"A garden of echoes"

Colour echoes create cohesion in planting.
Sunday, 22 February 2015     

Impatiens, Hypoestes phyllostachya and a cane Begonia in the garden of Jill Fraumeni in Sydney

I have written before about colour echoes in the garden - one of my favourite ways of combining plants. The basic idea is to put two plants together that share a colour but have some other difference. For example, repeat the flower colour of one plant with a nearby plant that has foliage or foliage markings (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. Such echoes provide cohesion in a garden border whilst allowing for contrast and interest as well. The concept was articulated in a wonderful book called Colour Echoes by Pamela Harper (1994), who even went so far as persuading her white cat to sit amongst white flowers in her garden to create a colour echo! It was a joy recently to visit a delightful Sydney garden where not only the idea of colour echoes was used effortlessly, but other sorts of echoes as well.

Jill Fraumeni's garden has various sections, including a thriving and decorative vegetable patch and some lovely flowers borders, as well as areas for outdoor entertaining. The sections fit together seamlessly, giving an overall sense of unity. The garden is full of late summer colour at the moment. A favourite colour of Jill's is the deep, black-purple found in foliage such as Colocasia 'Black Magic', the very dark form of Iresine herbstii, Alternanthera dentata, burgundy-leaved Loropetalum chinense and a robust, self-seeding annual Perilla frutescens with deep purple leaves. It occurred to me that self-seeding plants like these do us a service by providing the note of repetition that can tie a garden together (in my own garden it is the ubiquitous blue annual Browallia americana that does this!) These dark leaves appear in different areas of the garden and provided a theme that give a harmony to the garden. In one spot, a deep, dark purple annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) flower (a colour I have never seen before in this plant) echoed this foliage colour beautifully. Elsewhere, the dark foliage provided an effective backdrop to the numerous brilliantly-coloured coleus growing in the garden.

Everywhere I looked in the garden, I found charming vignettes of plants in perfect combination. Coleus are very useful plants for creating colour echoes, as their multicoloured leaves can be used to pick up nearby flower colours. Jill had an interesting speckled coleus with a lot of orange on the leaf, which emphasised the glowing orange of some tall Zinnia plants nearby. In another spot, a coleus with a deep purple-pink marking on its leaves was placed near Cuphea 'Ballistic' (ht 30 cm), a very attractive Australian hybrid form with flower trumpets of exactly that hue. Like other forms of Cuphea, this is an excellent little plant that seems to bloom for months and is never bothered by any pests or diseases! The intricate foliage of a species Geranium provided textural contrast to this lovely grouping.

Elsewhere, a bright pink New Guinea Impatiens grew near a Guzmania bromeliad with the same shade of pink in its leathery inflorescence, giving a uniformity of colour with a satisfying contrast of textures. Other colour echoes included a white Impatiens picking up the white spots on the foliage of both an adjacent freckle-face plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and a cane Begonia, as shown at the start of the blog.

Objects were used to form colour combinations as well: a child's old red scooter was hung on a rail above a thriving Clerodendrum splendens vine; a yellow-and-red-flowered Abutilon megapotamicum was grown in a dusky red pot that perfectly matched the calyces of the blooms.

Echoes can involve similar shapes with different colours for contrast, and there were many examples of this used in the garden. Two in particular caught my eye: the serrated-edged leaves of the dark purple-black Perilla were paired with a stunning yellow and red coleus with the same foliage form: both looked like they had been cut out with pinking shears. They formed an amazing picture.

Another good match was the upright pale purple spires of a gold-and-green leaved Liriope muscari intertwined with a very healthy-looking Salvia nemorosa with slim, vibrantly blue-purple spires. The variegated, strappy leaves of the Liriope provided the contrast of form that made this a really satisfying combination. I have never grown this Salvia in my own garden but have been inspired to do so now.

Another way of providing cohesion is to repeat plants in different areas, as Jill does with her dark purple-black foliage plants. She has groups of succulents in various spots in the garden, providing interesting forms and colours. I enjoyed seeing a raised succulent garden made in the base of what seemed to be an old kettle barbecue, and three long pots of succulents placed on consecutive stairs leading up to a verandah, providing a decorative feature.

It is a treat to explore a garden with a diversity of plants that have been combined so thoughtfully, in ways that satisfy the eye and uplift the spirits!

 Reader Comments

1/5  Janna - UK Monday, 23 February 2015

How funny! I wrote a blog just two weeks ago on a very similar theme. I saw Magnolia grandiflora paired with Miscanthus sinensis. It was the most unusual combination but the underside of the Magnolia was just perfect with the Miscanthus seed head - the connection of the colours made an unlikely pair work beautifully together. It is all about finding those connections and creating new and exciting planting combinations! How clever Jill is to find so many - loved her garden. Thanks, Janna. That combination sounds great. I am always on the lookout for plants with "colour echo" potential. Deirdre

2/5  Bev - 2070 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 February 2015

I loved your descriptions (& photos) of those gorgeous dark colours. A lot of ideas there! I do find coleus very useful - there are some very desirable ones in your blog - especially that red and yellow serrated leaf one. A pity they look a bit sad in winter but grow very quickly from spring cuttings to make up for it. I do enjoy your blog every week - thank you Deirdre.Thank you, Bev. Yes the coleus are a bit bedraggled in winter but as you say, they bounce back and they are good for many months from late spring till the end of autumn. Some seem more cold sensitive than others. I always take cuttings in autumn in case there are any fatalities over winter! Deirdre

3/5  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 24 February 2015

AM currently striking Iresine and coleus to dot more around the garden after visiting Tropical Breeze seeing how they light up dark spots. Thanks once again for another inspirational blog. Maureen Thanks, Maureen. I too am using coleus more now as well as other foliage plants. Deirdre

4/5  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Enjoy using dark purple-black foliage in the garden. Dark leaf cannas, dahlias, perilla, coleus and succulents, accompany dark leaf cane begonias, with white flowers, as well as a variety of dark green/black marked rhizomatous begonias. Achimenes, with darkish leaves and bright purple/blue flowers provide a splash of colour, with dots of white impatiens. I love the drama of dark leaves in the garden! Deirdre

5/5  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Wednesday, 25 February 2015

It is good to see the pictures of the cacti and succulents in similar pots on steps. I have obtained a few of these plants and find them hard to place in an aesthetic way. We have had lots of rain here in Brisbane. Some of my salvias are turning into giants, out come the clippers. Yes, I thought it was a clever way to display the succulents. Hope your rain eases off soon. Deirdre.

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