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Another example of using texture and line in the garden

Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
Sun, May 22, 11 at 16:35

This relatively simple planting composition is another example of how to use contrasting textures of plant foliage to achieve an effect. The course teeth of the Aloe foliage, which are further heightened in impact by having a contrasting color to the leaf which catches the light, pop in relationship to the multi-hued silvers, lavenders and pinks of the adjoining Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' succulent next to it. The contrast between sharp and soft attracts the eye, and the further contrast between the rigidly vertical bloom stalk of the Aloe x delaetii against the leaning flower stems of the Graptoveria is another contrast. All of this is further heightened in effect because they are playing off a neutral blank wall backdrop.

None of these planting compositions are so pensively thought out in advance, but more intuitive from growing and observing the individual plants, and recognizing their intrinsic design qualities and how to exploit them. The secondary aspects of the complementary flower colors and the bit of color echoes between them is probably even more intuitive and less determined intentionally in advance. I may find that the color combinations don't always work 100% of the time, but may elect to leave them be if it is just a fleeting conflict. When flowers last over several seasons, it is simply easier to work with combinations as one lays them out in the garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Line and texture using plants


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

David these are beautiful photographs of intimate compositions of plants, they remind me of Ikenaba. Can you explain how to achieve a unity throughout the whole of ones landscape with this technique? How do you create a movement between one vignette and another when the perspective is larger than any one of these pictures individually?


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Sun, May 22, 11 at 18:43

Not that difficult to execute Tony, the individual vignettes need to also relate to the larger garden, which is achieved by balancing design principles at the smaller level with the overall garden. Just as the human body may seem to be made up of parts that individually seem too different to relate as a whole, the continuity of color and texture(skin color and tone, as well as proportions of body parts will seem either natural or forced, as when a bodybuilder works on just part of the body at the expense of a more balanced effort. Gardens are similar, they should have a sense of flow between individual parts, linking by common colors or textures or forms in repetition, building up to an entire composition that is either seen at once or slowly revealed by walking through it. But in contrast to a human body, a garden has different sides, as it is usually located around a building, so it isn't experienced all at once, nor are different sides compatible to identical design treatment. Residential design in particular, with narrow side yards, borrowed views, physical constraints of an urban setting, etc. allow for creating distinct vignettes that need not slavishly relate to the whole. Japanese garden design in particular emphasizes distinctively different garden experiences of scale, sun or shadow as part of the whole experience, particularly in tea gardens where rigid tradition and ceremony have established precedents for garden ritual experiences of established order of experience.

No two gardens are the same, and I could easily design multiple variations on the same garden using different plants, hardscape materials or in different layouts to change the feeling completely. However, I strongly feel that an individual garden will intuitively seem a better fit within its surroundings if it takes at least some basic cues from the locality, a different approach from much of current architectural design. At the same time, I enjoy contrasting the created garden with the surroundings, and don't necessarily try to replicate a natural ecosystem in the built garden. My vision for creating a garden is more about visual harmony, appropriate design for the local climate, meeting the spatial needs/constraints of the site, and drawing upon the world community of plants much as an artist ones a full complement of paint colors for any painting, to create something unique and harmonious.

How would you explain what it is that you are trying to do with your garden designs?


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

David, thank you for the pictures showing lines and textures. I'm not sure that I understand your answer to Tony's question regarding how to achieve unity in a larger landscape/garden setting and how to create movement between vignettes. Perhaps the blank wall is the unifying aspect but I'm not sure that a lineup of pleasing vignettes against the wall create a complete satisfying garden. Shouldn't the vignettes somehow relate to a larger focal point and purpose? If so, how do you accomplish that relation? Maybe that is a really basic question and I'm sure that there are an infinite ways to do it but an visual example or two could illustrate the concept.
Thanks again.


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Mon, May 23, 11 at 15:46

Steve, it would be easier to refer you to the photos of this same garden showing the entire area, to illustrate how a vignette relates to the larger garden. I was trying to use the analogy of the human body as a metaphor for how the similarities of the plants as a repeating element link the entire garden together when one steps back to see it as a whole. From a greater distance, it will be the massed repeating forms and color more so than the textural contrasts that unify the garden, which I think of as the "skin" that ties it all together.

I also find it a natural linkage between plants when they are similar in their needs; in this case, all had to be both shade and root competition tolerant because they were being underplanted below existing mature Coast Live Oaks, and also tolerant of drier soils between irrigation cycles, as our native oaks are intolerant of continually wet soils in summer. I also switched out the irrigation system on this front slope from uniform spray to targeted drip so that I could keep the immediate areas adjacent the oak trunks completely dry.

