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The entry garden gives a hint of what is to come

It’s always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.

Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.

Billowing plantings frame a path and the distant skyline of Des Moines

Billowing plantings flank a path and frame the distant skyline of Des Moines

Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than  abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.

Here’s how to get the look.

Repetition of Plants

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The bold, variegated peach and chocolate variegated leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’) and the lavender blooms of Senorita Rosalita spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’) together with a froth of yellow and gold daisies establishes the color scheme for this border

Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.

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The Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita spider flower is a five star annual.

This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn’t have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.

Repetition of Color

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Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.

In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’), this color  repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.

Add something unexpected

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A pop of magenta wakes up the color scheme: pentas blooms and parrot leaf

The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana)

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana ‘Forest Pink’)

Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient

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A buffet of colorful flowers still needs to put Foliage First! (I do recall a certain book or two on that premise…)

At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.

Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Cabernet’) and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.

A different perspective

A different perspective – looking back at the border, now framed by the late summer foliage of Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) and smoky plumes of Ginger Love fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’)

Other Plants to Consider

If you’d like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.

Peach-coral-pumpkin

Diascia ‘Little Tango’ (Annual/perennial)

Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ (Annual)

Knipophia ‘Creamsicle’ (Perennial)

Coleus (Annual)

Heuchera (Perennial)

Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)

Diervilla ‘Kodiak Orange’ (Deciduous shrub)

Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series  (Deciduous shrub)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Tangelo’ (Deciduous shrub)

 

Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)

Coleus (annual)

Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)

Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (perennial)

Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Haze’ (spring blooming bulb)

 

Magenta

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’  (annual/perennial)

Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’ (perennial)

Coleus

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