Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shimmer and Shine

Celebrate the season - and keep the party going

‘Tis the season for glitz; a little sparkle here and a little glitter there. Give some thought as to how your garden can join in the party atmosphere this holiday season and beyond.

By day this mirror reflects the trees. At night the three
pillar candles will light the path.
Design; Avon Gardens, IA

Place votive candles in front of mirrors hung on a fence or wall to double the shine. Watching the reflection of flickering flames is always mesmerizing. It can throw light into an otherwise dull part of the garden, add ambiance to an outdoor setting or be used to mark the pathway to a special gathering place.

Design; Bellamy garden, Dallas, TX

Whether caught in sunbeams or landscape lights, glass is always fascinating. Cut glass and crystals throw prisms of light in a rainbow of colors, while sand-weathered shards beg to be held in the hand and stroked.  Wrap pieces of beach glass with copper wire and hang from a tree to create a charming mobile. Hunt thrift stores for old chandeliers; maybe you can find one with hanging crystals or simply add a strand or two of inexpensive glass beads. Adapt the chandelier for candles or make use of electricity if it is available. Create the perfect romantic setting by hanging the chandelier from a tree, pergola or gazebo.

Glass yucca designed and created by
Jesse Kelly.

Talented artists produce all manner of sculptural pieces for the garden which can be used as small accents or larger focal points. Seattle glass artist Jesse Kelly designed and made a glass Yucca for us as part of a water feature. It is beautiful during the day but even more breathtaking at night as discreet landscape lights illuminate the translucent blades. The lights also catch the subtle movement of the fountain as the running water disappears beneath a bed of smooth stones.

This iridescent teal gazing ball adds
contrast - and attention to this shady
Design by Alyson Ross-Markley

Gazing balls have been popular for some time and come in an assortment of sizes, colors and finishes. Highly polished spheres, especially those in silver, are wonderful additions to the shade garden. Here they can be nestled among foliage to reflect a particularly attractive plant combination or draw the eye to a specimen plant. These reflective balls also give the impression of adding light to an otherwise dark area in the same way that a mirror would. Perhaps one of the best features about these globes is that they can easily be moved to a new location as seasonal garden highlights dictate.

At this time of year many of us are decorating our Christmas tree. Save a few of the shiny glass balls and add them to a container garden on your porch. As well as adding a little holiday spirit to welcome visitors, these can be used to establish a color theme. I used silver balls in our blue, white and silver planting combination to set the scene for our interior holiday colors this year (see the first photo).

We may not all have waterfront property, but even a
birdbath can be placed to catch the light.
Water features can be as simple as a bird bath or as elaborate as a Niagara Falls. Regardless of size, when light hits the water something magical happens; a thousand diamonds dance on the surface like mythical water sprites. Remember that either sunlight or moonlight can create this dramatic effect. If your water feature is in a shady location consider adding a reflective floating ball or two to give the illusion of light induced sparkle.

Shiny 'Tequila sunrise'  mirror plant partners
with sedum 'Angelina' and Japanese
blood grass.
My design

Finally, what about the plants themselves? Several shrubs and perennials have wonderful shiny leaves which can be used to our advantage. In sunny spots the aptly named mirror plant (Coprosma repens) appears to have been polished and contrasts beautifully with matte foliage such as the blades of Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’). Silverbush ( Convolvulus cneorum) shines like a 100 watt light bulb with its small silver leaves that cover this drought tolerant shrub. The white flowers are a bonus – I use it in landscape and container garden designs for its foliage alone. Need ideas for shade? The holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) has a rich luster to its evergreen fronds making this an easy care choice. The larger Alaskan fern (Polystichum setiferum) is a deeper shade of green but equally shiny.

The ‘shimmer factor’ therefore can be used to add interest to the garden at any time of year.  It can reflect light (especially useful in shady locations), highlight a special feature, establish a color theme, indicate a pathway or announce that the “party is here”!

How does your garden shine?


  1. I do like some shimmer. I have never been a fan of the yucca plant, but your yucca fountain is enchanting! You have given some great tips, good for the holiday garden as well as for the rest of the year.

  2. Deb, the term 'Yucca' is used very loosely!

  3. Karen, Deb had a post a few months ago about a garden chandelier. I'm not sure this is the one I was thinking of, but it gives a beautiful idea of it: (Sorry just to post the url--I can't get the link to work.) As someone quite fond of yucca, I love your fountain! I think here we mostly look to plants for that shimmer (and there are plenty of options)--glass and mirrors and such are too strong in our light unless they're sited in full shade, when they lose a lot of their effect. (Despite the ambient brightness...)

  4. Interesting point about NM being too bright to use reflective things in the strong sunshine, but I'm really surprised you find they don't sparkle in the shade. Must be the degree of shade as in dappled shade they work so well here. In fact even under conifers silver gazing balls are wonderful.

  5. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen many gazing balls out here, Karen. They'd probably work well with those silvered surfaces.

  6. You have many plants with silvery blue foliage in the desert landscape that you love. Silver or shiny teal gazing balls would work beautifully with these. You might start a new trend!


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