This wider view of the front garden is not really at a point where I would use it as a portfolio photo, as the limited irrigation for the oak's health has meant that the plantings have yet to really fill in. Typically, after a year's growth, almost any of my recent garden installations would be completely filled in; this section of the garden has been a tougher one for the new plants. I think you will be able to see that the vignettes of those two plant photos are just a subset of the entire garden, but repetition of plant forms, foliage colors, plant types(multiple layers of different succulents in this case), and repeating the monochromatic house colors with the choice of rock for retaining the slope by the sidewalk all reinforce a common experience. While the individual plants selected have nothing whatsoever to do with a native California Oak Woodland understory plant community, they are all quite well adapted to the conditions, and look "woodsy and shade tolerant" without screaming "exotic" in my opinion. Does the additional photo explain what I mean more so than the text?

Browse the other photos in the various Drager Garden sets on my Flickr account if you want to see how much the garden really varies from area to area. The east side of the house with the most sun is the most radically colorful portion of the landscape,(lots of orange against the copper house siding), and the rear garden slope at the back of the house/patio is also less monochromatic in use of plant colors, but still uses a lot of the same plants as here in the front garden. Fire safety issues and deer browsing tolerance as well as gopher tolerance were also prime selection criteria for plantings in this garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wider view of Drager Front Garden


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

This brings to mind conversations we have had in the past about which is best: working outwards from the details or inward to the details from a bigger perspective. Plant oriented designs tend to be the former whereas I favour the latter, I guess in part because I work in a part of the world where the climate plays a dictatorial role. When things start to grow here they take off like a rocket and annuals that have been raised in heated greenhouses dominate the summer scene, a stark contrast to the ugliness that prevails from November to April or longer. I favour designs that downplay this Jekyll and Hyde effect although a lot of people who have been starved of colour all winter want as much as they can as soon as they can.


What this means is that structure plays a big part for me, structural planting equally as much as land shaping and stonework etc. The planting vignettes are added as niches are uncovered although I would like to claim that this was all planned in advance.


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Tue, May 24, 11 at 12:36

Inward/outward, a summation of design approach that wouldn't have occurred to me as the basis for a starting point. I should probably point out that this was a well established existing house and garden that was almost 20 years old by the time I was consulted, and the spatial layout, structures, mature trees, etc were already fixed components of the garden. So yes, this design was mostly about improving the planting design to work better with the site conditions, and play off the architecture. It may sound contradictory, but I think I mostly work at both scales, micro and macro simultaneously when composing with plants, and also feel that the sculptural qualities and massing are important features to get the "bones" of the garden set.

I can appreciate how a winter with real cold and snow would be much different to design for, I've never done many gardens in such conditions except for adding some simple plantings here or there for winter second homes up at Lake Tahoe. Probably completely different to what your situation is, however, as the snow cover in winter may be 10 to 15 feet deep all winter, so really only the trees, mostly pines and firs and Aspens, register as part of the winter greenery.

I can understand the urge for color plantings after a long winter, just as I can also appreciate your rebellion against this from a garden design standpoint. In some ways, I think structural planting is more difficult to maintain in a year round gardening climate, as so many gardens here are so over-planted with fast growing plants, and size relationships are difficult to maintain without careful maintenance or thoughtful selection. This is even more of a problem in tropical gardens, which I have more experience with than a northern cold temperate garden.

It is always more satisfying to have a hand in starting a garden from scratch and having the budget and/or clients' willingness to use manipulated land forms and constructed walls/stone/etc to create a garden, but these days the opportunities and budgets for such work don't often come my way. Instead, it is more often a case of designing around fixed elements and using the planting design to make it more interesting.

Thanks Tony for giving your thoughts on your own approach, it seems to me that there aren't many professionals still following this forum that are these days. I think Michelle in Zonaldenial was a great example of a designer who used to post examples of her work repeatedly as teaching moments that illuminated her design approach and intentions.


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Planting design for structure

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Tue, May 24, 11 at 13:59

Another shot of this same garden, this time in the upslope back yard, which was the first phase of the garden redesign all around the house. Biggest changes here are well described in the photo, the 1' x 2' slate step pads were a replacement for some "too small and rather precarious" 12 inch round concrete step pads in this same location. I think it is more obvious in this photo that the macro view was the driving force in the planting design, and took advantage of the existing trees and Lysimachia nummularia ground cover to direct the selection and placement of new plantings to reinforce the existing. I.E., selecting shade tolerant plants to go under the Japanese maple, more water tolerant plantings to border the existing Lysimachia ground cover and Japanese maple, and reverting to more drought tolerant plants for the sunnier areas. I wanted this garden to have strong visual character when seen from inside the house, so I used broad sweeps of massed plants rather than small vignettes of individual plants. Again, fire safety was a driving design concern, so I used lots of succulents that don't increase the fuel load should another firestorm hit this neighborhood like it did in 1991.

Here is a link that might be useful: planting design for structure


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RE: Another example of using texture and line in the garden

David, thank you for the additional explanation and pictures. I will take some time to study them until I can see how various design principles are used. I do understand the unifying aspect of plants with similar environmental requirements and appreciate that in a garden design. Hopefully, after I study the pictures I can say Aha! or maybe ask some good questions.
Thanks also to Tony for the inward/outward clarification. I am very much oriented to working from the big picture toward details. I struggle to make things coherent working the other way around.
Thanks again.


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