Wednesday, June 27

The Importance of the Supporting Cast

When I arrived home after working at the garden center tonight, I discovered that two plants had newly bloomed... plants whose first blooms have been highly anticipated for a long time.

The first plant is my 'Sykes' Dwarf' oakleaf hydrangea. In my humble opinion, oakleaf hydrangeas (hydrangea quercifolia) speak for themselves. They are such stately plants, with white panicles, handsome leaves, and good form. That their foliage takes on jewel-toned hues in fall--and the bark and dried flowerheads add a ton of winter interest to the garden as well--seems almost too much to get from one shrub.

This one is an anchor of sorts in my front bed. It gives the eye a quiet place to rest amid the riot of the blue crambe maritima foliage, rusty Spanish foxglove spires, dark red snapdragon flowers and multiple purple- and yellow-leaf plants.

The second plant is anything but quiet. The canna 'Wyoming' has large, dusky purple leaves highlighted by a lavender flower spike and sherbet-orange blooms. This is one of those plants that screams, "look at me!" and was planted as a focal point in an otherwise unassuming bed.

Here, the dark, misty haze of bronze fennel that screens the air conditioning unit from view both highlights the leaf texture and helps its color blend in. The aging goatsbeard flowers are turning a warm tan that echoes the orange of the canna flowers (I wish I could say that was planned, but it's a happy accident) in a way that ties the canna in to the rest of the bed. The multiple grasses in that area make foliage seem like more of a focus here, further mitigating the bright bloom.

Originally, this post was going to be a quick, "Okay, I was wrong--work or no, I can't stop posting when I have new flowers in the garden" kind of post. But as I looked at the pictures of these two very different plants, I was struck how much their supporting cast of plants affected them.

Generally, you see oakleaf hydrangeas in naturalistic, quietly beautiful gardens. Cannas are most often seen in hot, colorful borders. Both are filling new roles here and surprising even the person who planted them. Makes me wonder what other plants should be reevaluated... and maybe given a different supporting cast...


chuck b. said...

I love oakleaf hydrangea. I saw canna with opuntia recently, and I thought it made a smart, unlikely combination.

So important to keep an open-mind and try new things.

Stuart said...

Helpful post Kim. You've sold me on your oakleaf hydrangea. I'm not sure if these are available in Oz but I'm going to start looking.

Kylee Baumle said...

This is one of the joys of gardening, Kim...the constant surprises. It's never boring, and neither is your garden.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,
I managed to sell several canna at the fete - they're not a shy plant!

Melissa said...

I particularly like the placement of the Canna - the jumping out of an unassuming bed by itself really gives it a different feel - more pretty and less bold - like slightly dramatic girl next door as opposed to the Vegas show girl look you get when you plant the canna in mass as so many people do or with other loud obnoxious is an idea I might have to borrow.

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

I love what you have to say about re-evaluating the roles of certain plants. I have to admit that I've always shunned cannas as being just too exotic looking for my fairly naturalistic garden, but I may have to rethink that. I love oakleaf're right: it does seem like too much to expect from one plant. It's the hydrangea that keeps on giving :-) Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great post and pictures! I grew some 'Tropicana' cannas last year and loved their fancy foliage! This year I am trying the 'Bishop of Langdorff' dahlias. I have never loved dahlias but this one has red foliage and bright red flowers so we'll wait and see. I totally agree with re-evaluation!

meresy_g said...

Once again, totally sharp plant combinations. I've had oakleaf on my list for a long time, but I didn't consider a dwarf, which would make placement possibilities much easier. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I actually think the canna looks more beautiful in this setting than it would in a hot colored border... Lovely.

Jared said...

I love your oakleaf hydrangea. Every time I see one, I think, "Oh, *yeah*!" I'd love to try one out in my zone 4 garden. Maybe with some protection? At any rate, yours is beautiful. Oh, *yeah*!

kris said...

I wish the oakleaf hydrangea was hardy here (zone 4) - like j.ben, I may be tempted to try it!! I planted cannas for the first time this year - in containers. After looking at your photo, I'm thinking next year I'd like to put them in a garden setting. Nice evaluation - I like how you share your thought process with us.

Ki said...

The dwarf oakleaf Hydrangea looks interesting and beautiful. I didn't know they had a dwarf form. I'll have to look for it. The regular one is such a huge plant. Unless we had an estate which we don't, I wouldn't even consider it. Thanks for posting a picture of it.

lisa said...

