Weaving Your Garden, Part 2 – More Textural Treats

The difference between a well textured garden and one that is not, is much like the difference I see when I view my garden with my glasses on……….and with them off.

Contrary to my optometrist’s recommendation, I don’t usually wear glasses during my day-to-day activities – except for television viewing and driving. So it is that every time I climb aboard my little red wagon (station wagon that is), the first thing I do is don my specs, and immediately I notice my garden leap out at me.

When I observe my garden without my glasses, I see colour, I see form, I even see contrasting fine and coarse textures – but there is very little depth or detail. However, when bespectacled, I see the finer details; layers of shadow and light, rough texture, smooth texture, shiny surfaces, matte surfaces, ruffles and ridges, creases and edges – a well textured garden. A sensuous garden even.

To achieve this end one must learn to see and appreciate the assorted textural treats that each plant brings to the garden party. As we view the various parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, bark etc.), we subconsciously imagine how they might be experienced by our other senses; how they might feel to the touch – soft, smooth, buttery, waxy, fuzzy; how they might smell, or even taste, and in so doing our visual experience is enhanced.

Rosa 'Morden Sunrise'. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’. Petals of finest silk against leaves of rich embossed leather – oh so touchable.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n' cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Glossy dark green foliage sets the stage for this single red peony – petals like layers of mouth-watering buttercream icing and stamens of mac n’ cheese look good enough to eat. Photo: Sue Gaviller

All plants, and all of their constituent parts, have texture – some of course more interesting than others. For many plants it is the foliage that has the most notable texture, others it is their bark, or their seedheads, their flowers, or even specific parts of their flowers that provide the textural appeal.

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

The inflorescence of Spiraea douglasii appears fuzzy, but closer inspection reveals that it is many tiny protruding stamens creating the fuzzy-looking texture. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Plant textures play off each other and their surroundings, offering layers of subtle beauty and visual depth.

Birch Bark

The richly textured bark of this stunning multistem paper birch contrasts and compliments the surrounding textures – the brick chimney, the siding on the house, and the underplanting of yellow daylilies.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

In my last post I discussed the importance of using fine texture to build volume, and coarse texture for contrast and emphasis. In this post I’ll look more closely at the visual and tactile characteristics of plant surfaces.

Rough or Smooth?

Plant surfaces can be either rough or smooth. In attempting to provide basic definitions for rough texture and smooth texture, I’ve found myself stalled – every time I start to formulate a definition I realize it isn’t as simple as the designer-speak I spout off to my students in design class. The simple definition for rough plant texture is anything with an irregular surface – this means the presence of fine hairs, scales, thorns, lumps or any other protuberance. Smooth texture is of course just the opposite – a regular surface with no protrusions.

However let’s look at a Hosta leaf – a classic example of smooth texture. But many Hosta leaves have very conspicuous veining, producing a somewhat puckered appearance. The leaf surface is still considered smooth – there are no actual protuberances, but perceptually the surface could be described as irregular.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Huge conspicuously veined Hosta leaves have a puckered appearance. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Soft furry Salix salicola. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The foliage of the polar bear willow (Salix salicola) on the other hand, is covered with many tiny hairs, resulting in a uniformly fuzzy surface – indeed it begs to be caressed.

Some would argue that the words ‘rough texture’ couldn’t possibly describe these leaves that look and feel so soft and downy.

So you see my conundrum here?

Well it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you recognize the basic textural differences between rough and smooth, and understand how the eye experiences them – light is refracted and reflected, or in laymen’s terms, bent and bounced off, surfaces that are irregular, differently than smooth surfaces. This creates changes in perceived colour as well as subtle areas of light and dark.

Shiny vs. Matte

Smooth texture is further categorized as either shiny or matte. Shiny surfaces reflect light, thus attract more attention – just ask a child. Conversely, matte surfaces absorb light and tend to blend more into their background.

Photo: Pat Gaviller

Bergenia cordifolia, with its coarse texture and glossy leaf surface, makes a great feature plant. Photo: Pat Gaviller

We can keep this in mind when fashioning areas of emphasis or dominance in a garden composition; for example, foliage features – while coarse texture will be the initial determinant of a plant’s dominance, a plant with leaves that are both large and shiny will be a real standout.

Russian olive and Amur cherry

Rough vs. Smooth – Left: Elaeagnus angustifolia – deep vertical fissures in the bark create unique striated texture. Right: Prunus mackii – the bark surface is shiny and the leaf surface is matte . Photos: Pat Gaviller

Bear in mind that too many plants with shiny leaf surfaces, can be both distracting and disunifying – particularly if the leaves are large. In my last post I mentioned that planting Heuchera in my garden had provided some visual relief from the excess of fine texture. What I didn’t mention was that after deciding the big glossy Heuchera leaves were indeed a welcome addition, I made the typical ‘the-only-thing-better-than-a-good-thing-is-more-of-a-good-thing’ mistake, and added a whole bunch more plants with big shiny leaves – eventually creating a bed that consisted almost entirely of coarse, shiny texture. During the course of my design study, as I began to understand the role of texture in my own garden, I surmised that ‘too much coarse texture’ had now supplanted the ‘too much fine texture’ scenario, but it was a while later before I figured out that all those shiny surfaces had amplified the problem.

P1040259

Hosta, Rhododendron and Arctostaphylos – note the contrasting surface textures. Photo: Sue Gaviller

As always, contrast and balance are key – be sure to include plants with smooth matte surfaces, some shiny surfaces, fuzzy, wrinkled, spiny, furrowed……..

Mother Nature often brings her own contrasting textures to the party in a single plant; for example, foliage may have a glossy surface, and flowers have a lustreless surface, sometimes with a bit of nap, like velvet or nubuck.

