Designing With Plants
With your map of existing conditions and the goals of your garden in mind, you can finally turn your attention to the species and layout of your garden. Read about some basic principles to guide your design and a more in-depth look into plant features and services for your garden.
Creating a Lively Landscape
As was covered briefly in the previous section, there is a lot hidden behind the humble plant. This page discusses how the various aspects of plants work together with your yard to create something wonderful and unique. For non-design people, 'design' can be an intimidating word associated with professionals and fancy sketches and knowledge that feels out of reach. But it doesn't have to be so scary. Following some basic planting design rules-of-thumb will allow you create the garden that you wanted without feeling overwhelmed by a bunch of complicated plans.
A good rule of thumb is to put taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front. This creates a full, aesthetically pleasing organization that can be easily tweaked for different design intentions.
Can You Hear Me in the Back?
In the Spotlight
Focal plants can be used to create a visual feature in a garden. These plants can have drastic contrast in height, texture, or color which makes it stand out from the crowd. Shrubs and trees in herbaceous plantings can easily become focal points.
Gardens Have Layers
Ecologically, a garden with layers of vegetation can support a wider variety of animal species by offering them many different places to make a nest and snack. By adding biological diversity and complexity, competition among species is reduced. Aesthetically, layers create a fuller garden that adds visual depth and interest.
Add Some Accents
While plans for planting design may show plants in distinctive patches, it's a good idea to add some accent plants with contrasting texture or color to make your garden really pop. A single species can be scattered across a few planting beds to mimic the concept of 'drift' in natural landscapes where new plants disperse across a native meadow from a mother plant.
Plants that Look Good Together, Stay Together
Don't be afraid to do what has been done before. There are a myriad of plant combinations that you can turn to if you are at a loss. This design concept is called "Companion Plants" which refers to plant groupings that look good together. These plants are also companions in the sense that they are adapted to the same habitat and are part of the same ecological plant community.
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing star (Liastris spicata), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), threadleaved coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillatta)
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), smooth blue aster (Symphiotrichum laeve)
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), bluestar amsonia (Amsonia tabernaemontana)
Some nursery websites also have recommended companion plants listed for the species you search. Check out New Moon Nursery's website! Along with a great description of each of their plants, it provides a list of suggested companions. Make sure to search by scientific name.
The "A Bit about Plants" section touched briefly on the different qualities, both functional and aesthetic that you may be looking for in a plant. Now, let's see what these qualities bring to the garden party and how you can use them in your design.
Fun With Foliage
Flowers may be beautiful but they really only bloom at certain times during the season. For most of the year, your garden will be a jumble of stems and leaves. Using contrasting or complimentary textures and forms can add visual interest to your garden when it's not in bloom.
Shades of Green & Tons of Texture
Bright green and feathery leaves
Darker green with flat, bladed leaves
Dark green with broad oval leaves
Medium green and leaves have textured edges
The Shape of Plants
WILD BLUE PHLOX
Tall, stiff stalks
Domed or mounded
Spreading ground cover
In the Bleak Mid Winter
A garden in the winter can feel lifeless and dull. But don't worry, there's a solution! Evergreens, colorful stems, and winter fruits add a splash of color for a lively landscape on even the coldest days.
Green for Ever
EASTERN RED CEDAR
Kristine Paulus, Flickr.com
Edward Rice, Flickr.com
Barking Up the Right Tree (or Shrub)
F.D. Richards, Flickr.com
Anne McCormack, Flickr.com
Fruit and Flower Fall into Winter
COMMON WITCH HAZEL
Matthew Beziat, Flickr.com
Plants for All Your Needs
Learn more about what sorts of services plants can provide for you and the enviroment.
Wild About Life
One of the greatest things that plants do is attract all sorts of wildlife to come pollinate, munch on, and take shelter in your garden. Certain species are especially good at providing a service for different critters.
Pollinators & Butterflies
Joe pye weed
A swallowtail butterfly enjoys some purple coneflowers
Thin leaved sunflower
Red osier dogwood
At Your Environmental Service
Deer and rabbits are common garden gobblers, eating up your new plants before your very eyes. Luckily, there are some native plants that the deer and rabbits stay away from, often due to unsavory smells or unpalatable foliage. Planting these around the perimeter of your garden may discourage rabbit or deer browse further in.
If you have annoying neighbors or just want a little privacy, plants can help you with that. Columnar evergreens like the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) create a native screen from neighbors.
On steeper slopes, a garden full of deep-rooting perennials, grasses and sedge can easily combat erosion.
Your new garden is so close I can smell it! Continue on to see how to plan and prepare so that everything goes smoothly.
It's finally time to look at some plants! Using the resources on this website mixed with a generous helping of your own research, you're bound to find some wonderful plants worthy of your yard.
SOMETHING YOU CAN DO!
Once you have a pretty good idea of the conditions in your yard and the main goals of your garden, there's nothing left to do but plant research! You can find suggested plants in the Yard Design Templates but remember that those are just ideas. This is YOUR yard! And finding plants can be exciting and fun. Just think about how cool that plant will look, hanging out with bees and butterflies all day, talking with the other plants, making your neighbors jealous.
In that notebook that you have with your yard map and goals, start a list of of plants. This can also be done in an Excel spreadsheet. Excel is great because you can add in information like height, spread, environmental tolerances, and anything else you want to consider for your yard.