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Your Picture-perfect Garden

I recommend every gardener keep a gardening journal and a file folder full of pictures. I think of it as the folder of dreams.

Fill the folder with lots of pictures of your garden, the good and the bad, along with pictures you like from gardening magazines, newspaper clippings, and any pictures you took while visiting other gardens. If you have gardening references with great color photography you won’t want to rip those pages out, so make color copies of your favorites and put them in your folder.

This folder serves several purposes. It is fun to thumb through on a rainy day when you can’t work in the outside. It can inspire you when you feel your garden is getting stale and needs updating. It is great to share with fellow gardeners or a designer you may be working with to give them insight into your gardening style and your preferences in color and texture. Most of all, the folder of dreams reminds us why we started gardening and why we continue.

Great color combos

My folder comes in the form of my slide collection. I enjoy looking through it to pull slides for landscape design classes, speaking engagements, and to write about. Every now and then as you look through your folder you may be reminded, as I have, of that perfect plant combination you loved so much but had long since forgotten.

Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’—tufted sedge—and Ligularia dentate ‘Othello’—big-leaf ligularia—is a combination of perennials that I fell in love with some time ago. Surprisingly it was not the flowers but the color and texture of the foliage that hooked me. In fact I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t flower at all.

Most of the grass-like sedges are grown only for the effect of the foliage and fortunately a variety of foliage colors exists: reddish browns, all shades of green including blue-green and yellow-green, and the beautiful golden yellow, which is fast becoming the most popular color.

The small and the tall

Sedges also come in many sizes, depending on the variety. The smallest is only 4 inches tall with the tallest reaching almost 3 feet—and many sizes in between. Many of the smaller varieties are the most popular and are used as often in container gardens as they are planted in the ground.

They prefer to grow in an area that is lightly shaded and moist, so you will see them frequently planted around water gardens, creeks, or ponds. But don’t limit yourself to this type of environment.

Match textures and colors

Ligularia is another plant with superior foliage, and many varieties also have beautiful flowers. Typically yellow or orange, the tall flowers add height to an already tall perennial. The smallest start at around 3 feet tall with many reaching up to 6 feet tall in full flower, depending on variety.

Othello has the added interest of having deep purple foliage as it emerges and holds its color well in cool spots. In some sites as the season heats up it can turn green on top, but the underside of the leaf remains purple. Ligularia is quite sensitive to extremely dry soils, so a moist area is preferred. In a dry area or in an unusually dry season the plants will wilt, especially during the heat of the day. This isn’t as noticeable when flowers aren’t present, but once flowers emerge it is hard not to notice this tall perennial, wilted or not.

When combining perennials it is important to consider the foliage color and texture as well as the flower color. Perennials don’t tend to have season-long flowering like annual flowers do. Most perennials bloom for only about three weeks, with a very small group blooming for a period of eight to 10 weeks. The shorter the bloom period, the more important the foliage is to the overall appearance and effect of the display in your garden.

My slide collection is my folder of dreams, but it also serves to preserve the history of my garden, my garden career, and my travels to gardens of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Keep your folder close, add to it often, and thumb through it occasionally before you head out into the garden to work. Our dreams serve as a constant reminder that a garden is a beautiful place to be, to share, and to love.

Classic Combinations

Summer Combination for Color

Russian sage–blue


Shade Combination for Color

Variegated hosta–green/white

Tall blue hosta ‘Blue Angel’–dark blue

Shade Combination for Texture

Hardy fern–yellow-green/lacy

Helleborus–dark blue-green/glossy

Sun Combination for Color & Texture

‘Blue Star’ amsonia–blue/airy

Bachelor’s Button–dark blue/sword-like leaves

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