Design inspiration in a Mid-Summer Night’s Shakespeare Garden

Here in the south suburbs of Chicago,  we have access to a great community college in Palos Hills,  Moraine Valley Community College. Both my husband and I have taken classes there, decades ago.  Now the next generation of our family is attending MVCC. Which is why I found myself there last weekend at the Merchant of Venice performance, their own Shakespeare in the Park. The campus has changed quite a bit since I attended nearly 40 years ago. There is a beautiful public garden built right next to the outdoor stage.

The audience was in their lawn chairs in the field, but you could see some of the action from the Shakespeare Garden.
The garden is designed liberally with paths and benches in the shade and nestled in lots of colorful perennials that move with the breeze.

The garden has full out sun in some spots, partial shade in others. The green spaces are separated by the red brick paths, but connected to each other by the similarity in the plants.  They are filled with boxwoods (they actually like sun and shade), perennial grasses, a few different types of perennial flowers, and bordered with a couple different ground covers.
A design trick used here is to match the color, the size, and the shape of the plants in different parts of the garden. Pick the same type of plant in different varieties, such as the perennial grasses.  For Example: The grasses are  low mounding, Prairie Dropseed (smells like cilantro when you run your hands through the seed heads), Penisetum. Both have similar growth habits, but bloom at different times of the summer.  Here you match both shape and size.   An example of color matching: the designers planted Salvia (deep purple) and Russian Sage ( medium purple), and purple Coneflower, again blooming at different times of the season.   Although early and mid-summer the dominant color is purple,  the pink Knockout Roses and  Geranium groundcover, (which is in the picture right above this paragraph) add contrast without detracting from the overall effect.
The  light color of the columnar structures throughout  draw your eyes to the garden and your feet to the paths.  There are quotes from Shakespeare from one end to the other, a sundial in the middle, and two bird baths surrounded by the gorgeous Salvia.

If you like the style of this garden, the design ideas you can use are 1) plant early, mid and late season blooming perennials so you have colorful blooms from Spring to Fall; 2) create a flowing garden that is easy on the eyes by connecting the different parts of your garden/yard with plants that have similar elements, such as color, size and/or shape; and 3) add an eye popping structure to your garden, such as a bird bath or a colorful bird house, making sure the color contrasts with the colors in your garden.
Another look at the beautiful garden.
and one more look at the student actors giving it their all for free (!) in their performance of the Merchant of Venice.

The colorful lad is our son, Daniel.  The first part of the play was performed outside in dripping wet humidity and then moved inside for the second act because of a very loud storm. They didn’t miss a beat!!