LESSON 3 | How to Layout Plants in a Bed and Frame Structures

In this next lesson we will go over the layout of plants and how to frame structures. The correct placement of trees and shrubs can enhance your property by framing the buildings and directing your viewpoint. Improperly placed trees and shrubs can do the very opposite- blocking buildings or viewpoints and misdirecting your access around the gardens.

How many times have you seen a foundation planting overtaking a beautiful house? How many times have you seen large Arborvitaes on either side of the front step towering over the house? Framing a house is a very basic example of plant layout. When you look at the front of a nice Cape Cod home, your eyes should be drawn to the front door. How would you position your plantings to get that result?  Before we look at how to do it correctly, let’s look at how to do it incorrectly.

If you were to place 2 large growing Arborvitaes on either side of the front step, where are your eyes going to travel? Yes, you are correct, your eyes will travel up the tall pointed shrubs and end up on the roof. That is not the result we wanted. What if we plant a large Maple Tree out from the front door 20 feet but directly in front of the front door. Where will your eyes travel? Yes, you are correct again, they will travel up the tree.

So when you are framing out a house, you need to pay attention to the foundation plantings as well as all planting in front of the house. In other words, you need to look at the entire viewpoint of where your house will be viewed from. Wherever the primary viewpoint is, you need to frame the house.

Here are a few examples of dos and don’ts:

Now that we have a basic form to follow, how can we layout the shape of the bed? This is when drawing it out on paper is invaluable. You will be able to look at the shapes and curves and look to see if they balance and look good. When you are happy on paper, then you can go out and cut out your beds with no surprises.

Tip: Don’t put curves in a bed just to put curves in a bed.  Too many curves look unnatural and are difficult to mow around and maintain. Here is an example of a nice layout in front a small house.

1. This is a very simple design that frames the house and has perfect balance. We have purposely not given you specific plants at this point. That will come later. Additionally we don’t know what direction this house faces or whether there is wind or other conditions to consider.  From earlier lessons, you will know this and be able to choose the correct plants for this location when we get into the plant lists. This simple plan gives you a guideline for laying out the beds.

2. For a larger house with a stepped-back portion, you will be creating an inside corner. These are nice little niches where you may get protection from the wind or sun and you may be able to use plants that you could not use in other more exposed spots in the yard. I mention using a specimen* such as a Dwarf Japanese Maple or a Camellia as an example.

For a bed out in the yard away from structures:

Look at the bed or part of yard you are going to design and decide what direction it will be viewed from or if it will be viewed from multiple directions. Also what height do you want to have the plants grow. There is nothing worse than planting a plant and a few years later finding out that it grows much higher than expected and blocks your view.

If you are going to view a bed from one side only, then you will want to put the taller plants in the back and gradually have shorter plants towards the front.  If the bed is going to be seen from two sides, then the taller plants would go down the center of the bed and shorter plants sloping down on both sides.

These are some guidelines that you can follow. Having this knowledge will give you the ability to decide what to do. You still may want to put a tree directly in front of your door and block your house, but at least now you will know that it is going to do that.

*Specimen- an unusual or impressive plant grown as a focus of interest in a garden.

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