Messy Mingling or Outmoded Massing?

A day or two ago I was sitting at my desk mulling over which of several blog-posts-in-progress I would work on, when a colleague emailed me a link to the latest post on thinkinGardens. Happy for the distraction, I clicked on the link. If you’ve ever visited this website you know the articles are always thought-provoking and articulately presented – indeed the contributing writers are the intelligentsia of garden design.

This particular post was Part 1 of an arranged discourse, a debate if you will, between Thomas Rainer and Noel Kingsbury, discussing mass planting vs. intermingled planting and which represented the more sound ecology, thus the better design choice. I’d certainly been aware of an apparent paradigm shift – from Piet Oudolf’s compositions of huge single-species drifts, to the new intermingled compositions now being espoused by same designer – but I never really gave it much thought. While I know, as a designer, that it’s important to stay abreast of current trends, I’ve always been of the opinion that good horticulture and good design are timeless and don’t depend on adherence to design trends.

However, after reading Thomas Rainer’s opening argument (excerpted from a previous post he’d published in August), I decided I oughta take this matter more seriously. Judging by the ensuing comments, some of which were very long and impassioned, I figured this must be some really important stuff being discussed here – I’d better jump on one of these bandwagons lest I get left behind. Thing is, I’m not much of a wagon jumper. I’m more of a fence sitter. I know, I know, there’s some old adage that sitting on the fence means having one foot in Heaven and one in Hades – I believe what it really means though, is that I see both sides of the story. Initially I was going to leave a comment with my own thoughts on the matter, but the comment thread was already long and cumbersome. Besides, who am I to argue with, or agree with, or even comment on, the ideas put forward by these big garden thinkers. But comment I will…………..

Thomas presented a very balanced argument in his article, and I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the eloquently written piece. He suggested that both aesthetics – mass planting and intermingled planting – can have a place in good garden design, since both are seen in nature. And I agree – I think. I am fortunate to live only a few blocks from Nose Hill Park, a huge expanse of natural mixed-prairie grassland. I thought about the masses of native Rosa woodsii, Elaeagnus commutata and Symphoricarpos occidentalis growing in the ravines or along the slopes, and snorted at the thought that anything might intermingle within their dense colonies – a clear-cut case of nature’s mass planting. On another hillside nearby, numerous native grasses, as well as Campanula rotundifolia, Gallairdia aristia, Erigeron caespitosus, Linum lewisii and many other native species, comfortably intermingle. So I guess I must be in Thomas’s not-one-nor-the-other-but-both camp.

I called my sister, hoping she would have some photos to illustrate these points – though not a horticulturist by profession, she has a profound interest in native plants and certainly knows them better than I. We talked about nature’s areas of seeming monoculture and the more we talked the more evident it became that things are not necessarily as they appear – that the forest of evergreens we see along the drive into the mountains may appear to be a single type of tree, but in fact more likely consists of spruce, fir and hemlock. Or that colonizing shrubs like our numerous native rose species may obscure, but not necessarily exclude, smaller flora. Or that it’s possible for the aforementioned roses to coexist in an intermingling relationship with some other equally effective competitor, say Cornus sericea. I remembered a recent post about a cross-Canada road trip, in which I wrote: “I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest………..as gardeners, landscape designers and horticulturists, we can take many lessons from the natural rock formations and forestation that Mother Nature presents – the way she mass plants her trees and understory, the large areas of perceived monoculture masking the plant diversity that lies therein. Indeed this should be our template.” Hmmm.

Pat started going through her photos as we spoke – she’ll jump at any excuse to do so. A while later she sent a few to me in an email:

“Hi Sue”, she wrote. “Here is one example of both – in my mind. I don’t think Mother Nature likes to be pinned down………

“As the snow recedes high in the mountain meadows, one of the first flowers to appear, especially in avalanche tracts, is the yellow glacier lily – Erythronium grandiflorum. They are quite beautiful en masse and I think they are a great example of a mass planting. However if you look closely, you can see a few small white flowers in amongst them. They are the other herald of spring in the mountains (and most everywhere in Canada for that matter) – the ‘spring beauty’, in this case the Western Spring Beauty, Claytonia lanceolata. This small white flower also emerges as the snow melts and it too can be found en masse, but here is found ‘intermingling’ in a mass planting of glacier lilies………if one looks closely enough.”

Nicely put Sis – thanks.

Erythronium grandiflorum

Looking up the avalanche tract towards the mountain top, a mass of Erythronium grandiflorum in the forefront. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A closer view reveals bits of white amid the yellow. Photo: Pat GAviller

A closer view reveals bits of white amid the yellow. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Zoomed in further ones sees that Claytonia lanceolata grows amongst the Erythronium grandiflorum. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Zoomed in further ones sees that Claytonia lanceolata grows amongst the Erythronium grandiflorum. Photo: Pat Gaviller

evergreen mass

A quick glance might suggest this mass of evergreens is all one type of tree, but the greenery on the mountainside includes western red cedar, western white pine, lodgepole pine, western hemlock, interior Douglas fir, western larch & hybrid white spruce (Picea glauca x engelmannii).
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Alpine meadows are a classic example of plants intermingling in nature. Here one lone Anemone occidentalis blooms alongside Claytonia lanceolata and emerging Antennaria lanata foliage.Photo: Pat Gaviller

Alpine meadows are a classic example of plants intermingling in nature. Here a lone clump of Anemone occidentalis blooms alongside Claytonia lanceolata and emerging Antennaria lanata foliage.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Today I returned to thinkinGardens to read Noel Kingsbury’s response. He too made some valid points, one of which was the very thing my sister and I had discussed relating to monoculture – that “often what appears to be monocultures are not”.

So does this mean then, that I’ve switched camps – that I’ve now bought into Mr. Kingsbury’s intermingling perspective? Maybe. Well, no not really. It’s true one would be hard pressed to find a true monoculture in nature. But mass planting doesn’t equal monoculture – there are mass plantings in nature, and intermingled plantings………..and intermingled mass plantings, and massed intermingled plantings. How’s that for sitting on the fence? But there’s more.

Rainer also points out the potential for chaotic and badly executed compositions when using an intermingled approach, and both writers acknowledged the need for informed plant choices if this approach is to succeed. This is of course key – one must know and understand the growth and reproductive habits of any given plant, lest some garden residents crowd others, or shade them, or outcompete them in some way or another. Come to think of it there are plants that would absolutely not fit into an intermingled planting scheme – they would very quickly dominate the composition and begin to mass themselves regardless of the designer’s intent…….and it would be completely unnatural to insist that they do otherwise. Noel speaks of ‘managing competition’ and admits that it “requires plant knowledge and experience”. But why, if creating a natural ecosystem is the goal, would ‘managing competition’ even need mention. The bottom line is, the old mass-planting design model and the new intermingling approach both require harnessing nature, which is fine, but obviously neither can claim to be a completely natural design strategy. Which is more natural?  Who knows?  And does it really matter?

So I guess I’m with Thomas here. This where I often stand on many issues – in the middle, on balanced ground. And to be fair, even Noel admitted there was a place for ‘moments of massing’ within an intermingled design. Maybe the two are more in agreement than it first seemed.

I read through the comments made in response to both Rainer’s and Kingsbury’s articles and there were other interesting viewpoints as well, for example, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • garden design doesn’t need to perfectly imitate nature’s design.
  • it doesn’t matter if you mass or intermingle as long as native plants are used.
  • we are losing species at an alarming rate and garden design must be part of the solution to this.
  • what we do in our gardens isn’t going save the planet, the bigger picture is more important.

I agree, in part, with all of these positions – no, our garden designs don’t need to be completely ‘natural’, yes native plant material should comprise a portion of our garden compositions, yes species loss is a concern and should be taken into account when choosing plants, particularly to ensure that pollinators are encouraged, and no the fate of the planet isn’t going to be played out in the garden. Our responsibility as gardeners and garden designers is to create healthy, sustainable ecosystems that are functional and aesthetically pleasing (this is indubitably subjective).

For me, nothing has changed. I’ve always used a mixed approach, with much of the massing occurring as groundcover to create a sort of ‘negative space’, and the larger plants occupying the positive space – some intermingled, some massed. I’ve never used mass plantings to the extent Piet Oudolf did (though I have to admit I find the huge masses of colour and texture to be breathtaking), and I don’t intend to use exclusively intermingled plantings just because it’s the latest trend. I will continue to design the way I always have, deciding to plant what, where and how-many, based on the site, the plant and my client’s needs. To me this is good design.

Now go mingle or mass or whatever it is you do………

Til next time,
Sue

© 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.

Fall Back

The words ‘fall back’ can mean to recede, withdraw or retreat – like what happens to our gardens at this time of year. Fall back is also a catchy phrase we use to remind ourselves which way to adjust our clocks when moving from daylight time to standard time. Either way my friends, gardening season is over – the autumnal equinox officially ushered in fall on September 22nd, and in less than 2 weeks it will be time to turn our clocks back. For me, this ‘turning of the clocks’, more than any other temporal landmark, signals winter’s imminent approach; when we’ll trade our garden gloves for ski gloves, and hot toddies by the fire will replace chilled wine on the patio.

We could choose to lament the passing of another garden season, or we could celebrate what’s still beautiful in our gardens, while it’s there. If you find there’s little or no beauty left in your garden, you might want to consider adding some plant material specifically for fall colour – late or long blooming perennials, foliage that changes or intensifies its colour, plants with ornamental fruit and of course some evergreen material to set it all off.

