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Garden Design

Marsala colors my day

Maria von Brincken

Maria von Brincken

January 15, 2015

Aren’t these peonies luscious? The burgundy wine pink Marsala, Pantone’s 2015 color pick, is embodied in these peony selections. These yummy visions are from ‘Peony’s Envy’ collection. I can envision them growing in my garden and enlivening my vases. I need such feast for the eyes and soul this freezing Mid-January day. The wind chill factor creates a single digit number to greet me today.

This deep color needs a bit of design finesse in a planting. Paired with contrasting foliage allows you to see them and not have the flowers recede into a dark green background. Creating visual contrast lets these gorgeous hues standout and be admired.

Consider using foliage of pale green (think spirea), blue (think dwarf ‘Globe’ spruce), variegated (think Pieris ‘Little Heath’), or silver foliage (Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’) behind these rich hued peonies. In some gardens a limey yellow conifer foliage (think Chamaecyparis ‘Filifera Aurea’) works if you add white and some orange.


Spruce ‘flowers’ in the snow

Meanwhile, the orchids in my living room are still resting, but happily I notice buds forming. I’m ready to ditch the poinsettia on my kitchen counter and create a still life of three colorful primroses. I’m thinking of how to group them and what kind of container will do that effectively. Today or tomorrow I’ll travel to my local garden center to gather the plants.

I’m often asked what I do in the winter. The answer is varied. I design landscapes and gardens booked in the fall for early spring installation. Writing and giving lectures to various groups—mainly garden clubs–also occupies my winter season. To keep abreast of current landscape and horticultural practices and ideas, I attend professional lectures and webinars.

And I ponder. As a designer, artist, and gardener I respond to winter patterns of sunlight, frost, and snow. And to the images and ideas that cross my path via my emails like marsala colored peonies from Peony’s Envy.

Alan Chadwick – that’s me back left, learning at a respectful distance

Recently, I received a copy of a lecture given by my organic garden mentor Alan Chadwick. I remember the inspiring talks he gave in the Garden Chalet at the Student Garden at UC Santa Cruz. A Shakespearean actor with an amazing horticulture vision and knowledge, and a key founder of the organic farm movement in this country, Chadwick opened my mind to larger concepts about human and plant relationships and our planet.


From the lecture the following paragraph spoke to me yesterday as I read it.

“Oh!’ you would say, “I am not thinking about trees or leaves or the hair on the plants.” Aren’t you? How do you know? For when you see a tree in the middle of a meadow, you would look at the tree and say to everybody, “Do look. It’s the most beautiful tree! Isn’t it wonderful?” And everyone said, “Yes, isn’t it wonderful?” But it isn’t it at all. It’s the approach to the tree. It is the light. It is what is behind it. It is either the blue sky, or the clouds, or the stars shinning that is making the tree what it is.”

His statement sums up my approach to landscape design and the reason to group peonies with contrasting background. Landscape design is more than plants and walkways. It’s the way all elements work together to create a special place that is your front entry garden, driveway, or back garden. It’s a place that asks you to pause and smell the peonies.

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