When garden designers are creating planting plans, one of the key plant characteristics that we look at is their height. This isn't just the obvious point about not planting a majestic oak under the eaves of your house, nor is it about creating a neat appearance. Using plant heights strategically affects how the plants live with each other, and how you as the garden user are able to interact with the planted spaces in your garden.
Groundcover plants such as Periwinkle and Pachysandra provide a very low carpeting surface. Some species are even able to take a little pedestrian traffic, which can be key in a garden design. Obviously turf grasses are the clearest example of this, but remember there are alternative lawn surfaces such as Chamomile and Thyme. Groundcover planting can also be used in a garden design to accentuate the topography of a garden, and also to create patterns of different textures, shades and colours, for example within a gravel garden.
Shrubs and herbaceous plants below knee-height can similarly create a low expanse, just as groundcover planting does. This can be seen in group plantings of the same species of ornamental grass, for example. Garden designers and landscape gardeners enjoy employing this technique under trees to really highlight the architectural form of some trees. Low planting like this can also provide a logical transition between soft and hard landscaped areas. A hardy geranium is useful at the edge of a bed, for example, as it will tolerate being brushed passed or even having its outer reaches clipped up by a lawnmower!
Mid-height planting can play a similar role to a low fence or wall, providing a psychological barrier to boundaries within or at the perimeter of your garden. This could be for privacy, or it could be guide people away from driveways. Low and mid-height planting can both be used to anchor structures in a landscape too, be they trees or buildings.
Large shrubs and small trees can be used to break up and divide a space at a smaller scale than is possible with large trees. This may be important in a medium to large garden for example, where you want to clearly delineate one area in particular - perhaps the vegetable growing area at the bottom of your garden?
Large trees are considered in the same way buildings are, and they can be used to relate to them, or again be used to anchor them in the surrounding landscape. This may be useful for a newly-built house where you want it to appear part of the landscape, rather than as a building that has been dropped from outer space! There are certain helpful design principles that can help with this - broad buildings with shallow roofs are often best accompanied by fastigiate (narrow) trees; whilst narrow, pointy buildings can look good with broader, spreading trees around them.
Wherever your garden design or landscape gardening project is planned, be that Glasgow or elsewhere, plant and tree heght is a key consideration - speak to your garden designer or landscape gardener about it and look forward to a thoughtful garden design that will mature over time.
Tom Angel is a garden designer, Chartered Horticulturist and landscape gardener based in Glasgow.
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