The details that make up a garden are the pieces that set the scene. Plants are a given, they go in a garden, but how you design elements around them helps finish the story.
I have always had a weakness for ruins in the garden. I think hugging ancient stone during a garden visit to Montacute in England did it for me. Oh the stories that stone could tell. Ancient stone has personality; weathered with lichen, moss, and age. Hard for man to mimic what nature does. That story telling aspect is what sets the design notes for building ruins in the garden; you get to create a sense of a story. During the process of designing this year’s show garden, many hours were spent on how we would build the backdrop for this garden; a ruins wall that would appear as if an old symphony hall had crumbled down or the music room of an ancient castle had been reclaimed after its partial destruction. We calculated how much stone it would take to stack it and were a bit bemused by the tons of weight we were stressing the convention center floor with. At one point in our designing I negotiated with a local artisan to make the wall. Ben Isitt www.bensartworks.com creates realistic works of art carved from specialized foam. His work is magical and beautiful, but alas he was out of our budget range. What I did learn from Ben was that carved foam could be made to look real and painted to withstand the outdoor elements. Very cool! In the end, a decision was made to create the wall as a temporary structure of foam built by one of our team members. Constructed by Joan Bogan, I wonder if she still is vacuuming bits and pieces of fluttering white foam from the nooks and crannies of her workshop.
In your own garden, we can’t all have a gothic wall but it is more the remnants of things place thoughtfully that create the story.
We all know that display gardens at flower shows are a bit of theater in the midst of all that horticultural giddiness. Plant nerds almost hate to admit it (it’s all about the plants right?) but we go to the show to be entertained too. Give me an emotional response, not just a stone patio with primroses and red twig dogwood around it. I loved that I could wander to a boulangerie in Paris (Wight’s Garden) or drift off to the sound of a harp playing (Fancy Frond’s). When the Bluegrass band started playing (Susan Browne Landscaping) it made me smile and crave a tall glass of sweet tea and of course the slow rhythmic drip of water on drums from Sublime Garden Design beat to its own unique style of creativity.
Every time I design a garden for the show, I want to incorporate ideas that you can see in your own garden. I strive to be horticulturally accurate (right plants for the conditions we are mimicking), incorporate garden elements that are usable in the real world (floating water steps, decking that overhangs the water for dipping your feet into) and then I want to give that moment of entertainment. When we heard repeatedly how people would love to sit on the chaise and nap, I knew we had hit the mark.
Over the next few days I will share my steals and inspiration from the garden we designed at the 2012 Northwest Flower and garden show…
O. k… for me it is about the plants:
Create a plant palette. Much like an artist chooses colors that accent, blend, contrast and compliment each other; choose plants that do the same. Start with color. This plant palette played in the shade with burgundy and silver. Dark colored foliage in a shade garden needs contrast; silver and white variegated plants do the trick. The shape and habit of plants is also vital. The spiky foliage of ‘Silver Dragon’ Liriope against the ruffled deep colored foliage of ‘Crimson Curls’ Heuchera, flattered with the dissected fronds of Deer fern (Blechnum spicant) all bring out a tapestry on the ground. You don’t want plants to blur together in boredom; you want to play off the assets of each.
The heart-shaped foliage of Epimedium is perfect to weave around the ankles of Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) and the understory of trees to create an airy evergreen groundcover. Bergenia ‘Baby Doll’ in groupings made you look at this common plant in a whole new way. Plant this like a drifting puddle along the edges of pathways or rockery.
Then there was the darling (and a bit diva-like too) the Farfugium japoncium ‘Argenteum’. This bold foliage was an eye catcher along the edges of the pond, juxtaposed with the linear blades of ‘Elk’s Blue’ rush (Juncus patens). The leaves were bold enough to compete with the massive rock that made up the falls of the water feature. Placing plants next to large rock is not for the faint of foliage. Landscape rockery becomes more natural when plants are tucked around them; just remember to do it like you mean it. Give the rock some competition with bold foliage and color against it.
Pinch for tomorrow:
Water features are a lifestyle choice