Create Drama with Plants

Design with plants to create eye-catching drama in your garden.

By Justin W. Hancock


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Celebrate Color

    Here's a landscaping secret: Use plants in different ways to add interest to your garden. Make them subtle accents to highlight garden structures, such as a pergola; enhance a particular garden style with them; or treat them as bold, dramatic centerpieces by themselves. Here are other tips for adding to your landscape with plants.

    Hot colors, such as red, yellow, and orange are very visible from a distance. They stand out best in large groups of color against a green background or walls painted in cool hues. Or use splashes of these hot colors for dramatic accents.

    Cool colors, such as pink, lavender, and blue, stand out best when used to create a mass of color. They're great accents for the far end of the yard because they'll seem farther away. This can make your yard feel bigger. Soft, cool tones are also great in shade where they're seen better than more intense, darker colors.

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Take Advantage of Texture

    All too often, gardeners overlook the importance of plant texture. But using contrasting textures can be just as dramatic as using contrasting colors. For example, ornamental grasses and other grassy plants shine against large-leaf specimens such as Gunnera, canna, or banana. In shade gardens, ferns can offer an exciting textural contrast to hostas.

    Or use plants that have an interesting texture of their own. Even if it doesn't create a lot of contrast, highly textural plants such as Phormium, Japanese painted fern, or dwarf conifers can add excitement to beds and borders.

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Single Out Specimens

    Most planting advice suggests grouping plants together to create more impact. But using specimen plants by themselves can be even more dramatic. Choose plants that really make a statement, such as Melianthus, golden sedge, and tropical tree ferns. Give them a prime spot in your garden or grow them in large containers.

    Specimens can also be used as dramatic accents to mass plantings. If you edge your border with hosta, for example, drop in a specimen or two of Japanese forestgrass.

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Repeat Effectively

    Garden designers know how effective it can be to repeat an element in the garden. Plants are perfect for this. Use a series of mounded plants to create a beautiful line that draws the eye through your landscape, for example. Or repeat a plant or color in little bursts throughout the landscape.

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Select Soaring Plants

    In almost every case, the bigger the plant, the bolder it is in borders. Look for giants such as castor bean, angel's trumpet, or sunflower -- all of which can grow 6 feet or more.

    Don't feel as if you have to use them in the back of the border, either. Toss a tall plant in the middle of the border here and there to increase its dramatic presence.

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Employ the Unexpected

    If you have many of the same species in your garden, mix it up a little. For example, if you have a bunch of variegated hostas, add in a few that have a different variegation pattern (some with white leaf edges, for example, and others with white leaf centers). Or if you have lots of elephant's ear, add in one or two purple-leaf varieties (such as 'Black Ruffles' or 'Black Magic').

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