Autumn’s Kaleidoscopic Color Wheel: Glorious Patterns & Back-Lit Beauty …

October 27th, 2011 § Comments Off on Autumn’s Kaleidoscopic Color Wheel: Glorious Patterns & Back-Lit Beauty … § permalink

 Purple Beautyberry, Smokebush and Maiden Grass Make a Brilliant Grouping (Callicarpa dichotoma, Cotinus coggygria and Miscanthus)

Though it Often Spreads Aggressively, North American Native, Hay Scented Fern (Densntaedtia punctilobula) is a Gorgeous and Durable Ground Cover for Tough, Shady Spaces. Taking My Cue from Mother Nature, I Like to Position this Autumnal Favorite Where it will Catch the Long, Low Light

For Intense, Late-Autumn Foliage Color, One of My Favorite Woody Plants is North American native Fothergilla (Here: Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’). The “Witches” —As I Often Refer to Members of the Hamamelidaceae family— in My Garden Include Fothergilla, Hamamelis, Parrotia, and a Few, Lesser-Known Apprentices. Due to Her Chameleon-Like Costume Drama, Fothergilla Plays Well with Physocarpus, Cotinus, Ornamental Grass, Conifers, and Most Other Autumn Beauties. Read More About these Spellbinders in my Past Post, “Must Be the Season of the Witch”.

Late October. Cold winds are kicking up now, lifting leaves high into topaz skies where they twirl about as if riding on a Ferris Wheel. And on rainy days —when the air is damp and still— moody fog swirls about the high walls and along the pathways, softening the hard edges of stone and the skeletal remains of flowers. The second half of autumn can be a dramatic time for late season garden color; with Witch Hazel, Smokebush, Dogwood and Japanese Maple foliage coloring up in fine, fiery hues. The sensual ornamental grasses and colorful Viburnum — so many shrubs, loaded with plump, brilliant fruit— continue to perform beautifully, while the Beautyberry, Cotoneaster and Winterberry are just beginning to put on their seasonal show. Here’s a quick tour of what’s going on in my garden, with notes on some favorite ways to use valuable, late-season plants; making the most of their theatrical talents …

Japanese Maple Leaves (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) Offer Stunning Autumn Color and Sculptural Form Throughout the Seasons. Many Japanese Maple Trees are Smaller in Stature (A Number Reach 15′ or Less at Maturity), and Most Prefer a bit of Shade, Making them a Perfect Choice for Shadowy Urban Courtyards and Gardens with Limited Space

Reliable as the Change of Season Itself, The Blue-Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Always Hits It Out of the Park. This Small Tree (approximately 14′ high at maturity) is a Rare, Upright, Cut-Leaf Form of Japanese Maple. Beautiful When Backlit and Combined with Autumn Golds, the Color of This Specimen Shifts from the Color of Ocean Waves to Fire to Smoldering Embers 

Mossy Stone Walls Offer a Subtly Beautiful Contrast for These Fiery Leaves (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

Some Trees are Natural Show-Offs in Autumn Sunlight, and for Spectacular, Stained-Glass-Like Fall Foliage, it’s Hard to Compete with Japanese Maples (Dancing in the Sunlight Here: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’). For Best Effect, Position Japanese Maples and Similar Trees in Places Where the Foliage will Filter the Rays of Light in Morning and Late Afternoon

Ever-Beautiful, North American native Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) is Particularly Stunning When Positioned to Capture Light. When I Work Delicate Grasses Like This One into a Garden Desing, I Like to Place Them Where They Can be Seen, Touched and Enjoyed Throughout the Autumn and Early Winter. This Mature Specimen. Located at the Edge of a Pathway Junction in My Garden, Captures Light at Sunrise and Again at Sunset (The Textural, Dried Flower at the Bottom of the Photo is Solidago)

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ Changes Hue from Pale Ivory with a Hint of Lime to Rose-Kissed Ivory to Rust. To Make the Most of Her Color Changes, I’ve Positioned Her Beside the Dark Foliage of Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, and Surrounded Her Feet with Colorful Ground Covers (Hakonechloa macra ‘Beni Kaze’ and Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’). I Love the Relaxed Mood Created When Blossoms Spill Upon an Autumn Walkway

Somehow Escaping Jack’s Icy Fingers, these Morning Glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’ ) Look Just Stunning Against a Backdrop of Scarlet Sumac (North American native Rhus typhina)

