Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

My last blog of the year is a botanical taste of early winter in a warm climate, specifically the climate of southwest Florida.  Come with me on a tour of the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (MSBG) on Sarasota Bay, a garden I’ve been privileged to visit in December twice in the past few years. Ready? Let’s start on the Flower Walk outside the garden. That’s right, “outside the garden”. In the spirit of generosity and community-mindedness, there are beautiful plants and great design ideas everywhere on South Palm Avenue, including the parking lot exits – like this firespike (Odontonema sp.)….

Flower Walk-Odontonema-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and a brilliant Aechmea representing Selby’s deep collection of bromeliads…..

FlowerWalk-Aechmea-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and on the fence ouside the garden are a spectacular garlic vine (Cydista aequinoctialis)……..

Flower Walk-Cydista aequinoctialis-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….which deserves its own closeup….

Flower Walk-Cydista aequinoctialis (2)-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

…. and luscious chalice vine (Solandra longiflora)…..

Flower Walk-Chalice Vine-Solandra longiflora-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and butterfly vine (Stigmaphyllon ciliatum) with a visiting hover fly.

Flower Walk-Stigmaphyllon ciliatum-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

I’m surprised on the flower walk to see so many honey bees nectaring on blossoms, including these ones on Bulbine frutescens, left, and nectar-robbing on Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), right.

Flower walk-Honey bees-Bulbine frutescens & Tecomaria capensis

But later, when I return to my car, I spot the feral beehive up in a live oak tree. Though it shows signs of having been plugged in the past, the clever bees have clearly overcome that obstacle.

Live oak-Feral beehive-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby’s entrance is overhung by these native live oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped with epiphytic Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) – which is not a moss, but a flowering plant, a bromeliad. This familiar relationship of tree and epiphytic bromeliad is also emblematic of the botanical garden’s mandate to conserve, collect and display epiphytic plants, not just from Florida, but throughout the tropics.

Entrance-Live Oak-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The courtyard outside the entrance, with its traveller’s palms and little fountains, offers a lovely spot to rest – and a true enticement to enter.  For it’s on the wall near the entrance where a display of plants hints at the garden’s origins.

Entrance courtyard-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

All the plants mounted on the wall, below are epiphytes or “air plants”, for which the garden has enjoyed worldwide renown for more than 40 years.

Epiphyte Display-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

It isn’t long before visitors discover a little about Marie Selby (1885-1971), the Sarasota garden club member and widow of oilman Bill Selby (Selby Oil & Gas) who, through the family foundation, deeded her home and grounds as well as adjacent properties bounded by Sarasota Bay and Hudson Bayou to create a botanical garden “for the enjoyment of the general public.”  The dilemma for those charged with determining a theme for the garden back in the early 1970s was what kind of garden it should be. Fortunately, they were advised to specialize in a class of plants that no other public garden had focused on: epiphytes from the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Also known as “air plants” these species — mostly orchids, bromeliads and ferns — grow on a host, usually a tree, but occasionally a wall or fence or rooftop which affords them support and more sunlight than would be available to them at ground level in the rainforest.

Marie Selby Botanical Garden-Epiphyte Mandate

The part of the garden that hosts the lion’s share of epiphytes is just a stone’s throw from the entrance: the Tropical Conservatory. Here, visitors are treated to rarities collected by MSBG’s botanists since the garden’s inception.  Let’s go past the serene Buddha…..

Buddha-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

and take a stroll inside.

Tropical Conservatory-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

There is so much to see here, all to the soundtrack of jungle birds and dripping water. Below is the pendulous orchid Coelogyne rochussennii from Singapore and other parts of southeast Asia.


Orchids and bromeliads are put on display as they come into bloom, then moved into the garden’s greenhouses to rest. Below is Miltassia Shelob ‘Tolkien’.

Conservatory-Miltassia Shelob 'Tolkien'-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

There are rare carnivorous plants, like Nepenthes truncata, below….

Conservatory-Nepenthes truncata-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…and more ordinary plants, like Cryptanthus ‘Pink Star’, below.

Conservatory-Cryptanthus 'Pink Star'-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

I loved this “São Paulo air plant”, Tillandsia araujei, named for the Arauje River in Brazil.

Tropical Conservatory-Tillandsia araujei-São Paulo Air plant-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the jewels of the conservatory is by taking a virtual tour via my little musical video, below.

Ready to head outside? Let’s go through the little bonsai exhibit.

Bonsai Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

MSBG isn’t just about conserving and displaying epiphytes; there are several other groups of plants represented in strong collections here, such as cycads from all over the world. Apart from Florida’s common, native coontie (Zamia floridana), there are rare cycads like this endangered Microcycas calocoma from a small area in west Cuba…

Cycads-Microcycas calocoma-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

…..and a young Lepidozamia peroffskyana from eastern Australia. In time, this cycad will reach a height of 12 feet (4 metres) or more.

Cycads-Lepidozamia peroffskyana-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

If you have questions about plants in the garden, there are strategically-placed, knowledgeable volunteers to help answer them.

Volunteer-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Fern Garden is a cool, shady oasis on a warm December day.

Fern garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

It contains majestic ferns, like Cyathea cooperi from New Zealand, above, and ferns that don’t really look like ferns, such as Doryopteris ludens from peninsular Malaysia.

Fern Garden-Doryopteris ludens-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

In the shadows of the fernery is bridal veil (Clerodendrum wallichii) from India.

Fern Garden-Clerodendrum wallichii-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Moving clockwise through the garden, we come to the Bamboo Pavilion with its impressive, towering giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus), at right below – planted by Marie Selby herself.

Bamboo Pavilion-Dendrocalamus giganteus-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Many other bamboos grow here, like the still uncommon Chinese Bambusa emeiensis ‘Flavidorivens”.

Bamboo Pavilion-Bambusa emeiensis 'Flavidorivens'-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

In December, the Koi Pond with its waterfall is decorated for the holidays.Overhanging the pool are trees draped with epiphytes.

Koi Pond-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

If you want to grab a snack before touring the rest of the garden, it’s a good time to visit the nearby Selby House Cafe. I love the decor, which features photos of the Selby Collection and antique botanical prints of rare orchids.

Selby House Cafe-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden aims to educate as it entertains young visitors.

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden-Marie Selby BG

The Children’s Garden forms part of the Banyan Grove. Here kids are literally up in the treetops learning about the rainforest….

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden

….playing on wonderful structures….

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforests Garden-Play Structure-Marie Selby BG

….and being occupied with fun activities related to the environment.

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden-Stamps-Marie Selby BG

If you visit in December, the Great Lawn will likely be dressed up for the Christmas Lights show with Florida reindeer (this year it’s December 21-30 from 6-9 pm).

Florida reindeer-Marie Selby Boatanical Gardens

The Cactus and Succulent Garden is not terribly big….

Cacti & Succulent Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….but it features a few interesting Florida species, like Consolea corallicola.

Cacti & Succulent Garden-Consolea corallicola-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

As you walk south on the pathway through the garden towards Sarasota Bay, you can see the Hudson Bayou off to your left.

Hudson Bayou-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

When I was at MSBG three years ago, I photographed a large, native gumbo-limbo tree (Bursera simaruba).

Bursera simaruba-Gumbo limbo-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Sadly, for the tree, but luckily, for Marie Selby, it was the only casualty of Hurricane Irma this September.

Bursera simaruba-Hurricane Irma-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

The Steinwachs Famiy Mangrove Walkway brings visitors close to what makes Marie Selby Botanical Gardens so special: its location overlooking Sarasota Bay. That bridge is the John Ringling Causeway, named for Sarasota resident and Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus founder John Ringling (John and his wife Mable were as wealthy as their contemporaries, the Selbys) and it connects Sarasotans to the barrier islands St. Armand’s Key (with its high end shops) and Lido Key.

Mangrove Walk-Sarasota Bay & John Ringling Causeway-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

From the boardwalk, visitors walk through the natural mangrove swamps that form a vital ecosystem at Selby and along coastal areas in Florida. This is red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), with its distinctive prop roots; it is one of three species native to the area. Sadly, in many parts of Florida, mangrove swamps have been removed to make way for resorts.

Steinwachs Mangrove Walkway-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Walking under the Florida strangler fig (Ficus aurea) near the mangroves, we can look up and see spectacular, epiphytic birds nest ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum).

Platycerius bifurcatus-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Palm Garden (Arecaceae) features another of Marie Selby BG’s deep collections….

Palms-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…with palms from many parts of the world, but especially Florida palms like Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, which is native to the tip of Florida and the Everglades.

Palms-Acoelorrhaphe wrightii-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

For the most part, the garden’s collections are well labelled, and the warmth of the labels often attracts brown anoles (Anolis sagrei); this one lost its tail in a fight.  Cherry palm is in the MSBG’s Coastal Palm collection.

Palms-Anolis sagrei-no tail-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

As you continue along the path, you find many native plant in the next part of the garden, appropriately called Native Florida, including the lignum-vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) tree. Though I photographed the colourful fruit, its wood (lignum-vitae means wood of life) is considered the most dense of any species, and its hardness made it ideal historically for mortars-and-pestles and clock bearings.

Guaiacum sanctum-Lignum vitae-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Heading northwest, we come to the native shore plants along Sarasota Bay. Here we find shell mound or erect pricklypear (Opuntia stricta), which gets its name from its propensity to grow atop shell-laden dunes of coastal areas in the southeast U.S.

Coastal Natives-Opuntia stricta-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Planting saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) was a vital part of the 1997 shoreline restoration that occurred after MSBG acquired the Payne mansion, with its turfgrass lawn and exotic palm trees.  The idea is that the cordgrass gradually traps debris and silt, forming hummocks that become land that supports the spread of the cordgrass and shore outwards.

Spartina alterniflora-Saltmarsh cordgrass-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Tidal Lagoon at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is where the salty Atlantic ocean interacts with the shore.

Tidal Lagoon Sign-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Amongst the natives here is gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Muhlenbergia capillaris-Gulf muhly-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The brackish water of the lagoon has yielded a surprising colony of dotleaf waterlily (Nymphaea ampla), whose native territory seems to have migrated from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Tidal lagoon-Nymphaea ampla-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Here is an individual blossom.  If I magnify this, I can just see the black spots on the sepals that gives this species its common name.

Tidal Lagoon-Nymphaea ampla-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Nearby is a representative sample of “Florida subtropical hardwood hammock”. For ecologically-minded visitors, this section and the adjacent lagoon will be the most interesting part of MSBG, for they represent the natural ecosystem of wild Florida, at a time when it was still untouched by rampaging land-clearing, agriculture and urban development of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Florida Hammock-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Circling back towards the entrance, we come to the Christy Payne Mansion, featuring the Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series. Though the guide tells me I’ve just missed a wonderful autumn orchid show, I’m delighted to see the display in the little gallery…..

Payne Mansion-Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

……for it contains a few vials from MCBG’s large spirit collection, the second largest in the world after Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London. Here are orchids looking eerily beautiful in a window.

Spirit Collection-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

And as I’ve just finished reading Andrew Wulf’s fabulous biography The Invention of Nature – Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, I’m excited to see on the gallery wall an antique print of his Naturgemälde, the painting he made of volcanic Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which he climbed in 1802 and whose vegetation he mapped according to elevation. He was the first to understand the topographic and geographic nature of plant communities, and his books were the basis of our understanding of ecology.

Alexander von Humboldt-Mount Chimborazo

Bromeliads, of course, are a huge focus at MSBG….

Bromeliad Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…..and this ‘plant fountain’ filled with them is enchanting.

Fountain & Bromeliads-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The big leaves of this neoregelia are a favourite haunt for the anoles….

Bromeliads-Anolis sagrei-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….as are the bright-coloured flowers. This anole seems camouflaged in the aechmea.

Aechmea & Anolis sagrei-red-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This is Portea alatisepala ‘Wally Berg’, named for the Sarasota collector who was renowned for passion for collecting bromeliads.

Bromeliads-Portea alatisepala 'Wally Berg'-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This is Billbergia amoena.

Bromeliads-Billbergia amoena-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

We’ll take a fast run through the flower-filled Butterfly Garden…..

Butterfly Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….. where a monarch rests on native dayflower (Commelina erecta).

Monarch-Commelina erecta-Butterfly garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

And, finally, the Tropical Fruit Garden gives Sarasotans creative ideas about which fruit trees and vines they can grow outdoors.  Here are just a few of the fruits & plant parts I photographed.


