Monday, April 22, 2013

Garden Designers' Roundtable: Transitions

There are many extremes in the built landscape:
soft and hard,
light and dark,
vertical and horizontal,
big and small.

Sometimes those contrasts are important.  They catch the eye and serve as focal points, or highlight the distinctive attributes of specific plants or hardscape elements within the landscape.

Sometimes, however, that high contrast is just boring, as in this classic "spruce in the lawn" example:

How does one transition from one extreme to another?  How does one create more visual interest,  movement, and shear lushness in the garden? By employing the design principle of gradation. By definition, "gradation is a sequence in which the contrasting extremes are bridged by a series of harmonious steps."*  In the garden, our "harmonious steps" are . . . plants!  We transition from tall to low or big to small with layers of plants.

A large scale application of this idea looks like this:
The gardens at Kendrick Lake feature drought tolerant plants in an undulating, sculptural design by Greg Foreman for the city of Lakewood, Colorado.

At Denver Botanic Gardens, a more formal style of planting transitions the tall, living juniper wall down to human scale.

Here are some examples of smaller, residential gardens that employ gradation:
Vines, columnar trees, and perennials create a lush look in a narrow space walls and walks. Design by Thunderbird Landscaping.

In my home garden, shrubs and perennials create the transition from fence to lawn.

A simpler execution by homeowner Rochelle Elias.

In a narrow space between fence and walk, elevated container gardens substitute for tall shrubs. Design by homeowner Holly Fliniau

This principle can also be applied on a micro level:
Even small planting beds can benefit from a layering gradation of plants. (Designer unknown.)
Containers, too, benefit from transitional plantings. Design by Denver Botanic Gardens.

As you can see, the use of gradation creates transitions that are full, rich, and lively.  How will you apply this design principle in your landscape?

Read more about transitions in the landscape from my fellow members of the Garden Designers Roundtable by clicking the links here:

Thanks for visiting!
*The Art of Color and Design, by Maitland Graves


David C. said...

Interesting how I completely missed the views of transitions you hit on...changing sizes of plants, even in a container. That scene along the walkway at the Denver Botanic Gardens makes the point, but surprisingly, the planting compositions in your garden and the other smaller spaces make "transition" even clearer!

Anonymous said...

I've always thought of the hedge or fence as a backdrop to the garden rather than the garden as a transition to the fence or hedge. I need to think about that.

Deirdre in Seattle

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

David, I wanted to present a different spin on the idea of transitions --- glad you liked it!

Deirdre, if one thinks of plants as a medium in sculpting the outdoor space, one gets a whole new perspective on the idea of "garden". Have fun!

Deborah Silver said...

Jocelyn, this is a great post-straightforward, organized and well written.It is a point of view about transitions that could be of so much use to anyone planning a garden or landscape. Thanks, Deborah

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Thank you so much, Deborah --- your comment means I've met my goals for this post!

Debbie/GardenofPossibiities said...

Jocelyn, Your photos are beautiful and very instructional. They perfectly illustrate the concept of transition and how easy it 'appears' to use plants correctly. The photo of our garden is wonderful, I especially like the pop of bright pink.

Mary Gray said...

Agree...I like your spin on this topic and your photos illustrate it beautifully! Reminds me of David Culp's recent book The Layered Garden - have you read it?

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Thanks, Debbie.I try to observe and learn from other designers' work when I'm out and about on garden tours, etc.

Mary, I have not read The Layered Garden, but I think layering is an undervalued key to great gardens! Thanks for your kind comments.

David said...
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Anonymous said...
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Catherine said...

Good post Jocelyn. I think sometimes a tall skinny plant can make an interesting 'exclamation mark' in a design but it still needs a transitional layer between it and the surrounding ground-plane lawn or paving. And every tall fence looks (and feels) so much better stepped down, just as your well-chosen photos illustrate.