Let’s face it: flowers are enchanting. There are hundreds of shapes and sizes, dozens of colors. Flowers brighten our spring and summer and fall. They even cheer us in winter with their dried seed heads. I love flowers just like anyone. In fact, I started out loving flowers as most new gardeners do. They draw us in after we buy a home because we want the backyard to be an attractive sanctuary. But as my love of gardening deepened, I began to love plant forms. Their branching patterns and leaf shapes are arguably as interesting as flowers. Now, after many years, I favor plant forms over blossoms. There are too many varieties of beautifully colored leaves not to. Plus, unlike flowers, leaves last well into cold weather, sometimes beyond. So it was with appreciation that I discovered Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz’s books. Their newest is Gardening With Foliage First. It demonstrates how to make foliage the priority when designing a garden.
To be honest, this is what homeowners pay us designers to do anyway. Several times I’ve discouraged clients who ask for only perennials in the garden so we can focus on year-round structure. With Gardening With Foliage First, homeowners can now skip the cost of a designer and read this book instead.
An Encyclopedia of Ideas
Gardening with Foliage First contains a wide-ranging collection of plant combination recipes. There’s no need to read from beginning to end, readers can jump around. With quirky titles like “Tickled Pink” and “Bad Hair Day,” entries display 2 – 5 plants, both evergreen and deciduous, while explaining why they’re successful together. They’re grouped by light conditions and feature easy-to-spot color bands on page margins. Information is further divided into seasonal peak time, then sun and shade, then by site conditions and foliage/flower colors. It’s a useful way for readers to skim and discover ideas.
Alluring Plant Combinations
The book is at its strongest when the authors show what can be done with difficult conditions. For instance, in the shade section, they added ideas for fall and winter. As a designer, I appreciate this because in the Northwest it is possible to have a garden that’s lovely in the dormant season. However, home owners rarely do this because they need step-by-step assistance. Salwitz and Chapman provide that with informative text and crisp photos. In “A Queen and Her Court,” the yellow-pink Electra Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Electra’), recall the gold leaves of EverColor Everillo Golden Sedge (Carex oshimensis EverColor ‘Everillo’) while contrasting with the deep purple of Obsidian Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’), a plant everyone needs by the way. This assortment softens with the neutralizing green of Sweetheart Primrose (Primula x polyantha ‘Sweetheart’). It’s a sophisticated combination with captivating foliage shapes and color.
A Dazzling Amount of Info
My only desire for Gardening With Foliage First was to somehow see 20-25 of the authors’ favorites highlighted. I often run into clients who feel overwhelmed by the work in their gardens and haven’t a clue where to begin. They need tasks and knowledge simplified. They don’t know what’s best and want me to choose for them. As the book says, it spotlights 127 dazzling combinations, which may be too many for new gardeners. I know that sounds nuts and hey, I’m not complaining because I can look at plant combinations all day (preferably on the patio with a cocktail), but for the average home gardener, some note about which combos the authors think are best would be useful in a future edition.
For now, this beautiful 340-page book is a steal at $24.95 and £17.99.