#1 is banana; #2 is kumquat; #3 is starfruit; #4 is coffee; #5 is loquat; #6 is sugar cane; and #7 is ‘Purple Possum’ passion fruit.

My last stop on the way back to the parking lot is to knock on the door of the botanist’s office to say hello to my Facebook friend, MSBG botanist and ecologist Shawn McCourt. Originally from Northern Ireland, he is fortunate to be working at the garden as it launches a 10-year, $67-million upgrade that will move plants out of the flood zone, reorganize the 15-acre garden for better flow, transform the sprawling parking lot into green technology buildings and a 5-story parking garage featuring a living wall.

Shawn McCourt & Janet Davis-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

It is an exciting prospect for this wonderful tropical garden, and I hope to return some winter soon to see how things are proceeding!  In the meantime, may your Christmas be a merry one, and your new year filled with all things green!


If you want to read more of my blogs on tropical and sub-tropical gardens, you might want to take a look at Lotusland in Montecito,California, Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, CA and some wonderful gardens in South Africa: renowned Kirstenbosch, Durban Botanic Garden, lush Makaranga, the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, and fabulous Babylonstoren.

Silver Belles

A little holiday song, for those who’ve stuck it out through my Twelve Months of Colour blogs in 2016:

Silver belles, silver belles,
It’s Christmas time in the city.

Ding-a-ling?? No, they don’t ring,

My “Silver Belles” just look pretty.

Row 1:‘Pictum’ Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum); ‘King’s Ransom’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla); ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ giant sea holly (Eryngium giganteum); Agave parryi; Row 2: Hosta ‘Ultramarine‘; ‘Bascour Zilver’ hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum); ‘Blue Glow’ fescue (Festuca glauca); Heuchera ‘Rave On’; Row 3: ‘Montgomery’ blue spruce (Picea glauca); ‘Silver Carpet’ lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina); ‘Blue Star’ juniper (Juniperus squamata); ‘Sapphire Skies’ yucca (Y.rostrata)

Yes, we’re finally in December, and as befits the tinsel month in my year-long celebration of monthly colour themes, I’ve pulled together a treasure box filled with pieces of silver (and some nice blue-greys) for your garden. You should know that I’m a big fan of grey, especially mixed with that little dash of brown that tips it into ‘taupe’. In fact, my house is painted that colour, and my deck and fence are stained a darker shade of stone-grey. It is a beautiful background for all plants.


If you add a little blue-green to silvery-gray, you get a colour we often describe as “glaucous”. That word has travelled a long way since it was first used by the Greeks, including Homer, as glaukos to mean “gleaming, silvery”. In Latin, it  took on the meaning “bluish-green”, and in the 15h century, the Middle English word glauk meant “bluish-green, gray”.  That fits the color of luscious Tuscan kale, below.


So we’ll look at some lovely plants with glaucous foliage as well.

Shrubs & Trees

Let’s begin with a few trees and shrubs.  Weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) is a pretty little (20 ft – 7 m) tree with silvery-grey foliage. Here it is at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, underplanted with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.


Then we have a true willow, dwarf blue Arctic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’). This is a very hardy, useful shrub, standing about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and wide, that will lend its soft greyish texture to a variety of applications, including as hedging or a filler.


As for conifers, there are lots of blue junipers and silver firs, and of course, blue spruces. For a big silvery tree, perhaps none is as stately as the concolor or white fir (Abies concolor ‘Candicans’).


If you want a cool blue-grey spruce at garden level, consider Picea pungens ‘Glauca Procumbens’.


And I love the look of Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, especially as it takes on mauve hues in winter, below, along with Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.


Speaking of winter, there’s even a shrub with silvery fruit that persists into winter: Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).


Though we often think of lavender as perennial, it is actually a sub-shrub. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has greyish-blue foliage, and even the commonly available cultivars like ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ will provide a good colour contrast, as they do edging this beautiful potager.


But if you want a really silvery, hardy lavender, try ‘Silver Mist’, shown below contrasting with a bronze carex.


And if you are in a climate where you can grow the more tender Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), there’s a gorgeous silver-leaved cultivar called ‘Anouk’.



Who hasn’t seen lamb’s-ears in a perennial border? And who hasn’t questioned whether the plant’s name should be a single lamb or a flock? Kidding aside, using hardy lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina)  is one of the easiest ways to inject a note of silver into the garden. Here it is with lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) at Burlington, Ontario’s Royal Botanical Gardens …..

Stachys byzantina with Alchemilla mollis

… and fronting a June border at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Botanical Garden.


I love the way my pal Marnie White intersperses her lamb’s-ears with pink portulaca.


Sea holly has a few beautiful silver forms; this is Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’ with liatris and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) has several cultivars with lovely silvery variegation. This is ‘Jack Frost’.


Artemisias are invaluable silver foliage plants. This is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’ with liatris.


And this is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ creating a silvery pool at the edge of a border.


In the fern world, luscious Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) is literally ‘painted’ with silver variegation. The stunning cultivar below is ‘Pewter Lace’.


Though they don’t come in pure silver, there are many blue-grey hostas to add texture to a shaded or semi-shaded place. At the Toronto Botanical Garden, I love the juxtaposition of Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ with the silvery-blue glass screen behind it.


Here is an assortment of blue-grey hostas.

1 - Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 - Halcyon.

1 – Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 – Halcyon.

With their rainbow foliage colour and myriad leaf markings, heucheras have become a plant breeder’s bonanza in the past few decades. Below are ‘Rave On’ (left) and ‘Silver Scrolls’ (right).


Euphorbias also offer delectable silver makings. Though it’s borderline-hardy where I garden in Toronto, I do love Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’.


The silvery foliage of Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) can be quite stunning, but careful it doesn’t escape – clip those flowers before they go to seed.



Blue-grey grasses abound. Here’s  Festuca glauca ‘Blue Glow’ with berried cotoneaster and silvery Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) behind.


This is ‘Heavy Metal’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) – one of my favourites.


Little bluestem is a wonderful native prairie grass, and ‘Prairie Blues’ has a more pronounced silvery-blue hue.


‘Wind Dancer’ love grass (Eragrostis elliotii)  is hardy only to USDA Zone 6, but I’ve seen it used as an annual grass to lovely effect.


