When designing a perennial garden, it’s all about shapes of leaves!

Perennial garden design is all about shapes of leaves.

Perennial garden design is all about shapes of leaves.

Using different shaped leaves, to make a foliage tapestry, is an ideal, when planning the layout of your perennial garden. When you think about it, most perennials are in bloom, maybe, two or three weeks during the growing season, and that is it. What you have before, and after they bloom is their foliage. Foliage by itself is a beautiful thing, and the shapes of many plants are quite sculptural.

Now let’s look at the top line of the illustration I made for you. The first leaf shape, that you are looking at is heart shaped #1. The second shaped leaf, is sword or grassy #2. Number 3, I am calling maple. Number 4, I am calling oak leaf shaped. The fifth leaf shape, I am calling fan. The sixth leaf is upward thrusting, like an Asiatic or Oriental lily. Number 7, I am calling fern, and number 8, I am calling almond. Besides the eight shapes just listed, I am also adding to the list round, oar shaped, and hairy leaves, like the summer growth on asparagus. Leaves also have different kinds of edges. They might be smooth, serrated (like being cut with pinking shears), or even a bit ruffled. I know you can come up with other names, to describe different shapes of leaves, on plants that grow in your garden. My leaf descriptions are not properly scientific, as in the exact botanical names for leaves. My objective here, is to get you to look at the different shapes of leaves (foliage), and to start thinking about what grows in your region.

Now let’s look at the garden layout, across the bottom of the illustration. In the bottom left corner, we start with heart-shaped #1.Then next to heart is grassy #2, and fern #7. Next comes maple #3, with fan #5, and heart #1 (repeating). Then comes upward thrusting #6, with oak leaf #4, along side of it. Grassy #2 (repeats) with #8 almond shaped below it, with fern #7 along side. Wrapping up the right corner of the garden illustration is #3 maple leaf (repeated), and below it is #1 heart (repeating).

As you look over this garden illustration, you are looking at the shapes of plant’s leaves, that are sited so they are completely different, from each other. When you look at a garden, you want to first see a clump of “Plant One”. Next to it, “Plant Two”, should be a clump of something else that does not look like the first plant (something completely different). The “Third Plant” that you look at should look completely different from the first and second plant that you have just viewed… In this illustration you are also looking at the repetitive planting, of some of the same plants, across a garden, to unify the space.

When you site different plants in the garden, you don’t want to place plants next to each other that have a similar leaf shape. You would never want to place a maple shaped leaf #3 next to an oak shaped leave #4. They look too much alike. You would only (possibly) place “maple and oak” next to each other, if they were different colors (burgundy maple, with green oak). The different leaf color would make for enough contrast. I have been on many, Garden Conservancy Open Days program tours. I have even seen vegetable patches laid out according to leaf shapes. You know, tomatoes have a different kind of leaf shape than bush beans, carrots, brussel sprouts, lettuce, scallions, and dill.

So, now I want you to look through gardening books and magazines, go to public gardens, and on private garden tours, and look at how different gardeners arrange foliage plants. Anyone can plant a plant! Arranging foliage plants in a garden is making a visual picture, and showcasing each plant for its own special beauty.

One more thing…Now that you know the secret of arranging plants for their foliage, you will want to do it in your own garden. Happy Replanting!

Companion Posts
Colored Foliage adds that WOW factor to a Garden 2-22-2011, 
How to Plant (Design) a Garden..Mass versus Specimen Planting 2-17-2011, 
Stagger Plant Heights when Planting (Designing) a Garden 2-17-2011,
Plant (Start) a Flower Garden for Sun or Shade, Celebrate Spring 3-31-2012,
Designing / Laying out Flower Beds 5-4-2013,
Plant a Garden Room on your property 2-17-2013,
Designing / Planting a Hosta Garden 8-21-2011,  
Looking at Evergreens in the Garden 1-31-2012


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
This entry was posted in Garden Design Principles, planting a SHADE GARDEN. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When designing a perennial garden, it’s all about shapes of leaves!

  1. Hey, Fred.
    You are good. I was very interested in what you had to say. I hope more people find you and get the help they need in the garden and in the home.

    Thanks for helping to pass the time away yesterday.
    Take care,

    • Hi Karen! Just got my NEW computer up and running. Finally I think I am now GOING ahead. Loved your show at the gallery, and your paintings on your website. Your work shows consistency of color and form. That is what a personal style is all about. It was fun visiting with you yesterday, and our time together reminded be of my GOOD OLD DAYS on the art show circuit.

  2. Brian D says:

    Good advice about the Leave Shapes to add structure and texture to your beds. Would’nt want a uniform bed of all same shapes and colours would we . . . I try to divide my beds up in small TRIANGULAR AREAS to cater for the individual plants. It makes easy deciding and planning of the bed . . . Using The Different Flowering times also makes your beds interesting all year round . . . Thanks FRED for the advice. Keep it coming

    • Hi there Brian, thanks for your comment. I have even seen vegetable gardens, on Garden Conservancy Opening Day Tours, that were planted with leaf shape in mind. I think making different groupings of the same plants also makes it easier to maintain and weed. Enjoy the rest of Summer, after August 15, the garden, especially here in the north-east really starts to wind down. That time, though, is the perfect time to start dividing and replanting beds with next year in mind.

  3. Noretta Jackson says:

    I am so glad to have found your page. I was looking for information on planting and growing pussy willows. Found it. Thanks!
    Then I saw this one on designing perennial gardens. It’s April. I live in SC now, after living for many years in IN. I love the long growing season here. This month, I decided to plant more perennials than annuals. Why? Because in March and April the Perennials are up and doing great. All I have to do is pull a few weeds! No buying seeds and plants!
    My perennials are scattered around in 4 beds, plus a few more that come up, here and there, from previous owners of the house, plus wild flowers.
    Your advice to arrange perennials according to the shapes of the leaves, has inspired me!!
    Thank you!

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