Focal points

Fearless Design- secrets to using bold color in the garden

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One of my favorite award-winning gardens at the 2018 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a source of inspiration and this year was no exception. One display garden that really caught my eye was called Contained Excitement, designed by my good friend and former colleague Lori DeLeuw (Designs by deLeuw) and David Rogers (Issaquah Landscaping).

This was their design statement:

Here’s the perfect counterpoint to our hectic lifestyles.

Hone your culinary skills in the outdoor kitchen, preparing healthy dishes using edibles grown in containers just steps away. And work off the stress of the daily grind with a swim in the outdoor lap pool…which also “doubles” as a tranquil spot to just plain relax!

Unusual, yet appropriate, plant material blends with finished wood and metalwork to create a distinctively modern design. As the night winds down, gather with friends at the fire pit for good conversation and an aperitif. If it begins to drizzle, simply move the party into the sleekly-styled shelter for cover!

Take-home ideas: Creating discreet outdoor areas within a garden using plantings and hardscape materials.

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Bold use of color works when the design is equally strong

While they clearly achieved their goal and I love the many outdoor spaces they created, my own take-home ideas were more about their remarkable and fearless use of a vivid color without the garden looking like a paintbox explosion! Pillar-box red was the theme color, boldly used on the walls of a chic shed, garden furniture, a glossy BBQ, containers, soft furnishings and many accessories including a stunning glass installation by artist Jesse Kelly. Having spent some time analyzing it here’s why I feel it works:

  • Most of the bold red appears on vertical elements, the horizontal patio spaces being in neutral grey tones. The addition of a red rug would have been too much of a good thing!
  • Bold black trim and shiny galvanized metal panels add a contemporary flair, enhanced by strong geometric lines, this strong design aesthetic becoming the over-riding focus.
  • Incorporation of rusted metal containers and a fire pit give a nod to red tones yet add variety by allowing for an orange hue.
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Red stems add a subtle connection to the color scheme

 

  • It’s all in the details. I can see Lori’s hand in this so clearly! She is an excellent container and landscape designer and knows that a cohesive design is about the subtle color echoes between foliage, flowers, stems, and more. I love how she carried the red theme into the plant palette, yet did so in an understated manner. A casual glance would assume the plantings are in shades of green, yet the mosaic below tells a different story to the careful observer.
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Red veins, buds, and foliage variegation shows the level of detail that to me says “excellence”.

  • There is still room for fun! There are times when a design statement  becomes so rigid that there is no allowance for serendipity or an unexpected moment. With a clear contemporary design and red-green-black-silver color scheme, the designers still allowed themselves the whimsy of a couple of orange goldfish swimming through the plants! Yes they could have use red fish. I love that they didn’t.
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Allow room for the fun factor

Congratulations on being awarded a silver medal at the show as well as the Sunset Western Living® Award. Very well deserved!

 

 

The Little Purple House

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There are whimsical gardens and then there is Lucinda Hutson’s “Texican” garden – an unapologetic explosion of color that is pure FIESTA. Brought up in El Paso, Texas she regularly traveled to Mexico and central America whose colors and traditions continue to influence her. Lucinda loves to make everday life a fiesta and encourages others to do the same, whether it’s with festive cocktails…vibrant garden-to-plate dishes…or creative design ideas from her “Texican” artisan cottage and gardens.

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Set amid a row of more typical Austin homes, the vivid purple facade of her 1940’s cottage offers a hint at what lies both within and beyond but nothing could have prepared me for the extravagance of lush tropical vines and billowing flowers that both framed and engulfed a series of garden rooms.

The front garden was a jungle of rampant plant growth where dozens of flitting butterflies added to the vibrant display.Of course Lucinda had to take this a step farther and introduce her  own life-size version….

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

I wonder if Lucinda ever takes a moment to bushwhack her way to this cozy nook and contemplate her magical kingdom?

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Themed vignettes

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Succulents reminiscent of seaweed frame a mermaid, swimming in a seashell adorned grotto

Each themed room was reminiscent of a fantastical sidewalk painting, straight from Mary Poppins. My hurried snapshots, taken on an intensely sunny day cannot even begin to do justice to these kaleidoscopic displays but I’ve given you some great links at the end of this post which include Lucinda’s own images taken in optimal lighting. Be sure to enjoy those!

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Decorative plates edge the kitchen garden

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Every party needs music!

