This three-part posting was prompted by an e-mail from a reader asking me how she might improve her flower beds. Her problem was two-fold. First of all, she has been gardening for over twenty years and her landscaping still look like a “hodge podge”. Secondly, there was only a limited budget available for gardening. Here is an elaborated version of my reply.
To create an attractive looking garden that will not look like a "hodge podge", one needs a master plan to help shape the appearance of the garden. This chapter deals with two major elements of garden planning: staging and color.
Staging: Just like the background sets in a play or a movie, a garden needs background scenery to enhance it. Trees, vines and ornamental shrubs create an effective proscenium to showcase the garden. A wall is never enough. If the garden is located in an island in the middle of a lawn, pay attention to what is behind the island, even if it's at a distance.
There are four dominant color schemes for gardens: Hot, pastel, monochromatic, and multicolor. Hot refers to reds, oranges, gold and warm burgundies, pastels include pink, yellow, blue and sometimes purple. Multicolor refers to a scheme that combines most colors, including those that are not harmonious with each other. Monochromatic refers to a one-color garden but includes the shades of accompanying green foliage.
To avoid a “hodge podge” one should avoid using a color scheme that is multicolor, monochromatic or bold. These are gardens for the seasoned horticulturalist with large expanses of land to tame eccentric color choices and expansive wallets to pay for change when these risky experiments fail. Until one masters the art of composing a successful garden, it's best to work in pastels. This family of tones creates calm and makes the hodgiest, podgiest garden look neat and soothing. More people chose this scheme over all of the others.
Why did I advise against a bold color scheme? Bold colors have tremendous energy. The interplay of several such colors creates visual movement in the most stationary of plants. The effect is frenetic and may be unpleasant to experience. Even if plants are arranged neatly, the ultimate effect is far from tidy because hot-colored plants appear to be closer than they really are and that creates a crowded feeling.
Monochromatic gardens are rarely beautiful. By removing the visual interaction that occurs between complementary and contrasting colors, one eliminates the drama and passion that make a garden pleasurable. A one-color garden is more of an intellectual experiment than a thing of beauty. The above image of a white garden may look beautiful at first glance but if that is the only garden on the property, looking at it over time might become wearisome.
Why do I recommend pastel gardens? Pastel gardens work for everyone. The colors in this pallet blend well and they are very forgiving of errors made in plant and color choices. Pastel colors also seem to recede from view thus creating an atmosphere of calmness. A pastel garden may be compared to a party where all of the guests are interesting and where everyone has a good time.
Click here to continue reading Part Two that discusses ten basic elements for creating a beautiful garden.
Thanks to David Goodgame for the above photo of a white garden that I found on his site, English Cottage Gardens, Alaska Style.