Brightening the Winter Landscape with Bold Bark & Colorful Conifers . . .

January 15th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) in a Sea of Green Conifers ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comA Shot of Luminous Color in the Wintry Landscape: Cornus sericea Lights Up the Entry Garden in January

It’s easy to create a colorful garden in June, but can beds and borders still be bright in January? Of course! While undoubtably more subdued than midsummer, a midwinter landscape can include a complex variety of hues. When perennials are fast asleep beneath snow and deciduous trees and shrubs stand skeletal in the wind, the winter landscape relies upon broadleaf evergreens, conifers and the pigment-rich bark of deciduous woody plants for color. Individually, these trees and shrubs add tremendous interest to the winter garden, but when used together, even more dramatic results are possible. I like to play green, blue, rust and gold hues of conifers against one another, and in combination with the colorful red, yellow, orange and multicolored bark of deciduous trees and shrubs to enhance their impact.

Microbiota decussata (Siberian cypress) with a Dusting of Snow ⓒ 2013 michaela medina:thegardenerseden.comSiberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata) is a Long-Standing Favorite. Form, Texture & Four-Season Color: This Gem Has it All! Shown Here is a Section of a Mass Planting of Microbiota in My Own Garden. Notice How the Background of Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Brings Out the Rust-Red Color of the Siberian Cypress. Proper Pruning of Both Plants is Critical to Keep the Edges Feathery and Light.

Some of my favorite trees and shrubs for colorful, stand-out bark include red osier and red/yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea and Cornus alba, respectively), willow (Salix), striped maple (Acer pennsylvanica), paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and paper birch and river birch (Betula papyrifera and Betula nigra, respectively). When it comes to conifers —although I have a tough time choosing— I admit a soft-spot for feathery Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), colorful Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) and brilliantly hued false cypress (Chamaecyparis), as well as textural Juniperus (juniper) of all species and colors. I’m also quite fond of the silver-blue spruce clan, spiky, multicolored pines and dramatic, two-toned firs.

Betula papyrifera with Juniperus in snow ⓒ 2013 michaela - thegardenerseden.comThe Peeling, White Bark of North American Native Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) Creates Beautiful, Peachy-Cream Vertical Lines in the Landscape. When Played Against Green Conifers, the Effect is Quite Stunning on a Winter’s Day.

Never one for wrapping, tenting or coddling woody plants, I demand a great deal from all of the trees and shrubs in my own landscape, as well as in the gardens I design for others. In New England, deciduous trees are bare for nearly half  the year. So when designing gardens for my clients, four season beauty is always a top priority. In addition to color, many deciduous trees offer textural interest with exfoliating and curling bark. These elements add wonderful dimension to the landscape, even during winter dormancy. When choosing and positioning woody plants in the landscape, consider placing shrubs and trees with colorful or exfoliating bark in front of or near conifers with complementary and contrasting hues to bring out the best in both. If space allows, plant in masse for greatest impact, and combine with a foreground or side accent of sturdy, ornamental grasses (such as Miscanthus) for buff and blond hues and softness. For more about textural bark, click back to my previous post on the subject, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, 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. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Endless Summer: A Garden Designed for Season-Spanning Beauty & Interest . . .

August 28th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Late August in Susan & Bob’s Front Entryway Garden. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ Mass Planted for a Beautiful, Long-Blooming Lavender-Blue-Haze. A Background of Coreopsis, Heuchera micrantha, Echinacea purpurea, Eupatorium maculatum, E. rugosum & Thalictrum, Round Out the Late-Summer Color-Scheme. Ceramic Vessel: Stephen Procter

Endless summer. Yes, I realize the phrase might seem a bit odd for a Vermont-based gardening journal. After all, we are heading toward autumn, and New England is rather famous for “nine months of winter and three months of damned poor sledding”. But the fleeting days of balmy weather needn’t cramp a northern gardener’s style. A well-designed landscape remains beautiful every month of the year, and by choosing the right plants, colorful, textural compositions can enliven gardens throughout the growing season and well into the dark days of winter.

