3 Tips To Unify the Garden

Using the same plant material in something as simple as your window boxes can help create unity in the garden. 

Fine tuning the garden can be overwhelming without a bit of guidance. Follow these three tips below to help bring order to your outdoor space, and please (emphasis on please), remind yourself that it doesn't have to be perfect. Gardens are a work of art in progress, not a finished production. Give yourself permission for some trial and error. It's part of what makes gardening fun.

1. Repeat Plant Material

Repeating key plants throughout the garden helps give a rhythmic flow. You don't need a large space or lots of plants to accomplish this. Three window boxes against a blank wall using the same repetitive plant material can create a sense of harmony.

Instead of one redbud, one dogwood and one serviceberry, try three redbuds placed in key beds around the house. The architecture of the tree, the heart-shaped leaf, and the zig-zag stems repeating through the garden have a calming and healing influence. If you prefer the different trees that works too, because you're still repeating a pattern (trees), but the less busy a garden is, the better. Trees and shrubs are called anchor plants, combined with hardscaping, layout of beds, statuary, fountains, etc., and contours of the land, these determine the outline or bones of the garden. The bones of the garden are what make it pretty in winter, when the perennials and annuals aren't providing color. The bones should be the first thing to go into the garden, helping define it's boundaries and borders. Click here for more information on creating your garden bones.

Side Note: Don't stress if you're looking at your garden and thinking, dang, I did that all wrong. We all have and do. Established gardens can be helped with just a few changes here and there. Read Cynthia Gillioly's account of how she incorporated bones into her established perennial garden. Click here.

Repeating in odd numbers is crucial. This Italian Cypress makes a dramatic display at the back of this garden. In Western North Carolina, we're not zoned for Italian cypress, but we can use 'DeGroot's Spire' arborvitae for a similar look.

Next is surrounding those anchor plants with supporting cast plants. Keep the number of supporting plants to three or five depending on the size of the beds (obviously smaller beds have fewer numbers and vice versa). Surrounding plants should be repetitive, too, again, helping to anchor the garden. Still, too much of a good thing is too much, so add a few surprises tucked in here and there by varying plant material without looking like you found our sale section. 

2. Odd Numbers Work Best, Mostly

For this small townhouse with zero room to plant, the steps became the focal point.

Numbers matter. Like formal gardens? Twos give that feeling, like sentries guarding the gate, but don't overdo it because two cuts the eye while three gives a sweep of color that seems more natural to our eye. Threes and fives are the general rule for the garden. Using sweeps and masses of one plant is more appealing than having several different plants--the polka dot look--cluttered into one bed.

One plant can serve as a focal point, the stand out in the garden, and so it should be a strong plant. Japanese maples are often chosen for this. One plant can also be a unifier between spaces. Ex: A clump of Japanese forest grass (which likes shade) tucked into each bed, unifies from bed to bed. 

Side Note: Just like all furniture does not need to be lined up around the rooms of your house against the walls, plants do not need to be stuffed against the foundation of the house. Consider moving plants out away from the house, and containers too. It makes for happier plants and interesting gardens.

3. Color all season and repeating color

Ligualria (a shade blooming plant) adds a tropical feel to this bed, combined with the black mondo grass in front and boxwood in back, it adds a different texture to a somewhat structured bed.

Repeating color in the garden is a great way to unify the garden. 'Walker's Low' catmint is an all season, low growing bloomer that looks beautiful under roses, 'Dart's Gold' ninebark, and in front of hedges. Snaking it  through beds (it requires full sun) ties beds together with the blue of the flower, and silvery foliage. You can do the same with annuals. Annuals are a great way to fill in gaps that exist in the garden, hiding missteps until more permanent plantings can be placed. 

Try continuing your garden's color throughout the season. Many of us have azaleas, cherry trees, rhododendrons and dogwoods that bloom in spring. We may have a butterfly bush that moves us through summer, but after the spring color show, we're often missing color in the garden. Visiting the nursery periodically throughout the growing season is helpful. As summer and fall approach, the plant palette of the store changes. You'll find echinacea, helianthus, coreopsis, hydranges, crepe myrtles, and more that can extend your color into summer and fall.

Here's a slideshow of BB Barn's staff's favorite summer-to-fall perennials to help get you motivated. 

For inspiration on landscape design, click here. (There are some pretty awesome pictures here, so go ahead and click.)

These are three quick tips as you plan your garden this spring. Check back frequently for more as we discuss other design tips through the growing season.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, blog writer, and outside sales staff.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.