Let’s take a walk along our city streets to see what autumn splendour we can find.

Trees

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Mountain ash turns intense shades of tawny red.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Among the most dramatic fall colour displays is the mountain ash, with foliage hues of orange, red and mahogany, and bright red or orange berries.

The American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) and showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora) have big clusters of true red berries, which are very showy.

The European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) has smaller berries that are more orange and is one of the last trees to turn colour in the fall.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sorbus americana beginning to change colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A make-shift swing hangs from the branches of a colourful mountain ash. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Many species of Malus (apple, crabapple) also have excellent fall colour, for example;  the small weeping ‘Rosy Glo’ turns brilliant orange, and the stately ‘Pink Spires’ turns flaming red. Others display more golden tones which contrast beautifully with the red fruit.

Malus 'Rosy Glo'

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp.

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Malus sp 2

Malus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Betula (birch) too, present shades of gold, and Acer, the maple genus, includes some of the best fall colour specimens – unfortunately the gorgeous sugar maple, that king of autumn foliage, isn’t hardy here in the prairies. However, Acer ginnala (Amur maple) does well here and has fabulous fall colour. Its growth habit can be somewhat untidy when grown as a tree – it is therefore in my opinion, best grown as a large shrub.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer ginnala. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aesculus

Aesculus glabra – several young specimens in various stages of autumn colour change. Photo: Pat Gaviller

There are of course many other trees with colourful fall foliage: Aesculus glabra (Ohio Buckeye) produces stunning orange fall colour, as does Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Autumn Brilliance serviceberry).

Larix (larch) and Populus (aspen/poplar) turn golden-yellow, and the foliage of Crataegus  (hawthorn) changes to yellow, amber, orange or burgundy in the fall – the display is short-lived, but they also set pretty fruit.

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The berries of Crataegus sp. are quite decorative. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Shrubs

There are countless shrubs that offer fine fall colour. Currently the most obvious is the ubiquitous Cotoneaster – I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with this shrub. What I don’t like is that I’ve inherited it – a hedge and 2 shrubs, positioned such that they require weekly pruning. Cotoneaster is prone to pests and disease (aphids, oyster shell scale, fire blight, twig blight), and the constant pruning makes it that much more susceptible. If mine had been situated differently, with more elbow room to reach their natural spread, I’d happily accept their presence in my yard. So why don’t I just remove them you ask? Well, the two shrubs are on city property and the hedge is a monster – I can’t even image the herculean effort required to remove it, or the impact it would have on the gardens. So I’m kinda stuck with all of them.

But I digress. Cotoneaster isn’t all bad – I love that it leafs out early in the spring, with dark green glossy leaves. I love that it attracts many species of birds, and I love the vibrant autumn foliage.

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brilliant hues of Cotoneaster lucidus foliage are a spectacular contrast to the silvery leaves of Elaeagnus angustifolia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

orange patio umbrella

Bright orange Cotoneaster foliage echoes the colour of the patio umbrella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Viburnum trilobum berries

Viburnum trilobum. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Most species of Viburnum (nannyberry, highbush cranberry, arrowwood) also provide rich autumn colour (attractive fruit too), and the normally unassuming Euonymus alatus (burning bush) becomes show-stopping fuchsia-red in the fall. Many Cornus (dogwood) species turn various shades of red, contrasting nicely with the white berries and Spiraea (spirea) takes on fiery orange-red tones. There are even a couple of lilacs that display colourful fall foliage – Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ being the most notable.

Cornus sericea

Cornus sericea. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Cornus alba 'Aurea' fall foliage.

Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spiraea japonica

Spiraea japonica ‘Macrophylla’ exhibits beautiful shades of orange, red and purple in its fall foliage.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica 'Gold Flame' is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The orange-red autumn foliage of Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Flame’ is set off beautifully by the steely blue of the spruce. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Some shrubs have no appreciable fall foliage colour to offer, instead providing a punch of colour with their fruit. Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) has gorgeous orange fruit, Sambucus racemosa (red elder) produces beautiful red berries, Symphoricarpos doorenbosii  ‘Amethyst’ (coralberry) has pretty pink berries and many roses produce very showy hips.

Hippophae rhamnoides

Hippophae rhamnoides berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sambucus racemosa berries.

Sambucus racemosa berries. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ produces huge cherry-red hips. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Perennials

Although herbaceous perennials by definition, die back at the end of the season, some have foliage that changes or intensifies its colour first. For example Paeonia (peony) foliage often takes on reddish tones, as does Bergenia (elephant ears), particularly the cultivar ‘Bressingham Ruby’. Arctostaphylos uva ursi (kinnickinnick), an evergreen groundcover, turns mahogany-coloured in the fall, and Ajuga reptans (bugleweed), which is semi-evergreen, intensifies its already dark hue, taking on a rich opalescence with fall’s cooler nights. Many Heuchera cultivars are also still colourful, again their foliage assuming darker, richer tones.

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Peony fall foliage. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera 'Pinot Gris' foliage displays more prominent veining in the fall. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera ‘Pinot Gris’ still looking beautiful, its autumn foliage displaying very prominent veining. Photo: Sue Gaviller

There are even a few perennials still blooming – some are season-long bloomers; for example in my own garden, Geranium cinereum ‘Ballerina’ (Ballerina cranesbill) has a few stray blooms, as do Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmatian bellflower) and Dianthus ‘Neon Star’ (Neon Star pinks), both profiled in a post from last year, Top Twenty of Twenty Twelve. There are also late bloomers that offer fall colour – Aster, Anemone hupehensis (Japanese anemone), Hylotelephium telephium (tall stonecrop) and Chrysanthemum (mums) to name a few. Even my Eutrochium purpureum (formerly Eupatorium purpureum and better known as Joe Pye Weed) still has a hint of colour.

Aster novae-angliae  ‘Alma Potschke'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae  'Purple Dome'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium  'Autumn Joy'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ornamental grasses look stunning at this time of year – tall Calamagrostis cultivars (reed grass), with their straw-coloured inflorescence, nicely complement other autumn hues, and blue grasses like Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass) and Festuca glauca (blue fescue) offer cool contrast.

Calamagrostis 'Avalanche' beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey Compact' (middle. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Calamagrostis ‘Avalanche’ beautifully complements Cotoneaster (left) and Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (middle). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' grass turn bright red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blades of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ turn rich red in autumn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Autumn can be a beautiful time in the garden – for most plants it’s their last hurrah before winter sets in. Be sure to include some of these colourful fall plants in your garden composition – it will take the sting out of summer’s end.

Happy fall y’all,
Sue

© 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.

Princess Pepper’s Adventure

On the morning of August 16th 1993, my sister and I and my two boys, then aged 2 and 8, boarded our Olds Cutlass station wagon (affectionately known as the Gutless Cutlass), to make the long journey from Calgary to Southern Ontario. Fitting then, that exactly 20 years later, August 16th 2013, I hopped aboard our Ford Focus station wagon (AKA the Little Red Wagon), this time with my husband and our old dog Pepper, and set out on that same road trip.

What on earth were we thinking you may ask, making the 6500 km round trip with a geriatric dog? Well here’s the thing: Pepper is – how can I say this – ‘special’. Leaving her with friends, or boarding her at a kennel so hubby and I could fly back to my sister’s wedding, would be the easiest option for most dogs………but not Princess Pepper. In her old age she has developed severe separation anxiety and wouldn’t be happy away from us for so long (and this is understating things considerably).

Oh the things we do for our dogs.

In the weeks leading up to our road trip, I began to feel increasing trepidation about it: how was our sweet and very sensitive old pooch going to manage the long, long, long days in the car? She loves car rides but this was going to be the ‘Mother of all Car Rides’. One of my boys expressed similar concern: “Mom, I’m worried about Pepper,” he said. “I think she might die on your trip.” Now before you fret that there’s a sad ending here, let me just say – we all lived to tell the tale…………

I’ve always loved this particular drive, gruelling as it is – it’s a fascinating affirmation of how vast and variable our huge country is. And with my husband doing the lion’s share of the driving, I am free to gaze out the window and appreciate the spectacular scenery – even through the rugged plains of Saskatchewan, which contrary to popular opinion, I actually find quite beautiful in its austereness. I think knowing how many mouths are fed by the endless fields of grain, adds to its beauty.

I am fascinated by the changing ecosystems or ‘biomes’ as we move from west to east – from Grassland to Parkland to Boreal Forest. And the Canadian Shield displays intriguing variation in rock colour and texture – sometimes rusty-brown with vertical striations, sometimes smooth and pink and sometimes grey and jagged. As gardeners, landscape designers and horticulturists, we can take many lessons from the natural rock formations and forestation that Mother Nature presents – the way she mass plants her trees and understory, the large areas of perceived monoculture masking the plant diversity that lies therein. Indeed this should be our template. Of course you don’t have to make a long sojourn to find this inspiration – just go visit the closest natural area. For example, here in Calgary, we have Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park right within the city limits.

