Garden Colour: It’s more than just Flowers

Summer Derbyshire The Cottage

Summer Derbyshire The Cottage

PARIS, France — Dusky magenta, candy pink, creamy white; …the luscious colours of summer blossoming garden flowers never fail to dazzle and enchant us. By the time November rolls around, however, this riot of colour has often given way to a dull mix of greys and browns. Is it possible to have bright colour in the garden throughout the seasons – even in the dead of winter?

For Julie Wise, a National Gardens Scheme County Organiser for Hertfordshire and a garden designer, whose own garden, Rustling End Cottage is located in Hertfordshire and opens for the National Gardens Scheme, the answer is an emphatic “yes” – provided you define colour in its widest sense. “Flowers are often fleeting, so you have to use the colour of foliage and think of the form and structure of plants,” she says. Foliage, berries or tree bark such as birch or the cornus dogwood – which produces bright pink stems – can also provide dramatic flashes of colour in the winter months. And then there are evergreens and grasses for year-round greenery. Pampas grass, with its lush foliage and creamy white, feathery plumes; may not be as fashionable as it once was but can provide a lovely ornamental effect.

Among winter-flowering plants Julie recommends snowdrops, of course, – always the earliest to flower in cold climates – but also clematis cirrhosa and a winter-flowering cherry tree that produces tiny pink flowers from November to April.

Certain planting schemes are guaranteed to provide you with colour in every season. For example, she says, you could use a flowering dogwood or birch with a planting of “elephant ears begonia” at the base and, in front, a low grass such as carex. In the summer the begonia will flower pink, while the dogwood will produce luscious white or pink flowers, followed by rich green foliage and finally reddish purple leaves in the autumn. Some dogwoods will even provide red berries in winter

If you live in a climate that allows it – and this can work almost everywhere – an ancient olive tree with its gnarled bark can be the centre of a spectacular Provencal plant scheme that will provide delicate hues all year round. You can enhance the grey-silver of the olive tree by planting at its base a mix of perennials such as iris, purple sage, lavender, Mexican daisies and alliums for a purple palette. These plants have the added value of being drought resistant and low maintenance…

It’s best to start planning your garden design not in spring or early summer as many of us do but in the winter months, with a mug of tea in hand and gardening catalogues spread out on the kitchen table. Then follow these guidelines from Julie Wise:

  • Think spring, early summer, summer, autumn and winter. Look at the plants that grow in these seasons so that you end up with succession of colour.
  • Make a list of the plants you wish to buy but avoid the temptation to head for the large garden centres, which tend to be “sweet shops” full of the flowering plants of the season. Instead take your list to an independent specialist garden shop where you’ll find a larger selection of plants and the expert advice you need to make an intelligent selection.
  • Plan one third of your garden in foliage and evergreen; use yew to provide structure rather than walls or as a backdrop against a wall.
  • Keep it simple; use repetition in your planting scheme for large masses of colour rather than individual plants or blossoms.

Don’t think just spring and summer; make sure you include lots of late-summer and autumn blossoming flowers; such as asters, for an array of yellows, oranges and reds.

“In the late 1980s, early 1990s, colour-matching borders was the fashion,” Julie notes. Soft palettes of pink, white and blue were in fashion, or all-white gardens, such as the magnificent Sissinghurst Castle Garden in England. Today gardens rules are meant to be broken and with a few exceptions – avoid combining red and white – almost anything goes. Gardeners today are also more concerned about wildlife; plants such as the Agastache, a perennial with white, mauve, pink or purple flowers, has the advantage of attracting bees in the summer and goldfinch in winter, when its leaves take on a purple tinge.

Courtesy of: Julie Wise | Website: www.ngs.org.uk and www.rustlingend.com
Madeleine Resener About the author

A Californian turned Parisian with a background in financial journalism and PR, she is captivated by beauty and luxury, from vintage perfumes and costume jewellery to Paris’s 19th century architecture. She owns too many cashmere sweaters for her small Parisian flat.

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