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Garden Designers Roundtable – Confessions of a Flower Hater

by germinatrix | February 23rd, 2010

look at all the pretty flowers ... oh ... wait ...

There. I SAID it!
Okay, I kind of lied. I’m not a total flower hater. But I am ambivalent.

colorful tillandsias and bromeliads laugh at frilly flowers

I am a Leaf Lover. A Seedpod Admirer. A Disciple of Texture. When I am designing a garden I think of all of these things first. When I think of color, it’s not flower color that gets me crazy with desire, its the FOLIAGE.

I die

Flowers are the Varsity Cheerleaders of the garden. If the garden was highschool, flowers would be The Socials – the ones that get all the attention, all the glory, that are in all of the pictures in the yearbook. When I see a hybrid tea rose – let’s say ‘Double Delight’, I see Karynn K____, the blonde tanned varsity cheerleader/student council president/ most beautiful/ most likely to succeed. She was super sweet. I had nothing against her, personally! But it was that brightness, that in your face power of unquestionable beauty that made me look elsewhere to find a different standard. Something less obvious. In highschool, it was punk rockers and drama geeks. In gardens, it’s leaves.

flowers, tiny flowers, cower before the majesty of rubbery striped succulent leaves

Leaves take nothing for granted. They work it with color, texture, shape, and even fragrance in many cases! While these supporting players rarely get the attention even a small flower would get, when called upon to take center stage they do it in grand style. And they are rarely Divas about the whole thing … the minute a flower arrives on the scene, they do what they should – they step back and go about the business of making that flower look better. It almost breaks my heart!

not a flower in sight, and still - behold the power

The design process is a labor of love. It is a very personal relationship one develops with space and materials. I create gardens out of desire, and frankly, I can’t help that my heart swells for the leaf that is so gray it is almost white, then deeply cut, with serrated edges to boot. When a succulent decides to look like a black rose, that’s it – I belong to it forever.

a little great foliage goes a long way - but alot goes even further!

As if it isn’t enough for leaves to be fabulous, they are dependable. This is why I am so happy to make foliage, form, and texture the focus of my work. Flowers are ephemeral. I want them small and tough ( unless they are the flowers of succulents – then they can be as fabulous as they want to be. It’s a contradiction. Sue me! )

For the record – I don’t really hate flowers. Flowers are plant sex! Who am I to not LOVE that! I just think that flowers have a GREAT press agent, and it’s time that someone says “Hold up Lilium speciosum rubrum, you Varsity Cheerleader! Step back and clear a path for Agave weberi, or else you are going to get STABBED by this punk-ass masterpiece of foliage beauty!”

THIS is my kind of flower...

Check yourself, flower lovers – without leaves it would be a world of Naked Ladies. I could easily design a garden on the strength of foliage alone, but I couldn’t design with only flowers as my focus. In MY gardens, they are the supporting cast.

Foliage, take a bow!

texture, color, form - foliage is a gardener's best friend

Now take  trip around the country and read what my fellow Garden Designers Rountable bloggers have to say  on the fascinating topic of foliage! Prepare yourself for information and inspiration! ENJOY!!!

Andrew Keys – Garden Smackdown – Boston, MA

Christina Salwitz -Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Debbie Roberts – Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Jocelyn Chilvers – The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Pam Penick – Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet - Gossip in the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Shirley Bovshow - Edenmaker’s : Los Angeles, CA

41 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable – Confessions of a Flower Hater”

  1. Wait… wasn’t it you who had a hortigasm over a certain botanic garden’s FLOWERING aloes? :)
    But: Point well taken, and perfectly spectacular photos. I’m a big foliage fan as well, though I’m increasingly enjoying flowers BECAUSE they are so ephemeral — foliage provides a solid, consistent effect, while the flowers come and go, keeping the garden dynamic, ever-changing, and lending that touch of bitter-sweet fleeting beauty.

