The Right Plant in the Right Place


Written By: Robyn Roehm Cannon

Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” And anyone who gardens seriously knows exactly what he was talking about. It seems that there is never any rest for those intent on achieving a garden that is harmonious throughout the seasons, with good bones for the winter and cast of ever-blooming perennials and annuals to add drama and color to lovely summer days. Like children and pets, most plants require you to pay attention to them, so it helps to determine which plants are worthy of your time and energy before you bring them into your garden “family.”

Planting Trees for Posterity

The basic structure of a garden begins with trees, but be careful to select trees that will not completely shade your garden within a decade and that provide more than one season of interest, with fruit, flowers, unusual bark, or dramatic fall color. A top pick is a dogwood, Cornus kousa, for its delicate form and late bloom followed by summer fruit (inedible but pretty) and food fall color. Consider Japanese Stewarta (if you live in zones 7-9) for beautiful bark and small white camellia-like flowers followed by magnificent autumn foliage, or Japanese maples (both the Acer palmatum and dissectum varieties) for their airy vase-like form and elegant leaves. The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a classic evergreen tree that brings structure to the garden with its shiny green leaves, deep reddish bark, and huge fragrant, pure white flowers that bloom twice a year. ‘Little Gem” is perfect for smaller spaces.

Filling the Borders

There are many things to consider when selecting appropriate plants, including succession of bloom time, different heights, and leaf texture. There are a variety of different greens, from the palest lemon green to dark, glossy green, with new emphasis on chartreuse green and variegated foliage. Mixing and matching leaf sizes, shapes, and colors for maximum effect in your plantings and working with opposites on the color wheel for eye-pleasing combinations.

Peonies, iris of every variety, and roses – especially the Jackson & Perkins variety ‘Double Delight’ or the magnificent climber ‘Sally Holmes’. Next, alliums, hemerocallis, lilies, and daisy-like flowers from single to double white shasta to Echinacea, red and yellow gaillardias, rudbeckia, and chrysanthemums for the autumn. Mix in ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and white Japanese anemone and you are taken through the whole gardening season. Add spires like deep blue delphiniums, Lupines, and even spiky yuccas, if you live in zone 4. Don’t forget phormiums (zone 8-10) and especially look for the ‘Maori Queen’. When sunlight shines through the plant, it glows a rosy amber – gorgeous!

Gaining Height and Structure

For architectural height and drama, the splendid Cimicifuga ‘Pritchard’s Giant’, which adds fabulous late season bloom with fluffy white flowers on long dark stems – terrific in the back of a border. If you have shade, add Fatsia japonica, and if you have a lot of space and perhaps a pond, plant the magnificent Gunnera manicata. It common name is ‘Dinosuar Food’ and you’ll understand why when you plant one. If it’s happy in your garden, there’s no stopping it.

One of the most valuable plants for a shady garden is the hydrangea. There are many varieties from which to choose, but oak-leaved and lace caps are two favorites.  For smaller beds, choose ‘Preziosa’ – it will stay more compact and has three full seasons of color. Also look for newer varieties, which bloom on new wood and can be easily pruned each year.

Something Soft and Fluffy

Smaller flowers that add a final dimension to your garden include salvias, phlox, astilbes, verbena (especially the vibrant ‘Homestead Purple’), and silver Artemisia “Powis Castle’. If you live where lavender does well, it looks beautiful frothing into the pathway at the front of the border. If your climate is too wet or cold, nepeta is a good substitute.

Annual Addictions

Welcoming your perennials back each season is like a visit with old friends, but every garden needs some annual help to keep things really interesting when flowers begin to fade or are between bloom cycles. Each year, there seem to be more and more annuals to choose from, and the color and dramatic bloom they bring for an entire season cannot be duplicated. Vibrant colors like orange, hot pink, and chartreuse, offset by pure white. If your garden is sunny, plant cosmos. If it is shady, plant impatiens – either the bedding kind or New Guinea, which requires a bit more shade and water. Look for coleus – the varieties are endless and provide gorgeous counterpoint for impatiens in shady gardens. Giant ‘Kong’ is hot pink and chartreuse; another beauty is ‘Inky Fingers’. Each provides great texture and interest in pots or beds.

