Repetition of form and color in the garden

bahia(SF Bay Area)May 20, 2011

I thought I might link to a more recent photo of a garden I designed and installed back in October of last year, which has finally filled in to give the effects I visualized when I was first planting it. The photo illustrates how the various plants were used to complement each other with similar forms and a blend of similar colors as well. I started off with a setting that already had some mature specimens in it, including the orange blooming Pincushion Protea(Leucospermum) and the spikey Sotol(Dasylirion wheeleri, as well as the New Zealand Flax. The new design for this slope incorporated these existing plants as well as moving many others of the clients' existing succulent collection to mass them more effectively to provide better contrasts of form and color. Previously the very dominant rock outcrop was partially obscured by large Phormiums and other shrubs in the foreground, which I removed and replaced with smaller clumping succulent rosettes and trailing succulents to frame the rock rather than try to hide it. Temporary color in this setting comes from annuals such as the Sweet Alyssum and Sea Lavender(Limonium perezii), which are place holders until the slower growing specimen succulents achieve mature sizes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plant massing to emphasize texture and color

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Gorgeous, David - simply stunning! It doesn't look like a garden that is only a few months old.

I am highly drawn to like this lead to a huge case of garden envy :-) I have a modest collection but they must be in containers and only make a brief garden appearance during our summer months. Just too wet for them here year round.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:17AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

And yet there are a good amount of succulents that will grow in the PNW as well as here, such as Sempervivems, Sedums, some of the hardier Aloes and Agaves, Beschornerias, Hesperaloes, etc. It helps to have full sun and slopes or raised beds with well amended soil for improved drainage so that you can give them a boost, but it can be frustrating if you don't have sun and have a flat clay soil site. On the other hand, many are no more demanding than other Mediterranean Climate plants that are popular and successful in the PNW. I do understand, that Seattle will never look like Los Angeles, nor should it. Being halfway between the two poles, we can mix and match our plants and styles here, but trust me, there are plenty of rarer/less hardy succulents I'd like to grow here, but they don't like our mild but wet winters! My biggest failures have been with those succulents that can't tolerate our 2 to 3 months of cold wet soils, or need real summer heat to grow, more so than frost.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:50AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

An example of using color to tie a garden together. In this case, I've used orange flowers of the Aloe maculata, orange and red foliage of the Crassula erosula 'Campfire', repeated by the orange yellow and red and pale green foliage of the 'Sticks on Fire' Euphorbia tirucallii. A further repetition of color uses the cool silvery grays of the Kalanchoe pumila foliage repeated and spilling over in several pots here, with their contrasting lavender flowers to play off the oranges. The Aloe and Kalanchoe flowers are ephemeral, only in bloom for about 6 to 8 weeks in spring, but the foliage colors will continue to dazzle almost all year round in this grouping.

Succulents will not necessarily work across the country, but there are plenty of foliage plants that have colorful foliage to echo flower colors, that will work in any zone. On the other hand, you won't have color like this in the middle of winter outside a USDA zone 8/9/10 garden, like we do here. One of the major reasons I love garden design in California, we do have an all year round gardening climate, that too few people really exploit to advantage for phenomenal color.

Here is a link that might be useful: Repeating color

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 12:00PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Another example of how plants can be used in repetition to give a sense of movement and rhythm in the garden. In this case, I wanted a sense of flowing down the hillside slope, and massed the Blue Chalk Sticks, Senecio mandraliscae in combination with the more fluffy puffs of the deep purple Limonium perezii which when not in bloom has course glossy green rosesttes of large foliage. The Aloe vanbalenii grouping are a sort of visual terminus at the bottom of the slope, planted within a sea of creeping Thyme so that they would really show off their twisting architectural foliage.

Massed quantities of each plant give greater impact to the whole composition, rather than focusing on any one individual plant, they work as a team here. Next year when the Aloes come into bloom at the same time as the Pincushion Protea(Leucospermum) above, both the flower color and shape of the two will be a further repetition in the composition.

Here is a link that might be useful: Repeating forms and texture in the garden

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 12:10PM
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I am really impressed with the way the grey greens and the oranges blend in these photos. Then you add an accent of purple and its a wonderfully balanced use of color, both of foliage and flower. The grey green foliages serve to soften and blend the other bolder colors.

