Lessons in design

In the years since I started gardening, I have read probably hundreds of books on gardening.  I have devoured books on perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees, and garden
design.  I have read ad nauseum about planting for summer-long bloom by utilizing different perennials that will bloom in succession all through the season.  They all say that’s the most important thing, to have color in the garden in every season. (Or most of them say that, anyway.)  I have attempted to achieve this to some extent, but I freely admit that much of what really works in my gardens came about by accident and by trial and error.

There is one thing I’ve finally learned, though, and it probably took far longer than it should have to finally hit home.

Foliage is more important than flowers.

Yes, that’s what I said.  Let me say it again, for the record:  foliage is more important than flowers.  As a person who adores flowers in every size, shape, and color (no flowers are too bright or garish for me, nor too delicate and ethereal), this is a revelation.  And what I consider my best garden beds were created after I started learning this lesson (not surprisingly).

If you plant for variety and texture of foliage, your gardens will always look good, even when there is NOTHING in bloom.  This may sound unlikely, but believe me, it’s true.  If you’ve got plants whose foliage plays off and contrasts with one another, you will always have interest and beauty in your garden, even when there are no flowers.

This is one of our “front” gardens—put in just a few years ago.

Front garden

Although you can see that there is an iris blooming, and just a few bright purply-pink blossoms on the perennial geranium (front and left), there is really not much color here being contributed by flowers.  This photo was taken sometime in the first week of June or so, just before the Baptisia started blooming.  And I think it looks pretty good—in spite of the fact that there aren’t many flowers there.  There are different colors and textures of foliage and they play off each other fairly well.  You can’t see much of the “Center Glow” Ninebark in the back, there—it’s got sort of reddish foliage.

I know I still have a long way to go before my gardens look worthy of magazine pages, but I think I’ve come a long way, and I do believe the most important lesson I’ve learned is that flowers are secondary to foliage.   It’s really too bad that doesn’t make it any easier for me to cut them and bring them inside for bouquets!  :)

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2 Responses to Lessons in design

  1. Avatar of Lyz Lyz says:

    My mom is always talking about the “greens” too!:) Dusty Miller is one of her favorites, but I like the variation of coleus.

    Also wanted to tell you that Mom has convinced Leah that daylilies are her favorite flower, and they think I should just do lilies, of all different colors, everywhere. Hmmm…who does THAT sound like?:)

  2. Sandi says:

    I love coleus, too–wish it were a perennial! :)

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