The longer you work with people the more you see that there are different “types” of people, and landscape design clients are no exception. There are two types of clients when it comes to plants: the ones who like plants and are generally happy with anything that looks good, and the ones who loveloveLOVE plants and can’t have enough.
The challenge that my plant-collecting clients face is that it’s hard to have unity and harmony in a design where every single plant is different.I get it, I really do. Plants are awesome, and if you watch the sales you can score specimen plants at amazing discounts (a current client picked up 6′ tall weeping evergreens at about a third of what I would pay buying from the grower – no joke). The problem is that unless you’re very fortunate, you only have one yard.
So how do we balance our love of funky plants with a need to not be the crazy cat person of landscaping on our block? Sometimes I find that relating the outside of the house to the inside makes everything clearer.
Step 1: Pick your beige first.
One rule of design is that if everything is an exciting focal point, nothing is an exciting focal point. This is why ruby-colored pillows look so stunning on a gray sofa, why that turquoise blue vase looks great on a black shelf; heck, it’s why the rest of the jazz combo backs off when it’s time for the trumpet solo. In the landscape, my “beige” is typically evergreen shrubs. The dark green foliage of laurels or hollies will make that golden or variegated plant pop. I’ve photographed literally hundreds of landscapes and what I’ve found is that the background plants all blend together to emphasize the foreground plants.
Step 2: Paint around your featured plants with a big darn brush.
Once you’ve selected your massing plants that create the backdrop, use them generously. If you go to an art gallery you’ll notice that none of the canvases are touching. Rather, each is surrounded by an expanse of (usually white) wall. The more continuous the background is, the more your exciting plants will leap out.
What I find to be the best way to design a yard for plant and/or outdoor sculpture devotees is to design simple yet interesting massed plantings throughout the landscape. I then designate where the “fun” plants will go. I look at it as having built the gallery, painted the walls, and hung empty frames wherever artwork will show the best. This way the client can shop to his or her heart’s content, knowing the exciting new finds will have a home.
Step 3: Exercise restraint.
This is the hard part for any plant lover. Do as I explained in step 2, and know how many spaces you have for new plants. This way you’ll feel comfortable knowing that your amazing find already has a spot. Otherwise, what happens is the garden looks cluttered or the plants sit in their pots for weeks while you try to figure out the perfect space. If you run out of room before you run out of love for plants it may be time to reevaluate your collection.
Sometimes my job is to help my clients through these steps. If you feel like your landscape would benefit from a designer, I’d love to talk to you!
And just remember – even Mozart had to choose!