How and why you should plant multiple plants and which plants to combine in your garden
SOMETIMES MORE IS BETTER. Planting in multiples, often referred to as massing, creates excitement in a garden. I’m not talking about monotonous beds with single plant plantings, but about creating a composition with a limited community of compatible plants and a large number. How large? This of course depends on the size of your garden.
Richard Hartlage is founding director of land morphology, a landscape architecture firm that designs and implements magnificent landscapes – think public gardens, private estates and artistically planted urban spaces. “We plant en masse in designing contemporary landscapes where the client is looking for simplicity and impact,” says Hartlage. Drifts of ornamental grasses, underplanted with bulbs for seasonal interest, feature prominently in these Land Morphology designs. “Only the longest-lived plants with multiple seasons of interest work in this scenario,” he adds.
You don’t have to have a big yard to make a splash. My front yard is far from spacious, but that hasn’t stopped me from planting swathes of blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis); Apricot Sun Rose (helian theme ‘Cheviot’); and some small, round shrubs, like Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ and a variety of Heather. The flowers of Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) wiggle among the lash-like flowers on the grasses all summer.
Planting numbers are scaled to my small garden with clusters of six, not 60. The color palette is limited and the plants have been chosen for delicate textures and continued interest, as well as similar cultural needs. Filled with movement, blooms and colorful foliage, this border looks great throughout the growing season (can I tell?) but requires the least maintenance of any plant in my garden. I can just enjoy it.
Gardening in the dry shade can be challenging. So why not simplify and eliminate repetitions of hardy plants like bishop’s caps (epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’), autumn fern (Dryopteris Erythrosora) and blackmoon grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)? These drought tolerant, almost evergreen perennials can hold their own individually, but interwoven together they form a dramatic ground cover that is both beautiful and durable.
want more? I love developing plant recipes.
Set up a wide planting bed with low mounds of fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale) between erect stands of switchgrass (Panicum Virgatum) and white Japanese anemones (Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’) for a pleasant and soft composition. Prune the plants back in late winter and apply a fresh layer of mulch to set the stage for a carpet of cheerful daffodils. In late spring, flushing new growth on the grasses will fill in the remaining gaps left by the bulbs. Pro tip: Deciduous grasses and daffodils are always a winning combination. Wiry stalks with pure white flowers atop the anemones appear in mid-summer through fall. A clump or three of beautiful royal lilies would add a heavenly scent to the mix.
Don’t think you have to limit mass plantings to herbaceous perennials. Generous swaths of groundcover roses create a neat border or can fill a slope with continuous bloom. Roses not your thing? Nothing says summer like a long border of blooming hydrangeas. Panicle hydrangeas, also known as PeeGee hydrangeas, are easy and dependable. White cone-shaped blooms mature into gorgeous shades of rose and wine as summer rolls into fall. Unlike Mophead hydrangeas, PeeGee hydrangeas flower on new wood, eliminating any pruning concerns. Hard position recommends Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’, a dwarf version of the popular ‘Limelight’, due to its compact habit and extremely long flowering period.
Are you ready to plant multiple plants? At first glance, limiting your planting (and buying) impulses may seem restrictive. Think of this planting strategy as an organizational framework, and then layer in details as you see fit.