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Even though your garden may be segregated, unified, and balanced, it will be uninteresting unless its important aspects are accented. Broad simple effects are desirable but they can be flat and dull. The selection and placement of accents for emphasis is important.

plate 11a
Plate 11a. Well placed accent plants provide change of line and hence interest in an informal shrub border.
1. Prunus divaricata Pissard3. Juniperus chinensis Pfitzer
2. Juniperus chinensis4. Abies concolor

There are several easy ways to avoid monotony. An important location may be accented by a change of line. Consider how dramatic is the silhouette of a tall, emphatic cedar placed so as to rise above lower, more rounded shrub masses, or how impressive a group of three conifers can be when set as the terminal feature of a long axis, or how attention is drawn to the spires of garden lilies, foxgloves, and thalictrum rising among masses of phlox in the border. The eye inevitably picks up these emphatic forms that change the monotonous undulating line and is pleased by the more interesting composition that results. (Plate 11a.)

plate 11b
Plate 11b. Emphasis can be secured by a change of position of a plant.

Emphasis can also be secured by a change of position. A dogwood or crabapple may be brought forward and planted groups of forsythia, mockorange, and viburnums; the fine-cut foliage of weeping-willows will be even more effective, for it provides change of line as well as differences of texture and color. In the border a peony with its coarse foliage breaks up as an isolated specimen which stands out from the long shrub group. In the herbaceous border, a group of tall plants may be brought forward from the middle ground and placed among iris, columbine, and Shasta daisies in the foreground. One of the ways of avoiding rigidity is occasionally to change the position of taller plants. (Plate 11b.)

plate 11c
Plate 11c. Accent can be secured by the use of contrasting foliage textures.

Accent can be secured by contrasting foliage textures. A coarse-leaved Hungarian lilac may be planted with such fine-leaved shrubs as spireas, or, conversely, a fine-foliaged cut-leaf birch may be planted to emphasize a mass of heavier lindens or horsechestnuts. The light-reflecting foliage of hollies is a beautiful contrast to soft-foliaged pine or hemlock. The coarse leaves of witch-hazel relieve the monotony of long narrow drifts of iris, phlox, or the feathery texture of flax, columbine, or Scotch pinks, which generally fill the foreground. The fine-cut foliage of a small group of thalictrum will give a nice feeling of change and emphasis when grouped with the sturdier phlox and hemerocallis. (Plate 11c.)


Contrast of color is the most common method of securing accent. It is less subtle than other means and not so lasting, for bloom is transient and must be repeated where it is used as accent. Blue anchusa and orange lilies create accent by strong contrast in June, but are of no value later. Other strong contrasts, perhaps veronicas with yellow and bronze zinnias, or broad groups of salmon-pink phlox Augusta with pale yellow hemerocallis or blue salvia will be needed for July and August. These last will probably carry over into autumn. Contrasting color in foliage is also a means to emphasis and of particular value in background plantings. There the strong color of a Japanese maple, Pissard plum, or the gray-green of junipers and cedars will be effective among the more usual green foliage. (Plate 11d.)

plate 11d
Plate 11d. Contrast of color is the most common method of securing accent.

Accent must be used sparingly. Overdone it creates a nervous exciting garden picture. If too often repeated, it will itself produce monotony. This is true when accent is used in rhythmic balance down a long garden. The most effective way to obtain accent is to break up large masses of similar plants, to lead the eye on through the garden, or to direct attention to the focal point or climax of the design.

Accent should never be used where it is not needed, and all plants chosen for the purpose should be outstanding. Always remember that an accent is in reality an exclamation point, and use it that way. Place accents so as to create interest through contrast in form, foliage, or color. Sometimes it is helpful to place accents first and build the rest of the composition around them.


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