Colouring Your Garden – Part 9: Colour Schemes

Have you ever had the experience of driving along on a summer day and somewhere in your peripheral vision, you catch sight of a gorgeous garden? Slamming on the brakes, you stop and stare, momentarily transfixed.

What is it about this ‘living picture’ that has you so enchanted that the rules of the road are temporarily ignored? Perhaps what you find so captivating is the use of colour. How beautifully the colours work in concert! Is this happenstance – or was it planned?

Good use of colour in the garden – even if informal – usually does involve planning. Indeed sometimes the difference between an average composition and a head-turner, is an effective colour scheme. For many gardeners though, purposefully employing a garden colour scheme just doesn’t cross their minds. Or they may dismiss the notion as too restrictive, preferring instead the more random use of colour.

Utilizing a colour scheme doesn’t have to be restrictive if we think rather in terms of a hue scheme. Looking to the Munsell Book of Colour, we find that for each hue, there are many permutations of value and saturation all arranged on an individual page. So if we want to work with a scheme which includes red, we have a whole hue page to choose from  just for red! The other hues in our scheme afford us the same broad selection of colours. A little less restrictive than you thought, right?

Colour Schemes

A colour scheme is a planned or logical combination of hues on a colour wheel. As we discussed in earlier posts, there is more than one colour wheel, but you’ll probably find the artist’s colour wheel to be the most user-friendly. You can then refer to Munsell hue pages (or reasonable facsimile) for guidance with the various colours that fall within that hue. I do sometimes utilize Munsell’s hue circle to work out colour schemes, but they aren’t always as straightforward. For ease of use then, I am mixing models here.

So how does one go about choosing a colour scheme for the garden? If your house or other backdrop is a particularly strong chromatic colour, then it’s most effective if you include that colour in your scheme. If on the other hand, your house is more neutral, then start with a colour you really like and build from there.

The colours used in this restaurant patio planting echo the muted red and yellow hues of the siding on the building. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few things to consider as you ponder the possibilities. Remember that green will be a consistent presence in the garden – most plants have green foliage and the hue will predominate in the surrounding landscape. However, since the eye expects to always see green, it will largely ignore it, focusing instead on the other colour constituents. So you can think of green as your canvas, the backdrop for your colour scheme – neutral and thus ignored. Or it can be one of the hues in your colour scheme.

The presence of green also provides balance – cool hues should outweigh warm hues by approximately three to one, hence the prevalence of green in the garden ensures this proportion is always met.

Keep in mind too that you can vary the colour schemes from one part of the garden to another (particularly if you have a large canvas), and the scheme can also change or evolve as the season progresses. In my own garden I have numerous colourful foliage plants (eg. yellow-green, red-violet), so while the colour scheme changes from spring to summer to fall, those hues must always be part of the scheme. And there are times when there isn’t a colour scheme at all.

Realistically speaking, some scenarios don’t lend themselves to formal colour schemes (if only for the reason that the proprietor of a well established garden may not want to part with anything – just to incorporate a colour scheme). One can still play with colour schemes though; containers are a great way to experiment without committing to a particular composition.

So let’s have a look at what we can construct using the artist’s colour wheel and some Munsell hue pages.

Monochromatic colour schemes use various values and degrees of saturation of a single hue. Working with a single hue creates naturally harmonious colour compositions.

Monochromatic colour scheme using the hue of red-violet (5RP). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Complementary colour schemes contain two hues that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

This is a high contrast colour combo, which means it can be loud and demand attention. So you’ll want to tame it by including numerous value/saturation variations of the pure hues – and of course lots of green.

Complementary Colour Scheme: Red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom and right – Sue Gaviller

Analogous colour schemes use two or three hues that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Although this is a low contrast combination, analogous hues still benefit from utilizing variations in saturation and value of the chosen hues, thus introducing more variety. Remember if you choose warm hues, there will need to be significant green (foliage) in your composition to provide the necessary cool/warm balance.

analagous-r-o-o-y-o-resize

Analogous Colour Scheme: red-orange (10R), orange (5YR) and yellow-orange (2.5Y). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint schemes consist of a hue and one of the hues on either side of its complement.

This too is a dynamic colour combo, but somewhat less so than complementary compositions – many people prefer this colour duo as it generates less visual conflict. Again the use of variations in value and saturation of the two hues will create both unity and variety.

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Counterpoint Colour Scheme: red (5R) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Split-complementary schemes are three-hue combos that use one hue and the two hues on either side of its complement.

The split-complementary colour combo has all the dynamism of complementary and counterpoint, with the balancing addition of two hues that are closer together. A garden may transition from the aforementioned counterpoint theme to split-complementary as the growing season progresses and more plants (thus more colours) take the stage.

Split Complementary colour scheme - yellow, blue-violet and red-violet. Photos: Top left: Cathy Gaviller. Right: Jane Reksten

Split Complementary colour scheme: yellow (5Y), blue-violet (7.5PB) and red-violet (5RP). Photos: Top left – Cathy Gaviller. Right – Jane Reksten. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary schemes use two adjacent hues and the complement of one of those hues.

Similar in effect to split-complementary, analogous-complementary schemes are especially soothing if the analogous constituents are cool hues.

Analogous-Complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5YG). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Analogous-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP) and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Top left – Pat Gaviller. Bottom left/right – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Double-complementary schemes use two adjacent colors and the complements of both of those hues.

Graphics: Sue Gaviller

This four-hue scheme brings both drama (from opposites) and subtlety (from analogues) to a garden composition, and can be a natural seasonal transition from analogous-complementary as more plants come into bloom.

Double-complementary Colour Scheme: violet (5P), red-violet (5RP), yellow (5Y) and yellow-green (5GY). Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Diads are colour schemes that consist of two hues located two spaces apart on the colour wheel.

Though this colour duo provides more contrast than an analogous scheme, it is still a low-contrast theme and less dramatic than higher contrast combinations. More contrast can be introduced if one of the hues is warm and one is cool, for example red and purple.

Diadic Colour Scheme: red (5R) and violet (5P). Photos: top – Pat Gaviller. Bottom – Sue Gaviller. Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Triads use three hues that are equally spaced around the colour wheel.

Triadic schemes offer interesting colour combinations and are inherently balanced because the hues are all equidistant from each other.

Triadic Colour Scheme: Violet-blue (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Triadic Colour Scheme: blue-violet (7.5PB), orange-red (10R), and yellow-green (5GY). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Tetrads are colour schemes using four hues that are consistently spaced on the colour wheel.

  • Square tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a square placed in the centre of the colour wheel.
  • Rectangular tetrad – 4 hues touched by the four corners of a rectangle placed in the centre of the colour wheel

Four-hue schemes provide considerable colour choice thus can be quite vibrant, especially when hues are at full saturation. They can be toned down somewhat with the addition of less saturated versions of the pure hues.

Tetradic Colour Scheme: red-violet (5RP), orange (5R), yellow-green (5GY) and blue (5B). Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

You can see that with all the variations in value and saturation for each hue, many different but related colours are available to you – even when using only a couple of hues. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to the Munsell Book of Color, but there are numerous apps and online tools that will provide more than enough visual info for application in the garden.

I highly recommend the Virtual Munsell Color Wheel. It’s very easy to use – just bear in mind that it includes all the intermediate hues that lie between the basic hues (totaling 40 hues), which you may find overwhelming. The digital ‘hue pages’ aren’t identical to those in the Munsell Book of Colour either (copyright and such). You’ll also note that, compared to the traditional RYB colour wheel, Munsell’s blue (5B) appears more green and his purple-blue (5PB) more blue – this is because he divided the circular colour spectrum differently. I wouldn’t get too carried away with detail or accuracy though. Just choose your colour scheme using the artist’s colour wheel and find the hues that most closely approximate them on the Virtual Wheel.

Finding foliage or flowers in exactly the right colour may be next to impossible anyway. But don’t get discouraged. Remember green foliage abounds in the garden, and with all that ‘green between’, you’ll find that almost-the-right-colour will be close enough.

