How to Use and Arrange Plants in Your Garden

An understanding of how to use and arrange plants in a garden is crucial to the success of its design. As with mat­erials, it is important to be aware of the different types of plants which can be used. These can be listed as follows: 1. trees (deciduous and evergreen); 2. conif­ers; 3. shrubs (deciduous and evergreen); 4. ground cover and carpeting plants; 5. climbing plants; 6. herbaceous and aquatic plants (herbaceous may die back to ground level in winter); 7. annuals and biennials; 8. bulbs; 9. alpines; 10. bamboos and grasses; 11. ferns and mosses; 12. fruit and vegetables.

It is also helpful to have at least a modest understanding of how plants grow and behave. Except in very unusual circumstances and apart from periods of dormancy, plants never stop growing. It is, therefore, very important to know a plant’s growth potential before using it. Although books can help provide this information, nothing can beat visual images of plants which are mature or semi-mature. I have built up in my own mind many images of mature plants which I have seen at various times, growing in parks, streets and gardens. It is these images which I am constantly using when piecing together a planting scheme. Occasionally I walk around nurseries looking for new plants and I try out some of these at home. It soon becomes obvious that a nursery is not always the best place to learn about a plant’s full potential — some grow enormous as soon as they are out of their pot and others may die as soon as they leave the shelter of the nursery. If poten­tially large plants are used in a small area, constant pruning might become neces­sary in order to restrain them. Slow-growing plants may prove too slow for a particular situation and become completely overgrown by other more vigorous ones.

Arrange Garden


Apart from size and vigour, there are a number of other qualities or habits which can be ascertained during a nursery visit and which must be borne in mind when selecting plants for a garden, irrespective of whether the plant is a tree, shrub, herbaceous etc.

Armed with an appreciation that so many different plant forms and factors exist, it should now be possible to make a start on piecing together in your mind, or on paper, an arrangement of shapes, textures and colours (without actual plant names) which will, together, produce a pleasing border.

In general terms, plants can be used to punctuate certain parts of a garden or screen any undesirable features which may exist within or outside the garden. Trees, conifers or large shrubs (especially evergreen ones) are useful for this and because of their size and prominence, they ought to be drawn in, on the design, before any specific plant schemes are produced for the borders. The existence of these key trees and shrubs will influ­ence the choice of other plants which may end up next to or beneath them. It obvi­ously helps to have some actual plants in mind which could fit the situation but initially it is just the aesthetic arrange­ment which matters.

Assuming that the shapes of any new borders have already been drawn on the outline design, the size or area of indi­vidual borders will be known. A scale plan of these empty borders will be needed so that space can be allocated to the various patches of plants. If the main design/ layout drawing is in a large scale, this planting allocation could take place on the design. If the scale is small, a separate drawing of the borders will be needed in a larger scale, e.g. 1 cm = 1/2 m (1/4 in = 1 ft).

At the same time and in the same scale, it can be helpful to draw an artist’s impression of what the borders might look like from one particular view point (or elevation). This impression will have to correspond to the plan or space alloca­tion.

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About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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