The Colours of Harvest

If you looked up just around sunset last night, you may have seen the rising of the harvest moon – an early fall event that refers to the full moon nearest the Autumnal Equinox. It seems appropriate then, that I write something in honour of harvest. Of course we’ve been harvesting from our vegetable garden for a good part of the summer, but this weekend we’ll pull in the remainder of frost tender produce – green and yellow zucchini, pattypan squash, tomatoes and tender herbs. Apparently there is snow in the forecast this week!

It’s been a good year though, despite the cold wet start to the season which slowed germination, the hailstorms which set everything back, and the hot dry weather of July and August that left even heat loving plants looking scorched and wilted. However, we were still able to eat fresh produce from the garden from June onwards, so all in all we’ve been blessed with a fine harvest.

My husband is the veggie gardener in our family – it was my baby many years ago, but as I gained an interest in ornamental gardening, I lost interest in the vegetable garden. It makes sense that hubby would take it over – after all he is the superior cook, and I’m most grateful for his labour and the love with which he cultivates the garden. Although I don’t tend that garden anymore, I’m still delighted by its bounty.

Harvest is more than just a feast for the palate – it can be a feast for the eyes too. As a designer, I find the whole trend towards ‘Designer Veggies’ very appealing – purple and yellow carrots, orange, yellow and black(ish) tomatoes, golden beets, pink striped beets. There’s a whole new world of colour out there! Except it’s not new. In fact, many of these colourful vegetables are actually heirloom varieties that are now being reintroduced. As with many heirloom vegetables, the flavours are better and so is disease and pest resistance. While they may not be suited to large-scale agricultural production, they are perfect for the home garden or market garden.  And they make for a colourful feast that looks as good as it tastes.

Heirloom carrots lack the large size and uniformity of their more hybridized counterparts, but their sweet crunch makes them perfect for eating right out of the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Left: Cherry, plum and pear tomatoes are small and sweet. Right: clockwise from top – Black Krim, Tangerine and St. Pierre heirloom tomatoes. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Left: Baby heirloom carrots glisten with the chicken ‘jus’ in which they were roasted.
Top: Green and yellow zucchini and pattypan squash tossed in olive oil and roasted.
Right: Baby heirloom potatoes are tender and flavourful – they’re best simply steamed and buttered….mmmmm. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Mother Nature too has been busy, readying her own colourful feast for our fine feathered friends – indeed the birds have already begun partaking of her bounty. The abundance of berries and pomes, hips and haws, provides fuel for birds preparing to embark on their migratory journey, as well as those needing winter long sustenance. These beautiful fruits have significant ornamental value as well – a bonus Mother nature didn’t really intend for us, but we’re happy to accept.

Many fruit bearing trees and shrubs have bright red fruit to attract the birds. Clockwise from top: Sorbus decora, Viburnum trilobum, Malus sp., Lonicera tatarica. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Not all fruit is bright and showy, but the birds manage to find it nonetheless. Clockwise from top left: Prunus mackii, Cotoneaster lucidus, Cornus sericea, Malus baccata ‘Rosthern’, Malus ‘Rosy Glo’. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Crataegus mordenensis ‘Toba’ has very ornamental fall fruit, loved by birds. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The very showy fruit of Sorbus decora will remain on the tree until stripped by the huge amoeba-like flocks of Bohemian Waxwings. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Harvest Moon 2012. Photo: Pat Gaviller

It was a good summer – the fruits of our labour bear witness to this. But there is a chill in the air today – fall is definitely here, and it’s time to reap what we have sown. May your harvest be plentiful!

Til next time,

A Question of Balance – The Principled Gardener Part 5

Life’s all about balance right? Well not all, but balance is vital to a happy healthy life – a balanced diet, work/life balance, even our ‘play time’ needs a balance of restful leisure vs. active recreation. My husband has been reminding me of this frequently of late: ‘Sue, you need more balance in your life – it’s not healthy to spend so many hours in front of your computer.’ Unfortunately, much of my work – designing, writing, preparing presentations, requires that I do just that. It seems the creative process may be good for the brain but not so good for the body. Hubby is right of course. I am however, better at bringing balance to a landscape composition than to my own life, so for now let’s deal with that.

Balance refers to a state of equilibrium – real or perceived.  Traditionally we think of balance in the landscape as being either symmetrical or asymmetrical, symmetry being elements arranged identically around a central axis, and asymmetry, when elements appear equally weighted but aren’t identically arranged.

