Balance and/or repetition in the landscape

louisianagal(z7bMS)March 21, 2011

Well I am finally getting my yard (3/4 acre lot) fairly filled with plantings and I thought I was pretty happy with it. The front is pretty well balanced while not exactly symmetrical, there are nandinas throughout, and several pink KO roses sort of running thru the rest of the shrubs. In the back, I first had a sort of haphazard mixed shrub border with perennials in the very back "ridge" area, becoz I didn't want the sort of standard "everything symmetrical" look. But then it did not look balanced. So in the fall I moved several things around to more repeat and balance them. It is not exactly symmetrical but, for example, there is a holly on either side of the forsythia clump, and the ornamental grasses and spirea are more evenly dispersed. Next, I have a mixed shrub border with perennials on the left and right sides of the (back) yard. And I am just noticing that there is no repetition on the left vs right side of the yard. Either side is pretty by itself, but it just looks off. Now I am in a sort of panic and want to move shrubs around to sort of balance it; not exact replicas by any stretch, but some of the same shrubs on each side. What is your take on this sort of thing, how do you arrange your landscape, and Why Can't I Ever Get it Right the First Time???



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It is a constant challenge! Over the years things grow at different rates, and even during the different seasons the shapes, colors and textures constantly alter as plants bloom and die back.

So......even if you "get it right the first time" - it might not be "right" the next time you take a good look.

It is one of the things I love about gardening - It is never "done". Its alive and moving and you just need to keep dancing with it. (but dont move those shrubs to often - that cant be good for them!)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 7:01AM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

I think one thing to remember is to do what you like, and not what any rules say or what you "should" or should not do. Do what you like! If you like symetry then create it, if not, then do not! I have an asymmetrical front garden. It is balanced but not symetrical. There are many more shrubs on one side, and many more flowers on the other - however from any way you look at it, there is a balance of space and foliage so it works well to the eye. Not so great it winter, I admit, *would look better with more evergreens...they are tiny, and still need to grow, more need to be planted!!!). I like a pattern of repetition and not mass repetition - they are two ways of achieving a very similar "feel" although the 2nd "style" is not very popular and not much utilized at this time in landscape design. It works well for me on a smaller scale to do this, and be able to have a large variety of plants. Some folks less variety and more of a singluar type of plant to create less pattern, they find pattern too "busy". Mass repetition can be much more relaxing to the eye, especially when used in conjunction with open space. I like the energy of a patterened "one plant" garden.
So I think everything really depends on preference.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 9:32AM
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Another way I have accidentally created a rightness is similar to the way you describe using the knockouts. Repetition of an annual or perennial in a certain color.

On the other hand, I am very big on color, but a distinction foliage plant repeated in several places may provide some harmony...and if not, you have an excuse to keep gardening. Win-win.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 10:45AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I move stuff around all the time until I get it right. And that means what looks good to me. I don't believe in the "everything symmetrical" look. For instance the left and right side gardens in front of my house are totally different on each side and wouldn't look very good if I had tried to get them the same. Ignore the "rules" and please yourself.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 11:22AM
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Gardening is usually not an exact science in many ways as plants don't always live up to expectations, weather can wreak havoc on the best of plans, and things don't always turn out the way we see it in our minds. It's really much easier if one can relax and go with the flow a bit and accept less than perfect. *However* not everyone can do this and there is no judgement in this, we are all different and that's a good thing. Gardeners who need perfection and/or exact symmetry really need to hire a good landscaper and staff to complete this perfection (to save their sanity) but of course that's not always possible. :-)

So IMO what you could do before risking the health of your shrubs and doing a lot of perhaps unnecessary work is to take a lot of pics of the various areas of your garden. Pics have been invaluable to me both inside and outside my home to show me what areas really look like. It would also be easier for us on the forum to advise you if we could see pics of your garden.

Some things you might do before moving those shrubs is to buy various annuals and use them to try to balance the garden. Some annuals grow quite large in a short time and will almost approximate a shrub, especially if planted in groups. You can use them where you think you need taller plants. Some taller annuals (2' and taller) that might work are hollyhocks, snapdragons, heliopsis, sunflowers, some marigolds. I cannot advise you further on which annuals would be best as your season is very different from mine. Anyhow using annuals is a way to temporarily see how you can balance your garden to better satisfy your need to do so without as much work as moving those shrubs. You might later use perennials in their place or buy more shrubs so the ones you have can be left where they are, or continue to use annuals if you like them. In the past I rarely used annuals as I preferred a perennial garden but used them more last year and will continue to do so.

