Summer Story-Starter Ideas

June 15, 2015

Summer’s a great time of year to work on some garden design solutions, like how to make your garden beds look a whole lot better. Here’s a little of what works and why…

  1. Mass planting – the do’s and don’ts
  2. Tall plants to the back & short plants to the front
  3. Odd numbers of plants just look right


perennial gardens

Mass plantings of perennials of various sizes and textures creates a great overall look!

Mass Planting – the Do’s and Don’ts

Mass planting — as in choosing a plant and then filling a garden bed with lots of just that one plant — is a great approach. It’s a good-looking solution to the otherwise bitsy garden because it gives it design strength. It’s also a brilliant way to reduce maintenance simply because a mass of thickly planted plants tends to stay ahead of the weeds. But there are a few tricks to make it a huge success.


Tip one: It’s all in the selection. If you do a tiny bit of research on your short list of contenders you’ll avoid planting a lot of something that ends up being really unhappy – and unhappy plants tend to look pretty bad, or worse, dead. Your checklist should include the following: it is evergreen; does it look good pretty much all the time; does it grow to the right height so that there’s no need to prune it; will it cope with minimal water, fertilizers and or pesticides? As an example, landscapes architects plant a lot of Flower Carpet roses because it sails through the checklist. The secret is spotting a plant that’s fussy and then leaving it at the garden center.



A understory planting of Flower Carpet Pink Supreme with taller ornamental grasses and evergreens provides an easy-care landscape solution.

Tip two: Have some fun with mass planting. Create a single understorey block running along the drive or the path to the front door beneath any existing trees. Plant in several bold zones using a different species in each. If your home’s architecture is sympathetic, dig up your lawn and with just one plant (but in two colors), create a checkerboard effect.


Tip three: Whatever your plan, stick to it. What often happens is that we lose our nerve and at the last minute decide to mix everything up. Yes a freshly planted garden bed containing a single species will generate a lot of comment (you’ll find yourself defending the idea), but those comments will shift to surprised appreciation as everything settles in and grows together.


Tall to the Back & Shorts to the Front

This must be the most embarrassingly obvious garden-planting tip of them all, and yet people still manage to get it wrong. Plants naturally grow to different heights, the most obvious examples being the way we group them helpfully into categories like trees, shrubs and ground covers. Small children draw pictures and get this much right when they draw their gardens around the house – a tree at the back and the bushes and flowers to the front.


But by the time they’ve grown up and have the home and garden, people become distracted and the last thing they seem to think about when deciding what to plant where, is how tall it will grow. Here are two very worthy tips concerning height.



Textbook planting that looks fantastic with coleus at the front, cannas in the middle and the trees in the background.

Tip one: Don’t be misled by the size of the plant you see at the garden center. Most of the time these are babies (especially if they are seedlings) and they may have the potential to grow surprisingly tall. Take Tropicanna canna for example. It might only be a foot high in its pot, but once settled into your garden bed, it’ll shoot up to between four and six feet high. So rather than play a game of hit and miss (not to mention, garden musical chairs with a spade as you reposition everything), remember to check the label?


Tip two: Think about where you’re doing the planting and how it will look from every angle. In other words, say you have a garden bed running alongside the sidewalk. You’d probably plant the smallest plants facing the street with the tallest at the back. And that’s fine for your neighbors and other passers-by. But when you’re looking out across your front lawn towards the street, you’ll be looking at just the tall plants because you can’t see past them to the other lovely shorter plants facing the street. Obviously some thought is required and the solution is easy… tall things to the middle of a bed and others set in layers out towards the edges. A circular garden bed in a lawn in a classic example where the tallest plants or specimen tree is at its center and the other plantings fall like a skirt from the center to the lawn’s edge right the way around.


Odd Numbers Just Look Right

This is the universal secret to a garden planting that looks good every time. Whether you’re creating a classic English-style perennial border, a cottage garden or just re-planting a garden that needs refreshing, here’s the trick. Plant in groups of three, five, or seven. It’s that straightforward.


Mass planting

This planting works not only because there’s a balance of green, gold and purple, but also because there are at least three plants making up each painterly show of color.

For example, take the cottage garden bed. Set out your plants in odd groupings – three Rock & Roll Alstromeria here, seven Globe Allium, five white Snow Storm agapanthus there, three Flower Carpet roses further along, nine pansy seedlings, five peonies, etc. Take into consideration their mature size when positioning them, then plant the whole lot for a fantastic result. Regardless of how bright and clashing the colors may end up being, or how all-over-the place the flowering times may be, the odd numbered groupings will bring it all together to produce a naturalistic, charming result. It’s the same situation when filling gaps in existing garden beds that already contain some plants. Just spot where the holes are, then fill these with groupings of an odd number of the same plant. It’s a remarkably good fix that comes with very little disruption and effort.



Click here for a downloadable version of these story starter ideas.

For high resolution images for these story starter ideas, visit our Plant Portfolio pages or contact Judith Brower at

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