Red Leaves Ignite the Garden

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….It draws the eye and gladdens the heart.

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The garden beckons me every single day, but never is the pull so strong as during the month of April, when the trunks, stems and branches go from bare to brilliant. The pale green of spring is sublime, but it is the crimson hues that grasp and hold tight to our gaze.

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The threadleaf Japanese maples make quite the splash, even more so when accompanied by golds and silvery blues.

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But there are more reds out there glowing in the morning sunlight.

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Backlighting on the steep slopes enhances them all.

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Longer lasting than flowers, the sea of greens is punctuated with purply reds and pinky tones.

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In the more level Woodland Garden, the rays of earliest light ignite the emerging fresh, young leaves.

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Imagine if you will, the scene without the reds. Pretty, yes, but nowhere near as enticing.

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In the Gravel Garden, spikes reign supreme….

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….Rising up from the stony floor to burst forth with blooms soon.

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Clipped to rounds with pointy tips dipped in flames, Spiraea ‘Magic Carpet’ skips hand in hand with Digitalis ‘Husker Red Faire’, (see number 8 for explanation of the name), down the lane towards May.

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Red, it’s for gardens.


The cast of characters:

1. Acer palmatum var.dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ with Hosta ‘Sunpower’, a perfect match.
2. The long view from the lower deck.
3. Long view from the gravel path behind the main house up the steepest slopes, another Crimson Queen on the left side of the pond.
4. Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Atropurpureum’, Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ and Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ in the front raised bed.
5. Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’
6. Heuchera ‘Brownie’ and the Pineapple Sculpture, story about that here.
7. Long view looking across the left slope.
8. Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’, Hosta ‘Sunpower’ and Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red Faire’, all of the Huskers here are seedlings of mixed parentage of Husker Red and Sour Grapes and maybe a few more whose names have been lost in the annals of garden tags. The flowers range from pink to pale lavender, very few are the white of the parent.
9. Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ and Hosta ‘Halcyon’, among others.
10. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’.
11. Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red Faire’, (see number 8), among others.
12. Spiraea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ and more Huskers. Those Huskers have seeded all over the place!
13. Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis.


It seems we are on a thing for red in April. Here are posts from the last two years on the same topic:

A Punch of Red 2011

When in Doubt, Add Red 2012


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16 Responses to Red Leaves Ignite the Garden

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your prose is as enticing as the red in the garden this morning. It is nice that you voiced this insight into your garden. I was thinking something very similar about my garden this week when the Forest Pansy etc were starting to make their leaves. Of course your garden is way ahead of mine. Beautiful no matter how you look at it.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for visiting. The backlighting really brings out the reds here, they nearly explode with pizzazz!

  2. Red does! (And yellow.)

    Hi Lucy, thanks for adding in here. So true, yellow is an eye grabber!

  3. You are so right about the tones of red adding the exciting homerun to the gardening game. One can make it around the bases and score important points with all the much appreciated tones of green but BAM…that great hit of red captures my attention and brings me to my feet in celebration. I have some beauties right now myself and my eyes love to seek them out and linger with pleasure.

    Hi Michaele, I am so glad to hear you have some of those heavy hitters in your garden, too. The backlighting makes them exceptionally lovely, too.

  4. Rose says:

    Green is my favorite color of the spring, but you are so right–the vivid reds really add so much to the garden. Of course, the cardinal–my favorite–adds the perfect red touch.

    Hi Rose, I do love the pale spring greens, too, but the reds are the jewelry that make the outfit sparkle.

  5. Christy says:

    OMG Frances…these pictures are just incredible!! Such beautiful colors and contrasts. And the light just makes the plants come alive!!

    Hi Christy, thanks so much. When the light is just right, usually but not limited too the early morning, the reds in the garden are aglow!

  6. My Kids Mom says:

    I’ve added red and lime green, but I need to add the silvery blue tones too. Any shade suggestions?

    Hi Jill, your question required some extra thought and here is what I have come up with: For full shade, Hosta ‘Halcyon’, it is the bluest and toughest of the so called blue hostas that I grow. Also, blue fescue and lamb’s ears will both grow in shade. Columbines are sort of blue-ish and for larger evergreens, the blue star juniper and some dwarf Chamaecyparis will tolerate shade. Good luck with your color additions!

  7. Sandy & Richard says:

    The spring sun is a special light, the red burns the green, the colours vibrate against each other.
    The beautiful red cardinal is a delight to see, your garden must be a very special place for birds.
    Your photographs and words tell so much about your love of the garden.

    Hi Sandy and Richard, thanks so much for those kind words. We do our best to make a good habitat for birds, bees and the other creatures that like to live in an urban garden setting.

  8. Kris P says:

    Lovely! I especially like the Japanese Maple. A neighbor has a large patch of Photinia and, when it puts out new foliage in early spring, it’s always the first thing my eyes lock onto.

    Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by. The new reddish foliage of spring is a wonderful thing, even when it is in the garden of a neighbor, or maybe even more so!

  9. gail says:

    Really lovely photos Frances and red does make your garden sing. I love back lit flowers/plants and the spikes in the Gravel Garden rock! Forgive me that little indulgence;) xoxoxgail

    Thanks Gail, and your indulgence made me smile. Backlighting makes all the leaves and flowers wonderful, but it positively brings flames to the red ones.

  10. I’m partial to the reds, too. They certainly star in your gardens, Frances. There’s a beautiful stand of Maples across the street from me, and their flowers are red and glowing right now. And then in the fall they are stunning! Great post!

    Hi Beth, thanks for adding to the red conversation here. I love the red maple flowers, ours have long since bloomed and fallen, making way for the green leaves. I do love them in fall, too.

  11. commonweeder says:

    I love red! And the red I wish I could have is a beautifully sculpted Japanese maple. I’d have to live somewhere else though.

    Hi Pat, thanks for stopping by. I think the Acer palmatums are hardy for you, like the cultivar ‘Bloodgood’? You could have a go at pruning it, trial and error is the best way to learn.

  12. Karen says:

    Lovely garden shots, I love red foliage plants, they make everything look prettier.

    Thanks Karen. I agree, the red leaves enhance everything.

  13. I love red leaves! Your garden looks wonderful (as always).

    Sadly, we had to remove our threadleaf Japanese maple ‘Crimson Queen’ from a tight spot in the cottage garden, but the good news is we transplanted it to my son’s garden and he and his wife now view the glory from their family room window.

    Wish my ‘Rubra’ would spread. I caved in and bought more to plant in my red and white garden.

    Hi Freda, thanks for sharing your experience. Good that you could replant Crimson Queen at your son’s garden, too! Rubra does not spread here without my help!

  14. Your garden is so beautiful and the Japanese Maple is amazing. What a lovely place to be in the month of April.

    Thanks, Charlie. I do love being outside at this time of year, so much so that I hate to come inside the house for any reason.

  15. I have some reds that just glow in the garden…this time of year my backyard garden is reds and yellows, most of it being foliage. Love your Crimson Queen (think I might have mentioned that before) 🙂

    Hi Janet, thanks so much. The new foliage of all the plants is so pristine and fresh, even the greens!

  16. spurge says:

    Splendid red foliage (and plumage)! I love how you’ve captured the misty light in your photographs. How do you do it – early morning light?

    Hi Spurge, thanks so much. Most all of my photos are taken in the early morning light. I am an early bird myself, and the situation of the garden is best illuminated by the rising sun. There are tall trees on neighboring properties that block the setting sun for the most part.

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