Plants have been a passion of mine since I was a teenager and I am fortunate to say that my interests have evolved into a career that centres around horticultural design and my knowledge of plant characteristics. To be a proficient planting designer you have to have a passion for plants. This is a creative process that requires vast knowledge, deep thinking and ongoing problem solving.
Because planting design is a relatively new subject which is expanding rapidly, ongoing education is vital to ensuring that created designs are current, fit for purpose and knit into the context seamlessly. Knowing how high a plant will grow and what flower colour it will have form the tip of the metaphorical iceberg that is the planting design process.
Speaking as a landscape architect, it always surprises me that planting knowledge is not in high demand within this profession, whereas knowledge of other skills, such as the adobe suite, is. It is a skill that separates us from other sectors of the design world (graphic design, architecture etc) and ultimately is the creative process that is showcased in many of our carefully planned schemes. Perhaps this is because planting can be seen as something that is hard to tame and uncertain once left out of our hands? Or could it be that the complexity of planting is hard to understand? I am not sure of the answer myself. Please send in your answers on a postcard….
Anyway, back to the topic in hand. For any planting design to be successful, make sure that you know the site proposals, the context, the perceived microclimates and the wishes of the client. Without a full understanding of these factors, all further decisions in the design process are approximations. This will involve strong communication skills as well as an ability to analyse aspects of the landscape and the links between differing genius loci. This will naturally lead to an informed plant palette fit for purpose. I find that the best place to start with a planting palette is to set out key design principles across the site. This may involve splitting the site into sections. This way you can think of the styles what will bind the landscape together as well as the show stopping focal points. This could be the use of a particular plant species, an architectural plant, or entire colour scheme. In many cases you may find that this is the evergreen structural plants. It is also important to consider the whole range of plants available to us in the modern word and not just those that we are fond of. Sometimes a plant (or plants) might be needed that can knit together a planting scheme and help the more prominent plants to shine.
I am also a person who likes creating lists and I find that when it comes to thinking about different plants for different microclimates, I choose to list each microclimate and each of the plants in my planting palette which will survive (and hopefully thrive) there. Microclimatic conditions, to speak briefly, include sunlight shading, moisture retention of soils, wind conditions and minimum temperatures expected in winter. Sometimes you will find that more tender species can be left outside during winter if they are next to a south facing wall or a house that is letting off heat. I find that a common mistake that is made is that plants are thought about as looking their best throughout the year. For instance, plant selections may be made based on the flower colour of summer flowering plants, but not much consideration is made for how they will look in other months, and if there are plants adjacent that will continue the show. If the layers of planting that make a planting bed exiting all year round are not considered then only a very one dimensional planting plan can be created. For this reason it is always best to think in a timeline Thinking to a timeline that runs in a 12 month cycle will really help to ensure that plant interest will be on show for the whole of the year. The indicative plant timetable below runs in a 12 month cycle with the berries of Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Orange’ showing throughout the winter months, until the pink flowers of Bergenia cordifolia and white of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ display to see in Spring. Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’ continue the flowering display until the highlight of Santolina chamaecyparissus and Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ produce their long lasting display of contrasting colours.
What’s more is that this scheme also includes a number of evergreen plants with different leaf structures that will provide a foil for the flowers and berries, providing continuous interest all through the year. For a closer look at some planting designs by Liz Lake Associates, please follow the links below:
The Grove hotel: The Grove Hotel
The Galleries: The Galleries, Warley Hospital
World of Golf: World of Golf
For further information on planting design, particularly the most common mistakes that can be made, the following article is very interesting: http://landarchs.com/10-of-the-most-common-mistakes-people-make-in-planting-design-and-how-to-avoid-them/