A Garden for Misfit Plants
Ever wonder where the leftover or unwanted plants of a design go to pasture? Many of these plants find their way to designer Anna Brooks' Michigan garden, where it’s ok to be a misfit.
The plantings around a designer's house are often created in serendipitous fits and starts as free plants become available. "As a busy mom and business owner," says designer Anna Brooks, "my garden usually comes last on my list of priorities, so it really has to hold its own. It’s also been described as a home for misfit plants."
"I've often taken in discarded plants from job site remodels and tucked them in here and there, where they fill spots and thrive. My garden changes from year to year." The front entry to Anna's own home with its traditional American architecture is the ideal centerpiece for a beautiful country garden. The space is marked by a freestanding pilaster with lighting designed to guide guests to the house. Beyond this view lies a sunken terrace that's screened by waves of black-eyed-Susans, lavender, and pink bigleaf hydrangea that all offer early color to the short Michigan growing season. "I have multiple levels in this landscape with terraces and secret garden on a lower level. My long, perennial borders disguise the transitions so you don't see the terrace that supports parties of well over a hundred guests."
In early fall the front entry is dominated by the vivid leaves of Cornus florida and Cornus kousa (dogwoods), tall ornamental grasses, and remnants of summer planting. "The garden is a workhorse; with two young boys and two rambunctious dogs, I try not to be too attached to any one part of the landscape, as I’ve found the beauty of plants can be fleeting at their hands (and paws)." What really tests the mettle of Anna's planting is that she doesn't use irrigation. "We don't water because there's enough rainfall, so any plant that doesn't do well or dies will not be replaced. This is a testing ground for future landscapes so I can confidently tell my clients that plant will indeed perform well with little water and care."
This garden shows great diversity of form under snowfall to provide interest during the colder months. Even during these barren days the planting shines through. "My garden gives me great joy. I often make time to walk it and photograph the changing of the seasons during my hectic days as a landscape designer and office manager of the design/build company I own with my husband. Every plant I consider for this landscape should give me interest in all four seasons. I really try to avoid those with a short period of interest because their visibility is too brief."
Steps composed of quarry stone allow for gaps for plants. This technique, derived from old English gardens, is being resurrected as permeable paving becomes the trend. Here, white sweet Alyssum breaks up the continuous paving with irregular mounds of fragrant flowers. This integration of plants into walls and paving helps these constructed elements look completely at home in this country garden. Alyssum is well known to self sow, so these plants shed enough seed to guarantee new plants in their place come spring.
These eastern redbud trees are in full spring bloom attesting to the origin of its name. Purplish blossoms encrust the entire canopy in color which is balanced by the smoky fall tones of the foliage in autumn. These natives of the eastern states will naturalize in most gardens to draw in wildlife to feed, mate, and nest in its branches. "When we bought the property there was an old redbud which produced many seedlings each year. Since I love moving plants around I transplanted them throughout the garden because they offer such broad seasonal interest. I also planted the new variety of bronze leaf redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', with bronze-colored foliage all season long for unique color throughout the garden."
Designers understand how powerful contrast can be in a planting composition. Anna utilized this purple leaf Japanese maple along with many other bronze foliage trees and shrubs. With few red tones in the garden, these darker-burgundy-leaved accent plants stand out in striking contrast. "I like to use bronze foliage to play off as an accent to center or anchor a planting composition so your eye rests on the purple color." Bronze leaf tones literally vibrate against the yellow-green, fine-textured foliage as shown here in the foreground.
"In the spring, bearded iris are the first flowers of the year, says Anna. They rise into the naturalistic planting behind a stone retaining wall. The presence of bronze-leaf trees break up the preponderance of green and cool flower colors for a potent dose of deep romance to bring out the beauty. Far too many garden designers don't realize how powerful these bronze accents can be in drawing the eye to a carefully composed composition that would otherwise be lost in this heavily planted site.
"I love woody shrubs. One thing we liked about this property was the big, old, lilac borders that are mostly purple with one white. They're at least 60 years old. We maintain them in their natural form, pruning only for health and shape. We are surrounded by woods on four sides, so above the lilacs is a bank of sassafras that adds color to that border later in the season." In spring, Anna's old-fashioned flowering shrub border bursts into fragrant flowers to make this terrace private for evening parties around its subgrade fire pit. Lilacs are a great example of plant choices tailored to the local climate. The long, cold, winters in Michigan give lilacs the cold they need for spectacular spring bloom. Such plants are perfectly suited to this region, naturalizing into easy-care shrubs that require no cold protection, special pruning, or copious amounts of water.
As the season progresses the early lilac blooms fade while a variety of hydrangeas burst into flower. The soft tones of this garden with its pink, lavender, and mauve help the wide range of plants blend together into a soft analogous composition. With so many different hydrangeas—from oak leaf natives to fall blooming hardy types—it's clear Anna loves her mophead blooms and they clearly love her garden too.
In the depths of summer daylilies spring up with their tall flower stalks in the hot color range that blends perfectly with Rudbeckia, a native of the northern prairies. With hundreds of different Hemerocallis varieties to choose from, these may be among the hardiest forms to survive the cold northern winters. Such hot-colored gardens are most common in regions where winter is long and the growing season is relatively short.
Large country gardens allow expansive compositions that provide unique opportunities for light and contrast during different parts of the day. Here, Anna is playing the large dogwood and hydrangea leaves against finely textured grasses. "I love Miscanthus 'Morning Light' because its huge, and I like the way light shines through the foliage." Here, the grasses screen off other garden rooms beyond as sunlight plays through seed heads for unique illumination.
"I love large swaths of plants and foliage that holds itself as the garden waxes and wanes through the seasons. I'm not afraid to move plants around when they spread outside their designated space. My Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead' is so at home it produces seedlings each year that I transplant around the garden." Anna favors the soft, pastel tone perennials that result in soft mounds of color. As they spread onto the gravel driveway they create an irregular edge defined by the plants, not by the edge of the driving surface.
See more at Arcadia Gardens.