Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Flowers in shades of yellow and orange add a dynamic element to the flower border.

Mix and Match

In the gardening world, there are basically two types: those who create their gardens according to the books, grouping plants in threes and artfully combining colors and textures, and those who are plant geeks, wanting one of everything. I clearly fall into the latter category. Yet I still want a garden that has visual impact. My solution is to start with a strong overall design, including an important piece of hardscape, and then plant in color groupings.

The Basic Design
The design I use for my main ornamental garden area is very adaptable. I've used it in two different houses and settings. Basically, it's a 10-foot-wide bed encircling a lawn, with either pasture and woods or gravel driveway and open space beyond the bed. This approach to design has given me a defined space in which to garden, rather than just spreading out willy-nilly. In this incarnation, I have about 1,500 square feet of planting space.

The bed has an old-fashioned, split-rail fence about 30 inches tall zig-zagging down the middle. Without the hardscape element of the fence, the plants would appear as much more of a jumble. Other things could serve the same purpose -- a stone wall, a wattle fence, even low-growing evergreens. Although I'm not much of a lawn person, the well-manicured area of green creates a perfect calm juxtaposition to the mixture of trees, shrubs, roses, ornamental grasses, perennials, annuals, and bulbs in the planting bed.

My current garden has an element that the previous one did not. A rustic cedar arbor at one corner offers an inviting entrance (or exit) to the interior of garden space. There is also a flagstone path that cuts across one end of the planting area.

Color Simplified
Because I'm always seeing another plant that I can't live without, this is a garden that's changing at warp speed. Instead of sticking a plant into just any tiny wedge of open space, the plants are placed according to color. Plants with white flowers or bark or foliage are at one end of the rectangle; those with black foliage or flowers (okay, very dark red) are at the opposite end. In between, on one side of the fence, are yellows, oranges, and peach colors. On the other side are shades of red, pink, and magenta. Blues and lavenders are interspersed throughout. Within these color ranges, I've tried to make monochromatic combinations that also take into account texture and form.

Using a monochromatic scheme when combining plants simplifies life in many ways, yet it still presents a welcome challenge in blending shades. I have never found it to be boring visually, especially since this particular design is actually more of a rainbow garden. Using one color throughout also helps bind the elements together. Although I have used blues, white is probably the most frequent choice.

One of the most interesting things I've learned from the garden is the effect of the yellows and oranges, which are not my favorite colors. This side of the garden is much more dynamic, with its various achilleas, including 'Terracotta', 'Paprika', 'Moonshine', and 'Coronation Gold'; as well as various geums; gaillardias; rudbeckias; and daylilies. Golden-foliage junipers anchor the theme year-round. Most of the blues on this side are salvias.

By developing the concept of this garden as I have, a whole new aspect of gardening has opened up to me. Ever we learn.

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