Succession Planting

Like Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme who discovered he had been using prose all his life…I have been doing succession planting all my life.  But I only recently (a few years ago) read an article by the late Christopher Lloyd in which he named it.

What it describes is a way of having a succession of different plant ‘pictures’ in the same spot.  So as one plant either dies down for the season, or finishes flowering, another plant in the same spot comes to the fore.  Some common examples that most gardeners have seen or used are early Daffodils in the lawn, the Daffodils flowering in early spring, then disappearing as the lawn greens up; spring bulbs similarly can bring early color to the perennial border which then covers their dying leaves; early blooming sun loving plants can do well under the shade of deciduous trees – because the sun lovers get their needs fulfilled before the now-leafy trees shade the area.

Some examples I have used in past gardens (and may well use again).  Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ interplanted with Allium aflatunense.  The rich, purple balls of the Allium flowers are lovely; but the leaves always turn brown at the tips and look weather-beaten even when they’re not.  The Heuchera not only hides the unsightly leaves;  the effect is as if the Allium flower is growing from the Heuchera leaves and the colors of the leaves and flowers complement each other wonderfully.  Then by the time the Allium flowers are over, the Heuchera’s own creamy froth of flowers take over.

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) interplanted with Siberian Iris and Japanese Anemone.  The brilliant blue Chionodoxa bulbs make a better and better show as the years progress – and appear while the Irises are just beginning to come up in the early spring.  Then the Iris leaves and the Anemone leaves) take over the area and cover the yellowing Chionodoxa leaves.  The Irises begin to flower in June and after those flowers are over the area becomes( for a while ) a lovely contrast in green texture —  tall slim Iris leaves and Maple-like Anemone leaves.  Then by summer’s end the Anemones begin to flower until frost.

It takes some knowledge of various plants’ ‘schedules’, and yes, sometimes the planned succession doesn’t work out quite as well as it should.  But when it does l it is so much fun to watch an area change – almost  magically –over the weeks and months.


A client of mine once noted that in virtually every garden I design – from the smallest rooftop container garden to many-acre country gardens – I use plants in mass as part of the design.  It was a good observation.

Many plant lovers – and I admit I am one of them – satisfy their hunger for plants by getting one or a few of a beloved plant and spot them around the garden.  The result, as many have said before me, is a collection not a garden.  And I surely want to see and enjoy – and have others share — the details of the plants I love.

But creating spaces is my primary design goal…and plants are my design material, the means by which I create spaces.  You can’t do it with different plants spotted around.

So, for example, the driveway will be lined with Sargent Cherries – ten of them – creating a sense of direction, of motion, and defining the space which is the driveway. And incidentally, by leading to it, also defining the space which is the house.  Here’s the post I did about the Cherries.

Ten flowering crabapples define the orchard; it is a space of its own.

Similarly, the grass meadow – over an acre of tall grass (I haven’t decided yet which grass species will be appropriate in this climate for the effect I want) will be shared with red Flanders Poppies,  Papaver rhoeas in the spring.   Then, by the time the Poppies have died back the grasses will have their seed heads moving in the breeze for the remainder of the year.

The powerful bed displaying Bronze Fennel (200) and Rosa ‘Morning Has Broken’ (18) is a space of its own and will also help define the lawn that leads to it.

A copse of six Witch Hazels,Hamamelis fills the area between the driveway and the front door with winter beauty and fragrance.  It makes that area a definite Place.

These are all beautiful plants in their own right.   And they would be no less beautiful if planted in ones or twos.  But then they wouldn’t also be acting as part of the design.  They would be a collection, not a garden.