“Gardening with Foliage First” by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz is a book I wish I’d had when I began gardening 25 years ago. I think most of us start out wanting flowers. I had a thing for roses and cannas, but whenever I’d see a new flowering perennial, I had to have it. After several years, my mish-mash of a garden just looked like a salad, except in spring.
I don’t know about you, but one glorious month out of 12 just isn’t good enough. (I’ve made numerous changes since, and now I pretty much like how it looks year-round. You can see it on YouTube.) I’ve not stopped cultivating flowers—foliage, after all, comes with them (all plants bloom, even moss and trees). However, from a garden design standpoint, I think that flowers are mainly icing on the cake.
When I speak to gardening groups, I often say (partly because I like the alliteration): “Flowers are ephemeral, they flash and fade, and then you’re left with…” (pause for dramatic effect) “foliage!” My specialty is succulents, but they’re not the only plants with highly structural leaves and dramatic forms, as “Gardening with Foliage First” abundantly illustrates.
This book belongs in every gardener’s library, so I asked publisher Timber Press if I could offer a copy to you, dear GGW readers. To enter to win it, simply leave a comment below. (To qualify, you must be 18 or older and have a mailing address in the US or Canada.) The winner will be chosen at random and notified March 31.
To further entice you, here are a few photos from the book. Most feature succulents, many include seasonal flowers, and all show textural combos that don’t need flowers to be fabulous.
I often quote one of the book’s authors, Christina Salwitz, who quipped on Facebook, “Angelina will go home with anyone,” referring to this stonecrop’s multizone versatility. Here it’s shown with Diascia barberae ‘Darla Orange’, but that’s not all that’s going on; note the contrasting forms and textures of bulb foliage and boulder.
This stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) isn’t in bloom yet, but it doesn’t matter; its broccoli-like flower heads and glossy green foliage look stunning with a feathery artemisia that suggests Spanish moss.
When Christina’s co-author Karen Chapman visited me here in southern California, she shot this vignette of an acacia, agave, and variegated myrtle, a plant I grow for its dainty foliage and the witch hazel scent of its leaves.
Karen also photographed my neighbor’s front garden for the book. The pencil-like stems of Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ (lower left) keep their orange color year-round. I love how they contrast with the blue and green agaves and black aeoniums, don’t you?
Stipa tenuissima reseeds invasively in some regions, so I hesitate to recommend it, yet it’s one of my favorite plants for texture. According to the caption, “…the real surprise lies in the way the bleached Mexican feather grass echoes the color of those stiff spines, drawing attention to a detail that would otherwise be overlooked.” Yes!
OK, now it’s your turn! To enter to win a copy of “Foliage First”, leave a comment below. (To qualify, you must be 18 or older and have a mailing address in the US or Canada.) The winner will be chosen at random and notified March 31. I’ll also post their name here, at the top of this post. Best of luck!