So the next time the colour in some gorgeous garden catches your eye, you’ll know why – but that driver behind you probably won’t care. You’d better get moving before he leans on the horn again – head on home and create your own colour scheme. Now you know how!

‘Til next time,
Sue

 

 

 

Colouring Your Garden – Part 4; Saturated Solutions

A week or so ago, while out for a walk with my sister in her inner-city neighbourhood, I heard the familiar sound of Robin chirps. It took me a minute to realize that the sound was out of place on this mid-February afternoon. Indeed my sister doubted me initially, but then she heard it too. “Holy $#!+.” she said.  According to local bird experts a few robins do spend the winter here, but neither of us had ever seen one this early in the year.

Several blocks later I happened to look up and espied what appeared to be pussy willows. At first I thought it might be water droplets on the branches reflecting the late day sun – but then I reached up and felt the fat fuzzy protuberances. Yep, those are pussy willows. While there are many species of willow that produce the downy catkins, a few as early as February,  Salix discolor, the true North American pussy willow doesn’t usually bloom here until mid March – this was February 12th! I didn’t know whether to be elated or alarmed. Either spring is coming really early or the birds and the trees are in for a cold, snowy, nasty surprise in the weeks to come – despite a mild winter from a moderate El Nino effect, this is still zone 3 Calgary and the early bird rarely gets the worm. Only time will tell I guess, but my vote is for an early spring. In the meantime fellow gardeners, we have more to learn about colour.

Over the last few months I’ve been discussing colour theory as it relates to garden design. We’ve looked at two of the three attributes of colour (Hue and Value) and today we’ll examine the third; Saturation, or what Munsell called Chroma.

Saturation is the strength or concentration of a colour and is determined by how much of a particular hue is present in that colour. Think high school science for a moment and consider the amount of solute in a solution – in the scientific sense, saturation occurs when a liquid has reached its capacity to absorb a dissolved substance. Brine for example, is a solution of water and salt – if we start with pure water, then add salt until the water can’t absorb any more, we have a saturated solution. Similarly with colour, if we start with gray then add a particular hue until maximum hue content (i.e the pure hue) is reached, then we have full colour saturation.

High Saturation

A highly saturated colour reflects a great deal of light from one specific part of the spectrum, and very little light from anywhere else on the spectrum; for example, the pure hue of red reflects most light from the end of the visible spectrum where red is located, and yellow reflects most light from near the middle of the spectrum.

The pure hues (i.e. Munsell’s 10 basic hues around the outer edge of the Munsell Colour Space, or the 12 hues on the Artist’s Colour Wheel) are considered fully saturated. These are the vibrant colours some gardeners adore and others abhor; they are intense and flamboyant, and employed effectively are stunning additions to a garden composition. Used indiscriminately however, they’re sure to create garden chaos.

Photos and Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Full saturation. Photos and Graphics: Sue Gaviller

Saturated hues hold up well under full sun with very little colour washout, and like warm hues and high value colours, appear closer than they really are. They are thus highly conspicuous in the landscape, perfect for creating emphasis or accenting an area you want to draw attention to; an approach or a destination.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Planting bright saturated colours in entryway container arrangements as this gardener has done, effectively draws the eye to the front entrance, creating a welcoming focal point. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Public gardens and parks often use abundant saturated colours in their annual display gardens – while this style of planting design isn’t one I’m likely to adopt, the plethora of intense colour certainly does what it’s intended to do; attract attention.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Massed annuals in strong spicy hues draw the eye directly to the Tea House, advertising its presence and inviting visitors in. Note how the saturated reds and yellows hold their colour without fading in the bright sunlight. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fullest saturation is experienced when hues are used individually rather than together – if two highly saturated colours are in close proximity to each other, the effect will be to decrease the intensity of both. This isn’t to say you should never use more than one saturated colour in a composition – you certainly can – but any given colour will be seen at its purist if there aren’t other equally intense, and therefore competing, colours close by (remember the design principle Unity by Dominance). The exception to this is complementary hues, which will both be intensified by their nearness to one another.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Lime green Hosta, violet-red Paeonia, golden Hemerocallis and yellow Sedum all present very saturated colour – while it’s an attractive composition, the strong colours do compete somewhat meaning none of them can take centre stage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Pat Gaviller

The same photo, now cropped to isolate the peony from the other intense colours, illustrates how a saturated colour on its own has stronger colour presentation than numerous competing colours together. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The eye perceives large areas of colour as more saturated than smaller areas; hence fine textured plants (small leaves and/or flowers) don’t appear as saturated as those with coarse texture (large leaves and/or flowers). This is particularly apparent when seen from a distance, so fullest possible saturation will only be experienced up close – distance tends to mute or desaturate colour. I learned this quite by accident in my own garden in my pre-designer years. I’d wanted a hefty shot of hot pink in a particular spot in the garden and chose Anthony Waterer spirea for its long-blooming bright fuchsia flowers. I thought I was happy with the choice, since it was just the right colour and bloomed continuously. However, I soon realized that unless I was right up at the edge of the garden, the fine-textured umbels of hot pink blooms looked dull an unimpressive, if seen at all. Needless to say I removed it – at some point I figured out that I needed a bigger, bolder flower to anchor the spot. I have since planted Purple Pavement rose, its large velvety, red-violet blooms showing strong colour even from far away.

Viewed from very close, coarse-textured Iris and fine-textured Salvia both present saturated Blue-Violet colouring. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from very close, coarse-textured Iris and fine-textured Salvia both present saturated Blue-Violet colouring. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from a few feet away, the big bold Iris blooms maintain almost full colour content and still appear richly-hued, whereas the finer-textured Salvia flowers appear somewhat desaturated. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Viewed from a few feet away, the big bold Iris blooms maintain almost-full colour content and still appear richly-hued, whereas the finer-textured Salvia flowers appear somewhat desaturated. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Low Saturation

Colours become less and less saturated the closer they are to the central neutral axis of Munsell’s Colour Space. The neutrals have no hue content whatsoever – they are the achromatic colours of white, black and numerous shades of gray in between. Colours that have some hue content but are relatively low in saturation, have a dull or muted appearance compared to their more highly saturated counterparts; hence they attract much less attention. We see this in some foliage, especially evergreen foliage, ornamental grasses, fading flowers and seed heads.

Low saturation plants 2

Low or weak saturation. Photos and graphics: Sue Gaviller

These muted colours are a nice foil or contrast to brighter flowers and foliage, affording the appearance of fuller saturation to neighbouring plants, even those that may be less than fully saturated.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent flowers of purple smoke bush appear like billowy wisps of copper-rose smoke. The colour is actually a red of only medium saturation, but looks more intensely coloured next to the much less saturated inflorescence of the ornamental grasses. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The muted blue-green of weeping blue cedar provides a soft backdrop allowing rich crimson barberry to really stand out. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Colours that have low or weak saturation appear to recede from the viewer thus seem farther away than they actually are. As mentioned earlier in this post, distance desaturates colour, as does bright sun and fine texture – any of these scenarios will lead to further desaturation of already dullish colours.

fescue sun

fescue shadeLeft: Fine-textured Festuca glauca (foreground) appears almost colourless under the glare of mid day sun. Right: the same blue fescue grasses, now in shade, display much higher colour content. Photos: Pat Gaviller

Unlike highly saturated colours, less saturated colours allow for the use of many hues within the same composition – without the garish results.

muted colours 4

Muted hues of red, orange, yellow, green, and red-violet are present in this composition but due to their low colour content, don’t overwhelm. Note that the one very saturated colour, the yellow-green cypress in the centre of the photo, is more prominent than any other colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

 Saturation Contrast

Contrasting saturation levels of a single hue creates subtle unity as the eye recognizes the underlying hue and connects the elements.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Terra cotta is a weakly saturated (and higher value) red-orange and provides elegant contrast to the highly saturated red-orange of the begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

You may recall from my last post that the pure hues don’t have equal native values – neither do they have equal hue content or saturation. The pure hue of Red for example has the highest degree of saturation, twice that of the lowest, which is Blue-Green. This means there are twice as many steps from neutral to pure red, than there are from neutral to pure Blue-Green.

