Garden Design Quick Tip: Using Plants to Create Movement in the Garden 

One of the questions I get asked the most is ‘How can I make my garden more interesting?’ and there are a few elements to consider. For example, form, texture and colour, but this month we are looking at movement. What is important to remember is it really doesn’t matter whether you have a small urban garden or a big estate, the same design principles can be applied albeit in different quantities. Quite a few gardens that I visit often appear static, with plants that look as though they have been placed like ornaments, rather than contributing to the ambience and dynamism of the garden. Movement doesn’t have to be drastic, although it can be a subtle addition to the space you are trying to create. 

Making use of plants that accentuate the movement of the wind as it blows through the garden will create movement most naturally. There are a few well known and easy to source plants you can successfully add to your borders, but by far the best plant group to create movement are ornamental grasses (which can also be used to create vertical lift). Other plants have papery thin leaves that will gently sway in the breeze and those with seed heads will rustle as the ripe seeds move around inside them.

The Pennisetum family (also known as the foxtail or fountain grasses) have a great arching quality and are quite fashionable at the moment, but they do need to be positioned correctly or they will become a garden casualty! Pennisetum ‘Cassian’s Choice’ is a good performer but requires good drainage and lots of sun too. They won’t work on heavy clay soils but if you have a good well draining soil add a handful of grit to the planting hole as they really dislike sitting in soggy winter soil. This you would most likely find from a specialist grower, but a more readily available grass family is the Stipa.

Stipas have a great quality of movement and are reliable performers so are good value for money. Stipa tenuissima can be used mid border or at the border edge although not too close as its arching habit may make it a casualty of the mower! It can work well in a container too, just make sure it has good drainage. The larger variety Stipa gigantea is recommended for a larger border, usually sited at the back, where the flower spires tower over neighbouring plants. They can be left on all winter so they continue to add that quality we are in search of here, movement. All Stipa perform better in well drained soil and full sun.

If you have a small garden or only have a limited space to add a new plant, consider Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ which really is an amazing grass because it has a very upright habit, reaching around 1.8m in height and only 60cm in width. Having a neat habit means it can also be planted in larger numbers to provide a screen and still look good.  It is happy in full sun to part shade and is tolerant of most soil conditions.

Other plants that can add movement are Verbena bonariensis, a great perennial with delicate flower heads standing on tall stems; a great addition to the perennial border which mixes well with ornamental grasses. Also Orlaya grandiflora and Ammi majus are both annuals that look amazing, adding more drama and a romantic, ethereal feel to the border.

© Nicki Jackson, Blue Daisy Gardens 2015