We Americans eat a lot of mixed salads, don’t we? It’s at the top of most menus, and even McDonald’s offers a selection. Many of us—especially after the holidays—face salads for lunch as a sort of penance for overconsumption. Mixed salads are always a great way to improvise, use color and texture and contrast, and tell a kind of seasonal story. Your garden can be planned and assembled the same way you create a great-tasting salad for guests. Start with the basic ingredients, a bit of design principle, and add color and texture. It’s not hard because you use a mix of perennial and annual-blooming plant material, according to growing conditions and exposure.
Start with the ‘bones’ of your garden area. By bones I mean the elements—growing plant specimens and architectural aspects—that will anchor your plantings and remain year-round. (Think of them as the basic greens salads are built upon.) Conifers and other tall plants that are usually not deciduous are your best bet for plant materials that establish permanence in your landscape. The large pots shown here add further depth, solidity, and architectural interest, as well as fonts for seasonal color. Use shorter green plantings, such as these boxwood and rosemary for further shape and anchoring. Your annual color—the workhorses of the plant world—are plantings you change with the seasons. And they’re right up front, too, like these sun-friendly New Guinea impatiens.
Once you’ve placed your bones and anchoring plants, stay with the same idea, and put in blooming perennials, like this rudbeckia. Perennials, while not full of color for the whole season like annuals, are just what their name implies, lasting most or all of the year, and into the next. They won’t bloom for the entire time, but they grow often into nice drifts, and provide a bit of further visual interest and texture. Translation: they come with a subtle touch of chaos, which you’ll want to keep your garden from becoming too formal. Note how they seem to caress these dwarf ilex.
Repeat your elements throughout your landscape. Use the same cultivars and plants to create harmony. It also makes your planting area seem larger to use some of the same bones, perennials, and annuals. But you don’t want mirror images of each planted area. That would again inflict a kind of formality that you don’t want in your residential garden. Use some of the same plants, but plant them differently for further visual interest. Musical composers call this idea ‘variations on a theme.’
Why am I smiling in this photo? Simple: the entire planting—and it’s a large one—comes together with finishing touches of annual color and further green texture. I used the same design principle in each planted area, and much of the same material. I began with the bones, then moved forward and out, establishing simple areas for layered plantings of perennials. Then came the easy part: full-blown annual color. You don’t have to break the bank to have a great garden. Nor do you need vast acreage. All you have to do is begin with the basics of your mix, then add elements for texture and color and varied growth habits. Each part can be like the ingredients of a great salad, and you can change it up to please your palate. Good planting, like good food, is a visual pleasure.
Live Life to the Fullest!
Chris H. Olsen