Foliage instead of flowers

bahia(SF Bay Area)April 21, 2012

A recent photo of a winter's garden here in the San Francisco Bay Area, showing that foliage can be every bit as interesting as flowers for garden interest. In fact, this garden keeps the colorful foliage year round. I actually prefer using foliage color primarily, in this case mostly succulents. A monochromatic color theme of blues, silvers and grays contrasting with different shades of green are the dominant colors.

Here is a link that might be useful: Foliage over flowers

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

bahia - I don't like that one as much as some of the other pictures you've posted of your work. The yellowish tones feel too acid with the blue foliage, and the orange-y plant at the back also feels like it's fighting the yellow at the front. On the whole, it just feels more agitated than the impression I usually get from your stuff.

I think the whole foliage preferred to flowers issue is a red herring! I like flowers and I like foliage too (but I still argue that most people are drawn to flowers/associate gardens with flowers.) You can/should use one or the other or both depending on what's appropriate for the conditions; what's available; what affect you want to achieve, etc. I like monochrome and limited color palettes; you can work with that in either or both of foliage and flowers. I think the real issue is to think beyond the polychrome idea that all colors go together so 'anything goes' is fine, and think more deeply about what effect you want to achieve and how best to do that with the materials available that grow well on your site.


Flowers (and fruit):

Foliage + flowers:

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 10:41AM
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I tend to agree with woody, I get your point David but the photo doesn't back it up well. In my opinion when designing for foliage it is not the colour that should be emphasised but form and texture.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 11:34AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

When doing the planting design portion of a plan I always think in terms of foliage over flower.
Sometimes I even find that flower color gets in the way. As an example I wanted to have a nice small burgundy colored foliage tree next to the house and chose Cercis Forest Pansy but the short bloom color was hot fushia and that would just be too jarring with the rusty red trim that was on the house. I nixed the Cercis and ended up going for a Japanese maple because of the lack of flowers.

Last Thursday one of my garden clubs, the SF. Bromeliad Society had our monthly meeting at Flora Grubb nursery in the City. This nursery is known for its unusual plants and beautiful nursery-scaping.
I'll enclose a few photos and you'll see that almost all of the planterly vignettes are done with foliage color rather than flower color. From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12 From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12 From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12 From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12 From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12 From Flora / Brom meeting 4/12

My own garden is all about foliage color rather than flower color
From Pina Colada From Pina Colada

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 12:02PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The issue of foliage vs. flowers actually has me chuckling at myself these days. I like to think that foliage is what I garden for - the overlays of contrasting shapes and textures - but spring always sees me anxiously watching my rhododendrons for signs of flowers... just one, you wretched plant, please! Most of them were planted within the last few years and some of them I have never yet seen a flower from.

Woody, I love how you have described the process in your last sentence, and Bahia, I like this installation although, like Woody, I feel we've seen nicer ones. BUT I think this one compared to others illustrates that in the absence of flowers, it is not just foliage period that matters, but both foliage form and overall plant form.

From up close, foliage character can be appreciated... excepting "amorphous green blobs" which often look as boring close up as they do from a distance. But to appreciate a foliage garden from a distance, it either has to have the kind of foliage colour that the flora of California provide so much better than the flora of the north, or the plants have to have a distinctive form so that they can be differentiated from each other. I like to think a good foliage garden could be photographed in black and white and still make an impact.

Again, in southern flora, this form can come from some of the amazing leaves that succulents and tropical plants offer. In the north, the plant itself provides the form.

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 12:06PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Note to self: refresh page before posting... didn't see Ink's post even, and didn't mean to repeat!

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 12:09PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Well I guess some designs are only pleasing to the designer! This garden is just 2 houses down from my own garden, and delights me every time I pass by. If one takes the time to compare the narrower parking(or hell strip) section with the garden adjacent the house; there is quite a bit more detailed variety played off massed foliage color of the other. This garden is still very young, only a year old in these shots. Some of the plants that Woody didn't like in particular, including the pinkish foliage tipped Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon' are simply stunning as it goes through its various color changes, and will eventually get 8 feet tall. The taller feathery foliage of the Grevillea 'Moonlight' with its large creamy white flowers over half the year are also an unusual species that will eventually get the size of a small tree.