Surrounded by the Confetti Hued Leaves of the Burkwood Viburnum (V. x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell), Doctor Woo Looks Like Part of a Seasonal Display as She Surveys Her Vole Hunting Domain (Also in this frame: Frost-Kissed, Yellow Hosta Leaves, Rudbeckia & Adenophora Seed Pods and North American native Hydrangea quercifolia in Back of the Border)

The Border Pictured Above Contains Two North American Native Favorites,:Oakleaf Hydrangea and Arkansas Blue Star (Hydrangea quercifolia with Amsonia hubrichtii); Work Together to Create Drama with Their Contrasting, Autumn Foliage Colors and Textures

Hinting at Large-Scale, Design Possibilities, the Scarlet and Chartreuse Patterns on This Japanese Maple Leaf (A. palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Command Attention in the Shadows, Especially on a Drizzly Day!

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 Light in the Autumn Fog …

October 15th, 2011 § Comments Off on A Light in the Autumn Fog … § permalink

North American native Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) Shines Brightly in a Clear, Luminous Gold (for a detailed profile on this fantastic plant, click here and to see her spring blossoms, be sure to click here)

Most people don’t get excited about dark, dreary days. After all, it’s hard to jump up and down when you’re weighed down by rain gear and heavy galoshes. And this year, rain has a pretty bad rap: New England has had more than its fair share, and many states were devastated by flooding. Still, I have to admit that I actually like the rain, and I always enjoy a bit of autumn gloom. There’s just something about rain and drizzle that makes colorful foliage sing in the grey, mist-softened landscape. Oh how I love a foggy fall day.

Two of my favorite native shrubs for early to mid autumn foliage color are Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). The clear, luminous, lemony gold of Lindera benzoin shines like a glowing lantern in the entry garden on a drizzly evening. Placed in the center of an all-star, autumn line-up —including Witch Alder (Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’), Bodnant Viburnum (V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’) and Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) among others— this beauty really holds her own from spring to fall. Read more about this pollinator friendly native plant in my previous post by clicking here, and be sure to check out photos of her delicate, golden blossoms by traveling back to a springtime post, linked here.

Underused and Oft Misunderstood, Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is One of My Autumn Favorites. Backed Up By a Clump of Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), This Gorgeous Native Shrub Glows Like a Bonfire in the Mist. (For more information about Rhus typhina, as well as other sumac species and cultivars, click here.)

Of course, lovely as the yellow leaves can be, when it comes to autumn in Vermont, most people tend to think of orange and red foliage. And although leaf peepers may admire the brilliant show as they whiz past her fiery foliage on the highway, few can name the beauty in the technicolor dreamccoat: Rhus typhina. I adore sumac and grow a variety of species and cultivars in my garden (read my post on the oft-avoided and widely misunderstood Rhus family by clicking here) including the lovely, chartreuse-leaved R. typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’. But lucky me, Staghorn Sumac grows naturally at the edge of my woodland boundary. All that I need do in order to maintain this beautifully soft border is to thin unwanted cherry or black birch saplings when they pop up in and around the sumac stands. I like to play the brilliant hues of Staghorn Sumac against a backdrop of sparkling gold paper birch (Betula papyrifera) or —for extra drama— the deep maroon of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (click here to read about this dark and dramatic shrub). Wow, just look at these beauties together …

A Stand of Staghorn Sumac Began to Form When I Started Planting the Ninebark Border (Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo), Six Years Ago. I’m Enchanted by the Unexpected Drama. (Click here to read more about dark and mysterious Physocarpus opufolious ‘Diablo’). That’s Rudbeckia lacinata in the foreground; tawny stalks with seed heads held high for hungry finches.

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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Autumn and Everything After……. Designing Beautiful Late Season Gardens with Ornamental Grass…

September 3rd, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Autumn is a Second Spring, When Every Leaf is a Flower” – Camus

A Grouping of Miscanthus sinensis, ‘Morning Light’, ‘Variegatus’, and Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ in Mid-October at Ferncliff

Pennisetum alopecuroides, (fountain grass), with sedum and juniper in the entry garden at Ferncliff  in early September, just before the inflorescence appear.

