A sense of order and decorum is the feeling that most people wish their garden to give to them. Yet it is also desirable that the plants appear to have been there for ever; that they seem to belong. While the hard landscaping should create clear shapes and strong lines, it is the job of the plants to soften these lines and blur their angularity. In order for the plants to add a natural dimension to the composition, it's important to choose them judiciously and then to grow them in a certain manner.
Designing with plants for a natural effect
The most effective, natural plant associations are derived from species that possess as many visual features in common with each other as possible. Individuals that stand out from the mass in say shape, size or foliage color should have at least one characteristic that they share with the rest of the plants. Small leaved or fine textured plants for instance, go well with each other, but look incongruous with plants that have giant or course textured leaves. Just think how dreadful Cypress trees look with palms, or how out of place rose bushhes seem next to Philodendrons.
Design and nature join hands in the sense that plants of similar growth habit and visual characteristics, almost invariably grow wild in similar or parallel habitats. For example, Pistachios from Central Asia, Grevilleas from South West Australia and Leucophyllum from Texas, all have the small, fine textured foliage typical of plants that grow in dry climates. While on the other hand, large leaves and course texture are the most obvious features of plants from tropical regions.
Some exaggeration notwithstanding, the most insulting complement a gardener can receive is to be congratulated on his / her pruning. The aim should be that the pruning is as inconspicuous as possible. In order to achieve this and thereby keep the natural feel of the tree, it is important to:
* Avoid pruning cuts which shorten branches. Instead, limbs should be cut back to their base, whether that be another branch or the trunk itself.
* Avoid cuts which disrupt the direction in which the branch is growing. Let's say a thin branch is attached to a thicker one at an angle of 60 degrees. If the thicker branch is removed, then the direction has been altered together with an ugly pruning wound that will always be conspicuous. The tree will for ever appear "pruned" and not seem as though it belongs naturally to the landscape.
* Do not plant trees too close to paths and entrances, in order avoiding inviting in the future the thought of undesirable pruning just described.
Caring for shrubs and bushes
Shrubs that have a strong and clearly defined shape like junipers, Yucca and other sculptural plants, should only be pruned in a way that does not alter their natural growth habit. Most bushes though require some clipping and pruning in order to encourage compact growth and to avoid an …