The Form of Things to Come – Part Five

They say gardeners and golfers are the most impatient people on the planet. While I can’t speak for golfers as I don’t golf, I can certainly attest to the impatience of gardeners. Whether it’s for a prized plant to bloom or for the arrival of gardening season, we have difficulty waiting.

It’s tempting to let the warmer days and chirping robins declare the beginning of the season, but the snow has barely melted and the ground is still soggy. Patience gardeners – old man winter has at least one more kick left in him. So to keep y’all busy while patiently waiting for another gardening season to begin, let’s have some more ‘Fun with Forms’. Today I look at…………….

Fountain Forms

Fountain-shaped plants grow upward, then arch out and curve downward, often to the ground. They are graceful and soft, so most of the plants that exhibit this form are herbaceous perennials – daylilies, grasses/sedges, and ferns for example. There are also some woody shrubs that grow in this manner – bridal wreath spirea and Rose Glow barberry to name a couple.

Rose Glow Barberry and Ornamental Grasses

The fountain forms of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ and ornamental grasses create an elegant picture in this Victoria, B.C. garden. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Like weeping forms, fountains draw the eye up and back down again, but their form is much less rigid, so has a different landscape application.

While its exquisite form can make a fountain-shaped plant an appropriate accent or feature, the emphasis it provides is quite subtle because of the soft drape of its foliage. Larger size then, must also be a factor if this form is to truly stand out.

Ornamental grass and statue

A large fountain form like this striking Miscanthus can provide emphasis on its own, but the effect is that much more pronounced when paired with a non-living focal point. The two together make a stunning feature. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Fountain forms can be used fairly freely in the landscape but they do require some woody neighbours with stiffer structure to visually support their more yielding form. They’re neutral enough to be massed, the resulting effect a bit like waves in the ocean. Smaller selections planted en masse are great for underplanting a specimen tree and look especially lovely in front of a taller vertical accent to ‘stage it’.

Daylily underplanting

Left – A mass of fountain-shaped Hemerocallis provides a neutral underplanting for Syringa reticulata. Photo: Sue Gaviller.
Right – Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’ effectively stages the very vertical Caragana arborescens ‘Sutherland’ and bird bath, creating a lovely focal vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This form is particularly effective when planted along the length of a design line, serving to accentuate it. When planted along both sides of a walk, fountain shapes define the passageway while still maintaining an open, welcome space.

Helictotrichon and Hemerocallis

Fountain shapes look lovely as spatial definers. Here a swath of Helictotrichon sempervirens lines the sidewalk and Hemerocallis delineates the property line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Fountain forms can also be useful for repeating the cascading branches of weeping trees, or mimicking the spray pattern of a water fountain. This repetition of line and form brings unity to a garden composition.

Carex

Repeating clumps of ornamental grasses echo the form of both the weeping Norway spruce (right) and the droopy foliage of the pom-pom cypress (left). Photo: Pat Gaviller

Helictotrichon

The beautiful inflorescence of Helictotrichon sempervirens appear like sprays of water in this scene from my front garden. The effect is especially marked when backlit by late-day sun. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Keep in mind that some perennials have foliage that grows in an arching fountain shape, but the flowers have a more upright growth habit. For example, Calamagrostis foliage is fountain-like but the inflorescence is upright, so when in bloom the overall effect is that of an upright column. Or the reverse may be the case where only the flowers exhibit a fountain form and the foliage presents as some other form. Determining whether a plant should be utilized as one form or the other will depend on when it blooms. In the case of Calamagrostis, the inflorescence appears fairly early, so the whole plant presents as an upright form for most of the season and should thus be used accordingly.

Well fellow gardeners, we have only a couple more plant forms to look at – I’ll cover those in the next and final post in this series on Plant Form in the landscape. Do come back!

Until then,
Sue

© 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.

6 comments on “The Form of Things to Come – Part Five

  1. The arching form and softened nature of these plants are some of the best at adding texture to a garden and design scheme. They play well off plants of a rougher texture like you mentioned in the “stiffer’ and more erect plants. Like you, I believe them invaluable in the landscape.

    • Hi Donna

      Thanks for your comment. I love the graceful drape of this form – in fact I find it so lovely that I kinda overdid it in my garden a number of years ago. The end result was too soft and unstructured, so I had to ‘Undo’ a bit.

      Anyway, I wish more of the ornamental grasses that exhibit the arching fountain shape were hardy here – you’re fortunate that you garden in a climate several zones warmer than us. Ah well we all must work with what we’ve got.

      Happy spring,
      Sue

  2. Love the fence and grass border!

    • Hi Arthur,

      Thanks for your comment – I too like this border of blue oat grasses between the fence and the sidewalk. Narrow strips of earth like this don’t normally make good planting spaces – I took the photo to illustrate how well the homeowner or designer has utilized the space by planting it homogenously. The resulting uniformity makes the grasses appear as part of the fence rather than a too-narrow planting.

      Thanks so much for reading,
      Sue

  3. I agree, these plant forms are really graceful, enjoyed reading this post! Beautiful pictures!

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