Much as I would like summer to drag her feet a bit when departing this year, I find myself looking forward to the brilliant beauty of fall. Living in New England has its benefits, and the months of September, October and November are three of them. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and in no place is my seasonal preference more evident than the garden. As the writer Camus once said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”. Indeed. I truly savor this second spring, for although I do love the early buds and bulbs of April, pastel hues don’t really excite me. Dark red is my favorite color, and bitter orange, rust, deep violet and burgundy aren’t far behind. The cerulean skies and stained-glass forest canopies of autumn bring a touch of heaven straight to my little paradise on earth. In September and October I feel as if I am living in a paint box, surrounded by a palette of colors so brilliant that simply going for a walk is all the inspiration any artist could hope for.

I cherish the fall gardening season. Some of my most treasured trees, shrubs and perennials reach their peak beauty in autumn. Of the many late-season plants in my garden, the ornamental grasses are high on my list of favorites. Grasses are useful though out the gardening season, of course. Beginning in mid-summer and continuing throughout winter, ornamental grasses provide dramatic foliage, texture and form to my gardens. But come autumn, the shifting hues of foliage and beautifully textured spikes, racemes and panicles of ornamental grass create the potential for a spectacular garden show that can not be beat. By early September, when many perennials and annuals have petered out in the garden, my ornamental grasses are just warming up for their crescendo. As the days shorten and nights cool, chemical changes are triggered in many deciduous trees, shrubs and other plants in the northern areas of the United States. Ornamental grasses also respond to these changes, and many begin to take on subtle tints and vivid hues as dramatic as the trees.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (close up), early fall color, (click to enlarge)

When I design a garden, I try to keep this spectacular late-show in mind. September blooming pepper bush, (Clethera alnifolia, a native shrub I featured here last month), sculptural spice bush, (Lindera benzoin), and and the lovely native paper birch, (Betula papyrifera), all turn brilliant yellow in autumn. I like to combine fall’s seasonal gold foliage with the purple-burgundy-red kaleidoscope-like hues of flame grass, (Miscanthus purpurascens), the brilliant orange of Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa macra, cvs. ‘Nicolas’, or burgundy tipped, ‘Beni Kaze’), for example. Witch alder, (Fothergilla gardenii), and many viburnum species, including the arrow wood, (V. dentatum), the American cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), and the European cranberrybush, (V. opulus), turn brilliant shades of red and orange in autumn. This makes them great companions for a wide variety of grasses including switch grass, (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy metal’, (a blue grass in summer, turning gold in fall), wild oats, (Chasmanthium latifolium), green in summer and red-bronze in fall), and again, flame grass, (Miscanthus pupurascens). Late blooming perennials, such as asters, rudbeckia, mums, sedum and monkshood  all make great companion plants for ornamental grasses.

Hakonechloa NicolasThe summer color of Hakonechloa macra ‘Nicolas’,above, intensifies further in autumn

Unless you are a more experienced gardener, companion planting for autumn interest can be a bit difficult. How can you predict color-shifts and texture changes? Nursery tags are often stingy with clues. A good encyclopedia is useful for learning about ornamental grasses and their seasonal changes. And if you know the name of a cultivar, you can easily research information on a web-site such as Dave’s Garden. But for the true ornamental grass aficionado, Rick Darke’s The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses (see library) is a great asset. This book will help you to identify more unusual cultivars of sedge, rush, restios, cat-tails and bamboo as well as the gorgeous grasses native to North America and beyond.

Miscanthus purpurascens, (Flame grass) in late September

When I want to add texture and movement in a garden design, no matter the season, I often look to ornamental grass. The larger garden grasses, such as miscanthus, panicum, and calmagrostis, bring important vertical interest and essential structure to perennial gardens. From the fine, delicate foliage and sensual lines of maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ to the bold geometric presence of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, can make a dramatic, sculptural statement in a garden. Grasses can be used to soften modern buildings and camouflage unattractive architecture. A natural choice beside lakes, ponds, streams and pools, grasses also bring a relaxed line to hard-edged water features. Many species of grass are drought tolerant, and a number will survive roadside conditions in even the most inhospitable environments. Alone or as a group, settled into a garden or spilling over a pot, placed at a juncture or to mark a final destination, ornamental grass can provide great focal points in many garden design situations. Ornamental grasses planted en mass can blur the edges of a garden, helping to ease the transition between formal and informal areas. Because of the dramatic stature reached by many large ornamental grasses, they are also very useful as living screens, helping to conceal unsightly necessities such as fuel tanks and air conditioning units. It is easy to understand the growing popularity of this diverse group of plants.

