Less is more, or more is better?

bahia(SF Bay Area)June 1, 2011

An example showing how a simplified, pared down planting scheme with just a few key plants, but planted in mass can really make a border zing. This raised planter between two retaining walls has gone through many different iterations over the years I've been working on the garden. It was full of big bulky Rhododendrons and Abutilons when I first started with the garden redesign. We then transitioned to a mix of overflowing perennials such as South African Arctotis, California native Eriogonum grande rubescens and Mimulus aurantiacus. The super abundance of flowers in a nice blend was perfect, or so I thought. The client wanted to tone it down and tighten it up. So out it all came and in went this mass planting of monochromatic succulents. Less variety of plant types, but certainly many more individual plants. Who says you can't have it both ways?

Here is a link that might be useful: Massed Echeveria elegans on a slope

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Those plants are so neat - they sort of look like stone flowers. So your client gets to both tone it down and still have an abundance of 'flowers'! The closest I can get to something like that is hens'n'chicks but it's really not dry enough here for them to be happy (especially this year - 7.3" of rain in May!)

I like abundance. Over the years I've moved towards more massing of same or similar plants and using colors in fairly monochrome or limited color schemes. At the moment my backyard is awash in green and white with blue accents. With all the rain we've had, it is so green out there that the ceiling in the living room looks green from the reflection of light from the plants outdoors! So I'm definitely on the more is better side of the fence at this point :-)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 3:41PM
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Mies van der Rohe took up the phrase "less is more" to mean that simplicity and clarity lead to good design. The vignette in this photo is simple because of what it excludes. I wonder about the overall design that this fits into, does it too follow this maxim?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 5:13PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

In a word, no... It's a collector's garden of special plants, but I've tried to give the entire garden more unity of design by building up collections of species in the same genus, or by grouping similar forms together, and repeating the same plants around the garden rather than "one of this, and one of that", although there are certainly unique accent plants as well. Here's another sample of the garden showing how the repetition of the same plant types and forms unifies the composition, while having quite a bit of texture and color contrast. The common denominator in this example is the repeating Fibonacci spiral rosettes of the succulents and the bromeliads.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fibonacci spirals

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 5:41PM
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Interesting idea. As usual its probably not as simple as it sounds. Too little is always going to be too little - for instance a row of hostas along the foundation of a colonial. Too much is always going to be too much - for instance the two day a week, three person crew maintenance we did for several years at a house that the designer marketed as low maintenance.

It is hard to find the balance between the two extremes. But the middle ground is certainly somewhere between using a limited palette of plants and using a varietal palette but with repeated plants,groupings and vignettes.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 7:25PM
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Not Fibonacci spirals David but nice anyway.

I have linked to a you tube demonstration of how to draw a Fibonacci spiral in an attempt to be non cryptic.

Here is a link that might be useful: drawing

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 7:34PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Tony, you are correct, only the one Aloe in the first photo, Aloe polyphylla is a true Fibonacii spiral in growth habit. All the other Echeverias and Bromeliads are but simple rosettes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Aloe polyphylla, the Spiral Aloe

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 11:15PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Simple, but interesting composition, with curves to the right, and the intersecting brick bands to the left, yet this does not detract from the brick and stone near the elaborate Spanish revival portal.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 1:09AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Please forgive the erroneous posting above, it was intended for a different thread. My most sincere apologies.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 1:15AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Kim, no worries, I like the example you've posted. Is this a private residence or part of the complex within Balboa Park? The photo does kind of continue the same theme, of a limited palette of materials used in mass. I also like how it seems to do a more modern riff on more historic details.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 11:10AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

It's a private home, original structure from the late 20s, I believe. Said to be done by the same architect who did the Catalina casino. Love that black mondo grass mixed with the bromeliads and succulents.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 12:47PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I like it too, David and Kim.

Unifying a collector's garden can be accomplished if a sense of scale is adhered to along with drifts of the same genus and form. The accent plants really stand out!
In a small courtyard, Echeverias, Sedums, and other succulents can do this in your climate with ease. It can be done here in western Washington, but we have cooler temps combined with more shade.
I need to do more of that with my garden. Better, and more use of groundcovers seems to be the way to accomplish this in my large garden. Maintenance is always an issue.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 2:33PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Mike, I think the photos you have shared of your garden over the years show an incredible mastery of using plants well. I know what you mean about cooler temps and more shade making it difficult to use these sorts of plants up there, and the scale of your own garden allows you to use low growing shrubs/ground covers to the same effect.

Maintenance concerns are always an issue in garden design, and I find myself prioritizing maintenance as the number one determinant for planting design anymore. I'll still use fast growing stuff if it is easily moved/divided, and will hold the look for at least 3 to 4 years before it needs dividing.

The Black Mondo Grass is always a cool plant in the garden, but I've found that it is tricky to get it to really show up well in garden settings. It is too easy for it to disappear into the shadows if it isn't planted with strongly contrasting foliage and lighter surroundings. I've found myself getting it wrong on occasion, thankfully it is really easy to move around...

Here's a shot in a new garden planting where I know it will only get better over time, contrasted with the bright green of the Foxtail Asparagus Fern and the brick coping.

Here is a link that might be useful: Black Mondo Grass edging

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 3:31PM
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Not to take the thread a different direction, but I love the contrasting uses of Black Mondo. Phoenix Landscape Design doesn't often play with it. I kinda like how it gets "lost" in the first example, but I definitely like how it gets highlighted in the second. Thanks for sharing guys!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 10:10PM
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Do you think that the black mondo grass and the echeveria are additions of negative space and allow one to focus on the highlights? That may be what the client in the OP was looking for. I don't normally think of mass plantings as negative space but I think they can be in the right circumstances. I did review a previous post on the subject. Am I correct or still not clear on the concept?
Thank you for any clarification.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 4:27PM
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