Cordial Chartreuse on the Garden Menu

When you mix green with yellow in equal portions, you get a mountain range in the southeast of France (Massif de la Chartreuse); the Carthusian Monks of the region, whose order was founded in 1084; “charterhouse”, the English translation of chartreuse (and the designation for the Carthusian monasteries which were chartered, or given financial support, by the Duke of Burgundy); and the cordial Green Chartreuse, brewed by said monks from distilled alcohol aged with approximately 130 flowers, plants and herbs featuring cinnamon, mace, lemon balm, dried hyssop flower tops, peppermint, thyme, costmary, arnica flowers and angelica roots, among many other ingredients.  The eponymous colour of that liqueur, said to be the “elixir of life” when its recipe was granted to the monks in a 1605 manuscript, is the luminous colour I want to blog about today.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Charteuse, lime, golden-green, khaki…. In reality, there is a broad range of yellowed greens and a broad range of foliage plants that fit the description. But when that dollop of yellow is added to the green (well, when the plant rejects certain yellow light waves along with the green ones, as it powers photosynthesis), it results in a plant that will add a pool of shimmering light to the garden, especially to shady corners. Perhaps it’s a perennial like Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, below.

Aralia cordata 'Sun King'

Or a tree like the ‘Frisia’ black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), where it’s hardy.

Robinia psesudoacacia 'Frisia'

Or perhaps a shrub like the beautiful Japanese spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii), below, at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Chanticleer-Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' It might be the delightful ‘Hearts of Gold’ redbud tree (Cercis canadensis), below, also at Chanticleer (and kept ‘stooled’ or pruned to the ground each spring to promote bright new growth). In front of it is another excellent chartreuse-leafed shrub, Magic Carpet spirea, (Spiraea japonica ‘Walbuma’) with its cerise-pink flowers.

Chanticleer-Cercis 'Hearts of Gold' & Spirea Magic Carpet

Then there’s the lovely, old-fashioned perennial Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’, shown below in a border at Chanticleer’s Tennis Garden.

Chanticleer-Filipendula ulmaria 'Aurea' It’s easy to use perennials to add that shot of lime punch, especially if you select from the huge roster of hostas that fit the bill. Here are just a few ideas.

Chartreuse Hostas

I was wowed by the sumptuous, big Hosta montana ‘Aureo-Marginata’ in the Montreal Botanical Garden’s fabulous shade garden. Here it is with Phlox divaricata keeping it company.

Hosta montana 'Aurea-Marginata'

And in my own garden, a trio of big ‘Zounds’ hostas lights up an east-facing border, along with old-fashioned yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata).

Hosta 'Zounds' & Lysimachia punctata

Another workhouse chartreuse perennial is the bleeding heart Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (formerly Dicentra). Here it is in bloom at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver with the dark-red tulip ‘Queen of Night’. What a gorgeous combo!

Van Dusen Gardens-Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart'

And here it is in the Shade Garden at Montreal Botanical with the feathery (and unusual) annual Asparagus tenuifolius.  Talk about a hit of sunshine.

MBG-Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart' & Asparagus tenuifolius

One of my favourite new shrubs is the Tiger Eye sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailmer’). I grow it in my own garden and love its chartreuse leaves in summer, that turn a delicious apricot-orange in autumn. But I adored this border at Montreal Botanical Garden, where it served as a brilliant backdrop for a sensuous ensemble of plants, including goldenrod, Tuscan kale, heuchera, little bluestem grass and ‘Cherry Brandy’ rudbeckias.

Montreal Botanical Garden-Rhus Tiger Eyes

Euphorbias, anyone? Chartreuse needn’t just be leaves, either. This was a simple but striking spring pairing under trees at Montreal Botanical Garden: ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris) with marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris).

Montreal Botanical Garden-Euphorbia palustris & Matteucia struthiopteris

A massed planting of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) in flower offers a spectacular lime punch, especially when paired with other June beauties like the alliums and catmint (Nepeta racemosa) co-starring here at the Toronto Botanical Garden.  And note that drift of ‘Isla Gold’ tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) behind the lady’s mantle, another stellar chartreuse plant.

