Design

What Chartreuse Plants Can Do For You

Any border is better when you add this versatile color

Fine Gardening - Issue 185

Chartreuse is the strawberry ice cream of the garden. Everybody knows what the three most common ice cream flavors are. First, there is vanilla, which pairs with just about anything. It does so, however, by not having much of a personality to begin with. Its name is synonymous with “bland.” Then there is chocolate, the flavor people have cravings for and get addicted to. These feelings are displayed proudly on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and refrigerator magnets: “Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies.” “Forget love—I’d rather fall in chocolate!” In the middle of these two extremes is strawberry. It evokes stronger feelings than vanilla, but not the passion of chocolate.

And so it is with chartreuse, a fancy word for the color between green and yellow. It is much more eye-catching than green, but not as flamboyant as yellow. By occupying this middle ground, chartreuse becomes one of the most useful colors in a garden. Green is a cool color, is soothing to the eye, and calms a scene. Yellow, a warm color, has the opposite effect. Chartreuse can do either, as the situation calls for. Here are some ways you can use it in your designs.

Unite a scene

The contrast between the dark red tulips in the foreground and the white tulips behind them is large. Chartreuse euphorbia sits in the middle, being not too dark, not too light, and not too showy. With the tulips mimicking the undulating river of the euphorbia, the planting is colorful and cohesive. Some round green yews anchor the bed to keep it from feeling too wild or random.
Take the middle ground – The contrast between the dark red tulips in the foreground and the white tulips behind them is large. Chartreuse euphorbia (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, Zones 6–9) sits in the middle, being not too dark, not too light, and not too showy. With the tulips mimicking the undulating river of the euphorbia, the planting is colorful and cohesive. Some round green yews (Taxus
baccata, Zones 6–7) anchor the bed to keep it from feeling too wild or random.

 

Chartreuse can unite a planting by being the main theme of the area. Picking up on the yellow of the door, the chartreuse plants here create a vibrancy to the bed that the area needs, given the dark and gray hardscape. Using the yellow of the door throughout the bed would have been garish, requiring sunglasses of anyone attempting to view it. The numerous pops of purple provide a counterpoint to the chartreuse and a connection to the house and the fence.
Set a vibrant theme – Chartreuse can unite a planting by being the main theme of the area. Picking up on the yellow of the door, the chartreuse plants here create a vibrancy to the bed that the area needs, given the dark and gray hardscape. Using the yellow of the door throughout the bed would have been garish, requiring sunglasses of anyone attempting to view it. The numerous pops of purple provide a counterpoint to the chartreuse and a connection to the house and the fence.

 

Be the star

Chartreuse becomes the garden star when it leans more toward yellow or gold. These ‘Brilliance’ autumn ferns against the dark fence and draw your attention to the container water feature they surround. As the fronds pick up more reddish russet tones, their connection to the trunks of the fatsias becomes even stronger.
Anything gold is good – Chartreuse becomes the garden star when it leans more toward yellow or gold. These ‘Brilliance’ autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, Zones 5–8) pop against the dark fence and draw your attention to the container water feature they surround. As the fronds pick up more reddish russet tones, their connection to the trunks of the fatsias (Fatsia japonica, Zones 8–11) becomes even stronger.
As a focal point, a water feature is hard to compete with. But with just enough yellow in it to grab the eye and hold it, Bowles’ golden sedge is the perfect plant to steal the glory from this water feature. The globes of ‘Purple Sensation’ allium , normally the star of a planting, are supporting players.
Steal the show – As a focal point, a water feature is hard to compete with. But with just enough yellow in it to grab the eye and hold it, Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’, Zones 5–9) is the perfect plant to steal the glory from this water feature. The globes of ‘Purple Sensation’ allium (Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, Zones 5–9), normally the star of a planting, are supporting players.

