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Botanist's Lens: Landscape Canvases

Rudbeckias' yellows in the pollinator section of the Lilian S. Hall Memorial Garden take center stage in late summer as the cottage garden slows down.

Nature is versatile, flamboyant and subtle all at the same time. Everything aside, it is transient. Changing lifecycles, seasons and patterns of growth, diversify landscape colors throughout the year. For us in the eastern Mid-Atlantic, we get to enjoy landscape canvases turn around with varied color palettes in good four full seasons.

Give a clean canvas to an artistic gardener and the rest is a colorful story. London Town gardens has had two outstanding artists that have colored the woodland landscapes specifically keeping four seasons in mind and given us ample canvas colors to enjoy.

Maples (Acer palmatum) add lime green to the pastel pink canvas of the Azalea glade in mid spring.

One of my favorite landscape canvas in the gardens is the Azalea glade in the woodland gardens, which is a steep ravine with Azaleas growing on either side. Tony Dove (Director of Horticulture in the 80's-90's) added diverse array of Azaleas, that light up the canvas of the ravine with pastels and pinks throughout spring. The upper canopy layer at that time turns lime light green with new leaves of Maples. The same Maples then turn flamboyant red in fall and completely turn over the color pallet of the ravine canvas. In deep summer, the greens bounce off with the beige-grey stairs colors and the blue of the river in the background.

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) paint the Azalea glade bright red in fall

When planting Azaleas, think of summer-fall colors of the canvas you are adding them too. Then you wont have to wait around for only one highlight color plant to change color.

Chartreuse green Hakone grass in summer

Another landscape artiste at London Town, Cathy Umphrey (Director of Horticulture in early 2000) planted a highly versatile Hakonechola grass in select sections in the woodland gardens. Nooks and corners that otherwise go unnoticed, come alive in summer and fall. Hakone grass is versatile and its leaves turn crisp chartreuse green-white in summer and in fall they change to yellow-orange-beige shades, leaving ample color for an otherwise dull canvas. In one particular section, Cathy brilliantly bounced off the bronze-yellow of the Hakonechola with Red Maple in the backdrop. A landscape canvas to hold your breath for!

Hakone grass in fall with Red Maples in the backdrop

For sunny areas, try yellows with deep greens in the backdrop. Rudbeckias are the highlight in our ornamental Hall gardens pollinator section. The backdrop is deep green Magnolias and other cottage garden plants that have either slowed down or are picking up right when Rudbeckias are at their best.

Next week, let's look at 'Moon gardens'. In landscape canvas art, white at night is brilliant! White mixes excellently in landscapes of either deep shade or fun bright sun. Color combinations in nature itself are exquisite and extremely diverse. But when one can play with these colors and mix them up for seasonal changes, it is the most fun form of coloring.

Yellow Knock Out Rose with beautiful blue South River in the backdrop

While plants combinations are key, also think of hardscapes around the plants for color choices and natural elements of water. The yellow knock out rose in the ornamental garden was still knocking out the winter winds, as late as last week. With the deep blue of the South river in the backdrop, doesn't that make a colorful landscape canvas?


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