Cindy Shapton writes, speaks and designs when she is not working in her own garden. Get a copy of her book at and latest dirt on her FB page, The Cracked Pot Gardener.

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Patterns by Design
by Cindy Shapton       #Design   #Landscaping   #Shrubs

Simple paths bordered by a single variety of plant material create a pattern that allows our brain take a break and just follow along. • Ribbons of red in the Berberis are just one pattern in this planting. • These playful ferns lead to a colorful gated garden room that pulls you in. • Vertical plants, such as these ‘Sky Pencil’ hollies (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’), create a pattern that points you in a direction.

Have you ever walked through a garden where even though there was a lot going on, you felt a sense of peace and restfulness? You may have noticed that your eyes easily found a spot to rest or followed a natural flow that was pleasing, even playful, as it directed you to the main event without ever giving it a thought.

More than likely, you were seeing patterns – shapes, forms, outlines, and configurations that copy or repeat in some way, either in plant form or hardscape, to give overall definition. Patterns are all around us in nature – every tree, shrub, leaf, and flower has its own unique shape, texture, and color. Some serve a purpose, such as guiding foraging pollinators to the right destination. Butterflies and other insects have colorful patterns on their wings that act as camouflage, spiders create their own beautifully patterned tapestries to catch their dinner, and snails live in spiral-patterned masterpieces that protect them from predators.

Clockwise: Art on wooden pedestals creates another layer of patterns in this border. • The coleus foliage emphasizes the lines of this monument. • Clipped borders, shrubs, and topiary create a pattern that is inviting and pleasing to the eye. • Repeating symmetrical pattern suits this formal garden. Notice the containers that add seasonal color.

Just as tapestry makers of long ago took their ideas from nature to weave patterns, gardeners can create tapestries in the garden using the rhythm of color or texture with shrubs, grasses, perennials, and annuals.

When you find a shape that you like in your garden, no matter how simple, find a way to repeat it. Use what you have at your disposal in the way of plant or non-plant material. Allow colors and shapes to play off each another.

As in nature, patterns are often interconnected; so remember to use the vistas beyond your garden as well such as buildings, hills, trees, and the like to frame and mimic similar shapes using plant and hardscape materials.

Clockwise: To create patterns in your garden, try your hand at sculpting yews. • Create your own patterns with natural materials. • Patterns within patterns have a calming effect.

Patterns can be used to create interest anywhere, even in the kitchen garden. Use string to create patterns on the soil, and then broadcast with different lettuces or greens to create a beautiful and delicious tapestry. This is a fun project to get children interested in growing food and springboard into a discussion of patterns in nature.

Lastly, get out in nature and visit gardens to get ideas and see how patterns are used to connect us all in big and small ways. It won’t be long before you start seeing patterns everywhere!


A version of this article appeared in Tennessee Gardener Volume 17 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Posted: 08/01/17   RSS | Print


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