Do I Repeat Myself?

Yes, I do! And it is NOT boring!

Repetition, is an important design feature, I repeat, repetition!

I had that lesson hammered home on Tuesday, when I visited a friend of a friends garden. I wrote about Lois’ garden last year, and also about her amazing(and very tidy)  potting shed.

Last year, I visited in August, so it was a pleasure to see her garden in early summer, and it was just as amazing now as it was then. Definitely not a one season garden.

But what made a huge impact on me this time was the repetition of certain plants in her border. A strong edge really defines a garden, especially if there is “chaos” (her words, not mine) behind the edge.  Lois had used a perennial geranium, (sorry I didn’t get the variety, but maybe someone can recognize it) along with a dark heuchera, and repeated it along the border.  And I apologize in advance for these pictures. Why does it always seem to be sunny when you visit peoples gardens, and mid day? Not the best time for taking pictures, especially for a point and shooter like me.

Lois will probably be horrified that I posted this picture, (sorry about the hose, although all gardeners will have the same thing in their garden), but it is the best picture I have of the heuchera/geranium edge. Look how stong it looks, and really sets the stage.

Allium christophii is another plant that she uses at this time of year to lead your eye through the background plants, as well as giving it a place to rest.

Ahhh, a bit of shade, bet you are glad, lol.

Another border uses dianthus or pinks as the edging plant.

Although only these three plants were distinctly repeated, it made these borders feel very designed, instead of just finding a hole to plant your newest acquisition in, like sometimes happens to me.

The long view:

You can see that she uses hay as a mulch to keep the weeds down, in another month, the plants will have grown some more and most of the hay will not be seen.

And just a couple more vignettes that I really liked,

Crambe cordifolia,

Blue Oat Grass and Sanguisorba,

And an (unknown to me) clematis, the very first plant to catch my eye on this wonderful garden visit.



33 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Edith Hope said,

    Dear D, I do so agree with you. Repetition of key plants, not only used as an edging as you describe here, but also repeated at intervals throughout the garden, does suggest that the garden is designed, rather than thrown together randomly, and also it contributes, in my view, to a sense of purpose as well as calm. Repetition need not, of course, be restricted to plants, but can also be used by employing the same colour, or the same form of plant, throughout an entire garden.

    For my own part, I prefer my borders to have a very restricted colour palette and to use a very limited number of different types of plant. This, again in my view, avoids the border, or garden looking like a selection of ‘dolly mixture’ sweets and, even worse, a horticultural zoo!!

    • 2

      Edith, at the flower shop we call it a “tossed salad”. I actually cannot stand to make a bouquet with more than three colours, I cringe when customers pick out one of everything, ask me to arrange it, and then say “what do you think”? I really would like to tell them the truth, but must be diplomatic.
      Thank you for the very good point about repeating colour or form as well. I am glad that I have a large space, as it seems I want every plant in the world, a bit of a collector in me.

  2. 3

    Oh my goodness, Deborah, what I wouldn’t give for all that sunny space (imagine a whole row of exclamations points)! Repetition is an excellent design trick — one that I understand more than I practice. Having so little space and loving so many plants, my garden tends to be more of the tossed salad variety. I prefer to think of it as my plant laboratory, though. Come by and have lunch sometime.

    • 4

      Helen, I would love that sun as well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Although I have the space, lots of mature trees stop me from having the plants that I want, why do we always want the opposite of what we have? I still “impulse” buy too many assorted “one of” plants. But, I tell myself I will divide them when they bulk up, and then, instant repetition.
      Lunch sounds fab!

  3. 5

    PatioPatch said,

    Thank you for this wonderful tour through Lois’s garden with great choice of images to demonstrate your points about garden design. I am slowly picking up the way of doing things this way though I still stray far from the discipline.


    • 6

      You and me both Laura, I do try, but when I am at a nursery, I see so many plants I want, that I can’t discipline myself to getting more than one of anything!
      Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment, I hope to see you again soon.

  4. 7

    PatioPatch said,

    p.s. Is the geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ I wonder – or were you referring to the pink one!?

  5. 9

    Hi Deborah

    I really like the border that Lois has created – I love red leafed plants so even though I might not have the same plant along the border I try to have some red leafed ones to lead the eye.

    That Geranium could be Johnstons Blue or Roxanne – but there are so many varieties nowadays that look so similar its quite hard to tell them apart.

  6. 12

    ‘The Collector’ and ‘The Designer’ are constantly at war within this body. Too many must-have plants to buy anything in multiples, but over time dividing seems to do the trick. I am almost to the point of having a ‘drift’ of phlomis.

