Your planting/design strategy: clumps, repeating, singles?

gumper97June 11, 2014

I'm beginning my first perennial bed at our new house and have been thinking about this a lot lately. Most of what I've read says to plant in clumps so that the overall design doesn't look spotty or insignificant. But I think most of the pictures of gardens that I see and am drawn to tend to plant single plants, perhaps repeated along the border but not in drifts the way 'they' say to do it. Just wondering what you prefer to do? The bed I've started, I've been planting in drifts, but looking at it now I'm tempted to dig some plants up and move them around so that I'm more of a repeater. This would also allow me to work in one-offs and plants received from gardening friends more easily, so may be more manageable in the long run. Or is that just wishful thinking? LOL!

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Campanula UK Z8

Depends on the plants, the style or theme, the size,, the aspect. Not very helpful, I know but I don't really think there are 'rules' for planting which answer universal questions. Personally, unless you are blessed with an ability to see into the future and visuaiise these plants growing next week, next season, next year, you are likely going to be moving stuff around, dividing, weeding, generally messing about, as a start, if you have the plants, lay them out in their pots and just get a feel for what sort of garden you want, how you are going to maintain it (so access is vital) and just get them planted. If you don't like it, change it. Experimenting is the heart of a lot of gardening so try not to fret overmuch, .......or if you are orderly, you can make a little scale diagram and check ultimate plant size and do a layout with crayons....

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 6:33PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Oh.... was I supposed to have a strategy....?


    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 6:49PM
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Adhering to the advice of a garden design book, I drew my garden on paper when I first moved here, noting hardscape, structures, existing beds, trees, etc. Next I drew (also on paper) the garden beds as I envisioned them in my head. A gardener on this site whose pictures of his beds inspired me suggested planting perennials in groups of three at a diagonal to the edge of the bed or path. I did that with a number of things and continue to be happy with the way it looks.

I do strive for a measure of symmetry for curb appeal purposes and also because it pleases my eyes. However, not all my garden beds adhere to a symmetrical standard.

I have only one border of repeating plants and am not 100% sold on its appearance. It's likely to be subject to change at some point. The concept & execution were good; the "after" picture isn't as pleasing as I'd hoped.

To claim I achieved my garden goals would be a false claim. True, I achieved the look I'd envisioned in my head. Maintenance is an entirely separate issue.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 7:12PM
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No plan here. A good rule of thumb is avoid planting in even numbers and to plant in groups of 3's or 5's etc. Of course that would be hard in a symmetrical design. I always do several plans and carefully planned preliminary tracings for a painting when I am working. Gardening I just do out of my head, some things should be play, in other words, fun and spontaneous. Ask 10 people and I imagine you will get 10 different answers so I'd say go with what fits you personally or you feel most comfortable with. Nature sometimes makes much better arrangements than me so a lot of plants end up growing together as a group on their own.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 7:35PM
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Planting perennial gardens is not the same as planting annual ones.

With annual gardens the maintenance only has to last until the end of one growing season. Then it can often all be cleared away and a fresh start made in the following year.

With perennials the maintenance extends into years. And things don't remain the same year to year. in fact, it seems mixed perennial beds, at least in my experience, seem to go through a cycle. So-so in the first year, better in the next, great in the third, getting a bit overgrown in the fourth and definitely needing to be pulled apart and replanted (around certain long-lived perennials) in the fifth. And this is with yearly ongoing attention to maintenance.

In the context of perennials, some of the design niceties of annual gardens seem superfluous.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:05PM
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Garden weed, or others, do you have any pictures to share or link to? I wish the gallery here were more active!!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:43PM
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One side of our own small back garden.
Garden phlox time (my favourite).
(Aug 5, 2013):

This post was edited by SunnyBorders on Wed, Jun 11, 14 at 22:00

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:57PM
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gumper - is this for the front or back of the house? What do you want to accomplish (curb appeal, view from house, fun hobby)? How large is the area? How much maintenance time are you willing to devote?

If you posted a picture of the area, you might get some great input. In the end, though, it has to look good to you, accomplish your goals, and be a place you enjoy!

Have fun with it whatever direction you go!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:04PM
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I had no clue when I started either.

May I suggest starting with a focal point and planting out from there? That's kind of what I did. I think it really helps to give you a visual of where/what to plant next.

I personally like sets of three or five....depending on the size if beds. Not that I did this to start...but learned that it makes more of an impact.