An image from Munsell's Atlas of Color showing the scale of Chromas (Saturation) for Red and Blue-Green.

An image from Munsell’s Atlas of Color showing the scale of Chromas (Saturation) for Red and Blue-Green. Note that from the central neutral (gray) axis, there are 10 steps outward to fully saturated Red, and only 5 steps to fully saturated Blue-Green

When combining these colours, in order  to achieve a balanced composition, you’ll need at least twice as much Blue-Green as Red. Alternatively you could use a Red that is less saturated so it approximates the saturation of the Blue-Green.

Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

One way to balance Red and Blue-Green is to use a less saturated Red that is closer to the more weakly saturated Blue-Green. Photo and graphics: Sue Gaviller

Of course gardeners can’t be expected to know or remember the precise chroma or saturation of any given hue – but with a little colour knowledge we can be confident that if a colour seems very strong or intense, it probably is, and we can use it accordingly (i.e. sparingly). Likewise if a colour appears to be more subtle or muted, we can be pretty sure that it is less saturated and we can use a little more of it to balance out the more saturated colours.

Maintaining colour balance in the garden is another reason for using plenty of – you guessed it: green. And I don’t mean yellow-green, blue-green, gray-green or variegated green; I mean the basic hue of green – think lilac foliage or kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, peony or pine. These foliage greens have medium value and medium saturation – which means they can balance and bring together the stronger and weaker colours. Are you starting to get the picture now?

Foliage examples of basic green. Clockwise from top: common lilac, kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, Itoh peony and dwarf mugo pine. Photos: Sue Gaviller

The basic hue of green has medium value and medium saturation. Clockwise from top: common lilac, kinnickinnick, daylily, Russian cypress, Itoh peony and dwarf mugo pine. Photos: Sue Gaviller

During the long months of winter, weak desaturated colours abound (dead grass, naked bark, dull evergreen foliage, mud, gravel, etc.), especially evident in mild winters when there is no snow to brighten the landscape – we long for the full, rich colours of spring and summer. My friends I think it’s not far off – I’m anticipating a very early spring.

However, despite the robins and willows fuelling my hopes, a good friend and client has cautioned me, “Don’t you dare, dare to hope for such an early spring – February is WAYYYYY too early!” she jokingly admonished.

Hey girl, don’t rain on my parade.

’Til next time,
Sue

There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 3 ~ Going Coastal ~

Our time in wine country had been amazing – Len has professional associates in the area so we’d been treated very well. The coast was calling though, and for me this was the most anticipated part of our trip. Our next stop would be Monterey, which hubby had determined (mistakenly) we could reach via a single Interstate. Somewhere between Fremont and San Jose he asked his navigator (me) to check his directions (which he proactively wrote out every night before bed) to make sure the highway didn’t turn anywhere. Comparing his written directions to our TripTik, I realized something wasn’t right. I advised The Captain that according to our map, I-680 did not continue through to Monterey, that in fact it appeared to end abruptly just east of San Jose. It’s not so much that he didn’t believe me, as that he couldn’t disbelieve Mr. Google… until we found ourselves on the 101 heading towards San Francisco and there were no more signs for I-680. So we turned west somewhere, then eventually south until we ended up in Santa Cruz (which fortunately was less than an hour from Monterey and a very nice drive along the coastal highway). After this, it was I who consulted Google maps every night and wrote down directions for our next day’s destinations. I won’t say we didn’t get lost again after that, but at least I could read and understand my own directions. I suppose our continued use of such tools as maps must seem archaic, considering every cell phone now comes equipped with GPS.

When we arrived in Monterey and finally found our hotel (my husband did eventually break down and use his GPS), we checked in and asked the young ladies at front desk where we could find the best seafood. Our intention had been to have dinner in the famed Cannery Row district, but hotel staff asserted that the best seafood was to be had at fisherman’s wharf. The hotel was several blocks from the waterfront so we could walk along the beach to get to the wharf. It was windy and cool walking along the Monterey coast – a refreshing change from the hot still air of the valleys. I was fascinated with the unique coastal vegetation – rugged wind-sculpted Monterey cypress punctuated masses of succulent Delosperma carpeting the sandy hills beside the shore. Every so often I’d stop and turn to snap another shot.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I inhaled deeply the ocean’s salty aroma and revelled in the wind blowing through my hair. I heard the distant bark of sea lions which grew louder as we neared the wharf.

When we reached the dock it was too early for dinner so we wandered a bit. We found a little coffee shack and as usual, ordered a dark-roast – almost everywhere we visited we’d been unable to get a cup of dark-roast coffee. I started to think maybe it was a Canadian thing, this love of really rich dark brew, but here in Monterey we were finally able to sate our coffee cravings. Sipping the first dark brew I’d had since leaving Canada, we strolled around the wharf area and soaked up the coastal essence.

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) in Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful Mexican sage bush (Salvia leucantha) at the Monterey wharf. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Masses of Grasses: the reddish inflorescence of this dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) looks stunning against red-brown cedar shakes, Monterey Marina. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Echium - monterey

Purple spikes of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) are a common site in coastal gardens and landscapes. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We followed the sound of sea lions to their basking place on a raft beside the docks. I don’t know why I became so enamoured of these particular marine mammals – perhaps it was their goofy social antics, belying the incredible grace with which they swim and dive. Or the way they lay in the sun, their soft brown fur glistening, lifting their heads periodically to peer around before laying back down again, so seemingly content. They reminded me of our sweet brown dog Pepper, whom we’d lost only a couple of months before. It was mid January when we were given the news that she was terminally ill. My one wish had been that she’d have a chance to soak up the sun in her backyard, splayed out on her side the way she loved to do – just one more time. On a warm March day after weeks of vicious cold, she was able to do this – for maybe five minutes she lay there on a patch of dry grass, breathing softly, then got up and looked me straight in the eye as if trying to tell me something. I knew then that she was ready, indeed she wanted, to be set free to chase rabbits – in that big dog-park-in-the-sky. She’d lived a good life, a long life, and while I was at peace with the decision that had to be made, I knew I’d miss her terribly. And so it was that every time I saw or heard sea lions, I’d think of her and feel awash in warmth… and just a little melancholy.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

These furry brown sea mammals are sooo adorable are they not? Photo: Sue Gaviller

The wharf offered many choices for dining, each venue featuring plated displays of mouth-watering menu items and someone posted at the door beckoning passersby to come dine there. It was difficult to choose, so we chose the one with the first available window seat. Equally difficult was trying to decide what to select from the menu – in the end I opted for a ‘Captains Plate’ which had a bit of everything. And they boasted the best clam chowder in town so I had to try some of that too… yup I rolled outta there when we were finished. But a divine meal it was, eating succulent seafood and watching the sea lions settle on the rocks as the sun set.

While in Monterey we did visit Cannery Row (had another great cuppa dark java), as well as the artist’s community of Carmel about 20 miles south of Monterey. Both are tourist destinations, and since it was a weekend, they were very busy places. We agreed that we’d like to come back one day, when we had more time – and there were fewer people.

A contemporary planting, with a nautical flair in Cannery Row. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A contemporary planting – with a nautical flair. Cannery Row, Monterey. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A Brewer’s Blackbird flits about a casual coastal planting. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the artist's community of Carmel by the Sea, the artist's touch abounds, as in the pretty painted vine on the house above and the artful container arrangements below. Photos: Sue Gaviller

In Carmel, the artist’s touch abounds – note the pretty painted vine on the house (above) and the artful container arrangements (below). Photos: Sue Gaviller

container planting Carmelcontainer planting Carmel 2

When we left Monterey we drove south along the Big Sur coastline – a magnificent drive along winding, cliff-hugging roads with panoramic views of the ocean. The heights and the road’s proximity to the edge might have made me queasy had the vistas not been so awe-inspiring.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Breathtaking views along the Big Sur coastline have earned this portion of route #1 the designation of National Scenic Byway and ‘All-American Road’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive along the beautiful coastal highway until we reached the town of Cambria where we turned inland towards Paso Robles – there were a couple of wineries in the area we wanted to visit, so we spent the night. We’d been on the road now for two weeks and I needed to wash some clothes – fortunately our hotel had laundry facilities. When I approached the front desk to get some coin for the washer and dryer, the clerk politely obliged. Well, more than politely – in his Southern-drawl he added, “Ma’am you smell real good. Like real expensive perfume.” The young fellow was probably just being friendly, but I found his candor a bit unnerving, especially since I wasn’t wearing any perfume.