Annuals & Tropicals

Montreal Botanical Garden knows how to create wonderful knots and parterres with silvery plants. This is the tender grass Melinis nerviglumis ‘Savannah’ (ruby grass – USDA Zone 8-10) with Angelonia ‘Serena Purple’.


…. and this is Cerastium ‘Columnae Silberteppich’ with lantana.


Montreal Botanical’s Herb Garden has also used silvery herbs in formal design schemes over the years. The tapestry-like knot garden below features the sages (Salvia officinalis) ‘Berrgarten’ and variegated ‘Icterina’ in the circle, along with hedge germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) with the pink flowers; clipped lavender and santolina are in the background.


Here’s a closer look at santolina or cotton thistle (Santolina chamacyparissus) in flower. Its ease of shearing makes it a prime candidate for parterres and knots, but it is only hardy to USDA Zone 6.


There are several Mediterranean plants that fit our silvery-blue theme.   A tender perennial (USDA Zone 8) with silver foliage that can be used as a drought-tolerant annual is Greek mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca).


And Senecio viravira or silver groundsel has textural foliage.


Isn’t this combination at the Niagara Botanical Gardens beautiful? The big, felted silver leaves of Salvia argentea with Tradescantia spathacea ‘Tricolor’ seem made for each other.


Also at Niagara Botanical one summer, I loved this juxtaposition of blue-grey cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) with the cascading silvery Dichondra argentea in the hanging baskets behind.


Speaking of dichondra, here it is at the Toronto Botanical Garden paired with Centaurea gymnocarpa ‘Colchester White’. This, of course, is the work of the TBG’s container wizard Paul Zammit.


Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria) is an old-fashioned annual that’s easy to source and offers a lovely hit of silver, as with this rich autumn combination of dusty miller and ornamental cabbages.


We mustn’t forget the spectacular leaves of the newer Rex begonias like ‘Escargot’, below, many of which have silver markings.


There are loads of silvery succulents available, because being silver-grey (reflecting the sun) and being succulent (storing your own water in your leaves) are both adaptations to plants growing in extreme hot and dry environments. I loved this combination of Kalanchoe pumila ‘Quicksilver’ and Senecio serpens at Eye of the Day Garden Center in Carpinteria, California.


This pairing of blue sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) with Scaevola aemula at the Montreal Botanical Garden was simple, yet dramatic.


And the gorgeous container below was in the former Vancouver garden of garden guru Tom Hobbs and Brent Beattie, owners of Vancouver’s Southlands Nursery.  It features Echeveria elegans, salmon-red Sedum rubrotinctum and silvery parrot feather (Tanacetum densum), along with astelia in the centre.


Succulents have been used extensively over the years by Paul Zammit at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Check out this silvery monochrome masterpiece.


And finally, this gorgeous windowbox from the TBG, with its luscious mix of silver echeverias, aptenias, kalanchoes, senecios, rhipsalis and more, all enhanced by the dwarf Arctic willow hedging around it.


With that, I finish my monthly 2016 exploration of the garden paintbox. But not to worry!  2017 is a whole new ballgame, and there will be garden colour galore (plus the odd travel journal and personal reminiscence) throughout the coming year.

A November Wine Tasting

This is my month to explore that dark, rich, full-bodied, dowager great-aunt of ‘red’ – otherwise known as ‘wine’.  Or burgundy, if you like. Like its viticulture companion, a little wine in the garden goes a long way. Overdo it and you might not like the heavy feeling that results. But a little sip here and there adds depth and elegance to the garden. So let’s sample a few good vintages, shall we?


In my part of the world, spring wines are quite common, given that the Lenten roses or hellebores are flowering in profusion. This is Helleborus ‘Blue Lady’.


There are a few excellent wine-red tulips for later in spring, like the lovely lily-flowered tulip ‘Burgundy’, below.


And I loved this combination of the bicolour Triumph tulip ‘Gavota’ and dark ‘Queen of Night’ at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


I know I might have included the late-flowered tulip ‘Queen of Night’ in my blog on ‘black’ flowers, but it often shows with more red. This is that sensuous tulip spangled through an uncharacteristically wild bulb planting in the very formal Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. Notice how the repetition of the dark colour carries your eye up through the various beds, unifying them and lending them a somewhat ‘designed’ feeling in keeping with the place.


One of the more elegant little spring bulbs is snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). Apart from the checkered, wine-red species, there is a white form as well.


Of all the small trees for gardens, the biggest choice in red-leafed selections can be found in Japanese maples. This is the highly regarded Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Inaba-shidare’ at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


But the ubiquitous ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) also puts on a beautiful wine-red show throughout summer, and colours beautifully to bright scarlet in fall.  Here it is with the Triumph tulip ‘Boston’ in the Mary Fisher Spring Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


One of the best shrubs for adding deep wine-red colour to an herbaceous border is purple smokebush. There are a few cultivars but the most common is Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. The trick is to cut it back to the ground, i.e. ‘coppice’ it, in spring. Here is ‘Royal Purple just emerging with tulips.


Here is coppiced ‘Royal Purple’ a little later in the season with a lovely matching brushmark lily (possibly ‘Wizard’) in Bev Koppel’s wonderful garden at the Deep Cove Chalet Restaurant outside Victoria, B.C.


Here is coppiced Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ with tropical Tibouchina urvilleana at the Conservatory Garden in New York’s Central Park.


And in Toronto horticulturist Frank Kershaw’s  garden, there is an entire symphony of wine colour around Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, including shutters, window awning and dwarf Japanese barberry.


Given all the hybridizing that’s occurred with heucheras over the past few decades, there are numerous selections with luscious leaves of burgundy and reddish-purple. At the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific outside Victoria, B.C., I adored this beautiful spring combination featuring Heuchera ‘Amethyst Mist’, Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ and the dark-leafed ninebark Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ at rear.


Heuchera micrantha ‘Rachel’ is quite lovely.


And Heuchera ‘Pinot Noir’ has a name that fits our theme very nicely. It’s shown below frolicking with blue-flowered Gilia capitata.


One stunning peony is dark enough to be called ‘wine’, even if its actual name describes another favourite indulgence. Here is Paeonia ‘Chocolate Soldier’.


