By Kimberly Toscano
Whether your landscape follows formal lines or swooping curves, framing the garden in foliage allows the eye to move effortlessly through the landscape. In formal applications, plants provide rigid structure and order, carrying the eye along geometric lines. Free-flowing designs draw upon the fluid, branching nature of plant material to relax rigid lines, soften corners, and smooth edges. Though the end product differs significantly, both design styles employ plants to accentuate bed lines, create visual borders, and otherwise define space.
The use of plant “frames” in formal designs is readily apparent, while informal gardens call for a more nuanced approach. This design applies several framing techniques to bridge hard and soft surfaces, emphasize bed lines, and provide unity throughout the planting. The following tips will help you apply similar techniques in your own landscape.
1. Form and Function
The flowing, deep-cut foliage of Blush Pink™ Nandina fully frames the porch in this design, creating a gentle transition from hardscape and landscape. Layers of supple foliage break up the hard lines of the porch and visually soften brickwork. Plant form and texture play a big role in the ultimate function a plant will perform in the garden. Select plant material according to the desired visual style. Imagine, for example, if the porch in this design were framed in boxwood instead of nandina. The entire planting would take on a much more formal air.
2. Scale Savvy Transitions
In addition to texture, the scale of plant material used in a frame or border impacts the relationship between one space to another. In this design, a seamless transition from porch to landscape is achieved by matching the height of the plant material to that of the porch. When framing a space, select plant height according to the desired level of enclosure. Use tall plants to increase privacy or a very low border to define space while maintaining site lines.
3. Breaking Up Lines
The single row of Blush Pink™ Nandina lining the front edge of the porch opens up into a wide mass at the corner of the porch. Pulling nandina into the bed in a mass planting prevents the garden from looking too formal. While the porch is fully outlined in nandina, the massing visually alters the frame from a series of lines to a continuous planting. Along the front of the porch, pink-tinged blooms of White Blush EnduraScape™ Verbena carry the soft hues of nandina foliage into the bed, pulling the eye away from the linear planting.
4. Planting an Edge
This garden has a secondary frame, with the soft foliage of ‘Everoro’ EverColor® Carex edging the entire bed. With a strong tradition in formal gardens, plants have long been used to define bed lines. But edging plants also play a role in more natural designs, where curved lines and softer plant materials dominate. In this planting, warm strokes of golden foliage permeate the canvas, carrying the eye along the planting. Edging plants have a big job to perform, so they must be hardworking. Many edging plants are evergreen to provide year-long structure. Also look for plants with interesting foliage or long-season blooming. Scale is critical – edging plants need to be seen and seen around.
Blush Pink™ Nandina is repeated throughout this design to provide cohesion. The soft foliage provides filler in containers, further uniting the porch and garden. A second massing of Blush Pink™ in the side yard brings the planting to a tidy close. Repetition is an important aspect of garden design used to create rhythm and harmony. In addition to specific plant materials, try repeating colors, textures, or plant forms throughout the landscape.