Mixed Greens

August 16 2014 023My summer driveway garden has only one flowering plant-a white sunpatiens with a variegated leaf.  Lots of them.  I am astonished at how well this plant has performed, given less than ideal sun, chilly temperatures, and relentless rain. The plants have grown at an astonishing rate, and shrug off troublesome weather.  The Japanese beetles did not touch them-I like to think that is because they wouldn’t dare attack a plant this robust. The white mandevillea vine is not flowering profusely, but it is flowering enough to suit me.  All of the other plants are various shades of green.  Green plants in pots have one big visual advantage.  They never look like they are missing something.

August 16 2014 025The flowering plants on my deck are making a strong comeback from the cold and torrential rains. A big pot of lilac New Guinea impatiens is budding-but is missing all of its flowers.  Likewise the pots of geraniums.  Both geraniums and New Guineas have beautiful foliage, but I do not grow them with that in mind.  I grow them for the flowers-the color.  They been missing flowers for several weeks now.  The driveway garden looks perfectly happy.

August 16 2014 024 These green plants took the hostile weather in stride, and have grown steadily.  No rotting flower heads to contend with.  Every one of the plants in these pots is a different shade of green, a different texture, and a different shape.  I have not touched these pots except to water when necessary.  The pots are large, and the soil is completely shaded by plants. I have watered twice in the past 2 weeks.  Now that our temperatures are climbing into the 80’s, I will water accordingly.  I suppose I could pinch the plants in these pots, but I am more interested to see how they will sort things out for themselves.

August 16 2014 038Plants in annual contrainers should be planted with an eye to the eventual overall shape.  The lower pots do not have a vertical growing centerpiece. This pot looks like a big salad-delicious enough to eat.  Like all of the plants in my landscape, they have appreciated the cooler weather and ample rain.  No pouting going on here.

DSC_3735This planting looks good with my butterburrs, the Princeton Gold maples in the background, and hosta behind me. The choice of plants for these containers has a lot to do with the plants in the vicinity.  The drive court is large; the plant palette is limited to the moss between the bricks. These green plants recall and reinforce the overall landscape.

DSC_3726An errant nicotiana mutabilis in a sea of green and gold plectranthus, and some nicotiana alata lime has a few pink flowers.  Should it grow strongly over the fall, I doubt I will mind the interruption. A plant that would breach the strongly horizontal lines would be welcome.

DSC_3736In a spot where five different hard materials come together-the wall stone, the limestone cap, the wood, the wall brick, and the driveway brick – the repetition of a limited number of plants is a softening gesture.

green-plants.jpgGreens done well are hard to beat. The three plants in the above picture, though formally arranged in rows, contrast in shape, surface, form, mass and texture. Variation on a green color scheme provide plenty of visual interest.

rosemary-and-juniper.jpgA friend traveling in France a month ago sent me this picture of a formally pruned juniper hedge, under planted with a skirt of trailing rosemary. The pairing of two needle-foliaged plants of very similar color and form is taken to another dimension all together by a decision to selectively prune. There is a gardener with a point of view at work here.  The elements of good design may begin with the shapes of spaces, and architectural elements, but a green vocabulary never hurts.



So Green, So Serene

It is an unusual client that opts for a green garden.  I doubt I have the discipline this requires-though the front of the shop is grey, green and white this year.  Truth be told, I love flowers.  All manner of flowers, all shapes, all sizes.  Little flowers-fine. Subtle flowers-I see.  Daisies-no matter that I see them everywhere, I love them.  The flowers that grace my summer-I love them one and all.   Giant flowers-what fun. Blooms-I am besotted by them.  But a green garden does have that aura of  serenity about it.

Serene does not necessarily mean sleepy. The infinite variation in color, shape, texture and mass of green plants is astonishing.  Green plants of singular form populate this planet such that one could plant any number of green schemes and never repeat oneself. These containers with ferns and pepperomia are lush growing, content on this porch.   

