Thursday, February 27, 2014

Figure-Ground Theory in Garden Design

figure ground in planting schemes
The Herbaceous Border at Rockingham Castle,
Northamptonshire, England is designed with
careful attention to distinguishing contrast, subject and ground. 

Image © Copyright Marion Haworth
I love gardens. I love seeing them, designing them, making them and lusting after them. And over the years, I've grown to understand what that magic ingredient is in the gardens that appeal to me most — the gardens that excite and inspire, and make me say "Be still, my heart!" (The garden on the right makes me say that. Lustfully.) The gardens that cause my heart to flutter are those that are well-grounded. They pop and burst in all the right places with clear separations between plants. The plants are entities of their own, but part of the whole composition. And it is a composition. Good garden design is an art form. It's about balance, color, texture, depth and contrast.

Well-grounded gardens are designed using figure-ground theory, whether intentional or not.


Clear contrast between the subject and ground
This image taken at Sissinghurst, Kent shows the positive
 space (subject/figure) against the negative space
 (background/ground).The positive space draws your eye.
Photo image © Copyright Lorraine Syratt

So What is Figure-Ground Theory?


Figure-Ground theory has its roots in psychology Gestalt therapy, but it is also used in architecture, landscape design and art. It is based on visual perception, an important design concept that distinguishes the subject (figure) from its background (ground). The background helps to define the subject, so the subject will be our focus. Our eyes are drawn to it. It's achieved by using contrasting colors, shapes, and reference points. In most instances, the figure or subject is the main ingredient — the element that stands out.

Figure-ground also relates to positive and negative space. Negative space is the space surrounding the subject or positive space. This can get confusing because in design, in this case, garden design, the negative space or background may also be the subject. A good example is seen in the image (top right) of the Rockingham Castle garden. While the flowers are the subject, we can't help but notice their backgrounds — the beautiful evergreen arches and hedges (clearly in the making) that contrast with to the colorful flora. As we walk through the garden, we don't just "see" the flowers; we "see" their backgrounds as well. Nothing is visually missed, and all is relevant to the overall balanced composition. 

Using Figure-Ground Theory in Garden Design


I don't know when the term "grounding" was first coined in garden design, but it was certainly in use over one-hundred years ago. Garden writer and designer, Gertrude Jekyll used it in her 1902 book, Roses.

Rose garden shines with a dark green background
These roses planted en masse at Alexandra Park in East Sussex, England
stand out beautifully because they are surrounded by a neatly-clipped 

dark green hedge at the edge of a forest. 
Image © Copyright Oast House Archive
"The background of dark trees is so important that I venture to dwell upon it with some degree of persistence. Anyone who has seen an Ayrshire rose growing wild into a yew will recognize the value of dark foliage as a ground for the tender blush white of the rose; and so it is with the rose garden as a whole." 

Jekyll, known today as one of the great rosarians, garden writers and designers of her time, did "persist" on advocating dark backgrounds and contrasts in design throughout that book. While this particular book was focused only on roses, her other gardening books and several articles also gave a nod to the concept of grounding with dark green trees, hedges and foliage. "The wisdom of this treatment is well-known in all other kinds of gardening ..." She went on to suggest that " ... even walls should be clothed in dark greenery."

Figure-ground is also about grounding each individual plant or plant mass in your flower bed. This is done by separating them with a neutral plant. Neutral plants have contrasting textures, shapes or colors. 

contrasting planting schemes
The herbaceous border at Kirby House, West Berkshire, England
 — a fine example of a well-grounded garden.
Image © Copyright Stuart Logan





Note the planting scheme in the Kirby House garden (left). It is clear this herbaceous border was created with good visual perception. Whether the designer was intentionally following the rules of figure-ground theory or not, she/he certainly had an understanding of the importance of contrast. 

Each plant or plant mass is clearly separated from the others by using  an assortment of contrasting plants such as Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), silvery leaf plants such as artemisia or Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) and plants with sword-shaped leaves — bold shapes and neutral colors that create those separations. To top it off, it's a border in front of a dark green background. Each plant pops with color and interest. Nothing is missed.

Without grounding, the plant subjects have no distinguishing forms. They unite in a blurry jumble of color with no rhyme or reason, no contrasting separation and no restful focus. In a mixed or herbaceous border, you won't see the garden for the flowers. There's nothing wrong with pretty flower jumbles, particularly in wild gardens or wild parts of the garden, but if you want all your hard work to pay off in the more formal parts of your garden, avoid over-jumbling. Add a little contrast. Make each plant count. 




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Relocating With Your Garden Plants

Plan ahead and pot ahead if you're relocating with your 
garden plants ... Image © Copyright Oast House Archive
We spend years,as gardeners, amassing and nurturing our plant collections to create gardens of abundance and color. We may have thousands of dollars invested in plants. Some of those plants have sentimental value, like a rose grown from a cutting taken from a rose at the family farm, or a tree peony given as a housewarming gift. When it comes time to relocate, we want to take our plants with us.