Though true-red irises have eluded hybridizers, there are many that come close to our November colour. Below is the heritage bearded iris ‘Col. Candelot’. Other deep-reds to check out are ‘Red at Night’, ‘Galactic Warrior’, ‘War Chief’, ‘Raptor Red’ and ‘Nebraska Big Red’, to name just a few.


And what about this gorgeous thing? Meet Iris spuria ‘Cinnabar Red’.


Though the mourning widow geranium (Geranum phaeum) is a little on the purplish side, I’ve included it here anyway. (And it’s a great bee flower!)


The breeders of the sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) below decided on a memorable name for their dark-flowered beauty. Meet ‘Heart Attack’, hanging out here with airy Allium schubertii at Wave Hill in the Bronx.


Early summer gives us masterworts (Astrantia major), and though many seem to be wishy-washy in their colouration, that’s not the case with ‘Hadspen Blood’, below, from Nori and Sandra Pope’s once glorious garden.


I simply adore Knautia macedonica with its dark-red button flowers that flower from spring well into autumn. It is the zingiest zing you can have in a border (or meadow), and all the bees love it, too.


Daylilies (Hemerocallis) aren’t really my thing anymore, other than the dear old orange tawny lily (H. fulva) that I have given up trying to annihilate in my garden. That being said, there are lots of wine-colored selections to choose from, including the lovelies below.

Clockwise from upper left: Strutter’s Ball, Round Midnight, Regal Finale, Tuscawilla Blackout, Black Ice, Jungle Beauty, Starman's Quest, Jennifer Napier

Clockwise from upper left: Strutter’s Ball, Round Midnight, Regal Finale, Tuscawilla Blackout, Black Ice, Jungle Beauty, Starman’s Quest, Jennifer Napier

Admittedly, Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) isn’t very showy, but it’s a fine choice for well-drained soil and a naturalistic garden.


Martagon lilies (Lilium martagon) are the epitome of elegance and will take light shade. Below is the fabulous ‘Sarcee’, named for a First Nation tribe in hybridizer Fred Tarlton’s province of Alberta. I photographed it in his astonishing collection at the Devonian Gardens near Edmonton.


One of the magical, airy plants in Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s palette is the dark form of Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


For tough, low-maintenance perennials with wine-red leaves, you simply can’t beat sedums. Below is my array of some notable selections. The bees will thank you!


We don’t always stop to observe the subtle colour changes that happen as flowers age beyond their prime. I loved this dreamy crimson-wine duo of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum ssp. maculatum) and fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’).


Japanese barberry (love it or hate it) occupies a special place in the world of wine foliage, and its response to trimming makes it especially appealing in formal gardens. Without a red barberry, how could you possibly achieve the beautiful creation below, in the Knot Garden at Filoli Garden near San Francisco?  Along with the Berberis thunbergii ‘Crimson Pygmy’, we have dwarf lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparis ‘Nana’),  germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) and dwarf myrtle (Myrtus communis ssp. tarentina ‘Compacta’).


Though not particularly showy, the pineapple-scented, deep-red flowers of Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), below, are intriguing – and they fit my category!


What about trees with dark-red leaves? One that is deservedly popular – and much smaller than its parent, almost a tall shrub – is weeping copper beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’), below.


And I cannot go on without mentioning ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud (Cercis canadensis) – especially when it looks like this from underneath the canopy!


Now for some warm-weather wines: tender bulbs, tropicals and annuals.

A few of the pineapple lilies (Eucomis) are an interesting combination of olive and burgundy, like E. comosa ‘Oakhurst’, below.  Look at that dark-red stem. (‘Sparkling Burgundy’ is another with similar colouration.)


Although they can look parkimental (park+regimental) grown in rows or Victorian-style bedding, many cannas have beautifully marked leaves and, in the right spot, add a luscious touch. Here is ‘African Sunset’ canna lily (Canna australis).


Speaking of the ‘right spot’, in Bev Koffel’s garden, a reddish canna and the deep-burgundy succulent Aeonium arborescens ‘Zwartkop’ add rich notes to an elegant urn.


Do you grow dahlias? If you like dark and dramatic, look no further than ‘Black Knight’.


Perhaps no species offers more possibilities in the wine spectrum than the foliage plant coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides, formerly Solenostemon, formerly Coleus blumei). I was enchanted by the way the gardeners at Toronto’s Spadina House worked ‘Wizard Mix’ coleus into their late summer plantings.


Want to see a few more? Here is ‘Kong Red’…


… and ‘Dipt-in-Wine’…..


… and ‘Big Red Judy’.

35-Plectranthus scutellarioides 'Big Red Judy'

Though it’s not hardy in my part of the world, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’ is a fabulous, variegated, dark-red grass to add movement and colour to the summer garden.


I’m a frequent visitor to the Montreal Botanical Garden, and I loved seeing these burgundy-leaved tropicals against a yellow and gold three-panelled screen there a few years ago. From left rear are red spike (Amaranthus cruentus), rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’), calico plant (Alternanthera dentata ‘Purple Knight’) and ‘Carmencita’ castor bean (Ricinus communis).


Here’s a look at the flowers of ‘Carmencita Bright Red’ castor bean (Ricinus communis). (Caveat emptor. Do be aware that this plant’s seeds contain one of the deadliest toxins known to man, ricin.  Just a few salt-sized grains of purified ricin can kill an adult.)


When we visited Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Garden in Hillsborough, NC, a few years ago, spectacular and unexpected colour combinations were everywhere. I did enjoy this red-leaf hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) with orange dahlias.


In my own garden, I experiment each year with the contents of the six containers on the lower landing of my sundeck. One summer, below, I tried ‘Sweet Caroline Red’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) with  Anagallis ‘Wildcat Orange’. (The truth is it looked better in June than it did in August, since the anagallis petered out and the chartreuse-leaf pelargoniums were underwhelming, but the sweet potato vine thrived.)


Speaking of pelargoniums, ‘Vancouver Centennial’ is a real winner, with its bronze-red foliage.


One of the best spiky ‘centrepiece’ annuals is Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’, seen here in a pot at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Just look how its deep tones are picked up in those colour splotches on the luscious ‘Indian Dunes’ pelargonium.


And hello ‘grains-as-ornamentals’! This was redspike (Amaranthus cruentus) with slender vervain (Verbena rigida) and ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) in a fabulous planting one year at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Botanical Garden.


