Garden Lessons: Design: Plant Elements


Conifers in Perennial Beds


Plants as Fences



Pairing Blue With Yellow


a stand of purple perilla with the visual impact of a shrub

New Botanical Discovery:
Deepest Purple Shrub

So, you’ve tried Physocarpus Diablo and Weigela Midnight Wine and Berberis Helmond’s Pillar and Cotinus Royal Purple and Sambucus Black Beauty. One or all of them give you SOME purple foliage, but you long for a significant swath of Wham!In-Your- Face! dense dark purple.And you don’t want to have to wait four years for a purple shrub to fill out that swath. Well, friends, the news is good. The botanical discovery of the century is here.

What is it? Well, you begin with full sun and a healthy Physocarpus Diablo.THEN… and this is the really important part… you underplant it with purple Perilla!!!! Yessireee bob. This blackest of black vigorous self seeding annual grows up through that Physocarpus umbrella skeleton , and next thing you know, you have a dense mound of Wham! In- Your- Face dark purple. As with many great botanical discoveries, this was not pre-planned. Just a fluke of self seeding, but oh what a glorious fluke!


Working With Variegation

Variegated Plants (or VPs, and indeed they are!) receive considerable design consideration in our gardens. Here are some pointers:

Parse out your VPs. When mixed in with patches of solid colors, a swath of variegated foliage can certainly liven the scene, but one needs to be careful. Too many patches of VPs in one viewing frame -can become frenzy to the eye (which prefers restful> frenzy.) Thus, I would not plant a (variegated green and white ) Cornus Ivory Halo with a skirt or neighbor of similarly variegated green and white hosta. Even though the leaves are a different size, that pairing would be too visually chaotic. Sometimes I will mix same variegation color foliages if the size difference is great, as in mounds of large leaved hostas that are yellow with a wide deep green edge- surrounded by a groundcover of small leaved Euonymus Moonlight(yellow leaves with dark green edges.) Reverse variegation partners can sometimes work i.e. Ivory Halo dogwood bush(small white leaves edged in deep green) planted with large leaf dark green hostas with a thin white edge.

As a general practice, I do not mix green and white foliage with green and yellow foliage. What I do frequently use is yellow foliage trees and shrubs underplanted with blue foliage or blue and yellow variegated foliage. Unlike bold patterns, “spray painted” variegation does not show well at a distance; it is much better to place it near the viewer.

When designing with variegated woodies, make sure to position the variegated foliage with as-big or larger green background trees and shrubs. This makes a huge difference in your eye being able to see the variegation. Next time you spot a variegated tree, position your view so that the tree is backed by sky. See how the foliage disappears into the light expanse, rather than popping out at you because of a green backdrop?


So You Have 1/3 Acre and You’re Really Obsessed…
Planting Every Available Inch


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