Purple Pavement Rose

The glossy pinnate leaves of Rosa ‘Purple Pavement’ contrast beautifully with the softly sueded surface of the blooms. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prickly Pear Cactus

A study in textural contrast: Prickly Pear Cactus has dangerously spiny foliage, but delicate papery blooms. Photo: Pat Gaviller

On the Edge

Variations in surface edges also impact textural appearance – smooth surfaces with edges that are ruffled, serrated, fringed etc. will seem more irregular, and finer textured as well. Keep this in mind when using plants that exhibit these characteristics.

The large leaves of Heuchera 'Prince' are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The large leaves of Heuchera ‘Prince’ are smooth with an intense sheen, but the ruffled edges cause the surface to appear more irregular. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The feathery edges of Viburnum dentatum foliage perceptually alters their surface texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The jagged leaf edges of Viburnum dentatum perceptually alter their surface texture.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As Time Goes By

Plant texture changes as a plant goes through its seasonal cycles and its life cycle – new growth may be smooth and shiny and older growth, duller or rougher. The formation of deadheads, seedheads or berries adds a new textural dimension as the season progresses.  Leaving these to develop may be desirable for visual effect, but depending on the plant, sometimes removal is better. And of course when woody plants enter winter dormancy, most will lose their leaves, exposing their textural bones.

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Elaeagnus angustifolia presents many unique textures – stems, petioles and pedicels appear silver and fuzzy, bark on young branches is shiny mahogany brown and mature bark on the trunk is rough and fissured, as seen in the photo earlier in this post. Edible berries form in late summer. Photo: Sue Gaviller.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant', a lovely creeping groundcover with large glossy dark leaves and pretty blu flowers. Here the flowers gave faded so should be removed so the leaf texture can be enjoyed.

Much of this bed is edged with Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’, a lovely creeping groundcover with large, glossy, wine-coloured leaves and pretty blue flowers. Here the faded flowers obscure the beautiful foliage – I’ll need to deadhead so the leaf texture can be enjoyed. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bark and branches provide textural interest during long winter months. From left: Betula pendula, Picea pungens var. glauca and Prunus mackii. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Texture in the garden has so much more impact than we realize – as I examine my own garden I recognize there are still areas that could benefit from some ‘texturizing’. As I wrap up this post I recognize there is still more I could add, like why have certain plants evolved with particular texture – Mother Nature has her reasons you know. But alas that will have to be the subject of another post.

So when you shop for new plant material, or play with what you already have, take note of what each has brought to the party before adjusting or expanding the menu.

Bon Appétit,
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.

Weaving Your Garden – the Importance of Plant Texture

Over the last year or so I’ve talked much about form, texture and colour, both as they relate to individual plants, and in the garden as a whole – indeed these traits are the means by which plants relate visually to each other. When I wrapped up my 6-part series on Plant Form, I promised future detailed coverage on texture and colour in the garden. Today then I’ll begin the discussion on texture.

Where plant form gives a garden its structure, I believe it is plant texture that gives a garden its sensuality. Even the descriptors we use – words like velvety, satiny, ruffled, rough, fuzzy, lacy, delicate, succulent, leathery, strappy – denote a certain sensuality.

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client's front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Foliage exhibits many different textures, creating a rich layered tableau in this client’s front yard garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Lacy leaves and delicate, satiny flowers give the common bleeding heart very alluring texture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis 'Strutter's Ball' that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Velvety and ruffled, it is the texture as much as the colour of Hemerocallis ‘Strutter’s Ball’ that afford it its luxurious appearance. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So what exactly is plant texture? The word texture comes from the Latin word texere which means “to weave”. If we look at gardening as the weaving of a giant tapestry, we begin to understand why texture is such an important consideration in garden design – it makes a significant contribution to the overall picture. As a designer I use the word texture in referring to a) the size, shape and arrangement of a plant’s component parts, i.e. fine texture vs. coarse texture or b) the visual and tactile characteristics of a plant surface, i.e. rough vs. smooth.

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies 'Nidiformis' (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Chip' (middle) and Juniperus Sabina 'Calgary Carpet' (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse-textured Syringa vulgaris foliage (left) has a smooth leathery surface, fine-textured Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ (bottom) has nubby-looking new growth, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ (middle) and Juniperus Sabina ‘Calgary Carpet’ (top) are both fine-textured and feathery. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So let’s take a closer look……..

Fine Texture

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren't for the very large leaves of Rogersia. Photo: Marny Estep

This casual composition would appear quite messy if it weren’t for the very large leaves of Rogersia.
Photo: Marny Estep

Plants with smaller individual parts (small or very narrow leaves) that are spaced closely together, are considered fine textured. These plants are important for building volume in the garden as well as setting the stage for coarse textured plants.

While fine texture should predominate in a composition, periodic interruptions with coarser texture are needed or the garden can appear busy – untidy even. I experienced this many years ago when I drove up to our house one summer afternoon and noted that a large area of the garden looked decidedly unkempt.

Approaching the offending composition, I tried to determine why it looked so messy – nothing was in need of deadheading, nothing was flopping over and it wasn’t particularly crowded. So I did what all gardeners do – took out some stuff, added some stuff, added some more stuff, yadda, yadda, yadda, more trial and error planting decisions, none of which solved the problem………until I planted some Heuchera. Its big bold leaves seemed to be just what was needed, and while I likely intuited that it was the textural contrast of large leaves with the airier texture of yarrow, spirea and juniper, I certainly couldn’t have articulated that ‘too much fine texture with no coarse texture to punctuate’ was the problem. In fact it really wasn’t until I began to study design that I figured it out – one of those light-bulb moments while listening to my design instructor discuss texture.

