It's always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.
Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.
Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.
Here's how to get the look.
Repetition of Plants
Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.
This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn't have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.
Repetition of Color
Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.
In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Lil Miss Sunshine'), this color repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena 'Fireworks'). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.
Add something unexpected
The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.
Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient
At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.
Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica 'Cabernet') and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.
Other Plants to Consider
If you'd like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.
Diascia 'Little Tango' (Annual/perennial)
Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' (Annual)
Knipophia 'Creamsicle' (Perennial)
Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)
Diervilla 'Kodiak Orange' (Deciduous shrub)
Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series (Deciduous shrub)
Berberis thunbergii 'Tangelo' (Deciduous shrub)
Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)
Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)
Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' (perennial)
Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)
Crocus tommasinianus 'Purple Haze' (spring blooming bulb)
Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' (annual/perennial)
Phlox paniculata 'Red Riding Hood' (perennial)