Friday, April 1, 2011

Elements of Design

As you begin to create the design for your garden, keep in mind what will best grow there. For example, if you must have roses, make sure your site has good drainage and at least 4-5 hours of sun. IfIMG_0069a you don’t have full sun, your rose options are limited and if you have mostly shade, you will need to enjoy your neighbor’s roses, because they aren’t going to grow in your garden. If you want to grow delicate woodland ephemerals, you must have a protected shady area, accessible in early spring. (Check out this post on Epimedium.) If you lust for lavender, your drainage must be perfect. If your ground stays soggy, plant a bog. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

Try to populate your garden with plants that will excel. Look for long life, strong but not overly vigorous, long bloom period, attractive without bloom, pest and disease resistant and tolerant of dry summers and weimaget winters. Great Plant Picks is an educational plant selection resource from the Miller Garden that suggests plants with those characteristics specifically for the PNW.

Intrinsic to good design is inclusion of a variety of sizes, shapes and textures which provide interest. Peter Dale, a writer and gardener from the UK called design, “the thoughtful settlement of the competing claims of variety, on the one hand and unity on the other.” Remember that foliage is as important as bloom and more lasting; learn to attractively contrast foliage. Pair foliage that is bold/delicate; big/small; light/dark; shiny/fuzzy; rough/smooth. Photo0202

Also consider the scale of plants to each other and of plants to property. Experts urge planting perennials in groups of 3 or 5; this provides a greater impact in a large bed. One plant of each kind is a collection, not a design. But, remember that the scope of massing should be in relation to the size of the space you have. In a small bed, you may not have room to mass groups together.

Harmony is an important design element that includes both repetition and color theory. When you repeat a plant or a group of plants through your design, it creates a sense of unity. Repetition also draws the eye through a design and ties it together.

Consider what will be visible at any given time and try to select plants that provide visual and sensory variety for that season. Photo0200Choose colors that complement and do not clash for concurrently blooming plants. Try to mix seasons of bloom so that you have interest all year long.

If you desire plants that are fragrant, try to site them so they are accessible-near your pathway, front door, or sitting area. If your fragrant plant blooms in warmer months, consider planting it next to a window that you may open. Also, be wary of planting two fragrant plants together as their fragrances may clash.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the vast topic of design but I hope I’ve piqued your interest. It may seem like there is a lot to consider; I confess, I’m a spontaneous gardener. I rarely return from a nursery without a new acquisition and no idea where to put it. Even so, I’ve learned from experience that if you take the time to design your bed in advance, you will be more satisfied and have less work than if you plant on the fly.

On the other hand, remember that your garden is always changing and don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes can be very educational.

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