Friday, 12 April 2013

Designing With Plants

Given that this is the time of year when many people decide to revamp their planting I thought it might be helpful to look at how to use plants as part of a designed scheme.

The basic principles of designing with plants are the same as for any work of visual composition.  Decide what style or feel you want to create and then start to compile a plant list.

The most important factor is to use the right plant in the right place.  There is no point fighting nature. 

When compiling your list bear in mind the following:

Form – the basic shape of the plant.  Most can be fitted into the following groups: spires (foxglove), spikes (phormium), buttons and globes (allium), umbels (achillea), daisies (aster), plumes (filipendula) and screens (stipa gigantea).


Habit – the manner in which a plant grows.  Some are very upright and tall whilst others flop or sprawl.  Some grow in horizontal layers, or explode like fireworks.

Texture – Refers to the feel of a plant, particularly with reference to its leaves.  They can be smooth and shiny, furry, spikey or deeply pleated.

Colour – Look at the stems, buds, leaves, berries and thorns as well as the flowers.  Remember that flowers do not last long so consider the overall colour of the plant you are thinking of using.


Don't forget to think about winter structure as well.  This need not be confined to evergreens, many species of herbaceous perennials die back to a good structural skeleton.  Phlomis is worth growing for this reason alone.

The best way to go about designing a scheme once you have your plant list is to group the plants into the following categories:

·         Specials or focal points.  Use very sparingly.
·         Skeletons form the green background and are often shrubs.
·         Body plants tend to rely on seasonal interest and are usually herbaceous perennials.
·         Fillers are used to add extra splashes of colour.  Bulbs and annuals are ideal for this role.
Once you are happy with your groupings start drawing up a plan starting with the Specials and working down to the Fillers.

A sense of harmony can be created by using common elements such as foliage or flower colour, leaf size or shape.  Try to avoid using too many different species as this will make the garden look bitty.  Repetition of a limited plant palette is more likely to achieve a pleasing end result.  Be bold and plant in big groups, ideally in odd numbers. This image of a stained glass window would work well as a planting plan with its bold sweeps and limited pallett of colour.

Try to create patterns with the plant groupings you want to use and remember that plants are 3 dimensional – they have height and bulk.

Perhaps the most important thing is just to have a go and be bold.

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