Scale. Consider the size of your perennial bed in relation to its surroundings. For example, a tiny island bed in the middle of a huge lawn may look a little lonely and lost. If you are new to gardening, small plantings near the house are often a good place to begin. Design the beds so that you will be able to enlarge them in subsequent years, rather than overdoing it the first year.
Also consider the size of the plants in relation to the size of the bed. Large plants in a small bed can look awkward and out of proportion. On the other hand, a few well-chosen and well-placed large plants can liven up a bed. Small-leaved, tiny-flowered perennials can get lost in a huge bed. But these, too, have their place and can be used to unify a diverse planting.
Shape. Generally, straight lines in a garden give it a more formal feel. You may have walked through formal gardens where each square or triangular bed contained a different herb, for example. If you want a formal garden, you might want to get out the tape measure and square the corners, or use a string and two stakes to create rows. Semicircular gardens can also appear quite formal, and the more symmetrical the plantings, the more formal the appearance.
One of the risks of a formal design is that if one plant in a row dies, or one plant in a symmetrical design falters, the whole design is thrown off. In an informal planting, the loss of a plant or two is usually less noticeable.
For a more informal look, avoid straight lines. Instead, create an outline using gentle curves. Following the contours of the land will help give it a natural feel. Try using a garden hose, or sprinkle limestone, to outline the shape of a new bed. Even if you are creating a new island bed in a flat lawn, where there are no slopes to define the area, you can create an informal, curved outline. If you are hesitant to dig up an irregular, amoeba-shaped hole in your lawn, start with a crescent- or kidney-shaped bed.
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