how to design without it being a hodge podge?

elschApril 26, 2010

Hi there everyone. After gardening a small city lot for many years I finally am moving to a quarter of an acre, part of that is a big backyard which is just a large square awaiting my plans.

My conundrum is I like to grow a lot of different plants, but want it to flow together rather than be a hodge podge. Having a more classic design will not afford me as much variety and I definitely prefer an informal style anyway; but I want it to be restful. They say planning it out on paper is the key, but I just can't get myself to do it, I like moving around the potted plants in the border , but still its hard to picture it all filled out.

I am especially partial to conifers, roses, and low water easy care shrubs and perrenials that thrive in CA. I am trying to find a way to design it to tie it all together with a bit of repetition(maybe dodoneas , variagated pittospourm placed every so often with a gray eding tying it together, but leaving enough room for me to plant my collection of roses and conifers and the native shrubs and dwarf citrus I want to grow ...

How can I fit my plants in yet have it seem like a non collectors garden?

Any ideas are appreciated.


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I understand how you feel...The way I've done this is by color:

I picked 2 complimentary colors, in my case white and pink/lavender, and planted a variety of plants with varying heights and widths in the same color family - I have lantana, daisy, osteospermums and geraniums - all in the same color family. They all flower at the same time, and make a beautiful display for me right up until fall. I threw in a couple focal points ( a purple japanese maple and a purple fountain grass ), and it completed the area. I also put in alyssum for groundcover.

Next dedicate an area for your roses, again grouping them either by color or bloom time and throw in your conifer to provide a backdrop..

It would be easier if you first finalised all your plant choices and then group them by characteristics/water-light requirements.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 1:13PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Elvie, are you dissing my hodge-podge?

I'm like you- I can't imagine the way a garden looks when it is on paper. I must see the plants in place, then with the limited amount of vision I possess, I try to imagine them fully grown. Never works, though.

I just went on a garden tour, and one thing I noticed was that people plant large groups of one kind of plant instead of trying to "tie it together" (like I do by putting one pink iris there, one here). I found it very effective.

I also noticed that people divided their large yards into sections separated by favorite shrubs.

If you can imagine your yard without a lawn, you may also find that you have more ideas and possibilities.

Finally, people on the Perennials Forum seem to have many ideas.

I'm happy for you that you finally have a large enough canvas for your garden dreams.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 1:50PM
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Hodge-podges occur when gardeners pick plants and then try to find a place for them. Sounds universal, yes?

Landscape design is about creating spaces and then, when the "design" is all done, fitting appropriate plants into those spaces.

Trying to take an existing landscape and making it less hodge-podge isn't the best way to design but "tying it together" is a part of the design process, actually one of the key principles of design. It's called repetition, rhythm, continuity or unity. And it can be applied to an existing landscape.

It's a matter of taking one, two or three elements -- whether they be actual specific plants or simply colors, textures or even hardscape elements -- and using them throughout the landscape, usually in masses or sweeps but sometimes singly and simply repeating them. The elements must be used in numbers, of course, that are significant and noticeable. You already recognize this.

Adding to (multiplying) what you already have and really like is a simple solution. TAKING AWAY some of the "hodge-podge" is often a better answer but sooooo painful to the real plant lover.

Another bigger principle of landscape design is the concept of "activity areas". We can call them "rooms" (as Renee alluded to). This allows us to place plants (and other elements) of differing "feels" into smaller places where they all seem to visually mesh together naturally.

Having a collection of plants, especially when well grown, is quite nice. But it's not a "landscape design". Creating a nice design with enough elements -- including plants -- to make it interesting, is our challenge.

elvie: if you live anywhere near the San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria area, why not sit in on my "Landscape Design" class this fall?


    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 4:53PM
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I didn't really succeed in it not being a hodge-podge and the roses only exist because they were already there against the back brick wall, but this is my mix of xerics, conifers and a few roses (that are one more case of rust away from being tossed for NZ tea trees or lavateras).

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 1:41AM
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Dicot, I think Lavateras would like nice there. I have a maritime and cut it back last fall to about 3 feet high and wide. Its at least 6hx8w feet now.

elvie, I planned mine on paper and cut out some pictures to design. So many things to consider but I mostly used drought tolerant or natives.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 8:03PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

One more tidbit is that you should plant in odd numbers (3, 5, etc.) instead of 1 of this, one of that, unless of course, it's a specimen plant.

Also, I've read that you should pick 3 colors and stick to that, repeating it

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 11:51AM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

Start with a focal point: a specific part of the yard that the eye should be drawn to. Consider placing your most impressive specimen plant there. Many landscapes fail to hang together as visually cohesive compositions because they have competing focal points or none at all. In order to avoid the one-of-everything dilemma, make sure that you get something besides specimen plants. Most good-looking gardens are at least 50% plain-Jane work-a-day plants that do nothing other than support the intended focal point and sit there looking green.
Sometimes it helps to take long lengths of rope or garden hoses to "draw" different spaces or zones within a larger landscape. That way you can start to visualize the actual dimensions of planting area you have and the plant dosage that can be accommodated by each. Dry to avoid straight lines, particularly in walkways that join one zone to another. Having a garden that in not visible in its entirety from the house and slowly unfolds as you work your way through it is one approach, though your property really isn't that large.

