Tuesday, January 14, 2014
50 Shades of Brown
Even though our winters here in Portland are short and mild, we do have a month or two of down time in our gardens. For the first few years in my garden, I struggled with winter interest...often thinking it more euphemism than reality, to be honest. I'd go to garden shows for inspiration and come up empty. I'd walk around our neighborhood, trying to find ideas. Those gardens, while definitely green and tidy, weren't exactly interesting. Like all aspects of gardening, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Winter Interest is different for all of us!
Over the past 10-15 years, as I've read garden magazines and books, I've been intensely drawn to the work of Oudolf, Kingsbury and Stuart-Smith. I love how their gardens embrace each season, even winter, with something new. They focus on plants that are always in flux...marking the change of seasons and celebrating each in kind. Gradually, I've edited my garden, adding more grasses and plants with good structure during winter. Gradually, I've begun to enjoy my garden in winter more and more...a bit at a time.
While there is still much work to do (isn't there always), I've found myself totally in love with my garden this winter...really for the first time. Winter strips our gardens down to their barest elements. Almost contrarily, it's a season of great contrast, yet also astounding subtlety. I know my partner, Norm, bemoans the brown state of our garden (indeed, it stands in stark contrast to most yards in our neighborhood...ok, most yard in Portland), but I think there is great beauty in accepting winter and it's subtle charms. Honestly, I've found you just have to let yourself enjoy winter for what it is...gardens, like life, can be messy at times.
A tapestry of brown, beige and biscuit!
Stripped of bright colors, the seed heads of Echinacea have a stark, graphic quality...
...especially when paired with a lighter scrim of spent Deschampsia blooms.
Fluffy cream seed heads agains a sienna backdrop.
Dried, curving talons of Panicum claw at the hay-colored spires of Agastache.
Of course, even the weather plays a part...both deepening and softening the range of hues.
A shot of deep red is added by the stems of Schizachyrium...
...adding a warm patch of flame to the somber composition. While the Parrotia in the background hasn't bloomed in the past few years, I've really started to appreciate how it holds onto its leaves for such a long time...they are the most wonderful color right now.
Perhaps more than any time of the year, light, all the more precious for it's scarcity during these short days, is maximized with glistening seed heads.
More contrast of light and dark, hard and soft.
From the tawny blonde tresses of the Pennisetum in front, followed by strawberry-blushed cream and finally burnished gold...a symphony of colors and structure. Or, if you ask Norm...and giant, weedy mess.
Speaking of structure, while I'm terribly fond of Persicarias, most of them offer very little, collapsing into mush after a hard frost. Luckily, 'Lance Corporal' has wonderful structure and color...being the most wonderful, warm umber color all winter.
More texture, more browns...buff, ecru and even a hint of sienna.
A flash of light reveals glistening gold!
A warmer section of the garden reveals rust and mahogany.
For me, the most effective winter combos are those that pair a strong, dark element with a background of much lighter color...as here with the dark, sinuous spires of Agastache 'Purple Haze' and Panicum 'Northwind'. Happily, the bright blooms of Calamagrostis brachytricha in the foreground adds even more depth.
Texture, so important at all times, is perhaps most valuable now. With color reduced to a smaller palette, texture is all the more noticeable.
While I've been warned that leaving them standing will result in a glut of unwanted seedlings this spring, I couldn't bear to cut down the beautiful pewter seed heads of this Golden Oregano...I find it so graceful and demure in front of the warm fountain of gold provided by Anementhale lessoniana.
Achnatherum calamagrostis is so very graceful for such a long time...I adore it's layered, fountain-like form.
While these Andropogon stems stood pround and upright all winter...Norm accidentally snapped them all off last week while taking out the garbage...sigh.
So, I guess my point, other than that winter can be awesome if we let it, is that Winter Interest isn't one set of rules or plants...it's whatever you actually find INTERESTING during winter! What about you...where do you look for winter interest...grasses, evergreens, flowering shrubs? Or do you look to hardscaping...I'd love to know!