It’s important to note that small leaves or flowers which are very tightly packed result in visual weightiness. For example spruce needles, though fine and narrow, are very closely spaced and very rigid, hence the plant appears heavy. Cedar and juniper are also fine-textured, but the foliage is much more open thus appears airy and weightless. Making this distinction will help you effectively balance and contrast lightness and weight when choosing and placing fine textured plants in your garden.

evergreen texture

While all evergreens exhibit fine texture, very tightly spaced, rigid needles like those of Pinus mugo (bottom) and Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ (top) result in a weightier presentation than the lighter feathery foliage of Juniperus chinensis ‘Mint Julep’ (right). Photo: Sue Gaviller

Coarse Texture

Plants with large individual parts spaced further apart are coarse textured. They have a dramatic, almost tropical appearance which draws the eye and gives it a place to rest – this grounds and unifies a composition. Coarse texture is dominant to fine texture and should therefore be used more sparingly – too much of it creates competition for dominance, which in turn can cause visual unrest.

Hosta, daylily and kinnickinnick

Large lush leaves of Hosta ‘Zounds’ unify and ground a tangle of kinnickinnick and daylily foliage. The understated toad sculpture plays a supporting role. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Unfortunately, many plants with very large leaves are susceptible to damage from hail, wind and frequently, slugs. It is therefore important to situate them appropriately – protected by a fence, tree or building and in conditions that are moist enough for the plant to thrive but not so wet that slugs also thrive.

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs. Photo: Diana Lane

Large leaves, lovely as they are, can be reduced to tatters from hailstorms and slugs.
Photo: Diana Lane

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the red-leaved Berberis thunbrgiss 'Cherry Bomb', but much finer relative to Hosta 'Sum and Substance'.Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rhododendron seems coarse in relation to the tiny red leaves of Berberis thunbergii ‘Cherry Bomb‘, but much finer relative to the much larger leaves of the Hosta.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Texture is of course relative; for example, rhododendron foliage may appear coarse next to periwinkle or kinnickinnick, but seem much less so beside Hosta. The key here is contrast – if every plant has leaves and/or flowers of similar size, monotony will result. Instead, a variety of textures; fine, medium, coarse and in-between, will ensure an exciting, balanced composition – the coarser the texture, the less you use.

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophylis repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the result textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

The flowers and foliage of Gypsophila repens ‘Rosea’ are very fine textured, whereas Iris leaves and blooms exhibit much coarser texture – the resulting textural contrast paints a lovely picture. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Keep in mind too that foliage consisting of more than one colour – variegated, veined, mottled etc., will appear finer textured. This is especially evident if the variegations are small and closely spaced, and less so if larger blocks of colour make up the variegations, for example a green Hosta with white or cream margins.

bicolour foliage resize

The large leaves of Heucherella ‘Berry Fizz’(left), Tiarella ‘Crow Feather’ (right) and Aegopodium podagraria (bottom) appear more finely textured than they actually are, due to their bicolour pattern. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Hosta and Lamiastrium resize

Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Herman’s Pride’ and Hosta spnote how the very busy variegation affects the perceived texture of the finer textured plant, but the big blocky variegations of the larger hosta leaves only slightly affect its coarseness. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Now go outside and take a look at your garden composition – is there something you don’t like about it? Instead of just throwing more plant material at it this season, examine it from the perspective of contrasting and balancing fine texture, coarse texture and in-between texture – maybe you just need to rethink it.

Join me for more sensuous plant talk in my next post as I take a look at surface texture.

Til 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.

Pretty in Pink

Everything’s popping up pink along city boulevards, in parks and front yards – the first of the spring-flowering shrubs are strutting their stuff.  These pretty ladies are various species of the Prunus genus, a large genus that includes peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and almonds. In Calgary, the current explosion of pink blossoms comes from 3 different species.

Prunus tomentosa is first on the scene, with pale pink flowers that present before the leaves.  Commonly known as Nanking Cherry, this medium to large shrub is native to China, Korea and the Himalayas. It has been cultivated in North America since early last century, providing a drought tolerant, cold hardy (Zone 2) shrub that grows to a height and spread of 2–3 metres. It produces small tart cherries that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Prunus tomentosa

Pale pink Prunus tomentosa is a common sight on city boulevards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex, the double-flowering plum, is by far the showiest of the three, its large double pastel-pink blossoms like cotton-balls along the many arching stems. A very vigorous grower, reaching 2–3 metres tall and wide, it will benefit from periodic pruning to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. This variety is sterile and doesn’t produce fruit.

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella (Russian almond) is a smallish shrub with an upright vase shape and narrow green leaves that appear at the same time as the medium pink flowers. It’s compact and tidy, reaching only about 1 metre in height and spread. Very fragrant too, it is much underutilized in the urban landscape.

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.  Photos: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

Many designers eschew the use of these shrubs because they’re ‘old fashioned’. It’s true they are, but they still have design value. They’re right at home in a Naturalistic garden and are especially useful in Asian-inspired or Colonial style gardens – and they’re reliably floriferous too.

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.  Photo:Sue Gaviller

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of the Asian inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of an Asian-inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When finished blooming, their design worth is more as a backdrop than a showpiece. Nanking cherry and flowering plum both have a lovely natural vase shape, as well as dark green, medium-coarse leaves which provide nice contrast to other brighter plants. Russian almond is much finer textured with lighter green leaves – together with its very upright branches, also provides good contrast in the landscape. And as woodies, they all offer much-desired structure to our gardens.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-fashioned beauties – charm and grace come with age you know.

Til next time,
Sue

The Form of Things to Come – Part 6

I promised myself I wouldn’t begin today’s post with comments or complaints about our wintry weather as I did in three of my last four posts. I don’t want readers to get the erroneous impression that Canada is the land of perpetual ice and snow. Nor do I want readers to think all Calgarians are a bunch of weather-whiners. And I certainly don’t want you to think that whining about the weather is my shtick – the hippy dippy weather girl, or that it’s the only intro I can come up with. Because it’s not. I have plenty of clever intros up my sleeve – clever is my middle name. So how about this………………….nah, okay then how about……………………….dagnabbit, folks that’s all I got today. I just wanna whine about the weather okay?

