Cynthia Gillooly is BB Barns’ floral designer and orchid goddess. She’s been with BB Barns for over a decade, joining the team after selling The Golden Cricket, her floral design business. Customers followed her to BB Barns Garden Center, and as a result, she has lifelong relationships with many who walk through our doors. Whether a life of friendship or just getting to know Cynthia, her ability to make customers feel welcome is infectious.
When she began her Western North Carolina Leicester garden, she had three little boys and a love for flowers. What she knew in her floral shop, she lacked in the landscape: an understanding of design. She started planting flowers, ignoring the need for bones in a garden. “After working at BB Barns, I realized I had done it wrong. I planted all the flowers without trees or shrubs. There was no structure. So, I call it my backward garden, because I had to go in later and add these things,” Cynthia says. She used the same elements of design in floral arranging–layering, height, texture, color, anchors–and began incorporating them into her perennial beds. She didn’t start over, but she inserted strong elements where she could. Stones were placed, Japanese maples planted, and a love of conifers began.
Many gardeners can relate to Cynthia’s journey in landscape design. Working as the Garden Coach, my clients want color. They want flowers. They don’t want to spend money on trees, even if they love them. They walk into the store and see all the beautiful perennials blooming, and that’s what they want. It takes some talking to convince them that without the bones, all those flowers will just look messy. The evergreens, the vertical structure of trees, the layered used of shrubs, all of these plants combine to give dimension and depth to the flowers we love.
Adding deciduous trees and shrubs may take up precious space in the perennial beds, and even bring shade, but don’t forget, shrubs and trees can be bloomers too. Adding Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ gives height and very showy bloom. The color combination below of the burgundy/red daylilies and greenish/white hydrangeas is striking. The blooms show better together. Cynthia uses the hydrangeas from her garden in wedding bouquets and Christmas designs.
Vertical height can be added with trellises and climbing vines. Where there is no room for a tree or upright feature, don’t forget the use of climbers, both perennial and annual. This ‘Jackmanii’ clematis helps to add layering to the garden.
Tropicals and annuals should not be forgotten in the garden. Folks are quick to say they don’t want to plant annuals year after year, but the benefit of annuals is they allow you to add new color and texture, switching things up each year, and they can cover a multitude of design sins.
The best part of a garden is the journey. We’re always learning and adding new elements to our gardens, and hopefully, expressing ourselves along the way. Cynthia considers her garden not only a journey in design, but also a journey as you walk through it. As she described it, “It is one part riotous, and one part serene.”
We aren’t all landscape design experts, and even Cynthia, with her fabulous eye for designing arrangements, figured out that she needed something in her garden other than just flowers. Foliage, she learned could add color and depth without the bloom. As trees grew, and shade was introduced to the garden, this would be an important element, too. Color combinations of foliage are as pleasing as bloom color.
Landscape design rules are a good foundation for all gardens, and doing it backwards, as Cynthia has done, is what most of us will do. Cynthia’s garden show us it is possible, but don’t get so focused on design rules you forget to allow your personality to shine through. The biggest thing we can all learn from a garden is a little more about each other. AAP, Cinthia
Written by Cinthia Milner, Garden Coach, Outside Sales, and blog writer.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.