Its not only a great example of the use of color its an excellent example of the use of contrasting foliage types.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 12:36PM
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I do grow what I can of the succulents outdoors - sempervivums, sedums and stonecrops, a couple of hardy aloes. But while I have a lot of sun in my new garden, I have lousy soil and terrible drainage so I tend to grow most of these in containers also. But I am highly drawn to those succulents that want more heat and less wet than I can offer - most of the agaves, echeverias, 'Fire Sticks' euphorbia, chalky fingers, paddle kalanchoe, etc. These get toted outdoors in summer and hauled back into the dry indoors in winter.

The good thing is these make excellent and very easy care container plants......except when it comes time to repot one of the larger, spiny agaves!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 12:59PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I like the gray-green with the peachy-orangy colors - but I find the purples in the combinations a bit jarring. I like shading colors through a range, so my preferance would be to use a darker red/rusty red-orange or red-purple rather than blue-purple (I know blue and orange are complementary colors but if I was going for complementary colors, I'd use a deep blue rather than the paler bluish purple...)

I have only recently developed a taste for the 'hot' end of the color spectrum. But over the past couple of years, I've started turning the 'herb bed' into the 'hot' garden. I really like the color combinations that are developing there - they are very similar to the ones you show (minus the blue-purple) but no succulents. Ordinary culinary sage provides the gray-green and a variety of perennials and shrubs provide peachy-orange tones.

I think many people underestimate the impact of using color schemes based on a limited and carefully selected color range. 'Polychrome' seems to be the default choice. Many years ago, that's where I started too but now much prefer spacific color themes for each area. I'm currently working on a 'golden' area in shade. While your plants and climate are very foreign to me, I enjoy the pictures you provide and they do give me ideas... Do you have any 'golden garden' pictures for inspiration?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 1:22PM
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Thank you for posting a garden with a description/explanation of the design principles that went into its creation. We don't have enough of that in this forum. I think that many of us can take some of the principles of texture and color that you have shown and implement in our gardens. It is posts like this that keeps me around.
Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 4:41PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I like using hot or saturated colors in gardens because we have the brilliant California sun softened by the ocean's influence, which allows the colors to really work well together. At one time I was quite content to do more "English" style color combinations using soft pastels, but it doesn't appeal to me as much these days.

I tend to use golds, yellows and chartreuse greens within foliage compositions more so than flowers. There are many foliage possibilities that work all across the country in various climatic zones, but I am not a fan of using winter deciduous perennials in our 365 days a year growing season. Therefore my planting choices in this color range will not work well in the northeast or far north.

Some personal favorites in this color spectrum would include Tagetes lemmonii for winter flowers, Choisya ternata Sundance, Coleonema pulchellum Sunset Gold, Acorus gramineus Ogon, Carex oshiemensis Evergold, Phormium Yellow Wave, and many of the yellow variegated or yellow flowering succulents such as Bulbine frutescens, Sedum palmeri, Kniphofias uvaria, Agave attenuata Kara's Stripes or Ray of Light, etc.

As to mixing purples with oranges, it is certainly more a question of getting the right proportions to the color mix. Either of these colors can be too much if not used well, but become a perfect synergy in the purple-orange mix found in certain violas or exotic western Australian plants such as the Chorizemas. I figure any color combination found in nature is a good starting point for using color in a garden design. No doubt my design sensibility is influenced by my local climate and California light, culturally by the overlay of Latin/Spanish/Mexican influences here in California over the last 300 years, and my living in both the wet tropics and subtropical deserts off and on in my career. Color use is a less constricted design element within this matrix of influences,and I enjoy the opportunities to explore the possibilities using an ever changing pallette of plant species. The skill and fun comes from getting them to work and grow together successfully, especially if they can be selected to look good all year round and conserve water at the same time...

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 2:44PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. What a joy to come home to!

I love your comment about "California light" and color choices. Took me a year to convince my BIL that the colors he was picking for their Palo Alto Eichler's exterior weren't going to work. They were New England colors (they'd just moved from Milton, MA) not Palo Alto, CA colors. He did a bunch of painting and then complained that everything looked "insipid." heh. He finally came around. My sister is much happier with the way the house looks these days.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 9:46AM
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