Saturday, December 17, 2011

Talk of structure and bones


As other garden columnists know, when it comes to the late fall and winter months, it's a challenge to come up with subjects that are topical.  Here in the South, most shrubs and trees are best planted then.  And yes, we do have interesting bark and berries and flowers like camellias and hellebores that provide winter blooms.

But it's also a time when many specialty nurseries are closed, and if you have to provide a source for a plant (which I had to), you were really limited.  And, even though many gardeners had some winter flowering shrubs and perennials, there weren't many people who wanted their gardens photographed in a down time. So, my fellow columnists and I ended up talking a lot about structure and ornaments, and evergreen plantings that we referred to as the "bones" of a garden.

Depending on your tastes and the gardening style that goes with your house, some sort of evergreen structure can often help define spaces and can enhance the beauty of flowering annuals, perennials or shrubs.

For instance, if you take the above photograph of a boxed in border, you can imagine that this area would look pretty good, even in the dead of winter.  In spring, bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and scilla would have a nice evergreen backdrop.  Ditto, pansies and violas.  In summer, a mix of tall and low growing annuals and perennials would benefit from the combination of green and other colors.

When I think of bright flowers which could use some organization and some green structure, I think of the mother's garden in the tear jerker movie Terms of Endearment.  I was never able to watch it again because of the sadness, but I do remember Shirley MacClaine's garish flowers that stuck out like a sore thumb.  It was a comic relief in all the tragedy.

So, a general statement about evergreen structure:  whether you have a garden with formal or informal elements, evergreens will look great in the winter, and make everything else look good in the other seasons, as well.