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Gardening with Texture and Color

I plant the plants; God gives the light.

Late afternoon, when sunbeams wash over the foliage, is the best time in my garden. Sometimes I can capture the ethereal atmosphere on camera. I took the following photos just as I stepped out of my kitchen door. Individual plants aren't recognized so much as the impressionistic colors.

Colorful foliage is an important part of my landscape, especially now as summer arrives and spring blooms recede. Yes, I know, according to the calendar it is still officially spring, but when the temps climb into the nineties as they have done this week, I call it summer! Here in Alabama, green predominates through the hot months. Even the interior of my house has a green tint, from the verdant hues reflected through the windows. But green doesn't have to be boring! I know we want to ignore the garden and hunker inside our air conditioned buildings, but with some planning the exterior can be refreshingly beautiful enough to tempt us outdoors.

A shady woodland garden is a pleasant retreat from the hot sun. There are multiple layers to this garden. I am blessed with mature oaks, hickory trees, and pines. Beneath these tall trees is an understory of dogwoods, redbuds, and Japanese maples. Closer to the ground are many shrubs with various textures and colors. Then there are ground covers, perennials, and lush moss paths to cover the forest floor. The entrance into the Woodland GardenA view of the main planting bed in the Woodland GardenA view through the upper Woodland Garden

I am a tactile person. I like to touch stuff. In my garden are many textures, from pitted stone, hard concrete, rough wood, to soft moss, slick leaves and fuzzy foliage. I have added a few accents, such as the snail pot, for additional interest. The pot is made from a heavy, frost proof clay. I love the heft and smooth feel of it.

1st row: The fern in front of the bench is Autumn fern. Afternoon light has turn the fronds gold; The snail pot contains juncus, a twisty rush. 2nd row: Ground cover indigofera; wild violet and pitted rock. 3rd row: Painted Japanese fern with fuchsia in background; a mossy rock with wild violet foliage.Foliage combinations create character and encourage curiosity in the garden. Leaves have various shapes and colors. Some evergreens are not really green but are yellow or blue.Top: Japanese maple, weeping deodar cedar 'FeelinBlue', and mondo grass. 2nd row: Juniper 'Saybrook Gold'; Weeping Deodar cedar 'Feelin Blue'. 3rd row: Japanese maple 'Waterfall'; Groundcover indigofera in front of iris foliage.Other plants are variegated. They may have spots or stripes. Leaves can be purple, red, white, silver, or a mixture of all the above. Green itself comes in a wide range of hues.

Gardening is three dimensional painting, and the canvas is the earth. Colors and textures can contrast or complement. They should repeat in different degrees throughout the garden to provide unity. Don't be afraid to try something different. The colorful pink, white, and blue-green plant in the second row below is in a pot buried in the ground. I sited it to amplify the rosy stems of the adjacent hydrangea 'Lady in Red' and also to repeat the silvery blue color of nearby artemesia. It is a tropical plant that won't survive the winter, so I will move it indoors when the weather turns cold. 
1st row: An unnamed hosta seedling, possibly a cross between 'Elegans' and 'Francis Williams'. It has huge leaves; Blue stems of hosta 'Elegans'. 2nd row: Deodar cedar 'Feelin Blue'; Stromanthe sanguine 'Tristar. 3rd row: Variegated Jacobs Ladder; Calla lily. 4th row: Heuchera; Epimedium and pulmonaria. 5th row: Heuchra and artemesia; View of woodland planting bed. 6th row: Heuchera blooms.All of this together creates visual appeal. Despite the summer heat and my emphasis on foliage, I do have flowers! I have many flowering shrubs and trees which bloom at different times of the year. This is definitely the easiest way to have flowers throughout the seasons. 

Top: A little critter appreciates the bloom of a Rosa palustris, which is located in a sunnier part of the woodland garden. 2nd row: Rosa palustris; Hydrangea 'Lady in Red'. 3rd row: Goldmound spirea; Hydrangea 'Snowflake'.Soon gardenias will fill the woodlands with their glorious fragrance. And when the deepest, darkest, greenest part of the summer arrives, I will sit pots of annuals here and there. I also am not above cheating. I confess, RARELY, I have stuck artificial flowers in pots and put them in the garden!

There is just no excuse for having a boring garden.

Follow-up: Thanks goes to Rosie of Leaves N Bloom, who identified my tropical plant as Stromanthe sanguinea 'Tristar'. 

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Reader Comments (29)

Beautiful photos Deb. Francis Williams has been one of my favorites and to combine that with the size of Elegans, well that has to be something to see.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Your garden is wonderful. I love the subtle hues of tree leaves, and your Woodland Garden looks very cool and tranquil. Great pictures.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMasha

This is one of those posts that requires further study.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

You're right about the impressionistic view of the garden in the first photo. It's like a painting!! Bowman's Root (Porteranthus) woud do well in yor garden. It's a beautiful, spring blooming southeastern native.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

Really enjoyed your landscape photos. Green does come in many interesting shades which makes the garden so interesting to look at. I see you have a little critter playing its own important role on a flower.

