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
 
© 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 Principled Gardener Part 3 – Unity of Three

We all know three’s a crowd right? Right, but in design-speak that’s not a bad thing – in fact it’s a very good thing. Massing or grouping plants in threes or other odd numbers is good design – there’s something very pleasing about this configuration because it creates unity.

How so you ask?

Well first let’s look at what happens when we use even numbers – the eye wants to divide these in half…..because it can. This visual division disrupts unity. If, on the other hand, we group elements in odd numbers the eye can’t divide this group and unity is therefore maintained.

Three Hemerocallis  ‘Stella D’oro’ and a bird bath make a lovely vignette. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Five Hosta sp. nestled amongst ferns and daylilies in this woodland garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Generally speaking odd numbers are preferable, but with larger groups (8 or more) this ceases to be important – the eye will automatically view these as a unified mass. So if you live on an acreage and have a shelterbelt consisting of 100 spruces, I’m not going to insist that you should have 99.

With larger plant groupings odd numbers are no longer required – the eye sees this grouping of Hemerocallis sp. as a unified mass, as it does the Heuchera sp. behind. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Don’t get carried away with threesomes though – if all your plant groups are trios, the composition will lack visual credibility and look somewhat contrived. Instead, use some groups of three, some fives or sevens and some singles.

Two Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ flank Syringa reticulata, creating a symmetrical backdrop. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So is there ever an occasion when even numbers are appropriate? Yes – as with all the design principles, it’s acceptable to periodically ignore a particular guideline, providing you know why. In other words it must be done with purpose. For example, if you want to ‘stage’ a feature tree, it could be flanked on either side by two smaller shrubs to create a moment of symmetry – this will draw attention to the more dominant feature.

Another example would be when plantings are used to reinforce a design line – in this case it doesn’t matter if even or odd numbers are used since the resulting visual movement trumps any tendency of the eye to break groups in two.

This planting plan contains several even-numbered plant groupings – in this scenario unity isn’t compromised because the plantings follow the design lines, hence the eye follows the same lines resulting in good flow.

Sometimes a group of three consists of three similar but not identical features, for example a grouping of boulders or containers.

This trio of containers, though not all the same size or shape, still provide unity of three because they’re all black ceramic and planted in a similar fashion. I chose the colour scheme based on the coral-coloured stucco and the black trim on my client’s house. This too provides unity – by repetition.  Photo: Pat Gaviller

Yes indeed three’s a crowd – ‘oddly’ satisfying isn’t it?

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 Principled Gardener Part 2 – Unity by Dominance

Well here we are the last Monday of the month and time for your monthly measure of design doctrine. Last month, in Part 1 of this series, I discussed Unity in the garden and how it can be achieved using repetition. Continuing our discussion on Unity then, let’s look at the use of Dominance. By this I don’t mean standing over your plants, whip in hand, ordering them to behave themselves – nope, in fact a plant may get to do the dominating. Dominance occurs when one element or group of elements stands out or is more prominent than others.  The dominant feature may be a plant, a design line or space, or a non-living element. It can be dominant by way of its size, its shape, its colour, its texture or because it is a Focal Point (a Focal Point refers to a non-living element such as a bird bath or fountain.)

Dominance in the landscape can result from larger size, coarser texture, stronger form, stronger colour or the existence of a focal point.

Dominance in the landscape can result from larger size, coarser texture, stronger form, stronger colour or the existence of a focal point.

The arching purple branches of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ stand out against the softer greens of surrounding foliage. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A good design concept will have a hierarchy of spatial sizes with one dominant space. Here the lawn area in the centre is dominant as it is the largest design space.

A good design concept will have a hierarchy of spatial sizes with one dominant space. Here the lawn area in the centre is dominant as it is the largest design space.

The circular lawn area is the dominant space here because it contains the only arc in an otherwise angular concept.

The circular lawn area is the dominant space here because it contains the only arc in an otherwise angular concept.

