table, and a great, big urn for beside the bed. Although it’s hard to resist cutting every last bloom, I leave plenty to enjoy in the garden later; watching as they tint toward rose at the edge of summer, and then slowly bleach to flaxen blond in mid-winter…

Leather and Lace – Panicle Hydrangea and Copper Beech

But wait… Who is Hydrangea paniculata’s handsome mate? Well, opposites attract, of course. The dark and masculine, leather-leafed fellow standing beside our lacy-lady in the entry garden is…  None other than Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’; a decidedly Gothic-looking, European copper beech. Both partners in this passionate marriage are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. And while Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ will quickly attain a modest 6-10′ mature size, Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’ will continue to slowly stretch to 40′ or more —tall of course, as well as dark and handsome! Both plants prefer a relatively neutral, moist but well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Combined with late blooming blue-violet flowers, such as monkshood and asters, and a few tawny, vertical grasses, they make quite a fashionable pair in autumn…

A Gothic Love Affair – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ paired with Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, here in the entry garden at Ferncliff…

Unabashedly Romantic – Masculine and Feminine Extremes in the Garden

Still beautiful in the quiet season – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limlight’ in snow…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Midnight Maroon: Dark, Mysterious Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’…

August 13th, 2010 § 1

When you’re strange, no one remembers your name – Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

Oxblood, maroon, deep violet and ebony; dark plants are one of my greatest horticultural passions. From the statuesque Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ gracing my Secret Garden, to the massive, dark cloud of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forming a shadowy hedge at the back of my perennial borders, I wholeheartedly embrace the gothic beauty of black foliage. Earlier this year, in my posts, “A Heart of Darkness” and  “The Gothic Gourmet: Black Beauties and Dark Delights of the Potager”, I revealed a bit about my obsessive preoccupation with these strangely curious and hauntingly beautiful plants. But you needn’t be Edward Gorey to appreciate the darker side of horticulture. Deep, rich hues are incredibly useful in garden design; offering a counter-point to subtle silver and sophisticated chartreuse, as well as a striking contrast to variegated foliage and boldly colored flowers. Dark, elegant plants enrich a garden’s beauty  in much the same way as late afternoon shadows enhance a sun-drenched landscape. Think of them as the minor chords in your favorite song…

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ at the back of my casual, mixed meadow border in August

One of my favorite native plant cultivars, Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’, (as well as cultivars ‘Center Glow’ and ‘Summer Wine’) is just such an endlessly versatile plant. Stunning as a single specimen within a mixed border, I like to take the drama up a notch in larger gardens, combining this burgundy-leafed shrub in groups of three or more to form a dark and mysterious backdrop for other plants (particularly gold and chartreuse-leaved specimens, as well as those with variegated foliage). Perennials in shades of blue, violet, gold, magenta —as well as many other bold and subtle colors— stand out against the intense, maroon-leafed ‘Diablo’. One of my favorite, striking garden combinations plays the nearly black color of Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ against the feathery, chartreuse leaves of Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold‘ (Golden elderberry).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ forms a soft, dark cloud at the edge of my terrace

Physocarpus opulifolius (also known as common ninebark) is an extremely hardy shrub (USDA zones 2-8) native to North America. The dark, burgundy-leafed cultivar ‘Diablo’ (sometimes listed as ‘Monlo’ or ‘Diabolo’) will reach a height of 6-10 feet, with a similar spread. Physocarpus opulifolius presents a graceful, upright-vase shape in the garden, with softly arching branches. Adaptable to many garden situations, ‘Diablo’ offers dramatically dark foliage throughout the growing season, burnished shades of rust to bronze in autumn, and textural, peeling bark in winter. The pinkish white blossoms appear in late spring, and are a favorite, natural food source for honeybees and butterflies. Later in the season, as the tiny red fruits ripen —strangely beautiful against the dark foliage— common ninebark becomes a living feeding station for birds and small mammals. Physocarpus prefers even moisture and neutral, well-drained soil. This native cultivar is an easy to please, disease and pest resistant plant suitable for sun to partial shade (if worms/caterpillars become a problem in late spring, defoliating branches, treat the leaves with OMRI approved Btk only as necessary).

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ Leaf and Stem Coloration

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ Beautiful, Peeling Bark

Autumn Color Variation Ranges from Oxblood Red

To Sun-Burnished Bronze…

In addition to its striking presence in the garden, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’s’ leaves and branches add sophisticated beauty to floral arrangements. When combined with citrus-colored flowers —such as the Bells of Ireland shown below in a vase by raku artist Richard Foye— ‘Diablo’ is a real knock-out. The sturdy stems also offer excellent support for more delicate flora, and a lovely vertical compliment to blowzy hydrangea blossoms — Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is especially lovely with the maroon leaves of ‘Diablo’.