Designing a four season garden does require a certain amount of experience or research and usually involves more than one-stop shopping at the local nursery. Over time, seasoned gardeners develop an understanding of  how plants change throughout the growing year. When foliage begins to shift from the greens of summertime to the gold, red and burgundy hues of autumn, opportunities for new vignettes appear. Later —as winter chill settles in and leaves disappear altogether— texture, underlying color and structure is revealed; offering endless ways to play with glistening snow and ice.

Dry-Laid Stone Retaining Walls (By Massachusetts Artist Curtis Gray) Provide Ample Opportunities to Play Plant Textures & Colors Against Rock (Plantings Include: Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Baptisia australis & Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’)

In the Front Entry, Rich Colors and Textures Keep the Garden Lively in August (Plantings Include: Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Amsonia illustris, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Baptisia australis, Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Coreopsis and Huechera)

The Entry Garden –Pictured Above– in Late Spring (Blooming Here Are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ and Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Early Sunrise’)

As beautiful as blossoms are, in order for a garden to remain interesting in autumn and winter, the design must contain more than flowering plants. Perennials and grasses with colorful foliage and sensual textures, trees and shrubs with great structure, bright berries and unusual bark are the keys to creating never-ending beauty in the landscape.

Featured here is a young garden I created, in several stages, over the past year. The oldest part of the garden —welcoming entry walk and perennial-filled retaining walls— was planted for my clients late last summer. In autumn of 2011, I created a bulb plan for the front gardens and began designing borders for edging the back meadow and a soft, breezy screen to surround the stone terrace and sunken fire feature. Work continues with a second bulb plan this autumn, and preliminary sketches for another garden room with a water feature, to be created next spring. The gardens change dramatically from season to season, with colors and textures shifting from pale and delicate to bright and bold.

A Mass Planing of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) and Russian Sage (Perovskia antriplicifolia) Softens the Edge of a Deck, Facing the Meadow and Hills Beyond

Blooming Brightly from Early August Straight Through Early Frost, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ is the Perfect Perennial for Mid to Front Border, Late-Summer Compositions (Planted Here with Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)

To Soften the Edge of the Stone Patio/Fire Pit and Benches (Stonework by Curtis Gray), I Created a Summer-Screen of Fine-Textured Grasses and Meadow Flowers, Backed by a Beautiful Wind-Breaking Wall of Viburnum. Eventually, this Outdoor Room will be a Semi-Enclosed, Three-Season Space for Grilling & Entertaining. In Winter, the Snow-Catching, Sculptural Beauty of Ornamental Grasses and Horizontal Lines of Viburnum plicatum will Remain Visible from the Indoor Living/Dining Space (Plantings Include: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Venus’ and Veronica)

Many new gardeners focus on spring-blooming perennials —iris, peonies, roses, etc— creating fragrant, floriferous gardens that, while beautiful in June, fizzle out by Fourth of July. If you are new to four-season gardening, have a look at some of the later blooming perennials –Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex), Asters, Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), Coneflowers (Echinacea), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Sedum, Windflowers (Anemone), The Rocket (Ligularia), Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis), Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum & E. rugosum), Globe Thistle (Echinops), Sea Holly (Eryngium), Turtlehead (Chelone), Phlox, Tick Seed (Coreopsis), Sneeze-Weed (Helenium), False Sunflower (Heliopsis), Yellow Waxbells (Kirengeshoma palmata) and Bush Clover (Lespedeza), to name a few— as well as ornamental grasses, ferns, berry-producing plants, and shrubs and trees with fall foliage, interesting bark and sculptural form for winter interest.

An Early Tint of Rusty-Red on Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ is Accented by Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and in the Foreground, Salvia nemerosa ‘May Night’ (Second Flush of Blooms Brought on by Timely Pruning of Spent Blossoms from the First Wave) Brightens the Meadow-Edge

The Front Entryway Garden —Pictured at Top of Post— in Very Early Spring of its First Year

And Later in Spring of its First Year, with Sunny Perennials Blooming on the Left and Shade Garden Plants Emerging at Right (Hosta, Ferns & Astilbe Beneath Stewartia)

Detail of Front Entryway Garden Walk in Late August

All Stonework: Curtis Gray.