An old bay tree in a varnished Belgian box provides solid company to a long narrow window box. 

Plectranthus Silver Shield makes a swell, densely growing summer ground cover in a small space.  The thick felted grey green leaves are quite handsome.  That frosty green color persists in the sunniest and hottest spots you have, and is easy on the eyes. Its billowing habit of growth is very attractive.

The plants in the window box look like bunting casually draping over the window box rail.  Those needled succulents are quite blue-green, and look great with the dichondra.  There is no brass band blaring here, just a plant string quartet quietly playing a simple melody. 

This white pergola with its wisteria roof is beautiful; there is no need to introduce a competitve element.  The mandevillea in the the boxes repeats the vining of the wisteria; the white flowers echo the white wood of the pergola.  Getting a planting to sit down and blend in seamlessly with all and any other garden elements makes for a serene space.  When plants talk too much, bicker, or compete with one another, the space will take a much more lively turn.  Deciding how high you like the volume outdoors can help you decide what and how to plant.   

Green spaces have an added attraction;  most shades and textures of green look great together.  When you use materials that are all the same color, it encourages you to see the differences.  What textures compliment or enhance each other? Big leaves look great with little leaves.  Shiny leaves look great with hairy leaves.  I am surprised I do not see more groundcover plantings that mix vinca and baltic ivy.  The contrast of leaf size and texture is subtle, and interesting.  

Topiary plants are a natural in a  green garden.  Many plants can be trained to grow in formally or informally clipped shapes.  The common denominator to all-the hand of the gardener, clipping and training towards an overall shape.  The effect of these groupings of pots is restful.  The formally pruned yews make a beautifully dark green backdrop for this collection of topiary. 


Green Gardens

2008 Ford 9-25-08 (32)I have clients whose interest in gardens runs to green, and more green. Though my love for the green of the plant is every bit as great as my love for their flowers, I have never had the discipline it takes to restrict my own palette like this. But I find that whenever a client represents their own point of view outdoors, the result looks just right. 

2008 Ford 9-25-08 (22)These large stone and brick piers punctuate a pair of walls that partially enclose a terrace. I plant them with a mix of plants whose textures are as unlike stone and brick as possible. This is a matter of directing visual attention. The window boxes on the roof of my shop are not so gorgeous.  They are made of galvanized sheet metal ordinarily used in the production of ductwork for the heating and cooling industry.  The sole function of those boxes is to hold the soil, nutrients and water for the plants-they have no visual interest in and of themselves.  The intent here is to acknowledge the beautiful surface of the container as much as the planting.

Ford 2006 (36)A green planting has a quiet and serene look, as the greens so closely relate in color and value.  The green of these painted Belgian oak boxes harmonizes with the color of the bluestone terrace; the relationship is a subtle one. The Dallas Blues panic grass repeats that color. Monochromatic color schemes tend to read that way, although an ocean of orange is anything but serene.  Add some contrasting purple to that orange, which in turn contrasts with the green,  and you have a visual party going on. These greens speak softly.

2008 Ford 9-25-08 (3)A porch planting plays the spiky texture of a tropical fern off the round chubby leaves of a  of large scale pepperomia; the effect is pleasing, not demanding. The elegant English wirework planter reminiscent of vintage conservatory furniture is balanced with a simple and very rustic wreath that hangs on the wall year round.

Ford 2006 (39)The container collection is a beautiful one. An American stoneware grape panel container from the 1920’s, and English lead and the Belgian oak box are very different in materials and forms, but very much alike in feeling.

2008 Ford 9-25-08 (17)A pair of very old and distinctive French iron planters sit on the walls.  I usually plant them with lavender, and alyssum, showy oregano, and whatever other herb like plant seems appropriate.  The effect is graceful; the muted colors of every aspect of this space invite contemplation.

Ford, C 2006 (25)Some plants stay green all season, as our summer is too short to permit flowering-as in this large tropical salvia.  The fine perennial hyssop hangs on to the ghostly lavender of its flowers a very long time; this is repeated in a lavender trailing verbena.  Though there is some color here, it is the relationships of the greens that reads first and foremost.