It was pretty here, though hot and very dry – the effects of California’s drought were more obvious the further south we went. I was thankful we were back inland for only a day or two before we’d be heading back to the coast. San Francisco was our next destination.

I’d never been to San Francisco and I really didn’t think I was going to be all that thrilled with the sprawling metropolis. But I agreed to go for one night just so I could say I’d been to San Fran. Thanks to my directions we had no trouble finding our hotel, and to my delight, our room was on the 20th floor, providing a spectacular view of the city and a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was beginning to like it here. It was mid afternoon so we had time to grab a Starbucks and take a leisurely stroll before heading to the wharf for dinner.

We made our way up the hills and down, marvelling at the distinctive design of the buildings. San Francisco’s architecture can only be described as… well, San Francisco. It is entirely unique. Of course there are many examples of contemporary design, but it is the peculiar mix of architectural styles in the older row homes that I found so intriguing.

san fran

Mosaic tile steps, terra-cotta containers and scrolled wrought iron create a distinct Spanish Mediterranean feel in the front entrance of this San Francisco home. Photo: Sue Gaviller

It is often referred to as Victorian, and there are certainly those elements – bay windows, steeply pitched roofs and highly decorative flourishes.

But there are also Spanish Mediterranean influences (mosaic tile, scrolled wrought iron, courtyard gardens) and some even exhibit a hint of New England Colonial – clapboard-like siding painted soft blue, ivory or beige, with white trim and paned windows.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A pretty courtyard garden in San Francisco. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bright fuchsia Bougainvillea and white climbing rose frame an entryway; lavender, lily of the Nile and azaleas line the pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We reached fishermen’s wharf about half an hour before our dinner reservation so we had time to do a little souvenir shopping. San Francisco’s wharf isn’t near as quaint as Monterey’s – it’s big and busy and… utterly enchanting. The sound of jazz floated through the air. I assumed it was music being piped from one of the many shops or restaurants, but I discovered later it was a lone busker – with a really big amp. And of course there was the now familiar sound of sea lions – here there were dozens of rafts for the cute critters to pile onto.

 

As expected, dinner was delectable, and the taxi-ride back to the hotel quite entertaining. The driver, a big fellow with a silky smooth voice, drove for a limo-tour company and did a fine job promoting San Francisco; not that it needed promoting – I was already smitten with The City by the Bay.

We spent the following morning in Golden Gate Park – the park has a world-renowned Japanese garden which I’d always wanted to see; another reason I’d agreed to visit San Francisco. After the difficulty I had photographing Portland’s Japanese gardens I hoped to have more success here. This garden was very different – brighter and more open than the dappled shade of Portland’s moist, almost-tropical garden. I mistakenly assumed this would make it easier to shoot. It didn’t. The hazy white sky created unpleasant glare and gave everything a yellowish tone. Of course if I was a real photographer I’d have known how to compensate for this. As I looked about the gardens I noted another significant difference – whereas Portland had more coarse textured plants like Hosta and abundant large-leaved rhododendrons to break up the finer texture of pines, ferns and grasses, much of the plant material here seemed finer textured. This resulted in a somewhat busy feel to plant compositions and also contributed to my photographic woes – the fine texture created so many areas of light and dark, hence the same difficulty with harsh contrast as the dappled shade of Portland. Sigh.

Still, it was beautiful and given the Japanese philosophy of celebrating ‘place’, it’s entirely valid that a Japanese garden in coastal California would differ from that of an Oregon rainforest. Regardless, it was well worth the visit.

Photo: S Gaviller

Iris ensata adds an elegant splash of colour to rich green vegetation at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cloud pruning is the Japanese practice of trimming trees and shrubs into cloud-like forms. Known as ‘Niwaki’, which means ‘garden tree’, it is seen throughout the gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Stone lanterns are an integral part of the Japanese garden. Here a small lantern provides a solid foil for the many fine-textured elements. Photo: Sue Gaviller

fern grotto

Circle of Peace in the Fern Grotto, National Aids Memorial Grove, Golden Gate Park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

We had both thoroughly enjoyed San Francisco and knew we’d visit again – for much longer next time. But now it was time to head to our next and final destination where we would spend our anniversary, and the last few days of our trip before embarking on the long journey home. Originally Len had suggested we stay in a big fancy resort hotel in Sonoma to celebrate our marriage milestone. However, I thought something quieter would be more relaxing and romantic. My research led me to a beautiful spa resort at Bodega Bay on the Sonoma coast – very elegant but not the least ostentatious.

We arrived mid afternoon and checked into our ocean view suite, complete with luxurious lounge furniture, a wood burning fireplace, a hot tub and a private patio. A bottle of chilled champagne awaited us – a gift from resort staff in honour of our special day. Pouring ourselves a glass of the cool effervescent nectar we relaxed on the patio and gazed out at the ocean. Tidal channels and saltwater marsh, creating a bird sanctuary, lay between us and the ocean. We could hear birdsong all day, frogs chirping all night… and sea lions barking all day and all night. Tastefully landscaped grounds, gorgeous pool, 4-star restaurant – truly this was a little piece of paradise. I didn’t think I’d ever want to leave.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Native grasses and yellow lupins along the shoreline. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Not sure if this is the invasive artichoke thistle, but it was certainly photogenic against the misty marshlands at Bodega Bay. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The softly draping form and muted colour of dwarf ornamental grasses contrasts beautifully with the rich colour and stiff upright texture of New Zealand flax. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

This lovely coastal landscape includes handsome New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) and lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A bench in a cozy nook amid ferns and fuchsias. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A fine pair; rich dark Aeonium and soft blue-green Echeveria. Note how the foliage rosettes echo the scalloped edge of the planter. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A statue of Poseidon, Greek God of the Sea, watches over the pool area. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Yes indeed it was hard to leave – the Oceanside walks, strolls though the bird sanctuary, wonderful fresh food,  champagne by the fireplace, sea lions swimming and diving around the pier. But alas the time soon came for us to bid the coast goodbye. Our trip had come to an end – all that was left was the four-day drive back to Calgary, and this time we weren’t taking the scenic route.

Interestingly, the only negative experiences we had on the entire trip occurred on the drive home – a resort hotel in Reno with a casino that was so smoky we could smell it in our room. The room itself was posh on the surface, but somehow seemed really seedy – dozens of faux satin and velveteen pillows on the bed, and a black, not-terribly-clean hot tub at the foot of the bed. I wondered if the adage ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ might apply to Reno as well.

While we were out for dinner that night we received a panicked text from one of our sons who’d been looking after our house while we were away. He’d been heading out the door to leave when he saw, at the foot of the steps, a big ol’ skunk. He wasn’t sure what to do. I knew what he was thinking – a number of years ago, his friend from across the road came home late one night, startled a skunk that was hiding in the shrubbery and got himself sprayed. I’d never really had any ‘up-close and personal’ dealings with the striped villains, though I’d smelled their stench periodically in the neighbourhood. And growing up on an acreage in Southern Ontario, the family dog would run afoul of one at least once every summer. Supposedly the only way to get rid of the smell was to bathe them in tomato juice, but I don’t honestly remember doing so with any of our dogs. I was pretty sure my twenty-something son wasn’t going to be too keen on a late night tomato juice dip – and there was no way of avoiding Pepé Le Pew in his current position. I texted him back, “Pour yourself a Scotch and sit down for a bit til he’s gone,” was the best I could come up with.

Then there was the horrible meal we had in Twin Falls the following night – the vegetables were literally rotten. And our last night on the road, in Great Falls – we got bumped from our hotel room (which we’d reserved weeks before) and dumped into what was likely the worst room in the hotel; way at the back with train tracks only a few feet from our window, and a really small bed. It made us all the more eager to get home.

