No one ever talks about taking a stroll around the garden in winter, but maybe you should. Wrap yourself in a warm scarf, pour a mug of tea, and get outside.
Just when you’ve resigned yourself to a long grey winter and the frost has blackened your border into a mushy pile, this quiet fall garden suddenly throws off its dull raincoat and runs streaking down road shouting ‘Hey, everybody, look at me!” It’s shocking and exciting, and you wonder whether you’re daring enough to take the Polar Bear Plunge too. The Pieris begins to glow in the low winter light, and the frost starts to turn the Erica foliage vivid colors.
I never see anyone tending this clever front-yard garden, so these mounds of summer-blooming Calluna, winter-blooming Erica and tawny Carex must be singularly well-behaved. They form a seamless carpet of color and never allow a weed through. Local volcanic rocks have been placed to capture and reflect water.
During the summer, the mounds of Erica remain tidy and support drifts of lavender, poppy and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’. Despite the ordinariness of the plant selection, combined here they become sophisticated and eye-catching. Repetition of color draws the eye through.
You can recreate this garden yourself, with a small, carefully-chosen selection of rocks and ordinary plants, that when planted densely, form a low-maintenance tapestry of color through out the year.
When we bought our house in Seattle, we knew we didn’t want to be under looming trees for the long gloomy winters. Our house has a bright, exposed lawn to the east, just a broad expanse of ’50s lawn connected to each other house on the block. Imagine the sound of wooden screen doors banging as children run past with water balloons. I figure our kids can play next door instead, while I convert the lawn into a colorful border that can withstand the sun (yes, both days) and drought of summer in the Pacific Northwest. I’m always on the lookout for good, tough plants and peaceful color combinations. Thomas Hobbs shared his private garden ‘Bel O’cchio’ in Surrey, Canada recently. His color combinations are inspiring.
Thomas Hobbs counters our typical grey Pacific Northwest gloom with a custom peach-colored gravel blend that winds from the main path up stairs to the pool. The soft-leaved Stachys complements the silver leaves of the Achillea ‘Moonshine’. The pale lavender blooms of the Stachys later in the season will still work well with the dark, purple-toned sedum tucked in below. Golden Sedum angelina and Santolina virens light up the color palette. The border would be flat without the movement of Festuca amethystina, a better form than Festuca glauca, although the inflorescence doesn’t last long. Hebe topiaria in the foreground provides year-long structure, as would Buxus sempervirens. I don’t know which Rosa anchors the bed, but the David Austin rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ would be lovely. A lily off-camera continues the color theme later in the summer. Purple Geranium x magnificum and silvery-blue Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’ continue the theme up the stairs. Most of these plants are pretty tough, and should withstand an errant ball thrown into them. I’m not sure how these fared after hundreds of visitors over the garden tour!