    • 13

      ricki, that war is going on in my body as well. Luckily I have a large (empty) garden at the moment, but what will happen when it is full. I shudder to think of it!

  7. 14

    Jean said,

    Hi Deborah, This is such an important design lesson — and one that it took me a while to learn. The blue/violet geranium might be ‘Rozanne,’ but the pale pink one in the right foreground of your first photo, and repeated in the upper left looks like either Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ or a variety of G. macrorrhizum. I use Biokovo as an edging plant in several parts of my garden, and I can vouch for it as playing this role well.

    • 15

      Jean, it was the pale pink one that I was most curious about. I do have Rozanne in my garden, love it, but I really like the very neat and tidy edge to the other. I shall look for Biokovo. Thanks for the info.

  8. 16

    I agree repetition is important. As an impatient, covetous, novice gardener…I tend to have the ‘I must have one of everything’ attitude. I ended up with mostly chaos. Thankfully a number of plants gave up on me, leaving me with those that liked growing where’d I’d put them. I then decided to only plant things I knew did well in that space. Less variety, and voila…less chaos too! Can you tell, I’m one of those mostly trial-and-error gardeners, and now I don’t apologize for repeating myself either. I love repetition! 😛

  9. 18

    debsgarden said,

    What a fabulous border! I think repetition is essential for cohesiveness, and it also is the natural result of plants propagating themselves. It’s less expensive to use what you have, rather than buy new plants all the time! Of course, I spread my babies around, but i still want to buy new plants!

  10. 20

    Joy said,

    Deborah that was great ! and I love the chaos theory .. that is my theory as well although the repetition may not be as spot on .. but traces of it ? LOL
    Yes .. too strong a light and pictures don’t come out as well as they should ..
    An amazing garden ! Thank you for the tour girl : )

    • 21

      Glad you enjoyed the tour, Joy, I think next time I should ask them if I can come at 6 in the morning, better light for photos. (when I visit your garden, remember that).

  11. 22

    Hello Deborah, I really don’t think I have a garden design bone in my body, as all I ever seem to create is total chaos! Still, I would like to learn to unify things a little bit and at least the idea of repetition is a simple one for me to try to remember!

  12. 24

    Marguerite said,

    I know you’re writing about repetition in the garden but I couldn’t help but notice – Hay as a mulch, great idea! I live in a rural area and a bale of hay is much cheaper and goes much farther than buying bags of mulch for the garden. It’s always a bonus when I read a great article and find a little gem like this tucked away.

    • 25

      Aren’t you a smart cookie, Marguerite, you are the only one to notice it. Lois says she could not live with out the hay mulch, she lets it age a bit, tramples down the weeds, and puts a big thick slab of the hay overtop. IKt seems to smother most weeds, enriches the soil and the perennials grow up and cover most of it. Much cheaper too!

  13. 26

    teza said,

    A most interesting post indeed…. and this coming from the guy with the largest selection of mixed garden greens imaginable, all while in the smallest tupperware coontainer available. I will admit that I am s-l-o-w-l-y incorporating the whole ‘repetition movement’ in the garden, but for me, the selections are so damned expensive, its repeat once affordable, twice a personal luxury, thrice…. are you freaking kidding me?!? Primula vialii and H. ‘Elvis Lives’ how hold the record for number of times repeated….. Elvis with three, and P.v – a whopping seven!

    • 27

      Teza, I would drop dead in shock if I found out you had more than one of anything! You are a collector extraordinaire, and you do it so well. Seven Primula vialii, for shame, I know somewhere you can get rid of six.

  14. 28

    dorsetmichael said,

    mmm, yes, themes and patterns certainly lead us on a journey…excellent article…

  15. 30

    Amen! And say it again!! (yes, repeat yourself! It’s a lesson many should learn) Repeating plants can tie a border together, making it look more of one piece. It’s something I’ve suggested to customers for years – especially people who doubt their abilities to develop a cohesive garden!

  16. 32

    Debbie said,

    What a wonderful garden, how lucky you are to have visited not once but twice. I have the same issue that you seem to have, it always seems to be sunny when I’m photographing someone else’s garden and my photos are all full of shadows.

    Repitition is important but can be difficult to practice as Helen pointed out. With so many wonderful plants available, it’s hard not to want one of each. I use geranium ‘Rozanne’ as a repitition plant in my own gardens and in many gardens I design for clients. I love the way it weaves through it’s neighbors without being invasive. It’s a color machine since it blooms for such a long time and It just seems to tie everything together.

    • 33

      Debbie, it is SOOOO hard to limit myself, and not buy one of everything. I try to justilfy it by saying, I will divide it when it bulks up. Rozanne is a great geranium, I have (one) and I will certainly be dividing it, and repeating it.

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