One of Lucinda’s offices is in the garden. Opening the door is an invitation to enter her Stairway to Heaven, a remarkable mosaic showpiece.

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“Stairway to Heaven”

Colored walls

Heading deeper into the back garden a cluster of buildings painted in equally bold colors provide Lucinda a series of additional canvases for her artistic touch

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Colorful oil cloth was used to cover these shelves, instantly waking up the dark purple wall

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds Mexican tiles

 

One of my favorite wall displays was the collection of Mexican children’s chairs, which Lucinda uses to perch tools or coffee cups as the need arises.

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Using vines

Vines play an important role in this garden, taking the eye skywards while introducing more color and framing scenes.

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Bougainvillea catching the morning sun

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Why grow one vine up a birdhouse when you can grow two????

The perfect color echo

The perfect color echo

Tiny details

No opportunity is lost to add party flair.

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If you’d like to learn more about Lucinda, and see fabulous photos of all her garden check out her website.

You may also enjoy her book Viva Tequila!, a festive blend of inspired recipes for fabulous drinks and dishes, lively personal anecdotes, spicy cultural history, and colorful agave folk art proverbs and lore. It would make a wonderful gift for the party lover in your life, or anyone interested in anthropology. Check out my affiliate link below:

Small Garden Re-Imagined: Buffalo Style

Do you like garden tours?

I try to go to a few local ones each year, but this summer I had the opportunity to attend what can only be described as a garden tour on steroidsGarden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 private and public gardens in Buffalo, NY are open for self guided tours – FREE  – to the public, each July. Each garden is different – some are whimsical, some appear to be a set borrowed from Hollywood, others feature native plants, but all are creative, and the open arms concept is encouraging a greater  sense of pride in this community.

While I didn’t manage to see all 400 gardens I did visit 15, along with 350 or so of my friends attending the Garden Writer’s Association symposium- and this was one of my favorites. If I was giving awards this would receive the award for Best Design as it makes such wonderful use of a small lot, adding function while reducing maintenance, and significantly increasing the home’s value.

Front Garden

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country - this is an event you NEED to go to!

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country – this is an event you NEED to go to! Garden Walk Buffalo

A peek at the neighbor’s garden to the right will help you understand the ‘before‘ – a postage stamp sized lawn, concrete path to the steps and a driveway. Possibly a shrub or two.

This is a stunning transformation that makes the space look much larger, has oodles of curb appeal, enhances the home and creates a usable space. It was designed by Joe Han, The English Gardener.

The raised, block planter enables the homeowner to have year-round color (boxwood) and structure. No more soil washing off into the street – the slope is managed beautifully by the retaining wall which doubles as casual seating thanks to the capstone.

IMG_5749 A central urn invites seasonal drama, while being surrounded by perennials that cope with Buffalo’s harsh winters. The clipped boxwood hedge gives a sense of order and an important connection to the strong rectilinear architecture of the home and the medallion detail on the portico.

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Each corner of the planter is filled with sweetly fragrant alyssum backed by silver foliage. How often have you heard me remind you of the importance of foliage?!

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Tucked into a shady corner a simple fountain brings the element of sound to this delightful patio, also enjoyed and appreciated from the front porch.

IMG_5744 A dark charcoal border around the lighter grey patio emphasizes and defines the unique shape, making the space seem even larger than it really is.

Planted window boxes and urns add the finishing touch, their color scheme connecting to the larger raised planter while adding drama to the dark porch railings and wide staircase.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the back garden and wondered how the designer and homeowner had made use of that space….

Back Garden

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As anticipated, it was stunning both in its simplicity and in its details. Remarkably it was designed by the homeowners themselves, Don McCall and Jeff Lach.

Window boxes on the second story take the garden up high, the color scheme repeating that of the front and back landscapes. Notice how the two units read as one – they are mirror images of one another.

A small lawn suggests a calming space, bordered by billowing, white peegee hydrangeas and grasses, while a hibiscus introduces the lavender accent note. A small deck next to the home is just one sitting area of three, however.

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At the back of the lot is this charming dining space, the clean-lined furnishings echoing the contemporary aesthetic of the overall design. Overhead ambient lighting is possible thanks to a convenient branch. There was another seating nook opposite (where I was standing to take the photograph). The only trouble with garden tours is PEOPLE! Yes, there were folks sitting in the seating area – of course – so it didn’t seem right to take a photo.

