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Colours + elements of design in the garden

hedge wall 2

Buying plants and digging in the dirt is the easy part. The time-consuming part has been deciding which plants. Our front yard is a blank slate, and I’ve spent considerable hours reading about Aus/Tas natives, among others, and determining whether they’ll like my yard. Size, light and soil requirements are what’s kept the list manageable, but the visual elements have left me hemming and hawing over my options.

However! It doesn’t have to be so exacting that you can feel your brain turning inside out. Plants play nicely with one another in general – thanks, nature. I’ve just been keeping some basic elements of design in the back of my mind: size, shape, texture, colour, repetition, unity.

Size. how big does everything get? Will plants crowd out one another once they reach full size?
Shape. Conical, round, standard, compact, weeping, ferny?
Texture. Feathery, spiky, glossy, leafy?
Colour. Will there be a colour scheme – warm, cool, complementary…?
Repetition. Repeating forms, textures, colours, whether in mixed plantings or mass plantings.
Unity. The sense of a coherent whole, often helped along by repetition.

aus foliage colour
(via Kim Pearson)

I’ve been choosing plants based on interesting foliage rather than spectacular flowers. The arrangement won’t be as showy in spring-summer, but it’ll still look good then and it’ll continue to look good throughout the cooler months. Australian natives, as well as other temperate southern-hemisphere plants, have some pretty neat textures. In particular, strap-leaf plants and leucadendrons have bright, unusually-coloured foliage in reds, pinks, yellows and purples.

plant textures
Lomatia tinctoria – guitar plant / Grevillea ‘Fireworks’ / Aulax cancellata – channel-leaf featherbush
Calytrix tetragona – fringe-myrtle / Phormium tenax ‘Dark Delight’ / Acacia cognata ‘Limelight’

Close-up shots of what I’ve planted and their textures. Lots of finer-leaved plants, no broadleaf plants. None of them are prickly; that was one of my top considerations! The aulax and acacia are particularly soft to the touch.

yard plan

As for sizes and shapes, I’ve been testing them out in 3D. To be precise, in Sweet Home 3D, which is basically an offline version of Floorplanner. It’s easy to use and to change the given perspective. Using a modelling program makes me feel like I am way over-thinking every lousy row of hedges, but it doesn’t take long to pop them in and figure out how the sizes relate to one another and how many plants you need.

hedge wall 3
hedge wall 4

Again, here’s how that front hedge looks in person. It looks underwhelming and dinky right now, so I can’t wait to see how they look when fully grown. (It’ll also look better with edging and a new wall, but shhhh.)

plant colour palette

I’m still figuring out gardening, but one thing I can bring to my yard is a solid understanding of colour. (Or C-O-L-O-R, as it’s been my whole life and in my heart of hearts.) So I thought I’d put together a quick palette to see how everything would work together.

The foliage sits in a triad. Lots of green, of course, broken up by purple (flax) and orange-red (aulax). The flowers come in warm tones – reds, yellows, pinks – and they don’t all appear at once.

(via Brendan Moar)

Chilled out space, huh? The foliage here is an analogous mix of greens, blues and purples. They blend and harmonise well.

garden not drawn

And again, back to our sad yard. One more look at the hedge. All those miniature lil’ baby plants.

garden drawn

And here’s a “render” of what my yard could maybe look like. I’m posting this rather than a shot from the 3D program because the 3D Warehouse selections look even less like the real plants. I could learn something more professional and make my own, but what am I, a wizard? Also, I like drawing.

Am I overthinking all this? It feels like I’m overthinking this.


9 thoughts on “Colours + elements of design in the garden”

  1. I suspect you’ve had a lot of fun “over thinking” this. I think you have a bit of a knack for gardening and your use of technology is very clever! I’m a beginner, but I do think that some of the best gardens are those that evolve. Luckily for me, it is not necessary to get it all right at the start.

    1. Guilty, I did enjoy mucking around with this! I just wanted to share my thought process so far. You’re right about letting gardens have the chance to evolve, gardening is nothing if not delayed gratification 🙂

  2. Overthinking is part of the fun of planning the planting. I just wish there were programs like that when we were planning our yards. Do you remember? I was checking all kinds of books out of the library to see what plants would work and the benefits of some grass vs total xeriscape.

    1. Yeah it’s pretty crazy trying to decide on plants in an unfamiliar region! All your plants are still going strong, so the research must have paid off.

  3. Hi there Steph,
    I’m a fine embroiderer in Melbourne. I’m moving into stitching flora of the Australian bush. It’s what I *want* to stitch. I’m at the stage where I’ve learnt enough to confidently develop my own direction. It’s really exciting 🙂 I learnt fine embroidery in English 17thc stumpwork embroidery so it’s quite a change in design rules, motif design and colours. I’m researching the colours of the Australian bush at the moment both in real life and online.
    When I saw your colour palette come up on google/image, I wanted to see the source immediately, coz I wasn’t expecting those particular tones. I really enjoyed reading your post. You like doing reseach too. You wrote it just over 2 years ago – I hope that you have some great growth happening. And thankyou so much for the addition of those colours to my new palette.

    1. Hi Megan, I’m so glad I got to hear from you. 🙂
      Your work sounds brilliant, wow. I’d be interested to see traditional English techniques applied to imagery of the bush. Are you on Instagram by chance?

      To be fair, the orange and purple – Aulax and NZ Flax – aren’t native, as you probably realised immediately. And two years after this post, my Aulax is long gone, my soil might have been too heavy for them. (I’ve also since learned about soil breakers and nurturing plants with Seasol to establish them.)

      I’ve since planted a Woolly-bush and a Net Bush (Calothamnus), both native, both of which are a very soft, silvery-green with fine needles. That tactile quality appeals to me.
      If you’re curious, this is my calothamnus in flower:

      Best of luck with your research and projects going forward!

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