You'll also have to decide how you want to use the space. Do you want an outdoor room for entertaining or grilling? Do you want a water feature? Or is it for botanical interest only?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 9:07PM
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Thanks for all your feedback everyone, its helpful!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 1:30AM
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What a great opportunity! Congrats! I hope you will also consider varying the terrain heights [hills and dales, so to speak] You might want to take a yard chair and sit in various parts of the "empty canvas" to get the feel of how different parts ['rooms' is a good concept]look at different times of day. [light, street noise, etc], Then another way to visualize these nooks and crannies .. lay out perimiter of beds with flour .... much easier to 'move' a bed if it doesn't quite fit. And also, please consider how some of these 'nooks' will look from inside the house. I find the "Secret Garden" look very peaceful. Little tuck-away nests to sit and enjoy the roses or whatever favorite flowers. Anyway, as you can see, your opportunity is fun to think about. Hope my 'hodgepodge' of ides will be helpful.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 4:25PM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Lucky you, OP! You get more space to garden in!

This may seem an odd recommendation considering you now have more space, but I found the following book enormously helpful.

Natural Gardening in Small Spaces by
Noël Kingsbury

I rarely read gardening books from cover to cover, but I did this one. I found little nuggets of information about gardening style, concepts, pitfalls to avoid, etc., that I think could certainly apply to larger areas, too. It was also presented from a practical standpoint and wasn't heady in its approach, which was refreshing. He also addresses waterwise and native plant issues that are important to Californians.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 5:18PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I have to agree that using the same plant over and over is not pleasing but boring. There should be another way to create a tied together look without over repetition I do have some repeating plants, but I would not buy five of the same bush. I think one should show case a variety of plants, and different plants create a new mental challenge. I think the hodgepodge results from planting too close together. Many people do this because they think they are drowning out weeds, but you still have to weed in between the plants. If you have a huge variety all crowded together you get a hodge podge. I like bigger specimens show cased and complemented by small plants near by.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 1:44PM
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davissue_zone9(z9 Sunset 14)

One way to get away with being a plant collector (which is what most gardeners are, that create a hodge-podge style) is to have a strong symmetrical hardscape, and then plant with abandon. The famous partnership of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, who created gardens of astonishing beauty at the turn of the twentieth century, provide a good example of what I am describing. The formal framework helps to make sense of what would otherwise be a chaotic mass of plant material. There are several good books that have pictures of the gardens these two designed, that you could probably find at a good public library. I toured England about fifteen years ago, and was struck by how many famous gardeners have utilized this principle- Sackeville-West, Hobhouse, Verey and Lloyd all have applied this technique with great success.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 1:05PM
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surfcityhb(10, Sunset 24)

Repetition is an important element in garden design, but you don't have to repeat a specific plant--you can repeat with either form and/or color to achieve a cohesive feel.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 2:20PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

So Elvie, how's that new garden?

'Hodge podge' could describe our backyard. I like a lot of different plants, especially those with scented foliage. I also dabble in collecting various Salvias and scented Pelargoniums. I try to create unity by repeating one or two plants, or groupings, in each large area but don't always succeed at it. Generally, I 'design' around a single color, blue (purple, lavender, violet, etc.). by incorporating complementary colors around it. I also like shrubs and large perennials that have a lax habit so their stems dance about in our afternoon breeze, as opposed to dense round shrubs.

I've been told by family and friends that they love to just sit in the patio and look at the garden areas, so I must be doing something right. I'm just happy they don't know the fundamentals of proper landscape design, LOL.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 12:52PM
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One of my favorite themes is the green and white enclosed garden with a small water feature. It works for medium and small spaces and even little tiny spaces. Start with tall plants or a wall with vines or tall plants against it and then add a medium height row and in front of that a low clipped hedge or a row of low plants. Finish off with pavers or bricks with creeping plants to fill the gaps. Put a water feature where you want the focus to be. Or you can create a view through a gap in the tall plants or wall of your house, another garden or a distant plant or sculpture.
Add chairs and a table or have a low wall wide enough to sit on. This is a very easy garden to design and looks fantastic all year long. You can dress it up with flowering pots for the holidays or just leave it green and white for relaxation. The plant choices are endless.

I strongly suggest a windbreak or wall of some kind and a few large trees. Work out from there making distinct little areas.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 9:13PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

kitty - that sounds beautiful. I'm going to try to create a space like that in one of the few shady areas of our backyard.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 1:58PM
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