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Garden Design: Placement

5 min read | Dec 13, 2012 | Resources 

Plant placement can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish in the landscape. Where you place your plants will have one of the most dramatic effects to your overall landscape appearance and can really change the look and feel of your yard. The garden can be somewhat lost and cluttered if your plantings do not compliment the bedlines as plantings create lines just as clearly as the bedlines themselves. Before starting, ask yourself what do I need to use to accomplish what I want; straight lines or curved lines?

Straight lines are very forceful and direct the eye; they can be described as rigid and structural. With straight lines, the observer’s view is directed very quickly. Curved lines are more pleasing to the eye and are often used in residential landscaping. They are considered to be graceful and create a relaxing feel; they are progressive and invoke movement in the landscape.

What has been the typical planting arrangement in front of homes for decades? That’s simple, a straight row of boxwoods or Japanese hollies pruned to a straight hedge just below the windows. Though these plantings do serve their purpose as being evergreen and hiding the foundation of the house, they have a tendency to date a home. You see, the straight row of evergreens was very popular in the 70’s and 80’s but today’s homeowners are opting for something more eye pleasing.

It should be noted that there is not an opposition to continuous straight lines when they are used properly. Straight lines can give one of the most dramatic effects in the landscape. This is usually accomplished with large expanses; the eye is directed to capture a framed view. The Biltmore Estate is a great example of how straight lines are used successfully. The view of the estate from the front is framed by the driveway on either side of the turf expanse. Though, this is not practical for the typical landscape.

A distinctive look can be created by using curved lines and plant groupings or small shrub masses. This is a great way to incorporate evergreen plantings to add interest in front of your home. Continue this theme to your backyard as well, as evergreen plantings are needed throughout the garden. Triangular groupings or plant masses in small arcs can be used to give variance. Also, when planting your evergreens, it is important to plant them in small groups of odd numbers (three or five). These small groupings begin to create nooks and crannies that can be used to the gardener’s advantage. Seasonal interest can be incorporated in the vacant spaces of the evergreens by planting either annuals or perennials. The choice of seasonal interest is at the gardener’s discretion.

When choosing your plants, keep in mind that it is not necessary to use all the same plants within your groupings. Using different plant species or even just a different cultivar within a grouping can add staggering heights and a mix of color and texture. It may seem that variance would contradict the idea of rhythm, in reality variance creates motion in the landscape. For example, Gardenia ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ is a rounded evergreen shrub with rounded dark green foliage that grows to about 3-1/2’. Gardenia ‘Radicans’ is a low growing light green shrub with an elongated leaf that grows to about 2-1/2’. The ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ can be used as a back drop and the sprawling habit of the ‘Radicans’ will carry the eye to the next plant grouping. These two different plant species of gardenias offer a contrast in color, height, and texture. In addition, they have different flowering times so you will enjoy an extended period of floral color and wonderful gardenia fragrance. If more height is required, a grouping of an Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’, Double Knock Out Rose and Pittosporum ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ would work well. With the use of only three plants you have combined three different shades of green, two types of flower color and height reaching upwards of ten feet.

Having a variety of plant material will create movement and flow throughout the planted area. Some might ask, “Wouldn’t a straight line of continuous plantings create flow?” Not necessarily, straight lines create a sense of direction, not movement and flow. The mind immediately recognizes repetition and directs the eye until there is a variance. What happens is a loss of interest; you know the next ten to twelve feet of plantings will be the same green wall you were staring at previously. The straight lines are very forceful and direct the eye to one view. Curved lines are much more graceful but can also be manipulated to control the observer’s view.

Using larger plants in an arc within a bedline will limit the view of what is to follow. Naturally, curiosity gets the better of us and we will continue to see what may be hiding; this technique is called progressive realization. Curved lines naturally create movement; the gardener can use this to their advantage. They can be used to highlight a focal point in the landscape. A grouping of flowing plants may be used to direct the view to a plant or ornament the gardener wants to be highlighted. A specimen plant may be placed in the arc of a bedline to emphasize its presence. Small trees such as Red Bud ‘Traveler’ and Weeping Cherry ‘Snow Fountain’ would be accentuated from planting in this arrangement. This process can also be used to direct foot traffic to another garden room. The idea of progressive realization can be used to carry an observer through an entire garden.

The use of curved lines complimented with proper plant placement can create rhythm and movement throughout the garden. A variety of plant groupings can add interest and diversity. Do not be afraid to cut into your turf to incorporate soft arcs and curves. The days of solid evergreens are past us! It is your garden/pallet so have fun! Don’t be afraid to explore the many different opportunities of design.

Have Fun!
Bobby C.
FairviewGreenhouses & GardenCenter