The long view of this garden from up the street is especially colorful as all the color gets foreshortened and also catches both the early morning and late afternoon light. As the shrubs grow in they will more effectively soften the view of all the multiple utility meters that serve the entire courtyard of houses at the alley beyond this home.

I'll admit to a fondness for acid yellow flowers and chartreuse/acid yellow foliage as a seasonal effect; but I enjoy plants such as the hardy across much of the USA Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' exactly because it does revert from softer chartreuse to acid yellow in summer with the change of seasons, always cooled down by the blue foliage of the Senecio.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alternate views

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 12:30PM
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I think that the love of brighter colour such as the acid yellow has a lot to do with the climate and the landscape in which you live.
Us Canadians are typically such a dull lot...

I so hear you about the foliage though, David. Flowers are great in a vase on the dining room table but they are just as transient in the garden. Unless you use a lot of annuals which personally I prefer to avoid. Expensive and you have to keep doing it. Ugh.

Looking back at some of my old pictures, I can see how my philosophy regarding garden landscape has evolved from the rather exuberant, kitchen-sink design of my "younger" years to my current preference of more subtle colour variations. The pictures are of my window boxes paired with the garden 12 years ago, 6 years ago and two years ago.

Hey look ma, I'm maturing :)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 1:29PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

David , I enjoy the color combinations and the plant choice in this garden.
Honestly, I have never seen you design a dud of a garden.

Adrien, I visited a whole bunch of Canadian gardens last year and don't think that there was a boring garden in the bunch. Exuberance was more in line with what we saw. Your garden is fitting of that description, enjoyable eye candy.

Woody , I appreciate and enjoy the senerity in your first foliage photo. It is tranquil, cool and calming.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 1:51PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Adrienne, I think I like your intermediate 2005 version of the garden the most, as it is just so exuberant. I'd be dishonest if I claimed that the garden I posted here doesn't have lots of seasonal flowers, they are just not the predominant effects. When the various Aloes with their hot coral blooms come along, in combination with the electric blues of the Aristea major and A. inaequalis, and the deep fuchsia tints of the hidden from view Calandrinia spectabilis add 100's of bloom stalks; there will be color from flowers!

I also agree that location and gardening culture heavily influence color choices. My immediate next door neighbor's garden which I also designed,(I've done 5 of the surrounding homes by now and several the next blocks down), are more tailored to a cottage garden look of tasteful blues/whites/purples/burgundy/chartreuse foliage and flowers.

The combinations I find the most difficult to fit into a garden scheme are pure white flowers and pure red. Something about this particular combination, similar to white with orange, just makes me cringe. I prefer white with silver/blue/yellow/lavender any day.

Michelle, thanks for the vote of confidence, but if I go back 30/40 years and revisit some of my garden designs and color/plant choices, I wouldn't want to claim some of them! I seem to recall being enamored of Photinia fraseri and Nasturtiums and European White Birch trees, together in the garden...

Here is a link that might be useful: Cottage garden style foliage color

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 2:27PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You can run that slide show with the "show info" option, and it will give you the names of all the various plants. The Solanum you noted is actually a different species, more tender to cold in winter. I have it climbing up an Octopus tree/Schefflera pueckleri where it is allowed to do what ever it wants. I also find it a useful vine for pergolas and fences as the flowers always drape so elegantly and hang in mid air, making them more visible.

Yes there is a lot of background green foliage in my garden, it is my take on having a high elevation tropical cloud forest garden when I can't live and garden in Costa Rica or the mountains above Rio de Janeiro... Keeping it in check sometimes requires being a bit ruthless with the pruning shears, I should learn to use a machete...

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:10PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Sorry, don't know why this posted to the wrong post, it was meant to reply to the flowers over foliage topic.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:12PM
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