  2. Hi Joseph! Yes – true – guilty of HORTGASM, but I DID ‘fess up to it, telling people that if a succulent blooms, it can be as dramatic as it wants to be – it’s one of those contradictions that just HAS to be there for me. I’m an ever-changing garden of thoughts and emotions myself!
    Really, I love flowers (of course) but I DO design foliage first, always. Flowers are a bonus for me, never the reason for a plant to be in my garden(s).
    I love that you describel flowers as “bitter-sweet” PERFECT. That fleeting quality, like the beauty of a young girl, is part of what makes them so precious.

  3. Leave it to YOU to make me laugh so hard it causes a coughing fit (I’m trying to get over my cold, Ivette….so STOP being so dang funny!)…your comparisons to cheerleaders and naked ladies are just brilliant! I hate naked ladies and can never figure out how the heck to plant them – and you’ve figured it out FOR me – it’s because of their weird maroon stems have NO FOLIAGE! Great post, Sista!

  4. OK, I LOVE the flowers as high school socialites analogy!

    The one thing I have to add to that is that flowers, like high school socialites, tend to fade with age, whereas you might say foliage only gets better.

    Personally, I’ve always been an Agave, but that’s just me.

  5. Your photos left me in a swoon, Ivette! I agree with you wholeheartedly about the power of foliage. We don’t need no stinkin’ flowers!

  6. Germi, I am thrilled speechless—your words, photos, aesthetic and attitude are so thoroughly in keeping with mine. Except, dare I say it? You do it better.

  7. Amen sister and well said!
    “Flowers are the varsity cheerleaders..”
    You presented a great argument on behalf of the “alternative beauty” of foliage. I do prefer it myself.

    Love your humor and personal touch Germi.

    shirley bovshow
    Garden World Report Show

  8. Awesome pics!! I am not surprised that Ivette is buckin’ the flower frenzy–she was a Rebel in High School, too! ; )

  9. Oh, the glory of leaves, but did you have to bring up high school? (I’m not even sure I belonged to ANY clique in high school.) Fabulous post — now off to check the other round-tablers.

  10. Beautiful! It looks like all the plants in the last picture are ready to take a bow – gave me shivers.

    Your garden has already inspired me to purchase two hardy Agave for my soggy Seattle garden (I’ll have to experiment a little to keep their roots somewhat dry). I got a ‘Blue Steel’ and a ‘Jaws’. I can’t wait to add a little punk rock to my garden – any tips on keeping them alive?

  11. That agave is to die for Ivette! Even though I’m mainly a veggie gardener, I find myself drawn to plants with interesting leaves. For color my top picks are ‘Ruby Streaks’ Mustard, ‘Golden Jubilee’ agastache, Korean shiso, and ‘Ararat’ basil and I think that ‘Lacinato’ kale has an awesome architectural form. And of course a row of savoy cabbage is also super striking!

  12. I agree with you totally. I’m a leaf lover! You may need a flower here and there for a splash of colour, but beautiful foliage is much more appealing! I remember responding to some flower arrangement post a while back and I was the only one that wasn’t drooling. Yeah, I’m not alone!

  13. AMEN!!! More respect across the gardening world, please, for every “punk-ass masterpiece of foliage beauty!”

  14. And I think that ruffled kalanchoe is absolutely drool-worthy, by the way. (But then again, I’ve been known to say that the sexiest part of a man’s body is his mind… so I may be a little “different!”)

  15. I loved your post. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the photos or the prose more but I am sure that I am having a serious hortgasm myself looking at all the different kinds of foliage plants you can grow in CA. I echo your sentiment…’Behold the POWER of foliage’.

  16. As a New England shade gardener, my garden was designed using foliage and “bones.” Flowers appear and disappear, but the leaves provide the comfort and continuity. The red edge on the canna is exciting to a foliage geek.

  17. Breathtaking post. I agree that for interest, foliage will whup-ass flowers any day of the week. That said flowers make me want to melt in a way that is unique.

