Photo: UGArdener (Flickr)
The shape of each flowering plant and the silhouette it provides in relation to other plants in the garden is important in design. Sometimes, for example, we mix and match dense and airy plants. Thus, plants with substantial leaves, such as hostas, are interspersed with plants such as maiden hair fern or meadow rue that have a more delicate form.
At other times we may use a mass of plants with an identical form but arrange them is a swathe or serpentine pattern that moves the eye across them. Thus, repetition of identical forms as well as the juxtaposition of different forms for contrast are time-honored design strategies in the garden.
Plants with unusual shapes can also be used as accents to provide interest, as they cause the eye to linger on them. Similarities and differences in plant forms and shapes, depending on the way they are arranged, create the overall feeling of harmony and the mood of a garden. Thus, there must always be some type of cohesiveness in the overall pattern that the shapes and forms create.
Formal Vs. Informal Gardens
Formal gardens have the most organized patterns and discrete shapes and forms of the component plants and the most manicured edging to beds.
On the other hand, informal gardens rely more on the way shapes and forms meld together into a flowing pattern. Mature informal cottage gardens, for example, have plants that creep and weave together and spill over the edges of their beds.
However, even in informal gardens there must be some organizing principle, such as taller shapes as the back of the bed and shorter ones in the front. Color is often also used as an organizing principle in informal gardens, as some kind of pattern is always needed to tie varied shapes and forms together in a pleasing way.