Woodland gardens 02

This shows painted Japanese ferns. Their blue-green fronds with contrasting deep red ribs complement the monochromatic palette of a restive all-green garden. 

All-green gardens are becoming popular again as the centerpieces of monochromatic landscaping. The designs are appealing and restive, driven as they are by massed ferns, moss, leaves, bark, berries, rock and foliage combinations. They serve some practical purposes, too.

"Cool, mossy and damp, small space woodland gardens bring a welcome sense of organic Zen and a respite from digital overload, especially in dense urban areas where they can help to mitigate the effects of pollution," said Elka Karl, a spokeswoman for Monrovia Nursery Co., based in Azuza, California.

"It's like bringing 'forest bathing' to the city with mixes of ferns, mosses, coral bells, hostas and anemones in high-contrast, almost unnatural places for a garden style that's gaining ground," Karl said.

She said the company has seen a marked increase in consumer demand for all types of woodland plants over the last three years.

One of the best attributes of plants with green foliage is that they're the chameleons of the garden, said Kate Karam, Monrovia's editorial director.

"A holly, for example, can be left to grow into its natural form for a more woodland look or can be sheared into a tight shape suitable for a formal garden," Karam said.

Woodland gardens 01

This photo of Variegated Liriope  shows how green gardens don't have to be exclusively green although the foliage dominates. Variegated Liriope produces thin-bladed tufts of yellow-striped foliage with lilac flowers growing on stems taller than the leaves. Use them as a framework for softening trees, shrubs and rocks in a natural landscape.

Green gardens don't have to be exclusively green, although foliage dominates.

"Even the greenest of green gardens will likely have something that flowers, such as plants that bloom but are chosen for the foliage," Karam said. "Grasses, spurges and hostas are good examples. Yes, they flower, but most of us don't really grow them for that benefit."

There aren't many "green flowers" in nature, but varieties like Nicotiana langsdorffii, euphorbia and Green Envy zinnia, among others, can be layered into the foliage, said Karen Chapman, a garden designer and co-author, with Christina Salwitz, of "Gardening With Foliage First" (Timber Press, 2017).

Chapman said the monochromatic palette "can be adapted to create a richly textured, shaded woodland border with a framework of Japanese maples, feathery ferns and bold hosta, or a more traditional design of clipped boxwood hedges and architectural conifers."

People today are often pinched for time and less able to tend flower gardens, Monrovia's Karam said.

"They turn to hardworking evergreen or seasonally green plants, especially hedges and shrubs, to give the biggest bang and the longest show," she said. "Plants like conifers, boxwoods, grasses, laurels, hollies, ferns, rhododendrons, drimys, aralia, green-leafed Japanese maples are some of our best sellers."

When designing all-green gardens, consider a blend of texture, form and coloration.

Foliage varies in texture from rough to smooth, glossy to lusterless. Shapes and sizes range from plants with huge round leaves to grasses with long feathery blades.

Seek complementary colors. Japanese painted ferns, for example, display attractive blue-green fronds with contrasting deep red ribs and silver edging.

"I would say the benefit for many homeowners would be the opportunity to create an urban oasis; a meditative space where the distractions of life are minimized and one can quietly re-focus," Chapman said. "An all-green-garden would be an excellent environment in which to practice yoga or mindfulness."

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