Garden Designers Roundtable: Design on the Diagonal

Anyone who has tried to learn the art of garden and landscape design has had the unifying principles of rhythm, and repetition branded in their brains along with texture, form and color.  I always found this to be confusing and way too much to think about in the fluid process that is my creative workflow.

What is less discussed and a too often missed is a simple tool I call ‘Love the Diagonal.’ My landscape design students get this drilled into their brains before any of the others because it can unify a design and create an emotive design experience without any of the others. The rule is simple: Use the other principles, but place the same or similar elements (plants especially) diagonally through a design.

Simple diagonal plant repitition

It may seem counter intuitive, the geometry, that is, but in the design process, the act of placing and layering elements in diagonal sequences can lead to a complex solution that is both fluid and natural. Several examples below illustrate this process.

Diagonal repetition of key plants

These elements will be visual guideposts as well as unifying features.  It really doesn’t matter what they are.

diagonal textural plant repetition

Always imagine a human experience.  What will the eye see and how will the senses work in concert with the act of moving through a space?  How can sight beckon and be the first  of the garden’s experiential moments beyond a ‘Wow’?  Not a singular focal point, but a siren’s song of visual clues.  Changes in color and plant choices can be made without even knowing what they will be until the very end.  It’s then easy to go back and edit, identify, and apply the other design principles to the planting design.

multiple design layers diagonals

 

Diagonal design in practice is an opportunity to create visual experiences while moving through a garden or landscape.  Gardens and landscapes, after all are about human experience.  Geranium x Rozanne repeated diagonally on the path in the example below forms visual guideposts to the patio beyond.  Color repetition between the yellow Hemerocallis spp. and the Rudebeckia spp. across the path lift the garden experience upward.  The fine textural and color repetition of the burgundy Berberis and Acer disectum pull that visual experience through the space to it’s conclusion.

Diagonal garden designOnce mastered, every planting scheme will look good.  Try the diagonal, next time you’re planning a design and ignore the rule of odd numbers too…

To learn more about design principles today, visit other landscape designer’s posts from the Garden Designer’s Roundtable series.

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
David Cristiani : It’s A Dry Heat : Albuquerque, NM
Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

 

Ornamental cabbages

Garden Color Inspiration: Violet, Plum, and Aubergine

I’ve been collecting images for this post for a while.  I wrote about pink a while ago and people either loved it or hated it.  There’s been quite a bit of chatter about what’s going to be the color of the year this year, and there are rumblings of pink or purple being the front runners.  Shades of purple and violet can be arresting in a garden. Unlike the pink post, this one includes plants.

Ornamental cabbagesFall container planting in shades of violet designed by Bruce Bailey from Heavy Petal Nursery.

image via Marie Claire

An aubergine stucco wall makes a dramatic backdrop for both brown and green.  This deep red-violet is probably the most restful of the purple family.

Purple mulch

image via Floradora

Although I’m not a fan of dyed mulch, this violet and pink path makes a bold statement, especially combined with apricots and oranges.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to this color family this time of year.  Violet, plum, aubergine and just about any shade of purple is a fantastic counterpoint to the oranges and yellows of fall foliage.  They are complimentary on the color wheel so they can also be quite garish.

Purple knot garden

image via Pinterest via John Glover

An analogous color story of violet and red-violet spins the traditional knot garden idea into something completely different.  Violet, plum, aubergine or just plain old purple can be serene or quite nutty depending on the circumstance it’s used in.  Below are three examples.  The first is transitional and calming, the second contemporary and frenetic, the third eclectic and welcoming.  Whichever, it’s a bold color choice, not for everyone, but in the right place…well all things have a place, don’t they?

image via HGTV

image via HGTV

Moroccan style purple entry

image via Marie Claire
Twig Fence at Terrain

Colorful Willow Fencing

This going to be filed under Duh. Why didn’t I think of that?  I even have the makings for it in my own Chatham, NJ home garden.  Every spring I copice my redtwig dogwood and only sometimes use the twigs.  No longer.

Twig Fence at Terrain

 A plain, yet traditional and beautiful twig fence can be a thing of drama and add a pop of color.  I’ve seen dozens in person and hundreds of images of these fences and took the one above for reference. But, duh! but I never thought of using color beyond the basic grey and brown.  This would be incredible in the winter landscape!

Red Twig Fence

 Image via Gary John/Flickr and Pinterest

Need some instructions to build one yourself?

 

Planting Design: Planting for Fall Drama

I never tire of visiting other people’s gardens. Good or bad they always have something to teach me.  This past weekend I visited two.  One in New Jersey and the other across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.  They both showcased ornamental grasses and their power to transform an autumn garden.

James Golden writes about his garden on a wonderful blog, View from Federal Twist.  He describes himself as a ‘new American’ style gardener.  What he is really is a an engaged and talented plantsman with an eye for design.  I previously visited and wrote about his Brooklyn garden for  Leaf  but leaped at the opportunity to spend a day talking gardens and design at his country garden.  It will be open for Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 19th if you want to see it in person.

James Golden Pond at Federal Twist Miscanthus and Sanguisorba Wave Hill chairs and grasses

After lunch and shopping for some hairspray (see the tale at the end of this post) we visited Paxon Hill Farm.  The display gardens there were glorious and interesting and full of fall ideas for planting.  It would be worth it to couple a visit here with the Open Days tour.

Pond at Paxon Hill Farm

 

Paxon Hill Farm Display Garden

Hairspray?  I suggested that James use it to keep some of the seed heads in tact that he wants to keep for winter interest without having to worry about self seeding.  Not the average garden tool, but it should work very well.  My preference is for unscented Aqua Net. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.