Today, I am going to talk about plant groups. When I was talking about fall color in a recent post, I recommended using a lot of different plant species to create a tapestry of different colors. By considering whether plants turn color early in the fall such as a honey locust or late in the season such as ornamental pear, you can also extend the fall season. I also mentioned the importance of using evergreens to help set off these colors. These are all good points to consider when planning your landscape for maximum fall impact.
However, I don’t want you to consider this as a recommendation to develop Plant Collector Disorder (PCD). You know the signs whether or not you have been diagnosed. You wander off from your spouse who is looking at lawn furniture and end up in the plant section of your local big box. Then you see this cute little plant that has the prettiest flower, leave color, stems, whatever. “Oh that’s SOOO cool, I want that!” Next thing you know you are home going, “where the @%$# am I going to put this?”
MORE PLANT VARIETY BETTER?
So go ahead make sure all the non-evergreen plants that you do buy have great fall color. Go ahead and get different kinds. But don’t think your garden will look better the more different plants you have scattered throughout it. Most importantly, try not to put a bunch of single plants all over the yard. Pick a few great species and buy lots of them. No more, one of these, one of those. Get enough to make multiple groups of them throughout your yard. Make sure a lot of these are evergreens. These plants will form the foundation of your garden.
Buy single plant specimen tree and shrubs, but only have one of these in each part of the garden. They are meant to draw the eye too them. So make sure they are not close enough to each other to be seen at the same time. This causes competition for your attention between the two and creates tension. Not what you are looking for in your landscape in most cases. Also consider other focal points such as birdbaths, lawn ornaments, etc. as potential sources of competition for your specimen plants.
For most plants, groups are best. Groups are calming and easy for the brain to absorb. Not too much information to process. No chaos. Instead calm. Odd numbers of plants such as 3, 5 or 7 make the best groups.
Even numbers of plants in groups are usually divided by the mind into equal groups. Your brain does not see two plants, it sees two single plants. It does not see 4 plants; it sees two groups of 4.
FEEL OF YOUR GARDEN
Why is this bad? Well it’s not if you are trying to frame a view, or otherwise STRONGLY direct the eye between the middle of your even group of plants. But for a NATURAL looking garden, odd groups look better. Even number of plants creates strong symmetry which is very much useful for formal gardens.
However, Formal gardens are really more about showing how man can control and manipulate nature to man’s rules. If you are looking for a relaxing landscape or garden then you are more interested in bringing the peacefulness of nature into the man made environment. This is the basis and origin of the Japanese gardens.
So unless you are looking for a formal garden, I would aim for odd numbered plant groups
If you get a large number of plants say over 9 or so, you just start seeing them as a large group. It does not matter if there is an odd or even number in the group.
If you do find yourself with an even number of plants, you can break them into two separate DIFFERENT sized odd groups, to prevent this mental split. For example a group of 4 becomes groups of 3 and 1, or a group of 8 become groups of 5 and 3.
REPETITION OF PLANTS AND GROUPS
Repetition is one of the foundations of effective landscape design. Therefore another way to avoid Plant Collector’s Syndrome is to repeat plants and plant groups throughout your yard. This is not only a good idea, but is in fact required to have an effective landscape design. It is in fact much more important than having a large variety of plants. The picture of the following garden only has four types of plants in it (including the turf). It looks pretty good to me, how about you? If you see this picture and think they need to add one of these plants here and one of those plants there, then you should seek treatment immediately.