Correct me if I’m wrong fellow Calgarians, but has it not been an extraordinarily long winter? I know it’s only the middle of April but Spring isn’t even trying anymore. She just teased us and left us high and dry – well more like cold and wet. Even my stoic husband, who chides weather-whiners for bemoaning that which they can’t control, has on two recent occasions grumbled about the weather. “This weather is sucking the life out of me,” he lamented last night.

Today I look out my window at snow-covered branches, knowing there’s more snow in the forecast – I don’t even think it makes for a pretty picture anymore. I feel like I’m in Narnia under the white witch’s rule – where “it’s always winter, but never Christmas” (uttered with the most refined of British accents). Enough already old man winter – go away.

Okay I’m done complaining now. I’m not even going to attempt a smart segue into today’s topic, I’m just going to start right in on rounds and mounds and flats and mats. If you’re joining me for the first time, you may wonder what on earth I’m talking about – if you’ve been following my latest series of posts, you’ll know of course that I’m referring to plant form.

Round/Mound

Rounded plant forms grow in a roughly spherical shape. Mounds are somewhat flattened rounds.  These ‘roundy-moundys’, as my design instructor called them, are the most common form. They are non-directional, meaning they don’t send the eye up or down – rather the eye just glides over them and moves through the landscape in an undulating kind of progression.

Round and mound forms

This rolling English landscape consists mostly of rounded/mounding trees and shrubs. Photo: Marny Estep

Rounds and mounds are relatively neutral and soft, thus aren’t particularly dominant forms. They can be massed, work well grouped in threes, and a single round form, if large, can make an effective anchor. As well these forms can ‘echo’ other curvy forms.

A trio of Cherry Bomb Barberry orbs visually supports the more dominant weeoing caragana. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A trio of globe-shaped Cherry Bomb barberry visually supports the more dominant weeping form of Walker’s caragana in a client’s gardenThey also nicely echo the orbicular shape of the wall-mounted light fixture. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Globe cedar

A large globe cedar provides a visual corner anchor. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Round forms are excellent foils for colmnar forms like this Pinus sylvestris 'Fastigiata', but the effect would have more credibility if the heavily pruned round evergreen had more natural form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Round forms are excellent foils for columnar forms like this Pinus sylvestris ‘Fastigiata’, but the effect would have more credibility if the heavily pruned globe-shaped evergreen had more natural form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite the ubiquity of the round/mound form, gardeners and landscapers seem to want more of it, often pruning shrubs unnaturally into this shape. It may be that the form’s common presence leads to the mistaken notion that all shrubs are round; hence they all get pruned that way. Or it may be that gardeners intuit the gentle movement that results from the use of rounded or mounding forms in the landscape.

Regardless, this pruning style can sometimes produce attractive results and sometimes not.

Cornus sericea natural form

Cornus sericea has a naturally round form. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Cotoneaster

While Cotoneaster lucidus grows naturally as a very large loosely shaped ball, this homeowner has pruned them into an attractive rhythmic sequence of perfect spheres. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Round forms

Geometric forms like these roundly sheared boxwood, abound in formal landscapes. Note the very rolling movement that results, especially when planted sequentially. Photo: Jane Reksten

This form is common in certain theme gardens – for example, in the Japanese garden, shrubs are pruned into globose forms to mimic rocks, an important component in their garden compositions.

Formal gardens too, utilize very round shapes as well as other strong geometric forms.

Round forms in Formal Garden

In this formal landscape, shrubs have been pruned to repeat the shape of the stone spheres .
Photo: Marny Estep.

pruned mounds in Japanese Garden

Three mounded shrubs pruned to symbolize rocks. Japanese Garden, UBC. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Keep in mind that despite their relative neutrality, round forms can be overused – so use them freely but make sure you punctuate periodically with other forms.

Flat/Mat

Flat forms are much wider than they are tall, and of course flat. If they have any appreciable curve to their upper surface then they are actually mounds – due to the undulating movement the curved surface creates. Flat forms that hug the ground and create spreading groundcovers are mats.

Mat form - underplanting

Spreading Juniperus sabina ‘Calgary Carpet’ underplants Syringa reticulata ‘Golden Eclipse’ in a client’s front yard.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Like rounded and mounding forms, flat and mat forms are very common.

They are the most neutral of all the plant forms, making them excellent backdrops or underplantings for other more significant elements, like a focal point or specimen tree.

Their shorter stature and flattened surface, relate the scale of the garden to the horizontal plane of the ground.

mat form - junipers

Various Juniperus sabina and horizontalis cultivars underplant other trees and shrubs and effectively delineate the planting space and the lawn. Photo: Sue Gaviller

In addition, flat and mat forms transition the landscape from pathways or lawn into the garden, thereby connecting them.

Mat forms - transition

Numerous flat and mat forms in my front garden provide a transition zone, connecting the lawn to the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Thymus pseudolanuginosis

The mat form of Thymus pseudolanuginosis provides transition from sidewalk to garden and softens the straight lines of the pathways. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Well my friends I’ve reached the end of my discussion on plant form. Texture and colour are next, but I think I’ll postpone those until our gardens wake up a bit and allow for some new ‘photo pursuits’. I’ll come up with some other topics to write about in the interim, so do stay tuned.

As I’m preparing to publish this post, I’ve become aware of the horrific events that occurred in Boston earlier today – our weather woes seem suddenly pretty trivial. I won’t complain again anytime soon.

Be sure to hug your loved ones tonight.

Til next time,
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.

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.