With a little dialog with the new owners of the garden, owners who aren't "into" gardening, as well as a mention in the contract, it's possible to move all your plants when you relocate. This is rare in a real estate contract, but it can be done. You can move some plants without a mention, and you can certainly divide them, leaving the garden to the new owner.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Garden Writers Call for Entries Submissions 2014



There are many opportunities for garden writers to be published in places other than the Internet. A simple online search brings up numerous intriguing possibilities. In the case of magazines, it's best to have a look at their previous issues to determine was sorts of content they look for. Here's a few great opportunities to cultivate (forgive me).


The Garden Writer's Association is offering an online awards program (gold, silver, bronze) geared to writers and photographers who have had work published on the Web in 2013. This is open to all garden writers. You do not have to be a member. Deadline is March 15th, 2014.

Grit: Rural American Know-how Magazine is looking for the following. "We intend to be an authoritative and sometimes playful voice for rural lifestyle farmers and country or small-town dwellers, and we require our writers to be informed about that way of life."  Payment varies. Query first.

The American Garden is a publication that reaches 20K members of the American Horticultural Society. The majority of the articles in their bi-monthly magazine are written by freelance writers. Minimum payment for a feature article is $300. Query first.

Sunset is a regional magazine geared to the sunny west coast. They do pay, but there is no mention of what they pay. Query your topic or idea first.

Canadian Gardening Magazine is geared to both urban and country gardeners. Minimum is approximately $350 for feature stories up to 2000 words. Query first.

Garden Wise is a B.C., Canada publication geared to west coast readers. The publication has several different categories. Payment isn't mentioned other than "payment on publication." Query first.

Green Woman Magazine reads ongoing submissions for "Flora's Forum Blog". Query first. They look for "Writing that gets to the heart and intellect that underlies the pursuit of a gardening life. Writing that pushes the boundaries of garden writing and reflects what is going on in the garden in 21st century America."

If you know of others or want to add your own, feel free to post it in the comments or send us an email.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Casablanca Lily

 
Casa Blanca lily ... Image by Joe Mabel

The "Casablanca" lily, also known as "Casa Blanca" lily (Lilium "Casa Blanca") rise to 4 feet tall on a single stem in U. S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. The snow white flowers are massive at 8 inches wide. Its height and flower size alone are dramatic, making it a strong feature anywhere in the garden. "Casa Blanca" is a member of the Liliaceae plant family and a cultivar of "oriental lily" hybrids. Oriental lilies fill the air with intoxicating perfume as the flowers heads open in mid-summer. They can be grown amongst shrubs and flowers surrounding your patio and walkways, or they can grow through a sea of other flowers in a mixed border.

For best effect, plant lilies in groups of three or five identical bulbs. Space them eight to twelve inches apart, keeping groups three to five feet apart, depending on the vigor and size of the lilies. Plant small lily bulbs two to four inches deep and large bulbs four to six inches deep, measuring from the top of the bulb. Divide and replant large clusters of bulbs every three years or so – or when it seems they are not blooming as well as originally. 


Oriental Lily Culture



Oriental lilies, including "Casa Blanca" are low-maintenance plants that are easy to grow, but they need good foundations to start. They grow best in loose, organic soils. Plant where they are shaded at ground level. They will thrive with only their stems, leaves and flower heads in full sun. Mulch will help keep the roots and bulbs moist and cool. Bulbs should be planted in early spring approximately 6 inches deep. The heavy stems and flowers will topple if they aren't well-grounded. If plants are in exposed locations, they may need staking. When the stems begin to die after flowering, cut them back to ground level, in preparation for the following summer's bloom.


Design for Fragrance



"Casa Blanca" lily's fragrant perfume is carried through the air with the slightest breeze. With good design, the lily's scent will not be overpowering. Plan your fragrant garden with the nose of a perfumier. When the perfumier concocts her recipes for the perfect scent, she learns what scents compliment each other. You may have to experiment by moving plants around to find the best combinations. Add groups of "Casa Blanca" here and there in the flower bed, or create garden rooms or separate spaces, adding it to a mixed bed of other scented plants. 


Rosa Rugosa ... image by Lorraine Syratt

Fragrant Companions


Richly-scented peonies ... Image by Lorraine Syratt
Consider other low-maintenance aromatic perennials that also require full sun and rich, organic soil. Not all plants will bloom at once, so the fragrances won't clash. Peonies (Paeonia spp.) are highly scented, blooming in spring in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 8. Most rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa Spp.) have lovely scent and after the spring flush of bloom, they continue to bloom sporadically until fall. Rugosa roses are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 7 with some variations depending on cultivar. They also like moist soil. Consider the pink "Roseraie de l'Hay" (Rosa rugosa "Roseraie de l'Hay") which grows to 6 feet, or pale pink "Delicata" (Rosa rugosa "Delicata") growing to 3 feet. Other scented plants for the fragrant garden include Sweet peas, heliotrope, thyme, evening primrose and sweet autumn clematis.
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