After reviewing planting design books and my garden photos all winter, I am ready to re-work a section of the “back hill”, which is viewed from my sunroom. I learned a long time ago not to plant just one of everything, because it results in a spotty composition that is unrestful to look at. However, I have been grouping all my plants in roundish clumps of 3 or 5, which makes a bigger impact but still just results in bigger “spottiness”. Now I want to re-work everything in larger drifts, that are interconnected and interwoven to make a “tapestry” of plantings.
To truly follow the design process, the plants should be chosen last, after you have drawn a lay-out and specified height and width for each plant grouping, among other things. However, how many of us will do that? Normally we already have some plants we want to move around, or we are working with some pre-existing shrubs for background plantings, and we want to plant the flowers we know we like. So, I distilled some major design principles and some practical pointers down to these rules, which I used for the composition shown above.
The rules are in order of importance (I think), and they are also in order of difficulty, starting with easiest if you are a beginner gardener. Work your way down the list as you grow more plants and have more confidence combining them. Also, this year I will be posting photos of some great combinations under the “Captivating combinations” category on the sidebar, so check those out too.
- Situate plants in the locations that suit them i.e. shade lovers in shade, sun lovers in sun, group moisture-lovers together, etc. This is a no brainer – if you do nothing else, do this!
- Plan for combinations of at least 3 plants together that compliment each other i.e. bloom at the same time and/or have foliage that look good together.
- Make sure that neighbouring plants differ in at least one (preferably two or more) aspects: plant height, plant shape, and leaf shape, colour, size or texture. Notice I didn’t mention flowers here. If you create contrasts using plant and leaf characteristics, then the combination will look interesting even when the plants aren’t in bloom. This is key for perennials, which only bloom for a few weeks.
- Repeat a few plants throughout the composition for unity. For maximum impact, these should be plants that look good all season and that have interesting foliage. I am using siberian iris (thin, straplike leaves), bearded iris (flat, sword-shaped leaves), a tall sedum (upright with rounded, fleshy purplish leaves) and lamb’s ears (short with rounded, silver, fuzzy leaves). They all have stand-out foliage and it just so happens they’re easy to grow so I have lots to spread around.
- Plant in drifts as much as possible (long, skinny blobs as opposed to round ones). The drifts should overlap and weave in and out of each other and have smooth transitions between them. The lines between each plant grouping will allow your eye to move smoothly across the composition, rather than jump around as it will while looking at a “spotty” composition.
There are more design principles such as balance and proportion, focal points, etc., but follow just the rules above and you will be well on your way to having a designer-quality garden. Then again, rules are made to be broken so remember to follow your heart. Add your own personality!!