Keep things calm

This river of red carries plenty of excitement, and plenty of green balances it out. But to keep things on the lively side without overcharging the senses requires some chartreuse. Think of ‘Sun King’ aralia and Japanese forest grass as spirited guests at this party, but not obnoxious ones.
Now it’s a party – This river of red carries plenty of excitement, and plenty of green balances it out. But to keep things on the lively side without overcharging the senses requires some chartreuse. Think of ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, Zones 4–8) and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra cv., Zones 5–9) as spirited guests at this party, but not obnoxious ones.

 

Every garden needs areas of high interest, but when you are planting in front of a red house and behind some ‘Orange Emperor’, you need to be careful. The interest here comes from the strong bottlebrush form of the euphorbias and the color of their muted but still note­worthy blooms. Had the color been more yellow, the impact would have been too much.
When you need a pop, not a boom – Every garden needs areas of high interest, but when you are planting in front of a red house and behind some ‘Orange Emperor’ tulips (Tulipa ‘Orange Emperor’, Zones 3–8), you need to be careful. The interest here comes from the strong bottlebrush form of the euphorbias (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii, Zones 7–10) and the color of their muted but still note­worthy blooms. Had the color been more yellow, the impact would have been too much.

 

Enliven a scene

chartreuse evergreens such as 'Chief Joseph' lodgepole brighten a landscape
Make early use of seasonal glow – Many chartreuse evergreens, such as the glowing ‘Chief Joseph’ lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’, Zones 4–9), start the season with a flush of gold foliage that becomes more green as the season wears on, so they are perfect for adding pizzazz when color might be lacking. Though this pot on a pedestal is artfully arranged with perfectly matching colors, it is easy for something brown to be missed or at least not stand out like it should. Using the glowing ‘Chief Joseph’ (below) as a backdrop brings prominence to the pedestal, allowing its subtle artistry to shine.

 

With green and red balancing each other, something has to tip the balance toward either a more exciting scene or a calmer mood. The Japanese forest grass moves toward excitement with its strongly contrasting foliage and its burst of bright color. The blades brighten the muted tones of the hosta and lighten up the visually heavy burgundy leaves of the Japanese maple.
Brighten the mood – With green and red balancing each other, something has to tip the balance toward either a more exciting scene or a calmer mood. The Japanese forest grass moves toward excitement with its strongly contrasting foliage and its burst of bright color. The blades brighten the muted tones of the hosta and lighten up the visually heavy burgundy leaves of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum cv., Zones 5–9).

 


| FAVORITE CHARTREUSE PLANTS |

Solar Power Golden Full Moon Apple
‘Solar Power’ heucherella  (Heucherella ‘Solar Power’, Zones 4–9) Golden full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, Zones 5–8)
Gold Heart Bleeding Heart Lady Fern
‘gold heart’ Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’, Zones 3–9) Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, Zones 4–8)
Anna’s Magic Ball® arborvitae ‘Color Guard’ yucca
Anna’s Magic Ball® arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Anna van Vloten’, Zones 3–7) ‘Color Guard’ yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’, Zones 4–10)
‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass ‘Berry Exciting’ corydalis
‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Zones 5–9) ‘Berry Exciting’ corydalis (Corydalis ‘Berry Exciting’, Zones 5–9)

 


| DESIGN |

What happened to my color?

Siting plants with chartreuse foliage can be tricky. Without enough sunlight, the leaves will turn mostly green. With too much sun, they will turn yellow or, more likely, bleach out and burn. In the first photo below are three samples of foliage from ‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass. The stem on the left is from the part of the plant that gets the most shade. The one in the middle gets about half sun and half shade. The foliage on the right is from a plant that gets the most sun. The gradations are noticeable, even more so when those shades are shared by all the other leaves on the plant. In the second photo, the ‘Sun King’ aralia shows the same trait, with the shaded foliage on the left showing much more green than the foliage from the sunny side of the shrub, which holds golden tones.
Showing effects of sun and shade on chartreuse foliage.
SHADIER            HALF SUN, HALF SHADE         SUNNIER
Showing effects of sun and shade on chartreuse foliage.
SHADIER                                                       SUNNIER

 


Steve Aitken is the editor.

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