TBG-Alchemilla mollis & Nepeta racemosa

Speaking of the Toronto Botanical Garden, every year I enjoy the way annual plants are used in fabulous container arrangements (by the uber-talented Paul Zammit). That was especially true of this big, tropical-themed urn, with its frilly, variegated ‘Indian Dunes’ pelargoniums. Look how perfectly those wine-red markings in the leaves echo the spiky ‘Red Star’ cordyline in the centre.

TBG-Pelargonium 'Indian Dunes'

I also loved this line of window boxes at the Toronto Botanical Garden, with their repeated use of the Japanese forest grass ‘All Gold’ (Hakonechloa macra), punctuated by the tender ‘Goldcrest’ Monterey cypresses (Cupressus macrocarpa) behind.

TBG-Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'

The more common Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, shown with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) below, is no slouch in the looks department either.

RBG-Mertensia virginica & Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

And what about this delightful, chartreuse double-bill in Shari Ezyk’s Etobicoke, Ontario garden?  Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ with Lamium maculatum ‘Beedham’s White’.

Shari Ezyk-Hakoechloa macra 'Aureola' & Lamium maculatum 'Beedham's White'

Another chartreuse grass I adore is Bowles’ Golden Sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’). Here it is at VanDusen Botanical Garden with Stachys macrantha ‘Superba’.

Van Dusen Gardens-Carex elata 'Aurea' & Stachys

There are many chartreuse annuals that will add oomph to a border or container. In my own garden, I’ve tried several over the years in my deck pots, like this golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) accenting orange, pink and red geraniums.

Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'

In Marnie Wright’s Bracebridge, Ontario country garden, the popular ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) looks particularly charming in a rustic windowbox. I love the way it pairs with the orange blackeyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

Marnie Wright-Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita'

Another sweet potato vine that acts as a good foil is Ipomoea batatas ‘Illusion Emerald Lace’, shown below with blue and purple salvias at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Montreal Botanical Garden-Ipomoea batatas 'Illusion Emerald Lace'

Apart from plants, of course, there are myriad ways to add a splash of chartreuse via furnishings, stains and paints, and funky little accents. No one does ‘funky colour’ better than Portland’s Nancy Goldman. Here she shows just how creative you can get with an old pair of party pumps. I love this idea.

Nancy Goldman-Succulent High Heel

Nancy’s garden has a fun party vibe, especially with the paper lanterns that go perfectly with that lime-green hosta below.  And how cool paired with the blues.

Nancy Goldman-Party Lanterns

You’re not always sure what you’re seeing in Nancy’s garden, so I’m not sure if this chartreuse rail really was meant to be a home for marbles. But it’s an eye-catcher!

Nancy Goldman-Marble Rail

After all this garden touring, let’s finish up by taking a rest in a pair of comfy chartreuse garden chairs nestled in the long grasses in Chanticleer’s Bell’s Run Woods. Time to put our feet up — and maybe try a sip of that flowery cordial crafted by those French monks. Bottoms up!

Chanticleer-Green chairs in Bell's Woodland

Green as in Irish, Green as in Garden

Unlike most of my Paintbox Garden ruminations on colour, this one has a slightly more whimsical, personal approach. After all, March (my scheduled green month via my New Year’s resolution), contains St. Patrick’s Day — so two birds with one blog. Green Array-Janet Davis Ask anyone in my family what my favourite colour is, and they will all know the answer: green. My bedroom walls are kiwi-green; my kitchen is celery-green; our summer cottage is stained sage-green. Even my car is forest-green. My Green Subaru Outback

My clothes (many of them, anyway) are shades of green, from bright chartreuse to olive, no matter the season. Janet Davis-Green-Summer & Winter

Perhaps my passion for green comes from having family roots on the Emerald Isle. This pile of stone and slate is all that remained of my grandfather’s childhood home and blacksmith stable in what was once Kilkinamurry, near Banbridge, County Down, in Northern Ireland. I took the photo when we visited the ‘old country’ in 2008. But look at those lovely spring-green fields!  Green as in Ireland!

Campbell House & Blacksmith Shop ruins-County Down

The old Campbell house and blacksmith shop on Glen Corner, as we found it in May 2008 on our trip around Northern Ireland.