As we drive on, occasionally we get a whiff of some pungent odour – we assume if we’re driving through farmland that it’s likely cow manure, or maybe rotting vegetation if we’re passing through boggy areas. We close the windows, only to find the odour gets stronger. Somewhere in Northern Ontario we figure out that the smell isn’t coming from outside – it’s coming from inside the car. Turns out what we’re smelling is dog breath – when Pepper starts panting, she has doggie halitosis. Seems the princess is in need of a dental, or at least a really good teeth-brushing. We soon learn that when we smell that smell, it means she is hot, or thirsty, or agitated………or awake. Mostly she just hunkers down in the back seat and sleeps – when she wakes up she seems confused as to why we’re still in the car. Frequent stops allow for her to stretch her legs, have a drink and a pee – us too, though I’m the only one who actually requires ‘facilities’.

For three days we drive – we make it to Winnipeg the first night after a 14 hour drive, and to Sault Ste. Marie the second night after a ridiculous 17 hours of driving. The third day is easy by comparison – we actually have time to have breakfast in the hotel dining room and I even have a few minutes to take some photos of the beautiful hotel gardens; a lovely courtyard with mammoth Hostas, delicate ferns and crisp white Hydrangeas.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Ostrich Fern and Hosta ‘Frances Williams’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A lovely pairing – Large white flowerheads of Annabelle Hydrangea echo the bright white variegations of Hosta sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Then it’s off to Hamilton. Coming down the 400 we get stuck in weekend traffic, and it is smokin’ hot out. In fact it was sweltering hot throughout the entire drive across four provinces – thankfully the Little Red Wagon has very efficient air conditioning.

Arriving in Hamilton early evening we have time to freshen up at the hotel and take Pepper for a walk around the very funky neighbourhood where our hotel is located. Later, when it’s finally cool enough that we can leave Dawg in the car (the one place she’s quite comfortable without us), we are able to have a proper dinner at a real restaurant – ‘road food’ when one is trying to eat healthy means not eating much at all.

Hubby wants to take me to a place he’d discovered when in town several weeks prior – a great little restaurant called Earth to Table Bread Bar. If you’re ever in Hamilton I highly recommend this popular spot – the food is awesome and their philosophy and practice of sourcing the best ingredients from local producers, as well as their own farm, means everything is fresh and flavourful. Our meal is made all the more entertaining by our flirtatious young waiter.

Next day is a flurry of whirlwind visits – first stop is the Royal Botanical Gardens, which allows dogs on the grounds providing they are leashed.  We have some time to tour the gardens before our scheduled lunch, though not enough to really take in all that is there – this would require at least a full day, which sadly we didn’t have. I snap a few photos. The sun is strong and the lighting harsh. I’m hot, Pepper is bored and looking for trouble, and though hubby is being extraordinarily patient, I don’t have the patience to fuss with camera settings to adjust for lighting conditions. I’m all too happy to abort my photo mission and head to the cool of the Gardens’ Café where we meet for a lovely lunch with my husband’s sisters. The visit is of course too short, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is indeed a whirlwind trip.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Beautiful stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are featured in the sculpture gardens. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Spent bloom of Echinacea ‘White Swan’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Scented Garden flaunts a magnificent tiered fountain. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Container on pillar 2

A fluted container brimming with yellow million bells sits atop a stone pillar in the Scented Garden.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Trumpet vine on the Pergola Walk. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next it’s off to my sister’s in Dundas to see her handsome new home and get a feel for the property so I can design her gardens. Princess Pepper is delighted to cavort with her dog and roll around in the grass. Princess Ellen my adorable 3-year-old niece, is delighted to show off her many talents; like ‘cooking’ plastic hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob, swinging on her swing (“Auntie Sue, look what I can do”), or telling outrageous stories – her mother looks at her sideways and says, “Honey are you sure that really happened?” Soooo cute. The visit is again way too short, but we’ll see them again in a few days – we’re here for a wedding and there are numerous family gatherings still to come.

Finally we’re off to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake where we plan to decompress for a few days before family festivities begin. Passing through several small towns along the way, we start imagining where we might settle should we decide to move to this part of the country. It isn’t the first time we’ve fantasized about this – it’s beautiful country here. It’s wine country here – and garden country extraordinaire. Why wouldn’t we want to live here? We pass by a covered produce stand – the sign outside boasts fresh Niagara fruit and vegetables as well as ‘Canada’s Best Butter Tart’. Mmmm, butter tarts – we decide we’ll definitely stop by here on our way back out of town.

Arriving in Niagara-on-the-Lake we check into our hotel, a block from the shores of Lake Ontario, and let the serene stillness of our cool room wash over us, shedding the stress of the long hot drive. The hotel staff are impeccably professional, yet casually unpretentious. And they love Pepper – when we walk through the lobby we are greeted warmly and cordially, but Princess Pepper is effused and gushed over.

We walk down to the beach. Pepper ventures to the water’s edge intending to drink, but a small wave laps up against the shore and startles her. Again she goes to drink. Another small wave and………..well, she’s a skittish thing and gives up – clearly this big ‘water bowl’ isn’t a safe place to drink from. She’s happy to walk alongside us though as we stroll beside the water.

It’s very warm here, even with the moderating influence of the lake. We wait until sundown before we head out for dinner – it should be cool enough then for Pepper to stay in the car. The back seat of the Little Red Wagon has become her safe haven during the trip – indeed it is her home away from home.  We park the car close by and she obligingly curls up in the back seat (or the front passenger seat, or even the driver’s seat) and lets us dine. We choose a place that seems oddly familiar – my husband remembers that in fact we had dined at this exact restaurant when we honeymooned here 24 years ago. How romantic.

The following day I head to the shopping district (I needed to purchase another dress or two since I’d packed only what I’d wear to the wedding and a bunch of schlub wear for travelling in, completely overlooking that there would be a few other events I might want to dress up for). The walk from the hotel takes me through a residential area with many pretty gardens, a beautiful park with various mixed shrub, perennial and annual plantings, and of course the streets are all beautifully planted with stunning displays of annuals. I’m on a shopping mission, but I knew I’d want to snap some photos, so made sure I slipped my camera ‘round my neck before setting out.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rose of Sharon is a common sight in the Niagara region, and much of Southern Ontario, at this time of year. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta Hillside – two types of Hosta adorn a sloped boulevard. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Much of what grows here is also hardy in Alberta, but I also see numerous trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that we can’t grow – some I recognize from growing up in Southern Ontario, some I feel like I should know but can’t quite put my finger on, and others I really don’t know at all.

My horticulture and landscape design training has taken place entirely in Alberta, so I feel somewhat out of my element here. Evidently, if moving to this part of the country is in my future, I’ll have to expand my mental horticultural database and upgrade my plant ID skills.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lime green Coleus and wax begonia provide a colourful underplanting for weeping cypress and variegated Brugmansia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Acer palmatum, Hosta sp. and Bergenia cordifolia make a lovely trio. Photo: Sue Gaviller

foliage planting

Another lovely combo – fountain grass, coleus and sweet potato vine present great color and texture contrast. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Brightly variegated Canna lily foliage is a stunning backdrop for the bright coral-red flowers and shiny foliage of this wax begonia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In the afternoon, we head out to visit some wineries – my husband has been charged with the duty of choosing and purchasing wine for the wedding. The first vineyard we visit is Tawse – voted Canadian Winery of the Year 3 years in a row by the now defunct Wine Access magazine. It’s blistering hot out, too hot for puppydawg to stay in the car, so hubby heads into the winery and Pepper and I take a walk around the stunningly landscaped grounds – truly they’ve spared no expense here.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Variegated ornamental grass pairs beautifully with Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A sunny border of Echinacea, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Calamagrostis and other ornamental grasses.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As I photograph the beautiful gardens, I hear ‘Baaaah’ from down the hill and over the fence – a small flock of sheep canters up to a covered enclosure, likely seeking shade. Princess Pepper is utterly enchanted – she trots back and forth at the end of her long lead, tail up, ears perked and looking as exuberant and energetic as she did in her puppyhood. I don’t know if her response was predatory or playful, but she really wanted to get to those sheep. Eventually the tugging at the end of her leash makes it difficult to take photos so I reel her in, “Peppy down” I command gently. “Peppy down” I say, a little less gently. She does so, begrudgingly, and I manage to snap a few more shots.

Tawse plantings 2

Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room, Photo: Sue Gaviller

The Courtyard, as seen from the tasting room. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A classical fountain in the gardens at Peninsula Ridge.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next stop is Peninsula Ridge – makers of some of the finest Chardonnay in the country. We find a shady spot beneath a beautiful multistem birch, but it’s still too hot to leave Pepper for any longer than a few minutes. While Hubby buys wine, I stay with the dog. Even in the shade with the windows wide open it’s really hot – worried that pooch might overheat, I start the car, put it in neutral and let the air conditioning run for a minute or two. With the car cooled off a bit, I decide I can leave Peppy long enough to take a few photos. I stroll around the empty parking lot and snap some shots of the gardens and vineyards.

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Su Gaviller

Perovskia atriplicifolia and Rudbeckia. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

View overlooking the vineyard at Peninsula Ridge. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The next few minutes are a blur, but it goes something like this: I saw a red station wagon on the move heading down the hill, about 50 feet away from me. It took me a few seconds to a) realize the car was mine b) realize why it was moving (I’d thoughtlessly left it in neutral, apparently on an imperceptible slope) and c) determine that its trajectory appeared to be down the sloped driveway potentially into the path of oncoming cars. My only thought was, “My dog is in that car!” and I took off after it. I haven’t sprinted like that since I ran the 50 yard dash in high school – in fact I didn’t think I still had it in me, but I caught up to that car and grabbed the post between the front and back windows, hoping to reach in and pull the emergency brake. Alas the car was moving too fast and I lost my footing. I was dragged for several feet before realizing I had to let go. I remember distinctly the sensation of my left shoulder scraping along the pavement and thinking it odd that when the back of my head hit the ground, it bounced a few times, rather like a basket ball.

