I am still working on the design of my front garden after three years. I intended to have a plan and plant accordingly, but as it turned out, by the time the Bobcat showed up, only the basic foundation plants were firm in my mind. The rest has kind of evolved and morphed over the seasons, which has actually been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot about coordinating bloom colors and times, plant heights and spacing, and the impacts of weather patterns for my space.
One of the things I’m still trying to get a handle on is what I call layering: using plants, hardscaping, and decor to create pleasing levels and depth in the garden. This involves the principles of form, texture, proportion, and scale. It’s pretty easy to put tall delphiniums behind shorter roses if you’re looking at the space head on, but what if they are viewed from the side? What if it is a space you intend to walk through, as well as around or beside, with views from many angles?
I was mulling over this particular design challenge when we went for a hike last week in the mountains. Mother Nature tends to inspire consistently, and she didn’t let me down. I came upon this scene and a few things clicked into place. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll show you anyway.
What you are looking at here is perfect layering. Bearberry and junipers cover the ground, tiny little tendrils reaching out right to the stone walkways and easily navigating slopes, providing a living mulch with texture and color. Behind this layer, and breaking through the rear of it, are the (remnants of) wildflowers, giving more color in their season and adding height. Next are the small shrubs, in this case potentillas, bringing the eye up to the large conifers which anchor the scene and provide shade for the lower plants.
Pretty basic, right? But here’s a couple things a learned from this simple scene:
1. The trees are in the “back” of this picture, but they’re not in the “back” of anything on this mountainside. The position of everything can be described in relationship to each other, but outside the photograph, there is no ultimate, overarching orientation to this scene. It is anchored by the trees, and the path gives it some line, but it is more a circle than anything else. I’ve been thinking too linearly (is that a word?), with my house at the “back” and the street to the “front”. How can I think in circles? What are at the centre of my circles?
2. It pays to take several steps back. I tend to analyze my garden from about five feet away. This scene struck me from at least thirty feet away. What will I see if I pull back and let my eyes go just a little out of focus, so the shape and colour of things stand out?
3. Light and shadow can play as strong a role as leaf and stone.
4. I really, really, do love bearberry, and I am willing to wait for it to grow.
So that’s my little design lesson from the expert. As you head outside this long weekend, pay attention to what Mother Nature has to teach you. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.