Colourful Comebacks


Colourful Comeback

Australia’s leading garden designer Jim Fogarty is at the cutting edge of garden design trends, and he says using more colour in the landscape is a hot and very welcome new trend.

Fashions in garden design are continually evolving, especially in Australia where gardeners are still finding their own identity and breaking free of traditional moulds. A notable shift is happening now: in many designs we’re seeing more flower colour used in planting schemes, and that’s a big change from the designs of recent years.

Once was foliage

In the last decade, architectural foliage – plants with striking shapes – has been the dominant theme. They’re great for making a statement and in some cases they’re been very drought-resistant choices, too.

However, problems have arisen where planting schemes have used such strong foliage en masse, where in most cases it would have been better to use these bold-looking plants only as statements within a garden bed.

One of the great downsides to this trend has been the noticeable reduction in the propagation of flowering shrubs, so much so that the availability of plants other than architectural foliage types has been limited. This style of planting has often resulted in minimalist plantings, owing to many garden designs being heavy on paving and walling materials for entertainment areas and light on plants.

Changing times

Gardeners are passionate about plants. Australian gardeners in particular appreciate the natural look of the bush, or the spring blossoms of fruit trees, and of course the ‘grow your own’ movement of organic vegie, herb and fruit gardening is very popular now too.

Amongst many gardeners there is a strong sense of wanting more colour in gardens, and for those who do like colour, now is the time to express yourself in your plantings.

This trend may harp back to the 1980s and 90s, but what we will see this time is a more contemporary approach to using colour in gardens. Rather than relying on coloured foliage for strong impact, colour will again focus on flowers. The shapes of plants will still play an important role in designs, but garden beds will slowly lean towards a stronger colour palette demonstrating more emotive and softer looks.

Troubled times

There is no denying that the Global Financial Crisis has affected Australian gardens. People simply have less disposable income. Maybe we will see a shift away from the ostentatious garden complete with built-in kitchens and over-the-top sculpture and water features, to a softer, more subtle garden where the hardscape (ie, paving, walls, etc) takes a back seat and more relaxed planting schemes come into play.

Certainly garden beds are getting bigger, and I think the proportions of hardscape used in outdoor entertainment rooms and planted areas will slowly shift. It is simply cheaper to propagate or buy small potted plants than it is to install large constructed outdoor rooms with built-in kitchens and sound systems.

Water issues

There were some great advances in garden design that came out of the drought years, such as the concept of harvesting rainwater to soak back into the ground. This has been taken to greater heights with the advent of home billabongs. But with the heavy rains over the summer of 2011, and in many parts of Australia heavy floods, comes the problem of mosquitoes, and not only can this be extremely uncomfortable if you are entertaining at night, but in tropical areas this raises risks such as the spread of dengue fever.

Local colour

Using more flower colour in planting schemes is great for native plant lovers. There are many Australian plants with strong colours of red, orange or yellow and these all work tremendously well in modern gardens. There are also many flowering annual Australian natives such as Brachyscome (paper daisy) and Scaevola, which work perfectly as edging plants and gap-fillers in large beds. There are many Australian plants with interesting and quirky flowers which are perfect for picking and using as table decorations inside. Many native trees also display vibrant flower colours such as the firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus).

Drought tolerance

Although we have had good recent rains in many areas, we still need to plan ahead and be wary of future dry periods, because they will surely return. There are numerous flowering annuals and perennials with showy flower displays which survive dry periods with ease. Many of these are herbaceous plants which can be easily chopped back and maintained in the dry. There’s a huge choice of plants with interesting flowers which thrive in periods of dry weather. Herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme are all very easy to grow in dry climates and very usable in the kitchen or on the barbecue.

Morphing styles

This change in gardening culture won’t happen overnight, and realistically there will be many instances where you won’t see much change at all. In many cases, the better outcome is a gradual morphing of both these styles of gardens where architectural foliage is used discreetly as focal points or statements in the garden. Strong foliage like this works well as part of the bones of a good garden and a successful planting scheme can combine these bones with flower colour for maximum impact.

Strong colours

The trend towards using more flower colour is not about replicating the cottage garden look that was so popular several years ago. Colour now means vibrancy and statements using strong colours.

Some of the flower colours making an impact include orange, crimson, brown, yellow, red, violet, blue, green and strong pink. It is the strength of colour which is the key rather than using pastel palettes. Softer colours can of course be used but the idea it to create an exciting visual impact which displays colour flair and vibrancy. It is almost as though the plants are screaming out to us to tell us that colour is back and foliage plants are taking a back seat.