The Form of Things to Come, Part 3 – Weeping Form

Until a day or two ago, it was feeling quite springy around here – longer days, mild daytime temperatures, and I’d begun the flurry of client interviews and site assessments that typify my spring schedule. Then BAM – old man winter returns with a big dump of the white stuff.  Lucky for you, this means a short reprieve from aforementioned activities, and I can work on this post. Next in the plant form series is weeping form.

Weeping Form

Weeping plants can be huge trees like Betula pendula ‘Laciniata’, or small grafted specimens like Betula pendula ‘Youngii’. The large weeping trees have less distinct form because there are countless branches, each with delicate drape – the resultant outline of form is therefore somewhat amorphous, though still quite elegant.

Weeping Birch

Large weeping trees like this weeping birch don’t exhibit a distinct outline – the weeping habit of their branches creates more textural interest, than well-defined form. Photo: Pat Gaviller

To me, they bring a sense of quiet luxuriance to a landscape, perhaps because I associate this form with the giant weeping willows that reside near still waters – the picture of both opulence and serenity.

Although these big weepers lack definitive form, their lacy texture makes them lovely feature trees – if scale and proportion allow. They are especially lovely as waterside accents and make elegant shade trees – again if the size of your house and/or property allows.

Small weeping trees offer much stronger architectural form than their larger counterparts– their arched weeping branches create an umbrella-like form. Many of the weeping specimens available at nurseries are actually low-growing creeping shrubs that have been grafted onto a standard, for example Young’s weeping birch, Walker’s weeping Caragana or Rosy Glo weeping crabapple.

This form draws the eye up……..and back down again. It is strongly dominant so should always be used as a single specimen – I can’t stress this enough. Don’t try to group them in threes, or use two to frame an entry, or plant several in linear fashion – it just doesn’t work. I made the mistake of planting two in my front yard several years ago – you can read about it in my post from last year around this time: Form, Colour and Texture in the Winter Garden. The bottom line is, any more than one and they’ll just compete for dominance and create visual unrest. So one is enough – got it?

Malus Rosy Glo 3

Malus ‘Rosy Glo’ makes a beautiful specimen tree as it looks spectacular any time of year – here I’ve underplanted with Juniperus sabina ‘Moor Dense’ which stages her nicely. Photos: Sue Gaviller

C. arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’

A weeping form makes a nice centrepiece for a symmetrical composition. Left – Caragana arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’ in a client’s raised planter. Right – another of those pretty scenes I periodically drive by, C. arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’ in winter still has strong form. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Weeping Caragana

Walker’s weeping Caragana: simple repetition of line makes this tidy scene one I often stop to admire. Photo: Sue Gaviller

These small weeping trees are useful for highlighting architectural details, like arched doorways or windows – the arching form of the branches mimic the architectural line, thus bringing attention to it, and creating unity (by repetition).

Fountains too, can be ‘echoed’ in this way with the placement of a weeping tree nearby.

As well, a weeping form looks very appealing at the top of, or near a slope – the weeping branches reiterate the sloping line of the hillside.

And don’t plant one of these feature trees in the middle of an expanse of lawn where it will appear lonely and insignificant – it’s much more effective when staged and supported by the presence of other plant material.

Weeping Norway Spruce

A fine-looking specimen, Picea abies ‘Pendula’ looks splendid in this sloped front yard garden in charming Elora, Ontario. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I’ve had several clients tell me they don’t like the shape of weeping trees because it makes them feel sad (maybe it’s the name – y’know power of suggestion and all). I don’t get this. To me weeping forms are graceful and very pleasing to the eye. Indeed their appropriate use demonstrates a mature design sensibility. I guess it’s a humble reminder for me, and all you aspiring designers, that there is a degree of subjectivity in design that must be acknowledged and respected. And with that little piece of wisdom my friends, I shall bid you adieu.

More ‘Fun with Forms’ in my next post – see ya then.

Humbly yours,
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.

The Form of Things to Come – Part 2

In my last post, I opened a discussion on plant form with a look at columnar or fastigiate forms and their use in the landscape. Today I continue this discussion with two additional forms – Pyramids and Vases.

Pyramidal/Conical

Pyramids or cones are wider at the bottom, becoming narrower and tapering to a point at the top. Their geometric form gives a garden solidity, structure and definition. In our climate, it is during the long winter months that pyramids carry the most visual weight – most of the pyramids we see are evergreens, which are dense, stiff needled and weighty in appearance. As well, pyramidal forms carry their weight close to the ground – this wide-bottomed shape means that visually they are very grounding (anyone else start silently singing the refrain from a certain song?)

Pine

A solid green pyramid, which I suspect is Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’, stands out in this winter landscape, firmly anchoring the more yielding forms of leafless woodies and dried grasses. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Blue spruce and bench

The pyramidal form of blue spruce provides definition and structure to this pretty vignette.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Pyramids can be quite variable in size and proportion – some are short and squat, some tall and narrow and some in between. This means their use in the landscape is also variable. A tall narrow pyramid will behave more like a columnar form, making a striking vertical accent or effectively framing a view or entrance, whereas the more wide-bottomed specimens won’t have this effect and better serve as anchors with their bottom heavy appearance (there’s that song again).

Pyramidal Spruces

Left – A tall narrow pyramid like Picea pungens ‘Fastigiata’ makes a dramatic vertical feature.
Photo: Pat Gaviller.
Right – Short and squat, dwarf cone-shaped Picea pungens (likely cv. ‘Montgomery’) steadies this pretty composition. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Picea pungens var. Glauca

Two Picea pungens var. glauca create a nice frame – their size, form and texture provide solid structure, matching that of the large brick building. Photo: Pat Gaviller.

Pyramids are also useful for repeating the shape of roof peaks or mountains in the background. As well, their natural geometry lends itself to use in formal landscapes, where parterres and hedges are clipped into strong geometric forms.