Oh, you will still have to carefully plan the color arrangement with annuals for the best appearance as color definitely comes into play for balance in the garden. I suggest buying started plants rather than growing from seed. Flats of annuals are often fairly inexpensive. Last year I bought several flats of several different annuals which helped with the continuity in my garden. I'm planning on buying several flats of petunias this year as I was so pleased with how well they did, how long they lasted in the fall, and the wonderful fragrance. They make great edging plants.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 11:27AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Slightly OT ... Organickitten, I noticed here and on another thread you called Louisianagal (Laurie) Natal. She's not. I am, lol.

Laurie, I have to confess I've never given balance and repetition a lot of thought. My garden just sort of happens, but all in all it's pleasing to my eye and that's what really counts. I'm sure my neighbor across the street probably has a fit looking at my front yard with my natural-shaped azaleas. Hers are all perfectly-formed meatballs with few blooms. I don't get that and she probably doesn't get me. C'est la vie.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 12:28PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I'm a bit OCD with evenness too. If one foot itches, well the other one has to be itched too, LOL. For me it isn't so much about planting the same things on both sides (since most all the beds are rounded or irregular-shaped), but color. I am obsessed with having an "even" amount of a certain color dispersed around the garden (main beds at least) at all times.

But what do YOU like? Does it bother you not having things "balanced", or do you think it might just look better to others that way? If evenness makes you happy that by all means go for it! But I wouldn't even bother re-doing it all if you arn't doing it for your own peace of mind, because you like it that way.

Ps. instead of re-doing the whole thing, could you maybe add symmetry by simply adding an edger (all one kind of plant) or something? I think that would add the repetition you are looking for without having to go to all the work of moving those big shrubs around...

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 1:03PM
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CMK- If one foot itches...LOL!

Laurie- I plant almost everything in mirror reverse, but no one seems to notice. It's not that apparent, because there's more than one garden area. The fairy garden is completely mirror reverse (it even has a path down the middle) the little garden under the trees is oval, but the center plants are singles and everything else is mirrored on either side. The kitchen garden is also very symmetrical, but when you're using herbs, blueberries and raspberries, with flowers and veggies, most people don't seem to notice!

If you do not want a 'formal' feel to your garden, continue your use of balanced shrubs...even if they're not the same shrub. I don't know what shrubs work in your area, but for example, a group of 3 forsythia could balance a group of 3 spirea...or you could have 5 spirea in the center, with 3 forsythia on either side. One is balanced, while the other is mirrored. Mirrored tends to be a little more formal, balance less so, IMHO :)

Here's the fairy garden (in the front) with tree garden behind.

Here's a closer view of the tree garden...the plants got much bigger over the summer, especially the Darlow's Enigma rose, in the middle!

Here's the fairy garden, from the other direction, later in the summer. Once the annuals were added, no one seemed to see the mirror reverse, in the plantings. They just thought it looked nice :)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 4:08PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

LL, LOVE that last picture of your garden with the sunlight in the background. What are the flowering trees in the first pic?
Hope you are feeling better ;-)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 6:22PM
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You all have given me alot to think about, and I will think more before I move anything around. I looked and looked this evening, and talked with my husband about it. We both like the right side of the yard, and it is the older, more mature side. The left side is all newly put in. So that's part of it. The drainage is worse on the left, so that's a problem for choosing plants. There is a beautiful flowering almond on the left and that just draws your eye over there, so that was a factor. So I'm not sure what I'll do but I did recently dig up a large clump of ornamental grass and divided. I can certainly move those smaller clumps and put some on each side for a sort of continuity, and maybe just adding some annuals would work. One big problem is there is really no where to add things, I am pretty well maxed, unless I make the beds deeper and I'm not sure I have the energy for that right now. Thanks for all good suggestions. Laurie/Louisianagal

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 8:59PM
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CMK- Those are Italian plums. They've been here a long time, these are two smaller trees, but the bigger one is one is on the other side of the yard (not in the picture). They were getting so hard to mow around, I put the garden under them (my mom does this a lot in her gardens). I am feeling better (root canal) thanks for asking :)

Laurie- Do you have any pictures of your backyard? I'd really like to see them!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 12:44PM
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