Dispatch From The Garden: Color…And Not
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.
The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle featuring cleome, cosmos, and veronica.
Many people are obsessed with bright blooming color in the garden all season long and I don’t blame them. When I began gardening seriously, I was focused on colorful flowers, too. My taste hasn’t changed; my heart still catches in my throat when I spy blooms in brilliant hues: peonies, dahlias, coneflowers, clematis (and on and on). I’ve already professed my love for chartreuse, but I’ve also developed an appreciation for subtle tonal combinations. One of the most difficult skills to develop as a garden designer is achieving continuous three-season bloom. I’ve certainly gotten better at it after all these years, but I’m always striving to improve. Every time I consider purchasing a plant to install in a garden, I automatically think of this aspect of design.
One reason it’s so hard is many perennials bloom for only a couple of weeks, so planning to have multiple plants ready to burst into flower, just as Plant A, B and C are finishing up, is quite a challenge. This scheme must be repeated from spring through fall. Long-blooming annuals can assist in this goal. It can be expensive to invest in them every season rather than rely on perennials to achieve the all-season garden, but I feel they earn their keep if maintained properly (fertilized, deadheaded and well watered), filling the gaps and endlessly pumping out color whether planted in the ground or in strategically placed containers. Self-sowing annuals (cosmos, larkspur, verbena bonariensis, etc.) are a one-time investment but have to be controlled.
‘Silver Falls’ dichondra planted in an unused fountain to resemble water spilling over the tiers at the Hooper garden in Canaan, N.Y.
On the other side of the color story is white. In the past few years I’ve been creating some all-white scenarios within the context of other gardens. All white is a misnomer because silver, gray, chartreuse, light yellow and other pale foliaged and flowering plants are used, too. Dark green leaves and flowers with bright hues recede as the sun fades. Whites, pastels, chartreuse and silver-gray, which can look faded in the sun’s brightest light, almost float as they emerge from their darker surroundings, reflecting any available light from the moon or other sources. The plant choices depend on whether your light conditions are full sun, shade or a combination, but there are dozens of plants that not only offer sparkly white or pale blooms but also offer fragrance, especially at night. Many light-colored flowers attract pollinators who are busy working the graveyard shift, and exude a perfumed fragrance which helps them be found.
Any of the panicle-flowered hydrangeas or arborescens types are excellent choices for white gardens. ‘David’ phlox, white or blush pink petunias, Casa Blanca lilies, moonflower, flowering tobacco, and trumpet flower are just a handful of the flowers that will give off a lovely fragrance. Lamb’s ear, ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, white thunbergia, ‘Virgin’ or ‘White Swan’ coneflowers, ‘Becky’ daisies, ‘Bridal Veil’ astilbe, white liatris and salvia are excellent choices to carry through the white theme.
I site these little “moon gardens” where they can be enjoyed after the sun goes down as well as during the light of day. If your days are so hectic that you barely get home by sunset, you could use a spot in the garden that invites you to sit back and relax in a sparkly haven of tranquility. And with our crazy weather patterns, evening is often the only time you can stand to be outside anyway.