Spruce and cedars

The narrow pyramidal forms of two cedars effectively repeat the shape of the church steeple (and frame its entrance), while the broader spruce repeats the form of the roof peak. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Geometric shapes

Pyramidal forms fit well into formal designs. Photo: Evelyn Steinberg

Keep in mind that the more narrow the pyramid, the more it will perform like a columnar form, so the same guidelines will apply regarding its overuse. Otherwise this form can be used fairly freely in the landscape, remembering that evergreen material shouldn’t comprise more than about half of your plant material due to its weight. And of course scale, proportion and all the other design principles still apply.

Vase shaped

Vases are inverted pyramids – narrow at the bottom and flaring out towards the top.  They are graceful and elegant, making them excellent feature trees/shrubs. Like pyramids they vary somewhat in proportion, with some being quite slender and others much broader. A very narrow specimen can make an elegant vertical accent, frame an entrance or view, or be planted in groups. Just like columns or narrow pyramids, narrow vases shouldn’t be overused – because they stop the eye and draw it up, the same guidelines will apply as for columnar forms, though a narrow vase is less dramatic.

Sutherland Caragana

Left – Slender vase-shaped Caragana arborescens ‘Sutherland’, together with a bird bath and Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’, make a lovely focal vignette in a client’s sunny backyard. Photo: Sue Gaviller.
Right – A trio of Sutherland Caragana also works well. Photo: Jane Reksten.

Broader vases are still graceful but don’t behave as verticals. They can therefore be used liberally throughout a landscape composition – a single specimen though, makes an outstanding feature on its own.

Broad Vase

Plants with broad vase form are a beautiful addition to the landscape, whether used singly or grouped.
Left – Malus
‘Thunderchild’. Right – Sorbus decora. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Vase shaped trees planted on either side of a street or walkway create a lovely arching canopy as they meet at the top. If you’ve ever peered down one of Calgary’s elm-lined streets you’ll know what a spectacular sight this is, especially with a dusting of hoar-frost coating the lacy branches of the stately elms.

Vase shaped trees

Ornamental crabapple trees have a beautiful vase shape – some very broad and some more narrow. I love how the designer has utilized the form in this landscape, both framing the walkway and creating the arched canopy over it. Photo: Gabe Girimonte.

Pruned Syringa prestoniae

Syringa prestoniae grows naturally in a globe shape, but looks lovely pruned into a broad vase. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Vase shapes are a favourite with many gardeners – in fact so enamoured are we of this form that we’ll often prune a shrub into a vase shape, and labour to maintain it, despite the fact that its natural growth habit is otherwise.

I’ve seen various shrub species, including Syringa, Prunus, Lonicera and Viburnum, pruned in this manner.

Note too that during the growing season, the leafy canopy of a vase-shaped tree or shrub may affect its form, appearing somewhat like a ball on top of a vase. Whether you then choose to use this plant as a round form or a vase, will depend on how much of its woody skeleton is visible when clothed in foliage. It will also depend on how much of the year it actually has leaves.

Vases and pyramids are important inclusions in your landscape or garden composition. Indeed they work in beautiful concert with each other, fitting together like puzzle pieces.

Pyramids and Vases

Left – Ulmus americana and Picea pungens var. glauca. Photo: Sue Gaviller
Right – Picea and Prunus sp. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Next post we’ll continue to build our garden sight-line with more plant forms, so y’all come back now, hear?

Sue

The Form of Things to Come

My first thought the morning of February 2nd is hooray! Balzac Billy didn’t see his shadow! According to groundhog legend, this means spring is just around the corner. Again I say hooray! A sense of disquiet ensues though, as I remember the client designs I’ve been putting off because hey, there’s lots of time, it’s still the middle of winter. While I don’t really subscribe to the belief that a rodent can predict the weather, I suddenly feel called out of hibernation. I’m not sure I’m ready.

I dust off the old creativity cap and reluctantly put it on. I’m just not feelin’ it though. I guess I could work on my next blog post – yikes not feelin’ that either. I believe I have the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ and ‘designer’s block’ too. This is weird – my brain is usually so full of thoughts and words and ideas that stuff just tumbles out onto my drawing page or laptop screen.

A memory of some words my husband once spoke to me finds its way through the fog, “Sue, just put your pencil on the paper and start to draw”. Yes, yes of course – start the process and inspiration will follow. I know this to be true.

Fortunately I’m able to come up with some concepts for last night’s client meeting – I’m actually pretty happy with the drawings, and the clients are ecstatic. Now if I can just get this blog post underway. So where were we anyways? Oh yeah, in my last post I left off with the promise of discussion on the significance of plant form, texture and colour.

Plant Form

We choose plants for any or all of these characteristics (form, texture and/or colour), but in order to arrange them appropriately we need to understand how specific traits will play out in the garden scenario, in relation to other plants. To me, plant form is the most important quality a plant brings to a garden composition, so I’ll begin there. It is the various plant forms working in concert that creates a sight-line. Much like a city skyline, the landscape sight-line is what we experience when viewing the garden from more distant vantage points – across the street or down the road. It allows us to see the garden in its larger essence.

Calgary Skyline

An attractive city Skyline has high points and low points, as well as variety in the shape of its buildings. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Sight-line

A landscape too should have variety in height and form – note the different tree and shrub forms that contribute to this attractive sight-line. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Sight-line 2

Designers of English Landscape Style gardens pay particular attention to the creation of an undulating sight-line. Photo: Marny Estep

As well, the form of the garden’s woody denizens (trees and shrubs) makes a significant contribution to the creation of a true four-season garden. It is this that provides a sense of permanence in the garden – to see its beauty season after season, year after year.

