Layer Your Landscape: Advice for Getting a Lush Look
Grow a garden from the ground up.
Tropicals like 'Toucan Coral' cannas repeat the colors in gerberas 'Hello! Miss Scarlet' and 'Hello! Pumpkin,' and Supertunias 'Really Red'.
Adding layers to your garden is a bit like making pasta for dinner. You could serve a dish of nothing but cooked, drained noodles—but why? Top it with layers of sauce, meat and cheese, and your dish becomes lasagna, a delightful mix of textures, colors and flavors.
Planting a landscape in layers adds colors and textures, too, and "flavors" of vertical and horizontal interest. When you grow ornamental trees, evergreens, grasses, shrubs and/or flowers from the ground up toward the tree canopy, you'll always have something attractive to look at.
As the seasons change, different plants will go in and out of bloom, or change leaf colors, or drop their foliage altogether to show off interesting forms and bark. A layered landscape also creates a habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
If you use layers around your foundation, avoid putting shrubs where they'll block windows, and don't grow trees where their roots can cause damage. Arrange the plants so the overhang of your roof doesn't keep them from getting enough sun, rain and air circulation. As you add layers, move away from the foundation and into your yard.
Tall grasses make a backdrop for angelonias 'Super Pink' and 'Super White,' and 'Silver Bullet' artemisia. Sweet potato vines 'Sweet Carolina Bewitched Green with Envy" provide a footing for the layers, while 'Magic Show' veronica add dashes of purple.
For a natural, informal look, stagger the heights of your plants. For a formal look, you'll get more impact if the plants are the same size, shape and color, like a row of white hydrangeas backed by evergreens or conifers.
Design Tips for a Layered Look
1. Use repetition. Before you plant, sketch out a design. It’s nice to repeat one plant for a sense of rhythm, and to help draw your eye through the garden. If you prefer, repeat several different plants. They don’t have to be the same size, but for best results, stay in the same color family.
2. Mind your budget. Even if your budget is limited, try not to skimp. Without enough plants, your layers will look thin and scraggly. Ask friends and neighbors if they’ll share when they dig their bulbs or divide clumps of perennials, or start the seeds of fast-growing annuals and transplant them later.
3. Adjust for scale. Check tags and labels to see how big your plants will be when they mature. Follow the recommendations for spacing them, so your garden doesn’t get crowded as time goes by. (It’s fine if your plants overlap a little, or gracefully drape over each other, but you don’t want them to look overgrown.)
4. Make the top layer. Before you plant any trees or tall, upright evergreens for a top layer, find out if and when they bloom, bear fruits or nuts, and change colors in fall. Keep their seasons of interest in mind when you plant, so your garden won’t go through long periods when there’s not much to look at.
5. Add more layers. Shrubs are the backbone of your middle layer, and they come in an amazing variety of leaf colors and shapes. Use complementary colors and shapes, so your design doesn’t look chaotic. Try evergreens, like boxwoods and some hollies, for a backdrop of greenery year-round. Flowers in shorter layers will pop out against them.
When you choose flowering plants, think about when perennials will bloom, so you can keep the show going. Good choices include daylilies, coneflowers, Shasta daisies, yarrow, dianthus and many others. Add annuals for longer lasting color.
6. Fill in bare spots. Use clematis, Carolina jessamine, mandevillas and other vines to weave in and out of branches or clmb trellises or fence posts. Patch bare spots in the soil with spring and summer bulbs or groundcovers like creeping Jenny, Scotch moss and creeping thyme.
7. Finally, add some garden décor, a hummingbird feeder, birdhouse or bird bath, and sit back and enjoy your garden.