The symmetrical planting (Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’) around this bird-bath enhances its role as focal point. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A garden devoid of any moments of emphasis can be visually unrestful as the eye tends to just wander. A dominant feature however will draw the eye and steady it, allowing it to rest. This is another concept that gardeners often intuit early on, but lose sight of later – myself included. When I purchased my first bird-bath and placed it in the garden, I indeed noted a more cohesive, restful composition………..so I bought another. Then I found a beautiful earthenware bowl, filled it with water and nestled it amongst some groundcover in my shade garden. My husband asked me ‘What is it with you and round things filled with water?’ Good question. The truth is I’d given in to the gardener’s favourite mantra ‘more is better’ and rendered ineffective the dominance I’d unknowingly applied with the initial bird-bath. A single strong feature demands attention. Too many strong features compete for attention.  This too can create unrest in the garden as the eye bounces around between competing elements.

Unfortunately there’s no dominance metre to tell us when enough is enough. Just keep in mind that the stronger the colour and/or the form, the more dominant it will be, hence the fewer of these elements your garden can support.  For example, weeping standards such as Young’s weeping birch or Walker’s weeping Caragana, have very strong architectural form thus should always be used as single specimens, whereas vertical accents like columnar aspens or tall reed grasses, though still fairly dominant, can be repeated a couple of times or used in small groups. Warm vibrant colours like bright yellow or lime green will really draw the eye so should be used with some restraint whereas cooler, less intense colours can be used more generously.

The key is to use elements within your garden composition that are dominant for different reasons – maybe one has brilliant colour, another is a small group of very coarse textured plants and another has unique form. Or maybe there are several that are dominant because of their unique form but they are very different forms. While each one will draw the eye, they tend to lead the eye from one to another rather than rival each other. As well, a single dominant feature will often stand out for several reasons, for example it may be larger and more colourful and have unique form, making it particularly dominant. And you can help your focal point or feature tree take centre stage by surrounding it with more subdued elements.

Good placement of dominant features is also important. Anywhere the eye is naturally drawn, like the deepest part of a curve or through a visual opening, is an obvious spot to situate a strong feature. The space where design lines form a visual frame is another good location, as is an area you want to draw attention to – your front door for example. Remember too, that some of these elements – focal points or feature trees and shrubs – will have a presence in the winter as well, so make sure they are visually supported by other woody plant material. For more ideas on Focal Points and dominant plant forms as they are experienced in the winter months, check out a couple of my earlier posts: Focal Points in the Garden and Form Colour and Texture in the Winter Garden.

Malus ‘Rosyglo’, with its elegant form, takes centre stage in the foreground while Syringa prestoniae dominates the background. Note the placement of the two features – Malus is framed by the curving design line and Syringa is situated at the deepest part of the curve. Both are well staged by subdued plantings of Juniperus sabina cultivars. The junipers will serve as visual props for these features in the winter. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta 'Sum and Substance' stands out because of its very coarse texture (large leaves) and its bright lime green colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ stands out because of its very coarse texture (large leaves) and its bright lime green colour. Photo: Sue Gaviller

While too many dominant elements in close proximity is bad design, there are scenarios where several strong features can be present together in a co-dominant relationship – for instance a vase shape tree with a bird bath in front of it. One may be slightly more dominant than the other but the effect is that they appear as a single focal vignette, not two competing entities.

A container filled with brightly coloured annuals is quite dominant on its own, as is the top graft Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa', however because they are so different, their proximity to each other is mutually supportive rather than conflicting. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A container filled with brightly coloured annuals is quite dominant on its own, as is the top graft Picea pungens ‘Glauca Globosa’, however because they are so different, their proximity to each other is mutually supportive rather than conflicting. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The dominant feature brings unity to the garden by subduing all other elements in its presence, hence unifying them in their shared secondary status.

A dominant feature like this gazing ball focal point, can pull together an otherwise nondescript scene, thus creating unity and harmony in the garden. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So go out and buy yourself a graceful weeping standard like Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ – but just one. Indulge yourself with that beautiful bird bath – but just one. You’ll see how creating areas of emphasis can bring about peace and harmony in your garden.

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 Principled Gardener

No, I don’t mean the gardener who has principles (though I’m sure you do); I’m referring to the gardener who uses principles – design principles that is. Last month (Good Lines Mean Good Designs Part 1 and Part 2) I discussed the first two stages of the design process – functional drawings and concept drawings. The final stage is a Planting Plan, but before we can complete this design process, a look at the principles that guide it is in order.