May 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOne

I loved those words "Gardening is three dimensional painting, and the canvas is the earth" and I entirely agree. Your foliage is spectacular along with your photos and I'm sure that at different times of the day each of those areas takes on a different mood. Foliage is a favourite of mine aswell though I don't have a mature backdrop like yours.

Your unnamed tropical plant is a Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar' and it is a popular foliage houseplant here in the UK.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRosie leavesnbloom

I found myself spending lots of time in my woodland garden this week. Summer came on pretty quickly! Your woodland garden with all its textures and greens is so lovely...I can imagine spending lots of time there and not wanting to leave! Great tour!

The woodland garden must be a godsend with your 90 degree heat. It looks like a lovely place to get away from it all.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

How long did it take to get the mondo grass to cover? Did you plant in mass? I have a Lady in Red: am not impressed with that variety yet. I moved it once already.

You have exquisitely used other design elements also: form, overhead, harmony, and rhythm.

Well done, truly a maturing garden.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreggo

Hi, everyone! I appreciate all of your comments very much. Rosie, thanks so much for identifying my tropical plant. Greggo, Yes, I did plant the mondo grass in mass. I transplanted it from another part of our property, so I had a free source. I spaced small clumps about eight to twelve inches apart, and it took a couple of years for it all to fill in. I hope your 'Lady in Red' finds a happy spot. I love mine.

May 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

Wonderful photos capturing the light & life of your trees & shrubs.
Thanks for the tour!

I saw this on Blotanical and thought it quite a wonderful post. Your garden is just stunning with all the tapestries and you do a great job conveying that to your readers.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertina

I envy that elegantly pruned tree silhouetted against the lawn. We have a few crepe myrtle - Pride of India - which I need to retrieve from having been badly pruned.

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

Deb, Your garden is indeed a tapestry of amazing shades of green and other colors. I can't believe you would ever need to stick in artificial flowers. I demand to see photographic evidence. Seriously, it amazing how different it is there in Alabama. We are having a very cool spring, which I love. It didn't get over 60 degrees today. Carolyn

Incredible color Deb! I love those little Katiedid nymphs! I don't look forward to all the loud bug noises coming!! I see so many familar plants! Must get out and photograph!!

May 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEve

woodland wonderland! All those textured contrast show what a fabulous colour is green. Trident maple, weeping deodar cedar 'FeelinBlue', and mondo grass are a perfect trio. Bravo Deb - you are a plantswoman extraordinaire.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura @ PatioPatch

I agree with your wonderful description of "Gardening is three dimensional painting...". Folks will ask me on occasion: are you still painting? and my dh is quick to say, 'she has been doing it for years with the garden'.

Love your garden Deb! beautiful as are your photos. My favorite parts are always the shade area: find me a shady spot and I can work there for hours. ;)

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

Your garden is an amazing study in different colors and textures. Green is never boring and your garden is proof positive of that! I agree that late afternoon is a special time in the garden and I love it too. I always wish it would last 3 or 4 more hours than it does every fine day.

Your garden looks wonderful. You are truly an artist!

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSweetbay

beautiful textures and colours Deb, truely inspirational, Frances

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Deb, The photos in this post are stunning, but I like the way you write about your garden just as much. I was looking for your moss paths .... do they dry out completely in the summer ?

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

I find a variety of foliage very appealing in a garden. The colours, sizes and textures add lots of interest. The Heuchera, Epimedium and Pulmonaria add lots of interest to my northern shady garden, too. However, the Calla lilies are only in pots, as the will never overwinter here. Right now, I still have mostly bulbs out, as we had a very late spring.

I always enjoy your photos for ideas of combinations.

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNorthern Shade

What a wonderful reminder to not forget the beauty of foliage...love the woodland gardens

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Gorgeous photos as always Debs! I do love your garden and its ethereal nature. I totally agree that gardening (and a garden) is a three dimensional painting. Your collection of plants are beautiful :)

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Hi Deb, You have done a wonderful job of mixing textures, colors and shades of green. Your garden does have an ethereal nature!

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

It took me some time to appreciate the benefit of foliage and texture rather than bloom. However, as blooms are so short-lived, foliage really is key to diversity in the garden, as you show so well. Woodland gardens especially tend to be quite scant on blooms, as much of their gardens are shaded. I love the diversity of texture and color in your garden, and only wish I'd been so wise with my first garden, that was shaded, and heavily wooded. I could have learned much from you back then, and my garden clearly would have been better for it. You truly have a woodland garden that sings, and worthy of being very proud of!

What a pleasure to discover your amazing gardens this morning... they are fabulous and I plan on visiting often. And thank you so much for the fave on Blotannical. Sincerely, Larry at Oak Lawn Cheese Factory

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Beautiful and very wise in its advice!

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Webber

Yes, an impressionist painting is an apt description! It must be so different to garden in the shade. I have a mostly sunny garden, so I generally battle to keep my plants moist. Well, not this soggy year, but usually!

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

Deb - you are obviously touching a soft-spot with your readers! You are certainly singing my favorite song - color and texture! I was entranced by your photos.

(If it ever warms up and stops raining up here, I might be able to root out the weeds and plant my new 'treasures'. Amsonia (Blue Star) was a 'must have' because of it's 'Asparagus Fern' texture -- and golden yellow fall color!)

May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShyrlene
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