Open the new chapter in the story of your garden

Whether it looks super-manicured or is colonised by weeds, your garden has a tale to tell, says Peter Dowdall.

Open the new chapter in the story of your garden

Whether it looks super-manicured or is colonised by weeds, your garden has a tale to tell, says Peter Dowdall.

Every garden tells a story.

That story may be one of neglect and regrowth whereby the space is left alone and before too long wildflowers and weeds colonise it and a new ecosystem with its own biodiversity starts to develop or perhaps it’s a tale of a manicured space which is preened to within a centimetre of its life.

Every individual has their own tale and this is reflected in their garden and of course every story needs its grammatical symbols. In the garden I like to use plants with a contrasting shape or texture to act as those punctuation marks.

A Buxus pyramid standing a metre high or more perhaps in amongst a bed of summer flowering perennials will stand like a proud parent, keeping an eye on the frivolous fun happening all around. You need to repeat these architectural plants which punctuate the space throughout the garden to tie it all together.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of planting randomly, filling your outdoor beds and borders with lots of different plants that you like.

Nothing wrong with this from a sustainability and biodiversity perspective but aesthetically it can lead to chaos. The brain needs to see balance and order to some degree.

It doesn’t have to be regimented and measured to within a centimetre, sometimes that balance or structure can be achieved nearly subliminally.

In other words, on the one extreme you can use two Buxus pyramids standing like sentries at an entrance equidistant from the centre or alternatively you can position them strategically around the garden where they are partially obscured, perhaps a tall grass or similar is growing in front of them and you only get glimpses of the pyramid.

Your eye will register their presence though and your brain will be happy once more as it has balance.

The thick, heavy growing Buxus planted amongst a bed of airy, Stipa ‘Pony Tails’ creates a beautiful, textural contrast. The density and weight of the Box mixed with the light and moving ornamental grass work beautifully together and it is little combinations like this that add that extra nuance to a garden.

Spiky-leaved plants such as Phormium, Cordyline or Yucca also work as structural, architectural markers.

Their foliage brings a completely different style to the party. Often suited to a Mediterranean-style planting, their upright sword-like leaves work in a very different way to the dense, heavy growing evergreen plants like Buxus, Skimmia and Taxus.

To use texture to its best effect in a garden, you need to use plants which contrast in this regard, thus mixing grasses such as the Stipa doesn’t work well here as they are too similar in shape however a well-positioned Phormium or Cordyline in amongst shrubby plants such as Camellias or Rhododendrons can work well.

Again, repetition of the focal point will be needed to unify the space and create that much sought-after balance. You don’t want an Eats, Shoots and Leaves-type garden, remember, no story has just one punctuation mark within.

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ stands upright and columnar and brings very densely packed branches and dark green foliage to a planting and Taxus ‘David’ brings the same shape but with golden coloured foliage.

Upright growers like this standing in amongst a bed of Lavender or Catmint and repeated several times in a garden can create quite a formal effect.

Other plants which stand upright, erect and relatively narrow like Horticultural Beefeaters are: Sorbus ‘Autumn Spire’ Prunus ‘Amanagowa’ and Fagus ‘Dawycks’ cultivars.

In a sheltered garden, Japanese Maples such as Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum VIridis’ make beautiful feature plants. They can stand all alone to show off their superb, sometimes contorted looking but always graceful shape.

Their beautiful delicate, deeply cut foliage takes on all the shades of autumn during that season or they can be planted amongst lower growing plants so that again you may just catch glimpses of the Maple.

Do, however, ensure they are situated in a position which is not getting too much wind, for their foliage and delicate growing tips will not tolerate it.

Unlike a good story, a garden doesn’t have to have a beginning, middle and end but it does need to be well structured or else it just won’t make sense.

The Buxus pyramids or Phormiums are commas, which tie the garden together and let it flow.

Full stops can be created using plants which stop the eye from seeing beyond, encouraging the visitor to travel further into the garden to see what happens next and the exclamation marks using some feature plants which bring something special in terms of foliage, texture, flower or shape.

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