Enhance your Garden Structures with Foliage

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Design by Joanne White

Most gardens contain structures of some sort. Whether a humble garden shed, a child’s playhouse, an archway that leads to the vegetable garden or an old weathered bench these are existing garden elements which we may have to work around since they are too awkward or heavy to move. Make the most of them by adding some personality and framing them with beautiful foliage plants to transform them from a utilitarian object to an important focal point

Benches 

Design by Carol Ager

Design by Carol Ager

Have you noticed that when you sit in the garden it feels most comfortable to have your bench or chair backed by a hedge, fence or some other structure? We feel less exposed with something behind us and have a greater sense of being within the garden.  I believe gardens should be experienced not just observed and part of that is a physical sense of connection.

Benches are really an example of garden furniture but for the purpose of this post I’m going to include them as a structure – something which has been constructed and although possible to move we usually have a good sense of where we want them so any planting has to take that into account. They are also one of the cheapest garden structures!

With the bench in place consider the plants that will surround it – behind and to the sides. These will help make it feel a part of the garden and act as a picture frame.

The bench above is clearly a focal point in the border, wrapped by a delicious blend of foliage and flowers. Notice how the colors of the surrounding foliage and flowers have influenced the choice of bench cushions. Imagine the scene with only the flowers – the white hydrangeas, orange dahlias and daisies. It wouldn’t be nearly so striking. It is the inclusion of colorful foliage plants that helps transform this simple wooden bench into an intimate space that invites you to linger.

 Garden Sheds

From the garden of Dan and Darlene Huntingdon

From the garden of Dan and Darlene Huntingdon

I am fortunate to have a lovely little cabin in my garden that has served many purposes from summer guest house to wedding registry office and writing studio. It has pride of place in a large border and is surrounded by layers of trees, shrubs and perennials – a focal point in every season.

While we may not all have a garden large enough for a structure of that sort we all need somewhere to store tools, pots, a lawn mower and bags of potting soil. Sometimes the garage is pressed into service but you may also have a simple non-glamorous garden shed. Maybe you can dress it up a little?

I fell in love with the little cabin shown above. Somewhere to keep those gardening reference books handy perhaps, or just sit and listen to the birds while sitting on the deck. Yet picture this without the surrounding leafy trees and shrubs; imagine it just sitting in the middle of a lawn. It would have a completely different feel. The foliage framework embraces the cabin as well as those who pause there.

Archways, Arbors, Pergolas and Gazebos

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Careful planning and attention to detail is what transforms an ordinary project into an outstanding one and the example above is a case in point, offering an opportunity to get several great ideas for our own gardens. The gazebo is centered on a paved geometric walkway resembling an intricate mosaic while at each corner post a large planting pocket has been left for the lush, tropical foliage of Philodendron. Without the foliage this structure is imposing rather than inviting.

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

Leu Botanical Garden, Florida

A friend of mine calls her garden ‘Open Arbors’ because of the many welcoming archways and entrances it contains. The scene above evokes a similar feel. Passing through the open gates and  vine clad archway, you are drawn to the classic white swing nestled within a soft green cocoon, sheltered completely by foliage and flowering vines. It would feel completely different without the foliage  frame.

I hope this series of four blog posts on using foliage to enhance focal points has got you thinking about your own garden. So often we think that adding another plant will make the garden look ‘right’. We keep on adding, when in fact we may need to edit, simplify and establish a focal point which we can then enhance with foliage.

I know you’ll love my new 7 part online garden design course on Craftsy; GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN; Foliage & Focal Points. It has many more ideas!

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Focal Points & Vignettes Using Containers

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Whether your container is left empty as a sculptural element or abundantly planted with a colorful assortment of trees, shrubs perennials and annuals, it is unlikely to be seen in isolation. Often they are placed

  • On a patio
  • Within a garden border
  • Adjacent to a path

Look around and behind your container – what do you see?  Is there a colorful shrub or tree adjacent to the container? Are there distant trees – what color is the foliage in spring, summer, fall or winter?

