Planting in layers is a well-known principle of garden design and a principle I follow whenever I can. Usually what is meant by this is vertical layering…that is, an overhead layer of large trees, an understory layer of small trees and shrubs and another layer, perennials and groundcovers underneath.
However I am now deep into the planning of a garden layered in both directions; vertical, yes, but also horizontal.
Plants layered back to front, behind one another, create a feeling of depth, of generosity, of abundance. When you see single layer of plants – trees lining a highway, or as I once saw, a single row of tulips planted evenly spaced in soldierly perfection – the effect is thin and puny – uninteresting. It’s also unnatural. In nature plants are opportunists. They plant themselves willy nilly, wherever they can – behind, beside, in front of one another, creating a lush effect. From every vantage point you see foreground plants and background plants intertwining.
I’m trying to create a more stylized version of that. So in the Woodland we’ll have Pines and Junipers, Maples, Dogwoods and Redbuds, Birches and Sassafras . Beneath these trees will be shrubs like Fothergilla and Oakleaf Hydrangea and Sumac and Witchhazel., And beneath these will be Goldenrod, Purple Coneflower, with Carex pennsylvanica and Tiarella cordifolia as groundcovers.
Everywhere you look there will be plants in ‘gay profusion’ (that lovely phrase from the song Scarlet Ribbons).