How to use garden plants

Combining groups of plants

When planting a garden we generally use a combination of the groups of plants mentioned above. For instance, shrubs may effectively be combined with ground-covering perennials; biennials or perennial woodland plants may be grown under trees and a conifer or a striking foliage shrub may be useful in a border of perennials.

  • annuals and biennials perennials
  • bulbs and tubers
  • foliage shrubs conifers
  • border plants ground cover climbers hedging plants
  • specimen plants
  • edging plants
  • flowers for cutting
  • water plants
  • marsh plants
  • rock plants

Never restrict yourself to perennials or conifers alone, as many people unfortunately do; the result will be uninspiring. Be daring in mixing your plants. Needless to say this may lead to terrible mistakes, but in principle it is perfectly possible to combine members of all groups (annuals, biennials, perennials, bulbs and tubers, ornamental shrubs and conifers). I personally do not believe in combinations of perennials and brightly coloured bedding plants, but it is obvious that many people – including well known garden designers – favour the practice. When combining plants remember to consider thetr gr&wmg ocmditions, swch as damp versus dryness, sun versus shade, clay versus sand, for only plants with the same requirements can be successfully combined.

Gardens of Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

Above: One of the most beautiful and popular gardens in England is undoubtedly that of Sissinghurst Castle, Kent. This garden depends chiefly on the choice of colours. There is an all- white garden; another section is entirely built up of shades of yellow, orange and red in endless variation. The photograph shows such a combination including Thalictrum flavum.

English garden, Great Dixter in Sussex

Above: Part of a classically inspired English garden, Great Dixter in Sussex

When combining garden plants, their future heights and widths must be taken into consideration. Generally speaking, the garden is planted in the form of an amphitheatre; tall plants – usually trees, conifers or shrubs, which also serve as wind-breaks – form the outer edge, while lower, more delicate flowering plants are found closer to the centre of the garden. It is therefore useful to know, to give an example, that a blue atlas cedar will in twenty years grow to at least 10-15 m in height, 8-10 m in width at the base. If your garden is large enough to accommodate such a tree, do not plant other important shrubs within a radius of 5 m, for there is no doubt that they will ultimately be overshadowed – a waste of money and effort. The originally bare area may however be planted with simple ground- covering shrubs, such as elders, which can later be removed.

Every tree or large shrub planted in the garden will, after a few years, provide shade, and this fact must be taken into account when choosing plants for growing underneath, even if such shade-plants will initially grow in full sun.

Some plants grow rampant and may in the course of time cover the entire garden. Such destroyers, for instance Macleaya, may nevertheless be very beautiful. They are sometimes planted in a concrete cylinder – a section of a sewer pipe is admirable – which being underground, cannot be seen and prevents suckers from spreading.

Colour combinations

When every plant has been given the correct position you are faced with a second, more complicated problem of combination; for if you are so inclined it is great fun to combine colours in such a way that a maximal harmonious effect is achieved. This may greatly improve the beauty of your garden. Don’t forget that nearly all the famous gardens in the entire world have been planned by people who are masters in shape and colour combination: many of them have devoted their whole life to achieve the desired effect.

To find good colour combinations, it is necessary to study colours carefully. Remember that all shades are a mixture of the primary colours; yellow, red and blue. The chief colours, then, are yellow

– orange – red – purple – blue – green, in that order. Try to arrange every colour observed in its correct position in the scale – possibly using a colour chart – and identify it as, for instance, purple-violet if the shade lies between purple (red mixed with a little blue) and violet (blue mixed with a little red).

Pick twenty flowers of different colours and arrange them on a white sheet of paper in the order mentioned above. Such a simple exercise is excellent for learning to see colours properly.

When planting your garden you have a choice of various colour schemes. The easiest result is achieved with a combination of grey (grey-leaved plants), purple, violet and blue. Actually there are few pure-blue flowers. The colour usually referred to as pink is always a paler shade of red, purple or violet. In such a colour scheme only purple-pink (or rather pale

purple) and violet-pink (pale violet) are used. Yellow and orange are definitely out of place. White should also be avoided as much as possible.

A blue garden is achieved by restricting the use of purple.

A golden garden is created by mixing plants with yellow flowers and those with yellowish foliage. A brownish shade of dark red (for instance some species of Berheris) may provide a beautiful effect. A cream – yellow – scaHet garden is difficult to achieve, since there are few scarlet flowers, especially in spring.

A white garden consists of grey-leaved plants and white or greenish flowers. Once you have – with the aid of an extensive catalogue – outlined your initial design for a colour garden, you should in one season pay at least three visits to a nursery, botanical garden or similar plant collection in order to make notes of plants that will go with your colour scheme. Order these plants and review the garden in the following season.

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