by Teresa Watkins (twatkins(at)mail.ifas.ufl.edu)
"Hold it...that's good, everybody! Wait...Cindy! Stop looking at your brother...now, Aunt Shirley, you move over to your left, yes, that's it, now two more steps. Good. Now, Richard, you go stand next to Demi. Uncle Charles, look straight ahead...okay guys, here goes... Smile everyone, and say cheese!" Click. Taking family photographs... You always want them to look just right, everyone in the right place, looking forward and smiling, picture perfect.
Do you do this in your garden? Do you stand back and see if each plant or flower is straight and looking forward? Do you check to make sure that the cassia is not stepping on the plumbago? Do you make it a habit to see that each shrub is facing precisely in the direction it should be? Does your garden look as if everything is in its proper place? Or have you ever stepped back and said it just doesn't look right, but you cannot put your finger on what is wrong exactly?
I felt this way several years ago. In visiting a client's beautiful new home, I walked up to their pathway. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something wrong. At first, I could not pinpoint it, but it was there. Their landscape was attractive, the entryway beautiful. But I didn't know what it was. I went to their elegant front door, met with the clients and we started to walk around their home. We began discussing their ideas and hopes for their landscape. We talked about making a bird sanctuary in the corner of the yard, she wanted color, he wanted a fruit tree. Meanwhile, my mind kept wandering back to the front landscape. Something just did not fit. What could it be? When we arrived back at the entryway, it suddenly dawned on me what the problem was. I stepped back into the grass about fifteen feet and looked at the front door again from a distance. The original landscaping was installed before the homeowners bought. There were two expensive holly topiaries planted on either side of the tall elegant columns at the front door. That was it. That was what the problem was. One was planted backwards. Yes, planted backwards. That was the only thing wrong. We dug up the misplaced topiary and turned it around. It was as if they had replaced it with a brand new holly. It looked two hundred percent better. Now, you're reading this and saying to yourself, plants don't have a front or back side! They do. They know when they are transplanted backwards. It matters to the plant and in their attitude in how they grow.
It is all part of laying out your garden so that it looks picture-perfect. Your garden, depending on your choice of themes or design, should have a pattern to it. To set the scene, you should bring in height, textures, colors, variety to your plan. Whether the plants are first grown in nature, in a nursery, or in a landscape being transplanted, it has adapted to its site. When placing a plant, shrub or tree, remember, the shrub or flower, also, has its own thoughts about how it wants to grow. It is used to getting a certain amount of light and attention from the Caretaker. This is reflected in its growth habits. Whether it is compact or sprawling, the branches growing outward or upright, or the leaves turned towards the sun, the plant will look correct when it is placed back in the same position in the spot you have chosen.
Before digging the holes and installing all your plants individually, (which takes longer to do), take the time to place all the pots in the locations they is going to be planted. Stand back from various angles and look at the height, depth, and colors of the plants. Take your time to look at them as if you were admiring a mural or artistic composition. Are they attractive? Does it appeal to you? Does it look right to your eye? Does it make a statement?
My neighbors know now, that Teresa spends more time standing out in the road and in their yards looking at her shrubs and flowers from their views than she does looking at them from her side of the garden. And I change them if they don't look right. Play with their positions. You can move them around and even put them back to their original position if you like. Make an effort to turn the pot around and see which side shows its' best face. Then when you are happy with the way the plants are placed, stand back and look several more times from different angles. It will make a big difference in how your garden looks. When it feels good to you, you can just go through and dig the holes at one time and install your plant. Installing your plants in one fell swoop will make the transplanting chore much quicker and not take as much effort as digging each individual hole one at a time and standing back for each pot. This is a process that should be done each time you transplant or redo the garden bed.
Plants need to be placed just as you would position your family in photographs, albeit less stressful. It is all a part of making your garden fit properly. Flowers, shrubs and trees look and grow better when they are transplanted correctly and that will increase their chance of surviving. This insight of viewing Nature as an active participant of the world we live in has made quite a fad out of listening to your soul. The Oriental name for this philosophy is feng shui, (pronounced fung-schway) It is listening to your soul and feeling the natural flow of energy in the universe. It is a widely held belief that when plants are happy and flowing with Mother Nature, they thrive.
I started out working for a do-it-yourself home improvement/garden center. As I would go about my watering or deadheading gardening chores, I could listen to customers talk about the plants. They would decide some of the plants were beautiful, but some were not fit to be sold! (It is a fact that plants can be in a poor condition in any retail store. It happens. There is not a garden center or nursery anywhere in the world, that doesn't have an off day or week with their plants, considering all the variables in the weather, watering, not enough help and just circumstances. It is extremely hard to keep plants growing out of the ground.) The ladies would walk by some flowers and point to them and say, "this is a terrible plant...Oh, look at how ugly this one is... oh, this one is certainly dying!" I would be horrified. I would walk behind these lovely ladies, and quietly try to undo their unknowing karmic words. I would touch each of the plants they had pointed to and whisper to it, "that's okay, you're doing good, Daylily..." "Now, Pansy, don't you worry, someone's going to buy you today..." "You look just fine to me, Patio tomato, bloom, bloom, bloom." And I would encourage the plants to do their best. You know, they did look better after I gave them a pep talk. What's that? You didn't know plants could hear you? Oh, my, well, that's another fact... but I'll just let you concentrate on putting them in the right position after you bring them home. Then you can finish your first conversation off with... " Okay, everyone, smile!" Click.