So what are design principles anyways?

Design principles are guidelines that help create pleasing relationships between the various elements of a composition. If you’ve ever picked up a garden design magazine or attended a garden design lecture, you will no doubt have been introduced to the concepts – they may not always be presented in exactly the same framework or use exactly the same terminology, but the constructs are nevertheless the same. I like to think of Design Principles not so much as rules that must be followed, but rather as a way of understanding how the human eye perceives its surroundings and using that to its best advantage.

Gardeners don’t always recognize when they’ve utilized a design principle. Though it may happen by accident, a well designed garden will most certainly have some or all of these principles incorporated in it. It would be so much easier though, if we knew what they were and how to use them, instead of the trial and error approach that most of us employ.

So let’s get started. As I mentioned, Design principles can be organized or categorized in numerous ways, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to call these principles Unity, Balance, Movement, Scale and Proportion.

UNITY

According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Unity is defined as:  Oneness, being one, interconnection of parts, coherence of parts. So how do we bring that ‘oneness’, that ‘coherence of parts’ into our gardens? There are several ways we can achieve this – repetition, dominance, unity of three and interconnection. Unity then, is an umbrella principle for all of these concepts. Today I look at Repetition.

UNITY by REPETITION

Repetition refers to the repeated use of the same or similar elements throughout a composition.

Plant Material

One of the easiest things to repeat in your landscape is plant material – gardeners often do this unknowingly in their early gardening years, and then abandon it. For many of us our first gardening ventures are somewhat tentative and often constrained by budget limitations. We gladly accept our next door neighbour’s offer of perennials that she’s dividing or discarding. We take a few clumps of each, and spread them around the garden; hence many plants are repeated several times. As we get more adventuresome, we want to try all manner of new things and before we know it we’ve arrived at the ‘one of this and one of that’ scenario, which is anything but coherent.  It’s an expensive mistake and wasteful at that – in order to repeat you now have to reduce. Restraint people, restraint – you don’t need one of every plant in order to attain beauty and diversity in your garden. So, the next time you have some perennials that need dividing, don’t discard the extras, or give them away –  repeat them!

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Numerous plants, including creeping thyme, Goldmound spirea, blue oat grass and bugleweed, are repeated throughout my front garden beds. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Marg Gaviller

Hosta and red Astilbe are the recurring plant theme in this mature garden.
Photo: Marg Gaviller

Building Material

The repeated element can also be a building or hardscape material, for example; brick, wood or stone. Repeating this in the landscape allows house and landscape to appear as one entity. Conversely, using a material in the landscape that doesn’t also occur on the house, can result in a visual disconnect between house and landscape.

Incorporating a building material from the house, into the surrounding landscape, unites house and landscape. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Incorporating a building material from the house, into the surrounding landscape, unites house and landscape. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Stone pillars echo the stone facing on the house. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Architectural Features

You can also repeat an architectural line or feature. For example, the shape of an arched window could be repeated in the shape of a garden bed or in the arching branches of a weeping tree. A unique detail on the house could be the inspiration for a fence or arbour design.

repetition - line

The arches on the house are repeated in the arching form of this Caragana arborescens ‘Walker’s Weeping’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

The diamond shape detail on the windows was the inspiration for the fence I designed for a client’s home. The fence is being installed as I write this, hence the computer generated image.

Colour

A colour can be repeated as well – bringing a colour from the house into the landscape or using a recurring colour within a garden composition, can unify your whole outdoor space. A purposeful colour scheme will allow you to do this with some real finesse (more on colour schemes in another post). Keep in mind that choosing a plant for its flower colour will provide colour repetition, but only when it’s in bloom – to achieve this throughout the season, choose plants with colourful foliage too.

The colour of the front door is seen again in the Chrysanthemums. Black is also repeated, as is the architectural detail of the columns, which is repeated in the planter pedestal. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Repeating a colour within a planting composition is very unifying – here the dark wine colour of emerging Acer palmatum leaves picks up on the same hue in the tulips.
Photo: Jane Reksten

By repeating elements that are the same, or have similar characteristics, the eye posits each recurrence into visual memory and ties them all together in one coherent theme – voila Unity!

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.