The unusual: A Gothic garden, and beyond

Huchera ‘Onyx Odessey’

I’ve always been intrigued by black flowers. Many varieties of  black-flowering plants have flowers that are closer to intensely dark purple or aubergine.

My interest in black flowers started with limited varieties of bearded iris and tulips. They had dramatic names like Anvil of Darkness, Queen of the Night, Onyx Odyssey and Black Magic. When I was a kid, I was really excited about planting my first bearded iris, named ‘Superstition’. I’d spotted in a catalogue, and persuaded my mother to order it for me.  Because of its color, she (who liked traditional color palettes), considered it “gimmicky” — not be taken seriously.

The Gothic Garden

Black flowers make a statement. When designing a garden, the color black can be used much the same way that you use white.  Black dominates other colors, so it can be a dramatic way to set off other flowers and plants. But black can also blend beautifully. Try it with dusty shades of grey (like Licorice Plant), the smokey blues of lavenders, and deep shades of yellow.

Landscapes with black flowers make a statement. They can express the owner’s personality — and they don’t need to limit you. If you like change, different looks can be created by changing seasonal color or bulbs from year to year while keeping the black flowers constant. You employ black flowers in traditional or more edgy designs.

Recently, I had a request for such a garden design on a tiny city lot with lots of potential. Black flowers looked right at home framed by the grid of the black powder-coated iron fence that I designed for the small entry courtyard. Black pots pulled the theme together, drawing out different colors and textures — especially shades of lime green against the leaves of Black Magic Elephants Ear (Colocasia esculanta ‘Black Magic’).

The Unexpected

In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a seemingly endless palette of plants that thrive. The same good design principles always apply, but the color and composition of a garden can vary widely. Garden design is like a work of art — you never know exactly how it will turn out until it’s completed.  Gardens are like living works of art that keep morphing and changing forever.

Let your garden be a reflection of your own creativity and an inspiration to others! Don’t hesitate to try something new and different — your garden starts with your ideas, even ones that you might not immediately know how to put into words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Flowering Bulbs by Design

About now the deciduous trees are coloring up nicely and the squirrels having been busy burying nuts (probably in your container gardens—just where you don’t want them) since last month. But, in my garden, it’s not officially fall until I can begin to plant spring-blooming bulbs. That’s usually about mid-October.

That is the perfect time to integrate bulbs in to my designs for clients. Interesting bulbs are readily available from suppliers, and it’s easy to dig. I also like to sneak bulbs into potted gardens to provide an early spring surprise after a long winter.

You’ll find a wide choice of bulbs to add color your spring garden. Snow drops (Galanthus) will bloom as early as late January and some varieties of tulips bloom as late as May. Allium finish blooming in June. If you plan well, choosing the right bulbs to create a sequence, you can enjoy a non-stop show from late winter through spring. This is not hard to do. Because different species of bulbs need to be planted at different depths, you can easily plant multiple types of bulbs in layers, in the ground or in large pots. I look forward to seeing masses of crocus, daffodils and narcissus that have naturalized and grown into tight clumps that get fuller by the year.

Keep in mind that some bulbs, such as tulips, aren’t as persistent — they may thrive for two or three years and then it will be time to plant more of them. There are also areas where I like start with a fresh palette each year. In the summer, when those bulbs are through, I give them to neighbors or plant them somewhere else.  I plant  summer blooming annuals in their place until it’s time to plant the newbulbs for the fall. (I’ll talk about seasonal color rotations in another blog post.)

Designing with Bulbs

For smaller gardens, try planting clumps of like varieties and complimentary combinations with varying heights. For larger gardens, a drift of all one type of bulb—in a single color—is stunning. On hillsides or woodland gardens, bulbs can be planted in bands to suggest the flow of a stream or in other patterns, such as sequences or gradations of color.

Some of my favorite bulbs include:

  • Tulipa batalinii ‘Bright Gem’, with its delicate sulphur-yellow petals blushed with warm orange
  • The ‘Black Parrot’ tulip—a velvety purple-black heirloom parrot tulip
  • Tulipa ‘Apricot Impression’—a  giant Darwin Tulip with smoldering tangerine-orange, nasturtium-red and pink persimmon with an interior yellow-edged black base
  • The ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ poeticus narcissus, with large, reflexed white petals and a small yellow cup edged in orange-red with a green eye

A cautionary note: Your bulbs will not do well in hard, compacted soil and will not tolerate muddy or saturated soil for any length of time. Some bulbs will do well in pots if the soil is light and the drainage is very good. Pots should be raised off surfaces with hidden feet or trivets to provide air circulation and drainage.

I hope these tips help keep you motivated to be out in yard as the weather turns cool or at least inspire you to go to your favorite nursery to see what’s available.

If you need help planning your fall garden or developing a comprehensive plan for your landscape, contact me for a design consultation. I’m always here to help and love to hear from you about your garden successes.

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Landscape Design and Spring Blooming Bulbs

Planting bulbs and gathering grand bouquets of colored leaves are the hallmarks of fall and the changing season.  Choosing and planting bulbs can be anything from a simple family activity to an extensive plan for an open garden space.  Bulbs come in many varieties ranging from tiny Crocus, which are less than 3 inches tall to Parrot Tulips, which are over 3 feet high. Color palettes can be bright with primary colors, or softer with pastels.

For smaller gardens, I plant clumps of  like varieties and complimentary combinations with varying heights.  For gardens with larger areas, a drift of all one type of bulb  – in a single color – is stunning.   If the terrain is more open, such as hillsides or woodland gardens, bulbs can be used in bands to replicate the flow of a stream or other patterns.

Bulbs provide a non-stop show from late winter through late spring, depending on how you sequence them.  Snow Drops bloom as early as late January and some varieties of Tulips bloom as late as May.   Some of my favorite bulbs include: early-blooming ‘Lake of Fire’ Tulip, mid-blooming ‘Naturalizing Dream’ Narcissus and late-blooming ‘Merlin’ Narcissus.   The honorable, late blooming ‘Queen of the Night’  Tulip in an aubergine purple is always stunning.  Bulbs are extremely hearty and they don’t require a complicated process to plant in an existing garden.  If you have young people in the family, involving them in bulb planting  is an excellent way to expose them to outdoor education.  Write a note of what they planted and watch their realization when the sprigs of green start coming up.

I hope these tips keep you active and motivated to be in your garden space.  Feel free to contact me for a consultation if you have questions or need help developing a plan.