Late afternoon the next day we arrived home. I was greeted with the colorful blooms of moss phlox, creeping thyme, dwarf iris… and lilacs. I hadn’t missed them after all! Walking up to the front door, suitcase in hand, I stopped and closed my eyes. For a moment, the breeze carried me back to the California coast I breathed deeply and my nostrils filled with Syringa‘s sweet perfume. I was home. Though I still felt the call of the road, it was time to dig in and get to work. This was my busy season and I knew I’d have to hit the ground running….

‘Til next time,
Sue

There and Back; a Hortigeek’s Tale, Part 2 ~ California Here we Come ~

We left Portland on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Apparently traffic is bumper-to-bumper heading to the coast on holiday weekends, but since it was Saturday, our hope was that everyone would’ve arrived at their destinations already.  We decided to get an early start just to be safe. Indeed it was quieter on the freeways than any other time during our 5-day stay – if we’d known how much time we would spend in heavy traffic travelling to and from wine country, we’d have opted to stay in one of the smaller towns down the valley. I heard one of the locals comment that even visitors from LA, which is known for crazy car congestion, complain about traffic in and around Portland.

The drive to the coast took us through wine country again, then onto the Salmon River Highway which eventually joined up with the Oregon Coast highway just North of Lincoln City. We stopped in Lincoln City for a cuppa java – one of the finest we’d have on the entire trip; whether it was the coffee itself or the fact that we sipped while gazing out onto the Pacific Ocean I’m not sure. It had been years since I’d been to the ocean, and never the Oregon coast. I felt the familiar call of the water, as I always did since leaving my home on Georgian Bay as a young woman. Why I chose to move to an inland city (a semi arid one no less) I really don’t know, but I knew this trip would have me longing again for a life on the water.

The Coastal Highway was, as expected, very scenic – Oregon’s coast is varied in its topography, the highway traversing a shoreline of rugged rocky bluffs, massive sand-dunes that were oft right next to the highway, and dense forests of shore pine, rich with Rhododendron understory. I marveled at the range of conditions in which these Ericaceous shrubs thrived here – from the rich fertile soils of the Willamette valley to lean, sandy (and likely salty) coastal soils. I remembered something I’d read recently about successfully growing Rhododendrons in less-than-ideal soil conditions – amend the soil with pine needles. Noting the masses of healthy-looking native rhodies beneath the pines, I understood why. I noted too how Mother Nature, the ultimate designer, had perfectly paired the fine feathery texture of pine foliage with the coarse leathery Rhododendron foliage.

We pulled off the highway at a particularly gorgeous ocean look-out and I took a few shots of the breathtaking view. Then I heard it – a sound I’d miss more than any other sound the ocean offered – the barking of sea lions. Adjusting our vantage point we saw them, camped out on the rocks far below, basking in the sun. From where we were they looked rather like slugs. Turned out that just up the road were the Sea Lion Caves, a very busy Oregon Coast tourist attraction.

Heceta Head and Devil's Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heceta Head and Devil’s Elbow Bay, Oregon Coast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sunbathing sea lions. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Several hours later we crossed the border into California. Shortly thereafter the highway veered inland and before long we found ourselves among giant redwoods. I’d of course seen the behemoth redwoods before. I’d had the dizzying experience of looking up, looking waaaayy up, into the soft-needled crown of a single specimen or small stand, but never had I seen a whole forest. These horticultural giants were truly awe-inspiring. I wondered if maybe J.R.R. Tolkien was staring into an old-growth forest such as this when he created his beloved Treebeard and the other Ents.

Somewhere around Crescent City the highway met the shoreline again. We found a sandy cove where we dipped our feet, me for the first time, in California’s Pacific waters.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I first set foot in California waters here on Wilson Creek Beach, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We spent the night in pretty Eureka on the North coast. Looking out over Humboldt Bay we watched a big orange sun drop beneath the misty horizon. My husband ate fresh oysters from the bay and I partook of a fine California Riesling – this would be the first of many California sunsets we’d witness in the coming weeks.

Continuing South the next day on U.S. Highway 101, fittingly called the Redwood Highway through this part of the state, our destination for that day was Napa Valley. The fastest route would have been to follow 101 all the way down, but hubby wanted me to experience the Shoreline Highway as he had when a 20-something young man. So at Leggett, it’s Northern terminus, we turned off 101 and headed West on California State Route 1. Though it’s called the Shoreline Highway, it is well inland at this point and to the East of heavily treed mountainous terrain. To get to the coast one must first navigate this terrain…………

I took a deep breath. I knew I was in for a wild ride. At first it didn’t seem so bad, but very quickly the road heads into dark foreboding territory. We were climbing, climbing, following the winding, twisting road, narrow and full of snake-turns and switchbacks. Though we were always aware of the steep slope on one side or the other, periodic breaks in the trees allowed us to see how far up we were. And just when I’d think we were through it all and we’d start descending, we were climbing again. At times it was so dark, the tree canopy so dense, and the road so narrow that my husband commented, “I feel like we’re on some kind of hobbit trek.”

“Yeah, like through Mordor,” I muttered. If you aren’t familiar with Tolkein’s mythical realm of Middle Earth, then suffice it to say that Mordor is a very bad place. I don’t know how long we actually drove through this – it was only about 26 miles, but the going was slow and it seemed like hours. We finally emerged from Mordor about a half hour north of Fort Bragg, drove up around a bend and there stretched out before us, was the spectacular California coastline in all her windswept glory. Never had I felt so elated to see the endless expanse of water.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Gorgeous view of California coastline just north of Westport-Union Landing State Beach.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

When we reached Mendocino, where we’d planned to stop for lunch, it was so full of tourists (yes we too fit that description) that we decided to wait. I needed to get out and stretch after the white knuckle drive I’d just endured, so we opted to have coffee and wander around the historic little town. I asked the young girl in the coffee shop where their washroom was – she informed me that due to the drought, all their wells were dry and the only available washroom was a public one down the street. I went in search of the facilities, passing numerous expensive shops and boutiques – in my ignorance I still thought of Mendocino as an old hippie town. There was a line-up for the ladies’ room – standing in line gave me the opportunity to take some photos of pretty gardens nearby. Vegetation here, both natural and garden, differed from that further up the coast.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mounds of pink and white rock rose dress up Mendocino’s wooden water tower. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Still waiting in line, I noticed a young man with long hair and a beard (which was as long as his hair), wearing cargo shorts, work boots and walking a beautiful bloodhound. “Must be a local,” I thought to myself, still showing my naivety (as if I had any idea what a local Mendocino-ite might look like). “Nice dog,” I remarked. He looked at me warily and muttered something – everywhere we’d been people were so open and friendly and this man’s guarded response was a marked contrast. “Is that a Bloodhound?” I persisted. At that the bearded fellow opened up completely, informing me that yes she was a bloodhound, that she was in heat, the second phase of her heat to be precise, and she was really………..well to put it a tad more delicately than he did, apparently her sex drive was extremely elevated. He was looking for another bloodhound to breed her with but the only one in the area belonged to the local police chief or sheriff or whatever and blah, blah, blah……..the guy was harmless but I was now a little uncomfortable with the conversation – fortunately by this time I’d progressed to the front of the line and could politely dismiss myself.

When I exited the washroom Mr. Mendocino was nowhere to be seen. I heard the sound of acoustic guitar and soft voices – a few yards away under a shady tree, a group of young people were playing guitar and singing old Neil Young tunes. I guess it was still a hippie town – young and old. I smiled, remembering my own youth and my first acoustic guitar, singing Mamas and Papas or Joni Mitchell tunes around a campfire – I was barely a teenager…………..and such a wannabe hippie.

