Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2004
Regional Report

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Pair oakleaf hydrangea and kerria for a study in contrasts.

More Than Color

A rainbow of colorful flowers can be nice, but go beyond color for true garden staying power. Choose plants for their contrasting leaf shapes, flower types, and textures to add depth and interest to every landscape.

Thick and Thin
Everyone has read that you should mix textures to create contrast, but what does that mean? Simply, that a thick, deeply lobed leaf like oakleaf hydrangea stands out dramatically next to a plant like kerria with a mass of thin leaves with intact margins. The kerria, in turn, looks lighter green, airier, and frankly neater next to the hydrangea than it would alone or planted by another fine-textured shrub. When the wind blows, the plants continue their contrast. The hydrangea rustles, its rough edges almost scraping each other, while the kerria's less substantial canopy ripples quietly as the breeze passes.

The widely different flower types produced by these two shrubs provides another kind of contrast. The hydrangea has cone-shaped flowers covered by papery bracts that look boldly coarse next to the yellow, circular flowers on Kerria. The tight arrangements of double petals are rose-like, giving this plant its common name, yellow rose of Texas.

Contrast This
When you consider a classic tropical planting, contrast is an essential element in sun or shade. Wide, thick banana and canna leaves need equally strong-looking companions, like shiny gardenia and fatsia, to balance them and attract equal attention. The dark spears of cast iron plant make a strong statement, but planted with light green southern shield fern, it shines in contrast.

Even within plant families, contrast can be found in habit and impact. Upright elephant ears, for example, contrast neatly with the clumping sorts, particularly the black-leaved varieties. A group of bananas or bamboos chosen for various heights and leaf colors can be interesting for the differences between them. The contrasts can be subtle or bold, but be sure to consider them as you make your 2005 wish list. Happy New Year!

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