A vase by Richard Foye, filled with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo, Bells of Ireland, Baptisia foliage, Queen Anne’s Lace and Apricot- Hued Foxglove

***

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Long-Distance Garden Design: Creating Structure & Year-Round Color for an Elegant Residence on Long Island…

July 17th, 2010 § 2

A summertime border of mixed colors and textures: Deciduous and evergreen shrubs anchor a perennial garden planned for season-spanning interest…

In winter: Red rose hips and glowing dogwood twigs will add brilliant color to the entry garden, punctuated by verdant conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs…

Rosanna, my new friend and client, lives on Long Island and works in New York City. I live and work in Vermont. We met by chance this spring at Walker Farm after one of my seminars, when I stayed on for the afternoon at the garden center, answering questions about trees, shrubs and perennials. Rosanna and her gardener were shopping for —and spontaneously designing— a new garden for the front of her weekend place in the nearby Mount Snow region. I helped Rosanna choose trans-seasonal plantings for the Vermont garden, and shortly after, she began to follow this blog. Meanwhile, back in New York, Rosanna was faced with an unexpected problem: re-working the garden in front of her house without help. After seeing Dan and Laura’s garden design posted here this spring, an unusual idea came to her mind. Given the overlay design-drawing and photographs presented in that post, Rosanna thought perhaps I could design a garden for her —long-distance— and she contacted me about the idea…

Have you ever played Battleship? You remember, the game where you and your partner have identical grids —which you conceal from each other— calling out blind coordinates, striking at unseen targets? Well, that’s kind of what designing a garden long-distance is like, except we are working with living plants. It’s challenging, a little scary, strangely thrilling and great deal of fun, all at the same time.

This probably wouldn’t work in every situation —and certainly not with every client— but after talking with Rosanna about the project, and getting to know her a bit by phone, I had a hunch that she was going to be a really good general contractor. Rosanna is a self-described “type A personality”; highly organized, super efficient, and extremely attentive to detail. When I gave her an initial task list —including soil testing, sunlight charting, dimension recording and multiple-angle photographs— she came to our next phone conference not only with her homework completely done, but also emailed to me in advance. Impressive. I decided to take on the project with Rosanna, even though I knew we could —and likely would— encounter a variety of un-forseeable challenges…

The (almost) clean slate. Photograph by Rosanna.

With Rosanna’s site information and photographs in hand, I began to work on a new design for the front garden. Meanwhile, my enthusiastic game partner sought out a new gardener —to help her remove the existing plants, rebuild the soil and install the new design— and a local nurseryman willing to work with us to fulfill the plant list and/or help with available substitutes if needed. After Rosanna approved the design pictured at the top of this post, Santos, her new gardener, prepared the site (see photo above) and I presented a plant list for her local nursery. As always, the most important part of any garden is establishing an architectural framework. With this in mind, I began with three key woody plants.

Prior to Santos’ fantastic clean-up and refurbishment of the front bed, the garden contained an overgrown holly (situated beside the Picea glauca), a few small Chamaecyparis and a hodgepodge of perennials. Rosanna wanted structure and season-spanning color for her front garden. The existing holly threw the garden off-balance, with too much visual weight at the far end of the house. Green, green, green = boring. It had to go. In a garden this small, it’s important to choose woody plants with as much year-round pizazz as possible. I looked at several variegated shrubs to fill the holly-void, and settled on Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’; selected for it’s softly mounded form, creamy blossoms, subtle green and white variegated leaves, and brilliant red stems to provide winter color. This gorgeous shrub will stand in striking contrast to the evergreen Alberta spruce  (Picea glauca) and the backdrop of white siding throughout the year.

After introducing some subtle leaf pattern to the border, I decided to play with shadow against the black and white exterior of the home. With Rosanna’s Italian heritage, (and of course her name!) I couldn’t resist South Central-European native Rosa glauca. This ‘red-leaf rose’, as it is commonly known, has always been one of my favorites. Of course, the dark, blue-green foliage and delicate pink and white blossoms are a stunning combination – but the arching form is also useful, and in winter, spectacular deep red rose hips provide dramatic color until they are gobbled up by hungry birds. This shrub will work with several dark leafed perennials in the front of the design, and it also echos a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) nearby on the property.