Now I don’t know if perhaps I put sufficient drag (pardon the pun) on one side of the car so as to actually affect its trajectory, or if some divine intervention had just occurred, but as I pulled myself up, I saw the car change course, slowing its movement slightly and head towards a low wall of large rocks. It came to rest with a thud – no, a very loud crunch.

This photo was taken seconds before my little 'mishap'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This was the last photo I took before my ‘little mishap’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I start running towards the car, fearing the worst – my sandal has broken and my feet are bleeding so I can only hobble. Oddly my first thought is “There goes my pretty pink pedicure.” When I reach the car I’m barely able to open the driver seat door due to the damage the impact has caused the front end. Pepper is still lying quietly in the back seat, but sits up when she hears the loud noise the car door makes as I force it open. She looks at me quizzically as if to ask “Mom, what was that?” She appears to be unharmed. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about myself. Shaking, hyperventilating and still in shock I try to reach my husband on his cell phone. No answer. I begin limping up the hill towards the winery just as he exits the building. He looks at me, puzzled.

“We have a problem,”  I announce.

……………TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Stay tuned,
Sue
© 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.
 

Weaving Your Garden, Part 2 – More Textural Treats

The difference between a well textured garden and one that is not, is much like the difference I see when I view my garden with my glasses on……….and with them off.

Contrary to my optometrist’s recommendation, I don’t usually wear glasses during my day-to-day activities – except for television viewing and driving. So it is that every time I climb aboard my little red wagon (station wagon that is), the first thing I do is don my specs, and immediately I notice my garden leap out at me.

When I observe my garden without my glasses, I see colour, I see form, I even see contrasting fine and coarse textures – but there is very little depth or detail. However, when bespectacled, I see the finer details; layers of shadow and light, rough texture, smooth texture, shiny surfaces, matte surfaces, ruffles and ridges, creases and edges – a well textured garden. A sensuous garden even.

To achieve this end one must learn to see and appreciate the assorted textural treats that each plant brings to the garden party. As we view the various parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, bark etc.), we subconsciously imagine how they might be experienced by our other senses; how they might feel to the touch – soft, smooth, buttery, waxy, fuzzy; how they might smell, or even taste, and in so doing our visual experience is enhanced.

Rosa 'Morden Sunrise'. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n' cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n’ cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

All plants, and all of their constituent parts, have texture – some of course more interesting than others. For many plants it is the foliage that has the most notable texture, others it is their bark, or their seedheads, their flowers, or even specific parts of their flowers that provide the textural appeal.

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Plant textures play off each other and their surroundings, offering layers of subtle beauty and visual depth.

Birch Bark

The richly textured bark of this stunning multistem paper birch contrasts and compliments the surrounding textures – the brick chimney, the siding on the house, and the underplanting of yellow daylilies.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

In my last post I discussed the importance of using fine texture to build volume, and coarse texture for contrast and emphasis. In this post I’ll look more closely at the visual and tactile characteristics of plant surfaces.

Rough or Smooth?

Plant surfaces can be either rough or smooth. In attempting to provide basic definitions for rough texture and smooth texture, I’ve found myself stalled – every time I start to formulate a definition I realize it isn’t as simple as the designer-speak I spout off to my students in design class. The simple definition for rough plant texture is anything with an irregular surface – this means the presence of fine hairs, scales, thorns, lumps or any other protuberance. Smooth texture is of course just the opposite – a regular surface with no protrusions.

However let’s look at a Hosta leaf – a classic example of smooth texture. But many Hosta leaves have very conspicuous veining, producing a somewhat puckered appearance. The leaf surface is still considered smooth – there are no actual protuberances, but perceptually the surface could be described as irregular.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Huge conspicuously veined Hosta leaves have a puckered appearance. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Soft furry Salix salicola. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The foliage of the polar bear willow (Salix salicola) on the other hand, is covered with many tiny hairs, resulting in a uniformly fuzzy surface – indeed it begs to be caressed.

Some would argue that the words ‘rough texture’ couldn’t possibly describe these leaves that look and feel so soft and downy.

So you see my conundrum here?

Well it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you recognize the basic textural differences between rough and smooth, and understand how the eye experiences them – light is refracted and reflected, or in laymen’s terms, bent and bounced off, surfaces that are irregular, differently than smooth surfaces. This creates changes in perceived colour as well as subtle areas of light and dark.

Shiny vs. Matte

Smooth texture is further categorized as either shiny or matte. Shiny surfaces reflect light, thus attract more attention – just ask a child. Conversely, matte surfaces absorb light and tend to blend more into their background.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Bergenia cordifolia, with its coarse texture and glossy leaf surface, makes a great feature plant. Photo: Pat Gaviller

We can keep this in mind when fashioning areas of emphasis or dominance in a garden composition; for example, foliage features – while coarse texture will be the initial determinant of a plant’s dominance, a plant with leaves that are both large and shiny will be a real standout.

Russian olive and Amur cherry

Rough vs. Smooth – Left: Elaeagnus angustifolia – deep vertical fissures in the bark create unique striated texture. Right: Prunus mackii – the bark surface is shiny and the leaf surface is matte . Photos: Pat Gaviller

Bear in mind that too many plants with shiny leaf surfaces, can be both distracting and disunifying – particularly if the leaves are large. In my last post I mentioned that planting Heuchera in my garden had provided some visual relief from the excess of fine texture. What I didn’t mention was that after deciding the big glossy Heuchera leaves were indeed a welcome addition, I made the typical ‘the-only-thing-better-than-a-good-thing-is-more-of-a-good-thing’ mistake, and added a whole bunch more plants with big shiny leaves – eventually creating a bed that consisted almost entirely of coarse, shiny texture. During the course of my design study, as I began to understand the role of texture in my own garden, I surmised that ‘too much coarse texture’ had now supplanted the ‘too much fine texture’ scenario, but it was a while later before I figured out that all those shiny surfaces had amplified the problem.

P1040259

Hosta, Rhododendron and Arctostaphylos – note the contrasting surface textures. Photo: Sue Gaviller

As always, contrast and balance are key – be sure to include plants with smooth matte surfaces, some shiny surfaces, fuzzy, wrinkled, spiny, furrowed……..

Mother Nature often brings her own contrasting textures to the party in a single plant; for example, foliage may have a glossy surface, and flowers have a lustreless surface, sometimes with a bit of nap, like velvet or nubuck.

Purple Pavement Rose

The glossy pinnate leaves of Rosa ‘Purple Pavement’ contrast beautifully with the softly sueded surface of the blooms. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prickly Pear Cactus

A study in textural contrast: Prickly Pear Cactus has dangerously spiny foliage, but delicate papery blooms. Photo: Pat Gaviller

On the Edge

Variations in surface edges also impact textural appearance – smooth surfaces with edges that are ruffled, serrated, fringed etc. will seem more irregular, and finer textured as well. Keep this in mind when using plants that exhibit these characteristics.

The large leaves of Heuchera 'Prince' are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The large leaves of Heuchera ‘Prince’ are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The feathery edges of Viburnum dentatum foliage perceptually alters their surface texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The jagged leaf edges of Viburnum dentatum perceptually alter their surface texture.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As Time Goes By

Plant texture changes as a plant goes through its seasonal cycles and its life cycle – new growth may be smooth and shiny and older growth, duller or rougher. The formation of deadheads, seedheads or berries adds a new textural dimension as the season progresses.  Leaving these to develop may be desirable for visual effect, but depending on the plant, sometimes removal is better. And of course when woody plants enter winter dormancy, most will lose their leaves, exposing their textural bones.

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Elaeagnus angustifolia presents many unique textures – stems, petioles and pedicels appear silver and fuzzy, bark on young branches is shiny mahogany brown and mature bark on the trunk is rough and fissured, as seen in the photo earlier in this post. Edible berries form in late summer. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant', a lovely creeping groundcover with large glossy dark leaves and pretty blu flowers. Here the flowers gave faded so should be removed so the leaf texture can be enjoyed.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, a lovely creeping groundcover with large, glossy, wine-coloured leaves and pretty blue flowers. Here the faded flowers obscure the beautiful foliage – I’ll need to deadhead so the leaf texture can be enjoyed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Texture in the garden has so much more impact than we realize – as I examine my own garden I recognize there are still areas that could benefit from some ‘texturizing’. As I wrap up this post I recognize there is still more I could add, like why have certain plants evolved with particular texture – Mother Nature has her reasons you know. But alas that will have to be the subject of another post.

So when you shop for new plant material, or play with what you already have, take note of what each has brought to the party before adjusting or expanding the menu.

Bon Appétit,
Sue

© 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.

Weaving Your Garden – the Importance of Plant Texture

Over the last year or so I’ve talked much about form, texture and colour, both as they relate to individual plants, and in the garden as a whole – indeed these traits are the means by which plants relate visually to each other. When I wrapped up my 6-part series on Plant Form, I promised future detailed coverage on texture and colour in the garden. Today then I’ll begin the discussion on texture.

