Planting Information on popular plants
“Isn’t it pretty, I simply must have one of those” is a phrase which has rung the death knell of any number of gardens. Bought for some particular moment of flower or fruit, with no thought for the character or balance of the garden as a whole, any number of unrelated plants jostle in beds and borders, competing for our attention. The only effect they achieve is of discord and unease. If only those same people would first decide on a general theme, and then work within these limits, they could have satisfying, even spectacular results with no greater expenditure of time and effort.
Plant Form Color photography has a great deal to answer for, since it is quite easy to take a pretty picture if the colors are harmonious, without thinking about composition, whereas with black and white work form, texture, light, and shade are all important. All plants, if well grown, have a distinct outline which can be reduced to abstract shapes so that you see them as pyramids or circles, verticals or horizontals, or some combination of these elements. Not only do they have form, they also have texture so that they can be seen as coarse or fine, light absorbent or light reflecting and so on. Before deciding on any individual plant it is much better to evolve a thoroughly satisfying planting scheme in purely abstract terms as an arrangement of sizes and shapes, forms and textures. Only when this composition is correct should you try to translate these elements into plants, but even then it is better to think of those plants as though they were black and white photographs, so that you can appreciate their formal structure, the shadow patterns which they cast, the way they hold their leaves or flowers, and whatever other qualities they may possess, without being confused by the separate problem of color. And you must think of them at all times of the year, the bare pattern of winter twigs as well as the heavy foliage of high summer, the hanging clusters of fall fruit as well as the delicate wreaths of spring flowers, so that your picture is properly balanced. Once you have got this far you must choose from among plants of suitable shape and habit, those which will grow in your particular conditions.
The Fourth Dimension
In all garden work, time is the fourth dimension. No planting scheme is static and the effect next year, in five, ten, twenty-five, fifty years will all be different but must all be considered from the outset. Fortunately, some plants mature quickly; others are very slow to reach maturity. So unless your outlook is very short term and even then we should not think only of ourselves, but of those who follow the slow growing shrubs and trees must be put in first, spaced at the proper distances, while the large areas between will contain shrubs and plants of moderate growth. Between these can grow annuals, herbaceous plants, bulbs and shrubs such as brooms and tree lupins which mature quickly and are equally short lived. Before making a final choice, always try to see the plants you are proposing to use, growing in some park or garden at various seasons of the year. Some may have very off periods which may make them unsuitable for your purpose. Never choose a plant, however apparently attractive from the sole evidence of a cut spray exhibited at a flower show as this can be very deceptive.
The vexed question of color, usually uppermost in peoples minds, has been left deliberately until the last. To begin with, it is as well to remember that green is also a color and that one could make very satisfying compositions in that color alone. Then there is the difference between the transient color of flowers and the longer lasting color of foliage, especially where conifers and evergreens are concerned, as they provide some of the brightest and most permanent color effects. Do not neglect, either, the color of tree trunks and young shoots which can do so much to cheer the winter landscape. The easiest way to handle color, particularly in a small area, is to have a single theme and to stick to one color at a time. For instance, a small garden, or part of a large one, planted in shades of yellow and gold only, in a general setting of gray foliage can be most exciting and is comparatively simple to achieve. If this single color device is found too constricting, then it is best to keep firmly to one range of color. Flower and foliage colors are generally based on blue or yellow. In the blue range, beside blue and purple are all the purplish-reds, crimsons, bluish-pinks and whites which have no hint of yellow in them. In the yellow range are scarlet, orange, flame, yellow pinks such as salmon and apricot, creams and whites inclined to yellow. If you work within one range of color, setting it against a background of complementary foliage colors, the end result will still be very harmonious. Of course, people with an eye for color can achieve exciting contrasts between the two ranges but unless you are in that class it is wiser to play safe. With care, you can have quite different color effects at different times of the year, provided that the background planting is suitably neutral. The great thing to avoid is dotting little patches of unrelated color about the place, each one taking away from the impact of its neighbors rather than building up into a total effect. Bedding plants or bulbs in boxes of mixed colors should never be used unless a particular patchwork effect is required against a very plain setting. A single variety or perhaps two or three shades of one color are so much more useful. The blue quality of the light has an important influence on flower color as it brings out and intensifies the color of pale flowers giving them a life and character they could never have in a clearer less misty atmosphere. In the same way, the blue light makes many of the bright color contrasts which appear so stimulating in the strong yellow light of other parts of the world appear merely tawdry and vulgar. Bright colors should always be seen in sun-light, pale colors and white flowers gain added quality in the shade or against a shadowy background. If the garden is going to be used at night, the ability of some pale flowers to glow in the dark can be used to create a new pattern quite different to the familiar daytime scene.
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