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Some Lesser Rules

GARDENERS of some experience who are ready to work for rather finished effects will also consider other elements of design. Scale, texture, mass, and line properly used bring distinction and subtlety to garden composition. Whenever possible, attention should be given to these matters, especially when you make the yearly revisions which bring your garden ever nearer to perfection.


In a garden composition, scale is the relative relationship of the apparent size of plants and objects to the garden and to each other. The smaller the garden, the smaller should be the beds and the plants that fill them. The small garden of intricate beds, which is viewed from a terrace or porch at a higher level should not be planted with tall hollyhocks or the rank-growing hardy asters, or coarse-textured peony, mullein, or anchusa. It is the place for refined and dainty plants, those used for “bedding-out” such as heliotrope, verbena, dwarf snapdragon, the airy graceful columbine and flax, or the low-growing, more compact dianthus, coralbells, candytuft, pansies, and violas. These may be sparingly accented by smaller groups of summer-flowering bulbs like montbretias, lycoris, or tuberoses, or with potted geraniums, fuchsias, or lantana. Here is the place for those precious combinations of plants that may be lost in a larger garden, scillas and snowdrops, primulas and dwarf phlox, and the more unusual or newer annuals like the ruffled tetra or dwarf nanum snapdragons, ultra-modern calendulas, or novelty petunias.

Scale in the small garden has a bearing on the enclosing wall, fence, hedge, or shrub groups. The small garden can be easily dwarfed by such things. A wall too high, a planting too robust or coarse in texture will seem to encroach too much and restrict the garden so as to produce a feeling of claustrophobia.

Greater leeway is possible in the larger garden where the planting spaces are broad and long, but even here you must be conscious of scale in the size of plants and in the size and spread of groups. Whether to introduce small trees and large shrubs into such a planting area is a matter of scale. By its proper understanding and use the garden can be made to look larger, or smaller.

The climactic effect of the main feature will also depend on scale. It must be of just the right size for the garden, neither large and overpowering, nor small and insignificant. The areas around it must likewise be in scale. Our gardens must not be too closely contrived, too “tight” in design, or too thickly planted.

  • Texture – Texture is created by the relative size of foliage units and the way the foliage is displayed or hung on the plant.
  • Mass – Mass is a powerful means of building up to climaxes, heightening interest around terminal and other focal points, and relieving monotony or flatness.
  • Line and Form – Beginning with that imaginary center line or axis, strive to develop an attractive pattern, made up at this stage entirely of lines.
  • Planting in the Informal Scene – In all informal work the danger of becoming merely formless is always present. You cannot let everything just run wild, and plant your garden without any guiding plan and expect it to please.
  • Some Lesser Rules – Whenever possible, attention should be given to these lesser matters, especially when you make the yearly revisions which bring your garden ever nearer to perfection.
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