Architectural or minimalistic planting is not for the faint hearted.
In this instance less really is more and you have to be very strict with yourself and resist the temptation to keep adding plants to your scheme. Try to imagine your garden as a sculpture gallery and use your plant specimens as works of art. They will need to be carefully placed and framed by their surroundings. The mulch or under planting you use also needs careful consideration. You can use traditional chipped or composted bark, gravel, cobbles or a low growing and simple ground cover – but only use one species otherwise you will lose the effect. Imagine a multistem silver birch under planted with a mass of Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ which has a fine white edge to its leaves and will gently accentuate the birch stems. The space around each plant is almost as important as the plant itself. You might even want to light them at night to produce stunning shadow patterns and dramatic effects.
Some plants are naturally architectural whilst others can have architecture thrust upon them.
The former all have strong, bold and distinctive shapes and are quite often associated with Mediterranean or tropical planting schemes. Examples include phormiums, yuccas and cordylines.
The other group is much broader based and can include almost any plant which could be considered to be a ‘specimen’. Japanese maples are ideal. You may well need to release its inner architecture by pruning or clipping. It is amazing the difference you can make by simply taking off the lower branches of a shrub or small tree to expose its twisted stems or interesting bark. Try clipping a Cupressus sempervirens to form a bold dark green spire. Lift the petticoats of a paperbark maple or Tibetan cherry to show off the superb bark.
The ultimate expression of this tweaking is topiary which, if you have the patience, you can create yourself, or invest in a ready-made piece. Look for interesting shapes, textures or colour. Carefully scrutinise your intended subject to see how you can create a piece of living sculpture.
If you are feeling really bold why not use the land itself to form your architectural shapes? You can create extraordinary mounds, pyramids, bowls and hollows which look spectacular simply planted with grass.
However you decide to approach your living architecture just remember be bold and keep it simple.