Thinking in Three Dimensions

– Posted in: Garden Design


I love this plant combination. It’s got shape, texture and color – especially color – working for it. I wish I thought of it, because this little vignette pushed my thinking about creating color combinations more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Wesley Rouse created it, and here’s why I find it so ingenious:  First there’s the elegant ground-covering combination of gold Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and Plectranthus ‘Green on Green’, whose sharply contrasting shapes are united by their shimmering chartreuse and green hues. But then there’s that jolt of complementary color, those exquisite purple petals.  Where did they come from? Well, they literally fell out of the sky.  Planted in a pot and towering above the gold and green is a princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana), a tender shrub with fuzzy, silvery leaves and exquisitely beautiful—and equally fragile- purple flowers. Any time it rains or gets windy, those beauteous blossoms shatter like glass and the petals rain down on the garden below.  So Wesley planted that groundcover knowing it would provide a perfect color counterpoint for fallen princess flowers.  I thought that pretty clever. By planning for fallen flowers to have, so to speak, a last moment in the sun, Wesley’s taking the inevitable process of decay and showcasing it, transforming it into a thing of transitory beauty.  

I’ve since seen a similar scene, a late fall tableau, with bright red Japanese maple leaves creating an ankle-deep crimson carpet punctuated by the dark green foliage of hellebores rising through the fallen leaves. Wowsa!

Any other ideas?

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Frances February 3, 2008, 2:40 pm

That truly is an inspired combination. Anyone who is capable of that kind of planning deserves an award. The only thing comparable I have seen is the Japanese cherry tree, Yoshino, that produces light pink petals that fall to the ground like pink snow. Now to think of the appropriate groundcover that would complement that brief but beautiful show.

Frances–Yes, cherries would work, so would magnolias. But you recognized the hard part. What goes under them? It’s especially challenging to come up with something for early spring. Tulips maybe?

jodi February 3, 2008, 8:09 pm

This is blissfully delicious, indeed. I can’t say I’ve tried planning in this way, but sure like the results here. Even without the princess flower petals, the groundcovers make me intensely happy.

Jodi-Yep I agree it’s an invigorating, joyful sort of combination, not least because it relies on the archetypal spring color combination-purple and yellow(ish)–which is so welcome after a winter of color deprivation. Even in late summer, when this was shot, those colors just say “Hello!”

Chookie February 4, 2008, 4:26 am

Oh, I wish I could think like this! I’m having enough trouble understanding the way colour schemes are described, let alone trying to have an Idea of my own!

Hey Chookie! You know, a lot of mystique surrounds the topic of garden color. I spent perhaps way too much time thinking about the topic when I worked with Sydney Eddison on our book “The Garderner’s Palette.” But the most important takeaway for me from that experience was to follow your own muse. Start with a color you like and then begin working around it. Container gardening–grouping collections of one-plant-one-pot plantings–gives you endless fllexibility for experimenting with combining color and form, because you can just move things around swap one color for another until you arrive at something you like. Spend some time tinkering like that and you’ll be sure to get some ideas that are all your own. Have fun with it!

Elly Phillips February 4, 2008, 7:45 am

Lovely, Steve! Thanks for sharing that with us. It’s brightened my day. A good reminder that we should not just look but see what’s there before us!

Thanks Elly, wish I could take credit for more than the photo. But it is a reminder that potential garden ingredients are all around us if we can just find a way to see their potential.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 5, 2008, 10:58 am

I unwittingly created a similar (though less inspiring) planting. Under a ‘Prairiefire’ Crabapple, I planted Hosta plantaginea and Campanula ‘Dickson’s Gold.’ When the dark fushia petals of the Crabapple fall, they create a striking contrast with the chartruese foliage below. I will be including a photo in my “Color in the Garden’ post.

MMD-Sounds pretty inspiring to me, unwittingly or not. Accidents happen, and sometimes they work. I can’t tell you how many times I set one plant nexrt to another in my nursery bed, purely by chance, only to discover they made a striking pairing. When they do, I go with it. Whatever works! Anyway, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for youre picture. Steve

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