I broke a garden rule today

– Posted in: Design

The garden rule I broke today is: Don’t plant flowers in a straight line. And I did it for a very good reason: I wanted a straight line.

Daffodils around apple tree

View from porch looking uphill in late April

I’ve looked at the scene above for many years, and frequently thought to myself how much better it would be to have that swath of daffodils swing around and continue up the hill. I just happened to have a bunch of yellow trumpet daffodils and later-blooming white poet’s narcissus that were dug up from other locations in the garden needing to be replanted, and I realized I could finally have that curve of yellow and white swing around the corner and up the hill.

So I asked one of my teenage sons to take the mattock and carve me out a foot-and-a-half swath that roughly follows the red line in the photo below.

Daffodils around apple tree now following line

More daffodils and narcissus have been planted where the red line is

I placed the yellow daffodils down the middle, spaced roughly six inches apart. On either side of them, I planted the narcissus bulbs offset from the yellow, making a similar pattern to that of a five-spot on a die. Most of the yellow narcissus appeared to be blooming size, and while next spring they will indeed look like a yellow dotted line, past experience tells me that in a few years they will bulk up. The narcissus were the offsets from a bunch I replanted elsewhere so it will take a year or two for them to flower. But I can wait.

Because of the angle from which the photo was taken (and my poor hand with a mouse) the red line doesn’t clearly show that the bulbs will be lining the edge of the main path up the hill, which runs through the field and then into the woods. And since I didn’t know this past spring that I would be planting bulbs here this fall, I had to use the photo above to help me guess where the established bulbs ended. If I guessed wrong, I will be moving some bulbs next spring when I can see where they really need to go.

If you’re going to break a design rule, it’s best to know why you are breaking it. I happen to agree that a stingy line of single bulbs arranged like soldiers on parade is ineffective, even sad in a Charlie Brown sort of way. But I am trying to draw a line in the landscape to lead your eye uphill and entice you to explore further. I’m expecting my single bulbs to multiply into bunches, the three lines to meld into a swath. And if I am pleased with the effect, perhaps one day I’ll expand my swath into a river.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Phil Nauta - Smiling Gardener December 2, 2010, 2:16 pm

I break design rules all the time. Today I wore black pants with brown shoes! Tomorrow I’m thinking of building a perfectly square raised bed, just to annoy my landscape architect friends (square raised beds do have some nice benefits though – they’re good at catching falling seeds for one thing, compared to a long narrow bed).

Debra November 1, 2010, 1:16 pm

Hi Kathy, I love this lesson and the rule-breaking design inspiration. What a gorgeous sight to cast your eyes upon in the springtime. Promise to give us a spring 2011 view of how your planting design turned out.

commonweeder November 1, 2010, 9:11 am

I always think it is a great idea to tweak the views we enjoy – no matter how many rules we have to break to do it.

Bom November 1, 2010, 3:38 am

I’m looking forward to seeing your follow-up photos.

allanbecker-gardenguru October 31, 2010, 8:11 pm

Rule? There are rules???? lol!
Once the bulbs naturalize, the straightness of the line should soften.

Christopher C NC October 31, 2010, 7:06 pm

With all that ground and plenty time I am seeing a daffodil maze or patterns like the Nazca lines or Druid symbols, even a yellow and white snake in the spring grass.

Kathy Purdy October 31, 2010, 7:15 pm

Thank you for stopping by to comment, Christopher. When I start to feel like I have plenty of time I will consider getting fancy. As it was, a wintry mix of snow and rain was blowing as I was planting.

Cyndy October 31, 2010, 5:39 pm

Hi Kathy, I think that will be a very nice effect, and I ‘m jealous of your teenage son so willing to wield a mattock for you!

Patsy Bell Hobson October 31, 2010, 5:39 pm

I am looking forward to seeing this line become a swath because, you are right. We have time.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 31, 2010, 5:26 pm

Yes, break the rules! You’ve shown how a straight line can be very effective.

Carol October 31, 2010, 5:12 pm

I give you permission to break the rule (since you linked to me, after all). We look forward to seeing the pictures in the spring time.

Gail October 31, 2010, 4:56 pm

What Frances said! It’s a lovely view Kathy, and will be enhanced with your river running up~ gail ps she does have a steep garden.

Frances October 31, 2010, 4:53 pm

Rules are made to be broken, says the wise gardener who has a plan in mind whilst breaking them. The yellow and white will be a welcoming arrow to continue up the hill. Just one thing, you call that a hill? HA

Kathy Purdy October 31, 2010, 5:07 pm

It is indeed a hill, but a long one, so you only see a bit of it, and not the steepest part of it, at that.