FOUR SEASONS

This view from my diningroom window is always serene and elegant – due in part to the variety and balance of form. Photos: Sue Gaviller

Plants come in many shapes. Classifying these shapes, simplistic though it is, can help us to understand their visual impact in the landscape and utilize them accordingly. For the sake of simplicity then, let’s say plant forms fit into one of the following categories:

  • Columnar/Fastigiate
  • Pyramidal/Conical
  • Vase shaped
  • Weeping
  • Topiary/Grafted standards
  • Fountain/Arching
  • Round/Mound
  • Mat/Flat

Today I will discuss the first.

Columnar/ Fastigiate

Columnar and Fastigiate forms are tall and narrow with very little taper. These strong vertical accents draw the eye, stop it, and send it skyward, thus momentarily arresting the flow of movement. Stately and spire-like, they have many applications in the urban landscape.

When used as a single specimen, a columnar form appears somewhat like an exclamation point. They are also lovely as a trio, and placing one on either side of an entrance or view will provide a visual frame, inviting the eye (or the viewer) through.

columnar forms

Left – A single columnar form can make quite a statement. Photo: Cathy Gaviller.
Right – A group of three is also stunning. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Skyrocket juniper

Two narrow Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ nicely frame an entryway. Photo: Marg Gaviller.

Columnar forms are useful where taller scale is required but space is tight. As well, adding a few of these tall narrow trees to Mediterranean theme gardens can help to set the mood as they mimic the tall Italian cypress.

Italian Cypress

Nothing says Mediterranean quite like Italian cypress – it is seen in abundance throughout the region. In colder climates, like ours, other columnar trees can do the trick quite nicely. Photo: Cathy Gaviller

Overuse of this form can result in very choppy movement as the eye stops and starts, darting up and down. This ‘jumpy’ feel will be most evident if these forms are dotted randomly around the landscape. If you want to use numerous columnar forms, they are best grouped together, used sequentially to reinforce a design line, or in a pattern of alternating elements.

columnar aspens

Alternating Populus tremula ‘Erecta’ and Picea pungens, effectively reinforce the straight design line, as well as providing some privacy for the homeowners. Photo: Sue Gaviller

On a smaller scale, columnar form is seen in these Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Avalanche'. They provide winter interest in both form and colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

On a smaller scale, columnar form is seen in these Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Avalanche’. They provide winter interest in both form and colour and reinforce directional movement along the path.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

The columnar plant form is an outstanding addition to the landscape – why not give one or two a home in your garden.

Join me next time as I look at another of the plant forms for your garden.

Til 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.

Where Do We Go From Here – Part 2

Last week I discussed the various functional roles plants may serve in the landscape – with these practical considerations out of the way now, we can finally go about utilizing plants purely for their aesthetic appeal. However, we can’t just go plopping plants into our designs haphazardly. There is still a process – indeed this is inherent in the very definition of design. According to Wikipedia, design is defined as:

  • the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system
  • a roadmap or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation

Note the words ‘plan’ and ‘strategic approach’ – this suggests we must arrange our plants in a mindful, purposeful fashion. Nuff said? Okay I won’t belabour the point. Alrighty then let’s get going………

Um – where exactly do we go from here? There’s so much to choose from. Well let’s see if we can’t narrow down our choices by looking at what, where, when and why.

What Plants Should I Choose First?

Trees should always be your first consideration – they are the backbone of a well designed garden. Trees provide scale and structure, and since they take the longest to reach maturity, dedicating the largest portion of your plant budget to a few of these horticultural giants, means you’ll have good scale and structure from the get-go.

Once you’ve chosen your trees you can consider shrubs – if trees are the backbone of good garden design, shrubs are the rest of its skeletal structure. Perennials then, are the garden’s attire, and bulbs and annuals, the accessories.

The irony is, most of us have proceeded in exactly the opposite direction. Our first tentative foray into gardening often begins with brightly coloured annuals (I wince at the memory of marigolds and geraniums that were my first garden) or bulbs like tulips and daffodils. Soon we discover perennials, and sometime later (often much later) we start to think about shrubs and trees. I can tell you from experience that it is difficult to go backwards – save ripping it all up and starting over again, this backwards progression will always look like a retrofit.

So what kind of trees should you choose? It goes without saying that they should be of appropriate scale for your house, and of course you’ll choose what you personally find appealing, but there’s more yet to consider. Keep reading.

Where Should I Plant What?

This really is the million dollar question isn’t it? To begin with you’ll need to take into account details like site exposure and available space, to ensure your plant choices will thrive where you place them.  Next, consider plants which will present high visual impact and position them accordingly. For example a specimen tree or other dominant feature should be situated where it can take center stage. Use your design lines, and the shape of the spaces they create, to guide you – a swell in a garden bed or an area that is enclosed on three sides can provide a visual ‘frame’ for a feature tree or focal point.

Revisiting last week’s example – with the shade trees already in place, we can now add a specimen tree, say Sorbus decora. The outward curve of the back bed is just the kind of space that invites a special feature like this showy mountain ash, with its four-season appeal. We could also add some evergreens to anchor the corners – evergreens, because of their stiff needles and their density, provide visual weight.

TREE PLACEMENT

Your design lines and resulting spaces can also help you organize and configure plant groupings. Looking again at the previous example, we see that the space beside the deck is somewhat wedge-shaped – note that the aspens are arranged to precisely fill that space. And the trio of spruces fit nicely into the triangular corner space. We can utilize the spaces between the various plantings in a similar fashion. Or we can emphasize a design line by bordering its entire length, or a portion thereof, with a single type of plant. And don’t forget to utilize Design Principles where applicable.

TREE & SHRUB PLACEMENT

Juniperus sabina planted all along the edges of the curvilinear design lines, creates gentle movement and helps to emphasize the curves. The trio of Cornus sericea on either side also follows the curves, thereby reinforcing them.

