Before & After

Creating the supporting cast for dramatic plants


Creating excitement in the garden involves choosing the right balance between stars and their supporting cast. With too many dramatic plants, the story gets lost, and, with too much subtlety, the story sends us to sleep. This holds for a garden as a whole, but also within a single planting.


Creating the supporting cast for dramatic plants


The owner of this garden asked for ideas to provide year-round structure in the space surrounding the palm. Deciduous shrubs against the wall, annuals and winter-dormant herbaceous plants put on a colourful display of flowers during spring and summer, but for the rest of the year the palm stands alone in an otherwise virtually empty space.


Creating the supporting cast for dramatic plants


One possibility would be to create a mini-grove of palms and/or yuccas in combination with ground-covering plants, but that would overpower the existing deciduous flowering shrubs, and leave little space for annuals.

The palm's bold and dramatic foliage demands quite strong and persistent shapes for it not to overpower them.

In the drawing, the shape of the palm leaves is repeated in a less powerful version in the three spiky plants. Agave stricta could be used here. This is a sun-loving, frost-hardy plant for well-draining soils. A similar effect can be achieved with some of the smaller growing flaxes and astelias.

Rounded shrubs, such as Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf ball', clipped Buxus sempervirens (English box) or hebes (e.g. Hebe 'Turkish delight' or Hebe odora) are added for contrast.

Dwarf flax-like plants in the left corner tie in with the spiky theme.