This (below) is how it looked in 1917. My great-grandmother Ellen Ann, the gardener, and great-grandfather Patrick Campbell are there in the centre, with some of their children and grandchildren around them, the men in their blacksmith aprons.  My grandfather, also named Patrick (Paddy) Campbell and also a blacksmith, had already immigrated to Canada in 1911.

Campbell Family House & Blacksmith Shop- Glen Corner-County Down

From left, daughter Maggie (m. Cooney), granddaughter Minnie McIvor, Ellen Ann, Patrick, son James and grandson Willie (Bill) McIvor.

Yes, Paddy Campbell. Perhaps I’m drawn to green for the love of gardening I inherited from my grandfather, seen here listening to 11-year-old (bossy? eager? young gardener?) me in his vegetable patch in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when we would visit from the west coast for our summer vacations. (That’s my uncle Vic and cousin Debbie in the background).  If gardening is in the genes, I proudly claim a share of his DNA.

Janet & Paddy Campbell-Saskatoon I have green eyes, too, for what it’s worth – and I like to imagine I was born with them so I could ‘see’ the world through nature-tinted irises.  But of course, green eyes are a product of inheritance (both my parents had blue eyes, which makes mine kind of rare) and melanin pigment and light scattering, so I can’t claim any special powers there. No, I’m quite sure that my love of restful, cool green is a direct result of being so energized and happy in the green and growing world.

Green Eyes-Janet Davis But speaking of pigments, let’s talk about chlorophyll, the pigment that makes our world “green“ and enables our survival on earth through the process of photosynthesis, in which life-enabling oxygen is a waste product. Chlorophyll is in every plant, (there are two types, Chlorophyll A and B, depending on the photosystem of the plant). Though we call it the ‘green’ pigment, in fact it is because it reflects back unused green spectral light waves (sunlight provides the energy or photons needed for photosynthesis) that we perceive it as that verdant colour. In the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) below, the leaves are metabolizing chlorophyll even as they unfurl. A few weeks from now, the full complement of chlorophyll will have turned the leaves dark green.

Sugar maple-Acer saccharum-flowers & leaves In the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) below, photosynthesis occurs from the moment in spring when those first leaves unfurl until the moment they lose their chlorophyll and expose the underlying orange and yellow pigments in autumn, before ultimately separating from the tree as falling leaves (abscission). It happens zillions of times a day in every leaf, as long as sunlight is there to power it.  That is how the tree feeds itself, and by extension us and other animals – through all the vegetable foods and plant-eating animals we eat. Gymnocladus dioicus-Kentucky Coffeetree

Once upon a time, we got along quite well understanding the science behind photosynthesis via a simple equation, like the one I made below.  The tree leaf absorbs 6 molecules of carbon dioxide via the porous stomata in the leaf surface, while drawing up 6 molecules of water from the soil.Mix them up using solar energy in the chlorophyll-rich chloroplasts in the plant tissue cells, and voila! Plant sugars are synthesized and oxygen is released. End result: the tree feeds itself and grows, and we breathe in the released oxygen. Substitute corn or lettuce or any number of edible plants, and you have the planet’s green grocery store. Add in a grass-eating cow or plankton-eating salmon (incidentally, ocean-borne phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the world’s oxygen) and you have the photosynthesis-enabled meaty side of the diet. Photosynthesis

Perhaps it’s no surprise that photosynthesis is not really as simple as my little bare-bones equation.  If you thought it was, do yourself a favour and take 12 minutes to watch this excellent video. Then watch it again, and again, for this is the single most important process for life on earth.

BACK TO THE GARDEN….. Now that I’ve written a blog-length introduction with a lot of questionable personal asides, what is there to say about green in the garden? First, of course, it’s the quiet framework — often evergreen —  for all the splashes of colour that attract bees and butterflies (like the Painted Lady on the purple coneflower below). From a design point of view, you need that neutral background to make the colours pop, and give the eyes a rest. And from a biological point of view, each plant must photosynthesize in order to flower, fruit and set seed. Painted Lady butterfly on echinacea

Since many of the plants we think of as “foliage” accents are happier in dappled light, we often consider green designs as being a gift of cool shade, like this leafy section of the David Lam Asian Garden at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden in Vancouver. UBC-Botanical Garden-Creek

