Beyond Basics: A Bed for all Seasons
It might sound strange, but the landscaped island in our parking lot might just be my favorite in – or, rather, out – of the Garden. Perhaps it’s because I pass it every day that I am partial, but I believe the fact that it is such a shining example of thoughtful garden design, and that it welcomes guests before they even enter the Garden, makes it emblematic of our mission. In this small, non-traditional area, our horticulturalists have mixed native and non-native, annual and perennial plants to demonstrate that Northwest gardens can be vibrant and interesting all year long. In this post, I’ll examine just how this is accomplished, and how you can use these techniques in your own garden!
This bed at the entrance to The Oregon Garden provides an opportunity to learn about a multitude of landscaping techniques.
What you’ll notice above is the cumulative effect that using a wide palette of plant material has. There are different sizes, from tall backdrop shrubs to small foreground grasses. There are a variety of textures, such as the broad leaves of Bergenia and the Cousin Itt-like foliage of Hakenochloa. A whole range of colors, and plants that change seasonally, providing interest in the form of blooms, structure, seedheads and leaf color.
This bed features a variety of colored tiger lilies including orange, yellow, spotted and pink for repetition without monotony.
The bright purple spires of Veronica spicata stand out against a primarily warm-toned palette.
Here, the purple spires of Veronica spicata, or speedwell, provides a vibrant pop of color that breaks up the otherwise warm-hued palette of yellows, oranges and reds, as evidenced by the tiger lilies (also pictured above) and bright yellow foliage of heather in the background. The design achieves repetition without being boring by using Nepeta faassenii, catmint, whose size, shape and lavender bloom spikes echo those of the speedwell, in addition to both orange and yellow lilies.
All varieties of salvia, like these Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, will bring hummingbirds to your garden.
Penstemon ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ are attractive to pollinators like this friendly bumble bee.
This garden really does have it all! Not only is it attractive to humans, but it is enticing to pollinators. The catmint and veronica mentioned above are both attractive to pollinators, as are the Salvia ‘Hotlips’ and Penstemon ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ pictured above. Selecting flowers that
The different colors and textures of Colorado blue spruce, heather and coreopsis create interest even without flowers.
And while flowers are often the first thing we think of when planning a garden, adding evergreens and other foliage plants is an easy way to ensure year-round texture, color and a sense of lushness. Here our horticulturalists have used a dwarf variety of Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens, to introduce a large swath of coarse-textured dusty blue to play backdrop to the fine-textured, neon yellow foliage of Calluna vulgaris and bright green of Coreopsis verticillata, which will shortly put out yellow daisy-like flowers, pictured below.
A close up of the yellow, daisy-like blooms of Coreopsis verticillata.
Even large swaths of uniform green can be made interesting with a variety of leaf textures and sizes
And above we see a different area of this same garden just a week later, with the coreopsis in full bloom. Once again, we can see the color palette being established – warm yellows and oranges with a pop of purple-blue from the hydrangea. We can also see, again, how utilizing different sizes and textures of plants can keep a garden interesting, even when there is an abundance of uniform green. There are the deeply dissected leaves of a large tree peony in the back, grounding this bed; the large, lobed leaves of the hydrangea; the elongated branches of a weeping Norway spruce and the fine, feathery foliage of coreopsis.
Catmint, tiger lilies, red hot poker, bergenia, heather, Hakone grass, blue spruce and more comprise this dynamic bed.
And here is where it all comes together – a stunning display of color, size and texture that will change throughout the seasons. You can see here the dynamic nature of a well-designed garden: one cultivar of Kniphofia (red hot poker) is in full bloom while another has faded. The orange tiger lilies are putting on a show and, as their blooms lessen, will be followed by a yellow variety. Not pictured is a large blueberry bush, an example of how this bed has integrated edible plants as well. So what have we learned?
- Consider plants for their foliage color, shape and size, not just their flowers.
- Choose plants with flowers and fruit that are inviting to wildlife.
- Don’t be afraid to utilize edible plants outside of the vegetable garden.
- Set the tone of your bed with a unified color palette.
- Create repetition but break up monotony by using similar but different plants.
- Remember to create interest by using different sizes, heights and textures.
It’s amazing to me that such a small area has been cultivated into a garden that exemplifies so many landscaping techniques. Not only is it enticing to humans as well as animals – even providing food for both – but it is low-maintenance and has achieved the aim of looking good all year long. Be sure not to bypass this beautiful bed as you enter The Oregon Garden, but do enter! There is so much more to see inside, and we can’t wait to welcome you.