Planning a New Garden – Size, Balance and Repetition
Size, balance and repetition
‘Smallest in the front, tallest in the rear’ is a rule that does not necessarily apply when planting a flower bed. An evenly-graded bank of colour can be viewed with one glance as the eye, easily bored, searches for something more. The occasional tall plant placed right in the front of a border can intrigue, particularly if it is the sort of plant you can see through, like bonariensis growing to a height of 1.5m (5ft), or (Foeniculum vulgare).
It is often said that people are sometimes frightened of plants bigger than themselves, and this is understandable, but largeshould not be avoided, even in the smallest garden. The new dimension of their extra height and the striking contrast they make with surrounding plants lifts out of the mundane. And some plants simply demand a solitary position in the front of a bed, such as Stipa gigantea or angel’s fishing rod (Dierama pulcherrimum), so as properly to display their graceful, arching wands.
Imagine a satisfying garden picture made up as follows: the highlights of each season take up the centre stage, with a supporting cast of easy plants that can be tucked in around them, and all these plants are chosen because they are happy in your soil and conditions. Then, for the icing on the cake, there is an occasional rare or special plant that needs a little fussing over to thrive.
In the garden, just like anywhere else, the class system reigns. Some plants will only do well in first-class positions — the best soil they could ever wish for, the sunniest, or shadiest, spot, and so on. Every little whim must be attended to, whether it be dressings ofor manure, or regular spraying against any insect that would presume to attack. (And furthermore you may have to be ever-ready with , string and secateurs.) Other plants, by no means less beautiful but nothing like so particular, will put up with being put in any old corner, such as labradorica purpurea, robbiae, Erigeron karvinskianus, Geranium endressii, moved when they are just about to flower and occasionally trodden on as well, such as chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) or thyme. So when you see some enticing new plant, make sure you can offer it the position it deserves.
Balance is the essence of planning your flower beds: however vibrant with colour they are, if they only consist of a mass of bloom, with no background planting and foliage, no soothing patches of plain green leaves, the effect will be rather hectic. A good mixed border consists of one or two trees of character, a background ofshrubs for structure, some flowering shrubs, herbaceous , and ground-covering plants. Annuals and tender plants grown from each year complete the scene. While there is nothing to compare with traditional on the grand scale, they do need a proper setting — walls of mellow brick, of ancient yew or immaculate beech; also, to give of their best, they need to he of a decent width in the first place, ideally 3m (10ft) or more. In a small garden, often seen from the house, they can look like a large expanse of bare soil for months.
One of the enjoyable headaches ofis that however perfect a balance you achieve one year, you may be sure that by the next all will have changed: it is not like furnishing a room, when you can be quite confident that it will remain the same. In the garden the best-laid plans go awry: to redress the ever-changing shift in balance of colour and size, and to prevent the overbearing behaviour of one plant at the expense of another, vigilance is required.
Repetition of plants for impact
Most of us yearn to grow a little bit of this and that and quite a lot of the other, and irresistible new plants present themselves all the time. To begin with you will probably only have plants in ones and twos and dot them around an empty bed, giving it a busy, unco-ordinated look. The simple trick of repeating the same plant several times down the length of the bed should simplify and soothe the overall effect. Purple sage (officinalis ‘Purpurascens’), blue rue (Ruta graveolens ‘Jackman’s Blue’), Artemisia and dwarf red berberis (Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea Nana’) are suggestions for the front of a sunny bed. To add continuity to a shady bed, try Hosta (provided you use the same cultivar throughout) or, for a more formal bed, clipped box balls. As soon as your new start to fatten up, divide everything that it is possible to divide, spreading out the pieces into drifts and groups, and the border will soon start to look more established.
When you are planning double borders, and want to form a repetitive pattern, stagger the plants down the length of each bed, rather than placing them exactly opposite one another. And, unless you are planning a very formal design (using something like box balls –), do not place the plants exactly equidistant from one another.