Beneath the bay window, I needed a low-growing, horizontally spreading woody plant with season-spanning interest to soften the architecture and provide structure for perennials to the front and either side. Rosanna loves hydrangea, and has several on her property. Because of this, I knew she would like Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’ (sometimes listed as V.p. ‘Newzan’). With creamy white blossoms early in the season and red autumn foliage, this compact cultivar often comes to mind when I am designing a small garden. The design also includes a pair of boxwood globes flanking the Rosa glauca.

As I expected, we ran into a few snags, starting with our plant list. By July, most nurseries are a bit picked over, and some of the key plants were unavailable. Although the local garden center was able to provide a fine Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, the owner was unable to locate Rosa glauca and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’. Not one to be deterred, Rosanna found a small but healthy red-leaf rose online, and I located a Newport viburnum in nearby Massachusetts, which she will pick up from me in early autumn. Most of the perennials —or acceptable substitutes— were found by Rosanna and her nurseryman, and the others will be added later this season or next spring. So far, so good. Next up, details on the plant installation (last weekend), the irrigation system and the mulch. Did we succeed in our mission or did we sink the battleship? We break now for Rosanna’s scheduled vacation to Italy. Stay tuned, this story will be continued in an upcoming post later in the season…

Milton Bradley’s Battleship. I will never look at this game quite the same!

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Image credits: Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’: Krysztof Siarnek Kenraiz via Wikimedia Commons, Rosa glauca: Franz Xaver via Wikimedia Commons, and Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’: Sooner Plant Farm

Article and Garden Design Drawings © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Un-Flower Pots: Modern Ideas for Low Maintenance Container Gardens…

June 10th, 2010 § 4

Sempervivum ‘Purple Beauty’ (Hens and Chicks) and Haworthia in a Glazed Pot with River Stone Accents, Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Although I have an unabashed love of colorful, fragrant blossoms, flowering plants aren’t ideal in all garden situations and circumstances. At times, I reach for the color, texture, form and/or movement of other plants -such as ornamental grasses and succulents- when designing a garden. Container gardens, particularly in dry, windy locations, can be very high maintenance unless the right plants are chosen for these challenging locations. Often, before I plant containers for my clients, I experiment with the design’s durability in my own garden first. This is an outrageously fun process of course, and a fine excuse to purchase annual plants for the steel deck outside my studio…

Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass), Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Ucinia egmontiana (Orange Hook Sedge), Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima in a Modern Deck Arrangement, Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

The hot, dry, windy conditions on this sunny deck make it the perfect test-lab for low-maintenance container garden experiments. Over the years, two of the more successful annual combinations on my deck have been ornamental grass arrangements, and the succulent containers pictured here. This year, after reviewing Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens for Barnes and Noble’s Garden Variety blog (“Sweet Succulent Sensation – Ready for Some Outrageously Beautiful Container Inspiration”) I was inspired to take my easy-care succulent containers to a whole new level. But do I miss the flowers? Hardly. I find the jewel-like colors and textures so fascinating that I think adding flowering plants to these dramatic containers would be gilding the lily. Many succulent plants do in fact blossom, of course, and an number, such as Sempervivum and Echeveria, produce sensationally beautiful flower-like rosettes. Their shocking beauty is more than enough for me…

Sempervivum hybrid ‘Kalinda’. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum in a Pot with Stone Accents, (this frost-proof container is left outdoors year round). Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Close up of Sempervivum hybrid ‘Kalinda’. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum – The Rock Rose – Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum in a permanent, frost-proof outdoor container. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Sempervivum and Stone-Accent Mulch. Garden Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE

Over the winter, you may recall my experiments with indoor container gardening, including dry-terraria arrangements, such as the one pictured below, (featuring three different plant forms: tall and spiked, mounded and trailing), and cactus bowls. Now that the warmer months have arrived, I have relocated these plants to larger-scale pots -accented with natural river stone- to my rusty steel deck. So far, the transition has been quite successful, with only one minor loss due to the well-known, ‘rambunctious labrador retriever effect’. If you too have a hot, sunny deck or terrace to landscape, and little time for maintenance, consider adding some easy-care pots to your seasonal arrangement. A large vessel, filled with tall ornamental grass works well as a backdrop for smaller containers filled with herbs or flowers. And small clusters of pots in a uniform color, such as the oxblood containers shown here, combine beautifully when grouped on terraces or arranged along the edges of steps. I will feature more container gardening ideas in the coming weeks, but if you are serious about creating a succulent oasis of your own, I suggest checking out the two fantastic books linked below…

Plants from an indoor succulent bowl, (read article here), can be moved outdoors to fill containers in warmer months. Pictured here: Echeveria ‘Pearl’, Sanseveria trifasiata ‘Laurentii’ and Portulacaria afra variegata from The Old School House Plantery. Container Design and Photograph © Michaela at TGE…

In summer, the indoor cactus bowl goes on summer-deck-ation…

Order Thomas Hobbs’  The Jewel Box Garden from Amazon online…

Order Succulent Container Gardens from B&N or Amazon online.

