Design Pointers

Design Pointers

Design Pointers
by Barbara Blossom Ashmun

I’m a so-called garden designer, but the truth is I’m a flower junkie. It all started out when I was four years old. I marched down the aisle ahead of my glamorous aunt Rose, sprinkling petals onto the red carpet from a wicker basket. The petals felt as satiny as my aunt’s wedding gown, and smelled as alluring as her perfume. I was hooked on flowers from that day on.

The trouble with being crazy about flowers is that I want to grow one of everything. This is good for the nursery industry, but hopeless for a well-designed garden. Those of us who grow one of everything are called "collectors"--this word is enunciated with disdain by designers. So here I am, a Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde of the garden world, a pretend designer who’s a collector at heart. What to do? The designer in me was appalled at the hodgepodge garden that the collector was throwing together. But the collector was equally determined to grow every new plant on the market. When I’d ask my friends to please stop me from acquiring yet another rose bush, they’d snicker with disbelief. It was time to get real and come up with some strategies. Here’s how I cope:

Design the front of the border carefully, and put the collection in the middle.

I planted a lavender hedge to frame a jumble of pink, red and white old roses. The ribbon of lavender lends unity, and calms down the commotion within the border.

Plant three, five or seven of the same plant instead of just one.

A drift of five pink summer phlox has a lot more strength than one lonely plant. Three lenten roses at the edge of a border have more impact than a single specimen.

Color scheme.

I can get away with a lot more plant varieties if I keep the colors limited. I’m refining a border this year by narrowing down the flower colors to red, yellow and orange. That way I can add tons of new cultivars, yet tie the diverse elements together with a strict color scheme.

Place a focal point to ground things.

When the flowers are so colorful that I get eye strain trying to track them all, I add a bird bath or a large terracotta pot to stop the action. Our eyes need a moment to rest on a plain, colorless surface, before moving on to the next group of exciting perennials.

Repeat the same shape or color at intervals.

Repetition lends rhythm to a garden. I sprinkle similar, gray-leaved perennials and shrubs through my island beds (Artemesia ‘Powys Castle,’ Artemesia ‘Huntington,’ Senecio greyii) to lead the eye gently from island to island. My gray buffers add calmness, order and a sense of connection between all the diverse elements.

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