Archives For garden design ideas

Towering palms, bold swaths of color, and tropical plants have transformed the Chicago Botanic Garden into an exotic paradise this year for Brazil in the Garden.

To create the “Brazil effect,” floriculturist Tim Pollak and Andrew Bunting, the Garden’s assistant director and director of plant collections, drew from designs by renowned Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, who was known for his bold, modernist style.

We talked with Pollak and Bunting to learn how you can grow a Brazil-inspired tropical garden.

Aechmea 'Blue Tango'

Aechmea ‘Blue Tango’

1. Find color in foliage

Burle Marx used bold, bright colors such as purple, orange, and green in his gardens. When planting your garden, Pollak recommended choosing foliage plants with various shades of green. Foliage tones are endless: silvers, blues, bronze, and burgundy. Foliage plants can also bring out the colors of flowers, and vice versa. For instance, if your garden’s foliage is silver, blue, and purple, pops of white flowers will enhance the foliage colors. “Remember,” Pollak said, “there are no rules when it comes to color.” Complementary or monochromatic schemes are subject to taste. But gardens can still be attractive without flowers. Instead, think of flowers as icing on the cake.

Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum 'Pie Crust'

The bright, speckled foliage of Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum ‘Pie Crust’ provides a host of contrasting color all in one plant.

2. Use contrasting textures and shapes

Burle Marx was known for using large swaths of contrasting textures and forms in his landscape designs. Get the Burle Marx effect by choosing plants with various surfaces and shapes. For instance, Pollak said to think about the foliage of your plant—is it shiny or muted? Waxy or fuzzy? Is the venation (patterns of veins on the leaf) netted or in parallel lines? Are the shapes of the leaves long and thin, or short and wide? When shopping at your local garden center or nursery, follow Pollak’s trick: Lay your plants next to each other on your cart or on the floor. You’ll see which plants have different styles, which create a lush, biodiverse mood in your garden.

Calathea burlemarmii 'Burle Marx' and Heuchera 'Dark Mystery'

This Burle Marx peacock plant (Calathea burlemarmii ‘Burle Marx’) surrounded by the dark purple leaves of Dark Mystery coral bells (Heuchera ‘Dark Mystery’)

3. Think: thrillers, fillers, and spillers

Pollak and Bunting often advise gardeners to think “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” when planning their garden design. By using a combination of these kinds of plants, you can easily create a varied garden design. Here’s a breakdown of the three types:

  • Thrillers: Tall plants are your “wow factors.” They’re dramatic, and stand out in your garden. Think of these plants as conversation starters. Pollak and Bunting recommend palms (Arecaceae), elephant ears (Colocasia), and cannas (Canna generalis) for Brazil-themed “thrillers.”
  • Fillers: Medium-sized plants fill space in your garden. They can be interesting foliage plants or flowers, or flowers with interesting foliage. Pollak and Bunting recommend Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and firecracker plants (Cuphea ignea) for Brazil-themed “fillers.”
  • Spillers: Low plants spill out of a container, or trail along the foot of your garden bed. Pollak and Bunting recommend sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batata) and purple spiderwort (Tradescantia pallida) for Brazil-themed “spillers.”
"Thrillers," "spillers," and "fillers" in the Crescent Garden.

In the Crescent Garden, Bismarck fan palms (Bismarckia nobilis) and canna (Canna × generalis ‘Orange Punch’) create “thrillers.” The spectacular foliage of Grecian urn plant (Quesnalia marmota) and bromeliad Neoregelia ‘Sunkiss’ fill in the planting (“fillers”). Mexican bluebell (Ruellia brittoniana ‘Purple Showers’) and Purple Heart spiderwort (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’) create the “spillers” in the grouping.

4. Create repetition for effect

When arriving at the Garden’s Visitor Center, you might imagine you’ve landed in Miami. Rows of swaying coconut palms, towers of bromeliads, and beds of elephant ears greet visitors as they walk through the Garden. The tropical illusion is deliberate: We repeated similar plants in our beds to broaden the Garden’s designs, making small spaces look larger. In your own garden, you can use swaths of similar plants in rows or curving shapes. The result may transport you to the tropics.

Repetition for effect: planting areas with a single plant create an effect of making an area seem larger.

