Harmony in the Garden Blog

My spring garden – color, texture, scent, and form

Purple GateWhile walking around my garden the other day my friend excitedly commented ‘I totally get what you’re doing here – you write all about this in your book!’  Curious as to what she meant, I asked her to elaborate.

She then began to excitedly tell me how I combined this texture with that, placed this color to echo that color, put the upright form here, etc.

It was definitely a pinch-me moment to have someone not only explain the thought process I used in my own garden, but to also use passages from my recent book as a guideline.

As we walked around together I realized my garden consists of many different layers, with various ones peaking at different times throughout the year.  And while my book deals with the three biggies (color, texture and form) I’ve also got layers in my garden such as scent, climbers, beneficials, bulbs, etc.

So instead of just showing you pretty pictures of my spring garden, I thought I’d show you the different layers that are shining brightest right now.

These layers take time to create, but over the years they build upon themselves and transform a pretty garden into one that’s unique and breathtaking throughout the year.  Enjoy! GreenBar

Color Echoes

In my book, I emphasize the importance of creating seasonal echoes in the garden, with color being just one of the  layers.  Color echoes not only help knit together a seemingly disjointed garden (which can easily happen to those of us who are plant-a-holics) but they’re an opportunity to create powerful, yet subtle, layers in the garden.

Simple color echoes are created when using foliage and flowers as a repeating source.  Take it up a notch by creating complex echoes using other, less obvious, elements of the garden to repeat a color – such as edibles, a plant’s new growth, stems, containers, hardscaping, etc.  Here are some of my favorites happening right now:

Oxalis and Heuchera color echo copyColor echoesGreenBar

Corsican helleboreCoprosma and Snake RootGreenBar

oxalis 'Sunset Velvet' succulentsGreenBar


When people think of spring gardens their thoughts generally turn to colorful blooms.  And while this is completely understandable (after all, by the time spring rolls around we’re all sick and tired of winter’s dreary days) don’t forget about the importance of texture.

Many blooms offer a textural treat (as is the case here with the loropetalum’s fringe flowers and the euphorbia’s frothy blooms) but don’t forget the longer-lasting texture coming from foliage.  Here are some of my favorite sources of texture happening right now in my garden:

loropetalumloropetalum close-upGreenBar

coprosmaeuphorbia 'Glacier Blue'GreenBartextural combotextural garden bedGreenBar

Shape & Form

I often get asked the difference between a plant’s shape and its form, as the terms are frequently viewed as interchangeable.  Really, though, the plant’s shape refers to its two-dimensional qualities; otherwise known as an outline, silhouette or contour.  A plant’s form, however, is three-dimensional and includes depth along with an outline or contour.

Another way to define form is the overall shape of a plant when in leaf  (the leaves emphasizing the depth). On the other hand, when plants are dormant (without leaves) it’s their shapes (or two-dimensional outlines) that are most noticeable in the garden.

Does it really matter which term you use?  Not really.   In my own garden, it’s the twisting form of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, the round snowball flowers, the perfectly concentric circles of the camellia or the horizontal planes of the viburnum tomentosa that provide this long-lasting layer in my garden.

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick in springViburnum opulus 'Roseum'GreenBarCamellia 'Pearl Maxwell'Viburnum tomentosaGreenBarSweetspire 'Little Henry''Sea Jade' PhormiumGreenBar


There’s nothing quite like jasmine’s first wave of perfume in the early weeks of March, or the sweetly delicious scent of citrus to provide an unexpected moment of bliss.  My garden wouldn’t be complete without these powerful fragrances, each one signaling ‘Spring is here!

Some of my favorites come from the dainty blooms of the pheasant’s eye narcissus, pink jasmine, my ‘Washington Naval‘ orange tree, roses, and philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’.

pheasant's eye narcissusPink Jasmine GreenBarCitrus blooms
'Cecil Brunner' roseGreenBar'The Prince' rosePhiladelphus 'Belle Etoile'


My garden isn’t considered large, just under 1/3 of an acre, but because of the many different layers I’ve incorporated throughout it seems so much bigger once you’re wandering through it.  That’s the magic of layers.