I found my way back to the car where hubby was waiting, wondering if I’d got lost. We took a stroll, coffee in one hand, camera in the other, and explored scenic Mendocino before heading out on the road again. The gardens here were quite unique – picket fences, roses, heathers and other old-fashioned garden elements spoke to the vintage of the area, and spiky upright plants like Echium, Phormium and tall stiff grasses spoke to its coastal locale and lent structure to the softer elements.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The juxtaposition of New Zealand flax (Phormium) with the white picket fence and heritage building makes quite a statement. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Purple-blue spikes of Echium contrast nicely with the old-fashioned white roses in the foreground. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated New Zealand flax and tall ornamental grasses frame and anchor the mixed shrub/perennial border lining this pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We continued our drive south on the #1 until it met up with #128 which would take us back inland, through more redwood forest on more winding roads – but nothing like Mordor. As we left the giant Sequoia forest behind, the landscape and vegetation changed quickly – we were entering wine country, more specifically the Anderson Valley Appellation (appellation is a fancy word for wine-growing region). We stopped for lunch in a little town called Boonville (yes that’s right; a little town out in the boonies called Boonville). It was hot here, like all wine growing regions, and like all small towns associated with wine growing regions, there were lots of great places to eat. We found a casual salad and sandwich place – I had one of the most flavourful salads I’d ever tasted; arugula, mango, grilled chicken breast, fresh cilantro…………mmmmm I can still taste it.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Napa Valley where we would stay and explore for the next 5 days. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of our stay in California wine country – I’ll just say it was fabulous; fine wine, great food, stunning scenery, beautiful gardens………………..

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds - Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Chateau Ste. Jean, a Sonoma winery, boasts beautifully landscaped grounds – Mediterranean inspired in the Italian Renaissance style, with classical statuary, parterres and hedging, archways and rustic pergolas. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Truchard vineyards are one of the oldest vineyards in the Carneros region of Napa and produce beautiful wines, my personal favourites being Chardonnay and Cabernet Reserve. After a lovely lunch in the gazebo with Tony and Anthony, we took a stroll through the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Modern, minimalistic promenade in downtown Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Simply planted , it is the shape, colour and placement of these terra-cotta pots that provides the appeal. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a gorgeous little town just North of Napa, beautiful gardens and landscapes abound - here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In Yountville, a picturesque town just North of Napa, gorgeous gardens and landscapes abound – here lavender, roses and the ever-present columnar cypress adorn a restaurant parking lot.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Poolside planting outside private residence at Trefethen Vineyards. Note how the form and dense texture of the columnar cypress nicely dominate the scene with the rounder forms playing a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses planted alongside a stone wall create real old world appeal in this roadside planting next to a vineyard in Napa. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhythmic repetition of narrow upright cypress creates nice movement around this circular drive. Photo: Sue Gaviller

lambert bridge lavender 2

Layered planting – a swath of lavender repeats the horizontal line of the stone wall, which is again repeated in the barberry shrubs and the trees beyond. Lambert Bridge Winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Kendall Jackson, another Sonoma winery, has lush gardens to wander through. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A stunning ‘hedge’ of Cannas near Dry Creek. I guess they don’t get hail there. Photo: Sue Gaviller

After 5 days of hot weather, daily wine tasting and other overindulgences, I was ready to move on to the next leg of our journey – back to the coast. I was so looking forward to fresh seafood, the smell of saltwater and walks along the beach. Join me next time for more garden pics from the California coast.

Til then,
Sue

 

 

There and Back – a Hortigeek’s Tale

Greetings fellow gardeners! I must apologize for ignoring this blog of late, but I was on vacation for a few weeks. Vacation you ask – at this time of year? What garden designer in her right mind goes AWOL for 3 weeks just as gardening season is revving up? Well I’ve never claimed to be in my right mind – although if truth be told I think I’m one of the sanest people I know. But I digress. My husband and I observed a milestone anniversary earlier this month – so to celebrate, the sommelier and the garden designer took a little road trip; touring wineries, visiting fabulous gardens and noshing on fine victuals.

I know y’all have been waiting for my ‘Colour in the Garden’ series to begin, and for my weekly Plant Pick Page to get up and running, and I promise I am working on those. In the meantime though, I thought I’d share some of the beauty I’ve recently witnessed.

When we left home on Victoria Day the leaves were just beginning to break bud – this was an unusually late spring, even for Calgary. As we drove South, the green aura of emerging leaves became more marked, and by the time we crossed the border and made our first pit-stop, everything was green and leafy, crab-apples and lilacs were blooming – spring had certainly come to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. While hubby filled the gas tank I looked longingly across the freeway where a hedge of lilacs bloomed – I wanted to run across four lanes of traffic and bury my face in the fluffy purple panicles, breathing in their intoxicating aroma. But that would be foolhardy.  Hopefully when we stopped for the night there would be lilacs to sniff.

When we reached Spokane, Washington where we’d stay for the night, there were indeed lilacs blooming, chestnut trees too, peonies, Siberian irises, and deep, rich, fuchsia-red hawthorn blooms. A walk after dinner afforded me the longed-for opportunity to stick my nose in some sweet lilac blossoms and inhale deeply – mmmm I do love lilacs. I hoped there would be more as we continued on our journey. The next morning my husband was up early and eager to get on the road. I was tired – taking this time away had meant weeks of hectic scheduling beforehand and I found myself resisting his attempts to schedule our time. It would take a few days for him to get the ants out of his pants and me to get the lead out of mine. However we did have appointments to keep – we were expected that afternoon at a winery in Walla Walla.

The drive through the Columbia Basin in Washington State revealed some of the most intriguing scenery I’d ever seen – strange, rolling, treeless hills that were at times bright green with agricultural crops, (often topped with huge white alien-looking windmills), at times rugged as rangeland, and at times awash with the muted colours of sagebrush, purple vetch-like flowers and tawny-hued grasses. The horticulturist (a.k.a. plant geek) in me wanted to stop the car every five minutes so I could identify each and every plant, and the designer in me wanted to photograph every landscape, natural or manmade – but more often than not, there was no safe place to pull over. This would be one of many times I’d have to settle my inner ‘hortigeek’, lest I experience every beautiful sight as a missed opportunity.

When we arrived in Walla Walla, spring had been left behind – it was early summer here; very warm, shorts-weather even. We ate lunch on the patio of a charming historic restaurant in the town-site, then headed out to wine country. The Walla Walla wine region is hot and dry – it felt stifling when we first stepped out of the car; Calgary was cold and rainy when we’d left only the day before, so the heat was a shock to the senses. I was thankful for the cool of the air-conditioned tasting room. For my husband this was the true beginning of our trip – the winery experience. It would be at least another day before I felt the same.

We made it to Portland that night after a picturesque drive on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge, and an exquisite dinner in the hip little town of Hood River. Portland is at the northern tip of the Willamette Valley; a wide fertile valley that is home to some of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, and boasts phenomenal gardening conditions – here Rhododendrons of every colour thrive, indeed they are native to this area. In fact everything seems to thrive here – driving along the I-5 from Portland to wine country the next day, I was thrilled at the roadside plantings of rhodos, roses, ivy, Spanish lavender and other sumptuous offerings (but no lilacs). Gorgeous gardens everywhere; even fast food chains had nicely landscaped grounds.  The hortigeek in me was plotzing again – but vineyards and wineries are beautiful places, as are the many small towns where they oft reside, so there was lots to photograph.

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper in a parking lot planting.  Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendrons grow everywhere in Oregon, much like Syringa and Potentilla grow in our climate. Here a coral-red rhodo grows alongside spreading juniper next to a parking lot in Newberg, Oregon.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spanish lavender too is a common sight throughout the area. Here it is planted with other herbs in a back alley garden in McMinnville, Oregon. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Roses were in full bloom in Oregon when we were there the end of May. These three perfect white roses just begged to be photographed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely Mediterranean-inspired garden outside a restaurant where we had lunch in Dundee, Oregon. Note how the various plant forms play off each other. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A visit to Portland’s famed Japanese garden was the moment I finally relaxed – entering through the gates I felt the tensions and busy-ness of the previous weeks melt away and I was overcome with emotion. This is the aim of the Japanese Garden – to provide a haven from worldly cares. However as soon as I brought my camera out, I wasn’t so relaxed anymore – dappled shade is soothing and tranquil to be in, but not so easy to photograph in. My husband, sensing my growing frustration, related his own experience with photography as a young arts student – wherever he went he was always looking for subject material, hoping that today would be the day he took the photo; the photo of a lifetime, until one day he realized that his attempts to capture with perfect artistry that which he saw, actually undermined his ability to experience and enjoy what he saw. He was right of course – here we were in this amazing place of calm and I was anything but calm. So I put my camera away and we walked in the cool dappled shade, we listened to sweet birdsong and dancing water and we sat beside the koi pond and marveled at the serenity of it all. Yes this was the beginning of my vacation………..

