Monday, April 16, 2012

My Top Ten List... of Books on Garden Design

The recent weeks of 70 and 80 degree weather have accelerated our spring here in Virginia and created a rather frenetic succession of bloom.  But we have many months of active gardening ahead of us, and I am trying to remain calm and really think through my plans.  It’s so easy to get swept away with all the lovely perennials and pots, seeds and shrubs, trees and trellises, at the local nursery.  I know that if I can get the layout, silhouettes and views right in my garden, all the details, plants and accessories will fall into place.

There are ten books I seem to turn to, time and time again, when considering the design of my garden, starting with…

Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture: A Plant Design Sourcebook by Linden Hawthorne.  Linden encourages us to think about the golden ratio and other artistic devices when choosing and placing plants in our gardens… no matter how large or small… and to incorporate the following elements: scale, visual and environmental harmony, texture and contrast, rhythm and repetition, and then finally foliage and bloom color.

She divides plants into five general categories.

Horizontals and Tiers provide stability to the garden and are comparable to the foreground of a painting.  Examples of Horizontals and Tiers come in all heights.  They may hug the ground like Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer) and Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) or serve as ornamental trees like Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) and Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Shasta' (Shasta Viburnum).  But they all reinforce the horizon line.
Even this Cornus florida has a strong tiered quality.
Verticals and Diagonals lend interest and energetic motion to the landscape.  I think most of us are drawn to Verticals, such as Alcea (Hollyhock), Digitalis (Foxglove) and Verbascum (Mullein) in a cottage garden, or Echinacea (Coneflower) and varieties of Rudbeckia  and Liatris (Black-Eyed Susan and Blazing Star) from our native meadows.  A repetition of Verticals can be at once dynamic and reassuring… think of a grove of Birch trees.  Diagonals, like Crocosmia and Hemerocallis (Daylily), bridge the space between the extreme horizontal and vertical.  Some plants, like Iris and Yucca, combine diagonal foliage with very tall vertical stems and dramatic blooms.
Iris at a local nursery show off their exciting, blade-like leaves.
Weeping and cascading Arcs and Fountains are usually my favorite plants in the garden.  These are the ones that grow vertically or diagonally, at first, and then begin to arch.  They provide a visual and tactile softness, especially when compared with strong Horizontals and Verticals, and often enhance the garden with gentle motion as they interact with wind and rain.  Arcs and Fountains come in all sizes: relatively low Carex (Sedge) and Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart), taller grasses like Pennisetum (the appropriately-named Fountain Grass) and shrubs like Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) or Syringa reticulata (Weeping Lilac).

Clumps and Mounds form the greatest mass and visual weight in the landscape and include a lot of our tried-and-true foliage: Buxus (Boxwood) and Kalmia latifolia (Laurel), Hosta and Heuchera (Coral Bells), Lavandula (Lavender) and Santolina (Cotton Lavender).  Even though many of these plants bloom, we tend to value them for their dense, rounded shapes.

And finally Clouds and Transparents are the most ephemeral and decorative plants in the garden.  Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower), Aquilegia (Columbine), Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel) and Anethum graveolens (Dill) all possess fairly discreet, ferny, feathery leaves and almost-gauzy flowers on tall, delicate stems.  Clouds and Transparents seem to capture sunlight and movement in their own magical haze, which is emphasized by the frequent visits of bees and butterflies.
The massive Hosta 'Sum and Substance' grows to almost 4' across.
The purple lanterns of Aquigelia vulgaris lighten the green tableau.
The truth is that you probably could create an incredibly peaceful, possibly boring, garden completely out of Clumps and Mounds.  But Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture motivates us to combine plants in all five categories to build something more complex.  Plus anyone named Linden Hawthorne must know a thing or two about plants!

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