"Artistic colour echoes"

I recently visited a Sydney garden with wonderful use of colour.
Saturday, 16 November 2013     

Tradescantia Sweet Kate in the garden of Jill Hankinson in Sydney

Still suffering slightly from the angst of seeing all those wonderful cool climate plants growing in Victoria last week, I was uplifted by a visit to a wonderful Sydney garden on Friday, which reminded me of how fabulous OUR gardens can be and what gorgeous plants WE can grow with ease. The garden of Jill Hankinson has beautifully colour-themed borders filled with a profusion of lushly growing plants mingling together in a most naturalistic way. Borders in a variety of microclimates - including challenging dry shade - showcase what can be achieved in our climate, and provided a feast of inspiring ideas for our garden group. There are many unusual plants to see, a superb garden design, lovely vistas at every turn, fantastic bespoke metal garden structures - and what I enjoyed most of all was the use of colour and in particular, colour echoes, in all the borders. I have mentioned this concept in a previous blog: creating colour harmony and cohesion in the garden by combining two (or more) plants together that share a colour but have some other difference. For example, you can repeat the flower colour of one plant with a nearby plant that has foliage (rather than a flower) of a similar hue. Or pair a flower of a certain colour with a similarly hued bloom with a contrasting shape. Other techniques are to match the colour of a flower's bracts, calyces or central eyes to a nearby petal or leaf, or to place a flower nearby a garden sculpture, ornament or piece of furniture of the same colour.

Jill uses this idea in some of the most artistic and clever ways I have ever seen in a garden. The front garden chiefly comprises two deep and wide beds separated by the front path, with cooler colours on one side of the path and hotter hues on the other. In the cool-coloured border, soft pinks, whites, silvers and blues are highlighted with clumps of the cerise-veined purplish foliage of Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima'. The sumptuous colour of these veins is echoed in nearby bold Canna hybrids and a dainty low-growing Salvia microphylla cultivar (possibly 'San Carlos Festival'): thus giving contrast of form yet all unified by a single colour. The hue was repeated elsewhere in the bed in the dramatic trumpet flowers of Lilium bulbs and the petite pendulous blooms of a delicious variegated form of Fuchsia magellanica, again providing diversity of texture and shape.

In the hot-coloured border, I admired the echo of the yellow-veined Canna striata with Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame', which has lime-yellow tints to its new foliage. The superb gold-leaved form of the Tradescantia hybrid known as 'Sweet Kate' grows alongside brilliant yellow Alstroemeria and highlights the yellow stems and veins of rainbow chard growing amongst the flowers (pictured at the start of the blog). A background of dark-leaved Canna hybrids provides a dramatic contrast to the golden foliage and was echoed in an underplanting of bicoloured deep purple and golden yellow pansies still in bloom nearby.

In the shadier back garden, I was mesmerised by a mass planting of oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) in full bloom, with their long, crisp white panicles of flowers. These were stunning on their own but the addition of white-variegated foliage, including the white-flecked groundcover Pilea cadieri, to the scene enhanced the effect. There were many other Hydrangea specimens in the garden, all at their peak of bloom. I spied a combination of the elegant pink-tinged lacecap Hydrangea serrata 'Grayswood' paired with the perennial form of Cleome in the same tints, which created a pretty vignette.

The back garden also has some hot-coloured borders and a favourite plant is coleus (Solenostemon cultivars). These plants have an amazing diversity, including many multihued forms, which are ideal for creating colour echoes. A particularly robust yellow and burgundy form (which I have in my own garden, from a wonderfully talented local gardener who lived in my area) is grown with yellow daisies of the long-blooming Euryops chrysanthemoides and a dark-leafed Canna. A lime-yellow shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) flourishes nearby, adding to the picture. A brilliant orange-red coleus with a yellow margin to its leaves was paired with Canna and flowers of a similar colour, along with the rusty-red version of the shrimp plant.

The garden is a masterful creation of a highly skilled gardener who has the ability to arrange plants with a truly artistic eye. Our garden group came away with many ideas for planting combinations and some treasured cuttings to try: a most satisfying outing!

 Reader Comments

1/7  Ian - 2506 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 November 2013

Hi Deirdre, Sounds like a wonderful garden full of plants I grow. That yellow coleus is a beauty and thrives in full sun and stays compact. None of the other ones I have grown over the years have been as good as this one. The gold leaf Tradescantea x andersoniana is also the only one I grow in my nursery now. The pictorial label I got for it from the UK just calls it "Blue and Gold". I think Lambley gave it the "Sweet Kate" name years ago. Cannas are loving all this rain. Regards Ian Many thanks, Ian - I just purchased the gold-leaved Tradescantia this weekend! I love the coleus and it is the best I have ever grown. Sails through Sydney winters and good in sun or shade. Deirdre

2/7  Catherine - 2071 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 November 2013

I think you"ve described a good "same but different" formula for creating what I call plant pictures. And that Solenostemon! I have one from a piece you gave me and it is brilliant. While it"s a pretty lary-looking plant it strangely seems to go with nearly everything. Yes it is truly a great plant and it grows in sun or shade and survives winter here. Deirdre

3/7  Ruth - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 18 November 2013

From Ruth - Q"ld. Hello Fellow Gardeners, Driving around Maleny, Qld, last week we noticed a small tree, the largest we saw was approx. 4m high, rather cone shape, deep green leaves with numerous flowers all over in various shades of pink . From a distance the flowers shape resembled large New Guinea Impatiens, it may be from New Zealand. Any suggestions as to what it is? Regards Ruth I wondered if it is a type of Tibouchina - maybe the cultivar "Kathleen", which seems to flower at a different time to the purple ones? An open flat flower and the colour changes over time. Deirdre

4/7  Angela - 2234 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 November 2013

Sounds like a greatly inspiring day...and now you just need to convince your neighbours to donate their yards to you..lol. My dad infected me with his love of coleus..I have several doing their best to grow.. Hard work though to keep them alive through winter..I lost my orange one during one of the storms..pot literally blew away! I am so inspired by reading your blogs..thankyou! Thanks, Angela. Certain coleus cultivars seem easier to keep through winter than others. That yellow and burgundy one is the strongest one that I have. It is possible to take cuttings of them and keep them protected through winter. Deirdre

5/7  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 18 November 2013

You have inspired me. I have most of those plants in your pictures, and have them all over the place. Seeing them placed as you have suggested, seems to paint a picture. I think my spade may be coming out and I will rearranging my picture. My garden has become a garden of different leaf colour and shapes and some flowers. Thanks for the inspiration. Finally we have had some rain in North Brisbane, and the garden looks better already. Thanks, Chris. Hope you enjoy playing with colour in your garden. I was in Brisbane at the weekend and the downpour on Sunday night was amazing! Deirdre

6/7  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 November 2013

Jill"s garden is certainly an inspiration. I have been a little slow to use lots of foliage plants in the garden, but am doing it now, and it is very pleasing. Combining plants with similar colours really makes the garden come alive, but the trick is placing them to advantage! Yes, there is lots of trial and error involved. I find it handy to pick a flower stem or leaf and walk round the garden with it, holding it up against different plants to see if they work together. Deirdre

7/7  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 18 November 2013

Just fabulous. Perfect example of talent, horticultural expertise and self control. So easy to start a colour border/area and then "lose the plot". I"ve done it myself on more than one occasion when I think well I"ve just got to have this plant and I"ll put it in here - hang the colour scheme I started with. I know and admire Jillian. Think I might beg an invitation! It certainly is a stunning garden and very inspiring. Deirdre

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