The top layer of my garden (besides the trees, that is) are the many different vines and climbers that I have scrambling over fences, trellises, arbors and even up my daughter’s now outgrown play structure.  If there’s a blank vertical surface, you can be sure I’m going to cover it!

clematis 'avalanche'ClytostomaGreenBar
clematis 'Nelly Moser'Wonga Wonga vineGreenBarclematis montana'Amethyst Falls' wisteriaGreenBar


Bulbs are some of the very first harbingers of spring, with their cheerful colors and promises of warmer weather to come.  Some of my favorites are the simple pale yellow freesias that I bought decades ago at a garage sale, the oversized and otherworldly purple umbels of the Peruvian Scilla, the delicate nodding magenta blooms of the ground orchid (a gift from my friend, Saxon Holt) and the little crocuses that I like to mix in with my herb pots.

crocus and lemon thymeScilla peruvianaGreenBarGround orchid (Bletilla striatta)FreesiasGreenBar

Hummingbird Magnets

And what’s a garden without the magic of hummingbirds?  I love to plant flowers specifically for them, with favorites including our native currant (ribes sanguineum), grevillea ‘Superb’, abutilons, fuchsia ‘Hawkhead’ and phygelius ‘Candydrop Red’.

ribes sanguineumGrevillea 'Superb'GreenBarabutilon megapotamicumAbutilon 'Nabob'GreenBarFuchsia magellanica 'Hawkshead'Phygelius 'Candydrops Red'GreenBar

I hope you’ve enjoyed my garden tour!

I plan on writing something similar this summer, fall and winter to help further illustrate how to create year-round interest in the garden during the different seasons.  In the meantime, though, what are some of the favorite layers in your own garden?

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  • Just wondering what type of euphorbia those are next to the Purpurea with the chartreuse blooms in the third picture down? Are they all the same? I like the dark red to green blooms they have. Makes them pop real nice.

    • Hi Rich, yes those euphorbias are all the purpurea variety. I think the color difference is due to the age of the blooms. They tend to bloom almost year-round here so some are older blooms (the darker) while the new ones are more chartreuse. Glad you liked them!

  • Absolutely breathtaking and so special…just like my dear friend Rebecca.

  • Rebecca, my 13 year old daughter and I have been looking thru your book each night to get ideas. We are in South Dakota and with such a short season (the perennials are just waking up now), we want to make the most of our garden while we can. We’ve started comparing pictures from last season and have big plans – Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi Christine – I’m so happy to hear my book is helping you with your gardening plans! It’s so great that you have photos from last year, too, as they’ll really be helpful in showing you what you might want to do differently this time around without having to wait until everything is grown in. Definitely keep me posted – I’d love to see what you both end up with! 🙂

  • Beautiful examples from your garden. Vines are a primary item on my list to add this year as I realized I don’t use them enough. I also spent the last few weeks moving plants around to create a more harmonious feel to my garden based on the concepts in your book.

  • Dear Rebecca,
    Your words voice the magic key to unlock the mysteries of designing a garden that will make each of us smile… no matter the style. Thank you!

  • I love your garden, so much to see. The iron cross oxalysis(?) in the first photo is gorgeous. I have been trying to get it to grown in East Tx. for a while. I do have a couple of leaves showing this spring.

    • Thanks Jan! When I bought that oxalis I wasn’t sure if that oxalis would return or not each year but luckily it comes back bigger and better than ever each spring. I hope yours does as well!

  • It has been so great to see you in the paper and magazines. I have shared your books with friends and you never cease to inspire me. I ripped out so many things last fall and am gardening up and refreshing enthusiastically. It feels so wonderful to be re-engaging with my yard. It is small but I make the most of it.

    • I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying my book, Dot, and thank you for sharing it with your friends! When the moment’s right, isn’t it fun to rip out and refresh? I’m so glad you’re feeling re-engaged with your garden. Have FUN and send photos!

  • Thanks for the walk through your lovely garden! what a nice way to start the day. Now I’ll have to hit the nursery this weekend….I’m suddenly inspired between reading your book and your blog I may have some form and texture in my garden yet! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and talent!

    • Thank you, Donna, I’m so glad you could ‘join me’! And have fun this weekend working in your garden – I’m planning on doing the same thing and am relishing the thought of it!


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