Portland Japanese Garden - water basin

A peaceful stone water basin sits just inside the gates. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Portland Japanese Garden bridge

A bridge crosses a tranquil stream in the ‘Strolling Pond Garden’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The sound of running water, from numerous streams and waterfalls, is everywhere in the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Portland Japanese Garden - ferns and rhodos

Hot pink Rhododendron pairs beautifully with bright green ferns. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mount Ste. Helens and downtown Portland are visible through an opening in the trees – an example of the Japanese principle of ‘Borrowed Scenery’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

We visited several wineries over the course of the next few days while staying in the Portland area, but the one that most bears mention is WillaKenzie Estate Winery – I could of course rave about their fabulous Pinot’s (everybody does), or I could talk about their delightful winemaker’s assistant Gabby, a young French-Canadian woman who gave us an intimate look behind the scenes, but what I really want to rave about is the breathtaking scenery; beautifully landscaped grounds, spectacular views……….

Trees frame the view of a vineyard at WillaKenzie Estate. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie white rhodos 2

A low hedge of crisp white rhodos lines the steps at the entrance to the winery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Flowering dogwood trees have large showy flowers which look stunning against the dark green coarse-textured leaves. This young specimen graced an estate pathway. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie sensory garden

The Sensory Garden – lavender, thyme, oregano, fruit trees, strawberry vines, mint, iris and all manner of things to delight the senses are grown in the Sensory Garden overlooking the vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Irises in the Sensory Garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of a 2013 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The lovely Gabby offers us a barrel tasting of 2012 Aliette Pinot Noir. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The patio outside WillaKenzie’s tasting room boasts a panoramic view of rolling hills, valleys and vineyards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

willakenzie cheese plate 2

Fresh baguette, fine cheeses, nuts, dried cherries and apricots were the perfect complement to a glass of wine on the patio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sitting at a shady table on the patio, sipping an elegant 2011 Aliette Pinot Noir and nibbling on the tasty treats that were kindly offered us, I couldn’t imagine a place more beautiful. A red tailed hawk soared out over the valley. I reached for my camera……then stopped – this moment was too perfect to waste fussing with camera settings for the umpteenth time. As if reading my thoughts the hawk swooped down into the valley and out of sight. I took a sip of wine, closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the gorgeous red nectar and the light caress of cool breezes. Could it get any better than this? I would soon find out as we continued on the next leg of our journey………..

Stay tuned for, ‘California Here We Come’.

Til then,
Sue

 

 

 

 

 

Colour – the Absence of White

My back yard was still covered in snow as of yesterday – or to be more accurate, my back yard was covered in snow again as of yesterday. Spring had teased us with some warm-ish weather for a week or so;  enough that the snow had melted, leaving in its wake swaths of pallid yellow-brown turf and dull grey-brown soil – colour so de-saturated it could hardly be called colour at all. But at least it wasn’t white. Then a weekend of snow and below-freezing temperatures, and the ground was again blanketed in white – I might have called it pretty had we not already had 6 months of it.

Today the spring weather has returned and the snow has all but receded, this time exposing green. Green – the colour of awakening life. It warms us to the core – indeed it’s all the colour we need right now. It signals the beginning of another long-awaited gardening season.

But as the season progresses, gardeners are no longer as enamoured of plain old green; we want bigger colour, brighter colour, and zealously apply it to our gardens without understanding its impact – for good or for bad. What is there to understand you ask? Why is colour any different for gardeners than anybody else? Well, it’s not really – it’s just that we face some unique challenges when employing it.

Working with colour is different for a gardener than for example, a painter.  A painter works with paints and pigments, mixing them in various proportions until the desired colour is attained. A gardener on the other hand, has only what Mother Nature (or the hybridizer) offers. While there are plenty of colours to choose from, it can be a challenge to find a plant in the exact colour we want, have it grow and thrive in the exact location we want and have it bloom at the exact time we want.  And even a novice gardener quickly learns that a flower described as ‘blue’ is rarely blue, but more purple-blue or mauve-pink, and supposedly purple foliage isn’t really purple but rather a dark wine colour.

As well, we can’t control the existing colours in the larger landscape; the colour of our neighbour’s house for example. What if it’s red, or bright blue or yellow? How does one work with that as a backdrop for your garden?

And what about the impact of light? Outside under full sun, light shines at an intensity of 100,000 lux. Inside, directly in front of a sunny window, light intensity is about half that – 50,000 lux, and once you are a few feet further into the interior of a building, light intensity diminishes to as little as 1000 lux. Due to the sheer intensity of it, light has a greater potential to impact colour outdoors than it does indoors.

A garden isn’t a static reality either; it is a dynamic interplay of living, growing things – a vision in flux. So a garden that looks fresh and full of promise in the spring might be an overgrown mess come midsummer. Individual plants also change over the course of a season, or even a day or two – for example the lilac flower shown below is made up of many little florets, each with their own life span; the buds and newly opened florets are rich violet-red, whereas older florets are somewhat faded and will eventually turn brown. As more florets age and fade, the colour of the whole panicle is affected and eventually the appearance of the whole shrub.

Syringa 'Ludwig Spaeth'

So, now that we recognize some of the unique challenges gardeners face when working with colour, let’s see if we can’t find a way of understanding it so we can respond to those challenges.

Over the spring and summer months I’ll be discussing colour theory specifically as it relates to garden design – hope you can join me.

Until next time,
Sue

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.
Not only green when summer’s here
But in the coldest time of year.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.

                                                ~ Author Unknown ~
 
 

Nothing says Yuletide quite like evergreen boughs, whether still on the tree, or as part of some other seasonal ornamentation. Almost every home at this time of year has the requisite evergreen wreath, swag, garland, or container arrangement. I myself dabble only in the latter; the seasonal container.

I didn’t always participate in this Christmas container frenzy – mixed evergreen branches billowing over the tops of pretty pots, complete with festive balls and bows. It all seemed a bit artsy-crafty to me. But I had to admit, a tasteful arrangement could enhance the overall appeal of a winter landscape. In time I learned to embrace my ‘inner Martha’, though I soon discovered that arranging evergreen boughs in a winter container required a different skill-set than designing a landscape, a garden, or a summer container arrangement. No this required a florist’s flair, a talent this garden designer is decidedly lacking.

My early attempts weren’t particularly spectacular – spruce and juniper branches harvested from trees and shrubs in my garden, with a few dogwood stems sprinkled in. They were a bit drab actually – not surprising since many spruce and juniper species tend to lose colour saturation in our very cold winters, becoming dark and dull. In containers their presentation is therefore lacklustre. Pine however, stays delightfully green, cedar too – I tried those, but apparently any old pine or cedar won’t do. My garden gatherings of stiff upright mugo pine branches and sprigs of Emerald Green cedar just didn’t do the trick. Something with a more draping habit was needed.

Eventually, about the 23rd of December one year, knowing we’d be entertaining family the following night, I decided I should really purchase some suitable greenery. I live only a few minutes away from several greenhouses, so off I went in search of greener greens. Fortunately, since it was so close to Christmas, everything was discounted – which also meant of course, that selection was limited. There was still some fir to be had, and one scruffy bundle of pine. A gentlemanly sales attendant scrounged up a few cedar boughs for me. I needed something taller too, for height and structure. All that was left was some twiggy, tawny-hued huckleberry branches – this would have to do I guess. I plopped my greenhouse finds into my containers, fussed with them a bit, then fussed some more. The end result was…………..well, acceptable.

