Gardening for all seasons

Fairy Magnolia Michaelia

Fairy Magnolia’s russet-colored buds add interest to early spring gardens

As I look out the window here in Melbourne during the first week of our winter I am reminded about a quote from Piet Oudolf – Landscaper extraordinaire.

For those of you who are not familiar with Piet Oudolf, he is a landscape designer with a prestigious reputation who has been responsible for some of the most controversial installations in the US – Chicago’s Lurie Garden in Millenium Park and the New York High Line.

Why are these landscape gardens considered controversial? Because many people don’t think of them as landscaping per se, as Piet is best known for bringing flowering meadows into public parks and gardens with designs that look like nature created them.

For example, the Lurie garden is 5 acres of public garden above a parking garage, filled with groups of perennials and grasses.  It’s clearly a garden but without the formality and maintenance requirements that many of us are used to seeing in garden design.

The quote that I was thinking about from Piet is “a plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it’s dead” – in other words, plants whose seedheads or winter foliage have strength and character are every bit as valuable as vibrant summer flowers.

So if you are thinking about your garden landscaping design and choice of plants, considering how these plants will look in winter or fall should be part of the equation that influences your choice.  By choosing well, you’ll be able to keep interest in the garden through the different seasons.

I personally like to look for plants that I can use throughout the year in different ways and one of my favourites are the Storm Series Agapanthus which have been specifically selected for the amount of flowers they produce.

Storm agapanthus

Blue Storm agapanthus in full bloom

Not only do they provide an amazing amount of uniform height blooms in either Blue or White (depending on which variety you choose, Blue Storm or Snow Storm) during the Spring / Summer period, but the structure of the flower stem when it has finished flowering makes an amazing architectural inclusion in any floral arrangement.

Blue Storm in flower arrangement

Even after the blooms have passed, Blue Storm stems are great in flower arrangements

One of my other favourites is Festival Burgundy (aka Red Fountain in the Southern Hemisphere) which, with its beautiful form (as the first truly compact cordyline that doesn’t form a trunk) and colored foliage, provides interest year round and makes it ideal for inclusion in the garden or containers.

floral arrangment

Festival Burgundy combined with Storm agapanthus stems make a simple, elegant floral arrangement

Festival Burgundy

Festival Burgundy continues to add color to landscapes, even in winter.

Note: For those of you in areas where cold would prevent you from overwintering this plant outside, the tough cordyline foliage makes this an ideal indoor plant as it will not suffer from the dry conditions that air conditioning causes which often is a negative for indoor plants. The foliage from this plant also makes a great addition in any floral arrangement.

Finally, one of the new plants we are working with is one which provides more interest than just the bloom and that is the new series of Fairy Magnolias.

What makes these plants so interesting apart from the fact that they are an evergreen, flowering and fragrant hedge (suitable for topiary, espalier or use as a specimen plant), is that they form these beautiful russet-coloured buds for weeks ahead of the flower bursting forth. I would be happy with just the flower bud in the garden, so the bonus of the flowers that follow keeps this plant interesting for more than just the period when it is in flower.

Fairy magnolia

Fairy Magnolia used as a hedgerow

So when you are at the garden center next (or planning your next planting scheme) try thinking beyond just the key period of Spring when it comes to your plant selections, and look for plants that will provide interest in the garden throughout the different seasons and have additional features that add interest, such as the buds on the Fairy Magnolia or the spent flower heads on Storm agapanthus!

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