Elegant, monochromatic landscaping | SummitDaily.com

Elegant, monochromatic landscaping

Colleen Smith
special to the daily
Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post

Moon gardens are on the rise. Designed with plants that produce white blossoms, these monochromatic gardens sparkle by day and glow by night.

“People think one color, especially white, is boring, but there are so many flowers in the white palette; and there is not just one color we call white,” said Ebi Kondo, a senior horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens for the past 10 years.

Just think about the maddening options of tints and shades of white at a paint store!

“Some white is yellow, some eggshell to grayish. Some whites have a pink hue,” he said. “And you can play with variegated leaves with cream and silver. Even pale yellow is appropriate in the white garden.”

Naturally, white gardens also include a spectrum of green foliage.

“Green is very important in the white garden,” said Kondo. “In England, people use yew tree and boxwood – very robust greens – as background to white. Privet makes a nice green hedge. Use evergreens. Having a little bit of green turf is a good contrast to a white bed.”

Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, trailblazing British garden designers of the late-19th and mid-20th centuries, respectively, popularized monochromatic gardens.

Annie Huston, a Denver landscape designer influenced by her upbringing in France, sings the praises of the moon garden.

“I adore monochromatic gardens. They happen to be my favorite thing in the world. The all-white garden is much more interesting and a lot more serene because it’s subtle. I find the one-color garden very elegant, simple and sophisticated,” said Huston, who with her husband, Scott Huston, a landscape architect, founded Columbine Design in 1985.

A monochromatic garden allows plant and leaf forms and textures to take center stage.

“The emphasis is not just on color, so you see all the variations in the plants. You notice the foliage more,” Huston said. “You look at the blooms more.”

A potted angelonia continues the theme of O’Neill’s all-white garden.

“A white garden should look crisp,” Kondo said. “Make sure you have enough pure white.”

And make sure, Kondo added, to remove spent white flowers that can decay to disastrous effect. “Once white flowers fade, it can look pretty bad. Some of the white roses wilt and look like wet tissues on the shrub; and you don’t want too much gray or yellow or beige, so be sure to deadhead.”

And then there’s the issue of hybridized plant rogues returning to their original color, marring the all-white impact.

Huston sees an all-white garden as a canvas for other color bursts.

“Introduce colors with furniture or wall gates or fences that you paint,” Huston said. “I’m a great fan of using one color of plants in the garden, but using color in the structure.”

She cited as an example the blue bridge immortalized in Monet’s paintings and the green shutters on the artist’s house at Giverny in her native France.

“People think it’s very scary to paint a bright blue or orange wall, but as a backdrop it’s magnificent for plants. The monochromatic garden becomes something else immediately,” she said, “and it’s so easy to change. It’s just paint.”

All-white gardens illuminate shady spots in a yard. Huston also noted the practicality of moon gardens for certain clients. She executed an all-white garden design for a career woman: “It was a huge project with all annuals in beds and containers. The homeowner during the day had a hectic life, working, but should be there to enjoy the sunset and the plants – white, off- white, cream, and a very little bit of pale yellow – stood out at night in her garden.”

Kondo agreed: “White gardens look very nice in the evening. People with busy schedules, this gives them time to enjoy their garden after workdays.”

That said, Kondo vouched for white gardens’ ability to hold up in Colorado’s blazing sunshine.

And many white flowers are fragrant, Huston pointed out: “Lily-of- the-valley, roses, hyacinths, gardenias, many of the plants we value for their perfume are white.”

Huston emphasized that monochromatic gardens can be either modern or classical, depending on elements of design. Be sure to include plants of varying heights in a monochromatic garden.

And know that white gardens tend to be an acquired taste.

“I equate it to teenagers who might not like violin music or opera, but as you get older you acquire that taste,” Huston said. “I think monochromatic gardens are an example of an acquired taste.”

A monochromatic garden requires discipline. On the other hand, a one-color design helps rein in sometimes overwhelming plant options, making decisions at the greenhouse less anguished

“A palette of one or two colors helps gardeners make choices, so it’s not such a headache,” Huston said. “It’s more like you have a collection going. You can go out and see new plants, and you’re attracted to them because they are that color you’re working with, and it makes the job much easier.”

Kondo warned against planting aggressive white yarrow.

And Huston offers the following design caveat for monochromatic gardens: “Stick with simplicity, even in one color, so the garden is not a jungle of everything and anything in that color. If you like a plant of one particular color, let that plant be, and give it room to be what it wants to be in the garden,” Huston said. “Simplicity in the garden is really dramatic.”

Colleen Smith gardens in central Denver and will publish her first novel this summer (fridayjonespublishing.com).

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