North American native, Bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grasss), backed by taller Pennisetum alopecuroides in the entry garden at Ferncliff, early September

striped grass and juniperMiscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, here used as a specimen and below, a different cultivar used in a large grouping at the eastern-edge of the garden.


karl f. backed up by viburnumCalamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, backed by Viburnum trilobum

Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ grouped at the edge of the northwest meadow in August…

And again, in late September…

miscanthus morning light back lit from the eastThis two year old grass specimen, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’, catches the early sun as it rises to the east at the edge of the wildflower walk in early September

Although ornamental grasses have become quite common in sunny perennial gardens, they are still surprisingly overlooked in shade garden designs. This surprises me because grass exists naturally in all but the darkest of shady woodlands, and they can add tremendously to the subtle beauty of low-light gardens. In the shade, I often add fine textured ornamental grass to contrast with larger, broad leafed foliage, such as the leathery, smooth surfaced leaves of hosta. I also like to include bright colored grasses to shade gardens in order to illuminate dark corners and shadowy areas beneath trees. Japanese woodland grass, (Hakonechloa macra), is one of my favorite plants. The golden cultivars, ‘Aureola’ and ‘All-Gold’ are very useful in low light areas, and in contrast to violent-tinted foliage. Newer cultivars, such as ‘Nicolas’ and ‘Ben Kaze’,(mentioned above), are rich in bitter orange and burgundy hues. These are truly spectacular plants with enormous design potential. Sedges are also useful in partial shade. I count orange-hook sedge, (Ucinia egmontiana), among my favorite low-light grasses, although it is marginally hardy in New England, (I usually place it in pots for summer and move them inside for winter).  Sedges will also tolerate more sunlight, provided they are given ample moisture, and I like to use them in brighter locations as well, (see pots on deck below).

A close-up of Hakonecholoa macra ‘All Gold’ in the shady Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa in morning lightHakonecholoa macra ‘All-Gold’, (Japanese forest grass), catching the morning light in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff

hakonechloa macra 'aureola' with cimicifuga r. 'hillside black beauty'The golden color of this Japanese forest grass brings out the violet hues in the companion plantings of Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside black beauty’ and the young foliage of euphorbia on the left

Many ornamental grasses also make great potted plants. I particularly like sedge and stipa in massive groupings on decks and terraces, where they catch the slightest breeze. A sedge commonly known as fiber-optic plant, (Isolepis cernua), looks very dramatic in a pot. I like to allow this mop-like grass to spill over the edge of a planter, emphasizing its pendent form. Whenever I set a fiber-optic plant out on a pedestal, it becomes the focus of attention and conversation, like living sculpture. Personally, I have grown a bit tired of cleverly designed, over-planted pots. I prefer simplicity. Over the past few years, I have been limiting my planter-compositions to a few species of plants, and ornamental grasses are often featured in my current designs.

Stipa tenuissima, (Mexican Feather Grass)

Orange Hook Sedge, (Uncinia egmontiana)

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima Catching the Breeze and Afternoon Light

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ up close

Like many cold-climate gardeners, I try to enjoy my garden for as long as possible. And I consider ornamental grass and important part of the winter garden as well. Although some people prefer their gardens to be tidy, cut, and thoroughly mulched come winter, I like to leave my hardier grasses standing until spring thaw. Frost, ice and light snow emphasize the delicate patterns of ornamental grass, and for this reason I consider them a four season plant. I continue to enjoy the tassels and the rust, buff and wheat hues of bleached out grass well into winter. By December, when little color remains in the garden, ornamental grass continues to add subtle, creamy tones. I particularly like the way wheat colored pennisetum draws attention to the red berries remaining on my winterberry, (Ilex verticillata ‘Red sprite’. Because texture and color are so important in the winter garden, I prefer to cut many ornamental grasses back in spring. Why not enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer us, autumn and beyond?

Grasses remain beautiful well into winter. Above, pictured in the entry garden at Ferncliff, fountain grass and side oats look particularly magical in December when coated with ice or snow. Below, the tassels of Miscanthus sinensis, frozen with ice, catch the January light…

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Woo in the native meadow garden with rudbeckia and Deschampsia flexuosa, (hair grass)

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Article and all other photographs ⓒ 2009 Michaela at TGE

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