This column’s garden photo shows a swath of the Friendship Salvia (Salvia ‘Amistad’) as background for Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’). These plants have good traits in common: both are summer-blooming perennials, upright in form, and propagate each season by spreading. The Yarrow needs support while the Salvia stands on its own, but they work well together in multiple ways. This photo illustrates useful concepts in landscape design, which is the focus of this column as we continue to explore accessible and productive gardening activities while we are social distancing.
Care for Your Garden
Gardening by walking around can be worthwhile just for meditating on Nature’s wonders, but it can also be an opportunity to consider ways to refine your garden landscape.
Landscape design involves a multitude of issues and ideas and deserves college-level study and extensive reading, but a short list of basic concepts can support significant improvements in garden vistas.
This column addresses three concepts in aesthetic landscape design.
Concept #1: Place tall plants in back. This concept is primarily practical: it simply protects the visibility of shorter plants. The shorter plants might also hide the less attractive stems of background plants. This approach leads to installing a series of plant layers in the garden bed, providing an attractive display.
As with all landscape concepts, this rule can be broken. For example, some “see-through” plants such as Angel’s Fishing Rod (Dierama pulcherrimum) or Brazilian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) could be placed in front of shorter plants without obstructing the view.
Concept #2: Plant in groups. Having multiple specimens of a favored plant provides visual continuity in the landscape. Too often, when gardeners see an attractive plant in a garden center, they purchase and install just one plant and the landscape develops an eclectic or scattered appearance. A more effective method from a design perspective is to install at least three plants in a grouping. Some plants, e.g., Salvia ‘Amistad’, will spread on their own through runners, and soon create an attractive cluster.
A related concept, repetition, also provides continuity in the landscape. A plant that grows well in the garden and reproduces over time could form a clump that is larger than wanted in its location. This situation inviting transplanting divisions of the plant within the garden, ideally within sight of each other so they are visually linked.
Concept #3: Arrange Plants by Form and Color. The garden landscape looks best when it has been arranged intentionally. When selecting plants, envision their intended location in the garden to consider whether the new plants will look relative to existing plants in size, color and form of foliage, or color and form of blossoms.
Size relationships go beyond the “tall plants in back” concept. A landscape generally gains visual interest from plants of various sizes, but adjacent plants should not differ greatly in height or width.
Also consider foliage texture and color: which can vary over a wide range. When a given plant is grown in a grouping, there will be continuity in the foliage, but when installing different plants together, the garden design often will be enhanced by juxtaposing different foliage textures and colors. For example, pairing a red foliage plant with one that has silvery foliage could provide a striking effect, while putting two different plants with similar foliage could look like a design blunder.
Blossom colors, which are often emphasized in garden design, present challenges and opportunities. Again, intentional combinations look better than randomness.
One of the world’s most famous garden designs is Vita-Sackville-West’s white garden at England’s Sissinghurst Castle. This landscape favors white shades in both blossom and foliage color.
A comparably monochromatic effect could be developed with any of several other colors, but the more popular approaches use analogous or complementary color schemes. Such design approaches could be applied to larger garden beds, or smaller vignettes of just a few closely positioned plants.
Advance Your Gardening Knowledge
Analogous color schemes typically involve three colors that are close on the color wheel, e.g., red, orange and yellow, while complementary color schemes involve two colors that are opposites on the color wheel, e.g., violet and yellow in this column’s photo. These schemes can expand into complex ideas for fine artists and fabric designers, but gardeners can accomplish effective displays by applying the basic schemes. Learn about developing this aspect of your garden landscape by searching the Internet for “analogous color scheme” or complementary color scheme” or “color wheel.”
Enrich Your Gardening Days
As you stroll by gardens in your community or public gardens, or search YouTube.com for “private garden tours,” look for examples or violations of the three landscape design concepts outlined in this column.
Look also for creative and successful departures from these basic concepts. Even the best rules can be broken!
Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative, and enjoy your garden.