Where plant form gives a garden its structure, I believe it is plant texture that gives a garden its sensuality. Even the descriptors we use – words like velvety, satiny, ruffled, rough, fuzzy, lacy, delicate, succulent, leathery, strappy – denote a certain sensuality.

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client's front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client’s front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis 'Strutter's Ball' that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis ‘Strutter’s Ball’ that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So what exactly is plant texture? The word texture comes from the Latin word texere which means “to weave”. If we look at gardening as the weaving of a giant tapestry, we begin to understand why texture is such an important consideration in garden design – it makes a significant contribution to the overall picture. As a designer I use the word texture in referring to a) the size, shape and arrangement of a plant’s component parts, i.e. fine texture vs. coarse texture or b) the visual and tactile characteristics of a plant surface, i.e. rough vs. smooth.

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies 'Nidiformis' (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Chip' (middle) and Juniperus Sabina 'Calgary Carpet' (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ (middle) and Juniperus Sabina ‘Calgary Carpet’ (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So let’s take a closer look……..

Fine Texture

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren't for the very large leaves of Rogersia. Photo: Marny Estep

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren’t for the very large leaves of Rogersia.
Photo: Marny Estep

Plants with smaller individual parts (small or very narrow leaves) that are spaced closely together, are considered fine textured. These plants are important for building volume in the garden as well as setting the stage for coarse textured plants.

While fine texture should predominate in a composition, periodic interruptions with coarser texture are needed or the garden can appear busy – untidy even. I experienced this many years ago when I drove up to our house one summer afternoon and noted that a large area of the garden looked decidedly unkempt.

Approaching the offending composition, I tried to determine why it looked so messy – nothing was in need of deadheading, nothing was flopping over and it wasn’t particularly crowded. So I did what all gardeners do – took out some stuff, added some stuff, added some more stuff, yadda, yadda, yadda, more trial and error planting decisions, none of which solved the problem………until I planted some Heuchera. Its big bold leaves seemed to be just what was needed, and while I likely intuited that it was the textural contrast of large leaves with the airier texture of yarrow, spirea and juniper, I certainly couldn’t have articulated that ‘too much fine texture with no coarse texture to punctuate’ was the problem. In fact it really wasn’t until I began to study design that I figured it out – one of those light-bulb moments while listening to my design instructor discuss texture.

It’s important to note that small leaves or flowers which are very tightly packed result in visual weightiness. For example spruce needles, though fine and narrow, are very closely spaced and very rigid, hence the plant appears heavy. Cedar and juniper are also fine-textured, but the foliage is much more open thus appears airy and weightless. Making this distinction will help you effectively balance and contrast lightness and weight when choosing and placing fine textured plants in your garden.

evergreen texture

While all evergreens exhibit fine texture, very tightly spaced, rigid needles like those of Pinus mugo (bottom) and Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ (top) result in a weightier presentation than the lighter feathery foliage of Juniperus chinensis ‘Mint Julep’ (right). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse Texture

Plants with large individual parts spaced further apart are coarse textured. They have a dramatic, almost tropical appearance which draws the eye and gives it a place to rest – this grounds and unifies a composition. Coarse texture is dominant to fine texture and should therefore be used more sparingly – too much of it creates competition for dominance, which in turn can cause visual unrest.

Hosta, daylily and kinnickinnick

Large lush leaves of Hosta ‘Zounds’ unify and ground a tangle of kinnickinnick and daylily foliage. The understated toad sculpture plays a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Unfortunately, many plants with very large leaves are susceptible to damage from hail, wind and frequently, slugs. It is therefore important to situate them appropriately – protected by a fence, tree or building and in conditions that are moist enough for the plant to thrive but not so wet that slugs also thrive.

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs. Photo: Diana Lane

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs.
Photo: Diana Lane

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the red-leaved Berberis thunbrgiss 'Cherry Bomb', but much finer relative to Hosta 'Sum and Substance'.Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the tiny red leaves of Berberis thunbergii ‘Cherry Bomb‘, but much finer relative to the much larger leaves of the Hosta.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Texture is of course relative; for example, rhododendron foliage may appear coarse next to periwinkle or kinnickinnick, but seem much less so beside Hosta. The key here is contrast – if every plant has leaves and/or flowers of similar size, monotony will result. Instead, a variety of textures; fine, medium, coarse and in-between, will ensure an exciting, balanced composition – the coarser the texture, the less you use.

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophylis repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the result textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the resulting textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Keep in mind too that foliage consisting of more than one colour – variegated, veined, mottled etc., will appear finer textured. This is especially evident if the variegations are small and closely spaced, and less so if larger blocks of colour make up the variegations, for example a green Hosta with white or cream margins.

bicolour foliage resize

The large leaves of Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’(left), Tiarella ‘Crow Feather’ (right) and Aegopodium podagraria (bottom) appear more finely textured than they actually are, due to their bicolour pattern. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Hosta and Lamiastrium resize

Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Herman’s Pride’ and Hosta spnote how the very busy variegation affects the perceived texture of the finer textured plant, but the big blocky variegations of the larger hosta leaves only slightly affect its coarseness. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Now go outside and take a look at your garden composition – is there something you don’t like about it? Instead of just throwing more plant material at it this season, examine it from the perspective of contrasting and balancing fine texture, coarse texture and in-between texture – maybe you just need to rethink it.

Join me for more sensuous plant talk in my next post as I take a look at surface texture.

Til Then,
Sue

© 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.

Maggie and Miss Sue

Maggie lived in a big nest in a tall tree. Every night she snuggled up in the nest with her family – Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister. Every morning when her mom and dad headed out to find food for the family, Maggie and her brother and sister would go to Miss Sue’s garden.

“You’ll be safe here,” her mother said. “Stay on the fence and bask in the sun, and if the sun gets too hot you can take cover under the bushes. And you can drink or cool off in that big bowl of water.” Maggie thought this was a fine place to spend her days.

The three young birds had barely fledged so couldn’t really fly yet, except to scramble back up onto the fence from the ground or the nearby bird bath. They weren’t allowed to venture very far from the fence – not until they could fly well enough to flee from danger. So they were content to sit there quietly on the fence, the three of them perched side by side, until their parents returned.

Well……….maybe not very quietly.

Miss Sue was awakened at sun-up to a loud ruckus just outside her bedroom window. “Magpies,” she muttered, “they’re so loud and obnoxious. What on earth are they squawking about so early in the morning and why are they right outside my window?” She rolled over, pulling her pillow over her head and tried to find her way back to slumber. Nope, not happening.

Miss Sue thought about the first time she’d ever seen a magpie – she had just come West on the train and would be staying with a friend of one of her travelling companions. They were met at the train station by a nice-looking, though humourless, young man with a huge moustache. He drove them to his home just east of the city, where they could stay until they made other arrangements. As they drove along the country road, Miss Sue noticed a menacing cloud in the distance – not dark and grey like a thunderhead, but dirty brown.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Sandstorm,” replied Mr. Mustache matter-of-factly. “Better hope we don’t get caught in it,” he continued, only slightly less matter-of-factly. Miss Sue decided she didn’t much like Mr. Mustache and hoped she and her friends would find other lodging before too long. She stared out at the gathering dust clouds. A twiggy, barrel-shaped object tumbled across the road, then a few more. “Tumbleweed,” said Mustache, as if reading her thoughts.

Seriously? Sandstorms? And tumbleweed?  “I guess this really is the Wild West,” she mused. She half expected to see Hoss and Little Joe riding along the road.

A flash of cobalt blue caught her eye – a large black and white bird with a shiny blue tail alit on a fence post. “What a beautiful bird,” she thought aloud.

“That’s a magpie – they’re nothing but noisy scavengers,” snorted you-know-who. There were no magpies where Miss Sue came from. She thought they were beautiful, despite Mr. Mustache’s proclamation.

A few minutes later they arrived at their destination – a large country home apparently rented by six fellows who were quite the partiers. Miss Sue stayed there for a week or so but remembers very little – every day was pretty much a party at the big house. She did however learn to despise magpies, and in the several decades since, has never seen another sandstorm.

More squawking jolted Miss Sue back to the present. “Why don’t they shut up,” she growled.

“What’s wrong?” asked her husband.

“Stupid magpies woke me up,” she answered, but he’d already fallen back asleep. Her mind wandered again – this time to a conversation with a couple of family members. By this time she’d become an avid gardener and regularly shooed the beasty birds from her pretty bird-bath. “This isn’t for you,” she’d scold them, “It’s for nice birds.”

Her sister and brother-in-law once witnessed this – they were both biologists involved with wildlife rehabilitation. “You wouldn’t feel that way if you’d ever hand-raised a magpie,” one of them commented.

“Have you ever seen a baby magpie?” the other asked.  “They’re really cute! You would love them if you’d seen their babies, and how well their parents take care of them.”

Miss Sue scoffed at the memory. “Fat chance,” she thought, before finally falling back asleep.

But then she hadn’t met Maggie yet.

Maggie sat on the fence and watched her mom and dad fly off, their big beautiful wings and long graceful tails glossy black and opalescent blue. “One day I will be beautiful like them,” she thought, “and I will soar high in the sky.” She peered down at her fluffy black breast and snow-white tummy, wishing her soft downy covering would be replaced by real feathers. She looked around at the stump of a thing that would one day be a tail and willed it to elongate. It did not. It was still a stub. She sighed, “When will I ever grow up?” Maggie closed her eyes and dozed in the morning sun.

