Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Color in the Landscape

Good garden design necessitates good use of color.  Just think for a moment of a beautiful yard or garden.  It might be your own or someone else's.  Maybe it's a house you pass on the way to school or work.  What do you like most about it?  If you are anything like me, color is what really grabs your initial attention--and also what fills your memory.

Certain color combinations create certain moods or convey a certain theme.  Red, orange, and yellow are best for conveying energy, vibrancy, speed, and excitement.  They also make a garden seem smaller and hotter.
Very thrilling, right?

Pink, blue, and purple, au contraire, are more relaxing, cooling, and peaceful.  These colors definitely make a garden feel larger.  Purple especially is a distance/depth workhorse.
Totally different effect...

Greens, whites, and grays are best-used to compliment the main colors or to soften transitions between them.  I think it is also important to note that the importance of green in the garden can easily go under-appreciated.  Green is essential for giving a garden its structure, connections, and some visual relief.

So which colors do I prefer to work with?  Depends on the specific spot.  In my front yard, I tend to work more with pink-white-blue-purple plants.  The western side yard is very much an orange-yellow-white (plus occasional purple) scheme.  The backyard is very polychromatic with certain areas following one half of the color wheel, and another area following another half.  I also have one bed in the back that is strictly yellow with just two, lonely purple plants for sexiness.  One corner of the backyard is white-pink-blue.  The main backyard planting area however is dominated by reds, oranges, whites, and purples.  And finally, the eastern side of the house is white and purple.  I think ALL gardeners should grow a multitude of plants and follow the color scheme(s) that works for them, their house, and their taste.  Some of the most beautiful gardens are monochromatic (all-white and all-red landscapes are particularly stunning).  Yet the overwhelming majority of high-quality garden designs use all of the main colors--and many shades/tints within them.

If I was up against a firing squad however, I would tell you that I prefer pink-white-blue-purple gardens the best.  For me, gardening is about peace.  These colors convey that...for me.

Along those lines, the Dallas Arboretum has created a wonderful bed of flowers as you can see below.  They have used the classic blue annual, ageratum, with the equally classic pink/white/purple "summer snapdragon", the angelonia.  Unfortunately, angelonia is not a very "popular" annual for beginning gardeners, for which I have no explanation!  It is an excellent plant that loves hot sunshine.  I was already working on a very similar design when I stumbled across this great picture online.  T'was VERY nice to see that my brain does a good job of conceptualizing:

I am currently working on ways to adapt this concept in my own landscape.  This spring, we are going to be repainting the shutters, door, fence, etc from "harvest red" to a rich, dark ocean blue.  A lot of my current landscape sketches are revolving around increased use of the kinds of refreshing colors you see above:  white especially.  I think that the soft pink and glowing blue will look awesome with our macrophylla hydrangea bushes and the dark green foliage of things like lilac, oakleaf hydrangea, arborvitae, daisy, shrub roses, and echinacea.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 Wishlist


Christmas is long since gone and it's the middle of winter.  Spring will (hopefully) be here soon!  So what's my brain to do except start thinking about my yard!  We moved to our current house in the summer of 2007 and have been busy expanding and improving the landscape ever since.  When we moved in, the front yard was barren:  a large, flat, treeless expanse of green lawn punctuated by three peony plants near the front door, and a rogue hosta plant tucked into a corner.  That was IT!  The backyard was not a Garden of Eden by any measure but had its strengths:  great dappled shade provided by a handful of mature trees (two sugar maples and one beautiful black walnut), decent privacy, some sunny patches along the edges of the yard, and the best part:  a rather generous 200-square foot deck with ideal shade/sun exposure and a good planting arrangement around its perimeter consisting of a 25 foot long bed of beautiful, ruffled, yellow-orange daylilies and a row of several hostas on the western side.  It is next to impossible for me to remember the yard when we bought the house because, I honestly think, we started digging and planting on "day one!"  We haven't looked back since.

Generally, I am immensely pleased with our present landscape.  Others share those sentiments:  our property won a civic beautification award in the summer of 2009.  As the gardener sometimes says, "boy you should come see it now!"  With each passing season, the garden acquires more and more of that priceless patina of age--something that simply cannot be rushed (think:  purchased) in a landscape.  There is something to be said about having to move this there, move that here, fill in this space, get rid of that plant.....a garden is never supposed to be finished nor is it supposed to be rigid and finite.  A garden is forever.  A farmer's day of work is never quite done, right?

So what is on the agenda for 2012?  Hopefully not as much as 2011!  Kidding aside, I am really excited for a a number of "improvements" that I think will be quite meaningful.

  • Last fall, I began working towards a spectacular, seven-shrub hydrangea edge along the main face of the backyard deck (replacing the former daylily border, which I think means I have finally "touched" every piece of the original landscape besides the mature trees).  I am using five, white Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' in the middle, flanked by two blue/purple/pink Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' at each end.  The best part is that all seven of these plants are at-least four years old and thus will be at ~70% maturity this no waiting around for things to grow!!!  The filtered shade environment will be perfect for these plants.  I am really looking forward to this beautiful, low-maintenance hydrangea garden.  It will likely become the single "strongest" component of my growing hydrangea collection.

  • Last May my family and I built a little footbridge for a new garden area we were installing.  I think it's straight out of the American Dream:  a little arch bridge spanning through a riot of flowers.  My mom has dreamed of one since she was little so I am happy we finally built it!  Much of my focus last year was with this "bridge garden" area and I want to expand the edges a bit this spring so we can grow more plants.  I am specifically thinking of Knock Out roses and a bunch of annuals.  I think a cottage-style footbridge must pass-by some roses, don't you?


