There can be much more to a beautiful garden than masses of flowers. Although a ‘sea of colour’ border is spectacular it may be fleeting in beauty, and can lack definition through the seasons if it has no underlying form or structure.
Putting together the shape and outline of different types of plants to create harmonies and contrasts is what can give a garden a distinctive, cohesive look.
Plants are endlessly varied in their forms, ranging from the vertical spires of narrow conifers, down to the mounded shapes of Lavender, giving way to the creeping horizontal mats of Ajuga and Thyme. Feathery Fennel emphasises the strong form of Phormiums. Wispy grasses intensify the solidity of leathery Hosta leaves.
Playing with the geometry of nature, in juxtaposing plants with differing forms and habits delights the eye, and gives the planting a clear framework on which to build the more ephemeral delights of colour and scent. In other words, the way plant varieties are grouped together is the essence of great gardening.
Although it is a daunting prospect to tackle the redesign of an established garden, in reality plants come and go. Once you have finished mourning the loss of a favourite plant, the realisation comes that each demise gives a chance for a little improvement to the scheme, by then making a more considered choice of replacement that will enhance and resonate with its neighbours.
In small gardens already furnished with many favourite plants, and new ones just waiting to be to tried out, it is tempting to plant just one of each variety, but one plant very rarely looks good — unless of course it is a ‘specimen’ with dramatic or sculptural form. The ‘one of each’ policy can produce a ‘spotty dotty’ look that is visually too restless, with no repose for the eye.
The key to an harmonious effect is to gather up smaller plants or shrubs in three’s or five’s of one kind, and then use these groups, set against one another, for maximum effect. Luckily the smaller plants are often very easy to bulk up by splitting clumps, or taking cuttings, ensuring planting for style and substance does not dent the budget too much!
Making patterns with leaf colour — the subtle interplay of greens, or silver, or gold — is a never-ending pleasure that ensures a furnished garden even in the darkest months, without the need for the fleeting attraction of flowers. Just as interesting are the many forms and textures of foliage, from the shiny and glistening spears of Astelias, through to the furry felted mats of Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears), via the satiny leaves of Heucheras, and the broad ribbed leaves of Hostas. Essentially texture gives us contrast of rough with smooth, matt with gloss, as well as providing another level of interest, that of sensation and touch.
Endless permutations of form and the subtleties of foliage texture can be harnessed to make the building blocks of a great planting — the answer then is to ‘compare and contrast’ for stunning, enduring effect in your outside space!
Phillippa Lambert is a landscape designer based on the Isle of Wight at a unique site in the Undercliff of the Island — a favoured microclimate sheltered by enormous south facing cliffs. In 2002 Phillippa and Stephen Lambert came across the ‘lost’ gardens of a Victorian mansion dating back to the 1820s, managed to acquire part of the site, including the walled garden and ornamental lake, and have since worked on their restoration. The result is not an ‘expert’ garden and does not try for technical perfection in any sense. ‘Make do and mend’ is the keynote — most plants being raised from seed or cuttings— and self-sufficiency is the motivation for all the growing in the walled garden. In essence, this site goes back to the philosophy of ancient gardens in sustaining the body as well as the soul. Read more at Lakehouse Design.
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