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Article: Plants with PRESENCE

Created on: Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Plants with bold forms, colors, textures and shapes create the architecture of our gardens. They provide the structure, framework and accent to our outdoor garden rooms.
The most obvious of these architectural components are trees and shrubs, whose size and year-round presence provide staying power in the garden as well as providing seasonal changes in form and color. They set the stage for our herbaceous perennial selections because of the microclimates they create (sun vs. shade, etc.). Prized as they are for creating the skeleton or "bones" of the garden, however, trees and shrubs take years to mature.
Herbaceous perennials, on the other hand, can provide us with distinctive forms and foliage -- fast! Within a season or two, perennials can provide us with as many wonderful forms, textures, colors and shapes as trees and shrubs provide. Their diverse forms create visual movement and excitement, their textures and colors eyepopping contrasts.
Eryngium, sea holly, with its bristly thistlelike foliage and steel-blue flowers has lots of impact in a sea-side setting; perhaps combine with deep red daylilies.
Yucca and Iris add spikey, sword-like contrast to the softer, rounded forms of perennial geranium and yarrow.
There are many very tall perennials that require no staking except in constant winds off the ocean:
Rhudbeckia herbstonne grows tall and straight, and its yellow flowers sport green centers.
Macleaya, plume poppy, with its broad blue-green leaves and beigy-pink tassel flowers soars seven feet high and makes a wonderful backdrop for phlox, daylilies and oriental lilies; Hibiscus moschentos, rose mallow, whose dinner-plate-sized tropical-looking flowers command our atention looks great with the fine textures of Verbena bonariensis and Agastache.
On the bawdy, bulky side is Crambe cordifolia, sea kale, whose leaves have to be the biggest leaves in all of New England, and tops itself off with billowing white fluffy flowers -- a textural oxymoron with splendid results! Very jungly feeling when positioned near a waterfall with ferns, elephant ears and cannas.
Providing structure and sound in the garden are the ornamental grasses and bamboos:
Miscanthus sinesis, maiden grass, sways beautifully in our breezes, and both the four-foot or six-foot tall varieties have enough mass and stature to divide a space, block a view, or act as a "pillar" at a turn in the garden path.
Phyllostachys species, yellow or black bamboo, are elegant additons to the garden, but care must be taken to keep them contained. Bamboos can serve as screens or specimens and are exceptionally sublime features or accents in the garden. Burt Associates Bamboos describes their magic as "the Zen of the single rare specimen, the lush abundance of a sun-dappled whispering grove."
The list of architectural plants is lengthy; large and shapely are the qualifiers, and large is a relative term. Even the somewhat generic Sedum Autumn Joy and Hosta varieties qualify when their bedfellows are fine textured or diminutive. The important aspects to keep in mind when selecting plants with presence are punch and pizazz!

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