Starting a Garden – Planting for Effect

Planting for Effect

flower garden - starting a garden Gardening with flowers is like trying to control a picture in which most of the components change their appearance daily. Making a flower garden is not just a question of accumulating a quantity of flowering plants; however lovely each is individually, you are merely assembling a collection. With the multiplicity of wonderful plant material at our disposal, good planting is the juxtaposition of your own selection into a satisfying whole. As you experiment with plants, resulting in a mixture of glaring mistakes and heady surprises, you will find that there is no limit to their unpredictability.

The principles of good planting

Deciding where to plant something involves thinking of shape, size, habit, colour and texture all at once. Every new plant you add to an existing flower bed changes how everything else looks. For example, a tall plant will seem taller if surrounded by a low carpeting plant. One with sword-like leaves will look spikier if grown next to a fluffy, mounded plant and a plant with blue flowers will seem a more intense blue if planted next to one that is silver-grey.

Add to this all the plant’s likes and dislikes. Does it like sun, or shade, dry or moist conditions? When does it bloom, and for how long? Has it got an off season, like Colchicum, which die an untidy death in mid-summer? This flood of necessary information about a plant may seem too much at the beginning. But the more you understand about a plant the better you are able to place it to good effect.

It is important to find out all you can about any plant at the outset. (Latin names are the same worldwide, so once you know a plant’s correct Latin name it is easy to look it up.) If you know where a plant comes from in the wild, you will get some clues as to how to grow it properly. However perfectly something is placed with regard to colour or form, if it will not thrive where you plant it, you defeat the object. If it comes from a Himalayan glade with high rainfall it will not like the hot, sunny position chosen for your Mediterranean plants.

Furthermore, plants from widely differing native habitats make uncomfortable bedfellows: dahlias interplanted with rhododendrons would strike a discordant note. How much more harmonious the rhododendron bed would seem if late-flowering lilies, gentians, Kirengeshoma, toad lilies (Tricyrtis) or some lacecap hydrangeas had been used instead. Revelling in the same coolness at the root and moist, acid conditions as do the rhododendrons, they would seem entirely appropriate. And dahlias, gorgeous pouting beauties as they are, also have their proper place in the garden — with lavish helpings of manure to nourish their splendid blooms, and bright sunshine to remind them of their native Mexico.

Ease of transplanting

Find out if a plant you are considering is the sort of plant that has to be put in the right place first time as it will not tolerate being dug up and moved, such as Baptisia, or burning bush (Dictamnus albus). Or perhaps it is a gypsy plant that does not mind, indeed enjoys, being constantly on the move? As you shuffle the components of your flower beds around, adjusting the colours, re-organizing the heights and filling the empty spaces, it is good to get to know all the tinker fraternity — Geranium, Campanula, Phlox, and countless different members of the daisy family — that are the backbone of the herbaceous border.

Shape and texture

It is easy to be blind to the shape and texture of a plant by being totally preoccupied with the beauty of its individual flowers — just like being so dazzled by a person’s face that you do not notice their figure. The shape of a plant, or even the lack of it, is of primary importance and its texture is a determining factor in where it is placed. So before thinking about flower colour, always consider foliage and form.

Plant shape

Hyperium olympicum minus ‘Habit’ is a word used in gardening books to explain to the reader roughly how a plant behaves, and a plant’s habit largely determines its shape. What does it do, and how, when and how fast does it do it? If a plant grows straight up in the air, like an Italian cypress, it is what is known as ‘fastigiate’ in habit. It may be pendulous in habit, like a weeping willow, or may creep along the ground, as does Hyperium olympicum minus, closely draping itself over stones.

Good gardeners, like good cooks, seem to know instinctively how, and in what proportion, to mix the ingredients. If you have an existing flower bed that you are not happy with, consider whether it needs the addition of a spiky-leaved plant, or more plants of rounded shape, or a strong, upright feature to improve matters. Or perhaps the planting seems too solid, and needs to be lightened by the addition of plants with delicate, lacy foliage. Often a simple planting of a decent patch of Bergenia, or plain-leaved Hosta, will soothe the eye. If on the other hand you have a new garden with an empty flower bed, buy several plants together and try them out in different places, still in their containers, and juggle them to see how they look next to each other.

The most distinctive plant shapes all have a role to play in the total picture.

Spiky plants, with sword-like leaves like Yucca, Phormium, Astelia and Kniphofia caulescens arrest the eye and form a definite full-stop in a flower border. They form an essential contrast to the softer mounds and hummocks of other plants.

Large plain-leaved plants, such as Bergenia and Hosta, greatly simplify the effect of massed herbaceous flowers when planted in groups. Most herb. Aceous subjects are meadow plants in the wild where, in order to survive crowded competition, their flowering stems reach up towards the light. Their scruffy shape and form is much improved when they are associated with positive, bold leaves.

Ferny, lacy leaves are another element in the foliage orchestra. They characterize plants such as fennel (Foeniculum), Astilbe, Thalictrum, Selinum tenuifolium and, of course, ferns themselves.

Rounded hummocks, of plants like Santolina, Artemisia, small Hebe, lavender (Lavandula), sage (Salvia) and rue (Ruta), make gentle mounds without which a composition could look too busy.

Vertical accents are the final component, without which the picture will always seem incomplete. Plants such as the irish juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Hibernica’) or irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiate’) make an important statement. In a small flower bed a conical, clipped box (Buxus) serves the purpose.

Plant texture

The different textures of foliage to weave into your picture are limitless, and besides the shape of each plant, try to keep in mind how to contrast their textures to best effect. Some leaves have such tactile quality that you cannot wait to handle them — the great white woolly leaves of Salvia argentea, the silver velvet of Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears) or the smooth grey plush of Origanum dictamnus — a delightful, somewhat tender origanum from Crete. There are shining leaves of plants such as Bergenia and Camellia that catch the light and throw it back to you, bristly leaves (as if they have forgotten to shave) of Symphytum, borage (Borago) and Anchusa and the handsome, rough wrinkled foliage of Rodgersia. To complete the picture, there are fleshy, succulent leaves, those with thorns and prickles, and young, tender leaves that it would be a sin to squeeze.

26. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Planning and Design | Tags: , | Comments Off on Starting a Garden – Planting for Effect

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