] “When most people go and plant (design) a garden, they don't think much about mass versus specimen planting. I come from a long line of gardeners whose personal style of planting, I would call “fruit salad”. A lot of color, but no real defined flavor. To my family, gardening was getting a plant, kind of knowing how tall it would grow, and planting it in any empty spot in the garden, and then calling it a day.
I really had nothing to compare our gardening style with, until I started going on the Lenox Garden Club and Garden Conservancy Opening Day tours. The gardens on those tours, to me, were gardens professionally designed and maintained, the gardens of people who professionally planted and designed for a living, or gardens of people who read about gardening, went to lectures, took classes, and probably went on lots of tours, and knew the subject.
After going on a few of those tours, I started to think about what I was looking at. There was a similarity of how a professionally designed and planted garden was, and the design projects that I studied in art school. The rest is gardening history. So what I learned there, I am now going to teach you here!
Let’s start by looking at the phrases that I came up with to describe different patterns of planting.
The first is SPECIMEN. Specimen plants are most likely planted singly (one) versus many in a grouping. A specimen plant could have larger leaves than most other plants. It might have a color of foliage like Copper-Honey, that is not a common color in a garden. It could be a bush or small tree with an odd twisting, or weeping growth habit. A specimen could also be different kinds of evergreen mounds, spheres, pyramids or topiary, that along with annuals and herbaceous perennials make up a garden.
In my garden I have two Blue Angel hostas, that are specimen plants. They are not planted next to each other, but are sited at opposite ends of the garden. The Blue Angels grow three plus feet tall and are each six to eight feet across. Their sheer size makes them specimens. They also have enormous leaves!
MASS PLANTING is when you plant 2,3,4,5,6, etc. of the same plant in one area of the garden. The idea of mass planting is that the viewer looks at one big planting of this, and then looks at another big planting of that, as they walk along the garden. When you come upon a Specimen plant, in the mass planted garden, the specimen is kind of like a surprise, or special plant jewel for the person to discover. Specimen plants are placed carefully in the garden so you don’t come across them to quickly. In my garden most of my specimen plants are evergreens. They look great during the growing season, and are also my winter interest when the garden is done for the year.
I have come up with some easy descriptions of different planting patterns for MASS PLANTING..….
S= Specimen…One Special Plant.
1= Pair Pattern…Two of the same plant, planted next to each other.
2= Soldiers in a Row…3,4,5,6,etc of the same plant, planted in a straight line.
3= Zig Zag Pattern
4= Square Pattern…four of the same plant in an area.
5= Triangular Pattern…3 of the same plant.
Now look at the garden illustration. I put the corresponding number of the above descriptions with the planting pattern in the garden.
Next look at the circular center garden. I placed a (S) Specimen plant in the center. I also could have placed a bird bath, sculpture, statue, gazing ball on pedestal, or even large urn on stand in that area.
What I want you to notice about this area is that it has two plantings of two of the same plant in that area. Both of the two sets of plants are separated, and planted across from each other, so the eye moves from one side of that bed to the other, unifying the space. There are also two plantings that represent “annual six packs”. One is three plants, planted from a six-pack on one side of the garden, and the other three planted on the opposite side. The other is one six-pack planted on one side and another six-pack of the same plant, planted opposite it. Repetitive planting ties a space together!
The planting patterns that I drew out for you are just a starting point. The Zig Zag planting scheme can be expanded to multiple Zig Zag rows. The Triangular shaped plantings of 3 plants can be expanded to 6 or more. Square planting patterns of 4, can be made much bigger using 9 plants, or even turned into a rectangle. Your only real limitation might be how much space you have for gardening.
Now don’t look at planting, in different planting patterns as something to rigid or formal. With time all of the grouped plants will grow together and be surprisingly much more casual looking.
When designing your garden, leave empty spots where you can plant a six-pack, or two of annuals here and there in the garden. My garden is probably 95% herbaceous perennials, deciduous bushes and evergreens. I have spots, that I purposely have left empty for planting annuals, and I also plant elephant ears, dahlias and gladiolus that I “winter over” in the cellar and replant each spring.
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Thirteen ideas for Decorating your Country Garden 7-20-2013,
When Designing a Shade Garden, think Focal Point, Plant Color and Shapes of Leaves 9-4-2011.