Hardscape Materials/Site Prep & Plants: Turner & Renaud.

Ceramic Vessel: Stephen Procter.

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, 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. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Autumn’s Burning Beauty: Flame Grass Heats Up the Mid-October Garden …

October 16th, 2011 § Comments Off on Autumn’s Burning Beauty: Flame Grass Heats Up the Mid-October Garden … § permalink

Showing Off Ribbon-Candy Colors in My Garden: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ (Planted with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’/’Monlo’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ on Left. That’s Rhus typhina, Occurring in a Natural Stand Behind the Border)

If you’ve been following this journal for awhile, you are probably quite familiar with my passion for the sensual beauty of ornamental grass (see previous post here). When it comes to four season garden design, the versatility of these graceful perennials can’t be beat. There are ornamental grasses for sun, for shade, for dry places and even bogs. Some species of grass grow to become great giants –towering well over six feet— and others are diminutive as little leprechauns. I love them all, and use ornamental grasses in most every garden I design. Of course, to every thing there is a season, and for every time of year, I do have a favorite. In the autumn landscape, Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’) is my top choice…

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Living Up to the ‘Flame Grass’ Moniker! Planted Here in My Meadow-Edge Garden with Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Shasta’, Viburnum trilobum ‘J.N. Select/Redwing’ and in the foreground, Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ is a mid-sized ornamental grass; growing to a height of approximately four or five feet, with similar —or less—spread. Although this species will tolerate a bit of shade, best results are achieved by positioning Flame Grass in full sun and well-drained soil. Graceful and attractive throughout the growing season, Flame Grass really begins to strut her stuff in August, when the shimmering, silvery-plum inflorescences appear. As temperatures drop and light changes, the color of this grass heats up like an autumn bonfire.

Though beautiful on its own, I prefer to use Flame Grass in combination with other perennials, deciduous trees/shrubs and conifers to bring out her ribbon-candy-like colors (blue tinted Picea pungens and many Juniper species are particularly lovely conifer companions for this Maiden Grass). Backed up by deep maroon or red, this autumn stunner becomes nearly electric (Physocarpus opufolius ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’ and Rhus typhina provide a stunning backdrop for ornamental grass). The fiery vermillion and scarlet shades found in many Viburnum species play equally well with Flame Grass, as do violet-purple flowers (think autumn blooming, blue asters, deep purple monkshood, and darker flowered, maroon-tinted mums).

Though Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) is Beautiful Planted Solo, Combining This Autumn Beauty with Perennials (like the Amsonia illustris, bright yellow on the left) Colorful Fall Shrubs (like the still-green Fothergilla gardenii in this grouping), as well as Evergreen Trees and Shrubs (like this Juniperus x Pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’) Makes for Truly Spectacular Fall Garden Design (Photo of My Front Entry Garden in Mid-October)

Given the stunning beauty of Flame Grass, I’m always surprised by how difficult it is to find at nurseries. In fact, I’ve had such a hard time locating this particular cultivar of Maiden Grass, that I’ve taken to growing my own from divisions, for use in my clients’ gardens. It should be noted that some cultivars within the species Miscanthus sinensis (commonly known as Eulalia Grass or Maiden Grass) can become aggressive in warmer climates, and although not restricted, a few are considered potentially invasive, in certain areas only, by the USDA. If you are gardening in the more southerly regions of North America, this is a situation for you to monitor and consider. However most forms of Maiden Grass are only marginally hardy in colder climates (most are USDA listed for zones 5-9), and are therefore unlikely to become weedy or invasive in northern areas. In my own Vermont garden, and in the New England gardens under my care, the Maiden Grass species —and M. sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ in particular— is well mannered and incredibly useful from a design standpoint.

Morphing to a Beautiful Burnt-Orange, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’ Catches Frost, Ice and Snow, Remaining an Alluring Feature in the Winter Garden

Flame Grass –To the Front, Right and Center, of My Garden– with Early Snow. For More Winter Garden Design Images and Ideas, Click Back to This Post.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, 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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