If we take these color and style cues into account when we select plants for the container or the color of the container itself, the overall composition becomes a memorable vignette, not just a container garden. Even a small container can ‘ live large’ when tied into its surroundings in this way.

Foliage as a Backdrop

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Sometimes it is only through the camera lens that we really see what works. I tried photographing this purple pot in several locations and from different angles before settling on this one. I needed to achieve two things; have the container be  distinct from the backdrop yet also be visually related to it. Since the pot is only about 18″ in front of the grass that wasn’t easy!

To keep the seriously squished, exuberant planting from being lost  I  looked for a solid backdrop. That didn’t mean it had to be a conifer or hedge but rather that there was only  subtle detail within the backdrop foliage itself. The soft wispy Shenandoah grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) provided a shimmery curtain that set off the bolder textures of the plants in the container.

Since the color scheme of the container was purple, burgundy and silver with a pop of raspberry for accent the burgundy tipped grass tied in perfectly.

Foliage as a Frame

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When empty containers are placed in the garden they always seem to look better when nestled within plants rather than standing in a void. I especially like to add foliage plants with soft textures in front of them but take care to tie the colors of the foliage and container together.

In the photo above you can see how the multi-hued leaves of Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’) repeats the dusky colors of the rustic pot. A cream and yellow striped grass would not have completed the scene so effectively

Foliage as a Color Highlight

 

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This small blue pot is only 12″ tall and wide so I often set it into a border to make it ‘live large’. This fall it is planted with foliage in shades of gold and blue/green, accented with the pink Bud Bloomer heather in the center. Notice the broad leaf perennial at the front which is a blend of pinky-purple and dusky green. That is Burgundy Glow bugleweed (Ajuga repens ‘Burgundy Glow’ ) and was my inspiration for setting the pot within a cluster of Midnight Wine weigela (Weigela florida ‘Midnight Wine’). This adds depth to the colors of the bugelweed and frames the entire scene taking this blue pot from a small focal point into a more dramatic vignette

Foliage as a Seasonal Accent

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Learn to observe the changes in the garden and see if you can take advantage of seasonal foliage colors. Here the clay rim of the container is enhanced by the backdrop of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’) in its fall glory. In summer a blue hosta to the front of the pot ties into the main container color.

Foliage sets the Scene

IMG_6715 A tropical design in this container would not have been nearly so effective – or pleasing to the eye as this more naturalistic style. The backdrop of native trees, shrubs and ferns suggested this dwarf maple as the centerpiece (Acer palmatum ‘Redwood’) whose red bark tied into the color of the container itself and inspired the colors of the summer annuals. The container stands out from the backdrop visually yet stylistically it is connected to it.

If you would like to learn more about using containers as focal points in the garden take a look at the course I teach for Craftsy; GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN; Foliage and Focal Points

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Next week I will conclude my four part series on using foliage to enhance focal points as I give you ideas for using structures such as arbors. Missed the earlier posts? Enjoy part 1 and part 2 again

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Focal Points; Garden Art + Foliage

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Whether your style is whimsical, elegant, traditional or contemporary you can find a unique art piece for your garden that let’s your friends and family know that this is your garden. However it is the relationship between the art and the garden that really makes or breaks it. There has to be a reason for that particular piece of art to be placed in that specific location. Both the art and the garden should be enhanced by the association and using foliage is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this.

The Snuggle Factor

The pears above are nestled into the leafy ‘arms’ of ferns, Heuchera and moss. Over time the moss has started to wrap itself around the over-sized fruit such that the lines are blurred between art and garden. The bold color catches our attention but rather than seeming incongruous in this subdued leafy setting it is highlighted by the contrasting textures and shades of green. (From the garden of Tina Dixon, WA)

Hide and Seek

IMG_7454 These funky fish (found lurking in the garden of Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA) are swimming through a golden ‘seaweed’. Depending on the breeze sometimes you see them – sometimes you don’t. Art doesn’t have to be completely visible to be a focal point. Sometimes a little subtlety is a good thing. This isn’t the sort of focal point that will knock your socks off 1oo yards away but rather a ‘garden moment’ waiting to be discovered as you stroll through the space.