She awoke from her nap to the familiar sound of her parents’ voices – they’d returned with food. “C’mon kids. Breakfast!” cried Mom. The little birds hopped down off the fence, through the shrubs and flowers, and onto the lawn where their parents awaited with their gourmet loot.

“Me first,” said Brother.

“No me,” yelped Sister.

“I want some,” cried Maggie. Magpie youth are very vocal at feeding time.

There was plenty for everyone though.

Miss Sue opened her eyes and looked at her clock – 9:00AM. Pleased that she’d managed to get a little more shut-eye after dawn’s rude awakening, she felt slightly less annoyed at the boisterous magpie-song outside her window.

Her husband was already up. “Want coffee?” he asked. That was really a rhetorical question on any given morning.

“Yes thanks,” she replied. A beautiful morning in late May, Miss Sue decided to sit out on the front porch with her coffee. This was her favourite time of year – the transition between spring and summer, with its aromas of fresh-cut grass, Mayday and apple-blossom, even the sun itself seemed to have a scent. She took a deep breath, basking in the anticipation of a new garden season, and then began the visual scan of her front garden that was part of her morning ritual. First to the left, then the right, looking for the daily changes that mark the seasonal evolution of a garden, her eyes rested on three little black and white balls of fluff sitting atop her fence – the fence just feet from her bedroom window.

“Well hello there cutie-pies,” she cooed.  “Are you the source of all that noise?” Remembering her sister’s words about baby magpies, she smiled, “I guess sis was right.” Miss Sue thought these little birds were just about the cutest thing she’d ever seen.

Two of the fledglings sidled away from the voice, but the other one, the smallest of the three, seemed to like the sound of it – it appeared to recognize that Miss Sue was friendly, unthreatening. She looked straight at Miss Sue and Miss Sue looked straight back at her, and in that moment………….well let’s just say Miss Sue was smitten with these little black and white babes – especially the littlest one, whom she affectionately named Maggie.

Every morning Maggie sat on the fence eagerly waiting for Miss Sue to come out and play – well really just to sit on the front step and drink her coffee, but to Maggie, seeing Miss Sue there made everything seem right. The world was a safe place when Miss Sue was around. She would shoo away the neighbourhood cats who tried to stalk the little birds. She’d remind the little lad next door when he chased after the baby birds trying to pet them, that it just frightened them.

One day Miss Sue was chatting with a neighbour, gushing about the little birds and how cute they were. Maggie overheard snippets of the conversation. “They’ll grow up to be nasty birds like all magpies – they should all be shot,” she heard the other woman say. Maggie hoped Miss Sue wouldn’t be swayed by these words. It never occurred to her that everyone wouldn’t be as enamoured of her as Miss Sue was. She worried that maybe the world wasn’t such a safe place after all, with so many hating her kind.

Miss Sue finished her conversation and returned to her perch on the front step. She looked at Maggie and said, “Don’t worry girl, I’ve still got your back.” Maggie was relieved to know that Miss Sue was still her friend. She was troubled though.

That night, as her mom was tucking her into bed, Maggie asked, “Mommy why do people hate us?”

Mother Magpie’s heart sank – she had hoped her children would never have to know fear or hatred. “They hate us because they don’t understand us,” she replied. “They think we’re just noisy scavengers.” Mother Magpie continued, “I guess we are kind of a raucous bunch, especially our teenagers, but that’s just the way God made us. Humans forget that their own teenagers are also very noisy, with their loud music and boisterous manner. All humans are pretty noisy for that matter – all those things on wheels with loud engines; kind of hypocritical when you think about it.”

“We’re so much more than just noise makers though,” she went on. “Our proud ancestors once rode the backs of the great buffalo, keeping them clean of pesky ticks. In fact our diet consisted almost entirely of these blood-sucking insects.” Maggie thought this sounded disgusting. She much preferred the thought of yummy bread crusts and apple cores. But she listened intently as her mother spoke of the near extinction of the buffalo and how resourceful her ancestors had been in moving from a specialist diet to that of a generalist.

“What’s a specialist diet?” asked Maggie.

“It means we were picky eaters,” her father quipped winking at his mate – Father Magpie liked to add his two-cents-worth.

“What’s a generalist?” continued Maggie.

Mother Magpie opened her beak to answer but Pops beat her to it. “It means we’ll eat any old crap now,” he snorted. Maggie giggled at her father’s words. Trust Mr. Magpie to inject a little levity into even the most serious discussions.

Maggie felt better, though she was surprised to learn that grasshoppers, cutworms and other insects were still the current diet of many of her relatives – she didn’t envy them. Her mom had said this meant they were very important to farmers and gardeners – like Miss Sue. Maggie felt very proud to be a magpie and drifted off to sleep dreaming of a great adventure riding the buffalo.

Miss Sue found the antics of the three fledglings most entertaining. She watched as the two larger ones became more adept at flying, venturing a little further from the fence, to the roof of the neighbour’s house or the nearby green ash tree. The little one tried heroically to fly but invariably ended up on the ground, where she’d manoeuvre about with a hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop……………..hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop.

Curiosity would often lead her further from the fence than she was supposed to go. Her parents would come back with food and squawk at Maggie. Miss Sue imagined they were chastising the little bird for not being where she was supposed to be. Maggie reminded Miss Sue of herself when she was young – precocious and wanting to grow up so much faster than was possible, or even healthy.

It got her into loads of trouble.

Maggie was bored. Sister and Brother were now able to fly – they were good little birds and never went far, but it still meant she had no one to keep her company most of the time. Maggie wanted to be a good bird like her siblings – indeed she tried very hard to be a good girl, but left to her own devices, she would wander off in search of something interesting.  “Maggie!” her parents would scold, “You’re to stay close to the fence where it’s safe, until you’re able to fly.”

“But when will that be?” she whined.

“Soon enough my child, soon enough,” her mother assured her. But nothing ever happened soon enough for Maggie. She wanted, indeed had always wanted, to be a grown-up – to do grown up things and have grown up adventures.

One day, as Maggie sat on the fence waiting for something exciting to happen, she noticed a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly flitting around the garden. As it neared her, she thought to herself, “What a pretty creature. I wonder where it’s going.” Maggie tried to launch herself into flight to follow it, but as usual she toppled to the ground. She hopped along after it trying to keep up, but after a while she lost it and ceased her pursuit.

Maggie peered around and realized that nothing looked familiar – she couldn’t see the cranberry bushes or the pink peonies or even the bright white daisies which always served as a beacon to guide her back to her sunny perch on the fence. Instead Maggie found herself in a shady damp place with dark leafy plants like periwinkle and Rhododendron. She was a little frightened and wished she had heeded her mother’s warnings about venturing too far from the fence.

“How will I ever get home?” Maggie thought. She decided to stay put among the Rhodos and wait. She really missed her mom and dad, and her brother and sister.

After what seemed an eternity, Maggie heard the faint sounds of her mother calling in the distance. The voice got closer. “Maggie!” her mother called with a mix of urgency and annoyance. “Where are you?”

When at last Maggie could see her mother’s shadowy figure through the bushes, she tumbled out from her hiding spot. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” she cried. “I missed you soooo much,” and she began rushing towards her mother – hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop, hop-hop, toddle-toddle, flutter-flutter, flop as fast as her little legs and wings could take her.

Mrs. Magpie was both relieved and furious – she had been so worried. But watching her daughter’s frantic approach, she couldn’t bring herself to be angry. All she could do was raise her great big wing and let Maggie collapse into her motherly embrace.  “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” Maggie repeated. “I missed you soooo much.”

From her bedroom window, Miss Sue watched this little drama unfold – she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Maggie’s frenzied attempt to reach her mother was comical to be sure, but the ensuing ‘mother and child reunion’ was one of the most poignant moments she’d ever witnessed. It reminded her of the time she momentarily lost sight of her pre-schooler in a department store. She’d taken her eyes off him for mere seconds to check a price tag on a piece of clothing – and he was gone. Since he was of course much shorter than the racks of clothing, Miss Sue couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see her – indeed it must have seemed rather like a maze to him. Frantically searching and calling his name for what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a minute or so, she finally saw him peek out from behind one of the racks.

“Yeah Mom?” he’d answered, wide-eyed but not scared. Miss Sue scooped him up in her arms and held him tightly, crying and laughing and scolding all at the same time. Yes Miss Sue knew exactly what Mother Magpie had experienced while looking for Maggie. (Perhaps I anthropomorphize a little here).

A week or so later, Miss Sue was inside having lunch when she heard the familiar sound of magpies squawking. Assuming it was feeding time, or that Maggie had gotten herself into trouble again, Miss Sue just smiled and ignored the noise coming from her front yard. The squawking got louder and more urgent until Miss Sue eventually got up and went outside to see what the ruckus was. She looked around but saw only Maggie sitting on the edge of the bird bath.

“What is it girl?” she asked, scanning the yard to see if perhaps a cat was stalking the young bird. Maggie started squawking again until Miss Sue looked right at her.

