Express Yourself by Picking a Planting Palette

In many ways creating a beautiful garden is like painting; it's valuable to pick the right "palette" to work from. Use the ideas outlined here to help you draw up an inspired garden design.

It's always the right time to think about the look you want to create or redesign in your yard, and the plants you’ll need to do it. Designers often talk about using a "palette" of plants, as if they were paints. In many ways, creating a beautiful garden is like painting — except that you are visualizing three dimensions, and your materials, living growing things, allow you to express yourself in texture, scent and other senses than just sight. Here are some ideas for using your favorite plants to inspired effect.

Choosing a Planting Palette

Focusing your ideas at an early stage in the design process narrows your choices and helps to guide you towards choosing the right plants. It also minimizes expensive mistakes. Sourcing plants is much easier when you have a specific theme, perhaps a favorite color or style, in mind. A cottage garden, for example, will give you the scope to mix and match a wide range of plants in an informal setting. Something more modern, on the other hand, will demand that you use a limited number of plants in a more organized way. Designing a low-maintenance garden filled with evergreens will, again, focus your choice.

A flamboyant display of annuals with hardy and tender perennials is high-maintenance, but the results of this tropical collection are exciting and worth the effort (image 1).

The established hardy shrubs and perennials in this formal planting require minimal maintenance. Their structure extends the seasonal appeal right through late fall and into winter (image 2).

Functional Planting

Certain garden features design themselves by default. For example, an exposed garden will need a windbreak, while an plot visible to neighbors should have screening for privacy. Other design considerations might include fragrance by the front door, a tree by the patio to provide shade on a hot sunny day, room for vegetables to cook in your kitchen or the creation of wildlife habitats to delight your children. The design of such plans is guided by their specific use, and this may limit your choice of suitable plants.

Hedges do pretty much the same job as a fence or wall, but they have the edge when it comes to absorbing sound and wind. They also create a much softer effect, as in this sheltered seating area.

Cozy Seating Area in Cottage Garden

Cozy Seating Area in Cottage Garden

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design View original photo.

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Layers of Interest

When space is limited, try to select plants that have a long season of interest. There are also many shrubs and perennials with colorful fall foliage, structural winter stems and spring buds, as well as those that flower over a extended period. Precious few plants will meet all your hopes, but look for those that fulfill as many as possible.

The most useful plants here (peonies) work on several levels, providing structure and color. In spring, their red shoots are followed by lush green foliage, then flowers (image 1).

A closer look at a peony reveals how its flowers and foliage combine to make it stand out as an individual. Peonies often provide vibrant fall leaf color too (image 2).

Close up you can appreciate the folded and crushed petals of this peony’s double blooms. With other plants, such as passion flowers, the detail is in the intricate stamens (image 3).

Plant Types and Their Design Uses

Rest assured, there is a plant for virtually every situation, be it a tree, shrub, perennial, bedding plant or bulb. When you’re working out a planting plan, consider how best to use each plant. Ask yourself if it will create the look you are after, as well as how it will work next to other plants in the border.

Plants of medium height, or "midrange" plants, make up the majority of the plants in a garden and include perennials and small shrubs. The substance of most plantings, they fill the gaps between bigger, more structural elements.

Structural plants are "structural" in two ways. A plant can be structural itself, for example, if it has large paddle-shaped leaves. And plants can define the limits and framework of a garden.

Focal plants are visual treats for the garden. It could be their distinctive color, leaf shape or stature that makes them stand out from other plants in the border.

Ground cover plants is often thought of as being hardworking, but not necessarily decorative. With all the gorgeous varieties available, there’s no reason why ground covers can’t be add visual interest while smothering weeds as well.

Plants with seasonal appeal seasons make gardening a real pleasure year round. Choosing plants that provide an ever-changing display prolongs a garden’s interest, changing its character as time passes.

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