Art Mimicking Foliage

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Giant concrete Gunnera leaves have become increasingly popular since iconic artists George and David Lewis started creating them. I’ve seen these in many tints of color and in many settings but what I loved most about the composition above was how natural it looked within its environment.

The sheer size of the leaf grabs our attention and the texture is so realistic that I challenge anyone to walk past without at least being tempted to reach out and touch it!

Within this vignette is a secondary art piece; a small concrete pillar finished in such a way as to suggest antiquity but in reality quite new. Emerging from a cluster of hosta and topped with soft grass this column adds to the drama while again benefiting from the backdrop of foliage to give it a sense of presence.

Winter Vignette

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Even in winter foliage can play a vital part in transforming your focal point into a vignette. Notice how in the photograph above (Taken at the Denver Botanical Garden) the bleached grasses frame the imposing sculpture. The art is impressive enough to stand alone but the grasses enhance it. Their soft, rustling blades contrasts with the stark, gold granite – especially poignant on a bitingly cold winter day.

Placing art into a garden does not automatically create a fabulous focal point. Placing it in such away that it relates to its surroundings and then adding either a frame or backdrop of foliage takes a focal point and transforms it into a vignette.

(This is part two in a four part series on focal points. Missed Part 1? Find it again here)

For more ideas on focal points sign up for my design class on Craftsy; Gorgeous Garden Design; Foliage & Focal Points. 

Read my reviews, interact with other students (over 200 at the last count), ask questions and enjoy the class whenever you choose and as often as you want to.

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Water + Foliage = a Perfect Vignette

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We all love the soothing sound of water, whether the rushing torrent of a waterfall or the gentle trickling from a fountain. It stills the soul, giving us permission to pause and enjoy the moment. Shallow birdbaths and fountains attract birds from hummingbirds to Western tanagers while butterflies can be seen ‘puddling’ in a simple dish rock.

A large water feature may well be a major focal point in your garden or a partially hidden birdbath could be a delightful ‘garden moment’ – discovered as you stroll along the path. Whatever the size there is one key design tip that will transform your focal point into a vignette and that is FOLIAGE and there are two ways in which it is typically used;

1. As a backdrop

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Tall Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’) is the perfect backing for this luminous red glass birdbath by Seattle artist Jesse Kelly. A shorter copper stand would not have had the same impact. Rather the height of the stand emphasizes the erect architecture as well as the color of the tall grasses. The deep burgundy smoke bush set off to the side also plays into this scene well.

In the top photograph a rusty old tractor has sprung a serious leak! Love the whimsy of this. In this instance the hefty vehicle is seen against solid conifers while a rhododendron appears to be trying to escape from within. Great re-use of something that was headed to the landfill.

2. As a picture frame

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Th image above is a wonderful lesson in composition. Firstly there is the geometry with the repetition of circles within squares (circular columns within a square pool) and also squares  within circles (pavers set within the boxwood perimeter).

Then we have the three columnar fountains that slowly drip water into the pool. Each is topped by grass or grass-like foliage which softens the hard appearance. The entire water feature is surrounded by a boxwood frame, adding a crisp picture frame to the  scene.

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For a more naturalistic look this boulder lined pond, nestled within ferns, grasses and conifers could easily be found on a hike in the forest. Water loving foliage plants within the pond itself adds to the sense of integration between water and foliage.

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How do you make a diminutive mossy birdbath into a noticeable garden moment? By setting it within a shady nook surrounded by shade loving plants in simple shades of green.

I have lots more ideas for creating a focal point using water features in my garden design course GORGEOUS GARDEN DESIGN  - Foliage and Focal Points. Click on the title to find out more . Craftsy is the fastest growing site for inspirational and educational courses led by professionals and the classes can be watched whenever you want – you own the class for life!

In my next blog post I’ll tell you about using foliage with garden art to create a unique focal point while adding your personality to the design.

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titleCardI’ll see you in the garden