When plants grow in nature, they grow in layers and drifts, overlapping and merging with each other. Good landscape designs are also three dimensional, and strategically placing plants of varying sizes, colors and textures can help to connect all the layers and create a great overall look.
Well-placed plants can be used to frame views, to pull together disparate parts of a landscape, to add interest to an otherwise boring spot, add shade, and much more.
By layering plants according to size, shape and texture and allowing levels to undulate from high to low, even a few well-chosen, strategically placed plants can create an aesthetically pleasing result.
Starting with the top layer, larger trees give a sense of permanence, overall structure and privacy. If your budget allows, adding at least one or two trees to the landscape can make a huge difference in the overall look and feel of the design.
Medium-sized evergreen or textured shrubs (2 feet – 5 feet) play an essential role in the midground layer by linking the higher and lower layers. Select plants that are easy to prune back if they get too large. Trees and shrubs such as Japanese maples with their dark burgundy foliage, weigela, Bluebeard shrubs (caryopteris) with their late summer blooms, lime-colored arborvitae, and drought-tolerant viburnum and Ninebarks (physocarpus) are all easy to manage and add seasonal impact to any setting. For year-round impact, small evergreens such as boxwood, junipers and cypress are usually a good choice, as are taller varieties of ornamental grasses.
The lower layers of a landscape design can be used to weave the other components together and generally include smaller shrubs and perennials. These plants should be grouped in masses or smaller odd-numbered clusters. By planting the lower-layer plants close together, the overall effect will be more “finished” when they reach maturity, and will reduce the ability for weeds to take over an area.
Shrubs such as daphne, coprosma, boxwood, Mugo pines, and shrubby cinquefoil all add easy-care impact. Disease-tolerant Flower Carpet roses are often used for both color and texture in the garden. Even before they’re in bloom Flower Carpet’s glossy green foliage is quite attractive. Once they start blooming, a well-established Flower Carpet rose can have 60-80 blossoms on it at one time. Perennials of varying sizes planted in odd numbers are also ideal for pulling the various layers together.
If you’re gardens are on the edge of a woodland area, consider using more plants that are naturally found in the forest, including rhododendrons, cotoneaster, holly, flowering dogwood, quince, spirea, winterberry and red-osier dogwood.
More layered landscape ideas: