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Installing Gardens – COLOR!

by germinatrix | June 26th, 2009


love them pawslove them paws

Yesterday was such FUN! I was on site with the rest of the Elysian Landscapes team, installing a walkway garden for one of my favorite directors – I won’t say who he is here, but maybe I can give you a hint : I ______, you ______, we all ______  for I-______!

This garden is also very special to me because it happened to be the object of my first writing assignment for Garden Design magazine, years and years ago! Isn’t that funny? I was thrilled with the process of garden writing and have considered it a huge part of my garden practice ever since – and it started right here.


frame that view!frame that view!

Elysian was hired to re-vamp the aging landscape, and the front walkway garden, being a plants-only intervention, was my baby. Judy let me go for broke. She wanted a series of vignettes, since you would experiencing the garden between wooden posts holding up an arbor as you stroll own the walkway. The clients wanted to preserve the view of the canyon below, but still wanted a sense of privacy. They are also very fond of the wildlife that is so abundant in the Hollywood Hills, and wanted the plant choices to create a habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies.


even in nursery cans, the garden comes aliveeven in nursery cans, the garden comes alive

I decided to play  fast and loose with color and texture. When we started gardening together, Judy and I were MAD about high contrast color combos, and I wanted to re-visit that  impulse by using all the foliage colors I could – blues, greens, gold, red, chartreuse, and silvers. Two plants I wanted to use right off the bat were a slender upright blue Juniper (Medora), and a Palo Verde, of course! The open texture of the palo verde allows us to conceal and reveal at the same time (the green trunk and branches are also perfect for this colorful garden!), and the slender vertical of the juniper creates a cool, blue rhythm when repeated in a landscape. Nandina domestica were also brought in to gently screen a fence we all found problematic – as they grow in they will be cut to make them airy, rather than topped to create a hedge, the way I usually see. 


a long awaited plantinga long awaited planting

I love combining nandinas and Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ – the vibrant yellow/green of the coleonema sings against the red/green/gold of the nandina – and then when you throw the blue of the Medora juniper into the mix you have your textural and color contrasts firing on all cylinders. Of course, I always put succulents into Southern California landscapes, and now that we are under mandatory water restrictions I feel very justified in trying to proselytize to clients about the beauty of drought tolerant palette (’cause some people still aren’t on board – but these wonderful clients were!). The agaves I chose for this projects are two of my favorite small scaled beauties – Agave parryi ‘Huacachensis’, which is almost white with black fingernails and has a squat, basically round form that opens out at the leaf tips, and the awesome Agave desmettiana variegata. I think A. desmettiana variegata may just have the best form of all the agaves, but don’t quote me on that – because I am hopelessly in love with all of them – how can I choose?

We were lucky to install right now, because the clients can immediately see one of the glories of this garden – I stuffed it full of Kangaroo Paws! An abundance of  these kooky Australians while in bloom make for a very dramatic ‘insta-garden’. Anigozanthus ‘Orange Cross’ and Anigozanthus ‘Harmony’ are crazy beautiful, and just as tough. While we were installing, the clients were thrilled to see hummingbirds already visiting the Paws while they were still in their nursery cans. I felt like I should slip the hummingbirds a twenty dollar bill and thank them for making me look good on install day. They stayed on to take a sip from the Grevilleas ‘Robyn Gordon’ that I found spaces for – these are fast becoming go-to plants for me; they are everything I want; beautiful foliage, incredible flowers, tough as nails, and plays well with others. Love!


sexy! sexy!

I am SO pleased with this garden – and to see the clients out taking pictures during the install and noticing all the small details. They were smitten – and isn’t that what every designer wants? For the garden they create to immediately reach out and grab it’s future owner and give them a big french kiss?

Laura Livengood Shaub wrote a very eloquent post on her blog, Interleafings, about the special considerations a landscape designer needs to keep in mind when creating a garden, and how the personal love of plants and objects often has to take a backseat to the practicalities of the business. In the comments section, I admitted to being a ‘bad gardener’ – I try to make my designed gardens as personal as my home garden, and I encourage clients to interact with the space and “mess things up”. This is NOT a practical way to run a business! But I am lucky in that I have been invited to spend time in gardens of mine that started out idiosyncratic, and have grown in even more so when ‘jeuged’ by the hand of nature. Nothing makes me happier than these imperfect, kind of crazy, colorful spaces, and the fact that people actually hire me to do this … well … pinch me!


i'm a proud garden mama...i’m a proud garden mama…

This garden has a long way to grow, but it already looks pretty spectacular. Once the groundcover layer of sedums goes in, the clients have only to watch it grow and enjoy their daily stroll up to their front door. Elysian has more work to do there, so I’ll be posting more pics as it grows in. Maybe that awful telephone pole won’t be so prominent next time we check out this space!

These textural and color combinations are possible in any climate, under any conditions other than the deepest shade – be adventurous and go for broke! 

Paint with plants!

18 Responses to “Installing Gardens – COLOR!”

  1. It’s stunning. I’m glad you’re a “bad gardener” – I think it gives gardens a good soul if you treat them as personally and passionately as your own, and if the clients are connected enough to the garden that they want to get their hands dirty, and you’ve turned them into gardeners too, that brings the garden to life even more.
    You’re changing my mind about flowers, I’ve been going for foliage only and an occasional white or green flower, but I’ll admit you’ve got me considering hot colors.

  2. I swoon! Hooray for your badness.

  3. You can be as bad as you want if it always looks this good! Love the ‘paws’ and the agaves, and I use coleonema ‘sunset gold’ in almost every garden I do…I think it is one of the friendliest and nicest textured shrubs out there, AND it pops! Excellent job on a garden that looks instantly lovely and not at ALL a mess. Thanks for sharing (and for the Link Love) look forward to seeing more!!!

  4. Truly beautiful. So fun to see the process. I dream for the day that I am no longer a renter and go from pots to soil. Until I continue to study how others are doing it and enjoy the process.

    thanks much for sharing this one!

  5. Wonderful color! Particularly love the blue foliage with the red kangaroo paw. And how exiciting that you get to design for such noted Hollywood luminaries as the Good Humor Man. (I guessed right, didn’t I?)

  6. Awesome! I love the Kangaroo Paws! A gorgeous mix of plants!

  7. Beautiful Germi! And you are playing with so many of my fav’s! I love the paws…I’ve been ridiculously frivolous and grown them as annuals a couple times up here, and of course there is always the option of buying them as cut flowers but to be able to have them in the ground and look like this! Wow – lucky garden owners, I am so glad they were appreciating them right away. I think I need to look into a new career choice, can I come be your apprentice?

  8. Gorgeous, &… uh, oh yeah, gorgeous!! tendril

  9. Hey Megan! I have to say that I’ve gone back and forth on flowers over the years … I started out LOVING the cottage-y thing, then got all hardcore subtle and then came the succulent rage – now I’m liking flowers again, thanks in part to the amazing bloggers from Austin, who incorporate so many beautiful blooms into their dry palettes. I think it always depends on the types of flowers, don’t you? I don’t see me planting dinner plate dahlias anytime soon, but kangaroo paws, salvias, verbenas, grasses, wild roses … bring them on!

    Hi Summer – so happy to make you swoon! Come back and we’ll do it again!

    Hey Laura you DOLL! We are the Coleonema twins! I adore the golden airy plant, and I love using it to bring movement to a garden in lieu of grasses. And not only you have my link love, you have the regular kind too!

    Hi Julia – thanks for the thumbs up on this post! I was thinking that maybe I should wait until it was planted and grown in a bit, but it looked so good as it was going in I thought why not show that there is real beauty in the PROCESS, too? Planting is always the most exciting time! You will have your own patch of paradise soon, and I am very happy to keep you company until you do!

    Susan, I swear you made me laugh so loudly the dogs came running in from outside to see what the fuss was about. I’m sure it comes as a wonderful surprise to know that the Good Humor Man is living large up in the Hills!

    Carri, you sweet little lime! I was THRILLED when I saw that the broker had delivered the most incredible Paws for the installation! Usually we get little wimpy ones with one bloomstalk and a few brownish flowers. These were putting on a show! I’m glad you like the palette – it makes me want to switch things up at home – oh no … I hear the sound of more money being drained from my bank account…

    Loree, there IS no frivolity when it comes to Kangaroo Paws! Right? I think they may be a necessity. I think they were among the very first plants I put in my front yard when I moved into this house in the mid-nineties, and that same Paw is still flourishing! I swear, you need a tiny vacation home down here so you can grow all your favorites without the fear of frost. So come on down ! I’m very good to my Minions!

    Dear Tendril! Likewise … just GORGEOUS!!!

  10. Wow, I enjoyed the color palette on this one – but also the textures and shapes. I’m still a novice at foliage combos (I let the woods around me determine a lot of them) but wanting to be educated on them. I think the reason a designer might get disenchanted with flowers is that a lot of garden books and catalogues treat them as a sort of “producers”: lots and lots of flowers, regardless of the look and feel of the whole.

    And as for the look and feel of the whole: maybe we need different kinds of garden designers, just the way we need different kinds of singers and different kinds of writers. Tastes differ; there are many roads to paradise (which, don’t let’s forget, is a garden).

  11. What an amazing palette. I use Juniperus ‘Skyrocket’ with Nandina a lot for the same reasons you cite, but rarely have clients adventurous enough to go “all in” like this. The hairs on my neck stand up with all those spines and spikes around… very apropos to the client. Brava!

  12. Germi, I’m delighted to know (from your comment above) that the Austin bloggers have influenced you in any way, because you have certainly influenced my taste for drama plants and succulents. I love this planting and am glad you showed the process and not just the end result. Using the larger size pots makes such an immediate difference. My budget requires that I start out with puny one-gallons in my own garden, and the impact is just not quite the same. :-)

    I don’t know who the Good Humor Man is. You know who I would have guessed, thanks to your “I scream, you scream” clue? Wes Craven. Scream, right? Ha!

  13. Pomona! Hi! I totally agree with you on all points – the nursery industry has done flowering plants a huge disservice by hybridizing them to flower big and forever, at the expense of their form and grace. I don’t care how beautiful a flower is, if the plant it’s on isn’t beautiful, what’s the point?
    And yes, there is room for all sorts of approaches to design – I certainly can’t claim to design well for all tastes! The profession of garden design and installation is one that can accommodate so many different sensibilities – we are better when we embrace diversity and support each other. Which is why I have a little problem with the ‘natives-only’ contingent.
    Beautiful last thought! XO!

    I’m glad you like the palette, John! I was really excited designing it, but when the material came off the trucks I was almost doing backflips. The colors, textures, and shapes came together so well! It is such a treat when clients let you run at a full gallup! I really appreciated the confidence not only of the clients, but of Judy at Elysian, who always has my back. If I really want to do something that a client might be a little leery of, she always manages to talk them into it. It’s because she is a plant maniac, too – like us!
    I’m so glad you liked this project! Thank you!

    Pam dear! It is SO TRUE about the impact you and your fellow Austin Bloggers have on my planting. I see such an exuberant embracing of the climate with no compromises as far as beauty goes! For me, the dry palette meant a scaling back on the sexier blooming plants, but when I started reading the blogs (via your blogroll, thank you very much!) I was blown away by the weaving together of blossom, form, and foliage. It is a very distinct look – I credit y’all with bringing it to a sharper focus than I’ve seen before. My hat tips to you awesome Texans!
    And it IS a treat to be able to use larger plants! I know all the books say that planting small is the best way, and it truly is – but there is ALOT to be said for the gratification of an INSTA-GARDEN!
    And you are CORRECT! The Cravens are such lovely people – they even insisted that I pose for pictures with them! I am also the biggest fan of horror films (really!) so it was a real thrill to hang out and talk plants. He loves plants and really interacts with his gardens! Who would’ve thought?

  14. Hi Ivette.
    I think your scheme is going to look great (it does already) The sedum ground cover will be a great finishing touch…and for such a prestigious client! I bet you were tempted to do a gothical / horror theme, come on, admit it!
    Did you bring in those boulders?
    Great work as usual.

  15. Hey there Germi,
    I really like the textural flow of the planting composition, the plant choices and the color arrangements.
    I’m a little ambivalent on the blue juniper. Maybe I will come to love it as the garden grows in but I’m finding it a bit out of horticultural context (juxtaposed against the paws and succulents) and the color is just a tad bit too cool amongst the other rich jewel tones.
    I’ll probably be eating my words once it grows in and I see how it all blends beautifully together.( what’s new ! )
    Anyways, it is always great fun to see what you are crafting.
    Always inspirations, always fun, and always enjoyable .

    ….. post photos as the garden grows in. ( I can almost taste my ambivalent words ! )

    nice craftswomanship.

  16. Hey ESP!
    Thanks for the thumbs up! I am very happy with it and can’t wait to go back in a couple of months (we have to plant a hillside with natives and drought tolerants) and check in on the baby garden. I am SUCH a fan of the groundcover sedums that they have become my drug of choice. I’d rather have Sedum ‘Angelina’ than just about anything, except Sedum nussbaumeranum, or Sedum ‘Voodoo’.
    You know me SO well – I wanted to do a Horror Garden SO BADLY – but I understood the reason for a different approach. The Horror/Monster Garden that I have been dreaming about will have to wait until Jan and I purchase our summer home – in Transylvania!
    The boulders were already there, and Judy wanted to take them out, but we decided in the end to leve them, and I’m glad because it gives the flat, narrow space some depth; something for the plants to cuddle up against. They also link the walkway garden with the rugged, rocky hills that surround it. I love them!
    I’ll be popping over to your place for a visit shortly! Keep an eye out for me and get the Sangria ready, because you know I tend to stay a while!

    Hi there MichelleD! I LOVE it when you stop by!
    I’m clad you like most of the plant choices – I’m pretty pleased myself! And I hear you about the Juniper – I find them very controversial because they are used SO badly so often … it’s hard for our eyes to see them for what they are in their essence. I try to approach plants that come loaded with that kind of baggage by just seeing the basics – are they right for my climate? Do they work culturally with my palette? Does the texture work to create interest? Does the color either compliment or contrast with my color palette?
    I have to admit to not bothering much about horticultural context if a plant can work within whatever climate/microclimate I’m working with. I like to play too much! And sometimes the outcome doesn’t work, but when it does, I feel like I’ve discovered a new country! Certain junipers and succulents work to my eye because I am such a sucker for contrast of both color and texture – the icy blue and the warm orange of the juniper/anigozanthus mix is so pleasing to me! And the coniferus texture tickles the smooth surfaces of succulents in the best way, I think…
    I kept coming back to junipers as a very solid, useful plant – and I wanted to ‘sexy’ it up a bit; to bring it into a modern palette and se if it would work. I have to say that I have been REALLY happy with them in Elysian Landscapes’ eclectic gardens – they are as tough as they can be, and they work beautifully to create an almost classical structure that the succulent/dry palette can work against. I know that for many people, junipers can’t be recuperated (and there are MANY that I haven’t been able to bring myself to use!) but I like to gamble, and there are several gardens where these vertical junipers have paid off very well!

    This is what I LOVE about blogging – only half of the article is written in the post, and then the rest is written in collaboration with your readers in the comments! RIGHT ON!
    Thank you so much for this dialogue, Michele! We all learn so much from each other – and I always appreciate the back and forth. You help sharpen my ideas, and you and your work are always inspirational to me as well!

  17. I LOVE ‘kangaroo paws.’ I have to restrain myself from planting nothing but paws!

  18. What a wonderful palette Ivette! I can imaging how wonderful it will feel to stroll down under the arbor with the plants as a long painted scroll unfolding–the frame of the arbor punctuating the vivid plants.
    Love clients who understand that a planting update needs to happen from time to time!

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