She seemed to be saying, “Miss Sue, Miss Sue, look at me. Look what I can do,” and she fluttered her wings a little. Then with great will and determination Maggie lifted herself off the bird bath, flapping her wings ferociously, and flew all the way to the other side of the yard into the neighbour’s tree. Miss Sue beamed with pride much like she had witnessing her children take their first tentative steps.

“Atta girl Maggie,” she said softly. “You can fly!”

She saw very little of the young magpies after this – they were all able to accompany their parents on their food-finding missions now. Sometimes as Miss Sue walked or drove down her street, she would see the noisy family of five – three adolescent birds still clamoring for food from their very patient parents. She’d smile a bittersweet smile and feel blessed to have had the chance to see these three babes grow into young adults.

On a cool, late fall afternoon, as Miss Sue was putting her garden to bed for the winter,  a large magpie flew down and elegantly alit on the fence – in the exact spot she had first seen Maggie.  Miss Sue knew intuitively it was Maggie and she knew the beautiful bird she’d watched grow up, had come to say goodbye. Maggie looked at Miss Sue and let out a little gurgle and a soft squawk. Then she took wing. Miss Sue watched Maggie fly off, her big beautiful wings and long graceful tail glossy black and opalescent blue.

“I’ve still got your back girl,” she whispered, and went inside.

~   The End   ~

Maggie. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

This story was based on my experiences with a trio of fledgling magpies that spent the better part of a summer perched on my garden fence.

Enjoy! 
Sue
© 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.

Pretty in Pink

Everything’s popping up pink along city boulevards, in parks and front yards – the first of the spring-flowering shrubs are strutting their stuff.  These pretty ladies are various species of the Prunus genus, a large genus that includes peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and almonds. In Calgary, the current explosion of pink blossoms comes from 3 different species.

Prunus tomentosa is first on the scene, with pale pink flowers that present before the leaves.  Commonly known as Nanking Cherry, this medium to large shrub is native to China, Korea and the Himalayas. It has been cultivated in North America since early last century, providing a drought tolerant, cold hardy (Zone 2) shrub that grows to a height and spread of 2–3 metres. It produces small tart cherries that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Prunus tomentosa

Pale pink Prunus tomentosa is a common sight on city boulevards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex, the double-flowering plum, is by far the showiest of the three, its large double pastel-pink blossoms like cotton-balls along the many arching stems. A very vigorous grower, reaching 2–3 metres tall and wide, it will benefit from periodic pruning to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. This variety is sterile and doesn’t produce fruit.

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella (Russian almond) is a smallish shrub with an upright vase shape and narrow green leaves that appear at the same time as the medium pink flowers. It’s compact and tidy, reaching only about 1 metre in height and spread. Very fragrant too, it is much underutilized in the urban landscape.

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.  Photos: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

Many designers eschew the use of these shrubs because they’re ‘old fashioned’. It’s true they are, but they still have design value. They’re right at home in a Naturalistic garden and are especially useful in Asian-inspired or Colonial style gardens – and they’re reliably floriferous too.

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.  Photo:Sue Gaviller

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of the Asian inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of an Asian-inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When finished blooming, their design worth is more as a backdrop than a showpiece. Nanking cherry and flowering plum both have a lovely natural vase shape, as well as dark green, medium-coarse leaves which provide nice contrast to other brighter plants. Russian almond is much finer textured with lighter green leaves – together with its very upright branches, also provides good contrast in the landscape. And as woodies, they all offer much-desired structure to our gardens.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-fashioned beauties – charm and grace come with age you know.

Til next time,
Sue

The Form of Things to Come – Part 6

I promised myself I wouldn’t begin today’s post with comments or complaints about our wintry weather as I did in three of my last four posts. I don’t want readers to get the erroneous impression that Canada is the land of perpetual ice and snow. Nor do I want readers to think all Calgarians are a bunch of weather-whiners. And I certainly don’t want you to think that whining about the weather is my shtick – the hippy dippy weather girl, or that it’s the only intro I can come up with. Because it’s not. I have plenty of clever intros up my sleeve – clever is my middle name. So how about this………………….nah, okay then how about……………………….dagnabbit, folks that’s all I got today. I just wanna whine about the weather okay?

Correct me if I’m wrong fellow Calgarians, but has it not been an extraordinarily long winter? I know it’s only the middle of April but Spring isn’t even trying anymore. She just teased us and left us high and dry – well more like cold and wet. Even my stoic husband, who chides weather-whiners for bemoaning that which they can’t control, has on two recent occasions grumbled about the weather. “This weather is sucking the life out of me,” he lamented last night.

Today I look out my window at snow-covered branches, knowing there’s more snow in the forecast – I don’t even think it makes for a pretty picture anymore. I feel like I’m in Narnia under the white witch’s rule – where “it’s always winter, but never Christmas” (uttered with the most refined of British accents). Enough already old man winter – go away.

Okay I’m done complaining now. I’m not even going to attempt a smart segue into today’s topic, I’m just going to start right in on rounds and mounds and flats and mats. If you’re joining me for the first time, you may wonder what on earth I’m talking about – if you’ve been following my latest series of posts, you’ll know of course that I’m referring to plant form.

Round/Mound

Rounded plant forms grow in a roughly spherical shape. Mounds are somewhat flattened rounds.  These ‘roundy-moundys’, as my design instructor called them, are the most common form. They are non-directional, meaning they don’t send the eye up or down – rather the eye just glides over them and moves through the landscape in an undulating kind of progression.

Round and mound forms

This rolling English landscape consists mostly of rounded/mounding trees and shrubs. Photo: Marny Estep

Rounds and mounds are relatively neutral and soft, thus aren’t particularly dominant forms. They can be massed, work well grouped in threes, and a single round form, if large, can make an effective anchor. As well these forms can ‘echo’ other curvy forms.

A trio of Cherry Bomb Barberry orbs visually supports the more dominant weeoing caragana. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A trio of globe-shaped Cherry Bomb barberry visually supports the more dominant weeping form of Walker’s caragana in a client’s gardenThey also nicely echo the orbicular shape of the wall-mounted light fixture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Globe cedar

A large globe cedar provides a visual corner anchor. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Round forms are excellent foils for colmnar forms like this Pinus sylvestris 'Fastigiata', but the effect would have more credibility if the heavily pruned round evergreen had more natural form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Round forms are excellent foils for columnar forms like this Pinus sylvestris ‘Fastigiata’, but the effect would have more credibility if the heavily pruned globe-shaped evergreen had more natural form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite the ubiquity of the round/mound form, gardeners and landscapers seem to want more of it, often pruning shrubs unnaturally into this shape. It may be that the form’s common presence leads to the mistaken notion that all shrubs are round; hence they all get pruned that way. Or it may be that gardeners intuit the gentle movement that results from the use of rounded or mounding forms in the landscape.

Regardless, this pruning style can sometimes produce attractive results and sometimes not.

Cornus sericea natural form

Cornus sericea has a naturally round form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cotoneaster

While Cotoneaster lucidus grows naturally as a very large loosely shaped ball, this homeowner has pruned them into an attractive rhythmic sequence of perfect spheres. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Round forms

Geometric forms like these roundly sheared boxwood, abound in formal landscapes. Note the very rolling movement that results, especially when planted sequentially. Photo: Jane Reksten

This form is common in certain theme gardens – for example, in the Japanese garden, shrubs are pruned into globose forms to mimic rocks, an important component in their garden compositions.

Formal gardens too, utilize very round shapes as well as other strong geometric forms.

Round forms in Formal Garden

In this formal landscape, shrubs have been pruned to repeat the shape of the stone spheres .
Photo: Marny Estep.

pruned mounds in Japanese Garden

Three mounded shrubs pruned to symbolize rocks. Japanese Garden, UBC. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Keep in mind that despite their relative neutrality, round forms can be overused – so use them freely but make sure you punctuate periodically with other forms.

Flat/Mat

Flat forms are much wider than they are tall, and of course flat. If they have any appreciable curve to their upper surface then they are actually mounds – due to the undulating movement the curved surface creates. Flat forms that hug the ground and create spreading groundcovers are mats.

Mat form - underplanting

Spreading Juniperus sabina ‘Calgary Carpet’ underplants Syringa reticulata ‘Golden Eclipse’ in a client’s front yard.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Like rounded and mounding forms, flat and mat forms are very common.

They are the most neutral of all the plant forms, making them excellent backdrops or underplantings for other more significant elements, like a focal point or specimen tree.

Their shorter stature and flattened surface, relate the scale of the garden to the horizontal plane of the ground.

mat form - junipers

Various Juniperus sabina and horizontalis cultivars underplant other trees and shrubs and effectively delineate the planting space and the lawn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In addition, flat and mat forms transition the landscape from pathways or lawn into the garden, thereby connecting them.

Mat forms - transition

Numerous flat and mat forms in my front garden provide a transition zone, connecting the lawn to the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Thymus pseudolanuginosis

The mat form of Thymus pseudolanuginosis provides transition from sidewalk to garden and softens the straight lines of the pathways. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Well my friends I’ve reached the end of my discussion on plant form. Texture and colour are next, but I think I’ll postpone those until our gardens wake up a bit and allow for some new ‘photo pursuits’. I’ll come up with some other topics to write about in the interim, so do stay tuned.

As I’m preparing to publish this post, I’ve become aware of the horrific events that occurred in Boston earlier today – our weather woes seem suddenly pretty trivial. I won’t complain again anytime soon.