Great post, Kim! I too wish that oakleaf hydrangea was more cold hardy, but maybe one will be developed. (Plus I'm running out of places to put things unless I make another bed!) I always enjoy your analysis of plant combos...helps lend some focus to my generally "now where the heck was I gonna put this?!" method of garden design!

A wildlife gardener said...

I have never seen or heard of an oakleak hydrangea. I think it's foliage is stunning, never mind the lovely blooms. I have the petiolaris growing up the front of the house, but I'm thinking i'll investigate your beauty.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

I love Oakleaf, it is native to the US (one of two natives, I think). I haven't seen that cultivar before. I have been growing the dwarf 'Pee Wee' and that is about 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide after several years.

I recommend Canna lilies. The is such a variety of types, flowers and foliage you can find something that you like. They are not all loud and obnoxious.

Annie in Austin said...

Your combinations are great, Kim - and since the Hydrangea is a dwarf, maybe it can be a long-lasting relationship?

Cannas don't get much respect, but I like mine, too. The fennel/canna thing really works in your garden.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Unknown said...

chuck b., I've been looking for a way to incorporate opuntia, now that you mention that... hmm. Great idea!

Stuart, with all of your hebes and plumbagos and other things that we can't grow here... if you can't find the oakleaf hydrangea there I won't feel too sorry for you, I admit. ;)

Kylee, thank you for the compliment. I love the surprises, too!

john curtain, you're so right. I wish I could follow all of those canna you sold home to find out where their new caretakers are siting them.

me, I'm still giggling at the way you put that. You're right: It's like wiping all of the makeup off of one of those Vegas showgirls and finding out to your surprise that they're actually PRETTY under all of that glitter!

Colleen, so funny... I used to shun cannas for the exact same reason. I guess that shouldn't surprise me given all of the other similarities we're finding, huh? lol.

layanee, I've looked for those dahlias you mentioned for a few years and never could find them. I did just find 'Bishop of Oxford' dahlias on clearance, though, and they're supposed to have the same pretty foliage but an apricot-y flower. If the rhizomes still grow for me, I'll show you pictures later... hope to see your Bishops make an appearance on your blog, too!

meresy_g, I think you should draw my canna. :) The drawings you just started sharing on your blog are wonderful!

Thanks, Briana! :)

j.ben, I forgot that these guys aren't hardy that far north. They certainly look like they should be sturdy enough to handle a good zone 2 or 3 winter, though, don't they?!

kris, I have one canna in a container and I'm kind of torn. I think I like having them both places... but I'm not sure. The whole evaluation process is what I love to hear about when I'm reading other people's blogs, too. It gives me so many other ways to look at things outside.

ki, until I found out that there was a dwarf (there are actually a couple of dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas--go to for details) I was lamenting the lack of space in my yard, too.

lisa, my dear, can't you always make room for another bed??!! ;) (I'm an enabler... lol.)

Oooh, wildlife gardener, you have the climbing hydrangea?! That's on my list... or it would be, if my soil wasn't so darn dry here. *wistful sigh*

digital flower pictures, I believe that there isn't a whole lot of difference between the final sizes of our two dwarf oakleafs... unless mine is a tad larger. There is one very handsome canna in the Plant Delights catalog that I would love to get--it's called 'Intrigue' and it has narrow, upright foliage. Definitely not a loud and obnoxious one there, although I admit I didn't even notice (or care) what color its blooms were.

Annie, thank you for the compliments. I'm hoping this will be a long-lasting relationship! The hydrangea seems destined to behave itself, but the sea kale (of all things) appears to want to spread itself around a little more than I'd counted on! Could get interesting in that corner... :)

Anonymous said...

I love that oakleaf hydrangea. I wish I'd thought to get one when I still had room to plant it.

I am not much of one for cannas, but I *almost* picked up a couple the other day as they were looking so neglected on the bargain table. I admit though I'd be thinking of some kind of container planting, and the supporting cast would likely have an equally tropical flavour. Anyway it's a moot point -- but then again the season is far from over, so who knows!

Kati said...

Your comment about rethinking how plants are combined suddenly clarified my resistance to many plants that were and still are overused in massed bedding arrangements. Maybe I'll make friends with petunias and impatiens again too.

Post a Comment

One of my favorite things about blogging is the interaction--posts are often simply the beginning of an interesting conversation! So thanks for taking the time to join the discussion, and please know that I enjoy reading each and every comment left here. I try to answer as many as I can.