Or this ferny glade at Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden. What a perfect little scene! Ferny Glade-Van Dusen Gardens-Vancouver

And I adore the Takata Japanese Garden at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. Look at all this green, with just the tiniest burgundy-red contrast. Takata Japanese Garden-Horticulture Centre of the Pacific-Victoria BC

One of my favourite places to visit in May is the shady woodland garden at Toronto’s Casa Loma. It’s full of northeastern wildflowers (trillium, Virginia bluebell, wood poppy, among others), many of them spring ephemerals, but shimmering in a rich tapestry of ostrich ferns. Casa Loma-Wildflower Garden

The Shade Garden at Montreal Botanical Garden is a spectacular part of this world-class garden, and the subject of one of my favourite blogs. I marvel at how they use just the smallest touch of colour to add sparkle to what is an overwhelmingly green eden under mature trees. Shade Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

Even without dipping into the other colours in the paintbox, you can design some pretty cool combinations using green, as the Toronto Botanical Garden did here using hostas, ornamental grasses and hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Grandiflora’, front, and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, rear) Toronto Botanical Garden-green vignette'

Green is good for drawing lines in the garden, whether ornate, as with the parterre here at Chateau Villandry in France’s Loire Valley,  with its symbols of love and music….

Villandry-Second Salon-Ornamental Garden …or more simple, like the little Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden at New York Botanical Garden.  Some years, the green knots are filled with leafy plants like cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), below….

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (1) …. and other years, something more colourful, like clary sage (Salvia sclarea), here. NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (2) You can even draw with green and enjoy the painting when the garden is covered in snow, as with the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden, below.

Boxwood Spiral-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden Lawns are green, it’s true, but you can even have fun with a boring green lawn by turning it into a checkerboard path like the one here at Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake, (I’ve blogged about Lakewinds before – have a look.) Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast-Niagara-on-the-Lake Though they sometimes seem overused in gardens, hostas are valuable for the elegant foliage statement they make. (If only gardeners would stop cutting off those bee-friendly flowers!)  Here are just a few of the thousands of cultivars that boast every possible permutation of ‘green’. Hosta Array

Green furnishings and accessories can be added to the garden with spectacular results. Look at this fabulous scene at Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, on Long Island, New York. The cushion on the chaise lounge is the icing on the foliage-green cake. Patio & Chaise-Landcraft Environments

And this elegant garden room in Toronto – once a utilitarian garage before being opened up on two walls — was paved in limestone and furnished as a cool, chintz-and-wicker outdoor retreat. Former Garage as Garden Room

In her Raleigh, North Carolina garden, garden writer Helen Yoest has this mint-green Luytens bench to sink into when she needs a rest. Isn’t it pretty?

Helen Yoest-Luytens bench Containers can be green-themed, too. I love my little Home Depot ceramic pots, below. Filled with succulents – they head out to the deck table each spring and I ignore them almost all summer. Succulents-Green Pots

Well, there are containers, and then there are containers….. How about these wonderful urns from Landcraft Environments? Gorgeous, right? (By the way, though Landcraft is a wholesale nursery and closed to the public, it does open one day this summer for the Garden Conservancy, on July 9th, 2016. Plan a trip to the Hamptons around it; you won’t be sorry!) Urns-Landcraft Environments

Let’s end this little exploration of green with a few vignettes. The first is from Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA, near Philadelphia, my favourite small public garden in North America. (I’ve blogged about Chanticleer before, Part 1 and Part 2). Yes, it’s a pleasure garden with a talented roster of designers at the top of their game (including Dan Benarcik, the creator of this scene). Yes, there are greenhouses in which to store all the delectable tropical plants used here. And yes, there’s a generous budget and most of us can only afford the inspiration, not necessarily the ingredients. But isn’t it wonderful, this lush, green greeting? Don’t you want to linger before opening the door?

Chanticleer House GardenBut even a small space can feature a tiny, perfect vignette, like this cool green welcome in Portland designer/writer/garden guru Lucy Hardiman’s colourful garden. A Paris bistro chair, an array of green foliage plants, a soft-green wall behind, and a funky ceramic tile in the brick paving, just to keep things interesting. Perfection. Lucy Hardiman-Green Vignette Something to think about, as we contemplate another chlorophyll-rich spring in our own gardens.   Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart' & Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'

Not a Blog!