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While there are flowers in this garden, it is primarily a textural foliage feast – my kind of space. I loved this monochromatic dance between the weeping pine and hosta.

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This different angle helps you see the sliver of lawn, narrow gravel pathway and wonderful addition of a Japanese maple. Truly this garden is a jewel.

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Every detail was considered – love the repetition of these three simple pots on the dining table.

Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Which ones have you been on this year?

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Caladium Inspiration

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Here in the Pacific Northwest, caladiums are considered a rather exotic houseplant that can vacation outside on the shady summer patio but are not your ‘mainstream’ summer annual. In fact they will rarely be found with geraniums or petunias at the local nursery, but rather remain tucked away with the indoor plants. Despite that I have been using them for years in container designs where they add bold foliage, exciting color and a tropical punch to my combinations. The only caution is that I wait until our night temperatures are at least 55′ before using them outdoors. In Seattle that may not be until early June. Warmer climates can enjoy them much earlier!

A trip to the Atlanta area last summer got me excited about these foliage floozies all over again, especially as there seem to be so many varieties available down there, including sun-tolerant ones. (Read plant-envy…)

So here for your viewing pleasure is a smorgasbord of caladium-infused container designs as well as a few ideas for incorporating them into your landscape (assuming your have less slugs than I do!)

The art of repetition

A series of low shallow bowls line this pathway, each planted with caladium (probably Red Flash which tolerates both sun and shade), green and white variegated spider plant and bright green Angelina stonecrop.

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Repetition is the name of the game here – what a stunning way to line a wide, shady pathway. Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

The entrance at the Gibb’s Gardens visitors center is truly delightful. By selecting plants that cope with either sun or shade (Surefire begonias and Red Flash caladium), the containers and landscape present a unified, cohesive display. I love the color echo between the begonia blooms and the caladium, all brightened with splashes of yellow or chartreuse.

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Containers, window boxes and landscape all unified in color and content, welcome visitors at Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

Repeating the heart-shaped caladium leaves with the similarly shaped begonia foliage is another satisfying design element. That together with the charming color echo between the white begonia blooms, a variegated plectranthus and the white caladium creates a feminine, romantic vignette, quite different from the sultry deep pinks seen earlier.

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

Allowing caladium to grow through a bed of coleus also offers a whimsical little-and-large perspective:

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Design by Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida

Exciting color contrasts

Red Flash caladium is prized for its oversized, vibrant red leaves and is an old favorite for both the landscape and container. However the wide, dark-olive green margins benefit from the addition of a lighter colored companion such as the variegated ginger below.

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

White caladiums need a different approach. In the container below, the pink venation of the caladium is highlighted by the beefsteak plant (Perilla ‘Magilla’ – a coleus look-alike) while the black tropical foliage of a calathea (Calathea ‘Dottie’) adds bold contrast

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Caladium, calathea, beefsteak plant and a woodland fern make up this unexpected combination. Design by Le jardinet

Creating a focal point

The bold foliage of caladium can be used to add a welcome focal point to an overly-floriferous planting scheme, as can be seen in the example below

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Design by Gibbs Gardens

The large, white leaves also add a cooling note to the border of warm, jewel-toned flowers.

How are YOU using caladiums this year? Do share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

Resources

Growing caladiums from tubers in warmer climates:

Classic Caladiums website

Southern Living

 

Growing in zones 5-7:

Longfield Gardens blog

Personally I just purchase fully grown plants in June! I have found that I am most successful if I keep the drip irrigation lines away from the crown of the plant to avoid over-watering but otherwise have found them easy care. Just cut off spent foliage at the base as needed.

 

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Pinterest Peer Pressure – baring it all!

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I thought it would never happen. Sunshine finally arrived in Seattle for two days in a row! Enough time to get 21 yards of mulch on the garden and persuade me to take some photographs.

To celebrate that spring may finally be reaching us I thought I’d share some of the early season color that I enjoyed this morning. I always hesitate to show you my garden, especially when I see my east coast friends posting photographs on social media of lush landscapes featuring fully clothed Japanese maples in their vibrant spring colors and tender coleus already being planted out! My garden is a far cry from such abundance and as such it’s easy to fall for what I call Pinterest peer pressure! You know what I mean: “How can I possibly show MY garden when YOUR garden looks so stunning?”