  18. Ivette, UN-BEE-LEEVABLE! I LOVED this post. Your passion and zest for all things foliar is inspirational, and like Rebecca I love your take on life. The plants in your pictures have given me in a very deep case of Foliage Envy! Your clients must love working with you!

  19. Great post, Ivette! I knew you’d have this topic sewn up. I like that you mentioned that foliage also offers scent. I nearly took off on a scented foliage tangent for this theme but decided to save it for another time.

    Must confess that I do love flowers, happy, bouncy things that they are. Foliage is king, but I adore the court jesters too.

  20. Great images of fantastic foliage and equally funtastic>/u> to read.

  21. Great writing Ivette! YOU rocked the Foliage Blog post like nobody’s business! THIS is a “Punk ass masterpiece of beauty” and my favorite line- evuh!!

  22. Loved your humor which made your post particularly enjoyable. Your analogies were great. I tend to agree…you can have a garden of foliage but you can’t have a garden of just flowers!

    Oh, and your photos are amazing!

  23. So now we know you were NOT the cheerleader in school :-) As one reb to another, way to go, you leaf lover you.

    I’m glad that you confessed that you didn’t actually hate flowers. With a climate such as yours I think I might be tempted to do a Monet just for the sake of being able to paint it.

    A great, inspiring post Ivette.

  24. Loved your post. A wonderful mix of your passion for foliage, stories and pictures mixed in. The organization of the materials is stunning and inspiring.

  25. I am just in Awww…. at that first container… PARALYZED! I can’t move from it. Great work – thanks for sharing.

  26. Jean Prescott says:

    And where would flashy flowers be without lovely leaves’ photosynthesizing their little hearts out? I wanna be on your squad, Germi…with the leaves.

  27. I first read this post yesterday, but as I so often find myself doing when I visit your blog Germi I had to “walk away” as I was overwhelmed with the beauty and found I was speechless! Your images are just absolutely stunning! Of course you know I agree with every word you wrote…so true!!!! And the part about the cheerleaders very funny! Thanks for a great post.

  28. … A flower is just a modified leaf, y’know… :) I guess I’ve never thought of myself as being a flower or leaf person, but my first plants were houseplants so that would be leaves. In any case, I was never a cheerleader.

    Great pics and great links!

  29. I am wowed by the photographs and the vast array of succulents that grow outdoors there. Here, I grow them indoors and drag them out in the summer. I love both leaves and flowers.

  30. Ivette,
    Definitely the best of the crop.
    Beautifully presented photos with well structured prose specific to the images.
    It was analogous to reading a well published and edited garden magazine.
    Totally enjoyable.

  31. OMG!!!
    I can’t POSSIBLY answer everybody’s comment this time around! I am just so pleased that everybody enjoyed my foray into foliage! I hope that the fact that I STILL see the world through the prism of highschool won’t be held against me. I was a Goth Drama Geek, so you know where I was in the scheme of things.
    Thanks SO MUCH for commenting, Michelle D., Kate, Summer, Loree, Jean, Bren, April, Carolyn, Susan, Christina, Pam, Scott, Kerry, Kari, Debbie, Kim, Aerelonian, Willi, Angela, Denise, Jenny, Shirley, Debra, Jocelyn, Andrew, Rebecca, and Joseph!!!!
    XOXOXOXO!

  32. When you have as much color and texture that you have, you don’t need flowers. Everything looks so lush.

  33. Such beautiful photos!!! I LOVE your comparison of flowers to a varsity cheer leading squad, I couldn’t agree more. I also prefer the unique textures of the plants themselves as opposed to the flowers. Grand post!

    Also, I’m new to your blog, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon!

  34. aloha,

    i’m also a foliage freak and we are fortunate to be blessed with many amazing plants here in hawaii…i love how you presented your topic well and the photos and combinations are breathtaking…i especially love succulents and tropical combinations which i also have an affinity for.

    i’m new to reading your blog and its beautiful!

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