With the warmth of spring, gardeners usually begin a list of what they’re going to change in their garden.
Experimenting with new ideas is a habit most gardeners enjoy. “Let’s plant it here,” or “How about planting that new shrub here?” is followed by “Garden shopping expedition time!”
It makes sense to pause and ask other questions, such as: Is there space for the new plant? How does it fit in with the other existing plants? Is our 1,200-square-foot yard big enough to handle a magnificent red oak that grows 30-feet wide and 60-feet high?
An effort to make an overall plan for what one wants the garden to look like would be a wise move!
We’ve all been in gardens or an area in a garden that we really like. Occasionally we ask ourselves, “Why do I like this so much?” This garden has the same plants, flowers, colors and shapes available to all, so why does it produce such a wonderful feeling?
For quite some time, gardeners and designers have used three elements of design — form, texture and color — as guidelines when considering a new garden or renovating an existing bed. They are what gives a garden its personality.
It’s important to keep those design elements in mind whether planning a whole area, replacing a couple of plants or squeezing in another plant.
Form comes in four basic groups: tall and narrow, rounded, carpeting and something that can be labeled “exuberant” or “plant–run-amok.” The last could be used to describe an enthusiastic plant. Planting beds are either strongly geometrical (even, straight lines and square corners) or have softer, curving lines. Loosely geometrical beds are considered formal; Those that are curvilinear are informal. If one wanted to soften the lines of a formal garden using all four plant forms, a coreopsis “moonglow” with its wild growth and cloud of tiny yellow blossoms would do much toward breaking patterns. To put a bit of order into an informal setting, one would do well to plant similar forms together.
Texture is a different creature. Form gives us shape. Texture is about how the planting bed makes us feel, both by the physical touch and emotionally. Sunlight is a huge contributor of accentuating texture, such as when we see a strongly back-lit flower, so very striking, or early morning back-lit bunches of tall, dew-laden grass. Both produce a very pleasant emotion, as does a bed of ferns interplanted with forget-me-nots. Opposite plant forms can be great examples of varying texture — the fine, exquisite, deeply serrated leaves of Purple Elderberry (Sambucas Nigra) with a rose-colored fox glove (Digitalus Purpurea) is a nice example.
Color is the trait that appeals and draws most when looking at a garden. Many plants with color are perennials, which are the backbone of the garden. Some gardens are described as “hot,” meaning an abundance of red and orange; some like the planting scheme blue and lavender and some white, which produces a more restful feeling.
The best reference book that I have found is “Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations” by the American Horticulture Society. In it you can find form, texture and color demonstrated. The photography is remarkable, the text very helpful and you might be amazed at the color combinations. Best of all, the Wenatchee Public Library has a copy.
Spring is here. Go plant a new plant, maybe rebuild an entire bed, experiment and have fun! Happy gardening!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears regularly in the Home, Garden section. Mike Dull is one of four columnists featured.