A few years ago I took a long look at the garden on a monthly basis and made notes. Spring bulbs looked great, but as the foliage dried up and disappeared, holes were left in the garden. Other spring plants, such as Bleeding hearts, would grow and bloom, but with the advent of warm weather, they too would disappear completely. Again, they left a gaping hole in the beds. In May and June everywhere plants would bloom, but as the flowers faded, I paid attention to what remained.
What enchanted me most throughout the seasons were not the flowers, but the colors in the garden from foliage. The red Japanese maple (‘Bloodgood’) juxtaposed next to a golden Japanese barberry plant, which is right next to a red Japanese barberry; red, yellow, red. The dappled willow (Hakuro Nishiki willow) with its pink, white and green leaves echoed the white and green hosta called ‘Patriot’. Then there were the slim grey silver leaves of another willow which shimmered on the slightest breeze. By August there were no flowering plants on this side of the garden, but it still looked as good as before, if not better.
Rumex sanguineus, also known as bloody dock, has bright green leaves and red veining which makes it a perfect companion to different varieties of Heuchera (coral bells) on either side. Close by some Oxalis triangularis with purple leaves and tiny pink flowers and a few large coleus plants with white, green and red coloration coordinate as well. Sometimes the placement was accidental; the bloody dock escaped from the water’s edge in the pond and found a spot more to its liking at the base of the wall that forms the pond. Other plants were carefully coordinated with their partners. Even by late August, early September these plants will still be appealing to the eye, with few flowers in sight.
This past year I have removed more plants than ever before. What remained was a carefully edited selection of plants which harmonized and repeated various colors and a variety of textures and shapes. Yes, there was a bit of guilt as plants were dug up and discarded. Not every plant found a new home and some went onto the compost heap. But the end result is a garden colorful in spring and early summer while remaining interesting throughout the dog days of summer and into fall.
If you don’t know where to start in your garden, start looking around in other gardens. Visit a public garden or two and start taking pictures. Check the gardens out in different seasons, as they will look wildly different from spring to fall. Subscribe to a gardening magazine (Fine Gardening, Horticulture, or Garden Gate are a great start) or read them at your local library. Even join a club. Ask a gardener; you would be surprised what a friendly bunch they are and you might even bring home a plant or two. We all start somewhere and then we learn. That, in a nutshell, is the secret to creating a space which reflects your spirit and nurtures your soul. It is a journey.