What do I mean by paint box gardens?
Let me ask you – if your garden is bright with colour? Is it an autumn spectacular rather than a fizzling out of high summer’s floral drama?
September gardens make me think of a child’s painting, brought home after the first day at school where they’ve used every colour in the paint box because they could.
So do you have tomatoes and peppers ripening from green to red in the greenhouse? Perhaps you have yellow Helianthus and purple verbena bonariensis towering over your silver leaved Lavender bushes?
Paint Box Gardens – Kitchen Gardens
Perhaps you have a kitchen garden with red runner bean flowers and ripening green pods. Yellow and orange pumpkins snaking their way through the base of the runner bean canes cover the dark brown fertile soil. Rainbow Swiss chard, a stalwart of the winter kitchen garden, are set neatly in rows. Still small plants, their leaves catch the warm autumn sunlight and radiate like an avant garde palette of neon paints.
In the ornamental kitchen garden a low hedge of box, Buxus sempervirens, adds a formal green hue to contain the riot of vegetable colours. Hanging in the potting shed, the warm golden shades of onions drying ready for storage reflect the glow of the wooden wall with its row of hand tools.
On the raspberry beds, the autumn fruiting yellow raspberries are less popular with the birds than the red fruits. If you haven’t tasted a yellow raspberry, your brain may get confused, expecting it to not taste like a red raspberry as it doesn’t look like one. They do taste slightly different; personally I think the yellow raspberry has a milder flavour than the red raspberry.
In the orchard a quince tree droops with golden furry fruit heavy on its branches. Richly fragrant already, but not quite ready to harvest. However, the pink-red apples are ripe and ready to pick. Biting into the juicy fruit we find garnet tinted flesh, a secret to increase our pleasure.
Paint Box Gardens – Ornamental Gardens
But paint box gardens are about those vibrant flowers and foliage as well as the colourful fruit and vegetables.
Have you come across Ceratostigma plumbaginoides? I think it’s worth growing for the way its wonderful name just trips off the tongue! But it should be grown in a paint box garden or a garden that needs autumn colour. It’s an inconsequential plant during the summer, a dense green mound of foliage. Then the electric blue flowers bloom and the leaves turn red. Suddenly its providing a punch of colour that guarantees it a place in even small gardens. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is also known as blue leadwort or Chinese plumbago. Pliny the Elder was one of those who considered it to be a cure for lead poisoning, hence ‘leadwort’.
Whilst paint box gardens are about colour, and I have focussed predominantly on the brighter shades, it’s not all about these. In order for the vibrant bold flower colours to work without clashing sometimes they need a contrast, a cooling down. So your red Penstemons, yellow Rudbeckia and orange Dahlia with bronze foliage (a gorgeous combination by the way) will look really good on sunny and cloudy days. But it won’t be a restful combination; it demands attention.
So try growing some ornamental grasses interspersed within the herbaceous perennials. The soft tones of the grass combined with their different form, or shape, sets off the dominant flowers. Add in the grasses swaying movement in the breeze and the element of sound appears to soften the vibrancy.
White shades add highlights to a painting. So too in paint box gardens. Scented white sweet peas scrambling up obelisks set within a deep flower border contrast with the brightly coloured flowers. A group of white cosmos with feathery foliage forms a backdrop to multi coloured galliarda in an annual planting scheme.
Paint Box Gardens – Autumn Colour in Your Garden
Our paint box gardens are inspiring a bright autumn show. Herbaceous borders could be filled with dramatic dahlias. Tall, colourful fireworks staked to support them in the autumn winds that will soon blow through our gardens.
Foliage plays a part too; the vivid red of Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia covering the soft creamy yellow of a Cotswolds house is a lovely sight.
But what if you don’t have all this vibrancy in your flower borders? What if your tomatoes are looking a bit sorry for themselves?
You could visit a garden centre or plant nursery to purchase some herbaceous perennials to give you some instant colour. But this isn’t a long term fix. Those plants need to be properly fitted into your whole planting scheme or you might end up with a dull spring instead.
The planning of a garden with good autumn colour is likely to begin a year ahead of the seasonal show. Yes, of course go for a bit of bling as a temporary boost to your flower borders; why not! But first, take photos and note down what you have already got in the garden. Note where there are bare patches; perhaps you had bulbs there earlier in the year, but nothing since.
And importantly, check your soil. You could spend time over the winter improving this, ready for planting in the spring. Those autumn flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials will mature nicely to give you a good autumn display. And it’ll be cheaper to buy smaller plants.
Visit gardens noted for their autumn displays to see the effect of all those vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. You may decide a softer but still colourful approach of pinks and purples would suit your garden better.
Be inspired! Check out our blogs for more ideas. Paint box gardens are fun as well as horticultural. And if you need help with the planting design, you know who to ask.