Speaking of edibles, you can’t get find a more beautiful, wine-leafed edible than this beet:  Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’ with nasturtiums and chartreuse ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).


And my last sip for our November wine tasting is a fine, full-bodied claret – yes, ‘Claret’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus).


Whew! ‘Wine-ding’ down now, that takes me through eleven months in my 2016 paintbox. Stay tuned for December and some lovely silver ‘belles’.

Orange: Three Fruits & a Fish – Part Two

In my last colour blog Orange: Three Fruits & A Fish – Part One, we explored some beautiful orange-flowered perennials. Here I’ll offer up some hardy roses, shrubs and vines with orange blossoms or colourful orange fruit, then an assortment of orange-flowered annual and tropical flowers.

Shrubs & Vines

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp.) is one of those spring shrubs that appear in April or May, its salmon or tangerine blossoms emerging on spined branches to outshine even colourful tulips and daffodils, and attracting early bees to its pollen-rich stamens. Old-fashioned and much-planted in the 1950s, you don’t see flowering quince in many contemporary gardens today, which is a pity. The ones I’ve photographed have been in the cemetery, like this C. x speciosa at Mount Pleasant Cemetery… 4-chaenomeles-speciosa-2

…or in a botanical garden, like this exquisitely-pruned, little specimen nestled against a rock in the Japanese Garden at Montreal Botanical Garden.4-chaenomeles-japonica3

Spring is also the season for wonderful rhododendrons, and we can find some good orange-flowered examples. For fifty years now (since 1957), the ‘Lights’ breeding program at the Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Minnesota has produced some rugged, hardy azaleas (botanically rhododendrons) in a spectacular range of colours. ‘Spicy Lights’ was bred in 1987, and is a beautiful, rich salmon-orange with yellow blotches.4-rhododendron-spicy-lights

I love strolling along the Rhododendron Walk at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Gardens in May, when the Japanese azaleas are in bloom. Though it’s not hardy for us here in Toronto, Rhododendron molle. ssp. japonicum (USDA Zone 6) is one of my favourites there, especially with its contrasting groundcover of blue Spanish bluebells (Endymion hispanicus).4-rhododendron-molle-endymion-hispanicus-van-dusen-gardens

Honeysuckle vines are super-hardy, bring hummingbirds, and look fabulous with their orange & scarlet blossoms spangled over a wall or fence. This is Lonicera ‘Mandarin’, developed at the University of British Columbia. 4-lonicera-mandarin

And this is old-fashioned Lonicera x brownii  ‘Dropmore Scarlet’, developed as a cross between L. sempervirens and L. hirsuta in the 1950s by the famous breeder Frank Skinner in Dropmore, Manitoba.  It can grow to 12 feet (4 metres) when happy.  Note the eye-pleasing effect of growing an orange-flowered vine on a brick wall – and orange brick is a subject all its own, a backdrop that can make or break a garden vignette. 4-lonicera-x-brownii-dropmore-scarlet-on-brick-wall

One of the bigger North American native vines (to 30 feet or 10 metres) is trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), but it must have a strong support. As its Wikipedia page says:  “The vigor of the trumpet vine should not be underestimated. In warm weather, it puts out huge numbers of tendrils that grab onto every available surface, and eventually expand into heavy woody stems several centimeters in diameter. It grows well on arbors, fences, telephone poles, and trees, although it may dismember them in the process. Ruthless pruning is recommended.”  Hummingbirds and bees love trumpet creeper flowers. 4-campsis-radicans


Not being a rosarian, I can only suggest a few orange roses that come recommended. One is ‘Westerland’, a large-flowered, repeat-blooming, upright shrub or climber that can reach 12 feet (4 metres). Its highly-fragrant flowers are produced continuously from June to frost. Bred by Kordes in 1969, it is the recipient of an AGM (Award of Garden Merit) from England’s Royal Horticultural Society.  This is ‘Westerland’ at New York Botanical Garden’s fabulous Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.


Another tall, fragrant climber with pale, apricot-orange blossoms is ‘Alchymist’.


David Austin Roses has bred many lovely apricot- and peach-flowered shrub roses. Below is ‘Lady of Shalott’ (4-5 feet tall), an AGM winner and considered to be one of the hardiest and most disease-resistant of the English roses.


There are too many shrub roses and floribundas with orange flowers to mention, but I very much like the award-winning floribunda ‘Fellowship’.


Orange Fruit

Apart from the orange, bronze and apricot hues that many deciduous trees and shrubs take on in autumn (see my blog on orange fall colour here), there are many with jewelled orange fruits in late summer and fall, too. One of the prettiest is ‘Afterglow’ winterberry (Ilex verticillata), shown here with purple-fruited beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’).


And I must mention firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), which features a number of orange-fruited cultivars, including ‘Orange Glow’.



Annuals & Tropicals:

Now we get into the fun part of my orange treatment: the flowering annuals, tender bulbs and perennials, and tropical plants. Let’s start with the newish dark-leafed little Begonia ‘Sparks Will Fly’.


My pal and container whiz, Toronto Botanical Garden horticulturist Paul Zammit, worked this one into a spectacular urn creation, along with Begonia boliviensis and orange-toned cannas, lantanas and coleus.


And if you had a peek at that container blog, you’ll see that Paul does love a little orange, including the row of window boxes, below, featuring kitchen herbs parsley and sage with a mix of Calibrachoa MiniFamous iGeneration Orange and Can Can Terracotta with the grasses Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’ and Carex buchananii.


Hardworking calibrachoas (million bells or mini-petunias) have become mainstays of annual container design in the past decade or so. I loved this combination of Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Peach’ and ‘Superbells Blue’ with ‘Purple Wave’ petunias in a window-box in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada.


And can you say “coral” (i.e. salmon)? The fabulous duo shown below is Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Coral Punch’ and Verbena ‘Superbena Coral Red’.


I’ve been a fan of the ‘Profusion’ series of zinnias since their launch in the 1990s.  I especially loved the way Vancouver’s Van Dusen Gardens scattered Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’ through this intermingled planting with Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’, bunny tail grass (Lagurus ovatus) and purple verbena (V. rigida).


I’ve included Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’ in my own container on the deck at Lake Muskoka, below, along with yellow and apricot African daisies (Osteospermum ‘Symphony Series’) and orange nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus).


