Showing posts with label planting design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label planting design. Show all posts



Though I officially learned planting design in college, I didn't begin my real education until I began creating my own garden. These are a collection of tips I've learned over the last twenty years in both capacities. 

If you'd like more information on some of these tips please check out these posts:

Drawing Tree Forms
Make Your Garden Pop with Texture
Texture in the Garden

I hope to expand on additional tips in the keep a look out for those.

I'd love to hear your planting design tips too. Please share one in the comments below.

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Spring brings the urge to plant binge (I'm an admitted plant addict). 

How many times have you entered a nursery center with looking as your only goal, but leaving with handfuls of plants?  The worst case is at the end of the planting season when everything is marked down to pennies.  How could you not purchase a few more goodies for the garden?  I fall into this category often, but I do follow a few personal rules.

1. Try to buy at least three (or more) of one plant.  Though you may not have a destination in mind yet, at least there will be a nice grouping for the final design (and it will look like you planned it).

2. Try something new.  If you're only paying 99 cents, why not try a new plant?  If it doesn't do well, no biggie.  My garden is filled with sale (and even free) plants that no one else wanted or recognized.  I now have some amazing plants that I would have never dreamed up on my own.

3. Is there a season you're lacking great color?  Late summer or fall perhaps?  Try to find plants that fill those gaps.  Don't let the lack of bloom in the nursery distract you - just because it's not blooming at that moment, doesn't mean it's not fabulous. Read the tags and grab the beauties others missed. 

4. Pick up those small, special plants (less than 12" tall).  These itty bitty plants are perfect for the front of your border or tucked in small spaces. Buy as many as you can. It's so much fun spreading these out along the front of a planting bed to pull it all together (what? a sale item creating a cohesive design?).

What other hints do you have?

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Today was our first warm day this spring and now I have flowers swirling in my head. I thought this was the perfect time to share one of my favorite plants, paired with a planting design hint.

An essential part of the perennial border often not given the deserved attention is the front...the extreme front. Often we jump into plants that are 18" to 24" tall in this location, but what makes this part of the border special is the beautiful trim of really short plants...those 12" or less. I especially love when they spill over onto the sidewalk. 

I've been experimenting with this living trim for a few years and have discovered a few beauties.  One of them is Veronica x 'Waterperry Blue'. This plant only grows 4-6" tall and has an amazing blue flower in the spring (zones 4-5).  The foliage also has a slight burgundy tinge making it extra nice throughout the growing season. Oh, I can't wait until the snow is completely gone!

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Planting design is a science and an art. The science takes into consideration what your plants need to thrive, while the art is about composition. The latter is challenging for most and often hinders many to experiment in the garden initially.

The good news is that there are some planting design guidelines to help us along. Three things to consider when arranging your plants are form, texture and color. These should be considered in the same order...form first, texture, then finally color.  Form is the most consistent, while color is the most fleeting.
I'd like to jump right into texture, since this seems to be the most confusing, yet can be so powerful. Texture in plants is typically the size of the leaf. The collection of a plant's leaves or even the size of the stems can also weigh into texture, but for simplicity's sake, let's just focus on the leaves.

Course texture is a larger leaf, while fine texture is a smaller one. It is the combination of different textures that makes a planting design have contrast and, thus more punch.  If you have too much of one texture, your overall composition will be dull.  I often see too much fine texture (like the combination of ornamental grasses and daylilies).  Think about how you can mix in more course (large) leaves in with your fine (small) leaves.

This same concept is true in other areas of design too, such as architecture, interior design and even textile design. I often mix pattern textures in fabric. It can be as simple as mixing a large-scale pattern with a small one.  Yes, you can pair patterns in your wardrobe as long as you mix fine (small scale) with course (large scale)...just as you would with plants.

Illustrations are nice, but real plant combinations can show the true power of mixing textures correctly. Take a look at how the different scale of leaves complement each other below. Each plant pops more because of it's partner. The amazing thing is that we often focus on color when planning our gardens, but if you have a great combination of textures, color plays a secondary role. Your garden will always look good whether it's blooming or not. Note how there are few colors in the images below, yet there is strong contrast.

Next time you're at a nursery choosing plants, bring the containers together and make sure they complement each other with different textures. If you're missing a course texture, keeping looking for the right plant. Even after you've planted them in your garden don't be afraid to continually tweak your design each season. I am constantly moving plants around and adding new ones to get the right texture combinations.

Texture is an amazing way to add contrast and spark to your garden. I encourage you to start looking at the size of leaves and pairing them in different ways.  Experiment and see what happens.
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