  • In the far corner of our backyard we have a typical storage shed.  I created a good-sized flower bed near it last fall and filled it with a number of daylilies (deck-edge transplants), a peach-colored oriental lily, a purple New England aster, several solidago, some columbine, two yellow coreopsis, some rudbeckia, a pink shurb rose, a dwarf white daisy, a purple butterfly bush, and a "bird's nest" dwarf pine.  It frames one side of the approach to the shed entrance.  Following the same theme, I want to add a similarly-sized bed on the other side of the approach so that one experiences a semi-enclosed "gateway" effect.  There is just something stunning about walking and being surrounded by flowers on both sides.  So, I am thinking about one or two ornamental grasses (probably 'Gold Bar' or 'Zebrinus' because I think the variegation would resonate nicely with the butter-colored shed), a bunch of marigolds, maybe some red roses, some daisies, and whatever other divisions I can get this spring.

  • A couple of my baby hydrangeas--which were previously in containers--will be going in the ground this spring:  macrophyllas 'Peppermint', 'Malarth', and  the oakleaf 'Alice'.  Macrophyllas 'Nanstrosa' and 'Mathilda Gutges' will be going in the two large chocolate-colored pots out front underneath our living room bay window.  My favorite plant, four-year old macrophylla 'Nachtigall' will also be moving into a larger pot (she has consistently been my fastest-growing hydrangea).  'Nachtigall', which in English means nightingale, is a powerhouse of a hydrangea.  Very sturdy stems, healthy foliage, and stunning blue lacecap flowers.  Highly recommended for anyone in Zones 7/8/9.  You will need to grow her in a pot in Zones 4/5/6 since she is a bit winter shy.  I keep her, and my other potted hydrangeas, in the garage over the winter.  

Hydrangea macrophylla ('Endless Summer' and 'Nachtigall' at center)

  • I am thrilled to be in the planning stages for making an expansion to the main, front-yard flower bed.  Much of my gardening inspiration comes from the beautiful, colorful flower gardens of East Coast beach towns in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  My hydrangea collection is a prime example.  Along my native Jersey Shore, crape myrtle trees (an exceptionally common tree in the Southern USA) are very popular and provide unbeatable mid-summer to early-fall color.  Some crapes can bloom for over 100 days which is just insane for a flowering tree.  So, okay, why don't I have one already?  Unfortunately they are not stem-hardy above north of Zone 7.  Occasionally I will glimpse some shrub-form crape myrtles in SW Ohio but they are rare.  It takes a serious gardener to try growing a shrub/tree outside of the plant's hardiness zone.  My success with growing several varieties of hydrangeas in large containers got me thinking:  "What if I select a smaller crape myrtle tree (maximum of 10 feet) and grow it in a pot!"  Great idea.  But wouldn't a 10-foot tree look a bit ungainly in a pot?  Yes it would.  Solution:  use a technique I learned at Hydrangea Farm Nursery on Nantucket....put the pot in the ground and then remove it later.  So that's the plan:  put the crape myrtle in a 15-gallon container, dig a nice hole for it, and then throw it in for May-November.  Cover the pot with soil and mulch so no one knows except me.  Then the tree magically vanishes after Halloween/Thanksgiving.  Magic!  I want Lagerstroemia indica 'Pink Velour' for its hot-pink flowers and deep green foliage.  It also stays small (8-12 feet).  I want to accentuate the watermelon-colored flowers of the crape by creating a surrounding garden home to some light pink shrub roses, bright-yellow Black-eyed Susans, and some pink annuals (I am thinking geraniums).  Curving in front will be a new flagstone footpath lined with white and pink begonias, some dwarf ornamental grasses, and maybe a small evergreen or two.  Talk about eye-candy.  I want this to look really sharp! 
Crape myrtle garden, conceptual rendering (I drew the crape myrtle a couple feet too small, oh well!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Welcome to my blog, Who Plants a Seed...!  I am glad you are here and hope you find my pictures, tips, advice, and musings about gardening to be helpful, entertaining, and inspiring for your own at-home horticultural pursuits!

The name for my blog comes from a hand-carved wooden sign that has been in my grandparents' house for longer than I can remember.  It reads, "Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God."  One of the most simple yet beautiful and true statements I have ever known.  Many of my "gardening genes" definitely come from my grandparents.  As a home gardening blog, Who Plants a Seed... could not have a better name.

I have been gardening for my entire life:  it's just that simple.  I cannot remember a spring, summer, or fall season in which I wasn't out in the yard digging, planting, watering, weeding, pruning, admiring, and enjoying.  After 20 years, it is simply a part of who am I--it is certainly my main hobby (and definitely the main drain on my wallet!) so I hope some of my experiences and opinions can be of help to you in one way, shape, or form.  I am primarily a flower gardener but allocate some good time to fruits and veggies also (can you say home-grown tomatoes, strawberries, and peppers; what would summer be without them?).  My family and I grow a great variety of flowers including several varieties of roses, purple coneflowers, daisies, lilies and daylilies, astilbe, hostas, a number of ornamental grasses, rudbeckia, peonies, daffodils, tulips, iris, columbine, goldenrod, liatris, spirea, monarda, viburnum, lilac, tradescantia, loosestrife, chrysanthemums, New England asters, a multitude of annuals (but especially marigolds, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias), liriope, cannas, and my personal pride and joy--over 30 hydrangea shrubs encompassing dozens of cultivars across four different species.  I plan to focus a good deal of this blog towards chronicling my ever-growing hydrangea collection.