Archive for the ‘color’ Category

Green gradationA new client’s project calls for seasonal plantings in two important pots sitting atop columns flanking the front walkway.  I hope to be able to show you the changes we make to the planting palette in the rest of the garden, not sure when, but tonight I have seasonal plantings on the brain.

I don’t get asked for seasonal plantings very often, so I dove into all the bazillions of options – so many plants, so many cultivars of each!  Do you know how many Violas there are?  Heucheras?  Ipomoea, Coleus, Petunia, and so forth!!?  I wound up with 60 photos in short order and had to figure out how to organize it so the Owner (or I) wouldn’t have a stroke from too many options.  Below are 36 of the 60 I saved right off the bat, you can see how the editing process becomes king.  Some are my own photos, some from various growers, many came from Proven Winners (credit where it is due!) which is a large commercial grower that supplies pretty much every nursery I know:

too many choicesThere are many constraints in narrowing this down: changes pending in the rest of the garden, soil volume in the planters, and the intention of swapping the plants out seasonally.  Additionally, whatever we plant has to look good when it is new, add color coordinated with a TBD planting palette, and be showier than the succulents they have now which blend-in too much with their surroundings.  The most limiting of these is the soil volume – not much soil volume = not big plants and not very many.  I know, we’ve all seen photos of amazing stuff in teensy pots, but this is usually the result of growers’ careful (read: fertilized like crazy under perfect greenhouse conditions) management and not what we might expect at home.

I assume you’re familiar with the “recipe” for container plantings?  Some say you need “spillers”, “fillers”, and “thrillers”.  That’s great if you have room for all that diversity and you want mixed plantings.  I am not so sure these planters will look so good with too many different things; the soil is only 13″ across and 9″ deep.  They’re beautiful planters, just not very big.

I came up with a strategy – after I saved all those photos.  My strategy with most planting palettes is to gather in lists and photos everything I think will work and then edit until only a few favorites remain.  I often print photos of everything and arrange them all over my desk, developing groupings of favorites and rejects, moving photos between these groups often until I’ve covered all the bases – seasonal interest, form, leaf color and texture, etc.  Further edits seek to eliminate anything that clutters the vision, and viola!  … until I show it to my Client …

Chartreuse juiceSo tonight, to stave-off the aforementioned stroke, I limited the plants to 3 options:  two plant combos, one plant that will fill-in, and bulbs planted under something else.  I further limited the options to annuals (except the bulbs) and to color groupings I named “Chartreuse Juice” (a small sample of the options above) and “Lavender Carmel” (a small sample of the options below).  They seemed to separate themselves out naturally and fit in with the two plant palette options I am proposing for the rest of the garden.

Lavender carmelGiven that the planters are only big enough for one or two kinds of plants at a time, that will be the next step with the Client – what looks good together?  What can stand on its own?  I still have waaay too many options, but I know my favorite combinations, and the outliers will be held back so we both don’t need ambulances by the end of our meeting.

lavender gradation(and yes, I had entirely too much fun with Big Huge Labs making these mosaics)

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The front of my new place is awash with purple Lantana (Lantana montevidensis).  It is lovely stuff if you are both color blind (unless you’re into this sort of purple, nothing wrong with that!) and an admirer of wildlife.  There are butterflies, bees, spiders, and lizards all over it.  It is absolutely marvelous for year-round blooming and needs no supplemental water once established (at least not here, I turned the irrigation off last fall).

lantana HQ 043

The flowers are the pepto bismol of purples – not my favorite, though maybe someday I will find a companion plant with a color that mitigates the pepto purple hue.  Meh, maybe not.  A dear friend of mine said that the overwhelming amount of purple Lantana in my garden made my place look like a retirement home.

lantana HQ 044

As much as I’d like to be able to retire (I’d still spend my time designing gardens – I love it that much), I am not ready to live in a dadgum retirement home!  Talk about death by association; I can’t look at it anymore without thinking about retirement homes.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my lovely boyfriend thinks the foliage smells like poo (the flowers smell nice at night).  Charming: a poo scented retirement home.

lantana HQ 039Here’s my vexation:  as much as I intend to remove the Lantana and put in other stuff, it is happy, healthy, requires no water, and supports oodles of critters.  So for now it stays…. providing food and shelter for all those bugs and lizards, but lookout, Lantana!  You’re living on borrowed time.  Wanna know what I think might fill the space above?  I’m considering a collection of spineless Opuntia that my friend Melinda sent me from Texas along with a few I’ve collected on my own here.  The ones from Texas are rooting in the shed right now – cross your fingers that they all take!

IMG_3647So there’s my dilemma – removing the Lantana removes habitat, but goodness gracious, there’s so danged much of it, I don’t really like it, and the new design/plants aren’t ready yet.  Patience….

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I love the internet, I really do.  Seriously, I rely on it for all sorts of things.  None of this is new information for you, savvy reader, but here’s something that drives me absolutely bananas (you know it’s serious because I don’t even like bananas!)

Here’s a screen shot of Helleborus ‘Onyx odyssey’ from an internet image search: Helleborus 'Onyx Odyssey' screenshot

The majority of the photos above are a black or slatey near black color.  From a collection like that, the black-flower-hopeful would expect that this plant was a true black or at least so ridiculously dark flowering that it didn’t matter.

I recognize that cameras and monitors vary in their abilities to accurately represent color, I have no issue there.  My issue is more of an honor-code type thing.  Below are some photos I took of this same cultivar in my old apartment patio:

Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' 2Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' FLHelleborous 'Onyx Odyssea' in sun

I find it important to photograph plants and flowers in the shade and the sun, and with different kinds of backgrounds and other things in the shot like ambiguous planty backgrounds and also my own hand.  The camera automatically makes adjustments depending on what is in the picture – and then if I were to adjust the color in Photoshop, there are algorithms that make assumptions about what the color was supposed to be.