Reinforcement Planting

Planting a single type of perennial along the entire span of a design line, as this homeowner has done,  serves to reinforce the line. In this charming garden, low-growing Sedum edges the lovely arc of lawn space in the centre, as well as the straight lines abutting the sidewalks. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Thymus citriodorus 'Doone Valley'

A generous swath of Thymus citriodorus ‘Doone Valley’ borders this softly curving bed.
Photo: Marg Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Straight lines are strong design lines. This impressive rectilinear design is well emphasized by the linear plantings of Salvia and Juniperus. Photo: Pat Gaviller

When (What Season) Should I Consider First?

This will depend on where you live and to some degree, your lifestyle. Where I live it can be winter for as much as 6 months of the year, so I usually start with winter interest – evergreens, woody plants with interesting form, and plants with colourful bark, berries or seedheads.  For those who travel during part of the year, the season(s) to concentrate on would be when you are actually home to enjoy your garden or landscape. For example I have clients that spend winter in the South and summer at their cottage, so spring and fall are the seasons I considered first when choosing plant material. You’ll also want to make sure you choose plants that require very little maintenance during the growing season so you don’t come home from your cottage to a mess of deadheads and straggly foliage.

Rectilinear Concept with feature trees

Planting for aesthetics in this client’s yard began with the two spaces circled on the left. Both are bordered on 3 sides with design lines – an ideal frame for a feature tree. The underplanting of spreading junipers creates a neutral, year-round prop for these four-season trees. See the ‘real life’ view below.

Rectilinear Design lines

View from the side gate in late winter (top) and early summer (bottom). Photos: Sue Gaviller

Why Choose a Particular Plant?

Up to this point we’ve discussed plant choices mostly in general terms – size (i.e. trees first), visual impact (feature trees and anchors), cultural and maintenance requirements, and season of interest. Also worth considering are such things as tactile impression and fragrance – especially next to a patio, or in a garden designed for the visually impaired (the subject of another post). But the real reason most of us choose a particular plant is because we like how it looks – its form, its texture and/or its colour. Indeed these traits are the manner in which plants relate visually to each other, and to choose appropriately is to choose in the context of these relationships.

Last March I wrote about form, colour and texture in the winter garden – during the growing season however, these plant characteristics are that much more significant as there’s so much more plant material present. In the coming weeks I’ll be examining the visual impact of plant form, textural differences and colour relationships in order to help you arrange plants in the most effective and pleasing way.

Hope you can join me!

Til 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.

Where Do We Go From Here?

After 8 months exploring Design Principles we’re finally ready to tackle the third and final phase of the Landscape Design Process – The Planting Plan. We began way back in April with functional diagrams, which map out a landscape based on the function of each space, and Concept Plans, which give form to those functional spaces (these are outlined in GOOD LINES MEAN GOOD DESIGNS and CURVES WONDERFUL CURVES).

Now at long last it’s time to introduce plant material into our design. Off you go then – pop those plants into your drawing. You know you wanna. You’ve been waiting for this………….

Ha! Are you still staring at your page? Not so easy is it – where does one begin? Indeed where do we go from here?

Well, I have bad news for you. We must begin where we always begin – with function. Ah dear fellow gardeners I can hear you protest, “Oh no, not the ‘f word’ again.” Yes I’m afraid so. Plants serve many functions in the landscape and we must first determine what role we need them to play before choosing and arranging plant material.

Revisiting your functional diagram may be of help here – for example perhaps you made note that some means of providing shade on your sunny deck or patio will be required. If so, an appropriately sized shade tree might do the trick – placed strategically of course, so it can in fact serve that purpose.

A group of 5 columnar aspens provide shade for a sunny deck. While there may be room for a single larger canopy tree, these tall narrow aspens grow faster and will fulfill their intended function sooner.

A group of 5 columnar aspens provide shade for a sunny deck. While there may be room for a single larger canopy tree, these tall narrow aspens grow faster and will fulfill their intended function sooner.

How about privacy? A tree or two may be the answer – again suitably sized for the scale of your house and property. And if you require this privacy year round, you may want to consider evergreens.

Large evergreen trees provide privacy for homes abutting a year-round public park space. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Large evergreen trees provide privacy for homes abutting a year-round public park space.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Spreading junipers make good slope stabilizers, creating a tidy uniform look. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Spreading junipers make good slope stabilizers, creating a tidy uniform look. Photo: Ann Van de Reep

Shrubs and perennials can also serve a purely practical purpose. For example, if you have a slope to contend with, shrubs and/or perennials with dense root systems can stabilize an embankment quite effectively.

Slope stabilization

Festuca, Helictotrichon, and Perovskia make a casual, but effective hillside planting at Poplar Grove Winery, Naramata Bench, B.C. Photo: Len Steinberg

Or perhaps you want to limit foot traffic in an area – using shrubs that are thorny or abrasive can provide an efficient barrier.

Are you starting to get the picture?

As you can see, plants are great problem solvers. The size of the plant or plants you choose will be relative to the size of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you want to screen your air conditioning unit from view, a medium-sized shrub planted in front of it may be all you need, whereas if you want to screen your view of an entire street or roadway, a hedge of tall shrubs may be in order. And a windbreak or shelterbelt will require very large trees.

Keep in mind that the ability of your plant selections to produce favourable results is dependent on choosing plant material of a suitable size. For example, a shrub or planting that is too small to obscure an unsightly view may end up drawing attention to it instead.

Ineffective screening

These shrubs are too small to effectively screen the unattractive green utility box. Unfortunately the result is to draw attention, not only to the box, but the unsightly utility area behind. Photo: Pat Gaviller

So when do we get to the part where we plant things just because they look pretty? Don’t worry we’ll get there. Once you’ve dealt with all of the practical considerations you can start to think about aesthetics. But you’ll have to wait til my next post.

Stay Tuned,
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.