Arranging Your Plants Artistically
by Brad Thompson

   There are two main reasons for artistically arranging your plants in your growing space.  One is the obvious, to make the arrangement pleasing to the eye.  The other is to make the best use of your available space.  Using artistic principles can accomplish both.

   Having a limited growing area, I have to use what I have to the fullest.  Of course, I know none of us ever has enough space.  The principles I keep in mind are layering and the use of organic materials.  While a flat bench full of plants can be pretty, it isn’t the best use of the space.

   Layering is simply having plants at various levels instead of on a flat plane.  Even plants on benches and in beds can be layered.  Layering, besides having a more natural pleasing look, allows you to fit more plants into the space.  Placing down-turned pots randomly along a shelf to set plants on is one way of layering.  You can fit nearly twice as many plants on shelf this way than if they’re all sitting flat next to each other. You should also have plants of varying heights.  Plants along the back of a bench can be set on higher pots, blocks, or stumps..  The total picture should be a stair stepping format with things lower in front and higher in back.  Since this in itself is not random enough to look natural, add variety by randomly having some higher than the other plants on their level.  To achieve the stair stepping look in my yard, most of my shelves are planks across cement blocks. 

   Also, make use of the wall behind your plants.  This is valuable space.  You can use wall pockets, brackets for holding pots, begonias mounted on boards covered with sphagnum moss, etc.  All of these will add interest to the wall.  A blank wall usually detracts from the looks of the arrangement.  Make sure to hang things on the wall at random levels to keep with the natural look.  Shade house posts, tree trunks, and other upright structured in your yard should also be taken advantage of.  Attaching plants and pots to these will do nothing but enhance them. I make many of my wall pockets, brackets, and other accessories myself so they fit exactly my requirements.  However you can easily find pre-made items that will work. 

   Very tall plants can even be set behind the bench with something under them to lift them to the correct height.  Behind many of my shelves I use tall canes trained on trellises up against the wall as a backdrop.  I also make use of begonias trained as standards in amongst shorter plants for accents.  On the topic of begonias on boards, there are many begonias that will grow that way.  There are some begonias that are epiphytic or semi-epiphytic in nature that work fine.  Also, most rhizomatous begonias will grow fine that way.  I have a B. lyman-smithii that has been growing on a sphagnum moss covered board for years.  Simply cover a board with chicken wire, line with some moss, stick in a little potting mix and plant your begonias in it. 

   For attaching pots to walls and posts, you can fashion an easy pot holder from stiff wire.  Gage the length by wrapping around the pot size you’re interested with some extra.  Take pliers and form the ends of the wire into loops then use nails or screws to fasten to the post or wall.  I usually attach one side, the set the pot in to make sure I fasten the other side correctly.

   They also now sell plastic bags that are about a foot and a half long for use as wall pockets.  They have handles at the top for hanging and openings in the sides for sticking plants into.  If you fill all the holes and top with begonias, after they’ve grown out they completely hide the bag.  I fill them with regular mix and just stick rhizome or cane cuttings into all the openings.  The usually root and grow fine that way.

   Don’t forget the air space above your plants.  This is valuable space for hanging baskets.  If you don’t have something to hang them from, run metal bars across the area suspended from the closest available beam or tree branch.  I use cheap inch electrical conduit.  This works fine for plastic hanging baskets but heavier baskets may need a stronger support.  Also, as with the other arrangements, don’t hang all your baskets at the same level.  Using extension wires, you can you put the baskets at all levels from waist high to eye level or higher. You can fit at least twice as many baskets in an area this way plus again, they look more natural at varied levels.

   You can make your own extension wires by using heavy gage wire and putting a hook on both ends with pliers.  Or you can also buy them ready-made.  You can also use chain.  To make your plants able to turn you can also use a swivel on the extension.  You can find a type of swivel in the fishing department of your local department store.

   Natural materials such as bricks, wood, rocks, stumps, branches, clay pots, or even old weathered wooden tables will enhance your plants.  Stumps, blocks, and over turned pots can be used in amongst plants sitting on the ground to set pots on.  Branches and bricks can be used along the front edges of plants sitting on the ground to give them the appearance of being in beds.  Interesting stumps can be used as focal points of interest.  Red wood bark or pebbles under plants on the ground will also enhance their natural look.

    If you’re growing begonias in beds, you can achieve the layered multilevel look also.  It’s fairly easy to make raised or multilevel beds using bricks or wood.  I even make or use small tables and set them in the beds for added effect.  I’m very big on thrift stores where you can buy old weathered furniture items.  Since they’re inexpensive, it doesn’t matter that the elements will eventually destroy them outside.  I even use chairs quite frequently, setting them in corners or special locations with begonias on them.

   Another aspect to consider is lines.  Nature doesn’t have any straight lines.  Anything you can do to soften the lines formed by benches and posts, etc will only make things more natural in appearance.  Round groupings and beds that curve will give a more natural look.  The way my yard is arranged there are no straight lines you can look down and see everything.  Even in my small space you have to go around corners to see everything.

   Layering doesn’t necessarily involve a total revamp of what you have now.  Any current bench or growing area can be enhanced relatively quickly.  I’ve rearranged collections at many people’s houses in a couple hours for a totally new look, using just what they had already.  If you have benches, make use of the space under, above, behind, and in front of them.  There are actually many begonias that prefer growing under the benches. 

   Although it’s impossible to say everything in an article, I hope I’ve given you ideas in how to enhance and make the best use of your growing area.  As anyone who’s visited my yard can attest, I make full use of every space without it looking crowded or cluttered using the principles I’ve outlined.

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