by NANCY GOODWIN photography by ROGER HAILE illustration by GORDON MORRISON
THE COMPLEX OF GARDENS at Montrose, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was begun in the middle of the 19th century by Governor William Alexander Graham and his wife, Susan Washington Graham. Since my husband, Craufurd, and I purchased and moved to the property in 1977, we have maintained and greatly expanded the plantings. The grounds include several 19th-century buildings, a rock garden, a scree garden, several acres of woodland plantings, and large areas of sunny gardens. The main sunny gardens are on the site of an old kitchen garden. Gravel paths separate the beds, and a color scheme or peak season unifies each section.
The southeast quadrant of the old kitchen garden is lower than the surrounding area. The banks form a basin that traps the heat and sun, making it delightful in winter but very hot in summer. In this, the hottest section of the sunny gardens, we chose a cool blue and yellow color scheme. The soil was in excellent condition by the time we planted it, for we grew crimson clover and buckwheat for years while we studied the site. We searched for plants with flowers of purest blue and clearest yellow. We hoped to avoid tinges of red. Yellow was easy, but we found few truly blue flowers. Of necessity, we finally persuaded ourselves that the slightest tinge of red makes the planting more interesting.
ANNUAL: larkspur (Consolida ajacis)
Many of the annuals in the Blue and Yellow Garden at Montrose self-seed freely, adding an air of spontaneity.
ANNUALS: love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena, foreground), larkspur (Consolida ajacis, background)
SHRUB:Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’
ANNUAL:Eschscholzia lobbii (in container)
SHRUB:Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge” (right of container)
To tempt people to wander down past the old barn to the entrance, we placed cast-iron urns planted with Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita” and Melianthus major on top of the stone wall that separates garden from barnyard and planted a golden rain tree, Koelreuteria bipinnata, at the farthest corner. We can see these plants from the parking area. This garden is also fairly near the woods, so we needed a transition from formally laid-out beds to a more natural landscape. We also wanted a garden for year-round interest, and sought evergreens and conifers that would suggest yellow or blue in winter.
This garden is bordered on three sides by stone walls, two of which replace the sloping banks that were there when we arrived. The third wall is one of enclosure and serves to separate the formal sunny gardens from the old barnyard. It consists of an old cast-iron fence from my grandmother’s farm in south Georgia set on top of a partially dry-stacked stone wall. The iron gates serve as part of the fence itself. A 10-foot-wide gravel path crosses the bed from east to west, leading to steps and the color gardens and aster border. The main path is intersected by a shorter, narrower path, at both ends of which we placed a bench. A large iron sorghum pot planted with orostachys species and sempervivums gives us and our visitors reason to pause at the intersection of the paths. These succulents, barely visible in winter, turn gray, green, red, or silvery blue when the weather warms, and by the height of fall produce little towers of flowers accompanied by the hum of honeybees and wasps.
STRUCTURAL SHRUBS AND TREES
This is a garden for all seasons, so we planted a circle of boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) rooted from the 70-year-old plants we found near the house. This green circle adds structure and a sense of formality to the garden in winter. In summer the lush growth of perennials nearly hides it. Maintenance of this hedge is a challenge, for areas of the boxwoods brown out in summer when neighboring plants grow too vigorously. We cut out the brown bits of boxwoods in late winter and, as soon as the branches receive sunlight and spring warmth, they grow new leaves and small branchlets.
Conifers with blue- or yellow-tinted needles grow on the periphery of this garden, where they provide our main winter color. Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard” and C. ‘Filifera Nana Aurea” grow in the southwest corner near the chartreuse-stemmed Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’. In early summer Clematis ‘Sho-Un” clambers through the dogwood and blooms with medium-blue flowers. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Golden Showers” and several bluetinged junipers, including Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, J. squamata ‘Blue Star’, and the columnar J. communis ‘Gold Cone’, with bluish needles all year and yellow new needles in spring, grow throughout the garden. Juniperus deppeana ‘McFetter’s Blue” sprawls in the background beyond the boxwood circle. Two hollies, Ilex cornuta ‘O” Spring’, with cream and green leaves, grow near the yellow-leaved willows. Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge” grows near the base of a bright blue ceramic bird bath. Its gray-blue leaves with creamy yellow edges remain bright all year.
Both flowers and leaves provide color and interest in early spring. Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’, yellow and blue violas such as ‘Princess Yellow’, ‘Sorbet Lemon Chiffon’, ‘Buttermilk’, ‘Joker Blue’, ‘Clear Crystals Clear Blue” bloom beginning in February. Narcissus ‘Hawera” and ‘Liberty Bell” and tulips ‘Mrs. John T.Scheepers’, ‘Golden Apeldoorn’, and ‘West Point” have yellow flowers and return each year. Grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) and Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue” provide blue flowers at about the same time.
When the bright yellow buds swell and evolve into leaves on an unidentified salix, the tree looks as if it is in flower. Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon” blooms with sweetly fragrant white flowers followed by yellow leaves, and S. japonica ‘Lime Mound” grows its bright chartreuse leaves.
Spring color reaches a peak in May, with irises bearing yellow or blue flowers. We have mostly unnamed forms of Iris germanica and I. sibirica. A small-flowered I. pallida ‘Cengialtii” grows at the corner of the central axis of the two paths. Improved forms of I. spuria and I. pseudacorus extend the iris show throughout the month. Self-sown annuals, including love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and larkspur (Consolida ajacis), form the main display during the second half of May. When the perennial Veronica ‘Goodness Grows” first produces its spikes of dark blue flowers, I know I will have them until December. In May we bring potted plumbagos (Plumbago auriculata) out of the greenhouse, and place them at the east entrance to the garden. We include our white-flowered form with the medium and darker blue ones, and they provide flowers all summer.