African daisies or osteospermums come in a range of orange shades. When I was at wonderful Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, I was entranced by the combination below of apricot-flowered Osteospermum ‘Zion Orange’ with Diascia ‘Flirtation Orange’, caressed by the grassy, bronze-orange blades of Carex testacea.


Nasturtiums, of course, offer a serious orange jolt of their own. Here is Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska’ with the signet marigold Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Tangerine Gem’. And guess what? Both are edible!


And there’s a plus to nasturtiums: hummingbirds love them.


Speaking of hummingbirds, you will almost certainly attract them to your containers if you include one of their favourite flowers, hummingbird mint or agastache. This is Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’, and it’s a good hummer lure.


I also love the little Agastache ‘Apricot Sprite’ – it’s perfect for pots and hanging baskets, and I’ve even found that it reseeds in my USDA Zone 5 containers.


Back to marigolds, I’ve never been a fan of the big African numbers (Tagetes erecta), so stiff and regimented they seem to be suited only to park plantings. But I’d certainly love to try the willowy (18 inch – 45 cm) Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’, which I found in my friend Marnie White’s garden. Some seed sources refer to this as a selection of a species Tagetes linnaeus, (and say something about it being found in Linnaeus’s Uppsala garden) but that binomial doesn’t seem to be valid.  I assume it’s simply a good form of Tagetes patula.


When I first saw orange petunias, I was taken aback as they’re a brave, new colour in those old-fashioned annuals.  The one below is ‘Sun Spun Orange’ – what a fabulous container plant it would be!


Fuchsias can be orange, too, and are a good container solution for partly shaded spots. The creative combination, below, features Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’, Lantana ‘Landmark Sunrise’, and purple browallia, along with other annuals.


Lantanas come in many shades of peach, apricot and orange and, depending what else is in bloom, offer sweet foraging for butterflies.


Another edible flower that’s a fixture in kitchen gardens is pot marigold or Calendula officinalis.  It comes in singles, doubles and shades of yellow, gold and orange. I liked this simple combo with chives (Allium schoenoprasum).


Speaking of kitchen gardens, have you noticed the great breeding work that’s being done with amaranths to take them out of the grain field and transform them into bold standouts in the ornamental border? This is Amaranthus ‘Golden Giant’.


And this is what it looks like backing up purple anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).


Gloriosa daisies are deservedly popular and add a little Hollywood pizzazz to common old blackeyed susans. Of the many variations in colour, likely the best selection for adding bronze-orange to the garden (there’s no pure orange) is Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cappucino’.


This is how ‘Cappucino’ looks with ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds and purple Verbena rigida in a bed at Van Dusen Gardens. Pretty nice, right? And it’s easy to grow from seed.


Now, if you want a true-orange ‘daisy’ flower, you need only choose butterfly-friendly Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), either the straight species – which can grow 4-6 feet tall   shown at left and middle, below, or a dwarf form such as ‘Fiesta del Sol’, shown at right with Salvia farinacea.


The most impressive ‘daisies’ of all are sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), and though none are pure orange, you can find some burnt-orange selections like ‘Evening Colors’, ‘Earthwalker’, ‘Crimson Queen’ and ‘Autumn Beauty’.


I won’t bore you with orange-flowered pelargoniums (border geraniums) because we’d be here all night, but just a mention of two with stunning foliage. The first is ‘Indian Dunes’, below, – and I do like those salmon-orange blooms.


The second is ‘Vancouver Centennial’ – invaluable for its wine-brown leaves and delicate orange flowers.


Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) has become popular to grow as annual flower in recent years as more gardeners look to attract monarch butterflies to their gardens. Like all milkweeds, its foliage is food for monarch caterpillars, and it does look pretty in combination with plants like annual Verbena bonariensis, below.


Zingy gomphrenas have seen their popularity surge – and  they’re fabulous as cut flowers and dried flowers, too. If you want to try one in orange, search out Gomphrena ‘QIS Orange’, shown below with purple Ageratum houstonianum.


Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’ veers a little from apricot-orange towards gold, but I’m including it here because I think it’s an annual that should be grown more. It looked lovely at the Montreal Botanical Garden with Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’.


I’m finishing my book-length (!) dissertation on orange flowers with a handful of dahlias. Tender tubers, they are easily grown in warm soil in spring and must be stored indoors for winter. Goodness knows there are myriad dahlias of all shapes and sizes in orange, but the array below shows some of my favourites, including the aptly-named cactus dahlia ‘Bodacious’, top; and below, two more modestly-sized border varieties: the bee-friendly ‘Bishop of Oxford’ left, and ‘Pooh’, right.


Orange Flourishes

Woman does not live by Flora alone, of course. There are other ways to bring the colour orange into the garden without actually growing it. When I visited gardens in Portland, Oregon, I was delighted to see these whimsical orange accessories in Nancy Goldman’s funky backyard lair.


And do you agree with me that this Toronto garden just amped up the cool factor with bright orange chairs beside all those bobbing purple alliums?


But really, orange in the garden doesn’t have to be furniture, and it doesn’t have to be splashy. It can be as tiny and perfect as a fanciful glass bird sailing away on an ocean of frothy foliage. (Thank you Michael Renaud of Toronto’s Horticultural Design.)


And on that final “October is my Orange month” note, I will sail away into November, when we shall reconvene in The Paintbox Garden for a little “wine-tasting”. I’ll bring out some of my finest burgundies for you to sample.

Beguilingly Brown in the Garden

“Brown in the garden”. Remember my January resolution to blog about every colour for all of 2016? Well, it’s September and I’ve delayed writing about brown as long as I could….

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

No, “brown in the garden” is not a phrase you often hear, unless it’s wondering what to do with those Japanese maple leaves that are curling up and turning brown in summer (uh-oh).  Or the white pine needles that are turning brown in October (they’re getting ready to fall silly… no evergreen is truly ever-green.)

In the winter, you might notice bronze oak leaves remaining on trees, even through the snowiest and coldest weather.  That is a function of tannins that remain in the leaves once chlorophyll breaks down, protecting and preserving them in the same way an old-fashioned ‘tanner’ would use these substances to turn animal hides into leather.  This tendency to hang onto the twig as a brown leaf after most deciduous trees have lost their leaves is called marcescence.  Beeches, below, also exhibit marcescence, and their winter leaves can be quite fetching in the garden..