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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The Gothic Gourmet: Black Beauties and Dark Delights of the Potager…

February 21st, 2010 § 4

Pasilla Bajio (the little raisin) – from White Flower Farm

Imagine gleaming, glossy, black peppers, shiny as patent leather shoes. Picture dark red, tell-tale-heart tomatoes and ebony eggplant polished to a satiny patina. Now visualize amethyst hued basil, purple kohlrabi and blue-black cabbage. Intrigued? Welcome to the slightly sinister, and delightfully decadent world of gothic-gourmet gardening. Designing a beautiful and productive potager can take many twists and turns, sometimes leading to shadows in the light of day. And who lurks about this Edward Gorey – inspired vegetable plot? Why black ravens and spiders and warty-toads – oh my. Imagine delicious, black-fruiting tomatoes; vines twisting and twining about a spindly trellis straight from the imagination of Tim Burton. Or how about  a plot of violet hued gourmet potatoes, guarded by a group of cackling black crows? Terrifyingly tempting, wouldn’t you agree? I see my vegetable garden growing into the shadows this year – with strange metal flowers, freakish pots, eerie Victorian bat houses, and fantastical feeders for my feathered friends. Who ever said a garden plot had to be straight-laced and boring? Morticia Addams had other ideas, and so do I…

Yes, it’s quite the eccentric picture – I admit it – but a tasty one too. Richly colored vegetables are all the rage with savvy chefs right now, and there’s a good reason! The produce harvested from dark fruiting plants, such as black peppers and eggplant, lies at the tasty base of some of the most exquisite culinary creations. And the best part of growing these black gems yourself? Gourmet vegetables like ‘All Blue’ potatoes and black ‘Pierce’s Pride’ heirloom tomatoes cost an arm-and-a-leg at the market, but the frugal gardener can produce exotic dinners with dark homegrown veggies for a fraction of the price.

So, even if you aren’t inclined to bring Edward Scissorhands decor into your backyard garden, adding a few black beauties to your potager will certainly add some rich flavor to your dinner plate. Gothic vegetable gardening is a horse of a different color – why not join me for a ride? Take a peek at a few of the magical things dancing through my dark, garden-designing mind…

Crow Garden Sculpture by artist Virginia Wyoming

Victorian Lace Plate by artist Virginia Wyoming

Rust Wire Edging from Terrain

Amethyst Basil – Johnny’s Seeds

Orient Express Eggplant from Johnny’s Seeds

The Tell-Tale Heart? Beautiful ‘Pierce’s Pride’, Black-Red Heirloom Tomato from White Flower Farm

Strangely Beautiful –  Copper Oriole Feeder from Duncraft

Nevermore © 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Shadowy Silhouettes – Bird Fruit Feeders from Duncraft

Purple Ornamental Peppers in the Potager at Ferncliff

Red Rubin Basil from Johnny’s Seeds

‘Black Pearl’ Ornamental Pepper – Johnny’s Seeds

Green Flower Pot from Terrain

Gothic Garden Beauty – Metal Mum from Terrain

Urn Planter from White Flower Farm

Toad Stool Garden Ornament from Terrain

‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi from Johnny’s Seeds

Victorian Bat House from Duncraft

Bat Guano Fertilizer from Down To Earth

Bat Cottage from Duncraft

‘Purple Beauty’ Pepper from White Flower Farm

Mustard Greens from Johnny’s Seeds

Royal Burgundy Round Bush Beans from Johnny’s Seeds

Rusted Iron Allium Stem from Terrain

Toad House from Duncraft

Metal Agapanthus Stem from Terrain

 

Bull’s Blood Beets from Johnny’s Seeds

‘Sweet Chocolate’ Peppers from Johnny’s Seeds

‘Black Plum’ Heirloom Tomatoes from White Flower Farm

Rust Obelisk from Terrain

‘Holy Moly Peppers’ from White Flower Farm

Bone Meal Fertilizer from Down To Earth

 

