August 1, 2011

My 5 favorite Design Tips for August


As I depart for a secret event in Philadelphia today ( more on that later!), I thought that I might share some of my fav design tips for the garden.

We are so lucky today, with modern plant selections offering a plethora of choices far beyond green foliaged plants. Above, I tried using more interesting tints, and look how well it works. Black mondo grass, mustard-tinted leaves of a hybrid Heuchera (Hechera 'Caramel) from White Flower Farm, lime greed coleus (Big Blond), coffee colored Oxalis vulcanicola 'Zinfandel' from Proven Winners, and Canna 'Pink Sunburst' from Plant Delights.

I know, it's so hard to break old habits, but the way I do it is by upgrading my garden floral palette as other fashion and styles change. This means, keep your eyes open. See a room color your like? Try using it as an inspiration for an outdoor room. Have a favorite dish cloth with just the perfect color palette? Why not use it as inspiration? A sweet dress, a perfect old table cloth that needs to be reinvented, even  magazine cover. Color today outdoors can be different. more than at any other time in history. Just remember these fact: 
------ Green is still generally your background palette ( your canvas), but there are options to green, but only a few. Silver leaved plants, brown, burgundy, reddish tones. Foliage will always be there, so resist picking flowers just by viewing the image on a seed packet. Unless you are picking them, you must consider foliage color since the plant will be 90% that color.


Don't laugh,but it's true:lighting is just as important outdoors as it is indoors, but you must think of 'light' in very much the same way as lighting designers do - forget harsh bare lightbulbs, and instead, focus on reflected light.The sun is your worst enemy.

 Take a hint from garden photographers, gardens look best not when the sun is out in mid day, but rather in the early morning and in the evening, just after the sun sets. The sky acts as a big reflection screen, and plants are designed to reflect or absorb light. The great landscape architects understood this, that's why Fletcher Steel would create a border of just yellow leaved shrubs, or why he would plant a red leaved tree in the distance, to create depth. 

I suggest that you try mixing grey-foliage plants like the above Agastache with golden-lime colored foliage plants like the Erica in the image above. Remember to plant in drifts, with at least 9 plants of each genus to create a significant brush-stroke of color and texture, otherwise, I single plant will only deliver a tiny peep - not very effective if you are looking for a big pop. Want to stop traffic? Use texture and light effectively.


Believe me, I have very little spare time, in fact I am always asked "How do you do it all?", but the truth is, I am a very lazy gardener ( and housekeeper, but more on that later! Clearly Joe and I never got THAT gene...WTF?). Anyway, the easiest way to create a display that requires hardly any care at all is to plant a collection of succulents. These may include cacti, Echiveria, Agave, even some Bromeliads. You don't need to know what you are doing even, you can even go to Ikea and buy a few $1.00 pots of succulents and pot them up for a sunny, summer display ( be sure your containers have drainage!).

But why not take an extra step, and order some long-lived high-style agave or succulents that you can keep over in the house in the winter? They require no more care than the cheaper type, but the colors and textures are much more interesting, and, they are more authentic, since yes, they ARE collectible by many plant geeks. Add an extra step and create beautiful tags for the amazing hand thrown pots that you are going to display them in. Any designer knows, 'it's all in the details' so go ALL THE WAY.

For interesting succulents try Mesa Gardens ( no pictures, but it's where the pro's go - just google the names).For Agave try Plant Delights ( above ) or Yucca Do.


last year I rediscovered annual vines, but they were so impressive and easy to grow, that I now have a use for all of those trellis' that we receive as Christmas gifts. One of the best combinations was a rather fearless  pairing of a South African vine, the Sea Onion (Bowiea volubillis) and the annual Cardinal Vine. Cardinal vine or Cypress Vine is a rarely seed annual that is in the Morning Glory family, easy as pie to grow, and only not seen because one must plant seeds in the spring, you won't find this as a six pack (or you shouldn't). This pairing seemed natural, if only because of the foliage texture that both of these plants have. The Sea Onion looks just like coral, and the Cypress vine has foliage that can be very fern-like ( last year, I grew another leaf form - be sure you buy the one you like best).


  1. I love your experimenting with different colour leafy plants. I love black mondo grass, it goes so well with so many other plants. That along with a variety of coloured flowers and the lighting all make the garden come to life.
    Thanks for your pics

  2. Wow those are real nice advice for beginners. You have a wide garden and beautiful well chosen species. But i love most the harvested squash varieties you had in a previous post. They also look very ornamental-ish! I am new here, just been suggested by Lily of the Suburban garden, who said you inspired her to go blogging again. thanks.

  3. Awesome post, especially the first picture with the blacks, dark pinks and mustards. It looks really good, and is very useful!


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