I continued with these last-minute arrangements for a number of years – they were attractive enough, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’d found my calling. And no festive balls or bows – this was definitely still too Martha Stewart for me.

I guess we must have had mild autumn temperatures that extended well into December, or maybe very timely Chinooks, because in all those years I whipped up my eleventh-hour Christmas containers, not once was the soil in my ceramic pots frozen………until last year. This was the year I decided to shop early for Christmas greens so I’d have lots to choose from. I was like a kid in a candy store. Beautiful bunches of fir and hemlock, soft pine, lacy cedar and elegant cypress, rich red dogwood stems, pretty berried branches and crisp white birch branches – I bought it all, hundreds of dollars worth.

The plants from my summer arrangements were still in the pots, covered in snow (winter had come early) and had to be removed before I could do my holiday arrangement. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll get my trowel and quickly pop out the dead plants.”  Clunk.  Metal hit ice.  Hmmm.  “No problem,” I thought,  “I’ll get some warm water and melt the frozen soil and then with my trowel pop out the dead plants.” Scrape, scrape, scrape – the warm water thawed enough soil for me to remove about a teaspoonful. More warm water, more scraping, another teaspoonful of soil removed. This was not going to work. Hmmm. “No problem,” I thought. I went inside and got my blow-dryer. “I’ll blow hot air on the frozen soil to melt it and then with my trowel I’ll pop out the dead plants.” Whirrrrr. Whirrrrr. Whirrrrr. There I was sitting on my front steps, in sub-zero temperatures, bundled up like a snow-suited child, attempting to melt a huge block of ice-soil with a blow-dryer. The neighbours must have had a good chuckle at the sight.  Unfortunately, the hot air wasn’t making any difference. My hands were freezing. Feeling foolish and very frustrated, I gave up and went inside.

“How’s it going out there?” asked my husband as I came in the front door. The look on my face answered his question. Not well. What was I going to do with all the beautiful greenery I’d purchased? There was no way those pots were coming inside to thaw – they were way too heavy. When I first bought them I was concerned that, being such pretty pots, someone might walk off with them – so I filled the bottom half with sand and gravel. Nope, nobody was going to move those babies – ever.

“I have an idea” Hubby said. I didn’t want to hear his idea. I wanted to pout and throw a hissy-fit. But I remembered what I’d always told my kids when they were young and something would go wrong: “You need to get out of flip-out mode and get into problem-solving mode,” I’d chirp. So I listened to my husband’s idea. We had some reasonably attractive plastic pots on the back patio – they were painted black but finished to look like burnished bronze. While the soil in these pots was also frozen solid, they weren’t so heavy and could easily be carried inside to thaw. It was a good idea; better than anything I had come up with.

It took at least 2 days for the soil in the plastic pots to thaw, but once it was workable I went to work poking the myriad of branches into the soil. First the birch branches for height and structure. Then the bendy cedar and cypress boughs which would drape over the edges. Then the more rigid fir and hemlock branches, and finally the dogwood stems and red-berried branches for colour. But still no festive balls or bows.

We carried the two pots outside and placed them in front of the unusable ceramic pots. They looked pretty impressive……………impressively large anyways – so large that the evergreen boughs impeded access somewhat to the front door. Perhaps I’d purchased more container ingredients than I needed.

This year I got smart – I made sure I removed the summer arrangements from my containers well before freeze-up. I also removed about a third of the soil so I could add fresh topsoil in which to arrange my evergreens and accoutrements.

A few weeks ago I espied some pretty potted arrangements when driving by a large department store (which I shall not name because I don’t want to give them free advertising). What caught my eye in these holiday arrangements was, I’m embarrassed to say, the beautiful copper-coloured festive balls and bows. I couldn’t stop thinking about these lovely rich-hued ornaments and visualizing how pretty they’d look in my earthy-coloured ceramic pots against the café-au-lait colour of my house and the chocolatey colour of my front door and wrought iron railings. So I went back and bought them.

Originally the idea was to take everything out of the store-bought plastic pots and rearrange in my own pots. However, the plastic pots fit nicely into the mouth of my tear-drop-shaped containers – so there they stayed. I know, I know, for a garden designer this was shamefully lazy, cheating even. It never pays to cheat though, because the next day all the evergreens in one of the store-bought arrangements had turned brown, despite watering as directed. I returned it to the store-which-won’t-be-named, and to their credit, they happily exchanged it for one that still looked alive.

The weather turned nasty a day or two later and my holiday arrangements were soon covered in snow – it was very pretty and Christmassy, but the evergreen boughs turned suspiciously crispy in the frigid cold. I had a feeling they wouldn’t look so good when the temperatures rose again with the next Chinook. Indeed when the Arctic front blew out and a Chinook blew in, my evergreens became everbrown. Sigh. It was now past the middle of December and I was running out of time……..and patience. I brought the pots inside and tried to pull out the dead stuff – they wouldn’t budge. I examined the centre of the arrangements to see what was holding everything so tight – it was florist’s foam ……..very frozen florist’s foam. Sigh.

After a day or two the foam thawed. I poked some fresh pine branches and cedar boughs into it and some reddish twiggy things from an indoor vase which I bundled together to add height. My backyard containers hadn’t been cleaned out yet and still housed clumps of coppery sedge (Carex comans ‘Bronco’) – it was dead but still had some colour and made a pretty addition to my Christmas arrangement. A few sprigs of blue spruce, the copper ornaments from the store-bought pots, and my holiday containers were done. It was night-time when I placed my newly created evergreen arrangements into the ceramic pots – from what I could see in the dark they looked okay; better than the prearranged ones I’d purchased and certainly better than any of my previous attempts.

The following morning, seeing that it had snowed over night, I offered to relieve Hubbie of front-walk-shoveling duty.  My new Christmas containers were dusted in snow. The now white-capped copper ornaments sparkled in the sun.  As I moved down the walkway piling snow this way and that, I looked back towards the house and noticed that from this vantage point the black plastic pots were visible above the ceramic pots. “That looks tacky,” I said to myself. Thinking I hadn’t placed them properly, I attempted to adjust them, but to no avail. I guess the fit wasn’t as good as I thought when I first popped them in there. Sigh. My work was still not done.

I considered my options and determined they were limited. The foam was frozen again so I couldn’t just poke more drapey branches in. I thought about taking the foam out of the plastic pots and placing the whole arrangement right inside the ceramic pots, but one of the chunks of foam had split in half when I was manhandling it trying to remove dead evergreens. I was afraid without the pot to hold the foam together that everything might fall apart. So……….I decided my best option was to drill holes through the side of the pot into the frozen foam and stick more evergreen boughs in the holes. My husband brought me his battery operated drill and showed me how to use it. Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzz. There I was again, sitting on my front steps, in sub-zero temperatures, bundled up like a snow-suited child, this time drilling holes into my pots – more entertainment for my neighbours I’m sure. I didn’t last long in the cold though, so I brought the pots inside and finished my drilling and poking in the basement. I soon became very adept with the drill, exchanging drill bits from small (to puncture the pot) to large (to fit branches in) with a few quick flicks of the wrist. That’s right, this girly girl was using power tools. For some reason Hubbie found this very amusing, attractive even.

So in the end I did create some not-too-bad looking Christmas arrangements…………………..

Christmas container - RChristmas container - LMy latest container attempts  – I don’t have the flair of a florist, but aren’t the colours pretty?                 Photos: Sue Gaviller

So now that y’all know what not to do when creating your Christmas arrangements, it’s only fair I provide some examples of really well done containers. Deborah Silver, owner of Detroit Garden Works, creates stunning arrangements and shares some of her secrets on her blog Dirt Simple (check out her 3-part tutorial: Sticking It: A Foam Story, The Center Of Interest: A Short Story and The Details: A Story Board).

Just look at these – are they not perfect?

DS Containers 2Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 3Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 5Photo: Dirt Simple
DS Containers 6Photo: Dirt Simple

Well folks it’s December 22nd and despite my best attempts, it seems that my Christmas containers are once again last-minute – but this time they come with festive balls and bows.

 Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night,
Sue