‘Black from Tula’ Heirloom Tomatoes from White Flower Farm

‘All Blue’ Gourmet Potatoes from White Flower Farm

Wire Basket from Terrain

Blood Meal Fertilizer from Down To Earth

Rosenblum decorative pot from Terrain

The Gothic Potager in Winter – Dark Cabbage in Ice at Ferncliff

Dark Gardening Inspiration from my gothic library collection: Edward Gorey’s “Evil Garden” and “Gilded Bat”……  Amphigorey Too (Perigee) – Edward Gorey

And the shadowy muse-conjuring tales of Amy Stewart’s – Wicked Plants

Copper Bean Trellis Encased in Ice – Ferncliff Potager in Winter

Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands, image © 20th Century Fox

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams,The Original Addams Family, image © ABC

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Article and Photographs, (with noted exceptions: linked object photos via Terrain, White Flower Farm and Johnny’s Seeds, Lace plate photo: Virginia Wyoming), copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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A Heart of Darkness…

February 12th, 2010 § 5

Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’, available online at, (and image via):  White Flower Farm

Some gardeners adore bright colors, and other plant collectors crave pastels. There are those who prefer dramatic plants painted silver and gold and a few indecisive types who seek out green tonal shifts and mottled white variegation. These hues are all quite lovely, and they occasionally catch my eye, but I fully admit that I have more shadowy desires. The truth is that deep within me, hidden from the light of day, beats a heart of pure darkness – I confess that I have a passion for black plants. Rich, dark purple and velvety red; bitter chocolate and silky maroon; ruby wine and exotic ebony: these are the colors I covet. And wouldn’t you agree that on a hot summer day, it’s easy to be seduced by a mysterious garden filled with shadows?

Cryptotaenia japonica atropurpurea backs up Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in my Secret Garden…

I love the cool, quiet of my shady, Secret Garden - but even in full sun, I like to paint shadows with dark foliage and black plants. While stunning on their own, when used in artful combination, these raven-hued beauties of the plant world can make the other flowers and foliage in a garden truly sing. Beside maroon and deep purple, sky blue blossoms sparkle, and when paired with orange and yellow, wine toned foliage is a bold and dramatic choice. Variegated plants, as well as the dusty, marbled whites and soft silver tones, all appear more striking when positioned beside darker colors. Imagine ghostly white ferns floating in a sea of dark foliage, or icy silver-tipped ivy winding about the base of black snake root, (Cimicifugia/Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’). Dark beauty shyly beckons in the shade…

Streptocarpus ‘Black Panther’, seduces from the shadows of my garden on a hot day..

As for the dark blossoms – oh my, but how I’ve fallen; hopelessly deep, and madly in love, with all of their seductive charms. Ruby red, tipping toward blackness, the deep colored dahlias delight me, and the ink-stained petals of iris can drive me truly wild. But pair the velvety allure of maroon roses with a subtle, spicy fragrance, and I will begin to truly swoon. Yes, I know it is an obsession – but you must know my passion for plants by now. I simply can not help it. In fact , as some of you may recall, I have revealed my personal weakness for dark flowers, when I wrote about the mysterious Black Panther Streptocarpus last summer, (pictured above). So, come along with me, won’t you ? Let’s wander away on a tour of the dark-blossoming underworld. Others may only be charmed by bold birds-of-paradise or delicate little, fluttering flowers. As for me, I will always prefer the slightly sinister beauties, like the dark temptress Odile, a shadow drifting silently across Swan Lake

Ipomoea ‘Sweet Heart Purple’,(image via): White Flower Farm

Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’, available online at, (and image via):White Flower Farm

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black magic’, (image/avail. via): White Flower Farm

Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Angelica gigas, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Sambucus ‘Black Lace’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita bright red’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Begonia Rex ‘Fireworks’, available online at, (and image via): White Flower Farm

Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, available online at (and photo via): White Flower Farm

Iris chrysographes, available online at (and image via): Wayside Gardens

Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass), available online at: (and image via) Wayside Gardens

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Odile, the black swan, as portrayed by Julie Kent. Photo by Roy Rounds via Thought Patterns.

For further exploring the shadowy side of your gardening personality, I recommend both of these dark, delicious titles…

Karen Platt’s Black Magic and Purple Passion

Paul Bonine’s Black Plants

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Article and photographs (except where noted and linked to external websites and products) are copyright 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved.

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