Too Many Flowers

Ilona Erwin

How can you say that there are too many flowers? What sort of garden heresy is this?

Perhaps too many flowers all at one time is a distraction in your garden, instead of an attraction.  Perhaps the idea of garden design which highlights the season’s beauty, but in an edited and focused way might be both better visually and better practically ( in terms of work and money).

May Dreams Gardens in her post, “Garden Design Elements: Seasonal-shift” said, “I find it very confusing to be in a garden where plants are blooming everywhere you look and there is no place to rest your eyes without seeing something else that screams out to be seen … shouting “Look at me!” “No, look over here at me.” “Look here, too!””
She has a point.

Two Ways To Design Your Flower Beds

One way to limit that confusing sense of distraction, not knowing which way to look and missing the  point is to put color together in a way that best harmonizes the flowers and the surroundings, utilizing a focal point. Another way is to concentrate the color for the season into an area reserved for just such effects. Themes by season, or highlighting one special type of plant are popular for this purpose.

Even if you focused on one season, couldn’t you have too much of a good thing, anyway? You could, but given that many flowers of a season (especially among perennials) often harmonize, and the fact that annuals  are more likely to be planted with thoughts of a color scheme (but not always!) their indiscretions… or rather those of the gardener are short-lived. Early to Midsummer is the most likely time for many flowers to bloom and scream for attention with either so much in bloom or so many bright colors.

So which way to go?

The Entry or Streetside

This depends on you and your purposes for the garden space you are working with. That being said, I really think that the space most seen from the street and our visitors should be edited for a clear relationship to the house and a welcome entry. If you read my page on annuals, I make the point that for my front entry garden I like to keep the flowers in the blue hue. Perhaps with the unconscious recognition of the distracting competition of lots of color and different sorts of plants. Through the years, the all blue scheme was one that harmonized best with the house and what I personally wanted to see, but the overall lesson for the front entry especially is to create a large effect. For an old farmhouse like mine one idea that I liked was to have huge hostas of one variety lining the front of the porch. I can never discipline myself to those constraints I so admire, but it was a pleasing view. See the Notes on Annuals.

Maybe you have a modern line and style to your house, or materials such as stone or brick? You’d likely choose other colors or effects than I have. The general idea is to keep it simple, let the plants be strong, anchoring your home to your garden, and give a flavor of what pleases you as the owner.

The Seasonal Garden

a spring garden

This could be situated anywhere in your yard. Or there could be several “rooms” each with their own emphasis. Springtime is always the most fun, I think. It has those layered heights of bloom produced by the many flowering trees, shrubs, and bulbs… along with numerous low perennials that all flower at this time. Plus the fact that it comes after the long winter wait that creates such a hunger for something bright, beautiful, and growing. It is also the most ephemeral and fickle. Too hot and the bloom is quickly over, unseasonal frost and the show is suddenly over in a most disconcerting way. But for me, I have to have the spring show to start the new growing season.

Often overlooked is the fall garden, which can be quite extravagant. We fill our garden with summer blooming plants, sometimes because that is what is most available and discussed, but the autumn can be such a beautiful time of year that if we plan a special garden area to accentuate what is colorful for this season we can have a showstopper display.

Take time to think about certain key flowers, or times of year that you love in your own yard…. that might be the focal point of your entire landscape and give a sense of purpose to your garden making.

In seasonal gardens it is always a temptation to try to include each season, but that creates quite a bit of juggling, room for plants, and perhaps more work, resulting in a less than satisfying jumble of plants. The “too many flowers” effect. Not to say some of the great gardeners haven’t carried it off successfully, but assess your own landscape and available resources.

Mindful of Color Effects

Sometimes the too many flower impression, with too much to see in one swoop is a matter of too many colors and kinds of flowers. Remember that green is a wonder foil which soothes our senses. Don’t be afraid of making the foliage a strong part of the design. Edit your number of colors as an easy way of creating unity in your plan. Use one strong shape or color such as red or orange to give power and presence to the arrangement of plants. Even screaming magenta can be a gorgeous effect when surrounded by cream and green variegated foliage in a shady spot. Astilbe ‘Superba’ surrounded by Lamium maculatum is an example, or in a sunny place, ‘Hansa’ rose and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria). The idea is to edit the choice of colors and combine strong bloom color with foliage that complements it. The strength of this will give enough drama to hold the eye’s attention, with surrounding areas of quieter plants fulfilling supporting roles and restful spots visually. Think of garden greenspace like paper whitespace, it keeps the design from overstimulating and looking confused.

Large and Simple

Large and simple are the key concepts in avoiding the confusion and overstimulation of the senses. Gertrude Jekyll suggested large drifts for this reason, an she planned finely edited color combination of plants and forms. She worked with large gardens manned with hired labor, while most of us have much small yards and little outside help. The smaller our spaces the more we must limit the variation of plants. A few really great plants look better than a motley collection of plants making no connection with us or each other.

This simplicity is definitely a “less is more” equation. Often, plants like the company of their mates. Three to five of one plant is given as the minimum number recommended – and the further the viewer from the flower bed, the larger the number or size of plants to make a good impact on the eye.

Think about placing some of the garden flowers “beyond the bend”, hidden, or partially hidden from view by a hedge or fence, or even screened by one large shrub. Create some mystery, to give the visual rest and further interest that makes a garden, even a small one more exciting. Don’t feel you have to display everything at once.

Summary

  • Choose less competing plantings
  • Choose less color competition
  • Create a focal point with large effect of one main color or bigger group of one plant.
  • Create some greenspace and some mystery to give the flowers greater impact.
  • Keep it simple and great looking

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.