Thursday, June 13, 2013

Garden Design 101

Susan Wheeler, a garden designer in the White Rock/South Surrey area, is writing another guest blog to-day! She uses photos from her own gardens to illustrate her ideas. She has a Garden Design business:  as well as her own blog at  Many of the plants that she recommends are available here at West Coast Gardens.
We thank Susan for sharing her expertise with us!

Well, you think that you now have some idea of the plants that you love.... But you don't know how to put it all together??  keep reading here for some great tips and ideas...

 From one Designer’s Garden ...
Garden Design- 101

One of the most important design questions I get from my clients is, “But I don’t know which plants look good together! How do I make an interesting Garden- Look?
Well, let me tell you how I put together my own gardens....  

 I have heard so many people rave about the foliage baskets that West Coast’s talented people put together and so, my suggestion is, why not try that same look in your actual gardens? Some of the plants that you can use would, of course, be simply annuals, but the majority of the evergreen look that I have in my own gardens is hardy and looks good all through the four seasons.
So, let’s begin...
First of all, remember, “eye goes to colour”. This means that one of your first considerations needs to be how you will feature your colourful plants and just how much colour do you want going on, all at once, anyway?
Personally, I like to see some separation between the different colours by using many different shades of green. I think that this method focuses the attention on each beautiful flower, itself. Therefore, to keep one’s interest, the greenery that separates each flower/colour group from the next one needs to have lots of texture and variety within the ‘green’ spectrum, itself.
 You can see what happens when you use a brightly coloured,  but simple “GREEN” plant! Does this Hosta by a pathway not shine as beautifully as any flower, below? 

This lovely Hosta shines just at the beginning of a pathway. Notice the many different textures of all the supporting plants around it.

This close-up of one of my bearded Irises really gets the attention, but if you notice, the other plants provide even more interest in texture and shape.  Below, you can see what I mean, as the flower has your attention, but the greenery is also interesting .

Although the flower of this beautiful Iris is definitely the focus of this part of the garden, the greenery surrounding it sets off the flowers.

 At the beginning of the front pathway, I really love the flowers of this Rhododendron ‘Gomer Waterer’. It starts out with a very bright pink bud and then the flower truss changes to a lovely pink-edged white. This is one of my favourites which I have added to my Book, “The Best Trees, Shrubs and Perennials” – for the Gardens of the Pacific Northwest. The other plants beneath this Rhodo provide a good contrast as the fronds of this fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, are a nice contrast to the leaves of the Rhodo. ( The common name of this fern is Tassel Fern.) The evergreen in front of the Rhodo is a type of Tsuga canadensis ‘Gentsch White’ ( Hemlock.) This Hemlock is at least 15 years old which proves that it is so important to choose the right cultivar!! I do prune this plant lightly but it behaves itself very nicely.

This bright and cheerful Japanese Iris, Iris ensata, brings the eye right into this west-facing garden. The close up (below) shows its beauty. But, when you see the bigger picture, you can see some of the other supportive players. This is a simple blue/green and white garden.

Beautiful white Japanese Iris definitely looks very fresh and bright. 
Note the other plants, nearby. Many have that blue/green colouration.

 This next garden has a subtle warm, orange-ish/red tint to many of the plants. On the left is one of the most underused, but very beautiful plants, called Enkianthus campanulatus. It has red bells which come out in the spring and last for weeks. Naturally, the Rhodo has most of the attention, but all of the other greenery has its own beauty I think, and of course sets off the flowers so well. I especially like the bright, lime-green bracts of the Euphorbia ‘Black Bird’. The other evergreen shrub, on the far left, is Viburnum davidii. ( Common name is David’s Viburnum.) On the bottom, right, is one of the Hellebores, probably ‘Ivory Prince’.

A collection of greens which set off the pinks and orange-reds of the Enkianthus 
on the left and the red-edged leaves of the Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto’, 
a most unusual and very fine Japanese maple, on the right.

Here is one of the most lovely Rhododendrons, but is hard to find. It is R. ‘Cameo’. I would suggest that underneath it try a planting of a pink-tinged Saxifrage  which would look very pretty. This one, below, is S. ‘Pixie’.

My suggestion for a companion planting near the Rhododendron 
‘Cameo’ would be this pretty Saxifraga ‘Pixie’.

On one of our back terraces is this large, two-piece wooden planter. It is full of colour and texture and after about 3 seasons, is finally coming into its own. The Euphorbia here is one that likes to ‘run’ but can not get into much trouble in these large planters. Of course the spikey plants are Japanese Irises, and on the right is the varigated Forsythia. Up front is a slow growing Lonicera, ‘Twiggy’. Growing up the back are several Raymond Evison Clematis. In this large arrangement, there is lots of interest, as all of these plants complement and support one another. There is even a green Clematis!

Texture and contrast make this large planter interesting. Even the bud of one 
of the Clematis has lovely lines...

In this small garden, which is at the beginning of the Woodland Garden and is mainly a shade garden, most of the plantings here are a bright, yellow-green colour and have lots of texture. Especially this large Hosta, with yellow edges and a very puckered leaf. Behind it is one of my favourite evergreens, Tsuga (Common name is Hemlock). It can grow in quite a bit of shade and in the spring has bright, lime-green new growth. Lovely!!
Another plant that I like to use often, is Sempervivum (Common name is ‘Hen and Chicks’) Although most nursery tags say ”full sun”, I have found that this plant, which has many different looks and colours, can grow very well, almost anywhere in my gardens, except in full shade.

Here is a corner of one of my smaller gardens, and it has a lot of texture, similar to those beautiful foliage baskets that West Coast does so well.

Finally, I just want to share these photos of my favourite Japanese Iris. Even the bud is pretty fascinating, I think. And, then the bud opens to this really amazingly beautiful flower. They do not last very long but, Oh..... so worth it!!

Please note the promise of great beauty in the still-closed bud. This is my favourite Japanese Iris and I have been growing this particular one for about 12 years.

My Gardening Tip this time is a bit unusual, perhaps. It would be to ask you to start to train your eye to see more of the details and focus on all of the amazing textures, shapes and colours of just the ‘Greens’ in your gardens. Once you start to see past the obvious, bright flowers, you will be surprised at what you will be able to see!

Well, I do hope that you have enjoyed this first ‘class’ in Garden Design and if you would like to see more combinations that demonstrate how to put plants together so that they provide interesting views, please check out my own blog, next week when I will have more photos and text to help you achieve some pretty gardens of your own.

Cheers! and happy gardening,
Susan Wheeler

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NOTE: all photos and text in this website/blog are copyrighted and may not be used without the written permission of Susan Wheeler.