written for the Spring 2017 Quarterly of Hardy Plant Society of Oregon http://www.hardyplantsociety.org
There is nothing like the fresh emergent GREEN of springtime. Green is symbolic of new beginnings, vitality, and photosynthesis. We’re all chlorophyll addicts but tend to think of green as nature’s background color and often don’t regale its importance in garden design. Interestingly, Pantone (the arbiter of color in fashion and design) has chosen Greenery as its color of the year for 2017. As described, Greenery is a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when plants revive, restore, and renew.
In April and May, gardens come alive with a vibrant parade of emerald-green lawns and vivid yellow-green mosses clinging to trees, rooftops, walls… even the driveway. One of my favorite springtime scenes is the contrasting color pattern across Forest Park hillsides behind our house as new yellow-green foliage of bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) contrasts against swaths of evergreen Douglas firs, hemlocks, and cedars. I also delight in the patterned fresh leaves of our native wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) and the annual unfurling of bright green western maidenhair fern fronds (Adiantum aleuticum). In my container plant business I often sheet moss containers with Irish moss (Sagina subulata) for quick-and-easy doses of dazzling spring green.
Conifers and broad-leafed evergreens that have been omnipresent background throughout winter take on new vibrancy as spring temperatures and soils warm. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), rhododendron, Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium and hybrids), and cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) intensify and lend customary, but renewed, green texture, structure, and form.
Green mixed with other colors gives us a range of hues – lime-green, olive-green, emerald-green, blue-green, and celadon often used to categorize plant colors. In my garden, we rely on Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’, Juniperus deppeana, Arctostphylos pajaroensis ‘Warren Roberts’, and Eucalyptus pauciflora var. debeuzevillei (ghost gum) to provide blue-green foliage accents. Sadly, our beautiful teenage ghost gum toppled in the heavy snow and ice of January and had to be removed. I often include Juniperus virginiana ‘Gray Owl’, Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’, Juniperus scopularum ‘Skyrocket’, and Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius for silvery gray-green color and textural contrast in my designs.
Bold lime- and yellow-green foliage brings a fresh, crisp vibe to the garden. Mexican orange cultivars (Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ and ‘Gold Fingers’) can really heat up spring compositions. Choisya offers added value with fragrant white spring flowers evocative of the sweet, heady smell of blooming orange groves. Other deciduous shrubs like Ribes sanguineum ‘Brocklebankii’ and ‘Xera’s Lime Punch’, and Corylopsis spicata ‘Aurea’ (aka ‘Golden Spring’) offer limey and acid yellow-green hues, respectively, as miniature leaves unfurl, enlarge, and mature. Down closer to the ground, perennial bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’), Hosta ‘June’, and golden woodrush (Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’) offer similar spring color play.
Spring greens can be suffused and overlaid with red, burgundy, and bronze tones that fade out later in the growing season. New whorls of foliage on Mahonia and Pieris hybrids often sport this look. The leaves of Epimedium x rubrum are a mottled pattern of green and burgundy-merlot; and the fresh spring leaves of Rodgersia podophylla ‘Bronze Form’ offer a brazen metallic sheen.
Green is my favorite color, no doubt about it. While I am easily teased by a yellow spring rockrose (Halimiocistus) or Himalayan blue-poppy (Meconopsis), my mantra remains “foliage (in all its shades of green) rides the season; flowers are fleeting.”