Be sure to hug your loved ones tonight.

Til next time,
Sue
 

© 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.

The Form of Things to Come – Part Five

They say gardeners and golfers are the most impatient people on the planet. While I can’t speak for golfers as I don’t golf, I can certainly attest to the impatience of gardeners. Whether it’s for a prized plant to bloom or for the arrival of gardening season, we have difficulty waiting.

It’s tempting to let the warmer days and chirping robins declare the beginning of the season, but the snow has barely melted and the ground is still soggy. Patience gardeners – old man winter has at least one more kick left in him. So to keep y’all busy while patiently waiting for another gardening season to begin, let’s have some more ‘Fun with Forms’. Today I look at…………….

Fountain Forms

Fountain-shaped plants grow upward, then arch out and curve downward, often to the ground. They are graceful and soft, so most of the plants that exhibit this form are herbaceous perennials – daylilies, grasses/sedges, and ferns for example. There are also some woody shrubs that grow in this manner – bridal wreath spirea and Rose Glow barberry to name a couple.

Rose Glow Barberry and Ornamental Grasses

The fountain forms of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ and ornamental grasses create an elegant picture in this Victoria, B.C. garden. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Like weeping forms, fountains draw the eye up and back down again, but their form is much less rigid, so has a different landscape application.

While its exquisite form can make a fountain-shaped plant an appropriate accent or feature, the emphasis it provides is quite subtle because of the soft drape of its foliage. Larger size then, must also be a factor if this form is to truly stand out.

Ornamental grass and statue

A large fountain form like this striking Miscanthus can provide emphasis on its own, but the effect is that much more pronounced when paired with a non-living focal point. The two together make a stunning feature. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Fountain forms can be used fairly freely in the landscape but they do require some woody neighbours with stiffer structure to visually support their more yielding form. They’re neutral enough to be massed, the resulting effect a bit like waves in the ocean. Smaller selections planted en masse are great for underplanting a specimen tree and look especially lovely in front of a taller vertical accent to ‘stage it’.

Daylily underplanting

Left – A mass of fountain-shaped Hemerocallis provides a neutral underplanting for Syringa reticulata. Photo: Sue Gaviller.
Right – Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ effectively stages the very vertical Caragana arborescens ‘Sutherland’ and bird bath, creating a lovely focal vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This form is particularly effective when planted along the length of a design line, serving to accentuate it. When planted along both sides of a walk, fountain shapes define the passageway while still maintaining an open, welcome space.

Helictotrichon and Hemerocallis

Fountain shapes look lovely as spatial definers. Here a swath of Helictotrichon sempervirens lines the sidewalk and Hemerocallis delineates the property line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fountain forms can also be useful for repeating the cascading branches of weeping trees, or mimicking the spray pattern of a water fountain. This repetition of line and form brings unity to a garden composition.

Carex

Repeating clumps of ornamental grasses echo the form of both the weeping Norway spruce (right) and the droopy foliage of the pom-pom cypress (left). Photo: Pat Gaviller

Helictotrichon

The beautiful inflorescence of Helictotrichon sempervirens appear like sprays of water in this scene from my front garden. The effect is especially marked when backlit by late-day sun. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Keep in mind that some perennials have foliage that grows in an arching fountain shape, but the flowers have a more upright growth habit. For example, Calamagrostis foliage is fountain-like but the inflorescence is upright, so when in bloom the overall effect is that of an upright column. Or the reverse may be the case where only the flowers exhibit a fountain form and the foliage presents as some other form. Determining whether a plant should be utilized as one form or the other will depend on when it blooms. In the case of Calamagrostis, the inflorescence appears fairly early, so the whole plant presents as an upright form for most of the season and should thus be used accordingly.

Well fellow gardeners, we have only a couple more plant forms to look at – I’ll cover those in the next and final post in this series on Plant Form in the landscape. Do come back!

Until then,
Sue

© 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.

Where Do We Go From Here – Part 2

Last week I discussed the various functional roles plants may serve in the landscape – with these practical considerations out of the way now, we can finally go about utilizing plants purely for their aesthetic appeal. However, we can’t just go plopping plants into our designs haphazardly. There is still a process – indeed this is inherent in the very definition of design. According to Wikipedia, design is defined as:

  • the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system
  • a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation

Note the words ‘plan’ and ‘strategic approach’ – this suggests we must arrange our plants in a mindful, purposeful fashion. Nuff said? Okay I won’t belabour the point. Alrighty then let’s get going………

Um – where exactly do we go from here? There’s so much to choose from. Well let’s see if we can’t narrow down our choices by looking at what, where, when and why.

What Plants Should I Choose First?

Trees should always be your first consideration – they are the backbone of a well designed garden. Trees provide scale and structure, and since they take the longest to reach maturity, dedicating the largest portion of your plant budget to a few of these horticultural giants, means you’ll have good scale and structure from the get-go.

Once you’ve chosen your trees you can consider shrubs – if trees are the backbone of good garden design, shrubs are the rest of its skeletal structure. Perennials then, are the garden’s attire, and bulbs and annuals, the accessories.

The irony is, most of us have proceeded in exactly the opposite direction. Our first tentative foray into gardening often begins with brightly coloured annuals (I wince at the memory of marigolds and geraniums that were my first garden) or bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Soon we discover perennials, and sometime later (often much later) we start to think about shrubs and trees. I can tell you from experience that it is difficult to go backwards – save ripping it all up and starting over again, this backwards progression will always look like a retrofit.

So what kind of trees should you choose? It goes without saying that they should be of appropriate scale for your house, and of course you’ll choose what you personally find appealing, but there’s more yet to consider. Keep reading.

Where Should I Plant What?

This really is the million dollar question isn’t it? To begin with you’ll need to take into account details like site exposure and available space, to ensure your plant choices will thrive where you place them.  Next, consider plants which will present high visual impact and position them accordingly. For example a specimen tree or other dominant feature should be situated where it can take center stage. Use your design lines, and the shape of the spaces they create, to guide you – a swell in a garden bed or an area that is enclosed on three sides can provide a visual ‘frame’ for a feature tree or focal point.

Revisiting last week’s example – with the shade trees already in place, we can now add a specimen tree, say Sorbus decora. The outward curve of the back bed is just the kind of space that invites a special feature like this showy mountain ash, with its four-season appeal. We could also add some evergreens to anchor the corners – evergreens, because of their stiff needles and their density, provide visual weight.

TREE PLACEMENT

Your design lines and resulting spaces can also help you organize and configure plant groupings. Looking again at the previous example, we see that the space beside the deck is somewhat wedge-shaped – note that the aspens are arranged to precisely fill that space. And the trio of spruces fit nicely into the triangular corner space. We can utilize the spaces between the various plantings in a similar fashion. Or we can emphasize a design line by bordering its entire length, or a portion thereof, with a single type of plant. And don’t forget to utilize Design Principles where applicable.

TREE & SHRUB PLACEMENT

Juniperus sabina planted all along the edges of the curvilinear design lines, creates gentle movement and helps to emphasize the curves. The trio of Cornus sericea on either side also follows the curves, thereby reinforcing them.

Reinforcement Planting

Planting a single type of perennial along the entire span of a design line, as this homeowner has done,  serves to reinforce the line. In this charming garden, low-growing Sedum edges the lovely arc of lawn space in the centre, as well as the straight lines abutting the sidewalks. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Thymus citriodorus 'Doone Valley'

A generous swath of Thymus citriodorus ‘Doone Valley’ borders this softly curving bed.
Photo: Marg Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

When (What Season) Should I Consider First?

This will depend on where you live and to some degree, your lifestyle. Where I live it can be winter for as much as 6 months of the year, so I usually start with winter interest – evergreens, woody plants with interesting form, and plants with colourful bark, berries or seedheads.  For those who travel during part of the year, the season(s) to concentrate on would be when you are actually home to enjoy your garden or landscape. For example I have clients that spend winter in the South and summer at their cottage, so spring and fall are the seasons I considered first when choosing plant material. You’ll also want to make sure you choose plants that require very little maintenance during the growing season so you don’t come home from your cottage to a mess of deadheads and straggly foliage.

Rectilinear Concept with feature trees

Planting for aesthetics in this client’s yard began with the two spaces circled on the left. Both are bordered on 3 sides with design lines – an ideal frame for a feature tree. The underplanting of spreading junipers creates a neutral, year-round prop for these four-season trees. See the ‘real life’ view below.

Rectilinear Design lines

View from the side gate in late winter (top) and early summer (bottom). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Why Choose a Particular Plant?

Up to this point we’ve discussed plant choices mostly in general terms – size (i.e. trees first), visual impact (feature trees and anchors), cultural and maintenance requirements, and season of interest. Also worth considering are such things as tactile impression and fragrance – especially next to a patio, or in a garden designed for the visually impaired (the subject of another post). But the real reason most of us choose a particular plant is because we like how it looks – its form, its texture and/or its colour. Indeed these traits are the manner in which plants relate visually to each other, and to choose appropriately is to choose in the context of these relationships.

Last March I wrote about form, colour and texture in the winter garden – during the growing season however, these plant characteristics are that much more significant as there’s so much more plant material present. In the coming weeks I’ll be examining the visual impact of plant form, textural differences and colour relationships in order to help you arrange plants in the most effective and pleasing way.

Hope you can join me!

Til then,
Sue

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