Beauty in the Brown

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but can you find beauty in the straw brown landscape of a January garden?  A landscape is designed for many seasons of interest.  The anticipation of spring flowers, the textures and lush green of summer leaves, and the striking contrasts of burgundy, orange and yellow in October.  The balance of winter color is usually accomplished with evergreens, but doesn’t always have to be.  A perennial loving gardener with an appreciation for the structures of plants can still have a beautiful winter garden among the dry neutrality of frozen beds.  Here are a few of my favorite perennials in winter.

1.  Purple Coneflower:

While the petals fade away, the cones are food for birds in winter.  They provide an interesting rounded texture and have a dark brown color to contrast the lighter straw colored foliage.

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preen.com

2.  Sea Holly

These seed heads have an interesting configuration clumped together and give the same texture as the coneflower.  They stand up well against snow.

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gapphotos.com

3.  Annabelle Hydrangea

The large white blooms of the Annabelle Hydrangea fade to cream, then green, then finally brown.  By winter they are a mere skeleton of themselves.  Though not a perennial, these shrubs do get cut down in the spring to provide sturdy stems.  Dried fall blooms also make beautiful dried flower bouquets for the house.

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plantdatabase.co.uk

3.  Ornamental Grasses

The taller of the grasses will get matted down after heavy snow, but until then, the seed heads, and thin blades collect the flakes until they create a beautiful canvas for freshly fallen snow.  The front perennial in this photo is sedum which also collects snow beautifully.

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perennial.com

5. Vinca

How about a perennial that remains green all winter.  This low growing groundcover keeps most of its color in the winter and is better than looking at old sun bleached mulch.

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Planting a Memory

Landscape design is art on its most basic terms.  As with all art there is room for interpretation.  The funny things about landscape design, is that the functionality trumps the need for expression, in most cases.  I was honored to design a small garden in the Fall of 2010 with an important theme.  A garden with a purpose other than practicality.

The garden, planted in the Spring of 2011, honored the life of a wonderful teacher, friend, daughter and mother named Connie Johnson.  I’ve known her all my life. The garden is at Davis school in St. Charles, IL near the second grade classroom in which she taught and under the window of the room where my mother teaches speech.

I really didn’t know how to begin the garden design.  I was more than stuck trying to honor someone so important to me and my family, with the added eyes of all my elementary school teachers to throw in the mix.  It was probably one of the smallest areas I’ve worked with, but none the less I went over the details over and over, tweaking here and there.

In the end, the garden focal feature turned out to be a natural bluestone bench that allows students and teachers to pause.  I have to laugh at thinking that a garden meant to be free from function probably on any given day allows parents and preschool aged children to wait for their older siblings before the final bell of the day.  The Davis teachers spent time during the summer on a craft project, making stepping-stones to the bench from the sidewalk that incorporated designs that they felt reminded them of Connie.  Below are two EverGreen crew workers setting the legs of the bluestone bench in cement.

Gail Simpson

The plantings were chosen to symbolize much about Connie’s life.  We chose Blazing Star, Salvia and Russian Sage, all purple flowers that were her favorite color.  Many of the perennials that were used are butterfly attractants, which is a long-standing second grade science unit.  For this we used, Asters, Butterfly weed, Monarda and Blazing Star among others.  The first year of planting, the butterflies that developed through their life cycle were released into the garden.  One of Connie’s most notable talents was her musical gift.  She began her teaching career as a music teacher for Davis School before heading into the classroom.  Since she was one of my mom’s best friends, my siblings and I were among the lucky few to have Connie lead our birthday party goers in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” complete with piano accompaniment.  She and my father sang at my wedding.  To incorporate music in the design, I undulated roses and low junipers along a lengthy section of the garden to symbolize the music on a page.

Gail Simpson

I was thankful for the donations by Midwest Groundcovers and EverGreen Landscape to make the garden possible and the host of family and friends that helped to plant and maintain the garden.  The District 303 grounds crews came to the rescue during planting when the stumps of the rather large, old, crabapple wouldn’t budge out of the ground.

Gail Simpson

As far as art goes, this garden gave me a chance to express my feelings for a special person in my life.  An art form to honor an artistic soul.  A lasting stamp to mark a spot where her life had a lot of impact, near people who feel the same way I do.

Gail Simpson

Here are a few pictures a year later…the garden is growing!

Gail Simpson

Gail Simpson

Gail Simpson