Form trumps flower

VIEW OF THE LA COUNTY ARBORETUM: Form, texture, color

One of the best ways to figure out what plants to use in your garden or landscape is simply to go to your local arboretum one season, take photos and notes of the plants that catch your eye, and then to return each subsequent season to see how the particular plants evolve over time. The benefit of this approach is that you will know what your plant will truly look like once it’s found a fixed spot in your landscape. Sounds exceedingly obvious, but the year-round form and evolution of a plant is rarely one of the criteria people use when figuring out what to use in their landscape.

Too often, we are seduced by close-up photos of brilliant flowers (this recent Arroyo Monthly article a case in point), never to actually see what the overall form of the plant is and what the plant looks like when not in bloom. California Poppies make a wonderful display in spring, but post-bloom, they take on a horrendously ratty look and must be pruned back ad nauseum until the following spring. Nonetheless, PRAIRIEFORM has seen all too many a landscape that consists of little more than perennials that take on a none-too-delightful weedy pose when not in bloom.

PRAIRIEFORM, as the name implies, is interested first and foremost in form – the form of the overall landscape, but also the form of each indvidual plant (such as these Karl Foerster grasses growing in the Zenith Avenue Landscape). We favor plants whose form will provide lasting interest throughout the seasons. Form, texture, and foliage color are the muscles of a landscape, the flowers merely fleeting highlights and accents. Think about how you can use plants with strong form and foliage to provide these muscles, and how the more ephemeral perennials can be tucked in to pop out intermittently as temporary accents but never as the dominant element of the landscape.

3 Replies to “Form trumps flower”

  1. Wow.. that is so beautiful… the perinials mixed in with the Blaze grass. which I had thought of that before I planted my perinials IN FRONT OF my prairie grasses.

    1. Yes! The coolest part of mixing the perennials in is that their colors pop out so much more when juxtaposed against the grey- and blue-green hues of the grasses. And then when the perennials are done flowering, the grasses go back to taking center stage.

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