Left: Symmetrya columnar tree and bird bath create a central axis with identical plantings on either side.
Right: Asymmetry – the mass of the larger shrub on the right is roughly equal to that of the 3 smaller shrubs on the left.

Though symmetry most often has a formal application, it has other uses that aren’t necessarily formal. For example, a long narrow space can benefit from the use of symmetry – the eye will always stop and rest at the centre point, often stopping there first before scanning the composition in either direction. This prevents viewing it in one uninterrupted scan. Symmetry is also appropriate for certain theme gardens, for example Colonial style gardens or Italian Renaissance style gardens.

Formal symmetrical design.

Symmetry is useful in a long straight planting, preventing the eye from reading the entire length in a single scan. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Italian Renaissance garden at Hatley Park in Victoria B.C. is appropriately symmetrical. Photo: Jane Reksten

Asymmetry on the other hand, is more common than symmetry and is generally considered to be more informal in presentation. Ensuring proper balance in an asymmetrical design means planning your garden spaces in such a way that you can in fact create balanced plantings. If you’ve designed your yard with all or most of the planting space on one side of the yard and nothing but lawn on the other, then you simply won’t be able to bring balance to your landscape composition.

Asymmetrical landscape design

An asymmetrical design sometimes contains moments of symmetry – symmetry can be useful  in a corner planting to ‘anchor’ the corner, used around a focal point to help “stage” it, or at the deepest part of a curve.

Left: unbalanced asymmetrical design. Right: Balanced asymmetrical design – note the symmetry in the top right corner, anchoring it.

A brief moment of symmetry supports the dominant status of the bird bath. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Balance can be thought of in terms of more than just symmetry and asymmetry. There must also be balance of colour, weight and line. Okay what does that even mean? Well let’s look at colour – light colours draw the eye more than dark colours so to balance these, more of the darker colours need to be present. However, dark colours also appear more ‘weighty’ so their overuse can cause your garden to feel heavy. Colours of medium darkness then, should predominate – colours like green. Yup jus’ plain ol’ green. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – green should be the principal colour in your garden.  Bright colours too will draw the eye, so for the purpose of balance, muted colours need to outweigh vivid hues.

If we look at the concept of line, a vertical line (like that presented by an upright tree or tall grass), offers more visual punch than a horizontal line (such as that created by a mass of groundcover or low growing shrubs). Hence upright forms should be used as accents with lower forms predominating.

Balanced asymmetry - note the use of symmetry at the centre of this otherwise asymmetrical design. As well, the balance of colour, weight and line, creates a varied but balanced sight-line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Balanced asymmetry – note the use of symmetry at the centre of this otherwise asymmetrical design. As well, the balance of colour, weight and line, creates a varied but balanced sight-line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ah yes, balance! Vital to both good health and good design – guess I better go find me some.

Yours in Good Health,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Holy H. Batman!

That’s ‘H’ for Heuchera – you know that indispensable foliage plant that comes in every colour of the rainbow?

I believe a garden plant should carry its weight throughout the season, from early spring through late fall – in other words they must be more than just a pretty face, I mean flower.  Plants with attractive foliage are the key here and Heuchera rules this realm – what other plant has leaves that can bring the same intensity of colour as flowers, and in a huge range of hues?

So let’s take a closer look at this genus of fabulous foliage perennials.

Foliage Favourites

There are more than 50 species in this genus, all or most of which are North American natives, and a few of which figure prominently in Heuchera breeding programs: H. americana, H. villosa, H. micrantha, H. sanguinea, H. cylindrica, and H. pubescens.  Each of these species brings unique characteristics to the table. Hence, countless crosses and back crosses have resulted in enormous variety in terms of leaf colour (pink, purple, plum, peach, lime, orange), leaf size (some are huge) and leaf shape (scalloped, pointy, curled, ruffled). I’m not even going to try to walk you through all of this – the folks at Terra Nova Nurseries, responsible for much of the current hybridizing craze, can show you so much better than I. Do check out their website. Be prepared though: if you garden in Calgary, you may experience a little ‘inner whine’ when you view some of the stunning images of their beautiful plants – we can’t grow’em like that here………sigh.

Charles Oliver of The Primrose Path and France’s Thierry Delabroye have also made significant contributions to the vast selection of new Heuchera cultivars.

The frenzied hybridizing that has produced hundreds of new cultivars since 1990, began with the discovery of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ – originally determined to be a variant of H. micrantha, but later argued to be of H. villosa stock. It was awarded the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year in 1991 – since then of course, far superior dark-leaved cultivars have been developed, as well as many other unimaginable colours.

Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’. Photo: Marny Estep

Dark and rich foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (late summer colour), Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’, Heuchera ‘Plum Royale’, Heuchera ‘Bressingham Bronze’ and Heuchera ‘Prince’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Warm and Bright foliage colours. Clockwise from top left: Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’, Heuchera ‘Mahogany’, Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ (early summer colour), Heuchera ‘Tiramisu’ and Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Flowers Too

Heuchera ‘Bressingham Hybrid’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flower characteristics have also been the focus of various breeding programs – in fact well before Heuchera was deemed a desirable foliage perennial, Alan Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham had been working to improve the original coral bells, with their racemes of tiny, coral-coloured bells (Heuchera sanguinea). He began selecting for larger, brighter coloured florets. ‘Bressingham Hybrid’ was one of his early successes followed by numerous others –  ‘Red Spangles’, ‘Rosemary Bloom’ and ‘Bridget Bloom’ to name a few.

Some Like it Hot

In the early years, Heuchera was marketed as a shade perennial – indeed many nurseries still display it in their Shade Perennials section. However, many cultivars actually present better colour in half, if not full sun.

How much sun or shade a particular cultivar can tolerate is partly determined by geography – our prairie summers are generally hot and fairly dry, but not nearly as hot and dry as Las Vegas. So a Heuchera planted in full sun in Calgary may do just fine, but could fry in the hot sun of the Mojave Desert.

In addition, the particular species of Heuchera will determine its heat and sun tolerance, as well as its cold hardiness. Species that are native to subtropical regions will be more tolerant of high heat and humidity, even thriving in such conditions. Heuchera villosa, a native of the subtropical southeastern United States, is one such species. Heuchera americana on the other hand, is native to more northern climes hence prefers cooler drier conditions.

Some Have it All

It used to be that you could purchase Heuchera with colourful foliage and nondescript flowers, or you could buy Heuchera with brightly coloured flowers and pretty, but nondescript, foliage. However, with complex hybridizing using numerous parent species, it’s now possible to have both – showy foliage and showy flowers. Terra Nova’s City Series boasts some great examples of this.  And of course the hybrids will retain the climactic preferences of their parentage, so if there is villosa, americana and pubescens species in their make-up, they will be drought tolerant, heat & humidity tolerant and cold hardy. Indeed some really do have it all!

Left: Heuchera ‘Havana’ from Terra Nova’s City Series has bright lime green foliage and large, plentiful, bright coral-pink florets. Photo: Sue Gaviller
Right: Heuchera ‘Cherries Jubilee’, also from Terra Nova Nurseries, has dark burgundy foliage and bright coral-red flowers. Photo: Pat Gaviller

…….And Then Some

Heuchera is parent to one of the few instances of intergeneric hybridization in horticulture – it has been crossed with Tiarella to produce the lovely Heucherella.  Because Tiarella is a true shade plant, adding this to the mix means better colour retention in shady locations. Case in point : Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’, a relatively new introduction which I used in some shade containers for a client – the pink-splashed purple leaves maintained good colour saturation all season.

Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’ with Heuchera ‘Havana’ make a lovely container arrangement in this client’s shady front entryway. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

The upshot of all this is that the hardy Heuchera has (or should) become an indispensible addition to gardens around the globe, and for good reason. If we look at it in light of our recent discussions on Unity, we see that this perennial, because of its colourful foliage, can provide colour repetition all season long, not just when in bloom. Even if we’re using one of the early hybrids grown just for its flowers, these Heuchera can still provide an extended period of colour repetition because they’re very long blooming – cultivars chosen for flowers alone are most effective when massed so the impact is more significant.

This mass of Heuchera flowers makes a lovely early summer statement. Photo: Pat Gaviller

As well, the decidedly coarse texture of this genus is useful for creating moments of emphasis or dominance – keep in mind though, that because the overall plant size isn’t very large, dominance is better achieved using a small group rather than a single specimen. The landscape-size selections, like Terra Nova’s Marmalade Series are the only cultivars large enough to be dominant on their own. Utilizing Heuchera in containers is another way they can contribute to dominance in the landscape, i.e. a focal point. Bear in mind too, especially with the brightly hued foliage selections, that you don’t want to go overboard with this perennial – too much bright colour or coarse texture can create competition for dominance which results in visual tension.

Heuchera can bring real pizzaz to container plantings – just imagine any one of these beautiful arrangements as a stunning focal point in your garden. Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.

Well, what else can I say – what else is there to say? This fabulous foliage perennial speaks for itself – why not let a Heuchera talk to you?

Til next time,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.