A variety of shapes can be the spice of a planting. In 1986, the author’s long border was awash in color, but it lacked definition. She revamped the border by adding plant shapes that gave it substance and depth.
Photo/Illustration: Sydney Eddison
Nineteen eighty-six was a wonderful gardening year for me in Connecticut. By mid-July, every inch of my perennial border was in bloom, and I was thrilled. It was just what I had been working toward for 20 years—a summer garden absolutely filled with flowers.
For one glorious month, my heart sang. But even as I rejoiced to see so many daylilies and daisies in bloom all at once, I began to realize that there was more to a beautiful garden than masses of flowers. Although the border was a sea of color, it lacked definition. Like the soft prettiness of extreme youth, its charms were fleeting because it had no form or substance.
Looking at the bed with a more critical eye, I could see it needed structure. The overall effect was colorful but flimsy, and there was too much soft, arching daylily foliage. I also noticed that most of the plants were of a similar height. While the sloping site afforded an element of interest, the measured rise from front to back was monotonous (photo, above). There were no surprises—no highs or lows or changes in pace. Nor was there enough variety among the flower shapes. They were either flat or trumpetshaped and all about the same size.
So I began making gradual changes. I started thinking in terms of the underlying shapes of the plants themselves, like cones, globes, mounds, spikes, fountains, and mats. I also started to seriously consider how the shapes related to one another. For example, plants that are strongly three-dimensional contrast with soft clouds of bloom, while spiky foliage provides an antidote to an excess of arching foliage.