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Sheer artistry in the garden

When placed in the foreground, see-through plants add texture and depth.

By Craig Summers BlackCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 26, 2008

FRONT AND CENTER: Not all tall plants have to be relegated to the background. Sheer plants such as flame grass (above) draw a gauzy curtain between onlookers and the main event – in this case, the Blue Panda corydalis in Linda Cochran’s Seattle-area garden.

Photo by David McDonald

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Linda Cochran’s texturally infused garden defies the conventional wisdom. The CW has it that you plant beds and borders in tiers – ground-huggers in the front, knee-highs in the middle ground, and big ol’ honkin’ stuff in the background.

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Well, Ms. Cochran will be the first to tell you: Not so fast.

There are such things as see-through plants. Not invisible, of course, but tall plants that when placed in the foreground draw a gauzy curtain between you and the main event.

Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’) – seen here early in the season before it acquires its annual fiery glow – is just such a plant. In Cochran’s Seattle-area garden, it provides a screen before a raft of Blue Panda corydalis and a touch of the pink-flowering Dora Bielefeld pulmonaria.

A number of other ornamental grasses perform this little now-you-see-it tease, but here are a few other plants that are also stellar performers:

Giant kale (Crambe cordifolia), which takes the baby’s breath look with its itsy-bitsy white flowers to cloudy new heights.

Meadow rue (Thalictrum), a plant that looks for all the world like a tall skinny fern until its colorful little flowers unfurl.

Patrinia, a sadly underutilized hardy perennial with bright yellow achillealike flowers atop tall, reedy limbs.

Black-leaved cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’), a tender herb relative with stunning deep-purple foliage and contrasting white flowers.

Verbena bonariensis, a self-seeding (and aggressive in some necks of the woods) annual prized for its airy form supporting richly purple flowers.

Others of your own favorite plants may also serve as see-throughs. All that’s required is that they be nearly transparent – long-limbed, spare of foliage, sturdy enough not to flop over but lax enough to nod in the wind and provide movement.

So really, feel free to politely ignore the next garden diva who tells you, “Down in front!”

Note: Click here to see the first article about successful plant combinations in Linda Cochran’s garden. This article is part of a series of Creative Combos, plant combinations that work well together. Previous entries include A palette of garden grasses and Creative plant combinations.

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