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Saturday, July 2, 2022
Growing Together: If your garden is a mishmash, here’s how it can be magnificent
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Is your garden a bit of a mishmash? Does looking at it leave you feeling blah or even chaotic?

Then you need to add some life to your garden and take it from mishmash to magnificent.

First let’s define what mishmash is. It can mean a “confused collection or mixture of unrelated things” or a “hodgepodge or jumble.” Does that describe your garden?

Our gardens can become a confused collection or hodgepodge of plants. Everything can start to blend together and become just a green jumble of leaves.

That means your eyes quickly pass over the garden because nothing stands out. You could purchase all your favourite flowers and plant them in your garden and still not be pleased with the overall results.

The planning stage is too often overlooked, resulting in a haphazard collection of plant materials. I like to refer to it as “plunkitis” – we just start plunking things into the garden without much thought.

The eye, though, needs there to be a sense of order to feel calm and peaceful.

So how do we turn our mishmash into “magnificent”? How can you restore order in your garden?

Whether you are starting from scratch or reviving a tired garden, the most important thing you can do is to strategically locate focal points.

Focal points are used in garden design to draw and direct the eye. Think of a garden, large or small, that was just a swath of plants. Your eye sweeps along, not knowing where to land.

A sense of flow is nice, but without a focus, your garden is not really taken in. It is quickly passed over.

Now, think of a garden you saw with a wonderful water feature, a weeping tree or a dramatic structure. The first thing you notice is this feature.

Once your interest is captured there, you start to branch out and notice other plants and features. A focal point will cause your eye to stop and rest for a bit at that feature. The garden is slowly discovered rather than swept through.

Properly placed focal points give your garden a sense of purpose and order. Without focal points your garden becomes just a careless collection of plants and objects.

A focal point cannot be an after-thought. It should be an item that the rest of the garden revolves around. Think about the style of garden you want to create and make sure your focal point adds to it.

The focal point could be one of several things: an unusual plant specimen, a vibrant grouping of plants or plants with bold colours. It could also be an ornament such as a birdbath, gazing globe, statue or water feature. Even large boulders or a structure such as an arbour can act as a focal point.

Make sure you look at your garden from all different points of view, both inside and outside, before deciding where to locate your focal points.

Where is your eye naturally drawn when you enter your garden area? For a front garden the best place to locate your focal point is near the doorway.

The goal for any front-yard design is to direct people’s attention to your front door. In the backyard, you may find that you need several focal points to lead the eye around the space. Keep your style in mind when choosing that something special. Does your point of interest portray or reveal your style?

When you are viewing a garden up close, for example next to a seating area, you don’t need as much drama to catch the viewer’s attention as you do with seeing an area from a dining room window some 60 feet away. The farther away you are viewing an area the more dramatic the focal point needs to be to have the same impact.

If choosing a plant as your attention grabber, select a proven performer. A sickly looking plant or one that perpetually gets eaten or has mildew issues is not a good choice.

Make sure it also has a long peak period. Don’t fall for a short bloomer or a plant that only has one season of interest, no matter how spectacular it may be.

Try to choose a plant that will catch your attention for more than just a couple weeks of the year. For example, right now you are seeing the redbud trees coming into bloom.

One variety I am thinking of is Ruby Falls redbud. It has beautiful pinkish/purple flowers in early spring, with burgundy heart-shaped leaves in summer and an interesting weeping form in the winter.

Take some time to study your garden and see what is needed to turn it into something magnificent.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.