When you see a great garden, you’ll usually find that it combines well-proportioned spaces for you to be in, with good plant pictures. By that I mean putting plants together using the same techniques that an artist uses to make an appealing picture – foreground and background, repetition and contrasts of tone, colour and texture, as well as a variety of forms that make a balanced composition.
Another thing a good garden should do is give you something that really ‘gladdens your eye’ when you arrive home, so I’ve been working on a plant picture for either side of my front entry stairs. There’s been a few different incarnations and several failures, but I think I’m getting close to what I want.
First – note the depth of planting bed I’m working with here. It’s about 1.5m deep x 1m wide so there’s plenty of room to have layers of plants. Beds that are too shallow, say less than one metre, are no good at all for making plant pictures. Unless they’re all bonsai.
Look at the forms I’m putting together here. A tall, domed shape creates the background; there’s both a spiky plant and rounded plant in the middle ground, and a sprawling, unshaped plant spreads out at the front of the square bed. Even if you just had the shapes, without their other attributes or colour and texture, they would make a pleasing combination.
Texture describes leaf and flower size, with coarse textures seeming much more prominent than small leaves. Here the large red leaves of the Iresine jump forward, with the small leaves of the native mint bush at the back, Prostanthera ovalifolia, and the foreground liquorice plant,
Helichrysum petiolare looking less noticeable. I did have the larger leafed species form of Helichrysum but it never looked quite right and, after trying to clip it into submission for several years, I bit the bullet and started again with this form, which works better and is so much easier to manage in this small space.
Next, I’ve gone for a variety of tone. Tone is what you see as light and dark, as in a black and white picture. Deep tones come from the dark-green Liriope ‘Evergreen Giant’ and dark pinky-red Iresine, and the light almost white tone from a small-leafed liquorice plant, Helichrysum petiolare called ‘Silver Mist’. (There’s also one sold as ‘Petite Licorice’ – their spelling not mine.) If you’re ever not sure why a plant combination doesn’t seem to work, try converting a photo of it into b&w, as it’s most likely a monotony of tone that makes it look uninteresting.
When it came to colour choices, I wanted warm and reddish colours in flowers or foliage. They’re always good in a ‘welcome home’ plant picture as red really attracts the eye, so I’ve chosen bloodleaf plant, Iresine herbstii, and a red form of the adorably-named freckleface, Hypoestes, as the aspect is to the south-west. Both plants like protected shade, so they sometimes flop about a bit on a really hot day when the late afternoon sun hits them but I can put up with that. Silver leaves on the Helichrysum and plenty of mid to dark green from the mint bush and liriope cool everything down.
So that’s my front entrance plant picture. The fat fluffy Buddha-looking fellow in the window is my cat Balzac, waiting patiently for me to stop mucking about outside and start the serious business of dinner.