Here is the area I started out with. This is the only area that is repetative (either side of stepping stones)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:14PM
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Beautiful sunnyborders! Phlox are one of my favorites.

Impact of 3 purple asters (not yet mature) on either side of pink fairy rose(sorry not the best pic). One alone would be boring/skimpy IMO.

Like others have said, its all a personal choice.....

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:37PM
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sara82lee(8a - SE Va)

Sometimes I feel like my garden is reminiscent of a kindergarten classroom - random colors all over the place. Of course I didn't plan it that way, but I'm learning as I go :) Some things that I've planted have flopped, and some have done much better than anticipated! So I have tried to fill in gaps and rearrange along the way.

I'm moving towards "patterns," not really quite repeating I suppose. I think it gets to looking too busy if you try to mix in too much.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:41PM
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Thanks, lilsprout.

And I love your colours.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:42PM
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Gardening on the edge. I like that phrase, I stole it from ruth.

This post was edited by TexasRanger10 on Thu, Jun 12, 14 at 0:18

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:09PM
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Thanks Sunny.

I like purple...

Wouldn't be caught dead wearing it though.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:55PM
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gumper97 - I have plenty of photos and would be happy to share. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo sharing website and can't upload them.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 8:16AM
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Love that too.

Funny, lilspout, but I think the flowers can always get away with it.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 8:20AM
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Connie K

I followed the expert advice, and planted in clumps. However, during bloom time, the bed would look lopsided because the clumps bloom at different times, so I am now in the process of relocating plants so that the bed has a repeating design. I'm much happier with the look.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:23AM
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I simply stick things in and then in August, realize OH MY GOD what have I done? I then move things around because that time of year I have almost lost interest. I try and repeat (not necessarily the same plant) but at least the same color. I also plant a lot so that the weeds get kind of lost....not a very pristine garden Like the ones above.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:55AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Interesting, Tex, that the picture you posted gives me much the same feel as my 'green and white' backyard garden! Clearly though yours gives off a feel of heat modified by the cooling of the silvers whereas mine aims to project a cooler climate. I think the common element between our two very different plantings is there's a unified theme to both that suits their respective climates. And I think that approach overrides the issue of clumps vs singles vs repeats because one just needs to do whatever feels/looks right to achieve the overall look you are aiming for.

(bad picture taken yesterday through the livingroom window - plants will fill in a lot in the next few weeks. )

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:59AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

There are elements of design in garden just as with designing anything. Some of us try, many of us don't get it right the first time (or even the 20th) but the general idea is to create interest - through contrasting and repeating height, texture and color of foliage.

If you have time, you can get some ideas from this video of Dan Hinkleys lecture at UW several years ago. I've watched the video a few times myself, still trying ;) It's long, just under an hour, but the actual lecture begins at about 4:45 if you want to shave a few minutes...

Here is a link that might be useful: Exclamation, Accentuation, Punctuation Hinkley

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:14AM
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Dan lectured here several years ago with about the same thing. He is great...a super video.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 4:46PM
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woodyoak, hmm, maybe. What I am focusing on is intentionally wild, specifically a pocket prairie with a SW influence for structural elements composed of wild native plants or what might be considered weeds by many people from the states in the 4 corners area.

We have woodland areas here as well, I am not drawn to that personally although many folks are so I am usually in the minority. On that note it does seem like you are comparing apples and oranges. If it was here, I'd definitely have a red barn, not green.

A native landscape would certainly differ from one area to the next in look and plant varieties but hostas don't make me think of native landscape. That is a very nice woodland garden but having no visual idea of Canada, I would not venture to guess what the landscape looks like or what native plants grow there in a woodland setting, mini meadow or grassland. If the small lawn area is meant to suggest a meadow or grassland, it would be fitting to have natural native grass left unmowed for swaying in a breeze or soft flowing sedges maybe even with some low growing forbs allowed in. It just depends on what you want & your overall goal. One way or another, its a nice garden area.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 5:36PM
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I love plants with beautiful foliage. They look nice even when not in bloom:

