Vibrant plants and accessories shape a landscape
Stunning . . . exotic . . . sexy. This is how Linda Schuler wants you to react as you stroll through her curvy, voluptuous, garden beds. The combination of color, texture, and style is striking.
Schuler designs her gardens with the same sense of style that earned her a top-notch reputation in the fashion world. Prior to opening Linda Taylor Boutique, a chic women’s fashion store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Schuler was a sought-after personal stylist at Neiman Marcus. She then opened her own styling business called the Image Maker. Her gift for style and high fashion extends into her flower gardens.
The gardens evolved over 10 years—a collaboration between Schuler and landscape designer Penny O’Sullivan. The backyard, shady with wet soils in spring, was a blank slate before O’Sullivan transformed it into a showpiece. She began with the hardscaping and wooded borders, then transformed a small central garden into a large and colorful destination.
“We planted roses, hydrangeas, dwarf conifers, perennials, and small flowering trees,” O’Sullivan says. “For drama, Linda put in bright showy dahlias, which she dug up, overwintered, and divided each spring before she replanted them.” Beds around the deck were renewed and enlarged. O’Sullivan expanded the garden again to accommodate a sizable fountain that Schuler and her husband, Bill, discovered at Churchill’s in Exeter. The fountain garden added a formal note to a mostly casual design. Eventually, Bartlett Landworks of Epping installed a deer fence to protect the plants.
“Initially the gardens had a sumptuous English garden look to them,” Schuler says. There were lots of Shasta daisies, bee balm, and roses. But given the demands of her business and a new grandchild in her life, these gardens eventually took too much time to maintain. So, she decided to right-size them by replacing the needy perennials with stylish, no-fuss plants that would look outstanding from spring through fall, thanks to vivid foliage and neat growing habits. Flowering shrubs were key to elevating the show while minimizing upkeep.
Opting for vibrant, contrasting colors in the garden, Schuler has long favored chartreuse, plum, and all shades of pink. Variegated foliage and texture are also highly desirable. Feathery magenta plumes of astilbe hover above the large chartreuse and green leaves of various hostas. Ground-hugging yellow creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) with bead-like chartreuse foliage surrounds nearby bugbane (Actaea simplex ‘Black Negligee’), which is prized for its fragrant white flower spires in late summer to early fall, purple-black astilbe-like leaves, and elegant stature in bloom. Narrow, white-spotted leaves of lungwort (Pulmonaria longifolia) spring up randomly in the creeping Jenny carpet.
Schuler likens creating stylish garden compositions to dressing clients or mannequins in her clothing boutique. She loves “playing Barbie,” adding and switching garments or accessories until the magical look is achieved. When bringing home a new plant, she walks out to the gardens and then stops, stares, and waits as she takes time to consider the framework. Rather than simply setting it in any random open spot, she will “try it on” in various locations before the right arrangement presents itself. Many of her beauties come from Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland, “where I have a rolling account,” Schuler jests.
One of her go-to perennials is hosta. “I remember driving an hour and a half to buy one hosta that I just had to have,” she says. O’Sullivan introduced her to ‘Sum and Substance’, a favorite with massive leaves that vary in color from gold to lime green to chartreuse, depending on the light intensity. Frosty blue Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ partners with golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), which grows in cascading clumps.
Heuchera (coral bells) is also high on her list. A sweep of marmalade-leafed ‘Caramel’ creates a stunning necklace around the ring of ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood framing the large fountain. Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ intermingles with Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ at the base of a wide-mouthed cement urn in a woodsy border. A comical bust, its skull planted with donkey tail sedum (Sedum morganianum), emerges from a sea of chartreuse Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, which fills the basin. Donkey tail, hardy to zone 10, resembles dripping locks of hair and is usually grown as a houseplant.
The woody plants that she and O’Sullivan chose years ago play a leading role in her low-maintenance gardens. Hydrangeas are irresistible, especially those in the panicle and smooth groups. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Quick Fire’, an early bloomer with lacy white flowers that quickly age to rosy pink, and ‘Limelight’ with its dense pyramidal domes of soft green florets that turn a pale pink are showstoppers in sunny to partly sunny areas while the large, ball-shaped white blooms of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ glow in shady borders. Despite her best efforts, hot pink Knock Out roses never did well and were replaced with White Out, a blackish leafed, white-flowered rose that flourishes beyond her expectations.
Striking ornamental trees abound, including paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with exfoliating bark and tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Tricolor’) with pink, green, and white leaves, growing 20- to 30-feet high; cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) produces cheerful yellow flowers and edible fruit, and grows between 15- and 25-feet tall. These trees bring vertical interest to the garden, as do pillars of white-flowered, climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) that wind up the trunks of pine trees. Equally impressive is a swath of deep purple clematis scrambling through the graceful branches of a Japanese maple. Spring Grove arborvitae (Thuja plicata), an evergreen tolerant of shade and moisture, provides some screening between the Schulers and their neighbors.
Schuler looks to flashy annuals to add months of interest with little effort on her part. Dazzling rosy-pink begonias (Begonia benariensis) with big bronzy green leaves, are repeated throughout the beds. These sun- and shade-loving, drought-tolerant begonias are invaluable connector plants in the landscape. Schuler recently discovered jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum ‘Kingwood Gold’) and adores its frothy deep pink flowers carried on fine wiry stems above electrifying chartreuse leaves. As with other members of this family, it reseeds in ideal conditions.
In addition to outstanding plants, Schuler says accessorizing is the secret to creating a great garden. Enchanting statues, urns, and lovely containers are artfully placed among plants, while the eight-and-a-half-foot high, multi-tiered water fountain is the pièce de résistance. Glittering brass lanterns, coated with an antiqued bronze powder finish, encase flickering battery-powered candles. Even the cobalt blue cushions on the deck’s lounge chairs are color-coordinated with pillows inside the family room, just beyond the sliding glass doors. “Just as with classic outfits, accessories can dramatically change a garden’s looks,” she says.