Ford 2006 (26)I think the leaves of  tibouchina grandiflora are surely my favorite.  The large oval leaves are completely covered in fine white hairs; they are a marvel. Their contrast to the needles of the rosemary topiary is considerable in form, and little in color. Variegated licorice is one of the most versatile of all green plants.  The leaves sport two different shades of green; the blotches are very blue green, while the edges are more yellow-green.  It works with every plant with which it is paired.  This collection of pots benefits from the lively effect of its habit of growth, and relative lightness.  Subtle does not mean sleepy.

Ford 2006 (40)
No one element here dominates a supporting cast.  Each element has its own voice, but the close relationship of the voices makes for a space that whispers. Some gardens provide refuge from noise; this I like.

A Green and White Garden

Green and white gardens interest me more now, than they did twenty years ago. They have the same sophisticated visual appeal as a great black and white photograph.  Michael Kenna’s landscape photographs are breathtaking;  his view of the landscape is so much about the sculpture of green spaces.  The success of the great French landscapes has much to do with great, strictly edited design. I would call my personal point of view about landscape  hopelessly romantic Italian-I can get out of hand fast. When I hear green and white garden from a client, I think edited and sculptural.

aug4a_019These clients have lived many years in a lovely old Tudor style house built in the 1920’s.  However, they both have a love for clean,  modern and edited lines. Working with them has produced a garden that has elements both friendly to the architecture of the house, and  their point of view.  They were both clear that a green and white garden would suit them best. 

july23b_037The landscape of the front of the house was already in place when I met them.  My input involved the sizes of the flower beds, and the construction and installation of the window boxes.   The profusion of flowers is decidedly English in feeling, but the green and white has a crisply contemporary flavor. The strong, dark green horizontal line of the boxwood hedge contrasts and compliments the mass of the oval yews.  This element is balanced by the four columnar gingkos that frame the walk at the street. The simple steel windowbox is a focal point at the visual end of the walk. 


tThe flower beds were planted in stripes, perpendicular to the wall.  White dahlias are skirted with white polka-dot plant.  Striped of white New Guinea impatiens are bordered on both sides by simple rectangles of sagina subulata-Scotch moss.

aug4a_026The upper level is planted more freely, with variegated licorice, white petunias and more polka dots.  This bedding plant scheme derives more visual interest from its texture and layout than from the plant species.

july14_081The window boxes are lush with green angelina, euphorbia, and licorice.  The angular nicotiana alata white frames the more orderly growing Perfume nicotiana series  in white and lime green.

The landscape renovation of the rear yard fell to me.  They were certain that they wanted water in some form, and a more orderly, primarily green garden.  The shade had not been so friendly to their collection of perennials, and the winter interest was slight. The existing stone terrace off the porch was easy to dress up with Italian terra cotta pots devoted to green and white annual plants.�
There are plenty of white foliages plants-such as caladiums and hostas, that do well with this level of shade.  I did pay particular attention to planting green foliage plants of interest as well.

aug_7_10_am_033A custom made steel cistern positioned on axis to the porch, and the side walk organizes the space.  It was constructed with legs tall enough to hide the fountain pump, but also to provide for the eventual height of the boxwood surrounding it. Bordered in boxwood, a run of limelight hydrangeas provides another level of interest against the green arborvitae wall.


Variegated plectranthus, white New Guinea impatiens and the lime green scotch moss echo the porch plantings.

My clients do have a love for stone; the wall pictured above is but one example of the beautiful stonework on this property.  Previously obscured by perennials and boxwood, the view to the wall is now unobstructed.  A group of five columnar maples provide green screening above the wall.  We gently sloped the bed down from the wall, and planted the boxwood at the base of that bed. That wall has taken on a very clean sculptural look, its traditional granite  notwithstanding.  The mix of soft and strict is a pleasing one.