GARDEN THERAPY: En Masse – October 2015

Thumbnail Mel Bellar (1)By Mel Bellar

Last month I talked about thugs in the garden and noted that they could be useful in a mass planting.  I find that I am nearly always attracted to mass plantings and do quite a few head turns while driving (much to my wife’s dismay) to check out some huge sweep of a plant. Large groupings of anything can be eye-catching.  Many times I find that it is a sweep of some despicable invasive plant that would cause me great distress if I found it in my garden.  For instance, the other day I did a head turn for a huge field that had Japanese knotweed sandwiched between goldenrod and the forest behind. Picture1 It goes without saying that I think knotweed is evil personified (plantified?) but I don’t care much for goldenrod either.  However, I found inspiration in these large brushstrokes of yellow, white and green and the interesting lines that were created.  The photo doesn’t work well in black & white but you can always check out the website at where you can see all photos in beautiful color and catch up on all of the Garden Therapy columns you missed.

I like many styles of landscape and garden design, including the English or cottage garden with a hodgepodge of colors, textures, heights and forms, and I love a Japanese style garden with its simplicity and elegance.  I even like the formality and drama of the straight-lined, right-angled, hedged and clipped French and Italian gardens with grand perspective and waterways.  I visited India a few years back and saw a lot of Persian gardens and derivatives of this style, and they were amazing as well. But I am gravitating towards the more modern gardens in the style of The New American Garden which involves large sweeps of plantings in a more naturalistic setting.  The attraction for me is the mass planting aspect.  Any of the styles with some mass plantings and pretty lines really get me going.

I recently realized that part of the incredible beauty of a farm is the mass plantings of the crops. When I drive along Route 10 between Hobart and Bloomville I am blown away by the beauty of the corn fields, as the rows of the graceful plant follow the contours of the land creating long elegant lines.  Yes, I hate dandelions, but there have been a couple of occasions when a field filled with the normally offensive invader have inspired a head turn.  Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I had been tricked into admiring a field of dandelions!

How does this apply to our home gardens?  My own garden doesn’t have a lot of mass plantings because I am a collector and buy 3 to 5 plants of something just to try it out and see how it does before committing. I end up with some mass plantings because the THUGS do it for me and, as long as I can contain them in their designated area, I am good with that.  I have started using a lot more mass plantings of “tried and true soldier plants” for my clients, however. They are not only beautiful in their big statements and lines but they give a modern look that fits into the area with our huge vistas and big spaces.  And, mass plantings are really practical. If you purchase small perennials, seeds, or divide existing  plants into small clumps and put them fairly close together, it doesn’t take them long to fill in densely enough to create a mat that requires very little weeding after they are established.  Even if there are a few weeds in a mass planting they often disappear into the stronger presence of the dominant plant.Picture2

Let me share a mass planting “trick” that I have used a few times with some stalwarts of the Catskill garden. My wife calls it the triumvirate garden. I start with a lot of daylilies—usually I can get more than I need from dividing what I have—I plant them about 2 feet apart.  I don’t even really care if they are all the same color and the plain old roadside orange ones are just fine. Then I put in black-eyed Susans between the daylilies.  It is finished off with daffodils planted in the remaining space.  I like to use white on white (Mount Hood) and yellow on yellow (Kind Alfred).  I put maybe 10 to 15 of one type in each hole.  The result is really spectacular. The daffs come up in the early spring and look wonderful.  Then by the time the foliage starts to fade, the daylily foliage is hiding it and before long the daylilies start to bloom. And finally the black-eyed Susans, en masse, complete the season with a spectacular showing of yellow with black eyes that last for almost a month. Then I leave it all up throughout Winter so that you can see the seedheads of the suzies above the snow.  In the spring before the daffodils start to emerge you just need to weedwhack all, rake up the debris and put in the compost.~


Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.