Well here it is, rabbit, slug, deer-nibbled  and all. Because there are always a few ideas to share if you look hard enough.

The Big Picture

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Conifers in shades of gold, green and blue and a colorful assortment of spirea and barberries ensure early spring interest that goes well beyond daffodils.

When you design a garden with a focus on foliage first you’ll never lack for color, and when you use that foliage to frame focal points such as this cabin there will always be a Pinterest-worthy vignette.

I also used relatively few herbaceous perennials in this border, opting for a variety of deer-resistant, blooming shrubs instead. This was primarily to reduce garden maintenance as I was finding the annual chore of cutting down the perennials  too hard on my  back. An unexpected bonus from this decision has been the increase in early season color from the new growth on these shrubs. I grow a number of different varieties of weigela, spirea, barberries and exbury azaleas to achieve this.

Closer to the home, our new patio gardens are also evolving.

IMG_0930 Here the emerging perennials (Artemisia s. ‘Quicksilver’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’ and Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’) leave distinct gaps but the container in the center of the bed helps to distract the eye with  brightly colored viola surrounding the velvety, antler-like branches of a Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’). Once again I rely on the color of foliage to provide structure, however – the evergreen, blue blades of blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), orange-gold Magic Carpet spirea, dark purple Spilled Wine weigela and bright green leaves of a bush cinquefoil (Potentilla) that will add orange flowers to the summer scene.

In the raised bed behind the patio is a simple perimeter planting of daffodils and viola. As these blooms finish the entire bed will become a haze of feathery foliage from almost 60 Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This perennial will feature blue flowers in early summer but I grow it primarily for the incredible fall display as the foliage turns orange.

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Spring delights

I will replace the viola in the cube-shaped container with summer annuals in a few more weeks but for now I’m enjoying their cheery faces and love the color play between them, the spirea and the variegated iris.

Garden Moments

IMG_0967 Not all focal points in the garden have to be large – or permanent. Look for opportunities to create smaller vignettes that can be discovered while strolling in the garden. I call these Garden Moments.

This morning I was surprised and delighted to see the interaction between this rusted metal sphere and the Blade of Sun snowberry. The new leaves have a warm blush to the otherwise golden hue and seemed a perfect complement to the rust detail. In fact this was beneath a katsura tree, whose new leaves were also playing into this color scheme.

Simple color echoes between the katsura leaves, rusted metal spheres and the edges of the newly emerged Blade of Sun snowberry foliage

This was pure serendipity – often the best designer.

Floral delights

Designing with foliage first doesn’t mean avoiding flowers – far from it. Rather it is creating a framework of foliage into which to layer the flowers so that when those blooms are gone you aren’t left with visual black holes in the garden.

Right now I have several shrubs in full bloom including Ogon spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda  as well as this super-thorny, evergreen Darwin barberry.

Evergreen Darwin barberry

Evergreen Darwin barberry – the deer actually did eat some of these branches but not enough to kill the entire shrub thankfully!

Perennials are the primary source of spring flowers for many gardeners though. These are just a few of my favorites that are in full bloom in my garden today, selected for deer/rabbit resistance and foliage interest – or in the case of English primroses, pure nostalgia.

Bleeding heart are a cottage garden favorite and I grow several varieties including Gold Heart shown below.

IMG_0998 Planted near a group of yellow blooming barrenwort (Epimedium) and the glossy foliage of beesia these are finally starting to  make a good sized clump.

IMG_1003 They add a welcome splash of light under towering Douglas fir trees.

I struggle to overwinter spurge (Euphorbia) on my garden. My well-mulched soil is too moisture retentive it seems. However my new acquisition Purple Preference has survived just fine both in a container and in the garden. I love the red stems, purple tones of the foliage and bold acid-green flowers.

I purchased more of the donkey tail spurge (E. myrsinites) this spring as they really did seem to keep the voles away from my yarrow. In fact I must get some more! Last years plants rotted over the winter.

Final Flourish

IMG_1041 Hellebores may be on their last fling, but Pink Frost can be relied upon for looking just as beautiful as they fade as they ever did at their peak.

What Pinterest-worthy vignettes are you enjoying in your garden today? Don’t be shy! (And feel free to Pin these to your boards)

If you would like more ideas on how to create a stunning garden using foliage first, check out my two books co-authored with Christina Salwitz.

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