Garden design is far more than just choosing appropriate plants for the site and properly spacing them in well-prepared soil. It’s about creating an energy or mood that makes the owner or visitor feel comfortable and connected to the surroundings. As a garden designer, one way I do this is by selecting plants for their personality rather than just by whether they grow in sun or shade. I consider the demeanor that is portrayed through their weepy forms or jagged leaves. By looking at plants in terms of the personalities they convey, you can match them with how you want to feel in your outdoor spaces. For example, you might want to feel relaxed and unpretentious in your bedroom garden but upbeat and energized in your more-social backyard.
Identifying how you want to feel in the garden and personalizing that feeling is critical because what can set a specific mood for one person may evoke a different mood in someone else. A cool, soothing space might be a green lawn for one person and the understory of a large tree for another. The most effective use of plant personalities triggers personal associations and gives that “warm and fuzzy” feeling.
Just as what can trigger different garden moods varies from person to person, so does how we interpret and define plant personalities. If you look closely, however, you can pinpoint traits that make up a personality or desired effect. Certain characteristics, like a stiff posture, subtle fragrance, or colorful exterior, can clue you into the personality of a plant. Once you begin to recognize these markers, you can choose plants that have a personality that is calm, lively, or anything in between. Let’s take a look at five personalities that I regularly use to set a mood and personalize garden spaces.