I love this winter combination of columnar beeches (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropurpurea’) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


Many warm-season grasses also retain tannins in the leaf and enough structural integrity to stand upright through winter weather. Shown below in snow is switch grass (Panicum virgatum), but you may note this strong winter presence in maiden grass (Miscanthus), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis), fountain grass (Pennisetum) and northern sea oats (Chasmanthium) as well.


Toronto’s Music Garden relies on ornamental grasses to provide much of its interest for the long winter months.


Brown seedheads also have their own charm, and many look beautiful against snow. This is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ‘Blue Fortune’) consorting with a grass in winter.


Purple coneflower seedheads (Echinacea purpurea) persist very well through winter, and feed hungry birds as well.


Even in the gardening season, flowers that turn brown add a textural note to plantings.  In my own cottage meadows, I love the September shaving-brush seedheads of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).


These are the seedheads of Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, with the fading flowers of echinacea. Not surprisingly, this duo is in the Entry Border of the Toronto Botanical Garden – a border designed by Piet Oudolf, whose philosophy is to create a meadow-like tapestry of plants that lend beauty even when out of bloom.


And look at these giant alliums, also in the entry border at the TBG. Of course they were beautiful when they were rich violet-purple, but I do love them as brown seedheads consorting with the rest of the plants a few weeks later.


Speaking of the Toronto Botanical Garden, I spend so much time there, chronicling the changes in the various gardens, but especially in Piet Oudolf’s Entry Border, that I’ve come to appreciate the plants that persist beyond their starring roles. So I’ve made a video to show the function that “brown” fulfills as a substantive colour in autumn and winter, after the colourful flowers have faded. There are many plants shown in these images, but especially good for persistence of seedheads are Liatris, Echinacea, Achillea, Stachys, Astilbe and, of course, all the ornamental grasses. Have a look……

Piet Oudolf also designed the plantings at the High Line, where brown is a colour, too. Below is a pink astilbe in the process of turning bronze, then buff, making it the perfect colour companion for the blackeyed susans.


Lovely as they are in the winter garden, many grasses also have spectacular brown flowers that create lovely colour combinations in the summer garden, too, like this fluffy brown cloud of (Deschampsia caespitosa) with airy sea lavender (Limonium latifolium), also in the border designed by Piet Oudolf.


And here it is softening purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, Ontario.  Doesn’t that little cloud of brown add a grace note to that scene?


This is feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) with blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – demonstrating that blue and (golden) brown make lovely dance partners.


Speaking of blue and brown, this is a very good combination:  Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ with Heuchera ‘Caramel’.


Heucheras, of course, have been bred over the past few decades to produce a fabulous range of colours, many of which veer towards brown. I love the rich tones of ‘Mahogany’, below.


Even some evergreens can be called brown, like this weird little arborvitae, Thuja occientalis ‘Golden Tuffet’ (which isn’t even dead!)


Many tropical plants seem to exhibit brownish tones. For example, luscious Canna ‘Intrigue’, here with coleus at the Toronto Botanical Garden….


…. and that strange multi-colored tropical shrub copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana), with its patchwork peach & brown leaves. Though you sometimes see this as the cultivar ‘Mosaica’, the reddish-olive-brown shows up in varying degrees in a few forms of that species. ‘Haleakala’ has a completely brown leaf.


I love Cordyline ‘Red Star’, which is the centrepiece of this fabulous urn by the Toronto Botanical Garden’s gifted horticulturist Paul Zammit. Though it often looks more burgundy, here it reads as rich brown, especially with the matching heucheras.


Phormiums or New Zealand flax have been a big part of the tropical gardener’s arsenal, and many are bronze- or olive-brown. This is lovely ‘Dusky Chief’.


And where would gardeners be with annual sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)? One of the richest is mocha-coloured ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’, shown below with Pelargonium ‘Indian Dunes’.


There are countless cultivars of the annual foliage plant coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), and a few hit the brown jackpot, like ‘Velvet Mocha’ below.


Pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa) ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has olive-brown foliage that really adds depth to a garden, like the Ladies’ Bed at the New York Botanical Garden.


Brown-flowered perennial plants are, admittedly, in short supply (many gardeners likely wondering why you’d even want a brown flower) but there are strange and lovely bearded irises that come in copper and cinnamon shades, like ‘Hot Spice’, below.


And we simply cannot leave a discussion of brown in the plant world without talking about the genus Carex.  Whether it’s Carex testacea, like this fun bronze-headed sculpture in Marietta & Ernie O’Byrne’s Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon……


….. or Carex buchananii in my very own sundeck pots a few years back.


I loved the way the Toronto Botanical Garden’s Paul Zammit used Carex buchananii in this spectacular run of windowboxes, along with orange calibracoa, the golden grass Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, golden cypress and kitchen herbs.


And, yes, C. buchananii can be counted on throughout the snows of winter. (Whether it reappears in spring depends on how cold winter got!)


BUT….. gardeners do not live by plants alone. There are furnishings! And they can be brown & beautiful, like these cool, dark-brown metallic planters at Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne PA.  (Check out the carex inside.)


Speaking of Chanticleer, I loved this rugged brown wood-and-COR-TEN steel bench and pergola in their Tennis Garden – and look how lovely brown furnishings are with brilliant chartreuse foliage.


Weathered COR-TEN steel is all the rage these days, being a stable, rusty finish that needs no upkeep. It was used to spectacular effect to make this canoe-like planter at New York’s High Line, holding interesting, moisture-loving plants flanking the garden’s water feature.


Water features are another way to bring a shot of brown into the garden. Have a look at the drilled ceramic urn fountain, below, which I photographed at Seaside Nursery in Carpinteria, California.


Let me finish up with a few sculptural details in shades of brown. Let’s start with whimsy – and a little Pythagorean creation from Suzann Partridge’s annual Artful Garden show.  Isn’t she sweet?


And then let’s move to elegance: a handsome, rusty obelisk perfectly placed within a flowery border at Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene.


Finally, I’ll sign off with a little farewell to summer: a September bouquet filled with brown prairie seedheads and grasses, from my Lake Muskoka meadow to you. And a reminder to remember that brown is a colour too!