My Favorite Color In The Garden

As I am preparing to teach an all-day design course at CMBG, I have been going through all of the essentials of garden design: texture, form, repetition, symmetry, function, and of course, color. I love color! Too many landscape designers claim that as they become more sophisticated in their tastes, they eschew color for simple shades of green. That is hogwash. A friend and I used to joke that when designers get to their “I prefer shades of green” stage, they are usually burned out.

Miles Davis

Alright, enough opining, let’s get onto my favorite color – blue. When I say blue, I mean steel blue. The blue of Panicum ‘Heavy Metal,’ Agave americana, Zenobia pulverulenta, and this week’s plant pick, Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow.’ This blue is soft while at the same time being powerful if used appropriately in the garden. If this color were music, it would be Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain (smooth, beautiful, and strong). I would love to design a blue garden with these and other plants represented and of course blue speakers emitting Concierto de Aranjuez.

Fothergilla x intermedia 'Blue Shadow'

Right now, Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow’ is striking notes of “what is that beautiful plant?” to our guests. This cool, moist summer has allowed the foliage to be bluer than ever. I grew Blue Shadow in Pennsylvania and the leaves would turn from blue to green after a couple of 90 degree weeks. Our plant is nestled under a deciduous larch that provides afternoon shade for the shrub. This fothergilla is a hybrid between the large Fothergilla major and the small Fothergilla gardenii. One of the first cultivars from this cross was Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Mt. Airy,’ which was introduced by Dr. Michael Dirr. Then, Gary Handy from Handy Nursery in Oregon found a branch sport of Mt. Airy with the intense blue color we now know as Blue Shadow.

Fothergilla fall

Over time, Blue Shadow fothergilla will form a shrub 6′ tall and wide. It prefers moist, well-drained and acidic soils. A bit of afternoon shade is good for the plant to keep the deep, powder blue foliage. In the fall, the leaves will change to deep reds and oranges before falling off of the plant. In late spring, the plant is covered with the bottle-brush shaped white flowers. The flowers are attractive but the real reason to grow Blue Shadow is for the color of the leaves.

Do you like steel blue foliaged plants in your garden? If so, I whole-heartedly recommend that you grow Blue Shadow fothergilla.

– Rodney

Images: geneseymour.com, finegardening.com

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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1 Comment

  1. Eileen on August 15, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Love that steel blue color too, especially when sort of mixed with gray. Way fun!

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