This is not a blog. I repeat: this is not a blog.  It is merely a taste of blogs to come this year. And they will be about COLOUR!  Or color (if you prefer it without extraneous British/Canadian vowels).

Flower Colour Array-ThePaintboxGarden

Yes, I thought it might be time for The Paintbox Garden to adhere to its stated theme. So each month of 2016 will be devoted to a different hue, beginning with JANUARY, which will be white as the driven (or walking) snow. White as in wonderland, appropriate to the season. White as an even paler shade of pale. And of course, white as in perfume – coming up soon.

White Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

FEBRUARY will be red, as in better — than dead, paint the town —, roses are —,  and UB-40s favourite beverage.  And the longest, boldest wave length in Isaac Newton’s spectral light arsenal. Plus, of course, swamp hibiscus.

Red Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MARCH will be green (yes, I know, hackneyed Irish trope for St. Paddy’s). But it is the only really important colour in the garden paintbox, as all chlorophyll-lovers know.  Nevertheless, as Kermit is fond of saying, it ain’t easy being green.  My March blogs will help dispel that notion.

Green Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

But being Kermit-green is definitely easier than being chartreuse, which is half-green and half-yellow. I will squeeze some limes… and chartreuses…into my March blogs as well.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Because it’s the cruellest month, as T.S. Eliot reminded us, APRIL will be blue. Actually, I chose blue for April because of all those lovely little azure bulbs that spring up from the snow. But there will be azure blues….

Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

….and lighter sky-blues for the entire gardening season, too.

Sky-Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MAY will be pink, as in the darling buds. Think crabapples, weigelas, columbines, peonies, and phloxes and hydrangeas for later in the season. There will be lusty pinks…

Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and delicate, light pinks.

Light Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

I’ll skip magenta because I wrote a love letter to that neon hue in 2014.

JUNE will be purple. Riots often break out about what purple means (for the record it comes from the Greek word porphura, for little murex sea snails that bleed that dark crimson ‘purple’ dye). So let me say June will be about lilac-purple..

Lilac-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

.. through lavender-purple…

Lavender-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… into violet-purple…

Violet-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and finally rich, royal, Seagram’s Bag, Tyrian purple.

Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

JULY will be all sunshine: lots of yellow…

Yellow Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and gold.

Gold Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

AUGUST will be black(ish). And hopefully some good thunderstorms!

Black flowers & leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

SEPTEMBER will be every lovely shade of brown, as in grasses and seedheads.

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

OCTOBER will be jack-o-lanternly, clockworkly-orange.

Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

And I’ll throw in peach (even though it likes to party with pink, too)…

Peach Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and apricot (even though it sometimes hangs out with the gold crowd)…

Apricot Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and salmon for a well-rounded fruit & fish diet.

Salmon-Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

NOVEMBER will be wine or burgundy, because who doesn’t fancy a little vino in dreary November.

Wine Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

DECEMBER will be silver, as in bells, hi-ho, and Long John.

Silver Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

And that’s a promise!

Painting With Chartreuse

I am neither here nor there about hostas. I recognize that they’re good garden plants, great for shade, useful space-fillers and the bees do love the flowers (though, perversely, many gardeners cut them off to maintain the architectural look of the things).  And they do add a lot to the texture of a garden, especially in shady areas with other tonal variations on green. However, they can be overused, or misused (too much sun, too little water) or just plain abused (slugs, I’m looking at you here!)

But every once in a while, I see a really great use of hostas and I thought I’d share this one.  Hostas-Chinese Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

It’s from the beautiful Chinese Garden at Montreal’s Jardin Botanique – a line of hostas that looks, from the other side of the pond, like a thick charteuse felt marker has been wielded against the sombre dark-green of the foliage nearby.  And it’s made more emphatic by the parallel line of water irises in the pond in front.  Line of hostas behind irises

When I got closer, I saw how beautiful it looks arrayed along the pebble-mosaic walk. Hostas & pebble-mosaic path

And, naturally, in such a stellar Chinese garden, it has to have the perfect name!Hosta 'Chinese Sunrise'