Some Handy Tips

Before you plant, it’s a good idea to have your soil analyzed by your local horticultural extension service so you know what it’s lacking. Then, amend it now for great results later on. Plant several of each flower you select – three, five, or seven is a good number. Have a color scheme in mind: Consider making a garden of only green and white or blue and yellow for a fun challenge. Take it slowly. It takes at least two years before your garden will start to fill in. So be patient and enjoy the process.

Harmony and Style in the Garden


Written By: Robyn Roehm Cannon

Chicago-based landscape architect Brian Kay gets right to the point when it comes to talking about garden designs. Kay and his gather, George Kay, with whom he’s been designing residential landscape since 1979, collaborated on the book Makeovers: Your Guide to Creating a Beautiful, Logical Landscape, in which they share professional strategies for creating outstanding yards and gardens within practical limitations.

Good garden design principles are timeless. What is the difference between landscapes that are uninspired and ones that are great? The designers contend that the differences are functionality, proportion, and a sense of belonging.

But how to achieve it? There’s no need to guess. Here are some simple principles to bear in mind as you embark on your landscape renovation:

Focus on function. How do you use your yard? Answering this question is the first step in determining how to arrange the hard surfaces and planting areas, so think about your lifestyle. Do you play with kids in your backyard? When you’re walking a visitor to her car, where do you pause for that parting conversation? Remember, “form follows function” is the time-honored essence of design. But even when your yard is functional, it can still be beautiful.

Consider the hardscape. Once you figure out where your walls, patios, and structures will be placed, you’ll be left with planting areas. The subtle balance between hardscape and planting pockets is what creates the sense of meaning in your landscape.

Plan the composition of plants. Which plants are most important? Start with big plants and then move to shrubs, vines, ground covers, and beds of flowers. Shade trees and large evergreens are tremendously important to the vibe of a landscape – they add warmth, depth, and a comforting feeling of enclosure, not to mention a cooling breeze on a hot summer day. But because they take the longest to mature, you’ll want to start with them first.

Strike the right proportion and add depth. Where will each plant thrive? The answer is another question: How big does the plant get? Think long-term when you plant, especially with trees. Avoid planting too close to the house, lest you have to butcher your beautiful tree in a few years. Learn the mature height and width of your trees and plants before you place them in the ground.

Create focal points and enhance views. What do you see when you look out your windows? If you’re on a large property, you may look out on a beautiful wooded area or an attractive open space, which may not require any enhancement. But if you’re on a smaller lot with neighbors close at hand, unsightly views can be plentiful. Rather than planting everything so close to the house that you can’t see it when indoors, arrange your plants to improve your views from inside, and your landscape will look better from every angle.

Match landscape style to your house’s architectural style. Does your home have a distinctive architectural style, such as Greek Revival, Classic Farmhouse, Mediterranean, or Victorian, to name a few? If so, you’re fortunate indeed, as fewer and fewer homes have architectural integrity or style. If the design of your home is symmetrical, it may lend itself to a formal landscape. If it’s contemporary, large architectural or tropical plantings may suit its style. Consider the overall impact of the design – it will be stronger if you’re consistent throughout.

Maintain your privacy. Only you can determine how much privacy you need. Feelings range from “I like being able to see the cars go by” to “I don’t want to talk to my neighbor every time I go outside.” If you plant along your property line, you can feel comfortable in your own space and screen objectionable views. but privacy plantings should be creatively placed to do their job yet avoid sending the message: “Keep out!”

Avoid making mistakes. Unlike the construction of a home, everything doesn’t have to be done at once. Take your time, live in your space, and consider your options as you develop a master plan that can be executed in phases if necessary. The Kay’s book – filled with accessible, practical, and creative tips for a stunning residential landscape – is a great tool to help you achieve your goals.

Gorgeous Gardens

Gardens are unique and deliberate space in any home. Some stretch out under the sun outdoors, while others are confined to the inside of a home and set in multiple pots and vessels. The ideal garden is a peaceful location and makes a great setting for an intimate getaway or a lively party under the stars where guests can mingle among the joys of nature.

Over the next couple of days, join us in celebrating these captivating plots of nature. These garden getaways offer a spectacular variety of greenery and flora to be enjoyed at every turn.