Repetition for effect: planting areas with a single plant create an effect of making an area seem larger. Golden yellow Duranta erecta ‘Aurea’ is planted around a Buccaneer palm (Pseudophoenix sargentii). Dark Neoregelia ‘Royal Burgundy’ is planted at the front of the bed alongside a grouping of fine-textured Stipa tenuissima feather grass. Behind the palm, a grouping of spiky-leafed Naranjilla contrasts with the fuzzy-leaves of Tibouchina grandifolia.

5. Add a touch of tropics

Planting a tropical-themed garden doesn’t require you to use 100 percent tropical plants, said Bunting, but a few plants can have an impact. To create a Brazil-themed garden, do as Burle Marx did: Find plants within your reach. That is, at your local garden center or nursery, find palms or other tropical plants that can be brought inside for the winter. To care for tropical plants, keep in mind they thrive in heat and humidity, and need plenty of moisture. Use supplementary fertilizer to keep them healthy and thriving. And remember, if you want the tropical effect without tropical plants, there are plenty of ways to think creatively by using bold houseplants, annuals, and perennials.

Aechmea 'Yellow Berries'

Vase plant (Aechmea ‘Yellow Berries’) adds a perfect touch of the tropics to your summer displays.

Learn more about the flora and fauna of Brazil in our upcoming conservation talks, held on the following Thursdays from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Linnaeus Room, Regenstein Center.

AUG
10
Birds of Brazil
Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist, The Field Museum
AUG
17
A Butterfly Adventure in the Amazon Basin
Doug Taron, chief curator of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
SEP
28
Plant Diversity and Conservation in Brazil
Pat Herendeen, senior director, Systematics and Evolutionary Biology, Chicago Botanic Garden
OCT
12
Mycological Adventures in Brazil
Greg Mueller, chief scientist and Negaunee Foundation Vice President of Science, Chicago Botanic Garden

Photos by Tia Mitchell Photography
©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Did the striking Silver Fox foxglove make it into “the show” this spring? Who decides which flowers make the cut anyway for the unfurling of 75,000 annuals at the Chicago Botanic Garden?

We’ll show you a few of our spring favorites that made it through the multi-level review process.

Digitalis purpurea ssp. heywoodii ‘Silver Fox’

Digitalis purpurea ssp. heywoodii ‘Silver Fox’ (Sensory Garden)

“Behind all of these beautiful displays, there is a lot more happening than what you may think,” said Tim Johnson, the Garden’s senior director of horticulture. “It can be very complex—different plants have different production times.” Besides considering how long it takes for a plant to grow in our greenhouses, the Garden’s experts also consider the desired size and bloom time.

Every season, each horticulturist proposes a color scheme and submits plans to Johnson. About ten months before spring or the start of the other seasons, the proposals are reviewed by experts, including Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director; Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist; Brian Clark, manager of plant production; Andrew Bunting, assistant director of the Garden and director of plant collections, and Johnson. The team also considers how each proposed plant fits into a garden’s design and color scheme, along with its habit, culture, and cost. “They all need to be looked at globally to make sure there are different plants, varieties, and color schemes throughout the entire Garden,” Johnson said. “Each garden should have a unique look to it.”

Viola 'Fizzy Grape' by Ball Seed

Viola × wittrockiana ‘Fizzy Grape’ (Lake Cook Road entrance and gatehouse)

Primula vulgaris ‘Primlet Golden Shade' by Panam Seed

Primula vulgaris ‘Primlet Golden Shade’ (Heritage Garden troughs)

Hyacinthoides hispanica 'Excelsior' by Brent & Becky's Bulbs

Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’ (Heritage Garden troughs)

Ranunculus asiaticus Maché 'Purple' by Ball Seed

Ranunculus asiaticus ‘Maché Purple’ (Green Roof)

Linaria maroccana 'Licilia Peach'

Linaria maroccana ‘Licilia Peach’ (Circle Garden)

Calendula officinalis 'Neon'

Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’ (Sensory Garden)

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Purple’ by Panam Seed

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sweet Purple’ (Sensory Garden)

Tulipa 'Amazone'

Tulipa ‘Amazone’ (Crescent Garden)

Before spring slips away, come see what’s in bloom at the Garden and look for the annuals that made the final cut, including—you guessed it—an unusual foxglove known as ‘Silver Fox’. Before you visit, download our free GardenGuide app to help you find plants.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org