The Principled Gardener Part 4 – Unity by Interconnection

Over the last several months I’ve been discussing the Design Principle of Unity and how it can be incorporated into our landscapes and gardens. We’ve looked at Unity by Repetition, Unity by Dominance and Unity of Three. Today I wrap up this discussion with a look at one last way we can create unity in our gardens, with the use of Interconnection.

Interconnection refers to the practice of connecting or physically joining all landscape elements and spaces. Now you’d think that since the definition of Unity is oneness, that the idea of interconnection or joining would be a no-brainer, but I have trouble convincing gardeners of this one. It’s certainly harder to achieve if the basic layout of your landscape is already in place, especially the hardscapes (patios, walkways, etc.), but if you have the opportunity to physically connect all your landscape spaces, the result is very pleasing. So what do I mean by this? Let’s look at the example below. In the image on the left, a number of different landscape features – a deck with a hot-tub, patio with a fire-pit, and kidney-shaped island beds – are all floating disconnected in a sea of lawn. This composition lacks interconnection. The image on the right includes the same landscape features but the spaces are now all linked together, hence this landscape has been unified through interconnection.

Left: landscape lacks unity. Right: landscape is unified through interconnection. Note how the lawn in the composition on the left, is ‘negative’ space, i.e. the space between the landscape elements. In the image on the right, the lawn has become a landscape element and the planting space is now the negative space.

What this means fellow gardeners, is – brace yourselves – no island beds. I suspect therein lies the gardener’s grievance with interconnection – we do love our island beds don’t we? But think about it, the word ‘island’ by definition means disconnected. Just to be clear though, this rule doesn’t apply to acreages where very large island plantings are often employed as spatial definers – perhaps to separate the landscaped area around the house, from the ‘back forty’.  In this case the plantings are large enough that the eye doesn’t experience them as islands, so unity isn’t compromised. Neither would it apply to botanical gardens, or show gardens – again the plantings are too large to be seen as island beds, and are planned in such a way as to facilitate foot traffic for maximum viewing potential.

Interconnection can also be utilized to unify an individual planting space – disparate groupings of trees, shrubs and perennials can be underplanted with a single type of groundcover or other low growing plant. This connecting plant material brings the dissimilar groups into relationship with each other, therefore unifying the whole planting composition.

A mass of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnickinnick) covers this entire bed thereby connecting the plant material and creating unity. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The idea of Interconnection is really underscored for me when I look at the evolution of my own garden. When we purchased our house almost 25 years ago, the only growing things in the front yard were two Cotoneaster shrubs, which the previous owner had tried in vain to kill, and a green ash tree, all of which were on city property. The only garden beds were small strips of soil against the foundation:

front yard 1

Over the next few years, I built upon these beds, first expanding the beds adjacent to the house and carving out a kidney-shaped bed around the ash tree:

front yard 2

A year or so later I decided to make the bed in front of the house a little curvier and I added a couple more island beds:

front yard 3

I kept adding and expanding until eventually it looked something like this:

front yard 4

I was never really happy with the design as a whole, even though each individual bed was nicely planted. When I’d stand back and try to take the whole thing in, what I saw was a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces – a disjointed picture, as if the puzzle was yet to be assembled. It wasn’t until I became a student of design that I discovered what the problem was; none of the beds were linked or touching, hence no interconnection = disunity. A number of years ago I decided to correct this and proceeded to join all of the beds.

front yard interconnected

It’s an improvement to be sure, but there are still flaws – a couple of acute angles which as you know is a design no-no. As well, due to the positioning of the sidewalk, the two sides are still unbalanced – but that’s a whole other story. In fact it’s a whole other design principle, that being the Principle of Balance which we’ll look at next month. Stay tuned.

Til next time,
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

10 comments on “The Principled Gardener Part 4 – Unity by Interconnection

  1. Mobilemom says:

    I’m glad you are choosing to blog and I am looking forward to learning from you. Thank you for the lovely pictures as well as the design tips!

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hello Mobilemom,

      Thank you for your comment. As I’m sure you’re discovering, blogging can be quite a time commitment, but I’m really very happy to share what I know and always pleased to hear that it may be helpful to others.

      Thanks for reading,

  2. RJP says:

    I really like how you work with the basic principles in your topics and present illustrations as you do, this blog is as good as any how to book I’ve ever read, on any topic.

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Thanks Ralph,

      You’re so kind – maybe one day I will write a book. Thanks for being a faithful follower – I’m pleased to know you find what I have to say so useful.


  3. I’m very interested in garden design but my knowledge is so limited. Every time I read one of your design posts I reach a new level of understanding what would work in my garden. Thank you!!

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Greetings Salem Gardener,

      I remember when I began gardening some 30 years ago, I read gardening books and bought garden design magazines, all of which were lovely, but what I really needed was a step-by-step ‘how-to’ approach to garden design – happy to hear I can provide that for you.

      Thanks for reading,

  4. Ad says:

    You are a wealth of knowledge and I look forward to each post. Keep it up! I know nothing about design so I’m trying to soak up as much information as possible!
    I’m thinking about how your interconnection principle applies to my front lawn and I have a question: Would it look odd if there is nothing to anchor the right and left sides of the garden beds (no fence or large tree to separate the back of the garden bed from the neighbour’s lawn)?

    • Sue Gaviller says:

      Hi Ad,

      Thanks so much for your comments – glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog.

      To answer your question – it would depend on the shape of the bed, but generally speaking a design line that simply follows the property line is fine without a fence or hedge backing it. In the example I provided of my own front yard, the left side is bordered by a hedge and the right side, nothing – the back of the bed demarcates the property line. I’ve used some groupings of tall grasses and shrubs in that bed to provide some spatial definition. Hope this answers your question.

      Thanks again for reading,

  5. kelly says:

    Finally some clear helpful facts about designing a garden. Thanks. i am redoing a pool yard garden and searched and searched the net for design principles to follow. Finally i found you. Your blogs are exactly what i was looking for, i have completed a interior design course so i was sure that the garden would have similar rules and quideline to follow to get that garden from average to wow. Im in Australia and now feel empowered and confident to use build an above a strong more connected flowing garden. Well done and thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for stopping by – so glad you found me! Best of luck with your garden reno – hope it turns out exactly as you’ve envisioned it. There is no better reward for a gardener or a designer than to have her vision come to life.



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