Green Gardens

Green is a thing. Right now it’s a missing thing. It’s what I miss most during winter and what makes me smile first in the spring–those small green shoots pushing up through frigid earth. I’ve been thinking about making flowerless gardens. Gardens that are mostly green. Gardens that rely  on scale and texture and subtlety of hue and maybe some skilled pruning.

Princeton garden

In New Jersey, where I practice landscape design, this may prove to be more difficult than it is in warmer climates where there are bolder choices and plants with immense architectural leaves. Many of the images here are from gardens I’ve visited in the south–Miami, Dallas, and New Orleans.  All are interesting to me and there are no flowers in them.

Dallas Conf Day 3 024

Whatever broad bold foliage we have here the deer seem to love …like hostas, so I’ll find a substitute of some sort. Broad strappy foliage is easier to find–grasses have that in abundance. Subtle transitions of green along with texture will create the primary interest beyond shape.

Vizcaya green parterre Scale and shape and texture become much more important when color is limited. Finding companions that work with each other and can stand visually on their own and help define space is challenging with flowers–without it’s crucial.

South Jersey + New Orleans Garden District 026

Finely textured plants can disappear with out something with muscle to play off of. There can still be drama, but it’s more mellow (pun intended). These gardens don’t have to be formal and clipped, they can be loose and natural or somewhere in between.

Jungles Coconut Grove

Creating a planting plan that will be interesting in four seasons yet not be totally without seasonal specific floral interest will be a challenge–most of the plants I love anyway have super cool foliage and interesting bloom. Choosing plants for foliage and texture is usually where I start a planting design, after the permanent structure of the garden has been figured out. Bloom, however beautiful is secondary and fleeting.

Winter Park Garden

So for now, while the land is frozen in white and snowy limbo, I’ll just have some green dreams and wait for opportunities to reveal themselves in the upcoming spring landscape design projects.



10 thoughts on “Green Gardens

  1. I like the way you think! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have 4 seasons. I love shades of green. Your examples work well here in Houston. It seems the heat and humidity of our summer is not conducive to blooms. Added to that many homes, especially older homes have a tree canopy. Lately I have been doing quite a lot of mondo grass and liriope borders because they are soft and very little maintenance and seems to hold up even in gardens with heavy use by children and dogs. I love the picture of the double hedge with mondo grass border a great mix of textures. The Jungles gardens still fill my imagination!

  2. Laurin–

    It’s much the same here with older homes and the tree canopy. Some winters are worse than others–the last two have been brutal. In a few weeks it will be muddy and green and then I won’t have time to lazily dream away the morning! Spring will be sprung…

  3. Working here in coastal southwest Florida, it’s been incredible to me how the quality of greens is so different to those I knew from living and working in temperate landscapes. Foliage ages and bleaches so quickly – but just hangs on – the colors are those of a perpetual August. There’s so little fresh green. And the flat quality of the light makes everything seem flat and 2 dimensional. The graphic quality of Burle Marx’s work makes so much more sense now…

  4. Isn’t it in the design of things Caleb? Design is what made Burle Marx so brilliant…not the plants. Light is a big player as is heat and humidity. The last two gardens in the post are from Florida (in November…not August) and the top one was designed by Raymond Jungles who you know is a Burle Marx superfan!

  5. Yes, light is everything…I grew up in the Mississippi Valley with frequent haze and diffuse light, bringing out rich colors and textures. Working here with such bleaching, flattening light requires a completely different approach to spatial design. Silhouettes and outlines become incredibly important.

    South coast of Florida, over by Miami and Coral Gables, is a bit wetter with heavier soil that allows for lusher plant growth and richer colors. Where is that final garden photo taken?

  6. We do green good here, and I love it. But totally short of big leaves in anything which is hardy – and I’m not interested in doing pseudo Tropical. Top two pictures really do it for me… XXx

  7. Hi Anne–The top two are more like where I live and work, but I find the scale and textural bravado of tropical to be visually inspiring! Right now a bit of that tropical warmth would be a good thing too! 🙂

  8. Agreed…some places err with only growing season interest, while others err too much on just green. But the last is a better err to me in so many ways, since I live 365 days, not 3 months in spring and 3 months in fall! Photo #3 is my favorite for so much interest and hardscape.

    I wonder if your need for some exotic Fla might be satisfied with some grouping of Yucca recurvifolia and other hardier SE plants like that. And remember the happy black mondo grass at Denver Botanic Gardens in shade?

  9. David–So great to hear your viewpoint. The afternoon spent at Denver Botanic Gardens with you and Panayoti is still fresh in my memory. And yes, I have some pictures of that Mondo grass somewhere…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *