Green With Ennui

An article in the most recent issue of Fine Gardening, entitled “Designing with green”, opens with this statement: “This ubiquitous color, when used well, can be just as exciting as vibrant flowers.”

Ostrich fern as a foundation planting in m front garden.
Ostrich fern as a foundation planting in my front garden.

To which the obvious response is: No. No, it can’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate green-only plants. I understand that there are intriguing variations in the size, texture, and sheen of leaves. Plus, I get that green can come in a wide variety of shades: light and dark, yellow and blue.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger and lady ferns along the path to the back garden.

Ostrich fern (Metteucia struthiopteris) and wild ginger (Asarum canadense) are probably my two favorite plants grown for no other color, and I have quite a bit of both in my garden.

Ostrich Ferns
Ostrich fern fiddleheads unfurling. Fiddlehead is such a great word.

But I’m sorry. An all-green garden, no matter how varied and artfully designed, cannot be as exciting as a garden full of red, blue, orange, pink, and/or yellow flowers. That’s just how I feel.

People with shady gardens may feel slighted by this view. They may feel that green is the only option available to them. This is not true, of course. There are perennials (especially spring bloomers) that will flower in shady gardens, and annuals that will bloom all season long in shade. Not to mention all the foliage plants that come in a variety of colors. I am especially fond of white and green caladiums, myself.

Wild currant with strands of dangling chartreuse flowers.
Wild currant with dangling Chartreuse flowers.

Green is by nature a soothing color, not an exciting one. It links and calms all of the more dazzling colors of the garden. This is an extremely valuable service to provide to the gardener.

Also, who is to say that all gardens should be exciting? An all green garden could be very tranquil, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Colors, like people, should not try to be all things to all gardens.

New Guinea Impatiens
New Guinea Impatiens with Caladium in our shady back garden.

One thing I have to say, though. I have very mixed feelings about green flowers. I do like Chartreuse flowers, such as those of ladies’ mantle (Alchemilla mollis) or wild currant (Ribes americanum). But flowers of green or white suffused with green, such as you find on some tulips or hellebores – to me they look like they are coming down with a case of food poisoning. Blech.

What do you think – do you find green to be an exciting color? And what about green flowers?

51 Comments on “Green With Ennui

  1. Yes, I guess I pretty much agree with you on this … except for the Hellebores. Very few Hellebores look “blech” to me, mainly because their colors keep changing throughout the season. They may start one color, but then they transform and shift and end up an entirely different shade by the end of their bloom time. Ooops, sorry. I get carried away with Hellebores … (Love the path on the way to your back garden!)

  2. I’m a bit mixed on this one….I think that there are areas where it works but I do like a shot of color mixed in to these areas as I too have many shady green areas. Your comment about flowers in the green family being sick cracked me up!!! I have yet to purchase any of these yet probably for that same reason! May I just say that your shady nooks are insanely beautiful!!! I don’t think I have ever seen that area in the 5th picture! Amazing! I’m going to a presentation this weekend by the author of “Fine Foliage” I am very excited to hear her speak and her thoughts on this very topic! Great Post! Nicole

    • That area in the 5th picture is in front of the back porch. It is full of Virginia bluebells in spring, by early summer they have died back and I put a bunch of containers there.

  3. I like your Ostrich fern and yes, fiddlehead is a great word. I’ve seen pictures of all-green gardens that I thought were amazing, but I didn’t see them as “my” garden.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen an all-green garden that i was really enthusiastic about, though I suppose that could change.

  4. Although I host the GBFD meme I am the last person to suggest that a garden should be only about green foliage. Foliage is what supports everything else and if it isn’t considered I think that a garden can be less exciting than where the flowers are the icing on the cake, so to speak. As to green flowers, it depends some I like others not. The garden slowly becoming green in spring IS the most exciting time, don’t you think?

  5. In the spring I can’t get enough of fresh greens, as the leaves unfurl and the grass starts growing, but I crave colour most of all. I once visited a Japanese garden where it was just moss, ferns, bamboo and leafy shrubs – beautiful too, but more of an oasis than a “garden”. Couldn’t enjoy a garden without colour!

    • It’s true about the fresh green of early spring – though at that point there is very little in the way of other colors.

  6. It’s not exciting in the way we define the word “exciting” but maybe they refer to the different forms and textures. Also when you use variegated green foliage it can create an exciting effect that’s why I use variegated foliage very sparingly. A green garden certainly has a soothing, calming effect. Green flowers? Not for me really 😉

  7. I love green flowers: the apple green flowers of the Corsican Hellebore that we have to call Argutifolius these days is not bleh to me. And the dear little bells of Nicotiana langsdorfii or Nicotiana’Limegreen’ and Zinnia ‘Envy’- all gorgeous.

  8. At this time, green would be very exciting to me instead of the white. 🙂 Kidding aside, I have some shade areas where I have color in the spring but the rest of the time it is mostly green. I like green but maybe I could use a little color there. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

  9. The range of greens in a garden is the most challenging and exciting for me, combining textures and forms and adding green/white plants such as Spring Green tulips and Astrantia major ‘Large white’ and the range of Euphorbias with green flowers all absolutely lovely. I agree with the thoughts of Christina and Chloris too.

  10. Agreed; why else would I work so hard to get some color in my shady garden? Especially in mid-summer, when the variation of green colors is diminished.

  11. Completely agree. An all green garden is soothing and can be beautiful but it is not exciting.
    I love the combo of the ferns with the bleeding hearts and the white and green caladiums are lovely. This will be my first year growing them. I plan to put them in a window box. Can’t wait.

    • I also love ferns with bleeding hearts. They also go great with Virginia bluebells. I like the white and green caladiums much better than the pink.

      • Oh, Virginia bluebells are one of my most favorite plants! That would be a super combination.

  12. Fiddlehead is such a wonderful name ! I rather like patches of green but wouldn’t like a whole garden in green…and like you I’m not a fan of green flowers, they just don’t look right

  13. I agree with you, Jason. In this region with so much that’s green, I find all those medium greens unexciting. Of course, you can do a lot with texture and scale, but most of our natives are still medium green. I do like chartreuse-colored early foliage, and I love dry regions’ gray-greens. What really floats my boat is a vibrant, full-on mixed summer garden with hits of hot color – yellow, gold, orange, burnt-orange and even a little red, tempered with a few blues. As for green flowers – I’m pretty much “meh”.

  14. I used to garden for a lady who grew only white flowers. Everything-lilacs, lilies, roses, annuals and perennials had to be white, and it was one of the most boring gardens I’ve ever worked in. I can imagine a green garden being the same.

  15. Amen. I love green, but only for about three weeks when it’s a flash of brilliance coming alive in a winter weary garden…. after that bring me blooms and they look great in front of the green backdrop..

  16. I like green very much but I must say that like you I am not particularly fond of green flowers.

  17. Love green but not so much green flowers. (Chartreuse, yes!) A garden of podophyllum could be as exciting to me as a garden of flowers but I’m weird about those. Palms, bananas, phormiums…I could be really excited by a foliage only garden!

  18. I have no green flowers but I love greenness in my garden: this is color that is expected all the winter.
    Have a nice time, Jason!

  19. Great post! Not only is the post itself a laugh (and I do agree there’s such a thing as too much unrelieved green) but also the replies you’re getting are so interesting as well as fun! Didn’t think the topic could garner so much controversy. We back on to a forest of mostly evergreens so even in winter we’re practically smothered in green. Given that, I really look forward to some color, ANY color about now. Even just spots of it here and there. And though I love my Hellebores, I agree that the green ones seem a bit redundant. Though fiddleheads are in a category all themselves–so like odd little creatures skittering across the soil–been reading some fairy tales, so cut me a little slack.

    • We have only one evergreen (a big Japanese yew). I’ll agree that green is welcome after winter, but not enough for the growing season. I don’t mind cutting you slack on the fiddleheads, they do look like little green critters.

  20. Nice post. I like green a lot in the garden, especially luscious shade gardens but that is because I live in a hot bright area and a thing lush is a treat to the eyes and spirit. When I lived in the PNW I didn’t like green that much because everything was green! For me it’s all about creating different types of gardens in one setting. There’s room for green shady gardens and bright, hot colors in my gardenscape.

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