Drama in the Garden
Everybody wants to know what makes a garden design really click. You know, the ones where you walk through and some small vista transports you to another place, perhaps a moment in childhood, or one that calms your soul and makes you take a long, deep, easy breath. The heart of these gardens is good dramatic design. Much like going to a good movie or play, it’s usually a few key items in the set design that send you off to the hot tropics of Borneo or down to Old Mexico. This holds true in the garden as well. A few well-placed dramatic plants can set the entire mood of the garden.
I’m personally completely enamored by the tropical garden at this point. The true drama of the tropical garden are bananas, taro, and the hot bright colors of the New Guinea impatiens. One of my favorites is the red Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum Maurelii). It has a big bold form and is beautifully colored with burgundy red. Another favorite is Portadora taro (Alocasia portadora), a massive grower of eight feet with ripple-edged leaves, often two feet across, It rarely suckers, so it is not invasive like some other taros. A great find for me is the Harmony series of New Guinea Impatiens, wildly variegated with bronze-black and sunset-orange leaf combinations.
But let’s say you pine for that South of the Border flair in your garden, with a more southwestern style. There is nothing like a well-grown agave (Agavaceae), a patch of prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia), or yucca to set the mood. All do extremely well even in our usually moist climate.
Don’t like thorns, but love the look? Consider trying Bright-Edge yucca (Yucca filamentosa) or Silver Star yucca (Yucca elephantipes). Both are green, boldly striped with gold or white. True show-stoppers! Or what about smooth-leaf opuntia, Thornless Blue (Opuntia cacanapa) with its ghostly blue-green smooth pads? A perfect silhouette plant. All great alternatives and not an “ouch” among them.
Weeping plants make a great focal point in the garden. Their soft downward facing shape, sets a softer more calm mood to the garden, weeping willow is a good example, but some of the more interesting of the weeping group are: weeping persimmon with a great show of bright orange fall fruit or the Dr Seuss “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” weeping mulberry with it quirky twisted branches .
If you’re a fan of native plants there are some truly dramatic specimens within this group, I love all things ancient , so Ashei Magnolia (Magnolia ashei) one of the big leaf magnolias are one of my favorites. Ashei has thin soft green leaves that often reach two foot long and it’s spring flowers have a heavenly scent, It just screams “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, dinosaurs next right.
So whether you have a small one-reel wonder garden or a big production on your hands, have some fun and put some drama into it to set the mood.