Flowers: Keeping Selections Simple

– Posted in: Garden Design

I promised myself this year that I would run over to Chanticleer once a week to maintain a record of what is in bloom. As I sprinted through the garden last week on a beautiful spring day, I was blown away by the magnificent spring plantings. After scanning through the photos at home, what struck me was how the same specimens were used in abundance and with repetition in containers and garden beds. In the photo above, a group of containers is filled with grape hyacinths and a few selections of narcissus as its centerpiece, with other plantings acting as its supporting cast. In the photo below, near the entryway of the garden, is a solo, low rising container of blue grape hyacinths.

The next 3 photos are examples of the repeated use of a yellow narcissus coupled with a small tufted grass and in two of the photos, a variegated phormium. Repetition, repetition and selected use of flowers makes for a strong statement.

In my own garden, I have kept my early spring plantings simple and plentiful with a slew of red tulips, along with some orange ones juxtapositioned against the buds of Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal Purple’ and a barberry bush.

I hope these photos evoke a sense that successful flower or plant vignettes need not consist of a sophisticated, complex design with a plethora of intricate plant material in order to be immensely satisfying to the eye.

I liken it to the renowned concert pianist, Vladimir Horowitz, who in his old age reverted to playing much of his repertoire with the lightness and playfulness of a child, coupled with all of the years of experimenting, practicing and performing in a variety of styles and moods. So, too in the garden.  We experiment, we ruminate, we create: often returning in our more seasoned years to designing vignettes which are abundant in plant material but minimalistic in the selection of plants. Some of the most powerful of all gardens are elegant, breathtaking and simple!

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
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Gail April 27, 2008, 6:01 pm

Again a very timely post…the seduction of plant material is often more than I can resist…I need to give myself permission, no instructions!, to buy more of the same not more and more!

The photos are lovely and helpful.


Am glad you liked the photos. And yes, I agree that plant material is extremely seductive. It’s like going to a fine restaurant where you are presented with a cart of scrumptious desserts from which to choose. My impulse always is: ‘Give me a small slice of this, this and that’. It satisfies my immediate desire but I pay the price later when I have way too much sugar in my system!! (: Fran

Lisa at Greenbow April 27, 2008, 7:44 pm

Simple. I like that thought.

A good mantra for all of us. Maybe if we repeat it enough and let it sink in, then we will have a chance to begin to live it. I still have way too much clutter in my life!! fran

Frances April 27, 2008, 8:30 pm

This was indeed inspiring. The red and orange tulips, the whole pot of grape hyacinths and the daffs and grasses, so simple and so eye catching. I agree that age brings us back to simplicity. And a big fan of Vlad!


So nice to know another individual who is a fan of Horowitz…then you must also be a fan of Rubenstein. I don’t consider myself ‘old’ but am indeed a baby boomer. And I find, like so many of my friends and colleagues, that we are at a point where ‘things’ have less meaning….where we want to declutter our lives on so many levels. Thanks for chiming in. Fran

Jeff Joyner April 28, 2008, 4:50 am

What a luxury to be able to “run over to Chanticleer once a week”!

What can I say except ‘yes, yes, yes’? I am going out to visit Chris Woods, the visionary of Chanticleer, next week in California at the garden he is now running: Mendicino Botanical Coast Garden….I am sure I will discover another jewel of a garden, thanks in part to his tremendous talent! Fran

Les April 28, 2008, 7:10 am

I love Chanticleer. I dragged my family there a couple of years ago with the promise of lunch afterwards. When it came time to leave, I had difficulty getting everyone into the car.

It should be on any gardener’s must-see list.

Ditto. And one of the great things about Chanticleer is that you get to see the plantings evolve throughout the season. They leave everything ‘as is’ unless a specimen dies. The transformation from spring straight through fall is dazzling! Thanks for your post. Fran

jeff-naturehills April 28, 2008, 8:11 am

The narcissus look great in the repetitive plantings, it does make a strong statement.

It sure does….less of a variety can prove to be more effective. And I guess to put it simply ‘More of one specimen is better’. Hope that makes sense. Thanks for your post. Fran

vertie April 28, 2008, 11:39 am

I love the hyacinths in the bowl. What a striking statement.

I agree 100%. This is such a good reminder to all of us that something as simple as this, perhaps 50-100 grape hyacinths in one simple container or several containers placed judiciously throughout the garden can be as striking as a field of poppies or naturalized narcissus. And it can be done whether you have a suburban garden or urban apartment with a deck or patio! Fran

Catherine, My Garden Travels April 28, 2008, 12:39 pm

I think gardeners that can put together a lovely container display must have an artistic eye. It has never been one of my strong points, but I can appreciate those that do.

They absolutely do have an artistic eye….but I also believe it is about training oneself to view container gardening much like arranging cut flowers….learn some principles and then just practice, practice, practice (which,believe me, I’m still doing!!) Fran

Layanee April 28, 2008, 5:13 pm

I am heading to Chanticleer for the very first time this June. I have heard that they are very good with containers and I look forward to seeing the summer choices. They do have an ‘eye’ don’t they.

That’s putting it mildly. Can’t wait to hear from you after you have visited. If you go in June, you’ll be able to see so much of the garden in a symphony of bloom. Fran

Frances April 29, 2008, 6:30 am

HA, I actually prefer Arthur to Vlad. ;->

Interesting…me too….he was one of my idols growing up….such a joyful personality…he literally jumped from his chair when playing….his autobiography was phenomenal… you well know, Horowitz was beyond eccentric and a bit pedantic for my taste. Fran

Robin at Bumblebee April 29, 2008, 8:33 am

Repetition of a fabulous–or even modest–plant can have a stunning effect! I am thinking of a field of red poppies that I saw in Austin. Amazing!

Good points all…

Robin at Bumblebee

Funny you should say that….one of my favorite visions as well was the first time I saw the huge poppy field of deep red poppies dotted with blue cornflowers that Jock Christie used to plant up at Sir John Thouron’s Garden in Unionville, Pa. It literally took my breath away!! Fran

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