For my design work, the internet serves as a great starting point and a place to see as many different images of the same plant as I possibly can.  However, I’ve learned to mentally visualize colors of plants and flowers from web searches, and also to take into account the quality of the photos and the lighting.

I try to grow as many different plants as I can at home (more on that later) so that I can have the best possible understanding of a plant’s color and habit.  I keep an extensive collection of photos that I’ve personally taken so I can track the same plant under as many light and growing conditions as possible, and so that I have a mind’s eye recollection of each plant.

My complaint, if you can really call it that, is that clients can find color-adjusted and completely unrealistic photos online, and expect that their plants will look just like that.  Plants are amazing, gorgeous, living things…. but they’re not always the supermodels (also usually photoshopped) that some catalogs would have us believe.  Every once in a while, they become mere mortals like the rest of us.  Beautiful in their own right, but not exactly as depicted.

So please – don’t be taken in by a great photo.  Check them all.  Consider before you fall in love if you’re enamored with the image or the plant itself.  We all deserve to be loved for who we are, sans photoshop.

0-not used Helleborous 'onyx oddysea' ftf 1gal 4yr old



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I wonder sometimes about the planting design process of other designers. Some always design the “bones” of the garden first and work their way down to smaller plants, others begin with a point of inspiration, a style, and build a garden around that concept. I seem to work in more than one direction at a time. Occasionally a garden will tell me what it wants to be, sometimes I have to ponder longer to find its voice.

Whatever happens on a project, though, I maintain a substantial image library. I recently visited Filoli earlier this month and took the photo above of Crocosmia and Hydrangeas planted together. I recognize that not everybody would respond favorably to this combination based solely on the colors, but seeing them together like that gave me the idea for this post – what if you compared several cultivars of Hydrangea with a variety Crocosmias (in a mix-and-match format)? What interesting planting combinations would arise? Would others find Crocosmia combined with Hydrangea attractive then?

Just a thought.  I like them all.

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I am so fortunate to live in the Bay Area and be able to get over to Filoli once in a while.  I realized last fall that I hadn’t been in a couple of years, and was determined to go again soon.  I’ve only visited Filoli in the Spring.  Not on purpose, simply because of the timing of house guests’ visits and their desire to see the famous house and gardens.  I intend to make 2010 my year of Filoli visits and to see it in as many different moments as possible.  This last week we were supposed to have rain all week and I waited (not so) patiently for a sunny day…which we enjoyed Monday through Thursday despite the wet forecasts.  I gave up my wait on Friday the 12th and drove over to enjoy the first day of accurate forecasting (rain!) with a few other early season visitors.  I enjoyed seeing things before everything begins the uber rainbow of Spring at Filoli in full bloom.   Despite the rainy day light (and my wet lens and cold hands), I snapped a few photos:

Notice how even in lousy light and with the deciduous woody plants being void of leaves, this garden is photogenic?  That it’s simple (especially at this time of year, before the flower riot is in full swing) the plantings are stunning, and how the structure of this garden – the layers and mass of its “bones” – support the flower beds.  When looking at the images, did you feel like it was not colorful enough?  I didn’t.  I love that evergreens and deciduous plants are together to support each other visually.  The evergreen plants are also a whole variety of greens – the Olive trees, Boxwood, Yews – all different.  The paths are simple, made of modest, honest materials, and support thousands of visitors annually.

Horizontal layers, vertical layers, plant heights and widths, and even the width of paths are all different.  In some places, the paths are a scant 18″ wide – enough for one person to walk carefully.  In other places, the paths must be 6′ wide or wider, but they’re always appropriate for the space they’re in.   What would be appropriate for your garden?

Horticultural side note:  These trees and shrubs are cared for and sheared with laser precision which is impressive all by itself, but notably (especially for modern gardeners who don’t get it), the shapes of the hedges are horticulturally correct.  They’re wider on the bottom, tapered to a slightly narrower top.  This supports the plant’s ability to maintain foliage at the bottom because those lower leaves can get enough light.  It also makes the paths comfortable to walk since there isn’t some big thing leaning at you – especially noticeable in the image of that dapper gentleman who is walking away.  Those shrubs are huge, but still not uncomfortably imposing thanks to this shape and the proportions of the garden as a whole.

I’m looking forward to going back in a month or even sooner – to see how this garden changes with the addition of hundreds of thousands of blooms.  Will it be necessarily better?  What do you think?

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Why yes, yes I do thanks for asking!

I enjoy focusing on an esoteric subject, learn all I can, then keep it as a favorite topic but turn my focus to something new for a while. I do that with colors, plants, ideas…..knitting and pattern writing, quilting (including quilt AND paving pattern design – so many parallels!), and um…. you name it, please pardon the rotten sentence structure.

Two of my favorite things below: silver/gray foliage and green flowering bearded irises. See, I told you it was esoteric.

mosaic green irises
mosaic silver foliage 1

OH!  and many thanks to www.bighugelabs.com for their mosaic making thingy.  Very fun.

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Colors from nature

In my neighborhood wanderings, I see house colors I love and house colors I don’t love.  Read just about any book on color selection for the home and you will see “inspired by the natural palette” or some other such wording.  That opens up pretty much any color at all, since nature has a remarkable imagination.

I recently found www.bighugelabs.com and tried their Palette Generator on an image of a favorite bearded Iris cultivar.  What results is an Adobe Swatch Exchange file you can download.

palette generator bighugelabs.com

I think the results are pretty interesting and will use the Palette Generator in the future to help choose material and paint colors.   Try it with images of your surroundings or existing materials like the wood wall in the images below:

palette generator bighugelabs.com 3palette generator bighugelabs.com 2

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