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 6:26PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Tex - what I meant was that your SW pocket prairie evokes a strong sense of place, one that is very different - almost an opposite - to the place I'm trying to evoke. But the common theme is about a sort of miniaturized, perhaps idealized, specific environment as a theme for a garden space. In my case the specific place I'm trying to evoke is the place where it spent my childhood in the 1960s on the east coast of Canada. Think old farm gradually returning to bush... Instead of the lawn, imagine a timothy hayfield about two weeks after the hay has been cut, so it's a nice green rectangular field with rounded corners (shaped by the turning radius of the mower blade). Instead of hostas, imagine clumps of rhubarb or, in the 'wilder' sections, skunk cabbage and other lush green things... I'm not trying to reproduce a native planting because the native plantings of that place would not grow in the soil here. So I'm trying to reproduce a sense of that place, using whatever substitute plants that give the right feel. Most people just see the garden as a pleasant woodland-themed garden without being aware of the very personal landscape underlying it. One's garden Is always a personal thing; this one is just more personal than most :-)

Interestingly (to me at least!), the front garden here has no such personal underpinning or strong theme and I find it a more disjointed, less satisfying garden space.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 8:38PM
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Lovely photos all, thanks so much!

Green_go - are the purple leaves heuchera, or something else? I too love stunning foliage arrangements.

I will try to watch the lecture this weekend. Thanks for the link.

The bed I'm planning is in the backyard. It's open to the public as our yard is not fenced and there is a public walking path behind us. But to be honest, I'm not too fussed about that; I'm more concerned with making it attractive to view from my yard and really- just to have fun doing it! There are a few trees and shrubs already in place that will act as focal points; we've now dug a bed out around them so they are not isolated in the midst of the grass.

Thanks for all of the interesting reading so far. I think I am going to learn a lot here.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:11PM
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Carolinaflowerlover NC Zone 7b

My strategy is "Oooooohhhhh, I like that....let me stick it somewhere!" Lol I am still working on getting things where I want them. My garden is bold and a mix of colors and shapes, but that is my style. :)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:49PM
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found some pics at work,
planting is in its third year.

repetition of the theme (Hosta) and variation through size and leaf color

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 8:09AM
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repetion of the strong graphic grass (Calamagrostis x acutifl. Waldenbuch)
works as contrast to the massiv, horizontal planter

and contrasting fluffy, round leafed perennials as companions

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 8:15AM
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woodyoak, I reread your post more carefully. I see now where you were going. Sense of place. Yes, places can differ from one extreme to another. Heck, you live in a different country for that matter. Just traveling to eastern Oklahoma and into Arkansas was an eye opener for me last year. It's hilly natural tree country up through there and even the grasses are different, much greener and lush, actually quite pretty, very un-Oklahoma-like but I like it here on the plains just fine.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 8:07PM
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the purple-leaved plant is actually a shrub. It is a weigela 'Shining Sensation'. It never grows tall for me staying a neat tidy clump of purple foliage. Pink flowers in early summer are bonuses.
Behind it (not visible on the picture) is the weigela 'Rainbow Sensation' which I also grow primarily for the foliage, though it has pretty rosy blooms.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 9:46PM
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I love planting some long-bloomers or re-bloomers in large masses for long-lasting effect.
Short-bloomers I plant selectively.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 9:53PM
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Lovely!! Is that snow in summer in front and lambs ears behind?

And thanks for the plant id. I didn't realize weigela could stay so compact.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 11:11PM
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pitimpinai(z6 Chicago)

Like this?

I aim for long and successive interests in the garden. There is something interesting to see yearround. I also began to add bold shapes and forms for focal points and to make a statement.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 12:05AM
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a2zmom(6a - nj)

Hmm. All three, depending.

The garden is front of my house is very small (4' by 6') so almost every single plant in it is a single. Here's a picture from a few years ago.

In there is one peony, one nepeta (catmint), one Siberian iris, one lady's mantle, one phlox, one geranium, one lamb's ear, one campanula. It's changed a bit over the years, but the basics remain the same - single color scheme, one plant.

In this garden, there are groupings (the helenium and the agastache) and repetition (the geum on either side of the black mulch path and the lady's mantle which is repeated through throughout the length of the border)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 4:33PM
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greenhearted(5a IL)

Shadeyplace, that is my kind of gardening. A little on the wild side and planted heavily to keep the weeds down. Your hakone grass is stunning!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 5:24PM
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shadeyplace: I asked myself a few weeks ago what have I done! lol I like your gardening style as well!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 11:37PM
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my gardening style is what i jokingly refer to as "garbage gardening"! each area has a edger, whether it's catmint, salvia, lamb's ear or daylilies, then i add a few perennials that i repeat throughout the bed, e.g. shasta daisies, sedum, coneflowers. everything must be low maintenance and drought tolerant. so far this has worked for me.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 12:32PM
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