A Beautiful Shade Of Green
The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.
Sun king brightens a semi-shade slope with angelina sedum at the base.
My favorite color is green and I absolutely love chartreuse! It just makes me happy, and whatever you call it — pistachio, acid, lime, neon, yellow-green, golden — my closet is filled with variations of this color. It’s a very versatile color to use in the garden, and my mission is to integrate it into garden designs and container plantings whenever I can. A little chartreuse goes a long way though and has to be used judiciously.
Groundcovers, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees all have chartreuse versions. There’s something available at any point on the scale you wish, and it mixes well with almost any other color. Using it with complementary colors like scarlet, berry, pinks and reds is an easy choice. I also love the greener shades of chartreuse in combination with violet, lilac, deep purple and blues. For “hot” combos of color, it works well with yellow, coral, orange and other citrus-y tones.
Now, as I examine all the gardens I tend, I’m seeing the places where I’ve used chartreuse effectively and where I could add some into the planting scenarios. “Lady’s mantle” (alchemilla mollis) is such a workhorse. It tolerates sun or shade, and the velvety medium-green roundish leaves complement other perennials. At this time in the season, a host of tiny flowers create a frothy cloud of bright green above the foliage. It definitely makes itself apparent, but in a subtle way. The stems make a lovely filler for cut bouquets. When the blooms start to fade, cut the flower stems back to basal foliage and refocus attention on the beautiful foliage.
The chartreuse flowers of lady’s mantle.
Less subtle, and a plant that earns the name “sun king,” aralia cordata is akin to a spotlight in the garden. It features a large, rounded clump of yellow-green compound leaves, topped in summer by 2-foot tall spikes of tiny white flowers. Deep purplish-black inedible berries ripen in fall and birds love them. The foliage retains a good chartreuse color throughout summer. It prefers a mix of sun and shade and if in too much shade, will not be as bright.
In containers, I like to use golden creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia aurea) as an underplanting to upright plants like elephant ears or annual salvias. Sweet potato vine (ipomoea batatas) “margarita,” with a heart-shaped leaf, and “illusion emerald lace,” with a tri-lobed leaf, are two varieties that I go to again and again. They are quite vigorous and can be used to trail down pots or walls, or be planted in the ground where gaps need to be filled or where you want a shot of vibrant color.
In mixed borders, the relatively small gold mound spirea can be kept compact with a spring pruning every year and it creates good contrast against its darker green companions. Fine-leaved “ogon” is another spirea that mixes well. In my own garden, I let golden feverfew self-sow every season and, in the spring, transplant the small mounds of delicate chartreuse foliage to areas where I need to fill a gap or want to highlight other plants. I also use this method with “jewels of opar” (talinum limone).
There are dozens of additional plants in this exciting color story: varieties of hosta, heuchera, sedum, coleus, caryopteris, sambucus and ornamental grass. Experiment with something chartreuse this season in your garden. I think you’ll agree with me!