On Planting Design

Land Morphology designed the monocultural meadow of Rudbeckia fulgiva var. deamii at In Situ (Connecticut) for visual impact.  Photo by Rob Cardillo.

Land Morphology designed the monocultural meadow of Rudbeckia fulgiva var. deamii at In Situ (Connecticut) for visual impact.  Photo by Rob Cardillo.

Planting style should depend upon context. Lately I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few modern projects that demand the dramatic with simple clarity.  For these projects we’ve used a graphic style of planting design, which creates a strong framework and clarity of vision to build on.  This style is evolving to include the use of green and built vertical forms and visual and circulation axes that establish strong spatial frameworks.

My friend Steve Martino designed this Phoenix garden where Parkinsonia microphylla and an Agave sislana stand sentinel. 

My friend Steve Martino designed this Phoenix garden where Parkinsonia microphylla and an Agave sislana stand sentinel. 

Matrices of diverse plants can be arranged in patterns, with built and architectural features forming frames.  With today’s focus on ecological function, more diversity can be introduced within the frames, resulting in a more sustainable design.

Hoerr Schaudt planted sedum and prairie dropseed in Mondrian-esque configurations for this roof garden in Chicago.

Hoerr Schaudt planted sedum and prairie dropseed in Mondrian-esque configurations for this roof garden in Chicago.

A more complex plant palette offers benefits of diversity, habitat connectivity, conservation, and systems thinking.  A diverse palette results in a high-performance landscape that responds to programmatic desires such as water retention/cleansing, pollination, habitat creation, carbon sequestration.  Not to mention resulting in an exquisite place!

Mike Williams has been working on the Simpson Prairie for 20 years, gradually introducing plants and composing a striking landscape. Scarlet and yellow gaillardias are prominently featured in the meadown near Crawford, Texas.

Mike Williams has been working on the Simpson Prairie for 20 years, gradually introducing plants and composing a striking landscape. Scarlet and yellow gaillardias are prominently featured in the meadown near Crawford, Texas.

When Plants Drive Design

When plants drive a garden’s scheme, the landscape is conceived in a series of layers. First, trees and large shrubs to form and shape the garden.  Defining space with large-scale plants creates an outline for garden. Smaller woody plants and perennials come next to develop another layer and create interest on the ground plane. Lastly, bulbs and annuals add seasonal color and interest.

 

At Mountsier Garden in New Jersey Land Morphology's design of a simple border of Carex morrowii 'Ice Ballet,' with its white variegated leaves, which creates a strong plane that complements the narrow-growing copper beeches.

At Mountsier Garden in New Jersey Land Morphology's design of a simple border of Carex morrowii 'Ice Ballet,' with its white variegated leaves, which creates a strong plane that complements the narrow-growing copper beeches.

…but keep in mind there’s a difference between creating a plant collection and creating a garden

Gardens offer a shady place to sit and enjoy the view. Paths with hierarchy that orient. Organizing space is key to creating a beautiful garden that affects us on a subconscious level.  Using plants to create character and structure and serve as guideposts throughout a garden is essential.

Mixing Styles is Perfectly Acceptable

Mixing different planting styles embraces complexity and depth.  I often lay out the framework and then take specific blocks and plant them in a matrix or mixed way as contrast to the larger structure. Taking pieces of different planting theories and applying them to one project is similar to how trends in the overall profession shift and change gradually as new ideas are introduced.

Aster divaricatus and Christmas fern spill over bluestone walls at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. by Michael Vergason. The planting offers a transitional border between the architectural space and the surrounding woodland.

Aster divaricatus and Christmas fern spill over bluestone walls at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. by Michael Vergason. The planting offers a transitional border between the architectural space and the surrounding woodland.

I use plants to reinforce function, intellectual content, themes, green or ecological strategies and create immersive, emotive experiences.

Richard Hartlage

Richard Hartlage is the founding principal and CEO of Land Morphology. His award-winning, innovative designs are renowned as emotive, immersive spaces that incorporate sophisticated horticulture, artful detailing, and historical knowledge that heighten the human experience of the natural world. His passion for horticulture, cultivated over fifteen years working public gardens and estates, is applied to each design from the conceptual phase through development of maintenance protocol and beyond.