KEY PLANTS IN THE BLUE & YELLOW GARDEN
1. Aster tataricus
2. Buddleia ‘Sungold’
3. Caryopteris ‘Worcester Gold’
5. Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’
7. Plumbago auriculata
9. Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’
10. Salvia guaranitica
11. Salvia mexicana
12. Salvia uliginosa
13. Spiraea japonica ‘Lime Mound’
14. Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’
15. Vitex agnus–castus
16. Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’
17. Solidago ‘Fireworks’
18. Chamaecyparis cvs.
19. Koelreuteria bipinnata
Putting It Together
1. Arundo donax var. versicolor (grass)
2. Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone” (shrub)
3. Duranta erecta ‘Aurea” (tender shrub)
4. Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge” (shrub)
5. Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star” (shrub)
Kniphofias begin in late spring and continue into fall with spikes of yellow or soft orange flowers.
EARLY TO MIDSUMMER
In midsummer, grasses become more prominent. Festuca glauca and gray-blue Panicum ‘Squaw’, P. ‘Cloud Nine’, and P. ‘Sky Racer” provide color and texture. The fescue is blue all year, perhaps most importantly in winter, and the light, airy quality of the panicums in fall relieve the density of many late-blooming salvias.
In mid-June we pull out the larkspur and nigella, scattering their ripe seeds for next year. We add annuals and tender perennials with yellow flowers for summer. Lantana camara ‘Loleta’s Lemon’, L. c. ‘Golden Spreader’, and the chartreuse-variegated L. c. ‘Samantha” all grow well in our heat and humidity. Annual Xanthisma texana and Verbesina encelioides provide clear yellow flowers from late spring to frost. Yellow-flowering daylilies and Canna glauca bloom. The bluish cast to the leaves of this canna are a second reason for growing it in this garden. Canna ‘Nirvana’, with broad leaves striped with yellow, has a briefer period of bloom but retains its foliage all summer. Ratibida pinnata, then Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen” bloom in midsummer, followed by Rudbeckia laciniata and R. grandiflora. Tender blue-flowering plants Evolvulus pilosus ‘Blue Daze’, Salvia sinaloensis, Tweedia caerulea, and Otacanthus caeruleus help fill the spaces left by spring annuals.
ANNUAL: love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)
PERENNIAL:Euphorbia hyberna (self-seeds vigorously) Evergreen shrub: Chamaecyparis ‘Filifera Nana Aurea’
1. Spiraea japonica ‘Lime Mound” (shrub)
2. Kniphofia ‘Yellow Hammer” (perennial)
3. Achillea ‘Moonshine” (perennial)
4. Festuca glauca (grass)
Salvias provide much of summer’s blue. Several cultivars of Salvia xsylvestris open the season by late April with their blue or bluish purple flowers. We cut the stalks to the ground in June to stimulate a later flush of blooms. Intense blue-flowering Salvia guaranitica and sky-blue S. uliginosa bloom longer than any others. Both species begin before May ends and continue until frost. Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue” joins its cousin slightly later, with blue flowers protruding from near-black calyxes. Our latest-flowering and tallest form of S. guaranitica, appropriately named ‘Late Blooming Giant’, usually blooms from late August on. Some plants of S. ‘Indigo Spires” usually survive our coldest winters and bloom all summer, but we always add more to get the voluptuous show we want in fall. Dusky-blue-flowered S. azurea var. grandiflora begins to bloom in mid-August on stalks with gray-green leaves. We grow S. farinacea from seed to have it in masses, and add rooted cuttings of the tender S. mexicana ‘Lime Green’, valued as much for its bright chartreuse calyxes as for its blue flowers.
MIDSUMMER TO AUTUMN
By midsummer blue or yellow flowering shrubs provide the background color for the garden. The deep blue spires of Vitex agnuscastus and the smaller clusters of yellow flowers on Buddleia xweyeriana ‘Sungold” appear until frost. The lower growing Caryopteris xdandonensis blooms near the edge of the garden and the yellow-leaved cultivar ‘Worcester Gold” spills into the gravel path. Yellow-flowering roses bloom in spurts from late spring throughout summer but are best in May and September. Rosa pimpinellifolia is the first to bloom, with pale yellow, intensely fragrant flowers. This is quickly followed by R. ‘Happenstance’, a sport of ‘Mermaid’, and root suckers from our R. ‘Mermaid” in various sizes—all perfect miniatures of their parent. Roses ‘Lawrence Johnston’, ‘The Pilgrim’, and ‘Graham Thomas” bloom off and on. Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur” entwines the wrought-iron fence, and C. xdurandii sprawls over the daylilies and spiraeas.
Large mats of Delosperma nubigenum, Erysimum ‘Golden Gem’, Thymus ‘Evergold’, and Opuntia compressa soften the straight edges of the paths by spreading into the gravel walks. Leafy stalks of the elegant, wispy Amsonia ciliata var. filifera fall into the path near the sprawling bloom stalks of yellow-flowered Oenothera macrocarpa.
In late August the golden rain tree sends panicles of brilliant yellow flowers toward the sky followed by beige lanterns of seeds. Dark green leaves of grape hyacinths push up through the soil. I can see the first true leaves of love-in-a-mist. It is time to sow seeds of violas for next spring, take cuttings of the tender salvias, and begin my work to sustain the cycle of bloom in this garden. There is no end, no beginning of the bloom cycle in the Blue and Yellow Garden at Montrose. H
If You Go
Montrose offers seminars on garden design and propagation and holds two annual Garden Open Days. This year the spring seminars will be held on May 2 and 3, and the spring Garden Open Day will be May 17. Reservations are required for the seminars. For more information, call 919-732-7787 between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. eastern time.